Sunday, 12 October 2014

Kickstarting a Backfiring Nation leads to a 'Triumph' over Adversity

Living With Unemployment 

Things have taken a turn for the worse here, I thought I had my mastered tracks sorted, but fate has intervened. Whilst with my mastering engineer Nick, working on my songs he admitted that he was not feeling too good.
By the end of the day, there was one track outstanding, which was a live one. He then said this is a different sound to all the others and I don’t think I can do justice to it today, so I’ll finish it off tomorrow and we’ll get all the tracks off to the manufacturers once that has been done.

It never happened though. Because he has fallen ill with flu and my music is now in limbo again. This is worrying, because he has a reputation of never, never falling ill. He had said before that he cannot remember a time when he was sick and unable to do anything. But now he is and I am running out of time for getting the CD’s manufactured for the release date of 1st Nov. I am leaving him alone for the moment but on Monday I will ring and see how he is, and how much trouble I am in.

I can’t help it, but in the back of my mind I see these words…

19 days, 19 hours 19 minutes to go

By 1986 we were thinking about the next step in our careers and one re-occurring theme from some of our fans, was that we were a better band live than on record. I didn’t really understand that, as we were trying to achieve two different things, to be exciting live with only three musicians is a hard job but we managed it, and in the studio we could expand our musical horizons and supplement the core band with other instrumentation. We were never about banging out our live set in the studio and making sound like you were in a venue listening to us.
I think what these fans were really saying was ‘I prefer what to do live to what you do on record’ and for people who get to know us from our recordings it could very well be the other way around.

Anyway, bearing this in mind, we decided it would be a good idea, for once, to capture us live on record for those who would like to hear that sound over our studio recorded material. People really rated us live so why not?

I’ll tell you why not, because live albums were a cash-in that ripped off the fans 90% of the time.

From the big league bands, it was common practice to re-record whole chunks of instrumentation on their live recordings to prevent their reputations being dented by mis-timings and bum notes. The sound was always good though.

For punk bands, the live album was usually recorded in some dump of a venue, straight off of the live sound mixing desk where all the levels came out wrong, guitars too weedy, drums too loud, bass inaudible and usually a performance to be ashamed of.

Anyway, unlike the big league bands, we could not hire a mobile recording studio and record a selection of gigs and pick the best from them.
In the early days, were had released a cassette only live album called ‘Pissed As A Newt’ in which I lifted a selections of live tracks from a bunch of gigs we had recorded straight of a portable cassette machine or straight off the mixing desk. People bought it and enjoyed it, yeah that’s right, we did the cheap live album too, but we were a new band and had very little resources at the time.

This time it was different, quality had to be the most important thing.

So, live album and quality are two words that didn’t seem to occupy the same space. So it seemed that we would never do one, until I had an idea.

Why don’t we put on a gig in a recording studio we trusted? I thought the idea would freak out Elephant Studio but after patiently listening to my idea, the owner and main engineer agreed to host it and Jungle records agreed to fund and release it.

This way we could do a gig to our fans and control the environment we recorded it in too. 


We invited a selection of fans to the gig to control audience size (recording studios are generally not big, unless you are in Abbey Road), if it were an open gig, chaos could ensue instead of a great concert).

The big day was almost upon us when…

Exhaustion from gigging cause me to fall ill and my already fragile voice just failed me. The day before the big recording session, everything planned and booked and it was all riding on me and my health. This didn’t look good.

I needed to turn this around, so I rested, or slept on a bed, all day and didn’t say a word, I was mute for twenty four hours (I wrote responses to questions on a notebook) and I didn’t use my voice until I was standing in front of the microphone, in front of the audience, greeting them, and it was then, and only then, I found out if I had a voice.
I did, it was back, sort of. If you listen carefully, on some of the songs we recorded, you can hear my voice cracking under the strain. 

But I made it.

To make this live album a little different, we included a new song that only exists on that album (Never Hold Your Tongue) and a cover of the Flamin Groovies Shake Some Action which I converted to ‘Take Strike Action’.

At the time we were doing something else that no other punk band was attempting and that was touring the New Variety Circuit, a seedbed for Ranting Poetry and Comedy aided and abetted by Attila the Stockbroker and so we were exposed to some to some of the formative giants that were to later dominate TV and radio.

Being in that environment influenced me to include some of the ranting poets of the day in the gig. We had already included audio clips of Attila, Seething Wells and Little Brother at the beginning of the first track of our first album ‘Beggars Can Be Choosers’.
Now we invited down Phill Jupitus, then doing his Porky The Poet act and Attila, Pete Campbell and The Big J. They all did short sets while the tapes were being changed and then we would resume.
When it came down to the LP, I opened the album with one poem by Phil Jupitus and then every three music tracks another act would have one poem.

Who ever heard of a punk rock live album with poetry on?

For the audience, we placed, in the room, a plastic dustbin of ice water containing beer and we played out hearts out live to them.
Live means live, but the tapes that recorded this momentous occasion only lasted 15 mins, so every quarter of an hour, we had a poet on while the tape was changed. Sometimes the tape would run out mid number and we would have to do the number again. But that was all the trickery that we implemented on our live album. The concert was edited and mixed but no instrumentation was re-recorded, the songs you hear on the album is the way it was.

So we got a great live album out of it, which we called  ‘Kickstarting a Backfiring Nation’, full of exciting music and well recorded too.

Our single for 1986 therefore, was live, including ‘Living With Unemployment’ backed by Airstrip One and My Death on the 7 inch and on the 12 inch we also included Ohno and some poems that were not on the album

Living With Unemployment
The Scheme of Things - Porky the Poet 
There's No Cull For It - Peter Campbell
Airstrip One 
My Death
Mindless Violence 

Could only find the entire album on You Tube which is below.

The image seen below is regarded by everyone as being a great bit of photoshop (actually, the only photoshop around then was where you could get your photographs developed) but infact it is a real photo, of a real mascot on a Rolls Royce, captured in a hotel car park in Holland, courtesy of John Mortimer. I just had to have it on the album sleeve. I called it 'Quality through Exploitation'

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