David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 148: The Inspirational Choir Of The Pentecostal First Born Church Of The Living God (Pick Me Up)

May 25, 2022

It's finally happened. I've gone religious. Or at least Gospel.  Of course, it took sex and drugs and rock and roll to get me there.

No, this isn't some hackneyed story of redemption.  Those of you praying for my soul may want to keep praying.

One of the greatest results from the punk music explosion of the 1970s was the emergence of Stiff Records, who, beyond fantastic slogans ("If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a F*ck," perhaps the best tag line ever), as an independent record company was willing to sign hundreds of unknown, and often untested, bands exploding around Great Britain in the wake of The Sex Pistols. Americans, like myself, could hear snippets of singles from artists on late night FM radio, and wonder how we could get their music. Acts like Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, Graham Parker, and the Pink Fairies were figments of our imagination as much as real bands with no immediate American releases for the songs that we could hear.

Over the years, of course, as indicated in my recent Nick Lowe submission to this series, we would get American versions of these artists, Columbia or A&M purchasing the rights to circulate the music in the states. So I eventually started buying their albums. However, when in 1992, the Stiff Records Box Set came out, 96 songs on 4 CDs, I had to buy it. Among the reasons was that Ian Dury's "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll" was on it, a song I didn't see accumulating on CD through any other measure.

I discovered half of the box set contained songs I didn't know, by punk, post-punk and new wave artists, all with pretty catchy tunes. And on the fourth CD, stuck between the drunk, Irish, pirate-anthem of The Pogues' "The Sick Bed of Cuchulain" and Makin' Time's poppy "Here Is My Number" was a gospel tune: "Pick Me Up," by the ridiculously long-named band, The Inspirational Choir Of The Pentecostal First Born Church Of The Living God. The name was such a mouthful that I figured it had to come tongue-in-cheek, some group of British lads, tossing mainstream ideas of rock away for a chance to pay homage to another style of music and to flex their musical muscles, someone who loved The Clash's "The Sound Of The Sinners" and decided to go full gospel.

No, "Pick Me Up" is straight up gospel from a fine gospel band formed at the time. While it is tempting to think that Stiff executives picked them up precisely because of the irony of being able to place them next to Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias' "Kill" or The Adverts' "One Chord Wonders" or anything by that cheeky Ian Dury, I suspect it was more because ultimately Stiff records wanted to promote good music. Madness had already requested them for back-up on a song, and clearly some executive who didn't live and die by finding the next Rick Springfield signed them on.  Springfield would have been lucky to have a song as lovely as this. "Pick Me Up" features a soulful saxophone as fine as anything on a Springsteen or Seger record; a spectacular swirling Hammond organ straight from any corner church (or 60's joint); and a jittery guitar that could have come from any number of new wave acts. 

If I can trust the back jacket of Clean Heart, the EP with "Pick Me Up," that guitarist was the same one who had the unenviable task of replacing James Honeyman-Scott in Pretenders. So, yes, the guitar did come from a new wave act, Robbie McIntosh, Pretender for Learning To Crawl following the death of his friend, Honeyman-Scott. 1983 was a very good year for Robbie, adding "Back On The Chain Gang," "Middle Of The Road," and "Show Me" to his work on "Pick Me Up."

As I continue to trust the back jacket (because finding information about this band is not easy), I learn the saxophonist was Gary Barnacle, a session player for General Public, Tina Turner and The Clash. Not some bad gigs, if you can get them.  The swirling organ throughout was played by the The Inspirational Choir (thank God, they later changed their name) leader, John Francis. Finally, the whole wonderful confection was produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who at the time were producing Elvis Costello, Dexy's Midnight Runners, and Madness records, the same Madness that asked for The Inspirational Choir (did I mention that I am glad they shortened their name?) to sing back up on one of their songs and first got them Stiff attention. (Hmm, that doesn't sound too good in context with gospel music.)

Yes, "pick me up/turn me around" as I have been missing a lot. In a week with another school shooting, I don't think we can be turned around quick enough. Can I get an amen?

The Inspirational Choir Of The First Born Church Of The Living God. "Pick Me Up." Clean Heart. Stiff. 1983. Link here.

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See complete list here.