Sunday, 29 August 2021

Poem: "You Upset The Grace Of Living"



YOU UPSET THE GRACE 

OF LIVING WHEN YOU LIE: 

LETTERS THE DEAD DISPATCH 


‘the singing of the song 
sustained an echo of the life…’ 
 (Tim Hardin 1940 – 1980)
 

you say 
you hear voices 
in your head, 
and that 
one of them, is mine… 

but if poems 
encrypt the lives 
of the poet 
& we write to 
retrieve and revise 
 our self-deceptions 
of the past… 

if memory, 
and the things that 
memory retains, 
are the way we 
make sense of love 

it seems 
this poem I’m writing 
is all about the you 
I hear in my head, 
a poem of that past, 
and the promises 
we failed to keep 

perhaps 
if we listen together, 
the voices we hear 
might help us invent 
new futures






Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Interview: Saint Etienne



SAINT ETIENNE: 

BEYOND ‘THE HEART 

OF DARKNESS’ … 

INTO ‘PALE MOVIES’ 


Sarah Cracknell is the starlet of Saint Etienne. But 
are they just smooth Retro plagiarists? And would 
they smash their guitars in a remake of ‘Blow-Up’?



 
You out there, reading this Blog, come closer. Closer. Now prepare yourself for a shock. When Sarah Cracknell swears, you tend to notice. 

‘I’m really into the film ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979). That’s one of my favourite films, and it’s based on Joseph Conrad’s book’ she explains brightly. ‘The funny thing is, when I opted to read it on Radio One I didn’t realise how difficult it is to actually read out loud. It’s just m-a-s-s-i-v-e sentences with loads of commas. And you’re trying to find out what the point of the sentence is, in the sentence-structure, while you’re reading it. You end up just going BLUUUURGH. It ended up with me going ‘yes, and blah blah blah – SHIT! BOLLOCKS!!!,’ and they had to edit it out.’ 

She giggles delightfully. Sarah has a fractured innocence you last encountered in a Swinging London movie, where ‘bad language’ still tests out the boundaries of what is daring and what is permissible. She’s explaining how she got to read Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Heart Of Darkness’ on Mark Radcliffe’s radio culture-vulture slot. 

So why choose Conrad? Why not John Braine’s ‘Room At The Top’ or Shelagh Delaney’s ‘A Taste Of Honey’, or at least Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’? Something more evocative of the image Saint Etienne tend to evoke. 

‘We’re deeper than we seem’ says Pete Wiggs darkly. Then ‘if I’d done it I would have chosen the ‘Mr Men’ books. I could just about manage those.’ 

It’s almost like the lyrics of “Pale Movies” – ‘he’s so dark and moody, she’s a sunshine girl.’ 

We’re in the dressing room. Leeds Metropolitan University. The gig was a breathtaking movie of sequenced chart contenders, with Sarah in the lead role. The focal point. She’s still wearing the silver-grey mini-skirt and black leather boots she wore on stage. At her throat is a pink heart choker. 

Saint Etienne are named after a French football team. Sarah’s co-conspirators are Bob Stanley, and the aforesaid Pete Wiggs. Together they write knowing and affectionate, engaging and clever love-notes to Pop’s back-catalogue. They are English Popstrels with Euro-kitsch embellishments. Tone, pace, style, and dance-friendly bass-lines. 

She jokes lightly about getting psyched up for the gig. But seems effortlessly at ease on stage. As though it’s her natural environment. 

‘It is’ says Pete. 

‘It is my natural environment’ agrees Sarah with another throwaway giggle. ‘I love live gigs. No, I don’t get nervous. I wasn’t nervous tonight. But I was worried because my voice has been really hoarse. I thought it was – like, going, and I was worried it was just going to pack up altogether.’ A smile of secret intimacy. ‘And I made the fatal mistake of apologising for not having my voice – two songs in, and then thought ‘why did I do that?’’ 

A little gruffness adds a sexy edge to the voice. 

‘Ye-eh’ she concedes. ‘Yeah, when it’s sort-of s-l-o-w.’ Like she’s imagining Barry White doing it. ‘But some of the songs we do are very high and very intricate. Like “Avenue” (a seven-minute track from ‘So Tough’). That’s really one of the difficult ones. But then, I’ve got Debsey and Siobahn to help me out on that.’ Debsey and Siobahn Brookes nod enthusiastically. They wear, by turn – a Sonic the Hedgehog T-shirt, and a sequinned ‘Miss America’ tank-top. But glitter ye not… 



--- 0 --- 
Sarah on the rigours of touring: 
‘Actually we’ve got quite a plush 
tour coach. With a video’ 


‘Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a little nervous about the future’ sez Carter USM. ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ agree Blur. What’s the answer? A retreat into the past? 

Saint Etienne’s show leads in on tapes of Kathy Kirby and Dusty Springfield. Their first album – ‘Fox-Base Alpha’ (1991) opens out into a booklet of liner pin-ups of Marianne Faithful, Monkee Micky Dolenz, and Billy Fury. A year later they sample the film soundtrack from ‘Billy Liar’ (1963) on their second LP ‘So Tough’ (February 1993), ‘…a man could lose himself in London…’ Then they quote Brian Clough as a ‘Folk Hero’ on the sleeve of their compilation ‘You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone’ (November 1993). Meanwhile, the B-side of their no.1 Indie single duet with Charlatan’s Tim Burgess is a cover of Billy Fury’s “My Christmas Prayer”. 

And someone mentions noticing the Small Faces in their set tonight. 

‘The Small Faces were in HERE tonight?’ goggles Pete. 

No. Not in HERE! In one of the slides used in the stage backdrop. 

‘Yes. They were on the slides’ confirms Sarah. ‘There’s a few of those slides which I’ve forgotten about. That’s why I’m sometimes standing with my back to the audience – I’m watching our slides. I was a bit worried tonight though when I was watching the slides. They’d put the word ‘EASY’ above my head. It’s a slide from the ‘Easy Rider’ (1969) movie, but I turned round and, there it was. ‘EASY’ written above my head! That’s not very nice, is it?’ 

‘It’s awful when the truth comes out’ gags Pete. 

Pete initially pacted with Bob Stanley in 1988. Bob was a music journalist whose review of the Lightning Seeds ‘Cloud Cuckooland’ once graced the pages of a leading music paper with the initials ‘MM’. Their first single together, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, was a cover of a Neil Young song, with Moira Lambert contributing guest vocals. It was followed by “Kiss And Make Up”, again a cover version – this time from obscure Indie band Field Mice. The vocalist is Donna Savage. It’s not until the third single – in May 1991, that the Ett’s third vital ingredient falls into place. “Nothing Can Stop Us” c/w “Speedwell” is an original Stanley-Wiggs song, even though it samples Dusty Springfield (“I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”). Sarah Cracknell is the voice, breathy, fragile and pure. 

How many French bands are there named after English football teams? 

‘About twenty’ deadpans Pete. 

Wolverhampton Wanderers? Leeds United? …Chelsea? 

‘Ah – yeah’ joins in Sarah. ‘Don’t dare mention Chelsea. Not in this vicinity.’ She nods at Debsey and Siobahn. ‘I’ll get my scarf out,’ 

‘She’s their no.1 fan!’ 

‘There IS a band called Chelsea’ chips in one of the posse. 

But I know that. It was a joke. 



