Echo & The Bunnymen, The Killing Moon (1984)

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Artist: Echo & The Bunnymen
Title: The Killing Moon
Description: single; album track, Ocean Rain
Label: Korova
Release date: 1984
First heard: 1984

Once a Bunnyman, always a Bunnyman. The thought of it sometimes reduces me to panic, but when I sing The Killing Moon I know there isn’t a band in the world who’s got a song anywhere near that.

Ian McCulloch, The Observer, 13 April 2003

Ian McCulloch famously believes that Ocean Rain, Echo & The Bunnymen’s fourth album, is their best. I would have to lay down my raincoat and respectfully disagree with him. I’d say their first album, Crocodiles, remains their best. But I’ll happily concede that The Killing Moon – which in January 1984 promised the moon on a stick from the forthcoming new LP in May – makes a passionate bid for their best song.

It’s interesting how elemental your love for a band can be in your late teens. My first real crossover with Echo & The Bunnymen was when it went around the fifth form at Weston Favell Upper School that one of the cool kids, Mick Monroe, who had a wedge haircut and everything, had thrown away all his records except for those by Echo & The Bunnymen, which can surely only have amounted to one LP and some singles at that decisive stage. (A decade later I worked for Mick when he was an art director at a Covent Garden design agency, although I never satisfactorily got to the bottom of whether or not this was a myth. I prefer to print the legend in any case.)

It was through a much closer friend Craig McKenna that I first heard the Bunnymen myself, by which time their resin-coated reputation was sealed – thanks in no small part to Mick Monroe, who also had pleated trousers and blue shoes, items I attempted to carry off myself in those formative years of 1981 and 1982. By 1983, the Bunnymen had gone overground and boys’ hair in the sixth form was uniformly sticking up and smelling of Boots Country Born, but to know their first two albums was still to mark yourself out from the herd. Among the cognoscenti, even in Northampton, long coats were worn and even danced in at discos. By the summer of ’83, our gang were sockless by default. A knot of us travelled all the way to London to see the Bunnymen play the Albert Hall that year and it was religious. (A single printed sheet of paper was left on every seat, imploring, “LAY DOWN THY RAINCOAT AND GROOVE.” We are talking the highest echelons of cool.)

The 12-inch of The Killing Moon – purchased sight unseen and sound unheard with another Bunnyboy, Kevin Pierce, from Our Price in January 1984, the first landmark release of the year – had a live version of Do It Clean on the b-side, recorded at the Albert Hall. We were there. It was all coming together. I thought I’d heard it all, but The Killing Moon, elegant, aromatic, sincere, torrid, spooky, luxurious, deep, wide and long, was a new day dawning. Lush with strings, hushed with brushes, luminous with muted tones, this self-produced mini adventure knows how good it is.

“In starlit nights I saw you,” coos McCulloch, “So cruelly you kissed me.” It is, of course, his own lips that are “a magic world”, and the sky in the sleeve photo that’s “all hung with jewels.” Self-belief is never left in the dressing room with the Bunnymen in their pomp. It’s not always becoming when a band declares itself the best in the world, but that arrogant sense of entitlement can be intoxicating when embedded in the music – and far more palatable from Liverpudlians, I’d argue. It’s like the Bunnymen owned the road.

The nine-minute Up All Night Mix on the 12-inch never outstays its welcome. But the five-minute single version, which bursts at the seams with minor-chord grandeur and lunar melodrama, is more than enough. Kevin and I played it again, and again, and again. And I’m still playing it. Other songs of theirs – songs to learn and sing – are rougher and readier, sexier, rockier and drugsier, and more demanding of the casual listener (Stars Are Stars, Zimbo, The Puppet, Villiers Terrace), but The Killing Moon is an underground band hitting the big time and playing to the stalls, not just the Gods.

The airtight bass of Les Pattinson, those shards of distorted guitar pouring out of Will Sergeant, the late Pete de Freitas’ tribal exactitude, McCulloch’s possessed incantations and killing croon: for the best part of five years, heaven was down here.

I’ll get me coat.

 

The Farm, All Together Now (1990)

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Artist: The Farm
Title: All Together Now
Description: single, album track Spartacus
Label: Sony
Release date: 1990
First heard: 1990

I was accused by someone on Twitter of “studied disinterest” when I announced on the popular social media site that I had no interest in being “cool” at my age, before recommending Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album a full ten months after its release because I’ve only just bought it. This disinterest was not studied, which is why I blocked my accuser. No song in The 143 has been selected for any other reason other than I love it. I loved it then and I love it still. If I was concerned about how this list looked, I would be a fraud.

