black market baby

by Eddie Bronx for the Unicorn Times

Squalling, brawling Baby has been laid on DC's rock & roll doorstep. It is sustained by liquid nourishment, makes lusty noise, and is often irresponsible in its behavior. Just like all babies, right? Well, not quite.

This brat is Black Market Baby, one of the last punk bands in DC, and likely the best. Readers wary of superlatives need be told that BMB's biggest fans are all the other punk bands in town. "We're the only ones with any energy left," declares guitarist Keith Campbell.

Having seen BMB work, one is hard-pressed to dispute the claim. The band works harder in rehearsal than most bands do in front of an audience. Singer Boyd Farrell never delivers less than full-speed-ahead. Keith churns and tweaks his tiny Les Paul, Jr. guitar mercilessly. Bassist Myk Dolfi ("Spell it any way you wanna.") is able, remarkably, to contribute material and intelligent bass lines at impossible speed and volume. And, if I ever start an rock & roll band, Tommy Carr will have to be my drummer. At 19, he is on every list of the best drummers in town, and at the top of mine.

When they perform, they draw many of the new wave regulars, as well as the dilettante preppies, and the stray long-hair. But the most obvious segment of the crowd is the inevitable group of teeny-punks congregates stageside. All shaved heads, work boots, and rags, they do their infamous slam-dancing to the delight of no one but themselves. Other members of the audience are cautious and keep their distances. It is even possible that potential BMB supporters stay away, deterred by the random violence of the display.

However, many of the dancers constitute once and future punk bands (e.g., Teen Idles, Minor Threat) and no other band commands the respect and adulation of local punk-rockers as does Black Market Baby. Even so, while the kids are chasing some vanished dream of 1977 London, BMB will not live in the past. They insist that punk is a musically, and commercially, viable form for rock & roll.

Says Keith, "Punk rock is on the resurgence. With these small record labels, bands have more artistic freedom then they ever did."

Boyd adds, "I don't think we're your average punk band. We don't want to play badly. When [Myk joined the band], a lot of punks resented it. They accused us of trying to be better, and we were!"

"They just wanted to complain," grumbles Keith. He can be excused for being less tolerant of nonsense. At 28, he is the senior member of the band, and has been involved in the local music scene for a long while. He was once in a band with Roddy Frantz, who has gone on to the Urban Verbs. Most notable, he was lead guitar in D.Ceats, which featured Martha Hull.

But the motivating spirit of the band is singer Boyd Farrell. He has been performing obsessively in groups since high school, usually with Paul Cleary, BMB's original bassist. Boyd was primarily inspired by the Rolling Stones. (someone should do a doctoral thesis on the influence of the Stones on garage bands.) As each of the bands began to creep into heavy metal, Boyd and Paul would quit to seek another outlet.

At some point, Boyd began hearing the Clash and the Sex Pistols; he knew instantly that this was his music. He beat the bushes for other musicians, but nobody wanted to play the stuff. Finally, in the company of Paul and couple of misfits from heavy metal bands, Boyd formed The Snitch, punk music and demeanor ("We would do things just to annoy people.").

The Snitch rolled along for a while, using musicians from local bands, as needed, like Pegasus and the Kid Band (later evolved into Bill & the Shakes). Meanwhile, D.Ceats was in terminal decline. After a bad gig, Boyd approached Keith with a tape and an invitation to jam with The Snitch. To his utter astonishment, Keith agreed.

Keith enjoyed playing Boyd's songs, so different from the basic pop orientation of D.Ceats. This laster version of The Snitch played at parties, and at venues like the Back Room and the old Atlantis Club. There was some hesitation on Keith's part: he was playing with Original Fetish, and was still not sure whether to consider D.Ceats a dead issue. In this unsettled situation, the other musicians drifted away, and Boyd sang into despair.

Finally, Keith bit the bullet and approached Boyd. Suddenly energized, Boyd recruited Paul, and pirated Tommy Carr from the Penetrators, then dying cruelly from neglect. The four began to play together. This was early in 1980.

IT WAS A GIG AT Madam's Organ that convinced them that they were a band. At the time, they knew five of Boyd's songs and one of Keith's ("The Sloppy Six"). It was Tru Fax and the Insaniacs' gig, and memories differ on just who called whom to come and play. But, the band scoured a couple cases of beer, and did the gig using Tru Fax's equipment.

As Tru Fax's drummer, Michael Marriotte remembers: "They showed up and asked if they could play. They only knew six songs, but the audience loved them. Especially after us."

They still had not settled on a name. Keith suggested Black Market Baby, but they also toyed with the Bodanskis, after a Polish pizzeria, and the Loose Screws. (Once a club owner mis-head that as Loose Shoes, and plastered the town with flyers featuring that name. Boyd brought a bag of shoes to the gig to present to Keith on stage.) Black Market Baby, snide and rude, prevailed.

Eventually, Myk Dolfi joined the band. Paul was not as dedicated to the band as the others and found things he wanted to do more. Boyd the Vulture stole Myk from George Dively's New Standards, as he had stolen Tommy from George's last band. Poor George.

Myk has made a great difference in the band, providing song material in addition to his fine playing. Tommy has also begun to write songs for the band, although the bulk of the writing is still done by Boyd and Keith.

There was a little ritual where Boyd would write a song and bring an idea for a tune to Keith. Keith would suggest another tune. Boyd would get angry: "You take the words and see if you can do better, and he would come back with a ten-times-better idea." Now he just passes the words to Keith or Myk.

Keith has scraps of tunes hidden everywhere. "I'll wake up at four in the morning and get these flashes, find a pen, find a paper. Then I hide it, cause I don't want anyone to see it, and I can never find it again." Still, they manage.

Boyd's writing and stage presence are aggressive and reflect a certain anger. I asked him: Why?

BF: It's a way of channeling out aggressions. There's a bad side of me, when I'm drinking. Now, I don't drink so much, and I sing a lot more.

EB: Why are you so frustrated?

BF: Because I'm in a typical rut.

EB: But you're not in a typical rut. You have the outlet of singing.

BF: I'm glad of that. before, I didn't have that and I was getting in lots of trouble. I'm a lot more at peace. My lyrics used to be in a hateful vein, now they're more from concern.

Keith provides as an example from an upcoming single. "Youth Crime is an American melodrama. It's about kids that are driving daddy's car and get too fucked up and wreck the car. They break into people's houses. It's a lack of attention from the parents."

It was the dramatic lyrics and the high musical standards which caught the ear of WHFS jock Johnnie Walker, now returned to England. He played BMB's material and raved about them. (Keith would leave the room in embarrassment if strangers were around to hear.) All of the stuff he played is soon to be available on singles. The band is trying to build and audience.

They consider themselves a rock & roll dance band, and like playing loud and fast. But, the musicianship is much better than it needs to be, and a process of evolution seems to be taking place. There is no telling where the band will go from here, but Keith, who has a bit of perspective, says, "Our songs sound to me like everything else I've liked since I was a kid."

After all, every Baby grows.

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© Dementlieu or respective authors 2005