In 1982 my father bought a new hi-fi. It was made by JVC, stood in a stark wooden upright cabinet, was shiny silver with lots of knobs and switches with sexy names like “Ferric Oxide” and “Phono”. It looked ridiculously futuristic especially compared to the hi-fi we had before, a selection of separate units bolted into a large wooden cabinet not unlike a stereogram. In all fairness that old hi-fi had been around a while, the cabinet had been specially built by a friend in the late 60s and the amplifier and turntable were quite old. However the tape deck was relatively new, my father had bought it in 1980 after much consideration – he bought a book about all the tape decks available which I would pour over years later. He bought a JVC KD720, an oddly wedged shaped tape deck which may have looked futuristic then but now looks very strange. The shape made it impossible to fit into any rack system, so once the new hi-fi was installed I kind of inherited the old JVC, though I didn’t have much use for it at the time. I had my new Sanyo music centre, why did I need a tape deck? Within a year the tape deck had broken – the mechanism to hold the play button down stopped working so I had to jam my Ever Ready bicycle light on it to keep it down. A pain in the arse, so I started to use the JVC. It had lots of connections on it, two mic inputs on the front, four RCA sockets and a DIN socket on the back. And best of all, you could use all the inputs simultaneously! This would soon come in handy for overdubbing, The JVC came with a pair of cheap microphones which plugged into the DIN socket and I used these by balancing them on Lego bricks. I could plug a guitar into my music centre then take the outputs into the JVC and use the mics through the DIN socket on the back. And that was how I made these tapes with one or two layers of overdubbing but very little control over volume levels, no mixers at all.
Well there was me, a JVC tape deck, a Sanyo music centre, the worst stereo microphones in the world, and my instruments. There was a Casio MT45, a Casio VL-tone, my brother’s electric guitar and my Oric computer. And between those Instruments I started to create music. I’d been writing songs for a little while by then – April 1985 – and had already filled a C90 with endless Casio chug songs, some with words and some without. I had a few ideas I wanted to record and these all turned into “808 days”, a c30 nine song mini album issued on 22nd April 1985 to any of my school friends who wanted to hear it. The recordings were ridiculously primitive… I programmed the Oric as either a sequencer or a drum machine, raised it on cassette boxes and shoved the two microphones under it – you can usually hear me press the keyboard to run the program. Then an overdub or two, ridiculously quiet vocals and it was done. Oh, and the title? Well in 1985 I was kind of fed up with TR808 drum machines. Little did I know they would be so revered thirty years later.
The Oric sets off with a nice 8 note sequence and I meander around it on two guitars, proving within the first fifteen seconds that I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m doing. Hold that thought, we’ll be returning to it. It only just overstays its welcome. I have tried to recreate this song’s sequence on numerous soft synths and I’ve not been able to replicate the Oric’s stiff funkiness.
Quite possibly the first time I played chords on a guitar, and I have no idea how. Quiet vocals, sounding like Vini Reilly with a cold. Words are horrible. I have no idea what I am singing about – ie it isn’t about anyone, or from personal experience.
In with the crowd
Oric as drum machine, guitar as bass line, VL-tone as melody and a bitchy lyric about fashion. I am pretty sure this was aimed at someone I knew at the time but I can’t remember who. This is quite funny. It isn’t meant to be, though. Still, I sound passionate. I can’t improvise lyrics either. All those “come on”s and “all right”s… Was I channelling Paul Rodgers? God, this goes on a bit. On the other hand this was the song which my friends thought was best. Maybe they just picked a song title at random to placate me?
A simple song, hopeful and happy. Was I being sarcastic? According to my diary, no I wasn’t. This is quite sweet and a bit hippyish. There aren’t many songs like this in my catalogue.
Aka Pulse Code Modulation. A nice instrumental, lots of my Casio keyboards overdubbed many times. This is quite nice, even with the extensive amount of wrong notes. Again, I didn’t know what I was doing, had no musical training, so was stumbling around for notes especially when I was improvising.
