13 Questions with Paul Simpson
When punk burst out of London and into the provinces back in the late 70s, a schism developed quite quickly.
There seemed to be two ways to go when it came to forming a band. Firstly there was the standard thrash approach popularised by the 2nd wave of punk bands, such as The Lurkers, and the UK Subs, and secondly there was a more arty approach, demonstrated by the likes of The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees and even Sex Pistols.
Liverpool’s punk bands leaned very heavily in the direction of the latter. The city shied away from the more basic approach, initially at least, and instinctively headed in a more interesting direction.
Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and Wah! created music that was imaginative, inventive and intelligent. This soon came to be known as post punk, but it was all just punk to us at the time.
It seems like a very Liverpool thing to do, to take the less obvious path, the path that has more artistic merit , rather than take the easier road more travelled. It is this approach that made the city such a fascinating and vital city when it came to music, it is also something that has filtered down through the decades ever since and has made the city remain such an important place on the musical map.
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One of the creative souls that made this happen is Paul Simpson, as a member of some of Liverpool’s best and most legendary bands, such as Industrial Domestic with Will Seargeant and A Shallow Madness with Ian McCulloch.
He was also a founder member of The Teardrop Explodes, playing keyboards on their excellent first single Sleeping Gas, before leaving to start the indescribably wonderful Wild Swans, as well as finding the time to form Care with Ian Broudie.
The Wild Swans have released three albums and the same number of compilations, and all of you who have yet to hear these records are urged to do so as soon as is humanly possible.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Paul has also released albums under his own name and as Skyray.
While all the above may be a fairly dry run through the life and times of Paul Simpson, a more colourful and involved account will soon be available in his memoirs, which it is hoped will see the light of day in 2021, along with another Wild Swans album.
Before all this, Sun 13 spoke to Paul Simpson and asked him 13 questions. Read on to find out more about first gigs, getting told off and being weaponized with whisky.
1. Where are you and what are you doing and how is that working out?
“Its 2:22 on a Monday afternoon and I am sitting at my desk in the study at my home in Waterloo, Liverpool. The sun is streaming in and illuminating half a dozen memory sticks and a stuffed crow on my desk.
I’m drinking a celebratory glass of red because I have just signed a contract with a famous literary agent. Only took me 20+ years. If you’d asked me the same question this time last week, I’d still have been drinking a glass of wine, but I’d have been drowning my sorrows.”
2. How have you been coping with the lockdown situation?
“I was coping really well until about a month ago when I realised I’d gone mad without noticing. Mild lockdown agoraphobia morphed into a few poisonous weeks of hating everything and everyone.
Anything could trigger me. Posts about Covid, Trump and Bojo. People’s mind-bogglingly obvious received taste in art and music. New packaging on a Crunchie. I’m better now. Smiley faced emoticons to the moon!”
3. Who is the nicest ‘celebrity’ you’ve met?
“Nicest celebrity? Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera. A total gentleman.
Back in 1991, he arranged to join Ian McCulloch and I in a London pub. Roddy walks in wearing a beautiful camel overcoat over his shoulders like he’s Marcello Mastroianni or someone, goes straight to the bar and brings back triple brandies and cigars for us all.
Sitting down he tells me he used to have my photo from the Teardrop Explodes days on his teenage bedroom wall back in East Kilbride. When I protested, he blew my mind with ‘Where do you think the name Aztec Camera came from? Your song – Camera, Camera’. Cue me fainting.”
4. When did you last get into an argument?
“Last Christmas when I was out buying presents in Liverpool town centre. Some stocky student looking guy appeared out of nowhere and just shouted Aaaaagh! in my face. He was daytime pissed and showing off to a girl he was with.
I calmly told him why fucking with strangers on Merseyside wasn’t the best idea he’d ever had. He didn’t like being fronted and squared up to me, threatening to deck me. He had about 30 lbs on me and 30 years age advantage but unfortunately for him, I was weaponised. Faced with the full bottle of Laphroaig I’d just bought, he literally speed-walked away. Backwards.”
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5. When did you last shout at the TV?
Every single night. Not at politicians so much as at overrated actors or weak dialogue.
