Friday, 18 August 2017
Technique is my favourite New Order album. Released in January 1989 I was 18 years old and I bought it the day it came out and then played it endlessly. I had a poster of the beautiful Peter Saville cover, fly-poster size, abut 6' by 5', on my wall for ages. Technique is the sound of summer, nine songs infused with the spirit of sunshine, warm seas, blue skies and summer holidays but shot through with a sense of sadness and loss.
The single that preceded it was Fine Time and it opens Technique. New Order had gone to record the album in Ibiza, at Hooky's insistence, and spent three months there ('an expensive way to have a holiday' Tony Wilson). The story has it that they recorded a few drum tracks and a guitar solo and that most of the work recording it was done at Real World in Bath. This was down to two things- firstly, the studio was shit. Secondly the group and entourage were easily distracted by what Ibiza had to offer. So while the album wasn't really recorded in Ibiza ('about 20% done there' according to Barney) it is inspired by the adventures the group had in Ibiza's nightclubs, on Ibiza's drugs, with Ibiza's people (and the Happy Mondays who turned up to join in the fun). Fine Time is a full on electronic dance record, inspired by a tune Barney heard in Amnesia but couldn't remember the day after. A throbbing sequenced bassline, bleeps and staccato stabs, and that 'sexy', slowed down vocal. This Top Of The Pops performance is legendary, as Barney introduced the viewers to the Bez dance. Playing live too.
Fine Time came out on 7", 12" and a remix 12" with this version by Steve 'Silk' Hurley complete with sheep noises and the full Barry White vocal 'You got style, you got class, but most of all... you got love technique'.
Fine Time (Steve 'Silk' Hurley Remix)
Fine Time is a blast, a proper dance record. The rest of the album is eight slices of perfect Mancunian dance pop, effortlessly combining acoustic guitars, real drums, drum machines, some of Hooky's most melodic bass runs, gorgeous synth lines, frazzled guitar solos and Barney's best vocals. Lyrically the songs were all Bernard's work and most seem to reflect on love and life gone wrong and the lessons learned. To pick four examples from four different songs relatively randomly...
'My life ain't no holiday
I've been to the point of no return'
'It takes years to find the nerve
To be apart from what you've done
To find the truth inside yourself
And not depend on anyone'
'I spent a lifetime working on you
And you won't even talk to me'
'I'm not some kind of foolish lover
I couldn't take this from no other
You're not being cool with me
Cause I always know that you'll come back to me'
Run (which was also a single, released in a slightly remixed form by Scott Litt as Run 2) is allegedly about Factory and Tony Wilson and the Hacienda's financial problems. John Denver sued the band because of similarities between Run and his Leaving On A Jet Plane. I struggle to hear the similarities but I wasn't the judge and Denver was awarded a writing credit for the song.
I can't choose between any of the songs on Technique- some are more guitar based, some more singalong, some more dancey, some all out pop, but all hit that sweet spot musically, vocally, lyrically and spiritually. Recently Vanishing Point and Mr Disco have been the ones really doing it for me. Mr Disco has a stuttering keyboard part and then guitar/bass backing. The drum machine sends this squarely to the open air dancefloors of Ibiza's clubs. Bernard sings of 'the holiday we spent together, lives with me now and forever' and the gorgeous hook 'I can't find my piece of mind without you, because I think about you all of the time'. After the chorus there are crashing synth stabs and instrumental breaks, a synth clarinet maybe, and then verse and chorus again. The dropout at 2.39 with synth bass and drum machine is heart-stopping. Then there are more wonderful synths before the chorus comes back a minute later and a whispered bit leading towards the pile up at the end and the sound of hitting all the keys on the synth at once. One of their very best.
As a bonus, here's the sublime Vanishing Point played live on Channel 4's Big World Cafe
and Round And Round from the same show...
So there you have it, a magnificent album containing none of the songs they're best known for, a number one hit on the UK album charts, a record that is getting on for thirty years old and, I'm afraid, the last time they were truly great. After this they splintered into the various side projects, came back together for the World In Motion single, splintered again, re-united to make an album in a doomed attempt to save Factory from bankrupcy and then split again and then there's all of that leading up to the very bitter position they're in today. I've read all three of Hooky's books and very entertaining they are too. I've read Bernard's book. I've read other books about Factory and New Order. I've read countless articles about them and interviews with them. And what have I learned? That they made some my favourite records and that in the end, despite the fact that the story of New Order, the mythology, is hugely important, what really matters is the tunes.
Thursday, 17 August 2017
Day 4 of New Order week and I've got two live performances for you and some discussion of related recorded work. First up is this, sometimes described as one of the two Holy Grails of NO live bootlegs (the other is the debut performance at The Beach Club in Shudehill, Manchester, 1980).
