From there to here (and back again)………………
The first few posts from Kenny, our new recruit (mr kenyatta) got me thinking about the …from across the kitchen table album. It was his mentioning the title track and bicycle thieves and the fact that it was used in a Charlotte Gainsbourg film that made me realise that I hardly ever (in fact never) listen to this album anymore. And in some ways that amazed me. It amazed me because way back in 1985 and probably for the next 5-10 years there probably wasn’t a week passed when I didn’t at least play part or whole of this album. The importance of this album and its impact on me as a teenager cannot be underestimated. And then I got to thinking about the general feeling of the shacknet board towards this record. Whenever album polls are put up it always comes near the bottom, and it generally gets a lukewarm reaction. I have never heard anybody wax lyrical over it in the way some of us would about say Pacific Street. And I am as guilty as anybody. We currently have an “Underrated” post going, and I personally want to put forward this record just to redress the balance a little. So, today I have been listening to …from across the kitchen table, and the memories have come flooding back……………
By the time of the release of the album, myself and a couple of mates were already Paleys fanatics. You could say we were all finding our way musically, but by 1985 we were well and truly converted to The Icicle Works, The Smiths, Aztec Camera and Prefab Sprout. There were mistakes along the way for sure (i.e. I owned and liked No Parlez by Paul Young and another friend had almost converted me into a Chris de Burgh fan). But generally, my musical tastes had developed to a point where the music really had to ingrain itself in my heart and soul for it to have an effect on me (and also gain a nod of approval). Through Prefab Sprout (thanks to my mate Colin) I learned that songs didn’t have to have the formulaic structure and melody of chart hits. The Swoon album really opened my eyes (and ears) to the possibilities of pop music. Its complexity and intelligence fascinated me. But more importantly I got it. My mate Colin and his brother also got it. And the great thing was anybody we tried to preach the word to didn’t get it. That’s when I knew it was special (although, of course I Couldn’t Bear To Be Special). We could clearly hear something (beautiful) that others couldn’t. We therefore obviously worked on the same wavelength as Paddy McAloon and he therefore became a spokesman for our generation (or more correctly, little group of three). Technique ? 1-2-3-4-5, Technique – you bet. And similarly, The Pale Fountains through Pacific Street opened up the genres of bossa nova and orchestral pop that will soundtrack my life to my dying day (but of course, I have documented that elsewhere). The eclecticism and general ‘against the grain’ nature of these two albums proved a starting point for my musical journey. And I think it also gave a sense of elitism. A word that is again ‘underrated’. What’s wrong with elitism? My God, I tried to get people to listen to this stuff. Yes, I tried. But nobody listened. So, I learned not to bother. Just enjoy the music, the finest music around and keep it all to myself and a select few friends (and I guess that by definition is elitism).
To quote Sinatra. In 1985, “it was a very good year”. Both The Pale Fountains and Prefab Sprout released their second albums, and of course they sound-tracked that year (my final year of high school) and in particular my summer. Again, it was Colin’s brother who was first to buy Steve McQueen (he was three years older and had his own disposable income). But an uncle of his was now getting him into The Doors and where his enthusiasm for Paddy’s music maybe waned, ours was galvanised. But nowhere near to the extent of the Pale Fountains. Steve McQueen never quite achieved the brilliance of Swoon (for all its beautiful songs, it seemed to work in 3D where Swoon was definitely in a far more complex dimension). But …from across the kitchen table, drew gasps of joy. There was a slight shift in the Paleys sound for sure. The angular, distorted guitar intro to Jeans not Happening was a nod towards Natural off the first long player and previewed the direction of the new album. But it was a change that I accepted gladly, only adding to the sheer scope of the music of Michael Head. For …from across the kitchen table is not merely a guitar or rock album. It is far more sophisticated than that………….
