Tag Archives: A Certain Ratio

Hung Up On A Dream

An apology and a warning

Firstly, a few parts of this blog post have been mentioned in passing before on Goldfish but not in as much detail as they are here. Especially not in relation to the music. Secondly, this post – and the post which follows – will be dark and darker again. It may become uncomfortable reading, but I’ve always tried to be honest here and I’m not going to whitewash over a difficult time. Of course by writing this, I’m being slightly self serving and putting my own retrospective spin on events to protect myself – an unreliable memoir. On the other hand, the main source for these posts are the final file of my diary of this period which does go into excruciating detail on what happened.

Now you’re worried, aren’t you?


Oh, and if this is your first time reading Goldfish DO NOT START HERE! Go and read some of my other posts, because this isn’t a good place to begin.

Sorry again


“At last the secret is out
As it always must come in the end
The delicious story is ripe to tell
To tell to the intimate friend
Over the tea cups and into the square
The tongue has its desire
Still waters run deep, my dear
There’s never smoke without fire

Behind the corpse in the reservoir
Behind the ghost on the links
Behind the lady who dances
And the man who madly drinks
Under the look of fatigue
The attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story
There is more than meets the eye

For the clear voice suddenly singing
High up in the convent wall
The scent of the elder bushes
The sporting prints on the wall
The croquet matches in summer
The handshake, the cough, the kiss
There is always a wicked secret
A private reason for this”

“At last the secret is out” by W H Auden


The first year of my degree in Sheffield Polytechnic was generally regarded as a success. I’d passed all the exams with flying colours, unwittingly attracting the attentions of a number of swotty female students. I had successfully lived ‘on my own’ for nine months, from the end of September 87 to June 88. I wasn’t really living on my own – Unit 74 Norfolk Park had three other residents beside me, two final year students and one other fresher. Us freshers were taken under their wings and guided through drinking in the student union –  Nelson Mandela House – and other rites of passage, water fights, setting fire to things in the garden, foolish things. I had a small circle of friends on the course who were a good laugh to be around. But underlying all of this was a tension which had not really been resolved since the summer of 1986. I still had unrequited crushes on two females from my former school, one of whom was now studying in Sheffield Uni and living with her boyfriend there. I still didn’t really know what I was going to do with my life. I still wasn’t sure about a lot of issues – my relationship with my friends, with my home town, with my parents, with life in general. But all this uncertainty wasn’t expressed to anybody, except for the pages and pages of boring meanderings about everything I didn’t understand. To the outside world, everything was fine.

The Summer of 88 was weird. Back in Penarth after nine months away, I was thrown back into the path of all my anxieties, a social scene of parties and drinking and discos in Cardiff which I didn’t enjoy at all. Most of my friends were hooking up with partners, there were new additions to my circle of friends and I wasn’t comfortable in the Railway. Also there were shenanigans involving the DHSS not allowing me to sign on to the dole during my holiday, meaning that any money I spent was coming out of the allowance for the next year. I decided to hide throughout August, bought a Casio SK1 keyboard and recorded some of the backlog of songs I had, creating “The Kindest Lie”, a ten song album of misunderstanding, hatred and occasional rudeness – highly influenced by “Blonde on Blonde” and “Forever breathes the lonely word” (which are almost the same thing anyway). Released to my eager friends in September it was well received, even by those I was singing about in such unkind terms. (As and when I sort it out, “The Kindest Lie” will be shared on here).

At the end of September my father drove me back up to Sheffield to start my second year. A long drive soundtracked by “More Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits”, “Every face tells a story”, “Seconds of pleasure” and “The Memphis Record”. I was back in Norfolk Park, the Poly’s own accomodation halfway up Granville Road to the north of the city. I wasn’t in Unit 74 now, I was in Unit 11, one room of five, alongside four final year students who were all supposed to take care of me. All four lads knew each other and all had steady girlfriends who would often visit, make themselves at home in the communal living room and kitchen, and share the bath with their partners in the bathroom next to my room. The lads were all lovely, taking me under their wing and helping when they could, particularly in the cooking department where I was hopeless. The girlfriends were also lovely, and for a change it was nice to have female company who I could relax around, not be worried about fancying and could talk to as adults.

