Tuesday, 13 March 2012

FInal History of SLAB

its taken me a while to get around to this but here it is...

Sanity Allergy

We booked into an underground studio in the middle of Shoreditch High Street in East London. I dont remember looking forward to it with any great excitement.

We took Barry Clempson with us from the Descension recordings.

There were beds there and although I only lived a few miles away I decided to encamp myself in there with some of the other guys I dont remember who.

Everything was recorded live. If i remember it was pretty straightforward, dont think we did many takes and in SLAB style very little overdubs. As usual we were well rehearsed. Descension had taken a fair few takes when we started with Gutter Busting but this just seemed to go straight down to tape.

But there was no excitement at all, it was lifeless, a band that wasnt a band and certainly no gang mentality.

It was boring. The songs were boring. It wasnt in my hands anymore and I really wasnt happy plus I was getting ill as usual and by the second day was in a pretty bad way.

We did everything in a week. Everything recorded, vocals, done, overdubs etc.

The only track i was remotely excited about was Visiting Hour as it was written in the studio very late one night.

Dave Morris was sitting playing the bass plugged directly into the desk. It was going through every effect there was and sounded absolutely fuckin huge, it was like something from Descension.

I was determined we should do it, it was the only track that motivated me. Scott and Lou were disparaging about it, didnt get it, they were still in their funk stage.....

I told Dave to play it, Scott went in instead of Lou and started drumming, although i dont think the drumming was particualrly right for the track and i grabbed some of Paul's lyrics and put down a vocal.

It was sung over the bass tune plus the effects and it sounded huge and so much better than anything else on the album. IT DIDNT FUCKIN STAY THAT WAY....

Sanity Allergy is a strange album I coudnt listen to it for years and still dont like a lot of it, but its not bad in its own little way. Sounds like a series of demos to me and always has done.... and the reason why is:

We were due to go back in and mix. But i had had enough. I was ill, fed up with fighting for my vision and not getting anywhere. it wasnt my band anymore. In fact Dave Morris was plotting to take the entire band away to play for Pinkie MacLure.

I simply walked out and went to Barcleona for a two weeks. It seemed pointless.

I foolishly thought that Paul and Dave would have enough understanding of what we did to Descension in the mix to be able to repeat the process with Sanity Allergy. Afterall Descension sounded pretty lame before we mixed it , the raw tracks were similar in sound to Sanity Allergy.

I thought they would turn it into some dark heavy psychedelic epic. How wrong I was.

I returned from Barcelona and Paul gave me the finished mixes.

I couldnt believe that they could get it so WRONG.
It was a fuckin rock album. Everything sounded the same. Nothing had been done to it apart from a few rattles and noises added to Station KY.

I was so fuckin depressed there seemed no point in carrying on at all.

Paul said that they were lost in the studio without me that they didnt have any vision about what it should be. Paul is my friend and I understood that. But I couldnt listen to it and worse still Barry hadnt recorded the effects on the bass part of Visiting Hour so my vocal sounded way off key and the track sounded nothing like I had left it.

The best track, the only track of any note and they had totally fucked it up.

I HATED EVERY MINUTE OF THAT STINKING PILE OF SHIT.

I can listen to the album occasionally and go ok its not bad, I see why people like it. In my head it shoulda been Descension part two..... well it certainly aint.

Another new line up

I dont remember much of what happened after Sanity Allergy. Dave Morris was convinced he was going to make a living from playing sessions and was taking Scott and Lou to be a part of Pinkie MacLures band.

Paul didnt go. Loyalty to a friend - and I thank him to this day for that.

I think that was it for Scott and Lou I dont even know what happened with Pinkie's band. I wasnt impressed and I dont forgive people very easily. I dont think her band did very much.

That left me and Paul. Bye bye gents. Dave Morris I wrote you out of history.

I think we bummed around for a while and somehow we got involved with two guys who rehearsed next door to us - Nick Page and Boleslaw Usarazewski.

They were in Nick's band called the Rain Gods and they were alright. Nick had a certain Billy Mackenzie esque approach to songwriting that I liked and respected. He knew about music. He understood where we were coming from because he heard us through the walls!

Nick and Bolly started to help us out, Nick on guitar and Bolly on bass. We auditioned for drummers and got a guy called Rob Allum, his brother Nick played drums next door to us on the other side for Cathal Coughlan's band the Fatima Mansions.

Rob was the perfect drummer for us, he could play and wasnt full of shit. He was a sound individual.

So we set about rehearsing some old songs and some new. We went a bit rock to be honest, but Paul and I werent really in a position to moan. We needed someone like Nick Page to actually get our shit together and get us in a position to be a band again.... and with all due respect Nick was very very good at that. He was a band leader ....of course this would lead to problems at a later date but then its me and its SLAB and I am not the world's most chilled out person ha! But Nick did a great job.

One of the biggest things he did was to give me confidence in my own voice and helped me open up.

We started touring again, playing Mars On Ice, Big Sleeper, People Pie and a few new tracks... we were a bit like a karaoke SLAB but at least we were playing again.

We played at the Hacienda and a few gigs around Britain and then went to Paris and the Swedish Glastonbury at Hultsfred, where we were pretty popular. Drinking whiskey with Lemmy at 9am at Heathrow airport was a particular highlight!

