In which The Author introduces another obscure band
I pinched the title for yesterday’s post from an Anglo-European rock group called The Legendary Pink Dots. Led by the enigmatic Edward Ka-Spel, and with an ever-changing line-up, they’ve been around for over thirty years, issuing countless tapes, LPs and CDs, and gigging endlessly in between.
I first became aware of them via Dave Henderson’s ‘Wild Planet’ column in Sounds. Mr Henderson and his colleague David Tibet often featured their LPs in their reviews, and always gave them a decent rating. Tibet was an occasional member of Psychic TV and Death in June, and was a huge Crass fan, so his tastes and mine coincided pretty well. The reference points usually included Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, early synthesizer bands, and some of the more avant-garde post-punk groups. Even so, it was a good five years or so until I heard The Legendary Pink Dots for myself.
They’d contributed a track to Tibet’s compilation LP Devastate to Liberate (see Zigzagging Down Memory Lane.) That set me off in search of their recorded output – which was an interesting quest in itself.
In Snap, Crackle and Pop I told you about the hunting expeditions which were often necessary to try and track down non-mainstream music in those pre-download days.
The Legendary Pink Dots were a perfect model of this: I came across The Tower in Stratford-upon-Avon; I picked up Brighter Now in Gloucester; I bought the three-album Legendary Pink Box in Bath; I think Faces in the Fire, Island of Jewels and Any Day Now must have been products of my trips of London.
Although I’ve got several of their LPs (there are literally dozens of them!), I’ve never seen them live. They did a gig in a club in London a few years ago, but that was one of their very rare UK appearances. Some day I hope to make the trip to one of their European gigs, and maybe meet them in person afterwards. That’s another item on my ever-growing ‘to do’ list.
I corresponded with Edward Ka-Spel briefly back in the day. He told me that a woman from Bridgend was also writing to him regularly, but I’ve never met anyone else who has discovered them independently.
Their music is almost impossible to classify, ranging from psychedelic instrumentals like the many ‘Premonitions’, through dystopian SF concept LPs like The Tower, to little vignettes about ordinary people whose lives are touched by tragedy. Always intriguingly packaged, their music is constantly evolving and always reveals a deep sympathy with the human condition. Themes are recapitulated, characters float in and out of songs recorded years apart, stories unfold and wrap around each other.
Edward Ka-Spel’s lyrics contain beautiful internal rhymes, puns, made-up words, and some of the most bizarre imagery ever committed to vinyl (‘The Plasma Twins’.) Sometimes you feel like laughing out loud at his sheer audacity (‘Government Health Warning’); at other times, you find yourself on the verge of tears (‘Timedance’.)
It’s been a long time since I found any of their music on sale. The last one I bought was 9 Days to Wonder, a CD which I found in Spillers in Cardiff. There have probably been a good ten or twelve LPs (at least) since then. I probably need to start trying to build my collection – although completing it would be well-nigh impossible. Most of their early releases were on cassette only, and would be extremely rare (if they still existed at all.) But I’m in a LPD mood today, I think, so I’ll be listening to some of their songs later on.
This is their song ‘Waiting for the Cloud’ from the LP Any Day Now. It’s a tale of impending environmental collapse – whether natural or man-made, we’re not quite sure. It’s the soundtrack to a J.G, Ballard novel, the musical accompaniment to the end of the world.
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