Articles: The Barracudas Cult in Italy

    I Will (Not) Marry Simon Le Bon… I Prefer Surf Rock: The
Cult By  Michele Ballerini

  It's not too difficult to remember the spring of 1983. They were hard times for rock'n'roll. The charts were dominated by dull techno-pop bands, and electric guitars were more out of vogue than horse and carriages! Back then, in the French magazine Rock & Folk there appeared an article called : The Uprights (Les Intègristes). Who are they? They are punk bands that after years of perseverance, against all odds, keep the flag of rock'n'roll flying high. They are the Fleshtones, the Saints, the Real Kids and… of course, the Barracudas!" (Eddy Cilia , from Il Mucchio Selvaggio magazine October 1985)

Now British collectors spend dozens of pounds to own their more rare records. Only two years ago, an obscure and irresponsible scribbler at Melody Maker closed with these words, the most stupid, arrogant and ridiculous review I've ever read: "The Barracudas are a fish unable to bite…, I seriously doubt someone will remember them in 1998 as cult heroes". (E. Cilia , ibidem)

The cult of the Barracudas takes shape in the inflammable London of 1977, when Jeremy Gluck, a guy from Ottawa, Ontario, fanatic of bands like Beach Boys, Who and the Trashmen, is dazzled , during a night at the Soho Speakeasy, by the immense musical knowledge of a certain Robin Wills, sometime guitarist with the Unwanted ( they released three 7" of pure 77 punk rock on the Raw Records label).

The two guys feeling immediately in perfect agreement with each other, spent the whole night chatting about good old vinyl. A few days later they nurture the idea, against the prevailing fashion, and form a band that reflect their huge passion for surf music and the innocence of the melodies of the 60s.

After some gigs as RAF, they choose the name Barracudas, a clear tribute to Barracuda, a minor hit of the LA based The Standells, one of the most amazing garage bands of the mid 60s.

It's May of 1978. In a London dominated by the darkness of the post-punk aesthetic and fickle major music magazines, always in search of new trends and front cover icons to impress, the Gluck/Wills' led group choice of the most cultish, obscure Rock and Roll, is a very courageous move. Many music critics consider this a crazy decision to play unfashionable surf music in London at this time.

In September '78 the band's line-up becomes stable , with the arrival of David Buckley on bass and drummer Nick Turner ( ex-founder member of the Raincoats and, later, in the mid 80s, in the great Lords Of The New Church). Geoff Hann, a great fan of surf and pop (he produced the Ripchords' EP), decides to invest in them. The Hann's owned label Cells, releases the first Barracudas single : I Want My Woody Back c/w Subway Surfin' in June 1979. I Want My Woody Back is one of those catchy songs that capture your soul immediately. A typically Who/Kinks style sound structure , and a vocal clearly influenced by Joe Strummer, and fantastic vocal harmonies that remind one of the Beach Boys / Monkees / Shirelles.

The song is splendid, a joyful hymn to the beach parties of the 60s, to the bikini girls and to the "rebellious daughters" of the teen exploitation movies, with a unique desire: to be caressed by the California sun forever (like the Ramones - or our 60s band Dik Dik! - time to re-evaluate them!).

The single receives great radio attention, sales of 5.000 copies and in a very short time there is born a legion of cult followers devoted to the Barracudas all across UK. In the following months the band record new demo tunes.

Roger Ames, an EMI A&R, accesses their new tracks as a potential hit singles, gets in touch with the band. Finally in January 1980 they sign for EMI. But the mighty major label, normally geared to big money making artists, fail to adequately promote the band and sidetrack them to a small subsidiary Regal Zonophone. This subsidiary is in fact an old EMI label with a 50-year history, but feigns a pseudo-indie appearance to a majority unaware of its origins.

For Zonophone they record in quick succession (between June 1980 and January 1981), their next 4 great singles:

Summer Fun /Chevy Baby
His Last Summer/ Barracuda Waver / Surfers Are Back
(I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again/ Rendezvous
I Can't Pretend / The KGB

The catchy "falsetto harmonies" , the divine vocal interplay, the great "gabba gabba hey" sound of these singles, swell the Barracudas' cult following. In February 1981 they release their first LP: Drop Out With…The Barracudas. This LP is very simply splendid and is in my opinion (besides their 2nd LP Meantime - 1983) one of the most important albums of the early 80s.

Besides the pure delicious surf style tracks that had already appeared on the singles, emerge new great songs: This Ain't My Time or We're Living In Violent Times for example. Many recall the folk rock and psychedelic pop of bands like the Flamin' Groovies, Byrds, and the Beatles.

The LP's reviews , mainly in France, are enthusiastic, but the new EMI A&R man ( the same guy that signed Iron Maiden to EMI for god sake!), don't show any interest in their music.

The same A&R manager also signed Duran Duran in the same period, and wanted to exploit the whole new romantic phenomenon, that , as we all know, in a few weeks also conquered Italy. With all his hype surrounding the super excited teenyboppers, "I'll Marry Simon Le Bon!!" hysterically screams ( you gotta see the "I'll Marry Simon Le Bon" Italian 80s teen movie… exhilarant!!!!!), fucking Sanremo nights and ridiculous Italian fascist assholes tanned with UVA and playing Duran Duran tunes to pick up blank stupid chicks.

As a result of the new romantic trend, EMI boot the Barracudas off the label. They keep playing for another 3 years , recording many other gems for our pleasure, treated like legends in continental Europe but unfortunately absent from the UK's most influential magazines.

In December 1984, after the issue of their third LP Endeavour To Persevere which sold 12.000 copies, having been described by Marco Reina of Rockerilla magazine as "simply fantastic" - "…in this LP I can feel all the charm of the perfect pop melody". The band split up due to irreconcilable differences between Gluck and Wills.

In short, I'll love the Barracudas forever cos, when I was 16 and in the so foggy afternoons in winter I was forced to study that fuckin' ballbreaker of Hegel ( not to mention Fichte!!!!), their wonderful tunes were the best cure against study. Fuck off the German "idealism" (and also the Italian idealism!), we love surf.

Michele Ballerini
Original translation Michele Ballerini
Semi-Translation & Editing: Mr Qwerty



Want My Woody Back Cells 1979

Summer Fun Zonophone 1980

I Can't Pretend Regal Zonophone 1981

Drop Out With The... Zonophone 1981

Mean Time Closer 1983

Endeavour To Persevere Closer 1983

Through The Mysts of Time (1978-81)