‘Our Swimmer’ dates from a late 1979 recording session* at Magritte Studios which also witnessed the recording of ‘Go Ahead’ (which would be released on the B side of the ‘Map Ref. 41N 93W’ 7″ single) and ‘Midnight Bahnhoff Cafe’ (which would be released on the B side of the ‘Our Swimmer’ 7″ single). It was after the recording sessions that produced the ‘154’ album and the first time without the involvement of long-term producer, Mike Thorne – self-produced by the band. It was proposed as a single release while the band were still signed to EMI records, but rejected by the company.
* The 2014 re-issue of ‘Document and Eyewitness’ states ‘recorded at Magritte Studio, Harmondsworth Dec 1979’ – but I question that date if indeed it was the same session that also produced ‘Go Ahead’, since it was already released long before December. The ‘Nine Sevens’ singles box set also gets it wrong by stating 1980 as the recording year.
Aborted 7″ on Charisma – 1980
Having parted company with EMI records early in 1980, it appears that Charisma Records were courted seriously enough as a possible new label that they allocated a catalogue number (CB 371) and likely release date of Friday 1st August 1980 for a 7″ single by the band under the title ‘Our Swimmer’ (with B side to be confirmed), listed under ‘New Releases’ in ‘Music Week’ magazine issue dated 2 August 1980. It’s unclear whether this would have been the original recording of the song from late 1979 or the re-recorded ‘Second Length’ version… more likely the latter, but regardless of this, the single didn’t get released (and looks as if the catalogue number was never re-allocated to another release). In the book ‘Everybody Loves A History’, Colin Newman states “EMI had rejected ‘Our Swimmer’ as a single, so we went to Charisma, and that didn’t happen. They weren’t prepared to be involved with us for a one-off single”. My speculation about which ‘Our Swimmer’ recording was to be used comes from the following line in the same book, where Bruce Gilbert states “As EMI owned the original version of ‘Our Swimmer’, it seemed more interesting to do another version: ‘2nd length'”. More on that later…
Rough Trade 7″ – August 1981
The 1979 Magritte Studios recordings of ‘Our Swimmer’ and ‘Midnight Bahnhof Cafe’ would eventually be released on a 7″ single by Rough Trade (RTO 79) in July 1981, alongside the release of the ‘Document and Eyewitness’ live album.
‘Our Swimmer’ was earmarked by the band as a potential single from the material they had worked up late 1979 around the time of their gigs at the Jeannetta Cochran theatre, notionally in support of the ‘154’ album. In typical Wire fashion, little was played from the album, the gigs given over to new material and increasingly audience-provoking, arch presentation instead.
The song itself is easily one of the sweeter, ‘pop’ minded late EMI period songs. Colin Newman opines in the ‘Everybody Lives A History’ book that they had viewed the song as a ‘sure-fire’ hit but that the recording turned out ‘turgid’. A harsh view – it’s sonically quite beautiful and glides along on it’s own plateau from the off, with very prominent synth washes adding to the more customary Wire vocal/guitar/bass/drums sound palette of the time. In its way, it’s something of a proto-‘Drill’ type piece in how it starts up, is rooted by the bass as an anchor and glides onwards… it could carry on to an indeterminate length in the way that Wire have been want to do with ‘Drill’.
Newman is also quite scathing in his view on the B side, ‘Midnight Bahnhoff Cafe’ in the ‘Read and Burn’ book. But again, this is a fine piece of tuneful, late EMI period Wire before their 1980 implosion turned hiatus and wilfully antagonistic sound pieces that the late 1979/80 live gigs exhibited. Can’t recommend it enough. Again, very prominent synth tones in addition to the Wire stock in trade bass/guitar/drums construct.
There are no credits on the single’s sleeve as to who was responsible for its eye-catching design, but subsequent text from ‘Read and Burn’ points to Bruce Gilbert and a series of ‘impossible topiary’ paintings that he produced and the 2018 ‘Nine Sevens’ box set credits ‘Cover drawing, concept and design by B.C. Gilbert’ for the single.
Its eventual release via Rough Trade most likely came via the Gilbert/Lewis experiences with Rough Trade in running their own Dome Records label, I would surmise. ‘Go Ahead’, released much earlier, was the the third track from the same recording session – and like these two, very prominent use of synthesizer, more so than had been the norm, even compared to ‘154’. Other than the bass guitar, not even sure there are any guitars on ‘Go Ahead’ (other than bass, obviously), though with Wire it’s often difficult to know what the base elements that’s been sonically manipulated is…
It appears that this somewhat manically speeded up re-recording of what started life as ‘Our Swimmer’ came to be because of the planned, but aborted, Charisma Records single release. Again quoted from the ‘Everybody Loves A History’ book, Bruce Gilbert: “We used Scorpio Studios, where Colin had done ‘A-Z’. ‘Catapult 30’, the other piece, was done there too. That’s really a loop of ‘to swim, and to swim, and to swim, and to swim. Two for the price of one. But it became very clear that companies we spoke to thought more or less the same as EMI. They could not foresee building in individual projects as being practical to them.”
Musically, this a good deal more abrasive a listen than the original 1979 take – whereas that glides, this pushes hard. If EMI had turned down the original ‘Out Swimmer’ as not being commercial enough, they would be choking on this version. Peak oblique for ‘Catapult 30’ too, tape loops in the studio the base, it’s a somewhat seasick sounding experience near impossible to get your bearings on.
Rough Trade 12″ – March 1983
Though by 1983 Wire as a going concern had packed up shop and were no more, this 12″ releases appeared more or less out of the blue and tied up the few previously unreleased loose ends of the bands’ studio recordings by compiling together those two 1980 Scorpio Studios recordings along with the notorious 1979 John Peel ‘session’ that comprised just the one, very long, improvised piece, ‘Crazy About Love’.
Two colour variations to the sleeve design – as well as what’s shown here there are also copies with a green cross against a red background.
Nine Sevens 7″ box set 2018
While the tracks have been compiled on CD numerous times (starting with the first CD release of ‘Document and Eyewitness’ by The Grey Area of Mute in 1990 for the 1979 recordings and the labour of love that was the WMO label and its ‘Turns and Strokes’ CD for the 1980 recordings) 2018 saw Wire compile a singles box set, ‘Nine Sevens’. This saw a re-press for the original 1981 single and for the first time ‘Second Length’ as an A side of its own with unique sleeve design.
For the remainder, I’ll let the pictures tell the story…