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.

 

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 “False Alarm” 1980

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. Mick 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.

The Lines “Don’t Need Surgery” 1980

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.

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.

 

The Lines “On The Air” 1979

When you’re in your early 20s, eighteen months is a helluva long time, but that’s how long it took us to come up with a follow-up for White Night. Of course, there are all kinds of reasons, but mainly, Pete and Hywel having drifted away, me and Jo felt like checking out of the musical monastery and just living for a while. We both went off traveling with our girlfriends, he to Turkey, me to California, and absorbed many influences that were to surface in our subsequent work.

When we reconvened in the Spring of ’79, in a newly Tory-fied Britain, some momentum had built up around White Night. It had been re-released on Illegal Records, a sister label of Step Forward and Deptford Fun City, which were run by Miles Copeland III with Mark Perry and others (and would ultimately conglomerate as I.R.S Records). It had a very nice picture sleeve, the first to feature an image by our good friend and co-conspirator, artist/ photographer Martin Mossop.

Jo and I started playing again and were soon joined by one Nicholas Cash on drums. A St Martin’s graduate and a gifted visual artist, Nick’s first love has always been pounding the skins (or electronic pads), for as many people as he could possibly make time for. At the time he joined us he was also a member of the excellent Prag Vec and was starting to play with a mate of his named Frank Tovey. Nick had attended our first gig in Highbury in 1977, and we had been friends since, so we were more than happy that he wanted to join us.

During my travels I had kept a guitar nearby and spent some time working on new material, and honing down old stuff. The first three songs that were prepared for recording were rather in the honed category: On The Air contained elements of early Lines songs Clone Zone and Howard Hughes (His Body Betrayed Him). Lyrically it’s probably one of my best songs, a description of a “series of dreams”. The arrangement still contained many elements of White Night and Barbican: guitars playing on the eighth note, a melody floating over zigzag chords…no guitar solo though. And there was a whole new energy level, which had a lot to do with Mr Cash.

There was a character working at Step Forward by the name of Steve Brown. I was immediately impressed to hear that he was a roadie for Throbbing Gristle; at their rare performances he would help set up the gear and also intercept the bottles and stuff hurled at the band by an inevitably outraged and repulsed audience. He was a Randy California fanatic, I think we may be detecting a pattern here. He left Step Forward and started his own label called Red Records, and asked us to join him.

So it was as a three-piece that we recorded On The Air in September 1979 in Camden. I thought it was pretty damn good, but the reviews were mixed. Sounds was nasty as ever. The chap in Melody Maker perceptively pointed out that we were using guitars to play electronic music arrangements. Charles Shaar Murray at the NME called it “a daffy and charming intervention from the neo-psychedelic wing of Modern Chaps United”.

The most treasured reaction though was from legendary broadcaster John Peel, who played it on his show and remarked “…it was a long wait, but it was worth it!”