The second year course started nicely and we all settled into our lectures and assignments and projects. There was a year long project where four students were given a task to analyse and design a system for something via SSADM, a systems analysis tool. The joke was that I was placed with three female students for this, Indira, Caroline and Michelle. Indira was nice and quiet, Caroline I sort of fancied a little but not much, yet Michelle was a classic blonde bombshell, and had decided that based on my first year’s results I would be desirable to match up with. It was clear that she fancied me, everyone in our year knew it, she even told people, but never said anything to me. Because I didn’t really like her that much. Not my type. But we all got together and worked in libraries and lecture theatres.

About two weeks into my first term, the second week of October, I bought two important items. One was a Casio SK5 keyboard – or the Radio Shack / Tandy equivalent – for £50, a third of it’s real price. This expanded on the SK1 by having sample pads, so I could make percussion, or just noises. I could now write music in Sheffield, and tape very rudimentary demoes on songs onto my ghetto blaster. The other purchase was “Odessey and oracle” by The Zombies. It was a cheap CD reissue, a horrible light blue sleeve with some strange castle floating above clouds as an illustration. £7.99 from Our Price. But this was the soundtrack to the first month, and what an album it was.

I knew only two songs by the Zombies at this point – “She’s not there” and “Time of the season” were both on K-tel compilations my parents owned, but I was intrigued by “Odessey…”. Why had the Teardrop Explodes recorded a backing track for “The butcher’s tale” for “Wilder”? I had that on a bootleg, it sounded great, I wonder what the original is like? I suppose I wasn’t expecting quite so much melancholy on the album. “Care of cell 44” starts off jaunty but soon the dark clouds of Mellotron and minor chords slip into the song, just as it becomes clear to the listener that the song is about a character’s girlfriend in prison. While the cheery “Feels so good you’re coming home soon” chorus blasts out with full throated harmonies, the middle eight “We’re walking the way we used to walk…” always put me on edge. “A rose for Emily” is a bleak portrait of an unloved spinster, deep pools of reverb on the piano in places and already it’s a painful listen, such empathy yet still dead. Still dead. “Maybe after she’s gone” always sounded like the end music to “World in action” to me – that descending guitar arpeggio… , It iis a dream of love – it’ll never happen, it’ll never happen… The way Colin Blunstone sings the word “breath” on “I feel I’ll never breath again”. That desperation. I knew these feelings, even if unrequited. “Beechwood Park” is too beautiful and sad to contemplate, a perfect summer dream in remembrance, Rod Argent’s Hammond organ more haunting than anything Procul Harum could manage. “Brief candles” – more loss and remembrance. Sorry, I’m just repeating myself. I know what’s coming both on the album and in the story. “Her sadness makes her smile” is the key here, transposed to him and me and me and ME. Sorry, this is no good. That wordless high middle eight. “Hung up on a dream” is unspeakable. More often than not I can’t listen to the song without welling up. Another perfect dream in remembrance, more heartbreaking chord changes, those gauzy backing vocals towards the end, Blunstone singing like a wounded choirboy, THAT CHORD CHANGE AT 1:18 to 1:20. Of course it’s all a dream. (Wipes tears away). Sorry

“Sometimes I think I’ll never find
Such purity and peace of mind again”

Now here’s an interesting point. I always saw “Odessey and Oracle” as songs grouped in threes, four three song packages. The only other album I think of like this is “Isn’t anything”, an album I was aware of at this time, having heard “Cigarette in your bed” on “Doing it for the kids” and Peel playing “Feed me with your kiss” while I was in my room in Unit 11 and me laughing at how distorted it was. But I wouldn’t buy that LP for six months yet.

