He said he really liked me and did I take the pill?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.
I sprayed myself with Charlie and got ready for the kill.
"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.
B3 Criminal Waste (3:41)
B4 After Dark (3:18)
UK LP Fast Product [FAST 09a] 1979
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
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