Systems of vision
A song! A real song! Oric programmed drum machine, two guitars and a paranoid vocal. It’s like a CCTV hell, a vision of some future dystopia where we are constantly under surveillance. I still like this one actually and when it goes off on one towards the end (ie I’ve stopped moaning) it gets a bit of a groove on… And don’t forget between 2:20 and 2:30 my brother opens my bedroom door, asks what I’m doing then closes it behind him. Groovy.
Don’t run me down
If you remember there was R who I was crushing on at the time, and her mother used to try and run me over when I was on my bike cycling home from school. So I wrote this song about it. She hated me for it. It still makes me smile. This song also got me into my brother’s band Final Ecstasy so… “I know I make you sick,but you drive like a lunatic”! Ha ha ha.
Even in 1985 this was an old song, I believe I wrote it in 1981 or thereabouts. In which case it is quite sophisticated. Listen past the horrible vocals (the falsetto parts make me wince even now, it is meant to be a boy girl duet) and the song’s change from major to minor is rather good. Yes I messed up the lyrics in the second verse. But the guitar solos are ok, the arrangement is all there. This song was hammered into the ground by Final Ecstasy and I did rerecord a version in 1994 after “Songs about girls” which gives a better idea of how it always sounded in my head, which is like a huge 60s Bacharach and David ballad. Clearly I couldn’t do that justice with an Oric and a few Casio keyboards.
808 days are over
A closing instrumental, this was inspired by “Aikea Guinea” of all things! I can hear it, you probably can’t. Nice.
Download “808 days” here.
Everybody who heard “808 days” complained they couldn’t hear my vocals, and I decided to do something about it. Incidentally I should point out that “808 days” was relatively popular, and i made about ten or twelve copies. I wouldn’t make that many tapes again until 1988. I bet those tapes have all been thrown away now. Anyway, the second mini album was called “Help the fire escape” and this time there was only one copy and I let two people hear it and kept it to myself after that. Mainly because it was crap.
Tear it apart
The main criticism of “808 days” was that my vocals were too quiet. So after some messing around I realised I could record in stereo, in the most primitive way. So this song has two guitars, recorded by shoving the little JVC mic into the soundhole. The song is nothing to write home about but it is audible. I like the opening line, that’s about it. At the time, a friend saw this song and said “Oh have you covered the Paul Young song?” and I wanted to thump them.
Written about the party I wrote about in the second blog post ever. Nice introduction, featuring my bike light falling off my tape deck so it stopped playing. This song is feeble. But hey, this is as good a description of what happened as it was written and recorded about three days after it happened so it’s fresh in my memory. Casio-a-go-go.
Help the fire escape
Pointless instrumental. If you look up the word “filler” on Wikipedia it should play a wav of this piece of “music”. Jesus, it goes on for almost five minutes. If you make it all the way through, let me know because I couldn’t do it.
Look back in anger
Bitter young man! More Casio chug, and the song is just… Meh. I should point out that this tape was mainly an exercise in recording in stereo. The actual contents are mainly rubbish. Which brings us to..
Come up with me
“Frankie had a hit by doing a sexy record” said my friends, “so have a go”. And like a fool I agreed and proceeded to write this in an English lesson. It was tripe then and it is tripe now. A virgin’s idea of sexy. Yuck. Even the Oric drum machine sounds in pain.
Oops, so much for anonymity. Sorry R. How teenage is this song? Did I protest too much at this point? Not really. There was someone else I was interested in at this point. She had even offered to record the female vocal on “You” for me. That never happened. I was too scared. This isn’t too bad a song really. I sound like Lawrence. Ha ha ha.
Download “Help the fire escape” here. You don’t have to, it really is shite.
