Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Exploding Seagulls -- "Johnny Runs for Paregoric" (1980)

Johnny's in the coal cellar
Running out of medicine

Fried Egg Records was a short-lived record label that released twelve singles by ten different bands and two albums (one of which was a compilation featuring many of those singles) in 1979 and 1980.  The label was based in Bristol, the largest city in southwest England, which has had a very active art and music scene for many years.

One of the best of the Fried Egg singles is today's featured song, "Johnny Runs for Paregoric," by the Exploding Seagulls.  

Where did the band get its name?  There's an old rumor that seagulls who swallow Alka-Seltzer will explode.  Supposedly, the birds can't release gas by burping -- so if one of them ingests an Alka-Seltzer or another effervescent tablets, its stomach will become distended from intestinal gas until it explodes.

That's an urban myth -- as is the belief that you should not throw rice at a wedding because the uncooked rice grains will be ingested by birds, expand in their stomachs, and cause our little feathered friends to blow up.   (Not so!)

An unexploded seagull
The lyrics quoted above were inspired by Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," which begins with these lines:

Johnny's in the basement 
Mixing up the medicine

I wasn't able to find much information about the Exploding Seagulls, which apparently released just the one Fried Egg single.  

One website described the band as "[b]erserk art-college kids from Southampton [who] became [John] Peel favourites before fragmenting in a welter of sexual and musical differences."  (John Peel was a legendary BBC DJ.)

BBC DJ John Peel
Scott Soriano, who created the very interesting "Crud Crud" blog (you can click here to read it), wrote this about the Exploding Seagulls back in 2005:  

I am not sure if the punkalectuals would let the Exploding Seagulls into their classroom.  I don't know if they would even be allowed in the "special" class, along with those DIY nerds.  The Exploding Seagulls . . . might be a little too coy, a little too tongue in cheek, hell, a little too cheeky.  But I like them. 

That "Crud Crud" post inspired a response by Richard Bolton, one of the band's members:

Thanks so much for your appreciation of the Seagulls' record on "Crud Crud" -- which I came upon by chance when I was trying to pin down when something happened and the only reference point was the release of that single.  And you're right -- the punkalectuals wouldn't let the Exploding Seagulls into their classroom -- we were obscure, idiosyncratic, idiotic and we had quite a good time!

For my sins I was responsible for bringing "Johnny" into the world, or rather, reviving him, for the first line, "Johnny runs for paregoric" was found by my sister in a Victorian book -- all I did was mash it up with "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and, as you point out -- stuck tongue firmly in cheek.

The band, initially was me on bass and vocals, Julian Chadwick on keyboards and shopping trolley (doubled as keyboard stand and transport) and Nick Jacobs on guitar and vocals.  The 'Tony Orrell' you see credited was indeed a stand in drummer as George Martin wasn't sure that Ringo would be up to it.  We sort of ballooned later with girlfriends joining as singers . . . we went through a couple of drummers until we found one who could drum. . . .

We played some memorable gigs, John Peel played our record(s) . . . what more can you want?  Nick peeled off to join the Blue Aeroplanes, Julian went to live in New Zealand, I got hacked off and divorced and suddenly the Seagulls had exploded . . . although not necessarily in that order.

I've kept on playing music in a number of different milieu -- from rock to theatre to writing an oratorio and am just kicking off with a new band called Throne Above the Stars, which is an attempt to recapture the bright elusive butterfly of psychedelia, chloroform it and pin it to the backside of the grinning donkey of rock.

Bolton and Throne Above the Stars -- that phrase is taken from a statement attributed to Satan in Isaiah 14 -- seem to have disappeared without a trace.

Paregoric -- the name given to camphorated tincture of opium by the 18th-century Dutch chemist who invented it -- has largely disappeared as well.  It was used for many years as an antidiarrheal and antitussive medicine.  (If you've got a bad cough and diarrhea -- especially fulminant diarrhea -- at the same time, you are in a heap of trouble, boys and girls!)

According to one source, paregoric was also widely used "to calm fretful children, and to rub on the gums to counteract the pain from teething."  Little Johnny might grow up to become an opium addict, but at least Mom and Dad will get a good night's sleep!

Here's "Johnny Runs for Paregoric" along with its "B" side, which was titled "Take Me to the Cinema."

Click below to order the song from Amazon:


  1. I have a live tape of the Seagulls at the Victory pub (now closed) in Southampton 1980/81. Even better live than on record,

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  3. Hmm; Sue Bolton ex. You just don't know the truth!!