6. When did you last consider quitting social media?
“I nearly left Facebook over Brexit. I couldn’t believe that not only some of my online ‘friends’, but people I actually know in the real world were proudly boasting of voting-in this fascist-friendly new dark age.”
7. When did you last make yourself do something you didn’t want to?
8. What was the first gig you went to?
“I tell everyone my first gig was Roxy Music at Southport Floral Hall in 1974, but it was probably Hawkwind at the Liverpool Stadium the year before. They had their topless dancer Stacia performing on stage with them. I was 13 or 14-years old. You can imagine my delight.”
9. When were you last told off?
“About a month ago. Some thousand-year-old Basil Fawlty told me off for walking in the wrong direction down the biscuit aisle in Sainsburys. Because they kept changing the rules, I hadn’t noticed the supermarket’s latest version of Covid direction arrows on the floor.
He looked so frail pulling his tartan shopping trolley, I decided not to chase him with a bottle of scotch, but instead I adopted the fiendish Discordian tactic of over apologising to the degree he looked scared.”
10. What’s your first memory?
“My first memory is almost crying my spleen out in my high-chair because I was teething and my sister wouldn’t give me the free toy that came in the Corn Flakes box. ‘Don’t give it to him Mum. He’ll chew it’! It was a plastic spaceman and I wanted it very badly. Eventually she gave in and Goop! Straight in my mouth.”
11. What’s your guilty listening pleasure?
“I never feel guilty listening to music, nothing is forbidden in my world. Because that’s not the answer anyone really wants, I’ll go with the Lycra euro-disco genius of ‘Spacer’ by Sheila B. Devotion.”
12. Vinyl, CD, MP3 or Streaming?
“Vinyl for its warmth and for the sheer ritual of the static cling, changing sides and for the chance for the artwork to really help inform the way you listen.
Because my car has no Bluetooth facility, I play CD’s when driving and mp3’s when I’m out for a run. I had a fantastic ye-olde I-pod ‘shuffle’ moment at 8am this morning when running on Crosby beach. The sun was rising over Seaforth docks just as the massed saxophones of ‘Hit The North’ by The Fall segued into the delicate genius uplift of Mama Cass’s ‘Make Your Own Kind of Music’.
It was so beautiful and filmic that I ran to the top of a dune in a victorious salute to the sun. More Pee Wee Herman than Rocky Balboa I grant you, but it’s the thought that counts.”
13. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Allen, promoter, music fan extraordinaire and Liverpool legend, recently celebrated her 70th birthday, and we look back at a life less ordinary.
There are some words you never expect to have to type out next to each other. ‘Electro mariachi music’ are three such words, but then along came Tokyo Glow, the latest album from Moongoose.
Moongoose are David ‘Yorkie’ Palmer, ex-bassist from Space and all round local legend, along with guitars from Paul Cavanagh and video treatments from Mark Jordan. (Incidentally, can I say how much I love seeing a video person listed as a band member. It shows a post punk sensibility and takes me back to the heady days of early gigs from the like of Cabaret Voltaire and the Human League.)
Yorkie’s place in legend first came thanks to his involvement in the punk and post punk scenes in Liverpool. Tales of the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes rehearsing in his mum’s basement are part of the unique folklore that accompanies the city coming back to life and stepping out of the Merseybeat shadow.
Moongoose have had an enigmatic path so far. EPs were slowly leaked out, there was a gig in a cinema, the occasional burst of activity on social media, and two under the radar albums. But nothing that prepared us for Tokyo Glow.
Tokyo Glow took me completely by surprise. The Moongoose tracks I had heard before this have been very good indeed, but when taken together in one hit like this, the effect is to be unexpectedly plunged into another world.
All 10 tracks on Tokyo Glow are instrumentals. But really they are much more than this; they are soundtracks. Listening to this album is like watching a film in your own imagination; by the end you feel like you have watched a Blade Runner style spaghetti western from beginning to end.
The songs that make up Tokyo Glow are expansive in both scale and ambition. Opener Bullet introduces us to the aforementioned electro mariachi, which is catchy as hell and an irresistible call to move. Imagine this playing over an epic Tarantino film trailer.
