January 1984, and off the back of a few support spots in Birmingham and London with Elvis Costello, Prefab Sprout were the next big thing with a prestigious date booked in London to introduce them to the capital’s assembled hipsters and rock journalists.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well the sound quality, for a start.
And then the drumming. To lose one drummer can perhaps be put down to misfortune, but to lose the number Prefab Sprout were running through at that period in their career was beginning to look like Spinal Tap-esque carelessness.
The latest to try his luck on the revolving stool of percussive Sprout doom was one Steve Dalder.
Let’s let Paddy take up the tale, from an interview in the Falling and Laughing Fanzine from June/July 1984:
“…We were rushed into doing some support gigs with Elvis Costello at Christmas and we didn’t want to say no because we were greedy. So we auditioned a drummer very quickly and mmm we weren’t very thorough. He learnt the LP very, very fast indeed but he didn’t have it. He was a nice enough lad but it didn’t work out and so when we finally hit London in our own right, at the ICA we weren’t very good that night; it wasn’t atrocious that’s the thing, we went down well, but to all the people expecting perfection it was like ‘What’s all this?’. Sounds especially went to town y’know, ‘oh they’re not very good’. It’s rubbish, we are good, it was just that it didn’t work out that night.”
Dalder himself had a different take on the whole thing, of course, which is in an interview in another fanzine which I’ll post before too long.
Probably cockiness didn’t help Paddy’s cause. Announcing the band as the only thing cooler than George Orwell wasn’t exactly likely to endear him to the assembled music press hacks. And it didn’t. In fact some of them never forgave him.
In retrospect though, it doesn’t sound anything like as bad as the legend would have it: indeed it sounds great. True, the drums are a little on the thumpy thumpy side, but not excessively, and the vocals are no worse than anything you’d hear from a band early in their career with dodgy monitor speakers.
I’d hoped for years to find a recording, and one was eventually dumped in my lap from someone who found me online – this rarely happens but is great when it does. I was amazed by the quality of the audience recording – the same guy got most of the Daintees set and also Hurrah! in similarly pristine quality.
There is another recording incidentally, of three songs, made by Capital Radio for an FM broadcast. You can find it in the British Library should you care to look.