Flesh For Lulu stamped their mark on the London indie scene of 1983 with their debut single ‘Roman Candle’, a thumping hymn to the concept of Burning Bright and Dying Young. It possessed a second-generation punk energy and a pair of snaking, intertwined electric guitars that suggested a crazed London version of Television.
Unlike many of the incipient UK indie rockers of the bright new decade, Flesh had the advantage of a frontman, Nick Marsh, who could actually sing, with a range that encompassed a Johnny Cash growl at the bottom and a Scott Walker operatic croon on top; plus he wielded a 1970s Fender Jazzmaster like he meant it. Rocco Barker, the bastard son of Lou Reed and Johnny Thunders, thrashed a Gretsch White Falcon, James ‘Junior’ Mitchell pounded his kit into submission stripped to the waist and Vox Phantom, recently departed from Batcave supremos Specimen, hammered down the bass lines.
Roman Candle was swiftly followed by Subterraneans, a thundering homage to the night tribes of the underground, and Restless, a song of joyous abandon which made live audiences howl and thrash like a demented ocean. Restless hinted at the mass appeal that might have beckoned were it not for…
Polydor Records were fed up. None of the band’s first three singles had done jack shit in terms of units shifted. Anyway, hadn’t that A&R guy who got fired eight months ago originally signed these guys as an ABC-type synthpop duo? It was all too confusing for the Polydorians. After one LP, Flesh For Lulu, which sold approximately 17 copies, it was time to shunt the Lulus out the poop-shute.
Along came Statik Records, a small label with good taste, who were building a roster of quality independent artists who either wanted to bypass the majors or who had already been ejected from Mount Olympus. Their impressive catalogue had Honolulu Mountain Daffodils, Guadalcanal Diary and Beasts Of Bourbon. That means absolutely fuck all to you, doesn’t it. Because it does to me.
Flesh For Lulu opened their Statik account with Blue Sisters Swing, an EP whose sleeve was a technicolour version of an old French etching depicting two nuns engaged in a little shadowy cloister girl-on-girl action. This ensured that it was soon being added to the pile of godless records being (literally) heaped on southern USA bonfires and burned in the 1980’s.
Seven Hail Marys was like a punk Apocalypse Now. The slab of psych-garage rock entitled I May Have Said You’re Beautiful But You Know I’m Just A Liar laid claim to owning The Longest Song Title Of All Time award. Death Shall Come was just plain weird, and Black Tattoo, ostensibly a London punk anthem, once again emphasised the band’s affinity to funk and soul music.
Baby Hurricane was the opening shot from the band’s only Statik LP, Big Fun City. It was probably the most commercial single yet, and in a perfect world would have charted hugely. You could say it was FFL’s Wonderwall, but while fate smiled on Oasis, it left The Lulus standing in a doorway on the corner of Dean Street in the freezing rain with a turned up collar and half a damp cigarette.
Still, fame and fortune weren’t everything. There was the small matter of making The Album, the album you had dreamed of making, one that would feel substantial. For Flesh For Lulu that album was Big Fun City, a great example of what a band with some powerful songs could do on a limited budget by picking the right producer. That man was Craig Leon, formerly producer of both The Ramones, Blondie and Suicide, clearly a man with impeccable street credentials.
Flesh had recorded Blue Sisters Swing in a 16-track leaky basement in Earl’s Court. It sounded pretty fucking cool. Somehow though, The Album required the proper treatment: a legendary recording studio. Somebody suggested Olympic. Well, if it was good enough for The Stones, Bowie, Cream, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Howling Wolf, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Van Morrison, Mott The Hoople, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music, Dusty Springfield, Thin Lizzy and The Who, then…I dunno, though, what about Abbey Road? Nah. That was Moptop territory. It was the footage of The Stones and Marianne Faithfull whooping round the microphone in Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy For The Devil that clinched it for FFL.
The resulting record was a rich brew of UK rock and roll and US-flavoured country, R&B and soul. Baby Hurricane was a great opener, the follow-up Cat Burglar was a tribal roll through the life and times of a London tealeaf, Bo Diddley, The Clash and The Stones looming large in a genuinely triumphant anthem. Vaguely Human, a turbo-charged rockabilly thrash, screams about ‘the beast in room 315’ and ‘400 pounds of closetry’ (is this some kind of reference to R. Kelly?) before falling apart gloriously.
Hang on a minute… I thought Flesh For Lulu were a Goth band, no?
Well, they did have Big Hair for sure, played at the Batcave several times definitely, and weren’t averse to a bit of mascara… and Nick did have a penchant for a Batman T-shirt live. But, Flesh were definitely rooted in a blues / punk culture, the UK traces of which, T.Rex, Bowie etc. came through strongly, but the core of which was US garage rock: The Velvets, Iggy & The Stooges, The Doors, The Ramones, Television, Heartbreakers, New York Dolls. They didn’t care about Kiss or Frank Zappa, although I do remember them doing a great version of Captain Beefheart’s Big Eyed Beans From Venus live once.
In a way, it’s incredible that Flesh For Lulu stayed together for four years: the most durable rock bands are usually dictatorships rather than democracies. The Lulus went on to make two more albums for Beggars Banquet before disappearing. The first, Long Live The New Flesh, actually did some decent business stateside where they had a deal and some sympathetic ears at Capitol Records.
Long Live The New Flesh is a good example of what can occasionally happen when four songwriters work together as a team. The lead singles Postcards From Paradise and I Go Crazy established a strong MTV buzz for FFL and LLTNF started to pick up sales; It’s a powerful melodic rock album somewhat marred by a flat production by Mike Hedges. Abbey Road’ll do that to ya, kids.
The second and final Beggars LP, Plastic Fantastic, should have been the one to capitalise on the buzz around Long Live The New Flesh.
They had a strong crop of songs. The opener, Decline And Fall, was a firestorm worthy of Motorhead at their finest. House Of Cards was a jangling desert rocker with an epic chorus, Day One a chugging ballad with another radio-friendly hook, hell, the country-flavoured rocker Slowdown even made the soundtrack of Uncle Buck! Every Little Word was a slinking, seductive jewel, and the title track was an audacious Prince-flavoured bump and grind. Sadly though, the high points didn’t add up to an album with a strong identity, and the low points (Highwire, Time & Space, Slide) come over as throwaway sub-Psychedelic Furs outtakes.
it was the account of a band unravelling, by this time with too many guitar players, too many songwriters and probably too much tour bus time together. Recorded in Sydney at INXS’s Rhino Studios, Plastic Fantastic isn’t a bad way for a band to bow out… but the hungry flame that had illuminated Big Fun City and Long Live The New Flesh was burning down to a flicker.
You can experience the band live and at their peak on the Roman Candle – Flesh For Lulu Live DVD, a recording of a 1985 concert at London’s Music Machine. The Restless and Cat Burglar clips above are from that show.