I’m not one for reminiscing. So when the wonderful people at Sony Legacy asked me for a few anecdotes about Swoon, just a couple of facts about the recording of an album that took place thirty-six years ago, I fretted. We don’t do facts: there are no facts and I’ve not actually listened to any of our albums since the year 2000.
However, when the arrival of the re-mastered test pressing of Swoon coincided with a road trip I was planning to Berwick for the JMW Turner exhibition at The Maltings, my alter-ego Feliks Culpa and I thought it the perfect opportunity to reacquaint our older and younger selves and perhaps, in the spirit of looking forward rather than backwards, describe how it feels to time travel.
I strap myself in, and we’re out of the blocks on the “B of the Bang”: drums and guitar, my bass run, the harmonica, just as I’d left it – Don’t Sing – flooding back. The memories are a tsunami, a thick muffled constant of debris churning towards me, and then the vocal: “Don’t Sing”. He’s not singing. Why is my brother shouting? He’s commanding me from atop a lamppost, he’s lashed himself to a tree to avoid the deluge, he’s warning that it’s not going to stop for another forty-five minutes, and as with the Sirens, I’ve got to listen!
Fragments form in the swirl, reconstituted facts, the drums; Graham Lant, brother of Venom’s Cronos, available for one day. Eleven backing tracks, five first takes, the songs Cherry Tree and Diana languish unfinished in Ampex limbo. Rehearsing at extreme altitude in exhausting temperatures above Wadds the glass fitters, 62 Clayton Street, Graham in boxer shorts to keep his Top Shop suit crease free. What do all these facts mean?
Cue Fanfare: “I can only play this once,” Graham warns. That’s all he needed. Wendy’s supersonic vocals taxiing on the runway, “Some expressions take me back”, I cut to my fourth birthday, “hair of gold and sweet Mary”. I’m somewhere else. I’m in a version of Michael Apted’s 7Up. Paddy’s singing The Green, Green Grass of Home into Anne Salmon’s tape recorder, I’m reciting “Dolly had the measle, dolly had the flu…” Bass harmonics cut me back to the present: Morpeth to my left and the carriageway narrowing, I squeeze the chevrons and avoid the speed camera. I’m loving it!
I need to concentrate – Green Isaac 1 – the memory provokes a premonition of Green Isaac 2, the end of the album, the culmination of the journey. I’m ahead of myself, I’m Tom Cruise, a “pre-cog” in Stealers Wheel. Is there a time before or between Green Isaac 1 and 2, a time before playing live, when the song could exist without pandering to the muddy fields of festival expectations? Stevie Smith at Glastonbury, “Not drowning, but waving to Guy Garvey”.
I’ve Just realised I’m typing this while listening to Jessye Norman singing Ravel’s Sheherazade with Pierre Boulez conducting from 1984, the same year as Swoon’s release. We met Boulez a year later and gave him a copy of Steve McQueen. That’s a fact and almost an anecdote but it’s from the future. Am I a “Looper” sent to cancel myself out?
Geography update: dual carriageway passing Felton (Google 55.3092911,-1.7863343,) “The romance of the open road, I’d rather use a telescope”. (© P.McAloon 1980)
Cut to the here and now, a full throttle Here on the Eerie, Paddy’s Hagstrom guitar solo.
The closest we came with Swoon to playing on the “T of the Beat” was Cruel, recorded sans drums or click, brushed snare and hi-hat being added after the event, hence the less than quantised groove. Paddy’s vocal, head cold intact, squeezed onto the last available track. My contribution to urban blues? An upright bass and the Ebony Concerto.
Muff Winwood at Sony (neé CBS) signed us after hearing only five songs from Swoon; “By the time I get to Felton, he’d have signed us”.
Couldn’t Bear to be Special streams above the engine noise. Was this the order, is this how side two starts? Is Basketball next? (Memo, check label copy). Just like I pictured it, Wendy’s voice, the shiver of the fur, Dave Brewis’s Hawaiian lap steel guitar, the “go to” instrument for crashes, bangs, wallops, glissando, skyscrapers and everything.
I Never Play Basketball Now: the chords, the endless chords, 164 and counting. Why? Igor Stravinsky made us to do it! I can still play them all, and in the correct order! John Sunter’s bounced ball, no click track, no count in, no editing, pure luck.
Ghost Town Blues. I may amble past Amble, but I still rush the bassline!
Elegance, I play it once, twice, three times a sublime melody, a lacerating lyric. Technique the same again, the way we were, the sound of wild abandon, of being young, fearless and fretless. We can’t go back, but it all still resonates!
Clowns to the left of me, Holy Island to my right, we were out there, among the waves, cut off from the mainland but somehow still immersed in pop culture. Saintly hermits intoxicated on home brewed mead, Prefab Stout, Lindisfarne. (Now they were a great band)
I’m almost there, the end of the journey, the final track, Green Isaac 2, the glockenspiel, Wendy’s chromatic “Suggest…”. I hear the music of Nino Rota drifting up the stairs. I cut back to the intro of Green Isaac 1, (back to Morpeth 20 minutes ago), then back again to Green Isaac 2 1983. The Godfather 1 and 2 are showing on TV in sequence for the first time, or are they out of sequence, perhaps in chronological order? Is this the order of time, do we shape time? I’ve been here before! “Suggest…” Is there a prequal, a missing section, before Green Isaac 2, ”Suggest…”? Between the intro and the outro, before The Godfather 3?
I’m falling through floorboards, between fact and fiction.
The facts are: we recorded Swoon, Sony / Kitchenware released it and an audience heard it. From there on in, it’s up to the listener to create the facts, add their own memories – “the song that was playing, will help you recall, the feeling of falling, the thrill of it all”.
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.