‘Tiger Bay’ (February 1994), issued in CD, vinyl LP, cassette and digital formats, is Saint Etienne’s best-received album to date. Haunting melodies. Opulent orchestral embellishments. Less scope for the usual press swipes about assorted pastiches and the suspicion of tongues not entirely dislodged from stylish cheeks. The album spin-offs also include a David Holmes dance-floor mix of their Disco-friendly “Like A Motorway”, and a Kris Needs Techno remastering of the “Pale Movie” single – quintessential La-La-La Pop with Spanish guitars and tactile-to-the-touch lyrics about a girl with ‘the softness of cinema seats.’ 

But Saint Etienne are still a ‘concept’ band. 

‘In a way. But that’s because we were all Pop fans. Because we were all into the musical heritage, as it were. We like things that are good from certain periods. And we incorporate them into our music. We don’t go all the way. We don’t want to be a seventies group. Or a sixties group. But there’s certain things about those periods that were really cool. And we can adapt them to modern usage. I think most bands are probably the same to different degrees. Everyone always has. The Rolling Stones – they were using Blues. You use things you like. You try to get elements of what you like into it. We get criticised a bit more than others for that. Just ‘cos we’re not a traditional four-piece group. In the old days it was just guitars and drums. But now – with the technology, it’s more easy to replicate things. Now you can ape things really easily. Rather than just incorporating ideas you can end up copying things totally, perfectly. But we’re never going to do that. We’re just taking certain elements from each particular style.’ 

‘In a way it makes me laugh that the Press has had a bit of a ‘pop’ about how we’re retro and how we’re post-this and post-that’ smiles Sarah. ‘Yet now they’re heralding the New Wave Of The New Wave, and that’s the best thing since sliced bread. I mean – you can’t get more retro than that. But that’s what they’re into at the moment. The Music Papers today. They love all that.’
 


--- 0 --- 
Pete Wiggs on why Saint Etienne have yet to tour 
America: ‘Lack of support from our American 
record company. They’re a bit crap.’ 
Sarah: ‘They’re very crap.’ 


Live, Saint Etienne do “Nothing Can Stop Us Now”. An anthemic declaration of intent. Think Positive – ‘there’s gonna be a storm soon, get ready, ‘cos we’re coming through.’ Then there’s material from ‘Tiger Bay’ – Sarah’s compositions “Marble Lions” and the Poppy seventies-flavoured “Hug My Soul”. She says ‘thank you, you are too kind.’ 

It’s a smooth, flawlessly textured set, opening with the scene-setting instrumental “Urban Clearway”, a track that ‘Q’ magazine describes as ‘wordless sub-techno soundscapes (of) mythical late-nite London’ (April 1994). There’s “Cool Kids Of Death”, a title that’s allegedly a typing error for ‘Cool Kinds Of Death’. But one of the most fascinating titles – “Western Wind”, is a kind of medieval poetry set to (what ‘Select’ calls) an ‘ambient trance Folk ballad.’ Stephen Duffy – of Lilac Time, shares the vocals with Sarah. Then there’s orchestral follies of oboes and cellos chiming with electric guitars of “Former Lover”, a Paul Simon-esque ballad with intriguingly oblique lyrics about ‘Milan, when I was a kitten.’ And there’s more. “On The Shore” has Shara Nelson returning a favour; the Ett’s collaborated on her hit “One Goodbye In Ten”, she sings back-up on ‘Tiger Bay’

Coming off stage Sarah confesses ‘I tried to mention everyone in the band tonight. But I didn’t get everybody.’ As we settle into the dressing room, the omission seems to bother her. Because ‘everybody in the band are friends, ultimately. They begin as friends. And then they end up playing guitar or keyboards.’


 
We talk more movies. Antonioni’s surreal ‘England Swings’ classic ‘Blow-Up’ (1966). ‘It’s kind of pretentious towards the end’ judges Pete. ‘Though it’s still very good. I like the Yardbirds sequence, where Jeff Beck is smashing the guitar in that Club scene.’ 

Could you see Saint Etienne doing that? ‘What? Smashing our guitars?’ 

No, playing in a film sequence of that nature? ‘It’d be great. If there was a movie sequence in a film in the same vein, I’d love for us to do it. But smashing your guitar is a bit corny in a way now, isn’t it? Although back then, in ‘Blow-Up’, it was still a curiosity. Paul did smash his guitar after one of our gigs. And regretted it ever since.’ 

‘Yes’ enthuses Sarah. ‘Instead of being all Rock ‘n’ Roll about it, he was ‘EEEEK, look what I’ve done!!!’ 

‘He burst into tears, ‘WAAAAAAH, what have I done? WHY?’ 

But talking futures, some Saint Etienne pieces sound exactly like music for unmade movies. “Highgate Road Incident” would not sound out of place on the ‘Blow-Up’ soundtrack. Would they like to work in that direction? ‘Yeh’ from Sarah, ‘We’re just waiting for somebody to ask us.’ 

So does she see Saint Etienne as a long-term project? ‘Until we run out ideas. Until we become boring old buggers.’ 

When Sarah Cracknell swears, she does it delightfully… 



Pete Wiggs on Kim & Kelley Deal’s band, the Breeders
‘They’re a bit more of a traditional Rock band, aren’t they? 
I think we’re a bit more like accountants.’ 
Sarah: ‘STEADY…!’




Monday, 16 August 2021

Sixties Bands: THE YOUNG RASCALS




HOW CAN THEY BE SURE? 


Album Review of: 
‘IN RETROSPECT 1966-1969’ 
 by THE (YOUNG) RASCALS 
(vinyl 1986, Atlantic SD 365391, 
CD 1990, Raven RVCD 14)
 



‘Life could be ecstasy, with you and me endlessly,’ in that debut Summer of Lurve, sniggery psychedelic brats who deliberately miss-hear the Rascals “Groovin’” for the first time argue whether vocalist Felix Cavaliere closes the second line with the word ‘endlessly’ or ‘LSD’. Later Ravers would make the same sniggery joke by capitalising the ‘E’ of ‘ecstasy’ that closes the opening line. Felix – an ex-Twist Kid from Joey Dee & The Starliters, disclaims all such druggy inferences. As well he might. The luscious Afro-Cuban glide of “Groovin’”, he confesses, is about sweet erotic not stoned narcotic indulgences. Whatever – bird-song, congas and sunshine harmonica, it remains a high-velocity bullet through the brain of a record. 

The Young Rascals started out as one of a million American answers to the British invasion, better and more fortunate than most. They played to an audience of 56,000, supporting the Beatles at Shea Stadium just six months after forming. From their debut chart nibbler, “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” in January 1966, as journalist David Hepworth later noted, ‘it opens with a sneer and a drum-roll… as (he) rehearses the polished put-downs he intends to call down upon his wayward lover’ (‘Q’, October 1993), with its stinging guitar-break, it becomes track one here. To be followed by the exuberantly attacking blue-eyed Soul no.1 “Good Lovin’”, all the way through to “Carry Me Back” in September 1969, they log fourteen straight U.S. Top Fifty hits for Atlantic, dropping the ‘Young’ prefix roughly midway as their style and status matures. 



