Talk About The Past

Back in November 2001 Kevin wrote and raved about the LTM reissue of Harmony by The Wake. In his piece he made a strong case for 1982 as some kind of important year in the history of Pop, a watershed of great records by great groups. I'm sure he's right, and history tends to bear him out, even though personally I wasn't aware of it at the time. I wasn't aware of much in 1982.

I certainly didn't know about The Wake in 1982. I'm not even sure when I did first hear about them. It was probably in 1984 or thereabouts, listening to Billy Sloan on the radio and hearing a host of sounds that sounded so strange and unreal, the more so to me since I was pretty much living day to day from my bedroom, venturing out only to ride the countryside with my handful of friends, searching for heaven or so it seemed. I didn't buy records in those days. All my limited funds went on my bike, or into the bank so I could become an architect, but that's another story almost entirely.

So I probably heard the Wake in 1984, but if I did I don't really remember.

What I do remember is getting to Glasgow in the fall of 1983 to study architecture and feeling like a cultural leper, knowing nothing and being completely ill equipped for searching out the key moments, the important sounds and sights of that time, or any time. I never really did find them then, either. I always seemed to be rejected at every turn, which was fine I guess because there was always the bedroom and my lost loves and solitude.

I remember one of the first records I bought when I got to college was La Variete by Weekend, and I remember the vilification I was met with when I brought it into the studio. Weekend weren't proper Jazz... Weekend were posers, pseudo Jazz, stuff to be despised. All those guys doing the vilification were a couple of years older than me so I kind of guessed they must have known better. Except of course I really knew they didn't. I just didn't have the strength of character to argue a case, for Weekend or for anyone else, myself most of all.

In 1983 and 1984, everyone else was too cool, especially in Glasgow. And I was from the fucking boonies. I pretty much collapsed.

I didn't hear The Wake then, although in my dreams I pretend that I was there, down the Ayr Pavillion in 1983, two days before my seventeenth birthday, watching them perform the show that LTM has now reissued on the Assembly CD.

Ayr was always an odd town that I could never figure out. Around the early '80s there were always stories of fights there between Mods and Rockers, which maybe tells you as much as you need to. In the late '80s and early '90s it was a hot spot for deaths from contaminated Ecstasy, and was always generally a hot bed of Casual activity. I pretty much hated it.

The Pavillion was on the seafront, a strange old building buffeted by the wind and rain. It was near a play park, of which I have bizarre memories of visiting as a five year old, full of vague flashes of brightly painted slides and swings and a miniature train that wound its way through a candyfloss countryside. The Pavillion had a reputation for being a good venue that breaking bands often played before they graduated to playing bigger venues like the Apollo in Glasgow, although later like many venues it became pretty much a haven for Bingo. And for all I know it's been demolished for many years.

The Wake performance from April 15th, 1983, captured on the Assembly CD is a fantastic record of a group playing with an awesome amount of measured confidence. The band play tracks from Harmony, both sides of their Factory Benelux single and tracks that surfaced on their John Peel session from July '83. The band sound taught, scratchy, thin but dynamic, especially on the amazing 'Uniform'; a spartan drum beat like a heartbeat punctured by a delicate guitar melody and occasional keyboard chords washing in like the tide out on the beach, just yards away. Over it all is the sound of taped TV and radio, cascading, echoing with a delay like dubbed out backing vocals. Magnificently strange.

So when did I hear the Wake for the first time? Really? It was 1987. I was in Glasgow, returned to the Art school with only slightly more self-awareness than before. Thankfully my colleagues were far from the self-righteous arseholes who peopled the architecture course. Instead there were people like Patrick and Andrew. Patrick had extraordinary cheekbones, a magnificent haircut, terrific dress sense and an obsessive love of all things Factory. He had an extraordinarily fine record collection, full of obscure electronica and Krautrock. He taught me a lot although I doubt I ever told him so. Similarly Andrew, who lived in Paisley and introduced me to the delights of The Church Grims and the Close Lobsters. His older brothers had been Postcard obsessives and Andrew's attic studio was filled with their old singles and tapes. It was an amazing education, just being there and seeing all those artefacts.

So it was Andrew who first played me The Wake; the then just released 'Something No-One Else Could Bring' EP and the 1985 album Here Comes Everybody. I was immediately in love. I had those on tape for a few years and could remember melodies and refrains for years after the tape self destructed. So I can't tell you how delighted I am that LTM has reissued them on one CD, alongside the 'Of The Matter' and 'Talk About The Past' singles.

Here Comes Everybody is my favourite Wake record for a variety of reasons, and most of those reasons are quite simply delicious songs. The album opener, 'O Pamela' is a gorgeous Hymn to the way meanings change over time, to how the past looms and chases us, remoulding our views and our opinions. It sounds for all the world like icicles melting in the winter sunlight, rhythmic droplets streaming onto corrugated roofs like a metallic orchestra. 'Send Them Away' is equally sublime, aching and reaching into the stratosphere, clutching at vapour trails, trembling like blue stars over the bridge of sighs, with an intro that is pure Felt of 'Something Sends Me To Sleep' which is a fine reference to be making, in 1985 or anytime. Then there are songs like 'World Of Her Own', 'All I Asked You To Do' and 'Torn Calendar' which show clearly the debt groups like the Field Mice owed to The Wake, as I guess Bob Wratten would be first to admit.

