Tuesday, 17 August 2010

History of Slab

The Very Early Days 1982 Pre Slab

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.




Mona said...

Great choice of listening music...saw Material at Heaven back about 81 and was that first EN gig the one under the Westway or Kentish Town Poly?
Have to hear these demos Dray!

Colors of the Dark said...

This is so great to read. Thanks Steve!

Dray said...

Thank you to you both, nice to get feedback. I'll get cracking on the rest of it.