DIESEL PARK WEST
Diesel Park West are for many people the most enigmatic band from the late eighties still performing today. Back in those Thatcherite days the psychedelic guitar ground they occupied was often dismissed as a mere throwback to the mid-sixties with only an enlightened minority realising its real musical significance. The beating heart of rock ‘n’ roll is now far more aware of the Diesels sound and maybe that’s why any live performance by the band is considered an event worth seeing. Drawing upon eight albums worth of material and the hippest cover versions imaginable, Diesel Park West continue to prove beyond a doubt that they really are the torchbearers for an entire genre.
Diesel Park West first came to wider attention around August 1987 when the indie single “When the Hoodoo Comes” gained airplay on night-time radio, leading to a full session later that year which really got tongues wagging.
By late '87 the band had become available hot property in London, with the majors all forming a disorderly pack of signature chasers. Overnight sensations? Not really. There had been some formative years grimly holding on to principles while music in the UK was being led by some seriously transparent early-mid eighties “artistes”. In fact strange as it might seem now, the guitar's position as the pivotal popular instrument looked to be at an end. There were guitar bands of course and the newly found success of such bands ensured that record companies were constantly looking for something similar, but the influences of the previous decade (with a few exceptions) had largely been unhelpful. By early ’88 however, things were starting to change a little and Food Records were signed to EMI Records in order for the label to get its hands on the Indies' latest band Diesel Park West. Now with major backing, the band started to record the debut album which was soon to have a considerable impact, “Shakespeare Alabama”. Although the album never delivered a huge breakthrough hit single it did generate enough influence on the times and create such a buzz about the band to ensure them a special place within the bigger picture.
Three whole years however were to slip by until the second album “Decency” was to surface. In true major label style there had been a lot of executive positioning ready for the inevitable massive breakthrough. Like all dead certs it never quite worked out the way it was meant, and despite an 'almost hit single' "Fall to Love” in early '92, the band were divorced by the overweight EMI and seemed set to follow the well-worn path of other major-label victims. Thank you and goodnight. Well no! Not at all, in fact for a variety of reasons the creative rivers were really starting to flow at this point.
The band had forged a strong musical identity onstage, drawing upon its own musical influences which are now acknowledged as being seminal. As rock has grown older with an unexpected dignity, names such as the Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, Big Star, the Brian Jones era Stones and Love are mostly free from misguided taboos which had been largely born of ignorance. Free to operate within its own taste Diesel Park West have so far gone on to release five independent albums which have all maintained a high critique for the band.
The Diesels entered the indie sector which obviously couldn’t provide the major promotional backup and international profile of EMI but any sort of external shackles were at last off. “The Corporate Waltz” in 1993 might be taken as evidence that if the band been retained by the major a breakthrough would have indeed followed. The hugely influential Q Magazine stated that ‘when the marketing department at EMI hear “The Cat's Still Scratching” it will have them eating the carpet.’ And so it proved in a way because that song remains the only Diesel Park West song ever to be playlisted on UK national radio (a vital ingredient for a hit single) albeit and ironically on Virgin radio and not the BBC. This album swirls and delves right into the heart of the band’s subconscious vision with songs “Where Will the Birds Sing”, “Good Times Liberation Blues”, “Old Man’s Bluff”, or the great pop swing of “Vanity” leading the way.
It’s a given in rock n' roll lore that second albums can often be a bit awkward or difficult to get right because of various energies used by the writers being syphoned off for the actual process of promoting a debut record. This, a largely unacknowledged factor in the Diesels’ camp, is what happened during late 89-90. It speaks well of the band that they nevertheless delivered tracks of quality such as “While The World Cries Decency” and “Fall To Love” for 1992's “Decency”.
It is however, “The Corporate Waltz” which provides the clear white light of proof that this group from the English Midlands should have dominated rock for at least a good decade. Sonically it carries the perfect balance of pure spirit mixed with a deliberate and knowing rock edge, a combination often spoken of but achieved rarely by many bands. Label affiliates Blur broke through (after holding on to their deal with EMI by one finger nail) with the third album “Parklife” and so it could have been with DPW but fate, having mischievously decreed otherwise, decided they were to run through the jungle fully laden with no maps or support. This band however proved to be more than tough enough for the task.
Starting in 1995 the album "FreakGene" kicked of a run of three official releases up to the year 2000. It was followed by "HIPReplacement" (1998) and "Thought for Food" (2000). All these recordings were done at the bands own Barkby Road studio and all received the by now familiar DPW five star media critique. The 1998 release even had the Guardian describe Diesel Park West as the most relevant band of that year which considering their debut was by then nine years old was a remarkable comment.
In 2005, EMI re-released "Shakespeare Alabama" and the major label years best of "Left Hand Band" again both prompting very favourable retrospective reviews. Although live shows were not numerous the band did however play at least two or three London shows every year along with a handful of hometown and northern dates. People who saw these shows usually came away bewildered that such a high quality live act were not enjoying a much higher live profile in the way that seemingly lesser acts did. Nevertheless the Diesels returned to the studio in 2007 to record the outstanding "Blood and Grace" album which actually got some radio support based around the shining single "There's A Grace". This record confirmed the creative staying power of Diesel Park West which was further stated with the 2011 release of the beautifully named "Do Come In, Excuse the Mess".
Eight albums is a substantial body of work for any band but for one which has struggled to survive in an increasingly impossible environment it is all the more remarkable. It would also be foolish to regard the eighth as the final one.