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
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 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.
It is barely conceivable that purveyors of alternative and indie pop music will not have come across The Band of Holy Joy in some shape or form since their first musical releases into the public domain in the early 1980s when they began life in New Cross, London.
The main vehicle of Johny Brown’s musical vision are still very much going strong. A box set of early recordings released on the Flim Flam Label has just been released and, this October, The Band of Holy Joy release a brand new long-player ‘Funambulist We Love You’. We caught up with Johny in a café-cum-bicycle repair shop to talk about past, present and future.
EIO40: Let’s begin sort of at the beginning; on the 2011 album ‘How To Kill A Butterfly’ you sing about the North “why I Ieft I’ll never understand”. You must have left North Shields at the age of around 20 to come down to London; what were you thinking?
Johny Brown: “I just drifted down here. I came down to make music because there was no scene in Newcastle, there never had been a scene in Newcastle. I had friends down here who were making music and making art and I just happened down. I ended up in a big squat with loads of like-minded musicians and artists.
I used to come down to London from the age of 15, 16, bunking on trains to come to gigs and I sort of came down for a week, then a couple of weeks and sort of ended up living down here. I love Newcastle and I’ve got strong, strong ties with Newcastle but for what I wanted to achieve the action was down here.
EIO40:Those strong ties might explain why you returned to take part in The Great North Run a couple of years ago. That must have been quite something, running through the streets of your hometown?
Johny Brown: I did a run in London a few years ago, round The Strand and it was great; Sunday morning, the streets were all blocked off and I thought ‘This is great’. So I thought the next run I’ll do is The Great North Run, across the bridge. I thought it was running by the river, you know. But you get on it [The bridge] and you cannot move, it’s a crawl and once you cross the bridge it’s like a motorway down to South Shields and you can’t see a thing. But then you hit this hill and it’s ‘Wow! You can see the sea’ and then I was flagging a bit and there’s my home town North Shields, the Priory at Tynemouth… It’s just awesome.
EIO40:The Band of Holy Joy have certainly been prolific at times; 1984 to 1992 and then from 2008. What happened in the gap and at what point did you worry that you might have to get what my dad would call a ‘proper’ job?
Johny Brown:I got a proper job 10 years ago; that’s funded the band to keep going. I managed to avoid any gainful employment until 2008. A lot of the 1990s went by in a blur. I was quite footloose and fancy free. But in 2001 I had a brain tumour and I crashed. That’s when the band went out the window. The band went out of the window first of all cause we’d been touring endlessly for fifteen years, guys living in each other’s pockets. It’s not nice, you need a break.
Then we got back together, played a few gigs and it was going quite well but it wasn’t what I really wanted. And then I had the brain tumour and for two years was in quite a bad place. I was still writing my plays and DJing and then I crashed big time. And that’s when I got a job, and took the band back in hand.
EIO40:How much of the experience with the brain tumour influenced your creativity?
Johny Brown: None. Absolutely none. It did drive us towards working for MENCAP, wanting to do something useful with my life. I’d been on tour for twenty, thirty years, I didn’t have a clue. I started to do some DJ workshops for the Elfrida Society. I didn’t know what a learning disability was, but I really loved it. I soon saw that the energy I’d been putting into running the band and looking after twelve nutters on tour, as far as looking after needy people, I saw that I could direct and channel all my energies into working with people with learning disabilities and making their lives a bit more worthwhile.
My whole thing is social inclusion, it always has been, and this is social inclusion on a really meaningful scale. Giving people the chance to do things that I’ve done; I’ve had a great life, lived the life I’ve wanted to live, and I’m giving something back now.
EIO40: Wikipedia lists about 40 different members of the band over its history. Has it always been a collective, on an easy-come easy-go basis, or are you just The Fall’s Mark E Smith in disguise?
Johny Brown:I’m the anti-Mark E Smith! If someone wants to be in the band they’re in the band; if somebody leaves someone else comes, it’s just the joy of playing with people. I don’t think I’ve ever sacked anyone from the band… I think I sacked Karel a few times – the violin player – but he always sort of clawed back. The band started as a social thing, and more and more people came and joined us: “oh, you can play trombone, come and join the band.” Having said that, the line-up we’ve had for the past five years has been pretty stable.
