The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of

You know the schtick round these parts by now: post a song within a series, or drop a vaguely amusing story (and link it to a song), or bang on about politics (and link it to a song) blah blah blah.

But the songs I post are generally older ones that you all know already, or maybe have forgotten about; as historically I have never been first to discover a band, I prefer to leave all that “breaking new acts” to those with a better ear for that kind of thing, and a better turn of phrase for describing it than I.

But this morning: something different. The story of a band who peaked in the mid-to-late 1980s then promptly vanished without a trace, amid animosity, violence and even rumours of death and murder.

And I know for a fact that you won’t have heard of them, or anything by them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the magnificent:

Third Light

I mention Third Light¬†now because today¬†the three founder members, Rob, Phil and “Swing” will be reconvening. It is the first time they have¬†laid eyes on each other in over thirty years.

Let’s get the admin out of the way first: Third Light is one of the coolest band names ever. Fact. But what does it mean?¬†Well, Wikipedia tells us that Third Light¬†is supposedly ¬†a¬†superstition among soldiers during the¬†Crimean War¬†to World War II. Since then it has been considered bad luck for three people to share a light from the same match. The superstition goes that if three soldiers lit their cigarettes from the same match, the man who was third on the match would be shot. The enemy would be alerted to their presence by the first light, able to take aim by the second, and by the third…well, you get the idea.

It would turn out to be a most prophetic name.

The trio first met at school, but had little to do with each other until one Friday night in their final year when¬†a “disco”, for want of a better word, was held in the school hall. But this was no ordinary school disco, it was open to locals too.¬†And more importantly, it had a fully licensed bar. And even more importantly than that, one of the more senior teachers worked behind the bar and he was perfectly happy to serve alcohol to his pupils, even when he recognised them out of uniform, so to speak. (Indeed, it was this teacher and this act of generosity which¬†inspired the first band name suggested: Cliff and the Babes, a name rejected for sounding too much like a novelty act. As if Cliff would have anything to do with children. Take heed, BBC!)

The three found themselves at the bar together, supping pints of snakebite and black, all suddenly aware that they were rocking a very similar look: dressed all in black, hair spiked-up, skinny tight jeans. It was to become a look adopted by their many fans over the next few years; indeed you sometimes spot them to this day. You might know them as goths, or Emo, but back in the day they were known as Lighters.

And it was in this crowded bar on that Friday night that the three of them looked each other up and down and all came to the same decision: it’s not my round. And then they came to another one: these two geeks are my ticket out of here.

They didn’t need a ticket out of there that night though; they were chased out by a group of local thugs who didn’t appreciate people turning up looking a bit different. That night they were forever united as the pitchfork brandishing and flaming torch waving lynch mob kicked seven bells of shit out of them on the village green. Apparently it’s quite hard running away from danger when you’re in skinny jeans, a flouncy blouse¬†and winkle-pickers.¬†If there was any justice in this world, which we know there isn’t, but if there was, then¬†there would be a blue plaque to them there now.¬† But there isn’t.

The next day, the freshly bandaged three amigos met up again, and their master plan was hatched. They would buy guitars and maybe even learn to play them. The group was split on the need to actually learn how to play their instruments: Phil thought it was important, Rob said he wasn’t going to bother unless the other two definitely were going to, “Swing” pointed out that Sid Vicious couldn’t play his bass guitar and it never did him any harm, Rob and Phil agreed that was a fair point, but the heroin addiction and propensity to murder his own girlfriend didn’t exactly do him much good either.

They did agree that¬†the first step in their march to world domination was to gain notoriety. And so¬†it was that they went to¬†the pub, played some pool and politely agreed with the regular customers that you don’t get two shots on the black,¬†put loads of money in the juke box, programmed it to play Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Love Missile F1-11 on repeat until all of their money had run out, then left mid-way through the first rendition.

