Sometimes it’s nice to see people
Who used to be really close to you,
But now you’ve escaped from your dependence,
Don’t get another dose.
Blackest Ever Black is pleased to present the first vinyl edition of the legendary demos recorded in 1981 by Weekend – the trio of Alison Statton, Spike Williams and Simon Booth.
Alison Statton began her recording career with Philip and Stuart Moxham in Young Marble Giants, one of the most unique and important bands to come out of the UK post-punk/independent scene. YMGs dissolved in 1981, at which point Statton began writing with Wrexham native Mark ‘Spike’ Williams, one of the brains behind Z Block Records and a member of the band Reptile Ranch. They joined forces with guitarist Simon Booth to form Weekend, and recorded the exquisite demo versions of ‘Drumbeat’ (later titled ‘Drumbeat For Baby’), ‘Red Planes’, ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘Summerdays’ that are collected on this new 12″.
At the heart of the record are two truly remarkable pieces: ‘Red Planes’ and ‘Nostalgia’. The former is a dubwise dream-pop epic, Statton’s dispassionate, Nico-esque vocal wafting over a clucking Boss DR 55 pulse and seismic bass detonations, while Williams’ violin, in Alison’s words, “soars and dives and weaves through every possible mood with no inhibitions, creating an almost psychedelic feel, with a menacing undercurrent”. It’s somehow both starker and more richly atmospheric than the version that appears on the band’s debut album, La Varieté (Rough Trade, 1982), not to mention significantly longer – nine minutes in total. Our only complaint is that it doesn’t last for nineteen.
‘Nostalgia’, meanwhile, is surely one of the most perfectly elegiac songs committed to tape in the post-punk era. More fleshed-out than the La Varieté version, the instrumentation here – notably Statton’s yearning recorder part (“Very Eno,” as Spike astutely observes) – amplifies the emotional resonance of an already heart-stopping lyric. Written by Spike and Dave Hoddel, ‘Nostalgia’ is a poignant meditation on the attraction, and the danger, of dwelling on the past.
Shorn of the jazzy flourishes that would define the subsequent studio version, ‘Drumbeat’ (later titled ‘Drumbeat For Baby’) has a brittle, choppier quality more in line with Young Marble Giants than Weekend; it remains one of Williams and Statton’s most infectious compositions. The instrumental ‘Summerdays’, is a different beast entirely to the cut on La Varieté; it’s primarily a showcase of Simon Booth’s lyrical guitar-playing, at times reminiscent of the courtly psychedelia of early Felt or Vini Reilly, and reminding us of Weekend’s role as godparents of the nascent indie-pop movement.
Jazz became an increasingly prominent component of the Weekend sound, and by the time of La Varieté – their sole studio LP – they had welcomed jazzmen Larry Stabbins (saxophone), Roy Dodds (drums) and Dawson Miller (percussion) into their line-up. But despite its idiosyncratic brilliance and long-lasting influence (Belle & Sebastian and Kalima are but two groups who owe it an enormous debt), nothing on La Varieté, or on the handful of singles and live recordings Weekend put their name to before disbanding in 1983, comes close to matching the raw, impressionistic power of the ’81 demos.
The four demos were released as a stand-alone CD by Vinyl Japan in 1995, and included as bonus tracks on Cherry Red’s most recent CD reissue of La Varieté; however, until now they have never appeared on vinyl.
Licensed from Cherry Red, The ’81 Demos (BLACKEST026) is a 12″ limited to 1000 pieces, cut by Matt Colton at Alchemy and housed in an LP sleeve printed on reverse board stock, with printed inner bag featuring liner notes by Spike Williams, Alison Statton and Simon Booth.
A JOURNEY TO JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE
It’s a curious experience revisiting the ’81 demos, which now seem, in retrospect, naive and relatively unburdened musically, however the emotion contained within them is still penetrating through, after 32 years.
‘Drumbeat’ and ‘Red Planes’ began as simple basslines and vocals I’d written, after the demise of Young Marble Giants, in a fresh and tentative get-together in Cardiff, with Spike, a musician friend, formally with Reptile Ranch and one of the Z Block Records originators.
Layered narratives and the wish to portray their emotional content in sound (within my technical limitations) was the driving force for me, and Spike was the perfect partner for entering that atmospheric soundscape.
‘Drumbeat’’s melodic ups and downs tempered the track along its journey until, fittingly, entering the surreal at its end.