On June 30th 1983 New Order played a gig at Cabaret Metro in Chicago. It was a blisteringly hot day, temperatures in the club reaching the high 90s. New order were famously hit and miss during this period, partly due to their own approach to playing and partly due to having equipment that was totally unsuited to live performance, sequencers and synths and drum machines. In Chicago the crowd were already a bit irate and not just due to the heat. The support act had finished over two hours before New Order took the stage. The gear makes it through the first four songs and then during Truth the sequencer starts to misbehave. The y make it through Leave Me Alone with no problems but the long gap between the end of that song and the start of Your Silent Face is punctuated by bleeps and bursts from the sequencer and audience members and bass players complaining about the heat. From here on in it's a kind of NO unplugged gig. The tape of this gig recently found its way into the hands of blogger and New order enthusiast The Power Of Independent Trucking and he has presented it for our enjoyment here with a FLAC download. These are his words about the rest of the gig...
Eventually, “Your Silent Face” starts. It devolves into a unique and fascinating exposition on what a sequencer-using band does when the sequencers are failing mid song - Steve Morris jumps behind the drum kit far earlier than usual, and essentially drives the song to its skittering end as the sequencers never recover. I think this take is spectacular and I think you’ll agree.
Barney then makes reference on stage to equipment and power problems, mentions the band’s just going to jam, and Steve then pounds out the drum riff for “Denial”. Instead of jamming, the band then finishes the set with four straight sequencer-free tracks, ending on the majestic “In A Lonely Place” well into the wee hours of the morning.
There is no jamming, no acoustic “Blue Monday” despite the venue owner’s misremembered statements made over the years since. It’s possible of course at some point these did exist and were edited out from this tape upstream, but I doubt it and all other recollections of this gig fail to mention any acoustic “Blue Monday” performances.
While listening to this on Youtube the other night a link in the sidebar caught my eye which was this one, a gig from 1986 at the Spectrum Arena in Birchwood, Warrington. The venue no longer exists but there is a large Ikea near where it was. There's progress for you. This is a soundboard recording opening with stand alone single State Of The Nation and then taking in songs from the previous six years.
State of the Nation
As It Is When It Was
Your Silent Face
Age of Consent
Sunrise (cut short)
Sunrise is cut short due to the tape running out and according to some of those that were there the group did return for an encore, long after the lights had gone up and half the audience had left, running through Love Will Tear Us Apart but this hasn't been recorded. This is a good quality recording and the band sound on fire, a slightly misfiring Confusion aside.
The Warrington gig was a few months before the release of Brotherhood. Brotherhood is a funny record. I listened to it the other day. It doesn't have the great leap forward of Power, Corruption And Lies nor the newly found confidence of Lowlife and lacks the skyscraping quality of Technique's songs. It's a bunch of songs plus Bizarre Love Triangle. It's is divided into side 1 (rockier songs) and side 2 (dancier songs) and side 2 is the clear winner. Bizarre Love Triangle is arguably their greatest song and the three that follow are all top notch (All Day Long, Angel Dust, Every Second Counts). Side 1 is five songs that are all good album tracks but together they seem to lose something. Maybe it is the division into two separate sides that doesn't work and sequenced differently they'd stand out more. The five are Paradise, Weirdo, As It Is When It Was, Broken Promise and Way Of Life. Broken Promise is reminiscent of early NO, powerful, stacked full of guitars and churning lyrics. As It Is When It Was is a hidden beauty, starting slow and sparse but gaining in pace and urgency, the Love Will Tear Us Apart bass riff reappearing, a song that would make a top ten of New Order non-single songs. As would Way Of Life which burns and fizzes with some great guitar-bass interaction, Hooky reversing the Age Of Consent bassline. Paradise and Weirdo are decent songs but definitely album tracks- Paradise a bit lightweight and an odd opener to these ears. Weirdo is stronger, pumping bass and drums but a bit tinny maybe. If you go to Youtube you'll find people saying that these two are their favourite NO songs. I wouldn't go that far but I've been re-listening to side 1 this week and found a lot in these songs to enjoy. Maybe it's just that I don't listen to them that often and the novelty gives them freshness. It's hard to get away from the feeling though that overall as an album, in some ways, it hasn't got the same magic that Power, Corruption And Lies, Lowlife or Technique have.
Barney blames the overdubbing, too much of it, too many instruments layered on top of each other. Brotherhood was surrounded by some of New Order's best singles too- True Faith and Touched By The Hand Of God both came out within the following year and Shellshock and State Of The Nation preceded it (Ok, maybe neither of the 1986 pair is quite as good as the 1987 pair). It just goes to show that, despite all the tensions within the group (and according to both Hook and Sumner there were many by this point), they were still capable of making truly great songs but their insistence on dividing songs into singles and albums (which I applaud on the whole) meant that the album got shortchanged a bit. Stephen Morris has said that dividing Brotherhood into rock and dance sides didn't quite work and I think I'd agree. On the other hand Hooky likes the five rockier songs together, showing, as he sees it, 'what the band was all about'. So it goes.
