Posts Tagged ‘post-punk’

Today we take a look at Liverpool cult legends The Wild Swans, the brainchild of lead member Paul Simpson. Anyone who was not only able to compete with Julian Cope for stage presence power, but also for creative control of The Teardrop Explodes during his time as a member, was surely destined to form a legendary band of his own. And while The Wild Swans may never have been as famous or as commercially successful as their peers Echo & the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and Wah! Heat, they were certainly every bit as musically innovative and as powerful. While his name may not be so familiar to many, Paul Simpson is an undisputed legend of Liverpool post-punk, and one of the most prolific and consistently brilliant songwriters the city has ever spawned. A veteran of the Liverpool punk scene, known to some as ‘Simmo’ in the early days, it was Paul Simpson who was indirectly responsible for giving The Teardrop Explodes their name, as the owner of the Daredevil comic from which they took their moniker. A founder member of the Teardrops as their original keyboardist, Paul was already heavily looked up to by the punks of Liverpool as someone who was safe to join a band with. His mother was a spiritual healer and had allegedly predicted that her son would be huge. So join a band with ‘Simmo’ and you couldn’t go wrong. This pretty much gave Julian Cope and his co-founders their initial confidence in the Teardrops; not to mention that Paul was allegedly the first member of the band to be asked for an autograph. His powerful stage presence and songwriting skills (Paul co-wrote the first two Teardrop Explodes singles) were a lead force in getting the Teardrops into the limelight, but as Julian took control of the band’s musical direction it soon became obvious there was only room for one genius in the band, and Paul left early on to start a band of his own. And thus The Wild Swans were born, in late 1980.

Simpson formed The Wild Swans with Jeremy ‘Jem’ Kelly (guitar) and Ged Quinn (keyboards), the latter whom had briefly replaced him in the Teardrops. Together, the three of them were to become the crucial core of The Wild Swans. In early rehearsals, Paul just let Jem and Ged get on with jamming the music while he looked on and sang nothing. It was only after several rehearsals that Paul finally stepped to the mic and proved he could sing. And the magic was pretty much there from the start, as the three members’ natural musical chemistry took no time in emerging. As Jem has stated, “There was an incredible atmosphere down there, and everything just gelled… There was this kind of immediate intuitive thing.”

As the band gigged around Liverpool, with drummer Justin Stavely and numerous different bassists (the band members claim no less than 28 different bassists played with them throughout their first incarnation), their peers quickly formed the same high impression of their distinctive sound, and eventually, Paul’s flatmate- the legendary Pete De Freitas, drummer with Echo & the Bunnymen- financed The Wild Swans’ first studio session, with the first royalty cheque from his work with the Bunnymen. When Stavely failed to turn up for the recording session, De Freitas himself wound up playing the drums on as well as producing the debut single, The Revolutionary Spirit, credited under his middle names ‘Louis Vincent’. Due to studio inexperience, the single ended up being perhaps the only 12″ in history with the A-side recorded in mono and the B-side, God Forbid, in stereo. But it worked- the original mono version of The Revolutionary Spirit is undoubtedly stronger than the subsequent US-released stereo remix, with a raw rush and intensity lost in the subsequent version. The 12″ received rave reviews, becoming single of the week in numerous music papers, and quickly gaining cult status by ending up as the last record ever released on Bill Drummond’s cult label Zoo Records (Drummond himself went on to proclaim it “the best single we put out on Zoo”).

As bassists and drummers flitted in and out of their line-up, the rave response to the single gained The Wild Swans a BBC Radio 1 John Peel session, followed by a Winter 1981 tour supporting Echo & the Bunnymen. Playing to sold-out venues with a 4-5000 capacity, the band achieved an honour rarely bestowed upon support acts- they were given encores, following the rapturous responses to their powerful live set. The Wild Swans, it seemed, were about to become huge. Paul’s mother’s alleged prediction looked set to be proven right… but it’s unlikely that even the greatest psychics would have predicted that The Revolutionary Spirit single would wind up being the band’s only release in its original run. For the band members just weren’t at all keen to play the game of the music industry. As Paul Simpson puts it, “We were very suspicious of bands like China Crisis and The Icicle Works whose crime in our eyes was that they actually sent off demo tapes and played gigs.” The band had no desire to see their material tarnished in the studio by industry compromises and over-production. Unattractive offers of record contracts from major labels Phonogram and Arista held no appeal for the band members, and with no manager to tame the band’s youthful stubbornness or mediate between them and the record company, things gradually slowed down in The Wild Swans camp. When tension began to mount between the band members regarding their lack of a record contract, the band soon fizzled out.

Paul Simpson blames the split of the original line-up on the members having been “too young, too stubborn and too stoned to see what we had.” While The Wild Swans’ story does not end here, it is this first incarnation of the band that most consider to have produced its finest material, most of which was lost to the public eye until the retrospective compilation Incandescent was released in 2003. While it’s undoubtedly a good thing that these splendid tracks never surfaced in a bland, commodified and over-produced form on Arista Records, an independently-released album with Pete De Freitas producing would have been a surefire post-punk classic. The brooding, dreamy and melodramatic sound of The Wild Swans Mark I- with Jem’s spine-tingling, menacing guitar sound contrasting in a sonic, almost trippy soundscape against Ged’s warm, ethereal synth sound and Paul’s deep, quintessentially English vocal style and romantic, bedsit-angst-ridden lyrics- may not have been the flavour of the mainstream charts at the time, but it was quintessential listening for any fan of post-punk and neo-psychedelia. Newcomers to The Wild Swans would be highly recommended to start with the Incandescent collection- it’s the closest thing to the album that never was, with masterpieces such as the amazing No Bleeding, and the haunting Opium, which brings to mind a dreamier, trippier Joy Division.

