The Lines “hull down” 1982-3

It’s here! 33 years after recording, 11 years after the edit was done, with the excellent help of Dan Selzer at Acute Records and our friends at Carpark Records, we have finally marshaled the resources to release The Lines’ album #3. Ladies and Gentlemen, for your entertainment and delight, we present hull down. Here is the lowdown, for those who wish it.

After the completion of  Ultramarine in April of 1982 the chickens came home to roost, financially speaking. Label boss Steve Brown had managed to keep the plates spinning for a while but now they were crashing down. We no longer had our Aberdeen Road squat to rehearse in. Nick was busy with Fad Gadget. Mick went to Thailand, Jo went to Turkey.

Nothing happened for a while. In June me and Jo started the tracks Raffle and Haberdasher at his Old Street flat, and also the first Flat Feet version at the earliest incarnation of Guerilla Studio, in the anarchist squat on Harrow Road. When Mick got back from Thailand we demoed Single Engine Duster and Archway at his place. When Guerilla went 8-track and moved to Maida Vale they offered me a job as engineer, an event which brings us back to the beginning of this blog.

Having access to down time at the studio meant that these demos could now make the transition to 8-track tape, aided by the burgeoning synth arsenal of the super-evolving band Torch Song. Finally, we were in complete control of our sound.

Thus the sessions which make up hull down proceeded through the winter of ’82 and the spring and summer of ’83. We discovered the modern disease of endless choice; with no studio deadlines, we could tweak and redo and then tweak some more. Later in 1983 the studio was upgraded to 24 track and down time became more scarce. We had some good-sounding rough mixes on cassette tape but nothing was finished, and so it remained.

In 1987 there was an attempt to complete an instrumental version of the album for Miles Copeland’s No Speak label, through which William Orbit’s excellent Strange Cargo series was launched. However they weren’t very into what they heard. Material like Haberdasher was a bit too ambient and repetitive for their particular brief. So again, it wasn’t finished. A few elements of the 8-track masters were sampled, which aided in the ultimate construction of hull down.

In 2004, having completed the premastering for the Memory Span and Flood Bank compilations, I dug out the original cassettes from 1983 and flew them into Pro Tools. I made an interesting discovery: in certain cases, by blending the earliest, often improvised demo with the later, almost-finished backing track, I could find some kind of completion for ideas that had seemed hopelessly open-ended. Flat Feet, Raffle, Archway and Haberdasher contain such mixes.

Thus was The Lines’ third album finally finished. Here’s a run-down:

Flat Feet was originally demoed on the 4-track machine in Torch Song’s earliest studio on Harrow Road. What you can hear is that earliest version running concurrently with a backing track recorded in the 8-track studio. Nick’s jazzy drums really took this one to another level.

Single Engine Duster was demoed at Mick Linehan’s place in Archway but what you can hear on this one is a vocal version from late ’82 followed by a coda made from an ’83 remix, when trombone and Linn Drum were added. The trombone was sampled from the multitrack during the ’87 sessions, which allowed me to add it to the ’82 mix. Unusually, Mick is playing both bass and guitar on this track.

Nicky Boy’s Groove came from the purchase by Mr Cash, as soon as he could get it, of a Roland TB-303 Bass Line. Within minutes of unboxing he’d programmed this catchy riff. When recording it he had a play with the filter, and we all agreed that it was an odd but great sounding filter.

Zoko Am3 is a live jam, a staple of our rather rare gigs of the time. It’s actually the last of this set to be recorded, in the summer of 1983. My part is a kind of duet with a Watkins Copicat.  The harpsichord at the beginning is a remnant of some ancient 60s session already on the tape, which was recycled from a dumpster left in front of the old Advision Studios on Gosfield Street.

Where In The World is almost live, it was thrown down in an improvised manner to test out the tape machine and desk connections, and to demonstrate the fab new Roland gear, including an 808 drum machine and an SVC-350 vocoder.