We then decided to do another single Deaths Head Soup

I had written it in the year after Descension so it was already quite old, however as usual in true Dray style i was so weak and lacking in confidence that I let it be pushed away from what it should have been.

When I first wrote it it was detuned down to C on bass and half the speed of the single version. Wasnt meant to be funky. Had walls of C Tuned guitar over it too.

Again it was meant to be a drug fuelled psychedelic epic. IT WASNT.

Nick suggested we speed it up to make it more accessible. I guess we tried it and I musta liked it. So we did it.

I like Deaths Head Soup its a great song, but it wasnt what we needed then. We needed to get back to being fucking heavy, but the people i was working with didnt understand that. They saw it as a vehicle to get the band played and to get gigs - which in a way was right, its what we had to do - we had to get out and fucking play.

But again I didnt like it, it compromised what I was about. But I was fucking starving and we needed some bloody money. So out it came... and sank without trace... got a few decent reviews... but I buried it as soon as i could.

In retrospect I like it as a song on its own, but it really wasnt what we needed.

The End


...... strangely i would say that the last phase of SLAB was the happiest and the best and the heaviest and the most experimental and live it was like a fuckin sledgehammer - but its not documented anywhere because we never released anything from this period....

My relationship with Nick Page had deteriorated. Two leaders in one band isnt good news. So it was bye bye Nick, probably no bad thing for him as he went on to form Transglobal Underground and be highly successful.

His replacement was not a guitarist but a fuckin REVELATION by the name of Graham Sherman, a friend of Rob Allum's.

Sherman wasnt a musician and in this sense his importance in SLAB history is as momentous as Paul's.

Sherman was working as a photographer and occasional journalist at the NME. He knew his music, he knew his culture, he knew his politics and he knew his football.

He was gonna work out.

We asked him to play samples and this is what he did. Paul and I had written a fair new amount of material and it was all fucking good.

We werent a pastiche anymore. We were a heavy fuckin supercharged psychedelic motherload and when we played live we were like some primal force locked in Brion Gysins dream machine.

We rehearsed and went on our last two tours with the Young Gods, joint headliners on a tour of the UK and then Scandinavia.

We were fuckin godlike and we knew it.

Sherman was highly instrumental in all this but not for his musical contibution, it was his attitude and his musical knowledge and his personality.

At this point 88/89 he was pretty much the driving force behind the NME covering dance music. His collection of new music was astonishing and inspiring, but Sherman has a huge awareness of musical history and where its roots lie. He had an enormous record collection and his reggae 7"s were the stuff of legend.

He knew why Apocalypse Now is important, he knew why Lee Perry matters, he knew that TG were true innovators, he liked Peter Hammill.... and he supported West Ham.

We clicked,we got on, for the first time in bloody years here was a line up that could talk to each other, knew what it was doing musically and actually liked each other.

We went out on tour and blew everyones heads off.

We got rave live reviews in the NME and Melody Maker. We were back and we knew it.

Then we headed for Scandinavia to meet up with the Young Gods again.

It was your usual SLAB style affair, no money, no food, fucking cold, I think we didnt even have a label anymore, we had to add extra gigs to the tour just so that we could afford to get the bloody money for the ferry back to England

But we were fuckin tremendous. The Young Gods in 89 were absolutely awesome live but by their own admission we demolished them on a couple of nights particularly in Stockholm where we played probably the best gig we ever played.

We were so fucking good at this point it was frightening.

.....and there are no recordings whatsoever, typical of SLAB and its legacy.

While we were there the Berlin wall came down and 3 days later we drove back down the motorways of Germany surrounded by Trabbants streaming in one direction and NATO tanks moving in the other.

We returned to England it was late November 1989. It was the biggest come down ever. Coming back from tour is hard when you have to adjust to normal life again but this was almost crippling.

We had no label by now. We had no money to go and record anything. We had no manager or agent, and we had very little business sense. There was nothing to do.

Poverty was grinding by now, Paul and I met a couple of heroin addled record company bosses and it was just so fucking pointless. If these were the only people interested in us then God help us.

Paul and I wrote some more new material, it was blinding and it was moving on again.

Bolly had succumbed to poverty by now and decided to leave.

Bass has always been a crucial part of SLAB its what everything was written from. Bolly didnt innovate in his role he just played what he was told to.

We needed someone who could understand how important bass was and could innovate and also someone who would play the basslines I was writing.

Around January 1990 we auditioned a friend of Rob's on bass. We did it at Rob's house as we couldnt afford rehearsal studios anymore.

We set up in his front room, drums, amps, PA and started out on some new material.

It was fucking hopeless.

And that was it.

I never called another rehearsal again. Never even spoke about it.

I walked away went home and turned SLAB off.

2 Comments:

OpenID vergeoflight said...

Thank you for finishing this history Steve. It was a bit sad but really informative. What a damned tragedy there are no recordings of the last era of Slab! However I am extremely pleased to hear about the new CD. I will be ordering it as soon as it's available. Cheers. -Jonathan

28 May 2012 at 12:58  
Blogger george symington said...

Trying to track down the "Sherman at the controls " reggae mixtapes vol 1 and 2...I don't suppose you have a cassette copy you could digitise?

5 May 2014 at 07:51  

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