A triptych is defined as “a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works intended to be appreciated together”.
Described as “An engaging mixture of dark atmospherics, pulsating electronics and imaginative textural guitar”, ‘Triptych+’ is the expanded mini-album from Robert Dean and Martin Birke.
Initially released on Bandcamp in 2019, its four tracks explore the more soundscape-inclined directions of notable guitarists like Manuel Göttsching, Michael Brook and in particular Robert Fripp.
Robert Dean is best known as having been a member of JAPAN who played guitar on all their albums up to ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ before moving on to work with Gary Numan and Sinead O’Connor. In a particularly rejuvenated return to music, this reissue of ‘Triptych+’ comes just a few months after the release of ‘Dimensions’, the debut long player from his more song-based project LIGHT OF DAY.
Meanwhile, Martin Birke is a former drummer turned electronic musician who as GENRE PEAK has worked with Dean’s former bandmates Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Mick Karn, as well as avant garde trumpeter Jon Hassell who collaborated with David Sylvian on ‘Brilliant Trees’ and ‘Words With The Shaman’.
Dean is a noted exponent of E-bow, a hand-held battery powered device patented in 1978 that opened up the possibilities of the electric guitar. By vibrating a string to create infinite sustain and high harmonics similar to feedback, the E-bow challenged players into introducing new techniques and inventive ideas while using the traditional six string.
‘Locust Storm’ captures its title with a flock of E-bowed echo locks over deep drones before steadily morphing into an understated percussive presence reminiscent of FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON ambient offshoot AMORPHOUS ANDROGYNOUS.
Continuing the use of repeats, ‘Amber Field’ is superb with the captivating soundscape reminiscent Robert Fripp’s work with on 2004’s ‘The Equatorial Stars’ and its crisp minimalist structure also recalling ‘Drawn From Life’, Eno’s earlier collaboration with J Peter Schwalm.
Based around an electronic sequence, ‘Avigation’ is gently rhythmic with Dean’s virtuoso passages providing bite as Birke builds his patterns before a pulsing synth bass leads into a tense section which is all the more urgent in its realisation.
Over 11 minutes, ‘Guidance Is Internal’ is the addition to the original ‘Triptych’ that sees layers of infinite sustain over an icy plate of hypnotic shimmer that moves into an otherworldly drift suddenly woken by a synthetic noise mantra at its climax.
At around 31 minutes in length, ‘Triptych+’ is an intriguing set of aural sculptures and sound paintings. Fitting nicely into the catalogue of experimental instrumental adventures by former JAPAN members, it will find favour with listeners who enjoy an occasional trek into the world of imaginary spaces and environmental escapism.
The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.
This vibrant post-punk scene, whose flamboyant clientele were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’ and ‘New Romantics’, became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.
Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”.
The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!
With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.
Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.
“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”
Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.
So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange.
Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected! Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.
When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!
VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.
The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.
And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.
Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.
Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.
With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s Nationwide programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.
The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.
Singer Tony Hadley said to The Electricity Club: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”
Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.
But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.
Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.
ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)
Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.
Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records
With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.
KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!
An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records
Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records
LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.
Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.
Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…
The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.
ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records
One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.
Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song gained heavy rotation at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!
Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records
THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)
Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.
Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area
Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.
Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.
Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funeral robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.
From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!
Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on Top Of The Pops but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.
‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.
Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune ; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…
Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.
Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records
Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!”
Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.
Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records
Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.
Roger Eno and Brian Eno explore the nation of sound and colour in their first ever duo album ‘Mixing Colours’ released on the prestigious classical label Deutsche Grammophon.
The brothers have worked together before, but never to write and construct an entire album. Notably with Daniel Lanois, the three-way partnership collaborated on a number of tracks like ‘Deep Blue Day’ for 1983’s ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’ and then to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first manned moon landing, its 2019 follow-up ‘For All Mankind’.
And on Roger Eno’s debut 1985 long player ‘Voices’, Brian Eno added his distinctive sonic enhancements to the largely piano-based palette, although production was left to Daniel Lanois.
The earliest sketches for ‘Mixing Colours’ began in 2005 and continued like a back-and-forth musical conversation through the exchange of files over a period of 15 years. It saw the more intuitively musical Roger improvising on a MIDI keyboard while inclined towards sonic architecture, Brian applied treatments as he saw fit using electronics to create colours and timbres not possible within a straight acoustic environment, metaphorically adding a tie to his younger brother’s suit.