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But one of the albums strengths is that no two tracks sound the same, yet they all sound like Moongoose.
Track 2, Tokyo Aflame, is another upbeat track, rich in atmosphere and texture. A soundtrack to a Bond film, should they ever get around to making a good one again.
A Floating World calms things down and would not sound out of place playing at the Café Del Mar, soundtracking an Ibizan sunset.
This is carried over into Sleep to Disappear and actually, most of the album. By this point, it is easy to forget that we are listening to just one band and not a mix CD that has been expertly put together to take the listeners on a journey. The range of feelings, moods and sounds is astonishing.
To listen to Tokyo Glow on headphones is to be carried away on a near psychedelic journey, blissed out and happy.
By the time the title track closes the album, we have come a long way together, Moongoose and I. It has been a journey of spiritual peaks, my own visuals and Moongoose’s extraordinary vision.
It is a journey I will be repeating many time over the coming months and years. This is an album that will stay with me, we will become firm and lifelong friends.
Undoubtedly one of last year’s finest albums, Tokyo Glow is just superb.
The question is, how could Moongoose follow this up?
During the lockdown, a lot of bands have found difficulty in doing what they need to do, whereas Yorkie has responded to this new world by doing what he does best – being creative.
The band have released two EPs, Yellow and Black, both on German Shepherd Records, which can be found by clicking the links. Further Moongoose works can also be found on Bandcamp here.
The Black EP is full of John Barry flourishes and, for those of us of a certain age, slightly hints at theme tunes to The Persuaders and the like. The tracks are variations on a theme and are best listened to as a single piece of music that kaleidoscopes its way into your brain.
Yellow is again rich with imagery, with the mind filling in visuals to go along with the cinematic feel of the music.
Sun 13 spoke to Moongoose mainstay David ‘Yorkie’ Palmer to see how things are in Moongoose world.
Hi Yorkie. How are you?
“I’m very well thank you. Just working on a couple of anniversary releases:
A Moongoose box set and a re-release of my solo album ‘Pitch A Ladder To The Moon’ and all of its related b’sides and Ep’s.”
How have you been getting on with the lockdown?
“It’s been a very unusual few months.
When lockdown was first put in place, my first priority was to give my three boys their own rooms, so I relocated my House Of Light studio downstairs in the house.
This proved to be a godsend as everyone has been getting along with each other, without any arguments.
The new studio location is much better as well. Much more room and natural light.“
How would you describe Moongoose?
“Soundtrack music for the imagination.”
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How do you go about writing your songs?
“I don’t stick to one formula, I like to approach each project differently so as to (hopefully) keep each release fresh.
The albums Organic Technology, Missives From The Memory Machine and Tokyo Glow make up a sort of sci-fi trilogy about how technology has infiltrated into our daily lives. There are good points and bad.
I love comparing the reality of today with the old utopian/dystopian sci-fi movies I grew up with, such as ‘Rollerball’, ‘Soylent Green’, ‘Planet Of The Apes’, ‘Logans Run’, etc.
One thing I find really inspirational is titles, I love making up titles as a starting point/jumping off point for the listener.
I used to be a singer, and of course a lyricist, but because Moongoose is an instrumental band titles are my only outlet in that area…so I make the most of them.”
Do you bring your post punk past with you into Moongoose?
“My PUNK past has informed everything I have ever done. If you lived through Punk, I don’t think it ever leaves you.”
Your songs sound like soundtracks, is this something you have in mind when you all get together?
“When I first started Moongoose that was the main intention: to do instrumental music, music that was designed or intended to be instrumental, as opposed to those tracks labelled instrumental because the singer couldn’t get his shit together.
All the band members have a love of soundtrack and instrumental music. As a kid I always bought soundtrack albums, sometimes for films I was too young to see, or were no longer being shown in cinemas (for example the early James Bond films with their magnificent John Barry scores).
My brother thought I was a right weirdo. I remember him walking in the room while I was listening to Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score for Logan’sRun with the lights out. The look of scorn on his face was priceless.”
How has the lockdown affected the way you work?
