Sex Furniture Warehouse & Other Stories
Like Ian Dury fronting the Byrds. Like XTC covering Chas'n'Dave. Like Martin Newell joining Madness. Like skimming across a pond on a sunny day in an old fashioned rowing boat, dangling your fingers in the water and unexpectedly having one of them bitten off by something just below the surface. The CD version of the album comes in a special, hand numbered 86 page paperback book, featuring a foreword by top music journalist Danny Scott, all the lyrics, lots of pictures and behind the scenes information. If you miss the vinyl days of comprehensive sleevenotes, this is for you! The Penguin Party - Sex Furniture Warehouse interview by Danny Scott : It seems strangely apt to be meeting Essex/London-based Penguin Party at the iconic South Bank Centre on the banks of the River Thames, overlooking a cold, but glistening Waterloo sunset. Reviews of the band's second album, the cheekily-titled Sex Furniture Warehouse And Other Stories, have compared songwriter Dave Milligan's spiky, character-based, pop vignettes with both Ray Davies and Kinks aficionados, Blur. "That's very, very kind of them," says Milligan, a tad embarrassed by the major namechecks. "I suppose I can see what they're getting at. I've tried to capture a certain feeling of chirpy Englishness and, er, melancholic nostalgia. If that makes sense. "It's an album about people. The people we see everyday... on the train, on the bus, the bloke standing outside a shop window talking on the phone. Who are they? What are their lives like? Who do they love? Do they dress up in women's clothing late at night? Everybody's got an interesting story to tell." Believe it or not, Milligan has been guiding various incarnations of The Penguin Party since he was about eight years old. "My dad bought me a load of Action Men toys," he remembers, "but me and my brother weren't interested in wars or guns. We just used to dress them up as rock stars. We'd make little amps out of matchboxes and give them cardboard guitars. The name I came up with was Penguin Party, after a daytrip to London. I saw all the people in suits, marching to work and, in my eight-year-old's mind, they looked like penguins." Although he finally formed a real Penguin Party band in his teens, it still took many years - not to mention a swift kick up the backside from various friends and family - before Milligan was finally persuaded to put out a 'proper' album, 2008's See Thru Songs, released on the Essex indie label, Sitting Target Music. Buoyed by the album's critical success - Not Lame likened it's "distinctive British take on pop" to Nick Lowe, Squeeze and even Martin Newell - Milligan began work on a follow-up with the help of drummer, Dave McGrath; bass player, Gareth Hall; and guitarist, Jake Milligan. McGrath and Hall have played in various club and covers bands with Milligan (McGrath also featured in an early, 80s version of Penguin Party), while Jake is actually Dave's son, who was 17 at the time the album was made. "I'm sure a lot of 17-year-olds would feel weird being in a band with their dad," says Jake. "But I'd heard him recording the songs and I knew they were good. I'll admit it was a bit strange seeing my dad at the front of the stage, but, after a while, I thought, 'He's not bad'. When I played a gig with my own band [Essex's Curbside Hotel], I realised I was actually nicking a few of my dad's moves!" "Penguin Party was never meant to go much further than my bedroom," says Milligan. "But after I released the first album, I started getting offers to play gigs and festivals. That was when I realised I had to start taking things a bit more seriously." The all-new, four-piece Penguin Party played their debut show last year at some place called the Cavern Club in Liverpool. "I think that was what convinced Jake to join us. He's a huge Beatles fan," laughs Milligan. With the addition of McGrath, Hall and Milligan Jr., the new album sets it's sights far beyond the chiming power pop of See Thru Songs. "I was probably listening to a bit too much XTC when I made that album," admits Milligan. "The new one still has that 80s, English pop feel, but there's a whole host of other darker stuff in there... bands like Monochrome Set, Jazz Butcher and the Smiths." "Not to mention Panadol, Berocca, Guinness and Jack Daniels!" chips in Hall. A self-confessed hard-living, hard-loving, hard-drinking, hard-nosed, hard-hatted Welshman, it was Hall who first spotted the Southend shop that gave the Sex