Tag Archives: Steve Fisk

Spangle

In the September of 1994 I was on holiday, driving round Ireland in a battered old Capri with my girlfriend. Watusi was released while we were out there and not being able to wait until I got home, I picked up the cassette version in Dublin and spent the next week or so listening to the new album on a continuous loop. The songs were varied and sometimes challenging but the essential TWP-ness was there.

‘Spangle’ was a favourite right from the off with the otherworldly scratchy intro. Although I’d already heard the rockier version on the Peel show the previous Spring, this charming version had an affect on me. It brought out the yearning and the angst in the lyrics, it made me think of misty mornings and the pain in the heart when you wake up alone. It’s like a dream with its woozy Optigan and ancient sounding guitar but rooted in reality thanks to the ever-clever words of David Gedge.

There’s nothing quite so sharply painful as the feeling and words you get from someone that used to love you. You can tell they don’t care anymore just by their tone, their silence, their general disregard. But you deny it’s true, it can’t be. You push the matter, you ask again and again and then they finally tell you how they really feel and you wish you’d never asked.

Questions and Answers with David Gedge:

Most important one first, why is it called ‘Spangle’? I’m hoping it refers to the sweets!

DLG: Ha, ha… no, I was just thinking of something sparkling… maybe a piece of jewellery… that the narrator has, which belongs to the person he’s talking to. But I do remember those sweets. Surely if you were correct the song would’ve been called ‘Spangles’, though! There’s actually a Fall song called ‘It’s A Curse’ which does include a reference to those sweets, by the way.

I know that originally you planned for the ‘rock/electric’ version to be on Watusi and then you changed your mind and put the ‘acoustic’ version on there instead. Can you explain what lead to that decision?

DLG: We wrote and arranged the songs for the Watusi sessions in the usual way but in the back of our minds we had vague plans for recording alternate versions to use as B-sides for singles, etc. We were thinking of the usual ‘acoustic versions’ – basically recording them with acoustic guitars, drums played with brushes, stuff like that – but we hadn’t counted upon the genius of the producer, Steve Fisk! As well as being a keyboard player himself, Steve has an extensive knowledge of keyboards and synthesizers going back to early Rock ‘n’ Roll. And one of the instruments he introduced us to was the ‘Optigan’. They were made by a subsidiary of the toy manufacturer, Mattel, in the early 70s and got the name because the sounds came from pre-recorded optical soundtracks that came on discs. It had such a beautiful, haunting sound that we immediately wanted to experiment on a song and ‘Spangle’ seemed the obvious choice.

I love both versions but do you have a preference? The version on Watusi certainly helps make the album more eclectic and different from previous albums, which I know is always an aim.

DLG: It’s hard to say which version I prefer because although the electric version totally works as a rock song [I especially like the end section with the slide on the bass and the faded up guitar] the Optigan version has a poignancy that complements the lyric. Like you say, I’m always looking to push the band into different musical landscapes and I think once we’d come up with the new arrangement for ‘Spangle’ using the Optigan I don’t think there was any way that the original version was going to end up on the album!

How much of the Watusi version was down to you and the band and how much was Steve Fisk’s influence? I believe that’s him playing the Optigan at the start and during? Is that him on piano/keys at the end as well?

DLG: I can’t remember who played what! However, it could quite easily have been one of the band playing the Optigan because extensive keyboard skills are not required! It’s more a case of pushing buttons that operate the discs! But obviously that version of the song would never have existed had it not been for Steve so, yes, he was hugely influential.

How was the scratchy vinyl sound created?

DLG: That’s the sound of the actual discs. They’re from the early 1970s, remember. They get dirty and scratched with use… just like a 7” single. I love it, though… I think it adds to the mournful feel of the recording.

You’ve mentioned before that this song is one of your favourites. Why?

DLG: Well, I’ve always been happy with the melody and the lyric but also working with Steve introduced me to the Optigan and other vintage keyboards like Mellotrons, Moogs, Vox and Farfisa organs and, ultimately, the idea of recording a different kind of music from just guitars, bass and drums. I think you could almost say that ‘Spangle’ was the birthplace of Cinerama in that respect.