Wednesday, 16 August 2017
By 1985 New Order were well into their stride, the faltering, unsure, step-by-step progress of the early years well in the past. 1983's album Power, Corruption And Lies more or less invented electronic indie and contained at least two career high points (Age Of Consent and Your Silent Face) as well as the blueprint for Blue Monday. The run of singles from 1982 to 1985 takes in Temptation, Blue Monday, Confusion, the peerless Thieves Like Us plus its B-side Lonesome Tonight. Then they put out another album, recorded in 1984 and released in May '85- Lowlife.
Lowlife only has eight songs on it but almost every one is a winner, disco and rock seamlessly intertwined. The sound combines full on synths and sequencers with Hooky's distorted bass providing the rock ballast. Stephen's drumming, with plenty of digital delay, is crisp and loud. The guitars are trebly and choppy, like Velvets era Lou Reed on acid. Lowlife is the first New Order album to contain singles and the first to feature band photographs on the cover (which Peter Saville then obscured by wrapping in tracing paper). From opener the Salford country & western of Love Vigilantes with Barney's enigmatic Vietnam War lyric to the magnificent closer Face Up this is a record I never get bored of. Face Up is huge, a glorious synth and bass intro, sampled choral voices, synth drum pads and then ... whoosh, we bounce along in NO disco heaven. The lyrics contain the usual mix of clunkers and the perfect skewering of life (see 'your hair was blonde, your eyes were blue, guess what I'm gonna do to you' and 'we were young and we were pure and life was just an open door'). Up until 1989 the lyrics were usually a group effort. For Technique Barney took over lyrics and vocals completely, something else Hooky rues as a nail in the coffin.
Sub-culture is here too, another disco-rock peak, Barney's vocals sounding like a guide vocal that he never bothered to redo (and all the better for it). That one fingered synth intro, followed by the drum machine and then the dark lyrics about walking in the park late at night and shafting on your own. Sub-culture is a close cousin of The Perfect Kiss and builds similarly, synth drums and bass riffs piling on top of each other. It was later released as a single in remixed form (by John Robie, an inferior version really with backing vox and synth stabs. Peter Saville was so disappointed he refused to design a sleeve for it). Hooky points to Robie's influence as being one of the turning points that ruined the group. Before Robie they didn't write songs following any rules- after Robie Bernard insisted on all the songs being in his key and eventually they became verse-chorus- middle eight formulaic. But let's leave the blame game aside and stick to the songs. Elegia is their intense instrumental tribute to their former, deceased frontman. I posted the unedited fifteen minute version last autumn and if you haven't heard it you should seek it out. The Perfect Kiss is inserted as track two, a peak among peaks (although it's an edited version on Lowlife. You need the full-on 12" version, a single for which the 12" format might have been invented). The Perfect Kiss has peaks and troughs, bass playing that is something else entirely, and several climaxes. This Time Of Night and Sooner Than You Think are both good album tracks. If pushed I could live without Sooner.... I suppose. But today's song is this one, closing side one, Sunrise. Possibly the rockiest song on Lowlife it opens with descending synth chords before being joined by a superb bass riff -then the whole band join in, pronto. The guitars rattle, bottle tops on the strings to get a Morricone sound and Bernard's vocal is straining, at the top of his register. The synths continue to wash away. The guitar, bass and drums drive away. At the end Bernard thrashes the toggle switch on his guitar. Done.
Tuesday, 15 August 2017
More early New Order. Movement was released in December 1981 and was by all accounts a difficult album to make. The group were unbalanced and their way of working was broken (during the Joy Division days the group would jam and Ian Curtis would spot the good bits which would then be worked into songs). No one especially wanted to sing and none of them could play and sing at the same time (this would become part of their sound in the 80s- Barney's guitar playing filling the bits where he's not singing and Hooky frequently carrying the melodies. Weaknesses become strengths). Movement was produced by Martin Hannett but the relationship between the group and the producer had broken down. According to Hooky 'Hannett would lock himself in the control room, saying 'Start playing, I'll come out if I hear anything I like'. He never came out'. Hannett was also suing Factory at the time which can't have helped.
Out of this came an album which sounds a bit like Joy Division but without Curtis, trying to move forward but not really managing it. The real movement would come with the singles- Everything's Gone Green, Procession, Temptation and the second album. Having said that time has left some highlights- Doubts Even Here, The Him and ICB all have glimmers of the future and the sounds are becoming more varied. The peak is the opener, the only song on the album which is just guitar, bass and drums and the one that Hooky sings. Dreams Never End is a properly exciting song, from the intro of driving bass and guitar lines playing around each other onwards.
Dreams Never End
Peter Saville's cover art, Italian futurism again, is beautiful.
