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Sound - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 14 / 4 / 2004

Sound - Interview


The story of the Sound is one of the most tragic and turbulent in rock music. John Clarkson speaks to drummer and surviving member Mike Dudley about the 80's group's fractured history and their recent revival of fortunes

The story of the Sound is one of the most tragic and turbulent in rock music. First formed in 1979 out of the remnants of another band, the Outsiders, the group, a South London-based quartet, which consisted initially of Adrian Borland (vocals, guitar) ; Graham Bailey (bass) ; Bi Marshall (keyboards) and Mike Dudley (drums), soon signed to Korova, a post-punk offshoot label of Warner Brothers, and were briefly tipped as potential stadium fillers. It wasn’t, however, to be. Two albums, ‘Jeopardy’ (1980) and ‘From the Lion’s Mouth’, (1981, upon which Bi Marshall was replaced by Colvin ‘Max’ Mayers),followed, and combined Borland’s tense, introspective lyricism with a brassy, anthemic sound. Each were critically acclaimed, but, unlike their label mates at Korova, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs, the Sound failed to attract much attention from the public at large, and remained a cult act. Korova tried to push the Sound into recording something more radio-friendly. They responded by recording ‘All Fall Down’ (1982), a harsh, discordant and distinctly uncommercial electro album, and were almost immediately dropped. With their major label days at an end, the Sound signed to Statik, a medium-sized independent label, and released their fourth album, ‘Heads and Hearts’ (1985). The weakest of the Sound’s albums, it was a largely bland affair with little in the way of strong songs and won them few new admirers. The group’s fitfh album, the empassioned ‘In the Hothouse’ (1986), a double live album recorded over the course of two nights in August 1985 at the London Marquee, was a much stronger offering. The Sound, however, fell into further trouble. Statik went into liquidation, and by the end of 1986 they had lost that deal too. Borland had also fallen victim to mental illness, and was diagnosed as suffering from manic depression. The group stayed together long enough to release a sixth album, “Thunder Up’ (1987) on the Dutch label Play It Again Sam, which striking a middle balance between the pumped-up adrenalin-filled rock of ‘Jeopardy’ and 'From the Lion’s Mouth’ and the stark experimentations of ‘All Fall Down’, is seen by many fans to account amongst their best work. A European tour to promote it in November 1987, however, ended in disaster when Borland had a breakdown on its first date in Vitoria in Spain,and all the subsequent dates had to be cancelled. Dudley decided to leave the band shortly afterwards, and the group imploded a few weeks later in early 1988. Both Borland and Mayers are now dead. Mayers died from an Aids-related illness on Boxing Day 1993. Borland began a solo career, and recorded five low-key albums. He, however, continued to be plagued by mental illness. There were times in which he would temporarily lose touch with reality and suffer from hallucinations and hear voices . There were occasions too in which he would have to be sectioned and in which he would also attempt suicide. As he put the finishing touches to his last album, ‘Harmony and Destruction’, Borland began to show symptoms of illness again. He died on the early morning of April 26th 1999 after throwing himself in front of a train at Wimbledon Station. Mike Dudley has now retired from music, while Graham Bailey married an American woman and moved to New Orleans in 1992 where he now works for a TV station. In the time since the deaths of Borland and Mavers, the career of the Sound, like that of the Velvet Underground, one of Adrian Borland’s favourite bands. has gone through a resurrection, and the group has been discovered by a new audience. A label, Renascent, was set up by Mick Griffiths, one of the Sound’s former agents, especially to promote the Sound’s records. It put out in 1999 as its first release ‘Propaganda’, a collection of demos recorded before ‘Jeopardy’. In 2002 it re-released all of the Sound’s albums, except for ‘Thunder Up’, which remains contracted to Play It Again Sam, and in April of this year it put a new double CD, ‘The BBC Recordings’. The first of ‘The BBC Recordings’ consists of two shows recorded ,for the Mike Read and John Peel shows on Radio 1, the former in 1980 and the latter in 1981. The second CD features two sessions recorded for the same station’s ‘In Concert’ series, one in 1981 and one in 1985. With ‘The BBC Recordings’ just out, Pennyblackmusic spoke to Mike Dudley, who has become the main spokesperson for the Sound, about the group’s fractured history. PB : Both Adrian Borland and Graham Bailey had been playing in another band, the Outsiders, which eventually augmented into the Sound. How did you first become involved with them ? MD : I had been playing in a little band locally at the time in Kingston in Surrey where I used to live, and a friend of mine who was managing the Outsiders at the time was looking for a replacement drummer for their then drummer. He asked me to go along and watch the Outsiders with a view to joining them, so I went up to somewhere in Clapham.