During the mid-80s, Jem and Ged attained top 10 success with their new band The Lotus Eaters, best known for The First Picture Of You. Anguished at the loss of his band, Paul went on to form the duo Care with future Lightning Seeds frontman Ian Broudie. In an interesting twist of events, both groups were signed by Arista, leading them all to regret the split even more. Care reached the UK top 50 with the excellent Flaming Sword, but split before their album could be released. After The Lotus Eaters had also split, interest in The Wild Swans was reignited by an EP release of the band’s first Peel Session, and Paul hooked up with Jem and Ged to reform the band. The Wild Swans Mark II began with a triumphant comeback on Radio 1’s Janice Long show with drummer Alan Wills and bassist Joe Fearon, debuting a set of new songs, among them Northern England and Now and Forever, solid tunes with socio-political lyrics detailing the suffering of Liverpool under the Thatcher government. The band signed a contract with Seymour Stein’s Sire label, but things took a turn for the worse when Ged decided to leave the band to concentrate on painting, and the chemistry between Paul and Jem was weakened as both lamented the loss of Ged’s unique keyboard style. With session players on keyboards and drums, The Wild Swans recorded their first studio album, Bringing Home The Ashes. By this time it was clear that the band’s songwriting style had changed significantly from their Mark I stage, both Paul and Jem having taken a more cynical, pop-oriented approach gained from their respective time in Care and The Lotus Eaters. With producer Paul Hardiman (known at the time as Lloyd Cole’s producer) pushing for a commercial sound, Bringing Home The Ashes is very different from the early Wild Swans material, with artistic integrity having been undermined by the necessity for commercial appeal. Paul Simpson was dissatisfied with the album at the time and remains scathing of it today, describing it as “a faint photocopy of an X-ray of the sound and spirit of the original band and in my mind a wasted opportunity.” That said, despite the album’s more contrived formula, Bringing Home The Ashes is still a fine album and is liked by many fans even today. The intensity and anguish of The Wild Swans Mark I is replaced by a brighter, poppier sound which may not be evocative of the true spirit of The Wild Swans, but nevertheless carries plenty of strong, instantly appealing and uplifting tunes, with lyrics evoking a sense of hope and longing amidst a turbulent political and cultural environment. It is a testament to Paul Simpson’s songwriting abilities that an album he today describes as ‘rubbish’ can still be regarded as a masterwork of its time by many of the band’s fans.

Although it gained the band a fanbase in the US, Germany, Japan and particularly The Philippines, the album was heavily ignored back at home and made little impact. The lack of success led Jem to leave the band, and Paul reconvened with his partner from Care, Ian Broudie, who signed on to record and produce a new album with Paul as the sole remaining original member. The resulting album, Space Flower, released in 1990, is described by Paul as not a true Wild Swans album, but “more of a solo album featuring a load of mates”, and could indeed perhaps more justifiably have been released as such. The line-up for this album was Paul (vocals, mellotron, effects), Broudie (guitars, keyboards), Joe Fearon (bass), and Icicle Works members Ian McNabb (additional guitars, vocals) and Chris Sharrock (drums). Space Flower is an eccentric album that alienated many fans of The Wild Swans Mark I at the time, but is still preferred to its predecessor by Paul Simpson, and to this author is definitely superior to Bringing Home The Ashes despite its further removal from the classic Wild Swans sound. An album of upbeat, jangly, summery Indie-pop tunes that blend in nicely with the ‘Madchester’ scene so popular at the time, Space Flower is a neat showcase of the poppier side of Paul Simpson’s songwriting at its best- radio-friendly, but in a unique way, interspersing a sense of C86-esque twee and childlike naivety with a touch of 60s psychedelia. To heal himself of the bitterness of the split of The Wild Swans’ original line-up Paul had “immersed myself in a world of childhood and wonder. My reading matter consisted solely of children’s books and, never one for doing things by halves I even decorated my studio walls with 1960’s comics and toys.” It is described by Paul as ‘bubblegum pop’- and it lives up to this tag quite literally, with the album’s obsession with sweet food, reflected not only in the cover but in titles like Chocolate Bubblegum, Vanilla Melange and Tangerine Temple. With a feel of early Pink Floyd on a tangerine-flavoured LSD trip, Space Flower is the perfect listen for a pleasant summer’s day, and ends majestically with the amazing, 11-minute hypnotic trip of the excellent closing track Sea of Tranquility. Maybe it’s not a true Wild Swans album, but it’s still strongly recommended.

Nevertheless, as Space Flower did not gain a UK release and was consigned solely to the band’s overseas markets, it did little for the band on a commercial level, and Paul abandoned The Wild Swans. Paul Simpson spent most of his time from the mid-90s to the mid-00s working on his own project, the mostly instrumental act Skyray, an exercise in ambient musical soundscapes. During this time, Jem returned to The Lotus Eaters for a reunion, while Ged became a successful painter. The Wild Swans Mark I were to be remembered as one of the greatest ‘lost bands’ of Liverpool’s post-punk scene, retaining their legendary status, and interest in them was reignited in the mid-00s with the release of the Incandescent compilation, making many of the original band’s finest moments readily available for the first time. Both The Wild Swans Mark II albums were later re-issued in 2007, packaged together as the 2-CD set Magnitude. It was that same year that Paul Simpson announced on his MySpace that he would be resurrecting The Wild Swans for a third coming- this time to once and for all put right his ‘unfinished business’ with his legendary band. Of The Wild Swans’ comeback, he has said:

“The Wild Swans failure to realize its potential the first time around has obsessed me for over 20 years. This time I’m going to see it through to the bitter end. I cannot rest or be happy until I’ve made the albums, done the tours, documented the trip and finished what I started.”

