Photo by Timothy O’Connell

“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today I’m thrilled to say it’s the return of ours and John Peel favs Big Stick, whose new full-length, helpfully titled “LP” was their first album proper for 15 years and which is the Velvet Sheep album of the year for 2019 (joining recent ranks of Nightingales, The Wedding Present and The Band of Holy Joy and our first American album of the year since we went from paper zine to digital). Exuberant, seductive and vituperative its never less than totally thrilling, defying genres and yet totally appealing to an ear for noise rock, industrial, indie, punk, and railroad junk. At the time we described it thus “an absolute asthmatic romp, dangerously seductive and bursting at the seams with curmudgeonly cameos” featuring as it does Fred Schneider of the B52s, Jerry A of Poison Idea, Johnny Kelly of Type O Negative and Groovie Mann from industrial pioneers My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult not to mention “first lady of sass brass” Paula Henderson on bari sax, “the man of sensual trombone” Dave Smoota Smith, Satoru Ohashi and Alicia Rau on tempestuous trumpets, Jim Sorensen of El Muchacho on percussion, John Thompson on bass guitar – and Shawn Banks and Mark Lopez taking the racing line on the bongos plus Stevie Wonder/Aretha Franklin player Tom Timko (also on bari sax)…

It’s all put together with precision and aplomb by Big Stick incarnate – the dynamic duo of John Gill and Yanna Trance, polyrhythmic post punk polymaths.

It’s hard to pick a fav song as they all hit you like a lightning bolt sent from the Gods, but here’s “Calamari Cocoa Butter” that we ran as a vid exclusive earlier this year…

More excitingly, if indeed that is physically possible, Big Stick have been even busier, and have made a brand new Christmas record, which is out this Friday (of which more below). Since they’re the perps of our perfect VS album of the year we’d have asked them back anyway for a bonus “song for ewe” but given their Xmas chops it seemed only fitting to ask them to choose a festive tune (of which more later). First off, buckle up with a big black belt and get ready to sit on the lap (and not take in the fumes) of a “SAUCED UP SANTA”…with this video made by John Gill himself…

Big Stick’s John Gill says of the record: “I honestly never thought I’d write a Christmas song, but I felt compelled to share the story of what happened to me at the age of five. There was even a photograph taken.” (the photo featured on the front cover of Big Stick’s first ever Christmas mini-LP 12″ record release), proving Gill’s slightly humorous, though somewhat heart warming childhood story. It originates from the day his folks took a sprog sized Gill to the local shopping mall, where he wound up sitting on what was a visibly “Sauced Up Santa’s” lap.

Hence the title track “SAUCED UP SANTA” that’s featured in both regular and extended versions on the record. Gill adds, “When the photo of me sitting on an inebriated Santa’s lap surfaced in the family album years later in life, I simply had to write a song about it. I activated my memory banks to recall that distant December day and put it into song.”

The song isn’t a derogatory diss of the intoxicated Santa, rather, it’s more of a song expressing grace, forgivness and humility, highlighting the fact that despite Santa being ‘sauced up,’ he was still as friendly and jovial as his alcohol-affected faculties would permit. Gill explains “It’s not meant to be a judgmental song, mocking the Santa, it’s more a heartfelt, sentimental Christmas song, telling of a time when I remember the innocent joy of that day, the warmth of my family, the loving congeniality and a feeling of harmony and peace.”

Big Stick’s Yanna Trance…

and John Gill…

…agreed that since “SAUCED UP SANTA” is reminiscent of a childhood memory, it would only be fitting to add a touch of aural authenticity by assembling a choir of children to perform on the song’s choruses. Yanna is credited with conducting and coaching the children’s choir.

(this is not the choir but a snap of Yanna Trance from a Christmas of Yore)

The Big Stick Christmas themed release also features an ethereal track titled “CHRISTMAS ISLAND” that tells the sibylline tale of when children drift off to sleep and their subconscious minds metaphysically visit a gleeful Christmassy place of salutary peace, benevolent charity and good will for all. Three different versons/remixes of “CHRISTMAS ISLAND” are featured.

