Monday’s Long Song

I’ve been doing a lot of Spacemen 3 related posts over the past few weeks/months. For some reason something has clicked back into place and their music (and that of the post Spacemen 3 bands, especially Sonic Boom’s Spectrum) makes perfect sense currently and is right where my head is at. They are/were also very good at the long song, two chords repeated blissfully for as long as you like, a kind of focused looseness.

The Perfect Prescription was Spacemen 3’s second album, released in 1987 The album was supposed to replicate a drug trip, from start to finish, the highs and lows. This double track is the peak, the orchestral Ecstasy Symphony part ebbing into a cover of Red Krayola’s Transparent Radiation, mid 60s DIY psychedelia from Texas (recorded and released in 1967 and with fellow traveller Roky Erickson on harmonica).

Ecstasy Symphony/Transparent Radiation (Flashback)

Sonic Boom In The Pink Room

Sonic Boom played The Pink Room at YES, Manchester’s newest gig venue, on Wednesday night in a small upstairs space called the Pink Room (it’s painted pink and has a bit of a Warhol/Factory vibe going on). The room holds about 250 people and the gig wasn’t sold out. The post- Spacemen 3 trajectories of Pete Kember and Jason Pierce are a bit mystifying, Spiritualized playing grand venues to thousands while Sonic Boom/Spectrum plays to the low hundreds. It gives a better gig experience though if you prefer intimate and up close but you can’t help but feel Pete has been shortchanged somewhere along the line.

Sonic takes the stage with one other musician, a guitarist with long, centre parted hair who is wearing a Spacemen 3 t-shirt. Without much in the way of introductions he begins playing the riff to Transparent Radiation, Spacemen 3’s cover of The Red Krayola’s 60s psyche- rock classic. After this slow, repetitious opener Pete doesn’t play guitar again until the end, instead sitting at a table with keyboards, synths, a sampler and an array of pedals, cables, leads and plug ins. From hereon in Sonic digs deep into his bag and plays a selection of songs from his back catalogue- long, slow, hypnotic tracks, loops and drones from the various boxes on the table, all sorts of delay and echo going on. One song often melts into another, the pedals continuing to give out their sounds, loads of tremelo and wobble, as one ends and the next begins. We get All Night Long and Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name from two different Spectrum albums, Spacemen 3’s Call The Doctor and Let Me Down Gently, all perfectly illustrating Sonic’s talents, lyrics that are either melancholic or devotional over the top of undulating synths and waves of sound, drones and loops and repetition. There’s no drummer so the songs never get that injection of oomph and power a drummer brings, instead they glide by complemented by the trippy visuals projected onto the back wall. In the middle of the set Sonic starts manipulating a vocal sample. The set list website says this was during I Know They Say (from Spectrum’s Highs Lows And Heavenly Blows) but I don’t recall that song being the basis of what becomes very improvisational, Sonic constantly triggering the vocal sample, stuttering it, repeating phrases, building in intensity on and on, for what must have been ten or fifteen minutes. He goes back to the guitar for the penultimate song, a fairly blistering take on Suicide’s Che. Pete then tells us something along the lines of ‘this is where we fuck off back stage for a few minutes, you clap and then we come back out but that’s bollocks so we’re just going to keep playing’. He fiddles with a few boxes, sets them going for a finale of Big City (Everybody I Know Can Be Found Here), the highlight of Spacemen 3’s Recurring album and the band’s last single, Sonic’s psychedelic, acid house influenced peak- the pedals and synth pumping the song out, the guitarist using an e-bow to play the top line  and Sonic leaning in to deliver and repeat the lines, ‘everybody I know can be found here/ let the good times roll/ waves of joy/ yeah I love you too’, for fifteen blissed out, mesmerising minutes. Waves of joy indeed. I wish he’d tour more often.

This is the ten minute version of Big City from back in 1991, still sounding magnificent nearly thirty years later.

Big City (Everybody I Know Can Be Found Here)

And this is a 1992 single by Spectrum, also off their album Soul Kiss (Glide Divine) out the same year.

How You Satisfy Me

When Tomorrow Hits

I’m going to see Sonic Boom play next week, in his Spectrum guise, which I’m really looking forward to. I recently discovered this album, Indian Giver from 2008, recorded by Pete Kember and legendary producer Jim Dickinson (appearing as Captain Memphis)- a man for whom the word legendary is fully deserved. On Indian Giver they revisited Spacemen 3’s cover of Mudhoney’s When Tomorrow Hits and it is all you need for this Wednesday morning, two chord, Stooges-inspired, fuzz rock par excellence, a song going off like a slow explosion.

Indian Giver by Spectrum

Monday’s Long Song

Not sure any words are needed to go with this piece of music from Spectrum in 1994, one of Sonic Boom’s post-Spacemen 3 masterpieces (from the album Highs, Lows And Heavenly Blows). If you like loops, space echo guitars, phasing and a general, gentle sense of being set adrift, this is for you.

If you’d like something more abstract, just ten minutes of wobbly drones then this one from 1993 may be your cup of tea.

Ecstasy In Slow Motion

Honey

Back in June I posted a new single from Death In Vegas. Honey is a slow burning, pulsing techno track graced by Sasha Grey’s seductive vocals. I’m still playing it now, still finding it one of those songs that gets right into me and makes me feel alive. In September it gained a video, mainly close ups of Sasha’s face while she coos that she would die for you.