Best of all though is 'Melancholy Man.' So many artists have tried down the years to write songs that capture the essence of being the sensitive outsider, and almost all of them fail miserably because they fall into the trap of writing themselves into a caricature, whether intentionally or not. They also fail because they are altogether too introspective, failing to take note of the context of the individual within the wider world. The Wake seemed to understand this implicitly, and 'Melancholy Man' is a wondrous moment as a result. It's funny, for a start. It's a song that knows all too well the stereotypes, and plays along to them, gently poking self-deprecating fun. I mean, how can you listen to those lines 'the sun is blazing as I wander into town, a long grey overcoat which trails along the ground' seriously, especially in the context of the typical image of the Factory funster at the time; 'the overcoat brigade', I think they were called. I never owned an overcoat.

So 'Melancholy Man' is both aware of the ridiculousness of the image, and of the perception of the masses. But, as Caesar sings 'if only they could see how happy I can be' then maybe things would be different? No, of course not. It wouldn't change a thing, because despite those fragments of happiness, he knows that deep down, 'when all is said and done, it's just the way I am', that he'll always be 'a melancholy man'. It's such a terrifically knowing song, a real Pop masterpiece that manages both to look inwards and outwards all at once. The inclusion of lyrics from Don Maclean's 'Vincent' as the song closes are also genius, being a witty comment on the nature of Pop song as manipulator of emotion, both an acknowledgment of the corniness of the entire enterprise and of the fact that the need of people for songs to place personal meaning inside is timeless and hugely valuable.

The 'Something No-One Else Could Bring' EP was much more of a straight ahead Pop affair, with shorter, sprightlier songs. My personal favourite was always 'Gruesome Castle', and it remains so today. It's a fantastic Pop moment, grounded by a delicious bass line and a supple beat, atop which Casear and Carolyn Allen sing gloriously simple melodies whilst keyboards and guitars swirl around the ramparts. It's not a million miles from the kind of spectral psychedelic Pop that Spirea X would make a few years later, and the guitar parts in particular now recall 'Chlorine Dream' with eerie prescience. 'Plastic Flowers' was almost as good, and seems now to be the song that spans time for the Wake, bridging their Factory era and their stay with Sarah records.

Part of me still struggles somewhat to come to terms with the idea of the Wake on Sarah records, because, as far as I can recall, they were the only group to come to Sarah with a (fairly lengthy) previous history. But what the hell, because at least someone had faith enough in great music to put out Wake records, and those records I think interestingly mirror the fact that The Wake were always oddly out of step with their times. Wrongly dismissed as 'just another Factory band' forever in the shadows of the New Order/Joy Division axis, they then moved to the only other label that could generate the same kind of blanket journalistic rejection based on myth and ignorance. 'Another Sarah band' was such an easy, lame barb of a one liner that it was asking way too much to expect the UK media to stop and think if it actually meant anything before using it. The Field Mice just about broke free of the curse, but of all the groups that deserved to escape the noose, it was surely The Wake and The Orchids, who both ended up making dynamic Pop masterpieces that reflected electro disco and the contemporaneous club culture married to great guitar music much more than any kind of warped stereotype of fey indie loser-dom.

In fact with the Wake in particular there's a similarity to the way that Lawrence moved post-Felt, with his Denim incarnation, because with their Sarah albums Make It Loud and Tidal Wave of Hype (collected together on the Holyhead CD on LTM), the Wake were making oddly personal political Protest albums. There's a similar feel to the sound too, particularly on the simple beat and guitar riffing of a song like the widely celebrated 'Joke Shop' which of course is all about their experiences with Factory, and specifically Anthony Wilson. 'English Rain' and 'Cheer Up Ferdinand' were similarly great, pounding Pop gems, prickling with terrific keyboard riffs, like tinny Italo House pianos dubbed over na¥ve electro New Wave. Terrific stuff.

Then there's songs like 'Selfish', with its organs spiralling wildly around, spitting vitriol on all the foul expectations of the show-biz scene, and 'Provincial Disco', that starts off like one the gems off the Orchids Striving For The Lazy Perfection, which is maybe no coincidence as Matthew Drummond and James Moody of that group of fellow Glaswegians co-wrote and played on the song.

Listening back now, it's clear that what was always so great about the Sarah era Wake songs was that it was the sound of a band enjoying themselves, a band who by then didn't seem to give a damn about 'making it'. They'd been around long enough, been through enough of the crap of the music business to know how much the whole tired and jaded Pop Dream is an illusion, and knew that they could write songs that shot from the hip, told it like it was, and continues to be. Quite simply, they didn't give a fuck if any journalists picked up on the records and deigned to make them 'hip'. Because inside, which is the only place it really counts, The Wake knew that all along they were amongst the hippest there ever was.

© Alistair Fitchett 2002

Here Comes Everybody plus singles (LTMCD 2332)
Assembly (live 1983, plus Radio One Session and Sarah singles tracks) (LTMCD 2334)
Holyheads (Make It Loud and Tidal Wave of Hype albums) (LTMCD 2336) are all out now.

Harmony (LTMCD 2323) is still available