The band had always been a cooperative, people had an equal say, whereas this time I wanted to pay for it myself and have more of a vision in the band. It’s still an equal share between six people but I’m a lot more focussed than I used to be. Now we bring out about an album every year that sell about 300 copies and when we do our CD-r’s they sell about 100 copies and it’s great: we’ve got our own little audience.
We’ve never really been in step with anything; we feel a kinship with the indie world, we’re on a level with The Bitter Springs, The Blue Orchids now and The Nightingales and that’s just a really great place to be.
EIO40:How did the collapse of Rough Trade affect you as a band?
Johny Brown:I’m really not sure… We had the option to do a third album with them, but I’ve got a feeling Geoff would have ditched us I think. I don’t think ‘Positively Spooked’ sold as many as he would have liked us to have sold. It sold quite a few, we were on track and in retrospect is was quite good.
Rough Trade folded, Geoff wiped the debt off we had a publishing deal with Chrysalis who let us use their studio and we amassed about 30-40 songs, 10 of which went into ‘Tracksuit Vendetta’ and it was ex-Rough Trade staff who set up Ecuador Records but it didn’t happen, ‘Tracksuit Vendetta’, for whatever reason. Then we sort of dwindled out… but during that time we toured Russia twice, we played around the world.
EIO40:After ‘Tracksuit Vendetta’ everything seemed to go quiet. One of the most appealing factors of The Band of Holy Joy was its disparate nature and there was nothing to fill the gap.
Johny Brown: There came a time I think where the NME just tightened up. The moment The Stone Roses came along it was game over. I’ve never really been able to explain it, but from then on everything became ‘format’, all with the eye on success whereas we really were a cry of pain, a cry of perversity and pleasure from the back of beyond.
EIO40: You got involved in the soundtrack to the ‘McLibel’ film. How did that come about?
Johny Brown:Franny was the drummer in the Holy Joy, basically, so when she made the film she used the music from Holy Joy tracks. Alf mixed them in the studio, took the vocals out and used them as backing tracks. I was hardcore vegan at the time, about four members of the band were vegan, Franny was vegan, I had friends who were A.L.F. Franny made the film, she was absolutely committed.
EIO40:As well as leading The Band of Holy Joy, you’ve written plays and have a radio show, Bad Punk [on London community arts radio station Resonance FM]. How does that come together; is it a similar process to putting an album together?
Johny Brown:It’s totally different. Me and James do it every Friday night. We do soundscapes, we bring actors in and writers, poets, and they do text over our soundscapes. We just take our favourite records – African funk music, Egyptian jazz, punk rock, put it all together and its just us having fun.
And then every now and again I’ll do a proper radio show, bring someone on and interview them. I’ve been doing it for fifteen years. It was one of the first things that gave me focus after my brain tumour. Every Friday night I’d do a show. They gave me a month of Fridays and said if you’re good you can do it.
And Resonance… it’s the best radio station in the world and I really enjoy it. I love radio. I’ve set up a radio station with MENCAP down the road so they can present their own radio shows. Its great, they’re communicating, their confidence grows.
EIO40:How did the collaboration with The Bitter Springs arise?
Johny Brown: I’ve no idea. I’ve really no i… actually, I do know: we’ve got an uber-fan in New York whose absolutely obsessed with The Band Of Holy Joy and he’s also obsessed with The Bitter Springs and he’s also obsessed with Morten Valance. He paid for us to go to New York about ten years ago and he introduced us to The Bitter Springs. I’d never heard them and I loved it. I like that strain of English bohemian, literary but quite working class music. That’s my bottom line.
EIO40:The new album ‘Funambulist We Love You’ sounds a very joyous record; the most seamless and coherent album you’ve released.
