I am increasingly fed up with my so called allies that I attempt to work with, therefore I am doing it all myself.
So dearly beloved, I am going to release every bit of SLAB old or new in my possession for free and with the help of some of my Internet buddies (hello Mona and Herr B)
I cannot be bothered to go setting up limited companies and sort out accountants etc, I cannot be arsed with it. So I will release all of this stuff for free download. I cant see the point of signing to some company and still having to deal with the Inland Revenue for basically very little.
So expect SLAB tracks by the bucketload. EPs, themed albums you name it its all here.
I will also be putting up various other projects such as Killer Moses, Hangman Stone and I may go talk to my old buddies from Jigoku, Lovely Jon and Gareth from Cherrystones to see if they wanna collaborate too.
If anyone wants to post em on their own blogs feel free.
I dont do it for money , I do it because I have to.
SLAB will be releasing a 4 track EP of new songs very soon.
This will be the first of a regular series of EPs in a range of formats.
To be honest I got really bored of working on the old stuff. The old stuff is good but I write all the time and have this backlog of new material. Therefore it seems to make more sense to release new stuff first and then look at the ancient stuff after.
Marc Allum our sound engineer who did every gig we ever did bar one, sent me this tonight having read some of the blog so far, he's talking about our early live gigs
"...those were some special ‘ball busting’ gigs with maximum focus fucking power….I used to get fed up if the PA was less than 5K….I don’t think Kitson ever quite understood that gut wrenching ‘wall’ that was Slab! live. I loved doing it….I just wonder how many people I damaged for life with some of that mixing…."
Descension got some great reviews in the press, lead review in the NME, great review in Sounds and others I cant remember. It charted. So life shoulda been good.
It is somewhat ironic that it seems to have taken the press 20 years to actually appreciate Slab and we are very lucky that there are now a lot of people and musicians who cite Descension as a major influence.
It was called Descension as a riposte to John Coltrane’s Ascension. It was our descent. We had once recorded 4 slightly out of time tracks of the whole of Ascension on Dave’s 4 track, sounded great!
But things weren’t right. Things felt very very flat after making it. Where do you go? Your rhythm section is hanging by a thread. You have no money. Friendships that founded the band are falling apart.
What you should do is go on tour and promote that album and sell some merchandise and play yer greatest hits the ways the fans want em. But we never did that, ever. I guess we were bored very quickly. And for me and Dave once Descension was done it was time to look ahead, not back. I couldn’t see how we could play any of the old songs. Descension had destroyed them.
We had some tour of Holland, Belgium and Germany in the air. Quite why we had nothing in this country I am not sure. We had no manager, we relied on getting gigs ourselves or through Dave Kitson who ran the label. And Dave Kitson had another priority. Business wise we were a disaster.
God knows why but when everything was set for us it just seemed to crumble away.
I seem to remember starting rehearsals up in Camden in the delightfully and totally inappropriately named Solid Light, where we had a lock up. Solid Gloom more like. You name it they’d rehearsed there, Pil, Duran Duran, Wishbone Ash, Pete Shelley on one side of us and Howard Devoto the other not talking to each other… the stories from Solid Light are a book in themselves.
It was winter time and it was cold and bleak. It was now obvious in where we were setting our stall, eg heavy fug off riffs/grooves and improvisation, that Robin's time was limited as he was a rock solid drummer but improvising wasnt really his thing....but we were a bunch of bastards....
In our usual cold blooded way clandestine conversations started. We were even phoning America during rehearsals to talk to our next drummer Scott Kiehl, a friend of Chris Baker who said that there was only one drummer in the world for us and it was Scott.
It was also pretty difficult to do Descension live as it relied on a foundry of sampled drums. So we had to go in a different direction.
There was even a brief period where we were talking to Charles Hayward (This Heat) about coming on tour and playing with us.
Robin got delivered the fateful message and I think we broke his heart. Robin was very much the drummer. He had his feet on the ground, didn’t talk bollox, didn’t take any bollox, you’d want him on your side in a ruck. He was the most grounded of us all. He hadn’t gone to college, his mum and dad were firmly working class, he just wanted to be in a band and play drums. The trouble was he couldn’t do what we wanted and we were too much of a bunch of Khunsts to make any exceptions. Bang went another friendship.
So Scott came over from America. He was young and had never been outside the States. We didn’t even know what he looked like, but we had to meet him from a flight from Chicago at Heathrow one morning.
The strange thing about this is that about 2 weeks ago I had an email from Scott, he lives in London and wants to meet up. First contact in 20 years. Weird.
As a drummer he was unfugginbeleivable. The first time he rehearsed with us it was like God had walked into the room. Superman on bass, God on drums…. Except neither of em really liked what we were doing.
The first thing of any note we did was to record a single version of People Pie. It’s a great track, but it doesn’t really follow on from Descension, there’s no continuity of sound. All it served to do was confuse people even more about exactly what this band sounded like… cos it sounded different every bloody release.
We worked on a live set and toured Europe. But we were firmly split into two camps. Me Dave and Paul stayed together and Bill and Scott with each other. Musically we were divided. Scott had expected some funk monsters. We wanted Ronald Shannon Jackson, which Scott could do, but I don’t think he had expected us to be so murderously heavy live.
Our live set was almost painful. We were exceedingly loud, louder than the Swans at that point, we were crossing some of the heavier riffs from Descension with freeform playing. It was gut wrenching stuff. To be honest it was almost too much in retrospect listening to some of the old live cassettes.
