TWELVE SINGLES

This isn’t an ICA as such, but it could quite easily pass for one, albeit a very lazy one.

The Monochrome Set, formed in 1978 in London, would go on to release twelve singles between 1979 and 1985, before their initial break-up. Almost all twelve of the singles are worthy of sitting in the collection of any fan of fiendishly catchy, clever and danceable indie-pop.

The one constant throughout this time was singer and main song-writer Bid, whose real-name is Ganesh Seshadri. The original line-up also include Lester Square (real name Thomas Hardy) on guitar, John D Haney on Drums and Charlie X on bass, albeit he was only part of the line-up for a short time, being replaced by the time they went into the studio by Jeremy Harrington. The first three singles came out in 1979 on Rough Trade:-

mp3 : The Monochrome Set – He’s Frank
mp3 : The Monochrome Set – Eine Symphonie des Grauens
mp3 : The Monochrome Set – The Monochrome Set

I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t huge on the band at this time, only very occasionally hearing one of their songs via the John Peel show and there was nobody at school championing their cause. If I had been aware of the quality of these singles, I’d have snapped them up at the time…..or at least I’d like to think I would have…..the 15/16 year old me might have thought them just a tad too quirky and maybe it was best that I didn’t discover them for a few more years, courtesy of these and later singles being aired at nights in the student union.

1980 saw the band switch to Dindisc, becoming the fourth act after Martha & The Muffins, Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark and The Revillos to record an album for a label that was an offshoot of Virgin Records. By this point, they were onto yet another bassist, Andy Warren who proved to be very durable. The debut album, Strange Boutique, received fairly mixed reviews with most journos uncomfortable at being unable to pin-down the band into a genre or come up with any suitable comparisons to any other group doing the rounds at that point in time. It is fair to say that the album wasn’t as immediate or accessible as the earlier singles, as evidenced by the fact that only one song was deemed worthy of an a-side, and even that was a different recording from what appeared on the album:-

mp3 : The Monochrome Set – The Strange Boutique

The album had been recorded with Bob Sargeant, one of the most prolific producers of the era, but he was ditched for the sophomore effort, Love Zombies, which was issued just eight months after the debut, meaning that the band had pulled off the impressive feat of two albums in a calendar year. The production duties were taken on by Alvin Clark, better known at the time as an engineer, but who was an attractive option as he could add keyboards to the band’s sound. Two 45s were lifted from the album:-

mp3 : The Monochrome Set – 405 Lines
mp3 : The Monochrome Set – Apocalypso

The band left Dindisc shortly afterwards and 1981 proved to be a very quiet time with just one single issued, on PRE Records which was a sub-label of Charisma Records between 1980 and 1982 that was used primarily to issue singles by new wave and reggae acts.

mp3 : The Monochrome Set – Ten Don’ts for Honeymooners

1982 was the year that I finally discovered The Monochrome Set. By this point in time, JD Haney had taken his leave to be replaced on the drummer’s stool by Lexington Crane – and as a parting gift, the band decided to make an new instrumental track for use as a b-side which they lovingly called J.D.H.A.N.E.Y. They had also switched to another indie label – Cherry Red – for whom they would record what many feel was their finest ever album, Eligible Bachelors. It was a collection of tunes that harked back to the earliest singles, fitting in wonderfully with the increasingly off-kilter sounds of successful indie-pop in the era when the likes of Orange Juice finally made a breakthrough. Two tracks were issued by Cherry Red as 45s:-

mp3 : The Monochrome Set – The Mating Game
mp3 : The Monochrome Set – Jet Set Junta

To be accurate, the version of Jet Set Junta that was issued as a 45 was different from that made available on Eligible Bachelors. It was only released in 1983 to accompany Volume, Contrast, Brilliance…which was a Cherry Red compilation of radio sessions and hard-to-find B-sides from earlier singles dating back to the Rough Trade era. Jet Set Junta was from one of the radio sessions, recorded in December 1981 and which had marked Lexington Crane’s first formal involvement with the band.

You’ll have worked it out by now that this was a band that wasn’t the greatest at hanging on to members. Things had taken an took an alarming turn for the worse immediately after the release of Strange Boutique in that Lester Square, regarded by most fans as not just the perfect foil for Bid but the de facto depute leader of the band, decided to quit as did the new drummer, meaning that The Monochrome Set, just as it appeared they could reach into the mainstream, had been reduced to a duo of a frontman and bassist. I think it’s a fair assumption to feel that ‘musical differences’, however widely you would want that defined, was at the heart of matters.

