Sergeant Buzfuz are a South London based vehicle for singer and songwriter Joe Murphy’s agit folk pop and social commentary songs which they deliver in an attractive faux naive folky style. Deceptively simple, down to the cartoon rendering of the band on the album cover and the band name, there’s a temptation to dismiss this as almost a novelty item. Dig deeper however and there’s plenty of evidence that Balloons For Thin Linda is a well thought out, well crafted (and subversive) album.
The basic band (William Barr on mandolin, Ian Button, drums, Eilish McCracken, fiddle, flute and whistle and Murphy on vocals and guitar) are fleshed out with bass, violin, cello and accordion offering the opportunity for the song arrangements to accommodate some baroque stylings which at times are reminiscent of the ornamented musings of late sixties/early seventies folk rock. Meanwhile Murphy’s deadpan descriptions and his vocal delivery recall predecessors as varied as Alan Hull of Lindisfarne, Robyn Hitchcock and Ray Davies, the latter most pertinent as the album purports to be an aural tour of London territories and Davies is of course the rock poet laureate of London. However, with the exception of S6 Girls (weirdly enough the song that most approximates early seventies Kinks) which describes a girls night out in Sheffield (Murphy’s home town) it’s hard to pin down this supposed concept on listening. Never mind, the album works without a detailed knowledge of the difference between Kensington and The Elephant and Castle and it’s best perhaps just to sit back and enjoy the songs and this is where the album gets interesting.
While the band deliver some fine songs such as the driving Robyn Hitchcock like Gold Feelings and the Irish strains of Molly’s Bar the meat is in Murphy’s acute observations of modern ills with the deceptively attractive Move, Carmelita seeming to be about a trafficked woman, held in a soundproofed room for men’s pleasuring. Infinite Kingdom Of Dirt tears down the idolatry of monarchy and the imperial delusions thrown at us by the media as wounded soldiers are cast aside and civilian deaths in the Middle East are ignored. The title song concerns a mentally ill woman wondering the halls of Harrods with the music meandering between a false jollity and a darker hopelessness. It’s a yin/yan thing perhaps. Enjoy the music but read the words and it’s to their credit that Sergeant Buzfuz are putting these songs about. Do have a listen.
And just to prove that Sergeant Buzfuz have a sense of humour