SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #56/ ICA 103: CLOSE LOBSTERS

close-lobsters

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

The ICA series for 2016 should have bowed out with that superb piece from Swiss Adam that gave us some of the very best of Andrew Weatherall. But then I spotted that Close Lobsters were due up next in the Saturday series and I realised that I would struggle to just pick one song to represent just how good and indeed underrated a band they were. There was also the fact that I could have gone with a cover version to keep the recent theme going but I then made the last-minute call to do an ICA….a lazy one as I won’t say too much about any of the songs other than to indicate which record they can be found on.

Here’s their story, as put together by a real writer over at allmusic:-

An unfortunately short-lived but utterly wonderful neo-psychedelic jangle pop band, Close Lobsters only managed two albums and an EP in their brief career, but all three releases are brilliant, some of the best music of the late-’80s U.K. indie scene.

Close Lobsters were formed in Paisley (prophetically enough, given the band’s psychedelic tendencies) and the adjacent town of Johnstone in 1985 by singer Andrew Burnett and drummer Stewart McFayden. The pair couldn’t decide between the names the Close and the Lobsters and simply combined the two for their nonsensical but evocative handle. Adding guitarists Tom Donnelly and Graeme Wilmington, plus Burnett’s brother Robert on bass, Close Lobsters gained some early notoriety when their song “Fire Station Towers” showed up on the legendary New Musical Express cassette C-86, which lent its name to an entire movement of post-punk guitar bands. Close Lobsters had a greater commitment to melody than most of the C-86 bands, though, as shown on their first single, “Going to Heaven to See If It Rains,” which was released in November 1986. A second single, “Never Seen Before,” appeared in April 1987, with a superior re-recorded version of “Fire Station Towers” and a cover of the Only Ones’ “Wide Waterways” on the flip.

The quintet’s first album, Foxheads Stalk This Land, was released in late 1987 to lukewarm response in a U.K. press already tired of the C-86 propaganda, but its inviting mix of jangle pop, hazy psychedelia, inscrutable lyrics, and monster guitar hooks gained Close Lobsters a small but fervent following on the U.S. college radio scene. A follow-up single, “Let’s Make Some Plans,” came out in early 1988; this new song and four other excellent tracks were collected by Close Lobsters’ American label, Enigma Records, and released as the EP What Is There to Smile About? in the summer of 1988. Simple and direct, without a wasted note, it’s probably the best Close Lobsters release. For the U.K. fans, Strange Fruit released Close Lobsters’ four-song Janice Long Session from July, 1986, including the a-sides of the first two singles, the B-side “Nothing Really Matters” and “Pathetic Trivia,” which would be reworked as “Pathetique” on Foxheads Stalk This Land.

Close Lobsters’ second full album, Headache Rhetoric, was released in March 1989. Darker and less immediately accessible than either of the band’s previous releases, with a druggily psychedelic vibe akin to Love’s best work, it’s the sort of album that takes a while to sink in but packs a mighty wallop once it does. Unfortunately, it sank almost without trace in the U.K., and Enigma Records by this time was undergoing the financial problems that would cause it to fold within the year, so the label was unable to capitalize on the band’s cult success in the states.

After a final EP, Nature Thing, with appropriate covers of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)” and Leonard Cohen’s “Paper Thin Hotel” on the flip, was released in the spring of 1989, Close Lobsters quietly called it a day.

In 2012, the original band members got back in touch and they decided to reform to play live shows in selected European cities. The response was favorable and the next year the band played the NYC Popfest and released their first new music since 1989, an EP titled Kunstwerk in Spacetime for the Shelflife label.

I can add to the above with the fact that 2016 saw the release of more new material courtesy of the Desire and Signs EP, again on Shelflife Records.

SIDE A

Going To Heaven To See If It Rains

The debut 45 in which they sound very like another new and emerging band of the time called The Wedding Present. It reached #9 in the UK Indie Charts in October 1986.

Let’s Make Some Plans

The third single, released in November 1987; later covered by The Wedding Present as the b-side to California in June 1992

Foxheads

Deliciously danceable title track from the debut LP released in October 1987

Skyscrapers of St Mirin

An ode to the home town of some of the band (St Mirin is the patron saint of Paisley while the local professional football team take the slightly different spelling of Saint Mirren). Originally available as a b-side to What Is There To Smile About? released in August 1988, it was also included on the second LP Headache Rhetoric in March 1989

Never Seen Before

They had a great habit, for the most part of not including their singles or b-sides on albums. This was the second 45 – it’s as perfect a slice of indie-pop from the 86/87/88 era as you could hope to come across, right down to additional female backing vocals  Deserved to be a massive mainstream success.

SIDE B

Just Too Bloody Stupid

Opening track to the debut LP.  By now, you might have spotted that this was a band who more or less recorded minor variations on one tune; but by god, it was a belter of a tune.

What Is There To Smile About?

Flop single #4.  Was there really sixteen better and higher-selling singles in the Indie Charts in August 1988?  I have my doubts….

Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)

As mentioned in the bio above, this was on the Nature Thing single released at the same time as the second album, Headache Rhetoric; one of a number of bands from the West of Scotland who, at the time and in the coming years, would cite Neil Young as a huge influence.

Lovely Little Swan

Opening track on Headache Rhetoric, an album that disappointed a few folk on its release but has undergone a bit of a critical reappraisal over the past quarter of a century.  Parts of this remind me of early-ish R.E.M.

I Kiss The Flowers In Bloom

Another track from Foxheads Stalk This Land that would have made a very fine single except the band preferred not to rip fans off , and a fine way to round things off.

Enjoy.  And Happy New Year when it arrives wherever you live.

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