18 June 2009

The Complete Works of (The) Flowers

Flowers
He said he really liked me and did I take the pill?
I sprayed myself with Charlie and got ready for the kill.
Flowers were the Scottish Joy Division. That's one of those throw-away lines journalists like to use, but there's something to it. Both the throbbing octave bass lines and razor guitars are present (courtesy Andy Copland and Fraser Sutherland), along with a probing intellect in the lyric department and a willingness to go just one step beyond. Both bands made it onto Earcom compilations, documents of the Fast Products label Bob Last established in Edinburgh in December 1977. The Flowers were on Earcom 1, while Joy Division waited until the second instalment.

"Criminal Waste" is a confounding song full of lines about wounds, poison and lies. I might guess it's about Sid Vicious. But this is mere prelude to the phenomenal "After Dark", a song that starts with a limping beat and becomes something quite different as the incisive lyrics bite home. The dissection of human relationships is explicit and disturbing, a prime expression of the punk distaste for sex. Each verse builds on the previous in an inexorable accumulation, like a ball of metal and concrete gathering momentum down a hill. The climax has Hilary Morrison yelling about dancing in the disco in similar fashion to how Curtis hollered about dancing to the radio.

There is panic here. And a fear that cannot be hidden by bravado. This is the sound of someone trapped in the system of societal expectation and representation. A woman lost in the marketplace, trying to force her way to something better.

The first of their two singles inaugurated the Pop Aural label in November 1979. It's a tamer affair; some effort has been made to rein in the energy and smooth the edges, though the production is still crude. "Confessions" sounds diffident but for me that's part of its charm. Hilary sings of needs and wants as though it's already too late to invest any passion in these ideas. "The game is clear, the name is fear, but I want to know just what is next." This is still the voice of a person questing for something beyond the given scheme of things. "I want to fight, but I need a starting point." Me, I hope she found it.

The version of "(Life) After Dark" on the flip really should have stayed under wraps. This points to a new wave direction (pointillist drums, flanged bass) not taken by the band.

The music of Last's labels was compiled onto Mutant Pop 78/79 for release in North America. Crude and exciting efforts from Scars, The Mekons, 2.3, The Human League and Gang of Four made this a vital outburst of post-punk -- the first time listeners in Canada and the USA had been exposed to these acts. The Flowers contributions were "Confessions" and "After Dark". It might not be too much to claim that the record holds the best efforts from all the assembled acts.

With their third and final release Flowers, like many other bands of the time, took an audio leaf from Gang of Four. The trio of tracks on "Ballad Of Miss Demeanour" are better produced than before. The band's target is explicitly expanded from sexual politics to the consumer landscape. The Marxist-tinged "Food" could easily have been on Entertainment! The cover of this record, the third single on Pop Aural, is quite a brilliant piece of graphic design.

Determining any more about this band is a difficult enough proposition. They couldn't even decide from record to record if their name was simply "Flowers" or "The Flowers". My investigation has revealed that Morrison was perhaps married to Bob Last, which might explain her appearance singing backup on two other Pop Aural singles, Restricted Code's "First Night On" (1980) and The Fire Engines' "Big Gold Dream" (1981). Here, as with The Flowers, she was credited as "Hl Ray", as though she wanted to be a member of Tubeway Army.

Simon Best, drummer, originally was sound man for The Mekons. He was in Delta 5 long enough to get writing credits for their debut single "Mind Your Own Business" (1979) and "You", the b-side to "Anticipation" (1980), though I do not believe he played on any of their recordings. Later on he arranged those mad strings on Fire Engines' "Candyskin" (1981), certainly his finest achievement.

Here then, we present, for the first time anywhere, the collected works of Flowers. All are original TSM rips except "(Life) After Dark, which was kindly donated by our good friend Dualtrack.

download

Earcom 1
B3 Criminal Waste (3:41)
B4 After Dark (3:18)
UK LP Fast Product [FAST 09a] 1979

Confessions
A1 Confessions (3:05)
B1 (Life) After Dark (4:10) [version]
7" Pop Aural [pop 001] November 1979
recorded at Cargo 24 & 26 August 1979
produced by Bob Last
engineered by John Brierly

Mutant Pop 78/79
B3 After Dark
B4 Confessions
US LP PVC Records [PVC 7912] 1980

Ballad Of Miss Demeanour
A1 Ballad Of Miss Demeanour (3:04)
B1 Food (2:42)
B2 Tear Along (2:58)
7" Pop Aural [pop 003] 1980
A1, B1 recorded at Castlesound, Pencaitland 15 Feb 1980
B2 recorded at Cargo, Rochdale December 1979
produced by Bob Last


P.S. Don't confuse this band with that which became Icehouse, or any of the several other minor acts of the same moniker.

-- Second Chameleon

28 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this. Owned most of these in a previous life, looking forward to listening again. Great piece of writing.

    Eric.

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  2. I've had their singles since they came out but didn't know anything about the band. Interesting that one of the members was part of Delta 5 ... nice job of providing background on this band!

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  3. You need a fresh rip of the Confessions single? If so, just comment here and I'll dig my copy up and post it.

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  4. Dualtrack: that would be great if you had "(Life) After Dark" Email me at second [dot] chameleon [at] googlemail [dot] com. I am traveling so may take a bit to get back to you.

