More by luck than judgement

“Wilder” is an important album for me. I’ve talked about my introduction to the Teardrop Explodes already, but I didn’t really talk about “Wilder”‘s place in my heart. I might not again because history ain’t that special and nobody cares about mine. But “Wilder” deserves a decent reissue, and the new double CD edition of it released this week isn’t quite good enough.

A few years ago, The Teardrop Explodes’ first album “Kilimanjaro” was reissued as a 3 CD deluxe edition. Disc one was the album itself, Disc Two was all the early Zoo singles issued before the album was recorded and b-sides from the album’s singles and Disc Three was three Radio One sessions from 1979 to 1981 showing the development of the material. The new edition of “Wilder” would be far superior if it were three CDs, but instead it is two discs – one being the original album and the other being b-sides and two more BBC sessions from 1981. The singles tracks include all five songs from their final EP issued in 83 after the band had split up – and which was my introduction to the band – but the songs are randomly placed amongst other b-sides. And the BBC session tracks – as noted in Bob Stanley’s blog here and probably elsewhere – sound very different to the eventual album versions. We have to go back to January 1981 to find out why.

In that month, Mercury issued the single “Reward” for a band that barely existed at that point. The line up for the previous six months had disintegrated. Guitarist Alan Gill had quit, unable to take the psychic warfare within the band and returned to his own band Dalek I Love You whose debut album “Compass Kumpass” was a minimal synthpop treat from 1980. Julian Cope also used this as a chance to sack keyboard player Dave Balfe, leaving not much of a band – Cope and drummer Gary Dwyer. According to Cope’s “Head on” autobiography he then recruited session players for guitarist, keyboard player and bass – allowing him to concentrate on singing and taking control of the band. These auditions seemed to take place in an acid daze and he just accepted whatever was bearable. He also took control of the songwriting too – all previous songs had been collaborations between Cope, Dwyer and previous guitarists Mick Finkler or Alan Gill. All songs issued in 1981 would be credited to Cope alone.

Issuing “Reward” in January was a masterstroke for the label – it’s always a quiet time in the post-Christmas doldrums so a good time to issue a single to break a new band. Their major label debut single “When I dream” had been moderately successful the previous Autumn and they’d performed it on “Swap Shop” and had good radio play for it. “Reward” would break the band at a point when they were changing radically, and the subsequent reissue of the “Treason” single and “Kilimanjaro” album made them a pop sensation in their homeland using material that was essentially a different band from what they were at the time.

In the Spring of 81 the new five piece band toured the USA, working on mainly new material that Cope was writing. This material was being affected by changes he was going through – falling in love with a new woman and struggling to hide this from his first wife. Also his intake of LSD made a difference, and the perceived success of his rival Ian McCulloch with Echo and the Bunnymen. The new band appeared to gel on stage but behind the scenes were already divided in those who were chemically enhanced (Cope, Dwyer) and those who were unenhanced (keyboard player Jeff Hammer and bass player Alfie Agius). Guitarist Troy Tate fell between the two camps, siding with whoever was most interesting.

While the band were being treated like psychedelic cult artists in America they were regarded as pop star pinups in their homeland. When they returned to home soil they were treated very differently. 1981 saw the return of the pop star with artists such as Adam and the Ants, The Human League and Duran Duran crossing over into the mainstream, but having enough roots in punk and post-punk to have theories and schemes worth hearing in interviews. Cope also fell into this category and gave very good interviews, talking about his musical heroes like Jim Morrison and Scott Walker, and about the next Teardrop album – “The Great Dominions”. The first BBC session on the second disc of the “Wilder” gives some idea of what the album would have sounded like – “Pure Joy” is nearly as fast as the eventual version on the album, but “Like Leila Khaled said” and “The culture bunker” are slower and more lumpen. There are better live versions of both songs, but not from this lineup.

