26 October 2009
The Skids were fronted by a pair of towering talents. With his chiseled jaw line and stentorian voice, Richard Jobson was a natural front man, commanding the stage with the authority of an army officer leading his troops into battle. And Stuart Adamson was every bit his equal, buttressing Jobson's voice with muscular guitar riffs and soaring lead lines that called to mind amassed bagpipes sounding across the highlands of their native Scotland.
The band formed in Dunfermline, a working class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Edinburgh, where a career in music offered one of the few alternatives to the mines where Jobson's father had toiled. Like so many others, Adamson had been inspired by the punk revolution. Together with his friend William Simpson (bass), he set out to find a singer who could both hold a tune and look the part. They found their man in Jobson, a local punk they had seen about town sporting a full-length black leather trench coat and black and white hair. Tom Kellichan (drums) completed the original line up shortly thereafter.
The Skids played their first gig in August, 1977. The songs were mostly Adamson's at first but Jobson soon proved an adept wordsmith, mixing a schoolboy fascination with the glories of war with a burgeoning respect for the work of the symboliste poets from Mallarme and Rimbaud, to Duras and Plath. The results could be obscure and enigmatic, but were still somehow strangely inspired, urging Adamson to ever more heroic melodies and chord progressions. Early singles "Sweet Suburbia," "The Saints Are Coming," and "Into The Valley" made the charts in 1978 and early 1979, the latter going top ten, in advance of the debut album.
The punk-inspired sound of Scared To Dance was dated by the time it appeared, but Adamson and Jobson had already moved on, developing a new interest in synthesizers, drum machines, and the polished textures of the new dance music being played at the London clubs that Jobson frequented while in the nation's capital. For Days In Europa, they brought in Rusty Egan, formerly of The Rich Kids, and now part owner of the Blitz Club, to play drums, and Bill Nelson, the guitar wizard who made his name with Be Bop Deluxe, to produce. Adamson's guitar style owed an enormous debt to Nelson's fluid, coruscating fret work, and having his hero in the recording booth served to bring out the best in this hugely talented player and songwriter (it is not for nothing that U2's The Edge has cited him as a key influence on his own playing). Jobson, too, stepped up his game, spinning such gossamer lines as, "I sacrificed the methods of my dreams / On the latter, these new poets, stole the scene / Oh, I'm sure they feel I can't betray / Egyptian girls can only say" ("Peaceful Times").
The album was preceded by two singles, "Masquerade," the first to reveal their sleek new sound, and "Working For The Yankee Dollar," but Days In Europa, for all its obvious achievement, never managed the commercial breakthrough for which both the band and label had hoped, making it only to #32 in the UK. Part of the blame was laid on the album cover, which depicted a woman crowning an Olympian with a garland, the Germanic lettering and muscular bodies recalling the fascist stylings of Leni Riefenstahl, while others pointed to Jobson's incomprehensible lyrics, partly buried in Nelson's guitar heavy mix. Virgin decided that the album needed both a new cover and a new mix. The new cover featured an elegant couple in evening dress, caught in an embrace (the original cover still visible as a painting in the background), while the new mix was provided by Bruce Fairburn, a Canadian producer who had made his name with popular West Coast rock acts like Prism and Trooper. Fairburn gave the album a kind of glossy lustre, bringing forward Jobson's booming voice. The running order was changed, too, dropping "Pros and Cons" on British copies for the earlier single, "Masquerade."
The second version of Days In Europa has always seemed to offend the band's loyal fans, who felt Fairburn had turned their post punk darlings into an American style rock band, and later reissues on cd have returned to Nelson's mix, but I've always preferred Fairburn's. Perhaps this is because this is the way the album was first released in North America, and hence the way I first came to adore this particular slab of wax. But even so, there is something to be said for the more balanced and coherent soundscape of the second version, with Egan's terrific hi-hats sparkling brightly in the top end of the spectrum, and Nelson's battery of sequenced synthesizers swirling from high to low.
The rip of the second version of Days In Europa posted here is sourced from a British copy. It is identical to that which was released in North America except that "The Olympian" has been retained from the original running order. Long time fans of the band are encouraged to reconsider the Fairburn mix, while new listeners should seek out The Captain Oi! cd reissue, which includes the original mix and a clutch of associated singles and b-sides. Egyptian girls don't last for long.
-- Crash The Driver
05 October 2009
I sleep in your nova heart
As things come apart
No-one had heard a Canadian record like Arias & Symphonies when it hit the airwaves in 1982. Here was a bona fide New Romantic record from a home-grown talent, sounding as though this relatively unknown band from Burlington, Ontario, were seasoned habitues of the Blitz club in London, England. It wasn't just good. It was great.
This was primarily down to the band landing John Punter, who had produced both Roxy Music and their stylistic successors Japan. It was on a trip to Canada with Japan in 1979 that he became acquainted with Spoons, as they both shared distributor Quality Records. At the beginning of 1982 he worked with them for three days on the "Nova Heart" / "Symmetry" 12". This went top ten on release in April and paved the way to a further collaboration in the form of a full-length album. These sessions were the first time Punter worked with a group outside the UK.
Arias & Symphonies, released in October, is full of the suburban concerns Spoons displayed on their quirky debut single "After the Institution" (1980) and first album Stick Figure Neighbourhood (1981). But the drums have been streamlined and machined, the synths sequenced and arpegiatted, the vocals sheened and the guitars layered. The cover photo, used with permission of the Austrian National Tourist Office, gives the album an air of European grandeur, especially with its elaborate typography and heraldic insignia. The band portraits on the reverse, shot by noted photographer Peter Nobel, further attest to the influence of Ultravox, with the band all kitted out in white and posing before neo-classical buildings.
