My Bloody Valentine have come a long way since their initial days in Dublin, both musically and in milage. Their history is complicated, adventurous and partly forgotten by various band members. But these days, it all seems to have come together and all the sheer bloddy mindedness of the band has paid off. Their own terms have been accepted, almost, and the results have been some of the most imaginative and original pop music of the past few years. Anyway, as the "great" Cecil B. De Milles might have said; "'ere's 'ow they got there".
A hazy memory reveals that Kevin and Colin both answered adverts placed by "some 12-year-old kid called Mark". Here, they met for the first time whilst playing together in this corny punk band called The Complex. They both moved through a series of bands, including one with a Hothouse Flower and one called Life In A Day. All of which lasted about six months and played one or two gigs around Dublin.
Towards the end of '83, Kevin and Colin brought together another band with Mark (surname unfortunately forgotten, but a different character from the 12-year-ol punk kid), and Dave Conway, who had answered an ad they had placed in a record shop window.
"It was a very loose line up really. We did some gigs with Mark, some with Steve and some with Adam." Two people who fluctuated in and out of the line up. A hazy memory has eradicated any other info about them. "We were not really a proper band. We just did gigs and rehearsed occasionally. It was basically just noise. We had a park-studio to make up tapes and improvised around these". This band lasted for the majority of '84, although they split up twice with Steve, Adam and Mark being the interchangeable members.
At the end of '84, they reformed again, but this time with a more serious approach being taken. Dave and Gavin Friday (Virgin Prunes) had been occasionally travelling around Europe and Dave had met a certain amount of people who had showed interest in My Bloody Valentine. Some of the tapes he had consequently sent had brought interest and a definite gig in Holland.TIPTOE THROUGH THE TULIPS.
"We'd made quite a few different tapes really, in all about 20 songs which we'd recorded on a park-studio. Quite extreme stuff, some of it but it was the beginning of us writing 'proper' songs. We only had one copy and we gave it to a friend of ours to make the copies and he lost the tape. Really dumb story - dumb but true. All the stuff we were doing then was completely unserious. We weren't doing it for any other reason except for the fact that we wanted to".
"We only did one gig as a proper My Bloody Valentine ever in Dublin. Well, the one where we actually tried to write 'proper' songs and everything,and this was in the week before we went to Holland". They recruited Tina, who was at the time Dave's girlfriend, to fill out the bottom end of the sound as they didn't have a bass player.
"We needed someone to play keyboards and stuff, Tina couldn't play and instruments and the easiest thing was to play the Casio synthesizer, so she did".
They adopted the name My Bloody Valentine for the gig, duly played and decided to move en masse to Holland. It was a question of "hell, let's just do it". The name had been Dave's idea, "it seemed like some good words" was apparently the reason.
The arranged gig in Holland was played and they stayed on there. Within about a month however, due to no further activity for the band they were broke.
"We wound up completely poverty stricken in Amsterdam, living in a squat with literally only a few sandwiches left. At this time luckily, we were befriended by someone (again whose name has been forgotten) who organised a gig for us to play and somewhere right in the middle of Holland that we could live and was cheap to rent.LIVING ROUGH.
The gig money paid for a months rent and the financial crisis was also eased by the fact that Kevin had landed himself a job on a farm - "cleaning out the cows and cowsheds".
They lasted three months in Holland due to their lack of success at acquiring gigs or visas that would make their stay legal. The police had started to hassle them about having the proper work stamps on their passports, so, in another upheaval, they decided to go to Berlin. They stayed in Berlin at a place called 'the Cab', which is like a community centre for bands, for a week, but after a fracas with the group Serious Drinking they moved to a youth hostel.
"It took a few weeks to really meet people, one of these was a guy by the name of Demitri. We thought he might be able to get us some gigs so we gave him the tape we'd made in Ireland, was still had it then, he was so impressed, he asked us if we wanted to do an album. He was connected with Dossier records (the people who recently re-released the insanely brilliant early Chrome LPs) and with the money he could get from them, wanted us to do an LP for his own label, Tycoon. We didn't have enough songs for a full LP so we recorded a mini LP".