But we seemed to have left our mark over a number of years.
We recorded our 3rd Peel session with Scott on drums. Its quite revered by many people these days.
However we were now in almost abject poverty.
Sometime during this period I woke one morning in my Chiswick palace of fun to the sounds of someone banging on front my door at about 9am. Now as any self respecting sonic terrorist knows 9am is not a good time to catch me. Hugo had gone to work so I turned over and went back to sleep.
10 mins later some fukker opens my downstairs bedroom window and starts to clamber in.
He was very lucky that I didn’t go straight in at him cos fortunately I noticed that before I removed his face he was an oldish chap in a suit. Not yer average burglar then.
No he was from the bank and our beloved psychic landlady who had let our palace fall into complete rack and ruin had forgotten to pay the mortgage on this particular one of her many properties. He told me it was being repossessed and that we had two weeks to get out.
I managed to go stay with my sister in Penge (aint that punishment enough… nope she was Born Again…) so I barely lived there. I left my stuff there and virtually decamped to Dave Morris’ flat on Brixton Hill. Dave’s relationship had failed too sometime during the making of Descension and he had had to move out of his girlfriends flat, so he was staying in a place in Brixton with a guy called Andy who we had both known for a very long time.
Paul was in a stable relationship with Margaret Ward who had done tapes for us in the early days. They were in Hammersmith and were very supportive of each other.
I was in a relationship with my now wife, but it wasn’t the kinda relationship where we saw that much of each other at that point.
The big problem for us all was money. We weren’t getting a penny from Slab, apart from bits of radio play royalties. Paul, Dave and myself somehow managed to get our way onto some government initiative called the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. This paid you £40 a week and you could still get your housing benefit paid. We had this for a year, it seemed like a godsend as it gave us a year to get our shit together and start making money out of Slab.
But to this day neither Paul nor I can remember exactly what we did that year, well we got pissed a lot round at Dave’s flat and could afford kebabs, but I think we only wrote one collective song in an entire year. Most of that year (1988) passed in a haze of illegal substances of one kind or another.
We dallied with a manager from Manchester. This lead to numerous trips up there but it wasn’t feted to last. He tried his best, I don’t think we were particularly greatful and treated him with our usual cussedness.He didn't last long.
One of the good things about this period was that through Paul we made contact with Ikon Video who had shot footage of a number of our gigs in Manchester and London and as Paul became good friends with Malcolm we made a video for People Pie. It was shown on Snub TV. Still didn’t help us sell many copies of People Pie though ha ha. Its on youtube.
I think its best Paul tells that story really, he knows more about it, but I have great memories of being absolutely hammered with the Ikon lads in Manchester consuming speed, eating curries, and laughing our heads off. It was one of the happiest times of my life.
At some point in 1988, Bill decided to call it a day. He had had enough. Musically we weren’t going where he wanted to. I think we had half wanted this but didn’t expect it. In my heart I wanted him to stay and just get through this period cos I knew there would be light at the end of the tunnel and he would probably like what would come next.
But it wasn’t to be. I felt like we had treated him like dirt. I wont blame Dave Morris, I had a brain and a will of my own, but as Bill pointedly told me Dave was only ever interested in money and what he could get. So that was it another good friend gone. The gang had all but fallen to pieces.
Sometime later Scott decided to return to Chicago, he hadn’t quit, but he had to go so we let him. Quite what the three of us did is anyone’s guess I don’t remember much…
We had a second album to do. I know that I wrote the bass riffs to Switchback Ride and Last Detail round at Dave Morris’ sometime during that year and I also came up with the bass parts and some guitar for what would later turn into Deaths Head Soup.
But what I do know is that Dave Morris was by now very desperate to get out of the poverty we were stuck in. He started being a “session” musician… if I could spit that word out while typing I would. He became quite money obsessed, he wasn’t seeing it in terms of being creative anymore. I distinctly remembering him saying that he needed to make money out this…. OH DEAR….. go join a fuggin boy band then.
Meanwhile I went to live with my girlfriend in her house…. Fatal….absolutely bleedin fatal.
While nothing in particular seemed to be going on Scott was back in Chicago rehearsing songs with Lou Ciccotelli. Except Scott was playing bass now and Lou was drumming.
I think they sent over a demo of tracks, they sounded alright like they were recorded in a huge warehouse – they were! We had to do an album and if we were to survive as a band we had to have a way of paying Scott and Lou, cos they had no means of survival unless we did. So we decided that we would have to use some of their songs just so that they could get royalties to survive.
It was a bit retrograde as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t really convinced by the direction of the music, but we had to do it. Scott and Lou came over just before the summer and we went back to Solid Light to rehearse.
If people weren’t sure where we were coming from after Smoke Rings then Descension was one huge kick up their arses.
Some fans have bemoaned the change in sound. But as I have said earlier logically there is little difference in the intent of the very first demos done by me and Bill , or say Mars On Ice or the Animals from what was to come on Descension.
Descension just stopped being polite about it and stopped trying to please anyone.
It did exactly what we wanted. But the “we” wasn’t the whole band.
And that is where Descension lies in the band history. It took no prisoners from outside or within.
It’s a colossal album. Still is. Can’t think of anything that sounds like it. Nothing did at the time, nothing did before and nothing has since. People still can’t classify it.
Well I can. Its called SLAB.
It was recorded and mixed in approximately 10 days in Livingston. We knew everything that we were doing. We knew what we wanted. We pretty much got it too.
