Recently on 6Music, Steve Lamacq asked for suggestions of near misses by obscure 90s indie bands to play on his show. On the whole the suggestions were rather prosaic and uninspiring until one lady suggested they play some Cud. This wasn’t just a mild-mannered ‘hey, remember these guys?’ request, this was a full-on obsessive fan outright demanding that ‘Leeds cuddliest combo’ (though oddly, none of the band members were born in Leeds) be given some small amount of recognition. It was rather fitting really, as Cuds fanbase, although modest in number remain unswervingly loyal to the point of fanaticism. If you were a Cud fan back then, chances are you’re still a Cud fan now.
I have to shamefully confess to being ignorant of Cud during their heyday. I only discovered them when I was an impoverished student in Wigan, flipping through the racks of a now long-disappeared second hand music market stall. There I stumbled across a rather odd CD titled Asquarius, which featured raised hands on the front and a four-piece group featuring a guy who looked for all the world like Mott the Hoople vintage Ian Hunter on the back. Intrigued, I paid the princely sum of £2, strolled back to the little house I rented, put the CD in the draw of the player and hit play. “Rich and Strange” started, and I promptly fell in love.
Unlike so many of their contemporaries, Cud sound as if they had genuine fun being a rock band. They had the tunes, they had the musicianship, they had a sense of humour and they had the type of connection with their audience that all great bands strive for. They were also cruelly ignored by the wider music-buying public.
Cud’s first album, When in Rome, Kill Me, found them still evolving their sound, but already having a fully developed sense of mischievousness. Despite building an enviable reputation via radio sessions where they entertained with their unique covers of Hot Chocolate and Jethro Tull tunes, their debut album was fully self-penned. Few indie bands would have risked recording a side-long conceptual suite for their debut album, let alone making it side one, but Cud did and as a result, When in Rome, Kill Me is a suitably wonky and fun album. Outside of the conceptual side, it’s best known song is “Had it with Blondes”, which boasts one of the greatest opening lines in rock and roll, but it is tied for best song on the album with the brilliant “(Only a) Prawn (in Whitby)”, one of Cud’s signature tunes.
Sadly, due to a lack of finance at the time, When in Rome, Kill Me was initially released with minimal mastering of the tracks (hence the reissue of 2008 boasting that it was ‘Mastered for the first time’) and such lack of care and the resulting sound were always going to hold the album back from being the success it should have been.
Still, the ball was now rolling and Cud followed up their debut with Elvis Belt, a collection of radio sessions, b-sides and offcuts. Sure, it was scrappy and didn’t hold together so well as an album, but it was a suitably enthusiastic release.
Their second album proper was Leggy Mambo and it was a significant leap forward in both sound and style. “Now” was a confident statement of intent to open the album, infusing it with an energy that was only increased by “Hey Boots”, a song into which vocalist Carl Puttman poured everything he had. Although perhaps not as infused with funk as their later work, Leggy Mambo was the work of a band that knew they were on the upswing and were suitably confident as a result. This confidence resulted in such heart-swelling tunes as the surf-guitartastic “Not Exactly D.L.E.R.C.” (even now Puttnam refuses to divulge what it stands for) and “Eau Water”, a song which may or may not be about Evian.
Leggy Mambo was a step up on every level from When in Rome Kill Me, though some fans may prefer the shambolic naivety of the earlier release. Whatever the case, with Leggy Mambo, Cud sent a message to the music industry that they weren’t just mucking about having a good time, they were a genuinely ambitious and exciting band with something considerably more unique to offer than their more famous contemporaries.
Such ambition paid off when the band signed to A&M records and the increased budget and faith in their abilities resulted in Asquarius, one of the finest albums of the 90s and considerably more entertaining than any other released in 1992. Kicking off with the brilliantly self-deprecating “Rich and Strange” and followed by the Mike Dunphy on a mountain-top riffing of “Easy”, the whole album is a tantalising glimpse of what Britpop could have been if the press had got behind the likes of Cud and the Wonder Stuff rather than Suede, Blur and Oasis (i.e. genuinely smart and fun rather than a marketing exercise). Alas, despite it being Cud’s best-selling album, it only briefly charted in the top thirty and the chance to capture the music buying public’s imagination was lost. Still at least Cud now had a killer closing track in “No Smoking” and William Potter and Steve Goodwin were fast becoming funkiest rhythm section in the country.