“Changes” and “I want her she wants me” are a respite from what has gone before, thank God. “Changes” always annoyed me because stereo panning was so primitive (or was this when they ran out of money?). “I want her…” Is just jaunty, and frankly I’m glad of it. “This will be our year” is hopeful but still streaked by sadness – does Blunstone believe it? “Butcher’s Tale” truly is scary, a view of the First World War. And now I can hear how Julian Cope would sing it. “Friends of mine” is simply perfect, the most cheerful love song, thank God. And yes all the ‘friends’ they name have split up now, but the idealism is there. “But when I feel bad when people disappoint me, that’s when I need you two to help me believe”. “Time of the season” is also perfect, from the quiet drum and bass intro (was this an influence on the start of “Come Together”, do you think?) through the gorgeous harmonies and choppy guitar and organ. So much space, so much beauty. Even the two overlapping organ solos sound great over each other, even if they were a mistake. It sounds like “I want you (she’s so heavy)” during the instrumental break – was Lennon a Zombies fan? Hmm.
A great album closer

“Odessey and Oracle” hung over me like a cloud of melancholy blue during October, and my diary records me being exhausted by lectures and tutorials and assignments, but also records a growing self awareness – on 6th October I state “I have lost the art of conversation – I can’t say anything, my mind doesn’t think in terms of starting conversations… I can’t put into words what I think any more”. But I seemed to cope with the ridiculous work load until the end of the month when I am knocked sideways by a cold and an ear infection, being bed ridden for a week or two, unable to walk without explosions in my head, finding my way to a doctors and getting lost and ending up in Derby on a bus, and reading a Clive James novel to take my mind off things. I was drugged up to the eyeballs and not in a fit state to do much.

But I was still trying to attend lectures and doing coursework but somehow my heart wasn’t quite in it. I visited my brother in Hull on 5th November and picking up a couple of Felt EPs, “Document and eyewitness” by Wire and “Escape from noise” by Negativland. I popped along to the Leadmill that evening to see Happy Mondays but they didn’t play – allowing support band Eat to have a full set instead. (Years later I found out via the Leadmill’s website what happened. The Mondays were there, but so off their heads in the dressing room that they believed they had already played and absolutely refused to play ‘an encore’, so Eat played instead).

And then on 8th November I had a panic attack on paper. I call it a crisis of confidence but it was so much more than that. A lot of capitalisation, a lot of fear for the future, a lot of worry, a lot of uncertainty about my motivation for doing the course, or anything at all. A lot of comparing myself unfavourably to my family, to other people. A lot of disappointment, hating myself for not doing as well as I should have. Three pages of panic, and nothing is sorted. Then the next entry is as if nothing has happened… “Went to Heriot House, did ISE assignment”… But inside my head a switch had been tripped, and that was the turning point.

Not that I told anyone. I maintained a semblance of normality and November progressed with the Unit 11 room-mates inviting their partners over for weekends, and lots of ‘coupling’ in the bathroom next to my room. Life seemed ok, then on 17th November I received a letter from my parents telling me our house in Penarth had been burgled and that totally freaked me out. Being so far away from them, only about to ring them from a crappy call box by the bursars office, feeling lost and homesick. I dashed back to Penarth for the weekend, cried a lot and recorded “Escape from noise”. Returning to Sheffield mentally caned, that album didn’t offer solace or solutions, it just offered thoughts and feelings I didn’t believe could be expressed through music.

I don’t see the point in going track by track through “Escape from noise”. It’s not that kind of album. It needs to be listened to deeply in full from end to end.  Maybe now it sounds out of date, but then it sounded spot on. From the announcement to radio pluggers who rely on “intangibles like taste and intuition” onwards, the album sucks you in with cross references throughout. The phrase “Is there any escape from noise?” seems more pertinent in the social media chatter of the 21st Century. Sometimes I like to take a day away from Twitter just to see how life was before. To regain composure. If only life was that easy all the time. That repeating synthetic pattern… It just depends on breaking the records over radio – now that dates it. Thoughts continue – the gun debate is clearly still topical, there’s still stress in marriage and I won’t even mention the last song on side one. That’s not even funny. “Yellow black and rectangular” is still one of my favourite pieces of music ever, but then Boards Of Canada never topped “Zoetrope”… And finally “You don’t even live here” really does make me cry, the emotion, the real world impinging on my private world… “You don’t have to talk, you don’t even live here, you have NO STAKE IN THIS PROCESS”. Someone shouting “Pay attention” in the background. Still sounds relevant today. A wonderful album which is often forgotten.