They’d started out as a Wop-Bop New Jersey-Italian four-piece playing convincing R&B, while wearing Little Lord Fauntleroy choirboy shirts and knickerbockers in order to visually imprint a ‘rascally’ identity onto a basically unpretentious and non-extrovert band. But, as this twenty-five-track compilation (twenty on the vinyl edition) effortlessly proves, they were no musical slouches. Drummer and co-vocalist Dino Danelli was a graduate of the Lionel Hampton school of swing, blending the Latin and cool Jazz tinges into “Groovin’”. While strong group compositions such as “Heaven” and “People Got To Be Free” show an evolving verve at matching social-aware lyrics to radio-friendly melodies, the latter a rousing plea widely interpreted as a Martin Luther King tribute which sold a clear million singles two decades before U2’s “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”. Whatever its provenance, with non-obtrusive horns and gospel-fused energies, it’s perfectly attuned to the restlessly impatient mood of the times. 

They only went Top Ten once in the U.K., although “A Girl Like You” narrowly grazed the fifty. But ‘in a world that’s constantly changing,’ probably their finest single – “How Can I Be Sure”, treated with waltz-time swirling strings and French accordion, fell foul of cover versions, first done acceptably well by Dusty Springfield, then more successfully and ineptly by the wretched David Cassidy. The Rascals ‘NME’ review at the time said ‘when I tell you that it’s largely waltz-time with an accordion in the backing, you’ll probably shudder. But don’t! Because there’s also a sensitive solo vocal, unmistakeable West Coast harmonies, a strong jazz feeling blended with the waltz rhythm, and deep-throated cellos weaving in and out of the backing.’ 

Meanwhile, after a brief acid phase, the Rascals withdrew. Danelli became a ‘Disciple Of Soul’ for Little Steven Van Zandt’s ‘Men Without Women’ (1982) album, Cavaliere scored a one-off solo hit with “Only The Heart Sees” (in April 1980), Danelli and Canadian guitarist Gene Cornish enjoy a slight revival as half of smooth power-chord rockers Fotomaker, while percussionist Eddie Brigati recorded a “Groovin’” à la Disco, then vanished. But this set is really all that matters. John Cougar Mellancamp tributes the (Young) Rascals as influences, alongside Frankie Lymon and the Shanri-La’s on his hit single “R.O.C.K In The USA”, and in such company is a mighty fine place to be. 

Ecstasy, endlessly. 




Track By Track By Track...

(1) ‘I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore’ (2:46), US no.52, written by Kori Burton & London-born songwriter Pam Sawyer, with Eddie Brigati’s lead talk-vocals 

(2) ‘Slow Down’ (3:14), B-side of (1), cover of the Larry Williams song 

(3) ‘Good Lovin’’ (2:31), US no.1, written by Artie Resnick & Rudy Clark. Originally recorded by the Olympics, and ineptly covered in the UK by Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, the Rascals is the definitive version. 

(4) ‘Mustang Sally’ (4:01), B-side of (3), cover of the Wilson Pickett hit 

(5) ‘You Better Run’ (2:27), US no.20, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere. Covered in the UK by Listen, an early Robert Plant group. 

(6) ‘Come On Up’ (2:45), US no.43, written by Felix Cavaliere 

(7) ‘Love Is A Beautiful Thing’ (2:31), B-side of (5), written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere 

(8) ‘What Is The Reason’ (2:24), B-side of (6), written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere 

(9) ‘I’ve Been Lonely Too Long’ (3:02), US no.16, written by Felix Cavaliere, stabbing keyboard with Motown drum-snap and call-back vocal responses 

(10) ‘Baby Let’s Wait’ (3:20) from 1966 LP ‘The Young Rascals’, written by Kori Burton & Pam Sawyer 

(11) ‘Groovin’’ (2:32), US no.1, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere, bass by Chuck Rainey 

(12) ‘A Girl Like You’ (2:51), US no.10, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere


 
(13) ‘How Can I Be Sure’ (2:54), US no.4, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere 

(14) ‘It’s Wonderful’ (2:35), US no.20, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere 

(15) ‘A Beautiful Morning’ (2:35), US no.3 – first as by The Rascals, written by Brigati & Cavaliere, chiming intro and something of the ‘Groovin’’ groove, ‘there will be children with robins and flowers’ 

(16) ‘It’s Love’ (3:13), B-side of (12), written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(17) ‘Easy Rollin’’ (2:56) from 1968 LP ‘Once Upon A Dream’, written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(18) ‘Rainy Day’ (3:43), B-side of (15), written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(19) ‘Silly Girl’ (2:45) from 1968 LP ‘Once Upon A Dream’, written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(20) ‘People Got To Be Free’ (3:00), US no.1, written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(21) ‘A Ray Of Hope’ (3:42) US no.24, written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(22) ‘Heaven’ (3:24), US no.39, written by Felix Cavaliere 

(23) ‘See’ (5:01), US no.27, written by Felix Cavaliere 

(24) ‘Carry Me Back’ (2:50), US no.26, written by Felix Cavaliere 

(25) ‘Glory Glory’ (3:20), US no.58 written by Felix Cavaliere



Eddie Brigati (born Edward Brigati Jr., October 22, 1945, Garfield, New Jersey) – vocals, percussion 

Felix Cavaliere (born November 29, 1942, Pelham Manor, New York) – vocals, keyboards, Hammond organ with Leslie Tone Cabinet 

Gene Cornish (born May 14, 1944, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) – guitar, vocals 

Dino Danelli (born July 23, 1944, Jersey City, New Jersey) – drums



Saturday, 14 August 2021

Cult Album: 'A FRACTURE IN TIME' by SCREAMING TREES (UK)

 


FRACTURES OUT OF TIME 


Album Review of: 
‘A FRACTURE IN TIME’ 
 by THE SCREAMING TREES 
(1987, Native NTVLP29)
 



It’s tempting, and easy as 1-2-3, to suggest that when Stephen Singleton quit ABC he took with him the spirit of effortless innovation that made ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ (1982) the most breathtaking audio fix of the early-eighties. It’s just as tempting to see in this first long-playing product from Sheffield’s latest makers and shakers, evidence of that same inventive audacity. But although Singleton co-produced this lushness of seductive strings over-dubbed on high-speed sampling and surgically precise editing, Sean Maloney and Mark Swancott (collectively: Screaming Trees) are their own men, and more concerned with creating next waves than recreating previous ones. 

Their early vinyl stabs and forays – “Beaten By The Ugly Stick”, a debut EP concocted without Alphabet Soup nutrition, and “Iron Guru”, a ‘NME’ Single Of The Week, set them firmly into their own continuum, which ‘A Fracture In Time’ takes to the limit. It shimmers with the kind of awesome image-density that it took Trevor Horn banks of mega-£££’s/Music Computers/Fairlights to achieve, but which here pours painlessly through an Indie album that’s come up like three cherries on the great fruit-machine of life. Even where the vocals lack flexibility, they’re fixed into soundscapes of shocking beauty and constant surprise, filching tracts of movie dialogue from the days before Netflix had Talking Pictures – Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’ (1945) for ie, and welding them into teasing snatches of everyone from the Jackson Five (“The Love You Save”), through Earth Wind & Fire horn stabs, Run DMC, and an explosive mesh of artfully-contrived hard-edged dance rhythms to choreograph the brain’s most sensual pleasure centres. ‘motives are like reptiles, that crawl in the mind’ Mark voice-overs on the stand-out “Understand”, but “Guru-ed Up” and “The Big Hitter” are equal contenders. Then there’s “M1L35” and “Asylum”. 

