THE JAZZ BUTCHER is one of those artists who make indiepop kids of a certain generation go misty eyed, and with good reason; Pat Fish, the man behind the jazz despatching curtain, as it were, was an all-round gentleman of the whimsical song, someone you’d definitely find in the kitchen at parties; sometime indie television show host and a man who could turn his songwriting hand to outright heartstring-tuggers such as “Hard” or its whimsical rock’n’roll via the A43 flip on the 7″, “Grooving In the Bus Lane”; who could self-mythologise with tongue firmly in cheek (“Southern Mark Smith”), commemorate assassinated Scandinavian leaders in Bonzo’s-style mannered quirk-jazz (“Olaf Palme”) or proceed into the outright surreal (“Water”).
Taken from us too soon last month, he released 15 albums from 1983 onwards, first for Glass, then for Creation, with the most recent, 2012’s The Last Of The Gentleman Adventurers, appearing on Vinyl Japan.
Pat had been unwell, suffering from a cancer from which he was in remission, and made a final live appearance at Preston Pop Fest at the end of the summer alongside C86-era contemporaries such as Close Lobsters, The Wolfhounds and The Jasmine Minks – who he supported the last time I saw him at The Lexington in 2017. Maybe that’s all in accordance with how it should’ve been.
He seemed well at the Pop Fest, had a next gig scheduled for Bristol’s former Bath Road tollhouse The Thunderbolt early last month, but was taken from us two days before that after pulling one of his semi-regular Live From Fishie Mansions livestream events on the Saturday, telling those virtually assembled that he was feeling too rough to play.
But – and let’s tread lightly past the Bowie Blackstar comparisons here – he has one final, long-playing, posthumous song-postcard for us, The Highest In The Land, which is out via Tapete early next year; from which comes today a single, “Time”, something it seems he was sadly so short of.
Over a characteristically Jazz Butcher Northamptonshire indie blues, Pat intones ominously but with a light touch: “My hair’s all wrong / My time ain’t long / Fishy go to Heaven, get along, get along,” the beat a clock metronome; and with that lyrical devil-may-care and intelligence, totally pulls off rhyming ‘time’ with “a one-way ticket to a pit of council lime”. Later he pulls back with the eye, maybe, of someone glad to be nearly done with it all and decries wage slavery with an acid turn. Here it anyhow, just to entice you and remind you what a great tunesmith he was. Screw it. He is.
The songs that make up this final album were written throughout the past seven years – and he really did see it coming, it would seem: “Self-knowledge, urgency”, he commented on this song to album producer Lee Russell.
“He’d been around the block and knew he was on the last lap,” says Lee.
“We had closure; we had worked together for three months, and then on the last day I drove him home. And for the first time we hugged and said goodbye, and that was it.”
“It was a big thing for him that a record company [would] come and ask you to make an album,” says Pat’s Northampton housemate, bassist and intellectual sparring partner Dhiren Basu.
“That was something that he felt really, really strongly about. As a close friend said, the people he really admired were Lou Reed, Syd Barrett, John Cale and Kevin Ayers, and they were all people who did not bend for anything.
“There was a sort of ambition to be an English dandy and that uncompromising nature of just saying: ‘This is what I’m here to do.'”
In musical terms as well the recording was a closing of the circle, featuring as it does former Weather Prophets and Primal Scream drummer Dave Morgan and Jazz Butcher Conspiracy founder member Max Eider.
Producer Lee sums up the man the making of the album thus: “He was not delusional. We all go through life acting like it’s going to last forever, but that’s a lie, and Pat was cleverer than the rest of us.
“He actually was facing it. He was in no mood to compromise his life in any way whatsoever; you know, he was sitting at home waiting for his coffee to brew, and he just went. He didn’t have to stop smoking or drinking or taking drugs or doing gigs. He missed one live stream, and that was it. He was still Pat Fish. He was still the Jazz Butcher.”
God bless, Pat. You were a gent of song.
There’s also a gig taking place at Camden’s legendary The Dublin Castle this Saturday, November 27th, in celebration of Pat and set to feature friends from his long career; more at the event’s Facebook page. All proceeds will be for charity, but it has now sold out.
The Jazz Butcher’s The Highest In The Land will be released by Tapete Records digitally, on CD and album on February 4th; you can order yours now from Norman Records or Rough Trade.