"The fact that it isn’t breaking its back to be anything is quite liberating," says Barry Andrews, pondering over the music he’s currently making with Shriekback. "It’s what it is – individuality is quite refreshing. Like those old guys who walk down Oxford Street carrying banners saying ‘stop eating peanuts’. It makes you feel good about people."
Specifically, he means a new single called "Sexthinkone" and a mini-LP labeled "Tench". Both are on Dick O’Dell’s Y Records, and both their sound and the manner of their making suggest something a little bit out of the ordinary.
There’s the basic nucleus of Shriekback, for a start. It’s a trio – Barry Andrews, Gang of Four’s former bassist Dave Allen and guitarist Carl Marsh, who used to be with Out on Blue Six. On top of these three, any number of friends and accomplices might drop by the studio to help out. "Sexthinkone" itself features departed member Brian Nevill on percussion, plus Linda Nevill and Andrea Oliver on vocals, a strange character allegedly called Carlo Lucius Asciutti on piano and xylophone and Dick O’Dell himself on "paperweight and claptrap of death".
Dave Allen, who talks most, backtracks. "What I wanted to do was get together a loose collective of people where you would maintain a sort of unit, but it wouldn’t ever be a band. It would come out with a lot of material that would involve a lot of people that you wouldn’t necessarily keep on.
"We’ve got to the point where the three of us now work together very well and very easily, and this is the unit. Now we just invite people down who we think would be suitable to perform on our tracks, so it’s like a very loose collective with Shriekback as the sort of mentors and producers."
Andrews – who used to be with XTC – and Allen both shudder when they think back on their days with big groups on major labels. Both loathed the duhumanising process of touring, and both now find it incredible to think back on the thoughtlessness with which groups are sucked into the ponderous mechanisms of "rock’n’roll" and its attendant money-wasting potential.
Andrews: "I hesitate to use the word ‘decadent’, but that’s what it is. Working with Y means a lot more work on our part, like we actually have to do a lot of stuff like artwork and looking after day to day logistics ourselves, but it also means you know who’s responsible for what and things don’t keep getting passed round offices."
Carl Marsh chips in: "If a group like this had been involved in a major label it’s possible it wouldn’t have survived the process, because there’s so many pigeonholes you’re supposed to fit into."
For example, the "Tench" LP contains some 26 minutes’ worth of music and retails at £2.99. "People can afford £2.99," says Dave Allen. "Skidoo proved it. There’s just no reason to put out 10 or 12 tracks, four of which you don’t really like, and sell it for £4.50 because the record company want to get its money back."
Shriekback have kept operating costs to a minimum by seeking out various small, cheap London studios, and recorded "Tench" at KPM, a 16 track demo studio owned by their music publishers EMI Publishing. It had never occurred to anybody before to make records there, but as the Shrieks point out, there simply isn’t any good reason to spend £50 and upwards an hour in a big-name studio when you can achieve excellent results at a third of that cost.
And the music? As Andrews points out, it’s my job to label it, not his, but I’m at a loss for some glib handle to attach to it. How can you describe the ominous stalking of "Mothloop", or the curious obliqueness of "All the Greekboys (Do The Handwalk)"? The photograph on the label of "Tench", by the way , inspired the latter song. "I think he’s probably Turkish, but it didn’t scan," confides Andrews.
But mark my words, there may be a new force in the land.
Masterbag July 8-21 1982
Tench has been reissued and remastered, with additional tracks and a bonus CD of their never-before-released 1983 Detroit concert. You can purchase this via their store on Burning Shed by clicking the Tench pic. Order before 1 September, and you will also receive the Shriek/Thee Caretakers collaborative effort free!