“Well, after the release of ‘Tokyo Glow’ I wasn’t intending to do anything new with Moongoose till next year. However, while relocating my studio downstairs and sorting the boys rooms, I was listening to a lot of old Film Noir and Giallo soundtracks as well as watching films from both genres.
As the studio move was completed, I wanted to try out the new room and found myself wanting to do something to reflect my love of both these sometime neglected or forgotten genres.
I had touched upon Noir with my previous band The Balcony and with Space introduced some elements of Giallo. The only problem during lockdown was that I couldn’t get the usual band members around to contribute their usual essential talents.
I could send Mark Jordan tracks for him to do videos for, but the others were unavailable, so I asked my son Jack if he would be interested in helping out.
He brought a fresh perspective and outlook to the Yellow and Black Ep’s and contributed guitar, bass and keyboards across the tracks.
The fact that he wasn’t aware of either of the genres (well, he loves Dario Argento’s Suspiria) meant that what he contributed was based purely on the titles for the tracks and what he felt the atmosphere dictated.
Bob Osborne has been a great supporter over the years, so German Shepherd Records were the obvious choice to release the last two Ep’s.
Just wanted them released as soon as possible and he made it possible. We were still recording and mixing while he was arranging the releases.”
How is it making music with your family?
“It’s always a joy. I recorded a song about 13 years ago called Alone. It uses the Edgar Allan Poe poem of the same name as it text. It was suggested to me by an old friend many years ago, but I hadn’t gotten round to it.
I recorded it with my good friend and Windmill compadre Mick Dolan and we got my 5 year old son Matthew to add vocals.
It is now included in the forthcoming film about Derek Jarman by Mark Jordan.
For both Windmill albums (‘Wanderlust’ and ‘A Different Door’) both Jack and my youngest son Ben sang backing vocals.
They both played keyboards on the b’side to the Moongoose single ‘Headache’: ‘20th Century Spirals’.“
What have you been listening to lately?
“I’ve been listening loads to This Heat, Faust, African Head Charge, Andrzej Korzynski, The Ghost Box label, Swans, Midsommar (soundtrack), A Year In The Country, The Room In The Wood.
As well as this, I’m compiling the Yorkie album and the Moongoose box set.”
In amongst all the stress and disruption that has come about as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown, it is easy to feel that the world has ground to a halt, that all we are able to do is to try to keep ourselves afloat, treading water but not necessarily getting anywhere.
It is reassuring and impressive to hear that art and artists are still doing what they do, creating, making music and making plans.
Both Yorkie’s solo album and the Moongoose box set give us something to look forward to, a light shining in the fog.
And that is art at its best.
Clash were undoubtedly Liverpool’s favourite punk band. While the Sex Pistols’ debut gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall has been acknowledged as the starting point of that city’s punk scene, The Clash’s first gig at Eric’s performed a similar magic for Liverpool.
The gig was witnessed by Jayne Casey, Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch, who went on to form Big in Japan, The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen respectively, amongst other bands.
Also in attendance was one Pete Wylie of Wah! fame who, legend has it, approached The Clash’s Mick Jones after the gig to tell him how he had been inspired him to form a band.
The story goes that Jones handed Wylie his guitar with the words “Pay me back when you’re famous.” Wylie later stated “That day everything changed… nothing in Liverpool was ever the same again”
It wasn’t that Liverpool didn’t love Sex Pistols, but that, apparently, they just weren’t that good when they played Eric’s, for what would be the only gig the band ever played in the city.
Also, this was only the 3rd gig at Eric’s, so both band and venue were still unknown quantities, which meant that only around 50 people were present.
Of course, over the years the number of people who have since claimed they were there is probably over 100 times the number that actually attended, such is the impact punk has made on history.
By the time The Clash played on May 5 1977, things had changed. Punk was exploding all over the country, attracting the outcasts, the curious and those in search of something to match how they felt and to give voice to the noises in their heads.
Liverpool at the time was not in a particularly good place; financially in the trough of an economic slump following the decline of its docks and shipping industries and culturally still looking for a way out of the shadow cast by The Beatles’ unprecedented success.
