A dark and wet (early) Monday morning and there I was nearing the end of my marathon session reviewing this week’s singles. I purposely put the Pale Fountains’ Unless 45 at the bottom of the pile, sure in the knowledge that if it was anything like their 1982 debut for Virgin, the gloriously overblown Bacharach and David inspired Thank You, it would work wonders on my flagging spirits. It wasn’t and yet it did.
Gone were the succulent strings and the warm ‘n’ welcoming sepia toned sleeve, and in their place came a ponderous number wherein Tears for Fears met the Last Poets on a lumbering ode to teenage depression. Masterful (self) production and majestic brass made it clear that the Pale Fountains had come a long way, and so did the sleeve. Sinister Ted examining a shop window display of flicknives? These weren’t the happy-go-luck lads who’d last been pictured looning around in boats in the hot summer sun.
It’s been a long time and clearly plenty has changed. So what’s new? I met up with chief songwriter Mike Head, bassist Chris McCaffery and trumpet player Andy Diagram (late of the Diagram Brothers – remember We Are All Animals?) to get the low down.
Mike: “When we released Unless we knew it wouldn’t be a massive hit, but we knew it would do well enough for people to realise that the Pale Fountains are still around and that we’re not still doing Thank You.
Thank You has obviously become a bit of an albatross around the collective neck of Liverpool’s Paleys. Initially recorded for release through Rough Trade but subsequently picked up on by a number of mega advance totting majors and secured by Virgin, its lush approach was first pigeonholed as the New Wave of Easy Listening (with influences like John Barry what else could it be dubbed?) and then condemned as trite when the cocktail set of music journalists turned against the likes of Weekend.
But for all their talk of the beauty of the bossa nova beat at the time, the Pale Fountains maintain that Thank You was merely an exercise in songwriting and arranging that quickly got blown out of all proportion by fad hungry hacks.
To their credit, those original influences are to be heard on the band’s debut album Pacific Street. It’s been a long time coming but as Andy explains, then lengthy wait was vital.
“When we were first signed up by Virgin everything was rushed, you wouldn’t believe how fast things were happening. That’s why the whole of last year was spent putting things into perspective. We ended up having to produce ourselves because everybody was after getting us to do more Thank You’s. But that was a one-off, we wanted to record with an orchestra, we did and then we wanted to try something new.”
Chris: “And that’s the difference between the Paleys and all those bands who wrote one song which works for them and is a hit so they go off and write a load more exactly the same. Bands like that never take chances, but we like th challenge of trying something new and that’s what it should be all about.”
And Pacific Street certainly bears testimony to this honourable approach. The latin feel is still evident, but there’s also tracks like Natural and the new single (Don’t Let Your Love) Start a War to shake the preconceptions up a bit. The Paleys sound like The Clash? Don’t mock just yet.
Mike: “Natural came about because we knew this young lad who came to a lot of our early gigs who could play absolute brilliant lead guitar. He’d been influenced by all the right people, Hendrix, etc. Anyway, I’d been listening to a lot of early Stones records and I really wanted to record a song with that loud guitar and heavy backbeat os we got this guy John to come in and do some Keith Richards guitar for us.”
So how much of your songwriting is genuinely from the heart and how much is such dry experimentation?
“That’s a good point. I suppose you could say songs like Natural and Thank You are experiments because that’s the approach I take with a lot of my songwriting: try out different ideas to see if they suit the band. It’s like us producing our own album, we’re learning all the time and one day we’re going to be a brilliant band.”
A hefty kick towards the goal is the new single and hats off to our Dave Henderson for spotting the influence of films on the new album in his recent review.
“Start a War is based on the characters Albert Finney and Rachel Roberts played in Saturday Night Sunday Morning. It’s a brilliant film and Rachel Roberts was a great actress, although she was criminally underrated.”
The interest in cinema doesn’t end there. As we talk, Mike is shuffling some stills from old Fellini films picked up down the Portobello Road. He’s searching for likely cover shots to accompany future releases. I observe that I guessed the heavy sleeve shot for Unless was used to ring the changes as far as the band’s image is concerned.
“The choice of song might have been, but the sleeve was most definitely not deliberate. I found that picture and I just loved the expression of the bloke’s face. I didn’t even notice the flicknives until we came to use it and then there was some discussion as to whether it was right for the band but I thought it was too good a photograph to throw away.
“Same with the cover shot of the album. I came across the picture when I was going through one of those professional photographers’ annuals. It was taken during the Hungarian uprising and the soldier is looking really weird because just as he was taking the picture, the photographer was killed by a stray bullet. Incredible.”
On a lighter note, get ready for some solid gigging from the Fountains. They’ve added an extra guitarist and are confident that they can now pull off a lot of the complex material they’ve been writing lately. But don’t go along expecting to hear the whole of Pacific Street.
“Don’t tell Virgin this,” confides Chris, “but we played a secret warm up gig the other night and we only did one song from the album. The other thirteen were new ones we’ve written and are anxious to try out on an audience!”
Clearly, the Pale Fountains are in full flood.