“It’s something that neither of us could have arrived at alone” said Roger Eno, while his older sibling added “With classical instruments, the clarinet represents a little island of sound, the viola another and the grand piano yet another. Each instrument is a finite set of sonic possibilities, one island in the limitless ocean of all the possible sounds that you could make. What’s happened with electronics is that all the spaces in between those islands are being explored, yielding new sounds that have never previously existed. It has been a huge pleasure for me to explore that ocean with Roger’s unique compositions.”
Opening with ‘Spring Frost’, the piece sets the scene to coincide with the mornings getting lighter and warmer, highlighting the albums aural visual imagination. Meanwhile ‘Burnt Umber’ plays with ring modulated sound design for a mood of chime with bell-like overtones dominating, although in an appropriately understated manner.
‘Celeste’ recalls the two albums Brian Eno made with Harold Budd, ‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’ and ‘The Pearl’, the otherworldly electronics applied to the keyboard base providing a shiny escapist atmosphere. ‘Wintergreen’ paints an image as suggested by its title, with the interludes of its silence as important as its notes.
Although ‘Obsidian’ utilises the tones of a church organ, both ‘Blond’ and ‘Dark Sienna’ take a contemplative Franz Schubert influence into proceedings. The measured and vibey ‘Rose’ is very sparse yet cinematic, a track that could potentially be orchestrated.
Most of the closing seven tracks are reminiscent of ‘Voices’, with the misleadingly titled ‘Quick’ opening this suite with Roger’s solo piano placed in Brian’s reverberant cocoon. In fact with its synthesized sustain treatments on the ivories, ‘Ultra’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place at all on ‘Voices’. The same could be said for ‘Deep’, a piece that uses an almost infinite reverb to hypnotic effect.
From the colour family of ‘Burnt Umber’, ‘Cinna’ adopts its ring modulations. ‘Cerul’ acts as a kind of spacey music box lullaby that could have fitted into the more sparse sections of the ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack while fittingly, ‘Slow’ closes ‘Mixing Colours’ in a similar manner to ‘Grey Promenade’ on ‘Voices’, the two pieces being obvious second cousins with gentle virtual strings adding a subtle dressing to the soundscape.
‘Mixing Colours’ is a beautiful album with wonderfully meditative qualities, perfect as a Sunday morning relaxant. It is an immersive experience that will satisfy the minds and motivations of any ambient or modern classical music enthusiast, one that will help induce calm during an unparalleled period of stress and anxiety.
‘Mixing Colours’ is released in 20th March 2020 by Deutsche Grammophon as a CD, double vinyl LP and download
JAH WOBBLE was just 18 years old when he co-founded PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED with John Lydon, Keith Levene and Jim Walker. Real name John Wardle, he was given his nickname and first bass guitar by a drunken Sid Vicious. After two albums ‘First Issue’ and ‘Metal Box’, he left the band in 1980.
Despite this, his creative mind and distinctive hypnotic bass style was now freed to work with a diverse range of artists and producers over the next four decades.
These included François Kevorkian, The Edge, Brian Eno, Winston Tong, Alan Rankine, Brett Wickens, Bill Sharpe, Baaba Maal, Chaka Demus, Dolores O’Riordan, Sinead O’Connor, Andrew Weatherall and Bill Laswell, as well as groups like ONE DOVE and THE ORB.
Forming THE HUMAN CONDITION who released two live cassettes before disbanding, he headed to Cologne to collaborate with CAN members Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, the material eventually coming out as the ‘Full Circle’ album in late 1982 which included the minor European hit ‘How Much Are They?’. ‘The ‘Snake Charmer’ EP also featuring the trio followed in 1983.
Using his German experience, he showcased his eclectic tastes on the single ‘Invaders Of The Heart’, with Wardle reworking his bassline for PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED’s ‘Death Disco’ into a mutant post-punk dub excursion also featuring electronics and ethnic tape samples.
His album ‘Rising Above Bedlam’ was nominated for the 1992 Mercury Music Prize and although he didn’t win, he had played on one track from the eventual winner ‘Screamadelica’ by PRIMAL SCREAM. Outside of music, he obtained a BA in Music and Philosophy, while also acting as a book reviewer for the Independent on Sunday and The Times.
A strong advocate of World Music, he has a brand new album entitled ‘Ocean Blue Waves’ out this Spring with THE INVADERS OF THE HEART. The Electricity Club had the pleasure of chatting to Big John about his ethos and his career as one of the UK’s most influential and distinctive bass players.
Your new album ‘Ocean Blue Waves’ has a very cosmic vibe about it, what inspired its concept?
There wasn’t really a concept… sometimes with some records, there’s a bit of a backstory but in this case, it was “let’s go in the studio” and play naturally. The only number that had been pre-written was ‘Take My Hand’ which is a bit of a rock anthem.