It’s tempting to recall ABC’s ‘Radical Dance Faction’ phase, and suggest that this is even more Radical, even more Danceable. It’s tempting, and easy as 1-2-3. 





Side One: 
(1) ‘Fractured Time 1’ 
(2) ‘Asylum’ 
(3) ‘Understand’ 
(4) ‘Balance’ 
(5) ‘Coliseum’ 

Side Two: 
(1) ‘Guru-ed Up’ 
(2) ‘Fractured Time 2’ 
(3) ‘The Big Hitter’ 
(4) ‘M1L35’ 
(5) ‘Don’t B Afraid’ 
(6) ‘Fractured Time 3’ 

Sean Maloney: bass, guitar 
Mark Swancott: vocals, guitar, drum programming 
Mary Ryan: additional vocals 
Production: Stephen Singleton & David Lewin 
Editing & engineering: Alan Fish 

‘Screaming Trees’ was the name of a guitar effects pedal, hence it was no surprise that other bands also adopted the name, and when Mark Lanegan’s American Screaming Trees broke big, it became apparent that the UK variant was no longer viable. This album was later reissued as a Cherry Red CD. While the duo reappeared as Success, with an album titled ‘World Crash’. Probably their biggest claim to fame was being sampled by Trent Reznor for the first Nine Inch Nails album, ‘Pretty Hate Machine’



Friday, 13 August 2021

Cult Movie: The Earth Dies Screaming

 


NOT WITH A BANG 

OR A WHIMPER

 
Movie review of: 
‘THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING’ 
With Willard Parker, Dennis Price and Virginia Field 
Director: Terence Fisher. 
Producer: Robert L Lippert & Jack Parsons. 
Original Release: Twentieth Century Fox, 14 October 1964 
DVD: Region 1 September 2007, and Region 2, August 2011




 
Some slight degree of hyperbole here perhaps? 

A train derails. A car explosively impacts into a brick wall. A bowler-hatted commuter collapses on the station platform. A plane plummets from the sky. There are inert bodies littering the street. Sundogs break loose across the sky behind the credits. Pay attention… it doesn’t get more apocalyptical than this! The Earth doesn’t actually die. In fact, what could be described as the action never strays far beyond the limits of the picturesque Surrey village of Shere. And the only screaming that happens in this modest little film is of the kind that the female of the species were prone to in movies of this nature and vintage. ‘This apocalyptic science fiction thriller will scare the living daylights out of you!!!’ screams the DVD blurb. Well, perhaps not.


 
A Land Rover with ‘North England’ insignia corners into the typically quaint ‘Midsomer Murders’ village. There are bodies in the street. The tough no-nonsense driver gets out, searches into the window-display of a small electrical store, and loots a transistor radio. This lone shotgun-carrier is American Test Pilot Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker), assigned to a US/Canada/British aircraft project. After test-flying a vertical rising jet, he’s now trying to make sense of the disaster-strewn world he found waiting on his descent. He enters the Tudor-beamed ‘Manor House Lodge’ hotel bar and tries the TV, but picks up only interference. The same electrostatic he hears on the radio. 

When a man with a pistol enters, holding a woman… 



Producer Robert Lippert had been making low-budget films since he founded ‘Lippert Pictures’ in 1945, mostly westerns and crime drama, with only occasional forays into Sci-Fi with ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950), and – with Terence Fisher, ‘Spaceways’ (1953). Fisher, who also directed Lippert’s ‘Murder By Proxy’ (1954) and ‘A Stranger Came Home’ (1954), was familiar through his groundbreaking work with Hammer, reliably conflating visually-competent movies from very limited financial resources. Using dramatic lighting and camera-angles to compensate for inadequate sets, he’d launched the entire Hammer franchise by directing ‘The Curse Of Frankenstein’ (1957) and its many sequels. His subsequent freelance ventures include this fortuitous reconnection with Lippert, which also offered him the opportunity of working with close friend Thorley Walters. Once Willard Parker’s American name was added to the cast-list, ensuring visibility across the Drive-In circuit, the project was green-lighted. A solid bit-player who’d not only been talent-spotted by Zeppo Marx, but shared screen-time with some of the major stars of the period including Boris Karloff and Mickey Rooney, he’d achieved more recognition as Jace Pearson in the CBS-TV series ‘Tale Of The Texas Rangers’.


 
Now the newcomers who promptly help themselves to whiskey from the hotel bar are Peggy Hatton (Virginia Field), who arose from a hospital oxygen tent into the depopulated world, and a smoothly cynical Quinn Taggart (Dennis Price). The faint mushroom smell in the air suggests a lethal gas attack. ‘What happened earlier this morning was no accident’ Taggart coolly decides. ‘Whoever did it, won the war. All they’ve got to do is move in and take over, and then it’s every man for himself.’ 

The trio are joined by two further survivors, who’d been first glimpsed slumped in a crashed car. Dapper drunk Edgar ‘Ed’ Otis (Thorley Walters) and Violet ‘Vi’ Courtland (Vanda Godsell) in a long evening gown, they’d escaped the gas by sharing a little infidelity in an air-conditioned Lab. ‘I thought you were dead’ says Jeff. ‘Maybe we all are’ he grumbles despondently. It’s Vi who first spots the two slow-moving silver-suited figures through the net curtains. Assuming they’re part of a rescue squad she pursues them, teetering on high heels. The nearest figure raises its hand. Her head glows, and she collapses. From the hotel window they open up a barrage of shots at the receding figures, to no effect. This constitutes their First Contact moment with the aliens. ‘They Came From The Heavens… And Sent The World Into Hell’ screams the DVD strap-line. 



Another car brings two more survivors to complete the disparate group, a surly Mel (David Spenser), and young wife Lorna Brenard (Anna Palk). ‘A cheeky kid and a pregnant girl’ snipes a disapproving Taggart. They’d hidden out in an Air-Raid shelter that was likely sealed against radiation. ‘Maybe those little Men from Mars are back again?’ sneers Mel. ‘We know there’s something out there’ agrees Jeff grittily. Later, as Jeff hurtles to the rescue in his Land Rover he smashes into an alien, only to discover that it is purely robotic. ‘Our own space programme has robot devices designed for use on the Moon and Mars’ he explains helpfully. But aliens aren’t the only hazard. As Taggart prepares to sneak away during the night, the dead Vi comes back to life – her blank eyes devoid of pupils, and he shoots her. These marauding zombies are human slaves of the bulletproof alien machines, emitting eerie electro-throbbing sounds. Peggy is menaced by two lumbering zombies on the hotel stairs, there’s no high-kicking martial fightbacks as we might expect today, instead she flounces away to hide in the wardrobe, although the Walking Dead are so scary they could easily be outpaced at little more than a brisk walk! Nevertheless, the group stock up with weapons from the drill hall at the local Territorial Army Regimental Headquarters. 

At any given time, there are never more than two alien robots onscreen. This is not a high-budget production. The effects are minimal. No UFO sightings or predatory descending spaceships, although the penetrating electro-sound effects and the effective music score by classical composer Elisabeth Lutyens add to whatever occasional menace does occur. Peggy waking in hospital into a transfigured world strongly recalls Bill Masen (Howard Keel) in ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ (original 1962 movie). While conditioned-human slaves serving robotic alien invaders recalls the widescreen ‘Dr Who And The Daleks’, which – although the movie with Peter Cushing playing the Time Lord did not arrive until August 1965, reprises the BBC-TV serial version of a year earlier. 



