A Basczax reunion, 2010, and the making of the reunion album.

Posted: November 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

A Basczax reunion?

Like a lot of enjoyable things in life, it was not planned.

In January 2010 I wrote a song called ‘Disco Apocalypse’ – it was an affectionate and droll retro-recall of the Post Punk and early New Romantic era – when you would go to certain nightclubs and come across garage mechanics in make-up and bank clerks in what looked like their Mum’s blouses and table cloths draped over their shoulder. With that song, it was a feeling of coming full circle: looking back on those halcyon post punk days of my young band days. For some strange reason I also went back to listening to bands like Magazine, PIL and Wire. I hadn’t heard them for years. They sounded every bit as great as they did back then.

I was at the time, in touch with Richard Sanderson (a friend from those post punk days, himself in bands: Drop and Halcyon Days, later The Euphoria Case) through facebook, sending some improvised vocal vamps for him to mess around with. We did a couple of things – ‘Your shoes’ – which he put a really cool mash of Kraftwerk and Dr.Feelgood to. And one called ‘Dancing with the martians’ – with suitable Martian disco backing. It was just for fun of course, no agenda.

One of my missives to Richard came under the eyes of a certain John Hodgson – ex-keyboard player from Basczax way back from the late 70s. He asked if we could do some collaboration, so I sent him my basic demo of ‘Disco Apocalypse’. He put some nifty keyboards on it and I was impressed with what he did. I then mentioned that I had some ‘lost songs’ from the late Basczax days that I was thinking of recording for fun. One of them was ‘Sexy Robot’ – a song originally inspired by the German electo outfit DAF – except of course, when it went through my T.Rex and glam-art filter, it came out as something else entirely. John suggested a Basczax reunion – he was already in touch with bass player and founder member Mick Todd and also, suggested getting in touch with Jeff Fogarty – ex-sax player, now a keyboard and guitar player. We were now spread all over the globe: John and Mick in the North East of Britain, Jeff in Australia and me at the time in Manila, the Philippines.

I think it happened in a day. Suddenly, everyone was back on board, apart from drummer Alan Cornforth – sorry, Alan, I was using a drum machine on the demos and didn’t see how a drummer could be recorded over the internet.

‘Sexy Robot’ – a drum machine beat, an acoustic and my voice demo, was sent to the other members. Again, it came out great: this was better than I ever could have hoped. And it felt natural and easy – although we later fretted over a lot of things as musicians always do.

From my point of view, we were maybe recording an EP or mini-album – four or five songs, no more. Three ‘lost songs’ and one, a new version of a Basczax oldie ‘Hollywood Strut’. I also happened to have an idea for doing another old song ‘Neon Vampires’ in a strident acoustic style. To be added to these was the new song ‘Disco Apocalypse’. Oops, that makes six already.

What was a trickle soon became a flood.

I found myself subconsciously tuning into my formative influences from those post punk days of 1978-1981. New songs – and even more remembered ‘lost songs’ started to form in my mind.

I was writing songs almost all the time – about two to three a week average at one point.

This new Basczax reunion was turning into something else. It seemed natural or rather, inevitable to make an album. And that is just what we did.

I had a bit of a panic about using the old band name. Couldn’t we call ourselves something else?

John dug his heels in and insisted if we were four-fifths Basczax, we might as well call ourselves that. I fretted over the spelling of the band name. Couldn’t we change it to something easier to pronounce and google? Something like ‘Bassax’, as that is what we were phonetically called?

But then I realised I was getting far too uppity about this. A Basczax reunion is what this was: so that is what we stayed.

‘Hollywood Strut’ was one song we recorded early on in the making of the album. I had always wanted to record a version with a tempo that allowed the tune to breathe, as I always felt the old Basczax version was played way too fast – but it was post-punk days, then, after all.

Similarly with ‘Neon Vampires’ –I was strumming around with it and slowed it right down, making a bit of a gothic melodrama out of it. I wrote a new chorus for it as I always felt the old chorus was not very good. Some new lyrics were written too – mostly because I could not remember all of the old ones. This was the album’s first ‘production number’. John surprised me by putting strings and effects on it and some very ‘european’ sounding piano. It took it to a completely different musical place to the old version and it works well, I feel.

As the album progressed, there were many highlights. It really did feel like it got better and better as we went along.

The band did a great job on an old song of mine called ‘Velvet and She’. It was far better than the original, which was a new wave pop song back then. Now it had a cool tempo and a Bowie cum Velvets feel to it. It also had a much better chorus as the old one was only really two thirds written and needed that elusive ‘something else’.

Another highlight was the recording of a new song called ‘Automania’. The original lyric for this dates back to the early 80s, but I never got around to making music for it. A simple three chord strum into the drum machine and the tune came straight to me. It felt like it wrote itself; one of those songs that fall into your lap from nowhere.

‘Darkstar 17’ was another ‘instant song’ that happened when I was jamming along to the drum machine. I was originally thinking of using an old riff from a song called ‘Influence Invasion’ – but it turned into something else. I sang the words ‘Darkstar 17…goddess in a limousine’…having no idea what the song was going to be about. Sometimes songs start like this : a line that sparks an idea and is then developed from thereon.

‘In a room’ (originally called ‘someone turn the lights on’) was another new song that came to me quickly.

