Written by Dan Cox and John Riordan, art by John Riordan
“No expense accounts, or lunch discounts, or hypeing up the charts,
The band went in, ‘n knocked ’em dead, in 2 minutes 59”
“No slimy deals, with smarmy eels – in Hitsville U.K.
Lets shake’n say, we’ll operate – in Hitsville U.K.”
The Clash – Hitsville UK (1981 single, from the 1980 album Sandinista!)
Anything named after a Clash song (even a lesser known and to be honest a not all that good one) is already aiming high, and doubly so if it’s a music comic. And Hitsville UK is very much a music comic and to keep going with a Clash analogy… it starts a little like Cut The Crap but give it just a few pages, please….. because then it’s pure London Calling all the way to the end.
Oh boy. This was a surprise.
I start it one evening, possibly slightly distracted by something or other. Read the first few pages three or four times. Made it to page 7 each time. Just can’t see it. Can’t get into it at all. Nothing doing. Cover looks great, art looks good, other than that absolutely unreadable.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Okay, second time of trying. Grabbed from the pile for something to read in the bath. And those first few pages were still a little bit tough to get into, but this time, without distractions (that’s the great thing about reading in the bath) the whole thing opened up, grabbed me and didn’t let me go till the end of it.
It is absolutely great fun. Absolutely all over the place in a weird Wacky Races meets Scooby Doo if they were all musicians, Monkees, Rock & Roll Swindle, god only knows what else kind of way…… I read it and immediately wanted to read it again. So I did. And a third time just before writing this. Fantastic.
Everything prior to page 8 is the intro… a little promising, potential, not quite certain… and then it kicks in. Everything suddenly worked. Page 8 is the key….
(Gerry and Greg hatch their plan, through the lyrics of the Pet Shop Boys. From Hitsville UK by Riordan and Cox)
Page 8 is the bit of the tune where the drums kick in and the world goes away and all that matters is the experience, and everything suddenly goes a bit wonderfully magical, transfixing and amazing you all the way through to the end.
And yes, that’s just what Hitsville UK made me feel.
So join the fun. Meet Gerry Corden, owner of the UK indie label Hitsville UK, knackered old school recording industry type, had a few hits back in the day himself. Meet Greg Studio, described by Corden as “genius producer but a total gobshite. I understand the two often go together”, a Noel Fielding-ish look-a-like with the personality of Phil Spector mixed with a bit of Martin Hannett – essentially a brilliant, uncontrollable, drug-taking fiend of a producer, who’ll get the best out of anyone whatever it takes, up to and often including violence.
Together label boss Gerry and manic producer Greg plan to take this motley group of misfit bands and singers and make something huge out of them, something Greg will come to describe as “magic tunes“. Just before he passes out.
Amongst this gang of wannabe musical misfits you’ll meet singing grotesque with the magic voice Gwillum, mystery solving teen gang The Carrie Nation’s Revenge, schoolboy with big beats Haunted By Robots, nazi punk zombies, and many more.
On top of all that musical madness, there’s a hint of something nasty going on somewhere – something to do with Gerry’s mystery accountant, the one with the horns, a certain Mr Stan Van Horne. And what about that very first page… it couldn’t all just be a dream could it…. could it? Nah, probably not. But at this point I’m having so much fun I wouldn’t care.
The art is suitably unrestrained, with Riordan’s cartoony style morphing subtly as needs be, and each time an artistic shift is needed, he does it, aided by a full colour scheme, from muted browns of the folk singing grotesque Gwillum all the way through to the eye popping psychedelics of “Men Behind Guitars”.
That’s another thing about Hitsville UK – there’s shockingly funny comedy all the way through; and that psychedelic nod to Grant Morrison’s Beatles acid experience has you laughing like a drain at the inspired twist (tomorrow never nose indeed). The thing that came to mind almost immediately is a feel of the old Deadline Magazine, something in the inspired, brilliantly unhinged madness of Hitsville UK would have been a perfect fit there I think.
In fact, there’s so much going on in Hitsville UK with it’s extended cast of misfits and weirdos, that it’s hard to really get over any semblance of a plot, because, aside from a general meet and greet of the various cast, there’s not really a plot at all. What there is is a bloody great accumulation of inspired madness, muscical insanity and general chaos…. and it’s beautifully done.
Ah, screw it. Who cares. Just go along with it, love it, it’s 36 pages of out and out brilliance. Even that slow start works on re-reading. Hitsville UK got hold of me. It started slow, but once it had me, there was no stopping, not even if I wanted to. It’s a pure, unadulterated hit of a comic.
You can read some of Hitsville UK Issue 1 at the website, but really, the issue in print is a mere £3.50 for 36 pages, it’s a briliant read – what’s stopping you? Issue 2 will be serialised on the website, but (fingers crossed) print copy of issue 2 by Christmas.