❉ A comprehensive look back at a band best known for their hit song ‘Perfect’.
This 2 disc CD release by Cherry Red of Fairground Attraction’s 1988 album ‘The First of a Million Kisses’ (known from here on in as FOAMK!), is in fact much more than just a re-release of the original album. It has the original very recognisable artwork, but whereas the 1988 release clocked in at 14 tracks, this release clocks in at a whopping 40 tracks, incorporating tracks from the only other studio album released under the Fairground Attraction banner, 1990’s ‘Ay Fond Kiss’, and from the live album ‘Kawasaki – Live in Japan’ (2003). There are also some demo tracks that may have never, until now seen the light of day. A lot to get through, and while disc one takes you easily through a kind of ‘Best Of Fairground Attraction’, disc two is a bit more challenging, carrying you through all those live tracks and demos –challenging only because of the variance of tempo and tone and maybe length, not because of the quality of the song writing nor the music, and certainly not for any lack in Eddi Reader’s vocals, which are best served up live.
Ah, Eddi Reader. Before we delve any deeper into Fairground Attraction, I will fess up that I am a total solid gone long-time fan of The Divine Eddi. Up here, north of The Wall, Eddi Reader is a bit of a National Treasure, an award winning singer/songwriter, actress, activist, social justice warrior and all round home-grown heroine. Sean Connery once said of Capercaillie’s lead vocalist, Karen Matheson, that she had a throat ‘touched by God’; he could just as well have said that about Eddi Reader, she breathes life into the simplest of songs, brings a heartbeat to the simplest of melodies and live she is only rivalled in my very humble opinion by Camille O’Sullivan for emotive genius. This is the woman who answered an advert in the music press back in the very early ‘80s, whilst earning a living as a busker, and ended up as the backing singer for the legendary punk band Gang of Four. The same woman who later became the award-winning chanteuse whose interpretations of the songs of Robbie Burns, opening up The Bard’s ancient prose to a whole new audience on both sides of the border. But I digress…
If asked, most people of a certain age would be able to tell you that Perfect is a Fairground Attraction song, and a very famous and very catchy one at that. Catchy enough to win them the ‘Best Single’ award at the 1989 Brit Awards, FOAMK took the ‘Best British Album’ accolade that year and actually went double platinum, which was A LOT of sales back then. But I wonder how many other songs of theirs anyone could name off the top of their heads? Does anyone remember Mark E Nevin, who was really the prime mover and shaker in Fairground Attraction, the main songwriter and the definitely the musical director. No? Nevin subsequently worked with Morrissey and Kirsty McColl and was a prolific songwriter.
The other members of Fairground Attraction were Simon Edwards, who distinguished himself by playing a guitarron instead of a traditional rock bass guitar (the guitarron being a deep bodied 6 stringed acoustic version of a bass), and drummer Roy Dodds, who appears to have kept to the version of the drum kit we all know and love… Little is known of what became of Fairground’s rhythm section, but certainly Levin and Reader went on to better things and both sustain strong careers to this day.
The singles from FOAMK are all here on Cherry Red’s re-release: The radio friendly Perfect which will brain wash you if you allow it, and the follow-up Find My Love, which made it to number 7 in the charts in the slipstream of Perfect, but it was all downhill from there; the third single Clare only made it to number 49 and Fairground Attraction started imploding, after releasing one more album ‘Ay Fond Kiss’, in 1990. ‘Ay Fond Kiss’ kickstarted Eddi Reader’s love affair with Robbie Burns, but it was a much less poppy album, so the band started losing all those pop kids who bought FOAMK from their record buying fan base. ‘Ay Fond Kiss’ was more or less the end for Fairground Attraction, but it pushed both Levin and Reader in better musical directions. The much later 2003 live release, came and went relatively un-noticed.
So, disc one is a fairly trippy, skippy upbeat hop skip and jump through everything that made Fairground Attraction the folk/skiffle/soft rock/jazz band that they were. Lesser known songs, like my personal favourite Allelujah and the very traditionally Scottish Jock O Hazledean are all here, and the overall experience is a pleasant if undemanding one, with Reader’s vocals always a delight and some of the songwriting more insightful than on first hearing. Disc two takes in those live tracks and demos of over 19 hit and miss songs, the standout track for me being I Know Why The Willow Weeps, which Reader soars with, that voice taking off if not with ease, certainly with breathtaking emotion.
A comprehensive look back at a band whose members already paid their dues prior to their brief but successful crack at the Hit Parade, well worth a listen for Eddi Reader’s peerless vocals if nothing else, and a reminder that our collective memory of the late ‘80s, might have missed a trick here.
❉ Fairground Attraction – ‘The First of a Million Kisses: Expanded Edition’ (CDBRED698) was released by Cherry Red on 20 January 2017, RRP £10.95