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The Pale Fountains \ Biography

Racing On a Wet Sunday...

Monday 26th April 1982. A notable away day for the precocious Pale Fountains, who make their first venture outside of Liverpool towards the bright lights of London. They are supporting Dislocation Dance at an event called "Variations" at The Barracuda Club on Baker Street. It is a fortuitous and inspired double bill, and a coming together of a group of musically like-minded souls; the new-wave of the new-wave. Backstage, Dislocation Dance trumpet player Andy Diagram uncovers a mutual appreciation of Arthur Lee's Love with Michael Head and Chris McCaffrey, and is promptly invited to join The Pale Fountains on stage for an impromptu guest appearance. His classical lone trumpet as displayed on Dislocation Dance songs such as Vendetta and Wonder What I'll Do Tomorrow is the perfect foil for Michael's newly penned, ambitious pop songs. Just as significantly, also in the crowd that evening are another group of youngsters setting out on an adventure of their own. Living in a ramshackle terraced house on Beck Road in Hackney, Patrick Moore and his friends (Mark and Dave Baker, Rob Holden, Rachel Rooney and Madeleine Groves) have just set up an independent record label (a UK subsidiary of arty Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule). Moore is in the process of releasing records by Crépuscule luminaries such as Paul Haig (ex Josef K), Tuxedomoon and Antena, but his real ambition is to attract some recording artists of his own to the label's roster.

"Geoff Travis and Michel Duval cooked up a plan in January 1982 where I would start up the UK equivalent of Les Disques du Crépuscule. Michel had a sort of James Bond idea about it - it would be the James Bond version of Crépuscule - Operation Twilight." (Patrick Moore)

Following the Barracuda gig Patrick is instantly besotted with The Pale Fountains avec Andy, and approaches them to record a debut single with his fledgling label. It marks the beginning of a wonderful, if all too brief association. For the next six months the group become inseparable, with the affable Liverpudlians often decamping at Beck Road, and, for that summer at least, becoming part of Hackney's landscape.

"My fondest memory was one of those warm summer nights in Beck Road, and we were all sitting against the railroad bridge that cuts Beck Road in two. Michael had his guitar, amongst friends and people he felt comfortable with. He started playing and singing Burt Bacharach songs for a couple of hours. We were all young and enjoying the things we loved doing and I think we thought it would last forever." (Dave Baker, OT designer)

In May, with a budget of around 800 pounds the band head to Manchester to a studio just off Canal Street called Pluto. Here, OPT 009 (a 7" on Operation Twilight) and TWI 118 (12" on Crépuscule) are conceived. Mid-session, the band's manager Nathan McGough suggests adding some "Yehudi Menuhin" style violin and so he ventures around the corner to the Royal College of Music, where he accosts students to play on the Paleys debut single...

"I walked over there during lunch hour to the canteen and I said "hey, look we're making a record up the street and we need someone to play strings, do you play?" That is how we found William Robinson, and he just delivered - he hit it first time. He played a really beautiful, emotional, poignant, Romanian style; it was incredible, just a very soulful piece of violin playing. As a debut and a musical accomplishment those recordings were really outstanding." (Nathan McGough)

From its fragile beginning, with the gentle acoustic guitar, lone trumpet and then Michael's balmy vocal ("Racing On A Wet Sunday..."), Just A Girl evidences an immediate spiritual lineage with Arthur Lee's Love. There is a Forever Changes demo called Hummingbirds which is a precursor to The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This. The demo track is introduced by Bruce Botnick as "Arthur Lee and his psychedelic band" - a two and a half minute instrumental journey of pure splendour as guitars appear to intertwine as the song goes through a slow, magical evolution. It (unsurprisingly) conjures images of racing around, carefree, on a wet Sunday morning, and the thought of a lone trumpet suddenly coming into the mix seems like the only logical step forward. The song then stops rather abruptly and Arthur says "you know I just had a groovy idea, the best idea of the day." I'm convinced that time begins to warp and converge and he's going to follow this with, "why don't we get Andy Diagram in to add some trumpet."

It's all in there. In that magnificent Pale Fountains debut single. Michael Head has never captured that Love sound as well as on that debut recording OPT 009/TWI 118. However, the real beauty in the recordings is that it captures a band on the trail of a musical utopia, almost oblivious to what was going on around them in the big bad world. They had yet to be seduced by studio technology, yet to be courted by the men in suits and yet to be imbued with any negativity. That is where The Pale Fountains resided in the summer of 1982. There is something altogether charming about OPT 009, and the brief marriage of Operation Twilight and The Pale Fountains is therefore something we should all be thankful for. It is to the label's eternal credit that they saw the band for what they were - a group of young lads with an enthusiasm for music which stretched beyond 1982. From the wonderful promotional photographs by Mark Baker which capture the band in their street urchin/ Boy Scout attire, through to the sleeve designs and promotional posters designed by Dave Baker drawing inspiration from childrens' books of yesteryear. This approach would always run the risk of appearing a little 'twee', yet the sheer quality of the music meant that on reflection this was never really going to be the case. The label shared in the bravery of The Pale Fountains. They believed with a passion that the Paleys were special. OPT 009 just vindicates that belief.