But the cracks were already appearing. Phil did¬†buy a guitar and set about learning some basic chords.¬†Rob told him to let him know once he could play A7, and he’d think about trying to. But several months later, when Phil had¬†mastered that chord, Rob sent him away again, with the same instruction, but this time for¬†F#, but as¬†a bar chord, mind, not the easy way. The¬†chain of command had been established.

“Swing” meanwhile got hold of an electric guitar which, rather than make any attempt at learning to play, he¬†set about taking apart to see how it worked. And after he’d done that, he realised he didn’t know how to put it back together again, so that was the end of that. Back to being the Sid of the band it was, then.

And still the music, the sweet, sweet music kept not coming. The trio worked hard on their “difficult first album”; they designed a logo (as above) and came up with a title: “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing.”

And then, the irony-o-meter went off the scale as suddenly the band no longer had Swing. He disappeared without a trace. Many said that he was dead, some said he was murdered. Then came the usual Lord Lucan-esque rumours that he had been spotted. In much the same way as conspiracy theorists said that Paul McCartney was dead because he appeared on the cover of Abbey Road with no shoes on, so the whispers grew that Swing had been spotted on a zebra crossing wearing nothing but his shoes.

Rob and Phil soldiered on, arranging publicity shots to send out as missives to the likes of the NME. Only one photo survives from that shoot:

Third Light promo

In a rare interview in 2015, Phil added a further layer to the mystery, when he was quoted as saying: “It’s an interesting story. Being only weeks after Swing died, Rob and I decided to push on with the new single release. This publicity shot was the first one since his death. Imagine our surprise when the picture was developed with Swing’s face in between us.”

But the band could not recover from the loss of their most enigmatic, if musically ungifted member, and they disbanded just as the major labels were forming orderly queues to sign them up (it says here).

But now they’re back, Back, BACK! And who knows, maybe this time around they may get around to actually recording something. If they do (they won’t) I suspect it will sound like a hybrid of these¬†five bands, all of whom were cited as influences in early interviews:

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The Sisters of Mercy – Alice

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The Jesus & Mary Chain – Taste of Cindy

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Pop Will Eat Itself – Oh Grebo I Think I Love You

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The Pleasureheads – Falling Man

Front Cover

The Alarm – Third Light

Ah.¬†Maybe that’s where they got¬†their name from, then…

Anyway, truth be told, they’re more likely to go find a local pub which has a pool table and this on the juke box:

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Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Love Missile F1-11

More soon.

PS: have a splendid weekend (this weekend) catching up, chaps.

And have a great birthday (next weekend), Bruv. Please can you put my guitar back together again sometime soon?

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Friday Night Music Club

Today is Andrew’s birthday. Andrew is¬†my older/only brother.

For once I don’t have to take international time-zones into consideration to ensure that he¬†reads my birthday wishes¬†on the right day,¬†for this year he’s home from India and back in the UK for a couple of weeks.

To mark the occasion, I’m travelling up to my folks for the weekend, and to inevitably spend Saturday night sitting up and drinking Jack Daniels with him.¬†Often when I go home, I’ll prepare a playlist of stuff to listen to, but often this has to take into consideration what the ‘rents will put up with having to listen to. So I thought this week, I’d post a few songs here which remind me of my Big Bro because…well, he bought (most of) them when we were kids.

As I was choosing the songs to play tonight, it occurred to me that my musical evolution followed a pretty similar path to his. This is hardly surprising since I used to listen to his records in that period before I started buying my own on a regular basis. We both had: a dodgy rock stage, a dodgy pop phase, followed by some semblance of redemption by way of liking something approaching decent indie records (although he had more than a passing Goth phase too).

I’ve talked about some of the records from our shared past before, here and he even wrote about the songs he bought when he was younger here. I’ve tried to avoid the songs played on those posts and focus on the…less cool stuff. For a start, anyway.