Do you compose by manner of band jamming?
It’s our natural style, I would give them say a descending change and suggest a few things, but it would be the band doing their thing. My drummer Marc Layton-Bennet came a decade ago via my old percussionist Neville Murray who’s retired now, he was the guy who would always suggest musicians for me.
I met George King, my keyboard player through an engineer I worked with and my guitarist Martin Chung was a good mate of Marc’s, although I actually saw him on a video for a singer who he was playing with about six years ago. I tend to stick with the same musicians, like Neville was on the firm with me for like 30 years!
On ‘Ocean Blue Waves’, there’s a mix of instrumentals and songs like ‘Take My Hand’, ‘A fly Away’ and ‘Minds Float Free’, how do you decide when a track needs vocals?
You think “what does this track need?” and sometimes it sounds like a backing track and you can hear a saxophone on it or a topline of a vocal. I remember I had these dubby psychedelic tracks that weren’t really songs or an instrumentals, I was like “what is it?” but I then got thinking about William Blake, so it became this spoken word album.
Do lyrics come naturally to you?
Yeah, I’ve written a lot over the years, maybe a quarter of the live set has me singing and now I have to be careful and look after my voice properly which at 61 is a new one on me! I rented a room at an art studio in Manchester just to write some poetry ‘Odds & Sods Of Epilogues’ and an autobiography ‘Memoirs Of A Geezer’.
One highlight is the title ‘Ocean Blue Waves’ track which has a most amazing synth solo…
I came up with this b-line in Tokyo and it was driving me mad, we played it at a gig there and it was quite modal, not really much like the track as you hear it now.
I really wanted to use that b-line for something and the boys come up with something very different. It’s better live now and it’s very dreamy, we generally start the set with it.
But it’s so nice, you don’t really want to go into the first change or end the number, because it’s so nice and hypnotic!
We’re always pushed for time at the end of the night as we do quite a long set, so you have to do the change, you want that synth solo to go on and on and on! It’s got a lovely sound, it’s a bit softer and less minor key.
It all seems a far cry from PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, how do you look back on that time?
I loved it because I was just starting out, that youthful enthusiasm of an amateur, I’d like to think it’s something I’ve still got. I always like to quote a Suzuki line: “In the beginner’s mind, there’s many possibilities, in the experts there’s few…”, so I try to keep a naïve approach and play without thinking.
There’s certain basslines like PiL’s ‘Poptones’ that are so perfect and circular somehow… actually I went back to playing Fender Precision bass after using Magnum for years after we played in America and did an album with Bill Laswell. Fender Precision makes me play a little bit more chromatically, these chromatic runs somehow sound cleaner. It works well with the old stuff even though it’s evolving and the new stuff as well.
What influenced your playing style?
Dub reggae as a big thing, I loved soul, funk and disco. I liked the idea of patterns so very early on. I got my own modal sound going, because I would make patterns based around the dots of the fret. I couldn’t count, I took a little while to learn the notes so I went by the dots on the fretboard…. I made shapes and patterns so that naturally led to a certain kind of block unit. A lot of the stuff I do is A minor, B minor, they’re quite modal and fixed. When I play with a Fender, you get a flowing quality, it’s quite musical in its own way I think.
Did you eventually venture down the path of learning more formal musical theory?
No, not at all and it was probably just as well. I didn’t get conditioned and you become educated because I worked with some really great musicians over the years like Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay, and I hung on their every word.
I thought very hard about music and how the bass should work and sound like in conjunction with the drums or keyboards. I think I ended up thinking in quite an abstract way. I didn’t have any knowledge of Bach or tonality so you had your own kind of approach.
The sonic thing was a big part of it because my generation were in the studio playing electric instruments, so the actual sound was as important as the phrasing or the playing.
After PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, you were suddenly off to Germany to record the ‘How Much Are They?’ EP with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, how did that come about?
This was through a mate of mine, Angus MacKinnon who interviewed me in regard to ‘Metal Box’. We became friends and he knew I wasn’t happy in PiL, so he suggested I play with CAN. Holger happened to be in London with his manager Hildegard and we got introduced. I got on with him and we went to a studio to have a little try out. I wrote the basic parts for ‘How Much Are They?’, the b-line, the drum beat, the simple string parts and the triad chords over the bass so I was developing this style that was quite catchy.
What happened next?
Holger took it back to Cologne to edit it quite radically and it was mixed by Mark Lusardi, a very good engineer. It became the first track of an EP we did called ‘How Much Are They?’; it went so well that they flew me over to Germany and we recorded stuff like ‘Trench Warfare’ and other stuff. That’s when I met Jaki for the first time, he’s probably the most special person I’ve ever met… as a musician he’s a master player.