We went in and laid down Gutter Busting first. Took a few takes. But we got it. Then we went through the rest of em. We didn’t spend hours doing things we just did em, knocked em out, got the recording right. No loads of overdubs or fiddly bits. The fun would come in the mix.
If you were to listen to the original raw recordings on the 24 track you’d hear something quite sad (Sanity Allergy….. ha ha I jest….well not always my thoughts on SA are well documented… but more of that later)
If you were to listen to it you’d hear dry drums, fairly standard fuzz bass, guitar parts…. Sanity Allergy heh heh… sorry I cant stop.
But then its gets more interesting as you’d also start to hear, backwards tape tracks, slowed down demonic recordings of me in total darkness late at night - in what was lets not forget was an old chapel - pacing the studio being genuinely scary according to Dave Morris, sound effects, deliberately out of time brass that had been recorded without listening to the backing tracks, sounds that seemed to not be there but were.
Descension has an ambience quite literally.
Once everything was recorded we went back in for another week and mixed it. The recordings had been done by Tony Harris. Poor Barry Clempson, who was the mix engineer, walked in thinking he had a straightforward job to do. Wrong. We wanted to trigger the Akai sampler by every drum sound already recorded, a hideous task, involving gating and limiting everything on the kit and making sure that extraneous sounds didn’t set the samples off.
Then we needed to do everything else. We had a week and we did it. No bollox. We supplanted everything in the mix and I can say overall I’m pretty happy with it. It’s all there.
If I could change anything it would’ve been to make the bass less thin on Big Sleeper as to me it’s the dominant sound there. The sound is big but not big enough.
I’m not particularly enamoured of Loose Connection either. Dave, Paul and I arrived very late at the studio that day about 4pm I think we’d worked late the night before.
We got there to find that Bill, Robin and Barry had already started and to my mind completely misinterpreted the track. They’d mixed everything over the loop, it wasn’t meant to be like that, the loop was meant to be the dominant force. But we were under time and money constraints and Barry said it would take too long to go back and start again. So we had to put up with it. But anyway why complain, it’s a stunning record.
Name me a record that begins with the sound of the bass guitar having had knitting needles placed in between the strings being pummelled to produce a kind of demonic fuzzed rhythm with a lyric being whispered in a death rap about a person jumping under a tube train. Hello we’re home honey. Happy little industrial funkers that we are with our jingle jangle guitars and skippity bass and cowbells…. No you morons you’ve just let Lucifer into your pants and he’s about to party. And of course it gets heavier.
When we first played an assortment of tracks to Dave Kitson he went white. But being the trouper that he was he went with it, well he had to, he had no choice, he couldn’t afford to send us back in on the instructions to write something nice and proper old chum, so that left him two options say goodbye to us or try to sell it.
I remember he gave this little mixed bag to some journo friends one of whom described it as the best metal album ever made. Of course it is - cos it don’t have no widdly bollox or people wearing spandex and singing in pixie voices over the top or equally those black wearing buffoons pretending that they are so down with Satan and making growling sounds… lets face it if any of those gits walked down some of London’s streets at night they wouldn’t survive 5 minutes…ho ho….
But it aint a metal album cos I DESPISE METAL.
Nor is it the first industrial jazz album as one blogger described it. True it does have Live at Mooseland on it where we got back Chris Baker on drums and has Dave on bass and me on piano improvising for 33 mins until the tape ran out. Then we edited it to a sensible length. And we did approach the legendary British improvising pianist Keith Tippett prior to recording to see if he would play on it, he was very keen actually but it never worked out. Shame, imagine Descension with Keith Tippett…. Maaaaan Interstellar or what???
So how did this little gem come about, chance, joy de vivre, making furious notes on the backs of fag packets, careful musical notation????
Well it came about cos of the publishing deal which split the band and destroyed my friendships…
Dave Morris, Paul Jarvis and I met during the summer months of 1987 around Dave’s flat in Walthamstow. We wrote furiously, Dave playing bass, me taking Paul’s lyrics and structuring the bass riffs, and the sampler. I structured the tracks, even loose things like Dr Bombay were structured to the point that we knew what was going to happen with it. Descension did what we needed, we were free from restrictions.
We used heavily detuned drum sounds and the bass was tuned down to C and stuck through fuzz pedals.
Now as far as I am aware no band had ever detuned a bass down to C and put it through pedals at that time. Not a soul. We were the first and it would be nice if we got a little credit for it seeing as the world and has mate seems to have ripped off Descension in some roundabout way, usually third hand.
We also tried found sounds through Dave’s 4 track. Rachmaninov plays as the middle 8 of Gutter Busting. Dolores rides on a backwards triple pronged Public Enemy drum loop. Loose Connection surfs along on George Clinton. But I’d challenge anyone to prove it, cos we didn’t use a sampler just to copy people as most idiots were doing at that point, we were experimenting with the sonics. But these were just carrying on the original ideas I had had with Bill way back when.
We experimented with sounds in the studio. The outro string/trumpet tune on Dolores I had stuck on after writing it at Dave’s. It was an old guitar motif from our first band, but we only used the reverb of the sounds so it hangs and drifts in a way that really fits the song and to me conjures up the sickness in the water supply.
So we came up with a series of gargantuan riffs. Which is what I’ve always wanted to do. Don’t matter if it be a Stooge or a John Lee Hooker, a riff is a thing of wonder.
I guess we sorta rehearsed them with Bill and Robin in our rehearsal studio up in Camden.