(By the way: my file sharing service Cut Pi, seems to be becoming increasingly erratic, and doesn’t seem to recognise some of the mp3s as being mp3s. It’s been doing this for a while and I can’t work out why. Upshot is, some of the links are shared via Zippyshare. Hope they work okay. And George – you got your wish.)

So let’s break these into the aforementioned three sections.

The Rock Stage

Of course, he had bought AC/DC’s¬†seminal 1980 “Back in Black” album, (and later owned copies of “Let There Be Rock” and “If You Want Blood…You Got It!” (an album title I always thought would have been better suited to Kiss or Alice Cooper)¬†but I imagine you all know pretty much every song from that album, so I’ve plumped for this from their 1981 release, which pretty much sums up us at the time, the band, and how the start of tonight’s post is going to go:

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337. AC/DC – For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)

Shortly after we moved into what became the family home throughout our childhood (mid-1970s), our parents converted a part of the loft into what they christened “The Playroom” – which was fine whilst we were kids, when it housed Andrew’s model train set and my Dr Who toys,¬†but a little embarrassing, in the way that teenagers find everything embarrassing, when they would suggest we took any¬†friends who called round up to The Playroom, which by our teens¬†housed¬†a sofa, a¬†TV and a record player.

At first, the record player was one of those old ones, with the arm that came across and held your next record on the spindle whilst the current record played underneath. But soon, Andrew had saved enough cash up to purchase his first stereo system, one of those with a radio, twin tape deck, a space for records to be stored, a silver beast housed in a teak cabinet with a glass door to the front.

This next album made regular appearances on both turntables; I preferred the album’s title tracks, whilst Andrew¬†always loved this one, ironically, I like to think, given he spent 20-odd years in the RAF:

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338. Black Sabbath – War Pigs

Next, a song which he didn’t buy, but every time I hear it I am reminded of those formative years spent listening to records, and in particular one Thursday evening when we had been banished upstairs to watch Top of the Pops, on which this record appeared, and which led to the pair of us leaping up from the sofa and frantically playing air-guitar, in full on foot-on the monitor mode:

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339. Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills

The reason I think I remember that is because it was probably a turning point, where we both admitted to liking the same records as each other. Up until then, we hated, or pretended to, each other’s musical choices – dammit, we pretended to hate each other (that’s what siblings did when they were that age, right?), having many a play fight which spilt over into full on physical violence, as the snooker¬†cue that I broke over his back once attests (Look, he was bigger than me, I was fully entitled to come tooled up, okay?). As does the broken violin bow we had argued over a few years earlier when we had both found ourselves learning the instrument at Junior School. (I know, I know – fights involving violin bows: it’s not exactly “Angela’s Ashes”, is it…?)

(As an aside: my friends Hel and Llyr went to the Reading Festival in 2005 when Iron Maiden head-lined. They watched them, and afterwards reported that the section of the crowd they were in were distinctly non-plussed by the veteran rockers. Lead warbler Bruce Dickinson, attempting to whip the crowd up into a frenzy would call “Do you remember this one…?”; the crown responded as one “Nope!”)

Particularly indicative of our love/hate relationship came one Saturday night in, I guess, the early 80s. Saturday nights¬†were a family night, which we would spend playing records from my Dad’s record collection. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, Dad’s taste is predominantly Country records, but there was/is diversity there: he likes a bit of jazz, some folk, some classical. There was a series of classical albums that he owned, a spin off from a BBC radio programme, called “The World of Your Hundred Best Tunes” (a name I toyed with giving this very blog, until I realised there may be copyright issues). We were categorically not allowed to bring our own records down to play. But my brother figured out a way round this, and got one song – a cover version of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by the next band from their “Difficult to Cure” album – played. So offended was I that he had been allowed to have one of his songs played, but I hadn’t (as I had no rock covers of classical records) I spent the entirety of the song under the dining room table, kicking and screaming about “how unfair” it was. (“So Unfair” was, I’m reliably informed, mostly anytime my parents watch any Harry Enfield sketch involving Kevin & Perry, practically my catchphrase when I was a teenager. This was just me warming up, I reckon)

Obviously, I’ve mellowed with age. But I’m still not playing “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince unless someone comes up with a bloody good reason to. And I mean bloody good.