-the 1-0 I think it was called-and saw them perform and, to be honest, I didn’t really like them very much (Laughs). I thought they were a bit of a racket, but a couple of friends that I had gone along with convinced me to give it a go. We staged an audition at the squat I was living in at the time and Adrian and Graham came over and that was it really. I had a bit of a bash about and they then said “You’re in the band” and I said “Well, okay. We’ll see how it goes” and off we went. PB : How old were you at that time? About 19 or 20 like the others? MD : No, I was eight years older than Adrian. It was 1979, and I was 28 by the time I came across them, so I was the pensioner in the band really. PB : Your first album ‘Jeopardy’ seems to have been recorded quite quickly and very cheaply. Is it true that the album was originally conceived as a series of demos, but then Korova decided to release it just the way it was ? MD : We had already recorded the album ‘Propaganda’, which has since been released by Renascent, in Adrian’s parents' front room. His Dad was upstairs operating the tape machine and that was the original demo tape that we were hawking about and which got us a deal with Korova out of which came ‘Jeopardy’. Some of the tracks on ‘Jeopardy’ are also on ‘Propaganda’ ,but we had written a few more by then so that became the album. PB : It seems that there was a lot of debate in the band about whether it wanted to be an alternative or a mainstream act ? MD : There was always tensions internally between us about where we wanted to go and we all had different ambitions. I was happy to think of the idea of us playing stadiums because I wanted to be a rock star, but Adrrian always wanted the Sound to be the Velvet Underground of the 80’s. We never got to the point of argument about it. We did though have different ways of looking at where we needed to go. PB : When you signed to Korova, that must have seemed then like the ideal solution , because there you were signing to an alternative label which was an offshoot of a major label, and which had major label funding. MD : You’ve hit the nail right on the head. Yes, apart from the fact that it was a record label deal anyway, and we grabbed it because it came along, that’s definitely true. I always thought because Korova was Rob Dickins' baby that it might be a step into the major league (Rob Dickins was the then Managing Director of Warner Brothers in Britain-Ed). Again I don’t think Adrian ever saw it like that. It was a hit label. Echo and the Bunnymen were on it, and it gve us a bit of kudos. That was it really as far as he was concerned. PB : There are photos of the original keyboardist , Bi Marshall, playing her synthersisers at the time of ‘Jeopardy’ on top of beer crates. Why did she decide to that ? Was that some kind of punk statement or was it simply because of lack of money ? MD : We couldn’t afford a stand essentially (Laughs). The photographs of that particular show were taken at a pub gig somewhere up in South London. As we didn’t usually have a keyboard stand, we were always looking for somewhere to stick Bi’ s synthesiser on-tables, a couple of back of chairs, whatever-and there just happened to be a couple of beer crates lying around , so that is what we used that time. It wasn’t a statement. It was just expendiency. PB : Why did she leave the band ? MD : Bi wasn’t very happy with the direction the music was going. She was moving in a different direction, and wanted to make music with an art statement and which was more wry and ironic. That was fair enough, but by that time we were already pulling in the U2 direction. It wasn’t a completely amicable split and she was upset about it. Unfortunately that’s the way it goes sometimes. PB : Her replacement was Colvin Mayers. What do you think he brought to the Sound ? MD : A different keyboard sound definitely. He was a clever guy and a multi-instrumentalist. He played the guitar sometimes on our records as well and had lots of previous experience of working in groups. He used to be in a group called the Cardiacs They were a very quirky South London band who we had done a few gigs with and who we sometimes socialised with. We nicked him from them. He gave us a much more panoramic feel and sounded us out quite a lot. PB : As a result of what happened to Adrian, he’s something of an overshadowed figure in the Sound’s history. What do you remember about him as a person ? MD : He was a lovely guy, a bit wayward in his habits, but really generous to a fault. I can’t say that I was really close to him as a friend, but as a colleague he was a very calming influence on the band at times . Sometimes Adrian would go into one of his rants about what ever was bothering him that week and Colvin would be a calming influence on the situation. He was a great influence in the songwriting department, as well of course being a multi-instrumentalist. He was