A full reunion of the classic core of the band was not possible due to Jeremy Kelly’s commitment to The Lotus Eaters, while Ged Quinn could not commit to the band full-time having attained great success as a painter. But Ged is officially an ‘honourary member’ of the band, while Paul has assembled a finely selected crew of musicians to form the rest of the new line-up- Ricky Rene Maymi of the Brian Jonestown Massacre on guitar, Mike Mooney of Spiritualized on lead guitar, and Steve Beswick on drums. The latter three joined Paul and Ged to record the first Wild Swans album in over 20 years, while Les Pattinson (Echo & the Bunnymen) and producer Richard Turvey also contributed and are part of the touring line-up, handling bass and keyboards respectively. With Paul having set out to evoke not the original sound, but the original spirit of the band with the new line-up, The Wild Swans Mark III began officially in 2009 with the release of the single English Electric Lightning and a set of triumphant comeback gigs in Liverpool, which met with rave reviews.

This year, in 2011, The Wild Swans have released the album The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years, which Paul Simpson says has satisfied his decades-long yearning to make ‘the definitive Wild Swans masterpiece’. Released on the independent Occultation label, the new album has sacrificed no artistic integrity for commerciality’s sake, and is a superb album that definitely recaptures the spirit and intensity of The Wild Swans’ early 80s material. While it may be different in sound, The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years succeeds in recapturing the dark, ethereal feel, along with the wistfulness of the early material, and the romantic anguish of the lyrics, which muse over the state of England in the present day, the decline in culture under the governments of the last 30 years and the need for revolution. Subjects being largely ignored by many of the younger bands currently being hyped by the media… and The Wild Swans’ new material possesses a power and artistic strength lacking in many newer bands in today’s big business-controlled music climate. The Wild Swans have toured the UK recently and their live shows are nothing short of excellent, the new line-up possessing a perfect chemistry cutting right to the heart of the true spirit of the band. The Wild Swans have waited 30 years for their heyday, so why not now. Anyone reading this is strongly recommended to check them out live. The Wild Swans are still remembered as one of the greatest lost bands of the post-punk era… except that they are no longer ‘lost’. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the new album is but the first of more solid masterpieces from these legends. If Paul Simpson’s mother did indeed predict her son would be huge, then she may indeed have been right… he may not be as famous as some of his musical peers from the time, but he has had a more than impressive career as a singer-songwriter and musician, and is still going strong. Now that his 30-year ghost has been exorcised with the resurrection of The Wild Swans, it’s time for this unsung legend of music to be appreciated by a wider audience.

The Wild Swans- Official Website
Renascent Records (contains Wild Swans microsite)
Interview with The Wild Swans
Interview with Paul Simpson


Cast Of Thousands- Unsung New Wave Legends

This Excavating The 80s entry looks at Cast Of Thousands, the New Wave band hailing from Derry which gained a reputation as a stunning live act in their hometown and London in the mid-80s.

Cast Of Thousands’ material is nowadays extremely rare and written material on the band is scarce, which is surprising given the quality of their songs and the rapturous reception they received at their live shows during their tenure. So let’s take a look at this long-overlooked New Wave band and give them some much-deserved recognition.

Cast Of Thousands (occasionally written as Cast Of 1000s or A Cast Of Thousands) were formed in Derry, Northern Ireland, circa 1985 by Jim Walker (guitar) and Dave Harvey (vocals). Both were veterans of the Northern Irish Punk scene, Jim Walker having previously played in Punk band The Sect. The band’s early, Post-Punk styled material gained them a local following in their hometown, where they gigged regularly around numerous pubs. It was when their music caught the attention of Robert Stephenson, working for London-based Fun After All Records, that Cast Of Thousands were to attain their brief but deserved foray into Rock stardom.

Robert Stephenson had heard the band via a tape of them that his brother brought back to London after a visit to Derry. He went over to Belfast to see them live and approached the band after the gig with the offer of a visit to London to sign a record deal. Jim and Dave were brought over to London, where they were signed to Fun After All Records, a small independent label originally founded by Martin Hooker of Music For Nations to release the debut single by Boom Boom Room.

With the aid of Stephenson, a solid line-up was soon formed when Londoner Greg Terry Short was hired on drums, soon to be joined by Nick Graham on keyboards and Mark Megennetty on bass. A debut album and a tour of Europe was funded, and the band brought their sound to a wider audience, their live performances consistently gaining rave reviews. Although the chances of success looked reasonably promising, things were far from easy for the band as money was low (the band now admit to having ‘tried to be Rock stars before they were’ and overspent massively whilst in Europe) and with three different managers in control, creative integrity soon took second place to the need to satisfy the record company. As the band were used to the homely, localised feel of Derry, where they retained a solid following, they felt overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of London and found it more difficult to get gigs and press coverage than they expected.