 Returning to Sheffield there still seemed a form of normality at the end of November, I wrote about the project and lectures and other things. But even on 22nd November I wrote “I’m going mad and I don’t care anymore…I wander around in a daze not speaking unless spoken to…I must be insane to think some of my little thoughts…please don’t press on this subject…” 

Of course if I had actually spoken to anyone about the way I felt then perhaps somebody could done something about it. Looking back on what I wrote with hindsight I can see obvious signs not just of depression but also Aspergers – not wanting to communicate, internalising feelings, not wanting to let anyone down, putting my head in the sand and hoping everything would go away, But Aspergers wasn’t well known back then, I just thought I was going nuts.

So I started to disappear. Instead of going to lectures I would take day trips – to Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham… Anywhere but Sheffield. I didn’t really do anything in these places, other than buy the occasional record. On a trip to Leeds on 28th November I bought the tape of “Bummed”, the second album by Happy Mondays. I played it on the train home to Sheffield, walking up Granville Road with a huge shit eating grin on my face, even going into the living room of Unit 11 and sitting on the sofa refusing to take my headphones off as the last two songs played.

During the summer of 88, Tony Wilson gave an interview to the short lived “Offbeat” magazine where he said he had the world’s best dance act – New Order – and the most beautiful solo act – Cath Carroll – and the world’s best rock act – Happy Mondays. He was almost right. Pairing the Mondays with Martin Hannett was a genius move, whoever thought of it. Hannett gets better performances out of the band than John Cale did on their debut, and gives the songs a strange echoing yet clear production, it sounds like something interesting is going on in the background but you just can’t quite hear it. And the influence of acid house is there throughout the album, but the Mondays try to recreate the hypnotic sounds of acid’s electronics through their own Can-style repetitions, the songs swaying and swooping like drunken dancers. You can mentally picture Bez swinging away on “Moving in with”.  And Shaun Ryder is lyrically on top form, images and thoughts and everything thrown into the deep stew. “Mad Cyril” drops in samples from “Performance” which then gets namechecked on the final song on side one, a trance inducing mid tempo groove. All of the mad lowlife of Manchester was here, from fat lady wrestlers to other brain dead fuckers. “Wrote for luck” may have become remixed and made more dancefloor friendly but the album version – trying to induce the trance state again for six minutes – is absolutely perfect. It didn’t need Vince Clarke’s sequencers or whatever.  “Do it better” is acid house on guitars, or “On one” anyway and could make anyone dance. “Lazyitis” as a closer works perfectly, the sitar and Beatles references a nod to the first Summer of Love. “Bummed” was Happy Mondays on their cusp, just reaching their peak and in my opinion they would not make a better album.

At the start of December everything was falling apart. I admit to the diary that I hadn’t been to a lecture for over a week, then return to be greeted like a leper. Michelle had been around to Unit 11 while I was on a bender and all my housemates fell in love with her, but she was concerned about me and would sit me down in the refectory or in our group meetings trying to get inside my head, but I didn’t want to know. She would see me out in pubs and it would get back to me, which is where the joke that I was being watched by “Michelle’s Satellite” came from. But any concern fell on deaf ears, I was so wrapped up in my own little world, my own problems, making mountains out of molehills, sinking deeper into depression.