John Gill pictured as a youngster more than happy with his xmas present…not a drag racer, but well on the way…

And there’s also the enchanting spoken word story called “THE BOISTEROUS BIRDS OF CHRISTMAS EVE,” a wondrous fable written and read by Gill, about a group of precious birds of nature and humankind coming together in emotionally charged harmony for a Christmas Eve celebration of uplifting cheerful inspiration.

Peter The Mockingbird from “THE BOISTEROUS BIRDS OF CHRISTMAS EVE” song by Big Stick on the “Sauced Up Santa” release

Also with a limited number of the new record, including at Rough Trade in the UK,  there’s an extra Xmas present consisting of personalized numbered xmas letters signed by John Gill and Yanna Trance, Christmas doily, and holly coloured vinyl.

The signed Xmas letter by Yanna & John as part of a limited edition package

If that’s not enough to feast on, Yule love Big Stick’s festive themed choice of tune by someone else, so without further ado this is their “Xmas song for ewe”…

“The song that Big Stick selected by another artist to include in this SONGS FOR EWE feature is also a Christmas related ditty. The choice was not only inspired to adhere to a Christmas theme, but also by an event that happened when John Gill was still a freshman in high school. Back in those days, Gill was among a handful of students in his school who were fond of SPARKS. It was John’s and a couple other classmates’ ambition to book Ron and Russell Mael and their band to play a concert at the high school. John contacted a representing agent, and began negotiating prices and logistics to bring SPARKS to the school.

Gill recalls there were prices for full ‘light show’, no ‘light show,’ ect, and the cost seemed relatively reasonable. All this resulted in the SPARKS’ agent inviting Gill and two classmates to a SPARKS concert at Avery Fisher Hall, also known as Lincoln Center in New York City. Gill and two class cohorts went as guests of the agent, witnessing what was a truly memorable performace with up-front views.

It was November, 1975, right after the “INDISCREET” album came out. SPARKS were still pretty much in their full-tilt rockin’ phase. All the band members had that special brand of sharp finesse to shake up the rafters. Gill especially remembers the band playing accelerating, hyped-up renditions of “HAPPY HUNTING GROUND” and “IN THE FUTURE” among others…

John’s SPARKS concert programme with Morgan Fisher from Mott’s autograph

Gill and his classmates got backstage access, which was quite the trippy experience for the youngins. It was MOTT (minus the Hoople) who were the opening act. This was after Ian Hunter left the band. Though in a sort of Spinal Tap-ish type of scenario, Hunter was still there and lingering about backstage. Gill managed to get Mott keyboardist extraordinaire Morgan Fisher to sign his official program from the show (see attached). Yes, it was a night of monumental memories that still bring John genuine reminiscing joy.

Oh, and the SPARKS song selected for this feaure is none other than “THANK GOD IT’S NOT CHRISTMAS,” from the classic Kimono My House album. Both Gill and Trance agree that SPARKS’ holiday howl of a song is a timeless masterpiece. Lyrically, musically, it all comes together as one of SPARKS’ all-time best… Unfortunately some uptight members of the high school Student Council voted against booking SPARKS to play the school, but, the experience of seeing them play live at the Avery Fisher Hall gig, up close and personal, still makes it so that Gill doesn’t regret for one second trying to book the band for a show at his high school. Over the subsequent following decades, Gill and Trance have seen SPARKS perform several times.

The holly coloured “Sauced Up Santa” is available from Rough Trade here inc. the signed letter & other goodies…

You can also get Velvet Sheep’s album of the year “LP” from Rough Trade in the UK here…

Here’s all the Big Stick socials you’ll need:

Drag Racing Underground Records site

Big Stick site

Big Stick Facebook page

All that’s left is to say thanks to Big Stick’s John Gill & Yanna Trance and to Lucy Clarke-Bolton at Forte Music Distribution.

Happy Christmas / Happy Holidays To All / Y’all!

and here’s a childhood drawing of Santa (sans sauce) here by Yanna Trance as a final present! x

Check out Big Stick’s “song for ewe” from earlier this year – it’s totally rocking…

BIG STICK – Song For Ewe & Exclusive Video!