Smoke Rings Third Single
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.
The band was dying.