This is the second appreciation I’ve written about a dead musical hero. The first, for guitar-pop legend Tommy Keene, came easily in some respects. We were friends, and while his 2017 death was a shocking gut punch from which I’ve not fully recovered, it wasn’t difficult to quickly express the depth of that loss.
Patrick Huntrods, a.k.a. Pat Fish—whose rock ’n’ roll nom de plume was the Jazz Butcher—died October 5 at the too-young age of 64, reportedly from cancer. I’d seen him play three times, twice at the old 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., where backstage security was nonexistent, but I never did meet him. Who this fabulously talented British singer/songwriter was as a person is beyond me, though given his obvious intelligence and wit, he was a likely a fine chap.
What I can offer about him is that from 1983-2000, the prolific Butcher released 11 LPs (as well as various compilations, live records and numerous singles) and another, The Last Of The Gentlemen Adventurers, in 2012. Describing his sometimes quirky, always distinctive songs—and why they continue to resonate—is tricky. (This is an unfortunate shortcoming for a music writer, so bear with me.)
Much of the Butcher’s early output tended toward silliness like “Love Kittens” (“Love kittens, ’cause kittens aren’t horrible”) from 1983 debut In Bath Of Bacon or absurdist drones like “Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday Present” from 1984’s A Scandal In Bohemia, but all of it was couched in enough melody as to not be completely inscrutable. Even then, and especially later, he was equally adept at heartrending tales of romantic angst (like “Angels,” from 1986’s Distressed Gentlefolk, and pretty much the entirety of 1991’s Condition Blue).
Those first few records are essential, but the Butcher reached his creative peak during the five-album run that started with Distressed Gentlefolk and ended with Condition Blue. 1988’s Fishcotheque, 1989’s Big Planet, Scarey Planet and 1990’s Cult Of The Basement complete the quintet and stand with the best LPs of that era; Fishcotheque, in particular, is possibly the perfect distillation of the Butcher’s brilliance. No one else could write an anti-chicken-consumption rap/rant like “The Best Way” (“There’s chicken on your shirtfront, greasy and thick/Someone tell the manager the chicken is sick/The whole idea’s sick”) and a jangly, melancholic closer like “Keeping The Curtains Closed (“He just stood there at the bus stop at the back of the line/And there were too many people, there was not enough time/And now he’s keeping the curtains closed”).
The Butcher followed those efforts with two underheard and underrated records (which really describes his entire catalog), 1993’s Waiting For The Love Bus and 1995’s Illuminate. 2000’s Rotten Soul found him reunited with drinking partner/guitarist Max Eider, who left the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy after Distressed Gentlefolk; it’s decent, but the aforementioned The Last Of The Gentlemen Adventurers is even better and a welcome return after too long of an absence.
Earlier this year, the Butcher resurfaced again with the single “Time,” which will be on a final LP scheduled for 2022. It’s a bit of a tricky listen, reminiscent of when Warren Zevon released The Wind in 2003, two weeks before his death from cancer. With lyrics like “My hair’s all wrong, my time ain’t long/Fishy go to heaven, get along, get along,” clearly the Butcher knew his time was nearly up.
An old pal, one whom I can thank publicly here for introducing me to his music—props, G.W.—asked me in late September if I’d thought about interviewing the Butcher about the upcoming collection, Dr Cholmondley Repents: A-Sides, B-Sides And Seasides (Fire). I had to admit that the idea of talking to him gave me pause—could I keep it together without fawning?—but I decided I’d do it and made a note to contact his publicist.
The Butcher died two weeks later. And now I’m keeping the curtains closed.