By this time Bill was (rightly so I guess) far than enchanted with his role or with what he was hearing. From being the central player he was marginalised and being asked to play bass parts he hadn’t written and didn’t particularly like.
We had always shared a fondness for Ornette Coleman, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Jamaaladeen Tacuma, but Bill was veering quite heavily in that direction and focussing on technique, whereas me I wanted heavy heavy grooves with bouts of psychedelic freeform.
Me , Paul and Dave went to see Bill Laswell’s Last Exit at their first London gig. It was mindblowing, it was sheer brutality, but by fug it grooved too and who should I be standing next to at the bar in a pretty small audience but the Ig himself. Needless to say I nicked his empty cup and took it back to the Chiswick shithole for Mr Hugo Roberts to peruse and admire. I think we may have drunk the perfect martinis from it. (Go read Luis Bunuel’s autobiography to find out how to make one)
As usual I digress, anyway I was too blind to see the effect all of this was having on my friendship with Bill.
The split in the band was obvious. Robin went along cos Rob liked to play and the whole thing of being in a band was his thing. But I think he felt his days were numbered.
So Decension went ahead and we fell apart as a band. The brass section had already been ditched. There was no role for them and if there was we could get the odd one off person to do studio stuff. They weren’t needed in our new world live.
A long time previously I had somehow managed to blag some work for a local music PA company run by some friends in Coventry. I managed to get myself a role as drum roadie or something on a tour with King not that I had a friggin clue how to set up a kit ha!. Anyway this was the time when suddenly King had a number one single Love and Pride. The crew eg me and PA guys were all to be issued yellow Dr Martens emblazoned with Love and Pride on either foot. I had always said how I would change mine to SHORT and BRUTAL. It became a Slab motto. (Glad I never actually did that tour heh heh.)
Descension was most definitely a short and brutal period. We felt austere. The kind of band jokiness and happy go luckiness had disappeared. We were entrenched. We were utterly and desperately poor, I never had any money, none of us did. I am not sure quite how I survived.
In the band promo photos for Descension there is one shot, I think used on the original sleeve back cover of myself, Dave, Paul, Bill and Robin sat as a Victorian family. It summed up the austerity well. The darkness of a Victorian living room after a séance.
If you look very closely you will see ectoplasm coming from my fingers.
(there's a download link at the very beginning of this blog)
The early days of the band were very much gang orientated. We were very close. Myself, Bill, Hugh and Robin all lived near each other. Summer’s were spent hanging out at Bill’s or with some of the Kenilworth girls. I remember with great fondness going to Robin Risso’s parents house going up to their loft tv room in the early hours of the morning and watching a very young Mike Tyson’s first fights on tv. We bonded together as people. We laughed and wanted to change the world.
We hung out a lot back then, went to parties together, went to gigs. It was a cool time. We rehearsed in Bill’s garage.
The closeness of the early band is illustrated by this little tale. I remember one Christmas I was alone in the house in Leamington Spa. It was your classic rented hovel, I had purple carpets, orange curtains and black and white cabbage heart wallpaper. The windows froze on the inside in winter. The toilet was outside and needed regular defrosting with a kettle before you could go. The kitchen was falling apart literally – all the modern comforts an angry young man needs really.
So its Christmas Day and everyone else who lived there had gone home to their mummies and daddies, but not me - I left home at 18 and that meant I Had Left Home -I didn’t go back! So in my somewhat Stalinist ways I sat there freezing my arse off with no food and certainly no friggin Christmas cheer, but so what - that’s what I was used to, I didn’t expect anything more heh heh!
Out of the blue Bill rings up and says do you want to come for Christmas dinner with his family. I was shocked, it was an act of kindness I wasn’t used to, certainly didn’t expect and to this day I still get a feeling in my throat that he thought enough to do it. It may seem nothing to anyone reading this but it sure meant a lot to me. I was used to spending Christmas on my own, didn’t enjoy it but put on a brave face and continued to do so for years to come, but it meant so much that someone actually asked me. Bill came and picked me up and as I walked through the door his dad offered me a whisky. To me this symbolises the closesness that we had in the early version of Slab when it was me, Bill, Paul, Hugh and Robin.
Anyway that closeness was beginning to drift by the time of Smoke Rings for a variety of reasons.
Following Parallax Avenue I guess we must have done a few gigs here and there I don’t remember. We had some reasonable press, but most of it was lumping us fairly and squarely in the industrial funk grim bastards mould. It was like no one had actually listened to what we had done – cos if we were trying to be industrial funk then we were pretty fuggin awful at it…..
Parallax Avenue got in the indie charts of the day and things were going ok. Dave Morris had played on Parallax Avenue but not really taken any part in the song writing so far.
But by now the group dynamics were changing. In a sense there was a split developing but at that point it wasn’t a conscious split. Bill was in Salford with Neill, Robin still lived in Kenilworth, Hugh was in Deptford, I was in Chiswick, Paul in Hammersmith and Dave in Walthamstow.
I’d known Dave for a long time and Paul and I were pretty damned close, so it was only natural the 3 of us started to hang out together. As a consequence we started writing together.
Previously I’d sat in Bill’s bedroom and we’d worked out songs. We didn’t really write a lot in rehearsals, the odd track would come out, but now that Bill was in Salford I wasn’t gonna pop up there for a quick cup of tea and create some masterpiece.
So Dave Morris came up with a bass part that became Smoke Rings. The riff coulda gone any way it wanted, coulda been murderously heavy, coulda been anything… but Dave Kitson our record company boss wanted something “commercial”
Oh yeah, commercial, that’s why I’m doing this cos I wanna be in a fuggin boy band? I think not me hearties.
