28 September 2011

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Live in Berlin 1980

Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark are set to release a CD and book documenting their performance at the Tempodrome Berlin on 18th November 2010. The package marks the culmination of the band's recent resurgence. Following the reunion tour of Spring 2007, which brought together for the first time in more than a decade the band's founding members, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, and a well-received album of all new material this past year, OMD are riding high. Once the forgotten sons of the synth pop scene of the eighties, they are now lionized in the press as visionaries who brought together edgy even experimental music with a pure pop spirit, and their sound has become a noticeable influence on a host of a younger bands, including Mirrors and Cut Copy. It is time, then, to take stock. What made this band so unique?

OMD (as they came to be known) were different. They rarely used guitars, as did the early Gary Numan and Ultravox. Nor did they depend overly much on drum machines, like John Foxx and the Human League (Mark II), or the kind of sequencers that could be triggered by drum machines, like Depeche Mode. In their earliest incarnations, when their musical spirit was in its first and fullest ascendancy, their main instruments were often bass guitar (Andy) and a Farfisa organ, occasionally complemented by some wonky Korg monophonic synthesizer or other (Paul). Drawing inspiration from Kraftwerk and Neu!, they played along with Winston the tape recorder, setting Paul's chiming one-finger melodies against Andy's positively propulsive bass and yearning vocals on songs about communications systems and steel mills. And occasionally bursts of static and tapes of distant wireless radio broadcasts burst through the pop sheen.

What then of the reunited OMD? A cause for celebration, to be sure, but also to remember just how different they once were. The Second Chameleon and I saw the band several times in the early eighties, including one occasion on which we talked with the band back stage and explained how it was that SC had come into possession of Andy's own personal copies of his early singles (turns out Andy's mom didn't think he'd mind if she gave them to a friend of the family). The early shows, dating from the time of their second album, Organisation, were especially striking, with the core duo supplemented by a drummer and second keyboardist/saxophonist. From Andy's windmilling arms and chugging bass to the gorgeously cascading synth lines of songs like "Almost" and "Messages," the band could hold its audiences positively spellbound.

To accompany your pre-ordered copy of Live In Berlin, then, TSM offers a document of another live show in the city from 1980. It's a truly astounding performance, with plenty of rare live outings of b-sides, and an audience keen to push OMD to greater and greater heights of dizzying rapture. By the end of the second encore, when the band has played every song in their repertoire, but the delirious crowd simply won't let the house lights come up, they just start playing the set over again, and everyone goes simply mad. It's a rare document of a rare band.

--Crash the Driver


Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark - Live in Berlin at the Kant Kino 08-12-1980

01. I Betray My Friends
02. Stanlow
03. Pretending To See the Future
04. Almost
05. Messages
06. Annex
07. Mystereality
08. Julia's Song
09. Motion and Heart
10. The More I See You
11. Promise
12. Statues
13. Dancing / Red Frame White Light
14. Electricity
15. Bunker Soldiers
16. Enola Gay
17. Waiting For The Man
18. Electricity (Encore)
19. Julia's Song (Encore)
20. Enola Gay (Encore)

07 September 2011

Virginia Astley - Rarities Part Two

This will be our third and final dip into the world of Virginia Astley after our posts for Promise Nothing and Rarities Part One. These tracks have been gathered from various third-party sources and so some are not up to our usual mastering quality -- but we must be grateful to have them in any form. We thank the primary donor, who apparently wishes to remain anonymous.

First we have the Peel session from Virginia Astley, Kate St. John and Nicky Holland, known collectively as The Ravishing Beauties. This was recorded 14 April 1982 by Chris Lycett and broadcast on the BBC's John Peel show 29 April 1982. Percussion was provided by Ben Hoffnung. The Ravishing Beauties were formed when Astley's label-mate Troy Tate (more on him below) invited her to support The Teardrop Explodes over the winter of 1981-2. She called on two university friends for support. This appears to be a different dub of the session than that recently presented by our friend TreeTopClub, so you can choose which you like best.

