Sometimes We Wobble, Sometimes We're Strong
June 26, 2014 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Treading a line between post-punk and dance, the English band Shriekback had only a few minor hits (My Spine (Is the Bassline), Nemesis) and then vanished into obscurity, more of a "who were they then" than a "where are they now". They were Carl Marsh, Dave Allen (formerly of Gang of Four), Barry Andrews (formerly of XTC), and Martyn Barker. One notable fan was Michael Mann, who used the band's music in his movies Band of the Hand ("Faded Flowers" from Oil and Gold) and Manhunter ("This Big Hush" and "Coelacanth" from Oil and Gold and "Evaporation" from Care), and also in at least one episode of Miami Vice ("Underwaterboys" from Big Night Music). They put out two records on Y Records (Tench (1982), Care (1983)), two on Arista (Jam Science (1984), Oil and Gold (1985)), and two on Island (Big Night Music (1986), Go Bang! (1988)). This last album was an obvious push to appeal to a wider demographic. It tanked, and the band soon dissolved. Except they didn't.

Barry Andrews got Barker and Allen back together in 1992 for Sacred City, a sort of concept album that was a solid return to form. From there things happened in fits and starts, mostly centered around Andrews. He and all or part of the original members went on to release Naked Apes and Pond Life (2000), Having a Moment (2003), Cormorant (2005), Glory Bumps (2007), and Life in the Loading Bay (2010). They are currently working on their 13th album.

Lately Barry Andrews has begin blogging on Tumblr, and in addition to giving teases of the upcoming album has been posting a bit of history of himself and the band. For fans it's an exciting behind-the-scenes look, but even for non-fans it has a lot of information about the musical landscape of the early-80s.

The notable entries:

Keeping it Real: Defining Moments, ‘Entertainment’, Punk and the Quest for the Authentic. - A look at punk, post-punk, squatting, and Thatcherian politics.

SQUAT (part 1) and (part 2) - Squatting and psycho-drifting, Andrews' early solo efforts, playing with Robert Fripp's League of Gentlemen.

'All Humming Now.' Situationism, Shriekback and Psychogeography (from Rossmore Road to the Beatles Zebra Crossing) - The city-obsession that starts with trying to write a non-sentimental landscape song and culminated in Sacred City.

Go Bang and after.. Compromise, King Swamp and Butoh - The story behind the "sellout" Go Bang! album, and some interesting digs at Dave Allen.

Sacred City (part 1) and (part 2) and (part 3) - An in-depth look at the album that Andrews seems to have the most affection for, drawing together a lot of the strands of the previous works into a whole. Part three talks about the short film he made to accompany the album, and why that was not a good idea.

Inside the Haunted Box of Switches: the keyboard player’s lot is a far from simple one.. - Andrews is a keyboard player, and here he talks about how different of an experience and start that is in pop music than it is for players of other instruments.

Keyboard Playing Part 2: ‘75-79 (or: I'd been to XTC but I’d never been to me..) - more on being the Keyboard Player and Andrews' stint with XTC.
posted by Legomancer (47 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Shriekback is the reason I know what parthenogenesis is.

And this post is the reason I know that iOS knows what parthenogenesis is.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:33 AM on June 26, 2014 [10 favorites]

I saw them live back in the day and it was a hell of a show.
posted by srboisvert at 11:34 AM on June 26, 2014

Obviously I'm a huge fan. Also seen them in '86 on the Big Night Music tour. I just got back from England and a highlight for me was visiting Rossmore Road.