The band’s only album release, Passion, produced by Steve James, was released in 1986. As a ‘debut’ album, Passion is an extremely impressive effort, giving the impression of a band which had been going for some time rather than one which had only formed a year earlier. A distinctly Northern Irish flavour runs through the album, throughout which the band’s Post-Punk roots are melded into a style of anthemic, folk-tinged Indie Rock with a touch of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. From the beginning of opening track This Is Love, when the guitars crash in as Dave Harvey’s distinctive voice announces “This Is Love, and I will shout it” the band leads the listener into a smooth run of powerful, stadium-like tunes with melodic, singalong choruses that never fail to grip the listener’s attention firmly. While frequently compared to Simple Minds, the band’s multi-layered, unashamedly ‘big’ sound combined with introspective, occasionally romantic lyrics and mellow delivery is perhaps more reminiscent of The Icicle Works. Single release September, probably the band’s best-known song, is a definite highlight, with unforgettable Indie-style guitar licks and a yearning, atmospheric vocal, while Immaculate Deception has all the makings of a New Wave classic. Passion is a true unsung gem of the New Wave era, which has aged well and could have been a hit album given the right circumstances.

Indeed, singles September and Nothing Is Forever would seem to have ‘hit’ written all over them just upon listening to them. But the band was struggling to gain exposure- with the record company’s limited budget, promotion was low and the band faced difficulty getting gigs and securing a more proficient record deal. After several years, the lack of widespread recognition and the scarcity of money took their toll, and the band called it quits.

Following their short-lived tenure on the lower rungs of Rock stardom, Cast Of Thousands were to become largely forgotten, unknown to this day even by many hardcore New Wave enthusiasts. However, this was not to be the case in their hometown of Derry, where they remain fondly remembered to this day, as a band that could immediately command the attention of an audience of total strangers with the power of their live set. In 2008, the band finally reunited for a one-off gig in their hometown, a triumphant reunion for both the band and their longtime fans. Although a full-time reunion has not been spoken of, Jim Walker remains musically active, performing regularly around Derry with covers band The Jaywalkers. And with their material remaining very hard to find, let’s hold out hope that the Passion LP will eventually see a remastered CD reissue, so the music of these unsung New Wave legends may finally be brought to a wider audience.

Cast Of Thousands- The Fanning Sessions Archive
Cast Of Thousands guitarist Jim Walker’s YouTube channel

NB: With the limited amount of information and resources available on Cast Of Thousands, every effort has been made to ensure the information in this article is as accurate as possible. If you spot any inaccuracies or can expand on the information here, please leave a comment via the comment tool- Thanks

TV21- Unsung Post-Punk Legends

Today on Excavating the 80s we pay tribute to TV21, the massively understated Post-Punk/New Wave band who seemed destined for major success when in 1981 they were made the subject of a rave review in Melody Maker and months later became front cover stars of that very paper… only to announce their split the next week. TV21’s sound epitomized the very essence of Post-Punk with all its integrity and aggression, and with a debut album so strong as A Thin Red Line these guys deserved to be hailed as timeless legends of classic Post-Punk. Instead, their story just fizzled out, and they remain unsung and forgotten by music historians to this day. And a deeper look at their history reveals record company problems to be the root cause of TV21’s untimely demise. Yet their material has aged well and quakes with an in-yer-face aggression and intensity that many of today’s supposed ‘alternative’ acts would kill to master. They are a band that no fan of the Post-Punk movement and its imitators should miss out on. So Excavating the 80s is happily obliged to do its bit to ensure that TV21’s legacy and output will live on, and hopefully- as is the intention with all bands featured in this blog- be introduced to new listeners, among whom may be the Rock stars of the future.

TV21 was formed in 1979 by old schoolfriends Norman Rodger (vocals, guitar) and Ally Palmer (guitar), who had been in bands together throughout their teenage years spent in Prestwick, South Ayrshire. Norman met bassist Neil Baldwin at the college they attended near Liverpool, and Neil joined the band along with original drummer Colin MacLean. Good friends of Mike Scott, later to become known as frontman of The Waterboys, the band followed Mike’s then-current band Another Pretty Face to Edinburgh to take advantage of the burgeoning music scene there. In 1980 they brought out their first single, Playing With Fire/Shattered By It All on their own label, Powbeat. Produced by The Teardrop Explodes’ Troy Tate, the two songs of the double A-side contain the trademark staples of the TV21 sound- driving rhythms and an instantly catchy chorus melody delivered by the gruff, hollering tones of Norman Rodger. And it brought the band to the wider public- after Norman and Neil hitch-hiked down to London on a Friday, dropped a bag of records off at Radio 1 and hitched back to Edinburgh on the Saturday- Shattered By It All was played on BBC Radio 1 the following Monday morning. They followed it with another single release, Ambition b/w This Is Zero/Ticking Away (also produced by Tate) and amidst regular touring, recorded a session for John Peel’s BBC radio show in September 1980. This led to a one-off single deal with Demon Records towards the end of the year, who released the single On the Run, and after it shifted 4,000 copies, Demon offered the band a full deal. The band subsequently began working towards the recording of its first album.