I wanna make people fuggin think, I wanna make people question, I wanna try and create something no one’s done before, and I quite fancy being friggin loud while I’m doing it and if we get to be popular that’s great but its not about moolah, it is not about moolah at all. Its about emotions, its about feelings, its about indescribable sounds, its about knowing what is right and what isn’t, its about guts, its about hate, its about a fair amount of self loathing, its about a sizeable chunk of joyous revenge, its about my father dying, its about me being fugged up for years over it, its about everyone I care for, its about crying and laughing, its about being hungry and depressed and not having anyone or anywhere to go, its about walking through the streets late at night out of your head and its pissing down with rain, its about wading into the sea upto your chest fully clothed on a winters night and crying and so wishing you had the guts to just let fugging go and be carried away, its about standing in fields of swaying corn on a summers evening and just watching and listening, - all these things I’ve done and that’s what its about, its not absolutely not about money.
Well, well, well, lets give him a flipping commercial song then. So we went back to Livingston Studios and did it with some half arsed instrumental on the B side. I don’t think anyone really felt any intent in recording it. It was something that we had to churn out.
The irony is that Mr Kitson would pay for it later when we delivered him Descension... that’s what you get for making me do COMMERCIAL sunny jim.
Don’t get me wrong I liked Dave Kitson - we all did, he was a kind man who cared. But he had a house and a son and wife and he had to pay for that somehow so he needed to recoup some money. Unfortunately he chose the wrong vehicle.
I seriously believe we coulda been very big, we had the material we just needed the right marketing - but we were making way too many mistakes, which you do when you’re young and inexperienced and have no money whatsoever. Also the press just didnt seem to have a clue about what we were....
Actually I quite like Smoke Rings, the 7” version aint bad really, only took me 20 years to like it but like it I do now. Makes me chuckle when my young kids sing it.
Of course it sold about 3 and a half copies, I have no idea actually, it probably did ok - but it wasn’t why I was doing music. To be honest I dont really know what we sold of anything. All I knew is that we were flippin poor.
Ironically out of Smoke Rings came a publishing deal for the princely sum of £1500. Enough to buy a brand spanking new Akai S900 sampler and herald a new Slab.
My memory is hazy around this period. I think we played a handful of gigs and developed the set.
The next major step was that Hugh Rawson and I took a copy of our demo, Parallax Avenue, Dust and Mars on Ice to John Peel. We waited outside the BBC one morning for him to arrive and handed over a copy of the cassette and a bottle of Rose for good measure. His first words were “It’s a bit early for mugging isn’t it lads?”
We had our first London gig in Kings Cross very shortly afterwards. By now Hugh had got a copy of the demo to a City Limits/Time Out journalist called Lucy O’Brien. We had augmented the demo with another song called White City Blues, it was Bill playing fretless bass with a slide, Hugh on mute trumpet and me singing over it, a modern lament on a Ballardian theme. Lucy O’Brien thought we sounded fantastic, gave us a glowing review and promoted the upcoming gig. In the review she mentioned that we came from “the same Deptford powerhouse that spawned Test Dept”, not entirely true, well Hugh happened to live in Deptford, but it was the start of the dreaded misleading comparisons.
Her article had attracted a lot of attention. We had the demos out to a few record labels and several turned up that night to Kings Cross, along with John Peel.
The following Sunday John Peel dedicated the whole of his newspaper column in The Observer to us, partly talking about the gig and partly the demo. He identified how we layered sounds and compared us in that respect to Faust. You couldn’t really get much better than Peel writing about you, let alone his whole column.
I think he recognised in us from the demos the experimentalism we were trying to bring, we weren’t trying to sound like anyone else and he got where we were coming from more than most people did.
A few days later we were signed to Ink Records to Dave Kitson.
It had all happened very fast, I seem to remember that we had only played 6 gigs in total, so there was a lot of growing up in public going on – which partly explains the changes in sound so often.
The first single Mars on Ice
Hugh was hunting us gigs in London and he did the college circuit, we got gigs at Goldsmiths, ULU, the LSE and maybe some others.
Whilst his work was admirable while he was going round talking to people to get the gigs he made one big error, he likened us to Chakk (who were an industrial funk band from Sheffield and very big in the NME at that moment, and therefore very trendy – didn’t stop us from blowing them to pieces at Goldsmiths College a while later heh heh). I remember being really dismayed about this Chakk comparison, it wasn’t what we were about at all, they were dour and northern and frankly pretty bloody dull. Bill and I had seen them and come away very unimpressed by all the fuss. We weren’t industrial bleedin funk, but we were tagged with that and it still sticks. Mars On Ice was not a bloody funk record.
Anyway we played at the LSE supporting A Certain Ratio. I can still see their faces standing their watching Bill soundcheck Mars On Ice. He was in some respects like the Hendrix of bass in his use of pedals. He blew people out of the water. And to me that was what we were supposed to be about, not white boy funk bollocks with jittery skittery guitars and oh lets do the hop white kids cmon git down – NO THANK YOU.
Bill plugged in and let rip, the whole fuggin hall stood still. Hello here we are people. We were big and shiny and a tad fuggin scary and we had superman on bass.
