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Jellyfish (the band) - an appreciation

There are few bands of any real note these days that are still to reform and ride the nostalgia train one more time.

Weller won't countenance taking The Jam round the world; Morrissey would never cheer up enough to consider a fresh alliance with Johnny Marr et al; Rick Davies hates Rodger Hodgson more than enough to rule out Supertramp bothering again.

Whether that last example bothers anyone else is open to question.

But there's one enigmatic, mysterious band who emerged, shone brighter than Alpha Centuri and promptly disappeared 2 albums in a 4-year spell during the early 90's. They weren't platinum sellers, nor were they Grammy luvvies, but as the years have past, more and more have come to the realisation that this band was the right band at precisely the wrong time.

That band was Jellyfish.

I still vividly remember my mate Ben bringing a single entitled 'The King Is Half Undressed' back to the house we shared in Hall Green at the start of the 90's. At the time, most of the bands we all listened to were Sunset-Strip style hair and sleaze metal bands all chasing the diminishing returns that Mötley Crüe had left in their wake.

Vain, Enuff Z'Nuff, Bulletboys...all had their merits, and we enjoyed a good deal of their stuff if not all. Grunge, though, was just starting to surface in Seattle with Mudhoney & Mother Love Bone the forerunners of the movement that Nirvana & Soundgarden would later take worldwide, but even in the suburbs of Birmingham and the rock clubs we frequented, there was a slight sense of that seismic shift coming.

The feeling was that anything colourful or 'fun' was going to be swept away by a tidal wave of plaid, badly conditioned hair and earnest, angsty lyrics. Probably then, the wrong moment for a San Francisco band to emerge wearing garish psychedelic outfits and terrifying anyone within earshot with pinpoint accuracy close-harmony singing, not to mention a musical pallet that encompassed almost every single '2nd generation' Beatles band from the 70's...you know, the ones that wore the Fab Four's influence not so much on their sleeve as tattooed on their forehead.

'The King Is Half Undressed' had an insistent drumbeat at the start like Ringo on speed, with harpsichords and heavy guitars intertwining around a smart melodic vocal. A catchy chorus was followed by the most lush & dreamy mid section, where the band hit the most stunning barbershop quartet-esque harmonies before the last chorus.

We were all impressed to say the least.

Then the video for said track started getting airplay on MTV - in the days where MTV actually concentrated on music and not 16-year-old birthday parties from hell - and we started to love them even more. 'Psychedelic Hippies' would be about the best way to describe what we saw as copious amounts of flora and fauna pointlessly emerged from singer Andy Sturmer's hat, whilst the other members shook tambourines as effeminately as possible.

It all made sense to Ben, Phil & myself anyway.

But the true genius of Jellyfish was yet to be revealed, and it only started to come apparent when we heard they were touring the UK and playing Goldwyns in Birmingham. Goldwyns was kind of an annex to the Edwards No 8 rock complex, which was larger than Edwards venue itself and had played host to Vixen (close on 100% male audience that evening) and the Macc Lads (almost definitely 100% male audience and toilets summarily destroyed that night) in the recent past.

When we arrived, we were presented with a most unusual sight. The drums were up front and centre stage for Jellyfish, and looked like they were set for someone to play standing up. I don't think looking back that any of us were prepared for that eventuality (pre-internet & message boards, remember) and our intrigue grew and grew. We knew Andy Sturmer was singer and drummer, but STOOD UP?

Out they came in the same sort of garb we'd seen on the video for King Is Half Undressed - Sturmer took his place and proceeded to blow me away with his performance. Not to mention his cohorts Roger Manning, Jason Faulkner and Chris Manning. It was faultless - jaw droppingly faultless.

I wish I could remember what the set list was, what covers they cleverly dovetailed in with their own material in homage to their influences, what they opened with, what their encore was...in subsequent years it became clear that McCartney's Let Em In was used to segue into That Is Why; Argent's Hold Your Head Up preceded Calling Sarah and another Wings song, Jet, was a regular highlight. As was Badfinger's No Matter What - all such cleverly selected nuggets of power pop genius that interwove perfectly with the Bellybutton album material that we were all so enamoured with.

I harboured brief thoughts after the gig that I could take my own band Shotgun Wedding down the singing-stood-up-drummer route, but it never got past the conceptual stage and I went back to simply marvelling at Jellyfish's skill & songwriting panache. All went quiet as 1991 became 1992, though. No news apparent on a follow up throughout the whole of the next year.

But then in late Spring of 1993, a young colleague of mine at Musical Exchanges in Brum casually announced he was getting an advance copy of Jellyfish's new album ahead of official release and would I be interested in hearing it?

Oh boy.

That album would soon be released as 'Spilt Milk' and it swiftly became the soundtrack to my summer of 1993 and precious little else could compete. Once the official release came out I poured over the liner notes, seeking out who played what where & how. Russian Hill took pride of place as my favourite ever song, and somehow Jellyfish eclipsed their debut with an album that almost defied logic. They threw the kitchen sink and all the cleaning products underneath it on the production values and yet somehow didn't overdo it.

