|The 40 In 40 Days Project.|
29. The Concept Albums (1975-78)
The Au Pairs
|At the age of
thirteen, I decided to record my own concept album. I had recently
realised that with two portable cassette recorders, it was possible to
create a multi-tracked piece of music, and the possibilities of this
enthralled me. My modus operandi therefore went as follows:
1. Think up a suitably freaky, surreal
album title. In this case, Supper At Jojo’s or The Pink Genies
2. Think up an equally freaky artist
name. In this case – and I have no idea where this came from – I
decided to call myself (ahem) Fanta-Lick Extraordinaire.
3. Think up twenty interesting sounding
track titles, and write them down. At this stage, I had no idea what
each track would sound like – I would use the titles as inspiration.
Tracks included: Funky Lone Ranger, Lemon Anorak, Like It Or, Maxine By
The Graves, Mildred The Worm Manages To Sing Along, Cheapside Kate.
4. Gather every musical instrument in
the house together in one room. There weren’t many to choose from: a
recorder, a guitar (which I couldn’t play), a Rolf Harris Stylophone,
and a digeridoo. I augmented this with a large array of percussion
devices, mostly taken from my old toy cupboard.
5. For each track, I would first write
a lyric, if the song required one. Again, freakiness and surrealism were
my watchwords here – literal meaning came way down the list.
Influences at the time would have been Gong, Edith Sitwell’s Façade,
Monty Python, Pink Floyd and early Soft Machine.
6. I would then build up the track
layers as follows. Record track 1 through the microphone of tape
recorder A. Play it back through the speakers of tape recorder A, while
recording through the microphone of tape recorder B and simultaneously
playing/singing whatever was needed for track 2. Play back combined
tracks 1 & 2 through tape recorder B, while recording on tape
recorder A and performing track 3. And so on, until the track sounded
finished. Of course, this meant a lot of tape hiss built up, with the
earlier tracks sounding progressively more muddy, but I liked the effect
this produced. Tracks were kept short – usually around 1.5 to 2.5
I was enormously pleased with the
finished album (a full 40 minutes’ worth), and played it over and over
again – though never to anyone else. The recordings weren’t intended
for others to hear, and I was actually quite secretive about them. As a
result, without the discipline that would have come with attempting to
appeal to an audience, I gave free rein to any mad idea which popped
into my head. I also gave free rein to my thirteen year old’s idea of
“wacky” humour (Python, Goodies, Goons etc), with much use of
“comedy” voices throughout. The humour has not aged well. In fact,
the entire album makes me cringe when I hear it now. A sweet little
project, but one which would have benefited from more forethought,
seriousness of intent, and – let’s be honest here – musical
With a piano added to the line-up, and
later a clarinet, I went on to make two follow-up albums to Supper
At Jojo’s. In Spring 1976, Fanta-Lick Extraordinaire released
the Cleopatra album, followed in Autumn 1976 by (Lord love
me!) The Cult Of Wekki-Wekki or Mr. B. Slagheap’s Ankles.
I then put Fanta-Lick Extraordinaire out to grass, and formed my fantasy
art-rock band, The Placemats.
The Placemats were influenced by the
burgeoning experimental indie scene that was then being championed by
John Peel: The Residents, Desperate Bicycles, very early Devo, Thomas
Leer, Robert Rental, The Normal. The musical discipline tightened up –
I would now score much of the music in notebooks before recording it.
The wacky humour was jettisoned. The lyrics remained bizarre, wilfully
obtuse, stream of consciousness stuff. The music remained unplayed to
others, and for good reason – I am making it sound far more
interesting than it actually was. The musical ability, you see, was as
negligible as ever.
The Placemats recorded two albums: Mood
Music For Every Occasion (1977) and Rowing Across The
Chesterfield Canal With The Placemats (1978). And then, the
concept albums were no more. There were, however, a few more attempts at
home made music, in particular, a pop song called “Hole In My Life”
(1982) which actually showed some slight signs of promise – despite a
hilariously Freudian chorus:
You say I might be distorting the truth
I hear ABC on the radio
Very little survives of the music I
recorded. I’ve still got the cassette of Supper At Jojo’s
and some Placemats backing tracks. However, instead of making these
available, I’d rather you listened to these two offerings. They were
recorded almost twenty years ago, in my friend Pete’s room, using his
WASP synth, electric piano and drum machine, in a student flat on the
Ilkeston Road. Both tracks were done on the same evening, with no second
takes. I hope you will be charmed by their raw immediacy…
The first track is a reworked
instrumental version of The Placemats’ biggest hit, “Listen To The
Placemats”. If you listen closely, you might be able to detect the
Ramones song from which it steals its central riff.
it here. (1.58MB) Sorry! No longer available!
On the second track, Pete is Diana
Ross, and I – in all my multi-tracked glory – am Mary Wilson and
Florence Ballard. Listen as I join in around the 30 second mark, and
then attempt to upstage Pete for all I am worth. Maybe I should have
been a drag artiste.
it here. (2.52MB) Sorry! No longer available!
Pete went on to become a successful record producer, who has worked with acts as diverse as Bucks Fizz, The The, Robbie Williams and Def Leppard. But we all have to start somewhere, don’t we!