This seminal pub-rock outfit is more of interest for what the individuals did after the group split than for the band’s own recordings. Drummer Will Birch went on to found the Records (with guitarist John Wicks, briefly a Kursaal at the end of the band’s first go-round) and produce records for various people. Graeme Douglas, whom Wicks replaced, joined Eddie and the Hot Rods, and wrote their best songs.
The Kursaals’ first two LPs are thinly produced countryish rock’n’roll, bolstered considerably by Birch’s witty lyrics. The Great Artiste does contain what may be the earliest recorded cover of a Nick Lowe composition, “Television,” later done to better effect by Dave Edmunds.
With Mike Batt producing, the group tried something completely different on Golden Mile, an eclectic musical travelogue through rock’n’roll’s root styles from swing to Spector to ska to ’60s pop-rock. The album is a little-known treasure, similar in concept to the Turtles’ equally ignored and enjoyable Battle of the Bands.
By the time of Five Live, the Kursaals had almost totally weeded out their country strain and, showing the influence of the punk revolution going on around them, got into music with a more driving beat. The band’s last hurrah, the “Television Generation” single, is great, proof positive that the band had seen the new light. What else could they do but break up?
And what else could they do after releasing In for a Spin — a best-of featuring nine cuts from the first three albums, “Television Generation” and five unreleased tracks (including one later recorded by Birch’s next group, the Records) — but reunite for another album?
Tour de Force — an all-new studio album by the reformed group — sounds like a record the Kursaals might have made in 1978 had they stayed together. With only a song titled “Pre-Madonna” as a token gesture to topicality, the LP melds all the best elements of what the group initially had to offer. Good to see that ten years haven’t affected these guys a bit or dulled Birch’s way with words; he remains one of the most disarmingly clever lyricists this side of Nick Lowe.