Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Colin Newman, ‘Not To’ UK LP (4AD CAD201, 1982)

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Early 1982 saw Colin Newman’s third solo album ‘Not To’ revisit a good number of songs that Wire had first performed live but never recorded as studio takes, in equal turns sating a curiosity but also further underlining Wire’s extinct status. ‘Not To’ dusted off and updated ‘Lorries’, ‘We Meet Under Tables’, ‘Safe’, ‘5/10’ and ‘Remove for Improvement’, all of which had seen live Wire outings previously (and would be documented in rough, live recordings too – initially in 1981 on ‘Document and Eyewitness’, then many years later the remainder on ‘Turns and Strokes’). (There is also ‘You, Me And Happy’, though any Wire recording of this seems to be unheard of.)

Now, it was not only Colin Newman re-purposing this source material – Gilbert & Lewis and their ‘Dome’ project also made use of ‘And Then…’ on ‘Dome 1’ and ‘Ritual View’ on ‘Dome 2’, while Colin Newman himself had already revisited ‘Inventory’ for his initial solo album, 1980’s ‘A – Z’. ‘Alone’ from that same LP shares writing credits of Newman/Lewis, so a Wire connection there too perhaps.

Colin Newman 'Not To' LP front cover design

^ Colin Newman ‘Not To’ LP front cover design

So, ‘Not To’ inevitably had a great deal of comparisons to Wire from the off, given its source material. In particular, the more overtly ‘pop’ side was always bandied about as if this were the sole preserve of Colin Newman – despite his previous solo album, ‘Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish’, straying into the kind of outer fringes sonic areas that erstwhile colleagues Gilbert and Lewis had been mapping as their own. Having said that, there’s no doubt that this ‘poppier’ side was in the sights with this album’s sound. The album was produced by Colin Newman himself and this gives it a gentler, somewhat more clean and precise sound in comparison to how things had been sounding with Mike Thorne, who had helmed all three Wire LPs to that point as well as Colin Newman’s first solo outing.

Colin Newman 'Not To' LP rear cover

^ Colin Newman ‘Not To’ LP rear cover

Wire’s late-period material of 1979/80 acquired something of a mythic status as the stuff from which would have been spun the band’s notional post-‘154’ fourth album, had the sheer impediment of being Wire and self-imploding tendencies not finally gone nova with 1980’s final live outing at the Electric Ballroom. Some of these tracks had partly been preserved already in rough form on 1981’s ‘Document and Eyewitness’ live album. Some years on, the ‘Turns and Strokes’ waifs and strays tidy-up compilation of the late ’90s would document even more of them.

Colin Newman 'Not To' LP label side one

^ Colin Newman ‘Not To’ LP label side one

For many years then, it was a good parlour game to entertain various permutations of what might have been on this notional fourth album, since it had never come to pass. But in customary contrary fashion, in 2013 Wire released ‘Change Becomes Us’, which saw the band revisit this period and re-record anew based on the same source material as a starting point.

Colin Newman 'Not To' LP label side two

^ Colin Newman ‘Not To’ LP label side two

In 2016, the album was re-issued. The vinyl LP preserved the original track listing while the 2 x CD version came complete with a second disc of 21 previously unreleased ‘B Sides, Demos & Supporting Material, Home Studio Demos’ plus the ‘We Means We Starts’ single A side for good measure.

Remake, remodel: Wire ‘Change Becomes Us’ and Karl Bartos ‘Off The Record’

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Arriving within a short period of one another, two releases which both delve back into the history books in order to refashion roughs into polished new shapes. Wire have taken a selection of material that previously saw release only as live versions (on 1981’s ‘Document and Eyewitness’ live set and, later, the ‘Turns and Strokes’ compilation gathering together remaining waifs and strays of the period) – so, mostly familiar to long-time Wire fans. Bartos meanwhile has looked back to private musical sketches to bring something new to the world.

Wire 'Changes Becomes Us' limited edition and and Karl Bartos 'Off The Record' CDs

^ Wire 'Changes Becomes Us' limited edition and and Karl Bartos 'Off The Record' CDs

Both works are pretty much bound to appeal to existing fan bases – musically, these are both very much on-message with existing styles. Wire’s album is strong, with many echoes of their ‘Chairs Missing’/’154’ period to be found. What in many cases existed as little more than fragments at best on the 1979/1980 live recordings are hewn into solid pieces and transform pretty minimal pieces into prime slices of what Wire do best. Take for example, ‘As We Go’ – its earlier incarnation as ‘Part Of Our History’ is documented in rough, slow, minimal form on ‘Turns and Strokes’. This version is glorious, particularly resplendent with the guitar chords outro as the drums fade first. The fast paced measured staccato guitar chops which are very much a hallmark of Wire mark 1 are alive and well all over this work. It has been interesting to go back now and take a fresh listen to the live source materials. ‘Time Lock Fog’ is descended from ‘5/10’ in it’s original forms and listening back on that, the Graham Lewis bass pulse that anchors things when the piece kicks in reminds me of the later reworkings of ‘The Boiling Boy’ in live form. ‘The Boiling Boy’ remains a favourite of mine and I think it is one of the key pieces of Wire mark 2 in the same way that more famous ‘Drill’ is – as seen by its continued outings in recent years.