Musically, Liverpool had yet to find a post-Beatles identity, although The Real Thing had kept the city’s flame burning in the charts.
When Roger Eagle and Ken Testi decided to open Eric’s, Roger, perhaps sensing that change was in the air, asked those members of his club he took under his wing not to listen to The Beatles, for fear that the past would infiltrate the new present.
Jayne Casey, One of those who were so instructed, remembered “A couple of years ago we’d been to a funeral and we were all sat round a table. There was me, Ian McCulloch and Pete Wylie. Ian looked at me and said, “Have you listened yet?” And I said, “No, have you?” And he said, “No” and we both looked at Wylie and said, “Have you?” And he said, “No” and we both in the same second said, “Yes you have! We know you have!” And he was like “I haven’t, I haven’t” but we were like “We can tell from your composition that you’ve listened to them for years!” So we’re convinced that he listened, he pretends he didn’t but he did.”
But the music that was being made by the new generation paid no heed to the likes of The Beatles. The Clash themselves penned a song called 1977 that famously claimed “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones in 1977”.
The Clash were everything a band should have been at that particular point and place in music. Young, good looking, well dressed, confused and even contradictory.
Their songs combined political thrust with killer riffs, signing about hate, war, being bored and riots. Live they were described as being like “three James Deans coming at you”, as the front line of Mick Jones, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon charged and attacked, backed up by the mighty Topper Headon.
That gig revitalized the city’s music scene. People met there and were jointly inspired to do something.
What nobody could have predicted at the time was how much they could go on to do. There are times in life when the stars just seem to line up and things work out right, a one in a billion meeting of minds and talents, and this seems to have been one of those occasions.
People formed bands before they knew what kind of musicians they would turn out to be, taken by The Clash’s messianic call. We can thank the gods of chance, or perhaps some other agent of destiny, that this crowd included the extraordinary voices of Ian MCCulloch, Pete Burns, Pete Wylie and Holly Johnson, along with the mercurial talents of guitarist Will Sergeant, drummer extraordinaire Budgie and art prankster/cultural terrorist Bill Drummond.
It may be the case that this astonishing pool of talent would have come together regardless of this particular gig, but the point remains that The Clash lit the touch paper and the firework duly went into the higher atmosphere and exploded.
The Clash were one of the first bands this writer saw at Eric’s, a few months on from their debut appearance, on their Tommy Gun tour.
As confession is alleged to be good for the soul, I will hold my hand up and say that I was never a massive fan after their initial run of singles, nailing my colours to the Pistols’ mast instead.
That said, this was without question one of the most thrilling gigs I have ever seen, The Clash were undoubtedly at their best live, unmarred by the poor production of their first album and the American sheen of their second.
To this day I can remember the energy of the gig, along with the heat, the packed crowd and the feeling that, somehow, this was a gig that would stay with you long after we had left the venue.
I had never seen Eric’s so crowded, perhaps the fullest I ever saw it, with the possible exception of Iggy Pop. The size of the crowd was such that people had spilled out from stage front through to the bar area, making even a glimpse of the stage tricky.
The Specials were supporting them on this tour and, although I tell people I saw them it is probably more honest to say that I glimpsed them, through a doorway and over people’s heads. The crowd looked hot and we didn’t fancy getting caught up in the heat and mess of it, just for a support band.
If I had the chance I would tell my teenage self to get in there and catch one of our era’s most important bands while they were still unknown. I was amazed at how popular they seemed to be despite few people in my social circle having heard of them.
As The Specials left the stage and people headed to the bar, we saw our chance and pushed our way in. Thankfully we got to within a few people of the front of the stage and The Clash burst forth and blew our teenage minds!
Playing their first album and early singles, they already had a run of songs to make most new bands weep with envy.
With the Sex Pistols banned from almost everywhere and soon to split up, The Clash were head of the punk pack at this point, and made a nonsense of the myth that punk bands couldn’t play their instruments.
The people inspired by their first Liverpool, gig have achieved much in the years since and have doubtless inspired other people in their turn.
Perhaps this is the ultimate compliment for a gig, or even a band – that they create these ripples in a pond to such extent that they are still being felt all these years later.
