Last year, Emma Anderson from Lush wrote about the band’s early days when they first signed to 4AD and released their debut mini-album Scar and the Mad Love EP. An edit appeared in the Crypt 189 poster-zine, but here is a longer version…
At the beginning of 1989 I was working for Jeff Barrett as his assistant. At the time he was a PR doing press for both Creation and Factory. We worked out of the Creation offices in Clerkenwell Road and did press for the likes of Primal Scream, The House Of Love, My Bloody Valentine, New Order and Happy Mondays. Jeff also had his own label, Sub Aqua. They were exciting and interesting times. I used to answer the phone to Tony Wilson (“Hello, darling,” he’d say) and remember once going to Peter Saville’s studio.
However, I was also starting Lush at this point and eventually I left – not just to do Lush, but also to finish my degree which I had taken a year off from to work for Jeff. I was quite busy!
We went down the quite traditional route of doing a demo and sending it to labels. We recorded a two-track demo of ‘Etheriel’ and ‘Second Sight’ with Bill Carey (who had been in a band with Kurt Ralske, later of Ultra Vivid Scene, and the late Mark Dumais who had gone under the name of Tangerine and put some records out on Creation). I think what made people listen to the demo was the fact we had had a bit of press already, mainly in the form of live reviews. This was probably because we were London-based and had played a lot of gigs at which various journalists had been present.
The first person who responded was Geoff Travis from Rough Trade. I went to see him and he wanted to put a single out, but I remember him saying, “If Ivo is interested you should go with him.” The next thing you know, Ivo called. He left a message on my answerphone and I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. I was and had been a massive 4AD fan – I would buy stuff without hearing it first purely for the fact it was on 4AD. I remember once being in the Record And Tape Exchange in Notting Hill and finding a vinyl copy of Natures Mortes – Still Lives which I had never seen before (it was a Japanese compilation) and not having enough money to buy it. I hid it in the soul section, went home and begged for the money from my mother and went back to get it. The artwork and imagery of the label was mesmerising and I loved most of the music.
When I called Ivo back he said he had liked the demo, but there were “other parties at the label that were not so keen”. It transpired that Howard Gough, the label plugger, had seen us in the ULU bar supporting a band called Laugh (who were on Jeff’s label) and told Ivo we were, and I quote, “the worst band he had ever seen”. In truth, we were probably quite shambolic, but not that bad! Alas, it made Ivo very cautious.
We played with the Pale Saints at the Camden Falcon. They had honed their craft up in Leeds and therefore appeared fully formed and very polished (the whole gig was like one continuous track as there were no gaps). Ivo was already pretty certain about the Pale Saints before the gig, I think, so he did sign them pretty much afterwards. He liked us, but to placate Howard he put us into the studio to record more songs. We went in to Blackwing to record ‘Baby Talk’, ‘Thoughtforms’ and ‘Scarlet’ with John Fryer. These were just going to be demos to really help Ivo make a decision on whether to work with us or not. They were not going to be a record. We assumed that if Ivo did like them we would then go and do a single or two and then an album in the traditional way.
However, Ivo absolutely loved them, so he said “go back and re-record ‘Etheriel’, ‘Second Sight’ and one other (‘Bitter’)” and he would put them out as a six-track mini-album. So we did, and that was Scar. So that was why we did a mini-album as our first record – it was not planned that way.
Come On Pilgrim by the Pixies hadn’t come out that long before then. That had been a mini-album, which they then followed very quickly with Surfer Rosa. The Pixies were very prolific, but we weren’t, so we followed not with a full length album but with the Mad Love EP and then ‘Sweetness And Light’. If we had done it all the ‘normal’ way then all those tracks would have been on one studio album, but we used up all our songs on a mini-album, EP and single, all done by different producers. That is why Gala was compiled for the US and Japan (and a limited edition here).