Johny Brown:Absolutely. We’ve been working towards this for the past ten years. ‘Love Never Fails’ was a smorgasbord of different sounds but I want albums to be really streamlined, to say something and be distinct from the last album. And I love making albums, I still believe in albums. If I was 21 I’d be making 23 second songs, thinking that would be it. This album we’re starting to nail it, and hopefully the next album we will nail it. ‘Funambulist’ is us making a nice poppy indie record.
EIO40:So what can we expect over the next few years from The Band of Holy Joy?
Johny Brown:I don’t know. I really don’t know. We’re going to make an electronic album, I know that; that’s on the cards. We’re going to make a ‘More Favourite Fairytales’ 4 or 5 which will purely be about London, now. But there’ll also be another album like ‘Funambulist’, which is more poetic and pop. The radio show will go on.
EIO40:After all the trials and tribulations along the way it seems as though now The Band of Holy Joy are right where they want to be?
Johny Brown: We’ve found a level we can work in. There’s no big expectations but we have the work ethic which allows us to do that, yes. We’re still curious, we still want to make really good records, and that’s the bottom line.
The Band of Holy Joy’s new album ‘Funambulist We Love You’ is released on Tiny Global Productions on October 27th and is available for pre-order here
‘The Clouds That Break The Sky’, a 3-disc box set of early studio albums is out now on Tiny Global Productions.
A plethora of recordings by The Band of Holy Joy can be found at bandofholyjoy.bandcamp.com
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
In this regular feature we ask the Everything Indie Over 40 social media community to help us compile a top ten list of a chosen topic. Our resident curator John Hartley (@JohnyNocash) then ponders, disects and finally supplies the narrative.
In this edition:-
The Indie Top Ten Songs about Dads
Fathers, eh? Where would we be without ‘em? Same place we’d be without mothers, to be fair. The Indie Top Ten Songs About Dads was launched on Fathers’ Day. For the grammar pedants amongst you, I’ve put that apostrophe there on purpose, to represent the day belonging to all fathers, even though I wished my own particular dad a happy father’s day, as the day I was expressing my hopes for referred to him.
I didn’t get my grammar specificity from him; much more likely it was from my English graduate mum. I did suggest to EIO40HQ that we do a Mothers’ Day Top Ten but of course being a man, by the time I got round to suggesting it the moment had gone. Maybe next year. A significant proportion of the EIO40 community appear to be men, but in case you’re reading this and you’re not a man then I promise to try to be less tardy next year.
Anyhow, with all of the above in mind it is only natural that proceedings should commence with Weddings Parties Anything’s song ‘Father’s Day’, as suggested by @chumpski
What makes a father? As anyone who has watched a soap opera for a few weeks will be able to testify, there will always be a difference between the biological and the sociological aspects of fatherhood. Sometimes both roles are carried out by the same person; sometimes they are not. Whichever, this Top Ten is dedicated to the male person in your life who has filled the role you have most desired them to fill. It may indeed also be dedicated to you; as Welsh indie heroes Gorkys Zygotic Mynci noted, ‘Sometimes The Father Is The Son’, which was@tfdefence nomination. This title in itself could quite easily be the seedy storyline to a soap opera. However, I’d like to think it refers to those members of our community who are, like me, both father and son.
My own father was born in Ince, near Wigan, and started his career as a tailor’s cutter. When he retired a few years ago his employment was as an embalmer. There was a quiet satisfaction that he had managed to maintain his sewing skills throughout his working life, even if the things he was sewing together changed a little in between times. This year was the first time in over twenty years I got to wish him a Happy Father’s Day in person. His own dad (and therefore my grandad of course) died climbing down a mountain in the Lake District at the ripe old age of 79 in the early 1990s. It seemed quite old then, less so nowadays.
Anyway, in tribute to my dad’s dad, and all the other dads my own dad helped to look their best once they’d passed into wherever it is they have passed to, here’s the suggestion made by @rs1334‘Daddy’s Gone To Heaven Now’ by The Mission.
In a tale I have often bored readers of my writings with, it was down to my dad that I ended up indie. I suppose I may well have ended up there anyway eventually, given my mum’s propensity for the alternative, but it was a chance encounter with The Mighty Lemon Drops on the radio in the car as I travelled home from a Bolton Wanderers match that drew me into the circle of friends and their musical tastes that was to shape my record-buying future.