Wire premiered the entire album at a live show in London last week which I was fortunate to make it to and the pieces work well live, as you might imagine since many of them have been in the set lists over the past year and a half or so.

Wire's Graham Lewis and Colin Newman (with Robest Gray just visible in the background) - live at Heaven, London, 24 March 2013

^ Wire's Graham Lewis and Colin Newman (with Robest Gray just visible in the background) - live at Heaven, London, 24 March 2013

The somewhat bizarre sight of the massed ranks that was the Pink Flag Guitar Orchestra for the encore at the Heaven live show...

^ The somewhat bizarre sight of the massed ranks that was the Pink Flag Guitar Orchestra for the encore at the Heaven live show...

The Bartos album differs in that the works have no obvious sources to compare against. The CD comes in a digipack which comes with extensive background notes to each piece from Kark himself and give a good idea to the original inspirations. Musically, this is very much a continuation from the styles that was last heard on his ‘Communication’ album, complete with phoneme voice synthesis et al. The poppier numbers such as ‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ and ‘Nachtfahrt’ in particular will seem familiar already. There are of course echoes of Kraftwerk – not least the ‘Neon Light’s style to ‘The Tuning of the World’, ‘Rhythmus’ and its echoes of the ‘TEE’ rhythm married with a variant on the ‘Computer World’ melody, while the closing ‘Hausmusik’ harks back to the pre-Bartos ‘Tanz Musik’.

The pieces that work best for me are ‘Instant Bayreuth’ and ‘Vox Humana’ – the former tapping into the same traditional vibe that much of ‘Radio-Activity’ mined, while the latter goes off into a weirder musical noise textures (as does the latter half of ‘Musica Ex Machina’) to good effect.

What both works do share though is in the packaging – the Wire release is the deluxe hardback book edition, which comes with copious notes and photos from the recording session for the album at Rockfield studios in Wales. Didn’t come cheap, but worth the extra, nice package all in all. The standard Bartos digipack CD (at least the one I came by) comes with a set of pages where there are detailed notes, including the technology used at the time and now, plus the lyrics to the pieces. In the case of Bartos’ work, visual accompaniment is clearly part of the overall work too.

Where both parties venture next, who knows. Wire now with fresh blood in the addition of Matt Simms on guitar sounds on fine form on this outing and one imagines this is a rare look backward from a unit that has traditionally always had an eye on moving beyond past works. For Bartos, let’s hope that this reactivates the circuitry enough to ensure there is not another decade’s wait between releases.

Skids – ‘Animation’ UK 7″ single (Virgin, VS323, 1980)

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Included for no other reason than it happens to be one of my all-time favourite sleeve designs, graced with an artwork from none other than Russell Mills [http://www.russellmills.com/], who is identified with the Eno/Sylvian end of the musical spectrum more often than not, I’d say.

Skids 'Animation' front cover design

^ Skids 'Animation' front cover design

This ended up being the third single release from ‘Days in Europa’ – I’m sticking firmly to the original 1979 release when I say this – I know that the 1980 remix/re-release also includes ‘Masquerade’, so technically you might say it is the fourth single peeled off the album – but any Skids fan who knew the original first probably finds the 1980 version difficult to swallow, even with a tacked on single from a year before. (And, my goodness, a year was a long time indeed in the late ’70s/early ’80s – in the current era where bands take years between album releases, Skids themselves managed to release two original albums in 1979 – and they were far from the only band with that kind of work ethic.)

Skids 'Animation' back cover design

^ Skids 'Animation' back cover design

Ironically though, the reason for this single release was the remixed and repackaged 1980 re-release of ‘Days in Europa’ (touched on in an earlier blog post here) – this was the single that preceded it. The version of ‘Animation’ is shorter than the original 1979 album mix, due to an earlier fade-out, though otherwise not much different. Meanwhile, the surgery that was meted out on the re-issue LP saw ‘Pros and Cons’ excised from the running order – criminally, in my opinion – to make way for ‘Masquerade’  so, ‘Pros and Cons’ ends up being the B side here.

Skids 'Animation' label side A

^ Skids 'Animation' label side A

Sadly, the magnificent ‘Animation’ stiffed as far as the charts went, stalling at number 56 on the UK hit parade, bringing to an end the run of top 40 UK singles that had seen them score hit after hit from ‘Into The Valley’ through to the preceding ‘Working For The Yankee Dollar’.

Skids 'Animation' label side B

^ Skids 'Animation' label side B