super on stage too. PB : The second album ‘From the Lion’s Mouth’ was recorded on a much larger budget and found you working with producer Hugh Jones who is quite a legendary figure in music circles (Echo and the Bunnymen, Shack, Dumptruck, Dodgy, Fiat Lux-Ed). What do you remember about working with him ? Was he good to work with ? MD : He was good to work with. He was good at picking out our best assets and focusing on them. The first album was recorded with Nick Robbins, but it was us that were really in control. Nick was really doing just the engineering. I wouldn’t say that Hugh was calling the shots on 'From the Lion's Mouth'.. He was definitely directing things though and getting us to focus on certain strengths and to play on those. It was good to get a good direction. PB : You were playing a lot of shows at that time. Is it true that one of your early shows at a peace festival in Holland culminated in a near mini riot with a lot of the audience destroying and setting fire to a lot of the anti-nuclear material ? MD : That’s an exaggeration. There was no riot. The Stranglers came on next and the hall was still in one piece. Adrian made a little speech from the stage, pointing out that if you didn’t have nuclear power how were you going to light your homes, and certain sections of the audience, who were fans of the band , started setting light to the posters. I don’t really think that it was a significant act in the history of the band though. It was just one of those things. PB : There is another story about you breaking your hand before a gig in Italy ? What happened there ? MD : (Laughs !) I had just started kung fu classes and, like everybody who starts kung fu classes, I thought I was Bruce Lee. I got into a bit of an argument with our manager at the time and attempted to chop his arm and broke my hand instead. It was really embarassing, but boys will be boys. I had to do the gig regardless because the promoter was going absolutely spare. Promoters find themselves working for other people as it were over there and we had to go on. I went on stage and I played with one hand. It was an absolutely terrible gig, but the audience seemed to like it. We even got an encore. John Martyn was there at the time sorting out one of his own gigs for the next week and lurching around with a bottle of brandy. He more or less pushed us back on to the stage for a second encore because he thought that we were great . We cut the tour and came home after that show. We missed playing the London Lyceum with U2 a few days later simply because I had bust my hand,. We never did get to meet Bono and the boys. PB : You have said in the past that the reason why the Sound never became bigger was because, to quote you, “we spent too much time splashing about in the shallows”. What did you mean by that ? MD : That was a reflection upon what I have already said about how I wanted the band to go in a direction where the others didn’t seem to want to go. The Sound were never an easy band to deal with, even amongst ourselves, let alone the people, like the record companies and producers, that you have to deal with to survive in the music business. We were always argumentative and pulling against everybody. I think that that idea that it was more hip to be an influence than it was to be famous was definitely a contributory factor in us not being more successful. The opportunity was there really with ‘From the Lion’s Mouth’, but we spent too much time trying to be unhelpful and it just didn’t work out. PB : Do you think that because you were often self-managed that that was another contributory factor also? MD : I would say so. We had two people who tried to manage us and they found it too much hard work, and us too obstinate, too self-obsessed and too wrapped up in ourselves. PB : It is also sometimes said that because Adrian didn’t have the same sort of film star looks as, say, Ian McCulloch, that that was also a reason for the band not being more successful. What do you think about that ? MD : I don’t know about that. It never stopped Chris Rea. I think that there is a certain amount to be said for looking good. Look at Duran Duran ! Good looking boys and crap music, but there’s a certain amount to be said for not being particulary good looking and producing great stuff. I think that it was just a little give and take with us. That was the problem. PB : When did it start going wrong with Korova ? MD : When ‘From the Lion’s Mouth’ didn’t sell as much as they thought it was going to. When that happened Korova’s attitude was “Boys, the next album you do has got to get more commercial, so go off and write some more commercial songs”, so we went out and came back with ‘All Fall Down’, which was, of course, anything but commercial. PB : Did you make a conscious decision then with ‘All Fall Down’ to see how abstract and stark could become and to deliberately try to wind up Korova up ? MD : Yeah, we fell out with Rob Dickins. We didn’t like him. We didn’t like the company. We thought they weren’t giving us the support that we were due and that if they really wanted a commercial album they