Fresh – “Out of Borstal”

Come with me on a trip in the way back machine, all the way back to 19 and 70. It’s a pretty long journey for this blog, with its focus on music from basically the start of the punk movement forward, but sometimes we need to get back to the roots a bit and remember how our favorite types of music got there. So with that in mind, I present to you Out of Borstal.

I uncovered this nugget in the new arrivals bin at Jive Time Records a few weeks ago. I figured it was punk, but it turned out to not only be a bit early for that, but something entirely different. As near as I can tell from what I’ve found online Out of Borstal was a sort of manufactured concept album using a sort of manufactured band (Fresh). It was the brainchild of Simon Napier-Bell who put this project together, and it’s probably not surprising it came out a year after The Who broke new ground with Tommy. Basically the idea was to present the musicians as ex-cons from the English juvenile prison system, portraying the whole album as music about life in the joint, sung by those who lived it. Though it doesn’t look like that’s really the deal here, but instead that it was a concept album around that idea… but not one involving actual cons or prison songs. In fact Simon enlisted the aid of some well know musicians to write this material, including a couple of dudes named Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Maybe you’ve heard of them.

There’s certainly a late 60s/early 70s English rock influence to these sort of bluesy tracks. “See You Later” sounds exactly like a Rolling Stones song from the opening guitar chord to the vocal stylings, and if you close your eyes you can almost hear Jagger in the studio saying to the singer, “no, mate, you’ve got to sneeaarrr while you sing that line, like this.” Meanwhile “Life Is What You Make It” is a flat-out clone of The Who, start to finish These are songs about stealing, fighting, and the dangers of prison rape… the last of which seems to be one of the more frequent topics.

Don’t beat me cuz I’m made of brass,
Don’t try me cuz I’m much to fast,
Don’t touch me,
Cuz my ass is not for you.
— “See You Later”

You may think based on what I’ve written so far that I don’t care lot for Out of Borstal and see it as just a fake album, but that’s not the case at all. After all, I did buy it, and I did so on the strength of what I heard at the store’s listening station – I didn’t know the story behind this thing until after I got it home. Whatever Out of Borstal actually is (or is not), it’s still a great sounding album. It’s got blues driven 70s style rock, some occasionally funny lyrics, and some more than decent songs. If you’re a fan of the Stones or The Who, or if you have a prison fetish (“Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”), it’s absolutely worth a listen.


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