Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Driver (demo)

 Over the past sixty or so posts, this blog has come to specialise in archiving/recreating some of the more memorable TSOM gigs of the 80s (originally Gunn era only, to tie in with the blog title i.e. during my own late teenage years when my obsession with the band was at its most fanatical), but on this occasion we’re going to examine and attempt to collate what is known about some of the more interesting studio out-takes from the 81-85 period which have never seen a commercial release.

For the purposes of these posts, I’m going to ignore alternate takes (e.g. the Mack Mixes) and demos of subsequently released songs, even when (like Some Kind of Stranger (Early) or No Time To Cry (radio session)) they are markedly different from the released version, and will also ignore for now studio cover versions (e.g. Teachers, Jolene and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door) which never made it to (official) vinyl, and also instrumental versions (eg Serpent’s Kiss or Where Spirits Fly) or those on which other members of the band had a go at vocals (such as Marian/Red Skies Disappear [Marx] or Dance on Glass [Hussey]).

This still leaves us five known Sisters original songs featuring vocals by Eldritch which were studio recorded but never officially released in their original form, although most made it into the public domain in one form or another: Good Things (as featured on a John Peel Session and widely bootlegged), Burn It Down (which partly gave rise to Burn), Driver, Garden of Delight (later a Mission single) and the semi-instrumental Wide Receiver.

In this first in an occasional series of posts on these songs, I’m going to focus solely on the track which to me is the most interesting of the five :

This song originally became known to collectors on a tape of demos, allegedly from 1982, and has subsequently featured on just four bootleg LPs (a comparatively low number for such a rare TSOM item). 

Although on first listen Driver bears no relation to any other songs, closer analysis reveals some chord progressions and intonation in the chorus of the same ilk as Anaconda (first played live in October 1982). Gary Marx, speaking to Heartland Forum’s Quiff Boy, acknowledged that Driver is a genuine TSOM demo (there had been some doubts as to its authenticity as it didn't surface outside the band's immediate circle until 1991) and claimed that some of the guitar lines also resurfaced in both Body and Soul and even This Corrosion! Like other demos of that era, there appears to be just the one guitar part, making it likely that this was from earlier in 1982 before Ben Gunn fully joined the band.

Lyrically, the song was even more fecund, contributing to a whole plethora of songs down the years. The opening couplet “Lay me down the long white line, leave the sirens far behind me” also opened Heartland, which was recorded for the David Jensen session in early March 1983 and made the live setlist for the first time later that month, and for this reason some fans maintain that Heartland is just a refined Driver. However, apart from the shared lyric fragment, the two songs are entirely different which is the usual justification for classing Driver as a separate song. 

The song Heartland credits Eldritch and Marx as its composers, and Marx stated in the 2003 Pr√©monition interview that he wrote the music and “some of the lyrics” to Heartland. This has led to speculation that the Driver lyric is in fact Marx’s, but it is surely much more plausible that Eldritch “tidied up” Marx's original lyric for Heartland by borrowing the opening couplet from his (Eldritch's) own lyric for Driver. This theory is strengthened by the fact that some of the other lyrics of Driver made it into future songs: “Life is short” features in Temple of Love, and its follow-on line in Driver “[life] is cruel” is a key tenet in Some Kind of Stranger, whilst “Wheels go wheeling round” is redolent of “Wheels are spinning round” in Driven Like The Snow, and the Americanism “highway” resurfaces regularly in yet another song “Black Planet”. Eldritch has publicly said (primarily during interviews around the time of the release of the compilation Some Girls Wander By Mistake) that he looks on many early tracks as embarrassing “baby photos”, but some of the lines - “We have fear and we have fuel” for example and in particular “Call me weird but call me Friday” - are very much of the standard of Richard Butler-esque wordplay that he engaged in for future releases, whilst “The sound that fills the big black cars Is ours, the drum machines and fast guitars” is such an accurate prediction of life in Leeds in the mid/late 80s that I originally assumed that this song was a latter-day Weird Al Jankovic style hoax. It is also however an almost direct quote from an American radio interview in September 1983, when Eldritch says "It just so happens that all the people we know in West Yorkshire are using drum machines and the occasional fast guitar," further evidence of the lyricist's identity.

The fact that the lyric is almost painfully opaque by Eldritch’s latter standards, is self-referential (as in the quote in the previous sentence, and like the “Sisters” mentions in “Gimme Shelter” and “Adrenochrome”) and has the in-your-face braggadocio of Oasis/80s rap (“We will live forever”) would certainly place this song as an early effort. The not-so-hidden drugs references (“long white line”, “we are never coming down”, “reason yields to speed”, indeed the whole extended “speeding” metaphor) and the driving pace and structure of the song would seem to place it alongside the likes of Adrenochrome in vintage. 

Heartland Forum member PiB made another key and salient point on that site about the lyrics, in that they seem to have been directly influenced heavily by Hunter S Thompson’s gonzoid memoir Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (which for the uninitiated is brief travelogue about a drug-fuelled road trip). Not only did Eldritch often reference the work both directly and indirectly in interviews, but his frequent disappearances in the mid-80’s, with postcards sent to the NME hinting at exotic debauchery clearly showed the extent to which he was in thrall to HST, and here the “We will wind the windows down” is an almost direct quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This link certainly would certainly give extra meaning to the line “We have Fear… and we have fuel”… Incidentally, Eldritch's own road trip experiences would seem to have been somewhat limited as Robert Webb's amusing account of the Black Planet video shoot reveals that (in June 1985) "it turns out that he had never really driven a car before"!

Driver is in many ways unlike some of the later songs (e.g. the cautionary tale third person narratives of 1982’s Alice or Anaconda or the sonic complexities of 1983’s Temple of Love), and with guitar, drum machine and reverb-heavy vocals high in the mix, it's very reminiscent of the demo version of Anaconda. The song did not feature on other demo tapes from sessions later in 1982, for example when John Ashton became involved. Clearly more structured than Watch, and more lyrically adept than Good Things, Driver is a curio that has never been discussed as fully as many of the other early tracks or had the attention it deserved, despite a claim on the Wiki that is was considered as a possible single release (which may explain the existence of a more polished full band instrumental version usually – and inexplicably - entitled Candle by bootleggers, and possibly recorded in the early days of Wayne Hussey -  also kindly uploaded to YT by Ade M). 

Marx would certainly have liked to see an official release of the song, telling The Quietus' Mark Andrews in a recent interview, "I really liked Driver, or at least parts of it, but Andrew never made any claim for it to be considered." Barring a surprise elevation to the current touring band's relatively static set, Driver seems destined to remain on the cutting room floor, but for TSOM aficianados it remains a hidden gem worthy of wider acclaim.

My thanks on this post are due to Quiff Boy, Ade M, Ez Mo, Mark A, Phil Verne of the 19801985 TSOM unofficial Facebook fan group and all others who have helped to provide pieces of the Driver jigsaw over the years.

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