15 November 2009

BBC In Concert by The Teardrop Explodes

Of course, the choice was my own. But what if I failed?

The very first thing I did in my first year in university was head downtown with my friends to buy concert tickets. I had a two-speed Toyota Corolla that made a delightful humming sound when barrelling down the Don Valley Parkway like a sewing machine trying to achieve escape velocity. But it made me a popular guy among the people in residence, seeing as we were so far from the action at our remote commuter campus. We had all been to the student loan office earlier in the day, and I had cash to spare--my dad had doctored the student loan applications in such a way that I had received the maximum amount as a grant.

New Wave. No Wave. New Romantic. Post Punk. Mod. Ska. Rock a' Billy. They were all big in Toronto in 1981, and the record companies and promoters saw the city as the gateway to the North American market. So as we stared up at the chalkboard listing all the upcoming concerts at Records On Wheels, it was an embarrassment of riches. Echo & The Bunnymen. The Jam. The Stray Cats. New Order. Wah! Blurt. Nash The Slash. I bought tickets for 'em all that day, coming back to my dorm room with a deliciously thick slab of waxen cardboard.

By the time The Teardrop Explodes, one of my favourite bands of the period, showed up the following April to promote the recently released Wilder, I was a seasoned, even somewhat jaded, concert goer. Nothing was ever going to quite match the Siouxsie & the Banshees show I had seen back in November. Her Siouxsiness had actually spoken to me as I stood in line in front of the venue. She insulted me, true. But that made it all the better. How could Julian Cope top that?

They say that the decisions a man makes are the measure of his worth. And I was about to test my worth. The morning after The Teardrop Explodes were scheduled to play The Concert Hall, turned out to be the date for the final exam for one of my courses. I was in a bit of a bind. Having spent most of the year hanging out at clubs and listening to or talking about music, I really did need to spend that night studying if I wanted to pass. If I wanted to be a man.

But I went anyway. The Teardrop's had undergone some changes by this point. Alan Gill, the guitar player who had penned their breakthrough hit "Reward" while on hiatus from Dalek I, had left the band. His replacement, Troy Tate, added a pointillist sensibility to The Teardrop's sound, sending a colourful spray of notes across new tracks such as "Like Leila Khaled Said," while bassist Aflie Agius (on loan from Martha Ladly's The Scenery Club), provided a distinctly funky edge to the older songs like "Thief Of Baghdad."

In his outrageously brilliant autobiography, Head On, Cope records how the band consumed "a frenzied chemical picnic" in Detroit before daring to venture across the border. "By the early hours of the next morning we passed into Canada, our mouths forced into amphetamine smiles and our lips chewed and raw." Of the gig in Toronto the next night, he has less than fond memories. "I think we were shit. We did two sets that night, one was unremarkable and the other sucked big logs." I wouldn't disagree, but I didn't enjoy it any less as a result.

By the end of the year the band had dissolved into a lysergic pool of chaotic infighting and mad hallucinations, leaving behind their third album, Everyone Wants To Shag The Teardrop Explodes, sadly incomplete. Cope claimed he had a choice, too. "I could give up fame, or drugs. I chose to give up fame." It was a choice that has made for a mixed solo career, some of it exceptional, some of it not. But give him credit for refusing to concede to the hunger of fans for a reunion, the all too often sad postscript to the story of so many bands from the period.

Here are The Teardrop Explodes just before they headed out on the tour that threatened to derail my academic career, still fit, trim, and in fighting shape, and doing their best for the BBC. This 1981 live set was originally scheduled for an official release, even had a catalogue number, but was cancelled at the last minute, no doubt by Cope himself, who nursed ill feelings about his time as a pop star for far too long. It is a brilliant document of the band at the height of their fame, with both "Reward" and a reissue of "Treason" in the charts, and the world waiting expectantly for the follow up to Kilimanjaro. Check out the deliriously mad version of "Sleeping Gas," the languid, trippy, blissed out outro to "The Culture Bunker," and the wonderfully understated reading of "Suffocate." Hardcore fans will take special delight in "Screaming Secrets," a track which eventually saw the light of day on the Saint Julian album, here given the full Teardrop treatment.

And the exam? I think I must have passed. But truth be told, I remember the gig much better than anything from the course.

-- Crash The Driver


The Teardrop Explodes - BBC Live

01 Books
02 Thief of Baghdad
03 Sleeping Gas
04 Passionate Friend
05 Like Leila Khaled Said
06 Suffocate
07 Poppies In The Field
08 The Culture Bunker
09 Reward
10 Went Crazy
11 Screaming Secrets
12 When I Dream
13 The Great Dominions
14 Treason

UK CD Windsong [150] 1995