"It was a really weird situation. We recorded the songs, designed the sleeves and that was it. He wouldn't let us help mix it and we weren't even allowed to listen to it until it was pressed, because the recorded tapes hadn't been paid for. We signed a contract for it, a draft 800 were pressed, but we never received a penny for it. The record in question was called This Is Your Bloody Valentine".FIRST VINYL.
Released in January '85, the 7-track mini LP was the beginning of things to come. The whole record comes with a Scientists/Doors feel to all the songs Forever And Again opens side one with a sleepy and moody type of feel and Kevin's backing vocals, already a strong feature of the music. Don't Cramp My Style, also on side one is far more up-tempo. Almost a kick ass rocker, with that now familiar howling feedback and the vocals almost buried. On side two the best track lurks, The Love Gong. A Scientists/Birthday Party type track supports some classic rock 'n' roll with a sleaze/spitball type vocals. Also heard is Inferno, a much more off-beat hypnotic type song, again featuring a lot of the Valentine's trademarks. The record however, suffers from some ppro production and the songs don't leap out at you like they should. However, the tunes are there and you have Colin's distinctive drum style beginning to show, if you can ignore the hideous effects that have been mixed into his drum sound. It's a pretty bloody good record all the same.
Unfortunately, the record didn't break the band into the big time, and they were quite disappointed with it anyway. They played a small selection of gigs before deciding to call it a day in Europe. The record hadn't come out as they expected and they were once more running out of money. "We were living off tax rebates which we fortunately got at different times, and off gig money. We shared all the cash we had and were basically in each other's pockets all the time though we weren't living together, we began to get on each other's nerves. We'd been in Berlin for about four months and nothing seemed to be moving, so we did".
"I think we'd expected that we were going to travel around Europe for ages, when we left, but we soon basically realised that after being here for eight or so months, eight months of other people's generosity, that it's one thing travelling around being poor but it's another thing worrying about overstaying your welcome. We had to go somewhere we could be independent as a band and it's impossible to do that when you're travelling around".NO GOING BACK.
"When we'd left Dublin, we'd sold almost everything, bought cheap guitars, because we didn't want the problems of transporting gear, and just went to Holland. Nobody took us seriously, they thought it was a joke and expected us to come home pretty swiftly after having failed to do what we'd set out to, so, if only for our pride, we couldn't go back to Dublin, so we moved to London".
"Berlin was extremely influential to us at the time we were there. We were completely influenced by the Birthday Party and the Scientists and we wanted to do something different which wasn't a tried and tested move, much in the same way the Birthday Paty had done. We found the situation there at the time totally incredible. The first Atonal Festival was taking place when we were there and everybody we knew was taking part or involved. We could see groups like Einsturzende Neubaten and other really quite experimental groups playing. These bands were doing well, were quite big, and weren't doing commercial music at all. We admired these bands because they were succeeding without having to have big record controls. We figured, well if they cal do it on their own terms then so could we, especially as we're not as extreme as some of these people. We worked to achieve something using the same approach and manner".
So, mid '85, they came to London, via a few gigs in Holland. Kevin became bored quickly and moved back to Dublin. However, Dave and Colin, after staying at Centrepoint homeless centre for two weeks, and Tina at the YWCA, found somewhere to live. Kevin came back from Ireland and he and Colin squatted a flat, Tine and Dave rented accommodation. To all intents and purposes, they'd split up, as the two parties had lost touch with each other and despondency had set in. But luckily, after not seeing each other for over a month, both parties discovered they were only living a few minutes from each other and the band was back on the warpath.TINA SAYS GOODBYE.
The next problem was to get a bass player, as Tina had bowed out. "She knew she wasn't any good, when she joined and had only really come along to help out. We'd had a bass player for a week or so in Berlin and knew we had to find one here in London so we could continue".
Debbie Goodge had been recommended to them by a friend in Berlin. They rang her up and invited her to a rehearsal. Debbie didn't really join the band for this first six months, but she just kept going along to rehearsals that she could fit in, in between going to work. An early convert to the My Bloody Valentine 'bloodymindedness' approach. She'd only recently moved to London from the city of Bristol, where she's played in a local Au Pairs type thing. The name, once again, conveniently forgotten.