Liverpool, and indeed the whole world, would be so much worse without them.
The Teardrop Explodes and Club Zoo
Banjo looks at the Teardrop Explodes and their Club Zoo folly, where one of Liverpool’s most famous bands went off the rails.
The post punk boom of the late 70s and early 80s made stars of some strange people.
Marc Almond bringing high camp to Top of the Pops, Phil Oakey appearing in Jackie magazine with a chain between his two pierced nipples and Adam Ant displaying his Pure Sex tattoo to theatres full of young fans are but three examples of how punk sensibility clashed with a world not quite ready to take it all in.
We can add to this Julian Cope standing on a piano, tripping his face off and wearing a night shirt on Top of the Pops, with The Teardrop Explodes.
There is a sense with all of these of square pegs in round holes, of people perhaps not immediately cut out for mainstream fame bringing their baggage with them.
And none more so than the archdrood himself, Julian Cope.
When they first started, The Teardrop Explodes were a fine, if slightly odd, band formed in the embers of the punk scene that had raged through the UK. Countless bands were inspired by the likes of Sex Pistols and The Clash to pick up guitars and make music of their own.
Where the post punk bands covered themselves in glory was by refusing to follow the path of identikit punk thrash that was well trod by 2nd and 3rd generation punk bands and by applying their emerging musical abilities in a new and different way.
These bands had an innate desire not to follow the crowd. This led to some of the most wonderful music we will ever know being committed to vinyl by bands who were not interested in fame or its trappings, doing what they were doing out of a need to create.
It was in these post punk bands that the true spirit of the explosions of 76/77 bore fruit.
One of these bands was The Teardrop Explodes.
Formed around the triumvirate of Eric’s, Probe and the Armadillo Tea Rooms, Liverpool bands sprung up regularly, often lasting no longer than a day or two. Eventually though, some of these bands left the tea rooms for the rehearsal rooms and actually started writing songs.
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The Teardrop Explodes wrote three songs, Sleeping Gas, Camera Camera and Kirby Worker’s Dream Fades. Bill Drummond, ex of Big In Japan persuaded the band to record all three songs, releasing them as the band’s first single.
On it’s release, Sleeping Gas was awarded Single of the Week in the weekly music papers. Suddenly The Teardrop Explodes found the spotlight shining on them for the first time.
Further singles Bouncing Babies and Treason were released and The Teardrops were one of Liverpool’s brightest hopes. However, success eluded them and their rivals Echo and the Bunnymen signed to a major label and left Julian and co behind.
It wasn’t until 4th single Reward went top ten that it seemed to be time for The Teardrop Explodes to have their own chance at the big time.
Treason was subsequently re-released and made it to number three, and The Teardrop Explodes became pop stars.
Lacking a stable line up, Julian Cope became the band’s face and focus, essentially employing and firing a series of players who were little more than session musicians.
Debut album Kilimanjaro gathered rave reviews and it seemed that everybody loved The Teardrop Explodes. What could possibly go wrong.
Well the answer to that is pretty much everything.
Pop fame sat uneasily on Cope’s shoulders and took to taking huge amounts of LSD and isolating himself. An American tour came to a messy end and Cope sacked fan favourite Alfie Agius. By now he had a reputation approaching that of Mark E Smith when it came to the ruthless way he dealt with band members.
Drummer Gary Dwyer was the only other continuous member of The Teardrop Explodes, and deserves great credit for his part in their story and for being the prop that held the band up when falling apart may have seemed inevitable.
Nevertheless, anticipation for the Teardrop’s 2nd album was so high that Cope had wanted to call it Everybody Wants To Shag The Teardrop Explodes.
Eventually called Wilder, it was in part designed to turn off The Teardrop Explodes new audience of pop fans.
There is still a rich vein of Cope’s love of classic pop running through Wilder, but it has an angular, awkward and arty approach that belied their status as staples of Smash Hits magazine.
Opening track Bent Out of Shape is a straight forward enough song, but underpinned by some strange noises and opens with Cope singing “All my life I’ve been bent out of shape, can’t you see it’s killing me’ adding “these are dreams that I never had” as if he has already had enough of the fame that landed at his feet.
