Saturday 30 November 2013

Shoot for the moon

So it has been a while since my last update; I have had a big deadline at work, a skip to fill and I have even started working on a novel (laughs), that is if a rambling, notional-idea and two sentences count.

A number of anniversaries have passed; the anniversary of 10 years since Saloon's final gig and the effective split of the band, and of course, the never-welcome sad anniversary of Mike’s death. Our thoughts, as ever, are with his family and friends.

So what to report, firstly we had a nice email from a guy called Joshua. He had an article, published in the Journal Gulf Coast  (18.1 Winter / Spring 2006), which we had never heard about before, and was inspired the Shopping 7” single. He is going to be having a collection of his essays published in a book called Annotated Mixtape and he asked for the song Shopping to be included on an accompanying CD. We of course were happy to agree, and I think this will be the first Saloon (re)release since Lo-Fi Sounds in 2006. Details of the project and an excerpt from the essay can be found on his website

I finally got around to convincing my wife that we should watch Berberian Sound Studio , the most recent movie by Peter Strickland with wonderful soundtrack by Broadcast. Peter was the main man behind Sonic Catering Band, with whom we shared the ‘Impact / Bodypop’ single and played a couple of gigs with, notably I think a RoTa show. Anyway I really loved it; it reminded me a bit of of Persona by Bergman, Repulsion by Polanski with a touch of Godard / Brecht / Vampyros Lesbos thrown in for good measure. What I think annoyed some people, but what I really loved was the fact it didn’t fall into becoming a slasher / horror flick at the end, which was the obvious route. And I love films that don't make any obvious sense. Anyway I loved it although my wife thought it was ‘a bit out there’ for her liking.

I still have three studio systems in my house; my original 4 track-tape Yamaha MTX4 track (on which
MD8: up for sale if you want it
we recorded the blue demo, Chromosomes and a few other things), a Yamaha 8 track minidisc recorder the MD8 (on which we recorded the Shopping & Electron singles, Solitude, HYST Light plus TIWWCP demos) and the AKAI DPS24 on which we recorded IWMITF and The Project’s album Let’s Get Static. I am not planning on getting rid of the MTX4 because it is too close to my heart, but it is time to get rid of the other two. I have backed-up everything from the MD8 and plan to do the same with the DPS24 very soon. They will both be going on eBay, but if anyone wants them – and at a reasonable price – do let me know, as we need the space.

The various members of Saloon have been in email correspondence. Alison has been playing a few gigs with The Left Outsides. We have also chatted about doing some recording together, or at least polishing up some of the old unfinished recordings – such as those for what would have been third album. Who knows perhaps they will hear the light of day one day.

As Mike used to say, ‘Shoot for the sky and you might just hit the moon.’

Friday 23 August 2013


It has for a while been an annoyance to someone as anal as me, that the Saloon Spotify profile was such a mess. Our songs and albums were somehow mixed up with those of a French white-rap band also recording under the name Saloon. After just two emails to the nice people at Spotify though, they have set up a new profile for us which includes just songs by the white middle-class indie Saloon from Reading, England.(i.e. us.)

So if you are a Spotify user, you may now listen to our songs free of the taint of French hip-hop. And feel free to share the link and 'follow' the band, God knows where our Spotify royalties go to of course, a big black hole in the sky would probably be most appropriate.

Friday 16 August 2013

An audience with Matt Ashton

It has been a few months since the last post - I am getting into bad habits again.

This afternoon, I stumbled upon an interview that Matt did a few months ago with the folks from Readipop . If you are in any way a fan of Saloon, the John Peel show or the Reading band scene in the late 90's / early noughties, then you may might to give it a listen.I for one was interested to get someone else's take on our Festive 50 success, as in 10 years we have never really spoken about it.

I hope all our readers and listeners are having a great summer.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

If we meet in the future (10 years later)

GOOD: NME Review
A message from Matt reminded us that this week is the 10 year anniversary of the release of the second (and last) studio album by Saloon.

A combination of passing time and failing memory has been unkind to our second album.  I can’t speak for the others, but it’s fair to say that I have never looked on it as fondly as (this is) what we call progress.