The Valentines were now rehearsing full time at Salem Studios. A rehearsal room/basement in Euston, a salubrious establishment run by the members of Kill Ugly Pop, a rock outfit who were playing around London at the time - August '85 - and had their own label, Fever Records. Paul and Jools from K.U.P./Fever were impressed with the Valentines enough to offer to record a 12" EP for Fever, as long as the Valentines financed it. A contract was duly signed, but the 5p offered, (no kidding) although reputedly thrown, at Kevin was not accepted. Debiie gave up her job, the EP Geek was recorded and the group began to gig around London for the first time since they'd arrived.
When Geek was released in December '85, it actually received a review somewhere and the My Bloody Valentine name for the first time appeared in newspaper print. The EP itself is comparatively dissopointing. The songs had improved greatly since the first but the production hadn't. As early at the end of The Sandman Never Sleeps can you hear anything that approaches this, the rest of the EP sounds like a hoover has been turned on next to the microphone. The drums and the vocals are excellent, so is the bass when audible and No Place To Go is the stand out track. Certainly in the current state of affairs - early 90's - this could have charted on the strength of the song alone. However, due to lack of funds, no radio play, and very little printed matter, the record never really came into view. It had again turned out to be a major dissapointment to the band, as again they never received any money from it and have no idea how many were printed.SALEM'S LOT.
It has to be understood, that Salem Studios was a strange place to rehearse, in so far as there existed a small community of bands who regularly used the place and for one reason or another there was a lot of supper time help between the people concerned. Everybody would go to each other's gigs, and organise their own gigs with other Salem bands on the bill. These groups included Eight Living Lags (whom the Valentines supported at their last gig in London at the Enterprise pub in Chalk Farm). Kill Ugly pop, A Deare, The Turncoats and The Stingrays was an early suppoter of the Valentines. He would almost force some of his friends to go and was keen to help them gain gigs. Another helper was Tony, the guitarist from Meat Injection. He ran a club at the Enterprise, Chalk Farm, London, and was the first person to put them on regularly and give them gigs. At this point, the Valentines would have played anywhere, and they did, in every place in London that would book them.
However, for the group, everything was going too slowly. The record was ticking over, they were gigging quite often but nothing really seemed to change. Kevin was at this point thinking of giving up the band and moving to live with a part of his family who were in New York.
Another nefarious face now appears in the story, Joe Foster, one time TV personality and asociate of Creation Records wanted to start his own label - Kaleidoscope Records. Joe had seen My Bloody Valentine in Salem as he used to rehearse there and used members of Meat Injection and the Turncoats as his backing band. By these associations he became interested in the group and wanted to start his label off with them.ONE MAN CLAPPING.
"We thought that we should do the record with him as this might make things get going a bit faster. We'd learned from our mistakes from Geek and our new songs were much strongs and we wanted to release them. He also offered to put some money into the recording. This was a first as far as we were concerned so we agreed to the deal, which involved Joe co-producing it. As it turned out, no-one really produced, certainly not Joe, although I think he did clap on one of the songs".
The New Record By My Bloody Valentine was released in early '86 to the same sort of appraisal that its predecessor had. Casual. The record itself is fabulous. All four songs were gloriously straightforward sixties styled pop songs, but so superior to their contemporaries of the time, who were also trying to do the same sort of thing, The Primitives, Soup Dragons, and Shop Assistants spring to mind. Colin's calamitous drumming was here now. "He used to sound like bones being thrown at wooden stairs". The Monkees type harmonies were in tune and complimentary to the whole sound and Kevin had almost the right balance in the guitars. Again, the record sounded slightly dulled and not as clean as it could have been but it was certainly the nearest the group had got to capturing that monstrous live sound.
By this time, My Bloody Valentine were gigging more than ever and were beginning to play outside of London more ofter. With the record selling slightly better than the last, their live following would improve, but not too much. Live, they were a sight to behold. The drummers winsome smile whilst flaying his arms around the kit was strange to behold. David would be twisting around the mike whilst doing some epileptic go-go dancer impressions. Kevin would be looking pissed off whilst doing some sort of 'soft shoe shuffle' between effects, pedals and two blazing loud amplifiers and there would be the stone-like bass player. Three of them (Kevin refused on grounds of good taste) would be wearing gold or silver lame tops, all their other clothes would be tight fitting black jeans and jackets. Their mop top Henry V haircuts all matched and it would appear that they might be interchangeable. One of the disappointing things from this period was that they never recorded Destination Ecstacy or their version of Mary Mary, the old Monkees standard. These were certainly always two of the highlights of any My Bloody Valentine gig. Both played at approximately 100 mph. Destination Ecstacy would not be amiss on any of their records, even now.C86, YOUR CASSETTE PETS.