The Los Angeles photographer Blake Little covered people in honey for a series of pictures and a book called Preservation. Being draped in honey might be rather nice but it must have taken ages to get clean afterwards. More here.

Honey is a bit of a theme in art and music- warm, sticky and sweet, an everyday luxury. More honey?

The Los Angeles photographer Blake Little covered people in honey for a series of pictures and a book called Preservation (including the one above). More here. Being draped in honey might be rather nice I would have thought but it must have taken ages to get clean afterwards.

Jim and William Reid’s Honey, like their Candy and Cindy, was a love song to a girl or a drug (or both). Here they are on The Tube, introduced by Paula Yates on Friday night in 1985, still with Bobby Gillespie playing the snare drum. Black leather, pale skin, feedback.

Earlier this year I posted another Scottish band’s tribute to Honey, The Pastels whose Baby Honey is a wonderfully shambolic B-side from 1984.

Baby Honey

There are plenty of other honeys on my hard drive- not sure that’s a sentence that is going to keep me out of trouble- Johnny Burnett’s Honey Hush, Lee Hazelwood’s Silk ‘n’ Honey, Orange Juice’s Simply Thrilled Honey, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas (We’ve Got) Honey Love, Duke Reid’s What Makes Honey? and Prince Fattie and Hollie Cook’s Milk And Honey but this one seems to round this off the best. Spacemen 3 were into honey (of course they were). It was the opening song on their 1989 album Playing With Fire, an album I have revisited a lot earlier this year. Honey is a Pete Kember song that opens with a blast of wobble, some descending chords and plucked guitar notes. The whispered vocal arrives a minute in and everything is stretched and phased, pleasantly distorted. ‘Honey won’t you take me home tonight?’ Pete asks, ‘the night is warm and the stars are bright’. Pete’s meditation drifts on, blissfully and before fading out just before three minutes. ‘Surely there ain’t nothing we can’t do’.

Honey

Playing With Fire

In his book Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands Spacemen 3’s bassplayer Will Carruthers recounts the time a royalty statement arrived in the post, at a time when he was skint, and opening it to find out he had made the princely sum of £0.00. This is when he starts to open his eyes to music being a business, an industry, and not just some friends making music. He goes on to discuss the Spacemen 3 song Suicide, the only joint Kember-Pierce composition on Playing With Fire, a song Will points out the two men received royalty payments for writing- an instrumental, two note groove-drone, based on a Stooges riff (in itself ripped off an old blues riff), in tribute to Martin Rev and Alan Vega. That’s how songwriting works. The song was agony for Will to play, his left hand clawed on the strings and neck of his Gibson Firebird bass. This version was included on the cd release of Playing With Fire, a live version recorded while they were on tour in The Netherlands. It is magnificent and as an extra you can feel Will’s pain while it plays.

Suicide (Live)

Spacemen

I never saw Spacemen 3 play live. I bought Playing With Fire when it came out and was attending gigs in the period the group were active but for some reason our paths never crossed. I have recently got round to reading Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands, the memoirs of Will Carruthers, who spent a few years playing bass and taking drugs with Spacemen 3. The book is a must if you’re a fan of the band or of the ones that came afterwards- Sonic Boom/Spectrum and Spiritualized.

Will is a gifted writer and there are two chapters that deal with the Spacemen 3 live experience in lurid detail. The first is a performance at an arts centre in Hammersmith billed as An Evening Of Contemporary Sitar. Will hits the one note groove early on and holds onto it for forty minutes or so while Pete and Jason do their thing. As the feedback rings out to close the set he leans to turn off his amp only to find he is so out of it he hadn’t turned it on when starting. The set is recorded and released as one of the tracks on Dreamweapon. The cinemagoers and attendees of the gig are so horrified by the first set that Spacemen 3 are paid not to play their scheduled second set.

The second gig is a show in Chester, re-arranged to a health spa by the promoter, who also gives the group their first experience of E. A bunch of Ellesmere Port football fans turn up, not to beat the band up as they first think but to take drugs with Spacemen 3 and enjoy the music. The spa and it’s facilities are thoroughly wrecked by the band and their fans. Will gives an honest, funny and at times bleak account of  outsider life in a small town in the Midlands, of the impact of being open about drug-taking on the band, their families and the people they know. He describes the recording of Recurring, with the band working on Pete and Jason’s songs separately, the subsequent break up of the band and the divergence of Sonic and Jason into their post-Spacemen activities. It’s out in paperback and available for less than a tenner and well worth picking up.

Sonic Boom (Pete Kember) has had the lower profile career of the two main men but his varied back catalogue since Spacemen 3 is full of one and two chord gems.  This one hits a blissed out organ tone early on and Pete’s guitar ripples over the top of some celestial backing vocals.

True Love Will Find You In The End

Jason has gone on to Spiritualized, a group that have  recorded some of the most brilliant music of the last two decades. They can be prone to repeating themselves, but I’ve come to realise it’s a act of refinement rather than just repetition. There’s a new album out later this year and the lead song, I’m Your Man, is rather gorgeous.