At the time my dad’s car was a blue Vauxhall Cavalier. I was fifteen, and it was the first car we’d had since I was six when, to help afford the new house my parents had bought, he decided it would be more cost effective to get the train to work and sold our dark turquoise Hillman Avenger.
Luckily for me I didn’t grow up with The Divine Comedy. If I had, then their excellent song ‘Your Daddy’s Car’ – the one put forward for inclusion by @call_me_cynical – might have been about my daddy’s car which would mean it coming to a rather unsavoury end decorating a local Oak or Sycamore.
My own children can also rest assured that it wasn’t written about their father’s car either. I don’t own one; indeed, somewhat controversially, I have not only never owned one but have never even driven one anywhere ever. The closest I have come is revving the engine in the garage to keep the battery ticking over when my dad was laid low with an abscess once.
I have often been asked why this state of affairs has come to be. It is only recently that I realised perhaps the lyrics of Half Man Half Biscuit have been a subliminal influence: “Dad can I have another pear drop/Dad can I have another drink/Dad how deep d’you reckon that is/Dad are we nearly there yet?” is the breathless questioning of a child in the back of a motorway-travelling car in the song ‘M6ster’.
I cannot begin to imagine how distracting that must be for a father who is trying to avoid being squeezed between a horn-blaring petrol tanker on one side and a caravan of caravans on the other. Although ‘M6ster’ does not qualify for this Top Ten, HMHB’s later single ‘Look Dad No Tunes’ most certainly does, so thank you to @bringitonskippyfor suggesting it.
Next up in our Top Ten is Pavement, with ‘Father To A Sister Of Thought’, which was the choice of @cjl_73. By way of an aside, this song will forever be the song that made me realise that the pedal steel guitar was not exclusively the remit of those willing to bring the musical world into disrepute. It also made me wonder how it could remotely be relevant to a narrative about my dad. I love my sister dearly, but I am sure she would be the first to agree that she is not one of life’s great thinkers.
She and I are very different; despite sharing the same parents, same family home and same small northern hometown for 20 years we have very different tastes in food, music, humour… we don’t even have the same accent, bizarrely. Then I realised maybe it is I who is the father to a sister of thought.
Nocashette Jr, about to head off into the world of Higher Education to study sociology, is the very same three year old who looked out of the train window as we approached a dank and drizzly Manchester and said unrehearsed “Dad, what does ‘grim’ mean?” (This philosophical outlook wasn’t a one-off. Later in her life, and still before teenage years, she handed me a slip of scrap paper as I worked on school reports amidst the general chaos a houseful of young children brings. “What does ‘exasperated’ mean?” it read. I’ve still got that scrap of paper, lest I ever forget…)
Those of us who have chosen to become fathers will of course be familiar with the trials and tribulations which accompany being a responsible adult. These are often counterbalanced by the simple pleasures that can be brought about by our offspring. Their first word (‘mama’), the emergence of their first tooth (detected upon the edge of an index finger) and of course the first steps. “Come To Daddy” will be the pleading request of the father trying desperately to impress the relatives who have dropped in to say hello.
The reality of course is that the child will make a beeline for mummy. It’s just one of those crosses we men must bear. Conveniently enough, ‘Come To Daddy’ is also the title of a song by Aphex Twin, brought to our attention by @preservation76.
The role of father is often attributed to the presence of authority. The ‘father’ in the Christian church is the ultimate authority for those who believe: there is to be no messing with him, although he is supposed to be quite big on forgiveness if you do transgress.
There is similarly no mucking about with Old Father Time, unless of course you are Marty McFly but even that doesn’t necessarily end well. ‘Time waits for no man’, is the rather gender-specific old saying, and those 1970s working men’s club comedians amongst the readership of this site can insert their own punchline. There is plenty of muck in London’s famous river though, colloquially known as ‘Old Father Thames’. I’m not sure why fathers are always old, but there you go.
