Performing Ferrets - "Howler Monkey" (No One Told Us)
Performing Ferrets is an appropriately odd name for a very odd post-punk band. The Ferrets formed in 1976 in the county of Kent, England, in the same university town where Billy Childish started his musical career. The Ferrets were proud amateurs who started out playing shows using whatever makeshift instruments they could round up. Over the course of their brief career, they released their own cassettes, a 45, and even a full-length LP. They crossed paths with Tony Wilson, John Peel and the Fall, and several of the group's members went on to play in various bands with the musician and critic Cath Carroll.
When Ugly Things magazine compiled a list of the 100 definitive D.I.Y. records, the Performing Ferret Band's Brow Beaten EP was nestled snugly among releases by the Homosexuals, the Raincoats, the Mekons, and Mark Perry's pre-Alternative TV group The Door And The Window. Somehow, the Ferrets make the Raincoats and the Homosexuals sound like virtuoso musicians in comparison. Guitarist Stephen Maguire was the only member of the band who really knew how to play his instrument, and so the Ferrets' skeletal pop song structures were built around whatever two or three chords he would chose. The rest of the group followed along as best as they could on drums, bass, a second guitar, and occasionally harmonica or melodica. The playful, improvisational nature of the instrumentation fits right in with the off-the-cuff lyrics, delivered most of the time in a Mark E. Smith-esque speak-singing style. The words almost always sound like they're being made up on the spot. In "Where's My Four Slices Of Bread?" vocalist Paul Skilbeck insists over and over again that he'd "never use your towel."
The Ferrets’ style was nervous and awkward, but extraordinarily charming. They might be described as an even more shambolic Fall or as a British counterpart to the Embarassment or the Feelies, though both of those bands had more chops and wrote slightly more cohesive songs. The Ferrets definitely had some really strong tunes, like "Shoo-Shar" and "Howler Monkey," but most of their songs are a bit more curious and enigmatic. The opening "A Story," which mythologizes the founding of the band, is a sort of dissonant medieval minstrel song that inexplicably breaks out into a verse from "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman." Many of the other songs are loose and out-of-tune, but have brief sections with amazing pop melodies reminiscent of the Television Personalities.