The lyrics follow the conversational style for which you’ve become famous. When you write these, is the whole conversation in your head [i.e. including the missing parts from the other side of the row?]

DLG: Oh, yes. The whole thing is meticulously planned out. That’s why it takes me so flipping long!

I was amused that in latter years you corrected the lyric “I’m not going to share you with no one” to the more grammatically correct “I’m not going to share you with anyone”. However, the official lyrics in the recent Watusi re-issue still show the old lyric. Do you have any other tiny changes like this on other older songs?

DLG:  Ha, ha… probably. When I originally wrote that lyric I thought the ‘slangy’ version “I’m not going to share you with no one” suggested the narrator’s anger and frustration… but then when we played it live I thought it sounded a bit stupid. These days I tend to save the “no-one” for the final chorus but the ‘official lyrics’ should, I suppose, always be taken from the ‘definitive’ recording… which is the Watusi version in this case.

Official Lyrics:

I’m glad you found the time to ring
Oh, I just spent all day waiting
I need to know what’s happening
Well at least we both agree

I really don’t know where to start
Well, did you say you met some neighbour?
I guess I’m heading for a broken heart
Why are you doing this to me?

It’s all clear (I can hear)
And I’m not gonna share you with no one
Well surprise, I’ve got eyes
Now goodbye

How long have you had this planned?
Well I guess it shows how much you care
No, I understand
I just played the fool

Oh, sure, I’m going let you go
Well, I was wrong to ever trust you
But I don’t think that I’ll ever know how you could be so cruel

It’s all clear (I can hear)
And I’m not gonna share you with no one
Well surprise, I’ve got eyes
Now goodbye

It’s all clear (I can hear)
And i’m not gonna share you with no one
Well surprise, I’ve got eyes
Now goodbye

Written by Gedge / Smith / Belk / Dorrington and published by SM Publishing [UK] Limited.

Studio Versions:

1 – Watusi version released 09/09/1994 TIME: 3:11

Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals); Steve Fisk (Optigan, keyboards, producer and mixer) John Goodmanson (engineer) [see DLG’s answer above as to nature of recording]

Recorded in the Spring of 1994 at Bad Animals studio, Seattle USA

2 – Electric Version (John Peel Session) TIME: 3:10

Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Paul Dorrington (guitar); Darren Belk (bass); Simon Smith (drums); Mike Robinson (producer)

Recorded on 22/03/1994, first broadcast on 16/04/1994 on BBC Radio 1 John Peel Show

3 – Versions version TIME: 3:11

Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Paul Dorrington (guitar); Darren Belk (bass); Simon Smith (drums); Heather Lewis/Carrie Akre (backing vocals); Steve Fisk (producer and mixer); John Goodmanson (engineer)

‘Rock’ version originally meant for Watusi

Version 1 and 3 are found on Watusi (Edsel Records reissue [EDSJ 9008])
Version 2 is found on The Complete Peel Sessions (BBC Records [CMXBX1447])

Live Versions:

1 –  1995 Phoenix Festival (acoustic version) TIME: 2:48

Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals); Darren Belk (guitar); Jayne Lockey (backing vocals); Simon Smith (drums); Hugh Kelly Jnr. (keyboards)

Recorded at The Phoenix Festival, Long Marston, Stratford upon Avon on 14/07/1995, first broadcast on 15/07/1995 on BBC Radio 1 John Peel Show

2 – Live Tape 14 version TIME: 3:00

Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals); Darren Belk (bass); Paul Dorrington (guitar); Simon Smith (drums)

Recorded on 17/03/1995 at L’exo, Rouen, France

3 – Cinerama : John Peel Sessions (Season 3) TIME: 3:16

Recorded as Cinerama by : David Gedge (vocals); Simon Cleave (guitar); Terry de Castro (bass); Kari Paavola (drums); Sally Murrell (keyboards and backing vocals); Rachel Gilchrist & Eleanor Gilchrist (violin); Sarah Harris (viola); Abigail Trundle (cello); Andrew Rogers (producer)

Recorded and transmitted live from Maida Vale on 09/01/2002 on BBC Radio 1 John Peel Show

Version 1 is found on The Wedding Present : The Complete Peel Sessions (BBC Records [CMXBX1447])
Version 2 is found on Watusi (Edsel Records reissue [EDSJ 9008])
Version 3 is found on Cinerama : The Complete Peel Sessions [BBC Records CMXBX1526])

Watusi

Live:

‘Spangle’ was played live in the Spring of 1994 in the months leading up to the release of Watusi and carried on into 1995. Cinerama incorporated it into their repertoire of occasional The Wedding Present songs around 2002. The first tour of the reformed band put the song back in the set.

