THE SEA URCHINS Open Out volume 1 - 1981-1985 CDR (Bobby Bongo Records)
BOBBY BONGO Tomorrow's Tomorrow CDR (Bobby Bongo Records)
Some exciting news - Robert Cooksey (ex-Sea Urchins/Delta) has set up a homemade CDR label, Bobby Bongo Records. The first release is a compilation of very early, previously unreleased recordings by THE SEA URCHINS, Open Out volume 1 - 1981-1985. When I say 'very early', I'm talking about material that dates from when the band were teenagers, the earliest tracks recorded when they were just 13. There are 24 tracks here, mostly recorded at home, or otherwise at their school music room, a youth arts centre and a church hall. Core members Robert, James and Simon are joined by various others who had long since left the band by the time they started releasing records, such as bassist Anthony, drummer John, and a Jamie who isn't the same person as James. The earliest line-up consisted of just Robert and Simon, playing very primitive and jarringly discordant instrumentals. I'm going to be honest, this stuff is not an easy listen. However, it mustn't be forgotten that this is just a pair of 13 year old boys who are still getting to grips with playing music, and it wouldn't be fair to be too critical for that reason.
The Sea Urchins became a full band later in 1981; their You Said (You've Been True) is a boisterous garagey number with punky vocals, forcefully strummed guitar, chaotic drumming, and kazoo, finishing with someone blowing a raspberry then burping loudly down the mic. By 1982 the band had expanded to a 9-piece, playing music of a broadly mod/garage nature. The vocals still sound very youthful at this point, but the band are starting to take shape musically, and the musicianship on these tracks is pretty good for a bunch of kids who hadn't been playing that long. The 9-piece line-up didn't last long, with Diane, Teresa and Paul only appearing on these two tracks.
What You Looking At Sonny? is an exuberant hybrid of rock 'n' roll and punk, with snarly vocals very different from James' later vocal style. By 1983, we start to hear the first inklings of what The Sea Urchins were to become, with the song One More Rainy Day, which appears in instrumental and vocal versions. Deeply melancholic lyrics, a strong memorable melody and swirly/jangly guitar come together to create a brand of psych-tinged pop that's really rather lovely. It's a shame this song wasn't re-recorded later and released properly.
There's a couple of cover versions - The Yardbirds' Heart Full of Soul and The Smiths' Jeane. The first one isn't too surprising a choice seeing as The Sea Urchins were a band who had lived and breathed 1960s music from very early on. Particularly worthy of note is the powerful lead guitar that Robert contributes to this track. I'd never have expected The Sea Urchins to have been fans of The Smiths though, so the cover of Jeane comes as quite a surprise.
The final batch of songs dates from 1985, by which time bassist Mark who played on the Cling Film and Summershine flexis had joined the band; he plays on 5 out of 8 of the 1985 tracks. I'll Follow Tomorrow is a bright, chiming instrumental that's all too brief at 48 seconds long, while Look into the Sun opts for a woozy, dreamlike psychedelic approach. Early instrumental versions of A Morning Odyssey (formerly known as Show Your Colours) and Summershine appear here along with a vocal version of the latter. The album ends with a previously unheard track, Six Ways to Win, a spirited song with a strummy arrangement based around two rhythm guitars. Again it's a shame that this song never got recorded and released properly in the late 80s.
If you're new to The Sea Urchins, there are a few things to bear in mind. This is an album of demos, rehearsals and other homemade material, and the low-tech recording quality isn't representative of their actual records from the late 80s and early 90s. There's a certain amount of experimenting with genres that ended up having no real impact on the sound of The Sea Urchins as most of us know them, especially so with the earliest material here. Newcomers would come away with a skewed impression of The Sea Urchins if this was the only album of theirs they ever heard. However, for existing fans, this CD offers an honest portrayal of The Sea Urchins' formative history, providing context for where this band came from and an informative insight into their progress over the years.
This CD is volume one in a planned two-part series, the second covering 1986-1991 which is of course the era of The Sea Urchins that fans will be more familiar with. Volume 2 is not available yet but I'm certainly eager to hear it. The title has got me especially intrigued as it suggests the song Open Out will appear. The live version is among my favourite tracks on the live CD Live in London on Fierce Recordings, so it would be great if volume 2 will include a previously unheard version of this track.
Open Out volume 1 - 1981-1985 was originally released in a limited edition of just 33 copies. It is a homemade CDR in a hand-numbered photocopied sleeve in a plastic wallet, with an informative double-sided A4 insert with details on who wrote and played on each of the tracks and where they were recorded. Needless to say, the initial run of 33 copies has all gone, though I believe there are plans for a second pressing which will be more widely available.
As well as being the name of the label, BOBBY BONGO is also the name of Robert's current solo project. It really is great news that he is back with new music. After he left Delta, the band were never quite the same anymore. Robert didn't actually give up music in the intervening years, but his involvement in music was somewhat low-key and he managed to slip under most people's radar. He joined Broadcast for a time but didn't actually appear on their records. Around 2010 he formed psychedelic band Golden Glass, who supported the Television Personalities in London and played the Moseley Folk and Lunar festivals. Unfortunately no record deal ensued for Golden Glass, which I found both surprising and disappointing. As I've not heard any news on Golden Glass for a few years, I'm assuming that they are currently dormant and Robert is now focusing on solo work.
Tomorrow's Tomorrow, the debut release from Bobby Bongo, is a 6-track mini album, which is again available as a homemade CDR. The arrangements consist of just vocals and acoustic guitar, but quite honestly, nothing else is needed. Robert plays guitar with such intricacy that the music avoids sounding sparse, and his deep, melodious voice is of such a nature that I'm left wondering why we never got to hear him sing on the Sea Urchins or Delta records. (Edited to add: While it's true that Robert never sang lead vocals with The Sea Urchins, he has informed me that he did sing the additional vocal part on A Morning Odyssey.)
The music here successfully combines contemporary songwriting with a folk spirit. The River Man is not the Nick Drake song. It's much more of an earworm than the Nick Drake song. Even after just one listen, it had well and truly taken up residence in my brain. When Will You Begin? is one of the most beautiful and emotionally affecting songs I've heard in a long while, as is When We Open Up which is infused with such deep melancholy that it almost moved me to tears. The Temple of Golden Light shows a profound sense of spirituality which is rare in modern music. This mini-album is again limited to just 33 copies, though it deserves to be heard by far more.
In summary, Tomorrow's Tomorrow gets my absolute highest recommendation. I feel truly honoured to have been given the opportunity to hear this amazing set of songs, as well as gaining a rare insight into the roots of The Sea Urchins (who are of course my all-time favourite band alongside early Delta), via Open Out volume 1. At the time of writing, there is no website for Bobby Bongo Records, but you can find out more by emailing Robert at
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