I had no idea how to describe their music for this post.
posted by Legomancer at 11:38 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a Shriekback album on cassette, but I don't remember which one. I think it was the one with "My Spine Is the Bassline". I didn't like it at the time, but that doesn't prove much - almost the only survivals from my College Listening Experience are Mekons, the Clash, the Rezillos and Nothing Painted Blue, everything else I actually liked was pretty forgettable and I only liked it because I was a frosty little snob.
posted by Frowner at 11:39 AM on June 26, 2014

So much Shreikback showed up on my 80's and 90's mix tapes. A bit of Happyhead, too (one of Marsh's other bands)

I used to think that if I ever had to flat-out dump someone and move out because everything had decayed to awkward silences, the thing to do would be to leave a cd player in my otherwise-empty room, quietly autorepeating "faded flowers".
posted by rmd1023 at 11:41 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Shriekback is a group with a special place in my heart. Truly weirder than Oingo Boingo, their stylings and lyrics would make Cthullu rock neon wayfarers.
posted by djdrue at 11:44 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oil & Gold was one of my favorite tapes in college. I recently rediscovered it and damn if it doesn't hold up. Great post, thanks.
posted by smartyboots at 11:49 AM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Very interesting!
posted by The otter lady at 11:57 AM on June 26, 2014

Oil & Gold is still on rotation in our house. Thanks for this - there's a whole list of folks I need to send it to!
posted by korej at 12:01 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think that before I even heard Shriekback I used to love Barry Andrews "Win out a night out (with a well known paranoiac)" - it was a favourite of the Annie Nightingale request show on Radio 1.
posted by rongorongo at 12:02 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

And the demo for Rossmore Road! Now that's a treat I wasn't expecting on a Thursday evening. (Win A Night Out... was either the B side, or it was a double A side, I forget which - ah, a little further down, I see it was the B side.)

Thank you...
posted by Devonian at 12:04 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

The also-obscurish Division Kent covered This Big Hush, and I liked the original and the cover. Which never happens to me.
posted by Western Infidels at 12:11 PM on June 26, 2014

I love Shriekback's Y Records-era output and was so happy when Tench and Care were finally, FINALLY reissued. "Lined Up" is still one of my favorite tunes of the era, and "Hapax Legomena" one of my favorite exemplars of inscrutable B-sides.
posted by mykescipark at 12:12 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Listening back now, their Tench seems exactly the sort of stuff I loved back then, but the only track of theirs I actually remember is the much less experimental All Lined Up from Care. (Also, I've always tended to confuse them with A Certain Ratio, for some reason.)
posted by progosk at 12:12 PM on June 26, 2014

From Barry Adam's SoundCloud Page: I like his music for Iorek Byrnison of His Dark Materials fame. I'm not sure if he did the music for the National Theatre's production - but he is mentioned here as being musical director for a production by Sixth Sense.
posted by rongorongo at 12:22 PM on June 26, 2014

Count me among those thankful for both Shriekback and this post.

We get it right sometimes
We shine a light sometimes
We see the fish below the ice sometimes

posted by chavenet at 12:31 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Shriekback opened for Simple Minds way back when I was going to concerts, and their opening set blew the main act so clearly out of the water it was amazing.
posted by xingcat at 12:36 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Huh. The opening to This Big Hush totally sounds like Duran Duran.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:37 PM on June 26, 2014

Anything XTC-related is relevant to my interests.
posted by chinston at 12:43 PM on June 26, 2014

Oh, man, I had a cassette of Oil and Gold that I loved, and still know all the words to. My parents bought it when it came out, so I would have been around six years old, and it was a major part of young me jamming out. I was never a huge fan of stuff that came later, but they were what got me into Gang of Four, and I was so happy when there was that post-punk revival so I could find more of their stuff in reissues instead of having to cadge banged-up LPs.

Thanks for this! I still hum Hammerheads all the time — "This is our mission, to be the Daleks of God!" (Or the bit from Nemesis — "We're not monsters, we're moral people.")

(And "Health and Knowledge and Wealth and Power" goes great with Human League's "These are the Things that Dreams are Made Of.")
posted by klangklangston at 1:03 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anything XTC-related is relevant to my interests.