Videos:

Cover:

In 1998, American alt-rock band Jimmy Eat World put out a cover of ‘Spangle’ which borrows from all the different versions in its tone.

[Special thanks to Tracy Hopkinson and Thomas (@scribbler81)]

Perfect Blue

2005 saw the rebirth of The Wedding Present. For some, including, it seemed, the band itself, there was little difference in the semantics. As Shakespeare wrote “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but there was something special, something primal and tribalistic that was awoken when that change happened. The band from my younger years were back – even though they’d never really gone away.

On that return tour that would last 16 months, the band decided to end their set with the song that was ending the new album, Take Fountain. It was a beautiful song – a love song without any irony or bitter sweet taste. Just a song of innocent, wide-eyed devotion, pure and simple.  The lyrics include touches of lump-in-the-throat deprecation (“I’m not sure just what I did to deserve you”) and deadpan humourless conviction (“Because, when I’m away from you, it’s like something’s missing/That sounds drippy but I swear it’s true”). David Gedge even drops his voice to speak that middle phrase – just to emphasise how much she, and therefore the song, mean to him. As alluded to below, this song is real, it was not written for the sake of a needing a ballad to close an album, it’s from the heart. And as anyone who has ever been in love (or maybe still is) knows, when you feel this way, you don’t care who knows about it and you don’t care how it might look.

The song begins quietly with just guitar and vocal, with an aching silence after the “you’re staring” line. On the album, it gently builds picking up instruments along the way until by the halfway point, strings and horns are joining in. It ends in a gorgeous crescendo of noise that stays with you even after the needle lifts from the groove. Live, the song took on another life. Occasionally the band would attempt to mimic the orchestral feel of the original but most of the time, they set aside those thoughts and just filled the gap with guitars. Lots of noisy guitars. So, for many of the gigs in that period (and I went to a lot of them), the sets ended with several minutes of heart-surgingly powerful guitars. Gedge and co would take the song up several ratchets in their attempts to burst our eardrums and twang at our heart-strings. At the end of each gig, the fans were left exhausted but with massive smiles on their faces. Perfect.

Questions and Answers with David Gedge:

This debuted live as a Cinerama song in 2003. Did it go through any changes between when it was written and when it appeared on Take Fountain?

DLG: No, because, as you know, when we started Take Fountain we all thought we were making the fourth Cinerama album and so that’s how it was recorded. I think we decided it was actually going to be a Wedding Present album during the mixing.

I think most people assume this song was written about your now-wife Jessica. Can you break your usual wall and say if that’s so? If yes, what does she think about having such a beautiful love song written about her?

DLG: I will just say that Take Fountain is one of the two most ‘personal’ albums I’ve written… the other being George Best. Take Fountain essentially tells the story of the end of one relationship and the start of another and Perfect Blue, along with its ‘sister’ song, Queen Anne are the optimistic closing tracks at the end of what is otherwise quite a melancholy journey.

The lyrics (especially the last verse), as are often the case, suggest a lot of self-deprecation. Is that really how you are as I find people have very differing opinions on your real personality?

DLG: Ha, ha… maybe I’m just a complex kinda guy. Talking of the lyrics… when we were sound checking this song at The Leadmill in Sheffield once the monitor engineer came over to me after I’d done the spoken “it’s like something’s missing” line in the second verse and put his head close to my monitor speakers as we continued to play. He thought I’d paused during the singing to complain about the mix he’d given me.

Halfway through, the song changes into a long instrumental for around two and a half minutes. On the record it goes from guitars into an orchestral coda. Live, of course, it was usually just performed with guitars. Both versions are magnificent but I know that a lot of fans loved the live version as it allowed them to dance wildly in the same way songs like Kennedy and Flying Saucer did with their noisy outros. I think the album version sounds more romantic and the live version more frenetic and exciting. Which do you prefer? How much do you love playing it live especially the last minute with the extra roaring guitar? Can you try and get a live version onto a nicely recorded official release please?

