Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
A short while ago, a doughty fellow called Ian Callender went above and beyond and burned me a whole load of copies of nearly everything The Cleaners From Venus ever recorded. Recordings included all the old d.i.y. tape stuff starting from the initial sound-on-sound recordings made in November of 1980. Some of these recordings came not from JARMusic CDs but from his own personal tapes, 2nd generation originals.
We are talking about a lot of songs here. Lol Elliott and I ran a pretty loose ship in those days. Recording usually took place on Monday from sometime after 10.a.m and were usually wrapped up by the time my bad-tempered girlfriend of the time got home from work. We usually aimed to get two songs written and recorded in this short time, which included a lunch-break in the pub, cups of tea, and smoke breaks. We usually succeeded. The recordings were in mono, clunkily-played, hissy, and often well into the red section of the VU meters.
The drum kit was miked with one cheap mic resting on a cushion inside the bass-drum itself and with a brick sitting on top of it it to stop it vibrating. The snare drum and hi-hat were miked by pushing a broom through the elliptical hole in a stolen science-lab stool, Sellotaping the mic to it, and then adjusting the angle of the broomstick until it sat under the hi-hat but above the snare. Overheads were miked by hanging a mic from a nail on a rafter above ...or from a light-fitting. The three mikes then went into three inputs of a 1970s WEM Copikat echo-unit. The home-made bass, originally made by Plod bass guitarist Carl Szymanski was plugged into the fourth WEM input. A No. 2 all purpose rock and roll slapback echo was then set up and we turned all the kit on and with the monitor speakers as high as we dared, started bashing something out till we found something we liked.
When we had two sets of patterns we liked, we kept them, picked up guitars, glockenspiels, Stylophones or whatever we'd managed to borrow that week and started building up tracks. The results were surprisingly good sometimes. It's a shame I don't have the original 7 inch reels. They lost a lot when they went to cassette. The quality was never brilliant but it had a certain depth and bite..mainly because even then, I knew that a good signal-to-noise ratio, flicking into overload would add a certain natural compression. The fact that I was nearly always hungover on Mondays and Lol was frequently stoned 24/7 probably helped a bit too. The songs were often funny and very often either political in nature or about the possibilities of taking an alien girlfriend home to meet your mum and dad.
One song Modern TV had lyrics which went. You can see it all night, you can watch it all day/ And believe in it, but you'll have to pay / If you watch too hard you can rot your brain/ But you may like this, it's a young man's game. You can see some films, you can watch the news/ It will bring you down but you'll know their views/ From the Open University to the Epilogue, it's for you and me.
This, then, is what we were dealing with. A track called Swinging London began with me yelling off-mic: "I'm roasting an ox in my closet!" We did a track called So This Is Modern Jazz , Is It? It consisted of a shuffly drum beat, me playing some diminished chords and scat-singing about having the d.t.s, an ever walking bass line and the masterstroke of Lol (who couldn't play the piano at all) playing the piano as he imagined a very modern jazz virtuoso might. His playing sounded very authentic, because his sheer ignorance made it sound so avant garde. Another day we decided to cover the University Challenge theme in our own inimitable way. After we'd done it . We got some friends in to be the student teams and I overdubbed myself imitating the quizmaster Bamber Gascoigne. At one point you can hear a stoned Lol, with his voice through a flanger repeatedly chanting Bamber Gascoigne over and over again. It's bloody hilarious.
One day Lol came round tripping. Although I was straight, his state seemed to transfer onto me. The day was a catalogue of accidents...especially mine. A cup of tea got knocked over some tapes. I later kicked over the paraffin heater, setting fire to the carpet in the process. Finally, I managed to erase the first 20 seconds of a track we'd just finished, writing it off in the process. But we were young and cheerful and we didn't care if no record companies ever came. Some of the visitors who came round in the evenings were entreated to our work at times. A few of them thought it was really good. More were simply baffled. One or two were actually appalled. It was the beginning of something that would end up taking me halfway round the world.
(To Be Continued)