had got to put plenty of money behind it which with both ‘Jeopardy and 'From Lion’s Mouth’ they hadn’t really done. They felt we weren’t being co-operative enough and the whole relationship didn’t work really, so when they turned around and said “the solution is for you to write more commercial songs”, we thought “Fuck you” and went ahead and produced ‘All Fall Down’ . Ironically, however, they did go and spend money on it by hiring the Manor, Virgin’s place out in Oxford for us to record it in. PB : How long after it was released did you last at Korova? MD : It was very quick. It couldn’t have be any more than three or four months. PB : You have described ‘All Fall Down’ as featuring “the very best and the very worst of the Sound”. What did you mean by that ? MD : Well, some of the more experimental stuff, like the stuff with the drum machines and so forth, is I feel in terms of the songs really weak, while other stuff , like ‘Monument’ and ‘Party’ and ‘We Go Far’, is amongst our best work. There are some great songs on there. Some of it just didn’t work though. Part of the problem there was that again it was us back in control and pulling in too many ways at once with no central focus. PB : After that you signed to Statik. Who were they ? MD : Statik was run by Laurie Gaines, an Australian guy, who had made a lot of money with a record called ‘Safety’ with this bloke from Canada. whose name I can’t remember now. It was a big hit at the time though. They were looking for bands to take on on their label. The Chameleons were one act that they signed, and then there was us. They did put a lot of effort into trying to break us in America with the littlle resources that they had. We went out a couple of times. At one point it was rumoured that we were being shown interest in by Miles Copeland’s label, IRS, but it didn’t happen. They didn’t in the end turn up to the gig. It was another relationship with a record company, however, which essentially didn’t work out. Statik had low sales with us, and also some of their other acts. They eventually went bust. That was that one. PB : From the end of ‘83 the band also stopped touring as much. If you look at your gig history, you played a lot of shows up until then, and toured Britain several times. After that, however, the Sound rarely played outside London, and beyond Holland and Belgium where they always remained popular. Why was that ? Was it just because there was no longer the finance ? MD : Yeah, we were under financed. People became no longer interested in taking us on live, and ‘83 was the point where it all started shrinking in really. PB : When did Adrian first start to show symptoms of being ill? MD : If you listen to ‘Heads and Hearts’, he is singing about himself on much of that, and I would say in hindsight that the signs are there . It didn’t start to become obvious until later though. We began to become worried around about ‘85 or ‘86. PB : It must have been a very frightening and confusing thing for all you to deal with. MD : It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pleasant. Towards the end we were on tour in Spain and we had to stop the whole thing and come home. I brought Adrian back on the plane myself which was a memorable experience. He was unaware that he was on a plane and thought that he was in a UFO and that I was an alien. It sounds comical, but it was really difficult. PB : One of the things that had been hinted in some other Sound interviews and articles is that drink and drugs may have precipitated things. Do you think that has any validity ? MD : I am not sure about that. To my knowledge Adrian never took any drugs. He was always very anti drugs, although he was fond of drinking to excess. I don’t know if there is any connection of note between alcoholism and the sort of clinical illness that Adrian suffered from. My impression, however, is that there are rather more genetic reasons for that and for his position. I do understand though that taking certain kinds of drug can bring it on if you are predisposed to depression, but to the best of my knowledge Adrian never touched a cigarette or a joint in his life. PB : Would you say then that he was basically in the grips of a dreadful illness ? MD : Yes. That’s basically it really. PB : Do you think he was melancholic by nature ? MD : Well, again, having a melancholic nature, does that predispose one towards a mental illness ? I am not sure. There is a certain area where that might be an indicator of I suppose a predisposition towards depression, but, as far as I understand, Adrian wasn’t particulary depressive by nature. He suffered from a bi-polar disorder which is a different thing. I suppose he was more disposed towards a more melancholic outlook, but so what ? Sometimes we all get melancholic, although I have to say that I never heard Adrian laugh out loud at what I would describe as a humorous situation. What Adrian seemed to find funny was what I would describe as irony. His humour was definitely at more an intellectual level than a gut level, and I suppose that might have lead people to view him as a rather melancholic