It’s essentially a small-group jeopardy plot, depending as much on internal tensions as external threat, in which rugged responsible Jeff naturally assumes control. ‘You’re very sure of yourself’ accuses Peggy. The foppish Ed drinks himself fatalistically into oblivion. While Mel starts out as insolent and rebellious. He has a box of stolen, but useless money. Yet when Peggy helps deliver Lorna’s baby – to aid the human interest angle, Mel paces the floor outside. And fatherhood helps mature him into Jeff’s strong supportive lieutenant. While Taggart – who derisively calls Jeff ‘Prof’, is effortlessly devious. A veteran of Ealing’s classic ‘Kind Hearts And Coronets’ (1949), Dennis Price’s suave elitist pragmatism steals the film. ‘There aren’t any rules’ he says with existential certainty, ‘there isn’t any order. We can make any kind of world we like.’ Before he slugs Jeff and kidnaps Peggy in a flash sports car, taking his ‘every man for himself’ philosophy literally.


 
Finally Jeff and Mel triangulate the controlling radio signals that are using a local booster transmitter. Just as robots move in to stop the pylon’s detonation, and more aliens – led by a zombie Taggart menace the women. But once the mast is felled they all collapse inactive, and Ed rallies sufficiently to shoot the zombie-Taggart, discovering his own salvation beyond booze through situational necessity. In a hasty tacked-on closing sequence the group commandeer a plane in order to fly south hoping to contact other survivor groups. 

So, although the name will recur as the title of a 1980 UB40 no.10 hit single, in this cinematographic instance, it is not exactly accurate. The Earth does not die screaming. Neither is the film likely to ‘scare the living daylights’ out of anyone, even when it’s viewed from the threadbare stalls of an old-style flea-pit cinema. Although this sharp black-&-white celluloid artifact nostalgically recalls a time when screaming was more fashionable, and scares came with a zero-budget price-tag.


 


‘WHO… OR WHAT WERE THEY… WHO 
TRIED TO WIPE ALL LIVING CREATURES 
OFF THE FACE OF THIS EARTH?’ 

THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING’ 
Original Release: Lippert Films, through Twentieth Century Fox, 14 October 1964. Directed by Terence Fisher, in black-&-white at Shepperton Studios, London. Produced by Robert L Lippert and Jack Parsons. Written by Harry Spalding as ‘Henry Cross’, script editor Renée ‘Rene’ Glynne. Edited by Robert Winter. With Willard Parker (as Jeff Nolan), Virginia Field (as Peggy Hatton), Dennis Price (as Quinn Taggart), Thorley Walters (as Edgar ‘Ed’ Otis), Vanda Godsell (as Violet ‘Vi’ Courtland), David Spenser (as Mel Brenard), and Anna Palk (as Lorna Brenard), Jack Arrow (dead train driver). Music by Elisabeth Lutyens, with Philip Martell as musical director. 62-minutes. 
Released as a ‘Final Cut’ Region 1 DVD 11 September 2007, 
and Region 2 29 August 2011. Blu-Ray, Signal One Entertainment, 26 March 2018




Saturday, 31 July 2021

Poem: IN THE ABSENCE OF BRYN FORTEY

 




IN THE ABSENCE 

OF BRYN FORTEY 

(1937-2021)


lost days are made up of seasons 
each season a different country, 
evenings become dark now, with shivers of cold, 
steam flows from cafés out over sidewalks where 
passersby button themselves tighter into greatcoats, 
it’s time to incinerate a pile of dreams left over 
from previous seasons on a funeral pyre so that 
bright sparks of flame climb high through cloud 
beyond the sky to lodge in spaces between stars, 
where they can erupt into new constellations 
to confound the compilers of horoscopes 
and confuse those who claim 
to know of seasons to come



Friday, 30 July 2021

Interview: CABARET VOLTAIRE

 


CABARET VOLTAIRE: 

‘ANODES FOR A 

NEW GENERATION’ 


Without Cabaret Voltaire the world would be different. 
 At the start of the 1980s they represented the gleaming edge 
 of a cyber-noir future that has never rusted or biodegraded. 
Back then, Mal and Richard were already sucking in 
cultural influences from past visionaries and projecting them 
into futures sheened black and shiny as vinyl. Now 
the Cabs are no more. But their influence is everywhere...



 

‘CUT-UPS’ 
‘What’s your obsession? 
What’s your obsession? 
What’s your obsession...?’ 
(“Obsession” on ‘The Voice Of America’


In Sheffield. In their Western Works studio. The mixing desk they acquired when they first pacted a leasing deal from Rough Trade is littered with polystyrene coffee cups and magazines. While out of the window, across an industrial roof-scape, the heat-haze dances the city into landscapes of foreign planets. In 1980s terminology Cabaret Voltaire are more William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ than they are New Romantic. More Cyber than Punk... theirs is the real ‘Bladerunner’ soundtrack, played out with neurotic clarity. Try the mutilated minimalism and near-perfect art-brutalism of their ‘Technology’ compilation, issued 12.3.92, collecting and reformulating tracks from their Virgin period. From the sheer physical power of “Ghost Talk” codified with Kraftwerkian synth figures, to the hardest of dense Ibiza sequenced pulses on the 808-Heaven remix of “I Want You”, from a time when it was still possible to take Ibiza-references seriously as a creative force. 

From this city Human League first wired the world’s ears, tuned in its eyeballs, then flooded both sensory channels. And from this city Pulp took it into a Different Class. From this city ABC took the Lexicon of Pop to where romance lies – and lies and lies. But this Cab-ish duo would look bad in gold lame suits. They neither look nor act like Pop Stars. Stephen ‘Mal’ Mallinder (bass/ vocals) sits in a neutral brown C&A sweat-shirt, the only hint of obsessive intensity betrayed by his eyes, a stare that could penetrate steel plate, an eyeballing-the-end-of-the-world stare that’s only alleviated by a wryly mocking humour. And Richard H. Kirk (guitar/ FX). He alternately crouches down by the console, hand irrigating an unruly mass of (artificially?) auburn hair, or hunting the desk-top for matches to light a cig. His shirt at first a garishly tasteless technicolour Hawaiian job, then like some elaborate abstract expressionist silk-screen print. A shirt that bags untidily loose over his slack belt so he keeps shoving it back in place irritably. It’s that shirt, above all, that belies any pretentious to Pop Star posing. 



All of the bands I speak to around this time deny that a ‘Sheffield Electro Scene’ exists. Although if – as self-evidently it does, this Western Works studio is very much its nexus. And Cabaret Voltaire are probably pissed off being asked about it. ‘I don’t think there is a ‘Scene’, now’ asserts Mal. ‘Yes, it seems to have – you know, kinda fragmented a little bit’ agrees Richard, ‘at one time I would probably tend to agree with what you’re saying, in a lot of ways, yes – there was a kind of ‘Scene’. But these days it seems quite a lot different.’ 