On ‘Red Planes’ the contrast of the solemn bass and vocal and Spike’s violin playing, soaring and diving and weaving through every possible mood with no inhibitions, created an almost psychedelic feel with a menacing undercurrent. This highlights the whole feel of freedom at the time, despite the apprehensiveness present in the music.
When I first heard ‘Nostalgia’ I was deeply moved by the bittersweet lyrics and depiction of the human resolve that is needed to survive our emotional experiences. One of the joys of working with Spike was his ability to take the soul on an intense journey just about anywhere when he played violin.
Just as Spike and I began exploring these songs I was contacted by Simon with a view to a possible collaboration. I met up with him at Mole Jazz record shop where he was working. He was full of enthusiasm and vibrantly shared his love of so many jazz greats, firing an interest that has stayed with me to this day.
I was inspired by his positivity but didn’t want to abandon the union with Spike and very soon after, I moved to London, into a squat in Camden, where Weekend was born and the ’81 demos were re-recorded with Simon and Spike.
‘Summerdays’ instrumental was practically squeezed out of the tube as it went on to tape and is now instantly recognisable as a different strand sound-wise.
Simon was skilful at visioning and pulling together a whole team of outstanding jazz and world musicians (Larry Stabbins, Dawson Miller, Roy Dodds and the late Harry Beckett and Simon Jeffes) who along with Spike, all contributed their tremendous skills with great zest and creativity, as well as Robin Millar, who was the magic ingredient that smoothly wove everything together, in the studio, when recording La Varieté. It was an honour to work with them all, and was somewhat of a magical mystery tour and an introduction to one of many lessons in life: to expect the unexpected.
– Alison Statton, December 2013
FEELING OUR WAY AROUND A BLACKED OUT STAGE
On these demo recordings Alison is playing her custom bass, I was still playing the violin (which I could play, unlike the cheap viola I was encouraged to play in Weekend because it was “more John Cale”). The drum machine sounds like a compromise rather than a conscious choice; we didn’t really know how to program it and I remember I really struggled to get the big explosive bass drum sound I wanted on ‘Red Planes’. A previous rough recording had used hand percussion through an echo unit (to help keep time) which gave a curiously home-made, unconventional feel that got lost with the presence of the rigid drum machine playing the cha-cha-cha. I don’t know how we managed to lose Alison’s haunting recorder from the final album recording of ‘Nostalgia’; it was great; very Eno.
I remember conversations with Alison at the time about how, as the recordings got better and more refined, some of the magic was lost. The original idea being like a book; the final recording like the film of the book. Everything gets concretised, clarified, alienated from the original idea. The imagination is confined. The infinite is made finite. I used to get terribly depressed after final mixdown sessions. It was like a kind of death.
As a general rule, I love the sound of naivety, as long as it’s not my own. These recordings sound so fragile and under-prepared (or is it fluid and natural?). It sounds like we’re all feeling our way around a blacked-out stage, trying to find each other. At this point, the band was still very much in its formative stages without any of the jazzy references that became a big part of our sound thanks to the later additions of Roy Dodds, Dawson Miller and Larry Stabbins. At this point we were still planning on being a band without a drummer. In fact, our first gigs were performed with drum tracks on a cassette backing tape – all very odd, and very messy! At least we had the good sense to evolve and, by the time of recording La Varieté, we were a half decent live band.
My greatest regret is that I had way too much pride and passion but was very low on professionalism. But then, we were very young at the time.
– Spike Williams, December 2013
HOVERING WITH GRACEFUL EASE
I don’t think the demos do sound that different to the album. ‘Drumbeat’ is more or less the same, a bit slower. It’s very interesting that we were always seen as ‘jazz pop’ but what you hear on these demos has a much darker, more Velvet Underground feel (apparently the Velvets always wanted to be more ‘experimental jazz’ than lo-fi rock but they knew they didn’t have the chops so went on to change the world regardless). You can really hear this on ‘Red Planes’, with Spike’s John Cale violin and Alison’s Nico-esque low vocals.
I think the drum machine we used was a Boss DR 55. The very first cheap drum machine. I think this was what the YMGs used too.
‘Summerdays’ is an instrumental on this demo but went on to have the lyrics “and up over the trees, high in the breeze, the kestral hovers with graceful ease” – which I think I wrote and shows that even then I was a very keen birdwatcher.
One regret? No one appears to have invented the guitar tuner back then.
– Simon Booth, December 2013