The minus is a live album, Winter Comes Home from 1982, which David Thomas says he wants expunged from the historical record — the booklet with this set reads "BTW WINTER COMES HOME does not exist. According to the Authorized View, it never did exist, and, so, it never will exist" — then, typically, he includes it in his own official record. The plus is Meadville a live recording of DT and Two Pale Boys from their 1996 tour to promote Erewhon.
The latter was left out of re-issues of this boxed set, but I got my order in quickly on the original release in 1997. I asked for it to be sent to my office address, because there was always someone there to receive packages that might not fit through my home letter box. It was waiting for me when I returned after my convalescence from pneumonia and pleurisy. Gill had sorted my post into three piles: pressing, significant and safe to postpone. She'd only been working with me for a month or two and she'd absorbed the filtering rules pretty well — with one exception. The Monster box was in the third pile, rather than the first.
I've found it difficult to absorb these albums, not just because of the compacted bulk in which they arrived. They stand alone, sui generis, even more so than Ubu's catalogue. Less electricity, less of the avant garage — possibly less Cleveland, Ohio, though perhaps the Cleveland is still lurking in the background. More of the sea shanty, more English folk — but a more slippery, spikey version of folk than that which has been disinterred once more over the last decade. Perhaps we might call it avant jiggery? OK, suit yourself; but three years ago I said that some of DT's solo material was like the missing link between Tom Waits and Alasdair Roberts. That's not quite accurate for this earlier material, but there's definitely something syncretic and alchemical going on here.
I wish I'd seen this music performed live. I had half a chance when DT plaed at the Bloomsbury Theatre in the summer of 1985, part of the same festival where I saw Michael Nyman, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Moraz & Bruford — but I had yet to join the fold at that young age.
I wouldn't have recognised it at the time, but look at the amazing list of players David Thomas was able to bring along for the ride during this period, from Richard Thompson to Philip Moxham of Young Marble Giants (and Charlotte Greig), plus Chris Cutler of Henry Cow and Recommended Records, and Mayo Thompson of Red Krayola — bandleaders all — not to mention alumni of Pere Ubu and The Feelies. As well as those guys, DT led The Accordion Club, featuring another folk grandee, John Kirkpatrick, during this same period (1985). They're not included in this box as they never recorded officially, but you can now download (and I have) an official bootleg.
I'm starting to ramble now. You know I hate to ramble. So I should get to the point and wrap up quickly. I've listened twice to the five albums from the eighties in this box, and I feel like I've stumbled on an oxbow lake, cut off and forgotten from the main stream. So I've ripped them all into iTunes, and will load them up onto my old iPod Shuffle so that I can immerse myself in the 3.1 hours of this stuff like I did four years ago with Tindersticks. Someone's got to do it.
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Wikipedia entry for this boxed set
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Listen to this album in full at Last.fm, Meadville