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  5. Gosh! I am that woman singing this and who wrote lyrics, music etc (with the band...of course) Got sent this link - it's my birthday tomorrow, so this was strange blast from a past of which I am rather shy...so thanks.Hilary

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  6. Oooooh, 2nd post,if you'll allow. The day before my birthday and I get sent this...I have not listened to this for nearly 30 years. How angry I was. But allow me a word. There was no distaste of sex. None. Just great distaste of cattle market clubs. A distaste I went on to remedy during the 80s running a club called Danceteria where we sought to create a space where women, boys who wore make-up, gays, and straight men who just liked to dance could dance with impunity and dance for fun! Perhaps After Dark is more a reflection of the macho culture in Scotland that existed (exists) in Scotland.
    For the record I was not married to Bob Last, although he fathered my two children. I did found the label with him and did most of the photo work for the label. I did not aspire to be in the tubeway army either (ha! ha!)but sought a name/ID that was non-gendered (pretentious moi?)It did not work. People assumed HL-Ray was a clever boy photographer.I did not get on withe the G of 4 who treated me like a dumb wee secretary (public school boys, although not all). Marxist? I left school at 16 but read voraciously. Recently I got a degree and learnt I was quite a clever wee girly all along.

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  7. Different rip here,thought it might interest you..

    http://www.pukekos.org/2008/10/flowers.html

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  8. This is great, thanks for this. I was looking around the tinternet a while back for Flowers stuff but its hard to find much. I was just a wee boy of 14 in 1980, living in Glasgow and I remember The Flowers from local fanzines and Pop Aural records which i'd see in Blogs or Listen. I bought Restricted Codes 7" single, First Night On but hated it so gave it to a mate ( he called me a few years back and offered me it back, now i love it!!) I love After Dark, the lyrics are great, perhaps the reason I stayed away from Glasgows cattle markets a few years later when I was old enough to go out :-) Anyway, The Gang of Four were over-rated. Cheers. i@n

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  9. http://rapidshare.com/files/258947375/Flowers_-__Life__After_Death.rar

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  10. HL-Ray
    Isn't it strange that people never born at the time are obsessed with this era?
    Another voice from the past here, just chancing on this site and wondering how you're doing

    Pogo

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  11. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Susan

    http://mariahcareylyrics.net

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  12. you are an inspiration, hilary!

    thanks for these rips! so amazing to find this.

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  13. I picked up both Flowers 7"s second hand a while back, partly because of the Bob Last connection & partly because the sleeves are so nice (!). Great 45s both, but virtually nobody seems to have heard of 'em - Flowers have been unfairly overlooked post-Rip It Up & Start Again but their time will come, I'm sure...

    Also, wasn't Hilary (above) in Davey Henderson's VERY shortlived post-Fire Engines band, Heartbeat? Has anybody ever heard "Spook Sex" as I think that's the only thing they released (on an NME cassette)?

    P.S. Top blog btw!

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  14. Fantastic band - I saw them live at least 3/4 possibly five times around 1979/80 at Middlesbrough Rock Garden and The Teessider in Stockton as they were labelmates with local heroes Basczax who had a residency there in 1979.

    They definitely supported the Human League and Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark at the Rock Garden. I loved them and had both singles. The drummer used to have a cymbal that was all bashed in. After Dark was a brilliant song but they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived - shame!

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  15. Candy Ballard16 May, 2010 10:13

    Have just been turned on to "After Dark" via Mr. Everett True on Facebook.
    WOW! Fantastic! Can't believe I haven't heard this superb track before - just goes to show you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
    Love it, Love it, LOVE IT!!!

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  16. Oh man, I had only known and loved the Mutant Pop tracks, had no clue there was more. Thanks.

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  17. WOW! Fantastic! you are an inspiration,Hilary!

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  18. Nice write up on the creators of one of my all time favorite single, the Flower's After Dark.

    A comment disguised as a question: Why do you refer to the Fast Product album "Mutant Pop" as "Mutant Pop 78/79?"

    Please don't say "The Internet,"

    For the thirty years it has followed me around I've just called it "Mutant Pop," regarding the white 78/79 (followed by the original release numbers) as part of Fast Products anti-packaging design philosophy. I'll further point out that the title on the spine is given as "Mutant Pop." The vinyl itself, alas, is silent on the whole issue.

    An older guy by the name of Robert Christgau seems to agree with my interpretation as well.

    Again, thanks for the write-up on the Flowers. I now know more about the band than I had ever known before. I don't know how well known they were in Scotland or in England, but in the middle of the U.S., even at the peak of their fame (haha!) they were definitely obscure.

    Chris

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  19. Though consensus on the net is that "Mutant Pop 78/79" has that longer title, we too remain suspicious of such things. Quite often a single source is repeated over and over on the interwebs until it attains the status of truth. We have seen this happen with our own writings. Though of course everything we say is true, so no harm done!

    I have no idea how we decided to name the album one thing or another. With the same authority we may have called it "FAST Mutant Pop 78/79 ->" I suppose! And actually I like the look of that, just as I like FAST packaging in general.

    Thank you for your interest in such small matters, from which entire realities are built.

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  20. Digging through my singles today, I listened to "After Dark," then the Earcom version; still a stunning piece of work 32 years later.

    Glad to hear Hilary is still around & doing well.

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  21. Hilary, I only now noticed that I did not thank you for your comments and clarifications. If you can dig into the past a little more for lyrics to these songs, that would be wonderful. We have had requests for "After Dark" in particular. I can make some guesses, but... better to go with authority!

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  22. No problems with this file; just click on the vinyl record icon.

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  23. Nice one, one of my favs too also saw them at the Rock Garden in 'Boro and Leeds Futurama 1980. It's all a million years ago but still great tunes.

    Mark

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  24. Peel session with unreleased tracks ( Living Doll/Tunnels/The Deep End Dance)


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QG2eJGFowxQ

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  25. When I came across this I figured it had to be a reunion, but no it's the original band from 1980: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHiMZxL4qQk

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  26. Great stuff. I saw The Flowers live a couple of times and they were cracking.

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