Monday, 22 July 2013

Cassette experiment day 117 - Phranc 'Positively Phranc'

Saturday 20th July was ‘Newcastle Pride 2013’ (Headline acts – Amelia Lily, Steptastic (‘The UK’s definitive tribute to the nation’s best loved pop group Steps!’) and Toyah) so I thought that it would be only right and proper today to choose an appropriate album in response.

So our cassette today is ‘Positively Phranc’ by Phranc, the Jewish Lesbian former folk singer and now Tupperware seller and cardboard artist of some renown. And there aren’t many people who can say that.

Sadly, Phranc pretty much stopped making music when she took up with Tupperware (documented in the award-winning 2001 documentary ‘Lifetime guarantee: Phranc’s adventure in plastic’) and music’s sad loss was many a kitchen’s happy gain.

‘Positively Phranc’ was Phranc’s third album, released in 1991, and the insert features Phranc on the beach wearing red, yellow and white striped pyjamas and sporting her customary ‘flat-top’ hairstyle. The album includes barely 30 minutes of pop tunes, all of which are probably unlike anything you’ll have ever heard before.

For example, ‘Hitchcock’ is a warm love song, written for someone (un-named) who reminds Phranc of many of Alfred Hitchcock’s stunning leading ladies. And the closing track on side one, the wonderful ‘Tipton’ is a tribute to jazz musician and bandleader of some repute, Billy Lee Tipton. When Billy passed away in 1989, aged 74, it was discovered that he wasn’t a man at all, but a woman originally known as Dorothy – and without Phranc I’d never have known this.

On side two Phranc bravely tries (but struggles a little with, and who wouldn’t) Brian Wilson’s ‘Surfer Girl’. If you’re going for a Beach Boys track then you’re bound to live or die by the harmonies and in this case Phranc and her harmonisers don’t quite cut the mustard.

Where Phranc does hit the spot beautifully is with ‘Gertrude Stein’*. I’ll explain, but you’ll have to concentrate. ‘Gertrude Stein’ is Phranc’s re-imagining of Jonathan Richman’s ‘Pablo Picasso’, but instead of Gertrude’s friend Pablo never being called an asshole, Phranc’s version has the inventor of ‘the lost generation’ avoiding the same insulting fate. All I can say for certain is that Pablo and Gertrude obviously never pulled out of a junction suddenly in front of a boy-racer.

The album closes fittingly with the heart-wrenching ‘Outta here’, 2 minutes and 21 seconds dedicated to ‘Patrick Kelly, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe and all those suffering in the AIDS crisis’.

Having said all that, I’m sure Steptastic would’ve been brilliant. And Toyah and Amelia.

Label - Island

Year – 1991

*my favourite Gertrude Stein quote - “If you can't say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me.”

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