In my early teens I inherited a Grundig tape recorder from my grandfather Walter Conning. I already owned a small japanese recorder; now with two, a new world of possibilities opened up. Every book available on tape recording techniques and musique concrète was checked out of Macclesfield Town Library and avidly pored over. In fact I think there was only one book, but it was a good one.
I began two projects, recording my own tape experiments at home and recording songs via tape bouncing techniques with a school friend named Tim Shearer, who currently runs the excellent Confingo literary magazine. When I was around 15 I sent a tape of my experiments to John Peel, and he graciously admitted to being impressed by the sounds I had conjured out of bits of tubing, a trombone mouthpiece and some squeaking toys borrowed from my infant sister. But he was careful to say that there probably wasn’t much of a career in it.
These more abstract sound outings continued in London with The Lines, and in the summer of 1980 a cassette only compilation was released, sold by mail order via a flyer that was inserted in the first edition of the Cool Snap EP. It wasn’t credited to The Lines at the time, but it was us, together with Martin Mossop and other friends. It wasn’t really until the Therapy album that these more abstract sounds became a part of our main repertoire.
A remaster of this has long been on my list of things to do. There are some exerpts on the Acute Records Memory Span page: select SOUND and then Rituals of the House.
Our live sets of the time ended with this instrumental, the old Yamaha trombone (which still lives in my garage) pressed into action once more, in the vital interests of approximating the sound of a rampaging martian mammoth. The guy at the sound board was invariably encouraged to go overboard with his echo box, to mixed results. You need to get very bold with the feedback control to get a good dub effect, a fact which many of our sound men were probably too inebriated to absorb.
This studio version came out quite well, Jo’s bobbing bass and Nick’s cool percussion somewhat invoking my fave mixer Lee “Scratch” Perry without crossing into pure copycat territory (I hope). And overall, although I was somewhat dissatisfied with the sound of the Cool Snap EP, it had the effect of making me grab the controls for myself, and I’ve held on to them ever since.
A certain corner is turned as we flip over to the B side of the Cool Snap EP. There is the beginning of a slight return to the night prowling Lines of old. Jo Forty’s bass asserts its place in the middle of things.
There will still be febrile neo-funk excursions, but they will be fewer. After drilling ourselves fairly hard for a year, we’re starting to feel confident enough to relax into the groove.
Our first almost funky song, this was an important one in our development and was originally slated as a follow-up 45 to On The Air. A certain M.Wilson Linehan really excels here. When he first jammed on this song back at the end of 1979 we knew that he was a keeper, and the John Peel session version recorded in January 1980 is a personal fave.
I always liked the chorus melody and even encored it on the song Airlift a couple of years later. I like the words too, an abstract (of course) re-evaluation of some Orwellian prophesies, and if I may be so vain as to quote a couplet:
Hey…you remember back on the farm?
That was no false alarm.
It’s a bit hard to focus this morning, as thoughts and memories return continually to the great maestro and mentor who has left us. David Bowie was the cool big brother for every kid my age who felt a bit odd and alienated. And that was a lot of us. He continued to play that rôle, in a more avuncular way, for every generation since.
Today should be spent listening to Candidate, or Quicksand, or any number of masterpieces by this amazing artist.
The next song in our series is a strange one, part bossa nova and part something else. Lord knows what it’s about.
The Alaska demo having been absorbed, it was decided to put out our 5 best tracks on a 12″ EP. We booked Pathway Studios in Highbury with engineer Nick Godwin at the controls.
I have criticized the Cool Snap EP in the past for being under-produced, which is a bit daft really, because stark and minimal was what we wanted to do at the time. However, I think we did overdo (or underdo) it. The John Peel session versions of two of these songs are an indication that a bit more of that ol’ fairy dust might have been a good thing, and I personally prefer those versions. This particular song can be heard, along with other rare snippets, on the Memory Span page at the Acute Records website.
This rather upbeat EP (with an excellent cover image by Martin Mossop) was released into a UK indie scene that was reeling from the death of my former schoolmate. It was mercilessly savaged by all, except for the estimable Kris Needs at Zigzag, who always gave us a fair hearing. Paul Morley at the NME really stuck the boot in, compared us to other people, and said we were “off course”. Well…not really, we were very much on our own little course, but it was true that we had begun to feel a little behind where we wanted to be, and impatient to get to the next stage we had planned.
The opening song Don’t Need Surgery was our gig opener and clarion call…for a time. Another song that was formerly slower and heavier, this version wants to hold off the encroaching Thatcherites, in a vague sort of way.
We had a somewhat gonzo side to us that would surface from time to time, after copious refreshment, and this song is an example. Listen to Mr Cash’s performance here, just fierce!
Another Alaska track that ultimately surfaced on the Memory Span compilation in 2008.