“Alligator Rock & Roll
Flowers for my soul
Sharks in the Doo-Wop Hotel
My fast times, miss her, I look up to you Sister
There’s a Dream World and a lonely Sandgirl
Baby she’s all I need.”
Around three years ago I wrote a 5-star review for a magazine about a new album I’d fallen completely in love with. It was a concept album about the love between Emma and Johnny, frontman of imaginary combo the Doo-Wop Spacemen. I went to see its creators at a tiny subterranean venue in Glasgow. There they were – the Doo-Wop Spacemen. Them very selves. The gig was sparsely attended but there was magic in the air. Trudy came across as a cartoon version of the cast from Happy Days, all slicked back hair, baggy shirts and trousers so short that two furlongs of white sock were visible. The singer sported a mile-wide grin which was at first unnerving, before you realised he was probably just thrilled to be playing music he clearly loved. As your eyes scanned the room, every face in the audience had begun to wear a similar expression. The earnestness and joy was utterly infectious. I soon became completely mesmerised by the bassist. He had a haircut to kill for – imagine JJ Burnel being unpunked by an elderly gents’ barber – and an attitude to match, nonchalantly turning his back on the audience at times and occasionally sharing a shy smile. You felt like you wanted to wrap your arms around him. Adorable.
I harboured faint hopes the magazine would let me interview Trudy for a short feature but the assistant editor responsible for that section of the publication told me in no uncertain terms how much he disliked the band’s music. So that was that. I played the album to death and then began listening to other things. But I couldn’t really get Trudy out of my head…
I don’t know if it’s a romantic thing to still be listening to old music in 2022. More likely it’s acute melancholia. But I‘ve rarely felt any guilt about being largely oblivious to new music. So much of what we choose to listen to is determined by our association with the past – people, places, the loss of youth and so on. The poignancy of those moments often hinders any genuine objectivity, especially now that dreams about our future have been consigned to the past. They say the past is a foreign country but it’s often the most comfortable and familiar place we know. Maybe that’s because we never remember things very accurately – our memories are usually devoid of the rawness of the original experience. But those memories are almost always soundtracked by songs as much as they are enlivened by people and places.
In pop music the same patterns are repeated endlessly. When was the last time you heard a song and thought: ‘now that is really new’? I’m thinking it was probably in 2006. Everything is cyclical – history repeats itself and pop music continues to do and say the same things. Stylistically, it evolves slowly with concentrated bursts of adventure innovation and experimentation. When I resign myself to that reality, it doesn’t seem so bad to fall in love with what seems on the surface to be a goofy 50s retro act. Trudy & The Romance don’t even have a Wiki entry. They’re hardly radical innovators. But why should they have to be? And anyway, they are much more than that. They make my heart do funny things. They make me smile and stare into that faraway space when I listen to them. Sometimes, they come across as the Cramps playing doo-wop on ecstasy (minus the acres of naked flesh) or Orange Juice working through the Modern Lovers’ eighties catalogue (‘Midnight’s Blue Girl’) or Doves after gorging on too many Disney movies.
It doesn’t really matter that they can play too, but the musicianship is superb. They’ve clearly spent as much time learning their instruments (there’s pedal steel, sax and harp as well as guitar bass and drums) as they have perfecting their 1959 jukebox café image. Singer Olly Taylor cheekily borrows the little quiver in his voice from Elvis, or maybe Marc Bolan. Except he smiles even more than either. The band borrow quite liberally from other sources too. ‘Doghouse’ for instance boldly splices together a clanking take of the title theme from Whistle Down The Wind with the heartmelting melody from The Beach Boys’ ‘She Knows Me Too Well’. ‘Candy Coloured’ borrows the first few bars from Groove Armada’s ‘At The River’. The attention to detail is always there. They even employ a multi-cultural community choir and let them sail into the stratosphere alongside some magically tremelo-fried atmospherics on the brief but glorious ‘Sand Orchestra’ – like Grizzly Bear after they’ve finally ascended to heaven.
They did write a number one single as well. It’s just that no one bought it. If only someone had given it a few spins on the radio. That’s all it needed. It’s called ‘The Original Doo-Wop Spacemen’. Maybe it will be a number one single one day. It surely has to be. “She bop she bop…doo-wop.” I tell you good people, the world has made a mistake and Trudy & The Romance should be on your radios, on your television sets, Lord have mercy, even on your Home Screens and airpods. But they’re not, so we still have Boris Johnson as PM. There’s absolutely no way he’d be PM if Trudy & The Romance were number one in the charts. As soon as they get to the toppermost, he’s out. But for now they’re my little secret and I don’t care what you think of them. I can escape this world and its problems any time I play Sandman or remember that night at the Admiral in Glasgow. All I have to do is dream. (JJ)