Anyway, I’m not playing the Beethoven cover either; since they’re unlikely to feature again (more than once more) on these pages, I thought I’d plump for the big single from the same album:

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340. Rainbow – I Surrender

Rainbow were, of course, one of the many bands to rise from the ashes of Deep Purple, another band that we begrudgingly admitted to having a shared passion for back then. Again, Big Bro’s record collection featured several of their albums, but the first I recall seeing – and to this day, the only one I’ve ever purchased myself (Cheers Fopp (Cardiff¬† branch) and your ¬£2.00 shelf!)¬†– was a compilation album called “Deepest Purple”, from which this one is lifted:

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341. Deep Purple – Woman from Tokyo [Single Edit]

And you’ll be relieved to hear, that’s the end of the Rock Stage…

The Pop Phase

…and perhaps less relieved when you see what comes next.

Luckily for you, I’ve talked before – here – about the fact that we both mysteriously somehow came to own our own copies of Billy Joel’s “An innocent Man” album, so I’ll spare you that.

Ditto, I’ve previously posted – here – the two songs from Cyndi Lauper’s “She’s So Unusual” album, which he also owned that are any good (and I’m not going to post “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” as it annoys me even more than the aforementioned “Summertime”)

But here’s a song by a band I’ve never really liked but – and I can say this without fear of correction, as he denies remembering anything from our childhood – I’m pretty sure Andrew joined the fan-club of:

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342. Thompson Twins – Doctor Doctor

Twins, see? And there were three of them. Pfffffft. Funny guys (and a girl). (They were named after the characters from the Tintin cartoons, as everyone knows – The Ed)

Moving swiftly on, to a song which I had completely forgotten about until Brian over at Linear Tracking Lives! posted it a month or so in his wonderful alphabetical trawl through his own record-buying history.

Lifted from her “The Drum is Everything”, much was expected of Carmel and her brand of smoky, jazzy pop, but she feel by the wayside shortly after this was released (although I did pick up one of the singles from the follow-up album, which I’ll feature soon enough, and which utterly tanked):

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343. Carmel – More, More, More

I should at this point talk about the records by groups like The Go-Go’s which he brought back from a summer in America staying with relatives, working on their blueberry farm. Instead, I’m going to post something from an album which contains another of my most disliked pop songs ever by another group I was fairly indifferent to for much of their existence, but with the benefit of hindsight I can see did have some decent pop tunes, particularly in their early 80s¬†synth-pop phase.

But the album Andrew bought by Eurythmics – “Be Yourself Tonight” – does not come from that period. It comes from their just-after-the-synth-pop-phase, and from an album which brought their only UK Number 1, the aforementioned disliked pop song “There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart)” (It’s the over-singing that does my head in). The album spawned two other hits: “Would I Lie To You?”, which I posted recently, and this one, which I’d completely forgotten about until I came to write this, gave it a listen, and decided it’s not too bad at all:

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344. Eurythmics – It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back)

But there was one band from his pop period who loomed large. I believe they were the first band he ever saw live (albeit supporting The Police), and, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, a band I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for too:

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345. The Alarm – Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?

It was The Alarm more than any other band, I think, that focused my brother’s attentions on records which were…well, let’s say more critically acclaimed shall we?

But first, two more bands that I remember compilation albums appearing amongst his burgeoning record collection. Neither need any introduction:

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346. The Rolling Stones – Get Off Of My Cloud

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347. The Jam – Down in the Tube Station at Midnight

I don’t recall which of these albums first surfaced on The Playroom’s record decks (ha! like it was anyway near as cool in there as that sounds), what I do know is that a) I have recently bought both of these albums on vinyl myself, and b) shortly after The Jam album appeared I remember laughing at my brother for wearing white socks, the only mod accessory one could get away with at our school. Still, at least he didn’t steal them, of if he did, he wasn’t dumb enough to get caught. Ahem.