After the success of “Treason” as a single the band toured the UK in the summer of 81. They were greeted by screaming female fans almost everywhere they went. Cope thought he could persuade these new fans to “dig” his idols and new direction and courted them while secretly despising them – an incident at a gig in Nottingham where he grossed them out by saying something along the lines of “You all want to shag me” caused consternation. The band’s performances at this time were interesting and there are numerous bootlegs from this tour, and a BBC Transcription Disc (which was eventually released as a live album). The band were perfectly capable of playing the older material from “Kilimanjaro” but the newer material wasn’t quite working with this lineup. “The culture bunker” and “Sleeping gas” were both getting longer and the band were encouraged to improvise. Tate would rise to the challenge and prove himself to be the best guitarist the band would have, alternating spindly guitar lines with soaring sustained notes. On the other hand Agius would be stuck in his one groove and Hammer didn’t really have the equipment to improvise much – an organ and piano and string synth. “The culture bunker” itself would start to drag – Cope’s solo introductions on guitar would start fast then the whole band would come lumbering in at about 15 mph and drag the song down. Other new songs played during that period included “Suffocate”, “The great dominions” and “Screaming secrets”. The first two songs had been introduced on a BBC session in January – probably the first recordings of this lineup – which appeared on the “Kilimanjaro” reissue. “Suffocate” sounds closest to the version which was issued on the b-side of “You disappear from view” in 1983, while “The great dominions” is how it was played as a regular encore during 1981 – grandiose piano and huge chorus. “Screaming secrets” would be recorded in the Richard Skinner session for the BBC in August 81 included on the “Wilder” reissue and again this whole session shows the problem with this lineup.

The session really starts with “Better scream / Make that move” – a medley of Wah! and Shalamar songs which works strangely well, big churchy organ chords holding the song together, but already Cope is getting self-referential – “I can hear you screaming secrets in your sleep”. “Screaming secrets” follows and it’s nowhere near fast enough – live versions are far faster and less reliant on piano and more reliant on Tate’s guitar. Cope is almost murmering the lyrics when he should be shouting them. “And the fighting takes over” is almost as good as the “Wilder” version but again the organ bed takes the song over. Finally “Bent out of shape” is one organ song too many, in a very similar arrangement to “The great dominions” only substituting grandiose piano for grandiose organ. Cope said at the time he was obsessing over Traffic’s “John Barleycorn must die” album and it was reflected in this session – the emphasis on organ textures and the speed of the songs.

When “Passionate friend” was issued at the end of the summer it was the first official recording by this lineup and it showed the band at their pop peak, the melodies building forever skywards, but there was a psychedelic edge there too in Tate’s electric sitar, an instrument long forgotten by history but all over 1968’s singles like “Games people play” and various Motown gems. The b-side
“Christ vs Warhol” was simply Cope and Dwyer – Cope really was taking over. Again in “Head on” Cope writes about sessions in the summer for b-sides, how he directed the six minute instrumental “East of the equator” but took control for the eerie spine-chilling “Window shopping for a new crown of thorns”. There are other recordings from this era available on bootlegs – mainly songs already mentioned like “Leila Khaled” and “Culture Bunker” but one of the most important is “The butcher’s tale” – a cover version of the Zombies’ anti-war classic. It sounds very similar to the arrangement of “East of the equator” – slightly faster and with more propulsion but sadly no vocal was recorded, but you can imagine Cope’s plummy tones over the top of it.

As “Passionate friend” slowly staggered around the middle of the charts in September, Cope took control of the band again and sacked Hammer and Agius. In “Head on” he claimed he did this to annoy the teenage fans and because they didn’t fit in the band. This is true in both cases – there’s no doubting they were both good musicians but they didn’t bring anything much to the musical table. Also it seemed that Cope was getting fed with the teenage fans’ attention to these two members – signs at gigs saying “I love Jeff” or “I love Alfie” and then there was Agius’ “New wave bop” dance which always drove the girls wild but took attention away from the band’s leader. The fans were indeed upset and wrote tearful letters to Smash Hits about it. Cope then invited Dave Balfe back into the band as keyboard player, and started to record the band’s second album “The great dominions” only for it to appear a few months later as “Wilder”.