person. I, however, never saw him really unhappy until the illness started to kick in. In terms of temperament his actual nature was absolutely average until then and whether or not he was more or less depressed than anybody else . PB : After you signed to Statik, you put out ‘Heads and Hearts’, which was the weakest of all the Sound’s albums. MD : I would agree. PB : Why do you think that one failed to work artistically ? MD : Well, because it was just miserable. I never liked it. It’s a very dark album and it’s really Adrian in a strop being a bit pissed off really. There wasn’t anything vaguely commercial there. There are aspects to it which musically I find interesting such as, for instance, Ian Nelson’s saxophone contributions and some of the arrangements. I can listen to it, but it’s not one of my favourites by a long shot. It is not a very good album really. PB : Your next album was the live album, ‘In the Hothouse’ which was a much stronger record. Do you think the Sound were better as a live band rather than a studio band ? MD : Yes, definitely. We were all terrible timekeepers, me included. I am always flattered when people say that they like my drumming style, but one of the things I was never good at was keeping a solid time. Often live, however, that is a good thing, beause you can get off on the rush of whatever is happening and take the audience with you and it can create a fantastic atmospheric experience. If I listen to the first side of ‘In the Hothouse’ now, I think “there he goes speeding up again, there he is slowing down again”. We found it difficult in the studio until we discovered the magic of playing to click track. You’re absolutely right though. We were much more of a live band than we ever were a bunch of studio clinicians. PB : Were those two gigs at the Marquee at which ‘In the Hothouse’ was recorded particulary special shows for you ? MD :Those were typical gigs for us there really. That was the original Marquee in Wardour Street . It was a small contained kind of venue which lent itself to a great atmosphere. Playing big songs in a small place is always a special kind of experience for any band and its audience. That album is just a really good look at what it was always like at the Marquee. We played there quite a lot and always looked forward to it .Apart from the fact that it was a smelly, little rat hole, it was a great venue. That dressing room, man (Laughs) ! Jesus ! I stayed out of it as much as possible. PB : Your final studio album was ‘Thunder Up’, which marked the band’s full return to form, MD : That’s my other favourite. PB : You said your other favourite ? MD : My other favourite is the first one, ‘Propaganda’, which wasn’t even really an album. Even today, and despite being recorded on four track in somebody’s front room, it sounds really fresh and alive. I think it is a great album personally. PB : Why do you think ‘Thunder Up’ came together so well ? Was it maybe because you were a;; conscious that this was the band’s last stand ? MD : Maybe there was that behind it. The energy of desperation if you like. “Something’s got to happen, so we have got to do our best to make it so.” Adrian’s melancholia, which we were talking about, came out on like songs like ‘You’ve Got a Way’ and ‘Barria Alta’ , but they are not particular miserable songs in themselves. They are quite uplifting pieces despite the depressing subject matter. My favourite song, apart from ‘Barria Alta’, is “Kinetic’ which from a drummer’s point of view gave me the opportunity to bang away for four minutes. A lot of that album is quite up and it moves very well. The only thing wrong with the album is the production. Unfortunately Nick Robbins, who produced it had, got hold of an early digital recording box. For some bizarre reason he thought that it would be a good idea to transfer all the tape master down onto digital and that was what it was mastered from. The quality of the reproduction is horrible as a result, but from a musical viewpoint I think that some of our best stuff is on it. I am really pleased with it. PB : The band broke up after shortly after ‘Thunder Up’ was released, and after you played that final awful tour of Europe in which Adrian became very ill.You were the first one to leave . You have said in previous interviews that you broke up for all the usual reasons bands break up, but also because you felt in leaving you might give Adrian the chance to get better. MD : That was my intention. We had decided the three of us, Colvin, Graham and myself, to tell Adrian that the Sound needed a break and that he should get some rest and some help, and that in the meantime we would go off and look at other things. I had an idea at the time that we might get together with the rest of the guys from Fiat Lux, which was where Ian Nelson came from, and maybe do something with them. They had toured with us and we all liked each other and got on well. We thought that might be an idea, but when it came down to it I sat there and listened to the others say “Yes, Adrian. No, Adrian” to Adrian, who wanted despite everything to go on, and I just said