But it was not simply Punter's polished production and arrangements that make this the very pinnacle of the Canadian New Romantic scene. The song-writing is first rate, melodic and compelling, with a variety of tempos and moods on display. What the songs have in common is a sort of play-acting, extrapolating to the absurd, whether it's about communications theory ("One In Ten Words"), quantum physics ("No Electrons"), pirates ("Walk The Plank") or the ever-dramatic life-or-death struggle known as, um, winter ("Smiling In Winter"). The title song is a sumptuous slice of pop in the grandiose style of "Vienna," with Deppe's vocals approaching the operatic as he laments the things that parents expect of their children.
Smack dab in the middle there's "Nova Heart," with its over-the-top verses and lovely chorus. And the middle eight is a thing of beauty: instruments leisurely encircle the precision drum machine (Derrick Ross, automated), building to a lead synth line from Rob Preuss (only 17, eye-shadow, longing looks) as good as any Billy Currie mustered. Sandy Horne (long hair, ballet shoes, swooning followers) lays down bass grooves and trills expertly in the background. Vox Angelica they used to call it. This one belongs up there with the first Duran Duran and Visage albums, Vienna and Spandau Ballet's "To Cut A Long Story Short."
What follows is our usual high-quality rip of the vinyl album. We've exactly preserved the inter-song timings and have erred on the side of under-processing the audio. No extra compression or noise reduction here, and the high VBR rate ensures you'll enjoy all the top end sizzle of those double time hi hats.
Listen to this rip and then go to the Spoons site and order the Limited Edition compilation. You'll get several later hit tunes you can sing along to in the kitchen, two selections from the debut album and that magnificent "Nova Heart" EP, with its fab b-side, "Symmetry." And just to complete the experience, don't forget the "Nova Heart" video as well.
Arias & Symphonies
01 Trade Winds / Smiling In Winter
02 One In Ten Words
03 No Electrons
04 No More Growing Up
05 Arias & Symphonies
06 Nova Heart
07 South American Vacation
08 A Girl In Two Pieces
09 Walk The Plank
10 Blow Away
Canada LP Ready Records [LR 27] 1982.10
USA LP A&M Records [LP-4920] 1982.10
Canada CD Universal Music  2000
Recorded at Sounds Interchange, Toronto & Air Studios, London.
Mixed at Air Studios, London.
Sandy Horne: Bass, Vocals
Derrick Ross: Drums, Percussion
Rob Preuss: Jupiter IV, SH-2000
Gordon Deppe: Guitar, Vocals
Produced and mixed by John Punter
Photography by P.L. Noble
The album was accompanied by two singles, "Arias & Symphonies" / "Trade Winds" [SR 271] which charted at #18 and "Smiling in Winter" / "South American Vacation" [SR 272] which only made it to #30. That second seven inch is obscure enough that discogs knows not of its existence. That's what you've got us for!
-- The Second Chameleon
04 October 2009
A dull amber glow, numbers dimly lit. Kilohertz and Megahertz. AM and FM. Volume and Tuning. Slowly sliding up and down the dial, a static white hiss, punctuated by sudden bursts of sound. The news or weather, a commercial for a local car dealer, the latest entry in the top forty. The signal drifts in and out of tune, searching for that sweet spot where Schoenberg accompanies Bachman Turner Overdrive. Waiting for the long dash that signals two o`clock. Exactly.
Radio remains the most enchanted of media. Like some spirit, the voice passes silent and invisible through the open air, to come crackling in the depths of our speakers, a mysterious visitor in the night, a guest in the morning. And the very fact that it is nothing but a voice, nothing but something to be heard, only adds to the enchantment. As listeners, we have to complete the signal, imagine the colours, the smells, the textures. Radio lets us add ourselves to the message, become part of its meaning. In its glow we commune with ourselves even as we commune with the other.
It is this quality of radio, its uncanniness, its ability to seem both intimately familiar and perfectly strange, that is captured in Tom Robinson's 1984 single, "Listen To The Radio (Atmospherics)." The song first appeared two years earlier as the opening track of North By Northwest, Robinson's debut lp, following a string of mid-seventies successes in TRB, including the now classic chant along, "2-4-6-8 Motorway." Robinson's outspoken and trenchant criticisms of the Thatcher government, together with his open embrace of the struggle for gay and lesbian rights, kept him in the spot light in the early days of punk rock, but his albums sold poorly, leading him to disband TRB and try again with the short-lived post-punk outfit, Sector 27. 1983's "War Baby" saw him belatedly return to the charts as a solo act, and in the following year a cover version of "Listen To The Radio," by the Canadian band Pukka Orchestra, made it into the top twenty north of the 49th Parallel. Sensing a possible breakout hit, Panic Records issued a re-recorded version, giving it a new arrangement and more radio friendly production, and adding a co-writing credit for Peter Gabriel, who apparently suggested some of the lyrics.
Robinson's voice is one of the most moving of the mid seventies and early eighties. Smoky, at times weary, but somehow still defiant, it carries the listener with its impressionistic tale of the life of a minor bureaucrat behind the iron curtain where only the radio brings news of the outside world. "Atmospherics after dark," he sings. "Noise and voices from the past / Across the dial from Moscow to Cologne." Only radio brings such consolation, put the coffee on and smoke another cigarette.
Here is the twelve-inch, extended version of "Listen To The Radio (Atmospherics)," together with its b-sides and, as an added bonus, The Pukka Orchestra's funked out eighties dance version. Tell us which you prefer!
--Crash The Driver