Next up is Colours Fly Away, starting with a brass band section that harks back to the glory days of Reward. Fans could be forgiven that The Teardrop Explodes have picked up from where Kilimanjaro left off. But again, the opening lines show Cope’s unease with his success: “More by luck than judgement here I am, smiling at the fighting once again.”
Seven Views of Jerusalem is a jumble of beats and squawks with Cope seemingly in stream of consciousness territory, singing “I cut off my nose to spite my face, look at all pests around the place. Everyone’s laughing they think it’s disguise, but haven’t you seen all the lines round my eyes”
Lyrics such as these seem a long way from the same person who burst into the public’s affections by singing “Bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news”
Pure Joy is trite and throwaway, but next track Falling Down Around Me is one of the album’s highlights. Built around a stuttering mix of bass and drums that seem to have little in common with the guitar track, the song has echoes of David Bowie from his early days, in particular the World of David Bowie album that was so popular amongst the Liverpool post punk cognoscenti.
The Culture Bunker is classic Teardrop and references Cope’s early days in Liverpool as he mentions The Crucial Three, the band he started with Pete Wylie and Ian McCulloch, as he sings “I’ve been waiting so long, waiting for The Crucial Three, wondering what went wrong”
Passionate Friend is another classic. Apparently written for Ian McCulloch’s sister, thus deepening the rift that had grown up between the two one time friends.
Tiny Children takes things down several notches and gives us a sense of Julian as a lonely figure writing his disquiet and depression down for us all to read, as if we were sneaking furtive glances through his diary. Lyrics such as “I could make a meal of that wonderful despair I feel” provide a glimpse into a troubled psyche and his approach to the people he now has to deal with is detailed when he sings “But each character is plundering my home and taking everything that is my own”
The chorus of “Oh no, I’m not sure about those things that I cared about. Oh no, I’m not sure, not anymore” give the impression of an unhappy soul rocking himself in a dark corner.
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Like Leila Khaled Said further details an unhappy outlook, for some reason juxtaposed with Leila Khaled, member of the revolutionary Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the first woman to hijack a plane. Smash Hits suddenly seems a long way off.
And The Fighting Takes Over continues the downbeat, introspective theme still further, reading like an examination of Julian’s failing marriage in a sad but blame free manner, concluding “we were just a pair of little children, two children, no surprise”
Closing track The Great Dominions is perhaps the greatest song The Teardrop Explodes ever recorded, an open-hearted epic that again seems to look at his crumbling marriage.
The band provide a sympathetic backing as Julian pours his heart out in his own symbolic manner. The Great Dominions reads like the aftermath of a long and emotional argument, with Cope singing “Suddenly I came to my senses, a night on fire put out all traces of feeling”
The ending refrain saw Julian singing naked in a dark studio, his voice cracking as the tears come towards the end of the repeated line “Mummy I’ve been fighting again”, as the song climaxes around him.
As emotional as this is, it is difficult to see that the young fans who bought Reward would take to this tearful soul bearing with the same enthusiasm.
Of course, the post punk fans that the band had brought with them were more than able to love the sounds they found on Wilder, it was the pop fans that might have found it a more challenging listen.
Cope’s aim was not to make bad music, but to shake of his teenybopper image, a mantle that is easy to imagine never sat well on his shoulders.
Before the band could finish their third album, it was all over for The Teardrop Explodes. They remain one of the bands who have never reformed and probably for good reasons. Theirs is a tale that has too much depth, too many messy relationships and involved too many bad trips.
But, despite Wilder perhaps starting the death knell of one of post punk’s greatest bands, it is a mighty statement and one that deserves returning to.
A pop star who is prepared to open himself up to his public in this manner is a rare thing. We are reminded of the troubled output of Syd Barrett and Tim Buckley, but presented in a pop arena.
Wilder is a bloody-minded and honest look into the downside of success, when all The Teardrop Explodes had to do to ensure their continued success was to put on a happy face and smile for the pages of the pop glossies.
And as such, it is one of the bravest documents a band hungry for fame have ever committed to tape.