Harmony
When the polished veneer repels, art embraces imperfections

If you are paying attention, you may notice a theme developing here. Should you have read any of my recent articles here, you may have picked up on the suggestion that in 1982 things began to look grim underground, with a hankering after success and slickness suffocating true talent. The semblance of some kind of pop resistance flourished, however, and in the wilderness some exotic and special wild flowers sprang up in the unlikeliest of places. Do I need to repeat that recent reissues by ESG, 23 Skidoo, Nightingales, Lilliput and others bear witness to this?

Despite this, back in 1982, there was definitely a move towards excavating the past, and learning lessons from the likes of, say, old soul compilations, Love, The Action, Velvets, Byrds, jazz, funk, reggae, whatever. Just as now, I guess, in the sense that where my income may be disposed of on records, it is predominantly on reissues and rescued works. There have been some cracking releases recently from the likes of Fred Neil and Phil Ochs, Oneness of Juju, Orchestra Baobab, and I guess inevitably Soul Jazz's Studio One Roots compilation. Less obviously, some of my own personal favourites have appeared on the gloriously cheap'n'nasty Metro label. 3.99 will get you dodgy sets like Rocksteady Soul - the original cool sounds of Duke Reid's Treasure Isle and Johnny Cash- the very best of the Sun years. Wonderfully minimal and uplifting stuff, and great jumping off points for anyone unfamiliar with those areas.

As equally minimal and uplifting is my current favourite reissue/rescued package, The Wake's Harmony (plus) on James Nice's LTM, which covers the group's recordings from 1982/83.

At the time in some quarters, The Wake were considered as contenders, but are now probably better known for being the outfit where Bobby Gillespie served an apprenticeship, playing bass. Indeed, Nice/LTM deserve credit for not making much ado about Gillespie's involvement as a way of drawing attention to the record. In these days, that's a minor miracle.

Harmony was a mini-LP put out by Factory towards the end of 1982. it received an enthusiastic review from Dave McCullough in Sounds, where he suggested The Wake were one of the few groups showing any signs of life. In a later feature, he showed the group to be very cool indeed, and it's easy to recognise the Factory fringe / shaved back and sides / leather blazer as part of Gillespie's style obsession even then.

Haircuts feature strongly in my own recollections of The Wake. A Scottish fanzine of the time, Stand and Deliver, had a feature on The Wake where they were down the barbers having their necks shaved, killing themselves laughing as the blood trickled down singer Caesar's neck. When I first met Bobby shortly after he left The Wake in 1983, he was with Jim Beattie whose neck was red raw after a brave attempt at a DIY shave.

If anything, though, The Wake was very much singer/guitarist Caesar's thing, and it's a strange old tale of a dozen years from writing about dead popstars with Altered Images to writing protest songs for Sarah records. I, however, prefer to focus on this re-release, as Harmony captures a time and place.

They may be making films about Factory, but I doubt if The Wake will feature. Like, say, Crispy Ambulance, Section 25, Stockholm Monsters, (and even, at first, Happy Mondays pre-'Step On'), The Wake suffered from the received notion that records released by Factory which were not by Joy Division, New Order or A Certain Ratio, were somehow parasitical and chips off the old blocks. This notion lingers on, but more than anyone James Nice /LTM have been quietly plugging away, disproving this notion.

Ineluctably, many groups were inspired and motivated by Joy Division. New Order and A Certain ratio, and why not? The salvage work undertaken by Nice, however, demonstrates some of the best pop of the early '80s was made by Factory underdogs. Let's not forget that history suggests these underdogs were as unfairly treated by Tony Wilson as they were by the media. The ever perceptive Dave McCullough heroically spotted that Crispy Ambulance and The Wake's Harmony were up there with 23 Skidoo's Seven Songs as among the best records of 1982. Let's petition and lobby LTM to ensure they continue their great work by salvaging works by the Stockholm Monsters and Life.

For now, Harmony retains an innocent charm, which like Treasure Isle rocksteady or Sun rockabilly may be incidental and accidental, and may be more to do with budgets, experience, and so on. The songs veer from unsteady joyous defiance, with Spartan drums and non-rock jagged guitar interludes. To broody, keyboard drenched bruised melancholy. Great stuff! The bonus tracks include a long lost Factory Benelux giant sized 45 from the following year, which is much more polished, involving and beguiling, and a Peel session which suggest great steps forward! But it's the awkward charm of Harmony that hits the spot and still has one dancing around the living room like Billy Mackenzie on TOTP, singing along to testament; "And every day we pray for lost and lonely souls."

The sun shines here, as I think someone said at the time.

Kevin Pearce 2001


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