22 June 2009

P'o - Whilst Climbing Thieves Vie For Attention

After three experimental albums as Dome, former Wire members Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis found themselves contemplating the empty space of the Waterloo Gallery. The Gallery had been used for their exhibition with Russell Mills, but now stood vacant and beckoning.

Together with drummer Peter Price, they began to entertain the idea of a band to fill the space, one that might bring together the spoken word and sound collage techniques they had grown increasingly interested in. Among the group of artists with whom they shared this beckoning space was David Tidball, who contributed words and ideas, and Alison Conway, better known as A.C. Marias, joining in on bass, guitar, and additional vocals.

The early rehearsals were promising, and the group began to plan live dates, but these plans were cut short with Tidball's announcement that he was emigrating to South America. Lest the sound be forever lost, they booked time at Blackwing Studios, that favourite haunt of 4AD-types, and set about recording as much of their set as they had worked out, trusting the results to producer Eric Radcliffe. A new dimension was added to the proceedings with the addition of a Fairlight CMI, the first polyphonic synthesizer to employ digital sampling technology to generate musical tones and textures. One could record any audio source, from a radiator hiss to someone moaning ~oh yeah~, and play it back as a melody, or build monstrous chords, layering note on note. Other bands, perhaps most notably those on the ZZT label, would soon employ the Fairlight to humorous effect, using pistol shots as percussion elements, or turning a single voice into a heavenly choir, but it was arguably the P'o consortium that first truly explored its full musical potential, stretching its sampling engine in all manner of unforeseen ways, "knitting with music," as Gilbert called it.

The resulting album, first released on Court Records in 1983, has grown in status over the years, becoming something of a holy grail for many Wire aficionados. Here we present the out of print and now nearly impossible to find cd version, in answer to an earlier request. It includes the full version of "I Will," which had been severely truncated for the vinyl release, plus four alternate mixes.

-- Crash The Driver


P'o - Whilst Climbing Thieves Vie For Attention

01 Time and Time
02 Back to Back
03 Holy Joe
04 Earl
05 Vanite
06 Only One I
07 Today's Version
08 I Will
09 Mhona
10 Blind Tim
11 Crystal Streams
12 Zinc Lasso (Noose)
13 Back to Back (Alternate Mix)
14 Vanite (Alternate Mix)
15 Today's Version (Alternate Mix)
16 Mhona (Alternate Mix)

UK CD WMO [11CD] 1998

18 June 2009

The Complete Works of (The) Flowers

He said he really liked me and did I take the pill?
I sprayed myself with Charlie and got ready for the kill.
Flowers were the Scottish Joy Division. That's one of those throw-away lines journalists like to use, but there's something to it. Both the throbbing octave bass lines and razor guitars are present (courtesy Andy Copland and Fraser Sutherland), along with a probing intellect in the lyric department and a willingness to go just one step beyond. Both bands made it onto Earcom compilations, documents of the Fast Products label Bob Last established in Edinburgh in December 1977. The Flowers were on Earcom 1, while Joy Division waited until the second instalment.

"Criminal Waste" is a confounding song full of lines about wounds, poison and lies. I might guess it's about Sid Vicious. But this is mere prelude to the phenomenal "After Dark", a song that starts with a limping beat and becomes something quite different as the incisive lyrics bite home. The dissection of human relationships is explicit and disturbing, a prime expression of the punk distaste for sex. Each verse builds on the previous in an inexorable accumulation, like a ball of metal and concrete gathering momentum down a hill. The climax has Hilary Morrison yelling about dancing in the disco in similar fashion to how Curtis hollered about dancing to the radio.

There is panic here. And a fear that cannot be hidden by bravado. This is the sound of someone trapped in the system of societal expectation and representation. A woman lost in the marketplace, trying to force her way to something better.

The first of their two singles inaugurated the Pop Aural label in November 1979. It's a tamer affair; some effort has been made to rein in the energy and smooth the edges, though the production is still crude. "Confessions" sounds diffident but for me that's part of its charm. Hilary sings of needs and wants as though it's already too late to invest any passion in these ideas. "The game is clear, the name is fear, but I want to know just what is next." This is still the voice of a person questing for something beyond the given scheme of things. "I want to fight, but I need a starting point." Me, I hope she found it.

The version of "(Life) After Dark" on the flip really should have stayed under wraps. This points to a new wave direction (pointillist drums, flanged bass) not taken by the band.

The music of Last's labels was compiled onto Mutant Pop 78/79 for release in North America. Crude and exciting efforts from Scars, The Mekons, 2.3, The Human League and Gang of Four made this a vital outburst of post-punk -- the first time listeners in Canada and the USA had been exposed to these acts. The Flowers contributions were "Confessions" and "After Dark". It might not be too much to claim that the record holds the best efforts from all the assembled acts.

