You can tell a lot about a man when you read his dedications. In MIKE BADGER’S case, he dedicates “Lo-Fi Electric Excursions 1985 – 2000” to ‘all genuine music lovers who couldn’t care about who or how many were at the gig’, which in any sane world is of course exactly the way we should all be showing our appreciation for the best music out there, regardless of prevailing trends and the blasted zeitgeist.
But then, bearing in mind the slings and arrows he’s had to suffer, Mike Badger remains an example to us all involved in this scabrous music industry. And to be so well-adjusted after being so shockingly undervalued for so long is in itself a truly staggering achievement.
For those of you who are still unaware of him, Badger is actually a Liverpudlian cult hero of some repute and one whose voice deserves to be heard loud and clear even at this stage in his ‘career’. He’s the man who originally created THE LA’S with Lee Mavers and the man so often written out of their history entirely by the greater media. He also fronted the under-valued folk/ country-rock troupe THE ONSET through the late 1980s to the mid ‘90s and has since then recorded several absolute jewels with the stupidly obscure KACHINAS in the late 1990s and also released another under-appreciated solo gem in the shape of 2000’s “Double Zero” with the help of Rain’s Martyn Campbell and Icicle Works/ Robbie Williams drummer Chris Sharrock.
All these bands and/ or projects feature on Mike’s excellent archival collection “Lo-Fi Electric Excursions”, which is – as you might expect – the more amped-up sister-piece to Badger’s 2004’s compilation “Lo-Fi Acoustic Excursions”. Bearing in mind most of these songs were recorded on either primitive 4-track equipment or even cassette recorders, the recording quality is lower than the majority of mainstream modern releases, but that’s rarely a problem as the songs themselves are simply a joy to behold.
The album opens with a stone cold classic thanks to the majestic sweep of The Kachinas’ “Weeping Willow”: exhilarating soulful indie-rock at its’ finest with impassioned vocals from Badger, wonderfully descriptive lead guitar from Danny Dean and warm, Booker T-style organ from Christians’ mainstay Henry Priestman. It’s one of a clutch of treasures in this short-lived band’s brief history and “Electric Excursions” also finds room for the likes of the spiky, Ska-style edge of the potent “Red Cloud” (this time aided and abetted by Dean’s wicked Robby Krieger-ish bottleneck) and the sorrowful, skirling folk-rock of the haunting “Take Effect.”
Your reviewer was previously lucky enough to have caught Mike’s terminally under-rated Onset play a couple of cracking shows in Liverpool at the turn of the ‘90s and once again their rich history is tapped for some fresh contributions to the Badger legacy. There’s a basic, but exciting live version of the tense “Time Bomb” with the band battling and winning against an apparently apathetic crowd at a Winchester gig; a raw, but exhilarating rehearsal version of their ‘greatest hit’ that should’ve been (“What Say You?”) and “Hear May Call”: a fierce, humbucking, ‘Nuggets’-style anthem which finally climbs out of the vaults to blink in public for the first time.
There are a couple of fine out-takes from Badger’s “Double Zero” (2000) courtesy of “Underworld”s gritty Scouse power pop and the spacy’n’fractious “Shadow Dub”, but the archivists out there will probably marvel most at the release of several intriguing items from The La’s vault. Both a rehearsal tape of the ’85 vintage version of the band covering Buddy Holly’s “Midnight Shift” and an instrumental take of the Bo Diddley-ish “(Down At The) Space Rocketry” are extremely lo-fi but fascinating, while Badger’s weirdo dub version of “I Did The Painting” (or “Painting Dub” as it appears here) is a long way from the bittersweet Mersey-pop Mavers men would go on to make their own and a mournful version of “What Do You Do?” from a Bootle pub residency is more recognisable stylistically but finds Badger again in charge of lead vocals.
Of course it’s easy to carp about the rudimentary quality of many of these recordings in this super-sharp digital age, but since when did great rock’n’roll start getting equated with 5000 takes of songs and 96-track studios? “Lo-Fi Electric Excursions” is very much what it purports to be on the tin and often comes without the expected course of wart remover. However, bearing in mind most of these songs were recorded without the likes of record deals and advances, for the high standards inherent in Mike Badger’s work not only to survive but thrive says a lot about the resourcefulness of this singular character and his ability to choose gifted collaborators along the way. Long may he continue not to let the bastards grind him down.