All At Once

I passed up the opportunity recently to push my thumb on on a piece of clickbait I saw on my phone entitled ‘are Oasis the best ever band from Manchester?’ ‘Don’t be ridiculous’ I thought, ‘of course they aren’t. In fact Oasis aren’t even the best band Burnage’.

The honour ‘best ever band from Burnage’ lies with Stockholm Monsters, a little known band who formed in 1980, signed to Factory and released several wonderful records before splitting up in 1987. Their debut, 1981’s Fairy Tales single, was produced by Martin Hannett. Wilson loved them for a while before the Happy Mondays replaced them in his affections. Peter Hook took them under his wing and produced their 1984 album Alma Mater. Their sound is very mid 80s indie- jagged, trebly guitars, cheap keyboards, the occasional trumpet and a non- singer on vocals (I mean this as a compliment. Non- singers on vocals are often my favourite singers).  In 1984 they put this single out (and in typical Factory/ 80s indie style the B-side called National Pastime is just as good- I posted it in January 2018).

All At Once

Later on they worked drum machines and New Order’s Emulator into their sound and in the face of press and record buying public indifference bid farewell with a single called Partyline, a song that starts off wonky and unsure of itself, sparse bassline and swells of one fingered keyboards before it explodes into melody in the chorus. This performance on Granada TV is low key but entrancing, a glimpse of band who should be far better known than they are.

Partyline was their parting shot, a 1987 single on Factory (FAC 146 fact fans). It was produced by Hooky under the Be Music guise that members of New Order used for production work. There’s plenty of reverb on the drums, too much probably heard now in 2019, and the instruments seem to be in competition with each other, overloaded and fighting for space, it’s all very busy and singer Tony France is straining at the top of his register. But I love it, it’s flawed but somehow perfect, and it’s got a spark, a spirit and a heart that you can look for in any of the Oasis albums from [insert date here] onward and won’t find.

Partyline (Partylive Mix)

Burnage, for those who don’t know, is a suburb of south Manchester, bisected by a dual carriageway called Kingsway. I grew up in Withington, its neighbouring suburb a short walk west. As well as Stockholm Monsters and the Gallaghers Burnage was/is home to loads of people I went to school with, former Manchester United captain and Busby Babe Roger Byrne (who died in the muinich air disaster in 1958), actor David Threlfall and Dave Rowbotham, a former member of Durutti Column and The Invisible Girls (sadly murdered in 1991).

The Gift

Some of my favourite songs from the last year or two have been by The Liminanas, a French pysch -rock duo with a knack for writing killer songs. The Gift has Peter Hook on guest bass and he hasn’t sounded better in recent years than on this song. They recorded much of their album Shadow People in Berlin at Anton Newcombe’s studio. This is his mix of the song (from the B-sides and rarities compilation I’ve Got Trouble In Mind Vol. 2).

The Gift (Anton Mix)

I Am Without Shoes

This is a follow up to my post last week about the various backwards B-sides released by The Stone Roses in 1988-89. The version of Full Fathom Five I posted- Elephant Stone backwards if you recall- is the CD single version, with extra guitars added to the ghostly swirl. The original version, found on the 12″ single, is different (fewer if any additional guitar parts). But what can also be discovered from the Elephant Stone 12″ single is that if you reverse the version of Full Fathom Five you get the Peter Hook produced cut of Elephant Stone single i.e. before John Leckie mixed it. Hook’s version is sparser and less produced, a truer version possibly, opening with a blare of Squire’s wah-wah pedal. So what I’m getting from all of this is that the 12″ version of Full Fathom Five is the Hook version of Elephant Stone played backwards and the CD single (and what Silvertone have served up in re-issues and re-releases ever since) is the Leckie version of Elephant Stone played backwards with extras.

There is also this which I had forgotten about until reminded by reader Michael- I Am Without Shoes…

I Am Without Shoes is She Bangs The Drums backwards with additional forwards words and is the equal of any of the other backwards B-sides. The fade in of backwards guitars and vocals at the start is a sort of slow-rush and the whole thing shimmers and burns.

The Youtube poster above has gone a step further, reversing the backwards version at 1.26 and adding it to the original backwards one, resulting in Ian’s forwards vocals from She Bangs The Drums returning at the end. According to Google the additional forwards lyrics are…

‘I’m serious
I want her
I have to be sure
I admit that I’d hate to die
Please help me
I am without shoes
I wouldn’t be selfish
I cursed myself and they laughed
Please
I am Without Shoes
Yeah
I don’t think I need to stare
Please help me
I am without shoes
I wouldn’t be selfish
I cursed myself and they laughed
Please
I am Without Shoes
Yeah
I don’t think I need to stare
Please’

These new forwards lyrics are fairly untypical Roses fare, possibly the result of Squire’s backwards lyric writing method of writing down what the backwards vocals suggested once the tapes were switched around. The title went on to inspire a Charlatans song too, from 1997’s Tellin’ Stories.

