SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #253: POSITIVE NOISE

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Sometimes there’s only so much can be said about a singer or band due up in this series that it’s easier to go back and repeat what was said on the one occasion they’ve featured previously on the blog.  From 17 May 2014, which itself relied on wiki:-

Positive Noise were a new wave and synthpop band from Scotland who had a number of indie hits in the 1980s. They released three albums and several singles and were together for over five years.

The band was formed in 1979 by Ross Middleton (vocals), his brothers Graham Middleton (keyboards, vocals) and Fraser Middleton (bass guitar, vocals), Russell Blackstock (guitar, vocals), and Les Gaff (drums).

Their first released material was two tracks (“Refugees” and “The Long March”) on the Statik label compilation album Second City Statik in 1980, and they followed this with two singles on Statik in 1981, both of which were top-ten hits on the UK Independent Chart.

Début album Heart of Darkness was released in May 1981, after which Ross left to form the short-lived Leisure Process, with Blackstock taking over on lead vocals. Heart of Darkness peaked at number four on the independent chart, and the band’s second album, Change of Heart (1982), also charted, reaching number 21. They released a third and final album, Distant Fires, in 1985, now with John Telford on drums and John Coletta on guitar, but their earlier success was not repeated and they split up shortly afterwards.

Ross Middleton had earlier worked as a music journalist, writing for Sounds under the pen name Maxwell Park.

I’ve one single on vinyl – Give Me Passion, released in 1981 on Statik but not included on the debut album.  I’ve picked up a digital copy of the 12″ version of  a follow-up single, also from 1981 and which would appear on the album, Change of Heart, the following year.

mp3: Positive Noise – Positive Negative (12″ version)
mp3: Positive Noise – Energy

It’s not the worst example of early 80s synth-pop that you’ll ever come across but there’s not really enough to have made it stand out in what was an increasingly crowded market back then. It’s also got that early 80s thing of where perhaps too much of the kitchen sink has been thrown at the extended version.

Worth also mentioning that the previous time the band appeared on the blog, a few folk left comments indicating they had seen them as the support act for one or more of the chart acts with Toyah, Hazel O’Connor and Ultravox all getting a mention.  It would seem that they were a decent enough live band.  It’s a strange one for me in that I do remember a lot of positive (pardon the pun) coverage in the Glasgow papers and airplay on Radio Clyde, the local commercial station, but I never ever took to them.

JC

6 thoughts on “SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #253: POSITIVE NOISE

  1. Good post JC
    You are right about everything chucked at it..I quite liked it until the 2 minute mark when those ghastly horns come in.. (sigh)

  2. Positive Noise were one of my pals bands. I assume I listened to a good deal of their stuff at his and defintely heard a lot on Radio Clyde – late night – but they didn’t capture my imagination, although some of the art work, like this, did. I thought I owned ‘something’ by the band but a check this morning says no – although vinyl has been known to go ‘walkies’ over the years.

    If they supported either Toyah or Ultravox at the Apollo, Glasgow – then I will have seen them live too.
    I missed Miss O’Connor live at this time (Argh!) but … I did meet here at the above Ultravox gig and she signed my Monument/Quartet programme, (Ahhhh!) – this is the time that she was ‘going out with’ Midge Ure.

    Back to the matter at hand … I recall Positive Negative and feel it a very Phil Oakey-light vocal performance. The band certainly had their fans.
    I, however, preferred Leisure Process.

  3. The 12″ of “Positive/Negative” is only a record I bought recently, when going after a Positive Noise collection. I had the “Change Of Heart” album from the time of release, though. The brief 2:34 version of the track was so thrill-packed that I was eagerly anticipating the 12″ mix of it I’d get one day. (insert 33 year gap)

    For many years afterward, the 2:47 song was something that found its way to many a mix tape, as the song’s notoriety existed in inverse proportion to its electric sense of dynamics. When I saw that 12″ in Wuxtry Records in Atlanta, Georigia that October in 2016 [when ironically, I was seeing my first Midge Ure concert…], I was more than happy to purchase it and report on my findings. For 34 years I had been waiting for the experience of this song to last longer than the scant running time of the album version. The remix of the A-side by Tony Cousins was mixed a bit strangely. Elements of the mix sound like they were recorded “in the red.” None moreso than the fat oscillating tone that under lied the song’s pixilated intro, gradually building up enough steam so that it threatened to take the whole song down with it when it peaked.

    The vocals sounded crisp, but the music bed threatened to overmodulate at various points in the mix. This was disappointing at first, since it’s the vinyl mastering equivalent to brickwalling, but after more than a few spins, I got somewhat used to the somewhat brash sound. The tightly coiled energy of the familiar LP mix was largely absent, save for the sequencer pattern that cut through the entirety of the song. In its place, were more expansive, dub-influenced spaces where the elements of the song aired out in a way such that all of the players got a chance for the spotlight in the 6:43 running time. I particularly noted that the kyperkinetic sax solos on the tune gave it a real jolt of energy redolent of Ian Nelson’s vibrant runs from Bill Nelson’s Red Noise.

    The Instrumental B-side was more properly, a dub mix, that gave a good emphasis to the rubbery bass line driving this song. The 3:42 running time makes it longer than the 3:16 7″ mix, which is still 30 seconds longer than the always brief LP mix. The A-side tune was driven by drum machine, by the sound of it, but the B-side let drummer Less Gaff actually strike the skins for a more lively effect. Positive Noise were the sort of New Wave band I enjoyed in that synths were on equal footing with conventional instruments, but it’s true that guitar was mighty thin on the ground here, thought the dreamy synths anchoring the excellent “Energy,” needed to predominate the airy tune.

    My first exposure to what Positive Noise did on a 12″ single was pretty satisfying, thought at the end of the day, I suspect that I will always carry the brightest of torches for the more tightly coiled energy of the rather brief LP mix. Given that the 7″ mix is 30 longer than that, I may have to grab a copy to compare and contrast, especially before I remaster “Change of Heart” and add the requisite bonus material.

  4. PN did a tour with Toyah in 1982 on the tour for the Changling album (that gave us the Warrior Rock live album). I saw the Poole gig on that tour and was the first concert I ever went to so I guess PN was the first live band I saw. Can’t say I remember much about them but I have seen other people on various social media mentioning them being on that Toyah tour. Guess it is time to listen. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Positive Noise got a lot of airplay in NYC with Positive Negative back in 1981. It’s a track that is full of as sort of joy and abandon that appealed to 18 year old me. Today it is a great reminder of how a song can get sort of imprinted in your mind because of a hook a chorus or even just two words repeated over and over – a wonderful reminder of a less stressful time.
    Alas, the magic in Positive Noise seemed to disappear with the loss of Ross Middleton. There was a passable single, When Lightning Strikes, but the follow up to Change Of Heart, Distant Fires, was just so much 80s banality/John Hughes Movie influenced pop.

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