Raffle is from Jo’s place on Haberdasher Street, where he had a cool setup with a Tensai rhythm machine/ recorder, an Electro Harmonics Electric Mistress flanger and a Watkins Copycat tape delay. We used this setup to do the demos for Raffle and HaberdasherRaffle was expanded in the studio with sequencers and gated rhythms.

Archway came from a demo made in the attic of some friends of Mick, who had a Hammond organ up there. The original demo is here blended with Nick’s vibraphones and percussion recorded later.

Haberdasher is the nearest thing here to a remix, as I had sampled some bass parts and Roland Juno 60 arpeggiations into my Akai during the 1987 sessions. The remixed section sits between the two earliest demos from June 2nd 1982.

So there it is, dearest readers. Buy it, then tell your friends and relatives, and all of theirs as well, to buy it too. Or else just listen to it and tell me what you think.

The Lines “Memory Span/ Flood Bank” 2008

Before we continue with the post Ultramarine narrative this seems like a good time to feature these compilations and Acute Records, home of The Lines since the turn of the century.

I think it was in 2002 that I first heard from Dan Selzer. He had started up a label called Acute Records. I checked out the first releases: Theoretical Girls, Glenn Branca, The Fire Engines. Way to lay your cool cards on the table.

I have to admit that by this time, although me and the guys had remained dearest of friends as we are to this day, we thought that everyone else had forgotten our band and we’d been erased from history. Dan’s passion and knowledge took us by surprise. We were happy to get on board. The master tapes were located, baked and dubbed. Apart from a few slight drop-outs and stretches they were in good shape.

I did a bit of pre-mastering through my modern multi-band compression plugins. It was spooky to hear our youthful selves bursting out of the speakers. Most of the tracks featured in the last few weeks of this blog were included on these compilations.

Dan did a fantastic job on the packaging and with the aid of the good folks from Carpark Records our oeuvre was once more released to the public, this time with a markedly kinder reception. For a band like us, I don’t think it gets any better than a 4-star review from Jon Savage in Mojo. Even our one bad review was good, in that it accused us of ripping off a band that didn’t exist yet, which is quite a compliment.

The Lines “Respit” 1982

In July 1968 my dad’s secretary Sandra, of whom I was very fond, gave me the princely sum of ten shillings for my birthday. We took a walk into Macclesfield town. Vacillating between toy shop and record shop, I decided to invest this money in a recording called Yummy Yummy Yummy by the Ohio Express.

Although it was a monumentally stupid song, even my newly-turned 11 year old self could recognize that Yummy Yummy Yummy was a true punk record  with its heavy clipped guitars on the 8th note and strong backbeat. Having brought the record home and stomped around to it a few times with my siblings, we decided to check out the B side, and were confronted with a whole new mystery. The instrumental cut Zig Zag sounded like an unhappy fairground organ had somehow gotten involved in an episode of Dr Who and was falling into a space-time vortex while intoning its melancholy song. Recognizing that this was a backwards tape I recorded it onto my little Japanese 3″ reel to reel and then flipped it, only to find a rather boring track which I now know to be Poor Old Mr Jensen by the 1910 Fruitgum Company. That was an early sound design lesson, and of course my young mind had no thought of drugs or satanic influences. I just thought Zig Zag sounded cool.

Fast forward 14 years to the Ultramarine sessions. We decided to flip the tape on Stripe for some swelling piano overdubs, and were captivated by the new and different track that we heard. We decided to try our best to mix it as a forwards track, using some excellent new units called Dyna-Mites, from Valley People in Nashville. These units allowed one to control the envelope of a sound to an unprecedented degree and we were able to get the drum sounds a tad less backwards-sounding. Respit is actually the best mix on Ultramarine, but because it was a backwards song it garnered some jeers and accusations of hippiedom.

As an unplanned track it also extended the length of the album, which caused a new dilemma in the cutting room. The legendary and jovial Porky (of Porky’s Prime Cuts) informed us that the increased duration meant we’d have to cut the album with smaller grooves, hence (eek!) less loud. He offered an alternative: if we sped the whole thing up a few ticks he could make it all fit. So that’s what we did. I completely forgot about this until years later, when some observant folks inquired why the newly reissued Ultramarine tracks were a couple of seconds longer than the vinyl originals.