Around January 1981, Colin MacLean left the band to be replaced by ex-Rezillos drummer Ali Patterson, and Ali’s tighter drumming style led to new song arrangements, which in turn led the band to recruit a fifth member, Dave Hampton, on horns. Hampton’s soaring trumpet sound added an extra layer to the band’s sound as well as what was at the time a more commercial edge, in-keeping with chart regulars The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen. Things were looking good when TV21 were given numerous support slots for well-known bands. In the summer of that year, as the single Snakes and Ladders was set for release, the band was confident this song would be their commercial breakthrough. Indeed, it could have been- and should have been. Snakes and Ladders, to this date probably the band’s most well-known song, is, simply put, nothing short of an absolute classic. A real attention-demanding tune that instantly captivates the listener, Snakes and Ladders is quintessential Post-Punk at its mindblowing best. Carried along by an intrepid, marching drum rhythm and driving bassline, Norman Rodger’s impassioned, angry vocal delivers a melody simple enough to pass for a Punk playground chant, with an intensity that never falters throughout the song, accompanied by a ritualistic backing chant of the title and a spiky, insistent trumpet rhythm from Dave Hampton. And with its big-business scathing lyrics, Snakes and Ladders has the marks of a true protest song, a rabble-rouser that fearlessly delivers its rolling thunder to command the full attention of its listener. It had ‘hit’ written all over it. If it had been a hit, its irresistible catchiness would have guaranteed it non-stop radio play. Even had it been the band’s only hit, it would have earned TV21 their deserved place in the history books and would certainly still be well-known to this day. It would be one of those songs that everyone knows; the kind of song that could easily be adopted as a football chant.

The band members were so sure this song would be a hit that according to Ally Palmer, the week of its release they debated in a pub in Edinburgh about how they would perform the song on Top Of The Pops the following week, certain it would at least reach the Top 40. Alas, it was not to be. Snakes and Ladders made the top 100, but peaked outside the top 75 and passed unheard by the mainstream public. For in the months preceding the single’s release, the band’s relationship with Demon Records had proved unstable, as they had reached a major fallout with the label over musical direction. The new material the band was recording for the album was not commercial enough for the record label’s liking, and following endless arguments, Demon had delayed the release of Snakes and Ladders by 6 weeks. The band had intended to promote the single on a tour as support act to The Undertones, but due to the delay in its release they had toured with nothing to promote, and the record company failed to give the single sufficient enough promotion to ensure a chart placing. From here it was pretty much downhill for the band as tensions increased between themselves and the record company. Both band and label were dissatisfied with the final sound of the album, A Thin Red Line, upon its release in November that year. The songs were not ‘poppy’ enough for the label, while the band felt their trademark raw sound had been compromised too much in the studio. Hopes that the album would nevertheless prove a success were diminished when Demon Records clashed with the band over which album track to release as a single to promote it. The catchy, anthemic Ideal Way Of Life was the band’s choice, but the label opted instead for the more brooding, less instantaneous Something’s Wrong, and released the song in a remixed form which the band hated. The single was released too close to Christmas to gain sufficient promotion and failed to chart, and when the album- despite a rave review in Melody Maker– was either ignored or slated by the remainder of the music press and sank without trace, it seemed the band’s time had been cut cruelly short.

Although the band members still maintain today that they find the album a disappointment, most fans agree that it is still a superb album in its own right. While it could certainly have been better had the band had more freedom, A Thin Red Line is nevertheless a fantastic album; a powerful debut that more than holds its own alongside the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles and the Teardrops’ Kilimanjaro and should rightfully be hailed as a masterpiece of its time. True enough, the band’s sound was compromised in the studio, as it only takes a quick listen to the band’s live recordings to notice the vast superiority of the latter. The band had clashed slightly with producer Ian Broudie (now best known as the man behind The Lightning Seeds) over the sound; while TV21 was a band fully intent on retaining the raw, spontaneous energy of Punk, Broudie had wanted the album to fit in better with the more concentrated sound popular at the time, as many Post-Punk bands made the transition to the more polished sound of New Wave. But although the band’s sound is indeed digitised on the album, a lot of the raw aggression essential to the TV21 sound still shows through. There isn’t a single dull moment on the album, for the band’s inherent knack for instantly gripping melodies sustains through every track. There are many highlights, with the aggressive, horn-driven Ideal Way Of Life (which should indeed have been a single), the contemplative melancholy of Ticking Away (a re-recording of an early b-side), the emotive ballad It Feels Like It’s Starting To Rain and the brooding intensity of the Tory-scathing What’s Going On. As the only album release from their original tenure, A Thin Red Line is a more than impressive effort, filled with superb tracks infused with socio-political lyrics.

But following the album’s failure to make an impact at the time, TV21 found themselves at the mercy of their record company, who gave them one final chance. They agreed to extend the band’s contract by 3 months, during which the band would record a further single purely under Demon Records’ terms, and the contract would only be renewed if this single was to be a hit. By this point the band was pretty demotivated after all the setbacks and record company quarrels, and simply went along with Demon’s wishes during the subsequent recording sessions. The resulting single, All Join Hands, indicates just how different the record company’s expectations of TV21 were from the band’s natural style. Out of all their songs, All Join Hands is by far the least representative of TV21’s overall sound. Heavier on synthesizer use in an attempt to fit in with the synthpop that was big at the time, in terms of Melody and feel All Join Hands actually resembles Midge Ure-era Ultravox. It was hated by the band, slated by the press, and did not make the chart. Quite a few fans, myself included, still actually reckon it’s a pretty good song, as uncharacteristic of TV21 as it may be. And as a lyrical slant against the politics of Thatcher and Reagan it actually works pretty well. Nevertheless, it did the band no favours and Demon Records dropped them.

