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2023 Albums Thing 088 - Cult Figures “The 166 Ploughs A Lonely Furrow”

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Anyone who lived around our part of South Birmingham (Castle Bromwich, Chelmsley Wood, Marston Green, Sheldon, Solihull) at the time we were in our teens will likely have an inkling of what that title means. For the rest of you, the 166 was the bus route that took you from one end of that list to the other and was the bus often caught back then by Cult Figures singer Gary Jones.

Gary was a mate of my then girlfriends brother. Gary and Doris (for that was my girlfriends brothers nickname) were only a couple of years older than us but when you’re 15, 17 or 18 feels like a lifetimes difference. Gary was in a band, Cult Figures, and looked really cool in biker jacket, Levi’s and brothel creepers (funnily enough now I write it down pretty much identical to Rick and Eddie (see Eddie Cochran a few days ago) the Walthamstow rockers). But what made Gary really cool was his band made a record.

The reason he spent so much time on the 166 was to get to Solihull to hang with his college friends who were in a band called Swell Maps. They helped Gary and his band make a record on their label, Rather Records. That record was the single “Zip Nolan”, and it got played on the John Peel Show and reviewed in the inkies (that’s the NME, Sounds and Record Mirror for those not old enough to remember the inkies). Some journalists posited that this was actually Swell Maps but we knew better. Cult Figures made a second single, the “In Love EP”, which was great too, and then that was it.

In 2018 this album appeared. Cult Figures had all made friends again, done a few gigs and then recorded the album they should have made in about 1980. There are re-recordings of “Zip Nolan” and a couple of tracks from the “In Love EP” have been re-written or have grown lyrics (“Silent Majority” is the “In Love EP” song “”Almost A Love Song” with new lyrics for instance), none of them match up to the original versions but hey, I have those too so no harm done. 

Of the new songs (aka songs I’d never heard before as calling something written in 1979/80 new is a bit of a stretch) “Reactions Nil” is a tubthumping kickstarter with fab slashing and chugging guitars. These songs are all genuine “long lost gems from the British DIY Punk era” as the band put it, recorded a bit better than they might have been back in the early 80’s but with an authenticity that cannot be ignored.

My highlight is over on Side 2. “Martin’s Holiday” is all about my ex girlfriends brother Doris , a.k.a Martin, and how he dresses, goes to the Blues, then The Bell and eventually went to Italy to teach English but when he comes home the weather is always shite. Minutiae but it brings back a lot of memories.

This one may not be for everyone (maybe wait until tomorrow’s piece for something that I hope will be) but I have a lot of history wrapped up in this music and what it represents.

Reactions Nil - https://youtu.be/khJCgaYMoYs

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