It was one of my ‘follow the mood of the music’ songs – the riff sounded dramatic and elliptical in some way and the lyrics ended up being loosely based on that horrific abuse case where a girl was kept in a room for years and sexually abused. I didn’t even know what I was going to sing about when I followed the mood of the music – the words just came out and I thought ‘ah, so that’s what it’s about’…

About half way through the recordings, I had the idea of making instrumentals from each member – each one, kind of reflecting our musical personalities in some way. John returned to his prog-rock roots for his contribution: Track XXX, which was meant to be a kind of battle of the bands between Captain Beefheart, The Carpenters and a fictitious punk band. Yes, it was pretty barmy idea, but listen to it and it makes sense.

Jeff contributed a beautiful instrumental piece called ‘The Calm’ – one of my favourite tracks on the album, incidentally.

Mick came up with an update of an old Basczax riff with ‘Mekanik 2010’ – a mash of samples, beats and sound effects.

Me?

I came up with a twangy guitar instrumental for an imaginary spy thriller: ‘Spies in the wardrobe’.

Jeff contributed another instrumental piece called ‘Russian Winter’. By coincidence, it perfectly fit a lyric I had called ‘Siberian Eyes’. This was one of those ‘eyes down, straight ahead’ tracks. Surprisingly, it was the one track that took the longest to nail. I later wrote a separate instrumental opening to it we edited it onto the song. Getting the mix right proved to be tricky and this song probably had more remixes than most – but I think we got it in the end. This was the last song we worked on for the album.

The last song written – but not really intended for the album – was ‘That Dress’. Again, a drum beat and a riff started it and I started to sing the hook line into the mic at the same time. The song was, in my head, a kind of Phil Spector throwback. It also felt off the cuff and throwaway and not at all right for the Basczax album. But everyone loved it when I sent a basic demo, so the song went on the album. John followed my brief of trying to get that ‘epic Spector’ feel to it. The band all did a great job on the song, and their enthusiasm for the song can be heard – at least to my ears, anyway.

It seemed a great fitting ending to the album – a trashy, feelgood pop song.

But it wasn’t the last track.

I had the idea of recording a second version of ‘Velvet and She’ – more in an actual Velvet Underground feel – slowed right down and with a different ‘downtempo’ mood.

We had actually recorded it earlier in the sessions when we were trying arrangements out. I couldn’t make mind up about this song and then thought: why not have two versions?

So that is what we did, and John sang it –his laconic voice suiting it perfectly. He also added some staccato strings that surprised me when I heard them. In a good way.

When we came to sequencing the tracks, it became obvious that ‘Sexy Robot’ should start the album, and that ‘Velvet and She (slow version)’ should end it as a kind of winding down.

The album took six months to make – mostly because of time differences and people’s busy working and personal lives.

If we had had none of these distractions, it probably would have taken much less time.

One thing I found that surprised me with the reunion and the album, is that we still had a chemistry between us: we instinctively seemed to know what songs needed and how to execute them. If I said ‘it needs to sound like a kind of out of control juggernaut in Europe, with Iggy Pop driving’ they knew exactly what I meant.

I feel good about the album –proud even – and I think it is a good representation of where we came from musically and where we are at today.

Yes, it is partly a retro-experience as the music is intrinsically linked to a different era, but I feel that we managed to ‘update’ ourselves in a way that felt natural and with good instinct.

It is also a real ‘DIY’ album, recorded initially on a low budget field recorder and then sent to multi-tracking facilities – all done over the internet.

The spirit of ’79, filtered through thirty years, arriving in a time capsule in 2010.

Rip up the flag and dance.

Again.

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Comments
  1. John Hodgson says:

    Just read this Sav, didn’t realise it was here. Glad you did it though, and I’m eternally happy that we did the album – no one can take it away from us, it’s in the can.

    • Oops – this reply is very late, just seen it! Yes John, that album we made is very good. Some tracks really stand out. I have had people tell me it sounds really good too. Good production job you did there, John! All the best for 2013…

  2. Mathias says:

    You know it took me years to spot that the band I started following when Janice Long kept plugging “My Cleopatra”, and who supported OMD on their (mildly disappointing – but still love ’em) “Crush” tour, was a descendant of the band who gave Joy Division a run for their money on Earcom 2! It’s great to see the retrospective and reunion Basczax albums on iTunes, but what chance of a Mussolinis re-release?

    • Thanks for your kind words. Yes, a Mussolinis re-release is something I have talked about for at least five years. The problem is, our old record company owns the recordings and we are not allowed to use them – even though they have no plans to put anything out.I made my own compilation called ‘Dreams on fire’ and was pretty pleased with the track running order. I think a ‘best of’ album would be good, but the ball is in the court of our old record company – and I think they are not remotely interested in releasing anything!

  3. Alan Cornforth says:

    Just for the record – I was never asked to be involved in this project and it would be blindingly obvious to all concerned why I would never want to be!

    • Yes Alan I know. It was more convenience than anything. I had recorded songs with drum machine. It was sound on sound recording with no separation. I was living thousands of miles away in the Philippines at the time. Silly really. Should’ve had the patience to build up the tracks from at least separate instruments. I didn’t really have the time nor patience to pore over things. I wanted to do it all quickly. Nobody cared anyway. Those songs went straight into the digital landfill of online music!

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