The first 12″ EP release by Tones On Tail, at the time very much the prime focus was shining on Daniel Ash as a solo project from the day job with Bauhaus. The record itself has an interesting history in that respect, with ‘Copper’ having its roots in Bauhaus, but the mix of input from both Ash and fellow Tones collaborator, Glenn Campling, who was famously at this point involved in Bauhaus in the capacity of their road crew, brings a richer variety to it all. Campling’s basslines are somewhat unique on ‘A Bigger Splash’ and ‘Means of Escape’, while the record also showcases some lower-end of the market rhythm boxes, long before the arrival of Kevin Haskins to the drum stool in the project. The record also established two elements that would become definitive Tones On Tail – the moody and mysterious cover painting face and the use of Caslon Antique for the band logo.
A Bigger Splash
The opening track on side one, ‘A Bigger Splash’, is an Ash/Campling co-creation – underpinned by a busy, echo-enhanced beat, the Tensai (possibly an RCR-332 model?) rhythm box – a weird critter of a thing that was basically a radio/tape deck boombox with built-in preset rhythm machine – sitting atop of this, Daniel Ash (presumably, since he was oft seen to do this on Bauhaus tracks such as In Fear of Fear) adds oral percussion explosions and oddness too. Adding to the foundations is Glenn Campling’s wonderful FX-heavy bassline – once it starts it is pretty well off for the duration, almost machine-like itself. Over all of this, there is Ash’s vocals and then some fairly minimal extra instrumentation, wailing backwards guitar drifting in and out from time to time.
Side one’s second track, ‘Copper’ has an interesting history to it. The sleeve credits note that all instruments are down to Daniel Ash, though with the combined voices of he and Campling, all somewhat manic and cackling.
The long departed ‘APOLLOX’ Love and Rockets/Bauhaus-related fanzine is the source of the following nugget of information, courtesy of an interview conducted with Glenn Campling…
‘A SHORT TALE OF TONES….’Where Truth Begins and Fiction Ends’ © Apollox Feb / March 2006 with thanks to Glenn Campling
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Andrew J. Brooksbank MySpace – archived 24/11/2009
(On ‘Copper’) …this track, or rather the guitar element, was played during one of the four improvisations the band (Bauhaus) would jam with during the European leg of the ‘Mask’ Tour, the month following the Reading show you speak of – ‘The Colours’ were basically four instrumental (largely) improvisational pieces, where each member would take the lead, i.e. one of them was a drum driven track (in the vein of ‘Satori’), a second one was bass driven etc and ‘Copper’ was played during the ‘guitar’ colour. I am only aware of one show where all four of these ‘Colours’ were actually played during the same performance. Often they would play one or two of them but rarely all four, like all improvisations once the act or music is performed / played more than once they begin to evolve and take on life of their own, thus becoming fully fledged and losing their spontaneous edge I guess that’s maybe why this idea didn’t last beyond a handful of dates…
It’s all flooding back to me now! I personally regard ‘Colours’ as a failed Bauhaus project. It started as a kind of live jam on that tour in the hope it would develop into a masterpiece. When I wrote the set lists for the night, the whole crew would say ‘Oh no, not that again’. The trouble was the band would mostly play it in the middle of the set, and it felt like a gaping hole was about to appear. They would argue that the audiences mixed feelings was the response they wanted, irrelevant of the eerie silence followed by timid applause when it was all over. As far as I know it was never recorded, but Dan must have like his part (obviously influenced by the Beatles, ‘Daytripper’ which Tones recorded later)…
It is also noted on the sleeve with dual 45/331/3 speed for this one track, presumably inviting the listener to try either. (It’s a wonder one of the countless CD compilation re-issues has not in fact tried this trick to date!)
Means of Escape
Side two opens with ‘Means of Escape’, where things get somewhat groovy. A strict, heavily reverbed snare and simple 4/4 rhythm box kick drum sets the bedrock of the track over which Glenn Campling once again starts up his bass guitar and proceeds as he means to go on. Over this, Daniel Ash gets the drum stick out and bows this over the guitar (a technique more famously heard on ‘Hollow Hills’ and always a sight to have seen live) layering a haunting wash of sound in and out of focus. The vocal takes the form of a quiet whisper, adding to the mystery of the lyric, while towards the end Ash adds atmospheric saxophone into the mix. Surprisingly perhaps, this only appears to have resurfaced on CD one one release, the mistakenly titled ‘Everything’ compilation.
Side two and the EP ends with ‘Instrumental’ – once more, the credits list Daniel Ash responsible for all instruments, which this time comprise 12 string acoustic guitar, SoundMaster SR-88 rhythm machine, bass guitar (somewhat more basic sounding than Campling’s heavily FX-laden style) and a string synthesizer (unidentified, but customarily beautiful in sound).
On the original vinyl, this track fades out at around the 3 minute 22 mark – you can hear that version on the ‘Night Music’ compilation and US ‘Tones On Tail’ compilation – but there are two slight variants available; the track was first re-issued in 1985 in the UK (also Canada and Greece) on the ‘Tones On Tail’ compilation LP (Situation 2, STU12), an LP that gathered up all of the main tracks from the first three 12″ singles the band released 1982-1983. Somewhere along the line however, someone must have decided to find the editing scissors and trim ‘Instrumental’ to fit on this compilation, as it clocks in at only 2 minutes and 13 seconds approx. – a good minute plus lopped off and crucially, it fades out prematurely before it has even reached its somewhat lively middle-eight section! Unsatisfying…
Perhaps to make amends though, by the time the track was dusted off again and re-issued as part of the ‘Everything’ compilation CD (and later the ‘Weird Pop’ double vinyl compilation), the original tape must have been used and instructions to fade-out before the end gone AWOL as it is unedited, so there is no fade – the instruments just die off at the end naturally.
Addendum: Soundmaster Memory Rhythm SR-88
The rhythm box that underpins both ‘Means of Escape’ and ‘Instrumental’ is the Soundmaster Memory Rhythm SR-88 – I was familiar with this before the release, this is a review from the August 1981 issue of ‘Sound International’ magazine I had been poring over. Another famous user of this little rhythm box is Neil Arthur of Blancmange.
‘Masterbag’ 4AD press advert, April 1982
Interesting to note from a 4AD press advert in the ‘Masterbag’ magazine that was available free from UK indie record shops at the time that the project wasn’t ‘Tones On Tail’ at the time, but listed under the name of Daniel Ash (of Bauhaus)/Glenn Campling – the name came from the title of the EP.