When we came to do Spooky, people called that our first album, but in effect it was our second album and we had the ‘second album’ syndrome – having to write a load of new songs from scratch. In hindsight, it might not have been the best way to have done it, but that is what we did.
Miki wrote the lyrics to ‘Etheriel’. Meriel Barham (later also in the Pale Saints) had been the initial lead singer in Lush. We parted company with her as it wasn’t really working out, one reason being her relationship with her then boyfriend Ethan, was somewhat in the way – therefore the title of the song is Ethan crossed with Meriel: ‘Etheriel’.
Being on 4AD was great and we did need a bit of mentoring and direction, especially on the live front. One of Ivo’s conditions of signing us was that Miki and I had singing lessons with the famous vocal teacher Tona DeBrett. The lessons hardly turned us into Liz Frasers, but they gave us confidence and we were able to breathe and project our voices much more.
As for Vaughan Oliver and Chris Bigg – well, what can I say? For Scar, Vaughan used these gorgeous vintage Chinese cards with women on as part of the design. He had the idea that on the inside of the sleeve there would be a picture of a girl on one side and a tongue on the other so they would touch when you took the record out. Very Vaughan! But it was a total privilege and pleasure to work with both of them. [This article was written before Vaughan Oliver very sadly passed away on December 29, 2019]
It felt amazing to hold copies of Scar. I remember going into 4AD and posting copies of the vinyl out to friends and family, I think they were quite surprised at how many we were sending out. That wouldn’t happen nowadays! But it was great – it felt like a proper band on an amazing label.
To be honest, apart from putting our first record out, 1989 still felt like a fairly low-key and ‘normal’ year compared to what was to follow. Also, I was still finishing my degree, so I was dividing my time between rehearsing and going into college. The ‘scene that celebrates itself’ came a little later with the arrival of Ride, Slowdive, etc. We were not part of anything coherent at that point, but it was enough to part of the 4AD ‘family’ in 1989.
It was in 1990 that it really felt like it took off as that is when we started getting front covers with Melody Maker and NME, having sessions done in proper photo studios with make-up artists and making videos. We also played abroad for the first time – at the Vaughan Oliver exhibition in Nantes with Pale Saints and The Wolfgang Press and then a European tour with Pale Saints.
Looking at a gigography, I really don’t remember supporting My Bloody Valentine in 1989. I remember the gigs with The House Of Love well as they were the first time we played outside London. I seem to remember Dave from The Wolfhounds driving us. I was a huge HOL fan and knew them personally from working for Jeff, so that was a great. I don’t remember The Darling Buds being overly friendly. It all seemed to be too much like a job for them: turn up, soundcheck, leave, come back, gig and leave again. No hanging out at all. No sense of fun. Loop, again not massively friendly but I think for different reasons, but we were a bit more determined to talk to them. I remember us referring to Neil Mackay as ‘The Master’ as he looked like a villain from Doctor Who.
A gig I really do remember was with Felt and Heidi Berry at Camden Workers Social Club. As it was in London, loads of friends and family came and I had been a huge Felt fan. Heidi is still my friend to this day.
Towards the end of 1989 we recorded the Mad Love EP with Robin Guthrie. We recorded the drums at The Church in Crouch End and then did the rest of it at September Sound. Working with Robin was very different to working with John Fryer. We re-recorded ‘Thoughtforms’ as the first version was so raw and recorded so quickly as it was a demo. We also did the same with ‘Scarlet’, which I seem to remember was recorded in 1990 (as were ‘Hey Hey Helen’ and ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’).
It might have been the fact that Ivo thought the songs were the best we were ever going to come up with, but we actually kept writing good material so he kept us. Our first three records all had separate recording contracts and we only signed our first proper album contract pre-Spooky. The whole thing unravelled in the way it did because we were so shambolic live and Howard’s dislike of us made Ivo so apprehensive.
I should add that the twist in the tale is that Howard eventually warmed to us and came to like us so much as people that in 1990 he actually left 4AD to become our manager…