"It was nice to meet people who knew, visually, and art-wise where they wanted to be. It did work against them a little bit that whole 'Boy Scout' look. Being the PR person I had to sell that and I walked into a lot of places and got laughed at! I remember Johnny Waller at Sounds sneering when I first showed him the promo photographs. But people came around in the end because their music was so good, and they were great live." (Madeleine Groves, OT press)

The release of the single in July is accompanied by some great reviews and publicity in the national music press, with Record Mirror leading the charge and awarding it Single of the Week:

"A fresh wind comes blowing across the Mersey, a wind that captures the innocence of the best Postcard single... A slow samba beat, a warm 12-string guitar, and a trumpet to make you weep - The Pale Fountains wear their hearts on their sleeves." (Record Mirror)

"The Pale Fountains come from Liverpool. They sound as if they come from heaven... A positively Bacharachian interplay of instruments and a staggering talent for writing catchy pop songs that outshines anything I've heard for so long." (Masterbag)

With wind firmly in their sails, from July through September the band embark on a number of live dates, honing their sound and introducing new songs to their repertoire such as The Norfolk Broads, Thank You and Longshot For Your Love (the latter two songs being earmarked for a second OT single release in September and even given a catalogue number OPT 015). The classical pop influences are evident, with Norfolk Broads sounding like a homage to Jimmy Webb's Up Up and Away and their live sets including Bacharach's Walk On By, Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair and Arthur Lee's Between Clark and Hilldale (aka Maybe the People Would Be the Times). A UK mini tour ("The Pale Fountains Go To Town") featured dates at Plato's Ballroom in Liverpool, Xtremes in Brighton, the Rock Garden and ICA in London, and the celebrated Hacienda in Manchester. Dave Baker's posters for the tour captured the essence of the band with pastel drawings of countryside scenes, and images which appeared to have jumped straight out of Boy's Own annuals from the 1950's. Tickets for the Plato's gig was in the form of a brown suitcase tag, evoking the sense of travel and escapism which was subliminally present in their sound. The Pale Fountains were beginning to create a stir, and inevitably, the major labels were beginning to sit up and take notice.

"It was a moment in time. Once you move away from that with big studios etc. it can lose its rawness, which is what you are really after. It's about capturing that snapshot, because afterwards things are never the same." (Madeleine Groves)

Graduation to a major label was inevitable. In October The Pale Fountains signed with Virgin for a handsome advance, though this move greatly irritated Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records and a mentor to Nathan McGough. However, the group still found time to fulfil a final obligation to Crépuscule, playing a short series of live dates in Belgium and also recording two songs for forthcoming compilation albums. The tour, Move Back-Bite Harder, was an ambitious multi-media package which also featured Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo, Tuxedomoon, Antena and Isolation Ward, and captured the Paleys in all of their nouveau jazz splendour, a band with the pop world literally at their feet.

"The Belgian tour was great. I remember bicycles and second hand clothes shops where I found the baggiest pair of giant corduroy trousers that I wore almost non-stop for the next year..." (Andy Diagram)

In the middle of these dates the band went into the studio and recorded the John Barry/Hal David song We Have All The Time In The World from the James Bond OHMSS soundtrack. This was cut with Blaine L. Reininger from Tuxedomoon guesting on violin, and was to have been included on Moving Soundtracks, a collection of movie themes. It's an uptempo version of the Louis Armstrong classic, and without the original's orchestral strings it sounds nowhere near as epic. However, the piano, violin and trumpet still give the song a fine accompaniment. The band also spent time with Crépuscule house designer Benoit Hennebert at his country retreat, and cut Benoit's Christmas in homage for festive compilation Ghosts Of Christmas Past (Remake) (TWI 158).

The group's performance at the Lido in Leuven is particularly impressive. The band were by now equipped with an armoury of songs which included inventive, ambitious originals and some complimentary covers. John Barry, Hal David, Arthur Lee and Burt Bacharach were sitting shoulder to shoulder with Michael Head and it sounded all so natural. A path of jazz infused pop was being forged with the emphasis on Jock Whelan's drums providing more of a rhythmic accompaniment than a beat of any sort. It was only on a new song, Shelter, that Jock's drumming approached any sort of standard rock formula, and interestingly this song would appear in an improved form on From Across the Kitchen Table, the second Paleys album released in 1985. But at this juncture it probably represented the weakest of all the Pale Fountains songs. It's when they got into the much more adventurous jazz infused songs like Norfolk Broads, Longshot and Lavinia's Dream that they really hit their peak.

And so, the brief Benelux excursion was possibly the last act of The Pale Fountains in all their innocent glory.

As Patrick Moore explained in Coincidence vs Fate, an article cum manifesto written for Crépuscule in 1982: "Eliot's 'twilight kingdom' is a testing area, a transitional stage between the 'dream' and the 'other kingdoms'... The importance of the meaning of 'twilight' in both Conrad and Eliot is that it is both the indeterminate area in which we live, indecisive and unseeing, and also the romantic-poetic, dream-like area of unreality, which in reality can lead to weakness or strength."

The Pale Fountains were now passing from the 'dream' to the reality. Fittingly, Moore's words accurately conclude this brief but wonderful chapter in their story.

Geoff King

The Pale Fountains
The Pale Fountains
Pale Fountains [TWI 119]