DLG: It’s difficult to say which I prefer. In the studio you have the luxury of being able to add extra instrumentation, correct mistakes, fine-tune the production… and all that appeals to me because I’m a perfectionist! But then there’s nothing quite like playing a song live to ramp up the intensity and the excitement in the arrangement. What we’ve always tried to do in The Wedding Present, of course, is capture that live power in the studio. With a song like Perfect Blue we wanted to create a huge dynamic shift from the beginning, where it’s just guitar and singing, to the end, where all the guns are blazing but there’s still room for a solo french horn to cut through with the final melody.

As music lovers, a lot of songs get intrinsically linked with our own real life events and of course that is why we hold them so dear and feel quite protective over our love for them. Do you ever feel protective over songs, for example ones which may hold particular personal significance? Playing Devil’s Advocate here – would you let Adele cover Perfect Blue?

DLG: It’s an odd thing… I feel very protective of the songs while they’re being written but once we start performing them or recording them I do feel like I’m letting them go in some way. It’s as if by that point I’ve done all I can to prepare them… now they have to fend for themselves in the outside world! And I’m always interested to hear other people’s interpretations of my work, yes.

Official Lyrics:

And when I turn round to glance at you, you’re staring
And your eyes are such a perfect blue that I can’t look away
Did I get shy?
Maybe I didn’t make it clear, but, darling, I think I’ll always want you near

Because, when I’m away from you, it’s like something’s missing
That sounds drippy but I swear it’s true
You just appeared and, no, it wasn’t rehearsed, there really was no warning
Now you’re the first thing in my head each morning

And the more I have, the more I want you
The more you smile, the more I know that I’ll never make you sad
But I should warn you that I just might never let you out of my sight

I’m not sure just what I did to deserve you
I’m not complaining, God forbid, I just don’t understand!
Tell me why haven’t you had enough of me?
How have I managed to you make you love me?

The more I have, the more I want you
The more you smile, the more I know that I’ll never make you sad
But I should warn you that I just might never let you out of my sight

Written by Gedge / Cleave and published by Gedge [whose publishing is administered outside of the UK & Eire by Fintage Publishing BV] / Complete Music.

Studio Version:

1 – Take Fountain version released 14/02/2005 TIME: 5:31

Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Simon Cleave (guitar); Terry De Castro (bass and backing vocals); Kari Paavola (drums and percussion); Jen Kozel (violin); Stephen Cressswell (viola); Lori Goldstone (cello); Don Crevie (french horn); Jeff McGrath (trumpet);  Producer/Engineer/Mixer/(other instruments): Steve Fisk
(Recorded in the USA in the Summer of 2004)

Live Version:

1 – Live in New York by Cinerama released 18/01/2010 (Scopitones, download-only) TIME: 6:30

Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Simon Cleave (guitar); Terry De Castro (bass and backing vocals); Kari Paavola (drums and percussion)
(Recorded on 28/06/2003)

Take Fountain51UCbkBBLHL._SL500_AA280_

Live:

As mentioned above, the song started off as a Cinerama song in their 2003 gigs and by the time 2005 arrived and the band had changed name back to The Wedding Present and embarked on a long tour, the song had become a firm live favourite. It reappeared in setlists in 2007, 2011-12 and 2014.

Videos:

No official video for this song although in 2011 MVDvisual released Drive [MVD5208D], a documentary and live video collection of 2005’s North American tour so there is a version of Perfect Blue on there which isn’t on youtube. Instead, here are a few versions. First up is the album version with a straightforward non-video.

Perfect Blue – album version

Next is an example of the noisier, more guitar-driven live version despite a guitar change halfway through the coda by Chris McConville.

Perfect Blue – live, Hamburg 2007

Lastly, an acoustic recording of the song which has had a video created for it.

Perfect Blue – acoustic by Gedge/Cleave, Amsterdam 2004

[Special thanks to Tracy Hopkinson & Hick Hallworth]