Nevermind The Posers

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Free Urban Clown, The Search for an Album That Doesn’t Exist March 9, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — NVMP @ 7:48 PM
Tags: , , , ,

By Jon Warhol

A ghost, a myth, an urban legend, the Keyser Soze of albums (The Usual Suspects anyone?) — For a while I didn’t believe it really existed, and even if it did, I held little hope its mysterious sounds would ever reach my ears. The album I’m speaking of, is, none other than Free Urban Clown by Jon Lawler. What’s that? Who’s that? Oh, you’ve never heard of Free Urban Clown or Jon Lawler? Not many people have, and its creator would like it to stay that way. You may know him better by the moniker Jon Fratelli, front man of the Scottish indie rock band The Fratellis whose 2006 debut Costello Music thrust the band into the spotlight with singles like “Chelsea Dagger” and “Whistle for the Choir.”

Go to Wikipedia, or any site that conveniently displays a musician’s story and official discography, and you’ll undoubtedly find the official chronicle of Mr. Fratelli’s productivity. But what an official discography won’t tell you is that sometime before the chart-topping indie/garage rock success of Costello Music, Jon created Free Urban Clown, a folksy, Bob Dylan-esque collection of Americana rock under his birth name, Jon Lawler.
Jon FratelliIf you’ve read this far, it’s reasonable to assume you’re asking yourself “What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that a famous musician is gracefully lying about and denying through omission the very existence of his most interesting and sought after pieces of music.

I first heard of this enigma purely by chance – an innocent YouTube search for “Jon Lawler” brought up a video for what remains the only publicly (though not officially) released track “Frisco Skyline.” The Scottish accent familiar to Fratellis fans was replaced by a very American sounding twang, much like a young Bob Dylan (or a Scotsman doing a very good impression of Dylan). Could this really be the same artist? I decided to see how far down this rabbit hole the internet would allow me to go. Another YouTube search revealed the only other song from the album exists in the video of an acoustic cover of “San Helena” sung by a man with a speech impediment and no video description. The plot thickens.

In this age of torrenting with websites such as The Pirate Bay, anyone with internet has unlimited free access to any album they want — except Free Urban Clown. I became obsessed with finding the album because it couldn’t be found. Ask a mountain climber why he climbs mountains and he’ll tell you “Because I can;” you’ll get the same response from a collector of any paraphernalia, no matter how niche their subject.

Internet search engines proved to be less than fruitful; you know you’re desperate today when you go to the second page of Google results. The deep bowels of Fratellis fan forums revealed physical copies of the album were made in very limited quantities, the majority of which remain in their Scottish homeland. As the sad and self-pitying mallet that is the feeling you’re getting nowhere fast was about to strike my forehead, I read of a man in New York City who found the album in a second-hand shop and included pictures! Luckily a stroke of obsessive foresight compelled me to save the images to my computer. I say luckily because that very day The Fratellis’s website was shut down to make room for a new website while the band reformed. I could picture Jon Fratelli somewhere in Scotland perched on his throne of vanquished whisky bottles, petting his “Dr. Evil” white cat and snickering to himself as he thwarted my progress.

I could make out the words “Mecca Holding Co” on one of the pictures I rescued from digital oblivion; their website revealed the album to be several years out of print. The obligatory “contact us” section allowed me to ask if any previous copies remained for me to buy. A blindingly rapid response came back: I was informed they had recently spoken to Mr. Fratelli, and he does not want the album to be reissued ever. Besides a bit of divine intervention and deux ex machina, it seemed there was no way to win.

I revisited the “Frisco Skyline” video on YouTube, much like how one checks a refrigerator late at night, to see if anything would be different from the last time to checked. Feeling a little ridiculous, I left a comment stating I was a “Wealthy oil merchant willing to buy the video uploader a small island in exchange for the full album.” Wholeheartedly feeling nothing could come of my words, I was astonished to find within minutes a brief private message to my YouTube account from “Frisco Skyline” uploader who typed “Merry Christmas” followed by a link. Suspicions that I was just about to receive a virus, feelings of doubt, awe, and anxious expectation soared as I watched the lime green download bar inch along. At 2:40 Am on a school night, when I should have been typing a paper, there sat on my desktop, 12 .mp3 files I believed unattainable. At this point, I didn’t even care if it was a good album; some men spend their whole lives searching for Bigfoot, but I found Free Urban Clown.