Keyboardist Carrie Booth, drummer Nicholai Weslowski and percussionist Camilla Weslowska were soon brought on board and this five-piece recorded a single, released on Cherry Red, before the year was out:-

mp3 : The Monochrome Set – Cast A Long Shadow

Things went quiet for a while, with just the aforementioned Cherry Red compilation to keep fans happy in 1983, an album on which six musicians were credited of whom four were no longer associated with the band.

There was no new material in 1984 but the band returned in 1985. They were back to being a four-piece with Carrie Booth and Camilla Weslowska having been jettisoned. Unbelievably, they were on yet another new label, their fourth in six years, having been enticed by their old mate Geoff Travis to sign for Blanco Y Negro, the label backed by Warner Brothers and which was already home to Everything But The Girl. This was, by far, their best chance to make it big.

There was one album and two singles, both of which sold enough to be acknowledged as reaching the Top 100, but nowhere close to the success hoped for by the label bosses:-

mp3 : The Monochrome Set – Jacob’s Ladder (6 weeks in the Top 100, peaking at #81)
mp3 : The Monochrome Set – Wallflower (1 week in the Top 100, reaching #97)

Before the year was out, the band broke-up, reforming in 1990 as five-piece that included Bid, Lester Square and Andy Warren from the old days, releasing five new albums of material and touring extensively before again calling it a day in 2000…..except, they reformed yet again in 2010, with Bid, Square and Warren all involve yet again. Three more albums followed before Lester Square decided to take his leave at the end of 2014 (he had not long turned 60 years of age) although this time round the band kept going, and earlier this year they released Fabula Mendax, their fifteenth studio album.

JC

18 thoughts on “TWELVE SINGLES

  1. Interesting to hear these again, even if The Mating Game lyric is enough to turn anyone celibate. . . The Jazz Butcher is an obvious comparison. Will have to dig out my old LPs.

  2. Another band that was potentially of interest, but the lack of material at hand to buy in America meant that purchases never really happened. All I have in the Record Cell is on the DIndisc 1980 LP. Shameful!

  3. PPM, all I was ever able to find back in the day was the 12″ of Jacob’s Ladder. The rest of the Monochrome stuff I have came in the form of reissues or on compilations. I really would have loved to have seen a TMS show. They were a fun part of that first post-punk wave where it was okay to be good at your instrument and not take yourself too seriously. ‘Lazy’ ICA or not, these songs are tremendous.

  4. By the way, back in the 70s/80s, it was not usual to release endless singles from albums, singles were standalone entities, so the fact there was only one single from “Strange Boutique” is no comment on its quality….

  5. Jane/Brian

    So sorry about your contributions initially going into the spam folder….same thing happened to someone else who commented on The Cuban Heels post the other day. I do check the spam folder around once per week, so I would have eventually picked up on them. I can only think it was down to both of providing direct links, which is a bit of a no-no with wordpress. But then again, I won’t criticise them too much as they do stop a lot of nonsense appearing as comments…..

  6. Another band who I missed out on for a very long time but finally saw them last year at Stereo. Whilst I was principally along to see the support (the cathode Ray) I enjoyed TMS enough to subsequently get last year’s Maisieworld, which is very good. Was vaguely aware there was a new LP but now listening to it and it sounds like it might be a purchase in London this weekend.

  7. Strange Boutique and Eligible Bachelors are important parts of my early 80s listening. In those days there was something particularly British about TMS’s brand of left field Post Punk Pop. Being a New Yorker, it wasn’t hard to keep up with their output if you made the rounds of the import record shops. If you made friends with the store owner or ordering manager, you could usually put in a request for albums to be ordered by the shop. Back in those days there was a network of smaller distributors small shops could order from and get shipped relatively quickly.
    JTFL is correct, it was easy to find Jacob’s Ladder when it came out. You would even here it on Alternative Radio a bit when it was released. I even remember album track Starry Nowhere getting an airing as well when Lost Weekend came out. TMS’s return in the new millennium has been a welcome one for me. The have release real quality music since 2012 that is worth the effort to hear.

  8. Did you attend the band’s NYC show in March this year? They will be back in NYC next May, Saturday 9th, at the Mercury Lounge.

  9. Thank you for this. I had previously only ever heard *of* them. Going by this compilation, they sound like an alternate universe version of The Smiths where Morrissey has a healthy interest in sex.

  10. I had one or two tracks back in the day, so it was interesting to hear the ones I’d missed out on and learn a bit more about the band. Manchester gig in April? Hmmm….

  11. There’s a lot for you to catch up on, thye’ve just released their 15th studio album. Do come along to the Manchester gig next year, it was a near sell out last time 🙂

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