Swervedriver’s Petroleum Daze

Three decades after its thunderous arrival, Swervedriver’s sonic legacy is in the history books.

Unfortunately, it has to share space with Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and other climate crisis authoritarians who are all too real.

“Thirty years later, what has changed?” Adam Franklin writes in an essay accompanying the release of Petroleum Spirit Daze, the previously unavailable recording of Swervedriver’s debut EP, Son of Mustang Ford.

“The floundering British government — led by that same privileged, prostitute procuring, pathological liar Boris Johnson from the Oxford days — deceives its citizens into jumping off a Brexit cliff, and the USA is run by a racist, many times bankrupted former Reality TV star and narcissist — who can’t spell or read and certainly not lead — abdicating its role as world leader in the process.“

Swervedriver’s debut, as well as its entire catalog — along with Franklin’s solo output with Bolts of Melody — is essential cli-fi. An incendiary warp to a faraway time and place where we perceived the towering influences of Motor City’s The Stooges and Hunter S. Thompson’s crash fiction as mirroring their overdriven epoch, as well as engineering the globally warmed future we are trying to survive today.

Check out Adam’s essay and catch up with more of my Swervedriver coverage below.

Photo: Martyn Goodacre

In 1989 there was much change in the air – the Polish “Solidarność” Solidarity movement won that country’s first free election which triggered transformation all across Europe and the world but it occurred on the very same day that Chinese combat troops crushed the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Within months Czechoslovakia had its Velvet Revolution, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had been overthrown and of course the Berlin Wall fell – remarkably the future Swervedriver bass player Steve George had been in Berlin on that day playing a show with his band Eight Storey Window and they had walked to the Wall where someone handed him a hammer and he got to take his very own chunk out of it.

Meanwhile back in Oxford – ‘England’s Dreaming’ personified, where the future Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cronies in the ‘Bullingdon Club’ would occasionally be spotted “rah-rahing” it up in pubs in town before being driven to restaurants in the Oxfordshire countryside where they would swill champagne and taunt “the plebs”, finally smashing the place up and pulling out their chequebooks to ask what the damage was – the band Swervedriver had barely formed.

We had grown bored of our musical style as Shake Appeal and had decided to split up after a forgettable opening slot for World Domination Enterprises at the Poly followed by a special guest-strewn farewell shindig at the Zodiac playing a set of our favourite covers, only to then get back together when Adi Vines heard a couple of songs coming through my bedroom wall and enquired as to what they were. I told him these were new songs I’d written and he announced “we’re getting the band back together to play these songs and you’re the singer now.”

It was an open secret in Oxford that local young whippersnappers Ride had been signed to Creation Records but that the label was going to wait until January 1990 to release their debut record: the first month of the last decade of the 20th century. We decided we needed to get our skates on and get a record deal and the clock was already counting down.

Creation was actually the last label to whom we had handed a tape of our demo – Blast First being the first because they had released Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr records; Glass Records second because they had put out Spacemen 3 – but we had one tape left over and thought ‘what the hell?’ and so Mark Gardener took it and he gave it to Alan McGee.

McGee was in Los Angeles in the back of a car with Guy Chadwick from the House of Love when he finally got round to listening to it and putting the tape into the vehicle’s tape machine and blasting it loud, he decided there and then to sign us and on the 21st March 1990 we found ourselves playing our first show with new drummer Graham Bonnar, surrounded by crib sheets, opening for the House of Love at Liverpool Royal Court – Liverpool Football Club were about to be crowned English Champions for a record 18th time.

At the beginning of April we were in the House in the Woods studio in deepest, darkest Surrey recording our debut EP for Creation Records with recording engineer and good mate Tim Turan who had not only recorded the demo that got us signed but had also recorded Shake Appeal. Taking a dinner break on the Thursday night we received a call from our manager “check out Top of the Pops tonight – Ride have made the Top 40!” This was insane.

We finished the recording and I took a copy with me to Seville in Spain where I was having a week’s holiday with my girlfriend. There was strong weed and oranges everywhere and I remember sitting by the ocean listening to these songs while looking across the water at the haze in the distance that was Morocco – I was looking at Africa while listening to our first record!

I wasn’t sure about the recording. Certain passages were sublime, other parts I wasn’t totally convinced by but perhaps I was just a bit blown away by ..the oranges and everything? When I arrived back in London a week later there were messages flashing on my Ansaphone to say that McGee wasn’t knocked out by it either and we were to re-record it, this time in London – to keep us lean and mean – which we did and on July 15th 1990 the debut Swervedriver EP would be unleashed upon the world.

However that original House of the Woods recording still resonated with us and we decided to put it away to one side and vowed to ‘probably’ release it one of these days. Ten thousand, nine hundred and fifty days later – a full 30 years to the day – and here it is.

In truth those bits that were good were really good – the guitars on Volcano Trash; the slower, more thoughtful Juggernaut Rides with Graham’s hypnotic closing drum pattern; the weightless denouément to Kill the Superheroes is still as good as Swervedriver has ever sounded. And then Son of Mustang Ford itself, with the guitars of Adi, Jim and myself crunching gears all over the shop. This was the only song of the four that has seen the light of day before now, appearing on a circa 1991 NME/Creation cassette.

What I realise now listening back to this is that it’s almost like Shake Appeal playing Swervedriver songs.The sound is dry and clear but tentative, particularly with the vocals where I hadn’t yet found a singing style of my own and was caught between my natural voice and the more rock’n’roll stylings that had come so naturally to my brother Graham Franklin as singer of Shake Appeal. Furthermore Graham had appeared on the recording of the original Son of Mustang Ford demo, singing the “petroleum spirit daze” call-and-response lines which were inexplicably left off of this version but reinstated for the eventual Creation release. We were actually never that enamoured with the sound of the final re-recorded EP that came out on Creation but McGee had made the correct call and the record that came out did have the required zingy ‘x factor’ that led us towards the first recording we were truly happy with – the Rave Down EP that followed in November of 1991 – and everything else that came after that.

But the spirit of Swervedriver was in there. We weren’t overly angry young men – we’re arguably angrier old men – and we didn’t write so much about the things that riled us up, preferring to conjure up a sense of magic, excitement and escape – to other places, other planes, even other planets – and we mixed up guitar experimentalism with our own peculiar brand of power pop and songs about cars, love and UFOs.

So thirty years later, what has changed? A populist government has this week been installed in Poland which is looking to curb freedoms and particularly LGBT rights while China and Russia are both eyed suspiciously by the West as spies and colluders against western democracy and Hong Kong is beaten down. The reunited Germany is now leading the way in Europe, its government easily outstripping all the other European countries in its response to the Coronavirus pandemic while the floundering British government – led by that same privileged, prostitute procuring, pathological liar Boris Johnson from the Oxford days – deceives its citizens into jumping off a Brexit cliff and the USA is run by a racist, many times bankrupted former Reality TV star and narcissist who can’t spell or read and certainly not lead, abdicating its role as world leader in the process. And Liverpool FC have finally just won their 19th English Championship.

It’s been the longest and shortest thirty years and it flew by in a heartbeat. Adam Franklin, July 2020

Swervedriver’s Resurgence Achieves Escape Velocity