As a bonus here's a lost child of the New Order story. In 1982 New Order recorded a second Peel Session. Two of the songs would later appear on Power, Corruption And Lies, an album which redefined them and their music. The two other songs were a cover of Keith Hudson's dub reggae song Turn The Heater On (an Ian Curtis favourite and recorded for him, I've posted it before) and Too Late.
Too Late is a moody song, synth drums, beautifully distorted bass and glacial pace, haunting and the equal of most other songs from around this time. According to Hooky when they were having a go at recording it Bernard had nipped out of the studio. The other three put some backing vocals down. When Barney returned he showed his disgust at this and walked out. It was never finished. And in Hooky's view this was one of the starting points for Bernard grappling for control of the band. As a result of this Too Late would only ever appear as the Peel Session version.
Monday, 14 August 2017
Before my holiday I promised/threatened some New Order posts, so that's what's happening for the next few days I think- nuclear war and a Nazi takeover of the US notwithstanding. It is utterly appalling that the President cannot condemn actual Nazis on the streets of the a US city, murdering people. It is utterly appalling that Nazis still exist to demonstrate openly. This is the swill that comes to the fore following Trump's election, Farage's games, Brexit, 'populism' and austerity. Racists emboldened to show their faces in daylight.
Back to the music. Procession is an overlooked New Order single being neither the defiant 'we're alive' rallying cry of Ceremony nor the 'we've just invented dance-rock' blast of futurism that is Everything's Gone Green. In his book Substance- Inside New Order Hooky names Procession as one of four key songs that led the group out of Joy Division's rock and into New Order's electronics. During the 80s most New Order songs were written by the group jamming and then identifying the best bits and working them into a song. Procession was different, largely written by Stephen Morris (the lyrics and vocal lines plus a lot of the keyboard parts apparently). No sequencers at this point but the road to Blue Monday (and beyond) is clearly present. The 7" single was released in September 1981, a few months before Movement. The other side is Everything's Gone Green, a much more significant song, a huge, throbbing piece of dance-rock and a massive step forward. Procession gets overlooked. Which it shouldn't.
Peter Saville's sleeve came in nine different colours (for the record I own two, a blue and a green) and is based on Italian futurist designer Fortunato Depero's work. Everything's Gone Green would be released later in 1981 as a full length 12" version. These songs were the last New Order songs produced by Martin Hannett. According to Hooky, Hannett made Barney do the vocals forty three times. Hannett was bereft without Ian Curtis and had little time for the three that were left behind. In return Hook, Sumner and Morris had had enough of Hannett and his methods and habits and felt they'd learned enough to produced themselves. Procession is light and poppy, with synths to the fore, but also dense and uptight. The vocals are muffled and indistinct in places. Hooky's bass is still very much a Joy Division bassline and Stephen Morris's drums are as urgent and precise as ever. There are backing vocals from Gillian, a bit of light in the shade, and it all comes together with the 'your heart beats you late at night' vocal followed by some spindly guitar from Barney and then a sudden end before the synth outro. Compared to the largely dour Movement from later that year things are moving forward though, clearly.
Sunday, 13 August 2017
Another day another Weatherall post. This one is an hour and ten minutes mix of songs about the sea. The Convenanza festival has moved this year from Carcasonne to Sète and its Theatre by the Sea, hence the mix's theme.
1. An Ocean Only You Can See / Ian William Craig
2. Atlantis / Deuter
3. Soft Ocean / The Kramford Look
4. An Ocean Goitia Deitz
5. Atlantic Postcard / The Holydrug Couple
6. Ocean Strings / Reverso 68
7. The Sun And The Sea / Barry Adamson
8. Sea The Swell / Talmun Shud
9. Sight On Sea / Magical Ring
10. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch / Music By Pinkunoizu
11. Life By The Sea [ Peel Version ] / The Names
12. Oceans / A.C.R.
13. Deep Sea / Kurt Vile
14. Sea Of Love / Like A Tim and Gina V.D'Orio
15. Sea Song / The Unthanks
And in a seemingly non-stop procession of output Weatherall and Nina Walsh's Woodleigh Research Facility have contributed a track to a box set celebrating twenty five years of SOMA. This is a lively, thunderous and messy piece of acid.
Saturday, 12 August 2017
This one crept back into my subconscious and playlist a few weeks ago and having revisited the single, the original version, the remix and parent album I can confirm it's still stuck there. New Fast Automatic Daffodils were caught up in the Madchester scene and released some sublimely funky indie-dance-rock, sinewy basslines and scratchy guitars, left of centre and off kilter with singer Andy Spearpoint's stream of lyrics adding to the fun- 'the desert grow three miles a year, it just grows, it just grows, I put my pain in a jar, it will be full tomorrow'.
For the remix on the 12" Jon da Silva added some dancefloor electronics and it is still cooking up a storm.