Steve Swindells’ Sleeve Notes To The Lost Albums.
I’m going to kick this off by saying that I’m really embarrassed. As far as I know, I’m not suffering from alzheimers, but I simply cannot remember the names of the bass player and drummer who played so well on The Invisible Man’, disc 1 one of The Lost Albums, which were recorded in 1980, then digitally remastered and reissued as a double CD on Flicknife Records in 2012.
Nor can Steve Mann, the excellent guitarist who played so brilliantly on it too And I only identified him because of some excellent, online detective work by a fan of mine. I am convinced that the bass player was called Charlie, but Steve Mann thinks he was called Alex. So, if you’ll ever forgive me guys, please, get in touch! It WAS over thirty years ago. You were an amazingly adept, vibey and soulful rhythm section, especially as we recorded all those songs live in just one day. Then I had another day to do overdubs, vocals and mix all the tracks. Manic! Good energy captured though, I’d say. God only knows how my voice held-up whilst recording the vocals on so many songs so quickly; not to mention the massed backing vocals, sung note-by-note – well before the age of the ‘copied & pasted’ computerised BVs that we can do so much more easily do these days.
As I recall, those mostly mysterious musicians on The Invisible Man were recruited via an ad in The Melody Maker and were the first three guys who showed-up to the audition. We ‘jammed’, we gelled immediately and that was IT – there was excellent chemistry. The idea was that they were going to be my band for some live gigs and TV. It was them (plus another guitarist) who performed with me on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1980. I was managed by Trinifold, whose main (well, really only) act was The Who. I’d been signed to Atco records in NYC in 1979 by their CEO Doug Morris (is he still the President of Universal Music these days?)* and the result was my self-produced second solo album Fresh Blood, which was released worldwide in 1980, receiving much critical acclaim and reaching #3 on the US airplay charts in its second week of release. It was, I’m pleased to say, digitally remastered and re-issued on CD on Atomhenge/Cherry Red in 2009 and is now downloadable on Amazon/iTunes, at last.
The first thing I’d like to point out in relation to specific tracks on The Lost Albums is that ‘Stranger On A Train‘ is a true, albeit seemingly unlikely, story.
I was nineteen at the time and it was a deeply strange and unnerving experience involving spooky revelations from a self-proclaimed member of ‘The Brain Police’ who knew where I lived, where I hung out and lots more details about my life. All a bit freaky. So much so that it took me ten years to write the song. He autographed my songwriting/diary notebook on the table in the carriage, having ‘spared me from throwing me off the train’, as he’d initially threatened, after I’d apparently proved myself to be worthy of continuing to live. Phew. Perhaps it’s best not to mention his name, particularly if it was genuine. He signed my notebook with ‘best wishes’ though. Yeah, I know – you couldn’t make it up. And I didn’t.
As a songwriter, I’ve always had a rule not to reveal what the true inspirations for songs were, should anyone ask. So I just blew that one! ‘Stranger On A Train’ was, however, a special case, being based on such a scary and bizarre experience.
The reason for my inscrutability about my songs is that people who are listening should be able to form their own opinions as to what the song is about, in relation to their own reactions, and, hopefully, have their own emotional handle on them. Songs are in the public domain and are open to interpretation. Long may it remain so.
It’s certainly true to recall that 1980 was an incredibly exciting, intense, emotionally- charged, roller-coaster ride of a year for me, and that is very much echoed in the songs on The Lost Albums, which just kept pouring-out, like confessional sessions on an imaginary psychiatrist’s couch. It was all from the heart and/or experience though – no prog-rock-pompous, pretentious nonsense here, I hope, although ‘Fall Of The Empire’ on the Treachery CD might sound dangerously close. That song grew organically from a seemingly spurious promo tour of Europe (why? I should have been doing coast-to-coast US radio interviews on the back of Fresh Blood being #3 in the US airplay charts) which included radio interviews and meaningless back-slapping lunches and dinners with record company execs in Hilversum, Hamburg, Brussels, Milan and Madrid over a period of a few days. Fall of the empire indeed. Follow the narrative in the song and see where it takes you.
For some reason, I can recall exactly who played on the Treachery album. That was the Big Country rhythm section: the excellent Tony Butler (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums), who later went on to perform the same role in the house band at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985. Pretty good for the CV eh guys? And on guitar on Treachery was Simon Townshend, who’s now playing with his brother Pete in The Who.
We are talking A-list.
Both sets of musicians on these two albums were amazingly quick at picking-up my often complex musical ideas and interpreted them with great skill and soulfulness. And I recall that the vibe at both sessions was powerful, rushed, real, live and alive – with great commitment from all concerned, especially my lynchpin engineer and co-producer Mike Pela at Pete Townsend‘s Eel Pie Studios in Soho’s Broadwick street (now, sadly, no more), who was just brilliant.
