Saturday, 31 January 2015

MR31 Clask of last

So finally after 30 years, Salvation’s Clash of Dreams, the dead sea scrolls of the legendary 80s Leeds goth scene, has been released, the shelved Merciful Release which was a vital missing link between many of the bands concerned. Although dulled and rusting fifth generation cassettes of the meisterwerk have been furtively circulating amongst the cognoscenti for many years, this is the first time one can legally own this seminal lost classic, and in remastered digital format to boot. If the fact that it was recorded for MR was not enough, the presence of not only Doktor Avalanche in what many consider to be his finest manifestation but also Andrew Eldritch himself on production duties make this an essential purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in SGWBM era TSOM. Add the fact that the hoary old chestnut of the Von-Hussey rivalry can be stoked with the inclusion of the former’s production of Salvation’s Jessica’s Crime which can now be compared with Wayne’s own knob-twiddling for the song’s single release, also available in digital format, and that the original intended six track Clash of Dreams has been supplemented by all three tracks from Salvation’s other Merciful Release (the Girlsoul 12” of 1983, some available here digitally for the first time) and the band’s first new recording for twenty-three years, and you have an unmissable package worthy of much greater fanfare than being sold at gigs and via the band’s website.
And if all that weren’t enough, the sheer quality of the music on offer would be worth the price of admission even leaving the historical significance of the release to one side. That the modern Salvation (still featuring Danny and Ben) chose to start and end the new CoD with the unusual but effective conceit of one track (The October Hour) is its 1984 and 2014 guises is entirely appropriate, as it’s the song which has most in common with the more folky, slightly psychedelic pop-rock which the band peddled after leaving MR. Danny sings the same melody as the picked guitar riff in a manner which fans of, say, Ghost Dance will easily recognise and became a key feature of the more overtly melodic (yet strangely less commercially successful) end of the goth movement in the late 80s. The early version showcases the drive which Doktor Avalanche brought to the band’s sound whilst also highlighting weaknesses in Danny’s vocals and the lack of a second guitarist to flesh out the sound, factors which are frankly acknowledged in the CD’s excellent sleeve notes and which are rectified on the modern version. When CoD was originally recorded at the late lamented Strawberry Studios in Stockport (as FALAA was), Salvation had yet to make their “live” debut, and many of the songs seem to be in an embryonic format (despite Eldritch’s first-rate technical input), and would clearly have evolved further with the experience of regular live performance, as later Salvation recordings appear more “rounded”.
The title track is second up, and aficianados of the early Salvation sound will revel in the slow-burning atmosphere of the song, a decent slab of angular coldwave whose main interest for the Sisters fan is the utterly magnificent three minute instrumental ending, just one key (and oddly familiar) riff repeated with minor modifications. If this section of the song had been presented to Sisters fans as a long-lost out-take from The Reptile House, there would be few who would doubt its authenticity, such is the effect created here by producer Eldritch. As it is, those who secretly enjoy imitating the great man’s vocal inflections can take great delight in reciting the chorus of Heartland, A Rock and A Hard Place or Burn which all (vaguely) over the top of this broodingly magnificent beast.
Before the listener can re-draw breath it’s on to the afore-mentioned Jessica’s Crime. Unlike Hussey, Eldritch always seeks to draw inspiration from a song’s lyrics in creating its dynamic atmosphere, and here he gives the song the slightly claustrophobic feel of, say, Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, aided by the galloping beat of the good Doktor in subdued Floorshow mode. Hussey’s version of the song (not featured on CoD) by comparison is both grander yet more spartan, a clearer vocal and a plaintive viola dominating and ironically creating a more traditionally gothic ambiance.
Any blogger who has ever discussed CoD over the years has been quick to point out the obvious parallels between the next track, Burning On and the then contemporary sound of The March Violets, riding high at the time with their Indie Chart number one Snake Dance, whose chorus is imitated here very effectively. The verse features the twisted slightly bluesy riffs favoured by many bands on the scene at the time, such as The Three Johns and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, and overall the song is strong enough that it could have been an indie chart success in its own right, had Von gone for the EP release rather than the mini-LP route for the CoD recordings before they were mysteriously deleted from the release schedule in March 1985.
The fifth track again is another slow-burner with a psychedelic twist and presages the sound of The Rose of Avalanche, another Leeds band who found great success with a very similar sound shortly after that time, further evidence that had it been released at the time, CoD would have propelled Salvation to the very forefront of the nascent gothic scene, contrary to the future direction which their career took.
The final track of the original six, Sea of Dreams, is the weakest by far, meandering along endlessly in a tuneless drift highly redolent of TSOM’s own dirgey single release of that era, Body and Soul. Aiming for a melancholic Faith-era Cure vibe, the band themselves were clearly unhappy with this version as a much-changed rendition surfaced on a later LP.
The other three tracks, which originally made up the Girlsoul EP, were of course released on vinyl as the band's debut single (on Merciful release) back in 1983, but get their first full digital release here. The title track was the most immediate, and was deservedly the first of the band's Indepenedent Chart hits, whilst Evelyn has an almost Joy Division back beat. The real treasure, though, is Dust Up, already the subject of a post on this blog and one of the greatest MRs of all time. Danny and the band seem to be playing an obscure OMD b-side in the first couple of minutes whilst Doktor Avalanche rat-tat-tats impatiently on the studio door. The next ten minutes is pure psychedelic goth trance bliss, before the song ends in the same way it started. One can well imagine the band leaving Eldritch in the studio to finish the insipid original  whilst they headed to the nearest pub to Ken Giles' studio in Bridlington to make last orders, returning the following morning to find Von slumped over the controls, exhausted by the all-night shift required to make his masterpiece. Possibly.
Buy this essential slab of Leeds musical history whilst you still can.