For a brief period in the 1980’s one band exploded onto the scene like a comet hitting the planet, only to disappear as quickly as they appeared. That band was The Tinned Pilchards, since written out of the history of popular culture and a mystery to most, their untold story is one of corporate big business destroying what they can’t control through fear that the ancient monolith that was their business model was under direct attack.
There is very little media still in existence, having been deleted or destroyed as a result of multiple injunctions and court cases, but we have managed to obtain rare recordings and footage as well as tracking down one of the members who was willing to talk, well, he didn’t know he was being recorded and we transcribed the recording, which is almost the same thing.
It all began with what they thought was their big break, after weeks of toiling on the local bedroom scene their first official release, ‘Fast’, was picked up by national radio DJ Bob Harris who played the track once, really late at night when very few people were listening. Such was his interest in the song he insisted that it opened the next edition of The Old Grey Whistle Test, however, the band weren’t available to perform so in good old OGWT fashion an old animation was played with the track. No official copies of this broadcast still exist, however, these were the days of video recorders and we have obtained a private tape that you can view now, for the first time since that original broadcast:
An instant classic, I’m sure everyone would agree, but this is where the problems began. Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagan saw the show and was incensed, insisting that the chords used where clearly Steely Dan chords and that whoever was playing them was butchering them by not playing ‘Square’ enough. This was the first lawsuit, there were more to come.
The single itself had been independently released as a 7″ and 12″ with the flip side an almost unlistenable experimental track by keyboardist Peter Bushnell titled ‘Ooh Yes Very Good’. Although all the vinyl copies of the single were destroyed (although it is rumoured that one copy still exists which, if found, could be worth tens of pounds ) some rare footage of a live performance has recently emerged, which we can share with you now, although we recommend not bothering.
Renowned journalist and Media entrepreneur Ella Bushnell (not a relation) tracked down the bands multi-instrumentalist Verian Thomas and had a chat, secretly recording the conversation using one of those new-fangled digital recorders, this is what’s said:
When you played with
Dad Pete and Dave in The Tinned Pilchards, what were your inspirations when forming/making music with the band?
I’d been in bands since school, playing guitar or bass, but moved away in 1983, when I was 16, and lost touch with most of the people from those days so the Pilchards were, to some degree, a way of staying in touch and a social thing. I don’t recall us ever discussing playing in front of an audience other than one of us suggesting a tour of people’s living rooms once, which I probably would have done if any of us actually had the organisational skills to set it up.
The music that we made was restricted by the capabilities of the individual band members such as Dave (who insisted on being called Dwayne Mustard) stealing most of his lyrics from other people’s songs and Pete playing Steely Dan inspired keyboard chords whenever possible. Despite this we did manage to put together an OK body of work over a period of several years but were limited to some degree by the technology we had available to us to record the songs. We used my Fostex 4 Track, which used cassette tapes, and if we needed more than 4 tracks then it was necessary to merge two tracks together thereby leaving a spare track. Every time we did this the degradation in sound quality was pretty evident. I think our aim was to get together for a day, write and record an entire song and then we all felt it to have been a pretty productive and worthwhile day. It was rare that we didn’t manage that.
There was a very broad range of musical inspirations that each person brought to the band and we ended up sounding nothing like any of them, which is probably a good thing. At the time I was in a 4AD phase, which continues to this day to a degree, and was listening to The Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, that sort of thing, as well as The Sisters of Mercy, The Cure and Xmal Deutschland, a closet Goth if truth be told, but still listening to and influenced by the music that I grew up with, which was in the Prog Rock musical spectrum, such as Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes, or Rock from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the like. At the same time Dave and Pete would talk about the bands they were listening to and I would investigate those as well, bands like The Blue Nile, China Crisis, Prefab Sprout, but I think the initial desire to write and record was born a few years earlier, in 1983, with the release of Soul Mining by The The. At the time I was told that it was one guy, Matt Johnson, who basically recorded the whole thing in his bedroom on rudimentary equipment, sent off demos and got a deal. There was a point where I thought I could also do that. The story about The The turned out to not be true, but that didn’t really matter.
After your song was played on the Old Grey Whistle Test, how did you feel about everything that happened afterwards?
What do you mean by everything?
Well, the court cases, accusations of plagiarism, your vilification in the music press, that sort of thing.
I was fine about it, if you want to know more about that stuff speak to Dave, or bloody Dwayne or whatever he’s calling himself nowadays. Probably Stong or Peter Gobriel.
At this point he left without saying goodbye
The previously mentioned lawsuits came thick and fast as it became increasingly clear that several elements of other peoples songs had been ‘borrowed’. While the appropriation of Steely Dan chords case didn’t get anywhere it lasted long enough for the initial buzz about the band to dissipate. Even if they could have bounced back from that they faced more hurdles over the lyrics to the songs they had recorded for a proposed album release.
During the plagiarism trials, The Old Bailey judge found in favour of the 63 plaintiffs in all cases stating “That this trial only took 12 minutes is indicative of how bloody obviously the lyrics have been stolen from other songs”. Lyricist and Singer David Bushnell has always maintained his innocence, which is ridiculous as he really did quite obviously steal from Sting, Steely Dan and other sources.
After this the band collapsed, they made no money from that initial release and any future earnings they may make were already sequestered by the court, their only hope was a completely original song, so there was no chance of a comeback although they did return to the studio one more time but none of the recordings ever surfaced.
While researching this article we were approached by a man who called himself only Lionel and claimed to have been the recording engineer at those lost sessions, we didn’t believe him of course, he seemed rather shady, but having heard the tape it was undeniably The Pilchards, for the price of his bus fare home he provided us with the unmixed demo tape of the one song that survived from the session. We feel we overpaid, however, here is that never before heard song.
And so, The Tinned Pilchards, a band that had, momentarily at least, the whole world at their feet faded into complete obscurity and having written this I now feel, perhaps, that they should have stayed there.