Had you been a CAN fan?
Yeah, a bit! I liked the groove stuff, I wasn’t mad on everything but it was stuff the stuff where Jaki got his thing going on those earlier albums that I liked.
How did you find playing along to drum machines?
I like drum machines, they’re in time and it meant you could play over and over and over. I’d been in squats and when PiL started, it was terrible the way the money was sorted out, but I was able to get a Wasp synthesizer, a little analogue Roland rhythm box, a Godwin String Concert keyboard, a WEM Copicat and then later a TASCAM multi-track cassette portastudio. So I was very idiosyncratic and quite obsessive. so I would sit there for hours with a drum machine going. It was fantastic because that really helps your timing, you become machine-like yourself really.
Holger Czukay was quite unique in that he was a bass player who was not really interested in playing bass anymore, but was becoming more of a sound painter, is that how you saw it?
Yes, I did. He was a producer… there had been clashes in CAN over the direction of the band but Holger was the guy who would be the architect and would get busy with the razor blade, editing after they’d recorded. So that’s how it was, he really liked my playing and thought it was fantastic, saying “I couldn’t do what you do!” and I was like “REALLY?”
Jaki really liked it too and I was really surprised but delighted. Holger said “It’s like Miles Davis, you play one note and everyone knows it’s you”. It strange, I still don’t know why or how or what, but I do have my own sound, I know I have my own sound. Jaki had his own unique sound too…
Jaki was quite fascinating in that he could play fast, but it would be quite ambient…
He was so simpatico over the space he was playing in, and he could play fast but there was a totality to the sound. Some of that was down to the fact that they only used a pair of overhead mics, it sounded so good in the studio. They didn’t have a dividing wall between the control room and the recording room at Inner Space Studio in Cologne.
It was one space, an old cinema so everything sounded great there. I learnt a lot and developed that over the years, not trying too hard with mics so that you get a total sound with a certain spacious quality within the music, even when it’s uptempo.
The ‘How Much Are They?’ EP was dedicated to Ian Curtis?
That’s right, his death was a shocker, he was a special person and it seemed like a nice thing to do, it was such a shame for him to die so young…
On the ‘Snake Charmer’ EP, you worked with the-then emerging François Kervorkian who brought a Linn Drum Computer to the studio, that must have been a revelation?
Yeah, but I wasn’t mad on the Linn Drum sound with its big toms and rock kick thing. I always preferred those Roland drum machines, but the Linn was still really good, it was a revelation. François was good to work with because he was from a dance background so he was really into making records dancey and tuned into the dancefloor.
François brought it in and there’s the famous story where Jaki became very cross with the Linn Drum and accused it of being slightly out of time! We thought that was impossible as it was a machine, but Jaki insisted it was out of time. So when we timed it back, it was! It was so incredible, like 4 BPM out, losing 3 BPM over the course of a minute but he was correct! He got really angry and played this cross-rhythm, then suddenly, there was this puff of smoke come out the back and the Linn fused! We couldn’t get it working again! So Jaki had out-synched this Linn Drum, that was the power of his mind!
‘Snake Charmer’ also featured The Edge from U2, how was it to work with him?
It was very easy, he was a very nice guy… when he arrived in the studio, I was having this massive row with François, I saw him and quickly said “Hallo, I know who you are, I can’t wait to talk to you but I’ve got to finish this f*cking argument! Nice to meet you!”*laughs*
The Edge was a nice bloke, François knew him because he’d remixed a couple of U2 tracks. He made a lovely sound on ‘Hold On To Your Dreams’, just beautiful.
You took a break from music but came back?
Sometimes I got lazy but I stopped drinking in 1986 and I was halfway through an album called ‘Psalms’, so the final half was done very newly sober. Then I started working as a courier and applied to work for the Post Office and London Underground. By 1987, I started working for the Underground, I chose them over the Post Office. I still miss for the Underground, I loved it.
I was listening to a lot of music, then Neville Murray knocked on my door and asked when we were going back on the road? So we put THE INVADERS OF THE HEART Mk2 together and we started again. We were working with a guy called David Harrow and I started being active in music again. If there was a break, it was only for about two months!
You worked with the late Andrew Weatherall on several occasions including on ‘There Goes The Cure’ from ‘Morning Dove White’ by ONE DOVE, what was it like to work with him?
I was living in South London and that rave scene was going when I walked to Embankment. I would see all these clubbers in Villiers Street, queuing to get into this after-hours club and thought “this is interesting”, this would have been around the beginnings of acid jazz. I started getting some work in that scene with those kind of DJs, Andy gave me a kick start coming back into the business.
