From the outside looking in 1983 was a curious year for The Pale Fountains.
Formed only two years earlier they had gone from second support to Orange Juice to the next big thing signed to a major label.
If I close my eyes, and sometimes if I don’t, I can still see me and Neil Cooper stood right in front of the stage at Plato’s Ballroom watching a nervous Michael Head strumming his twelve string acoustic and singing with eyes shut tight.
Plato’s Ballroom. Pickwicks. Pick-a-dicks. A tattered and torn old school Liverpool cabaret nite-spot. Glitter curtains, seated lounge area, sticky carpet.
Let’s not pretend, we came for Orange Juice. For Edwyn. In our tiny world they were massive. Postcard Records. Long fringes. Gretsch guitars. We had spied the lads sticking the billposters up around Button Street and, still wet, they peeled off in one piece. We both had one on our walls for years after.
I was 15. Just starting out going to gigs. Orange Juice were possibly my first band-crush. The first band I discovered for myself. Then came The Pale Fountains.
I was touched by them instantly. Incredibly perhaps none of the songs they did that night have ever commercially seen the light of day. Neil nabbed the set-list and so we knew they were called ‘Chaise Longue’, ‘The Lonely Cottage’ and ‘Kittyjay’ but that was about it. In fact next time they played they had even disappeared from their live-set. Neil has the set-list from the second Plato’s gig too so even though we’d never heard those songs either we knew they weren’t played in 1981.
By then, a magical single had appeared and the band had reported signed for Virgin for a footballer sized signing on fee. Their first major label single – the glorious ‘Thank You’ was released in November 1982 and almost charted. Rumour has it if it wasn’t for the expensive orchestration they would have appeared on Top Of The Pops.
Either way 1983 promised to be their year.
In late April the band recorded a Janice Long session. Janice had not long moved from Radio Merseyside and still regularly flew the flag for her hometown bands. (There’s an unbelievable Persuaders session from June/July which I’d love to hear again if anyone…)
So one Saturday I found myself hunched over a little Sharp radio-cassette, my finger hovering over the pause button waiting. Waiting.
And the first track was ‘Hey There Fred’. The now legendary ‘Hey There Fred’. Janice loved it. I thought it was best thing they’d done. From that high, somewhat disappointingly the other two tracks were versions (albeit more sophisticated) of songs already released – ‘Lavinia’s Dream’ and ‘Something On My Mind’. I taped all three and you’re possibly listening to them now while reading this.
I kept the tape for years and then lost it. In a clichéd Head way I remembered I’d done a tape for Paul years ago and thankfully he’d still got it. So here it is.
A few weeks later, ‘Palm Of My Hand’ was released and its probably my least favourite Paleys track. Mainly because it’s not ‘Hey There Fred’. We were promised. Smash Hits said it would be a … well, smash hit.
The song was played again on the Old Grey Whistle Test and then it too disappeared. For years. Not completely though. These are the things.
I started by saying 1983 was a curious year and so it was. The promised album never appeared amid NME ‘Tzers’ that they were going through producers at a rate of knots, including apparently Barry Blue.
Whatever. Something clearly happened in the studio though. What it was, I can’t really say but its possibly best explained by the next time I saw them live. I’m rubbish with dates but it was Ten Bands For Ten Bob at the Royal Court. Early 1984. The Paleys headlined. In support there must have at least four or five Paleys influenced combos all acoustic guitars and late sixties folky melodies.
Yet when The Paleys bounced on stage, they plugged in. Electric. Noisy. I can’t remember anything apart from ‘Natural’ and ‘Start A War’ which I still claim had the line ‘David Alton fixed the back windows in our house’. Honest.
It was the end of the beginning.
– Graham Ennis, May 2010
The Pale Fountains – Janice Long session
Broadcast on BBC Radio 1 on 14th May 1983
1. Hey There Fred
2. Lavinia’s Dream
3. (There’s Always) Something on My Mind (part)
Photograph kindly donated by Mark Baker
Recording kindly donated by Graham Ennis