With their third and final release Flowers, like many other bands of the time, took an audio leaf from Gang of Four. The trio of tracks on "Ballad Of Miss Demeanour" are better produced than before. The band's target is explicitly expanded from sexual politics to the consumer landscape. The Marxist-tinged "Food" could easily have been on Entertainment! The cover of this record, the third single on Pop Aural, is quite a brilliant piece of graphic design.

Determining any more about this band is a difficult enough proposition. They couldn't even decide from record to record if their name was simply "Flowers" or "The Flowers". My investigation has revealed that Morrison was perhaps married to Bob Last, which might explain her appearance singing backup on two other Pop Aural singles, Restricted Code's "First Night On" (1980) and The Fire Engines' "Big Gold Dream" (1981). Here, as with The Flowers, she was credited as "Hl Ray", as though she wanted to be a member of Tubeway Army.

Simon Best, drummer, originally was sound man for The Mekons. He was in Delta 5 long enough to get writing credits for their debut single "Mind Your Own Business" (1979) and "You", the b-side to "Anticipation" (1980), though I do not believe he played on any of their recordings. Later on he arranged those mad strings on Fire Engines' "Candyskin" (1981), certainly his finest achievement.

Here then, we present, for the first time anywhere, the collected works of Flowers. All are original TSM rips except "(Life) After Dark, which was kindly donated by our good friend Dualtrack.


Earcom 1
B3 Criminal Waste (3:41)
B4 After Dark (3:18)
UK LP Fast Product [FAST 09a] 1979

A1 Confessions (3:05)
B1 (Life) After Dark (4:10) [version]
7" Pop Aural [pop 001] November 1979
recorded at Cargo 24 & 26 August 1979
produced by Bob Last
engineered by John Brierly

Mutant Pop 78/79
B3 After Dark
B4 Confessions
US LP PVC Records [PVC 7912] 1980

Ballad Of Miss Demeanour
A1 Ballad Of Miss Demeanour (3:04)
B1 Food (2:42)
B2 Tear Along (2:58)
7" Pop Aural [pop 003] 1980
A1, B1 recorded at Castlesound, Pencaitland 15 Feb 1980
B2 recorded at Cargo, Rochdale December 1979
produced by Bob Last

P.S. Don't confuse this band with that which became Icehouse, or any of the several other minor acts of the same moniker.

-- Second Chameleon

16 June 2009

Missing Persons - Missing Persons EP

If the idea of New Wave bands in the the UK brought to mind serious-faced young men in skinny ties, chopping away at guitars, or staring intently at Korg synthesizers, in Los Angeles and its environs, it seems to have been associated with camera-friendly female vocalists often supported by jobbing session musicians looking to cash in on the latest craze. What is most surprising is how enduring some of that music has proved to be.

Take for example Missing Persons. Like Berlin, or SSQ, they had the requisite fashion-forward singer in Dale Bozzio, a former Playboy Bunny who had previously provided backing vocals for Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage album. It was during those sessions that she met drummer Terry Bozzio, whom she married in 1979. Together with another Zappa alum, the wildly talented if occasionally overly showy guitarist, Warren Cuccurullo, they formed Missing Persons, recording their debut EP in Zappa's brand new Utility Studios. Released on the Kosmos label in 1980, it showcased Dale's distinctive vocals, somewhere between a dreamy observer of modern life and a ticked-off Valley Girl whose parents won't let her borrow the car. Dale's partner, Terry, provided not only some inventive drumming, but helped out with the swirling, bubbling battery of synthesizers that gave the music a deep gloss sheen. Local alternative station KROQ put the second track, "Mental Hopscotch," into regular rotation and the EP sold some 7000 copies, mostly in the Los Angeles area. Capitol re-released the EP in 1982, and it went on to rack up a further 250,000 sales, an amazing achievement when one considers that the record was already two years old, and an indication of just how far ahead of the curve the band had been when they first formed. The subsequent album, Spring Sessions M (an anagram of the band's name), yielded a further hit single in the oft-covered "Walking in LA," but to my mind their finest moment remains here, buried away on the b-side of the EP, after a not entirely unsuccessful cover of The Doors' "Hello I Love You." "Destination Unknown" is one of the most perfect slices of synth pop ever committed to vinyl, the percolating arpeggiators and gently propulsive beat blending perfectly with Bozzio's girlish voice, the lyrics reflecting on the utter strangeness of the journey we find ourselves on in the modern era. The descending bass synth variation that comes in as the song fades into the distance is an especially nice touch.

Here then is the Missing Persons EP, as it was first released on Kosmos records, newly ripped from a pristine vinyl copy.

-- Crash the Driver


Missing Persons - Missing Persons EP

01 I Like Boys
02 Mental Hopscotch
03 Hello I Love You
04 Destination Unknown

USA 7" EP Kosmos No Serial 1980