You were working with Brian Eno for 1995’s ‘Spinner’, can you remember what the creative dynamic was like between you?
Brian Eno was a bit half and half… for one track, he said something like “Oh, I want you to treat it like a moreish maiden” and I was like “Stop being funny, stop playing games! DO YOU LIKE IT?” *laughs*
I do like Brian, you might get the impression I don’t, but I do! It was a good thing for me to do and he’s a kind man.
I’m touring with his brother Roger as part of THE ORB live band. He’s into all those minimalist Harold Budd and Debussy piano pieces and I think he’s been an influence on Brian. It all came about via Derek Jarman, he approached me and because he’d done ‘Jubilee’, he knew Brian.
I’d done these little piano pieces like Shostakovich, clusters of notes which we turned into tracks. There wasn’t a lot of money so we couldn’t use lots of players or have a big studio, we did it in my little home studio in Bethnal Green using our imagination. Some records don’t last as well as others but I think ‘Spinner’ has lasted really well, it’s really got something special about it and stood the test of time.
If you listen to ‘Spinner’ now, it’s like the precursor to some of the dance music productions over the next two years with the effects on the drums and stuff, because up until then, having effects on drums was seen as quite bad taste, it didn’t work.
You’d put phasing on guitar but you’d have to be careful about drums. But somehow, it kind of worked with that phasing.
I used to do a lot of walking along the Lea Valley in London, and you’d be walking past old soap factories up the River Lea and see semi-rural marshlands, so it would get very trippy.
So that would influence the music, doing things in 7/4 time with a real haunting vibe. It was like walking music because each time we’d finish a track, we’d use it to walk to. There was something about the whole do-it-yourself concept, the way it was recorded on computer and how we used our expertise to record loops of Jaki and stuff.
What would you say have been your career highlights?
There’s magical moments in my life and not just with music. One of my highlights was walking across the grounds of Birkbeck College, London University on the first day of term when I went there, that was wow! And there was driving the tube train, westbound from Stratford to Mile End for the first time on this really fast section of line… I was just thinking “I AM DRIVING A F*CKING TUBE TRAIN, HOW D’YA LIKE THAT!”*laughs*
It’s that sense that you have sometimes of observing yourself, it’s quite detached… like a big mind thing looking at you, you get that in life and you get it on stage often. It’s like when people talk about an out-of-body experience, but you’re in control, you’re the observed and the observer at the same time.
I’ve had so many moments like that, like the first gig in sobriety with Neville in Switzerland, I woke up in a pension hotel overlooking the square with the smell of croissants and coffee wafting up in the morning in spring… I was like “I’m sober and I’m back on the road”, it was magical!
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to JAH WOBBLE
While CHINA CRISIS scored four Top 20 hits during their Virgin Records imperial phase, the instrumentally strong Kirkby duo possessed a subtle atmospheric side.
On their B-sides, and usually the ones from singles that weren’t hits, there were some exquisite instrumentals like ‘Dockland’, ‘Watching Over Burning Fields’, ’96.8’ and ‘Little Italy’ that demonstrated Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon’s love of Brian Eno in particular, both solo and in collaboration with David Bowie.
Meanwhile the more guitar-based ‘Performing Seals’ and ‘Forever I & I’ pointed towards Vini Reilly, best known as the man behind Factory Records act THE DURUTTI COLUMN.
But as CHINA CRISIS developed and adopted more conventional colours, expanding to include Kevin Wilkinson (drums), Gazza Johnson (bass) and Brian McNeil (keyboards) in the line-up from ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’ onwards, their artier approach with regards instrumentals took a back seat.
Most of these notable instrumentals were the work of Gary Daly, the CHINA CRISIS synth man and lead vocalist.
And now, he has released a solo collection of 23 such tracks entitled ‘Luna Landings’ in a nod to Eno’s own ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’. Comprising of archive recordings made between 1981 to 1987, it is a beautiful work that is a worthy addition to the tradition.
These tracks had all been composed with CHINA CRISIS in mind, so are very much part of the band’s history, albeit only revealed decades later.
So in a new interview with Gary Daly, it made sense for The Electricity Club to discuss the creative dynamic within CHINA CRISIS, as well as their earlier synthfluences like JAPAN, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, OMD and THE HUMAN LEAGUE…
You started off as being more of a bass player in CHINA CRISIS, so how did the drift into keyboards begin?
