Dean Wareham and Sonic Boom on how their respective bands put the Fire into 1989

The covers of Spacemen 3’s Playing With Fire and Galaxie 500’s On Fire

“A lot happened that year. There was our first US tour, just ten days and not a lot of people saw us, but we finished at Maxwell’s in Hoboken on a bill with Pussy Galore. In October On Fire was released on Rough Trade and our lives changed…”

Dean Wareham is recalling Galaxie 500’s 1989, which started with them spreading their wings and ended with them releasing their finest album. It also involved crossing paths with Spacemen 3, whose Playing With Fire burned bright, but who were unravelling behind the scenes.

“It felt like it was just diverging,” recalls Pete Kember, aka Sonic Boom. “We weren’t relating in a healthy way. We were dealing with a manager who was ripping us off in different ways and was divisive in the band. He turned out to be the worst decision we made, hands down.”

Although they would go on to release their final album, Recurring, in 1991, the band came to an end as a functioning unit over the summer of 1989, playing their last ever show at Reading Festival on Friday, August 25, sandwiched between Gaye Bykers On Acid and My Bloody Valentine on a bill headlined by New Order.

“We were the rank outsiders, no question, us and My Bloody Valentine,” says Pete of the line-up. “I remember New Order being cool. There was always a vibe around them and the other Manchester bands like Happy Mondays… they were ‘having it’ as the expression would turn out to be. I remember Mary Byker was a super sweet dude and MBV were always sweethearts.”

Mid-afternoon in the Berkshire sunshine seems a decidedly inappropriate hour for such an important band come to an end, but they were always out of time. 

“We evolved in isolation and I think that was key,” explains Pete. “Spacemen 3 were all characters that stood out in that era in a small English town, which is why we gravitated towards each other. 

“That year, all our friends in Rugby who were also in bands decided to do some sort of party for each other with the express proviso that Spacemen 3 would not be included. That sort of thing hurts, but it also makes you realise that sometimes you’re different, and sometimes it’s other people who define that.”

Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3 at the Bierkeller, Bristol, June 14, 1989
Photograph by Wendy Stone

“I have a memory of looking through the LP racks at the Newbury Comics, the record shop in Harvard Square,” says Dean of his first encounter with the demonstrably different Spacemen 3, “and being struck by the cover of The Perfect Prescription, the photo of Pete and Jason with their eyes closed, looking more like weird school kids than rock stars. I bought it right away. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover – if the cover is really, really good, or maybe the band photo radiates some kind of aesthetic intelligence, which I think that one does.”

While Spacemen 3’s planned US tour was pulled, Galaxie 500 would visit the UK three times towards the end of 1989, including their official debut at the ICA on September 26 (pictured below) and a show at Subterania on December 13 where the support band was a youthful Ride, whose debut EP was just about to be released.

Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500 at the ICA, London, September 26, 1989
Photograph by Lori

“Ride were so young, just teenagers,” says Dean, “and Snub TV were filming the show. For us, it was the penultimate gig of our long European tour, we had one last show at the Adelphi in Hull the next night.”

Four months earlier, on August 22, Dean had been present at Subterania to see Spacemen 3’s Reading warm-up show.

“I was in London doing some interviews,” he recalls. “I introduced myself to Pete, who invited me backstage to have a quick beer. I’m just glad I got to see them live; they never made it to the States.” 

At this point we hand over to Dean Wareham and Pete Kember who discuss their own recollections of their first meeting and much more…

Dean Wareham: Do you remember meeting me that night at Subterania? It was all pretty quick.

Pete Kember: Of course. It’s not something you forget easily! At the end of the show you got up on the stage as I was retrieving my pedals or guitar and asked if you could come say hi. I was like, “Sure! Nice to meet you.” You were very shy, but I could see you were psyched to be there. Then, as we went backstage, Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary from the Butthole Surfers came in through the door from the front of house – with a pipe, if I remember – and of course it became the Gibby Haynes show and I think you got spooked and bolted!

DW: Thinking back on those years, I feel like I bumped into you somewhere at least once a year. You were at one of the first Luna shows in London at the Underworld when Grasshopper was playing guitar.

SB: I was stalking you through that era. I know we never really talked about it, but… We communicated and that crazy manager dude you had invited me to stuff.

DW: About a year later you played at Sideshow By The Seashore in Coney Island and I joined you onstage…

PK: Yeah, I was in New York to promote [Spectrum’s] Soul Kiss (Glide Divine) I think, and one of the interviews was with Mike McGonigal from Chemical Imbalance. Someone had cancelled on him and he had the venue lined up – a freak-show at Coney Island. There was a crazy tropical storm that night and the weather lent it very strong vibes. I asked you to help me in the improvised piece where I set several guitars feeding back through effects, then manipulated it. You played guitar on top.

DW: That inspired Luna’s ‘Sideshow By The Seashore’, with the line “an electrical storm has caught us in a trap”. Did Spacemen 3 ever play the Adelphi in Hull?

PK: “Yes, we did. It was packed, sweaty, no stage… you were trapped, essentially. I rolled a joint on my Vox Continental as there was no other option.”