So I went out and got bladdered, then stayed up watching “The Other Side Of Midnight”. OSM was a beacon in the darkness during those days – when acid house was breaking through and being vilified by everyone from the police to the BBC, Tony Wilson would broadcast his late night arts show with as much reference to what was going on in the music world. He had Happy Mondays on choosing their flares from the Joe Bloggs warehouse, then performing a mesmerising version of “Performance”, showing they really were one of the best live bands at the time. (Happy Mondays also appeared on a Granada TV show for schools on the music industry, showing recording and promotion and launching the LP “Bummed” without mentioning the LP name – it’s on YT and is a fascinating time capsule – ooh look there’s James Brown before he started Loaded…). OSM also had a show live from Victoria Baths in Manchester, where a rave seemed to be taking place – A Guy Called Gerald playing “Voodoo Ray” live, their outdated Roland TB303s and TR909s set out on a table and sounding like the future, then a wonderful portion where Tony Wilson interviewed Pete Waterman on why “The Hit Man and Her” was championing acid house – “Acid House is the most important thing since the Beatles” said the man from Warrington, “I’d say since the Pistols” said the man from Salford and they were both right.

Of course The Leadmill had regular acid house nights – Friday by the look of it. Thursday was The Beat Club, all sixties music – and the primitive stereo on “Nowhere Man” would leave half the venue dancing to the music and the other half dancing to the vocals. Fridays had odd art shows in the early evenings, then acid and indie – “the DJ will play a Wedding Present song and all the indie kids will stop being wallflowers and dance, then head back to the shadows again if a drum machine comes on”. I once frightened everyone around me by dancing crazily to “Do the du” by ACR. But people tend to forget Sheffield’s part in acid house – it was only over the Pennines from Manchester and the Leadmill regularly hosted Graeme Park and Mike Pickering as DJs. And don’t forget FON Records was where Warp Records was born. And of course Sheffield’s electronic history – from the Human League to Cabaret Voltaire in Western Works which moves onto Warp… Yes Sheffield may not have been as vocal about its importance as Manchester but then it never had a TV show like OSM or a champion like Tony Wilson or a focus like the Hacienda.

Sidetrack rant over

The big night in Manchester’s 1988 history was the GMEX show by New Order with Happy Mondays and A Certain Ratio. ACR played a warm up show for that night on Tuesday 13th December at the Leadmill with A Guy Called Gerald as support. I was there, right at the front. AGCG played “Voodoo Ray” and songs from their Peel session which was marvellous but the crowd wanted more – the weekend before they had been on OSM playing their version of Ed Barton’s “Born in the north” anthem and the crowd kept chanting “Born in the North!” until Gerald came back on, reprogrammed his machines for a minute then played the song for us. A Certain Ratio were also on top form, performing a lot of new songs – which would end up on “Good Together” a year later. But they also played a lot of old material – “Bootsy”, “Sounds like something dirty”, “Wild party”. I was leaning on Jeremy Kerr’s monitor and nicked his drink (rum and coke, if you’re interested). A good night.

But good nights were few and far between and the week before Christmas I returned to Penarth knowing I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt, what was going on in my head, even though I should have. Something inside me couldn’t admit I was in trouble even though I knew I was sinking fast. So Christmas passed in a flurry of drinking and recording the songs I’d written on my Casio in Sheffield, songs which said what I couldn’t admit to anyone. A mini LP entitled “No happy endings”.

Then my parents looked at my bank balance…

Next time – Further into the fog I fall…


Debut Albums #11 – #15

I’m writing about fifty debut albums which I like and you may like or may want to hear. They are in alphabetical order from A to Z and are in batches of five albums. These are albums eleven to fifteen

“The Fabulous Expedition Of Dillard and Clark” – Dillard and Clark

I love Saint Etienne. Not just for their music (which is enough reason as it is) but also for how inclusive they are. Like all proper music fans, they want everyone to come along and join in with the trip, to hear the old music they love and the great new discovery they’ve just found in some dusty charity shop. They are pop fans and there’s no snobbery in their veins. This is also why Bob Stanley’s book “Yeah Yeah Yeah” was such a good read – Bob loves pop and wants to hip you to his favourites along the way.

