The Lines “Transit” 1981

It was a busy winter. We played more gigs during that season than at any other period. We also jettisoned most of our repertoire and wrote a new one. I became a father and was promptly evicted from my home and exiled from Stoke Newington, ending up with infant son Tom and his mother in a semi-derelict flat in Southwark. Soon after that the Brixton riots began.

A John Peel session from January 1981 catches us in transition between old set and new. One of the new songs was the appropriately titled Transit, which underwent something of a rewrite between January and its recording in April at our first session in Blackwing Studios, engineered by the estimable Eric Radcliffe and John Fryer, who were to curate most of our subsequent releases of that era.

All kinds of amazing music was being made at Blackwing by artists from the fledgling Mute and 4AD labels. One day we arrived at the studio to find Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet finishing up a song called Only You. Not the kind of thing you forget. The 4AD version of Song To The Siren sung by Liz Fraser was recorded there…gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. And I have previously mentioned my obsession with Dome, a project by Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert…my quest to discover their secrets led me to Eric, who schooled me in the art of the externally triggered noise gate.

Happy as we were with Blackwing, it has to be said that once again the John Peel version has a certain extra intensity. However I still feel that the rewrite is the better song. At the time, not everyone agreed with me.


Colourbox 1984

I knew Ivo Watts-Russell of 4AD from The Lines days, he knew our manager Steve Brown and we did gigs with 4AD acts Bauhaus and The Birthday Party. When I found out he’d booked in Colourbox to do some recording I was pretty excited. I knew their amazing psychedelic R ‘n B dub EP Shotgun and was very impressed by it. They were certainly a band apart from their more whimsical label mates. So I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

One day two white boys walked in, they looked about 17, brothers, they weren’t twins but could have been. They didn’t bring any gear with them, just stood there grokking ours for a while, then went to it. This was Martyn and Steve Young of Colourbox. They had a manager, Ray Conroy, who would sit at the back and cheerlead. On vocal day Lorita Grahame would come down from the midlands, sulk a bit, and then blow us away with her incredible voice.

Martyn Young had an amazing ability to incorporate any new technology that arrived in the studio into the track he was working on, almost without missing a beat. For Manic our new Yamaha DX7 and Roland MSQ sequencer were put through their paces. We’d nearly finished the mix of You Keep Me Hangin’ On  when a new gizmo arrived that allowed us to pitch change a looped sample held in the AMS digital delay, and that’s how the guitar breakdown in that song came about.

Simple technology, to be sure, compared to what Trevor Horn and his crew had going on a couple of miles away in Basing Street. But for my money Colourbox kicked Art of Noise’s ass any day of the week.

Plus my boy William Orbit ripped out a great guitar solo on Manic.

They only made the one album, then they did a world cup theme, then they had a big hit with Pump Up The Volume, then they got sued by everybody, then they disappeared. I often wonder what they’re up to now. Probably working down at the Hadron Collider with the other geniuses.

Update: I have just learned, to my great sadness, that Steven Young passed in July of this year. My deepest condolences to Martyn and all of Steven’s family and friends. Just when you think 2016 can’t get any worse…