It must be also appreciated that there was considerable excitement focussed on English Indie music at this time. Many of these bands who My Bloody Valentine would support would go on to huge critical acclaim, yet at this time, groups like the Wedding Present, That Petrol Emotion, Pop Will Eat Itself, Primal Scream etc were all playing at the same venues as My Bloody Valentine to approximately the same amount of people. These bands were lapped up by the press but My Bloody Valentine would scarcely get a mention. Few people seemes to take them seriously. Maybe the clothes/haircuts, they were too loud and abrasive, maybe a lot of reasons but it did seem puzzling that in all forty songs on 'C86" that My Bloody Valentine were passed over. Even when bands who had only been together for two months were getting huge features in the music papers - Tallulah Gosh, Close Lobsters etc. In hindsight though, having seen the backlash that many of these bands received, it was probably lucky that My Bloody Valentine were not swept up in this.
"Things began to get faster for us at this point. The record with Joe had brought us better gigs. We even got some quite big support slots. It seemes that we had a small following that came to all our gigs. They all seemed to be people that we knew, which was pretty good. I remember Chris P. now of Silverfish was around then. We used to call him 'the rock 'n' roll guy' because he had a quiff and we didn't know his name".
"Joe Foster wanted to manage us as did three other people around that time. We didn't actually say yes to any of them, we just let them run around and get gigs for us, which was pretty convenient. We also began working with gig agencies at this time, so we were playing almost all the time. One guy called Brian Hughes, worked for an agency called The Agency and he wanted to manage us. He kept telling us that we'd be up there with the Who in a couple of years but we ended up signing to an agency that was a little bit more down to earth.
LAZY DAYS.Lazy Records was the next piece in this series of events. Lazy was run by the same people who managed The Primitives and they had wanted to put the previous Valentines record out, but My Bloody Valentine had decided to go with Joe Foster at the time because Foster seemed to offer a better deal and because My Bloody Valentine were wary and cautious abput the character that ran Lazy.
"Joe didn't want to release another record by us, I think because we hadn't made any money on the last one, he didn't want to put any more of his money into the next one. The deal Lazy offered was that we would pay for the recording and Lazy would pay for the promotion, and that's what happened. It didn't seem to be much but the record seemed to do all right."
The Sunny Sunday Smile EP was duly recorded and released on 7" and 12". The four track EP contained the title track which was already being played live and the punchy Sylvie's Head. This is undoubtedly the best record the Valentines did whilst still playing in this style. The record is better produced than previous ones and almost captures the impact that the group would occasionally have whilst performing their songs live. The songs were again simple and straightforward, but were just much better arranged and executed. This was released in February '87.
The next few months were spent endlessly gigging around London and supporting the Soup Dragons. It was whilst supporting the Soup Dragons that Dave announced he was going to leave.
"We were going to say that Dave had died but he was ill, definitely ill. He has a stomach infection which meant he couldn't eat very well. The travelling around doing gigs results in anybody not being able to eat properly or have the correct choice of food. This was constantly having an effect on him".DAVE'S A GONNER."We were surprised at him leaving as well as having to face up to the fact that he was not in the band anymore. If anyone listens, they can tell the huge difference to the singing when Dave was in the band to what it is now. I think it's because he was something that we weren't. All the songs and lyrics that we did were composed entirely separately. We wrote the titles and music and Dave just filled in the words. I (Kevin) would write a melody, think up an idea to write about, give him a title and he'd fill in all the rest of the lyrics, most of which seemed to be quite perverse. It seemed to work really great, at the same time he wasn't really doing what he wanted to do. Like he would have been just as happy to run around with his shirt off screaming".
"None of us really like the records, Dave especially. A few things came out OK, but in general, in our minds it was crap. They would always seem to come out clinical and dull. None of these earlier records worked at all really, they were okay, but live, it was always so much better. It would sound a lot more free and heavy, and we could never get the guitar sound right like we did live. The records just sound thin. I think Dave was fed up with trying and never seeming to succeed at this, or get anywhere with the band as such. So along with these reasons and his health, he left. We haven't seen him for ages and lthe last I heard that he had started to write a book, some teen-angst pulp novel style book, but I don't know if he still is".