I love All Together Now by The Farm. If the band were ever truly fashionable it will surely have been before this song lodged itself in the national psyche across all castes, creeds and colours (by which I mean football colours). At that point, having cracked it, commercially after many, many years’ service in the trenches of regional indie and fanzine legitimacy, The Farm made the most of a transfer window and went overground, forever thereafter the property of people at wedding discos. It has been some years since I was among those five or six good men and true, but I rather think they are enjoying their “people’s longevity”.

They have the keys to Liverpool, figuratively it not actually, and occupy the same post-punk Scouse pantheon as Pete Wylie, Ian McCulloch, Pete Burns, Ian McNabb, Holly Johnson, Julian Cope, Ian Broudie and, although it would annoy him, Lee Mavers. Such figures do not drift in and out of fashion, they exist in perpetuity in collective local mythology rooted in the Cavern and Merseybeat. All Together Now is a sentimental song, made in a sentimental city, sung by sentimental people then and now, in sentimental situ. And it would be easy to belittle it by practitioners of studied disinterest. (Its sentimentality, by the way, is nothing to do with the sort of civic stereotype that saw Boris Johnson visit the city, cap in hand, to apologise for belittling the Liverpudlian character in the Spectator in 2004, in an article that also perpetuated lies about Hillsborough that have since been legally quashed, forever.)

A “terrace singalong” is how it might be dismissed by people who’ve never stepped foot on a terrace, or sang along. But community singing is important, and if there is no community (as Margaret Thatcher once claimed, as she set about destroying them), then if a song momentarily makes you feel like there might be one, it has done its job. In this respect, you’ll never walk alone.

The Farm and their mentor Suggs (who took them in hand) seized their moment as the 80s jigged into the 90s and years of marginal struggle coalesced into right-place-right-time-right-trainers relevance. With fashionable production on their side, this band of brothers gave it everything they had and found a chart-topping album within, Spartacus. Their thumbs-up bonhomie didn’t hurt. The Farm once gave me a tour of Liverpool that took us from Walton Gaol to Robert Tressell’s grave and we had our photo taken at a Yates’, one that I still treasure. Unlike the Madchester bands, The Farm came with added socialism.

Using Johann Pachelbel’s Canon In D as its kicking-off point – a common pop nick in the 60s, but audacious in ’90 nonetheless – All Together Now uses the gentle orchestral waft and a plangent rising guitar signature from co-writer Steve Grimes to lull the listener into a false sense of decorum before a pull on the bass ignites what historians will identify as a textbook “indie-dance” groove. If all this song did was lay a trendy backbeat under a classical riff, it would be worth a cursory listen and a tap of the trainer, but Peter Hooton’s voice and lyric are what cause a studio lark to ascend.

It’s distant and high, more delicate than anything the Happy Mondays would attempt (and neither should they have done), gloriously augmented by the mighty Pete Wylie on backing vocals, and sets out a bold stall, for this is a song about the Great War when “baggy” songs tended to be about lager and rainbows. “Remember boy that your forefathers died,” he entreats, a man as capable of tomfoolery and wisecracks as any burgher of Liverpool, but not messing about herein. “Lost in millions for a country’s pride … But they never mention the trenches of Belgium, when they stopped fighting and they were one.”

The England-Germany truce is a well-worn, proto-pacifist fairytale with a mile-wide target on its back for the creatively bereft, suitable for all ages and shamelessly exploited by a supermarket chain to sell chocolate at Christmas. It even contains a kickabout which might have been a cynical button-pushing exercise in the hands of the insincere, but who else in the hedonistic Italia ’90 theme party along the M62 was singing about “a spirit stronger than war” on a “cold, clear and bright” night in December 1914? Not Northside. The Farm were like baggy’s older brothers. They’d been round the block. They were granted certain privileges. It didn’t take much to be a militant tendency in that largely apolitical landscape.

All together now? What a sappy deal, eh? Arms around each other. Blokes hugging. Scarves in the air. Tears in beer. Working Men’s clubs. The further away we get from No Man’s Land in December 1914 and successive outbreaks of togetherness among fighting men, the more vital such sappiness arguably becomes. The Farm’s moment in the sun seemed all too brief, but they abide, with at least one certified anthem suitable for sporting tournaments and occasions of national unity. You write a song like this, and you are forced to bequeath it to whichever group of people have gathered together in hired hall or sports stadium to sing it. All Together Now sorts out the fashionable from the unfashionable, and who’d want to be cordoned off among the first group?

Studied interest? No, just abandon, bejewelled with treasured memories of all the voluble, winking Liverpudlians I met when working for the NME meant getting the hell out of London on a weekly basis. If The Farm were waiting for you at Lime Street, you were alright.

The Lotus Eaters, The First Picture Of You (1983)

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Artist: The Lotus Eaters
Title: The First Picture Of You
Description: single; album track, No Sense Of Sin
Label: Arista
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.