Why am I going on about Saint Etienne when I should be talking about Dillard and Clark? Because in the autumn of 2005 I bought a double mix CD called “The Trip: Created by Saint Etienne” which opened my eyes to a ton of great stuff. I’d bought the Tom Middleton “Trip” mix CD a month or so before and that was amazing, the first disc a cool mix of disco and new wave (and the theme from “Picture Box” as a hidden track!!), the second a more downtempo mix including a few 70s kiddies favourites alongside Harpers Bizarre, the Dudley Moore Trio, Dorothy Ashby and Vangelis. (A few years ago I heard this CD being piped into a sauna at a health club I was visiting – it fitted perfectly). Anyway I got the Saint Etienne disc and devoured it. The first disc was cool enough – some Northern Soul, disco, American theme tunes. But disc two was something else. Just look at the track listing – Scott Walker, Dusty Springfield, The Left Banke, Ice, Tim Hardin… soft pop and soft psych, melancholy and gorgeous. Just listening to it all now brings back memories of those days. Obviously records by Queen Anne’s Lace and Orpheus were going to be hard to find but the one song by Dillard and Clark led me to buying a CD with both their late 60s albums on it within a few days.

“The fabulous expedition of Dillard and Clark” was recorded and issued in late ’68. Doug Dillard had left his brothers in the Dillards to their own bluegrass country synthesis. Gene Clark had left the Byrds with his own melancholy heart and had left CBS after a failed solo LP. Dillard and Clark combined their immense talents, surrounded themselves with sympathetic players from the LA scene and made a quiet gem of an album for A&M – also home to the Flying Burrito Brothers, so someone there was on the country rock pulse.

It opens with “Out on the side”, like a gentle Dylan song – all Al Kooper organ fills, lots of guitars and gentle drums, but with Byrds style harmonies. And Gene Clark is singing like a sad angel. “She darked the sun” is more traditional country, all fiddle and mandolin, while “Don’t come rollin'” is Dillard’s show piece, fast and breezy but the words have a post-hippy sentiment… “We can have love and peace if we want, it’s a state of mind, no more”. So far so straightforward – country or rock. Then the two start merging. “Train leaves here this mornin'” is slower and is a list of mistakes – bad contracts, being in the wrong place, strange parties – but Clark and the other musicians sing and play with such warmth and love, it sounds like they are just sitting in a circle playing for themselves. (A song so great not even the Eagles can ruin it). “With care from someone” sounds like it’s lifting chunks from the verse of “A taste of honey” (that descending bass and ascending melody) but resolves into a joyous harmony chorus. “The radio song” adds an electric harpsichord to the instrumental mix and is full of heartache. “Git it on brother” is more traditional country but “In the plan” is questioning existence and deep thoughts while the closing “Something’s wrong” harks back to Clark’s childhood and innocence and compares it to his current existence which is found wanting, all the while the music matches these thoughts, lots of minor chords and sad melodies.

It’s difficult to listen to “The fabulous expedition of Dillard and Clark” without hearing how much other music sounds like it, from the Eagles onwards through other Californian country rock and alt.country. It must have been mindblowing hearing it in 1968 when such a country rock cross-over was far from the mainstream. (Indeed a worthwhile comparison point is “Roots” by the Everly Brothers.). It may have sold poorly at the time but by golly it was influential.

“The Return of the Durutti Column” – The Durutti Column / “The Graveyard and the Ballroom” – A Certain Ratio

It’s a few days after Christmas, 1985. My family are in Cardiff looking around the sales, hoping for bargains. I don’t find any, but I do find two cassettes instead – they may be full price but I don’t care, I’ve got Christmas money to spend. And the tapes look so interesting… Big cardboard boxes covered in fabric – one in blood red, the other in deep blue. Both have a simple font on the front with the band name, the album title in italics and the catalogue number. One is Fact 14c, the other is Fact 16c. I buy them both.

