Wednesday, 21 November 2012
97 All About Eve - All About Eve
Purchased : 19th August 1988
Tracks : Flowers In Our Hair / Gypsy Dance / In The Clouds / Martha's Harbour / Every Angel / Shelter From The Rain / She Moves Through The Fair / Wildhearted Woman / Never Promise / What Kind Of A Fool / In The Meadow
This was a milestone purchase, the first from Sound Search Records in Ashton-under-Lyne on a Friday lunchtime. Tucked away behind the market hall it was ostensibly a second hand shop but nearly every LP I bought from there was in mint condition and I can only remember having to take two back to the shop. From this point on buying an album for the weekend became a regular habit and the bulk of the remaining vinyl to be considered here came from that source.
At the time of purchase this was a current chart LP as the single "Martha's Harbour" was at number 10 ( its peak ) in the singles chart. All About Eve formed in 1985 and grew a following steadily through a string of independent singles each doing a little better than the last. They were also supported by The Mission and singer Julianne Regan's prominent appearance on their 1987 hit Severina clinched a record deal with Mercury. Thereafter their singles started making the charts and this LP entered at no 7 in February 1988.
All About Eve threw down a gauntlet to critics from the punk generation. They were the first group who came out of the indie scene to openly proclaim a love of early seventies folk rock , Fairport Convention, Trees, Pentangle et al. You could apparently trust a hippie again. Their timing was good, with the burgeoning New Age movement coming out of the USA and even Margaret Thatcher acknowledging a change in the weather with her pro-environment speech in 1988. More parochially the replacement of Janice Long by Nicky Campbell on Radio One's evening show entailed an abrupt switch from post-punk orthodoxy ( adhered to successively by Mike Read, Richard Skinner, David Jensen and Long ) to pre-punk Old Grey Whistle Test fare and gave the band a radio champion.
This was mirrored in my own case by working in the Accountancy team at Tameside. The majority of staff were in their thirties and it was my first real contact with people who were ten to fifteen years older than me. They were mostly non-graduates who'd worked their way up. They were music fans but didn't buy a music paper and didn't regard punk as a seismic Year Zero event. I was amazed at one guy who held The Jam and The Style Council in equal esteem. Another guy asked me if I was interested in a ticket to see Barry White. One woman claimed her husband had once been in Jethro Tull but I've never seen any confirmation of that. This did have a drip drip effect ( as you'll see from future entries ) ; a year before I might have considered All About Eve "uncool" but now the barriers were down.
"Flowers In Our Hair" , their last independent single in 1987 could hardly have a more provocative title but it's no mere nostalgia-fest. Tim Bricheno's steely U2 guitar riff indicates where they were coming from and the lyrics are full of doubt and scepticism - "Do you ever think we'll make it something more than a uniform?" Then you have Julianne Regan's glorious voice, pure and powerful and always suggesting deeper wells of emotion than their pop rock sound could really manage. She's the best example that Britain doesn't really treasure its great singers.
"Gypsy Dance" is acoustic based with a generous helping of violin from Ric Sanders ( tellingly borrowed from Fairport Convention ) . The verses are slow and mordant - "Promises of fate and destiny / Old woman I don't want to know" - but the chorus is bright and exultant championing the loss of self in the dance and thereby connecting the group with their rave contemporaries.
"In The Clouds" was the first single for Mercury and fell just short of the Top 40. It was recorded before the arrival of drummer Mark Price and so features The Mission's Mick Brown instead. The densely textured guitars point the way towards their eventual move into the shoegazing scene although Brown anchors the song in 1987. Appropriately enough the precise meaning of the song is obscure but that sense of vulnerability and impermanence
that pervades the whole album is present again.
Then we have the big hit, "Martha's Harbour" and it's a tragedy that such a lovely song is best remembered for a sound engineer's glitch humiliating the band when they "performed" it ( or more accurately didn't ) on Top Of The Pops . The track only features Regan and Bricheno ( strangely producer Paul Samwell-Smith isn't credited with the string arrangement or wave sound effects as he is elsewhere ) with the former singing over the latter's limpid acoustic lines. The song , channelling the spirit of Sandy Denny with its overt nautical metaphors, captures the tension between security and adventure - " I hide in the water but needed the danger". She's telling her lover he has her for now but "maybe I'll just stow away".
In "Every Angel" the boot's on the other foot and Regan fears her lover will fly away. The track ( which reached number 30 as a single ) is a more overt rock song with a riff that owes something to Don't Fear The Reaper and another peerless vocal performance from Regan especially on the middle eight.
"Shelter From The Rain" is a superb Gothic power ballad, a plea rather than a celebration. It rises out of a static string arrangement from Paul Samwell-Smith with the odd Spaghetti Western church bell and allows Bricheno his first real solo. Wayne Hussey warbles on the second and final choruses but is completely superfluous.
Side Two begins with a version of the old Irish folk song "She Moves Through The Fair"
covered by all and sundry since Fairport Convention tackled it in 1968 ( and less than a year later it would top the charts in re-written form as Simple Minds's Belfast Child ). This is an agonisingly slow version mainly consisting of Regan singing over Samwell-Smith's drone ( the credited contributions from Bricheno and Sanders are hard to detect ). It's an impressive display of vocal prowess but also the track I'm most likely to skip.
"Wild Hearted Woman" was the first single to crack the Top 40 early in 1988. It was written as an appreciation of Janis Joplin and so is sung in the third person though it's difficult to believe Regan's never been tempted to apply it to herself. It's a perfect distillation of their sound, Bricheno's interwoven acoustic and electric guitars, Regan's pure vocals and a soaring chorus.
"Never Promise ( Anyone Forever) " taps into the same vein of domestic dread as Abba's The Visitors although the fear is of what might happen when someone ( i.e. her partner ) goes out rather than intruders coming in. It's a further subversion of their early seventies influences specifically detailing the signifiers of homely bliss that won't provide protection - "Cat on the hearth, dog at the door". Regan supplements her vocal with some forlorn piano while Mick Brown punctuates with the snare.
"What Kind Of Fool ?" was reluctantly released as a sixth single to cash in on the success of "Martha's Harbour" and peaked at 29. It wasn't a great choice being rather langourous for a single. Based around a simple piano motif it's another warning against over-reaching and not counting your blessings. Samwell-Smith boosts it with a tasteful string arrangement but it's not one of the stronger tracks.
That leaves us with "In The Meadow" another dark song of a lovelorn maid who's possibly being exploited by her master - "you must not forget that you are who you are." It's Bricheno's chance to shine and he introduces it with a climbing riff then takes posssession of the last two and a half minutes with an elongated solo.
So it's a very good debut from an under-rated band ; it's hard to believe Evanescence or The Pierces aren't familiar with it. Why they proved unable to build on it we'll explore in future posts.