Smarter than the Average Bare
Some words give people the willies. The worst of these is ‘Love’. Many will cross the road to avoid it, more sit still and squirm.
Caught with its trousers down too many times, ‘Love’ has lost its dignity, rolls round the tongue like melting chocolate. Who will restore it to its rightful place?
Shriekback will. Already they can talk of ‘Love’ with nary a trace of a blush. Dertermined to be honest, Shriekback have stripped down to fundamentals. What could be more fundamental than love?
Dave Allen (ex-Gang of Four), Barry Andrews (ex-XTC) and Carl Marsh (ex-Out On Blue Six) formed Shriekback to drop their defences. Tired of rock and roll and all the myths that sail in her, they set about establishing their own priorities. Quickly signing a publishing deal with EMI that gave them a great deal of free studio time, they set about discovering a way of playing together. Their first min-LP ‘Tench’ took 5 months to record and was as tense as its title. Nothing quite clicked, the edges were interesting.
Last July, the three signed a pact, a written document titled ‘The Seven Pillars of Shriekback’. Seven rules that commit the three to one another, to love and to energy. Since then, the sailing has got plainer every day.
"When we began," explains Dave, "we had all this free studio time in which to experiment with one another. It was interesting, but we lacked a direction and a purpose. If there’s no framework, you can just storm out in an argument and destroy the whole thing. We decided we were to carry on, we needed to make a commitment to one another. We’d run out of studio time and were moving into rehearsal rooms. It’s easy to keep things together in a studio but a tiny little rehearsal room is another story. So, we wrote up the ‘Seven Pillars’."
The signing of the document coincided with Shriekback’s discovery of a direction. Working upwards from a rhythm track, they made ‘My Spine Is The Bassline’ and discovered they’d almost made a disco track! Now they’ve just released an album, ‘Care’, recorded with ease in 19 days, and a single, ‘Lined Up’, which deserves to be one of the club hits of the year. Shriekback are onto something.
"The aim of this group is to communicate," explains Barry Andrews. "The bottom-line of what there is to communicate to people is love, a sense of relatedness to each other that is expressed through energy. We’ve all put up with not communicating, sitting on the tube, staring at the ads. It doesn’t rate. What is really satisfying is communicating, sharing something with everybody else."
Shriekback are determined to avoid the rock and roll treadmill. They work hard but it doesn’t feel like work. They no longer distinguish between work and play. They’ve come out of the studio and found that people love them live. So much so, Barry Andrews finds it frightening. Without the barriers of the rock and roll pose, he can feel the brunt of his audience’s feeling.
"To be close to anybody is frightening. It’s particularly frightening to be close to a room full of people you’ve never met before. Not that anyone is going to point a gun at you but when you fully engage in communication, the first thing you hit is fear. Sitting on the tube, you see the blind terror in people’s eyes, the terror of being touched."
Shriekback have worked hard to organize their set-up, to take responsibility for their own group. They want to do away with safety nets.
"The safest thing to do, is not to do it wholeheartedly," explains Barry. "It’s easy to blame the gear, or the roadies, or each other. It’s quite comfortable not to take responsibility. With this group, all three of us are doing that. We arrive early for sound-checks! We’re trying to keep things clear."
Vulnerability is Shriekback’s backbone. They aren’t troupers, determined that the show must go on, nor macho men, hiding behind muscle.
"I spent a long time hiding behind things," says Dave. "Now it’s time to come out." Gradually three shy men are coming out of their shells.
"We’re English," laughs Barry. "That means there’s times when we’re really afraid of each other. We’re all normal white English boys, we get embarrassed. But we’re getting through. The actual turning point for me was when we stopped blaming each other when things went wrong."
Shriekback are delighted to discover they don’t have to lie. The night before this interview they played Heaven in London. When bouncers started beating up their mates at the front, they stopped playing.
"I felt really good we could stop, then start again. We were so glad we could handle it. When we did start again, the crowd was more behind us. Stopping onstage is almost suicidal! But why pretend? Admitting that things go wrong is really exciting: you stop acting the powerful figure onstage. We’re not different from other bands, we’re just becoming more and more aware of being human. Men don’t easily admit to making mistakes. It’s such a relief when you do!"
Shriekback make records and they play live. They treat the two processes quite differently. Live, they play with a drummer and a percussionist, in the studio they use a Linndrum. Live, they are fiercely percussive, in the studio they are more curious, more open to moods. This is how it should be.
"I’d recommend you forget you’d ever heard our records when you see us live," says Barry. "The way we see the recorded songs is like covers of other people’s songs. That gives us the right to maul them. What’s appropriate live isn’t necessarily so in the studio.
Carl agrees. "We could take loads of gear and lots of singers and reproduce the record. But what’s the point? You wouldn’t even have the sleeve."
Their path will get more open and more curious; Shriekback have nothing to fear but fear itself.
April 9, 1983
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