That opening scream or yelp……..”yyyooouuuuh !!!!” on Shelter. Fantastic. And suddenly, from being the boy scout look-alike, Bacharach loving, bossa nova converts, The Pale Fountains where transformed into a soulful (double denim !!!!! wearing) guitar driven band with attitude. Its only now that I can fully appreciate the strides the group had made between records. Shelter, was a very early Paleys song, being showcased on their tour of Belgium during their ‘Crepuscule’ years. To be honest, it was a fairly average song that plodded along, with Chris’s bass far too prominent and vocally, Mick struggled with it. In fact, calling it average is maybe being overly- generous. But the album track is transformed into a higher tempo, joyous rollercoaster of an album opener. And in truth, Mick’s vocal probably never sounded better. When he goes falsetto, he hits it. But its that tempo, that rhythm “….when I think about the things you want a say, ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba, look around ……” that breathlessly makes this song so great. And of course Johns guitar. How can I describe that guitar sound ? Its buried slightly in the mix of the whole album and is well, I said it earlier – angular. Whereas Pacific Street was a walk through misty cobbled streets and a homely Northern soundscape, …from across the kitchen table sounds more like a world inhabited by a gang of denim clad, testosterone fuelled lads who drive Triumph motor bikes without a helmet and have Jean Shrimpton look-alikes riding passenger with their hair flowing viciously in the wind. Fumbling in back alleys for their first experience of real women. Teenage kicks at its absolute best. The first side of that album is like a steady stream of high tempo, angst fuelled songs. Certainly not songs of love, but love lost or love that’s simply not meant to be…………………..
“because I’m on my own and the ceiling’s gone, and the things burnt, burnt, burnt to the ground…..” (Shelter)
“Stole the love you gave to me, but he looks a sorry state to me …………………… look into my shallow eyes for you swam them for a while………” (Stole The Love)
“I’m gonna stay so far away from you girl, that’s if you stay so far away from me………” (Bicycle Thieves)
“for 14 years you know you’ve been so good to me, but I feel as though the bricks are just about to fall on me, so stay away and listen to my heart as you are approaching……” (Limit)
“Jeans not happening no more, she’s like the pouring rain….” (Jeans Not Happening)
“Do you know the day I never came, you said things will be the same, because my sister’s right and you’re the blame…..” (27 ways to Get Back Home)
So this was a new Pale Fountains, a group that no longer depended on Andy Diagram’s trumpet so much (although when it was used it transformed the songs to even greater heights) and they sounded quite brilliant. However, for me, it was when that album was flipped over to side two that things really got exciting. Has anybody ever been to the Bruised Arcade ?
Bruised Arcade is, for me, probably the greatest single recording ever made by Mick. It’s funny, because the production of this song sounds different to the rest of the album. It’s polished, where the rest of the album sounds rough. But quite simply its amazing. If I were to take a single desert island disc with me it would be this song. Again it has that threatening air to it, but somehow the wonderful intertwining vocals of Marge and Mick and the Andy Diagram trumpet just form a potent combination that make it a sunshine-kissed sun-drenched classic that is at odds with its menacing lyrical content. “The sun was beating, defeating , repeating…………”. You can feel that scorching, searing heat. The tension is high, it’s an uncomfortable situation, “your hair looked funny over your sunglassed eyes……….your current form of insecure left me standing out for more, I tried my best to pass your test”, but suddenly that vocal mix combines and soars, higher, and higher….. “the sun’s in my eyes and its making me blind……..”. I hope he got the girl.
And we listened to this album all Summer long. There are tales of playing footie in the local shop square and flirting with all the girls, while the Pale Fountains and Prefab Sprout played on the portable stereo. Watching Boris Becker win his first Wimbledon title and England win the Ashes. Every event is linked with a Paleys song. I hear Hey or These Are The Things and I’m back in that square, probably the best summer of my life, having just left school with everything ahead of me. New people to meet, new challenges to face.
I can’t believe I haven’t listened to it for so long, but I feel all the better for it.
(c) Geoff King, January 2006