Sometimes, the internet is just brilliant. Last night I was contacted on Twitter by the comedy writer Eddie Robson asking if I'd seen a clip that had recently been posted by a poet and writer called Dave Bryant. For fans of prosaic British rock innocence and post-war Albion grot the entire three-and-a-half minute clip is a delight. The footage is of a BBC Look East report from 1970 concerning a young Bury St Edmunds band, Smoke, engaged in a 100-hour sponsored jam session in Bury Market Hall.
Not to be confused with the York four-piece who reached Number 45 in the UK singles chart in March 1967 with the terrific psych-pop freakout My Friend Jack, this Smoke only appear to have released one single, Dream Of Dreams, on Revolution Records in 1970. According to the 7"’s press release, posted by the group's sole YouTube archivist, Steve Cole, “the group embarked upon their attempt at the world record for continuous playing by a group, not as a big publicity stunt but to raise money for new equipment.”
Filmed by what appears to have been a renegade wing of the early ’70s BBC, staffed by polytechnic lecturers and jobbing RAF moralists (“I mean, is this, in fact, ‘music’?”), the clip exudes a very particular tincture of post-hippie provincial sludge, from the opening dazed ramblings of a frizz-haired drummer dozing in a grotty flock armchair ("Well, bin finkin’ ov I got do much... gotta do an 18 hour an that, of course... no... keepin' awake... having things to eat, drink... you know...”) to the extended cut-away art shot of dirty mugs, unwashed plates and scorched pans on top of a cupboard.
Underpinned by the beguiling hypnotic dullness of their record-breaking blues jam Smoke appear to inhabit a world of profound existential boredom that exists far beyond their riff-based exhaustion. They look and sound fed up. They also look like they're really starting to stink.
The group are overseen by the real star of the clip, a marvellously anachronistic Brylcreemed “representative” in velvet blazer and Oxford check shirt, who has been keeping tabs on Smoke's performance by collecting signatures from “the general public”: “We’ve had very good sponsorship from the general public,” he tells the BBC reporter. “We're situated very well here... from the general public”.
Smoke were co-managed by a local policeman – Bob Johnson – and maybe this bespectacled patrician overseer is our Bob, or another of their well-meaning co-managers, John Harper or Roger St. Pierre.
In what is either a signal moment of hegemonic supremacy, or just a middle-class reporter confused by his surroundings, the posh BBC presenter repeatedly asks Smoke why they don’t just give up. He also appears unduly preoccupied with the promise of “a champagne celebration at the end of this”. The band just want to go to bed, but “we've come so far we might as well keep going”. It’s a heartbreaking series of exchanges: pathetic, exhausted, futile and a lovely metaphor for the shabby breadline reality of early ’70s underground rock bands.
It is, after all, a shit business.