Now this is where things get interesting… In Mark Cooper’s excellent book “Liverpool Explodes!” Bill Drummond implies the existence of the original album. Citing the Zoo Records discography which has only two albums to its name (“Fire escape in the sky” – the Scott Walker compilation – is Zoo 2 and “To the shores of Lake Placid” – a compilation – is Zoo 4) he claims that Zoo 1 was the original “Everybody wants to shag the Teardrop Explodes” (which was the version of “Kilimanjaro” recorded with Mick Finkler in the band and mostly scrapped or rerecorded with Alan Gill) and Zoo 3 was “The great dominions”.
When I started collecting the Teardrop Explodes after 85 I managed to pick up as many bootleg cassettes of theirs as I could, and one had a long and fascinating radio interview with Cope from the time “Wilder” was released where the interviewer asks lots of probing questions about the songs and the band, he also asks what the difference is between “The great dominions” and “Wilder”. Cope explains that “The great dominions” did exist as a whole album but when he wrote some newer numbers – “Falling down around me”, “Seven views of Jerusalem” and “Tiny children” – he removed two ‘epics’ (which he names as “Screaming secrets” and “Suffocate”) as they didn’t fit the album’s new vision. So does a full version of “The great dominions” exist on tape in the vaults? Certainly this reissue doesn’t seem to think so.

“Wilder” then is a mix of the old and the new. I won’t talk about the album itself as it’ll get enough words written about it due to its reissue, except to say I love it dearly and I think it’s near perfect and side two is end to end glorious. However I’d like to return to the Teardrop story after “Wilder”‘s release and how it relates to the reissue.

“Wilder” was a flop in late 81, the single “Colours fly away” didn’t sell, nobody really understood the album and reviews were varied. However there was a three song Peel session recorded in December that showed more new directions for the band. “Sex” was almost funky, “The challenger” was frantic but odd and “Soft enough for you” a delicate ballad. Only one of these songs would be performed live.

The next part of an album’s lifecycle is to tour, but before that there was a residency is Club Zoo in Liverpool. A new bass player was found – Ronnie Francois from Lena Lovich’s band – who added a nice edge to the sound, and Balfe brought along some synthesisers to the live unit, allowing for some of the stranger album sounds to be performed live. This five piece line up was probably the best live unit of the Teardrop Explodes, and I’ve heard numerous bootlegs to prove it – they could whizz through the older material, perform radical reworkings of “Wilder” tracks – “Colours fly away” sounded far better live – and Cope was writing new material which was equal to previous songs like “Sex” (also known as “Pussyface”), “You disappear from view”, the beautiful lilting “Log cabin” and the Dr John voodoo of “Clemantis”. The band also could improvise and there were plenty of chances on “Sleeping gas” and “The culture bunker” to go off on one, and Cope frequently did, alongside Tate’s squally guitar and Balfe’s odd synth noises. The reissue includes a version of “Sleeping gas” from a Club Zoo performance but there must be more from this gig in the vault.

1982 started with a UK tour and the band were on their toes and playing wonderfully, also touring the US and Australia, though again there seemed to be overindulgences all round. There is however a brilliant audio visual record of this band – a half hour “Old Grey Whistle Test In Concert” special on the band, performing songs from “Wilder” and newer songs too. It includes lovely versions of “Log cabin” and “Suffocate” and a storming version of “Screaming secrets” and a long improvisation on “The culture bunker” where Cope does a face solo – “I’ve got complete control of my face. Ok face. SMILE!” It’s on Youtube somewhere and is fabulous.