There are loads of reasons why. The plan had always been to make a fast and noisy record that was more like our live sound, but by the time we had finished the second record it had become a lot more restrained and polished and more of a tiwwcp part 2. This was partly because of the track listing; some of the louder songs we were working on (like ‘I have found the way’ and (the unfinished and unreleased) ‘World War III’ we just couldn’t get to work right. Perhaps it was because it was a slightly somewhat more rushed affair as we didn’t want a long gap between albums, certainly where with tiwwcp we demoed all the tracks before, with iwmitf we didn’t have the chance. So instead of being a collection of fast noisy ones, we fell back to the more polished and restrained type of song, like ‘Dreams Mean Nothing’ which we knew we did well. Also, as control freaks, we chose to record and mix the album ourselves and, in hindsight, that was perhaps too much work, particularly for Amanda, who did the brunt of the work.  I certainly still can’t listen to it without thinking about all the little things we should have changed.

BAD: Branded Review
We also felt a massive amount of pressure after the whole Festive 50 thing to deliver something really special, although now we had even less time to write and rehearse due to all the gigs people wanted us to do, and we had no more money and support than we had ever had. We still had full-time jobs to hold down, which many of our contemporaries didn’t. Of course the real reason I like this album less, was the fact that we split up so soon after it; the tour to promote the album was a horrible slog and I don’t think any of us were in the best of places at the time – at least with the band.

But, as ever on this blog I am accentuating the negative. The record still sold pretty well, and at least half of the songs production-wise are as good as anything else we have done.  I think ‘Vesuvius’ ‘Kaspian’ and ‘Intimacy’ are up there with the best things we ever did. The sleeve – which I was not that keen on at the time – I think looks pretty cool now especially the gatefold vinyl version. If the sleeve of ‘progress’ (recorded in May 2001) was about building an optimistic future, the sleeve of ‘if we meet in the future’ (recorded post 9-11 and depicting something akin to a ravaged nuclear wasteland) captured a far more period-appropriate dystopian aesthetic.

Also the reviews were for this album were almost entirely glowing, with 8/10 in the NME which for us at the time it was all that mattered (finally making up for the terrible live review in 1999). I’ve posted on here the best reviews – the NME – and the worse (from something called Branded magazine).

In terms of audio goodies, I do have some demos from this album but we only demoed 6 songs and all are without Alison’s viola and many without vocals. So instead I have posted a session we did at the time, recorded live in our own studio, for Aligre FM (French radio station) which includes some decent versions of several of the tracks from that album. I have also posted two remixes done by AUW (aka Dom Cresswell, my brother).

Unbelievably I have now sold all the remaining copies of ‘If we meet in the future’ but I am quite sure you can track it down on ebay for a few of your hard earned pennies.

Friday 31 May 2013

Everything begins here

Don’t they say in 24 Hour Party People “if it's a choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend?”

The legend we told was that after having almost killed myself twice, firstly in a car accident (truth) and then by electrocuting myself while re-wiring a moog during a thunderstorm (fiction, it was a delay box years later and it probably wasn't even raining) I decided to form a band in order to leave something behind.

My room, including original white album poster and KEF speakers

The truth was equally mundane. I moved to Reading because I hated my job, my old band had fallen apart and I wanted to hang out with my friends. I moved into a sprawling 6-bedroom student house with my best friend Mike some of my other closest friends and an Irish girl called Nina. The first thing I did was paint my bedroom bright orange. The room was lit by a vintage tanning lamp, under the light of which we recorded our first demo.

I moved to Reading with no job and a couple of hundred pounds in the bank. I had one plan, to form a half decent band to play some of the better songs I had accumulated while in  my last band The Deviants. On my first Sunday in Reading, after going to see Austin Powers at the cinema, and while enjoying a drink in the Purple Turtle, I told my plan to Mike. He immediately wanted to be a part of it. We agreed, he would be the drummer and I would play bass (simply because they were always the hardest members to find and we wanted reliability). The plan was to have a female singer, and we would wear black roll-neck jumpers, even in the summer. Within minutes he was scouring the pub asking any attractive woman in a roll-neck jumpers to join the band. We even agreed on the band name that night. Mike threw some words and. Saloon just jumped out. In hindsight I, don’t know exactly why I loved it so much. I liked the fact that it sounded countryish and that we could confound expectations. But mostly I just liked the look of the word. The next weekend I went into town and got the word SALOON printed in playbill on a red t-shirt. I still have it, and it still looks a bit shit.

