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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Red Guitars November 17, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., Uncategorized.
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Anyone remember Capitol radio, the pirate station that broadcast through the 1980s up until 1988? Well some will. It had some great indie oriented stuff, before the term indie really had the currency it did in the 1990s and presenters/DJ’s like Tony Gahan who weren’t afraid to put new stuff on air. I can’t count the number of groups that I heard on it first – The Godfathers, later Shriekback, and so on and so forth.

And here’s one that fits that bill neatly – the Red Guitars, an interesting UK based group from Hull who I definitely heard on Capitol first. They can be said to have had two clear incarnations. The first was from the late 1970s, early 1980s – to 1984, the second from 1984 to 1986. Both versions released albums under the Red Guitars name, but the albums are markedly different in both tone and sound. The first is somewhat shouty but not too shouty post-punk interleaved with a raft of influences, from the African guitar pop on the uplifting Marimba Jive to more predictable but still interesting proto-mid-1980s indie workouts such as Good Technology. It’s also a politically inflected album. The second – on a major label – is a more stately beast, the guitars use echo and reverb to good effect while somehow retaining a pristine aspect. And the vocals are more measured although over protracted periods of time perhaps a tad wearing. There’s still something of the political in the lyrics but in a less clear cut fashion (though in some instances they seem a big dodgy too).

While I’m very partial to the Marimba Jive from version I on occasion it is the more ‘commercial’ and smoother sound of Version II which can be fractionally more interesting (though it appears that the band itself considers its first incarnation to be the definitive one). I’ve a bit of a thing for bands that take a commercial turn from alternative, if only because it’s fascinating to see what odd gritty elements remain (one thinks of the Psychedelic Furs in the mid 1980s or the even more bizarre plunge by Clan of Xymox into…er… baggy). Robert Christgau put it well in relation to the second Boston album which he noted was an exploration of ‘pure’ corporate rock and ‘The only thing that makes me wonder is that sometimes I catch myself enjoying it, which means some corruption is still at work here. True formalists, from Mallarme to bluegrass, leave me absolutely cold’. And at this remove of the best part of three decades what’s also telling is how uncommercial the supposedly second album actually is.

Anyhow, with the Red Guitars the guitars – natch, crawling bass lines and keyboards gel perfectly. The album, named Tales of the Expected is a fine production with Be With Me and the title tracks being arguably the high points but with a host of other songs both mid paced and fast to fill it out – though sadly only a limited number have made it to YouTube.

One can hear the shift in their sound from their starting point in songs like Marimba Jive and Slow to Fade and then one hears the first track released from MkII, America and Me and it makes sense. That echo, that reverb. And suddenly they’re only a hop and skip away from The Chameleons albeit having an almost entirely different sensibility.

Long deleted now but available here and there if one goes looking.

Red Guitars MkI

Good Technology

Fact

Slow to Fade

Marimba Jive

Red Guitars MkII

America and Me (12” Version) [This is slightly too fast and vocals don’t sound entirely right]

Love & Understanding

Be With Me

National Avenue (Sunday Afternoon)

Suspicion & Fear, Love and understanding

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1. Phil - November 17, 2012

“Look who’s number one in the indie charts – Red Guitars. The trouble is, an awful lot of the audience for independent music is students, and 90% of students are dicks.” – an indie musician & label proprietor, 1984 (I was interviewing him for an abortive fanzine).

Never really liked ‘em myself, but each to their own.

Looking at the band’s Web site, they really have airbrushed Red Guitars mk II out of history, haven’t they? An obsessively detailed band family tree stops dead in 1984, and there’s no reference at all to the second album (which was called Tales of the Expected according to Discogs, incidentally). Even the listing of their Peel sessions retrospective has four tracks listed in italics – that would be the RG II material.

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WorldbyStorm - November 17, 2012

Great quote Phil.

And yes, I got the name of the second one wrong.

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2. Dr.Nightdub - November 17, 2012

I do remember Capitol / Nitesky.

For about six months in 1988, I did a show on it on Sunday nights. Tony Gahan was on from 6-8, then Graham Linehan (of Hot Press and Fr. Ted fame) from 8-10 with “The Small Mammal House”, then yours truly with “The Roots Rhythm Train”, a mix of reggae, ska, rocksteady, northern soul, African, salsa and Carribean. And one very odd LP which can only be described as speed-steelband. After a while, I dropped the colour bar and began to play musc by angry white people as well, so the show became “The Roots Rocking Rainbow Rhythms Revolution.”

When I started, the studio was upstairs in the part of Christchurch that is now Dublinia. Locking up was a real trial: the light switch was upstairs so you had to make your way down through the 800-year-old building in the dark with only a Zippo to light the way. Then the studio moved to the top floor over where McGonagles used to be, but there was no toilet. The only way of answering calls of nature was to put on a 12″ single, gallop down three flights of stairs, roll up the shutter, lock it again from the outside, leg it over to the jacks in Kehoes, then repeat the whole journey in reverse.

Fun times and fond memories.

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WorldbyStorm - November 17, 2012

I seem to recall that show Dr. Nightdub! Kudos to you.

I remember the shutdown evening very well. Used to have a tape of it somewhere. Don’t think any Irish station came close subsequently, at least in terms of general output.

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3. Damian O'Broin (@damianobroin) - November 18, 2012

Ah Capitol/Nitesky, soundtrack to my late teenage years.

I’m fairly certain I also have a tape of the shutdown evening (New Year’s Eve 1988, if memory serves). I think they shutdown to the strains of I’ll Always Be Grateful by A House.

I also went to the shutdown gig/party in Sides. At least I tried to, but but by the time we got there they’d closed the doors and were only letting a handful of people in. So instead I ended up seeing in the New Year by walking almost all the way back to Tallaght with my then girlfriend in the vain search for a taxi.

I reckon Capitol/Nitesky would make a good topic for a TWIMBLT… of its own. It was through Capitol that I discovered The Blue Nile (Tinseltown in the Rain seemed to be on permanent rotation), Sympathy for the Devil, and The Stars of Heaven – the wonderful Never Saw You was another favorite.

And am I right in thinking that at night, they’d stick the same 90 minutes or so of music on loop, and just repeat it over, and over…?

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4. Dr.Nightdub - November 18, 2012

The way it worked (at least towards the end) was that the daytime guys would work off the station library, except the station had ran out of money to buy new music about two years previously, so the library stopped about 1986. The weekend people would bring in their own stuff. And yes, there was a selection of nightime tapes – whoever finished at midnight would stick one on which played over and over all the way through until the first DJ came on in the morning.

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