They toured the UK again in 1993 with 50% new personnel, as Eric Dover and Tim Smith took on guitar/bass duties. It was Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall this time, and I remember more of the night than I do the '91 tour. 'All Is Forgiven' was the opener and had that glorious fading vocal harmony between verses shaking my head in disbelief.

As with the Bellybutton tour, the performance was spellbinding. Undeniably tight and focused, with no hint amongst us of anything else but an inexorable rise to the very top for Sturmer and co. Even if they never played Russian Hill especially for me.

They also appeared on Later With Jools Holland that tour, playing a (presumably under duress from BBC bigwigs) ridiculously abridged version of Bye Bye Bye and a full Ghost At Number One. Faultless though it was, the band were now swimming in a sea of grunge, and even the early stages of post grunge...Cobain still had a year to live, Jon Bon Jovi had ditched the poodle perm to look a tad more earnest, and everyone was writing quiet/loud/quiet/loud grunge rock by numbers that the general public was lapping up. Jellyfish were simply getting lapped by those around them.

And within a year of that tour, they were no more, seemingly ended due to Sturmer & Manning finding it impossible to work together anymore - but you can imagine their collective head-scratching as to why Spilt Milk hadn't catapulted them from the top of the 'B' bands to way up the 'A' list. I still can't work it out. Sturmer went on to write for kids TV themes and Ozzy albums to make a decent living you'd imagine, Tim Smith joined Sheryl Crow's touring band and Manning joined forces with Dover to form Imperial Drag who release one album to the heavier side of Jellyfish before similarly imploding to strange indifference from the general public.

Indeed there was no real outcry over Jellyfish's demise at the time, aside from those of us lucky enough to have seen them and understood the musical pallet from which they painted such broad, colourful brushstrokes. We all tried to find a Jellyfish substitute in the years that followed, with only moderate levels of success. Yes there was Redd Kross and the like, but nothing as dizzyingly structured as the originators. And so, I kept coming back to Bellybutton & Spilt Milk from time to time and fall in love with them all over again, never getting bored with them.

Thankfully with the advent of YouTube in recent years, live footage has emerged of the band from dates mostly on the Spilt Milk tour. There's one clip on a single camera of Joining A Fan Club which boggles the mind with just how on the money the band are musically & vocally...if not necessarily visually! But you can't help that with a singing drummer - anyway, watching Andy perform was mesmeric enough to make you forget he was a frontman who could never move!

Will they ever reform then? Seems very doubtful. Sturmer’s reclusive status has given no clues as to his state of mind or openness to ‘going back’ – and let’s face it, there’s no filthy lucre in a Jellyfish reunion the same way as The Police, The Eagles or Fleetwood Mac can coin it in. So that’s probably that, then.

Luckily, one record company has been drip-feeding previously unreleased JF material in the last 18 months – both studio albums have been re-released with no lead vocals so you can bask in the glory of the instrumental work that vocals can sometimes mask a little. Then there’s a live album from the 1st tour and a selection of acoustic sessions from radio stations to further cement the Jellyfish legacy as an utterly fearless band, ready to dazzle anyone with the way they somehow re-created the studio trickery live without a net, as it were. Cheap Trick have their smart claim to be everyone’s 5th favourite band or something like that…Jellyfish should undoubtedly be your favourite band you’ve never heard of – if that makes sense.

Maybe it’s best that they don’t reform anyway. Sturmer may not fancy the idea of standing up drumming anymore in his 40’s! *kidding*

Comments

Hey Id! Wierdly I never

Hey Id! Wierdly I never brought Bellybutton, but Spilt Milk frequents my car to this day. Awesome stuff and I for one would be at the front of the queue should a re-union tour ever happen. Anyway you've inspired me to head off to Amazon for a long overdue purchase!

PS That Vixen gig at Goldwyn's was my first ever proper gig, 1989 no less ;o)

I just watched the single

I just watched the single shot video on YouTube of the entire show, I believe it is from San francisco?
Even with one shot, from kinda far away, with video camera sound quality, that still has to be one of the most amazing things I have ever seen!
Unfortunately, I never was able to see Jellyfish live (I did see imperial drag, that was the closest I got).
After watching those YouTube clips I started searching online which is how I found your page.

I'm grateful that omnivore has been re-releasing all of the Jellyfish stuff on audio.
I really wish someone would put together some of their video history (I still have my gone jellyfishing vhs tape.)

I wish I was a documentary film maker, because I would make the Jellyfish story!

I would also think they would get offers for a Japanese reunion tour as popular as they were there and the success Andy had with Puffy Ami Yumi.

I would really like to see them give it one final victory lap tour of Japan, film it and put it together with a jellyfish documentary film.

Is there a petition I can sign or something to make this happen?
If nothing more than Andy and Roger becoming friends again, it would be totally worth it!
It would also be nice to have something to eventually show the future grandkids when you are trying to explain what GREAT music was and how it used to be performed LIVE without auto tune and how it was made in a studio with real instruments and.....TALENT!

Great blog! Always nice to

Great blog! Always nice to see someone gushing about the 'Fish. I can't tell you how many times I had to re-purchase the Spilt Milk CD. I kept giving mine away to everyone I met trying to turn them on to them. My favorite album of all time!

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