I Am Without Shoes was sometimes used as their intro music when they took the stage during the long tour they did to promote the release of their album through the spring of 1989, the tour that broke them nationally, with increasingly positive and breathless press reporting building through to a gig at the ICA where Bob Stanley said he’d seen the light and finished his review with ‘Sweet Jesus, The Stone Roses have arrived!’. On other occasions they entered to the trippy, rolling drums and bass and screeching sounds of this piece of music, built around a drum break from Small Time Hustler by Dismasters…
Next job is to put all these together- the intro tape, the two versions of Full Fathom Five, I Am Without Shoes, Guernica, Simone and Don’t Stop.

Hooky’s Technique

Peter Hook And The Light at The Albert Hall on Saturday night was a tale of three sets and a gig of two halves. Advertised as coming on stage at 8pm and opening with a short set of Joy Division songs the place was filled to burst downstairs from the way Hooky and the band took the stage. The Joy Division set was short and sweet, Hooky’s voice more than doing justice to the songs and he didn’t pull his punches. They started with Atmosphere and then played She’s Lost Control and gave us a marvellous, growly rendition of Heart And Soul. A spirited run through Love Will Tear Us Apart closed this section, the audience joining in and taking over on the chorus.

Peter Hook clearly loves doing this, he’s a part of the fabric of this place, a quarter of it’s most musically adventurous group, a huge contributor to the story of Manchester since 1977. Between 1978 and 1989 his band travelled further, and through more difficult situations, than most groups do. He’s got a band that can play the songs well and the audience love him. The breakdown in relations between him  and his former band mates is just part of the story now. The benefit for us is we get to see the songs played by one of the people that wrote them in smallish, atmospheric venues.

Off for ten minutes and then reappearing for part two the drum machine kicks into life and we’re into Fine Time. From that point on the whole place is jumping as a thousand middle aged New Order fans live out what is one of New Order’s peaks and their last truly great record, 1989’s Technique. It’s not quite a smooth and sleek as the album, which is to be expected- live music should carry a rougher edge, and Hooky’s voice isn’t always in exactly the right key being a very different instrument from Barney’s. But there’s so much to enjoy here as Technique gets played in order- All The Way, Love Less and Round And Round flying by, summoning up the summer of 89, a summer the vast majority of the audience lived through. The Spanish disco stylings of Mr Disco are sublime, filled here with the attack of two guitars, at times two basses, full drums, drum machine, samples. Vanishing Point- one of the best New Order songs not not have been a single lifts the roof of this old Methodist chapel further. Dream Attack. Boom.

Then a strange thing happens. They retire briefly and come back to play 1993’s Republic, every song, in order. You can’t go wrong with Regret and the three that follow are all decent New Order songs- World, Ruined In A Day and a pumped up Spooky. But after that the crowd visibly and audibly slumps and all that energy evaporates as Peter persists in the purity of finishing side 1 and then giving us all of side 2. I kind of admire the purity angle but Republic was a record made at gun point, trying to bring some cash in for an ailing record label. No one seems to have enjoyed making it or the circumstances surrounding it. Some of the songs I haven’t heard for a quarter of a century and I’ll be honest I didn’t recognise them and couldn’t name them- Liar, Chemical, Times Change, Special and Avalanche apparently.

So it’s a relief when it’s over and the eruption of enthusiasm and the fervour that greets the encore sends everyone home happy, delighted, singing in the streets outside. World In Motion, not everyone’s cup of tea, but it gets the crowd singing along and then three complete crowdpleasers- Blue Monday, Temptation and True Faith. Temptation is especially well received, a song we’ve all danced to, loved to, lived to for decades. We’ve all sung ‘I never seen anyone quite like you before’ and meant it.

Mr Disco

National Pastime

Drew wrote a post a while ago saying that blogging often seems to be about exposing the obscure, bringing to light long forgotten songs and the ones that got missed. In the spirit of that here is an absolute lost gem, a Factory Records B-side by Stockholm Monsters, straight outta Burnage. This song was the flipside to All At Once, released in June 1984.

Opening with clattering drums and a low slung bass, then get a beautifully naive topline and a wonderful non-singer’s vocal. Produced by Peter Hook and lost by a record company who wouldn’t pay for pluggers and promotion because they believed the music would sell itself. If this was the only song they’d released, they’d still more than deserve a place in a version of mid-80s indie scene. A little slice of perfection.

National Pastime

I’ve Been Waiting To Hear Your Voice For Too Long Now

By 1985 New Order were well into their stride, the faltering, unsure, step-by-step progress of the early years well in the past. 1983’s album Power, Corruption And Lies more or less invented electronic indie and contained at least two career high points (Age Of Consent and Your Silent Face) as well as the blueprint for Blue Monday. The run of singles from 1982 to 1985 takes in Temptation, Blue Monday, Confusion, the peerless Thieves Like Us plus its B-side Lonesome Tonight. Then they put out another album, recorded in 1984 and released in May ’85- Lowlife.