Then also check out Monstrance, in which Andy Partridge is joined by Shriekback's Andrews and Barker for an album of completely improvisational music.
posted by Legomancer at 1:05 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

We know evil
Is an exact science
Being carefully, correctly wrong

Kinda resonates what with the MeFi Diplomacy games going on...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:09 PM on June 26, 2014

Oooh, Barry Andrews. Run right out and watch his video No Fool Boletus, for Anaxaton6.
posted by zompist at 1:22 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

xingcat, I was at that Shriekback/Simple Minds tour, and you're right, they were so much better. I think I might have the Shriekback t-shirt from that tour somewhere. I was an insufferable middle-schooler who was embarrassed to think that others might assume I was there for Simple Minds--the horror! I remember Barry Andrews had this keyboard stand with springs somehow, so that it was seesawing back and forth while he somehow managed to keep playing it.

Shriekback is so good, and so unique. It was as if Lloyd Cole were to go out at midnight on a full moon at turn evil.

Also, when I hear Oil and Gold now, I can't separate it from the fact that it was my friend's signal to his college roommates that he was getting busy with his girlfriend in his dorm room.
posted by umbú at 1:42 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Honestly, in 1985/6 I don't think I knew anyone who didn't own a copy of Oil And Gold (which says more about my social circle than anything else, I know). I did college radio a bit that year and the following and I think my co-host and I played something off O&G on every show. Sometimes more than once.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:47 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

What a post! It will take a while to crunch through all this goodness.

One of my favorite bands from back in the day and I still listen to them. "My Spine..." was the soundtrack to a chunk of my life that I really enjoyed.
posted by biscotti at 2:01 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's this certain demographic that always just had Oil & Gold holding the default place on the turntable in the late 1980's, and I'm one of them. So this is my perspective when I always go on about: "Music in the 1980's didn't suck like some people say, but yeah, the best stuff didn't get heard on the radio."
posted by ovvl at 2:28 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this post!

I haven't actually listened to Shriekback (until today) since I was a college radio DJ 20+ years ago. But in true Baader-Meinhof fashion, I was singing "Hammerheads" to my cats last night.

"Yes! Yes! Kibble time! We are kittens! We demand our kibble and we want our supper now! Shout! Shout! Kibble time!" and so forth, at some length, while being regarded balefully.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 2:29 PM on June 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

ooh I am so digging out oil & gold to listen to tonight
thanks for the awesome post
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:34 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ha! A Shriekback post!!!

Going back through my commenting history, you will find that I recommend Nemesis in almost every 80's post there is since I joined.

Seriously. I feel like I write this in every 80s music post, but Nemesis by Shriekback.
posted to Ask MeFi by Sophie1 at 4:50 PM on March 14, 2014

Nemesis - Shriekback I eat cannibals - Toto Coelho Anything by the Creatures, especially Fury Eyes and You! This Town - Go-Go's Bad Reputation - Joan Jett & Blackhearts New Toy - Lene Lovich One Night in Bangkok - Murray Head Pain - Oingo Boingo Make a Circuit with Me - Polecats Ballroom Blitz - Sweet Blue Spark - X I grew up right here ^
posted to Ask MeFi by Sophie1 at 12:18 PM on April 8, 2013

Can I just mention here that Nemesis by Shriekback was one of my favorite songs primarily because any song that mentions parthenogenesis is awesome?
posted to MetaTalk by Sophie1 at 1:21 PM on August 25, 2011

I grew up in L.A. in the 80's and would also vote for: *Anything by the Go-Go's *Anything by the Beastie Boys *Anything by the Cure *Anything by Siouxie and the Banshees/The Creatures *Don't you forget about me - Simple Minds *Obsession - Animotion *Nemesis - Shriekback
posted to Ask MeFi by Sophie1 at 2:24 PM on October 20, 2010

posted by Sophie1 at 2:35 PM on June 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

The only Shriekback I ever had (or knew) was the single of "(My Spine (Is the Bassline)," but boy did I play that sucker a lot (and I'm still prone to muttering "No guts, no blood, and no brains at all" on appropriate occasions). Thanks for the post; I look forward to discovering more!
posted by languagehat at 2:57 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I love this post so much, thank you! Shriekback gets such regular play in my home that my now grown daughters consider themselves fans, playing Shriekback in their homes!
posted by _paegan_ at 4:00 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have made like twenty converts to Shriekback over the years by playing "Faded Flowers." It remains chilling and heartbreaking all these years later.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:20 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Well, I liked Go Bang! I had it on vinyl and listened to itretty regularly through at least the early 90's. I liked their other stuff too, but rarely listened to it.
posted by jkosmicki at 6:18 PM on June 26, 2014

Barry Andrews is the reason the first two XTC albums stand head and shoulders above the rest. (The rest are good, but just not in it compared to the first two.)

