“The Piranhas” by The Piranhas - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1980Album Chart of the Decade: 1980s

TJR says

For their sole long-player in September, 1980, the Brighton five were: Bob Grover (vocals, guitar), Johnny Helmer (guitars, vocals), Reg Hornsbury (bass), Zoot Alors (sax) and Dickie Adland (drums). They had 3 Peel sessions and 3 singles behind them when they signed with Sire. Former Coventry DJ, early Specials manager and upcoming pop impresario Pete Waterman fancied he could do something with them, and was instrumental in securing the label deal; a slice of that popular and fashionable second wave of Ska action was an easy sell. Waterman produced the album's lead single, “Tom Hark”, a cracking cover of an old South African hit by Elias and His Zig-Zag Jive Flutes in 1956. It was saxophonist Phil 'Zoot Alors' Collis who discovered the original in his mum's record collection and brought it forward to the group. Famously, Grover hurriedly wrote some lyrics en route from Brighton to London for the recording session, later recalling: “The original was an instrumental so we brought it up to date with some lyrics. I could say the words were deep and meaningful, but they don't really mean much. I scribbled them on an envelope in about an hour.” Tossed-off or not, the whole irreverent sketch was inspired, all the way down to the cover which evoked the Kwela Kwela craze associated with the original song. The illustrator based his cover on the “Kwela from South Africa” EP (HMV 7EG 8369), whitening the faces and re-imagining the carnival as taking place in the south coast of England, with Brighton pier in the background. Their #6 hit in the pop charts was well-deserved.

The two b-sides were superb too, including “Boyfriend” and “Getting Beaten Up”, the latter serving as the album's classic opener with a message which absolutely resonated with me in the early 80s as a schoolboy - getting beaten up is part of growing up - it's part of life! So many times did I face the square-go challenge, either on the playground or at the school gates at the close of the afternoon session: “I get the news that someone wants to smack me in the head, My liver stops to quiver and I wish that I was dead, But I couldn't go home 'cos it wouldn't be right, 'cos even if you lose you've got to stay and fight”. So true! The album lacked strength-in-depth, but several good tracks keep the rating strong, including “Pleasure” (one of only 2 Ska tracks in the end), “Green Don’t Suit Me” (a re-recording of the Peel session track) and “I Don’t Want My Body” (a re-recording of the track which had first impressed Peel when it appeared on a 1978 compilation). The album didn't do much business, stalling at #69 and a horrific road crash, in which their road manager died, killed their mojo and momentum. They never quite nailed their clever wit and indie charm to full potential I think; I can't help but wish they'd taken themselves more seriously.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [02:28] 10.0.png The Piranhas - Getting Beaten Up (Johnny Helmer) New Wave
A2 [03:05] 7.7.png The Piranhas - Pleasure (Johnny Helmer) Ska / Rocksteady
A3 [03:01] 4.7.png The Piranhas - Do You? (Bob Grover) New Wave
A4 [03:00] 4.9.png The Piranhas - Saxophone (Johnny Helmer) Songwriter
A5 [02:35] 5.5.png The Piranhas - Love Game (Bob Grover) New Wave
A6 [02:42] 8.3.png The Piranhas - Tom Hark (Rupert Bopape, Bob Grover) New Wave
B1 [01:53] 5.7.png The Piranhas - Tension (Johnny Helmer) New Wave
B2 [02:15] 5.9.png The Piranhas - Fiddling While Babylon Burns (Johnny Helmer) Ska / Rocksteady
B3 [02:03] 7.0.png The Piranhas - Green Don’t Suit Me (Bob Grover) New Wave
B4 [02:23] 4.8.png The Piranhas - Something (Bob Grover) Pop
B5 [02:52] 5.5.png The Piranhas - Coffee (Bob Grover) Dubbeat
B6 [03:25] 8.0.png The Piranhas - I Don’t Want My Body (Johnny Helmer) New Wave
B7 [02:00] 6.5.png The Piranhas - Final Straw (Bob Grover) New Wave
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