Now minus a contract and lacking in money, the band made one last attempt to raise their profile with a short tour supporting none other than The Rolling Stones on a series of Scottish dates. By this point they had a series of new songs for a potential second album (NB: three of these tracks- My Chance, Omei, and B.B.’s In Town- were played live on the band’s final Peel Session; I’ve been unable to track down these recordings so if anyone has them please message me! Thanks) but the new songs were stylistically uneven due to uncertainty within the band over what direction to take. Although TV21 stayed true to their trademark raw energy and played a series of triumphant sets to a positive response, the hoped-for A&R men did not approach them, and after one final gig at the Edinburgh Playhouse, the band decided to quit while they were ahead, and announced their split.

As such, although they certainly deserved success, clashes with the corporate giants of the music business had denied it to them, and TV21 faded into obscurity. But thankfully, TV21’s story does not end there. It has a happy footnote which has become more than just that; indeed it has become a whole new chapter in itself. For TV21 reformed in late 2005 for a one-off gig to mark the first anniversary of the death of John Peel, and this reunion was to prove a true second coming. The band chose to continue playing live and made a new name for themselves around their hometown of Edinburgh, still gigging regularly today. Now consisting of Norman, Ally, Neil and new drummer Simon McGlynn (Ali and Dave having moved away from Scotland), TV21 are going strong once again, this time without the burden of record company pressure.

And not only have TV21 now been around longer in their second coming than they were in their first, but they have even released a second album, Forever 22, which came out in 2009 and has been met with more than enthusiastic reviews from their fans and media. Forever 22 is a great album- 28 years after their debut it shows TV21 have lost none of their songwriting ability nor their energy, and without the burden of heavy-handed production the band’s true spontaneity totally shines through. Although the band has only played gigs around Scotland so far since their reformation, let’s hope they reach beyond their homeland to play a few gigs in the rest of the UK and maybe even abroad, for not only do they have more fans than you’d expect, but anyone unfamiliar with them could definitely do a lot worse than check out one of their shows. And they’d be a perfect influence for newer bands of today (Indeed my own band The Bacillus has been heavily influenced by them, shameless plug over!). And to anyone who’s been inspired by this article to track down their albums, I strongly recommend you go after some live bootlegs too, for it’s in the live environment that the band excelled- and still excel- at their best. Now 30 years on from A Thin Red Line, it’s time for the music world to wake up to TV21’s awesomeness.

TV21 Biography/Interview
TV21 Interview
Sounds Article from 1981
Is This Music?: TV21

TV21- taster

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Inbetweeners
Tags: , , ,

Sorry it’s been a couple of weeks since the last entry, I’ve been busy with the holidays and all and haven’t quite had time to put together the next entry. So here’s a quick taster from the band it’s gonna be about:

Message me if you’ve any requests for bands/artists you’d like to see on the blog in the meantime 🙂

Furniture- Lost 80s New Wave band

Today Excavating the 80s takes a look at Furniture, the New Wave band best known for their UK chart hit Brilliant Mind in 1986, but who gave us a pretty impressive series of album and single releases throughout the decade. In that very song, vocalist Jim Irvin sang the words: “You’re at the stage, when you want your words heard and everybody’s ready…” It was apt, for everybody was ready to pay attention to a band that had struggled persistently for recognition throughout the early half of the decade. It was unfortunate that the mistakes of certain record labels prevented Furniture from being heard for very long.

Most of us 80s enthusiasts know Brilliant Mind pretty well, and the song still gets played on most decent 80s radio stations and at the better New Wave club nights. But Furniture produced far more great songs than their one-hit wonder status may have many believe, and very much deserved greater success.

Though most of their better-known output comes from the late 80s, Furniture existed throughout the whole decade, forming at the tail end of the 70s and continuing through to the early 90s. The band’s lifetime was a rocky ride, but it was certainly one that left a trail of sparkling gems. Core members Jim Irvin (vocals, percussion, keyboards), Tim Whelan (guitar, keyboards, occasional vocals) and Hamilton ‘Hami’ Lee (drums) formed Furniture in 1979 in Ealing, London. Furniture spent the first half of the 1980s as a struggling Post-Punk band, releasing their first single, the excellent Shaking Story/Take A Walk Down Town in 1981 on their own independent label, named The Guy From Paraguay. The songs, driven by punchy, staccato basslines, intense guitars and shuffling melodies, brought Furniture to the attention of the underground media and they gained a cult following in their hometown of London. Money was tight however, and it was another two years before a further release from the band appeared, in the form of the mini-album When The Boom Was On on Survival Records. The band’s sound was maturing considerably by this point, as melodies became more complex and Jim Irvin’s lead vocal gained its distinctive, introspective tone that would become a key characteristic of the group’s sound. Also at this time Sally Still and Maya Gilder joined the band on bass and keyboards respectively, consolidating the line-up that would remain until the decade’s end.

1984 saw two further single releases, Dancing The Hard Bargain and Love Your Shoes, then 1985 saw the release of the self-produced EP I Can’t Crack. (Survival released an LP called The Lovemongers in 1986 compiling most of the band’s material from this period.) Synths were featuring more heavily in the band’s songs at this stage as the early Punky edginess of their sound was mellowed out, the ‘pop’ singles showcasing one side of the band while experimental tracks such as The Script showcased the other. Furniture were by this stage establishing themselves as a band capable of producing catchy and intelligent alternative pop tunes alongside deep, intricate experimental melodies; highly innovative, but still struggling and largely ignored by the mainstream.