Shreikback is the icing on the cake. And now I know there's more icing.

Thanks for this.
posted by ProxybyMunchausen at 6:18 PM on June 26, 2014

It remains chilling and heartbreaking all these years later.

Oh yes, tell me about it. The slow songs on Oil & Gold have such an intense introspective vibe to them.

Then there's the 45 EP of Coelacanth played at 33, when you're in a mellow mood, and it's something else.
posted by ovvl at 6:29 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

...and speaking of Coelacanths, the passing of Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer ten years ago.
posted by ovvl at 6:57 PM on June 26, 2014

"Nemesis" was a staple of goth/fetish-nightclub fun, right up until the early aughts when Steampunk and Rivethead took over, and even then...

It's a song that gets everyone on the dancefloor. Including the bodybuilder in the wrestling singlet and the gimp-mask with a hundred or so ten-penny nails sticking out from it. (Actually not making that up...)

"We are not monsters. We're moral people! Yet we have the strength to do this..."
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:43 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have been especially pleased with the Sacred City tumblr posts from Andrews. I like all Shriekback albums but Sacred City is just a thing apart, for me.
posted by feckless at 8:22 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I will love you forever for this post.
posted by rednikki at 8:54 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thank you for digging and compiling these sacred bits.
posted by asfuller at 10:21 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

my band played support to XTC at the rock garden in 1977 and barry andrews was the nicest most unpretentious one of the band. he showed us how to use the badge machine supplied by virgin records with whom they had just signed, to make our own badges. his solo on all along the watchtower that night was awesome and later i loved his work with shriekback. thanks for this post. so great to catch up with what he's been doing all these years.
posted by toycamera at 2:53 AM on June 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have made like twenty converts to Shriekback over the years by playing "Faded Flowers." It remains chilling and heartbreaking all these years later.

I was actually a big enough nerd to know the meaning of "parthenogenesis" before Nemesis. But "Faded Flowers" taught me "anacrusis".

Shriekback opened for Simple Minds way back when I was going to concerts, and their opening set blew the main act so clearly out of the water it was amazing.

In the (wonderful) above-linked "box of switches" blog post about being a keyboard player Barry Andrews mentions the video for "Alive and Kicking" - and has a gentle dig at Mick Macneil, their keyboard player for dragging his electric piano into a video which appeared to be filmed rather a long way from a power socket.
posted by rongorongo at 3:18 AM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The League of Gentlemen (I can't tell whether this has been posted yet, but if not, it probably ought to be).

Also, there was a whole album of Rossmore Road-era material released a few years ago, and now I can't even find a reference to it on teh webz.

Anyway, everybody happy when the dead come home.
posted by Grangousier at 3:48 AM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and given that I associate 1980 with League of Gentlemen, Young Marble Giants and Cabaret Voltaire I was very slightly disappointed with how the 80s actually turned out.
posted by Grangousier at 3:51 AM on June 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Recorded live from a 1987 tour date in London and distributed on VHS, now on YouTube, Shriekback's Jungle of the Senses:

1 Nemesis
2 Black Light Trap
3 Gunning For The Buddha
4 The Reptiles And I
5 Feelers
6 Hammerheads
7 All Lined Up
8 My Spine Is The Bassline

Brilliant band. Thank you for the post, Legomancer.

Chromium, radium, nickel, iridium,
Gold and actinium, arsenic, plutonium,
Neon, molybdenum, zinc, iodine
Braving the elements
The reptiles and I...

posted by vers at 5:26 PM on June 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

The 80s, done right.

Love a link-heavy post about bands I don't know well enough. *FISTBUMP*
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:10 PM on June 29, 2014

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