But these were the first shoots of liking more credible records, for very soon, we were fully into stage three, where he has resided ever since.

The Road to Redemption

There’s only one place to start. The Alarm’s haircuts may have influenced his for many years afterwards, when he could get away with it, but it was the dress sense and image of one of the Sex Pistols that most captured his imagination. He was told many times that he looked like this sneerer, which I’m pretty sure always thrilled him, however indifferent he may have appeared to look.

It’s credited to Sex Pistols, but make no mistake, released in 1978 as the band were imploding, this is a Sid Vicious record in everything but name:

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348. Sex Pistols – My Way

And so, with his black hair sprayed vertically, skinny black jeans with black studded belt and black winkle-pickers or occasionally cowboy boots (which, if memory serves, were brown when he bought them, unable to source a black pair, and which he spent several hours glossing over with a tub of Kiwi black polish and an oily rag), there was only one place he was going to go next:

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349. The Sisters of Mercy – Alice

And of course, this lot, who we are both unified in our admiration of, so it seems appropriate this song occupies the 350th slot in this section:

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350. The Jesus & Mary Chain – You Trip Me Up

He also bought the one and only album by this next lot, who I mention because I cannot hear it without thinking of the summer I spent as an underage drinker, hanging out with him and his mates Rob and Phil, driving round Cambridgeshire’s¬†village pubs, where no-one knew our names, pubs like The Barnwell Mill, which had a massive juke box, and¬†only one record they liked upon it. Once they realised that it didn’t differentiate between the same song having been selected twice by different people, they realised they could have hours of fun, by simply playing this, over and over and over and over and over again, often leaving after they’d heard it once, leaving the rest of the drinkers to sup their way through it another 17 times:

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351. Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Love Missile F1-11

Gradually, our musical tastes have pretty much merged. At no time was this more apparent than when I was at Sixth Form, between 1986 and 1988. As I mentioned recently, on a nightly basis  I found myself preparing mixtapes to play in the Sixth Form common room the following day, and there was one album which Andrew had bought which was invaluable for that. For he is the only person I know to have bought the legendary NME C86 album when it came out (admittedly, he bought the vinyl version, not the original cassette only version, but props are still due).

This band featured on the album in question, but not with this song, which he both realised we loved within the last few years, when discussing how much the much-missed The Long Blondes reminded us of them:

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352. The Shop Assistants – Safety Net

In 1997, our paths crossed back at our folks house, and, presumably after they’d gone to bed we were either playing records, or more likely watching a music TV channel, this came on. I’d not seen him so enthused for some years (actually, I’d probably not seen him for years), and he proclaimed this “the new punk”:

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353. The Prodigy – Firestarter

At which point, I’d better draw things to a close. If I don’t, it won’t be his birthday anymore by the time¬†I post this.

So, one last one, by a band I remember him going to see towards the start of their career, and telling me afterwards how he’d been to see a band who used bashing-themselves-on- the-head-with-a-metal-tea-tray as a percussion instrument. I’d be very surprised if this doesn’t get an airing tomorrow night:

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354. The Pogues – Boys From the County Hell

Happy Birthday Bro. See you tomorrow. I’ll bring the Jack Daniels.

And to the rest of you – well, as I’m away, it’ll be a little quiet around here for the next couple of days, certainly not as busy as it normally is of a weekend. If I have time to write them before I set off tomorrow, there will be a Late Night Stargazing and a Sunday Morning Coming Down, but no promises. Otherwise, The Chain will return on Monday, so you’ve got another couple of days to get your suggestions in if you haven’t done so already.

Til then, have a fab weekend.

Oh, and More Soon, obviously.