Twelve Hours Of Blues

The process of applying for further education was far simpler in my day – the mid to late eighties. These days it seems very complicated, AS Levels before A Levels and lots of calculations based on projected results and whatnot. In my day – sorry, I sound like an old Daily Mail reading fuddy-duddy – you sent applications to UCCA and PCAS after picking five unis and polys, your choices based on what your teachers thought you might achieve at A level, and you would go for an interview and sit your exams and hope for the best. I wanted a degree in computing and the best places for that were up north, which was lucky because that was where I wanted to be. Yes I had interviews for Bath University (very odd place, like a 60s dream of a university – all concrete walkways and harsh buildings) and the Poly of Wales (where the interviewer was more interested in my visual impairments than me) but the other places on my forms would require a few hours’ train journey to get there – Salford Uni, Sheffield Poly.

But the first open day and interview I was invited to attend was at Liverpool University on 9th February ’87. I was nervous as hell – it was alright for my brother to head off to interviews in Hull by train, he was a trainspotter, he was always jumping on trains to go around the country. For me this was a big adventure, all on my own. My brother’s huge nationwide timetable book came in handy – we worked out that to reach Liverpool by lunchtime I would have to set off from Cardiff Central around 6;30am. Tickets were bought, sandwiches packed, fresh batteries put in the walkman, tapes of Liverpool music were compiled. I was ready to go.

Once my father had dropped me off at Cardiff Central station I was on my own. I changed trains at Birmingham New Street and was amazed at the station, it looked so shiny and modern compared to the grimy Cardiff station I knew. (The best that could be said of Cardiff Central was that its proximity to Brains Brewery meant that it smelt of malt and barley most mornings – it was like walking into a cloud of Horlicks). As it was a Wednesday I dutifully bought the music papers as something to do on the journey, then caught my next train to Crewe. This was an old fashioned train with compartments in the carriages, and I had my compartment all to myself so stretched out, ate my lunch, read the papers, then changed again at Crewe. Crewe station was like a junction for everywhere, just miles of track all around. Caught my final train – a shabby old multiple unit which got me to Liverpool around half past eleven.

Ah Liverpool. Home of the Beatles, OMD, the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and lots more. And I was there, treading the same pavement as my musical heroes. The harsh winter sunlight blinded me as I walked out of Lime Street station, looked at St George’s Hall across the road and decided not to waste any time and head to the Uni. It was a good mile or so to walk there but I found it easily. Once there I was amongst a group of about forty teenagers, mostly looking as bewildered as me. We were led into a lecture theatre, given a talk about the course, had a guided tour of the faculty and facilities (in my diary I noted “Using a Mac to sequence a DX7 playing ‘Money for nothing’ – nobody uses Apples, do they?” – ha ha ha), then an interview which I cannot remember at all, then a walk back to Lime Street, just as rush hour was starting to fill the streets. I was absolutely starving by this point so ate a Casey Jones burger from a franchise at the station and regretted it – it was vile.

Then the long journey home. Even more changes this time – Crewe, Birmingham and my first visit to the joyless soul-free hell that is Bristol Parkway train station. I watched the sun go down over the strange post-industrial terrain between Liverpool and Crewe. I remember running for a train at New Street and missing it by seconds. I remember frantic calls to my parents from a payphone in Birmingham saying I’d be late. And I remember finally reaching home around 10pm – my father picked me up from Cardiff again – and telling my parents all about it, and feeling an odd swaying motion in my body from all the train travel.

And before I went to bed my father said “Oh, almost forgot – this tape came for you from Gema Records…”. It was the second album by Dalek I Love You.

The last time I wrote about DILY was in the context of the summer of ’86 and their debut album, the minimal psychedelic electro pop of “Compass Kumpas”. It’s worth expanding a little bit on what happened between that LP in 1980 and the DILY LP which was released towards the end of 1983. After “Compass Kumpas”, the main creative duo within Dalek fell apart – Dave Hughes left to help out OMD and Alan Gill took his guitar to the Teardrop Explodes. By 1981 Gill had left the Teardrops and was using the Dalek name again for a wonderful one off single “Heartbeat” / “Astronauts have landed on the moon”. Also in 1981 Hughes left OMD to work on a new synthpop band Godot with vocalist Keith Hartley and saxophonist Martin Cooper from OMD. Godot issued a rather wonderful EP called “Extended Player” which develops nicely from Dalek, but Cooper returned to OMD, Hartley was poached by Gill to sing in a new lineup of Dalek and Hughes went off to do film music. Complicated? Yes. So Dalek was now Gill and Hartley and two more vocalists – Gordon Hom and Kenny Peers. They moved from Back Door – a subsidiary of Phonogram – to Korova – a subsidiary of Warners – and issued a few singles in ’82 and ’83, bright shiny electropop with lots of female backing vocals. None of them were hits, but still the album was issued anyway. I remember reading a review of it in the free monthly music paper given away by HMV at the end of 1983, but I never saw a copy until now. I lay on my bed, headphones on, still feeling woozy from the train travels and pressed play.