A superman who had taken the eraserhead haircut to a very carefully sculpted extreme. A superman who could do things with a bass no one had ever done before – unfortunately he’s never got the credit – and a superman who looked fuggin cool to boot. A later review would describe how we looked as if we had escaped from the Marseillaise – the French prison for nutters… ha ha thank you thank you
Anyway, ACR were a decent bunch and liked us. They were all older than us but I think they saw the rebellion in us and they also realised we had a certain entertainment factor. So they let us support them on a few gigs.
We recorded Mars On Ice in Livingston Studios in Wood Green in London. They put us in some shiny new building to test it out. The engineer was Tony Harris, a great man, who recorded some of the Smiths early stuff.
The plan had always been in Bill and my eyes to do Mars on Ice as single one, Parallax Avenue as single two and Oedipus T Rex as single 3.
For some reason that changed and we put Oedipus on the B side of Mars On Ice with another track called Painting the Forth Bridge.
We recorded and mixed all 3 tracks in 2 days. Done dusted. Seduced by technology and big bleedin studios. It never had the bollocks of the live version, it’s a great song with a mild recording, its very tame. The vocals are way too down in the mix and don’t cut through I sound like I’m in the fuggin toilet.
Supposedly you live and learn… I don’t think we did for quite some time.
It was the end of the beginning really. What had started as something very bold and alive was watering itself down rapidly, but I guess that is what you get with a band and different input from different people. Nevertheless we were moving away from where Bill and I had started off and that very first wall of noise gig.
First John Peel Session
We’d done a John Peel session around the time of recording Mars On Ice. We went in and did Mars On Ice, a toothless absolutely horrific and unlistenable version of Dust, so watered down as to be almost some jazzy bollocks of the original, god it shows how moderate we could be sometimes, Painting the Forth Bridge and a new song The Animals- which showed that we could push the barriers at the same time also.
Until you hear the original demos you wont see the pattern, but to me there is a very strong link in the originality of those first songs, Parallax Avenue, Dust, then The Animals and what happens later on the first album Descension – which most people considered to be such a leap. It was the attitude of those first songs that Descension continues – not the bollocks that came in between. It explains a lot about the variations in the sound of the band.
Excuse me chaps and fellow members here but I really felt I was struggling against mediocrity here... and the dreaded industrial funk comparisons…
Its interesting that while at the same time our set was honing itself and becoming more “band friendly” we could still veer off on my more chosen path of the extreme. Bill came up with the bass line for the Animals. It was on fretless bass with the tuning taken down to the A below low E. It rumbled.
I had always remembered wanting to use a train sound as a rhythm for a track. Paul’s lyrics about death camps was the perfect fit.
So we played The Animals on the Peel session. It would surface several times in our career in different guises.
Second Single Parallax Avenue
So we set about thinking about recording a second single. And who should come sniffing at the door but my good friend Dave Morris, a man for whom I have the greatest musical respect. I think he’d come to see a gig post Mars On Ice.
Now I had known Dave for longer than all the rest in fact since 1979 and I’d been in a couple of other tiny bands with him. So we had history, friendship wise and musically.
Dave was the best guitarist I knew, he could play classical guitar, he could sight read (I am a musical troglodyte – cant read music and know nothing about it – all I know is what sounds good and that I need to use different things to make those sounds, usually with no prior learning ha!), he could play loud, he could improvise, he could make one hell of a noise, he could play flamenco, he could play or work out any fuggin song you named but thank god he did not go widdly widdly and solo out of his arse. He was an incredibly talented musician – he just needed direction.
So Dave came a knockin and I opened the door. Who knows whether this was wise it’s a matter of perspective.
It broke my song writing axis with Bill, which is what Slab had been founded on, but it gave us another dimension – probably not seen until Descension.
So back to Livingston Studios we went to record Parallax Avenue, the shiny beast, the jewel of our early material, the song that defined us live in the early days. In the early days it was huge, fuzz bass slapped like Bootsy Collins (hence its first name of Bootsy), it rocked and reared and sparkled. It floored people and made em move at the same time.
We neutered it.
We strangled it at birth.
We took all the fuggin life out of it and turned it into some bloated nonsense, that I cant listen to at all. But fortuitously some people liked it and bought it.
I think we did a second Peel Session at this time, however even I don’t have a copy. As far as I remember we recorded Parallax Avenue, Undriven Snow, Bloodflood and Mining Town In Lotus Land. We’d been writing a few new tracks and developing our live set. We rehearsed between London and Salford where Bill was studying Acoustics with Neill Woodger our trombone player. We had become damn tight as a band. We were still very loud live not too mention fierce.
Undriven Snow was based around a guitar riff from Paul written in my flat. By now I was living in London in the worlds cheapest flat in Chiswick. I had moved to London about April of 1986.
Whilst living in Leamington Spa I got a phone call from the living legend that is Hugo Roberts. Hugo by all rights should have been a major cultural icon. He was tall, skinny, quiet, studious, wore foundation, had a coiffured mop of curley hair and looked like he shoulda been in the Velvets. Hugo was a god. He was a true goth ie not one at all - in a time when there were no goths apart from Siouxsie or the true Victorian Gothic of the Birthday Party. Hugo read Alain Robbe Grillet for breakfast. He was Huysmans.
He asked me if I wanted to come live in his flat. Of course I did, there was only Robin left living around Leamington, Hugh had gone to London, Paul had been there since 84, Bill was in Manchester. So did I want to live with a living god of course I did.
The flat in Chiswick was a shit hole. Paul had lived there previously sometime before. To get to the bathroom you had to go through Hugo’s room. The cooker was live- if you cooked on it you got a shock. I had no real income, a little from the band, but there was a lot of porridge being eaten and I still remember a healthy meal being some pasta, a tin of proceesed peas and a bit of mayonnaise.
