THIS IS A JOURNEY INTO SOUND

It was back in 1984 in the city of Aberdeen, on the north-east coast of Scotland, that a group of friends, all aged in their early 20s, decided to form a band and name themselves after a track that had been written and recorded in the 60s. As so many new and young bands did during that era, they launched their own label for their debut single:-

mp3 : Alone Again Or – Drum The Beat (In My Soul)

It proved to be the only release on All One Records as the band, consisting of by Colin Angus (vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass) , Derek McKenzie (vocals, guitar) and Keith McKenzie (drums) were picked up by Polydor for whom they released a one-off flop single in 1985 before taking the decision to change their name to The Shamen, once again preferring to do things their own way via another newly-formed label in the shape of Moksha Recordings.

There wasn’t too much of a change of direction in terms of music, as can be heard from the lead track of their 1985 EP, They May Be Right…But They’re Certainly Wrong:-

mp3 : The Shamen – Happy Days

This early incantation of the band were very good at what they did, being part of an indie-scene in the UK but making a different kind of music from their peers, most of who were adopting an almost-shambolic or twee approach to their music. The Shamen, on the other hand, were ridiculously proficient and constantly seeking ways to expand what they were doing, looking more to incorporate house, techno and dance music into their sound. They had added Peter Stephenson on keyboards by the time they went into the studio to record their debut album, Drop, that was released in early 1987. Before the year was out, they had cut a new single, one that deployed new(ish) methods of studio recording such as sampling and fused them with the guitar sound:-

mp3 : The Shamen – Christopher Mayhew Says

Not everyone was happy with the shift in direction and Derek McKenzie decided to take his leave, which very much left Colin Angus as the figurehead, and it was he who really began to drive things forward, aided and abetted by the recruitment of Will Sinnott (aka Will Sin) into the band, a musician who was also keen to increase the dance element of the band.

In 1988, The Shamen released a single, one which made heavy use of sampling and covered the subject matter of fundamedalist right-wing religious nutters:-

mp3 : The Shamen – Jesus Loves Amerika

(Just imagine what the President would be saying if this was being blasted out over the airwaves nowadays…..)

To nobody’s real surprise, Keith Mackenzie and Peter Stephenson soon quit the band having contributed in part to the 1989 album In Gorbachev We Trust, released on Demon Records, the label that had been founded by Jake Riviera and Elvis Costello at the beginning of the decade. Angus and Sinnot were now left to their own devices and this led them to relocate to London and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the rave scene, including participation in highly popular events under the banner of Synergy that combined live performances with DJing from some of the biggest club names.

This enabled them to meet all sorts of new people and bring even more influences to their music, including the addition of a rapper and a female vocalist, together with a live drummer and bass player which more or less completed the transformation into a full-blown rave act. In March 1991, the Shamen, having moved to well-known indie label One Little Indian, finally cracked the singles chart:-

mp3 : The Shamen – Hyperreal

Tragedy struck just two month later when Sinnott drowned while swimming off the coast of one of the Canary Islands on the back of the band having gone to Tenerife to film a video for the follow-up single Move Any Mountain, which was one of the stand-out tracks from the well-received new album En-Tact.

Having given things some thought, Angus decided to continue with the band, bringing the rapper – Mr C – in on a full time basis and seeking increased contributions from him to the new material. What happened next was a real surprise and ended with most of the UK record buying public thinking that The Shamen had come from nowhere and were something of a novelty band:-

mp3 : The Shamen – Ebeneezer Goode

Released as a single in August 1992, it rocketed to #1 in the UK charts. I think wiki covers things well:-

“Ebeneezer Goode” was accused of promoting drug use, owing to the refrain, ‘Ezer Goode, Ezer Goode’ as homophonic with ‘E’s are good’ (E being slang for the drug ecstasy), ‘These F in Es are good’ as ‘He’s Ebenezer Goode’, and to double entendre drug references throughout the song. Despite – or maybe because of – the subsequent storm of publicity, the song reached the top of the UK charts and stayed there for four weeks.

