Great tunes sparkle no matter how long they’ve been buried. And in a remarkable turn of events, a never-released album has been unearthed and is finally about to receive the acclaim the cognoscenti originally felt it deserved.
In 1999, indie surf-pop-meets-bigbeat duo Columbo were ready to roll. An unlikely mashup between sought-after dance remixer Trailermen and the bass player of UK ska and dub crowd-pleasers Maroon Town, Columbo were snapped up by Richard Branson’s V2 label on the basis of their quirky single, “Rockabilly Bob”. Actor/rapper Gary Beadle, pre-primetime TV and Spielberg fame, supplied the baritone vocals. The promo video even cast tap-dance legend Lionel Blair as a Wild West villain.
The reaction was instantaneous, the broad popular appeal obvious. “British surf-pop mavericks” (Sunday Express), “irresistible idiocy” (Melody Maker). What’s On said “this is the song the Beach Boys would’ve made if they knew Quentin Tarantino”.
The single was playlisted on BBC Radio 1, remixes from Trailermen and Soul Of Man racked up club rotations. Reviewers on Saturday morning TV raved about it, Chris Evans’ TFI Friday came a knocking.
“Hit, all the way”, shouted Melody Maker. “Damned catchy”, said Time Out.
But then things went South. Promotion stalled. Critical distributors choked- perhaps unsettled by the eccentricity of “Rockabilly Bob”. The track still charted, but the duo were disillusioned, feeling they and the label were no longer on the same page. The planned second single was pulled at the last minute. Rather than release material without the support they deserved, Columbo walked out on V2. An unreleased treasure trove of pop genius was left to gather dust…
In 2016, the boss of indie label Banoffeesound (a longtime Columbo obsessive), decided to do a bit of sleuthing and find out what happened. Like an episode of the TV show the band mischievously named themselves after, there was a mystery- “Whatever Happened To Columbo?” With some Google-fu and joining of dots, Stuart managed to track down Jules from Columbo, now a sought-after composer for film and TV. Sure enough, there was an unreleased collection of Columbo material – it existed. The lost treasure was found, and eventually the other half of the duo – now a well-known broadcaster – was back in the fray too. This wild and unpredictable laboratory of song-writing was bubbling again.
Now dusted off, polished and augmented, the album is finally, and for the very first time, getting the proper release it always merited. And for Stuart, the longtime Columbo fan, all he asks is for people to listen, to judge for themselves whether his passion and hunch were right all along. There’s a reason for the buzz around Columbo in ’99 – the album they had crafted is bloody brilliant. If completed it would’ve been one of 1999’s albums of the year.
And it’s remarkably fresh. It’s from the ‘slice of life’ school of British song-writing The Kinks, Madness and Blur so cleverly express, albeit in different genres. “Strawberry Ice Cream” is a rollercoaster collision of Lou Reed and perfect pop confection. The eponymous “Columbo” is a gorgeous slab of sleaze, “Bad Behaviour” a searing lament on modern morality. And there’s “Local Boy” – the catchiest pop song you haven’t heard yet.
The album will be released on November 18th 2016 – seventeen years late, but just in time!
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