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Love: there’s no fee (the Jazz Butcher in memoriam)

October 18, 2021

I have been very sad these last days to hear of, and think of, the sudden passing of Patrick Guy Sibley Huntrods AKA Pat Fish – The Jazz Butcher.

The Jazz Butcher was an intricate part of my college years and beyond. Celebrations of drunkenness and dissolution, but also a scepticism toward parties, and an awful lot of extreme silliness fit in fairly perfectly to my happy-go-lucky years at university. Somewhere in the lengthy online compendium of Jazz Butcher works (meaning I can’t find it anymore), Fish mentioned the drawbacks of being seen as a quirky or novelty act when trying to develop a career, not to mention get record contracts. But that was part of the package. In the liner notes on my cassette of Bloody Nonsense, the first JB album I hever heard, it says “Press him on the subject and he will splutter through the special brew ‘of course we’re a punk group – because we do what we want to do’“ A lot of his songs also broke through the fourth wall of recorded perfomance, talking to and about the band (Anyone here seen the guitars? Ah, that must be them now), which I later realised he copped with great delight and gusto from Jonathan Richman. It felt a bit DIY, and a bit like an invitation to the party.

And for every Death Dentist or Turtle Bait (‘EVERYBODY hates poor ol’ Turtlebait‘) to spring from his distracted mind, there is also a perfect pop song, shot through with joy and desire and beauty. On a Big Saturday or even a Pineapple Tuesday, in the Rain (‘sex and the weather and the undoubted connection between the two‘), and even in the waste of space that is Ladbroke Grove to the tune of the Ugliest Song in the World he invited you to stop and be part of unexpectedly magical moments. The whimsy of much of the rest of the ouvre somehow added to the magic of these songs, in an almost Shakespearean way. Perhaps the most iconic of these is Angels, apparently written in a troubled moment:

Max, Jones and I had all been drinking dangerously for over a year now. Generally, we had it down in concert. In just about every other department, however, we were coming to bits, individually and collectively

[…]

I wrote it in 1986 (the day they bombed Tripoli, in fact [15 April -ab]) about things that would only come to pass three years later. Or something. Oh God, I never make any sense when I start to talk about this tune. The lyrics just showed up, like automatic writing or something. I love it anyway, and I hope you love it too.

(jb website)

I saw and met Pat Fish only once, when the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy played in Atlanta apparently on May 1, 1998. This was a one-off gig they had booked on the back of agreeing to get back together to play at a wedding in Atlanta (‘We actually split up two years ago,’ he quipped from the stage, ‘that’s inconvenient at a time like this’). He was hanging out by the venue doors after the show, having a smoke – as he was very much wont to do – and talking to fans. As my friend David and I waited to talk to him (so David could inquire about rights for a cover of his song Mr Odd on a live recording of his band) we heard him explaining how it was that the gig came about. Essentially, the bride had phoned him up out of the blue and asked what it would take, and cost, for them to play at the wedding. Fish recounted:

So I said, well, you know plane tickets, lodging, food and beer for a week. And she said, ‘OK, and what about the fee?’ And I said, ‘love, there’s no fee!’

This soundbyte is burned in my brain like the other kerjillion JB earworms I’ve suffered over the years. I can still hear his incredulous and generous laugh as I type this.

The moral to this story of course is emphatically not that artists should undervalue their own work. If anything, it echoes sentiments I have read in the rock memoires I’ve read of late (Kathy Valentine, Kristin Hersh, and Martin Newell) of the weird relationship (to put it euphemistically) between music and the music industry and the lengths one has to sometimes go to work love around the industry barriers. It’s just a lovely moment where a business transaction was laughed aside to focus on what matters. What if angels are the ones making jokes and wearing black?

And/so/but there’s no moral at all, really. It’s all just to say: thanks for all of that love, Mr Butcherfish, sir. You knew how these things get done, and not everybody does that.

(Ooo, and I shan’t forget you)

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