The new album Boss Drum, released the following month, climbed to #4 and provided three other Top 10 singles. Come the end of 1992, The Shamen were voted as “Best New Act” by BBC Radio 1 listeners….not bad for a band whose first single, which was barely recognisable from what they were now famed for, dated back to 1985.

Angus decided to focus his energies on mixing, leading to the 1993 release of Different Drum in which every track on Boss Drum was given a radical makeover. Three more studio albums would follow between 1995 and 1999, none of which were intended to be commercial enough for the singles and mass markets that had come their way in 1992. The Shamen called it a day before the dawn of the 21st Century.

JC

THIS YEAR’S NOSTALGIA FEST (Postscript 2)

R-3746648-1343929142-7591.jpeg
Today sees the second and final part of the look back at A Different Kind of Tension, the 10-track compilation released in 1986. Here’s the b-side of the album:-

1. The Beloved – A Hundred Words
2. Vee VV – The Romance Is Over
3. Stump – Kitchen Table
4. The Wedding Present – Once More
5. The Shamen – Happy Days

The Beloved, in their dance guise, were featured a couple of months back. It’s hard to believe that it is the same band who would go onto enjoy such massive success with the club crowds in the early 90s. But before they were embraced by the dance brigade, The Beloved were just another indie-pop guitar band. This is actually their debut single from April 1986 on Flim Flam Records which made #15 in the UK Indie Chart (which I’m guessing amounted to about 5,000 sales).

mp3 : The Beloved – A Hundred Words

The next lot needed a bit of detective work on the t’internet. They emerged from the ashes of a band called Tunnelvision who released one single, entitled Watching The Hydroplanes, on Factory Records in 1981. And no, I can’t say I’ve ever heard it. They seem to have been an act signed on a whim by Tony Wilson after they appeared on the bill at the first ever New Order gig in Blackpool. Anyway, it seems they were a band that were continually slated by the music press and continually compared to Joy Division.

Members of Tunnelvision would, in due course, form Vee VV. The band recorded a flexi single for a music magazine before releasing a double-side 7″ single on Cathexis Records  and the track featured today was part of that artefact. A second 12″ single soon followed and Vee VV gained some exposure through support slots for My Bloody Valentine, Stone Roses and the afore-mentioned New Order. But before long they had broken up unwilling to embrace Madchester.

mp3 : Vee VV – The Romance Is Over

Stump were an Anglo-Irish band that featured former members of Microdisney.

This is the only track of the ten on the compilation that hadn’t been released at the time, although it would eventually appear on the Quirk Out mini-LP that came out in late 1986 on Stuff Records. The band would gain enough fame to be featured on the covers of both the NME and Melody Maker, and there was enough of a buzz about them that they eventually inked a deal with Ensign Records who released the LP A Fierce Pancake in 1988, from which the single Charlton Heston reached #72 in the UK singles charts. But the album did not bring the crossover success the label had hoped for and, after recording a few b-sides and some demos, they split before 1989 was over.

mp3 : Stump – Kitchen Table

Ah….the wonderful Weddoes. This was a very early single from 1986. ‘Nuff said.

mp3 : The Wedding Present – Once More

The final track on the compilation is technically, the first ever single by The Shamen, released on One Big Guitar in 1985. The band had changed their name from Alone Again Or and moved to a different record label after just two singles. Frontman Colin Angus was one of the first to realise that indie-pop didn’t guarantee fame and fortune, and by mid-1988 the band was down to a two-piece who were more focused on dance. Four years later they were among the biggest acts in the UK with a string of chart hits including the unforgettable (not necessarily in a positive way!!) Ebeneezer Goode which was #1 for a number of weeks in August 1992.

By the mid-late 90s, the band had turned their backs on commercial soundimg dance music and frustrating the life out of their record label bosses at One Little Indian. The Shamen called it a day in 1999, but will be remembered fondly by a great many clubbers of a certain generation. However, they would be hard pushed to recognise this as one of their songs:-

mp3 : The Shamen – Happy Days

And that concludes the look back at the songs of 1986 for this series at least. Tune in next week for something going back even further in time….

Enjoy