Holiday in Disneyland” starts with a fade of a bells chiming before a harmonica then a voice sings “Let’s think of life together, let’s have a rollercoaster” and the song starts – funk bass, drum machines banging, lots of electronic claps, strange guitar, lots of female backing vocals and already this sounds very different to “Compass Kumpas” – this is the difference three years in the early 80s makes, a richer sound palette. There’s some really evocative yet odd words. “Let’s kill some time together because this time is killing us” before the female chorus coo “Our holiday in Disneyland”. Then the vocal gets impassioned – “Don’t want to be a ghost, don’t want to go to heaven… And when I DIE I don’t want God to find me”. Troubled words and thoughts. Yet the music rolls relentlessly on, gets a bit dubby – instruments drop in and out, sounds echo into the distance and Gill adds his distinctive guitar. “Horrorscope” is breezy electro pop, verses of bland statements from horoscopes and predictions, but the choruses are the voices of people planning a robbery – “In the back, John, balaclava on…”. Eventually the two strands meet up – “July’s ideal for planning a crime if you believe the stars…”. “Health and happiness” is all tension and dread – a list of things to relax – “Soak yourself in a perfumed bath, cigarette – smoke and steam” – but behind the languid vocal there’s a second near-hysterical vocal singing the same words in the background. “Majorca or Benidorm? Mantovani, Manilow or me?”. “The mouse that roared” is a jolly romp of barrelhouse piano, massed kazoos and words that I still can’t decipher – but certainly the chorus of “I never ever thought it ever could happen here” is plain enough. Anything to do with the film or the book? Who knows? “Dad on fire” is just as odd, dipping into distant dubby echoes for minimal verses before full pelt choruses. No idea on this one, but it doesn’t sound happy and there’s lot of snarling too. “Ambition” is typical 1983 pop – like a cheap knock-off of “Relax” if anything, but with a kick. The lyrics deal with what’s happening to Liverpool at the time, the desire to break free, be famous, have money. If it was sung by Londoners it would be horrible, but you can tell there’s a tongue in a cheek somewhere – even alluding to riots – “We are so opposed to people breaking windows, getting things that only money can buy”. (Don’t forget that the roots of DILY were in a band called Radio Blank who only existed once they had stolen a load of gear from another local band Pegasus – who would include the nucleus of OMD). All the cheers of “Everybody loves a winner” sound hollow, and the speech samples sound like soundbites from “Countdown”. End of side one. Turn tape over.

Lust” breezes in on a relentless drum machine, acoustic guitars and pulsing synths and finally Alan Gill sings! Throughout side one vocal duties have been split between the other Daleks (oh I love that sentence) and now Gill sings again. The lyrics are wonderful, viewpoints on love and lust – “From the friendly smiles that are prepared each morning, is this friendship is this lust…” Oh yes I knew that feeling. Even with the oh so 80s Gary Barnacle adding sax it still sounds good and again goes all dubby at the end. “Twelve hours of blues” is just as good, and sounds like a real band – there’s Barnacle again and Drummie Zeb on drums and there’s real piano, and Gill sounds exhausted and at the end of his tether – “So tired of this corner, got to think of something new”. It grooves along for five or so minutes, Barnacle let’s his sax squeal, there’s lots of space for the female vocals to sigh, it’s slight melancholy remains unresolved. “Sons of Sahara” is a desert fantasy, and not as interesting as it thinks. And finally – there’s always an ‘and finally’…

Africa Express” fades in on distant hiss of steam, then a peal of electronic sitars (as used on “Hyperborea” by Tangerine Dream, it’s a PPG Waveterm preset) before a Trans African Express heads off. Synths twinkle in unison, sitars chime, and multiple Gills sings in harmony. “Sold all my instruments except the ones that are made of wood…Burned all my documents and every thing that was proof of my existence here – the simple life is calling me”. Almost all the previous songs have dealt in urban troubles – trying to relax, trying to succeed, trying to find love, trying to find comfort in belief, trying trying trying. Finally here is an escape route, leaving Liverpool behind, leaving the rat race. “Forget about the new ice age and the bonds that restrict… No-one knew who I was when I climbed down from the train…”. Er, Alan I hate to tell you but they probably didn’t know who you were in London either. But by the by – the music chugs along beautifully, building and taking away, surging on for seven minutes, Gill adds some characteristic psychedelic guitar fills, there’s no female backing vocals at all getting in the way, at last this is pure Dalek I Love You music. (In an interview conducted for the sleevenotes on the 2007 reissue of this LP Gill claims that “Sons of Sahara” and “Africa Express” were the only songs he was truly happy with). And in my journey addled mind that late night in February 1987 it made perfect sense – the rhythm of the song matched the rhythm still swaying inside my body from the train.

Nobody really cared for “Dalek I Love You”. It wasn’t a hit album, there were no hit singles, I’m not sure if the band played any gigs to support it. The style of music was slightly out of step by the time of release – nobody wanted Liverpudlian electronic pop. There was a huge difference between the primitive drum machines and mono synths of “Compass Kumpas” to this hyper-sheen of a record, but still charm and humour there. I was amazed to see the 2007 reissue (again on Korova, who also issued the two Wild Swans LPs as a double CD) especially as it had lots of bonus tracks – including “Masks and licences” and “Heaven was bought for me“, b-sides of “Holiday in Disneyland” and more primitive than the gloss of the LP. I’d treasured these singles for years, I was glad to see them on CD but due to Warners falling apart not long after that the Korova reissues soon disappeared from the racks. “Dalek I Love You” is little more than a curio – a high gloss electropop LP which screams 1983 through every fibre of its body – it’s pre-MIDI pre-Fairlight pre-DX7 and that makes it a fascinating listen. And there’s some great music too.

Of course, I never ended up in Liverpool but I’ve told that story before. Everybody loves a winner…

Next time – Please please please let me get what I want this time

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