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Saturday, 29 March 2008

Written in granite: Perhaps

As in the human body, there are a number of Arteries. There's the one nobody took any notice of at all, the not-quite-post-punk outfit which made a series of increasingly odd singles such as Mother Moon and Cars In Motion, then there's the one some people did notice, because they recorded the astonishing Into The Garden (worthy of an entry in its own right) for John Peel and then released it on a single and again on the dazzling Oceans mini-LP. Next thing we knew it was basically just Mark Gouldethorpe (the aorta?) and a bloke on piano and they'd come over all Brecht/Weill, covering The Alabama Song (the 'b' side of which was a thrilling live version of Garden re-titled The Death Of Peter X, just to stop anyone buying it – if memory serves it was recorded in Italy), after that came the proto-Goth Mish-Mash of The Second Coming (a good decade before the Stone Roses) featuring a cover of Leonard Cohen's Diamonds In The Mine, and then there was a live album called Number 4 which I confess I've never heard. Of all these the most neglected is probably the Brechtian phase. Its output consists of the aforementioned Alabama Song single, on 7" and 12" and one LP, One Afternoon In A Hot Air Balloon. Having adored Oceans for the sheer wonder of the lyrics and its mystery I bought a copy. I'd love to say I got it instantly but I didn't. I really liked Song For Lena and the last two tracks, Louise and It's Good To Be Alone but I found the rest of it strangely unremarkable. I was so right that I was totally wrong. To my credit, though, I stuck with it and gradually, although it took the best part of a decade, it became one of my favourite LPs.

I don't know much about the recording of OAIAHAB, it sounds like two blokes in a studio, one of them playing the instruments and one singing. In places it's a bit out of time (musically, I mean, in the other sense it's totally out of time). But it's got... Well, for a start, those lyrics. A number of the songs here are reworked versions of much earlier Artery songs, Unbalanced was on one of the early singles and there are early demos of others such as the title track, Louise and Potential Silence. But Gouldethorpe had such an identifiable lyrical style, right from the start, that the material gels beautifully. Like some of the other people we've looked at in this series, he has the ability to look at fairly standard subjects askew and knows that there is nothing stranger than the everyday world. As for the sound of One Afternoon... Well, that's odd too, in some ways it sounds like cabaret. But not so much Brechtian, Berlin-tinged Cabaret (old chum) as chicken-in-a-basket, one-bloke-plus-synth-with-built-in-drum-machine-plays-the-hits cabaret. It reminds me of nothing so much as a live Domenico Modugno album I remember hearing many years ago. It was from fairly late in his career and it sounded as though he was fronting a pick-up band who he'd met an hour or so previously. It was so cheesy you felt like dipping bread-sticks into it. And yet the quality of the songs and the delivery shone through and transcended everything else, so that it became fascinating. The band played every song in exactly the same way, presumably they'd not actually rehearsed anything else. Well, One Afternoon has something of that too, and a very wonderful thing it is too.

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