It's not often that an artist gets to do a Bowie by consciously carving their personal epitaph into the grooves of their final LP. The Highest In The Land is that rarity of an album, and it could not have been made by a more brilliantly poetic and fearlessly sarcastic writer than Pat Fish, also known as The Jazz Butcher. There are many existentially charged moments on a record whose songs were written throughout the last seven years of Fish's life before his untimely passing in October 2021, aged only 63.
Founded in Oxford in 1982 by Pat Fish and prodigious guitarist Max Eider, the band that would become synonymous with its leader embodied an anti-rockist, semi-ironically jazz-conscious indie aesthetic before the word had even been invented. In a world of po-faced poseurs this "Southern Mark Smith" proved that it was possible to be both smart and funny, erudite and unpretentious, the latter sadly to the detriment of his fame. But, as so often the case, his underratedness only seemed to fuel his sharpness as a writer throughout his later years.
It was not for want of material that he allowed a nine-year-gap to open after the penultimate Jazz Butcher album, Last of the Gentlemen Adventurers, appeared in 2012. Between moving personal songs like "Never Give Up" or "Goodnight Sweetheart" and more opaque ones such as the title track (the mysterious "Black Raoul", by the way, is Pat and Dhiren's cat), much of this album is imbued with righteous ire at the isolationist path taken by the UK in recent times. "Running On Fumes" and "Sebastian's Medication" may be the sharpest analyses of the state of Brexit Britain yet committed to song. Meanwhile, the former stands as an angry state-of-the-nation address, drawing parallels to the Weimar Republic by evoking Hermann Hesse and Mackie Messer, musically cloaked in a Dylan reference suggesting there is indeed blood on the tracks. By contrast, "Sea Madness" tells the heart-warming tale of an immigrant in tribute to Turkish George, a legendary presence on the Northampton music scene.
It is not without irony that a career that began in witty defiance of the Thatcher years should end under the shadow of the Johnson era. Certainly, The Highest In The Land sounds as relevant to today as A Scandal In Bohemia did to 1984. Likewise, in musical terms, it feels like the closing of a circle, based around live recordings by a core band of Fish, Dave Morgan on drums and Tim Harries on bass, augmented by an array of musicians including founding member Max Eider.
- Vinyl LP
- Melanie Hargreaves' Father's Jaguar
- Sea Madness
- Never Give Up
- Amalfi Coast May 1963
- Running On Fumes
- The Highest In The Land
- Sebastian's Medication
- Goodnight Sweetheart