Believe it or not, Eddie’s mum, Katie, had a catalogue at the time circa 1980 / 81 which could be found in most working class homes. So basically you could order and pay on a weekly basis, all manner of goods, everything from clothing to children’s toys, gardening to electrical goods and wow! There it was… a Yamaha CS 10 monophonic keyboard and Katie very kindly ordered it for us.
So yeah, Eddie and myself would have delighted soooo much in being able to experiment with a synth… it did help that the CS 10 was monophonic, one key / note at a time… hahaaa! We had been listening to so much Eno / Bowie / early HUMAN LEAGUE that we knew and understood you could actually make and play bass notes / sounds on a synth. So it was never a matter of “being a bass player” and drifting into keys, Eddie and myself would have been fearless in exploring any and all instruments / machines. We’d read enough Eno song credits to realise experimentation was “the key”.
Can you remember the first synth / electronic instrumental track you liked or that made an impression?
TANGERINE DREAM and their 1975 album ‘Rubycon’, it was ‘Rubycon Part One’. A friend had this album back in the day, 1975 / 76.
Everybody would loan each other’s albums, I very clearly remember Eddie lending me his copy of Bowie’s ‘Low’ album… nobody owned more than a few albums, never more then 15 / 20. So sharing each other’s records was essential really.
None of us had headphones and would improvise… most record players were sporting separate speakers so it was easy to set up a stereo headspace, on the floor, a speaker either side of your noggin. And boom! The stereo picture was complete!
Was there a particular moment when got you into more “ambient musics”?
Yes, that would be side two of Bowie’s ‘Low’ album, the mostly Instrumental side. That in turn led to me buying Eno’s ‘Before & After Science’ album, which led to me hearing Eno’s ‘Discreet Music’ album and that was a complete and utter revelation! I never knew music could be so “slow moving” and yet so completely engaging… the fact it had a diagram of how to set up a “tape loop” recording session was brilliant, it was exactly the kind of recording info I was wanting to see, read and learn from…
When you and Eddie decided to start making music together, did you start by creating instrumentals or were you songwriting from the off?
Always instrumentals, we only began writing words and singing over these little tunes because nobody else was going to do it for us… like we didn’t have a singer and we certainly didn’t consider ourselves as “singers”, but as much as we loved all our instrumental endeavours, it did feel the most natural thing in the world to start singing along… and when you are in your late teens, getting creative , there’s soooo much to sing about!
On ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms’, you got quite into bass synth sequencing like on ‘Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives’, what were you using to achieve this effect?
We mostly triggered from the Roland TR808 drum machine. We didn’t actually have a Sequencer, so we would trigger the arpeggiator on the Korg Poly 6. For bass synth sounds on ‘Difficult Shapes…’, we mostly used the Roland SH09 or the Yamaha CS10.
In hindsight, the first two singles ‘African & White’ and ‘Scream Down At Me’ are not really indicative of what CHINA CRISIS were to end up sounding like. Can you remember what your mindset may have been at the time as both tracks are very rhythmic?
TALKING HEADS… Eno’s work on their ‘Fear Of Music’ and then ‘Remain In Light’. Also people like A CERTAIN RATIO with their single ‘Shack Up’, ABC with ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ and JAPAN with ‘Quiet Life’, especially JAPAN’s ‘Quiet Life’… hearing the two songs now, ‘Scream Down At Me’ and ‘Quiet Life’, you could easily make a great “Mash Up” with those two…
While you were getting into producing possible pop songs, these gentle instrumentals like ‘Jean Walks In Fresh Fields’ and ‘Watching Over Burning Fields’ started appearing, what had been the thinking behind these?
I had always been a fan of instrumental music, everyone from Mike Oldfield to ELP. Once I’d heard Bowie’s ‘Low’ and then Eno’s albums ‘Before & After Science’, ‘Another Green World’ and then his ‘Music For Films’.
That was it! I just fell in love with making “soundscapes”, I think it helped shape and define our sound, our musical horizons became a whole lot broader and we could apply atmosphere and effects to all our musical endeavours…
Your first hit ‘Christian’ is effectively a type of ambient pop and combined your two interests, what was the song inspired by?
Eddie has reminded me, ‘Christian’ was originally called ‘WW1’; I’d seen images from the First World War, the devastation of trench warfare. I would have written some words relating to what I’d seen and once we had the music written and recorded, I would have spent some time listening repeatedly, over and over and sung along any and all of the words I’d been busy writing…
The actual ‘Christian’ of the title was the name of a little boy, who was friends with a nephew of mine… I’d never heard of anyone having that name. And when recording the track in Strawberry South, Dorking with Pete Walsh producing, we had nothing happening in the middle eight. Pete asked if we had any ideas and I would have just sang “Christian” at the point where the music changes and it worked beautifully.
