Artist: The Lotus Eaters
Title: The First Picture Of You
Description: single; album track, No Sense Of Sin
Release date: 1983
First heard: 1983
It was a safe bet in the early 1980s that if a band was from Liverpool, they were worth listening to. Why? Wiser social historians than I will have their own theories. Clearly, Liverpool is a music city, the Nashville of England, and we all know about the rich cultural exchange of a port, which helped create the white, Catholic rock’n’roll they called Merseybeat in the 60s.
Hey, the early 80s were fecund and pioneering right across this isle, with electronic possibility and art-school intellectualism painting the now-form-a-band punk ethic in wonderful colours. But Liverpool, that wondrous place, revealed itself to be Britain’s most vivid and exotic cauldron with hit after nonconformist hit from the likes of Frankie, Echo & The Bunnymen, A Flock Of Seagulls, Teardrop Explodes, OMD, China Crisis, Dead Or Alive, Black, the Icicle Works and assorted incarnations of Wah! (Deeper archaeologists will already be adding the less commercially successful but equally vital Pink Military/Industry, the Wild Swans, the Pale Fountains, the Original Mirrors, Modern Eon and Dalek I.) What joy it was to cherry-pick from this rich buffet of delicacies during the best part of that decade. It was heaven up there.
Enter The Lotus Eaters. The First Picture Of You was their first single and their first and only hit. I’d like to tell you I first heard it on John Peel in October 1982, before they were signed (I must have been out that night), but I know for a fact that I heard it on Top Of The Pops the following July (“the first picture of summer”). There is no shame in this. Nor in the haste with which I tore out the lyrics from Smash Hits and blu-tacked the page to my bedroom wall.
The fey-looking, grey-shirted, Orwellian-fringed duo Peter Coyle and Jem Kelly had local form – Kelly had co-founded the Wild Swans – but hadn’t played a gig when they arrived, fully-formed, on TOTP. The song was just about perfect: a seasonal evocation of young love initially floated on a gossamer layer of synth which thumps into joie de vivre with a louche bassline and some enthusiastic but deceptively delicate drumming (from – I think – Alan Wills; ex-Wild Swan Ged Quinn is on keys).
Coyle sings of it being “warm, in and out”, which I was guileless enough in 1983 to take at face value and read in a meteorological sense and not carnal, but I get it now. “The pulse of flowing love … pleasure fills with love … the magic force of your feelings”, frankly, it’s as saucy or as chaste as you want it to be. The grey shirts, joyful flowers and fey delivery had me fooled.
That the Lotus Eaters never followed through on the promise of The First Picture Of You is immaterial. It abides as one of the most uplifting and enduring guitar-pop anthems of the time, arranged with an innate sense of melodrama and – always its trump card in my ears – a confident display of loose-limbed but watertight drumming of a type that Chris Sharrock would subsequently bring to the equally pastoral crowd-pleasers of The Icicle Works, a band with greater staying power, as it transpired, than their Liverpudlian cohorts in grey shirts (and their own prior links with the Wild Swans, naturally – if you weren’t in the Wild Swans in Liverpool in the early 80s, you weren’t there).
But even in commercial isolation, the magic force of this song’s feelings – the sort that feel as if they could actually bring on a change in season – is forever. It’s the square peg on many a cheap 80s hits compilation, but unlike, say, Cry Boy Cry by Blue Zoo or Too Shy by Kajagoogoo, it survives the test of time and retains its ability to “flood the world deep in sunlight”.
The Wild Swans reformed in 2011 around Paul Simpson but without Jem Kelly. The Lotus Eaters reformed too, and I believe are still extant. Liverpool still has something in the water.