It was 1986 when the band finally received the stroke of luck it had been waiting for. Brilliant Mind, a song which came to Jim Irvin’s mind as he got on a bus in Hounslow after signing on the dole, was to provide their key to the mainstream media. A true thinking person’s pop song, enchanting, melancholy and emotional in tone, it caught the attention of Nick “The Captain” Stewart- the man who discovered U2- who signed the band to Stiff Records after being impressed by the demo. The song was released as a single and reached #21 in the UK charts; a good position, though in a perfect world a song like this would have been number 1. Considered an era-defining song by many (and apparently one of Boy George’s favourite songs of the decade), Brilliant Mind finally brought this long-struggling band to a wider audience.

However, Furniture’s run of good luck sadly proved short-lived, for it was only a short time after the success of Brilliant Mind that the events that would lead to the band’s downfall began to occur. A re-recording of the band’s 1984 single Love Your Shoes was released as the successor. A sparkly, catchy song contrasting an upbeat melody with a pessimistic lyric about a hopeless attempt at a relationship, the song certainly had ‘hit’ written all over it- and with widespread airplay beating even the current Madonna single it was looking set to be just that, when a huge cock-up on the part of Stiff Records (which was in the midst of a financial crisis) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and marked the end of the band’s chart career. Despite the heavy promotion and demand for the single, Stiff Records could not afford to press enough copies to satisfy demand, and the single sank without trace, failing to even make the top 75.

The band went on to record their first studio LP, The Wrong People, a splendid collection of top quality tunes continuing the band’s style of moody pop with intrepid experimentation. Stiff pressed 30,000 copies of the album, which quickly sold out, a sure indication that this was a band the public wanted to hear more of. But these 30,000 were to be the only produced copies of what was to become an extremely rare and much-sought-after album. Stiff succumbed to its financial problems, and went into liquidation, being sold to ZTT Records. Although the demand for further copies of The Wrong People was obvious, ZTT ignored this and deleted the album, trapping the band in a hopeless record contract with no chance to build upon its momentum. This set in motion a bitter series of legal battles as the band spent three years facing ZTT in the courts trying desperately to extricate themselves from the contract. The album could not have been more aptly named- Furniture, to put it simply, had been signed up with the wrong people, through no fault of their own.

It took the band until 1989 to free themselves from ZTT. By this time, they had toured Eastern Europe with the help of the British Council and built a solid fanbase there, but back at home, in their three-year absence from the charts the band had been completely forgotten. A deal was secured with Arista Records, and the band recorded a second studio album, Food, Sex and Paranoia. If anything, this album was even better than The Wrong People, moving far beyond the conventions of British pop and New Wave at the time to incorporate many Eastern influences into their work, with the use of numerous exotic instruments such as tongue drums and the yangqin zither. The singles, such as the intrepid and powerful One Step Behind You and Slow Motion Kisses still easily possessed high chart potential- even the B-sides were of a high standard, for instance the amazing International People, an Eastern-flavoured vocal duet between Jim and Sally driven along by intense exotic percussion which could easily have been an A-side in its own right. The band still clearly meant business, and creatively were at their peak- but the British media had long since lost interest by this point, and as the contrived tosh of Stock, Aitken & Waterman took over the charts while the alternative media moved onto the newly-emerged Madchester trend, the album was undeservedly ignored and vanished without trace.

Early in 1990, Maya Gilder left the band, and the other members chose to handle the keyboard parts themselves rather than replace her. The band began sessions for a third album, intended to be released on the Survival label, but another stroke of bad luck came their way and the label’s recording studio was shut down. The band nevertheless played a series of gigs throughout the summer of 1990, a notable one being a headline slot at the Reading Festival, which Jim Irvin remembers as one of the best shows of their career:

“I remember that show as being rather euphoric and we were told by the organisers that it was one of the best crowds in the tent that year – it certainly felt like a lot of people.

After the live shows, exhausted from their run of bad luck, the band decided to take a break, its members looking to pursue separate projects of their own. Their ‘break’ was to be an everlasting one- Furniture never reconvened, and the band silently dissolved as its members moved on to new- and successful- projects. Tim Whelan- who had been a member of The Transmitters alongside Furniture throughout the 80s- together with Hamilton Lee, moved on to great success with Transglobal Underground, the groundbreaking ethno-techno project that achieved massive recognition throughout the 90s and 00s and still records to this day. Transglobal Underground continued much of the experimentation with World Music that Furniture had begun towards the end of its career. Jim Irvin, meanwhile, after a brief spell with a synth-based music project, went on to become a successful journalist, together with Sally Still. He became the senior editor of Mojo magazine and continues songwriting to the present day, having written numerous songs for successful artists. Sally Still has continued her partnership with Jim, while managing various underground all-female bands inspired by the Riot Grrl movement and providing guest vocals for dance records. Maya Gilder became a producer for the BBC and now lives in New Zealand.

In 2010, after years of being a cause of much frustration for record collectors, The Wrong People was finally re-issued on CD, with numerous additional tracks. Let’s hope for a re-issue of Food, Sex and Paranoia along with the band’s earlier material.

