Thursday, April 12, 2007

I Put My Pain in a Jar...

New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Big
New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Fishes Eyes
New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Partial

If ever an album was deserving of a reappraisal, ‘Pigeonhole’ by New Fast Automatic Daffodils is it. This album sits unheralded in my record collection, until I stumble upon it, stick it on the record deck and become completely and utterly obsessed with it all over again. It’s a truly brilliant record, modernist and forward thinking, and for this alone it should be celebrated. If life is all about timing, the fact that this album was released in 1990 is perhaps a curse. With a sound not that far from the Happy Mondays (though darker and more complex), the New FAD's were seen as just another Madchester band and as the scene exploded, some bands thrived, whereas others found themselves viewed as mere appendages to the main protagonists of the scene. Like Paris Angels (‘Perfume’) and the Mock Turtles (‘Can U Dig It?’), the New FAD's are defined by one song (‘Big’), which featured on all subsequent ‘Madchester’ compilation albums that tried to encapsulate the era. It’s hard to disagree with the suggestion that ‘Big’ is the New FAD’s best song (I absolutely love it), with it’s atmospheric melodica, throbbing bassline and iconic lyrics, but it was just one component part of ‘Pigeonhole’, and the band deserve so much more than this as their legacy.

Do I need to write a history of the band? Probably not, there’s one here by Marina Lamle from ‘The Rough Guide to Rock’, and it’s worth reading if you’re interested in the band’s origins. One thing I never knew, is that the bass player was Justin Crawford, who these days records as Only Child for Grand Central and is one-half of the DJ crew The Unabombers, who run the awesome Electric Chair club nights in Manchester. His fluid basslines were one of the cornerstones of the New FAD’s sound. Not surprisingly for a band that started life without a singer, the rhythm section was fucking tight, with bass and drums operating in perfect symbiosis. Enhancing the locked grooves was the improbably named percussionist Icarus Wilson-Wright, who added multi-layered bongos to the mix, giving it a live, clubby vibe. Now it’s not often you’ll find me eulogising about bongo players, as normally I associate them with irritating me at raves, or clogging up the pavements of Bath in tandem with jugglers, but without Wilson-Wright’s dazzling percussion, the New FAD’s wouldn’t have been the same band. Chunky, funky wakka-wakka riffs from the guitarist Dolan Hewison perfectly compliment the rhythm section, and the production is crisp and clean, allowing each instrument plenty of room to breathe. I love this sort of production – it’s reminiscent of Martin Hannett’s work on Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’ – stark and minimal, with no reliance at all on studio trickery. It’s weird really, because if you listen to ‘Bummed’, the Happy Monday’s 1988 album that no doubt had an influence on the New FAD’s developing sound, the production work from Martin Hannett is somewhat muddy (but brilliant of course). I guess that what I’m trying to say is that ‘Pigeonhole’ sounds like a Martin Hannett production, more so than ‘Bummed’. I can even imagine Hannett banishing drummer Perry Saunders onto the studio roof to get "that sound". Hannett did work with the New FADS, (remixing the single release of ‘Get Better’ in 1991), but the majority of ‘Pigeonhole’ was produced by the band themselves.

The singer and lyricist Andy Spearpoint had a unique style. I’ve always thought of him as the haiku Shaun Ryder. Whereas Ryder wrote rambling, drug-addled stream-of-consciousness prose, Spearpoint, while following a similarly psychedelic and oblique lyrical path, opted for minimal phrases and repetitive short stanzas. On ‘Partial’ for example, the dominant lyric is a single line, “I’m partial to my high”, which is repeated throughout the song. ‘Fishes Eyes’ is similar, though taking a more menacing tone, with Spearpoint, growling out the warning, “Fishes eyes will watch your lies…”. Then there is ‘Big’, which contains the brilliant couplet –

“The desert grows three miles a year, and it just grows.
I put my pain in a jar and it will be full tomorrow.”

I have my own idea of what they mean, and their obvious depth puts Spearpoint head and shoulders above the majority of the other lyricists working during the same period.

I’m putting forward my vote now for ‘Pigeonhole’ to be given the full re-release treatment – remastered, and repackaged together with an additional CD featuring the 1991 Peel Session (which includes an incredible instrumental version of ‘Big’), along with the first two EP’s 'Lions’ and ‘Music is Shit’). Paul Morley could write some fittingly random and extensive sleeve notes and the band could even reform and play a few gigs in support of the release. I missed them live the first time around, and would love to see them perform. And while I’m at it, I’m going to track down the rest of the band’s material. Yes, I am ashamed to admit it, but despite my love of ‘Pigeonhole’, I don’t own anything by the band released after 1990. Part of me knows that it won’t live up my expectations, but I’m excited about giving it a go. Hearing new material from an old band that you love is almost as exciting as discovering a brand new band.

Search eBay for New Fast Automatic Daffodils
New FAD's fansite- it's a shame that the mp3's aren't there anymore, but there's still a discography and comprehensive lyrics section
New FAD's My Space
New FAD's discography

After putting this post together, I was looking for links to accompany it, and I discovered a piece from James Morton written back in February 2006. What I have written is remarkably similar, though his piece goes into far more detail than mine does and covers different ground. I was half thinking of dumping this post completely, but I thought that was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, especially as there are not nearly enough props for the New FAD’s on-line. Anyway, any similarities between our pieces are purely coincidental - I didn’t plagiarise James’s work, honest guv’nor!!! I hope the fact that I am linking to his post is proof of this, as I didn’t have to draw attention to a superior article on the same subject did I? It’s really worth reading, as he touches on the bands the New FAD’s influenced without ever really getting the credit (LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture etc), and like me, he is adamant that the band deserve more respect and recognition for the music they created. Nice one James – why aren’t you writing any more?

Read James Morton's New FAD's post at his blog here