Following this the group made a studio recording of "Futility" (based on a Wilfred Owen poem) before internal pressures forced a split. This version of the song was released only on the New Musical Express compilation cassette Mighty Reel in 1982. How it relates to the version on the Promise Nothing album is a matter of conjecture, but it seems they are mixes of the same session.

"Le Song (A Day, A Night)" b/w "A Winter's Tale" was a Japanese single released in January 1986. Despite the gap in time, the b-side dates back to the era of The Ravishing Beauties. Even more astounding, the a-side was used for a TV coffee advert! In the same year "Charm" was also released as a single only in Japan and used to promote the Honda Accord. (We provide a shot of the cover, above, as proof!) This conjures up a strange image of an alternate earth in which fey English singers saturate our television sets, enticing us to buy products with their tales of dead children and lost love.

In 1981 Les Disques Du Crépuscule had the idea to compile various artists doing covers of songs from classic films. Astley and film-maker Jean-Paul Goude got together under the name The Dream Makers and chose the Philippe Sarde composition "La Chanson D'Helene" from the 1970 film "Les choses de la vie". However the album Moving Soundtracks was not released at the time, so "Helen's Song" ended up on the 1986 double LP re-issue of From Brussels With Love, a compilation with so many different release versions it might make your head spin. Oh yes, do check out that film, by the way, which is a slow burner but has some excellent characterisations and a great car crash scene. There are no lyrics in the film, so it appears Astley made them up herself.

"Second Chance" is the sole Astley composition on the 1989 David A. Stewart (yes, Eurythmics) soundtrack for Lily Was Here. That's a film we haven't seen but we must admit this is not the strongest song in the Astley repertoire.

The remainder of the tracks are songs by other artists on which Astley provides vocals. The first of these is the 1982 Troy Tate single "Lifeline". Linked only by their releases on Why Fi Records, this release also includes Josephine Wells on the b-side "Kamikaze". It's a minor addition to the canon, but we wouldn't want it to be overlooked entirely.

More pleasant is "Now The Night Comes Stealing In", a duet with Kate St. John for her 1995 album Indescribable Night. Finally we have two collaborations with Silent Poets, "Don't Break The Silence" from 1998 and "I Will Miss This Holy Garden" from the following year.

Add all this together with the other available files and you have a bounty of Astley material. Please do not forget to run out and buy From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. Though mostly instrumental it is a superlative work.

-- The Second Chameleon

Rarities Part Two

01 Arctic Death (3:18)
02 Futility (3:12)
03 We Will Meet Them Again (3:53)
04 No Need To Cry (2:56)
05 Futility (3:26)
06 Le Song (A Day, A Night) (3:44)
07 A Winter's Tale (2:05)
08 The Dream Makers: Helen's Song (2:31)
09 Second Chance (4:11)
10 Troy Tate: Lifeline (Hold On To That) (4:47)
11 Kate St. John: Now The Night Comes Stealing In (2:57)
12 Silent Poets: Don't Break The Silence (5:26)
13 Silent Poets: I Will Miss This Holy Garden (5:06)

01 August 2011

Virginia Astley - Rarities Part One

You thought we had gone away, but no, that time is not yet. We still have some goodies for you, this instalment leading the way with some rarities from our own collection. Following on with Virginia Astley we've once again done a special mastering job from a quality vinyl rips where possible, although we start with two cassette originals.

Pleasantly Surprised was a Scottish cassette label which put out compilations of some of the best music of the day, largely based on the aesthetic of 4AD. State Of Affairs was released in 1984 and had some unique remixes of Wolfgang Press, Modern English and Cocteau Twins, alongside lesser-known acts: Action Pact, Rubella Ballet and Primal Scream (unknown at that time). Dreams And Desires followed later that year. Unfortunately the tape dubs were of questionable quality, a problem made even more annoying by the fact that many of the tracks are still unavailable in other forms today.