‘Going back to about 1978-1979’ continues Mal more expansively, ‘then there was some sort of... it wasn’t particularly a ‘Scene’, but it was just – there were quite a lot of people who were doing similar things, and we tended to know each other. But I think the original people – like us, like Clock DVA, the Human League, Glenn Gregory (of Heaven 17), all the people like that... it’s just a case of, everybody’s gone their own ways! We’re all still loosely in contact but I don’t think there’s any ‘Scene’ or anything like that. Anything that’s come up since then hasn’t had much to do with us, and that’s partly by design. We’ve been doing other things. We got a bit too wary of becoming too bogged down in creating that sort of ‘Sheffield Scene’ and feeling as though we were is some way responsible... or whatever. So we just got on with our own things, as everybody else did. While partly, I think, a lot of groups that have come out of Sheffield since us have been more of a reaction to what was happening here all those years ago. They are a reaction to groups like us and the Human League. They began saying ‘hey look, there’s not only the Human League/ Cabaret Voltaire/ Clock DVA-type sounds in Sheffield’. And in that way the new groups coming up were a reaction to us, so that’s why we haven’t had much to do with those groups...’


 
But Cabaret Voltaire can take it back even further that that. 1974 wasn’t exactly a classic year for Rock. It was Osmonds. It was Chinn-Chapman. It was Abba winning Eurovision. And in retrospect, probably that year’s most intriguing event occurred here in Sheffield. Because that’s when, and where, Cabaret Voltaire were forming as an experimental recording/ studio group of uncertain input and unlimited output. It was Mal. It was Richard. Back then it was Chris Watson as well (synthesiser/ tape sequencing), but he later relocates to ‘Tyne Tees TV’. He is not replaced. But Allan Fish (of Sheffield’s Hula) becomes an added component member, in care of drums/ percussion on stage, screen and record. I get impressions that Mallinder is more inner-directed. Kirk, to a greater degree, outer-directed. Although I could be wrong. Allan denies it, but doesn’t offer a corrective viewpoint beyond explaining an internal ‘fluidity’ of roles within the group. Whatever, the Cabs – operating from Western Works studios, rapidly become art-mechanics of an electro cottage industry. Anodes for a new generation. 



They first commence their steady drip-feed of challenging vinyl releases through Rough Trade in July 1978 (an EP called “Extended Play”). They travel through albums like ‘The Voice Of America’ (July 1980) – crude first-generation beat-boxes, bursts of static, Dalek-voices, a discordant weirdness that swirls like avant-garde electronica recorded in a garage, with distorted samples and reverse voices lost in incoherence. Then, with albums ‘Red Mecca’ (September 1981), ‘2 x 45s’ (March 1982), and classic twelve-inch singles “Sluggin Fer Jesus” (March 1981), “Nag Nag Nag” (April 1979), and “Three Mantras” (January 1980) – it’s all about as far removed from Rockist convention as it is from Cage or Stockhausen. While – unlike the high-grade hedonism of the ‘E’-fuelled Dance-culture that will come later, feeding off their pioneering innovations, the Cabaret Voltaire sound inhabits a dour intensity. One that aspires to an aesthetic of austere purity. Industrial in attitude. Industrial in method. The hedonism is there. It merely assumes different guises. With musics made by the treatment of conventional sound sources by electronic processes and by secondary treatments – such as tape collage, they predate the ‘Sheffield Sound’, the Industrial avant-garde, Electro-Pop, Garageland experimentalists, Hip-Hop, Trip-Hop, Techno, and the C30-C60-C90 cassette-DIY underground by a clutch of years. Ushering in a time for entrancing discord. All the way is far enough... In a decade that draws sampling, scratching, remixology and Rap into the mainstream, they are there anticipating, pioneering, or forming a vital part of the first wave of at least the first three. An impressive ratio. 



Trawl the ‘Guinness Book Of Hit Singles’ and there’s not much evidence they ever existed (although they are an integral part of the concurrent ‘Indie’ charts). But talk to subsequent bands in the electro-Dance zone – Chemical Brothers, Leftfield, Prodigy, and the respect is tangible. ‘The Cabs’ were the original cartographers of the way it was to evolve. And ways in which – perhaps, it should have evolved. Where beats could target the cerebellum as well as the erogenous zones. But August 1983’s ‘The Crackdown’ is the pivotal event in their evolution. As their first product delivered through a Some Bizarre/ Virgin hook-up, it defines the Cabs decisive switch from the Indie cult-ghetto, to infiltrate the megastore mainstream. High-profile highly-regarded albums will follow clear though to October 1993’s ‘International Language’, but this is as good a point as any to put a stop to time. And to take stock. So we meet for verbal therapy at Western Works to talk through the changes on a packed C90. So let’s start at the beginning, a very good place to start... 



When you kick-started Cabaret Voltaire you’d have been what – in your late teens? (Mal) Yes. We started when we were about seventeen or eighteen. Were you at Art School or something? (Mal) No. I wasn’t. I was at College, but I did History. 

You began evolving in 1974, which was the year of Slade, Sweet, and the Osmonds. It’s difficult to envisage where you were deriving your style from, because there was nothing remotely similar happening at that time. (Mal) It was more... kind of, looking back on what had been done in the past, and sort-of taking a little bit of inspiration from a lot of German groups who were working around 1969/ 1970. I think the European connection, and the Velvet’s were – like, the two link-points. In earlier conversations you’ve mentioned the Velvet Underground as an influence on the extended pieces that make up your ‘Three Mantras’ (May 1980). And there’s a Lou Reed song on ‘Extended Play’ (“Here She Comes Now”). (Mal) Yeah. That first EP. We’ve always been pretty keen on the Velvet Underground. I think it’s quite an influence on what we’ve done. Also some of the stuff that Eno was doing before then. They were probably the only things we saw as parallels. They were the only places where we could see similarities to what we were doing. (Richard) I mean, it wasn’t a case of just listening to them and copying. It was more a case of, we were doing what we were doing, and then we found out that other people were doing similar sorts of things. So obviously you’re bound to feed off it a little bit.


 
In a ‘Consumers Guide’ column you contributed to ‘New Musical Express’ you favourably mention German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s piece ‘Mantras’. Is there any direct connection there? (Mal – musing for a long moment) Ummm. No. I think it was the pure similarity of the word more than anything else. So when you refer to a ‘European connection’, it was Kraftwerk and Can you were listening to? (Mal) Yes. Can in particular. They were quite an influence because of their rhythms. They were a lot more rhythm-orientated. They weren’t doing just pure abstract stuff, it was their rhythms that always appealed to us as well. We really respect Can, and particularly Holger Czukay’s stuff. 



Yours is a collage technique of recording, using ‘sampled’ found-sound. (Kirk) Oh yes. That’s always been so, even now. But Can and the other bands you mention never used those methods. They never used pre-recorded sound, found-sound, musique concrete. Although Kraftwerk used short-wave radio on their ‘Radio-Activity’ (October 1975) album... (Kirk) Knowing them, knowing the way that they function, they probably didn’t even use short-wave radios at all, but synthesised the sound of short-wave radio in the studio. But I know that Can – Holger Czukay, used to use old radio sets. I remember seeing him playing – in Doncaster of all places, and he was just surrounded by a mass of tape-recorders and radio receivers. He had started out as bass-player with Can. But by then he’d actually stopped playing bass with them. He was just there, in the middle of all this equipment. Which was good. Seeing someone actually using THAT as his instrument, solely... 