I’ve written about “The return of the Durutti Column” already (go on, you know you want to read my Toppermost again) so I don’t need to convince you of its greatness again. As I only knew “Without Mercy” and “Say what you mean…” It was quite a revelation, such simple beauty. And inside that red box was a piece of sandpaper with the credits printed onto it. Perfect. But “The graveyard and the ballroom” was something else.

For a start it was a reissue of ACR’s first album from early 1980 which was half studio and half live, and only available as a cassette in a pouch. I’d seen the name mentioned in Record Collector and loved the combination – graveyard and ballroom can only mean death disco. I didn’t realise it was referring to the Graveyard Studio and the Electric Ballroom. Inside was a card with the credits on one side and a picture of the original cassette on the other, inside an orange plastic pocket. It looked stylish, cool and very very clean.

As for the music… The studio side was amazing. I couldn’t understand how it had been recorded on a four track, there seemed to be lots of echoes and reverbs on different instruments. How the hell did Martin Hannett produce such sounds? The snare drum was tuned high but was loose too, a unique sound. The drums and bass carried the funk, while guitars were trebly and jangling and sharp, and Simon Topping’s words were very odd, flailing flesh, crippled children, being anonymous in death, not typical. There were odd noises too from some kind of primitive synth or effects box, alongside wah-wah guitar which was not “Shaft” at all. It all sounded like they were struggling to play but that added to the fun. I totally loved it. All the songs were great but “Flight” stood out. For a start it was so spare – single bass notes, guitars playing muted chords, so much space. And the words were great – implying so much with so little. The studio side ended with “Strain”, stopping and starting over and over again.

The live side repeated some of the songs from the studio side but that didn’t hurt. “All night party” had been their drumless debut single but now it had Donald Johnson’s funky drums giving it more propulsion. “Choir” and “Flight” were more expansive live, and there’s song they would never return to again. But more than anything there’s a humour that isn’t apparent elsewhere. As the drum intro to “The Fox” starts, Topping laughs “That sounds like Joy Division, doesn’t it?” Later he sings the opening line of “Disorder” at one point before giggling. It’s a side you don’t expect from a Factory band and makes it all the more human. Loud trebly sparse funk. Wonderful. I would cycle to school and back singing songs from it for months to come. What higher praise is needed?

“Crocodiles” – Echo and the Bunnymen

By the Autumn of 1985 I’d heard enough Teardrop Explodes – both albums and a load of b-sides – to know I loved them. Maybe I should give their arch enemies Echo and the Bunnymen a go? For some reason I actually did the decent thing and started listening to a band’s records in the order they were released. So in October ’85 I bought a cassette of “Crocodiles” from the record shop within Debenhams in Cardiff. It had two extra tracks on it, after all…

“Crocodiles” is a good mix of bright and dark. The music is trebly and sharp, Will Sargeant’s guitar could cut your hand off if you let it, Les Pattinson’s bass is steadfast – not as ‘in your face’ as Peter Hook’s bass lines, but harder tougher and the rock the music is built on. Pete De Freitas’ drums kick like angry mules. And Ian McCulloch sings like… Himself.

“Going up” fades in with odd noises, scratching guitars and sonar beeps before the whole band come in properly – propulsive and harsh, Mac already plotting his own greatness – “If we should pull the plugs out on all our history” – before the band rock into the distance. Normally at this point on the cassette would be “Do it clean” but a peculiarity meant my tape played “The puppet”, a failed single. It sure as hell wasn’t “Do it clean”. “Stars are stars” jangles along but always reminded me of something else I could never put my finger on. “Pride” is choppier and better, about family jealousy, though mentioning “Peter” and “Julie” could be digs at Mac’s former members of the Crucial Three (though Julie was the name of Mac’s sister, also the subject of “Passionate Friend”). “Monkeys” is chime and menace and the earliest Bunnymen song, and the most hemmed in of Pete De Freitas’ performances. “Crocodiles” is taken at breakneck speed and hurtles to its illogical conclusion. End of side one.

