Friday, February 08, 2008

Perfection Pop

I aint no music reviewer, but as no one else seems to have mentioned The Pale Fountains one off 25 year reunion gig at Shepherd's Bush Empire last Sunday, and as I was there, I should say something. They took the risk of playing most of Forever Changes over the PA before taking the stage, and then…..

There's a lightness of touch in their songs which is superb, all taut edges and perfect balance. The words are beautifully written too, simple and elegant, sort've cinematic and imagistic without being self consciously poetic. I honestly don't think any other guitar band from the 80s could touch the quality of those songs, they were that good. Felt and Cardinal have the same mysteriousness, Galaxie 500 have a greater sense of sonic depth and colour, but no one created such brilliant songs so effortlessly. Each one of them was like a restless breeze – ‘Jean’s Not Happening’ and ‘Just a Girl’ were the highlights: you can hear Love in them, but the Pale Fountains filter those rays of sunshine and Spanish chords through washed out skies and rainy days. This is what British guitar music is best at – nicking from America and bringing it back home, capturing California’s mythos of beauty and dread and sticking it right into the Norfolk Broads, if er.. you see what i mean.

Mr. Head appeared to be dressed in white pumps and a black Pale Fountains-branded tracksuit, he didn't seem to much care how it all went, whether it was in time, or even audible; the sound guy was half asleep anyway, fading up John Head's guitar solos a few seconds after they'd started. Arthur Lee must have given them some pointers in terms of trashing their legacy. None of it mattered that much - it was a shambles, but beautiful. In the right venue and with some rehearsal it would have been transcendent.

Unfortunately the big, half-empty hall, the pointlessly enforced house rules, the unpleasant security and the poster that announced the return of the "PALE FOUNTIANS" all contributed to the usual atmosphere of apathy and barely repressed nastiness we've come to expect from larger venues in London, but most of all the lack of crowds was a reminder that this type of baroque pop, which I love so much, only ever had any commercial bite for a few years in the 60s, since then the critics have raved but nobody buys it. The fact that no one knows that fantastic record by Mick Head’s other band, the Strands, (which, as I think someone said once, is like a collection of songs Robin Hood and his merry men could have sung in Sherwood Forest, as well as being like a beautiful Stephen Conroy painting - all ships returning home under dark skies) still baffles me.

They referred to themselves as ‘the Paleys’ too, which was endearing.

And for 20 points, guess which Clientele song 'Jeanne's Not Happening' um.. inspired?


The Vinyl District said...

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evan said...

uhhh 'impossible'? or was it a song on ghost face's 'Supreme Clientele'? maybe both?

Spencer said...

Fascinating post. As I'd imagine to be the case with almost all Americans, I've never heard the Pale Fountains. I'm probably going to have to investigate. I remember Mr. Head's other, other (?) band, Shack, but I was never completely convinced by them. How do you rate Shack, Alasdair, and how much better are the Paleys?

ben said...

"since k got over me"?

funny because i always thought it was "inspired" by "then he kissed me"

Alasdair said...

yeah it's since K. i didn't realise quite how much i'd ripped it off til i heard them play it live.

the pale fountains are much better than shack in my opinion, but the strands are even better than the pale fountains. "the magical world of the strands" is one of my favourite records.

mark said...

having travelled all the way from germany to london for this gig, i have to say that this was better than it sounds here - yes it was half empty and yes the crowd was rather lame and yes they made mistakes, but it was still a great experience, hearing those songs again. thank you and jean's not happening (never noticed any similarities to since k got over me, though) and bicycle thieves and reach and... enough people in the audience seemed to feel that it was special, yes, a shambles, but beautiful.

i have to say, mick head clearly seemed to care.

james said...

magical world of the strands is quite special. i discovered them for myself in the mid-nineties when photocopied music fanzines were passed around like blogs. there was mention in one of shack's waterpistol album (it comes very close) and their earlier pale fountains stuff. wow, i've now got to find the records again. southbound excursion has always been my favorite. thanks for the post!

Alasdair said...

btw for those who found my post dangerously ambiguous, even controversial, I thought the gig -and the band- was great. all my problems were with the crappy venue.

Keith said...

You know, much as I know both songs well, I would never have guessed that "Since K..." was ripped off the Pale Fountains. Best just keep it to yourself, when you rip things off!

"Thank You" was on the first LP that I ever bought, which was "Raiders of the Pop Charts".

Nick said...

Nice to hear you mention this, Alasdair, I was at the Liverpool gig, I thought they were awesome. The forum at is a regular haunt of mine, there is much discussion about the recent gigs over there.

Gavin said...

Well, like Nick I was in Liverpool for the first show - returning home on the Sunday for the Bush gig.

Thought the Palies were awesome both nights. Especially with only a weeks practice.

But London was always going to be after the Lord Mayors Show...

I will ensure I bring you (Alasdair) a cd of both shows to the Luminaire in March...

BTW - should you find yourself wasting time over on shacknet - one regular there, who can remain nameless for now, is single handedly responsible for 92% of the "House On Fire" calls at most Clientele shows...!

Alasdair said...

the other thing about the London show is that not one but BOTH shepherd's bush tube stations were closed that night, which would have made it difficult for undecided/floating punters to get to the venue. there was also a lack of press.

i would love those cds gavin that would be fantastic

i remember the first go-betweens reunion at the shepherd's bush empire and it was packed to the roof. i just put myself in michael head's shoes and felt sorry that he didn't get a similar welcome back.

Bert said...

Glad to hear your'e a Mick Head fan Alasdair. Liverpool was certainly better than Shephards Bush but you're right, that venue was doing them no favours.

And I promise I wont shout for House on Fire next weekend!

Hows about 'the house always wins' instead!

Gangstaz4life said...


I'm curious about who else you might have ripped off. I understand why you might not want to discuss this, but aside from legal wrangling and a possible discrediting of your songwriting genius, what other tunes have inspired clientele songs?

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