Saturday, 21 August 2010

History of Slab part 5

Post Descension

Descension came out towards the end of 1987.

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.

It was a long way from Descension.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

PJ here

Guess who it fell to,to tell Robin Risso his services were no longer required by the band... still the most shameful thing I've ever done . Total emotional cowardice, but there was a real vibe of 'push or be pushed' going around.Trying to make sense of it 20+ years on is a bit like going back to a 20 year old crime scene.And Robin - in many ways the heart and soul of the band,got murdered... by me.When I broke the news to him,he took it on the chin - but make no mistake,the guy was utterly devastated.

Anyhow,Steve's right,we had the world at our feet when Descension came out,and instead of touring/capitalising etc we very slowly drifted into a weird stasis...a kind of opiated fug-our own world which we felt safe in-but one that went absolutely nowhere.Getting Scott as our drummer gave us a creative shot in the arm,yet Steve's right,live tapes from that period make me feel slightly ill.I was reduced to making noises on a keyboard and only played guitar on a couple of songs... even Steve's role as front man was greatly diminished by the rest of the band showing off in a kind of free dissonant jazz kind of way.Powerful?Maybe.I can only write about how I felt at the time-miserable,and completely sidelined.

Bill leaving was devastating for me too.He'd kind of become my ally when Dave got his hooks into the band,and he used to stay with me and Margaret (Ward)a lot in London.Bill had a unique surreal sense off humour which I still miss to this day,but when it became clear he wasn't trying to come up with ideas anymore I knew the writing was on the wall.I mean,the first time I heard Bill soundchecking Mars On Ice through a big P.A. all the hairs on my body stood up-absolutely adrenaline-rushing phenomenal!So to lose his talent was a sad sad thing.Plus,I'd always thought it was Steve and Bill's band...

Anyhow,on we lurched as Steve said,spending a whole year on the Enterprise Allowance scheme trudging over to Mozzer's place in Brixton 5 days a week.We should have written about 5 albums worth of material-I think we managed 1 whole song (Ballad Of The Dullard ?).Quite what happened is lost in a fog of cheap speed,spliff,kebabs, cricket on the telly,and can after can of Tennants Extra.It really is almost like a time slip of monumental proportions...a black hole of thwarted ambition.God knows we tried...

With 20 years hidsight,it's easy to see we had a massive case of writer's block.Well,how do you follow Descension?!?We certainly didn't want to do Descension 2 - that was too easy!On reflection , that's exactly what we should have done,and consolidated the new band line-up.But we were perverse people,and it got to the stage where we had a list as long as your arm of what we DIDN'T want to do,that it stopped us actually doing anything new....most days ended in a sea of confusion, but with a laugh to guide us back on to the bus/tube home.

Those IKON days really were magical.Really lovely warm people, funny as fuck,and massive caners! First time I met Malcolm Whitehead (and Mike,his assistant) was to discuss doing the promo for People Pie.Got met off the train at 10 to 3,and dragged straight into the nearest pub.These were the old days when pubs shut at 3,for the afternoon . Malc says 'what are you having?',I say 'Guinness',so he orders 3 pints of Guinness. 'Great'I think- 'they drink Guinness too'. As the barmaid comes back,he says '... and 3 pints of Fosters , and 3 Tennants too!'So we had 9 pints to drink in about 15 minutes.

Respect to Malcolm Whitehead,always .Sadly,when IKON folded he was bankrupted and had to sell his family house.By all accounts he had a nervous breakdown,and has never recovered fully.But he remains a could I ever forget staying with him once,dropping acid AND doing speed,and watching Apocalypse Now 3 times in a row.