"I Live In Dreams" and "Tree Top Club" are demos that come from a recording session with Anne Stephenson and Gini Ball on violin, Audrey Riley on cello, Jo Wells on sax, Kate St. John playing cor anglais and oboe, Russell Webb on bass. As far as I know, none of her other tracks have that line-up. The former song was never otherwise issued, while the second was re-recorded for Hope In A Darkened Heart.

"Waiting To Fall" is a track available only on the 1985 Some Bizzare compilation If You Can't Please Yourself, You Can't Please Your Soul, where it sits rather uncomfortably between Yello and Einstürzende Neubauten. It seems that even Stevo was not immune to the Astley charms. Here the instrumentalists are Audrey Riley (cello), Joceyln Pook (viola) and Anne Stephenson (violin).

The same group recorded the one-off single "Tender" for Elektra in 1985, four tracks that were not to make it to any album.

To finish our collection is the instrumental version of "So Like Dorian", from the "Some Small Hope" 12" single. For this record Astley was working with producer Ryuichi Sakamoto; many of the tracks are sequenced electronically. That's not really to my taste, which is what makes some of these rarities all the more valuable.

We believe that none of these tracks are readily available at the current time, and trust you will enjoy them.

-- The Second Chameleon

Rarities Part One

01 I Live In Dreams (1:59) 1984
02 Tree Top Club [demo] (2:13) 1984
03 Waiting To Fall (3:27) 1985
04 Tender [extended] (6:06) 1985
05 Mindless Days (2:42) 1985
06 A Long Time Ago (2:49) 1985
07 Tender [instrumental] (3:08) 1985
08 So Like Dorian [instrumental] (4:16) 1987

29 January 2011

Virginia Astley - Promise Nothing

Promise Nothing

There are some artists who have had a significant presence in pop while staying very much in the shadows. One of these would be Virginia Astley, whose discography is (mostly) unavailable and in any case entirely obscure to most followers of pop.

Born to Edwin (Ted) Astley in 1959, he of "The Saint" and "Danger Man" themes, Virginia found herself in a musical family. Her elder sister Karen married Pete Townshend and her brother Jon was a noted producer and mastering engineer. Taking up piano and then flute, Virginia's initial recorded output was as keyboard player with Victims Of Pleasure, who released three singles between 1980 and 1982. During this same period she accompanied Richard Jobson's poetry on The Ballad Of Etiquette and sang on "La Chanson D'Helene" by The Dream Makers, included on the impressive Le Disque du Crépuscule compilation From Brussels With Love.

There was little here to suggest that Virginia Astley was soon to release some of the loveliest pop of the era. In fact I missed the release of the 10" EP A Bao A Qu in the first month of 1982 and was equally unaware of the single "Love's A Lonely Place To Be" exactly one year later. But, living in Canada, I was lucky enough to latch onto the compilation Promise Nothing when it was issued. The exclusive Canadian version of this lost album used the artwork from "Love's A Lonely Place To Be". Two versions issued in Belgium on Les Disques Du Crépuscule (in 1983 and 1985) have different, and to my mind completely inappropriate, cover art.

What we have here are the four tracks from A Bao A Qu on the first side, and the four from the 12" of "Love's A Lonely Place To Be" on the flip. One track, "Soaring", has been remixed. The last two selections are instrumentals most properly heard on her second album, here used to fill space -- though in the nicest possible way.

The result is an extraordinary melding of Virginia's girl-next-door soprano, chamber orchestra arrangements and bitter-sweet lyrics about the death of love. Her brother Jon's production is exemplary, with arrangements that could not be bettered. But it passed through the listening public like a ghost, some five years before its time (if I compare it to the success of Enya's Watermark).

Virginia AstleyThis debut was followed by From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, a lyric-free recreation of Hertfordshire ambiance, divided suggestively into Morning and Afternoon sides. Released through Rough Trade in July 1983, this is the only Astley album (out of an eventual five) to remain in print. Incidentally, it marks another Skids connection, being produced by Russell Webb. His sensitivity to the delicate and subtly evolving music is evident. The melding of instruments with location recordings creates an evocative aural space. If you like Promise Nothing, you owe it to yourself (and the artist) to buy a copy of this CD!

Virginia was to go on to have a taste of popular success. Signing to Elektra she released Hope In A Darkened Heart in 1986, performing a duet with David Sylvian on the lead-off single "Some Small Hope". This was enough to get the album released throughout Europe and even in the USA. While I dislike Ryuichi Sakamoto's overly slick production and don't think much of the single, the album has much to recommend it.

The Astley catalogue is currently in disarray. Hope In A Darkened Heart has been recently reissued in Japan without permission. Other master tapes are lost. Astley herself is not fond of Promise Nothing. Will we ever see a comprehensive re-issue of her catalogue?

Visit her excellent website for detailed discography information.

-- The Second Chameleon

Promise Nothing

A1 We Will Meet Them Again (4:00)
A2 Arctic Death (3:02)
A3 Angel Crying (3:46)
A4 Sanctus (2:08)
B1 Love's A Lonely Place To Be (3:27)
B2 Soaring (3:25)
B3 Futility (3:25)
B4 A Summer Long Since Passed (4:40)
B5 It's To Hot To Sleep (5:40)

LP Canada: Why Fi Records / Sire [WYFI 14] 1983 [cover from "Love's A Lonely Place To Be"]

LP Belgium: Les Disques Du Crépuscule [TWI 194] 1983 [cover by Catherine Lazure]

LP Belgium: Les Disques Du Crépuscule [TWI 194] 1985 [cover by Joël Van Audenhaege]

We have done a special mastering job on Promise Nothing, replacing three of the tracks with superior CD rips and using spectral analysis to clean out clicks and pops. Unfortunately there is some distortion that simply could not be removed without significantly damaging the music, but it shouldn't be too noticeable.

P.S. We are experimenting with offering alternatives to Rapidshare. If you like, you can download from Mediafire by clicking on the appropriate icon above.

11 January 2011

The Human League - The Dare! Demos

It remains one of the great mysteries of the age. Like who built the pyramids, or what was the purpose of Stonehenge. How did Phil Oakey come up with Dare!, one of the defining statements of eighties synthpop?

The odds were certainly against him. When the League Mark I split, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware took all the song writing and production skills with them. Oakey was left only with Adrian Wright, the guy who did the slide projections for their live shows, and his trademark hair cut. Neither Oakey nor Wright had any real experience playing an instrument, let alone knew much about writing a hit single. And Oakey's first move was hardly one to inspire any confidence: rather than hire some musicians to play the backing parts for a European tour that had been booked before the split, he recruited a couple of school girls he had spotted at the local disco to be dancers for the band.

So where did Dare! come from? Well, the simple answer, and the one most commonly advanced, is: Martin Rushent. Having cut his teeth producing first-wave punk and post-punk acts like The Buzzcocks, Generation X, and XTC, he had spent the better of a quarter million pounds setting up Genetic Sound Studio, the centre piece of which was a Linn Drum machine. Where earlier drum machines could only play a fixed number of preset rhythm patterns, typically associated with rather dated dance styles like the Cha Cha or Bossa Nova, the Linn could be programmed to play anything the programmer liked. What was more, the Linn could be synchronized with arpeggiators and sequencers, allowing each part to sound perfectly in time with every other part. Rushent's mastery of the Linn drum machine, together with an innovative production style that isolated each instrument, affording each its own precise place in the acoustic field, gave the album its air of sleek, cool modernism.

The other answer looks past Rushent's studio skills to credit Ian Burden and, especially, Jo Callis, the hired guns that Oakey belatedly brought on board to help work out the musical backing to his and Wright's early song sketches. What this two cd set shows, however, is that neither answer fully suffices. The demos present here show that even at a very early stage in the album's development, and certainly well before Rushent was to add his distinctive touches, Oakey and Wright had begun to forge a very different conception of the band's sound. Where the songs for Reproduction and Travelogue were audio collages, built up from tracks painstakingly pieced together from individual modular synth patches, the songs for Dare! began with simple chords, mostly picked out on on the new generation of cheap polyphonic synthesizers (such as the Casio M10), and plaintive one-finger melodies that express an aching romanticism that was new to their sound. The League Mark II wrote songs, in short, with memorable lead lines and a distinctive tone--the very limitations of their abilities seem to have kept them from becoming overly predictable or formulaic.

The story of how Oakey and Wright, together with Callis, Burden, and the school girl dancers, Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley, developed these songs from the most rudimentary sketches to dance floor classics that still inspire shrieks of recognition whenever they're played, is presented in wonderful archaeological detail in this two cd set. There's plenty to intrigue the dedicated League fan who doesn't already have this set: alternate lyrics to "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of," early versions of "Do or Die" and "Open Your Heart" (here titled "Letting It Show" and "Banjo Song," respectively), and songs that didn't make the album, such as "In The Park" (a variation on Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" I suspect), and "Boxing on TV." But to my mind, the real answer to the question with which we began can be found at the very end of the second set, a methodically worked out bass line for the Ike and Tina Turner classic, "River Deep, Mountain High." The League Mark I was keen on on sixties r'n b standards, and even included "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" on their first album. Clearly at some point there must must have been some thought of doing something similar for Dare!

In the end, however, there would be no Phil Spector covers on Dare! Instead of RDMH, they included the haunting, austere, vaguely sinister theme from the film "Get Carter." That choice, and I suspect it was Oakey's choice, speaks volumes about how clearly the vocalist understood what he wanted from this album: romantic but danceable, glamorous but minimal, modern but nostalgic. If the success of Dare! belongs to any one, my money's on the guy with the lopsided hair cut.

-- Crash the Driver

The two cd set posted here is identical to that which was posted over at Going Underground, the links for which have now been dead for some time. We're posting it here following repeated requests from the members of the Blind Youth list, the place to go for all things related to the League Mark I. Our thanks to Going Underground for making it available.

The Dare! Demos CD One

The Dare! Demos CD Two

07 January 2011

Mick Karn RIP -- Sensitive

"Dead at age 52, of systematic cancer, Antony Michaelides of Nicosia, Cyprus, lately residing London."

This might be any announcement in the obituary columns for 4 January 2011, where it not that this was the alter ego of Mick Karn, a musician everyone reading this site has heard and loved, knowingly or not.

Self-taught to a high degree of accomplishment first on the bassoon, Karn rose to prominence as the bassist with Roxy Music disciples Japan. Treading shaky stylistic ground from their 1974 beginnings through to their glam debut Adolescent Sex (1978), this group of increasingly adept musicians transitioned by way of the Eurodisco-influenced Quiet Life (1979) to Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980) in short order. Listen to the title track launch of this assured album and hear Karn (already) at full maturity, fretless bass sensuously throbbing and imperiously questing above the other instruments. It formed rhythm, melody and counter-melody in one. We'd heard nothing like it before.

Where the bass disappears it's only because Karn has taken to the saxophone. "Burning Bridges" is the spiritual descendent of Bowie's Berlin trilogy instrumentals -- in some ways Japan just wanted to keep rewriting "Art Decade" -- but, unlike all the other copyists, it's just as good. When Japan broke up after the resplendent Tin Drum (November 1981), Karn was the first of the group to release solo material in the form of the album Titles, available just a few months later. He had so many ideas, so much music in him, always trying to find that bridge between Motown funk and Turkish mystique.

Cursed with a cover fit to hex an entire career, Titles was a masterful demonstration of this synthesis. Perversely the a-side contained only instrumentals, leaving it to the flip to launch the catchy arrangement of "Saviour, Are You With Me?" Here Mick was showcased as lead singer for the first time on record, though he'd shared this task with David Sylvian in the early days of Japan. But that's not all. A complete listing of his credits here includes saxophone, ocarina, bassoon, clarinet, recorder, African flute, Mellotron, percussion, bongos, and computer & keyboard programming. Not to mention album production and mixing, a task he now shared but would later take on completely.

The album continues with "Trust Me" and "Sensitive," two more first-rate tracks. I swear that if the vinyl sides had been flipped, a photo of Mick in designated designer wear and make-up substituted for the ugly illustration and a video made for the single, this could have been the hit follow-up to Tin Drum. Instead Karn's solo career was shafted until 1987's lumbering Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters and dalliances in the world of jazz-fusion (Bestial Cluster).

But in the meantime he paid the bills with a laundry list of excellent collaborative ventures and guest slots, starting with bass and sax on four tracks for Gary Numan's Dance album (1981), including single "She's Got Claws". Following the Japanese connection, Karn was all over Masami Tsuchiya's solo venture Rice Music (1982), returning for two tracks on Horizon (1988).

In 1983 his distinctive bass flavoured "Glow World" on Bill Nelson's Chimera (1983), a track later packaged into Vistamix (1984) and making best-of compilations like Duplex (1989). Elsewhere on Chimera Nelson himself channels Karn -- just listen to "Everyday Feels Like Another New Drug".

Karn managed one moment in the charts, paired with Midge Ure for the "After A Fashion" single (1983), returning for "Remembrance Day" on the Ure LP Answers To Nothing (1988). (In his final year on earth, Karn was assisted by Ure in fund-raising mode, in an effort that moved the artist back to London from Cyprus for the expensive medical treatments he needed. But which alas came too late. "Another New Drug" indeed.)

Of all such pairings, the highest profile was Dalis Car (sic), a venture with Peter Murphy that was to prove worthy of one album and accompanying single. Too strange by half, The Waking Hour (1984) is essential listening. Falling out over ego in an echo of the Karn-Sylvian feud, it took until 2010 for Murphy to state he was going to rejuvenate the project -- too late by half.

Mark Isham, Lonely Universe, Kate Bush, Joan Armatrading, Kim Wilde... the guest appearances continued apace through the nineties, including some with former band-members Steve Jansen And Richard Barbieri. Stories Across Borders (1991) presaged the Japan line-up reuniting for the one-off Rain Tree Crow album, the result far better than it had any right to be, maybe because the sessions were kept loose and improvisational. But perhaps more important for Karn's own development was his collaboration on David Torn's Door X (1992). Torn was to become a full musical partner on releases under Karn's own name, alongside monikers like "David Torn / Mick Karn / Terry Bozzio", issued in a steady stream by Germany's CMP label.

Fans will excuse me for finding little enough of this output vital, even if it continued the admirably free-wheeling imagination of a questing artist. An accomplished sculptor, trained psychotherapist and much more besides, Mick Karn was a Renaissance Man in a world that prefers easy pigeon-holing. Judging by his releases in the last decade he was not standing still. Check out Three Part Species from 2006. Though bass takes a back seat, Mick's production of this fractured music is excellent.

We honour the premature passing of this fine artist by returning to his very first solo offering, never since made available. Our own vinyl rip of "Sensitive" includes the mix that differs from that used on the 12" vinyl and album. The b-side is also a shorter earlier version of what was to appear on Titles (the 12" single version is different again).

Imagine if in some bright alternative universe this Fin Costello photo had graced the album itself. Mick Karn, superstar? He came so close.

-- The Second Chameleon


A Sensitive [7" single mix] (3:55)
B The Sound Of Waves [7" single mix] (3:42)
7" UK: Virgin [VS 508] 1982

For more, search YouTube for the music video for "The Judgment Is The Mirror" and Dalis Car's appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, performing "His Box." There you'll also find "After a Fashion" with Midge Ure, "She's Got Claws" with Gary Numan, "Wedding List" (live) with Kate Bush (featuring Pete Townsend, Phil Collins, Midge Ure and a famous wardrobe malfunction), plus a strange pairing with Angie Bowie -- reciting poetry.

Mick Karn's autobiography, Japan And Self Existence, is available on Lulu. Innerviews has a fine interview. Finally, visit the dedicated Mick Karn website, sometimes overloaded these days. They have free downloads from Karn's later work for you to sample.