The dilemma occurred again when we compiled Flood Bank and there was no room for Respit. This time, rather than speed up our whole oeuvre, we decided to leave it off and give it away on the Acute Records website, where it can still be found.

The Lines “House of Cracks” 1981

Big news from Acute Records today: the countdown to The Lines third album hull down has begun and orders are being taken. I will soon be posting more information about this project, in its chronological place of course. Meanwhile I have started a Facebook page to help handle the massive upsurge of public interest. I hope all of my readers around the world will stop by to visit and befriend. And if you haven’t already you should visit the official The Lines Facebook page, curated by the goodly Mr Cash.

Meanwhile, back in the late summer of 1981 we reconvened at Blackwing Studios to record our last single. Technically speaking, one of the main points of interest is the method used here to produce the groove. Instead of playing along to a click track as per usual, we built up a few layered bars of percussion and constructed multitrack tape loops out of them. What now can be achieved in Pro Tools with a couple of clicks was then a much more complicated affair. The cycling of a 10-foot loop of 2 inch tape requires some careful ergonomic planning and finagling of pressure on tape capstans and the like. Most engineers would flat out refuse to attempt a stunt like that, but luckily we had the crack team of Eric Radcliffe and John Fryer, who were used to such shenanigans.

The rhythm constructed for House of Cracks was a straight ahead four-on-the-floor, what was then still known as a disco beat but would soon be recast as house. The backbeat is provided by a Simmons Claptrap borrowed from Laurie Mayer. The track layered over the rhythm was a slight return to the febrile funk of 1980, but more stretched out, and with added sound design. The song layered over the track was a sort of sea shanty about a bad night in Stoke Newington circa 1978. Those who were there at the time may recall how bad that could get, although any recollection is in itself a minor miracle.


The Lines “Cat Bug Jeep” 1981

In the summer of 1981 we did a session at a studio called Starforce in Clapham. We recorded a few tracks, some of them demos for the gestating  Ultramarine album, and one for a cassette compilation called Bits released by Reading based X-Cassettes.

There is more about this compilation, and a download too, here.

Cat Bug Jeep is an imaginary theme song for nothing in particular, and also a binaural stereo experiment, by which a couple of omnidirectional microphones were attached to the sides of a skull, a technique we employ to this day.

There’s a remastered version on the Memory Span page at Acute Records.

The Lines “Hot Club of London” 1980

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.


The Lines “Blisstability” 1980

We started gigging, at first parties at such environs as North West London anarchist squat hideout Centro Iberico, where one William Orbit was residing in the lodge. We soon graduated to supporting better known bands such as Bauhaus, The Cure and Charles Shaar Murray’s excellent blues combo Blast Furnace And The Heatwaves.

A slightly awkward thing was our reluctance to play White Night, which at that time just didn’t feel like something I wanted to play, it seemed from the dim and distant past, and in any case was rather hard to pull off without Hywel’s guitar. Naturally, a lot of people who came to see us were hoping to hear us play that song.

Before long it became obvious that, with or without White Night, we needed another guitar, and so a new member was added in the form of Mick Linehan, Alternative TV refugee and general poet of sound.

We did a heck of a lot of rehearsing, and Mick fit right in immediately, as evidenced by a John Peel session in January 1980 which really shows us gaining tightness and confidence.

Then a couple of months later we checked into Alaska Studio on London’s South Bank, with Pat Collier of Vibrators fame at the controls. In one day we threw down every song we had at the time, one of which was Blisstability. Although the vocal is ropey, and the Talking Heads influence perhaps a tad too obvious, I think this illustrates quite well the heights of tightness we were able to attain by intensive rehearsal.

Of course, having attained that, we soon got bored with it.

Blisstability was re-recorded once, at our second John Peel session. “Cumbersome title” opined Mr Peel, sounding uncharacteristically irritable, not without reason I suppose.

It was finally released on the Memory Span compilation from Acute Records, and also on the highly recommended compilation Messthenics #102.