Furniture Warehouse it's name. "Obviously, it was called the Essex Furniture Warehouse," he grins, "but somebody had nicked a couple of the letters, which made it far more interesting." Milligan's lyric for opening track At Home With Mr Trebus was inspired by the idea of somebody living in a furniture warehouse, but it's Hall's grizzled, breathless asides about motorised attachments and wipe-clean surfaces that really suck you in (so to speak!). From there, the album careens through the lives of characters like Mike Leigh-On-Sea (the grown-up family man who refuses to grow up, still thinking he can party with the best of 'em) and Vivien the cross-dresser in the song She Was Only A Roofer's Daughter. All of these are seen through Milligan's ever-curious eyes. "I'm a 40-something bloke with a really happy home life," he admits. "I don't go round shagging random women, taking drugs or clubbing at the weekend. So, I don't write about those things. I write about things that 40-something blokes think about. "I sit on a train for four hours every day. Coming in and out of London. Wondering who all those people are. How do they feel about their lives? Are they pissed off? I know I am. There's nothing at all wrong with my life, but I just feel a bit... disappointed. Disappointed that life hasn't turned out like they said it would on Tomorrow's World. Where's my jet-pack? Where's my sky-car? "Some people have described the album as nostalgic and maybe that's what they mean." "I think it's definitely what I would call a mature album," adds McGrath. "People often talk about midlife as a crisis, but there is something about getting older that gives you the opportunity to look back and have an opinion about life. And to have the courage to stand by those opinions. "When you're young, you're always so worried about what other people think. When you get to our age, you don't really give a shit what other people think. You look at the world and let people know what you think for a change." "If anything, I suppose that's what I hope people get out of this album," says Milligan. "I hope they recognise the way it's looking at the world. I hope people of my age can listen to it and understand what I'm on about. I hope they feel comfortable with it and perhaps see themselves or people they know in there. "As for Jake's generation..." he adds, looking over at his son. "Maybe they'll listen to it and understand their parents just that little bit more." Danny Scott, Jan 2011 -o-o-o- Review from Leonard's Lair: It's hard to believe Dave Milligan is a member of the slowcore outfit Arco after listening to his latest Penguin Party record. Whilst the latter's bio suggesting "XTC covering Chas 'n' Dave" is an odd description, there's certainly a sense that a cockney knees-up is only a breath away. More accurately, there's a common theme of growing old for 'Sex Furniture Warehouse' but Milligan chooses to channel his thoughts through characters of a similar age, rather than focus on his own foibles. Part-novelty and part new wave, there's something for everyone here, provided you like music from the late 1970's that is. If 'At Home With Mr. Trebus' has the aura of a British sex comedy starring Robin Askwith, 'You Learn To Climb When You're Small' is rhythmic and edgy. Meanwhile, 'It's Not Big And It's Not Clever' combines the frenetic guitars of The Monochrome Set with the humour of Madness. Even though the characters are mocked, they are presented in a loveable way which attracts curiosity rather than pity. Moreover, Penguin Party (along with The Hepburns) are now becoming a quirky British institution who inhabit a world which refuses to change with the times. Not a bad move on this evidence. -o-o-o- Review from Powerpopaholic: Dave Milligan has a lovable quirky attitude on this third Penguin Party album. 'Mike Leigh-on-sea' is an impressive XTC styled single, and the album goes off on the theme of senior citizenship with typical British jangle and whimsy. The production is sparse compared to the last album, and it brings us a homey intimacy on 'She Was Only A Roofer's Daughter.' It's like Martin Newell doing a sing-a-long in the pub, especially on the charming 'Song For My Old Lady.' Sometimes it looses it's way getting too jokey (like an old Monty Python tune) or experimental. But there are more than enough gems here (like the terrific 'Whatever Happened to Tomorrow's World?') to make it worth your while. Fans of Mr. Newell and Mr. Partridge shouldn't miss this one.