Lowlife only has eight songs on it but almost every one is a winner, disco and rock seamlessly intertwined. The sound combines full on synths and sequencers with Hooky’s distorted bass providing the rock ballast. Stephen’s drumming, with plenty of digital delay, is crisp and loud. The guitars are trebly and choppy, like Velvets era Lou Reed on acid. Lowlife is the first New Order album to contain singles and the first to feature band photographs on the cover (which Peter Saville then obscured by wrapping in tracing paper). From opener the Salford country & western of Love Vigilantes with Barney’s enigmatic Vietnam War lyric to the magnificent closer Face Up this is a record I never get bored of. Face Up is huge, a glorious synth and bass intro, sampled choral voices, synth drum pads and then … whoosh, we bounce along in NO disco heaven. The lyrics contain the usual mix of clunkers and the perfect skewering of life (see ‘your hair was blonde, your eyes were blue, guess what I’m gonna do to you’ and ‘we were young and we were pure and life was just an open door’). Up until 1989 the lyrics were usually a group effort. For Technique Barney took over lyrics and vocals completely, something else Hooky rues as a nail in the coffin.

Sub-culture is here too, another disco-rock peak, Barney’s vocals sounding like a guide vocal that he never bothered to redo (and all the better for it). That one fingered synth intro, followed by the drum machine and then the dark lyrics about walking in the park late at night and shafting on your own. Sub-culture is a close cousin of The Perfect Kiss and builds similarly, synth drums and bass riffs piling on top of each other. It was later released as a single in remixed form (by John Robie, an inferior version really with backing vox and synth stabs. Peter Saville was so disappointed he refused to design a sleeve for it). Hooky points to Robie’s influence as being one of the turning points that ruined the group. Before Robie they didn’t write songs following any rules- after Robie Bernard insisted on all the songs being in his key and eventually they became verse-chorus- middle eight formulaic. But let’s leave the blame game aside and stick to the songs. Elegia is their intense instrumental tribute to their former, deceased frontman. I posted the unedited fifteen minute version last autumn and if you haven’t heard it you should seek it out. The Perfect Kiss is inserted as track two, a peak among peaks (although it’s an edited version on Lowlife. You need the full-on 12″ version, a single for which the 12″ format might have been invented). The Perfect Kiss has peaks and troughs, bass playing that is something else entirely, and several climaxes. This Time Of Night and Sooner Than You Think are both good album tracks. If pushed I could live without Sooner…. I suppose. But today’s song is this one, closing side one, Sunrise. Possibly the rockiest song on Lowlife it opens with descending synth chords before being joined by a superb bass riff -then the whole band join in, pronto. The guitars rattle, bottle tops on the strings to get a Morricone sound and Bernard’s vocal is straining, at the top of his register. The synths continue to wash away. The guitar, bass and drums drive away. At the end Bernard thrashes the toggle switch on his guitar. Done.

Sunrise

A Given End To Your Dreams

More early New Order. Movement was released in December 1981 and was by all accounts a difficult album to make. The group were unbalanced and their way of working was broken (during the Joy Division days the group would jam and Ian Curtis would spot the good bits which would then be worked into songs). No one especially wanted to sing and none of them could play and sing at the same time (this would become part of their sound in the 80s- Barney’s guitar playing filling the bits where he’s not singing and Hooky frequently carrying the melodies. Weaknesses become strengths). Movement was produced by Martin Hannett but the relationship between the group and the producer had broken down. According to Hooky ‘Hannett would lock himself in the control room, saying ‘Start playing, I’ll come out if I hear anything I like’. He never came out’. Hannett was also suing Factory at the time which can’t have helped.

Out of this came an album which sounds a bit like Joy Division but without Curtis, trying to move forward but not really managing it. The real movement would come with the singles- Everything’s Gone Green, Procession, Temptation and the second album. Having said that time has left some highlights- Doubts Even Here, The Him and ICB all have glimmers of the future and the sounds are becoming more varied. The peak is the opener, the only song on the album which is just guitar, bass and drums and the one that Hooky sings. Dreams Never End is a properly exciting song, from the intro of driving bass and guitar lines playing around each other onwards.

Dreams Never End

Peter Saville’s cover art, Italian futurism again, is beautiful.

As a bonus here’s a lost child of the New Order story. In 1982 New Order recorded a second Peel Session. Two of the songs would later appear on Power, Corruption And Lies, an album which redefined them and their music. The two other songs were a cover of Keith Hudson’s dub reggae song Turn The Heater On (an Ian Curtis favourite and recorded for him, I’ve posted it before) and Too Late.

Too Late is a moody song, synth drums, beautifully distorted bass and glacial pace, haunting and the equal of most other songs from around this time. According to Hooky when they were having a go at recording it Bernard had nipped out of the studio. The other three put some backing vocals down. When Barney returned he showed his disgust at this and walked out. It was never finished. And in Hooky’s view this was one of the starting points for Bernard grappling for control of the band. As a result of this Too Late would only ever appear as the Peel Session version.