“SONG FOR EWE”
with SPIKE & DEBBIE
“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s it’s a two for one offer of the highest magnitude. Two songs chosen by two unique but much underrated talents with a connection to Cardiff’s unsung post punk heroes Young Marble Giants, the music of Spike & Debbie is being rightfully and righteously reissued by the excellent Tiny Global Productions who’ve also been at the helm of the resurgence of Blue Orchids and the veritable Indian Summer of the best band in Britain (post The Fall) Nightingales.
Young Marble Giants (the brothers Moxham plus Alison Statton) may never have seen a turntable beyond Cardiff if it hadn’t been for their mate Spike. After they’d split, Spike talked them into recording two tracks for a compilation he was putting together on his own DIY label Z-Block. This led to a deal with Rough Trade and the release of the seemingly perfectly formed “Colossal Youth” album which sealed YMG’s legend. Spike went onto record with Alison, as Weekend and still today with brand new album “Bimini Twist”.
However Spike was a super active and singularly gifted musician who’d been in countless bands before that and in a super prolific period from 1980-1995 the common thread between Spike and the bands Table Table, The Gist, Bomb and Dagger, and The Pepper Trees was vocalist Debbie Pritchard. With Spike’s guitar playing going from spiky, to delicate and spindly and even at times tropical and calypso, Debbie’s voice was always other-worldly. And now there’s a chance to imbibe their long lost genius via a lovingly curated compilation “Always Sunshine, Always Rain”, and as an aperitif, I’m pleased to say that we’ve got not one but two songs for ewe from Spike & Debbie…
First here’s a quick taster: SPIKE & DEBBIE (as Table Table) “Always Sunshine, Always Rain”
And I’m pleased too that Tiny Global’s label boss John Henderson has sent me these bespoke liner notes for VS, as way of further introduction:
“For a lot of reasons, no one’s really heard of Spike & Debbie, but the biggest one is they released almost nothing.
Stuart played me three songs from The Gist’s last Rough Trade session, more than 25 years ago. All were sung by Debbie. Spike’s brilliant soukous-inspired guitar work was thrilling.
I thought – and still think – it’s the most perfect and most commercial thing any of them have ever done – and so original and heartfelt. Maybe too pure for commercial success.
But Geoff Travis at Rough Trade rejected the songs, and this crowd of these Cardiffian friends spun into a tailspin of confusion and directionless when it came to label dealings. The Gist ended around the same time as Alison and Spike’s band, Weekend, and fate was that Spike’s work with Debbie never got an airing. By 1983 all of these unusually talented people seemed to haved quit music. It wasn’t until a decade later that any of them released new music, and only now are they starting to operate again on san ongoing basis.
The CD compiles three iterations of Spike and Debbie’s partnership, starting off as Table Table, then as the founders of Bomb And Dagger, and last as The Pepper Trees. From band to band, there’s a progression, from dreamlike attempts at understanding one’s self to calls for action and activism, and on to a sort of blissful and wise acceptance of what life hands you. But it wasn’t planned, I’m sure.
They’re one of the great lost duos in music, and if you forgive some technically imperfect recordings, you’ll recognise that they hold their own with Young Marble Giants or The Raincoats in originality and vision. Stuart Moxham’s said it’s maybe the best stuff any of them ever did, and that’s coming from a guy who wrote the bulk of the YMG catalogue!
Debbie’s vocals are otherwordly and Spike’s one of music’s great unheralded musicians of the era. There’s very little commercial point to releasing their material in today’s music environment, except for the fact that it’s simply great.”
Here’s some more from the album: SPIKE & DEBBIE (as Bomb And Dagger) “Strike (compilation version)”
John further points out:
“Spike’s an explainer and Debbie’s a poet to her core – you can tell from each of their descriptions!
“Scritti Politti ‘The Sweetest Girl’
I chose this song, despite the fact that it is not so obscure, because it represents a second epiphany inspired by Green Gartside and Scritti Politti.
The first epiphany was when I heard “Skank Blok Bologna”, a song that changed my life, motivating me and my valleys comrades to form Z Block Records, an evangelical DIY label founded in 1978.
We had no idea what we were doing, but, armed with a handbook supplied by ‘the Scritts’, and the support of Geoff Travis and Rough Trade, we teenage kids made a primitive single, moved to the capital, Cardiff, and organised a compilation album of local bands that would launch the career of Welsh legends Young Marble Giants.
Shortly after releasing the LP, I was privileged to become Green’s friend and, while he was taking time out in south Wales, discussed musical influences and the nature of DIY.
Green, one of my all-time guitar heroes, argued that ‘indie’ music was about political and creative independence, not a style of music.
It was a pivotal moment for me and, within a year, I started a project with YMG’s Alison Statton that evolved into Weekend, a ‘seminal’ band that drew heavily on jazz, pop and African influences to create a sound that was difficult to define; we were criticised by industry insiders for producing music that, allegedly, did not fit into any of the categories the record stores routinely used at the time, often ending up in the MOR rack.
The Velvet Underground’s Andy Warhol album was similarly difficult to categorise, so we were in good company as far as we were concerned.
“The Sweetest Girl” was a classic example of Green’s musical expression of the ideas that were, like Weekend, generated as a direct result of our discussion about the nature of ‘indie’ music, back in 1980.”
“Jah Scouse “Waterhole”
New Psychedelic spin draws me in!
A chiselled pathway to the heart
You’re turning weird crazy
Television and Green Gartside . . . influences
Let you in changed the style . . . all the while echoes through the sound to the simple beat.
Past and present in the heat.
Indie at its best. Delicate thumping bass line
memories of unreal times
in the crescendo of guitarists’ dreams.
A catchy line, an easy groove to cut a voice to. Jah Scouse instinctively controls the melody line with gentle tones. His is a genuine rendition that covers and captures that innocence and honesty in a melodic vocal . . . I love the images that emerge together from the combination of music words and colour colliding together transforming into a performance that was for me back in the day a musical jolt into the realms of vocal/lyrical possibilities. It chimes with me on multiple levels . . . emotionally puts me back in touch with what’s important in musical compositing . . . reconnect past with present.
A life source found scrawled into the beautiful sparse lyrics. A desert a ranch a Waterhole isolating images a welcome yet connected distraction from the misery of doldrums and yet comforting like playing good music on a down day…. life giving. Love this version makes me feel warmly connected from a place of vulnerability with my musical influences.”
THANKYOU SO MUCH TO SPIKE & DEBBIE. AND CHEERS TO JOHN HENDERSON. AND ALSO SEAN NEWSHAM AT MUTANTE.