Thursday, 30 January 2014

Shopping / Song for Hugo

Shopping / Song for Hugo
Following the news about the essay influenced by 'Shopping' that is being published, I thought it would be a good time to post some of the related rarities and make a few reflections about that particular record.

I must say I am a bit ambivalent about this aspect of the blog. Part of me thinks that it is good to post this stuff before I forget it, or lose the recordings, and also I know a couple of people are interested to read this.  But at the same time, I always loved bands like New Order or MBV who were difficult, did few interviews and had an air of mystery about them. But I suppose as we're operating in a culture where artists tweet every minutiae of their lives, and as you can now buy two movies about New Order at the local supermarket (sort of) perhaps I am worrying too much about this. So on that note, my thoughts on the Shopping / Song for Hugo single by Saloon.

Shopping / Song for Hugo (Amy13)

After the immediate rush of excitement and creative bounce from the 'Futurismo' spit 7", all the members of Saloon really wanted was to release our own full 7" single (our ambitions were very humble). But our first full 7" didn't come that easily. Firstly we needed to find a record label. We sent demos to three labels; the first was Bad Jazz; I had a long phone chat with label boss Joff, he was impressed by the amount of gigs we were playing and genuinely seemed like a nice guy, but he didn't see us fitting in with what he did. (I had a brief email conversation with Joff last year, this time on eBay - it seems we both collect vintage Star Wars tat). The next label was Earworm; they liked it, and wanted to put out a record. But they wanted to pick the tracks to put out and specifically 'Fuzzy Felt' from the Blue Demo as the A-side and (I think) 'Lisa Millennium' as the B-Side. None of us were that excited about this; creatively we thought we'd moved on from the more twee sound of the demo and also we wanted to decide what songs to put out. So naively we declined the offer - I think the guy from the label was as shocked as we were bloody-minded and stupid. Of course Earworm (which was cool enough at the time) is now remembered as perhaps the defining cool indie label for 7" singles of the period. Why we didn't just say yes of course, particularly as the songs were already recorded, I do not know. I would love to hear Fuzzy Felt on a 7" now, but that was just one in the catalogue of ridiculous management decisions we made, based upon a notional idea of 'What would Lou (Reed) do.'

The third label we sent to, Amberley Records and their boss Kristen had also been in touch. Amberley not only said they would release a 7" but we could do whatever we liked, which very much appealed! Kristen promised us the moon, and we were ready for space-travel.

Our relationship with Amberley went a long way in the end; including the tour and single with Mah*gany and the co-organised gig nights at the Rising Sun Arts Centre in Reading and The Weekend of Happy Robots that put Reading on the indie map.

But back to the record. I had always felt our first single should be 'Suivez-La Piste;' it was fast, poppy and immediate. But, I don't think anyone else was as keen and we could never reconcile the song with our more experimental interests and, after two paid visits to Wired Studios we ditched Suivez and decided to buy our own mixing desk. We went for a Yamaha minidisk 8 track (MD8) which was very similar to my tried and tested 4-track and just got down to recording as much of our live repertoire as we could, including 'Plastic Surgery', 'Electron' and both of the songs on this single.

'Shopping' had been knocking around since late 1998; it was based around a simple D-shape riff that I had, an Amanda melody and the single repetitive one-note pulse from the moog, but like most of our songs, it was brought to life by the rest of the band and constant rehearsals. I can't remember where we debuted it - perhaps the Fez and Firkin - I am sure Matt will remember. The lyrics were crushingly simple French; to do with the purchase of a blue chair. I am pretty sure that they were all Amanda's work with perhaps Gildas from Popnews correcting our French. I wanted this record to be the sonic equivalent of Magritte's 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe'

'Song For Hugo' had been also part of the repertoire for the same amount of time. Debuted at Lost the
Writing Song for Hugo
Plot a drum-and-bass night that our friend Hubert organised and booked us for. Technically it should have been called Song for Hubert but I kept getting his name wrong and it stuck. I wrote this in the living room in Essex Street one night when Mike and Dylan were out. During rehearsals, while Amanda and Alison were making the tea, I would start tapping away at the piano riff until Mike and Matt had no choice but to join in with what became for us at the time our loudest loud-bit. On the finished recording Amanda plays the piano, we had no sequencer then so she literally had to play the same four chords over-and-over in the same pattern for 6 minutes, and Alison is viola and melodica. Playing this song was probably always more fun than it was for the listener - certainly the punters in the pub beneath our rehearsal room really hated it (and occasionally told us in no uncertain terms).

Rather than attempt any fancy re-recording, Amberley were happy to to put out the MD-8 versions. It was a catch-22 situation; those versions were still a bit sloppy and the MD-8 didn't have an especially warm sound, but from experience we would probably just gone into the studio and attempted to re-create the lo-fi sound while paying about £500 for the pleasure.  For the sleeve after much deliberation we went for a De-Stijl design which to us at the time seemed crushingly original. (No-one had heard of the White Stripes then). The design did finally move us away from the 60's / playbill aesthetic of our early releases and with the total lack of recording details have us that air of mystery.

On record I think both of these songs still sound pretty OK. Andrew from the 'Hog asked us about our drum reverb which we had to tell him was just the sound of the big old pub room we recorded in. The guys from Lazer Guided really liked Song for Hugo which was cool since they did that sort of thing so much better than we did. And Peter Strickland of Sonic Catering / Berberian Sound Studio fame (as mentioned in another recent post) once told us that 'Shopping' was his favourite Saloon record, which was pretty cool by me.

I don't think many bands put out as their debut record a double A-side, recorded at home, with both tracks around the 6 minute mark, with no details / photos of the band anywhere and the only lyrics sung in a foreign language. So for that level of bloody-minded difficulty alone, I am still pretty proud of this record.

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