Within a few weeks we assembled a group of people to join us. Our housemate Nina could play trumpet, so she was in. She had a friend called Steve who could play guitar and a friend called Natalie who could play viola, both were in. Our friend Dee also volunteered herself, but she was a bass player, so she joined as bassist and I became leader ‘without portfolio’ for a while.

One evening I went to see my friend Emma’s band playing downstairs at the Alleycat. Emma was playing cello in a local group called British Air Power. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the band, but the one-person who did stick-out was their viola player. I recognised her from the Reading scene, as a bit of a face from around town, probably the After Dark Club or Rockit the vintage clothes shop. On this evening she stood out because at the end of every song she’d run to the bar and get another drink before running back on stage. After the show we got chatting, and she agreed to join the band.

So Saloon by this stage had a fairly unconventional line up of two viola players, two bassists, a drummer, a trumpet player, one guitarist but no singer. Although at no point had we managed to get us all in a room together. To rectify the singer issue Mike and I put a few adverts up in bars and music shops. “Female Singer sought for Reading band. Influences, Portishead, Stereolab, Velvets, Easy Listening.” Perhaps more telling was the disclaimer “musicianship a bonus not a must”.

In my orange room over the next few days, I auditioned two people. The first sung an acapella version of Killing Me Softly. Her singing was pretty terrible but what I disliked most was the fact that she sat on my bed rather than my vintage arkana chair. Too forward. The other person to audition had seen the advert in the local music shop with her boyfriend. She hadn’t heard of Stereolab (her boyfriend told her they were boring anyway) but she was a fan of Portishead. I met her in the car park of the local pub, so that her mum could see that I wasn’t some weirdo out to pick-up girls (if I was I wouldn’t have listed Stereolab and The Velvets on the advert anyway).

The singer was Amanda. She sat on the arkana chair and sung two songs, while strumming my terribly cheap electric guitar. Those songs were Sugar Boy by Beth Orton and Flowers in December by Mazzy Star. The versions I have posted here, I found on a C90 and I am pretty sure this is her rehearsing for the audition.

She sung her songs through once, and I think I may have sung her back one of my own tunes (probably ‘I am the cheese’) and then I got Mike to come in and she sung Sugar Boy again. You don’t need me to tell this to a Saloon fan, but her voice was a revelation. I knew Mike was impressed because he became all giggly. In the back of my mind though I was worried that at 17 she was a bit young for the band and wouldn’t stick with us for long, I also was a bit worried that her voice was going to be drowned out by the rest of us, but I didn’t get to air those concerns. The three of us got a bus to town and before we got off Amanda asked us if she was in the band, Mike just laughed and said ‘Yeah’. So she was in. We went and had some drinks to celebrate.

Now we had eight members. We didn’t ever all get in a room together. I think we may have had one rehearsal with Amanda, Mike, Natalie and Steve before Natalie and Steve left. Nina I don’t think we ever heard her play the trumpet. She did inspire a song though, 'Nina Says', which I wrote over Xmas in 1997.

On top of being an amazing singer, Amanda also had access to a rehearsal space which was a bonus, this was a room above The Fox and Hounds pub in Caversham. By now I'd got a proper job so I spent my pay packet on a £500 PA. We had a couple more rehearsals with Dee before she left. We weren’t rock enough for her. The songs we had in our set at this stage were four of mine being ‘ Fuzzy Felt’ ‘Spacer’ ‘I am the cheese’ and ‘Spectrum Colour Clash’, a song of Amanda’s that I named ‘Conquistador’ and a new one based on the last days of Rome that I penned with Amanda who wrote the melody, which was called ‘Bring all your love to me’.  Alison had by now joined the band fully, but Mike was becoming concerned that we had quickly gone from 9 people to 4 and that we needed to do something before losing momentum.

Mike arranged for us to turn up at an acoustic session at a hippy café called Pangaea World Café Bar on London Street, Reading. We turned up in our roll-neck jumpers and did our best to hog the evening. Mike took forever to set up his snare and cymbals much to the annoyance of the organiser. Despite my ineptitude on a guitar, I had been forced to move onto acoustic until we could find a proper guitarist. Alison was on viola and Amanda sung and played a  Casio PSS-30. We played three songs, ‘Fuzzy Felt’ ‘I am the cheese’ and ‘Spectrum Colour Clash’ before being ushered off. About half an hour later we were invited back on where we played ‘Bring all your love (to me)’. It was great to finally be playing in public. The organiser said something about it being the start of something big, or some similar cliché. Someone else said it was like seeing the Velvets for the first time (they must have been really old and well-travelled to have seen the Velvets the first time themselves).