Anyway, with the role of authority figure comes the necessity to command attention and respect, usually through a deep, booming vocal presence. ‘Don’t Make Fun Of Daddy’s Voice’, suggests Morrissey in the song offered by @daznixon1989.
My children don’t make fun of my voice, I’m pleased to say. They do however mock my flat northern vowels. “Dad, say rarft” they implore in their southern accents. “RAFT”, I reply to smirks; the fatherly freakshow never fails to amuse.
I referred earlier to my dad’s dad, my grandad, who everyone knew as Billy. We did too, but not to his face. I remember his look of incredulity on seeing I had had my ear pierced whilst in my first year at University. It was still fashionable then, although I had to reassure him that just because I had a bit of metal in my lobe didn’t mean I was going to start throwing bricks through windows.
I did not confess, however, to an earlier life of crime which I am sure would have been an affront to his Methodist sensibilities (not that they ever stopped him enjoying a pint, mind). And whilst my answer to the question – posed in song by Dear Mr. President and nominated by @Clive_Stringer – “Hey Daddy Have You Ever Been Arrested?” would be an honest ‘No’, I still occasionally feel pangs of guilt for my part in the heist of a bag of plastic 5p pieces from the school maths cupboard, the entirety of which was used to fleece the village shop of the contents of its bubble gum machine. The owners sold up not long afterwards; I hope they didn’t go bankrupt.
On that bombshell, it is perhaps time to bring this Top Ten to a close. If I carry on writing who knows what other controversies and outrages might reveal themselves? I’m well aware that we all have skeletons in our closet but rest assured, at least I have never run through fields of wheat. Not knowingly, anyway. So, whether biological or emotional, living or dead, good or bad, there is no escaping we all owe our existence to a father, and what better way to bring proceedings to a close than this titular tribute suggested by @Axels96 and @clanofginger: here’s Stump with ‘Our Fathers’.
One of the overriding principles that underpins Everything Indie Over 40 is to encourage positivity when it comes to interacting about music. It’s the code of practice that embodies everything we do. From the simple sharing of songs to the features we run on social media and the articles and reviews we publish. There is enough hate going on in the world at the moment and we are certainly not going to contribute to it.
Which is why we normally shy away from getting involved in anything that we feel may be in conflict with our established principles. Gig Night, by it’s very nature, embodies those principles. A feature whereby a gig-goer, a fan, could write about a special night seeing their heroes in action. Why would it be anything other than benevolent?
However, as we all know, it is not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes your heroes can let you down.
When we read Tracey Bowen‘s review of a Mark Eitzel gig we couldn’t help but be moved by her account of what was clearly a night that held so much promise and high expectation for her, but that ultimately left her feeling emotionally confused. We saw no negativity in the context of our carefully preserved principles. There was no hate here. Just raw feelings beautifully articulated and drawn straight from the heart. As far as we were concerned it had to be shared.
So with principles firmly set aside, here is Tracey’s Gig Night review of Mark Eitzel at The Fleece Bristol in March 2017
You’d think, with a set book-ended by ‘Blue and Grey Shirt’ and ‘Western Sky’, that I’d be happy. But happy is relative. Relative to how drunk Mark Eitzel is and how far he will go to downplay his own genius in a room full of people who were quite certain of it when they set out at the start of the evening. Tonight, despite him swearing the plastic pint glass of red wine is half water, Eitzel appears pretty drunk and hell-bent on self-sabotage.
Believe me, Eitzel is in fine voice tonight. I’m thrilled to hear songs from his new album ‘Hey Mr Ferryman’, released mere days before this gig, live for the first time. The self-analysing lyrics of songs like ‘The Last Ten Years’, ‘An Answer’ and ‘Mr Humphries’ lend themselves well to the intimate setting of this diminutive Bristol bar. They sit seamlessly alongside his majestic back-catalogue. As for the old songs, I don’t think I’ve heard a more delicately rendered version of ‘Apology for an Accident’ as tonight. And it’s a joy to hear ‘Jesus’ Hands’, a song he’s long neglected on solo outings.
