[Featuring savagely funny songs about Gary Glitter, Jonathan King and the music press, Luke Haines's third album, Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop, was an overlooked gem of 2006. To celebrate its digital reissue, we invited Haines — author of the brilliant memoir Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in its Downfall — to write about what happened to his great "lost" album. — Ed.]
Things May Come And Things May Go But The Art School Dance Goes On Forever. So runs the title of a 1970 album by prog-rockers Pete Brown & Piblokto!, a title that I referenced for my third solo album. Trouble was, my own art-school dance was coshed with an early curfew. Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop was originally released in November 2006, but by early 2007 was pretty much unavailable, due to the ebbs and flows of the industry (the distributor went bust, if you must know), thus depriving future generations of the chance to meditate on its merits, or otherwise. But, friends, dry your eyes, for the wise people at Fantastic Plastic Records have made this essential bit of glam clatter available again, and the re-release gives me the chance to reflect on the all-too-brief life of this album.
Off My Rocker was not exactly conceived within earshot of the trumpet fanfare of confidence. In 2004, I was writing a musical for the National Theatre, and the songs that make up Off My Rocker were probably written as some sort of antidote to being prodded and interfered with (in the creative sense) by the Lance Corporals of the NT. (All this is recounted in my second book, Post Everything — Outsider Rock and Roll. If you like sledgehammer sarcasm being dumped on the hapless heads of arts administrators, this is the book for you.)
The original idea was that Off My Rocker should be a non-conceptual album, with a garage-band feel. My initial thought was to record with Steve Albini again, the only drawback being that I didn’t have a band, garage or otherwise, and the last time I had recorded with Steve, I did have a band. So I abandoned Plan Albini, and went with Plan Haines.
I bashed out all the instruments myself, bar a bit of cello. Half the album was recorded over Easter weekend 2004, and the other half was recorded almost a year later. The album was finished, a few labels were interested, a deal was done and a plan was concocted to release it early in 2006. But as the old saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” When it became clear that the label were not going to be paying me the agreed advance, I extricated the album from the floppy halfwits, and went looking for a new record label.
Off My Rocker was finally released by the tiny imprint Degenerate Music in late 2006. It had been a while since I’d had an album out, enough time to be forgotten, but not long enough away to be welcomed back with enthusiasm. I wasn’t that surprised, as I stood in WHSmith reading Mojo and Uncut (carefully hidden inside a copy of Asian Babes to cover my shame) to be greeted with postage stamp-sized, half-assed three-star reviews. Possibly because there was a song called “The Heritage Rock Revolution” mocking the monthly rock mags and their mouldy old prose. It wasn’t until The Guardian gave the album a great big review that anyone noticed that it was pretty good. But by then you couldn’t buy it.
If there is a theme (not a concept) to Off My Rocker it is folk devils. All the English devils. The idea of the folk devil crops up first in ‘Leeds United’, a song I wrote after reading Gordon Burns’s book about the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son. “The devil came to Yorkshire in the Silver Jubilee…” There are folk devils in the track “The Walton Hop” [about the teenage disco in Surrey frequented by convicted sex offenders including Jonathan King], and there’s a really nasty one in “Bad Reputation (The Glitter Band).” Prescient? Nah. That’s the thing about folk devils, just when you’ve convinced yourself that there’s nothing there…Boo! Up jumps the devil.
The title track of the album was the last to be recorded, and it was almost an afterthought. In my cocoon of the National Theatre throughout 2003-04, I hadn’t paid much attention to what was going on in the rock ‘n’ roll world, and was only dimly aware that there was a new wave of art school-aping apes on the rise. If “Going Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop” has got anything to say, it’s that there’s a difference between being arty and being artistic. For fun, I re-recorded the song with my pal Richard X, not because I wanted a hit, but because as much as I admired Richard’s work with Liberty X and Rachel Stevens (and I do), I wanted his sound on a song that referenced both the Vorticist Blast manifesto and László Moholy-Nagy.
I took off around the country to promote OMRATASB, mainly as a favor to Degenerate Music. The tour was a drag and by the end I’d had enough. I had been approached by a few publishers who suggested I could turn my hand to writing a book. So that’s what I did: In early 2007 I knuckled under and started writing Bad Vibes. I recorded a few more tracks for the Leeds United EP, all of which would have sounded good on Off My Rocker, but in my mind, that was me done. It wasn’t, although I didn’t really write any more songs until early 2009 for what would become my album, 21st Century Man album. Things may come and things may go but the art school dance really does goes on forever.