The next set of recordings were made in August 1985, issued under the album title “The sound of theory” and credited to a fictitious band called Rachel Built A Steamboat. There was some cock and bull story about this being a duo but nobody believed me at the time. Three purchases made a difference on this album. 1) a Roland Sh3a monosynth, bought in May 1985, already ten years old but a glorious beast 2) a four channel mixer, cables and a microphone bought from Tandy (That’s Radio Shack to the Americans) 3) “Wilder” by the Teardrop Explodes. I was hugely enamoured with this album and tried to make my own cut price synthesiser psychedelic album. It didn’t really work.
A summer’s day, late August, 1985. Children are playing in the street and my microphone is picking them up. Just guitar and voice here, the guitar direct injected into the mixer and also recorded with the mic hence the ambient noise. This song was inspired by one of the people who went on the German Exchange trip with me in the summer of ’85. She just looked down on everything. Not a bad song actually, with a bit of an arrangement it could be a garage band classic. That’s garage band as opposed to GarageBand.
Colours fly fly
Part of the frustration of listening to this song is knowing that there was a better version of it. For a start the vocals are horribly loud, there’s too many of them too, and there was another version with another synth overdub, one which added a huge Moogy squelch to the song. But it no longer exists. All of which disguises the fact that this song isn’t up to much.
Do you dream in colour?
Of course it was named after the Bill Nelson song. And frankly that song dumps all over this song from a great height. Considering there are three vocal overdubs why didn’t I do more musically than one synth and a vl-tone rhythm? And I sound so serious and po faced. A pile of crap.
In awe and wonderful
Or “And the fighting takes over” part two. I absolutely love 90% of this song actually. Yes the lyrics are vague nonsense and the second vocal is way too loud but that is to compensate for the first vocal being too quiet. And that guitar sound! Yeah, an early favourite. Like a lot of these songs, this means precisely nothing.
Ah, so much tape hiss and overdubs that it causes its own strange kind of compression. Listen to the way the keyboards float in and out around the Casio drum beat. The song again means nothing, just a collection of words. I quite like this, in an odd way. It’s got a melody at least, and the synths go all white noise and factory-ish half way through.
An instrumental, and i believe this was the first song I wrote on the Roland. The drum pattern is rather like “Being Boiled” but that was unintentional. It goes on too long. It’s ok.
A return to the style of “Look back in anger” but at least it is short, gets to the point and sods off after less than three minutes. But it is hardly “Common people”.
If “The sound of theory” had ended there it would have been an almost wonderful mini LP. Stupidly I had recorded the previous seven songs onto one side of a C60 so had to fill the other side with something or anything. Cue this rubbish instrumental. Yes that is me hitting cassette boxes with pens. I must have liked this at the time because I remember playing the tape to my family. Actually that rhythm is quite trance inducing, especially on headphones. Learn to stop.
What is another word for spinning? Oscillate. And crazily? Wildly. Say no more
The wildest dream
A ten minute improvisation to fill up tape and boy does it go on. I cannot listen to this all the way through. I clearly have no idea what I am doing. Oh god the spoken word bit. An imaginary prize for anyone who (a) listens to all of this and (b) tells me where the spoken word part comes from.
When I’m drunk
A piss take. I remember I wrote this specifically for Dave Blake of Final Ecstasy as a way of auditioning for the group. Again, a pack of lies.
Nothing is better than nothing
I have a strange fondness for this one. I remember recording it on my father’s hi-fi downstairs (everything else was recorded in my bedroom, unsurprisingly) and thinking it was cute. It doesn’t go anywhere. But it’s there. Dig that vl-tone. There was an uncredited track which I have left off because it was rubbish and hurtful and ended with me singing along to Peel playing “Age of consent” on the radio.
Download “The sound of theory” here
And that was my recordings from 1985. You will listen to them once and never again. In the autumn of 85 I wrote some songs for an album called “The commercial break” which never got finished, but some songs were salvaged for an EP in 86, and hopefully that may come eventually. There may be more excavations of my tapes in the future but it won’t be for a while. Thanks for listening.