Alan Partridge was advocating this band years ago, but Dan actually predate big Al himself by several years, having first gotten together in 1983 before parting and going their various ways in ‘88. You might say they had a 5 year plan and you might be wrong because this two-discs worth of material containing three albums, an EP, John Peel Sessions and a live album, shows that they were all over the place. Whatever the theory, what characterises this whopping 64 tracks worth of material is a distinctive freshness to the feel of this album. Unlike a lot of bands today, Dan were a group of mates from Darlington who throughout the majority of their career, sound and appear to be in absolute disregard to any formal aesthetics or pretension of style to the extent that their not even one of those bands who you could tag as “not giving a fuck”. Yep, it would seem all Dan wanted to do was play — this they have made a point of, listing over 100 gigs they played in what was little more than a three-year period.
The disregard for style or aesthetics is rooted in the punk that Dan played for the most part of their career. Dubbed Hardcore at times along the way, judging against the current standards of Hardcore today — ok they do play fast — they would be rightly described as being punk with pop sensibilities. Central to this sparky poppy punk, that does occasionally borrow a little Hairspray and a lot more, are the female vocals that dominate the sound and the mix. This is where first time buyers will find themselves either falling by the wayside or sitting curiously wondering what the lead singer looked like. Either way the vocals are fairly brash and smarting — little yelps here and there and pretty impassioned. Nevertheless, for the most part the female vocals dominate the tracks too often. Despite the warming evident sincerity, particularly on the slower tracks, the vocals generally lack enough steel and venom for a punk band, and enough sex and sassiness to carry a pop band, remaining just fairly evenly priced throughout. This would not really be an issue over the course of a single EP or even an album but with over 64 tracks of material, the temptation to switch off is all too strong.
The first album, Where Have All The Children Gone is definitely the strongest material of both discs and their most ‘punk’.
The first disc contains the first and second albums, Where Have All The Children Gone and An Attitude Hits (both on Meantine Records, 1987), as well as a small John Peel Session of four tracks recorded in 1988. No easy thing being granted a Peel Session, I wondered what it was Peel saw in a band like this, and kind of put it down to the fresh, slightly esoteric yet simple attitude to the band, and yes of course Peel loved punk. The first album, Where Have All The Children Gone is definitely the strongest material of both discs and their most ‘punk’. Tracks like “Conversation” and “Possession” contain some nicely fractured riffs bridged by some menacing guitar solos. On tracks like these Dan manage to sound fairly potent and one of their strongest assets is that in terms of their make-up every instrument remains busy, with drums always providing ample kick to the guitars and bass unusually melodic for such a punk band. “Heretic”, the first track of An Attitude Hits, and reportedly the first song Dan ever wrote, belies its primacy with shouty ‘the house is on fire’ type vocals and grungy snarling riffs that could justifiably be found on a Motorhead record. This wouldn’t be an anthology however, if we weren’t given the ‘warts n all’ and just like the great Lemmy himself there are a fair few warts to Dan’s facade.
Things start going a little array not far in to An Attitude Hits progressing to just a little bizarre on the final album Mother with Child And Bunny. What is interesting with this anthology, despite the goofballs and curveballs that it throws up, is how the band move with the changes in taste and musical technology that were so prevalent in the eighties. On An Attitude Hits the band have slowed their punk sound for a bigger, fuller, heavy pop studio sound that retains a little of the ‘hardcore’ through squealing big dirty guitar solos that carry many of the choruses. Although a little less interesting then the punk numbers, and sounding a lot more dated, the heavy pop tunes fit more comfortably with the female vocals and give an indication of how Dan built up a cult following during the mid-eighties.
there are some inclusions here that are way too far out even for the strongest believers
Yet as with all cult bands, there are some inclusions here that are way too far out even for the strongest believers in us. Take for example, the supposedly punk version of “If your Happy and You Know It” (and you really want to show it etc.) — also put on the live album for good measure — that is in all uncertain terms just pure wank. The curveballs continue on Mother with Child and Bunny when Dan do a cover of a honky tonk four-bar blues song called “Wonderful Time” that wouldn’t sound too out of place in a TGI Fridays. Elsewhere, Dan get ‘all corny n tings’ with a swinging reggae number called “Target” that though not quite The Slits, has a descent groove to it, only suffering when interceded by a random Salt ‘n’ Pepper style call and response breakdown. So wow, there’s a lot of different shit here.
Last of all is the live album and it doesn’t seem to add much to the rest of the anthology. By this stage in proceedings some of the songs we are hearing are for the third time, added to a live sound that is not that distinctive to their studio one. Thology, with its vast span of studio and live tracks, will no doubt be just reward for loyal fans that followed Dan throughout the eighties, but for all you cats out there it might remain little more than a curiosity.