After  Pangaea, our confidence was up, but we knew we were missing something, notably a half-decent guitar player. We put up some more adverts which stated ‘No Pot-Noodling’ as, more than anything, I wanted to avoid getting a proper musician in the band and being found-out.

I am pretty sure only one person replied, certainly only one person auditioned, which was Matt. His musical CV included some time in a funk band, he couldn’t play a barre-chord (I can still almost only play barre chords) but he was young, keen, knew who Stereolab were, and most importantly turned up to his first audition in a roll-neck.

The line-up was complete, and although we played two shows in our career without Alison and had the occasional guest musician, the line-up stayed the same five people for five and a half years. Only a few weeks after Matt joined (basically as soon as he had mastered the E-Barre) chord, we played our first gig at the Fox and Hounds in the very room we rehearsed in.

Unlike with Amanda, we didn’t tell Matt straight away that he was in the band. He waited until after our second or third rehearsal to ask “Am I in the band”
“Of course you’re in the f-ing band" we replied.
The rest, as they say, is anything but history.  

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Another mixed bag

I have been pretty busy the last few weeks so not had much of a chance to do any updates on here. But seeing as the Saloon website was down for almost 10 years, I don’t feel too guilty.

Nice to hear an interview on Radio Berkshire with Reading band The Jettes. Two of the members are Richard and Sarah who were also in Desdemona, a band that Saloon played with several times, and I am sure we had them at the Happy Robots night on a number of occasions. Richard also came and helped out when we did our final tour in Scandinavia. We did try and drag him on stage for the finale of ‘Girls are the new boys’ in Stockholm, but he declined the offer. Great to hear them doing so well.

Also in the news, but far less uplifting, is the story of Naomi Button who has had her baby girl Elsa snatched. Naomi is currently campaigning going through legal proceedings to try and get Elsa back from Egypt where she is being held by the family of Elsa’s father. Naomi was a close friend of Mike back when we lived in Reading. Naomi needs financial support for her campaign; if anyone reading this can help I know it would be incredibly appreciated.

So this morning I read that the cassette tape is making a comeback. Not in our house though, in fact if it wasn’t for me clearing out all the C90’s this site probably wouldn’t exist.

Another reminder that Alison has another gig coming up with Left Outsides and Alice (my partner in Arthur and Martha) has a new single and new video out now with her band Cosines. 

And finally, while working on the new Arthur and Martha record (which is a rare enough thing in itself) I found a bundle of Saloon set lists in the Moog Opus 3 case. Four lists all from the same gig, no idea which one it was though. Undoubtedly a headline set in 2003 but certainly not Scandinavia as we definitely closed with Good Life / GATNB there. If anyone knows the right answer please write in to the usual address to win something we have overstocked in the shop. Can’t say fairer than that. 

Friday 26 April 2013

Gigs, gatherings and other gossip

It’s not all just dwelling on the past on the Saloon website. Alison has announced a gig for The Left Outsides on 24th May supporting Gravenhurst in a church in Hampstead. There will be a bar apparently and should well be worth the price of admission. 

Saloon’s collaborators have also been busy, Mike’s brother Rob (who collaborated with Saloon on ‘Have you seen the light’ amongst other things) has been touring the states as part of Hot Chip including playing Coachella. Another of our collaborators also inadvertently made it to the gossip pages this week.

In my own news, Alice and I had our first session in the ‘studio’ for about four years to work on some new Arthur and Martha material. Obviously don’t expect anything soon (if ever) but it was great to be making music with Alice again. Her other, much more active band Cosines have a new record out as well as some gig dates 

Also, on the Saloon front, I found a couple of lost tapes at the bottom of a box on the weekend. Now this was hardly a find on the level of The Tomb of the Cybermen, but what I did find was a really nice instrumental piano version of Chromosomes played by Amanda, along with a demo of a song that Mike wrote and recorded solo called ‘Cool as can be’. Hopefully I will get them up on here in due course of time.

As you can see, my web skills now stretch to hyperlinks.