Furniture could never be held responsible for their lack of commercial success- quite simply, they were the victims of bad luck, and major cock-ups on their record companies’ parts. They were experimental yet radio-friendly, introspective yet energetic, a true thinking person’s pop band, who like their contemporaries The Cure and The Smiths could have achieved success while retaining their own individuality, avoiding the temptation to conform to the passing trends of the mainstream. Deservedly, Brilliant Mind is well-remembered to this day and still appears on many 80s compilations as well as having been on several movie soundtracks. But it would be criminal for music history to treat Furniture as a one-song band- through just over a decade of existence, they left us a great collection of innovative and top quality material that still sounds fresh and inspirational to this day. For any die-hard music enthusiast to ignore one of the 80s’ best-kept secrets, to paraphrase Furniture themselves, they’d have to be out of their Brilliant Mind.


Today’s Excavating the 80s pays tribute to Plastics, the highly innovative and eccentric Japanese New Wave band who aimed at the American market during their short career. Officially called simply Plastics (though often referred to as The Plastics), the band’s upbeat, quirky and eccentric sound, fusing art-pop with electronica, was highly reminiscent of early B-52s and Devo and still sounds fresh and innovative thirty years on.

Forming in 1976, the band consisted of Chica Sato (vocals), Toshio Nakanishi (vocals, guitar, percussion), Hajime Tachibana (vocals, guitar) Masahide Sakuma (keyboards, guitar, bass programming) and Takemi Shima (rhythm box). Possibly for the sake of easy pronunciation for their Western target audience, the band members often shortened their names to Chica, Toshi, Hajime, Ma-chan and Shima respectively. Chica, Toshi and Hajime’s background in fashion and design led the band to develop a distinctive image as important to them as their music, emphasizing their spiky, artistic edge. Early in their career, the Plastics set their sights on the burgeoning New Wave scene in New York, taking their influence from American kitsch culture of the 60s and fusing this with a preoccupation with Western ideals of technology and consumerism contemporary to the late 1970s. This would become the prime focus of their acerbic, satirical lyrics.

As the legend has it, the band achieved their US breakthrough in 1979 when Toshio Nakanishi was designing tour programs for Talking Heads’ Japanese tour and slipped David Byrne a copy of their demo tape. Byrne was impressed, and noticing the similarity to his peers The B-52s, passed the tape to the latter band’s manager, who subsequently signed up to manage the Plastics.

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The band left a legacy of three studio albums during 1979-1981. Their debut, Welcome Plastics, is a fantastic collection of amusing, cartoony electro-punk tunes with jittery, staccato melodies much abound. It is a fine introduction to the fast, frenetic and neo-futuristic world inhabited by the Plastics. The opening track Top Secret Man gained exposure in the US when the band appeared on late night comedy show SCTV on NBC performing the song, and the band gained a strong following in New York, greatly respected by their peers The B-52s, Talking Heads and Devo, on whom they were to become a solid influence. The band’s tongue-in-cheek cover of The Monkees’ Last Train To Clarksville also gained them attention from the UK and US media.

Follow-up album Origato Plastico continued in the same vein, although the band now showed a firmer grip on their sound, upping the intensity on tracks such as the almost sinister Return To Wigtown and Interior, while lyrics became more dark and cynical in their critique of postmodern consumer culture, most evident in Diamond Head‘s dig at overly-serious artistic movements of the time, and Cards‘ satire of the Westerner’s value of the credit card, with the unforgettable refrain of “You got to get your card into her cunt”. The band’s sound remained predominantly fun and zany, and the potential controversy in the lyrics was overlooked by the US music press.

Third album Welcome Back Plastics in 1981 was exclusively tailored for the US and UK markets in an attempt to raise their Western profile, consisting of re-recordings of tracks from both the first two albums, improved with the band’s fuller, more refined sound. Commercial success eluded them however, and throughout 1981, musical differences arose within the band over their musical direction, Toshi keen to develop as a serious musician while Ma-Chanwanted to maintain the band’s image as a ‘party band’. This led to the band’s split at the end of that year.

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Perhaps their style was just too individual for Western mainstream media to fully embrace them, but the Plastics had been so admired by their contemporaries in both Japan and the US during their career that there was never any doubt their influence would last. They were instrumental in changing the face of Japanese pop, as electronic J-Pop came to dominate the Japanese charts, and bands like Polysics based their image on the Plastics and took their influence to new levels. The band members, meanwhile, remained musically active following their break-up. Toshi and Chica, married and living in the UK, formed quirky pop band Melon, while Toshi went on to form the offshoot Water Melon, who continued into the 00s with various different line-ups. Tachibana ditched his guitar for sax and released several jazz-based solo releases, going on to work with members of Yellow Magic Orchestra and Buffalo Daughter. Sakuma, meanwhile, went on to produce the band Judy and Mary, and later formed the band Nina with Takemi Shima, as well as Kate Pierson of The B-52s and Yuki of Judy and Mary.

Plastics reunited briefly in 1989 for some 10th anniversary live shows, while their 20th anniversary in 1999 was celebrated with the release of the tribute album Welcome To Plastic World, featuring covers of Plastics songs by numerous contemporary Japanese artists and containing contributions from Toshi and Hajime. More recently, in 2010 Hajime reunited the band, minus Chica due to London-based commitments (she is now a successful stylist in London), for a string of Japanese live dates.

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As a band central to both Japanese New Wave pop and the legendary New York underground music scene of the late 70s to early 80s, the Plastics’ importance in music history can not be underestimated, despite them having been largely forgotten by the Western media. With numerous alternative bands worldwide name-checking the Plastics as a major influence, now is a perfect time to revisit their back catalogue and appreciate a band that buzzed with a creative energy that more than rubbed off on their peers both at home and on the Western front.