Was it the Korg Poly6 that gave you the keys to exploring ambient textures more effectively?
I completely love the Korg Poly 6 and in fact , got to work with one again on my ‘Gone From Here’ album.
It’s such a lovely , warm , easy to use keyboard… ADSR… ATTACK, DECAY, SUSTAIN, RELEASE … cut off frequency, portamento. It’s everything you could want for making great synth sounds and always with an echo / effects unit… always!
Was there ever an example of one of these ambient experiments morphing into a CHINA CRISIS song?
All the time, Eddie and myself worked separately and together. This always led to us being impressed and inspired by what the other was doing. If Eddie was busy playing guitar, then that meant I could get involved with his sound, messing with our effect units, especially our Roland Chorus Echo unit and sorting the actual recording, using the TEAC 144 and later the TASCAM 244.
Eddie would do likewise when I was busy on the synths, this helped with our recording experiences once in the studio. It was like we was in training for when there would be a lot of people involved in our records being made, like we was learning to “produce”.
‘Dockland’ is one of the tracks that many fans cite as being one of the best CHINA CRISIS instrumentals, it has this fabulous widescreen feel…
It’s completely Eno, deffo his ‘Music For Films’… it’s almost like you could include it on that album and I doubt very much anyone would bat an eye lid! *laughs*
Even when CHINA CRISIS had changed direction into a more band oriented sound on ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’, there were still tracks like ’96.8’ being released as B-sides, but around the time of ‘What Price Paradise?’, you’d stopped playing keyboards in the studio to concentrate on singing and the instrumentals appeared to take a back seat?
Yeah, I am deeply sad about my absence on the keys. I was still very much writing on the keyboards and would have added my parts. But the band had been evolving, as all artists do if they are lucky enough to be given the time to. CHINA CRISIS had changed, Eddie and myself involving Brian, Gaz and Kevin in the writing which was, in it’s own way, a great thing. But it did mean I suddenly got more involved in melodies and lyrics for song ideas that were no longer just Gary and Eddie musical ideas. Some great songs, absolutely, but the “instrumentals” took a back seat, unfortunately.
So what was the spark that had you going back to this archive of instrumental work for ‘Luna Landings’?
Oh, it was always my intention to compile and release these tracks, ever since way back in the day. I would have always thought they would make a great record… maybe not for everyone, but yeah, I love these tracks as much as anything I’ve done and I would have made them thinking people would get to hear them.
There are two pieces named after your trusty Jupiter 8, could these have turned into songs?
Yes, that’s deffo how it worked, some ideas developed into songs and some didn’t, some I would show and finish with Eddie and others I didn’t. I learnt very early on to do multiple versions of the same idea, this again was Eno inspired. His ‘Music For Films’ featured a track called ‘Sparrowfall 1 / 2 / 3’ which was three mixes of the same track, this I felt was a great way of developing a musical idea… keep changing… finding new approaches. It worked great and is still something I do to this day…
Are ‘Evángelos’ and ‘Yellow Magic’ tributes respectively to VANGELIS and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA?
Yes they are… YMO, when we first heard and saw these guys, they was off-the-scale cool and VANGELIS, his work on the ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack is just so utterly beautiful, especially the version with some of the original dialogue… immense!
Was the ‘Luna Landings’ track ‘80’s Electro 2’ indicative of CHINA CRISIS’ uncertainty about whether to join in the Virgin finishing school of synth that was very much doing the business at the time with THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JAPAN, OMD and SMPLE MINDS?
Hahaaa oh, I don’t believe Eddie and myself ever thought we belonged to any “school” of music. We obviously were very very inspired by everyone’s work, especially early HUMAN LEAGUE / OMD… but always, we was very very singular minded and not really part of any “scene”, we just didn’t have the time or inclination… or dare I say it , the “right” look! *laughs*
There’s one called ‘Pipes Of Man Ray Times’, had this been originally part of a song suite like OMD had with ‘Joan Of Arc’?
This track was written and recorded the same week I did the ‘Black Man Ray’ demo, hence the title. This is a good example of ideas I would and wouldn’t have played to Eddie, ‘Black Man Ray’ / yes… ‘Pipes of the Man Ray Times ‘ / no… and for no other reason than I would have thought ‘Black Man Ray’, I was more pleased with the recording and could envision it becoming a CHINA CRISIS “song” which it wouldn’t have been at the time of recording the demo; ‘Black Man Ray’ would have been just another instrumental track…
CHINA CRISIS could come up with some witty if long titles like ‘King In A Catholic Style’ or ‘A Golden Handshake For Every Daughter’, did these often come after a track was composed or were they actually the inspiration?