The commercial indifference that met Asquarius must have hurt Cud, especially as it genuinely was so much better than whoever made the front NME and Melody Maker during that period. Perhaps somewhat chastened by their experience, album number two for A&M, Showbiz, was released in 1994 and was a more focused and mature album than what had gone before. Showbiz was from top to bottom a great album which managed to mix rocking guitar tunes with Puttnam’s emotive vocals and their increasingly funk-based rhythm section. It was the album where Cud came of age and suitably strutted their stuff to display how far they had come in five short years. Sadly no one outside their devoted fanbase noticed, resulting in Showbiz criminally charting even lower than Asquarius.
Cud spluttered on for a couple more years, recording the odd session, but eventually called it a day during the period that was the very apex of the Britpop movement.
Then it all went quiet…
Over the next few years there were the odd rumour than Carl was putting together a solo album, but the general gist was that the band had got fed up of the mass indifference that met their music and the resulting musical differences. As a result they all got what could loosely be termed as proper jobs and got on with the business of living life.
During this time Cud were slowly forgotten about, their albums became ever more difficult to find as they were never reissued beyond their initial pressings and fans like me who came to the band late were doomed to spend their weekend flicking through the racks of their local second hand music store in the distant hope of finding a water-damaged CD of Leggy Mambo. If you were looking for When in Rome, Kill Me or Elvis Belt, you’re only option seemed to be eBay, where even much-played pre-loved copies were going for over £65 a piece…
The first light at the end of the tunnel was a two CD compilation issued in 2006. Rather than a straight trot through the greatest hits and misses of their four studio albums, it was a fan-pleasing whistle stop tour of early radio sessions, key album tracks and singles and, best of all, a selection of post-Showbiz tracks that indicated that even when the band were on the ropes and struggling with musical differences, they were still capable of recording brilliant tunes. The best example of this is “Apollo”, a song which could be considered one of their very best and a personal favourite of mine. Cud even reformed for a few gigs to promote it, much to the jubilation of their fans.
2008 was even better was their four studio albums were re-released with bonus tracks (which didn’t add much to the original albums, but were an interesting mix of live cuts, radio sessions and various heart-warming chicanery), as well as a much-expanded Elvis Belt, which was now accompanied by a second disc titled Elvis Handbag. In the spirit of the original release, it was a patchy but good-natured compilation of odds and sods that weren’t available elsewhere. The gem unearthed this time was a song called “Judas Kiss”, a song so good it begged the question why it hadn’t seen the light of day before.
Since then Cud have reformed and toured on an irregular basis, releasing a boxed set of radio sessions in 2013 and even sneaking out their first single since the mid 90s in November of last year.
Cud’s chance of reaching a mass audience and gaining the admiration and plaudits that they always deserved has long since passed, but they remain a crowd-pleasing act, regardless of how small that crowd is. All four of their studio albums are worthy of exploration, though admittedly Rich and Strange – The Anthology, is a great place to start for those that would be happier with a compilation and it has the added bonus of not becoming obsolete if you do buy all the studio albums, as it boasts a healthy selection of material that just isn’t available elsewhere. Elvis Belt / Elvis Handbag isn’t quite as vital as their studio albums, but is worthy of investigation if you’ve got everything else.
Listening to Cud’s music now, it’s heartbreaking to think that they got ignored at a time when British guitar music was becoming ever-more fashionable, especially as they had considerably more to offer than the vast majority those acts that got the airplay, press coverage and wide-eyed enthusiasm. If there had been any justice Cud would have been one of the marquee acts of Britpop and the fact that they didn’t says more about the music press and record buying public of the mid-90s than it did Cud.
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