Truth be told, I did care a bit if the album was good; what a fascinating waste of time it would have been if the promised land was just 12 tracks of Jon Fratelli laughing at you or farting into the microphone. Although Free Urban Clown sounds nothing reminiscent of the indie rock associated with The Fratellis, its acoustic rhythms and stream-of-conscious lyrics prove that you need no more than a guitar and harmonica to make decent music. The moral of this story is: It doesn’t matter what you are searching for; never give up because persistence and being a little ridiculous pays off.

Back cover of Free Urban Clown

Back cover of Free Urban Clown

 

14 Responses to “Free Urban Clown, The Search for an Album That Doesn’t Exist”

  1. Matt Holmes Says:

    What a great article! I too have been searching for this album since hearing about it on the Fratellis website forums back in 2007, with no luck except for the 2 tracks you mentioned above. I also managed to find a mp3 of the track called bullshit bluez from god-only-knows-where that i still have to this day, but those are the only tracks i’ve ever heard from this elusive album, with San Helena being my personal favourite of the 3. I similarly got in touch with the Mecca Holding Co website inquiring whether they’d ever have the album back stock but was not as lucky as you in that i never heard back. Now and again I do the “jon lawler free urban clown” google search to see if any blogs have been written or (optimistically) if anyone has put the album on ebay to no avail, until today when i stumble across your article! If you can find it in your heart to send me the whole album i would be eternally grateful, I might even see myself to buying you a small island in recompense too!

  2. Erika Says:

    Dear Santa, I know it’s a few months late (or many months too early) but would you care to share your gift with me? Unless it is indeed 12 tracks of Mr. Fratelli farting….then, I might pass on it. Otherwise, I’d love to hear it.

  3. Jon Says:

    Hey, I’m the guy who wrote this. Nice to see other Jon Fratelli fans are interested in Free Urban Clown! If you’d like more info on the album, feel free to email me jules.whinfield@gmail.com

  4. Danny Smith Says:

    I’ve been looking absolutely everywhere for this for ages as well! I know it’s a lot different than anything else he’s done since but I wish I could hear something as good as frisco skyline, if only I had an island…

  5. kw Says:

    I’ve been obsessively looking for this album too (to the point of going into random charity shops when I pass to see if the stars have aligned and there’s a copy sitting in a dusty old box full of 50 pence CDs)!! I even posted a comment on the Frisco Skyline video agreeing with the wealthy oil merchant and asking for more songs. I guess now I’ll ask the wealthy oil merchant himself… (It’s my birthday soon and everything ;P)

  6. Sheldon Says:

    Can anyone tell me what the full tracklist is?

  7. NVMP Says:

    Reblogged this on Nevermind The Posers and commented:

    So many of you have been searching for the track-list…here it is, courtesy of Jon Warhol:

    From what I can assume, the album came out in 2005.

    1) Bullshit Blues 3:43
    ​2) She’s a gypsy 3:40
    3) Don’t Hold Your Breath 3:33
    4) The Girl In The Crowd 3:31
    5) San Helena 5:12
    6) Frisco Skyline 3:22
    7) When We Was Free 5:16
    8) Down On The Avenue 5:37
    9) Stand Up For The King 5:53
    10) Showtime 6:00
    11) The Sands of Mexico 1:07
    12) Satellite 5:46

  8. guy Says:

    i have a unopened cd of free urban clown for sale make me an offer folk

  9. wjmontiel Says:

    I remember Jon once being asked about this on an interview and I believe he said something along the lines of this never actually being an “album” he had planned. He had recorded some demos that then a friend (or a fan, can’t remember) assembled into an album for him.

    Although, he would say that, though, wouldn’t he?

  10. Cameron Says:

    I too am looking for this album, If you can help me out, please do 🙂


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