HiFi - 'The Complete Collection'

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HiFi - 'The Complete Collection'

An opportunity to reappraise a much underappreciated band that deserved far better.

In the short liner notes in this CD, David Surkamp describes the last few years in his first band Pavlov’s Dog as a “HELL” that he would run from until he befriended guitarist and singer Ian Matthews. Once of Fairport Convention and Matthew’s Southern Comfort, Ian too was looking for a new musical outlet and even though they hated each other’s taste in music, a firm bond grew between the pair.

Far removed from either the Prog or Folky vibe of their past work, HiFi saw the unlikely partnership turn their hand to a quirky, Pop-Rock, New-Wave sound that surprised everyone. A live EP ‘Demonstration Record’ surfaced in 1981, before a full length album ‘Moods For Mallards’ appeared two years later. All fifteen tracks from those releases are included on ‘The Complete Collection’, along with a two track Christmas single, an outtake from the ‘Demonstration...’ sessions and the two songs that made up a David Surkamp solo single under the name HiFi, that even the man himself now admits was a done for contractual reasons (it shows). The live setting for the debut EP was actually a studio where the band’s friends and family were the audience; however the results crackle with energy and right from the raucous cover of The Shadows ‘Savage’, the chemistry the band possessed is apparent for all to hear. Across all five tracks the robust drumming courtesy of Bob Briley and the busy bass work from Bruce Haden set a rockin’, yet accessible scene, with ‘Heart Of Mine’, reminding in places of Status Quo’s ‘Don’t Drive My Car’.



Alongside Surkamp and Matthews, Gary Shelton created a three prong guitar attack, with his roaming lead lines bringing a bright melodic setting to the more robust rhythm work. However back in the 80’s the real interest was on whether the much maligned high pitched warble of Surkamp would blend well with Matthews more focused approach. The end results are rather stunning, with the mixture of single and harmony vocals being the band’s true strength.

Lacking the energy that makes ‘Demonstration...’ so irresistible ‘Moods For Mallards’ became more of a guitar led Pop record, however that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a certain charm to the likes of ‘S.O.S.’, ‘Throw A Line’, ‘Knockin’ On Your Door’, or ‘Time After Time’. Of the bonus tracks it is really only the leftover ‘Demonstration...’ track ‘She May Call You Up Tonight’ that captures the interest, although both ‘It’s Almost Christmas’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’ are good as festive songs go... More essential however is the DVD which accompanies this release, featuring a visual document of ‘Demonstration Record’ interspersed with candid interviews. Unusually it is a bonus disc well worth revisiting on a regular basis.

With hindsight it is actually quite hard to grasp why HiFi didn’t make a far greater impact than they did, especially when you consider the rock/chart crossover potential they possessed in abundance. ‘The Complete Collection’ offers an opportunity to reappraise a much underappreciated band that deserved far better.

Steven Reid

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