But that was when Cabaret Voltaire were already working as a functioning recording unit. (Kirk) Yes, but it was quite nice to see somebody else using it. We’d been doing it, and so it was really great to find out that someone else was doing it as well. Also concerning origins – Cabaret Voltaire was a name used by the 1916 Dada Absurdist Theatre. And you did a piece called “Dada Man” on an early Industrial C60 tape. What’s the connection there? (Mal) Yes, we were again influenced by the Dada-ist spirit and feeling, and it was also a case of – we were doing a gig and we needed to call ourselves something, and it just became – like, the obvious title... really, in a lot of ways. 

The first live Cabaret Voltaire appearance was an Edinburgh Festival gig wasn’t it? (Mal) The first thing we ever did was about 1975. We did a gig. Just a one-off thing. We didn’t play again then for about a year or so. So that’s when we took the name, 1975. We played again in 1976, and really started playing more regularly around 1977. There’s a track on your ‘The Voice Of America’ album (“If The Shadows Could March”) which is bracketed (1974). Is that the recording date? (Mal) Yes it is. It’s just an old track. (Kirk) We just dug it out. We’ve got – like, archives in the cupboard, of tapes dating back from 1974. All sorts of stuff that might eventually see the light of day, and might not. 



Some of that early material also emerged on an Industrial-label C60 called ‘1974-’76’. When did you first make that connection with Psychic TV’s Genesis P Orridge – the guy who originated Industrial? (Kirk) A long time ago. When they brought out their first Throbbing Gristle album – ‘Second Annual Report’ (November 1977). We just kind of – we wrote to him, sent him some of our stuff, and sort-of had an ongoing relationship with him from there on. We’ve released stuff on their label. First time we met him was in Wakefield actually. When they played the Technical College, I think... (Mal) Wakefield Industrial College it was. That’s why they did it. Because it was an Industrial College. No other reason. I’ve never quite been able to work out how much of Genesis P Orridge’s extremist persona is real, and how much is contrived for effect. (Mal) It is genuine. Yes. Gen’s been doing it for years. It’s not assumed. It’s just the way he is. (Kirk) There’s a Psychic TV album – ‘Dreams Less Sweet’ (1983) which is pretty mind-blowing. It’s all done in holophonic sound. Strange. 

Another early activist of that period, Adi Newton – of Sheffield’s Clock DVA, once told me that he was also involved in early Cabaret Voltaire, as an acquaintance. (Mal) Again, we’ve known Adi for a long time. We knew Adi when he was working on the first Sheffield fanzine – ‘Gun Rubber’. It’s a collector’s item now. That fanzine ran to about seven issues, all of it produced by him and another guy called ‘Ronnie Clocks’ (also known as Paul Bower. He used to be in a group called 2:3). It dates from about then that we knew Adi, so yes, we’ve known Adi for... dunno, a l-o-n-g time. Something like that. A strong aspect of Western Works is that you’ve produced so many other bands here – including New Order, Hula, Eric Random, UV Pop – and “Brigade” by early Clock DVA. So if there is/ was a ‘Sheffield Sound’, then Western Works has got to be its focal point. (Kirk) A few people have... drifted through, shall we say. I suppose that’s because we were the only people who had a studio, apart from anything else. But I mean, it’s always interested us, working with other people. It’s something that’s always – kind of, appealed. To be able to steam in there and play around with other people’s material. Provided they’re into the idea of it, of course. 



Were the slides and films always an integral part of the Cabaret Voltaire concept? (Kirk) Yes. From the very first live performance we did we used slides. Trying to maintain some kind of standard whereby we always present something other than just a couple of people of stage. I mean, it’s more... it’s not there to detract from the fact that we don’t particularly move around much. It’s more a case of creating an atmosphere to go with the music. So it’s kind of, you get a total sense of being surrounded by the whole thing, as opposed to just being stood watching it. There weren’t many precedents to that, when you began, unless you go back to psychedelia! (Mal) No. The only group, when we were doing it, who’d used it before in that sense, was the Velvet Underground. (Kirk)... apart from Hawkwind! (Mal) Yes. But I think it’s too simplistic to say ‘Oh yeah, Cabaret Voltaire use films on stage, therefore they just purely fit into the mould of the Velvets or psychedelia’, which isn’t totally true. Because of the context... I wasn’t suggesting that. (Mal) I know, I’m not accusing you, it’s just that it is too easy to put it like that. But I think there’s a lot of scope for using films and slides. We’ve proved as much because a lot more groups are using it now.... 




‘MICRO-PHONIES’: 
THE INTERVIEW 
‘Spirits walking, Ghost talking...’ 
(“Ghost Talk” from ‘Drinking Gasoline’ June 1985) 


‘The Crackdown’ didn’t top the Indie album chart. For Cabaret Voltaire that’s pretty unique. The biorhythms of the Record Industry depend on hits at regular intervals, and the Cab’s sense of (mis)adventure always resisted that. Listening to each new Cabaret Voltaire vinyl was like walking downstairs and missing the last step. They were never just another picture in the Pop exhibition. They existed in a walled garden of their own devices and strategies. 



But back then, around 1983, you couldn’t help but notice the multi-media circus of the senses (print, radio, video) designed to inform you, the consumer, that Cabaret Voltaire had become the band who’d come in from the cold. And the reason that ‘The Crackdown’ didn’t top the Indie chart was that it’s issued through the good graces of the burgeoning mainstream Virgin empire. While the reason the Cab’s suddenly found themselves thrust under the close scrutiny of a prurient press that had previously done its best to ignore them, had something to do with the Machiavellian talents of one Stevo, the teenage managerial alchemist who was by then very much on their side. So what’s the history behind that Stevo connection, the alleged catalyst in this volte-face? Did he do a sleazo ‘man with the fat cigar’ routine – ‘sign on the dotted line boys and I’ll make you stars’? Or was it the other way round – hit-hungry experimentalists from Sheffield hoping to snort up some of the management-magic that gave a grateful world Soft Cell, The The, and Psychic TV? 

‘It’s a long story’ muses Mal. ‘Stevo’s known us for ages. And he’s always been onto us to do stuff for him.’ ‘Yes, it’s been on the cards for a while’ confirms Richard. ‘It happened really because we were thinking of changing the way we approached things. And Stevo was there at the time.’ ‘We finally thought, the offer was right, and the time was right, so we kind of – WENT FOR IT!’


 
But despite wildly exaggerated claims to the contrary those changes in ‘approach’ seem more cosmetic to me, more concerned with packaging than product. After all, cynical pundits had been eagerly howling ‘Sell-out’ at the Cabs with monotonous and premature regularity for the best part of their career, most vociferously when they first put some jive in their stride and some Funk bass-lines in their mix. Suddenly you could dance to their albums. So suddenly, you can buy them at your local Top Forty store instead of the Indie ghetto – but they continue to make highly unlikely Pop Stars. So with superficials thus disposed of we can get down to specific vinyl issues, and chase up some more ghosts of change. ‘The Crackdown’ album was done 24-track. And the album has an actual producer, John Luongo. For Cabaret Voltaire both these things are firsts. 

‘He only produced the single (“Just Fascination”)’ corrects Kirk. ‘We produced the album ourselves. We co-produced it with Flood, the guy who was with us engineering. He threw in loads of ideas, so we put him down as co-producer. He played quite a big role in the work.’ ‘Previously we’d just worked in conjunction with engineers, and produced ourselves’ adds Mal. ‘‘The Crackdown’ album was an extension of that principle. We got John Luongo in as an objective ear to produce the single. It was just the single that flew off in a slightly different direction.’ 

