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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Shriekback July 25, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

What an odd band Shriekback were. A sort of supergroup comprised from refugees from Gang of Four, XTC and parts various. Starting off as electronic tinged dance, then mutating to … well… electronic tinged dance with a lashing of Goth and then onto … electronic tinged dance with lashings of world music and some explicitly pop elements before vanishing and then returning again later in the 1990s and releasing albums sporadically ever since. In a way theirs is the quintessential path taken by so many of their ilk during this time. Small, slightly obscure bands that started to make it big, then rushed towards a more commercial sound only to falter at that point… the Psychedelic Furs, to take another example, did likewise. Although in fairness to the Furs they did come back to a harder edged position before disbanding. And then returning.

I’ve got to admit my favourite album of theirs was always Jam Science released an almost incomprehensible 25 years ago in 1984. And that too is a bit of a curiosity, coming in two flavours, a truncated Y-Records version with a cover adorned by a screw, supposedly to indicate the sense of betrayal by the company on their protege's upping and leaving to the rather larger Arista. Flavour number two is a version of the same album from Arista, a few more songs, a different tracklist, bigger production values. And so on. Both versions have their moments. I can't say that I prefer one above the other. The concerns were curiously contemporary, or at least as far as one could discern from the opaque lyrics they were.

Unfortunately I can only find one track from Jam Science on the web, so you’ll have to settle for this eclectic compendium of YouTube video’s. We start with the fabulous My Spine (Is the Bassline) which shows off their dance side, then onto a selection taken from Oil and Gold, perhaps their most popular album, albeit also arguably their most excessive with fabulous atmospheric tracks like The Big Hush (later used by Michael Mann as part of the soundtrack to the rather fine Manhunter).

It’s hard to say if they went truly downhill after that. The melodies are less compelling from later and the rhythms are poppier. They did, most certainly become blander and… boo hiss… more ‘commercial’… in the latter part of the 1980s (see below for entertaining details), although newer material is interesting.

Two of their number took vocal duties, at least up until Oil and Gold when there was a split. My preference would be Carl Marsh who had a softer mumbled vocal style. But Barry Andrews who remained in the band had a certain energy.

Here are the videos…

My Spine (Is the Bassline) – vocalist Carl Marsh.

Hand on My Heart – from Jam Science, a remix version.

This Big Hush – Carl Marsh on vocals unless I’m much mistaken.

Nemesis – preposterous stuff… another remix…(I’d skip through to about 1 minute – actually I’d skip it altogether – and by the by, it’s fascinating to see how this pomp has spawned any number of video tributes on YouTube).

Faded Flowers

And this from 1988, which the kitschy side of me quite likes…if only for the conceptual cat it put amongst the pigeons of more chin-stroking fans.

Get Down Tonight – vocalist Barry Andrews.


1. Wednesday - July 26, 2009

They definitely went downhill but the early stuff is great. Always loved Hand on my Heart in particular.

And you’ve got to like a band that uses words like “parthenogenesis” in a song.


2. WorldbyStorm - July 26, 2009

Well that’s definitely true! 🙂 You know, I think I’m fond enough of them to forgive them their later excesses. They really were ground breaking.

I wonder though had I ever seen them live in the 90s or 00s would I have been so forgiving? I know I’ve said it before, that I saw the Furs in 2006 and it was such a shambles I couldn’t listen to them for two years after…


3. EamonnCork - July 26, 2009

What a great, great band (well, at their peak anyway). I remember being amazed when I heard them first, This Big Hush on Fanning, getting that same feeling when I heard Suicide and the Pop Group for the first time, wondering how on earth they thought of doing things like this. You are, I must say, a man of impeccable musical taste. Three cheers for the brave and departed world of post-punk experimentation when O Superman could make number one in the charts.


4. WorldbyStorm - July 26, 2009

Someone once told me re my musical taste that there was a difference between catholic tastes and undiscriminating, so I appreciate your words. Those certainly were the days. And it’s what you say, this was an amazingly experimental time, and yet I’d argue that what Shriekback and others were producing was very sophisticated in terms of finish and quality… amazing stuff really. Certainly years ahead of its time. Wire too did something similar once they found synthesisers, albeit less easy on the ear.


5. EamonnCork - July 26, 2009

Isn’t Outdoor Miner a magnificent thing of beauty all the same? Listening to Closer at the moment. When you haven’t listened to them for a while it’s the easiest thing in the world to be cynical about Joy Division but the old 1-2 punch of The Eternal and Decades, just beginning right now, makes me a believer all over again.


