Basczax: Recording ‘Madison Fallout’, 1979.

Posted: April 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

Rock Garden, late 1978. I am standing at the bar talking to someone when a record comes on that stops me in my tracks. Big bass, big spacey, reverberated drum sound…’’ello…’ello…’ello…
It was Public Image Limited: ‘Public Image’.
If one record heralded in the post punk era, it was this. For one it was nothing like the singer’s previous band, the Sex Pistols. For two, it took elements of dub and made a virtue of space and there was just no going back to three chord thrashes after this. Ladies and Gentlemen: presenting the genius that used to be John Lydon. And Jah Wobble and Keith Levine of course…
This band called Basczax I had just joined: we had to at least try to be a bit different, so my instinct told me.
Forward wind…
Basczax were into the first quarter of 1979 and already, things were happening for us. Need I repeat myself those things I spoke about on previous retro-musings? No.
Having done a live broadcast from Radio Cleveland, we were ready for the next step.
Girls who looked like Siouxsie Sioux and lads that looked like members of the Clash, and other assorted strange boys were coming to our gigs. We were a buzz and we felt like it too.
That next step came.
Larry Ottaway, then a DJ on Radio Cleveland, provided it for us.
We were to record ‘Madison Fallout’ and another song, ‘Auto Mekanik Destruktor!’ for his Pipeline label. It was not at that point actually a label, in fact I don’t recall he had settled on a name for it. I remember suggesting Deaf Lampost Records as a name. Couldn’t have that – too flippant!
The month I think, was April. It might have been May or June though, I cannot honestly remember the exact date (doubtless another member will supply it) was it August or later?
‘Madison Fallout’ was a live highlight, as was ‘Auto-Mekanik’…I remember Dave Johns mentioning some German progressive rock band and that I had stolen the ‘Mekanik’ title from them. I didn’t. But it is highly likely it sank into my mind from some advert perhaps in the music paper weeklies, of which I was a regular buyer. (Friend and Kraut rock aficionado Richard Sanderson also recently asked me a similar question by the way)
‘Madison Fallout’ was originally worked out around Berwick Hills studio, or rather, Jeff Fogarty’s parents’ house. The original lyric, which I had written about 2 am in the wee hours of the morning (as I did with a lot of songs, sitting up alone with a guitar) was originally called ‘Dancing with the Disco Clones’ – a much better title actually – but I could not make it scan into the music that Jeff and I were working out. I feel pretty sure that the intro music was inspired by Roxy Music’s morbid meditation on vacuous materialism ‘In every dream home a heartache’. I still played early Roxy a lot. Eno too. I loved his ‘Another Green World’ album, a favourite of mine at the time. The Roxyisms on that song are glaringly obvious if you listen to it with even a little concentration. Jeff being a huge fan like me, made it inevitable that Roxy were going to be there in our music.
The lyrics are in a persona. It is not really me, but I am in there somewhere. It is about disposable attitudes to love and sex. It might have something to do with my love life at the time but I doubt it.
I was too shy and self conscious and a girl had to almost pass me a letter to arouse my interest. Besides, I was too much in love with music and girls at that time were just an occasional fling. That sounds awful I know, but it is the truth. I was happy to be without it. Well. I think I was. Jeff was pretty much the same, except he was a lot more relaxed in female company. (God, I am re-living those angsty times as I type this!)
The Madison was a real nightclub in Middlesbrough that I sometimes went to. The Smiths song that goes ‘so you go on your own…and you leave on your own…’ was my life being sang there.
The music of ‘Madison Fallout’ was an instinctive process. Somewhere in my musical brain I knew that the best type of songs took unusual turns. For students of song craft, the song leaves its home key and resolves back to it. Tension and release I think it is called.
The sax part was I believe, worked out in the rehearsal room later. We knew we had something special, all band members locking into it, grappling with the quite complex changes. It was not a three chord wonder song that is for sure. John as usual brought his synthy finger magic to it, Alan Cornforth drummed very creatively on it and Mick manfully navigated the maze of chord changes. Jeff played great sax on it.
We were Basczax and we wanted to be different. We didn’t always achieve this, sometimes lapsing into traditional new wave pop rock, but this song and ‘Auto Mekanik’ sat nicely alongside Mick’s ‘Kirlian Photography’.
Impulse studios Newcastle was where we recorded it. Paul Gardner of No Way kindly let me loan his Fender Telecaster and his amp too, I seem to recall. I loved the sound of the Telecaster. I loved Syd Barratt’s clanky free jazz improvisation on ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and my first instinct on plugging in the Telecaster was to play the riff from this early brilliant Floyd track.
‘Wye aye man, that’s hippy music’ said the engineer.
The other song we were recording ‘Auto Mekanik’ was all my own song. I had written the riff when I borrowed Mick’s bass to take home. It was prog-punk: time changes, dreamy middle eight bit, stop start dynamics. The words were written after I read a ‘future shock’ type article on how the microchip was going to drastically alter our lives. I pictured the future as a computer called Adolf. It was pure sixth form twaddle, but hey, I was only 19 and in love with the strange fascination of sci-fi sex in moonboots.
I was a Bowie freak in other words.
The recording session itself went like a dream. I do not recall any tensions, any objections or anything approaching an argument. We were united in the common aim of advancing the local music cause and we really wanted to break out of Teesside too. Except Mick still worked shifts at British Steel and John worked at HMV in Stockton. He also had a mortgage I think.
The recording of ‘Auto Mekanik’ proved to be difficult. We ran through a lot of takes before we nailed it. Even then, Mick went out of time on his bass at one point. It was too late to do anything about it. Besides, I reasoned, Trevor Bolder from Bowie’s Spider from Mars goes to the chorus too early on ‘Jean Genie’. We were in good company then.
I even remember what we all wore.
Jeff had on his Ultravox ‘Systems of Romance’ T-shirt, John had brought his long mac, Mick was in his ‘Undertones 12 year old boy with jumper’ look and I was in my khaki short sleeved Ian Curtis shirt.
My hair was cold parade short back and sides. I had left the eye liner pencil at home that day.
I smoked like a nutter in those days. But more than often, had to cadge my fags.
Drummer Alan was Mr. Jeans and T-shirt and Adidas trainers.
Both songs in the can, we returned to Teesside, feeling like Post punk Caesars back from the wars against bland pop music.
An amazing thing happened.
John Hodgson sent a copy and a letter to John Foxx, then having just left Ultravox and embarking on his solo career. (Hate that word! A career is something lawyers have isn’t it?)
John Foxx, to our astonishment, replied with a hand written letter.
He liked the record but suggested I watch those Ferryisms in my voice.
No chance of that, I was too much under the influence, although I did modify it after this.
‘Madison Fallout’ eventually came out in December 1979. The thrill of hearing it on John Peel is one of those ‘never to be repeated’ feelings.
It got distribution through Rough Trade and sold out of both its run of 1000 copies.
We even made an appearance on the alternative singles charts in early 1980.
I remember ‘Echo Beach’ by Martha and the Muffins was on the radio in the van when we were all going somewhere, I can’t remember. Was it to do a gig outside the area? Was it to do the OMD support tour?
It is all a misty paned haze now, but there are some things that glow in your mind forever.
Recording that single is one of them.
I hated the cover by the way. Factory wannabe pretention.
But it was 1979 and I wanted us to be part of it all.

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