Never the “inspiration”, the music and lyrics always came separately. All our early China songs came from little instrumentals, over which we would then sing lyric ideas, words we had collected, written in a pad, anything and everything…
There are some guitar based instrumentals which sound like cousins of ‘Forever I & I’ and recall THE DURUTTI COLUMN, how would you judge your own six string prowess?
Mostly awful… hahaaa! It’s a bit better now… but yeah, recording Eddie’s guitars gave me a bit of insight into how Vinnie Reilly was getting his sound.
So when I had the chance to play and record some of my own guitar ideas, I was deffo inspired by Eddie’s guitar playing and Vinnie’s, especially his album ‘The Return of The Durutti Column’ which I played non-stop and still do.
‘Magnifique Lune’ does sound like it could have come off Brian Eno’s ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’?
It’s very much another Eno inspired track… a simple refrain, repeated, added to and then returning to the original refrain. I think this was something I would have first noticed on Eno’s ‘Discreet Music’ album, a simple pattern on repeat and the challenge is to add something without taking away from the simplicity. It was all done on the wonderful Roland Jupiter 8 synth…
‘Shopping For Excuses’ appears to be the beginning of a more Trans-Atlantic approach that is more indicative of where you headed on ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’, had this development evolved naturally?
The funny thing is, I was deffo in a ‘Betty Blue’ soundtrack frame of mind, when writing and recording this, I can’t listen to it without thinking of that film’s soundtrack which I actually loved and played so much, I thought I must have written it… hahaaa! It most certainly has a different feel about it, which I think mainly comes from the fact it’s one of the later recorded tracks, circa ’87.
You pay tribute to the late CHINA CRISIS drummer Kevin Wilkinson on ‘Swimming With Kevin’, what was he like to work with and have as a friend?
Well, he certainly was a great friend and anyone who found themselves lucky enough to be in his company , working or otherwise, I’m sure would say the same… I always found Kevin to be so easy to work with, I never once thought I couldn’t show him any of my ideas.
I always felt he was so much more than a drummer and this is not something I’ve overthought, it’s just something you feel… I suppose “chemistry” is the word and that’s the magical part. I always knew he could only improve whatever it was I was trying to do with a track.
The title comes from a day off we had on the CHINA CRISIS ‘Tragedy & Mystery’ tour in 1983; we had a hotel with a pool and decided to go swimming. I would have written and recorded this as part of the China’s ‘Fire and Steel’ sessions, around about the time of writing and recording ‘The Gates Of Door To Door’…
The fact that this material is recorded on Portastudios gives ‘Luna Landings’ a really earthy airy quality don’t you think, despite the vintage of the recordings?
The quality of the recordings is testament to the people what made those little tape recorders and the people behind “chrome cassettes”… I did make it my business to always record to the very highest standards.
I did it all the best I could. It was completely thrilling, mostly all of the time I spent recording ideas. It was a really amazing time, learning and discovering and having fun…
There are a lot of tracks on ‘Luna Landings’, but do you have a favourite?
I do absolutely love some of them… ‘Luna Bop’ is so happy sounding and delightfully light and positive while ’80’s Electro 2’ never fails to make me smile.
‘Dummkopf’ is me thinking I’m Mick McNeill from SIMPLE MINDS circa ‘New Gold Dream’. The China’s supported SIMPLE MINDS on their ‘New Gold Dream’ tour and I was blown away by the band and the sound they made which I thought came a lot from Mick’s keys. The fact he was using the JP8 just inspired me loads, I would have come home off the tour and started to record and try and find out how Mick was creating such “atmospheric” sounds. I think anyone seeing them around this time and then hearing my ‘Dummkopf’ will know exactly what I was trying to do…
Do you think you will do another ambient instrumental album in the future?
Yes, but I’m very much of a mind to do a “piano pieces” album, I mostly compose on the piano now and have been for quite a number of years. Two of my fave ambient albums are Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’ and his collaboration with Harold Budd on the album ‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’…
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Gary Daly
CHINA CRISIS 2020 UK + Ireland live dates include:
Leeds Brudenell Social Club (6th March)*, Dublin Opium (12th March), Listowel Mike the Pies (13th March), Castlebar Royal Theatre (14th March), Worthing The Factory Live (20th March), Isle of Man Gaiety Theatre (19th April), Winchester Railway Inn (25th April), Cheltenham Jonny Rocks Stadium – Discover the 80s (23rd May), Newark Festival (29th August)