Friday, October 6, 2017

PHILEMON ARTHUR AND THE DUNG - Philemon Arthur And The Dung (Silence, 1972)

International relevance: **
Swedish vocals

Ranked #20 on the blog's Top 25 list

Quite possibly the most peculiar progg album ever released, Philemon Arthur & The Dung's first (and for a long time, only) album still sounds as hilarious and bewildering as upon its original release in 1971. Philemon Arthur & The Dung caused an outrage when they won the Swedish Album of the year Grammy in 1972. So indignant was the music business establishment that no further national Grammy Awards ceremony were held until 1988. To add insult to the injury – at least as far as some people were concerned – Philemon Arthur & The Dung didn't even appear at the ceremony to collect their award. Instead, a reel-to-reel recorder was rolled onto stage, on which tracks from their self-titled album was played.

Thing is, there was no group. Or should I say, there were no group members known to anyone but a handful of people, including the staff of Silence Records and the members of Träd, Gräs & Stenar who had performed a cover version of Philemon Arthur's ”In kommer Gösta” at the Gärdet festival a year before Philemon Arthur themselves struck the unexptecting audience by baffled surprise.

The true identity of Philemon Arthur & The Dung remained a secret for decades, causing wild speculations as to who they really were. One of the most popular theories insisted that the name was a pseudonym for the Wiehe brothers Mikael (of highly successful Hoola Bandoola Band) and Thomas (with a a series of underappreciated solo albums under his belt). The idea was that the Wiehes had recorded the music while they were still kids. However, both have repeatedly denied it emphatically over the years. (Those who want a portrait of the artists as slightly younger men may want to check out the Moccers compilation released in 2004 – Moccers were a late 60's band featuring both brothers.) Others have suggested that Philemon Arthur & The Dung were in fact Risken Finns who released two albums in the 70's, while others in turn have named popular singer Dan Hylander as responsible for the eccentric, homemade recordings that caused the Grammy upheaval.

None of those assertions are, in fact, far-fetched as all suggested artists hail from the Skåne region in the south of Sweden, thereby speaking in a highly distinguishable Skåne dialect similar to the one heard on Philemon Arthur's album. However, Träd, Gräs & Stenar gave away a clue to the origins of the mysterious duo already with their Gärdet performance of "In kommer Gösta", when TG&S frontman Bo Anders Persson mentioned they got the song from someone in the small town of Torekov in the northwest part of Skåne. (Hylander and the Wiehe brothers are from Malmö, Risken Finns were from Lund.) In recent years, Philemon Arthur & The Dung have been identified as brothers Mats (today a school teacher) and Stellan Larsson from – you guessed it – Torekov.

Needless to say, the mystery surrounding them added to the public interest in Philemon Arthur & The Dung, but the truth is that even though the highly plausible identity of the band members has been revealed, the music they made has lost none of its quirky and bizarre appeal. Like many have done over the years, one could dismiss it as the ridiculous rantings of two kids in their mother's attic, and yes – ”Philemon Arthur & The Dung” is childish and silly and nonsensical, but the nonsense is incredibly uplifting, and the relentless banging of cookie jars instead of drums, the insane vocals and the unhinged hammering on guitars are all exhilarating and utterly exciting.

But more important, the songs are in fact good and irresistably melodic. The absurdist lyrics have serious strains, such as the eerie, post-apocalyptic ”Den sista veckan” (”the last week”), and ”Ingenting i din hjärna” (”nothing in your brain”) and ”Naturen” (”the nature”), both funny and cynical takes on the modern day consumerist society. Although entirely sung in Swedish, the uninhibited craziness of ”Philemon Arthur & The Dung” reaches far beyond any language barriers and reminds me of ”White Light/White Heat” by The Velvet Underground, albeit entirely free of distorted guitars. At least entirely free of distorted electric guitars.

Many years later, additional Philemon Arthur material was unearthed and released as cassette-only ”Skisser över 1914 års badmössor” (packaged to resemble a tin can of anchovies) and subsequently on CD. A lot of it as good as their subversive original album. Silence also released a "best of" compilation, "Får jag spy i ditt paraply?" ("may I puke in your umbrella?").

A truly original act, Philemon Arthur & The Dung have inspired many Swedish bands over the years, including long running genre defying avant/dada band Dom Dummaste who covered "Men va fanken". Decidedly unpretentious and without the slightest ambitions to impress people, ”Philemon Arthur & The Dung” is a marvellous effort and an obvious inclusion on this blog's Top 25 list of progg albums.

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