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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Colourbox July 21, 2012

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

I’ve been toying with a post on the music which led me to dance and electronica, not the obvious stuff that was about when dance broke big in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the tracks that signposted the way, however tentatively, during the the 1970s and 1980s. But it’s turning into a long long post – with some real oddities on it – so it will have to wait. In the meantime here’s a band who certainly paved the way. Colourbox, extant from 1982 to 1987 were definite innovators, nestled oddly enough on 4AD, a label one wouldn’t have associated with even a nascent electronica/dance direction (though listen to the then excellent Clan of Xymox – before they went goth electronic, and their Moscoviet Mosquito and you have to wonder). And yet both as Colourbox themselves and in conjunction with the mighty A.R.Kane as M/A/R/R/S they produced truly ground breaking music. Their one album had a brilliant and entirely misleading cover, typical 4AD, typical Vaughan Oliver (the designer) but absolutely not indicating the contents.

And to me it is the sheer range of Colourbox’s approach that makes them so important. It’s not that they released that much during those five years. A mini-album, an album proper and a number of singles and 12”’s. But what they released was in some respects remarkable and arguably well ahead of its time.

The gateway for many of us will have been Just Give ‘em Whiskey, a sharp dance/pop/rock crossover track which took up where B.A.D. had left off. Propulsive bass and rhythms and samples all over the shop (notably Westworld and is that Joan Collins, why yes it is! ). For many their eponymous album must have been quite a shock because far from Just Give ‘Em Whiskey retreads it struck off into pastures new with a distinct soul/pop aspect to it. And here we must appreciate how … shaped their sound.

There are piano led instrumentals (Sleepwalker), soulful stuff like The Moon is Blue (the melody of the chorus still sticks with me), playful pop like Inside Informer and Manic (and perhaps unsurprisingly Manic had a suitably over the top guitar solo courtesy of one W. Orbit – a perfect match if ever there was one given that he was ploughing a not entirely different field). Yep, this was puzzling stuff for those who categorised them in a box marked ‘Just Give ‘Em Whiskey’. But listen to Punch which has all the perkiness of then contemporary pop, right down to brassy keyboard fills and soft-porn samples. And sure why not? Consider how the aforementioned Manic morphs into a near perfect cover of ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’.

But there’s also an openness of sound, courtesy of the production. Then there’s the dub inflected material! I kid you not.

One other thought. I’ve never read an interview with them, only realised they were two brothers, Martyn and Steven Young when researching this piece and had no idea at all that they had two successive vocalists, originally Debbion Currie (who can be heard on Breakdown) and then Lorita Grahame. I thought it was Grahame throughout. But that’s not so strange. The only information I had on them was gleaned from record sleeves back in the day and when they were at their height I didn’t buy the music magazines. And they were to a significant degree a band whose impact and legacy was forgotten. They stopped making music in large part – so it is said, due to the pressure of litigation over their use of samples. You’d wonder what they made of developments subsequently.

I guess what I love about this is the sense of restlessness, not in terms of the tracks themselves though they’re energetic, but in the sense that they are taking various forms and playing with them. There’s a lot of albums I reference in this slot, but this is one of the greats…

The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme

Philip Glass

Just Give ‘Em Whiskey

M.A.R.R.S. Pump Up the Volume

The Moon is Blue

Like We’re Shy One Horse


You Keep Me Hanging On/Manic


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