It’s a shame that we’re not to be treated, as the London crowd will, to a guest appearance from Bernard Butler. Butler produced (and played much of the music) on the new record and has been credited for its lush arrangements. But Butler’s absence doesn’t detract from the enjoyment. No, it’s Eitzels’ between song banter that does that. It breaks the spell. Breaks an unwritten agreement between performer and audience.
He announces his entrance on stage tonight as “Club Firefly – the premier Mark Eitzel and American Music Club tribute band” and proceeds to introduce his current backing band as Vudi, Danny and Tim (members of the classic AMC line-up – and definitely not present tonight). The Fleece is a popular venue for tribute bands and I suppose this was part of their pre-show tomfoolery, that they’re a tribute act rather than authentic. So we laugh; a joke between friends. Only he doesn’t leave it there. He stays in character for the rest of the performance (and believe me, a performance it is). It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s parody. And I guess that’s what he intends.
In-between heart-rending and heart-stopping renditions of American Music Club and solo output, he acts out the part of a fanboy who has direct access to the most intimate details of Eitzel’s personal life, spinning anecdotes of conversations with Eitzel from rehab, adopting a laboured raspy voice to denote the real Mark who tells us what a particular song meant to him. More facade, another mask, another cheap laugh at his own expense. Songs from the new album which they are, of course, here to promote, are introduced as “Club Firefly’s own material”.
Am I being po-faced or is the joke wearing thin? The girl behind me in the crowd doesn’t think so. She gasps and laughs in all the right moments; dutifully coos “beautiful” in a breathy voice as the last note of each song fades away. 20 years ago, hell maybe even as recently as ten, that girl would have been me; hanging on his every word and swooning with wonder even as he writhed and squirmed uncomfortably under the spotlight. But the self-deprecating act becomes tiresome eventually and I wonder where along the line he lost me, when my heart hardened beyond the point he could break it any more, when I became impervious to his words.
I realise now that parody is the new real. Club Firefly are post-parody. It allows Eitzel to treat his songs with contempt without having to take the blame. In another imagined phone call from rehab, Mark tells the Club Firefly singer to “play that song that means so much to me”. So they play the impossibly beautiful ‘Firefly’ to a hungrily appreciative and open-mouthed crowd.
I’ve thought for years that Eitzel displays an astonishing lack of respect toward his own body of work in a live setting. Maybe it’s my problem and I need to get over myself. Where do I get off thinking the songs belong in any way to me? But where does he get off behaving like they don’t? Is the “professional singer and ham” role the only way he can take something so personal on the road? If so, why bother? Because it pays the bills? I seriously doubt it does. Because he can’t do anything else? Possibly. Probably. But it’s clear the generally held reverence doesn’t sit easy with him. Never has. And perhaps his work here is done because I might finally be over my hero-worship of Eitzel the man if not the singer. Might finally let him down from his impossibly high pedestal. So here’s the deal: while the guy on stage pretends to be Mark Eitzel, I’ll pretend to be the girl behind me. We can both suspend our disbelief, just until the end of the gig. But we’ll both end up feeling like frauds. At best, it’s catharsis by proxy. At worst, an episode of Game For a Laugh gone wrong, “watching us, watching you, watching us, watching you”.
Early on in the set, he very nearly kicked that plastic glass of wine over, lurching perilously close to the edge of the stage whilst comically trying to unstick his setlist from the sole of his shoe. It was both a tragic and hilarious farce. You couldn’t write this stuff. Or if you could, it’d be the best Mark Eitzel tribute song never written.
Tracey Bowen is a yoga-loving computer programmer from Birmingham, now living in Tamworth, the ancient capital of Mercia.
She plays an odd assortment of instruments (accordion, omnichord, melodica & glockenspiel) for sometime pop-folk outfit Driven Like the Snow and has just embarked on a new lo-fi drone project with the singer/guitarist from Avrocar.
She can be found on Twitter at @INeedDirection usually very late at night tweeting maudlin indie nostalgia.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Tracey’s gig night. We would love to hear about your own gig experiences whether they are recent or in the past. Please contact us if you would like to contribute, via email email@example.com or Twitter @IndieOver40