So one Sunday afternoon Dave and Paul came round armed with their guitars. Paul had ceased to just slay his guitar by hitting it, knitting needling it and tormenting it. Now he was tuning every note to C to give an underlying drone sound.
Both Paul and I love Live 69 by the Velvets, particularly What Goes On. The C tuning was meant for us. We both like a bit of noise but we both like Love and Arthur Lee, Alex Chilton, Scott Walker, Tom Waits, ie people who could knock out a decent tune. The C tuning could work on a variety of levels for us.
Paul came up with the riff for Undriven Snow, probably the first song written away from Bill. I think Dave may have come up with the bass part for Smoke Rings at the same time.
It went into the set as did a bass heavy slap monster called Bloodflood, which used the lyrics of Gutter Busting. So named Bloodflood after Paul’s habit of his hands being covered in blood form assaulting his guitar by the end of each gig we played. So both were recorded for the Peel Session. I think it all sounded pretty good and I wish I had a copy.
Slab history starts with Stephen Dray moving into a flat in Leamington Spa with Dave Morris and a guy called Noel. It was a very hot summer and we were hungry and pretty much penniless. We wrote a few songs together, Noel was learning bass.
We auditioned for a drummer and got Chris Baker. We rehearsed, recorded a demo and then Noel’s limitations proved too glaring. So we advertised in the NME and along came a 15/16-year-old wunderkind called Bill Davies. We took the name Workforce.
This band played quite a few gigs around Leamington Spa and the surrounding area; we expanded to include a trombonist called Harry and a saxophonist Paul Howard.
Quite what happened to this line up I'm not sure. I think Harry decided to leave, Paul Howard wasn’t permanent, and if my memory serves me well Chris Baker was already playing with some other band. I think at this point Dave Morris did one of his all to regular vanishings in the name of money.
That left me and Bill and the start of Slab.
Early Slab 1984 Dray and Davies.
Bill and I listened to everything we could we became good friends and devoured music. We particularly liked Material because of the experimental aspect of their grooves. We liked John Coltrane and Roland Kirk, hours were spent listening to Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Funkadelic, but we listened to all kinds of music and my main influence was always The Stooges because of their nihilism. I think it is safe to say we both had an idea that we wanted to do very heavy grooves with some experimentalism.
We started writing at Bill’s parents house. Bill would improvise a groove and I would structure them.
Our first official Slab track was an instrumental called Boiler Dog. It consisted of a bass riff and cut up tape sounds.
We recorded it in a 4-track studio in Leamington Spa with a guy called Tim Ellis (later of Jackdaw With Crowbar) who was probably the most creative sound engineer I ever worked with.
We quickly wrote, Parallax Avenue and Dust. I used a lyric from Paul Jarvis for Parallax Avenue.
Bill and I recorded those two songs with Tim Ellis again and they sounded awesome. Both using drum machines.
Bill and I wanted to gig as we knew we had something very special. So we stuck the drum machine backing onto a cassette.
However we knew we needed more than just me and him and a battery of cassette decks and found sounds.
Enter Paul Jarvis
Paul was a friend of mine I’d met in 1983. We just got on - about films, books, music, art, politics, football, what was and wasn’t great etc, it was intuitive, we didn’t have to try. We spent hours in my loft room listening to music and talking.
I think Paul was writing lyrics at this time. I liked em.
At the same time Bill and I needed something to make our heavy grooves a little nastier – my Stooges influence at work here.
What I envisioned was a kind of Blixa Bargeld approach to guitar. I’d seen Neubauten’s first gig in London a few years previously and been stunned.
Paul had the right attitude, we were friends and even better he couldn’t play guitar and didn’t own one.
I had always been impressed by Cecil Taylor’s comment that once you had learned your instrument you have to unlearn it.
We sorta bypassed that one heh heh.
So Paul joined us for a gig. With no rehearsals, having never played guitar. We borrowed one, a nice one; he tortured it, stuck knitting needles in it, hurt it bad….
It was at Hintons Wine Bar in Leamington Spa, we played for 20 mins a barrage of noise, dry ice, found sounds, Bill’s murderously heavy bass and backing tracks with me over the top of it. It was fantastic. Probably one of the best Slab gigs ever, certainly the most extreme and experimental.
Mars On Ice
The next song written was Mars On Ice. Bill had bought a Roland 303 and was playing bass along to it.
He came up with a series of bass parts, I put them together and found a lyric from Paul. The structure began to grow. I played saxophone over a few parts.
Mars On Ice started with Bill’s harmonics through Fuzz, Chorus and whatever else and it always knocked people sideways. No one could believe you could make these noises with a bass. I remember A Certain Ratio standing in amazement watching Bill soundcheck and later Jaz Coleman and Raven from Killing Joke.
Robin Risso (drummer) and Hugh Rawson (trumpet) were school friends of Bill. Both were playing in another band. It was fairly obvious though from that one gig who was king of the bands in the area, we left a very indelible mark. They joined us.
We rehearsed and went back to Tim Ellis’ studio to record a 4 Track demo.
Now we had a band.
We also had three killer tracks, Mars On Ice, Parallax Avenue and Dust. We started to send demos out to get gigs. No one sounded like us.
The Early Line Up
We developed a short set aiming to play for a max of 30 mins, wall of noise.
