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Pigbag

Pigbag were a British post-punk band, active from 1980 to 1983.

Origin and formation

Pigbag were formed in Cheltenham in late 1980 by Chris Hamlin, a fashion student at Cheltenham Art College. Hamlin recruited multi-instrumentalist Roger Freeman, an old friend from his hometown of Birmingham, along with Chris Lee on trumpet and James Johnstone, a guitarist, record shop assistant and newcomer to the alto sax, for initial jam sessions which would eventually evolve into Pigbag. The group would jam in parks and various other places, but their usual practice space was Hamlin's house, Beech House, which still stands on the north-east corner of Clarence Street and St George's Place in Cheltenham.

After a couple of months they decided to expand the line-up, adding a rhythm section and rehearsing more seriously. They recruited Andrew "Chip" Carpenter on drums and Mark "Miff" Smith on bass, both old school friends of Johnstone's, and former members of his previous band Hardware, were invited to some informal rehearsals. It was at these jam sessions that "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag" was developed from an idea Chris Hamlin had had before the band was formed. The song would become their signature tune.

When Hamlin heard that Simon Underwood had left The Pop Group he invited him to join the nascent band, then trading under the tentative title "Us Corporation". Through a friend who knew Mark Stewart, The Pop Group's vocalist, Hamlin and Johnstone acquired Underwood's address and hitched down to Bristol to convince him, using tape recordings of their jam sessions. To their surprise Underwood agreed, also suggesting his friend Ollie Moore as tenor sax player.

Through Underwood's connections with Dick O'Dell, then manager of The Slits and head of Y Records, they landed their first gig, supporting The Slits at Romeo and Juliet's in Bristol. They played a twenty minute version of what was to become "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag" to a very positive reception, and the next day O'Dell invited them to record the track for Y Records. At this point they adopted the name Pigbag, in reference to Chris Hamlin's scruffy cloth bag bearing a screen-printed warthog.

Early Recordings

The band made their first recordings in 1981. Later that year they released their first single, the instrumental classic "Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag", on Y Records, distributed by Rough Trade, the title being a clear pun on James Brown's "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag". The track quickly became an underground dance hit, selling many thousands of copies and charting well in the charts.It later become the song for QPR, but most notably, Middlesbrough.

Around this time Hamlin left the band, feeling that he had created a unmanageable group with too many egos to contend with, and that he was "losing control of the band". Soon afterwards he recorded a version of "Swinging on a Star" which was never released.

The band followed the success of "Papa..." with "Sunny Day", a similarly brash, bright and funky track, and another single, "Getting Up", in early 1982. April 1982 saw the release of their first album Dr. Heckle & Mr Jive, which was a huge success, topping the UK Indie Chart for several weeks, despite carrying only "Getting Up", of their previous single releases.

The band embarked on a major college tour in spring of 1982 . The tour was the longest and most gruelling the group had ever undertaken, and put a lot of stress on the band, particularly Roger Freeman, who was replaced by Brian Nevill for several gigs.

Club play and the extensive tour had stimulated huge demand for "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag", which was consequently re-released on Stiff Records, peaking at #3 and giving the band their only significant mainstream success.

The band made two appearances on Top of the Pops, on April 8 and April 22, 1982. Brian Nevill sat in on both appearances, and Paul "Nelly" Hooper (later producer for Björk, Madonna and Soul II Soul) also made his first appearance with the band. The first Top of the Pops appearance also saw Roger Freeman's departure from the band. Already stressed from touring, Freeman refused to switch his donkey jacket for the suits which the band had decided to all wear for the show, so departed from the band on the day of the recording.

Later career

On April 27, 1982, a new line-up, including Brian Nevill and Oscar Verden, started rehearsing. The band changed their sound slightly, following up with "The Big Bean", a slower track with a more Caribbean vibe, which peaked at #40 in the mainstream charts. The single was recorded at Abbey Road Studios on June 5/6, 1982. This was followed by a short UK tour, then a European one and dates in New York on July 9/10, and Japan from July 18 to 31.

Soon afterwards Angela Jaeger, a New York jazz singer, joined the band. Jaeger had previously sung with a band called The Drowning Craze. The next LP, Lend An Ear, was recorded in the late summer of 1982, and the band appeared on the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops.

Underwood and Jaeger were married at Hammersmith Registry Office in 1983, attended by many notables from the music scene, including Johnny Rotten. During 1983, the band released a single, "Hit The 'O' Deck" (a reference to turntables), and the album recorded the previous year, Lend An Ear. The band toured the UK from February 14 to March 13, 1983. A European tour followed from March 29 to April 16. Their last ever live gig was in Portsmouth on April 28, 1983.

Following a poor critical reception to the new direction and differences in the band, Pigbag split in June 1983, with Johnstone, Jaeger and Underwood forming Instinct. Y Records released two posthumous albums, Pigbag (including seven live tracks and one remix), and Favourite Things (including all the singles plus a few other album tracks). The press accused Dick O'Dell of releasing the albums purely to buoy up Y Records' finances, which were in trouble following the failure of most of their roster to make significant sales (with the possible exception of Shriekback, who instead fell out with O'Dell and left the label).

Kaz Records (part of Castle Communications) took over Y Records' operations when the label finally went bust, and have subsequently released Discology: The Best Of Pigbag on CD.

Legacy

Although never hugely commercially successful, Pigbag had a distinctive sound that has been lauded by many critics over the years since their demise. Members of the band went on to record with many other bands, some still active today. Their career took place during the huge mushrooming and cross-pollination of genres that followed the punk movement, and their music can be said to incorporate elements of punk, jazz, funk, ska, reggae and even tribal world music, such as afrobeat, all accompanied with undeniable pop sensibility. Pigbag's influence can be heard today in the more funk-influenced percussive side of the post-punk revival, in such bands as !!! and LCD Soundsystem.

Their single "Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag" has entered mainstream consciousness, and is considered a classic pop hit of its era. It is removed somewhat from the rest of the band's career, to the effect that Pigbag are sometimes considered one-hit wonders. It has been used extensively as soundtrack music and at sporting events, particularly by Queens Park Rangers, and is still a popular dance record in clubs. In 2003, an anthem row erupted before a play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff between Cardiff and Queens Park Rangers. Eventually neither God Save the Queen or Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau were played and the clubs could choose their own song. Cardiff opted for Men of Harlech, while QPR went for Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag. The track has been covered by several other artists. It featured on the soundtrack of the 2006 film of Alan Bennet's The History Boys.

Band members

Original line-up

Later additions

Discography

Albums

Year Title UK Indie Chart Position UK Chart Position
Mar 1982 "Dr Heckle & Mr Jive" #1 #18
Feb 1983 "Lend An Ear" #7 dnc
1983 "Pigbag" dnc
1983 "Favourite Things" dnc
1987 "Discology (Best of Pigbag)" dnc
1998 "BBC Sessions" dnc

  • Seven Piggies (live-1982)
  • Live At The Hippodrome (?)

Singles

Year Title UK Indie Chart Position UK Chart Position
May 1981 "Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag" #2 dnc
Nov 1981 "Sunny Day" #2 #53
Feb 1982 "Getting Up" #2 #61
Mar 1982 "Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag" (re-issue) #1 #3
Jul 1982 "The Big Bean" #3 #40
Apr 1983 "Hit The 'O' Deck " #7 dnc

External links

References

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