My favourite tracks on The Lost Albums are ‘I wanna Be Wild‘ (I really let the angry, masculine gay beast out of the cage there); ‘Martyrs And Madmen‘ and ‘Treachery‘ (which were both later covered by Roger Daltrey); ‘Breaking And Entering’; ‘Writing In The Dust’; ‘Walking On Dangerous Ground’; ‘Desolation Boulevard’, ‘Media Stars’ (very prescient); ‘Outlaw’; ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘Dreams Of Dying’ (it was only a dream: think Hemmingway/Kennedy/Key West/Florida). Although I’m proud of all of them all, the sometimes angry, optimistic, melancholic, reflective and emotionally-charged energy of the songs could seem a bit intense. Even if it might have been a remembered dream occasionally, all of them were about real issues and all those emotional, intellectual and career-orientated challenges of the time, including the cynical, super-successful smug bastards who fucked-me over and hung me out to dry.
I really hope that some great singers/rappers will cover and/or use samples from these songs ; artists who like proper lyrics and melodies and an emotionally-based narrative that makes you think: ‘I can relate to that – and perform it with feeling’. You can’t beat a great groove and real playing and singing.
The Lost Albums were actually the demos for the potential follow-up to my critically-acclaimed Fresh Blood album. But, unfortunately, at the time, the management and the record company that were allegedly marketing me and Fresh Blood had some cynically laddish pact which seemed to say: ‘if he doesn’t sell albums, we’ll both agree to drop him’. And after their complete lack of marketing and promotion in 1980, that’s precisely what happened. The quality of the songs was irrelevant. I was toast.
To say that I was devastated was a bit of an understatement. I had been summarily dropped by some major players in the music industry. So, as a result of that rejection, I dropped out of the evil empire of the music biz, utterly disillusioned.
However, by necessity, I soon reinvented myself as a successful club promoter and party organiser with hip, hit weekly one-night clubs like The Lift, Jungle, Bad, Babylon, Downbeat, Upbeat, Groove and many more throughout the eighties, along with organising parties for Prince, Madonna, Time Out and The Face magazines and more – mostly with The Pure Organisation (of which I was I was a co-director), and many with just myself promoting them. Curiously, that’s what’s I’m best known for in London’s underground, cultural history of the late 20th century, it would appear. I’m very proud of what I achieved in that zeitgeist, partlcularly for encouraging ‘gay-mixed’ (now known as polysexual) in my first club The Lift, which played streety black music in a fantastically evocative Soho club called The Gargoyle. This was an art deco–meets -sixties strip club with really cool orange, 70s Scandinavian ‘love seat’s’ along with a mini- theatre (raked seats, a proscenium stage, loads of red velvet), which was the scene of many ironically silly, improvised ‘tableaux‘. There was also a fantastic chrome and brass art deco staircase linking the two floors. The Gargoyle was also the launch-pad for many of the most iconic clubs of the 80s, including The Language Lab, The Dirt Box, The Comedy Store, The Mud Club and more. Those were the days.
That’s not to say I ever stopped writing and recording. Just google me! I have a huge body of work from the ensuing thirty-plus years, including several collaborations with the likes of DanMingo (big time – my little super-group, featuring members of Culture Club, Massive Attack and Hawkwind), Earthlab, Spirits Burning, Lady Sovereign, Joseph Junior, Gehan, Victoria Wilson James, Loretta Heyward, Shanks, Nik Turner, Hawklords, N-Won, Zeus B Held, Dale Davis, Chris Kelly, Daniel Pearce, Mary Pearce, Melanie Browne, Joanna Yearwood, and many more.
Thank you so much for listening.
Big-ups to Mike Pela for engineering and co-producing back in the day (and for re-discovering Treachery on his shelves); to all the fantastic musicians, named or not, who put their heart and soul into the sessions; to Jean-Raphael Dedieu who digitally remastered both albums and to Frenchy Groder of Flicknife, who had the confidence and belief to make this all happen.
And – of course there is life after death! You might just come back as a Metro-gnome!
11 am. 11.11. 2011
* Update. 18. 8. 13. Doug Morris, who personally signed me to ATCO records in NYC in 1979, is now the all-powerful President Of Sony Music.
* Update. 25.11.13. Following a gig by The Plastic Sturgeons, my all-star, ad-hoc jamming band, at the Brunswick in Brighton/Hove on 23.11.13, someone got in touch on Facebook to tell me he could solve the mystery of who the bass player on The Invisible Man was. He was called Charlie Hamilton, and, sadly, he’d recently passed away. I don’t know the back story. At least I can now credit him for his excellent playing (and some backing vocals on ‘Outlaw’ as I recall).
The Lost Albums are available on Flicknife Records.