at that point “I’m leaving the band”, my intention being that the band would come to an end there and then. I am not going to go into the details, but the only thing that was holding the band together was me in terms of what it was getting up to extra-curriculary. My intention when I announced that I was going was that the band would break up and Adrian would be put in a position of having to take some rest ,which is in effect what happened. Unfortunately, however, utlimately it just delayed things rather than avoided them. PB : How much did you see of the rest of the Sound afterwards ? MD : Nothing at all ! I absented myself entirely other than one brief meeting at the tax office. I hung around Walton-on-Thames where I was living, and went for a couple of auditions for other bands. There was nothing, however, that I was really interested in and I was fed up with being poverty stricken. I thought it was time I went out and got a proper job so I ended up working for a firm of Occupational Psychologists where I have been ever since. PB : And now we have got ‘The BBC Sessions’. Those studio sessions, which make up the first CD, were recorded between the space of six and eight hours. Was working fast something which suited the Sound ? MD : Yeah, I think so. Some of that stuff I prefer to the original studio versions, like the ‘Jeopardy’ stuff and also some of the stuff off ‘From the Lion’s Mouth’. Being put under time pressure seemed to work for us. I think that it was something that we maybe should have used deliberately further on down the line, rather than going into the studio for a couple of weeks and ending up basically having a holiday. It definitely gave us an edge. PB : The live sessions which appear on the second CD and which were broadcast on the ‘In Concert’ series both employed what is described on the sleevenotes as Adrian’s “ less is more” principle. What was that ? MD : If you listen to Adrian’s guitar solos, they’re very pared down compared to the more usual florid rock style that you find from the likes of the Eric Claptons of this world. I definitely recall him going through this process of when we were working together on songs in which, when it would come time for a guitar break, he would end up with half of what he had started with. The principle behind that was if you use less, but put the notes and the beats in a meaningful context it stills sound like more. PB : You seem to have found yourself becoming the Sound’s official archivist and spokesperson. MD : Completely unintentionally (Laughs !) PB : Is that a role that you enjoy ? MD : Yeah ! I do. i don’t mind talking about the old days. I am just surprised that anyone is still interested, but yes it’s enjoyable. I have some distance from it now, so it's with the benefit of hindsight and reflection rather than still being in the middle of it all,. It is all purely circumstantial really. Obviously two of the band are no longer here and the other one has a life now out in the States and isn’t really interested, so it’s ended up with me and Adrian’s Dad doing it.. PB : Have you been surprised then at the success of these albums second time around ? MD : I have. I was always aware that we had a small , but enthusiastic following at the time the band was operating, but I hadn’t really realised the sort of depth of enthusiasm and interest involved . There’s a website dedicated to Adrian out in Belgium www.brittleheaven.com that gets a lot of postings and hits. I find it quite staggering actually. It’s very gratifying in a way to have people still interested in something that we did years ago. PB : Why do you think it means so much to so many people ? MD : You would probably have to ask the people involved. Buried in there are questions like why do people find importance in the things they are attached to. Who knows ? I think possibly though because a lot of Adrian’s work is concerned with the inner workings of the human mind. Why do I think the way I do ? How is the situation affecting the way I feel ? Rather than being songs about trees and birds or whatever, there is that connection in them that seems to be speaking directly to human experience itself, which is not something which is guaranteed a large audience. It does seem to hold a small, but thoughtful audience though, which is in some ways better. PB : Last question ! A collection of ‘B Sides and Rarities’ have been promised for a while now. When is that liable to come out ? MD : We’re still under discussion with that with regard to the source material,but hopefully soon. There are also plans for a DVD as well. When that is going to happen I don’t know, but hopefully it will be later this year. PB : Thank you

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Interview with Bi Marshall Part 1 (2014)
Sound - Interview with Bi Marshall Part 1
In a two part interview, both parts of which we are publishing consecutively, John Clarkson speaks to Bi Marshall, the original keyboardist with 80's new wave/post punk act The Sound, about her former band and its late front man, Adrian Borland
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