The early band was very loud, heavy, experimental and with Bill’s bass playing unique. Literally no one sounded like us. Also we were very young, Bill, Hugh and Robin were only 17 or 18.
The set consisted of Mars On Ice, Parallax Avenue, Yukon, an instrumental a very early and different version of Dolores and Oedipus T Rex.
Our first full band gig took place at Weymouth College in 1985. Marc Allum another school friend of Bill’s attended art college there and did the sound for bands who played.
The very first set list in my handwriting with notes for Marc on the mixing desk, Bootsy is Parallax Avenue.
TO BE CONTINUED...
I AM ALSO GOING TO POST THOSE EARLY DEMOS TOO so check back soon.
A FOREST OF TEARS - a new song - extract from an email from Paul Jarvis to me
I went to the Belsen concentration camp site in 1984 . 'The Animals' was inspired by the horrors of the death camps , but I recently came up with a churning , simple guitar piece which reminded me of being in an oppressive forest for some reason . Then I realised I wanted to write something simpler than 'The Animals' Expressionistic cut-ups about what going to Belsen is like . Reading up about Belsen , it wasn't like Auswitch or Dachau , where Jews were gassed and their bodies burnt pretty quickly ... apparently Belsen was worse because people suffered for much longer . Towards the end of the war , thousands were sent on unimaginable death marches from Dachau and Auswitch to Belsen , as the Allies closed in from the East . The camp commander , faced with an outbreak of typhoid , decided the only way to stop the spread of the disease by infected faeces was " if they don't eat , they won't shit " ... when the Allies reached the camp in 1945 some 75,000 had died , and many were unburied - hence those famous images of skeletal bodies piled high .
Visiting the camp today is a weird experience . It's set in a manicured park ( "don't be surprised if the trees are kept neat" ) , with a Holocaust museum where you can buy postcards ( " oh , there's money in the dying ... " ) . What I'll never forget were all the visitors breaking down ... most were German , consumed with obvious guilt for their fathers as they looked at the photos . As a place of rest for the victims , it works - but with the enormity of what happened there , I wanted chaos , I wanted to be put up against a wall and be screamed into my face "IT MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN" , I wanted to see real blood , dead bodies ... I WANTED TO SEE FOR MYSELF ... And I wanted to feel disgust like I'd never want to feel again - which you don't really get from looking at the photos of the dead . They just don't seem real , and it's easy to kid yourself that it was another place and time - we , now , could never do such a thing ! Oh yes we could - in a heartbeat ... It's really difficult to say without sounding mad , but it really felt like the beautifully sculpted forest was actually trying to hide what really happened there , rather than TRULY representing what happened there ... I think you have to embrace the madness rather than run away from it .
Thinking of posting some of the new material, as I am getting bored of the old stuff. Its pretty dark, in fact thinking of releasing some of it maybe not as Slab at all and on a different label altogether. Anyway time to go, regards to all. Will get on it.
For those who like our more esoteric side.... afterall it gets a little wearing being brutal all the time... and lets face it ...it sorta lacks imagination if all you wanna do is kick people in the throat all day long..... sometimes you just gotta be a little more subtle.... y'know pins in the eyes...... sometimes you need a little variety...
so here she is... a little oddball recorded in 1989
an excerpt from Wipe the Floor.... a story of love....
where Tom Waits meets Prince.... in Marrakesh..... strung out on smack.....
"You been playing swimming pools, hanging out with shallow fools".....
its basic, as were we at the time and i make little or no apology for the way it sounds... cos it sounds like we did at the time.... strung out..... but hey ho....
Paul Jarvis writes of the lyrics to Hushed Prayers
Hushed Prayers , and it really does read like a spoken prayer ... inspired most definately by Henry Moore's sketches of people sleeping in Tube stations during the Blitz . I went to an exhibition of them which made me write the lyric , although I updated it for our times : "radiation-clear" . Google Image them - they're incredibly haunting - chrysallid people with no faces in some kind of dark underground hell ...
I just read that some Tube stations did receive direct hits from bombs - Marble Arch , Balham and Bank saw many people die but Bethnal Green saw the biggest loss of life when there was a stampede and 173 people were crushed to death . So that would explain the cold , eerie feeling that station has then ! To bring the lyric up to date , I edited a documentary once about the 2nd Iraq war called The Fight For Baghdad . That war opened with the infamous Shock And Awe night bombing of Baghdad . The iconic images of Saddam's Palace going up in a fireball were actually filmed by a BBC reporter from his hotel window . I got to see the unedited rushes ( may have been Brian Barron , can't remember ) and they made me feel sick to the pit of my stomach - just the almost evil beauty in the way the missiles hit buildings in clusters of flame ... you could see civilians running for their lives down the street , and cars careering off the road in blind panic ... they weren't hitting military targets that's for sure as at least a couple of blocks of flats nearby went up . It was murder , pure and simple . So Hushed Prayers is for any race creed or colour at any time , trying to survive and keep calm in the onslaught of murderous bombing . I think I have to say Amen now ...
For a long time now I've been meaning to post but just wasnt sure where to take this.... anyhow during this apparent hiatus we have been rather busy, working on old songs, working on a horde of new material and chatting online to Stephen O'Malley and Steven Wilson amongst others.
The idea is still to release the first two albums plus the unreleased third. Unfortunately I have always found it very difficult going back to old material.... I never can stand still so just write new stuff all the time.
So apologies for lack of updates anywhere lately, the website seems to have become a little sickly of late so hasnt been updated for a couple of weeks.