(One Kind Favor)
Availability: limited edition LP
My father had warned me (or was it that he just advised me) while I was still in junior high school that anyone could make a record and get it pressed. That having been said, dear old Dad was more into country and oldies (although he had his own left-hand turns musically, like Pavarotti and Leo Sayer), so he was hardly the type to be collecting so-called “outsider music” recordings – but I’m sure he had such kinds of records at least partially in mind.
However, there are those people that love to collect that kind of stuff. More power to them. That’s why a guy named Nicholas Williams started a label called One Kind Favor Vinyl Records – the name derived from the Blind Lemon Jefferson classic “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” – to reissue some of the more sought after and/or infamous of these private pressings.
One of OKF’s first two releases is this oddball 1979 release from a Canadian then-expatriate living in England named Ron Warren Ganderton. Apparently Ron had already done one self-released album under the Sound Ceremony name, Guitar Star, in 1973, but it didn’t do very well – not surprising since he had the damn thing recorded and pressed himself and that there wasn’t exactly a big distribution network for independent records at the time. Figuring that the punk explosion was the perfect time to take another stab at stardom, Ganderton started writing songs – gearing them towards teenagers, judging from the lyrics of songs like “School” and “Virgins D”, got a new rhythm section together, and headed into a cheap studio to try to catch the tail end of the phenomenon, putting out the second, eponymous Sound Ceremony LP, and dressing like the demented cousin of Elvis Costello on the front cover… about a year too late for the first wave of British punk. Oops.
Then again, a record like this could never have stood much of a chance in a post-punk environment that was spawning the likes of Public Image Ltd. and Adam And The Ants. The musical backing is pretty tight if a bit rushed – it’s obvious that Ron and his cohorts had a very limited budget to work with as far as studio time went. When Ron opens his mouth to sing, however… forget about it. Although the background art on the front cover reveals that he actually sat down and wrote out every note and chord him and his musicians played, he sings like he’s making up the lyrics – or at least the melodies – on the spot. His pitch isn’t perfect but it isn’t something that makes William Hung look like Robert Plant either. In one song (“School”) he does an audible seventeen count over one of his guitar solos, then seconds later, starts yelling the alphabet without regard for the rhythm of the backing track.
Despite – or maybe because of – the disparity between the tight playing and the very loose singing, this wild semi-mess of a record is rather compelling. I know in the few times that I listened to this record so far, I find myself trying to deconstruct the songs in my mind or try to will Ganderton’s singing to be in better sync with his own guitar playing. To be perfectly honest, there’s no way he could have been so relatively disciplined as a guitarist and ensemble player and be so unaware of the rhythms when he was singing his vocals – the flagrant and random melodies and phrasing of his singing parts has to be deliberate.
After a third attempt, Ganderton threw up his arms, left boxes of records behind in England, and went back to his native Canada – and it was most likely those boxes of records that led to the super-obscure cult status he achieved in the decades after. (RateYourMusic.com had close to 20 ratings of this album in their records before Nick Williams even announced the launch of One Kind Favor, mind you.)
The most infamous of the string of “outsider music” records are definitely worth a few listens and a hearty amount of amusement. Sound Ceremony belongs in that category and deserves the cult reputation it already has. But the album is also a testimony to heart and perseverance, even if the end result isn’t something that could be widely accepted by the general public.