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!”

 

 

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The Lines “White Night” 1978

It occurred to me that I should be doing more to promote my band The Lines, soon to release our first “new” album in 33 years…although the material is itself 33 years old, stitched together from archive cassettes. More of that anon.

So I decided to start a new thread within this blog, to re-examine all of our releases, in a strictly chronological order.

White Night materialized in my brain during the frigid winter of 1976-77. A severe bout of ‘flu had me bedridden and feverish to the point of hallucination. A spiral-shaped riff revolved in my throbbing cranium, with a simple 4-note motif threading through. A somewhat wafting melody, which crucially went up as the riff went down, had me realizing, as I awoke from the fever, that I had something quite good.

For a few months me and Jo Forty just played that riff round and round. Sometimes our drummer of the time, Bill Cran, would clatter along. We won some studio time in a competition thrown by Sounds music paper and recorded the first version down in Battersea. It was bad.

Then a character named Hywel Phillips moved into the building (in Highbury, North London). Hywel was rather a good guitarist, certainly by our standards. He was one of those Randy California fanatics you come across from time to time, and hell, I like a bit of Spirit myself. He started playing along to White Night and even added a guitar solo, which I was never totally sure about, it being stylistically perhaps a little backward rather than forward looking, but it undeniably worked well within the context of the song.

When Pete Harker replaced Bill on drums the song started to sound almost tight. At that point, in the spirit of the times, we decided to pool our money and sling it out ourselves. One day in February 1978 we booked a studio called Clubland out in West London that had a combination deal: 8 hours in the studio and 1,000 seven inch records for 300 quid.

And so White Night was born. We hauled that first pressing around every indie record shop in London, and in the process met lots of interesting people. The week it came out Tony Visconti was doing a “celebrity reviewer” gig in the New Musical Express. “The singer is double tracked but he sounds side tracked” he opined, astutely. He complimented the guitar solo and finished by calling it “shunky punk”.

Other reviews were less kind. Sounds called it “crib death”, rather coldly.

Despite such brickbats, this song has remained fairly popular. It has been covered a few times and also re-released, first in 1979 on Miles Copeland’s Illegal label, and most recently this year on the excellent Cherrystones compilation Critical Mass, from Belfast label Touch Sensitive.