6. WorldbyStorm - July 26, 2009

Outdoor Miner is a great song. And I stuck with them pretty much to the bitter end. I still treasure In Vivo as well as 12XU.

It’s funny, I know what you mean. It’s very easy for the myth around Joy Division to be overwhelming and to be honest I’ve reached saturation point, but only away from the music. Lock into that and I still find them as fresh as they were first time I heard them.


7. Maddog Wilson - July 26, 2009

Sorry to change the subject, dont know if you have read it, an article by Eamonn MCcann at Counter Punch on U2 which is a pretty good demolition job on Larry Mullen and also Geldoff, trying to cut and paste the link but cant do it.


8. WorldbyStorm - July 27, 2009

Maddog, you want to email that to me?

Sounds *very* interesting…


9. Phil - July 27, 2009

I think You Hung Your Lights In The Trees is a small masterpiece, but this seems to be a minority view. I don’t think there was an end for Wire – they just went to direct sales & found they could make a reasonable living selling to hardcore fans, which I then discovered I wasn’t one of. (This has happened to me more than once, & probably has something to do with my current taste for folk music.)

Back on Shriekback, Jam Science and Oil and Gold are both fantastic albums, but for me a lot of the interest of the band left with Carl Marsh, just because after that it was pretty much a one-man project. (And a man who can’t sing, which didn’t help.) They were one of the last bands I remember consistently using joke instrument credits, as seen on all the best prog albums (“Rufus – Gibson SG, Fender Telecaster, elastic band and yawn”) – but if you look at the credits on Big Night Music it’s basically a list of Barry Andrews’s keyboard settings followed by credits for bass and drums.


10. EamonnCork - July 27, 2009

The McCann piece is brilliant and extremely funny. Whether you agree with him or not (and sometimes I don’t) there hasn’t been a sharper or more stylish left-wing writer in Ireland. The last par of the Counterpunch piece is deadly.


11. EamonnCork - July 27, 2009

And, WBS, I’d agree with you that the Joy Division mythos is hard to stomach at times. As with Jeff Buckley, the band seem to have been commandeered by people who think the death rather than the life is the most important thing. On the subject of post-punk etc, I think Magazine have reformed and are on tour. Does anyone know if they’re coming to Dublin?


12. WorldbyStorm - July 27, 2009

V. true re Buckley as well EC.

Phil, I’ll have to have look back at them. Can’t say I blame you going for folk. At least one knows exactly where one stands…


13. Maddog Wilson - July 27, 2009
14. NollaigO - July 27, 2009

..shouldering pitchforks and scythes, muttering,

Isn’t the imagery a bit too republican for Eamonn ?


15. Maddog Wilson - July 27, 2009

Yes, should be pikes.


16. WorldbyStorm - July 27, 2009

Thanks Maddog…


17. WorldbyStorm - July 27, 2009

Got to say I liked it. This may in part because I’ve endured two nights of ver Bono et al (the third I ducked out to a relatives) and the bombast… always with the bombast.

I particularly liked the sign-off…

Eamonn McCann is a troublemaker and can be reached at Eamonderry@aol.com


18. Maddog Wilson - July 28, 2009

I spent friday afternoon in the pub in Amiens Street behind Busaras with time to kill waiting for the coach to the ferry. The place was packed with Brit fans of U2, I did’nt mention anything about tax Etc, could’nt see the point. In the 70’s a cousin was drummer in a group called ‘The Rage’ who were quite good but never made it, i would be interested if anyone remembers them. They wrote their own stuff including ‘Son Of Sam’ their best number about the New York serial killer. I did the door for them one night in a club on the northside, i cant remember the name, where a guy turned up with a hatchet because he said the singer was shagging his girlfriend. The bass player was Donal Murphy who ran a TV repair shop in Kilmainham, who knew Phil Chevron from the Rads, and supplied the smahed up TV’s for the cover of the Rads album’ TV Tube Heart’. They all hated The Boomtown Rats with a vengance, they said they were all from the ‘ Right Side Of The Tracks’. in DL and that was why they were succesfull, I used to think it was envy but in retrospect i can see the point, it was a bit before Bono’s time. Some of them knew The Edge who seems like the only working class member of U2. Myself i think The Radiators were the real voice of Dublin at that time. Oh happy days. Any ‘Black Catholics’ out there?


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