But isn’t creating song-orientated material – like “Just Fascination”, a departure from the ‘collage’ construction used on earlier recordings? ‘I don’t think we went in and envisaged any of the tracks as ‘songs’’ states Mal. ‘We envisaged them as pieces of music, but not with a rigid song structure. The single – the way it was mixed and produced – came out with more of an organised form. That was like as in a song. But we didn’t go in with the intention of writing ‘songs’. They were still loose ideas that we’d formulated. We had no rigid ideas.’


 
How does that compare with the technique used when recording, say – ‘Three Mantras’? How much of that was preconceived before the sessions commenced? Was there a clear idea of what the finished article would sound like, or was it layered, built up gradually? ‘We knew what we wanted – but not how it would sound. We knew what kind of effect we wanted to create – but not exactly what the end product would be. That was done on four-track equipment anyway, so we were even more restricted in the way we approached it.’ ‘That’s originally all we do have – the idea of an atmosphere or an effect. We don’t have it too tied down when we start doing things’ expands Richard. ‘Three Mantras’ was just the idea of doing two longer numbers. One very much in a Velvet Underground “Sister Ray” vein. The Western mantra. And the other one more like an Eastern...’


 
‘...drone.’ ‘...mantra-type thing. Initially it was just the Eastern side that was supposed to have a mantra quality. But they just sort of fell together and became ‘Three Mantras’. ‘The Western one was just dealing with the idea of repetition.’ 

So you compose and decompose, construct and deconstruct. There’s checks and balances, and a substratum of some logical but intuitive development. That seems consistent with a music like ‘Three Mantras’ – a sound that’s splattered onto tape like Rorschach inkblot tests, random – but with metagenetic implications. I’ll buy that. But, at the risk of becoming obsessive, how can that process result in something as tightly assembled as the single, a neat concise three-minutes that refuses to budge from my sound-centre deck? ‘The single was actually mixed in edit-sections’ explains Mal with infinite patience. ‘I don’t know if you’re familiar with studio work, but mixing is a natural thing that everybody does when they record a song. But on the single, and on the album to an extent, we utilised editing as a technique to bring aspects out, rather than just purely mixing them together. It was a case of mixing it a little bit at a time, and then sticking it all together. So that’s why it does sound ordered – but it’s a case of taking the best bits and sequencing them, repeating them, and maybe taking some of the instruments out at certain points. Then sticking it all together like that. It’s quite a long process, but it does work. The idea of using editing as a positive part of the way you work is probably the only new approach he had.’ 

So what’s been interpreted as greater structure is just the culmination of progressions that have refined and matured a set of basic ideas, album by album? ‘It is a little more disciplined from our point of view, the sound quality is obviously far superior to what we’ve done on eight-track’ concedes Richard. ‘We’re not just sticking a load of things down and leaving it. It’s still spontaneous, but a little more cleaned-up as well...’


 
‘We’ve gone full circle in a lot of ways. The earliest stuff we did – like that first EP, was very simplistic, it was organised and disciplined because of the way we had to record it. Then, as we progressed, there were a lot of little things going on in there, until we’d built it up to the extent that there was perhaps too much, too many frills. So we gradually started stripping back until we arrived at the point we’re at with ‘The Crackdown’ album. We stripped it back to the bare essentials we started with. So it’s not changed radically, it’s just the approach that altered gradually. It’s gone back to the simple approach we had in the first place.’ You’ve stripped off a lot of the found-sound tapes, and cut back to the essential rhythmic base? ‘In some ways. We’re just trying to use a little bit more subtlety. To try and keep one jump ahead of what everyone else is doing,’ from Mal. 

‘But even now, even though maybe the music’s changed and become more ‘musical’, we still use a lot of tapes and things to give it an edge. To create different atmospheres and feelings...’ ‘We still use the tape recorder as another instrument. As much as a guitar or bass.’ And you use the studio itself as an instrument? ‘Oh yes. That is, like, another member of the group.’


 
‘We also use ‘real’ drums to keep certain amounts of it very flexible, also for its pure sound quality. What you get on a rhythm tape or a drum machine is purely what you get. But human nature being human nature there’s allowance for a little dynamics and change of pace. Things like that.’ Richard stands up, renews his hunt for matches, and warms to the subject. ‘We try to achieve a balance between both. We use pre-recorded rhythms on tape, but Alan (Fish) will lay percussion on top to make it more interesting and more spontaneous. But the technology is getting better. The actual rhythm machines you can get now use real drum sounds digitally recorded. You can have any drum sound put into a Linndrum, any particular sound you like that a drummer has. You send a tape of it, and they’ll send you a chip to put into the machine.’ 

‘But you’ve got to get that balance’ warns Mal. ‘You can’t ignore technology. It’s all there to be abused, shall we say. You can’t ignore it, and you can’t afford not to be au fait with it, because by doing so you’re cutting down too many possibilities that are open to you. It’s nice that we use real drums and synthetic drums. It’s important to keep up with things, to be able to utilise technology – but also to have the option to use human beings. Anything is useful. It depends on what attitude or frame of mind you go into it with.’


 
In 1980’s terminology Cabaret Voltaire were more William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ than they were New Romantic. More Cyber than Punk... or perhaps they’d prefer to see themselves as Cybernauts hard-(and soft)-wired into the Punk DIY ethic? On that suitably elevating note the interview winds down. Richard abandons his quest for matches and, shirt rucking up from under his belt, paces across the studio to look out over Sheffield. The temperature has risen, the heat-haze dance has intensified. ‘We’re supposed to be rehearsing’ he confesses over his technicolour shoulder. ‘IN THIS HEAT! The hotter it gets the worse the sound becomes. It’s too hot to do anything. Everything’s over-heating. We just had an amplifier blow up because it was so hot.’ Then, as an unintentional coda, he gives a further conclusive example of the Cab’s ability to unite technology with an innovative human ingenuity. ‘We had to install a fan behind it to keep it cool...!’ 

It seems strange now, looking back. At the time it was all happening, I got sharply defined impressions that Cabaret Voltaire were the precursors of some future low-protein world awash with squalor and low-cost micro-circuitry gadgets. I got impressions that tomorrow’s vitamin-deficient silicon valley cyber-culture would chart Western Works as its William Morris (the DIY self-sufficiency pioneer who originated the Cab’s title “News From Nowhere”). It seemed that Cabaret Voltaire were the original cartographers of the way it was all to evolve. Ways in which – perhaps, it should have evolved. Where beats could target the cerebellum as well as the erogenous zones. Perhaps there’s still time for that vision to be proved right…? 

‘Always work, go to church, do right, 
Respect those in authority over you...’ 
(‘Sensoria’ on ‘Microphonies’)



 
My Cabaret Voltaire interviews featured in: 
‘CABARET VOLTAIRE: A COLLECTION 
OF INTERVIEWS 1977-1994’ 
edited by Fabio Méndez 
(Second Edition June 2021) Spain DL 294-2021 
‘ANODES FOR A NEW GENERATION’ 
from ‘North-East Music Fanzine’ (1983)
‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE WESTERN WORKS’ 
from ‘Terminal Fanzine’ (1983)
from 
‘Electronic Soundmaker & Computer Music magazine’ 
(October 1983)
‘CABS ON FILM’ 
from ‘Rouska fanzine’ (May 1985)

Published in:
‘CHAOTIC ORDER no.15’ 
(UK – May 2003)