Our second album Ultramarine was recorded exactly a year after the first. By the time they were recorded these songs were well honed and rehearsed, and the sessions advanced like a military operation, this time with the excellent John Fryer at the controls.
Stripe kicks off the proceedings, a personal fave of mine with its cool Jo Forty riff and eerie guitar from Mick Linehan. Another tale of social chaos, it’s interesting to observe the differing tone between this and the previous album’s opener Come Home. Where that song was filled with foreboding, Stripe almost seems to welcome the disorder. A year of Thatcher’s societal destruction and warmongering had evidently inoculated us to the fear.
It took more than a year for Ultramarine to be released, by which time we’d recorded another album without even knowing it. Almost universally ignored, I don’t remember or have a record of any review, except for a single bad one dutifully trotted out by the NME, in which Jane Solonas tried to do for us what her Auntie Valerie did to Andy Warhol. “The Lines sound drunk as well as stoned” she primly objected. To which I can only offer my best Big Lebowski staredown: “…yeah…so?”
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.
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.