This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Red Guitars November 17, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized, Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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
Slow to Fade
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