Following my review of Small Thoughts back in June, I decided to revisit the work of Ashley Cooke's pre-Pulco band, Derrero.
I recall hearing at least one Peel session from Derrero quite a few years ago -- they did four of them -- and I did enjoy what I had heard from the band but wouldn't have considered myself a big fan mainly due to not owning that much of their stuff; I think during one of our CD buying sprees in London in 2000, my best friend may have grabbed some Derrero CDs.
In 1999 to 2001, there seemed to be a bunch of Welsh bands getting a bit of attention -- I was partial to Melys, Big Leaves, Topper, and that early Murry The Hump single -- and Derrero may have come along slightly too late to ride that wave to any enormous success.
That said, they produced a fine body of work that still holds up quite well even a decade or so later...and some if it is available now on Bandcamp)!
In 1997, Big Noise put out the first Derrero album. Still rough around the edges, the band brings a great deal of enthusiasm to these songs. Compared to a similarly raucous band from that era -- like Yatsura -- Derrero seem to be erring on the side of melody over noise. Tracks like "Chevy Chase" and "Tiny Shoes" rocket along, guitars crashing and crunching underneath, but with strong melody lines still very apparent.
The highlight of the album is a song that the band would revisit: "Guppy". Sounding like a lost classic from The Boo Radleys -- from the underrated C'Mon Kids (1996) -- "Guppy" is gentle while the rest of the album is downright loud.
"Guppy" is a beautiful ode to escape, possibly, and it's a worthy peer to "Demons" by Super Furry Animals. And it would also sound great paired up on a mix next to "Submarine Song" from Scotland's The Supernaturals.
Small Pocket Machine EP (1997)
"Guppy" is back along with 2 other great songs on this 1997 E.P. on Big Noise records. The first of 3 E.P.'s that the band would release on Big Noise, Small Pocket Machine finds the band sharpening their sound. Suddenly things begin to come together and "Captain's Log" charms with its tunefulness, at odds with some of those earlier tracks.
Radar Intruder EP (1998)
This 1998 E.P. brought the band a lot of attention thanks to title track "Radar Intruder" which ended up being a big favorite of DJ John Peel.
Thirteen years later, "Radar Intruder" sounds a bit like Pavement's "Range Life"being pleasantly mauled by Silver Sun -- those harmonies are ace!
If Derrero were not the first band to achieve a sound like this in that era, they were one of the best at perfecting and polishing it as "Radar Intruder" remains remarkably hummable and catchy -- downright insistent, actually.
Unstraightforwardtune EP (1999)
This 1999 release -- (Available now on Bandcamp) -- seems to be where the band started to sound quite a bit like fellow Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals -- at least on this record. I'm not sure what I would pin that down to, but the title cut here, and "Ice" have the sort of Beach Boys-meet-Sonic Youth-vibe that I found so appealing on an early SFA release like the Moog Droog (1995) E.P., for example.
"Parasol" brings things to a melodic close with a gentle vibe that foreshadows what Ashely Cooke would later do with Pulco.
Fixation With Long Journeys (2000)
Some earlier cuts like "Radar Intruder" and "Unstraightforwardtune" are back, but there are also some moments of risk-taking here: "Mudskipper" is a somewhat noisy affair, like Silver Sun riffing on early Queen; "Zephyr" is a great showcase for Andy Fung's work on the drums and the mix of crunchy riffs and sharp harmonies reminds me of what I was looking for in Scotland's Yatsura: I wanted them to sound like this! (But they never did...)
Stylistically, there's a lot of variety on Fixation With Long Journeys, and amid the loud-quiet duels, a big highlight for me is "Out To Lunch" which rockets along like "Chupacabra" by Super Furry Animals.
Comb The Breaks (2002)
With help from John Lawrence from Gorky's Zygotic Mynci on pedal steel guitar, 2002's Comb The Breaks -- (Available now on Bandcamp) -- is a fairly polished affair. I don't mean that in a negative way but that the band seemed to have hit their stride here even if it was to be shortlived.
Released on Sylem, the label run by Melys, songs like "Horizon" and "Old Grey Skies" are lovely and melodic and self-assured. While the band was touring with acts like Sebadoh and Grandaddy, they were making their own variations on the mellow indie formulas of those US bands.
What I'm getting at is that it is harder to hear the influences here on Comb The Breaks than on earlier Derrero records; "Ripple of Strength" charms with a High Llamas-esque keyboard figure, and a less manic take on the kind of Welsh folk-pop that the Gorkys guys were putting out. Yet it remains an original mix of influences here.
It's the sound of the US West Coast filtered through a bunch of indie musicians in Wales. Stylistically closer to Granddaddy and the High Llamas than many of their Welsh peers at this time, tracks on this record still sound just fantastic.
The slight country-edge given to "Zero Return" puts one in mind of Beck for a second. "Sandbar" sounds like Elliott Smith singing with Grandaddy -- I saw those two acts do George Harrison's "I Me Mine" in D.C. some years ago and I can say that that's a good mix of talents.
Album closer "Telescopic Sights" is lyrical and easygoing, recalling -- again -- Gorky's but with more gentleness and less weirdness, for lack of a better term; it's like a Robyn Hitchcock song covered by R.E.M., you know what I mean?
Derrero were Andy Fung on drums, vocals, and guitar, Ashley Cooke on vocals and guitar, Mary Wycherley on keyboards and vocals, and David Hirst on bass guitar.
And they made some great music for a few short years in an era when the British Isles produced a lot of fine indie rock.
Listening to a lot of this material for the first time, I feel like my Welsh indie rock obsession of quite a few years back wasn't a mistake; Wales did produce quite a few great bands from the mid-1990s to the early part of this century.
As someone who is only a few generations -- maybe 4, at most? -- removed from Wales, I'm happy that for at least a brief spell, Wales was a hub of creative rock glory.
For more on Derrero, check out this biography.
David Hirst is now in a band called Picturebox and you can find their music here.
For Ashley Cooke's work with Pulco, follow the links below.
Pulco on Folkwit records:
For song samples and downloads from Small Thoughts, check out Pulco's bandcamp.com page: