It’s difficult to find the time these days to devote to actively listen to music. Sure we all have day jobs now and can’t immerse ourselves in music like we used to be able to – no time to hide under the duvet with a Walkman or dedicate a weekend to getting to know your latest purchase from HMV – but there’s still plenty of opportunities to listen to music, work journeys, headphones in the office, music blasting at breakfast time… and then suddenly a lyric or a melody will catch you unawares and match up with your life and illuminate the day. This is what happened to me and “Public Mono” by Burning Ferns – let me explain…
So it’s just a normal morning – school run is over, I’ll put on some music while I make my breakfast before settling down to some ironing. Those lovely folks at Country Mile Records have sent me over “Public Mono” with the idea that I could write about it, and I’m a few songs in on the first listen so I start on “The watchers”, track six, while I put on my toast. And a lyric jumps out – “they’ll be watching in your bread bin, watching you burn your toast” just as my toast pops up, slightly browner than I like it. A weird synchronicity – how could that happen? And it was at that point I knew Burning Ferns had created something special, a magic flash in my life that I wouldn’t forget, a musical moment to add to the catalogue of other occasions when music and place and setting have become engrained in my memory.
Newport’s Burning Ferns have been smouldering on the sidelines of pop for a few years now – their debut album “See saw seen” from 2014 had moments of greatness, but the addition of a keyboard player has expanded their musical horizons and given them more texture to play with. They’ve had support from around the world – last year’s single “Bullet train” was played on radios from Soho to Castlemaine via LA and Scarborough, plus plenty of plays on Radio Wales. Now with their second album “Public Mono”, their career will hopefully catch alight (that’s enough fire puns – Ed).
If your idea of perfect pop involves chiming guitars and luscious three part harmonies, then this album is for you. Add in some thoughtful, intelligent lyrics and the kind of melodies which stick in your head like toffee to your teeth and you’re there. Opener “Don’t Get On Them Horses” is a slow burner, guitars jangling over a bed of Deep Purple style Hammond organ, and the lyrics may be a political allegory – or maybe I’m reading too much into it? Even so, the six minutes pass by in an instant, leading into “Bullet Train”. Here there’s more than enough 12 string Rickenbacker to keep Roger McGuinn happy, plus an intriguing story lyric. There’s little additions to the music which add to the atmosphere – the “woo woo” instrumental break is cheeky. “Fuses Blow” could be a lost Teenage Fanclub classic, midtempo and chiming, with echoing Duane Eddy guitar licks. “Go On Make me” is a personal favourite, speedy and wise, another clever lyric and some lovely major to minor chord changes.
“Made Of The Sun” is the centre and the heart of the album, a slow groove with a 70s vibe – those phased guitars and electric pianos make it sound like it’s a Todd Rundgrun ballad (hint – this is a good thing). Even so there’s enough changes within the music to keep interest, and once again another wonderful middle eight. (It’s great to see the dark art of writing good middle eights is being passed down from generation to generation, from Roy Wood to Difford and Tilbrook to XTC to Martin Newell to Pugwash to Burning Ferns). “The Watchers” is a breezy ode to the gently insidious nature of surveillance (possibly all the internet connected items in your home), and a dream of escape from these problems.
Another highlight. “Oh Dear Me” sounds like a lost Big Star outtake – the guitar lick is pure “#1 Record” – but deals with losing memories (an ode to ageing?) and trying to remember details of the past. “0s and 1s” is a rollicking gem, again railing against technology and staring at screens (he says typing this on a computer knowing it will be read on screens and phones). Again the music careens through a number of movements, this isn’t straight verse chorus verse – there’s enough little bridges and sections to keep the listener interested, there’s even a half speed coda with guitar solo (a tribute to “The Concept”, perhaps?) That song fades into a gentle closer “White Noise In A Dead Room”, acoustic guitars and electric pianos make a gorgeous sound bed and the lyrics are equally intriguing – “Nothing Really Fills An Empty Space Like You” – is this aimed at a person or a thing? A wonderful atmospheric album closer.
The potential in Burning Ferns has been fulfilled with “Public Mono”. it is a fantastic album which holds the listener’s attention with more hooks than a fishing competition but also rewards multiple plays with fascinating lyrics and musical ideas. These songs and melodies will soak into your life if you give them a chance. If the musical references I’ve mentioned intrigue you then give this album a try, it will reward you more and more the deeper you listen. If Country Mile Records can get more support and radio play for Burning Ferns (and I don’t doubt they can) this album will be the making of the band. Perfect guitar pop with thoughtful lyrics – what more could you want?
You can purchase the Burning Ferns “Public Mono” via Country Mile here
You can also check out Burning Ferns at these places:
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Twenty five years ago today – 21st November 1991 – The Field Mice played their final gig at the Dome in London before splitting up. Huge Field Mice fan and regular contributor to the EIO40 website, Rob Morgan asked us if he could write an article to celebrate their music and what it meant to him. We didn’t need to think about it twice. So have a read as Rob reflects upon the Field Mice songs and albums, how they have impacted on his life and how they introduced him to the world of Sarah Records and indie pop.
Like so much great music, it was John Peel who introduced me to The Field Mice. In fact it was the listeners rather than Peel himself, as the first time I heard the Field Mice was on the 1989 Festive Fifty. It was their second single “Sensitive” and the first time I heard it I thought “Yes that’s good, I like that…” In fact my diary states “Heard a song which was like the Wedding Present, only a thousand times better”. But it took me a while for the song to worm it’s way into my heart.
I’d taped the Festive Fifty and kept returning to that song, there was something there which drew me in. Was it the wall of guitars which punched through the song? Maybe it was the shy yet powerful words? Or the singer’s lack of forcefulness, which made him sound like me? It was a combination of all of these things – and the fact “Sensitive” was a bloody good song – that won me over. Then there was something else Peel said – “The first Sarah Record to make the Festive Fifty” – what was the significance of that? I should have known this, I read the music papers every week, didn’t I?
During the early Summer of 1990 I started to do some research into what Sarah Records was. At this point, I should mention, I was quite dismissive of the majority of indie pop – sure I loved a lot of the music on Creation Records like MBV, Felt and Ride but most of the C86 music and the jingle jangle nonsense that followed it had passed me by. Indeed the phrase “jingle jangle nonsense” was often quoted from my diary at the time. I loved all the Factory Records acts – especially the more obscure ones like Stockholm Monsters and The Wake – that was more my scene.
But now I wanted to know about Sarah Records. Most of what I found in my stacks of music papers rubbished the output of the label and seemed to back up my prejudice. However my brother had a pile of the fanzine Bucketful Of Brains and lo and behold there was a half page article in there on Sarah, which told me more than the combined knowledge of the music papers. This piqued my interest, and then I noticed that Sarah had issued a compilation called “Temple Cloud” which included “Sensitive”.
I bought the LP early in August 1990 and it opened up a whole new world of music for me. Each of the sixteen songs was brilliant and the three songs by The Field Mice stood out. “Sensitive” was there, sounding loud and proud, while “If You Need Someone” was a perfect pop song, chiming guitars and a lyric I could identify with, and “Song 6” felt like all my thoughts about the beery blokes I was unlucky enough to hang around with and how they treated their girlfriends. These songs spoke to me like few songs I’d heard before.
And I wanted more.
The day after buying “Temple Cloud” I hurried back to Cardiff and bought the first two mini albums by the Field Mice – a ten inch called “Snowball” and a twelve inch called “Skywriting”. I can still clearly remember getting the records home and examining them on my bed before playing them. “Snowball” was purple, very purple – nothing at all on the front, the barest of details on the reverse. This was as minimal as my beloved Factory Records, and in places it sounded like The Wake or New Order too. Opener “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” pulsed for seven minutes on a bed of sequencers and drum machines while closer “Letting Go” could have come straight from “Harmony”, the debut album by The Wake – the mournful air, the mumbled vocal, the bass leading the way.
Between those two were six songs which veered between Byrds-y jangle pop (“Everything About You” and “Couldn’t Feel Safer”) and deeper more thoughtful songs – “End of the Affair” is tinged with sadness, arpeggio guitars and oboes sighing while “White” is astonishing – a wall of noise guitars, hammered drums and words which cut me deep. Then the lyrics shocked me.
“Time and again I dream about you, I haven’t seen you for so long…do you ever think about me? Where are you now? Wherever you are I hope you are happy and that life is being good to you”.
That lyric would just about sum up how I felt about a number of members of the opposite sex by that point, all those unrequited loves I’d had. And The Field Mice had put it in a song! As if to prove the futility of those thoughts, the singing stopped and huge waves of distorted flanged guitar overtook the song. What a thrilling song, yet so close to my heart.
If “Snowball” was great, then “Skywriting” was stunning. Every song was different but every song was fantastic. The opener “Triangle” spread out for ten minutes across all of side one and sounded like “Let’s Kiss and Make Up”‘s older brother, more pulsing synths, more drum machines, the bass like Peter Hook, those loud flanged guitars were back, and the minimal lyrics were perfect, lovelorn and hopeless.
Over on side two, The Field Mice swung through country (“Canada”), perfect wistful guitar pop (“Clearer”), tense post punk (“It Isn’t Forever”) and more. The final two songs were a shock. “Below The Stars” was a gorgeous weightless ballad, drifting over six minutes while the singer extrapolates the feelings from “White” – thinking of a lost love, wondering where they are – in a poignant way. If I didn’t have a tear in my eye on that first listen, I’ll say that I’ve listened many times since with tears rolling down my cheeks. Finally “Humblebee” is just odd – a guitar jangles in the distance while a barrage of spoken word samples make a deafening cacophony, it’s like “Revolution #9” for the Indie set, replacing the loop of “Number Nine” with “Chocolate Love Sex” – very disquieting and slightly unnerving.
My clichéd ideas of what a Sarah Records band would sound like were shattered. The Field Mice seemed to be capable of all kinds of music, but with a heart and lyrical honesty that touched my soul. These were songs I’d been wanting to hear – had been trying to write even – all my life, and there was a clear headed, plain speaking honesty which struck a chord with me. The Field Mice were my new favourite band.
Of course I wanted more records by them, so a week later I took another trip to Cardiff and bought the two part “Autumn Store” singles as these seemed to be all that the record shops of Wales’ capital city had at the time. While the five songs across the two singles weren’t the revelation that “Skywriting” had been they still still had their moments. “The World To Me” was a whirlwind of jangles and trumpets, “Anyone Else Isn’t You” tiptoed along the line between twee and sickly while “Bleak” painted a portrait of someone hiding themselves away from life which sounded scarily familiar. Yes, that sounded like me.
By now I was scouring through the music papers for any information on the band, and I didn’t find much. They certainly weren’t on the front page of the NME or Melody Maker. Scanning through back issues I found a few reviews and a very small article on The Field Mice but generally the music press didn’t give them much attention. Around October 1990 Melody Maker made their new EP “So Said Kay” single of the week and that was the first I knew of the new release.
I bought it that day, a big pink ten inch five song EP and gasped in wonder at the new songs. Gone were the sequencers, it was all guitars and occasional string synths, plus percussion, but oh the songs were so good! “Landmark” was slow and resigned and my interpretation of the song was completely different to the MM version. “Holland Street” was an instrumental which built and built to a glorious climax. “Indian Ocean” was hopeful of finding love, which gave me hope.
But there were two outstanding songs – “Quicksilver” and “So Said Kay”. The former had some beautiful heart stopping spine tingling chord changes and a lyric which could have been ripped straight out of my diary and worked well as the final part of a triptych with “White” and “Below The Stars”. On the other hand “So Said Kay” built up slowly from acoustic guitar and oboe, to include a melodic bass, piano, string synth and a lyric which sounded like a cut up conversation, leading to the repeated line “She reached in and placed a string of lights around this heart of mine”. I didn’t know then the lyric was excerpts from the film “Desert Hearts”, I just knew it was special. I taped the EP three times onto a C90 and played it constantly.
There must have been some problem with distribution of records around the winter of 1990 (probably the collapse of Rough Trade Distribution) because it took me ages to find the first two Field Mice singles, finally locating them in March 1991. “Sensitive” was as great as I knew it was, having played it on “Temple Cloud” and the b side “When Morning Comes To Town” was a bittersweet duet about the point a couple start to realise their relationship is over.
Meanwhile the Field Mice’s debut EP was bedroom pop pure and simple – so spare, so stark, the guitars ringing out and the cheap drum machine holding down the beat, and yet again lyrics which cut deep. “Emma’s House” had the same yearning melancholy I heard in their later songs, while “Fabulous Friend” had more heart stopping lyrics – “I’m not brave, I’m not special, I’m not of those things”, that could be my mantra.
By now I was fully immersed in The Field Mice, desperate for any information on them, and making compilation tapes for friends, trying to convert them because I like to share, I wanted confirmation from other people that The Field Mice were as great as I thought they were. After all the music press were still sniffy about them, the Melody Maker review of their new single “September’s Not So Far Away” was ridiculous nonsense which said nothing about the song itself.
“September…” was wonderful, the band suddenly sounded like a band, the drum machine had been packed away and the song now had a real drummer, and there were more twelve string guitars and male female harmonies – The Field Mice had grown up and turned all their Byrds dreams into reality. On the b side there were only two guitars and two voices but it was just as lovely, memories of love and that yearning again. Around this time I bought a fanzine with a Field Mice interview which started to put some of the pieces of their story into context. The last line was worrying though – asked what their hopes for the future were, lead singer Bob Wratten replied “I hope we make an album before we split up”.
Summer 1991 brought the release of a Field Mice compilation “Coastal”, fourteen songs from their previous records which were starting to sell out. It was great to have some Field Mice on CD – Sarah Records were very much a vinyl label, I think the CDs of their early albums were made through a distribution deal with France. And it was also nice to see “Coastal” receive good reviews in the music press, and for it to reach number one in the Indie album charts. It looked like the Field Mice were more popular than I thought.
September 1991 brought with it “Missing The Moon”, an actual twelve inch single though sold for the price of a seven inch. The title track was everything I had hoped – a huge glowing pulsing indie dance crossover, the kind of song New Order would kill to make, a perfect mix of guitars and electronica, and the song itself was still yearning and beautiful. I bought it three days before “Screamadelica”, so the two records are always entwined in my head. “Missing the moon” got a fabulous write up in the NME, an unexpected surprise. By now I was on the Sarah Records mailing list and a postcard dropped through my letterbox advertising the single, their album “For Keeps” and their tour. They weren’t playing anywhere around South Wales, but I persuaded a friend in Basingstoke to see them in Reading and to buy me a t shirt.
But before that was the new album. “For Keeps” had specific memories attached to it, buying it from Cardiff and borrowing a Martin Amis novel from the library on the way home, so the first listen that October day was the soundtrack to the opening pages of “London Fields”. I soon stopped reading though.
“For Keeps” was wonderful, with only the occasional mis-step – and frankly that’s the last song so you could always consider the penultimate song as the closer… Or was that just me? But when it’s good, “For Keeps” soars. “Star of David” has more heart stopping chord changes and actually dynamics which only a full band could generate – the move into the chorus is so dramatic and so perfect it hurts. “Coach Station Reunion” is the epitome of joy, jangling twelve strings, whoops of pleasure during the guitar solos. “Tilting At Windmills” is a dreamy drift of hazy melody and wordless harmonies. “Willow” was a lovely acoustic ballad whose words were almost too raw and too honest to listen to, uncomfortable truths.
“For keeps” received some good reviews, particularly from the Melody Maker who also ran a full page article on The Field Mice, so now I knew a lot more about them, how they were more influenced by the Factory aesthetic than the C86 aesthetic. Everything seemed to be going their way at last – good press, good sales, a nationwide tour….
My friend saw them in Reading and said they were brilliant, which was high praise from him as he was a Sub Pop nut – in the letter which accompanied the “Chocolate Love Sex” t shirt he sent me, he bemoaned Nirvana selling out and thought “Nevermind” wasn’t a patch on “Bleach”. There had been good live reviews too, and there was another new song issued on a compilation CD, the song was called “Other Galaxies” and was eleven minutes long, building from a gentle love song of comfort and hope into a huge juggernaut of distorted guitars and feedback. It was a glorious noise, and it was the last song the Field Mice would record.
I can remember the day as vividly as the day I read about The Smiths splitting up. It was a live review of the last gig of the tour in London, and it implied that this was truly the end of The Field Mice, love had brought them together and love had torn them apart. I couldn’t believe it – they seemed on the verge of success, maybe a move to a larger label, it just seemed to wrong. I didn’t know the full story until years later, the sleeve notes to “There and Back Again Lane” and “Where’d You Learn To Kiss That Way?” – he tensions in the group, the problems… It’s not for me to comment, to be honest. I just enjoyed the music.
It’s now 25 years since The Field Mice split up and I still consider their body of work to be pretty much perfect. The records and production are timeless, not limbed to the 80s / 90s crossover by baggy beats or dated instrumental touches. The songs stand up to repeated scrutiny, still reminding me of times past and unrequited loves that really I don’t care about any longer.
The Field Mice were incredibly productive, a large amount of music in a short time scale – and there’s outtakes on reissues and online if you look hard enough. Their influence is more far ranging than it seemed at the time – bands such as The Drums and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have been influenced by them and the Sarah Records style. There’s been a book and a documentary film on Sarah – something which would have been unthinkable twenty five years ago. And to me, The Field Mice are still one of the most important bands I’ve loved – for creating such gorgeous music, for the words which are poignant and true, for opening up the world of Sarah Records and indie pop to me… Those records will always be special to me, and I hope I’ve given some idea of why that is here. The majority of their back catalogue is on Spotify and is definitely worth hearing, the double CD “Where’d You Learn To Kiss That Way?” is great, but if you want a simple introduction to the Field Mice, here’s a dozen of my favourite songs by them.
Also here is the bandcamp link for a free download of the final Field Mice gig
Author: Rob Morgan
For further reading please check out our interview with Anne-Mari Davies of The Field Mice HERE
Thank you to Rob for sharing that and for his valuable contribution to the EIO40 community. If you would like to contribute to our Indie Encounters feature and share your indie moments please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Twitter
We are going to dispense with any sort of lengthy introduction here. If you don’t know who Anne Mari Daviesis or her contribution to music then that’s about to change. Even if you are aware of her work, you are going to get to know her a whole lot better. Believe us.
The simple facts are these:-
We asked Anne Mari Davies if we could interview her
She said she would answer any questions honestly unless she couldn’t remember the answer (and she was true to her word)
We asked a select number of EIO40 community members to provide questions for Anne Mari to answer
We sent Steve from EIO40 down to her home on the south coast
This interview is what he came back with
You see. this is all about Anne Mari and you should be left to just dive in read what she has to say, without being held up by some superfluous preamble. It’s a open and honest account of her time in The Field Mice. How she came to join the band, her battles with mental illness and stage fright, her relationship with Bobby Wratten and “those’ songs as well as the final days of the band, from her own very personal perspective. There is also an insight into her early musical life, her influences and what she got up to after The Field Mice.
We should point out that the interview is pretty much unedited. We didn’t want to lose any of Anne Mari’s personality during the translation process and hopefully her character shines through here as much as it did it person.
Anne Mari: I grew up in South Manchester, between Stockport and Macclesfield, a little place called Poynton, which liked to think it was a village, even though it was way too big to be a village. I lived there from 3 to about 20. Manchester was quite a big part of my life as a child and I eventually went to university in Manchester.
EIO40: What did you study there?
Anne Mari: Politics. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I thought I was going to change the world whereas I should have really gone into engineering. And I will blame my sister’s friend for this, who I quite fancied at the time, a very arty man. He said, “You’re far too artistic to do an engineering degree.” So I thought, “Okay, I’ll do something else.” I did politics and I’ve never used it since.
EIO40: What were you like as a teenager?
Anne Mari: I was a really good girl. I was the class swot. I was head girl and a nice girl. I did a few things that I probably shouldn’t have done but I didn’t take that many risks.
EIO40: And what about music as a teenager? What were you in to?
Anne Mari: I’ve played the guitar from when I was really young, I think I was seven when I started playing that. I’d always picked up any musical instrument I could and played it. And I really liked stuff that I could play and stuff that I could sing along with. I haven’t got a power ballad voice, so the whole ‘Whitney’ thing was off the radar for me and anything like that. I listened to The Beatles quite a lot, because that, again, is music that you can play, you can reproduce. I mean I’m talking quite early here.
Obviously ABBA. I was born in 1971, so show me somebody of my age who wasn’t in to ABBA. I liked a lot of Motown stuff as a teenager. I just wasn’t really interested in a lot of the “charty” music that was going on and I didn’t fit in at school that much because of that. I did like New Order very much, and The Cure, Suzanne Vega and Tracey Thorn. It was all stuff that I could try to directly, you know, replicate a bit musically.
Around that time my good friend Chris Cox started bringing Sarah records and fanzines in to the sixth form common room. These flexi-discs that were six and a half inches, so you couldn’t put your automatic record player on them, you had to actually lift the needle.
EIO40: Can you remember any particular ones?
Anne Mari: In short..no, although Another Sunny Day would probably have been the first one that really captured me, I think. But it was as much the newsletters and the ideas behind them that stopped me feeling like I was something peculiar.
There were four of us, Chris, Andrew, Sarah and myself and we hung out in the sixth form common room and around Poynton pool and named the ducks after Bobby Gillespie and so on and so forth, you know. And that’s really… That’s what got me in to the music.
EIO40:Were you going to gigs around this time?
Anne Mari: Yes, some. We were 16, 17 so weren’t old enough to go to a lot of gigs. But yes, I was at The Field Mice gig at the Boardwalk in Manchester. That was really exciting. As much as anything because we were going to meet Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd (from Sarah Records). Which, by this point, they were as famous as anybody as far as we were concerned.
So we did go to some gigs but mainly we were going up to Piccadilly Records in Manchester and buying whatever was the latest 7”, usually one that had a free badge on the front or something. I remember buying ‘‘Shimmer’’ by The Flatmates and we all went and bought the Razorcuts. It was very exciting to have that Piccadilly Records bag coming home from town on the train.
The Flatmates ‘Shimmer’
EIO40: Tell us about your early musical life. We are aware that you were in a band called The Purple Tulips. Tell us about those early days.
Anne Mari:I mentioned earlier there were four of us who hung out together in lower sixth. There was Chris, Andrew, Sarah and myself and Sarah and I played the guitar together. We were all interested in the same type of music, and Chris started writing lyrics and I put some music together. Don’t even know if I can call it music really, it was very, very basic stuff.
Andrew and Chris didn’t play any instruments and we didn’t have any drums or anything. I did have a selection of percussion instruments, I think I’ve still got them upstairs, so they would be playing on anything at hand, tables, that sort of thing. Sarah and I muddled through with keyboards, guitar and singing.
What were our influences? Probably the whole C86 stuff. Because the whole thing about the C86 sound, for me, was… It’s a bit like punk, anybody could do it, right? It wasn’t about, like I said earlier, the big power ballad voices or anything. It was about anybody being able to do it. And I think there’s something really important about anybody being allowed to do something creative, whether or not you are classically trained or hugely talented or whatever. It’s still important to have a go at stuff, so that’s probably where The Purple Tulips came from.
I can’t remember about the name. I think we liked purple tulips, Sarah and I. We hung about together a lot and we had a good couple of years, you know. So there you go. It does seem strange to consider The Purple Tulips a proper band, because it was just a load of sixth formers having a laugh. But it’s nice of people to be interested, anyway.
The Purple Tulips (with apologies to Sarah)
EIO40: Did you send a Purple Tulips demo tapes to Sarah Records?
Anne Mari: Chris sent them a demo tape and then Clare wrote about it in the fanzine, which was, for us, just the most extraordinary turn of events, really. Because, as I said, Clare and Matt were basically stars in our world, more so than any of the bands we were into.
EIO40: Do you still have any Purple Tulips tapes?
Anne Mari: I don’t, Bobby (Wratten) does. He or Beth (Arzy) sent me a photograph of the cassette the other day. I don’t have a cassette player, although I do have a few cassettes up in the loft, so there may be some Purple Tulips bedroom recordings up there.
The Purple Tulips demo (and Bobby’s dog Nate)
EIO40: And what about musical training? Were you self-taught?
Anne Mari: Erm… ish. My dad showed me how to play something on the guitar when I was about seven. My dad was very musical. He had the most beautiful, Welsh, bass voice, absolutely gorgeous. My family are Welsh originally. He played the guitar and he played the organ. He had one of these, you know, big organs with pedals and he used to show me what he was learning and I’d play that.
It sounds daft but I played the recorder at school and I just wish everybody still played it at school these days. I suppose they have the ukulele now which all the kids play, but they don’t learn to read music in the same way that we all did because we all had to learn the recorder at school.
I couldn’t get in to the guitar lessons at school, they were always too full, so my dad continued to teach me at home and then I joined a folk club, so it was all, ‘The times, they are a changing’’ type songs. I was looking back through some of my old songbooks recently and it’s loads of political songs. My folk club singer must have been really, really political.
I did eventually start classical guitar lessons, which is where I met Sarah, because we were both doing the same lessons.
EIO40:How did you come to join The Field Mice
Anne Mari: I really liked the band. As I’ve mentioned, I was in to all of the Sarah Records stuff, and the song that got me hooked was ‘If You Need Someone,’ which came out when I was 18 I think. By that point I couldn’t stop playing it. The lyrics got me completely hooked on the band.
The Field Mice ‘If You Need Someone’
We’d been recording this stuff at the time with The Purple Tulips and enjoying doing it, when somebody wrote to Chris, and said, “Does Anne Mari know that The Field Mice are looking for a female singer?” So Chris showed me this letter and I was like, “Oh, you’re going to see The Field Mice in Leeds, aren’t you? Next week or whatever? Give them a copy of our tape”.
So he took along a copy of the Purple Tulips demo tape with a letter from me saying, “Somebody told my friend that you were looking for a female singer, this is me. Are you interested?” Bobby wrote back and said, “Yes, I’m interested. We’re coming to Manchester very soon so let’s meet up and if it goes well we’re going to Japan next month, do you want to come?”
So that’s how I got involved and we met up at Michael (Hiscock) sister’s house in Manchester and then we did a couple of gigs in London, I think, before heading off to Japan. Mark (Dobson) and I joined at the same time but Mark didn’t come to Japan with us because he was expecting his first child so the four of us went off to Japan in late 1990.
EIO40:To be thrust from essentially a bedroom band to a tour of Japan in presumably a short space of time must have been incredible. What do you remember of that tour?
Anne Mari: Yes, it was strange. We played a couple of nights at this place in Tokyo and the audience were really quiet with a polite applause at the end of each song. I was standing on stage thinking, “We’re dying here, this is awful.” But I have since found out that it’s a cultural way of behaving that I just didn’t get at the time. When we came off-stage there was this queue of 100 people waiting for autographs, and you think, “I thought you didn’t like it”. So it was an interesting experience.
EIO40: Was it easy to pick up and learn the earlier The Field Mice songs?
Anne Mari: Yes, it wasn’t too bad, although, because Bobby isn’t trained, he is self-taught, he doesn’t play recognisable chords. So there was always a bit of “What chord is it?” “Well, it’s kind of on the fourth fret and it’s like this and…” I had absolutely no idea what that chord was. It did have to be done in person, a lot of it. Sometimes he would send me tapes through the post with lyrics and chords where they were recognisable, or he’d draw the chord on paper.
Fairly often I would turn up on a Friday night and the first time we would play it as a five-piece was in the sound check and then we would play it that night, so I was learning a lot of stuff at home, on my own. I was working out harmonies and then the first time we’d try it was not in rehearsal, it would be on stage. But, it keeps it fresh. It was very different to just recreating the earlier songs.
EIO40: Did your involvement with music interfere with your studies?
Anne Mari: Oh, it totally interfered with my studies. I was travelling down to London or if not London, wherever we were gigging that weekend, virtually every Friday. Fortunately, my studies finished at midday on a Friday, so I could jump straight on a coach to wherever we were playing.
EIO40: So you were in The Field Mice at the same time you were at university?
Anne Mari: Yes. I was 19 when I joined The Field Mice, so I was in the second year of my degree. It was that autumn term when I joined the band. We went to Japan that term and so yes, it totally interfered with my studies. We would spent the whole of half term recording and things like that, so I wasn’t doing my dissertation or coursework. However, I did manage to do my dissertation on politics and pop music, so that at least meant that I was marrying to two of the aspects of my life at that time, but my studies totally came second.
The biggest problem though at that time and which I am quite happy to talk about was the mental health issues. during our final tour which was while I was in my final year at uni.
We didn’t tour for that long really when you look at it, only between year 2 and year 3 but I started getting very ill. That completely affected my studies. It made me almost unable to sit in an exam room and take an exam, because I had become so agoraphobic by that point that, to sit in an enclosed space and not be allowed to leave was really difficult. I was really, really ill by the time I took my finals. So that totally affected my studies.
EIO40: Can we ask what brought on the illness you were suffering at this time?
Anne Mari: Well I don’t know what brought on the anxiety disorder really but I can pinpoint when it turned in to a real problem. We were playing a gig in France, in Paris. It was at the end of quite a gruelling French tour, where we’d travel for 10 hours a day and then play and have three hours sleep, and we weren’t getting on that well as a band. Well, we were, but there were a few creaks going on and I was finding that really stressful.
I did feel that because the band had already existed before I arrived and then Bobby and I started a relationship, that it created tensions. That’s what that can do. Plus when you’re all late teens and young adults, you’re all a bit strange at that stage of your life anyway, I think.
So, we went to play live this night in Paris and I’d always felt sick before going on the stage but this time I thought, “No, I really am not well.” Maybe I wasn’t well, maybe I’d eaten something that disagreed with me, I don’t know, but it was a very stressful, unpleasant night. They ended up calling the pompier (fire service) because they couldn’t get a doctor. The whole thing was just a very big, stressful night. But we thought, that’s it, that was a horrible night, on we go. But the following night I couldn’t get on the stage because I started being ill again and then it just escalated.
I went to see My Bloody Valentine and I was sick there, then I went to see Harvey (Williams) play and I had to leave because I was ill. And then, suddenly, I just wasn’t able to leave the house because I was just having anxiety attacks all over the place.
So, unfortunately, by the time I got to my finals, which were an added stress on top of that, my brain just said, “I can’t actually deal with this, I’m going to shut down as much as possible.” I did get my degree and I got a good grade but how, I have no idea, because I muddled through that final year, limped through in fact, so there we are.
EIO40: It seems like the right moment to ask about that last Field Mice gig at Tufnell Park Dome if that’s Ok. The footage that is on YouTube has a quote that it was done, “through gritted teeth,” as the band had already split. Harvey seems to be enjoying himself, as does Michael. Was it really that bad on stage?
Anne Mari: Oh, yes. It was quite bad on stage that night. Yes… God, I can’t even remember how the divisions had ended up by that point to be honest. I was really unhappy on stage because I, by this point, absolutely loathed playing live so that was that. It was also terribly sad. I felt very guilty that the band was splitting up and it might have been to do with the fact that I’d said I couldn’t play live any more.
But actually, and Bobby didn’t discuss this with anybody before hand, including me, he had already decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. I do now believe it had nothing to do with me and my difficulties getting on stage or anything.
Bobby never liked touring, never, ever. He used to disappear for hours, if not days, when we were on tour and we never knew where he was, because he found it very hard. There is this intensely private side and then, the public side, of the lyrics and everything. They don’t quite marry. So he had already decided that he wanted the band to split. I think the rest of the band members probably didn’t understand why or how. They may have thought that I’d had an influence or not, I don’t know, but it was pretty tricky for most of us, I think.
EIO40: Did you know the band was splitting before the gig?
Anne Mari: Yes. We split the night before. We had our first ever band meeting in Glasgow. I was going to say at the meeting, “Look, I can’t do this anymore guys.” I think it was obvious to them all because I was so poorly. But we walked in and before I even had the chance to speak Bobby said, “Can I just say I don’t want to do this anymore. Tomorrow’s the last night, and that’s it.” And it was just this stunned silence of, “Whoa, where did this come from?” So that was a difficult night, the night before, and then we limped through the next gig.
In that YouTube clip I look more miserable that I even remember feeling. I looked so miserable. It did feel really, really sad. I think my overwhelming feeling was how sad it felt. And yes, you know, Harvey and Michael are always going to have a bit of a boogie around when there’s a riff going or whatever, but it was very, very sad.
EIO40: Do you look back now and think, “I don’t feel so bad about it because, actually it wasn’t down to me”
Anne Mari: I do, I do. It took me a long time to realise, to believe that it wasn’t me, but I’ve known Bobby for over 25 years now and I know him well enough that that’s the kind of thing he’ll do.
EIO40: Do you talk openly about those days or do you sort of keep it under wrap
Anne Mari: No, we don’t, no.
EIO40: Now one of our lot, Paul, recalls a Field Mice gig at the Assembly Rooms in Derby where hostile elements in the crowd seem to be having a negative affect on the band to the extent he felt Bobby looked like he was ready to walk off stage.
Anne Mari:I can’t remember that at all, but there was always something going on at gigs. either the microphones were rubbish or whatever else.
I remember a gig at The Richmond in Brighton when Mark pushed his drums in to the crowd and Bobby smashed his guitar up on stage. That was a very bad night. The sound system was so poor. There were lots of tensions going on. There was a bit of tension at the time between the label and The Field Mice and Clare and Matt wanted us to play The Richmond but we wanted to play somewhere a bit better. That sounds a bit egotistical but we wanted to play somewhere that had a better sound system. The Richmond was notorious for having bad sound. It was just awful, you just could not hear yourselves at all and there were tensions between us all anyway and I think we were just fed up.
I don’t know what happened first, did Mark put his drums in to the crowd first and then Bobby smash up his guitar? I can’t remember, but I do remember just thinking, “What is actually happening? This is The Field Mice, this is like your twee indie band, supposedly.” It was a bit rock ‘n’ roll really.
Bobby still has his guitar from that night. He left it there after we all went home and then, the following morning, he said, “I want my guitar back.” I was like, “Well, it’s in bits.” So we came back down to Brighton, me and him, and went and knocked on the door and went, “Don’t suppose you’ve still got the bits of the guitar that he left behind?”
This was right towards the end and it was just, “Oh, this is just rubbish”, because those tensions were happening and that’s why we had the meeting. The meeting was with the record label, the one in Glasgow when it all ended, because there were increasing tensions.
There is a fair amount of stuff in My Secret World (the docu-film about Sarah Records) about could The Field Mice have got bigger? Because people feel that they could have ‘made it,’ whatever that means. And had they outgrown Sarah and stuff?
I think there were a number of things going on. I mean, personalities were clashing, the label had quite a lot of musical control over what was released and I think, in their defence, it was their livelihood so they wanted to release stuff that they liked. They didn’t want to release what they classed as rubbish. So they had quite a lot of input on what was allowed to be released and that created tensions because we didn’t always see eye to eye. They wanted us to play places like The Richmond and so it wasn’t quite working, really, by that point. So that’s one of the reasons that we had the meeting.
EIO40: So the tensions were building before the Glasgow meeting and the final gig in Tufnell Park
Anne Mari: They were. I don’t believe The Field Mice ever would have got big though, whatever label we were on. There was interest from larger labels but I just think the personalities involved were ready to implode at any time.
It wasn’t the be-all and end-all to be famous and big for some of us and so therefore we weren’t all going in the same direction. And some people in the band wanted to give up their day job and get enough money from it to live off it, and others didn’t and then you’ve got Bobby, who just wanted to write his stuff and be left alone really. So a right old mixture. As I said we weren’t all going in the same direction.
I could not see, at least myself and Bobby, dealing with anything big. Certainly not me at the time, and I just couldn’t see us dealing with the marketing side of things and the publicity. You do end up with more rules on a bigger label half the time. I worked for EMI for several years as an accountant, so I did see that side of it, what it was like. “No, you can’t spend that on your record because we’re not going to get the return,” you know. And that’s really where they’re coming from.
EIO40:What was the best venue you played at?
Anne Mari: I remember this funny aircraft hangar type place that we played in France once when we were part of a festival where it was just amazing. Honestly, the stage was bigger than most of the places we’d ever played. And the sound system was fantastic, so that was really good. I think they’d done the order alphabetically and it was a very eclectic mix of artists.
We were meant to be following the Fields of the Nephilim, which, as you can imagine, was slightly different to The Field Mice. But The Fields of the Nephilim split up that day and so we got news that we were going on an hour earlier and we were like, “We are going to be bottled, this is horrendous”
So we went on stage thinking, “What is going to happen?” We’d never played to such a big crowd, because everybody was there for the whole day. But it was fabulous, it was absolutely wonderful. I think, at that point, we were like, “God, this is so good, wouldn’t it be great if we were playing things like this all the time?” So we had little moments of wanting to be bigger than we were.
Probably my favourite venue in London was the New Cross Venue. An absolute dive of a place but I really liked it there. I really liked the atmosphere and it was a good size to play. I think that’s my personal favourite.
EIO40: There’s no record of the The Field Mice ever playing in the USA so we assume you never did. Were you aware of an American fan-base though?
Anne Mari: I think some of the college radio stations might have been interested but we weren’t together that long as a five-piece, you know. We played France several times, we went to Switzerland, we went to Japan, we did loads of gigs in London, and we were all either working full-time or at college
EIO40: Now Rob found it interesting that you sang on early Trembling Blue Stars songs such as ‘The Rainbow’ and ‘Now That There’s Nothing In The Way.’ Which seemed to signal an acceptance from Bobby that you could be friends, so how did you feel about singing those particular songs? Simon also wanted to know if it was possible to detach from the deeply personal songs of Trembling Blue Stars, in order to sing them.
Anne Mari: Bobby and I carried on being friends even though it was a really difficult time. There was a period of time when he was recording and I was not part of it. There was a period of time before that when it was all very, very rocky and I was still recording with him.
After The Field Mice we were still together and we were together during the Northern Picture Library and then, towards the end of that, that’s when it was all started creaking a bit, around the time of Norfolk Windmills (B Side of Northern Picture Library’s last Sarah Records single in 1994).
EIO40: Wasn’t there a Northern Picture Library French tour around this time?
Anne Mari:Yes, which I didn’t go on, and that really was when everything went a bit kaput with Bobby. Towards the end of that period, I was still singing on songs but it was odd because some of the lyrics are nothing to do with our relationship. Some of them are to do with a film that he watched on television, or a book that he’d read, or something else. Or it might be a similar theme but it’s actually not about me and him or anybody else involved, so it is actually quite hard to tell which songs are about our relationship and which ones are not, but they are about the same sort of themes.
EIO40: Did you know yourself back then if Bobby had written about your relationship on particular songs?
Anne Mari: There are times when I did. There might be a phrase in there which I’d know I’d said, then I would know it was specifically about our relationship, but actually, some of the times, I wasn’t sure whether they were. ‘So Said Kay,’ for example, is nothing to do with Bobby and his life, it’s a film. And in fact, ‘The Rainbow’ is as well. So neither of those is anything to do with us.
Trembling Blue Stars “The Rainbow”
It can be very easy to want to read more in to it because so much of it is, “Oh, here’s another chunk of the story.” I’m the same, when I first got the tracks I’d be like listening, listening, listening trying to figure out what’s being said, you know. And yet the other thing you’ve got to remember is, when he was writing those lyrics, that was a day, a moment, when he was feeling like that and he might not have felt like that permanently, or three weeks later, or even by the time the song was recorded. It’s tempting to read loads in to these things but they are a moment in time.
I did sing on songs that were painful and I think, first of all I would de-sensitise myself. Then the more I listened and listened and practised, practised, meant I could put quite a lot of feeling in to something, particularly if it is upsetting or even the opposite. So, intensely personal songs can be really interesting to sing as well as those that aren’t.
I remember Clare Wadd saying something on My Secret World which rang so true. She said, “Everybody thinks that you want to have a song written about you. And it is really flattering, it’s totally flattering to be somebody’s muse and to have a song written about you, but it is only one person’s side of the story. If you want to put your side back you’ve got no place to do that, which actually can be really frustrating.”
I thought she really hit the nail on the head then. I’d like to say that was my thought but it was hers. I just was, like, “I concur, totally. I totally get that.” Because that is very much how you feel sometimes, you just like, “Well, that is only how one person sees things.” But I never would have sung on anything I was really unhappy to sing, I don’t think Bobby would have asked me to anyway.
EIO40:Songs by The Field Mice, Northern Picture Library and the Trembling Blue Stars are still considered some of the best-crafted songs and have aged extremely well. Do you revisit any of your music?
Anne Mari: Do I revisit it? Yes, and particularly recently because of the film (My Secret World). and also the book (Popkiss) because, to be quite frank with you, I don’t actually always remember all the titles and stuff, you know. So I did revisit it and actually found my favourite is the Northern Picture Library stuff which, interestingly, Bobby says he hasn’t listened to for years and years and years. I said, “You must listen to ‘Alaska’,” because it’s great, I think it’s great. I think it has stood the test of time really well. It was, at the time, quite experimental I think, but it doesn’t sound it now.
And that’s a really nice thing to say, that some of the songs are well-crafted, because I think they are. And I can say that, partly, because I didn’t write them, so I’m not blowing my own trumpet there. I think they are very beautiful.
EIO40: There’s something unpredictable about a lot of the NPL, and to a certain extent the later Field Mice songs, in that they don’t seem to follow a formula and that what’s next doesn’t follow what was before in terms of the sound.
Anne Mari:Yes, and that is partly due to the record collection in Mr Wratten’s room. It’s like going in to a record shop. It has every genre in it that you could possibly think of. You say to him, “Have you got any bizarre jazz from 1943?” he’ll have something. Equally, he’ll have some reggae. Whatever he’s listening to at that time is what influences the songs and that’s what the albums convey. The variety of sounds he’s listening to.
EIO40: Is there a particular song that sticks out, that you look back with fondness or maybe the opposite?
Anne Mari: The one I’m horrified by is ‘Willow’ because I cannot listen to it. Not because of the lyrics, I just can’t listen to my vocal on it. Probably because there’s no reverb on it. (Laughter) It’s like, “Put some effects on me, now. I don’t want to listen to myself singing, I want to listen to the ‘reverb-y version”. Somebody said to me the other day, one of the parents at school said, “Oh, I’ve been listening to some of your stuff and I love that track ‘Willow’.” Isn’t it funny?
Actually, one of my favourite songs is ‘Insecure’ from ‘Alaska’ (NPL). I also love the ‘Blue Dissolve’ EP, I love it. And I’m quite proud to say that’s me and I’m quite happy for people to listen to that, and ‘Five Moments’ as well actually, I’m quite happy with that.
Northern Picture Library “Insecure”
EIO40: We know after The Field Mice and Northern Picture Library you continued to work on projects with Bobby over the years. In fact, we understand that you have very recently been working with him on his Lightning In A Twilight Hour project.
Anne Mari:I’m so, so privileged to still be part of what Bobby creates. I absolutely love going in to the studio, and it’s with the same engineer, Ian Catt, which I’m really comfortable with. With Ian I’m happy to experiment, because he knows me well enough so, if I go wrong I don’t crumple in the heat like I probably would if it was somebody I didn’t know and I was trying to be all professional. I absolutely love being part of that. I’m beyond excited about the new release coming out in April, so excited. Michael (Hiscock) came over and played a few tracks of bass and Beth (Arzy) sings on it, obviously, and I’ve sung a few bits and bobs.
EIO40:So you’ve all sort of stuck together over the years?
Anne Mari: Yes.
Lighting In A Twilight Hour – The Sky Beyond The Sky
EIO40: Which musical project you are most proud to be associated with?
Anne Mari: Northern Picture Library definitely and if anybody ever says, “I’ve never heard of you, can I listen to something you’ve done?” then ‘Alaska’ would be what I’d choose. Or ‘Blue Dissolve’, because those are the bits I don’t mind listening to myself, and I do like the influences that we had then.
Equally, the stuff that Bobby’s doing at the moment, his ‘Lightning In A Twilight Hour’ is fabulous. It’s gone back to being very experimental really, I think.
Elefant (Records) are fantastic, he’s got complete free reign to do whatever he wants to do and they just tick the box, you know. I’ve never known a label be so liberal in what they allow you to do. They don’t ask for demos or anything, it’s just, “Off you go.” So therefore he can explore the more unusual things. I actually think there’s some compost on one of the tracks, if you can imagine compost having a sound. I don’t think he knows actually.
It was bit like that with Northern Picture Library. My dad walked around with one of these little recording devices and recorded the sounds of a power station, and that’s on one of the tracks. Just being able to do that kind of stuff with freedom and not being worried about what the record label might or might not say when it goes to them is really, really brilliant.
EIO40: And what’s your favourite song that was written by Bobby?
Anne Mari: ‘‘Five Moments’.
The Field Mice “Five Moments”
EIO40: We’re ashamed to say that the only song of yours we own is the Northern Picture Library version of Something Good on that Sound Of Music compilation CD.
Anne Mari: Oh well, but you know, I really love that. That was recorded so quickly, in such a short space of time. We had an hours recording to do that. I have always loved musicals and I think that’s one of the highlights of my recording career. And not only that, John Peel playing it on the World Service was a moment that I remember really vividly. I don’t know if you recall but it got played twice in a week, and once was in the middle of the night. Bobby’s a bit of an insomniac and he came, woke me up five o’clock, or four o’clock in the morning and went, “Listen, listen.” And I’m like, “What? What? Oh, I can hear myself.” And it was such a wonderful feeling to hear that. So chuffed to be able to record that song
EIO40: Which band on Sarah Records would you like to have played in and why? Apart from The Field Mice of course.
Anne Mari: I think The Wake. They were just that bit more mature. They knew what they were doing. Fantastic songs that completely stood the test of time and very lovely, humble people as well.
EIO40: A photograph of you appeared on the Trembling Blue Stars “Lips That Taste Of Tears” album cover. How did that come about?
Anne Mari: My sister was a graphic designer and she knew a photographer up in Manchester. So I went in to the studio and had the time of my life for a day, it was fab. I really, really enjoyed that as an experience, it was great but something that, you know, Clare and Matt had always been absolutely against, having female on the cover. So it caused a bit of upset.
EIO40: Tell us about your life away from music. Have you had a full-time job? Have you had a career?
Anne Mari: Yes I have. I studied as an accountant in my late 20s and I’ve been in the charity sector for the last 13 years which was full time until I had the kids (Anne Mari has two delightful boys). Actually, having children has been brilliant for getting the instruments out again. We’ve got a piano, we’ve got guitars, there’s a cornet that my eight-year-old plays I feel it’s very important to have music around children right from the word go, so that’s what’s kept me going musically.
The other thing is, which is completely random in a way, is that I now teach salsa and bachata. I got in to Cuban music in my late 20s and Afro-Cuban more than the straight salsa stuff, so I was lucky I was living in London and there were just amazing places to go and resources.
So I started dancing and the musical outlet for me became dance rather than singing for a time and I teach dance once a week. Some of the Cuban rhythms are so complex and so intricate, it’s like flying when you get it, it’s wonderful. It’s a very different area, very different genre of music, but really, really fabulous.
EIO40: Did you go to a screening of My Secret World?
Anne Mari: I went to the one in Brighton. It was quite nerve-wracking actually, to go along to that. I had been sent a copy of the DVD beforehand, so I knew I was going to see. It did feel a bit strange going, but actually it was just really lovely. Alison (Cousens) was there from Brighter, my friend Sarah from The Purple Tulips came along with me, because she’d been there right at the beginning. We said, “You know what, it does really make you remember what it felt like when we first hear those tracks, you know,” and how important it was for those songs to be coming out of the sixth firm common room CD player when the usual stuff was so far removed.
EIO40: So, with increased nostalgia surrounding Sarah bands following on from the successes of the Popkiss book and My Secret World and our own efforts to a lesser extent, would you ever consider reforming or is it a bridge to far?
Anne Mari: It’s a bridge to far
EIO40: You appreciate that question had to be asked?
Anne Mari:Yes, of course it did. It’s absolutely not going to happen on any level. Apart from anything I’m not going to play live again, can’t see a situation when I would. Although I did go to see a band the other day, a local band called Pog. I just thought they all looked like they were having such a good time, loads of them on stage, loads of different instruments, sort of a post-punk sound going on, but really good songs, really, really good songs.
And I thought, “Oh, I’d quite like to be a part of that.” And that’s the first time that has happened in years and years and years. You should look up Pog, they’re brill. It’s this local guy called Paul Stapleton.
That’s the only time that I’ve even thought that but I still probably wouldn’t on the balance of risk, I just don’t want to go back. I know that a lot of bands are reforming and touring again but I can’t actually imagine wanting to go and see a band that I liked 25 years ago let alone be in that band playing all the old stuff. I know Bobby, as the writer, wouldn’t be wanting to. If he did want to ever play live he’d want to do the new stuff. Because the old stuff is of a time long gone.
EIO40: So was Tufnell Park the last time you ever stood on a stage?
When I reviewed the eponymously-titled debut album by Alvvays I concluded that the band’s biggest challenge ahead was developing and building upon what was already a near-perfect pop album. My only quibble at the time was that some of the subtleties were drowned in the sound.
With Antisocialities Alvvays have managed to achieve what for many bands is unachievable: an even better second album. The mix is much clearer, the production has more definition and there are ten songs; one more than on the debut album (unless you bought the cassette…)
My pre-release copy must have got lost in the post, so by the time I listened on Spotify ( I will buy the album; I just couldn’t wait) quite a few reviews had already been written, many pointing to the sound of Teenage Fanclub within the ten tracks. To me that seems a bit of a lazy take, on the basis of some slight involvement by Norman Blake.
If a listener needs bands to refer to, then I’d like to mention the following bands who also sprang to mind during various bits of the album: Cocteau Twins, The Darling Buds, McCarthy, The Soup Dragons, The Sundays, The Sugarcubes… Basically, Alvvays are an indie band in keeping with the indie sound of the late 1980s.
Anyway, let’s cut to the chase. Ten excellent songs, each taking the listener on a very different journey, some on a single winding road, others taking the scenic route and others yet still calling in at a selection of tiny yet distinct villages as part of a magical mystery tour.
Album closer ‘Forget About Life’ even takes a wrong turning down a cul-de-sac at the end. The subtle humour prevalent in the first album remains in tracks such as ‘Your Type’ (“I will never be your type/ you will never be ok/I’m an O and you’re AB”) whilst ‘Hey’ describes “Molly Mayhem on your doorstep at three AM” before heading directly to a made-for-moshpit ending.
It genuinely fills with me delight to state that this album disappoints in absolutely no way at all, and should be an essential part of anyone’s autumn listening. Having said that, perhaps there is one little gripe: it is impossible for me to hit Molly’s high notes whilst singing along over the washing up. But I can live with that.
You can purchase “Antisocialites” at AlvvaysBandcamp page and you can also discover more about them at these links
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading John’s review. If you would like to review something new, whether it’s new material or a re-issue then please contact us via email email@example.com or Twitter@IndieOver40
We were absolutely honoured when Jim Bob agreed to swing by EIO40 HQ for a cup of tea, a slice of homemade cake and a chat about all things JB, Carter USM, writing books and other sundry stuff.
To be honest, not sure we could do an introduction justice for an interview with James “Jim Bob” Morrison. Noteable alumni of South London, famously one half of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, accomplished solo artist and award winning author. We could list the accolades and achievements, but won’t. We’ll be here all day. Instead we’ll just let Jim Bob’s own words tell the story.
EIO40: Hi Jim. Thank you for giving up your valuable time to talk to us. Now, going back to the early days what were you like as a teenager? Were you rebellious at school?
Jim Bob:I think I was rebellious in a way. I mean when I was at school I would say I was one of the fairly good kids but I was easily manipulated by the bad kids. Definitely towards my final time at school I was hanging around with the wrong people. I didn’t go to school a lot in the last year. I think I did two exams. I did really badly at school. I went from when I was about 13 and top in maths and by the end of school I was in the non-exam group. I don’t know what that says about me. But I was always into music. I was passionate about it.
EIO40: What were you into musically back then? Those teenage years can be formative, can’t they?
Jim Bob:Yes or even before then. I mean it is the one thing I do remember quite a lot of. I had an older sister and she had quite a lot of friends that used to come round. Even when I was like around nine and she would have been about eleven, they used to listen to a lot of Ska music and stuff like that because they were like Smoothes. Did they call them Smoothes? Skinheads with hair. A sort of cross between mods and skinheads.
I probably was really into whatever she liked. Then whatever boyfriend she had I tended to get into their music. When I was probably 13 or 14 I remember a boyfriend she had for quite a while, he liked rock music. I liked whatever he had so that would have been things like Supertramp.
By then I had a lot of eclectic things going on with people I knew at school. The first band I was in, I must have been I suppose about 14. It was a band just doing rock and roll songs. The first live performance was doing Buddy Holly songs. It was a band that wasn’t really a band. I don’t think anybody could play. I think the music teacher played guitar just to link it.
I was really into rock and roll when I was young, like Bill Haley and Buddy Holly. But it was probably for really short periods of time because by the end of school when I was 15 or 16 it was punk. It was right at the end of my school that I got into that. I remember the headmaster doing an assembly and warning people about punk music. He told us that it was, “Just a phase and don’t get involved in it”.
I remember getting into trouble, not beaten up, with some other kids because I had straight jeans. I wore straight jeans and they were still wearing flares. You had to sort of be quite secretive about the fact that you might like The Stranglers or something because it was definitely frowned upon by most people, by kids I mean.
EIO40: On the subject of school, by that what we actually mean is your 2006 solo album ‘School’, is ‘Mrs McMurphy’ based on a real teacher?
Jim Bob: Yes she is. She is actually based on my daughter’s cookery teacher. In fact there are probably more. Some bits of the teachers in the album do come from her teachers at the time. She had a trendy history teacher, a really, really moody, chip on his shoulder geography teacher and a really horrible, really angry cookery teacher. I think I was just nicking those. But there did seem to be a thing about geography teachers. Do they still do options these days? When you got to 13 and you could choose what subjects to do, people seemed to drop geography and I presume if you are a geography teacher it must be a bit, every year, “Uh, here we go again”. It is the unpopular subject.
EIO40: Can you remember the first gig that you went to?
Jim Bob:I am pretty sure that the first gig I went to was Queen in Hyde Park. They did a free gig. I went with my mates. I don’t know how old I was. I reckon 14 or something. I remember my mate went to the toilet and I never saw him again that day. I was there like terrified, surrounded by all these old hippies. But they sort of threw bottles at a lot of the support acts. I remember quite a lot of that day, particularly having to get home on my own.
I remember one of the support acts was Kiki Dee. It was around the time of, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ with Elton John. She did that with a cardboard cut out of Elton John. But I can’t remember who sung his bits or if she did both bits. Who else was on? Steve Hillage who was like a real old hippy. I don’t know any of his music but in my head he is like Neil from The Young Ones. I think a lot of people threw piss at him. I just remember it being quite an intimidating atmosphere at that age. I am pretty sure that is the first gig I went to.
EIO40: I understand you originally started a band with Les Carter (Fruitbat) called The Ballpoints, was that right? Was that your first band?
Jim Bob:I was in a band before. Well if you exclude the things I was in at school that weren’t really bands. I was in a band called Jeepster, which came from a T-Rex song. That was my first band. It was around the time of the mod revival, that sort of time. We were a little bit moddy. We had quite a lot of big ideas about how great we were and how all our songs were about very specific things. But we only did one gig. When we got the gig I left my job. It was my first job and I’d had it for quite a while. It was quite a good job. We had one gig in some youth club somewhere and I left work because I thought, “This is it. Here we go”.
Jeepster then sort of turned into The Ballpoints. It would have been two members of Jeepster became The Ballpoints. Then Les joined later. At that time he was a sort of a constructive destructive force. He used to come in bands and basically get rid of members, not in a horrible way but he was very good at sort of working out, “This person is holding us back” or whatever. Whereas I would just carry on. If it were up to me I wouldn’t want to upset anyone and just carry on forever and not get anywhere. Then we changed our name to Peter Pan’s Playground.
EIO40: Did you have any demo tapes from these bands?
Jim Bob: Yes we did.
EIO40: Have they ever see the light of day?
Jim Bob: No. They do exist and people are always asking about them. There are certain record labels that would like to release stuff. The Jeepster stuff to me is quite bad but it is brilliant in its badness. Whereas The Ballpoints probably stands the test of time not so well because we were trying to be serious. We were trying to be The Jam whereas before it was just fairly unique.
There is also a lot of Jamie Wednesday stuff that people are pretty much week-by-week asking us to release. I don’t know. I mean if I am honest I have to lie to people because I quite like not everything to be available. Do you know what I mean? I quite like there to be a bit of a secret for the 15 people that heard it at the time.
EIO40: Now there was a gap between The Ballpoints and Jamie Wednesday. Did you go back to work at that point?
Jim Bob: I was working. I mean not long after I left my first job I got another job. I did quite a lot of long term temp work. I was always working. But I think after The Ballpoints both Les and me were mates and that but we were both trying to do solo things. We made quite a lot of demos again. Some of those became Carter songs. I was doing solo stuff under the name Jamie Wednesday. He was doing solo stuff under the name Cartoon Carter because his surname was Carter. He was supposedly a cartoon character. But we didn’t really do anything other than just make demos really. Then at some point we decided to become a band.
I think it might have just been me wanting to play some of my songs live and Les played with me. This was around venues in Streatham and Croydon. Then maybe at some point we thought, “It would be good if we had some drums” or something like that. Then we met a sax player. A lot of times it tended to be meeting people. We met a saxophone player so therefore we had a saxophone. Then that led to Jamie Wednesday having a horn section and so on. But yes there was a time when we were just doing solo demos and that.
EIO40: A Jamie Wednesday track recently appeared on the Cherry Red C87 compilation (“We Three Kings Of Orient Aren’t”)
Jim Bob:Those albums are pretty good aren’t they? Just the amount of stuff they have on there. Cherry Red are brilliant at finding stuff. They will pretty much release anything but they are good at getting the right songs together. I suppose if you are thinking about the early ‘80s onwards there probably was an indie scene in the way there wouldn’t be now. Because now it would be so connected to money and Spotify and all the rest of it. Whereas then it was very much real. You could go and see four bands in a pub that nowadays would be playing Brixton Academy but selling fewer records.
EIO40: Okay, so moving onto Carter now. Did you ever think that you would be as successful as you were?
Jim Bob:I think we always thought we were really good right from the beginning. We always felt that. But I don’t think we planned as much when it happened as we had in the past. It all happened, with the exception of about a year at the beginning, quite quickly and quite easily so that there almost wasn’t time to really think about that.
EIO40:Watching an interview you did a few years ago, I think you said you’d only sent the demo to one label. There wasn’t any sort of shopping around per se.
Jim Bob: The whole thing came from Jamie Wednesday. The band split before a gig but we I had do something. Les & I went into a studio in someone’s garden shed, which is where we ended up recording most of the Carter albums, and just recorded these backing tracks. Then two weeks later or possibly even less, a week later maybe, we did the gig. We weren’t rehearsing or anything like that. We did the first gig and then from that did some other gigs. Then made a demo quite soon after and gave it to the first label. They said, “Yes do you want to do a single?”
It was only after that first single that there was a gap because we got in a legal disagreement about whether they should let us record anything else with another label. Then within a year or however long it was, the next thing would have been ‘Sheriff Fatman’. That wasn’t massively successful at first but it got reviews and stuff. Yes I suppose we didn’t really have a chance to think. Then all of a sudden you are doing really well and by that point you don’t like it anymore. You do some moaning, “Oh no not another interview”.
EIO40: Was that what you were thinking this morning?
Jim Bob: (Laughs). No, Back then it was more like you know you are doing something you enjoy but you have got to spend the whole day doing 12 interviews and you start to hear yourself, you start to hear your own opinions and think, “Oh this bloke is an idiot. What is he talking about?” If I had to read back or see some of those interviews, I’d think “God, what a twat”.
EIO40:What do you consider to be your best Carter gig?
Jim Bob: I don’t know. I mean I always say Reading in ’91. Of the ones I remember, I remember that as being amazing at the time, especially because we weren’t headlining, but we sort of felt like we were. Not in an arrogant way. More we felt we were almost at the peak. Whereas when we were in Glastonbury, even though we were headlining, there were a lot of people starting to hate us. Whereas at Reading most people liked us at that point.
But then most of the reunion gigs we’ve done, I kind of think were sort of better in an odd way. Not all of them. Although a thing that surprised me was when somebody put up a load of videos somewhere. I think it was when Jon Beast died. A lot of videos and some of the old videos are just amazing to me for what it was like. In some of the gigs it looks like there is no stage because everyone is on stage, the crowds, the stage diving, it is chaos. That is quite exciting. In a way those gigs with hindsight are probably more exciting than the recent reunions that were more controlled.
EIO40: You mentioned Glastonbury in 1992, where Carter were famously banned for life by Michael Eavis following Les taking umbrage at your set being cut short. Are you still banned?
Jim Bob: Well I have played twice on the Leftfield stage since but I don’t think anybody would have noticed. Les has played there with Ferocious Dog. I don’t think we would be banned anyway. The way I look at it, without meaning to sound like I am still having a go at Glastonbury, but I imagine if Carter were big enough when we reformed to headline it then I think they would have forgotten all of that. Because didn’t Oasis headline it? I am pretty sure they said worse things about Glastonbury than we ever did. Or the Manics, they said worse.
EIO40: Now you mentioned Jon “Fat” Beast earlier who sadly passed away in 2014. At what point in your history did Jon begin introducing you and the chanting start?
Jim Bob: I think the chanting had started before he had anything to do with us. He used to be a promoter at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town. He had a club there called Time Box. Carter played there quite early, very early on. Everybody played there, bands whose names have slipped my mind now. No only did he promote but he also did the lights. There weren’t many lights but he did the lights. All I remember is they had a box at the back upstairs where he’d do the lights. For some reason, considering he was the light man, he had a microphone. So he would just sort of heckle us because that was his character.
Then at some point he said he thought we needed lights. We didn’t have any lights. We weren’t a band with lights. It was just me and Les and a cassette recorder. He was obsessed with us having lights and I think we kind of resisted it. Then by the time we did have some lights we were doing a sort of college tour and he wanted to come along and do the lights. He said he didn’t want to be paid. He would just sell the merch and take some money from that. We said, “No”.
Then the first day of tour we turned up and he was there. He just came. We just couldn’t avoid him so he was just there. Then at some point he introduced us and the Fat Bastard thing happened, but I think he had already done it for Mega City Four. They were already shouting it at him for that because it was a football thing anyway, wasn’t it?
He was still doing our lights so he would introduce us and then come to the back and do the lights. At some point I think he lost interest in the lighting part of it and he got someone else in to help him. In the end he was just doing that.
EIO40: Naturally we’d like to know a bit more about those memorable lyrics you come up with. Is there is any particular Carter song you are most proud of lyrically?
Jim Bob:There are loads of little bits. There are lots of lines. I can’t think of any. But lines of mine where I think, “That’s quite clever”. ‘Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere’ as a total song I guess. It has got everything in it but it is not too, you know it has got all the puns in it but not at a point where it is a bit too embarrassing. ‘The tequila sun is rising and the Harvey’s Bristol moon is sinking’, is a line I really like. At the time I felt quite a sort of certain pride, awkward pride I suppose about the way that song meant a lot to people, people who were having difficulty, sort of the way people related to it. It was horrible that they related to it, but they said that was a positive thing.
But the lines that people quote are often things that I nicked. Not nicked but like, I don’t know, I think of things like people sometimes quote, “You can’t judge a book by its cover but you can tell how much it cost”. That came from a film. That is not me. But I often see people say, “Oh genius”. The genius wasn’t me. That is from Brideshead Revisited. I am not saying they are all stolen. It is like Morrissey and The Smiths. With a lot of his stuff you find you are watching a film and somebody says something and you go, “Hang on. That is a Smiths song”.
I think the reason why our music is never used in films and adverts is probably because the lyrics were very specific. They tend to stick out. That is a good thing, but a bad thing financially. But yes, because if you hear ‘Sheriff Fatman’ in a film you are hearing all that stuff going on. Whereas you can play, I don’t know, say The Stone Roses and you’re not quite sure what it is about. Is it about a woman banging some drums?
I met this bloke in Germany once who wrote some sort of thesis or something about the lyrics of ‘The Only Living Boy in New Cross’ from a German perspective. He explained what they were all about. It was really interesting because there were so many different levels to it that I kind of ignored, that most people ignored. For example it would be, ‘Hello, good evening and welcome to nothing much’ and he’d have to explain about David Frost and where that came from. And that New Cross was a place in South London but it refers back to Only Living Boy in New York.
EIO40:What was your best memory from your time with Carter?
Jim Bob:I’m not sure. Some of it is not that clear but the early days in a way were really exciting.When ‘101 Damnations’ got in the indie chart and then the actual chart. Then being at a gig when that happened, how exciting that was because it was new. Later on it gets to that point where you think, “Oh. Only number two?” But moments like that, you don’t tend to remember in a precise way.
In more recent times I do remember I got that feeling when we did the first reunion gig at Glasgow Barrowlands, the first proper sort of reunion. Walking through the venue during the day when they were setting all the lights and everything up and thinking, I had a real sort of feeling, “This is not just for me, but this is for me”. It was the biggest rush. It was quite a good feeling. I think I used to like that at gigs. I used to like walking around an empty Brixton Academy knowing it was sold out and that you are kind of responsible for that. That was a really good feeling.
Also the fact that, apart from the band and people working there and the audience, not really anybody else knows about it. Kind of outside of that small circle certainly with the reforming things, people just don’t know it happened. Do you know what I mean? Because it is not in the press. Everyone just still thinks, “Oh that band from the past”. Yes I like that sort of feeling. I miss that.
Then of course the large riders. It is always good to see a large pile of alcohol in a room that you can’t get when you are playing in a pub.
EIO40: When you did that first reunion, how difficult was it to decide on a set list?
Jim Bob:If it was entirely up to me it would have been relatively easy. I mean Les would be more inclined to do some ones that were more challenging to him and to the audience. Whereas I was quite happy to just do the obvious ones. We played quite long sets as you definitely have to play longer sets when it’s a comeback gig because you can’t just base it all around a new album. You have got to do everything. We’d had 14 singles or something so we sort of had to do most of those I think, if not all of them. Then there were songs that we were obviously going to do, ‘Prince in a Pauper’s Grave’ and things like that. It mostly does itself really I think.
It was good when we did the four albums thing because we definitely played songs there that we had never played live before. That was quite good to do that.
EIO40: You were forced to do songs you wouldn’t normally play?
Jim Bob:Yes, and to play them in the right order because people don’t do that very often. But it is bullshit isn’t it? Because you come on and you say, “We are doing all this album and then we are going to do loads of hits afterwards”. Then you look at it and just think, “Technically I am doing the same set just in a different order”. Maybe there are a couple that you wouldn’t normally do.
EIO40: You’ve probably seen on Twitter and social media, as we most certainly have, that people have kept all their posters, T shirts and other memorabilia. Have you kept any of that yourself?
Jim Bob: Yes. It is not in an organised way, but I have definitely got a lot of stuff. There is a lot of stuff under the bed. There is a big silver chest. It is not made of silver, a silver cover with loads of t-shirts inside. I have got a lot more of the old stuff than I have of the new stuff. I probably haven’t got most of the new Carter shirts but I have got all the old ones. They were better made in those days as well. Although surprisingly few CDs and that sort of stuff. I have probably got one copy of ’30 Something’.
EIO40: Is there a particular item that you have a fondness for?
Jim Bob: I quite like the gold discs just because they look like prizes don’t they?
EIO40: Assume they are not shoved under the bed?
Jim Bob: No, but they are not hanging up. They are just there. There are good things that people gave us just sort of sitting there gathering dust, like puppets from Japan. People made puppets of Les and me. Things like that are pretty cool.
A more recent thing which was for the last Brixton Academy gig, someone had reproduced the tickets for all the times we played there, might have been 25 times, and had framed them with a picture of the venue. They gave that to Les and me. Things like that are wonderful.
EIO40: After having been in a band for so long how did it it feel performing solo?
Jim Bob:Well, because after Carter the first thing I did was ‘Jim’s Super Stereoworld’, so it was another band technically, live anyway. The first gig I did with ‘Jim’s Super Stereoworld’ was fine, because it was packed. Then we did Reading and Leeds, on the smaller stage, and that was okay. Then the first gig outside London was a shock. I remember that. Basically because there was no-one there. (Laughter). That shook me a bit.
EIO40: It was a different world that what you had been used to?
Jim Bob:Yes. I thought, “Oh, right.” and that carried on for a while.
EIO40: Do you feel more vulnerable performing on the stage as a solo artist?
Jim Bob:No. Because when going on tour one of the reasons I don’t do that many gigs anymore, definitely one of the reasons, is that even though it’s just me and a guitar I can’t do gigs on my own completely. I mean, I can but I’ve hardly done any. There’s always someone with me. I can’t drive, so someone usually has to drive. So that’s Mr Spoons. Then there will probably be Marc (Ollington) or someone else there, selling any merchandise or whatever, and collecting the money, things like that. If I went on my own I wouldn’t collect the money, because I would be too timid to go and ask for it. (Laughter) I would feel I was insulting people by asking to be paid. So they’re there and that makes it almost like having a band, in a funny sort of way, even though they’re not onstage.
Playing solo doesn’t scare me in any way, and it means I can do whatever I want, I suppose, song-wise and that. Then getting back together with Les you sort of realise that some things are better being onstage with someone else or as a band. Also there’s a fine line between band and solo with me and Carter, because technically I suppose we were a duo, so we weren’t really a band then. So that’s good, that feeling of having someone else there, but also you end up having disagreements about the tiniest things, that you would never disagree about on your own.
For me it’s very much an audience thing, depending who the audience is and how many of them there are. Probably my biggest – well, I think it is my biggest fear, in terms of being a performer, is empty venues. I really can’t deal with it. And that’s transferred into book readings being the same sort of thing. It’s not size of venue. If I played in your living room, and say it holds 25 people or something, and there were 25 people here, I would be happier with that than I would be at a 600 capacity venue with 100 people there. Doing those ‘Jim’s Super Stereoworld’ things to empty venues with a band was less of an issue, because we had a good time as a group of people.
EIO40: Is there particular artist that you would like to perform onstage with, alive or dead?
Jim Bob:Only in a fantasy type way. In reality I think it would be awful. It’s all bloody… It’s very much about that now, isn’t it? Collaboration is what everyone does. I can’t think of anybody obvious. There are people that I like and admire. I like Elvis Costello, but I don’t know what it would be like performing with him. Yes, I would say Elvis Costello.
EIO40: Is there a song that you wish you had written?
Jim Bob: Oh, God. Yes, there are probably quite a few, but they tend to be what I hear on the radio. Say a really simple song. I do remember not long ago hearing ‘The Air That I Breathe’ by The Hollies, and I thought, “Oh, I wish I had written this.” (Laughter) Those sort of real just brilliant songs.
They’re not massively clever. They’re just really simple, with brilliant melodies and that. There are a lot of those. Probably a lot of older songs. Those sort of things. I like ‘The Long And Winding Road’. Just simple, usually slow songs. I like a lot of Nick Cave, but I think it’s Nick Cave that I like as much as the songs, if you know what I mean.
EIO40: Turning to your solo stuff. ‘School’ and ‘Goffam’ were concept albums. How did you get the idea for those?
Jim Bob: I think ‘School’ was the only one that’s an actual proper concept. I’m trying to think if there was a first song on that that sparked it. I think it was ‘The Orchestra Song’. I think that’s how it started. I just had this idea, and then I wrote songs very quickly, I think it only took a couple of weeks or something, about a school orchestra. I’m sure it’s probably been done, and it’s probably a corny thing that’s been done in films, but the idea of a fame school being saved by a visionary headmaster who forms an orchestra. Not even a good orchestra. So that’s how that happened.
Then I had rules that I gave myself that all the songs had to be possible to be played by a school band. When I say school band I’m probably thinking of a school band from years ago, not now, because they’re probably all studio whizz-kids now. Some people didn’t like the album, because it didn’t have any bass and stuff like that, but I was thinking very much traditional, old-school instruments. So there are a lot of tambourines, and people banging things and lots of percussion.
It came together very quickly, writing around things that I remembered from school, teachers, and fights between schools, stuff like that. I thought it would be a musical. I still think maybe one day. If I was Damon Albarn these ideas would happen, but because I’m not Damon Albarn… I don’t know what I mean by that. Well, I do know what I mean by that. I imagine it as being a fairly simple musical that was performed in schools by schools. Schools would put on their own version of it. That was sort of how I saw that, but I haven’t actually written or got anywhere. No-one has written a script as such. But I think it’s all there. Like I say, if I was Damon Albarn somebody would give me £1m.
Goffam was a looser idea. A fairly simple idea. I don’t know where that came from. I think it was just a fairly half-arsed idea, but it was an idea about some terrible superheroes. Superheroes who just weren’t very good. Scared superheroes, in an inner-city deprived area, with superheroes who don’t really bother helping anybody. With ‘It’s A Humpty Dumpty Thing’, that was another loose idea about working in an office.
EIO40: There was a time then it was a bit confusing for us, whether it was Jim Bob or JR Morrison. There seemed to be an overlap.
Jim Bob: Yes. What happened there was I liked doing ‘Super Stereoworld’. I think even though it was a massive failure as a band I really liked the whole thing about it. But for some reason it was probably trying to get as far away from Carter maybe at the time, so I didn’t want to call myself Jim Bob. With hindsight, if I had called myself Jim Bob I think things probably would have been different maybe. So I think the JR Morrison thing was me still not quite ready to just give in to that. So I think whatever I did after that, I don’t remember what that was, was probably me thinking, “Oh, yes, just call me Jim Bob now”
When I did Carter songs live for the first time, Les really didn’t like it, for example. He doesn’t care now. He didn’t stop me, but I know he didn’t like it. I can understand that. Because that happens a lot, doesn’t it? Bands split up. Especially when there’s two of you. With Oasis maybe as some sort of example, The Smiths. When they split up the band, and then they did their own stuff, and then at some point both members start playing the band songs. It’s definitely happened with all those. Because Morrissey didn’t do that many Smiths songs, but now he does quite a few. Johnny Marr didn’t do any, I don’t think, but now he does. I’m pretty sure the Gallagher brothers have started doing Oasis songs, haven’t they? Probably when Les came to terms with it, was when he introduced a Carter song into his Abdoujaparov set.
EIO40: Moving on to books, was it an easy transition from being a musician/artist to becoming an author? Is it similar to song-writing or a completely different process?
Jim Bob: There are aspects of it that are the same, or that were the same. Like trying to construct sentences in an interesting way. Certain bits can take a long time and can drive you mad. And just trying to word a sentence. That did happen with song-writing. I could spend ages on one line.
I’m writing a book at the moment, which I’ve been writing for quite a long time now. It certainly feels like a long time. The process has probably changed now from when I wrote the first one. Because it would be more alien for me now to try and write a song than it would be to write a book now, if that makes sense.
I think it’s a lot harder to write books, because with music you can get away with a lot more. Firstly, you can do an album like ‘I Blame The Government’, which I don’t like now, but you would get away with that. Whereas with a book it’s not going to get printed if it’s not good, or up to some sort of standard, especially now. So that’s harder.
The hardest thing I would say for me is that you can’t get anyone’s opinion until it’s too late. I wrote 80,000 words of the latest thing, and my agent didn’t like it. That’s after I had written 80,000 words, by which time that’s a year and a half or something, With a song I could have said, “Do you like this?” “No.” “Okay.” That’s one thing.
The other thing is with a song, I would know straight away. I’ve never listened to a song, and someone else has told me it’s bad, and I’ve thought, “Oh, yes, you’re right.” Do you know what I mean? Whereas a book you really need other people’s opinions, but you can’t get them until you’ve done all the bloody work. (Laughter) That’s the worst thing for me, I think. And the not knowing at any point whether what you’re doing is a complete waste of time.
EIO40: Where did the inspiration for the character ‘Frank Derrick’ came from?
Jim Bob:Oh, it was entirely my mum. It was 100% my mum really. All the books up until now, there have been bits of people in there. Just tiny bits. Then exaggerated. ‘Storage Stories’, there’s probably a lot of me in there, in an obvious sort of way. ‘Jarvis Ham’, there’s a couple of people I know in there. With ‘Frank Derrick’, at that time my mum was 81. That’s the first giveaway. She was living basically all the things that was the setup with Frank. She was 81. She was living in a first floor flat in a village where it’s all bungalows. She had no money. She was just a fairly disastrous person, in terms of dealing with money and stuff like that. People were constantly knocking on her door offering to do her roof and stuff. Trying to get money out of her basically.
Because I was the nearest one in the family, even though I was 60 miles away, I spent quite a lot of time there. I would go down once a week. Then it became twice a week. Then she was ringing me five times a day. Then she started to get a bit… Let’s say ill, shall we? So I think just because I was spending so much time with her I wanted to write a book about somebody like that, about somebody of that age, who was realistic but also quite entertaining. Whereas the second Frank Derrick book was nothing to do with her. By then he was his own character, with other things created around him.
Yes, without my mum I wouldn’t have done it at all. So there are a lot of very specific things in there that I’ve just copied from her life, but maybe, like the Carter songs, exaggerated. Like she would buy crap from a charity shop all the time and presume it was all worth a lot of money. It never, ever was. Yes, that kind of stuff.
EIO40: Will we be hearing from Frank again in the future?
Jim Bob:I don’t know. I’m writing a different book at the moment about something else. It’s possible. The people who have read both books, a certain amount of people do want another one, but it’s a question of whether a publisher would want to publish it. It would also have to feel as though it wasn’t just, like I say, an old man going on an adventure. Because the first one is him in his normal life, and then the second one is very much like ‘Mutiny On The Buses’ or something.
EIO40:You are on a solo UK tour in December, what can people expect?
Jim Bob: Song-wise I think it will probably be half and half, or thereabouts, of Carter songs and not Carter songs. So there will be hopefully something for everyone. Chris T-T is the support, so we might do something together as well. The bulk of it will be me, the guitar, singing mostly the songs that people know. And I imagine, going from past experience, a lot of people singing along.
Certain gigs I’ve done in the past, especially some I remember on the last tour, a lot of the bad gigs were the ones where the Carter logo was so much bigger than my name. (Laughter). I have done gigs before and it said, ‘Jim Bob from Carter’, and the Carter was massive. That’s quite rude, really, isn’t it, in a way? I definitely did at least one ‘Jim’s Super Stereoworld’ gig where it was only a billing on a blackboard but they billed it as ‘Carter USM’. They just put ‘Carter USM’. (Laughter)
EIO40:Talking of being on tour. What is your least favourite road?
Jim Bob: Least favourite road? I think I wrote about this. I definitely did write about this. (Laughter). There’s a bit where you used to come in off the A3 or something. I just don’t know what road it is. It’s a road where we just used to recognise everything on it coming back from a tour, and it used to really depress me. Now, because I go to Devon quite a bit, and come home the same way, there’s that bit when you hit Wimbledon, just on the outskirts of Wimbledon, and that’s it. You’re suddenly in a traffic jam. And you know you’re back in London because everyone is rude and horrible. (Laughter) And it takes as long to get 5 miles as it’s just taken you to do 200 miles. So whatever that road is called, the one that goes over the tram track in Wimbledon. (Laughter)
EIO40: What is the most common misconception people have of you?
Jim Bob: The obvious ones would be the shorts and cycle hats. Because it never goes away. I heard recently somebody, I’m not going to name, a well-known person on a proper radio station, who should have known better, asking a question about, “Oh, yes, they always wore those shorts and those cycle hats, didn’t they?” The thing is, I didn’t wear shorts quite so much. I never wore a cycle hat. So that’s one thing.
There’s a lot of annoying things. Like people just thought that the band and the audience were very thuggish. Which I don’t think was true. Actually, the other thing I’ve just remembered is the assumption that I somehow, I was in any way involved in attacking Phillip Schofield. That was 100% Les. (Laughter)
EIO40: He’s got you in trouble a few times hasn’t he, what with Glastonbury?
Jim Bob: Yes, I know.
EIO40: Having been in a successful band, we are interested in your thoughts on the current environment for bands and artists compared to back in the day. Is it harder for them or easier considering how music can be accessed these days?
Jim Bob: As far as I can tell, I would say it certainly seems harder. I think the thing is that the levels of success maybe have changed dramatically. So you’ve got people who are more successful than they used to be, but then there’s quite a big drop to the next level. Whereas in the past you would have U2, say, and then Carter, but Carter was still really successful.
Now you would have U2, and then the equivalent of Carter would still have to have day jobs. And we would be giving away all our music, because it was the only way anybody could hear it. I think that’s the hardest thing, for people to make any money. Some of the things that we didn’t do, we refused to do, now you would have no choice. Like having sponsors names. We never had brand names near the stage and stuff like that. Now I would imagine that’s physically impossible, because all the venues are sponsored anyway.
And there’s so much emphasis on how you release stuff. Whereas before it was nothing to do with bands, was it? I mean we resisted CDs, definitely, for a while. We resisted things like the “buy one get one free” thing that was going on. We didn’t like that. And the extra tracks. We resisted all of that, but eventually gave in, I think.
Now it’s, “It will be released exclusively on Spotify”, after everyone has heard it on the Guardian website. That kind of thing. And the last people in the chain are the people who actually pay. I buy CDs still. So it’s quite frustrating when you buy a CD but you have to wait two weeks longer than everybody else before you can hear it, unless you want to just listen to it. But I feel like, “I’m going to wait.” (Laughter). Everyone moans. All the old bands moan that they’re not making any money anymore.
EIO40:What sort of music would be on your tour bus stereo?
Jim Bob: I haven’t done it for a while, so it would have changed, but there would be three or four of us on tour, because Chris would be there. When we first started doing it we had CDs probably. Then we did it with iPods. So I’m guessing we would be doing it with phones or something this time. So we’ve always done that. We will get 40/45 minutes each or something. There are certain things that you get used to hearing. Like with Marc Ollington, you know what you’re going to hear. Lots of David Bowie, Morrissey, and Pet Shop Boys. With me you know you’re going to get lots of The Jam and Elvis Costello.
Because I’m writing all the time at the moment, I do listen to music but it tends to be music that I know really well. I listen to a lot of old stuff. I think I’ve got possibly 30 different Elvis Costello albums. He’s made so many albums. So it’s that thing of thinking, “Right, what am I going to put on?” And you think, “Oh, one of these ones or something else?” So I haven’t bought a lot of new music , but I try and chuck in a few new ones, so as not to appear like a complete old fart. I really like Courtney Barnett and Sleaford Mods, but apparently they didn’t like us liking them. Actually , I’m not sure if that is true. This is hearsay. Somebody told me. (Laughter) They thought we were just pretending to like them to look cool or something. I do really like them though.
Oh, I bought the Dexys album, the Dexys Irish thing. That’s a mad album. I used to really like Dexys when they were Dexys Midnight Runners. I was a big fan. Everything they did I thought was amazing. Then years later… Actually this is not a particularly good story. It just was weird. It must have been around the time of the solo album. I was in a club with, I think I was with Clint Boon and he was meeting Kevin Rowland, and so there he was with Kevin and I was “It’s Kevin Rowland!.”
Then Clint Boon had to go off and do something, so I got left standing in this club, and it was really awkward, because he was quite quiet and I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say, “Oh, you’re great.” (Laughter) But we just just sort of stood there not talking. So yes, that’s weird.
I love meeting famous people. Especially when they’re, to my mind, really famous. And then you tell people who you’ve met and it’s disappointing when they don’t know who you mean. (Laughter). I do go on about Cillian Murphy being at the last Carter gig. Do you know Cillian Murphy?
Jim Bob: From Peaky Blinders? The actor? The Hollywood actor? See, that’s what I mean. It’s that kind of thing. Ask your missus. She will know. Women love him. It’s that kind of story. Because to me it’s like, “Fucking Cillian Murphy.” He came in the dressing room, and we had a chat and that. Actually, he knew The Frank & Walters, because he is from Cork. He knew The Frank and Walters! So that’s good. I never quite got over that.
Before that I met Juliette Binoche, which was weird. I had written about her in my first book. I was with my girlfriend and
Juliette was doing a play at the Barbican, and the sound person was this French guy who I knew, who was a Carter fan. I’ve known him for years. He got us tickets, so we went to see it.
Then afterwards we were just going to go to the pub, and then he said, “Oh, don’t you want to meet Juliette?” “What?” I thought it was going to be some sort of green room thing, or press thing, with lots of people. It was just us in her dressing room with her. I think I was going to pieces a bit, and my girlfriend was just having a chat with her as though like… (Laughter). To me it was amazing. An Oscar winning actress. But then I just tell some people and they go, “Who’s that then?”
I don’t know why I started talking about that, but yes, I love meeting famous people.
EIO40: Okay, so you’re a songwriter, musician and now an award wining author, which begs the question. What you are going to turn your hand to next?
Jim Bob: Blimey! I think I will stick with books for a while. Off the top of my head I don’t think there’s anything else I can do. They’re both related to writing, I suppose. I was asked to write a film. There was one for that Word Count mini-novel thing that came with the Humpty Dumpty album. That was adapted for a film years ago, but it was never completed. There’s a ‘Storage Stories’ television series thing on it. But these are all just things that I was doing with someone else, and he did all the work basically. I just used to go and meet him and say, “Yes, that’s a good idea.”
I imagine I will make some more music or something one day, but it’s quite difficult. It’s the admin that just does my head in. Because I think the last album I did was one of the best things I’ve done, just ever, but getting that together, just booking the studio. I think there are 29 people on it or something. In the days of Carter I didn’t do any of that. I never knew what we got paid or anything really. Somebody could have just been stealing it all. I never would have known.
EIO40: Have you ever thought about getting a full band back together?
Jim Bob: Yes, I’ve thought about it. I would love to do that, but again, like I say, it’s mostly the admin. I don’t like the admin.
Friends of mine who played on the albums, just getting them to commit to be in the same room, on the same day, as the other people, that kind of thing. Which can be really complicated. Booking rehearsal studios. Then you have to hire a van.
That’s what I was saying earlier, about why I haven’t done so many gigs. Because the people I go on tour with have got more demanding jobs, and just can’t commit to it anymore, and I don’t want to do it on my own, and I don’t want to pay someone I don’t know to do it. So I would rather not bother.
So yes, I would love to have a band. I would like to have a really good band. I would like to have The Bad Seeds. That band specifically. Jim Bob & The Bad Seeds. (Laughter) That would be perfect. I would like that.
EIO40: The last album was well received. So are we going to see any new music from Jim Bob in the foreseeable?
Jim Bob:Not at the moment. With the last solo album specifically I suddenly had the urge to do it, and wrote the songs, and once I started they were finished quickly. But I don’t want to force it. See, that’s the way I see ‘I Blame the Government’. Also, there was one solo album where I felt, “Oh, I should probably make an album now.” Then I look back and I don’t know what the songs are about. So it will happen, but it won’t happen until it happens.
EIO40: Cheers Jim. Thank you for taking the time to talk to EIO40
Jim is currently on a UK tour with Chris T-T. He will also be playing on the Hull to Amsterdam Shiiine On Mini-Cruise in March 2017 and the Shiiine On 2017 festival in November. He will also be appearing at the Down The River Indie All-Dayer in Norwich in May.
You can find find more about the current tour, future live dates as well as all things Jim Bob related at his website
Feature photo by Jacqueline and Holly and taken from Jim Bob “School” album (2006)
Regular EIO40 reviewer and contributor Rob Morgan (@durutti74) managed to get his mitts on an advance copy of the new Orchids retrospective and has given it the once over in his inimitable style.
As is usually the case with any of Rob’s output he takes us beyond a mere review and on a journey, pulling in history and context, adding emotional ingredients, offering up tips and even reserving some space to throw in a heartfelt appeal.
So being aware of The Orchids and those glorious songs is not a mandatory requirement to hop on board. Whatever happens you’ll take something away from reading on, believe us. Rob himself was even rewarded with an unexpected revelation.
The Orchids Who Needs Tomorrow… – A 30 Year Retrospective Cherry Red Records
30 years? How time flies when you’re enjoying yourself. 30 years ago this Autumn I was a callow 18 year old, settling into life in the halls of residence in Sheffield Poly, and I thought I knew it all. Sure, my hall mates were listening to Suzanne Vega, Sting, Whitney Houston and Marillion but I was listening to better music than that. Didn’t they read the NME or Melody Maker? I read both, cover to cover, every week and I knew what was going on.
The Smiths had just fallen apart amid much acrimony and their final album “Strangeways here we come” was my soundtrack for that season. Nobody else made guitar music as good as The Smiths, in my view. The whole C86 scene had passed me by, I thought it was jingle jangle nonsense, I always paused my taping of Peel when he announced another song by the Soup Dragons or the Wedding Present …. it just didn’t float my boat. Give me Wire, Durutti Column, Microdisney…. just don’t give me 12 string guitars and fey vocals, they say nothing to me about my life. And what’s the obsession with fanzines and flexidiscs? Get with the technology, people – I’d just bought a CD player, perfect sound forever you know.
How wrong could I be?
I may have been reading the music papers every week but I was ignoring them really. I wasn’t noticing what was happening, partly because there was too much going on (I did notice the acid house scene, after all a lot of the Hacienda DJs would regularly cross the Pennines to play at the Leadmill), but I missed a lot of the interesting music of the late 80s due to my blind prejudice against the jingle jangle. I should also mention I missed a lot of the other good music from that era (the MBV / Loop / Spacemen 3 noise and AR Kane dream pop) as I thought it was all music paper hype. What was I thinking? What was I doing to miss these seismic shifts in music?
Somehow I caught up. It was hearing “Sensitive” by The Field Mice on Peel’s ’89 Festive Fifty which caught me first, then buying “Temple Cloud” – the second Sarah Records compilation album – in the summer of 1990 changed my mind. I’d seen the name Sarah Records crop up in the music papers, initially rave reviews for their early single releases written by Bob Stanley in the NME, then sarky reviews dismissing every Sarah Record as the product of wimps feeling melancholy because girls weren’t interested in them. (I paraphrase of course, but some of the reviews really were horrible – check out the Sarah Records website where old music paper reviews are reproduced).
Two points struck me here. Firstly, I was kind of sympathetic to the viewpoint posited above re melancholic unrequitedness. Secondly the first song on “Temple Cloud” wasn’t like that at all. It was almost seven minutes long, it moved slowly and built itself up from simple synth washes, a sparse drum machine, a sleepy sounding vocalist and some sky kissing guitar work – pushing itself into a lethargic chorus of “That’s the way it goes, my friend….” This wasn’t what my perception of a Sarah Record should sound like. This wasn’t jingle jangle nonsense. This was a wonderful song. This was “Yawn” by The Orchids and I was immediately smitten.
The story of the Orchids is entwined with the story of Sarah Records. Their debut single “I’ve Got A Habit” was Sarah 2, issued simultaneously with Sarah 1 –“Pristine Christine” by The Sea Urchins – early in 1988. Before that hard vinyl release the Orchids had issued “From This Day” on a flexidisc during the autumn of 87. So they were there at the beginning and at the end too, playing a set during the August Bank Holiday Sarah Records Farewell Party, alongside other Sarah acts like Heavenly, Blueboy, Secret Shine and Harvey Williams.
Now those names seem legendary, the reputation of Sarah Records and their acts have never been higher – Michael White’s book “Popkiss” and Lucy Dawkins’ film “My Secret World” have raised the profile of the little label from Bristol two decades after it stopped operating. Hell, the NME recently called Sarah Records one of the coolest indie labels of all time, which is some turnaround.
But what of the Orchids? Well they’re a five piece group formed in Glasgow in the mid 80s and still going strong, even if there’s been a few line up changes along the way. If you can forgive me the following appalling analogy…. if The Field Mice are the Beatles of the Sarah Records universe, then the Orchids are the Rolling Stones. The survivors, still going strong, only without the drug habits and tax exile. This analogy also falls over when Bob Wratten lengthy career is taken into consideration. I was never that good with analogies anyway. (By the way, to anyone at Cherry Red – how about a five CD anthology of Bob Wratten bands next? Just a thought).
Between 1988 and 1994 the Orchids issued three albums and seven singles on Sarah Records before taking a hiatus for a decade, reforming in 2006 and issuing more albums and a handful of singles and playing live whenever they can – they are due to play the Shine On indie festival at Butlins Minehead shortly.
As you would expect, their sound has developed over the years but constants remain – James Hackett’s soulful vocals, John Scally’s inventive guitar work, Chris Quinn’s powerful drumming, the playful call and response between lead and backing vocals (especially where Pauline Hynds is part of the mix) and the tasteful and sympathetic production of Ian Carmichael.
Now to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary they have teamed up with Cherry Red to issue a double CD “Who needs tomorrow?”.
Disc One is compiled from the Orchids back catalogue, starting with the woozy beauty of “Apologies” from Sarah 2. The early songs here show how quickly they grasped the idea of indie guitar pop – “It’s Only Obvious” and “Caveman” are timeless pop gems. They expanded their sound and their horizons too – Ian Carmichael introducing keyboards naturally into their songs and sprinkling production fairy dust over everything. The introduction to “Something For The Longing” still makes my spine tingle, like circling helicopters preparing to land, and a surging hopeful chorus .
There’s two songs from 1991’s perfect “Unholy Soul” album, including “Peaches”, one of their finest moments. In some parallel universe “Peaches” would have been number one in the charts for sixteen weeks during the summer of ’91, not that Bryan Adams song. “Tharmaturgy” – a single in 1992 – is another highlight, a melodic gem bolstered by a This Mortal Coil sample! The title track to their third album “Striving For The Lazy Perfection” bristles with urgent sequencers and drum machines humanised by the vocals of Hackett and Hynds.
The second half of the first disc picks highlights from their 21st century output and it stands up well next to their older material. “Another Saturday Night” – a highlight from their comeback album “Good To Be A Stranger” – builds to a powerful crescendo with some fiery guitar work from Scally and one of those unexpected chord changes on the chorus that I love so much. “The girl And The Soldier” is a beautiful heart tugging ballad, and “Something’s Going On” and “She’s My Girl” are equal to the best guitar pop being made by any of the young indie bands who have followed in the footprints of Sarah bands.
The final song “We Made A Mess” (from 2014’s “Beatitude #9” album) is a cool way to end the disc, looking back at the past ruefully and expecting better of oneself with maturity. Well that’s my view anyway, and I sympathise with the short and bittersweet lyric. Sure you could argue about what songs are missing, but disc one gives an overview of a band perfecting their art and maintaining it to a high standard over many years, and of course once you’re won over by these songs you’ll want to explore the back catalogue as soon as possible (hint – start with “Unholy Soul” and “The Lost Star”).
If Disc One is ideal for newcomers to the band (or a nice place to have some of the Orchids’ best songs in one place), then Disc Two is for the fans. It compiles together 18 rarities, demos, b sides and oddities, carefully constructed and organised in the same format as disc one. So it starts at the beginning again with “From This Day” from their first flexidisc and that was quite a revelation for me, because “From This Day” was slowed down considerably and extrapolated to become “Yawn”, that first Orchids song I heard back in 1990. And I never knew!
The second disc is full of treats and surprises like that. There’s glimpses of the creative process in progress – the demos of “It’s Only Obvious” and “Whitley Bay” show how a few small changes to phrasing words or changing keys can make all the difference. The acoustic version of “Welcome To My Curious Heart” may be better than the version on their third album, it’s more intimate and delicate. It’s great to have versions of songs recorded for Peel Sessions like “This Patience Is Mine” and “And When I Wake Up”, even if these are rough demos.
The tracks from their rebirth don’t disappoint either, starting with a live song recorded for Scottish radio before their fourth album was released, and a great cover of The Go-Betweens’ “Magic In Here” (the Go-Betweens were another band who had a wonderful second act of their career, just as the Orchids have).
Some of the demos (“One Last Cigarette” for instance) sound as good as real recordings, which shows how music technology has progressed in thirty years. The second disc closes with a brand new recording of “Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink”, originally issued as their second single in 1988, a neat way to loop back to the start. It’s a lovely recording, everyone sounds older and wiser and the little tweaks to the arrangement (those violins!) work perfectly.
As we have come to expect from Cherry Red, the sound quality and packaging is exemplary. The booklet has fascinating sleeve notes from John Cavanagh and Ian Carmichael, full details of recording sessions for each song and pictures of memorabilia (nice to see the’ 91 tour postcard which Matt and Clare included in my first mail order package in May of that year).
All in all, this is a very attractive package which should appeal to a wide audience. If you’re interested in Sarah Records, this compilation will give you a taste of one of their finest bands. If you’re already a fan, this compilation will be a timely reminder of how great they are, plus a disc of rarities. The Orchids deserve their place in the pantheon of great Scottish music – a long list working backwards from Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand, Teenage Fanclub, through Orange Juice, Josef K, Simple Minds and back to the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and the Poets – and hopefully “Who Needs Tomorrow?” will secure their place in the hearts of many new fans, as well as pleasing old fans like myself.
Want to hear some of the loveliest guitar pop Scotland has to offer? Well this compilation is for you.
You can purchase the Orchids Retrospective via Cherry Red here including signed copies
You can also check out The Orchids at these places:
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading Rob’s review. If you would like to review something new, whether it’s new material or a re-issue then please contact us via email firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter@IndieOver40
We love music, we love the people who love music and naturally we love the people that make music.
So what about those people that make music? What sort of people are they? They like music as well, right? What were they into as kids? Was it the same sort of music we were into? What are they listening to now? What songs did they wish they had written?
We wanted to discover the “music fan” inside these artists, so we decided to find out using a similar format to our Meet The Community feature. By firing a series of short questions at a selected indie artist we wanted to get a bit of an insight into what makes them tick musically.
Those were the first words that Beth Arzy ever uttered to us. It was around this time last year and it was in response to a comment we’d made about the Mark Hollis vocals on Talk Talk’s “I Believe In You”. Ever since then we’ve rather enjoyed the company of Beth Arzy in our social media interactive world.
Of course we knew all about Beth before then. She has a HR file like everyone else, although in the case of artists we refer to it as a rap sheet. Beth’s rap sheet looks something like this:-
Sarah Records recording artist- GUILTY
Appearance on Buffy The Vampire Slayer soundtrack alongside The Breeders, Dandy Warhols & Laika – GUILTY
Member of Trembling Blue Stars, Charlie Big Time, Occasional Keepers – GUILTY
Currently rocking our musical world in The Luxembourg Signal – GUILTY
We should also point out that our resident Sarah Records bingo caller has yet to call out numbers 93 or 97, so expect to see more of Beth in our social media world in the foreseeable future.
Considering the above and that Beth has been a big supporter of EIO40, she seemed a natural choice as the subject of our inaugural A View From The Stage Q&A.
So let’s see what Beth had to say for herself. We should clarify though that the footy season hadn’t actually started at the time of the interview (this will make sense at some point)
1) Where did you grow up?
I was born in Los Angeles but bounced between Florida and California so grew up between the two. When I moved back to California (Palm Desert) after 7-8 years in Southern Florida, I had a pretty fancy Southern accent. It’s sadly gone now and alternates between L.A. and Croydon. Croydon if I’m really angry.
2) What posters did you have on your bedroom wall as a teenager?
Early teens would have been Duran Duran and Nik Kershaw, mid to late teens was The Jesus & Mary Chain, Skinny Puppy, The Ocean Blue, The Telescopes, Primal Scream, Pale Saints, The Pastels, Trashcan Sinatras, Loop, The Wonderstuff, The Smiths, Bauhaus and more Mary Chain.
A few years ago, my mother proclaimed at a family dinner that I “loved Guns and Roses” and had a “massive poster” on my wall in high school. After nearly choking on pizza I got to the bottom of the memory failure. She confused my JAMC “Blues from a Gun” with “Guns & Roses”. Easily done I suppose.
3) What was the first record you bought?
I was given sympathy pocket money when I had my braces put on and I remember going to the record shop in the Tampa Bay Center and buying 3 singles: Queen of Hearts by Juice Newton, Sail On by The Commodores and Modern Love by David Bowie. I still have the Bowie 45 hanging on my wall, sans cover.
4) What moment made you want to become a singer/artist/musician?
Sadly I’m none of those things, but as a child, watching and listening to The Monkees as well as The Bugaloos and The Wombles made me want to give it a shot, or at least hang out with people who are… Musicians, not Wombles, though that would be cool.
5) How much did you get paid for your first gig?
My memory is so shite. I seriously can’t remember. Probably nothing. It would have been a battle of the bands thing at the high school I went to, and the prize was a demo recording session (in some dude’s garage) or, a gig at The Huntington Beach Library. My memories might be Replicant implants but I think that one was with The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and I think the lead singer dropped trou. I remember seeing a willy anyway. Again, might be a false memory or a very bad dream.
6) Do you have a particularly memorable gig you performed at?
Most of the early ones were non-events at cafes but Trembling Blue Stars playing with The Ocean Blue was pretty freaking special. I’d seen them so many times and love them to bits so to see them there in the audience as we played was about as special as it gets.
Mind you, Indietracks festival recently was pretty freaking memorable; for all the best reasons. The Luxembourg Signal are all great friends and it was an honour to sing Johnny’s amazing songs in such a cool place. There were owls, and pizza, and trains, and we played on the indoor stage which I think was where they used to store the trains. Such a great experience and the feedback has been so amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a gig as much as indietracks. I’m welling up over here…
7) Who would you most like to perform with on stage?
Well, I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to perform as a guest with The 49 Americans as well as The Dentists so I’ll say, Jim Reid. Not as The Jesus & Mary Chain as I don’t want to contaminate that stew, but maybe if he did a solo something. That so isn’t going to happen though as I met him backstage recently at a Mary Chain gig and I had one hell of a whitey. I think I ran.
8) What is the best venue you have played at?
Indietracks with The Luxembourg Signal, no contest, but Fritz’s Corner in Stockholm (with Trembling Blue Stars) would be a close second.
9) What song would you most like to have written (not your own)?
Anything by The Dentists (nothing can come close to those songs man), or anything by The Jam. Maybe Weightlifting or Send for Henny by The Trashcan Sinatras; total corkers. I don’t write my own stuff anymore anyway; it’s not safe, nothing is sacred. People release your stuff and do whatever the hell they want to your lyrics and vocals without even asking. It’s safer to just sing great songs that other people write for me!
10) If you weren’t a singer/artist/musician what would have been?
A personal assistant; oh, wait….
11) What are you listening to at the moment? Any recommendations?
My favourite current band from The UK is called Treasures of Mexico, which is Mark Matthews from The Dentists, along with Bob from The Dentists and Russ from Secret Affair. The album (Holding Pattern) is available as a download on Shelflife and is just total great pop. We (The Luxembourg Signal), have some amazing label mates on Shelflife and if you’ve not heard The Fireworks, check them out too!
I’ve become a bit obsessed with the Medway scene lately and also love Words Beginning With X (another Mark Matthews band with Dave Read from The Claim on lead vocals and Russ Baxter from Secret Affair on drums) as well as Bob Collins and The Full Nelson (Bob from The Dentists), Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society, The Galileo 7 (him from The Prisoners), Theatre Royal, The Sine Waves (ex- Dentists drummer) These Guilty Men (another ex-Dentists drummer), & The Love Family.
The Treasures Of Mexico – Stars
12) What are you up to at the moment?
Coming down from a great min-tour with The Luxembourg Signal (who are working on new songs at the moment) and counting down the days until football season kicks off again!! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!
One of our favourite songs of 2017 has been Kosmonaut’s beautifully haunting Beta Band-esque “Canada” and in the normal course events we would be plotting a way to get this acknowledgment to the wider world. Thankfully we received some timely assistance in the form of regular EIO40 reviewer Esther (@myrtleleaf) who declared her affection for the Kosmonaut album from which Canada came and offered to review said album. “Job done”, as they say.
By way of a quick intro Kosmonaut hail from North East England and are Stephen Maughan (ex-Bulldozer Crash) and Geoff Suggett (ex-Lavender Faction), Malcolm Reay (ex-Gravy Train and currently AKA Mala Reay).
Every now and then I come across a band and wonder how they hovered under my radar for so long. The first Kosmonaut song I heard was the wonderful “Never Realised’ a few years ago on one of Wally Salem’s pop compilations “Into The Jet Stream of Pop”.
Kosmonaut had previously released singles on the Matinée, Firestation and Cloudberry labels, now how did I miss that? (I also didn’t realise that even earlier, it was Stephen Maughan who published the famed This Almighty Pop! fanzine. I hadn’t yet connected the dots so a big thanks to Wally)
Incidentally, Kosmonaut have just released a compilation of early singles and other tracks first time on CD also worth seeking out on Bandcamp.
But on to Misfits On The Horizon, which is an album about life, playful yet contemplative. Musically there’s a balance of jangly and fuzzy guitars with keyboards and synths, along with great harmonies. Each song is solid on its own that all nine tracks have had radio play.
“Silver Star” is a great album opener, and has been compared to Teenage Fanclub, there’s no better comparison. The sublime “Losing Friends” is a favourite, with its booming drums kicking in at the start, along with glockenspiel and some great guitar lines. The song has a very Wall Of Sound feel which I love. “Winter Sun” with synths and acoustic guitar is beautiful and wistful.
“Dive in Blind” has a great melody, and is sparse with synths at the forefront, reminding me of early Looper. “Debbie Harry’s Smile” is perfect indie pop with its hand claps and fuzzy guitars.
And so it is that Kosmonaut have been crafting songs long enough to know how to put together an album of diverse songs that guarantees to stay in rotation. There’s been a lot of great releases this year, and this is easily one of them
You can purchase the Kosmonaut “Misfits On The Horizon” here (available on CD)
A native of California, a wife and mother of two, Esther can be found escaping onto Twitter as @myrtleleaf to tweet about music, a life-long passion. She still mostly lives in the past. _____________________________________________________________________________________
Thank you to Esther for a another wonderful review.
Watch out for further reviews, whether it’s re-issues or new releases. If you would like to review something yourself, you know where to find us.
The Band Of Holy Joy Funambulist We Love You Tiny Global
“Bring back those days” harks the refrain throughout ‘A Revivalist Impulse’, the opening track from The Band of Holy Joy’s latest long player Funambulist We Love You.
BoHJ have been ploughing their own unique furrow of alternative music for well over three decades now and there is still no need for them to succumb to the revivalist impulse about which they sing. For sure the band has changed, evolved over time, with singer and lyricist Johny Brown the one constant in a co-operative that has seen as many ups and downs as a trainee tightrope walker. However, this does not mean that the band’s best days are behind them; far from it.
Funambulist is a joyous record, as close to pop as BoHJ will possibly ever get, with the lyrical qualities and thematic support for the unlikely prevalent in the earliest recordings of the band still very much to the forefront. Here is a joyous collection of songs that finds Johny and his colleagues timelessly contemporary. The scratchy, patchy instrumentation of yore has been supplanted by a tighter, more conventional approach but the atmospheres remain the same.
There may be only eight tracks on the long-player, but the record is very much an ‘album’ as opposed to a collection of eight songs which in itself is something of a rarity these days. Lyrically Johny remains on top form, with subtle twists and turns when least expected (“You’re going to walk away from me” he sings on The Song Of Casual Indifference; “What can I do to make you stay/Away?”), whilst melodically the eponymous album closer is as beautiful as the band have ever written.
Perhaps Johny is writing about his vision of BoHJ in To Leave Or Remain when he sings “Nothing in this entire universe ever perishes/This thing may pass into that and that into this/Yet the sum of things remains unchanged”? There are certainly some metaphorical truths to be found in the album, and as The Band of Holy Joy stand high above the rooftops here, I too hope they don’t fall.
You can purchase “Funambulist We Love You” or check out BoHJ via the following links
After spending the best part of twenty five years trying to write the perfect pop song John Hartley has turned his attention to writing about those who have done a much better job at it. He tweets as @JohnyNocash and gives away his music, generally for free. He is currently raising money to support men’s mental health charity CALM (@theCALMzone) at http://brokendownrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-broken-heed
The Salient Braves Delusions of Grandeur Broken Down Records
After three EPs, well-received by those in the know, Barnsley indie pop outfit The Salient Braves return with their debut album on vinyl. Backed with a crowdfunding effort, it was released on September 22, 2017 by Broken Down Records. It’s a treat for the ears once again, marrying great melodies and guitar pop with songwriter Matt Bailey’s lyrical wit.
The gritty cover art and tracklist suggests there’s more of the familiar theme of social injustice. There’s clever wordplay on everything from depression and mental illness to addiction and domestic violence, but you wouldn’t necessarily take notice at first. Trademark harmonies, chiming guitars, and brass are at the forefront of the songs. Standout track “They Must’ve Seen Me Coming” in my opinion, is destined to become a classic indie pop tune.
The album is given musical balance with the dreamy My Alter Ego. And on the somber but stately Bangkok (think McCarthy) there are gorgeous strings laced throughout, but you soon find out that a relationship found on holiday doesn’t end well for him. The record finishes with the aptly titled Evening All (Satchmo’s Song). It starts off with a simple bass and piano, with the song continuing to build until Matt reads off a list all that Louis Armstrong did not get right with the world. Pure genius.
Thankfully, as I’ve stated before, The Salient Braves continue to wear their influences on their sleeves. This is one of the year’s finest releases, if done so with little fanfare. You’ll want to add this to your record collection and file it alongside the likes of The Wedding Present, The June Brides, The Brilliant Corners, The Smiths, you get the idea. A record that harks back to the golden era of indie pop but remains relevant in today’s complicated world
A native of California, a wife and mother of two, Esther can be found escaping onto Twitter as @myrtleleaf to tweet about music, a life-long passion. She still mostly lives in the past. ________________________________________________________________________________
Thank you to Esther for a another wonderful review.
Watch out for further reviews, whether it’s re-issues or new releases. If you would like to review something yourself, you know where to find us.