"At this time, we were not involved at all with the indie scene as it existed then ('86-'87). There were two camps of music at this point, the funky weird pop group style or the twee jangly style. We didn't fit into either side, neither from our haircuts, right down to the song titles. It was really case of parallel development from our point of view. Sure we were influenced by the current climate of things but we had no real interest in what other people were doing. We always made sure that the guitar would hurt people's ears. That was important to us, because that was the whole perversity of it. We looked stupid, we were playing music like it was nice songs, but we were literally damaging people's ears."EARACHE.The author of this piece remembers watching them play in Zurich in December '86 when this theory worked. Fifty per cent of the audience left with their fingers stuck in their ears. Quite a peculiar sight.
"Now that Dave had left, we had the problem of what to do next. We thought about splitting up. The last three songs on the last EP we really liked, not so much the sound, but the ideas. We thought that the trouble is, if we form a new band, we could never play those songs again and it seemed a shame to throw these away so we decided to continue, and keep the same name, and got a new singer in".
The band advertised in the music papers for a new singer - "It was pretty dangerous, I made the mistake of mentioning the Smiths because we liked their melodies, the whole thing was disastrous and excrutiating, you should have seen some of the fruitballs we got".
However, through mutual friends, two people were found, Joe (surname forgotten) and Belinda. The auditions had been pointless and the band had decided to try out having two vocalists, whilst Kevin just played guitar. One gig at Camden Black Horse pub was played with the line up before Joe was found to be unsuitable, so Kevin and Belinda took over the vocals. "She sounded all right and she could sing one of our songs which sounded fine, we just had to show her how to play guitar." Such high praises for a new member of the group.
The band, still signed to Lazy at this point, wanted to do another EP, but the label wanted them to do an LP, even promising lavish promotion for it if they did. The band refused. They didn't like the idea because, as such, this band had only been together a couple of months and hadn't really had time to get settled, especially to the idea of making an album. Apparently, even Rough Trade offered the group money to record an album, but they were also turned down.DUETS.
"It takes more than a couple of months to figure out what you want to do, it was essentially a new band, Belinda was singing for a start." However,the group 'compromised' with Lazy and agreed to make a mini LP if they could record an EP first.
"It was the first time I (Kevin) had ever sung and the first few songs we did, we never used, they were awful. We just recorded the rest of the songs for Strawberry Wine and a week later, we went into the studio for ten days and did Ecstacy. It had no derection and we didn't even know what we were doing. Even when we'd finished it we didn't like half the songs we'd done. The record never came out right and it made us realise that we were still too twee, which is a result of people taking us at face value."
"The record could have been a lot more lively. We did some really extreme things with the guitar - if you listen to Ecstacy really carefully, you can just about hear them. It was the first time we'd actually played around properly in the studio and we came out with some quite nasty guitar ideas. Very extreme. We'd never done anything as hard sounding before, but we were unable to control the sound of this on the record at the time as so it never came out properly. We'd worked too hard on making an extreme sound. Sometimes you can be too extreme, so extreme that you're missing the point. It became a bit monotonous - being extreme for the sake of being extreme."
Strawberry Wine the 12" EP, was released in August '87 and the Ecstacy mini LP came out only a few weeks later. The cut (where music in transformed from tape to master discs) had gone missing, due to mistakes by an indignant cutting engineer - Kevin was said to have threatened him when in actual fact he brought an independent engineer in to the studios to point out what was wrong - but Lazy refused to put any more into the record. The cut can affect the sound of a record as much as mixing the original sounds can. Consequently, much of what was originally the sound of Ecstacy was lost, and much of the tone was dulled. At this point the group had fallen out, even before the record was released.LAST OF THE VALENTINE WINE.
Strawberry Wine was available in the shops for almost a year but Ecstacy had disappeared within about two or three months of it being released.