This particular line up didn’t spend much time in recording studios though but did record a few songs – “You disappear from view” and “Rachael built a steamboat” (the b-side of “Tiny children”, belatedly issued in the summer of 82) – and while the former’s funk is an interesting direction, the latter is one of my favourite Teardrop songs. Sadly this lineup would record little else – Cope was rapidly losing interest and sacked Francois and Tate after big gigs supporting Queen in the summer of 82. Balfe started work on a third album but neither Cope or Dwyer were interested. There was another BBC session that summer of the now three piece Teardrops. “Buchanan” is an odd piano and synth pounder that would never be returned to (and the title may refer to one of the band’s roadies who gets a mention in “Head on”), “You disappear from view” is mainly Cope on twelve string electric and shows how he wanted it to be before it turned into a funk workout. “Log cabin” is a spectral version of the song that had been played live for months. “Serious danger” showed that Balfe knew his way around a sequencer, almost inventing the squelch of acid house in the process. Sessions for the unloved third album continued, a disastrous tour with backing tapes was undertaken and Cope split the band on the fourth anniversairy of their debut performance at Erics in 1978. What a long strange trip et cetera.

But what about that final album? Parts of it were issued on the “You disappear from view” EP in 1983 – both the original version of “Suffocate” and a rerecorded version with strings and harpsichord from the 82 sessions. In 1990 a version of the third album was issued – misleadingly titled “Everybody wants to shag the Teardrop Explodes” – but some of the tracks had been remixed and sounded awful – the version of “Soft enough for you” lost its venom and “The in-psychlopedia” seemed to turn into stadium house. There had been a bootleg tape around since the mid 80s of the ‘real’ third album and songs like “My only friend” and “Count to ten” sound far better there. It also included a strange 12 minute drifting synthesised mood piece entitled “Flipped out on LSD” (allegedly release as a 12 inch according to “Liverpool explodes”) whose main melody and theme would become “Mock turtle”, an extra track on Cope’s “Trampolene” single years later.

So with a lot of this material available somewhere in the vaults, the actual deluxe edition of “Wilder” comes as a disappointment. Obviously if you hadn’t spent years collecting illicit recordings of a band you loved, you would be happy with what was available. But I was envisioning a three disc affair – one disc of the album, one disc of b-sides including the material from the unreleased “The great dominions” and third album, then a third disc with the two sessions included plus the late 81 and mid 82 BBC sessions. That would truly have been a deluxe edition. Cope himself has issued some fine out-takes and live versions on his “Zoology” set a few years back, including demos and the third album’s version of “Log cabin” which got lost on the 1990 issue. . Maybe a ‘third album’ set is on its way. Who knows. As it stands – and as Bob Stanley notes – the new edition of “Wilder” falls between two stools. It doesn’t tell the full story. I’ll still buy it though.

Next time – well this post wasn’t supposed to happen anyway until I read Bob Stanley’s post, so next time it really will be anticipointment etc etc.

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2 thoughts on “More by luck than judgement

  1. Hi,

    Yeah, the thing is, Julian Cope has never been a fan of issuing demo/unfinished working versions, (I remember himself massively slagging off Robert Smith for the Cure repackagings including suchlike) so I can imagine him nixing a lot of those type of compilations and/or historical unearthings.

    I used to have a JCope ‘demo’ cassette (it got covered in Record Collector about 2 years ago) which had a lot of proto-versions of songs for “Peggy Suicide”, including the unissued at the time “Jung-Kie” which was pretty much the title track in all but name. Anyway, the point being, these versions were for the most part so similar to the finally issued versions, I thought they actually were the same. It took an expert (the person I sold it to) to point out all the differences.,

    Cheers,

    MG

    1. I can understand JC’s point there but if he does the archival digging himself and issues demos as he did on “Zoology” then he can bend the rules again perhaps? I know he has no desire to go over the Teardrop experience again but this was a chance to put everything in one place and that’s why I find it disappointing that it isn’t totally complete. Maybe I should be happy it exists at all.

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