“Rescue” was the first song written with De Freitas in the line up and also the first song not produced by “The Chameleons” (Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe) – Ian Broudie is at the controls here. Whatever Drummond and Balfe may be or become, at this point they weren’t the greatest producers in the world and both “Crocodiles” and “Kilimanjaro” (recorded straight after “Crocodiles” at the same studio) are thin productions, lacking in what can only be called ‘balls’. “Rescue” is more muscular and shows some lingering doubts already – “If I said I’d lost my way…” – “Is this the blues I’m singing?” – which would develop by the time of the third Bunnymen album. But here the guitars actually chime and it sounds great. “Villiers Terrace” sounds like a cool place to be, everyone sounds out of it. Both the Bunnymen and the Teardrops recorded “Read it in books” twice and this version is by far the worst – the version on the b-side of the Zoo single of “Treason” is my preference. “Pictures on my wall” is great, leading into “All that jazz” which is mean and threatening – all those barricades and fist shaking. A very late 70s lyric. “Happy death man” is a good closer – atonal piano over the top, even if it does have the Teardrop horns. “Like to keep things dark” – yeah I still recognise that feeling. It grooves along, and fades out into “Going up” coming back in. A nice touch. A nice opener, but buying “Heaven up here” two weeks later showed their real potential. I think “Crocodiles” suffered from being issued amongst a wealth of great albums – “Closer” was issued around the same time and let’s face it, everything will suffer in comparison to that album. But at least “Crocodiles” still turns up on proper best debut lists.

“76:14” – Global Communication

I have been listening to this album for just over twenty years (I bought it on the day it was issued – June 1st 1994 – and it was in the card wraparound sleeve, the velcro’s a bit worn now…) and still I don’t know the ‘names’ of the songs. But is that surprising? After all the titles are just the length of each track. It’s not the kind of thing you’d talk about down the pub – “Oh that song ‘8:07’ is so great…”

Again I might be cheating calling it a debut album… The first I heard of Global Communication was when I bought “Blood Music”, the second and last album by Chapterhouse. It had a free CD with it – “Pentamerous Metamorphosis” – which was the Chapterhouse LP ‘reworked by Global Communication’. And not long after that I bought “A collection of short stories” by Reload from late ’93 which was Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton who were Global Communication and Jedi Knights and E621 and oh it gets confusing. So was “76:14” a debut album? Well it’s my rules…

The album itself is all instrumental, mainly downtempo, synth washes, simple melodies building up layer by layer. There’s percussion sometimes, slightly harsh industrial synth hits, or a clock ticking, or sonar bleeps. It is an admirable late night listen on headphones, though more often than not I would find myself nodding off. I suppose that’s a compliment. “7:35” is more uptempo, leading into what can only be called a tribute to Tangerine Dream’s “Love on a real train” in “8:07” and “5:25” (or “Maiden voyage” as it was called when it was issued as a single) Then it all slows down again and the closing “12:10” takes choral voices into somewhere deeply chilled – like “1/2” from “Music for Airports” in an echo chamber. Very nicezzzzzzz. Oh sorry I just nodded off again.

The whole idea of no titles was to allow your mind to paint its own pictures and Global Communication encouraged people to write in with their thoughts and impressions. I remember reading at the time how a primary school teacher played it to her class and they wrote about it and sent it back to them. There’s even a very primitive website address on the sleeve – I wonder if it still works? I used the album myself as a functional piece of music – when my son was very young I would play the album to get him to sleep, the gentle tick tock of “14:31” would always ease him off gently into a snooze, but it was often difficult not following him.

It’s been odd watching how this album has become a classic over the years because at the time I never saw it happening. Yes it was great and a favourite album, but compared to the other fantastic music being issued around the time it was just one of many great albums. Maybe it was just a high water mark for this sort of music – from here chilled music would either head into trip-hop territory or towards more ambient and experimental areas. Twenty years on, this album feels as dated as any Orb album but I still return to it, still explore the textures and feelings, still fall asleep towards the end.

Maybe that’s not such a compliment after all.

Next time – Five more debut albums, including an album I would be surprised if any reader knows (or cares) about.