The Strawberry Wine 3-track EP was certainly the better of the two releases. The title track still sounding in parts like the old Valentines with a strong Mamas & Papas type vocal line. The B-side however, is quite throwaway, except for the curiously different guitar style being heard for the first time. Ecstacy 8-track mini LP showed a group who appeared to have run out of money half way through recording - this is actually true. The music was directionless and floundered about within the framework of songs which appeared to be only half formed ideas. Helped out by an ex member of the Turncoats who played on one song and the studio engineer who had almost always been around on their earlier recordings (he was for a few later records, until he went AWOL on their first US tour), the group have experimented with many different aspects of their guitar sound, which hadn't worked properly, apart from the track Clair. Although, in hindsight, and listening to their later recordings, it is possible to see where they were heading, even if you couldn't at the time.
The group were now going through a rough time. Still trying to find their feet live, with their new line up, they received bad press for their records and their messy live performances, where Kevin would stop for long periods of time as he walked about on stage, checking guitar sounds for Belinda, who never appeared to do much apart from the occasional backing vocal and clumsy strumming of a guitar. They were getting panned. Many people were disppointed with the record and were beginning to write them off once and for all.COMPILATION TIME.As a footnote to their days with Lazy, a compilation LP called Ecstacy And Wine was released - Shortly after Isn't Anything came out. This is basically the Strawberry Wine EP and the Ecstacy LP together on one disc. However, due to an error on Lazy's part, the version of Strawberry Wine is a different mix on the compilation to the one used on the original EP. The group were quite indignant about this.
Creation Records had for some time been interested in the group and after Dick Green, the co-top dog there had bailed Kevin out of a fight and Dingwalls, suggested that they have a meeting with a view to Creation putting out a record by them. The group explained what they wanted to do, to which Creation replied not to worry about anything, just do it. They booked them in the studio, and eight months later, You Make Me Realise was released.
"This was the first time we'd never had to worry about recording costs and budgets. We could spend all our energy on the making of the record. We could do anything, use anything, so we did. Incorporating samples which we'd never had access to, backwards guitar sounds and different effects on the vocals. We mostly concentrated on the song Slow for that EP even though Debbie thought it sounded like Jefferson Starship, but when it came out no-one took much notice of it, they all went for You Make Me Realise."
The press, after an initial slagging for the record, went crazy. First one paper praised, and then the rest followed suit. All of a sudden My Bloody Valentine were the main group. They could do no wrong. Feed Me With Your Kiss came out two months later and was swiftly followed by the LP Isn't Everything which was praised as being one of the best LPs of the eighties.STUNNING PRAISE.This time the group had organised their own sound. This was all their own. from the dynamic extremities of You Make Me Realise to the silky slow and liquidity of other tracks. These a genuinely great records. Enough praise has been lauded on these discs without this article adding to it. Needless to say, though, if you don't own them, you should.
The group spent the next six months touring and sorting out venues around the UK and Europe and even incorporated their first US tour at the end of summer '89 where they have recently finalised a deal with Sire. In August of the same year they played their final gig at Reading festival before retreating into the studio for work on their next releases.
Almost an entire year later, the group have now emerged with a new single, Glider. Another small slab of brilliance. A powerful, embracing sound with an almost dance beat behind it. The B-side is the quieter side of the Valentines with a Beatles/psychedelic feel, almost like something from the Magical Mystery Tour. The single narrowly missed the top 40, despite a remix by current master of the genre, Andy Weatherall, with a view to the dance floors.
The year in between, due to the band's public inactivity, there was much speculation from the public and the press. Could the band come up with the good yet again? Were they having trouble with songs? By the sound and success of their latest single, with an LP to follow later in the year, it would appear that these questions have been temporarily answered.
The group look set to build on their popularity in the States, and who knows,maybe their next single in this county will go into the top 30, especially in the curent pop climate, where the charts appear to be more susceptible to admitting independent guitar bands. Things might very well happen in the near future.LACK OF ABILITY
"What we achieve comes from a mixture of no real ability and the fact that everything we do has to have a reason. We just like writing songs from different angles and see how far we can get. We want to go as far as possible. We never want to make a record that we think panders to anything just so it would sell more. We could do that but the band would break up. There's no point in putting a record out if you don't think it's brilliant, that's why there's been such a long gap in between some of our records. But we like to think that we know what we're doing, we're not ashamed of our influences or most of the things we've done up til now. The whole attitude has just been realistic."
"It would be nice to last long enough to have a whole bunch of good records, enjoying playing live, and stuff like that. Nobody knows more about what we're doing than we do. We just get annoyed because it is so disorganised."