Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Blue Aeroplanes - Access All Areas

My copy of the Blue Aeroplanes 'Access All Areas' release that had been pre-listed on Amaz*n for ages arrived this week and has prompted a blog. At this point I should add a disclaimer that this is not an Albino Two release and this post has nothing to do with the label.

I'd been slightly apprehensive about what this disc was, particularly so as it sounded as though the band didn't know anything about it either, and it was being listed for pre-order for the princely sum of £4.99. In short, and if you can't be bothered reading til the end but are just weighing up whether to splash out on a copy - it's not as bad as I had feared. Just make sure you buy something else at the same time so you don't have to pay postage.

It became apparent shortly before the release that this was a cd+dvd of the show at the Town and Country Club in 1992 that was part of a week of gigs put on by the NME. Turns out that 'Access all areas' is a brand owned by Edsel records, part of the Demon Group, and thus therefore the Aeros are probably not the only artists in recent times to have been slightly surprised to find they were about to release material, probably live material they had forgotten existed and for which they had blithely signed away the rights to decades ago.

The good news - this was a relatively short-lived lineup so great to have a record of it. On guitar and bass are Dave Newton and Marcus Williams both ex Mighty Lemon Drops, and also on guitar is Suzy Hug, formerly of the Katydids. Suzy's brief stay contributed a handful of songs to the Aeros canon including 'Open' from 'Life Model' (IIRC) and 'Jealous Town', which gets an airing here and was later released as part of the B-side triptych to Detective Song. Bob Bradley on lead guitar stuck around longer than the aforementioned three, I think - the first time I saw the Aeros live was the Life Model tour of 1994, where I believe he was still playing lead. For a set of ten songs there's nothing pre-Swagger - ie, older than three years - but there is a decent showing for new material including 'Beautiful Is' (another Suzy Hug effort) which is played here with an uptempo pulsing swagger far removed from the fragility of the version that was eventually released on 'Altitude' (although i think there is a version hidden away on the Outdoor Miner digital-only single that may be closer. Also you get a romp through 'Bad Moon Rising' which was the band's contribution to 'Ruby Trax', a charity compilation of covers of UK number ones by contemporary artists to mark the NME's 40th birthday.

Full tracklisting is:
Jacket Hangs
Broken & Mended
Jealous Town
Vade Mecum Gunslinger
Yr Own World
Beautiful Is (As Beautiful Does)
...And Stones
Bad Moon Rising
Pony Boy
Breaking In My Heart

On the downside, the audio is pretty awful - safe to say it wasn't taken off the desk. There is also at least one horrific tape glitch and 'Vade Mecum Gunslinger' in particular is so murky at the beginning that you barely realise what it is until Gerard starts singing. The video quality is also pretty variable, particularly the long camera shots, but there's enough interest in the close up, onstage camera shots to compensate for that. Plus you get a couple of typically arch mini interviews with Gerard and an interviewer who sounds like it may have been Lamacq, to a backdrop of a mute Mulreany and virtually mute Bradley. It's a lot like the grainy VHS in my parents' loft that I originally taped from the TV at the time, in fact.

The most curious aspect is probably the sleeve notes, written by Michael Heatley, presumably the sport/music biographer. His own biog claims more than 100 books and with that amount of text under his belt you might forgive him the odd hack job along the way, particularly if it's for a fairly low-rent series of live cds. So we get the usual myths and touchstones trotted out, for players of Aeroplanes bingo: comparisons to REM (check); the 12-guitarist finale at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 (check); too rock n roll for Peel, too arty for the Late Show (check); manic, limb-flailing Polish dancer Wojtek (check); we also get the more recent assertion, repeated on the outer sleeve, that they influenced the Manic Street Preachers. While this is technically unarguable - see JDB's Quietus 'Baker's Dozen' here - any Manics fans who dashed out to pick this up as a result are probably crying into their copies of Miller/Mailer/Plath/Pinter just now.

Having said that, (and remembering that the band don't seem to have sanctioned this), there are also some anecdotes that suggest closer acquaintance. There's a lot on the Glastonbury 92 appearance earlier in the year this show was recorded - Tom Verlaine himself shared the stage to play 'Breaking in my heart'? Could well be true - Television were there - just that I'd not heard it before. The band were 'banned' from Glasto after the performance following an incidence of a chair being thrown through a Portakabin window, apparently in annoyance at the set being cut short? This is certainly plausible - the Beeb recorded the whole show and on the full recording (possibly not the set as subsequently broadcast) Gerard can be heard moaning about it just before the band launch into 'Breaking...', including a gloriously snippy comment about 'only being a "local band"'. Angelo, Hazel Winter and Andy McCreeth were i believe all gone by the time the T&C show came around just a few months later, which might bear out the assertion that mid 92 was a time of strain for the band - 'a road-weary band imploded there amid off-stage tensions'. The author is also close enough to events of the time to reference that the shirts worn by Gerard and Rodney in the video were commissioned, and designed by Ann Sheldon for that same Glastonbury show. And even that 'Pony Boy' was the song cut from the set whose omission resulted in said chair through window...

So how in that case to explain the clangers? 'Lover and Confidante...' as their 'second Fire album', anyone? 'Their most fruitful spell as a recording band came after they'd recorded a debut, 'Bop Art', for Abstract'?? [Well, presumably...] And there's a particularly cringeworthy signoff - 'Enjoy the experience of Blue Aeroplanes, a band that knew how to move around on stage, in sound and vision. Indeed, they still do!'. Finally, this one not necessarily Mr Heatley's fault but '...And Stones' is listed as '...And Stones (Love is all around)' [sic] which conjures up some bizarre mental images involving messrs Langley and Pellow. Possibly only for me, granted.

It comes in a nice wee cardboard slipcase, if that's your thing. If you were there then it's a great historical artefact. But if you're still waiting for a decent Blue Aeroplanes live recording then this isn't it. I'm not a massive fan of 'Fruit' either - in fact for me easily the closest thing to capturing the Aeros live experience is the limited, self-released 'Skyscrapers' of a few years ago which contains a truly incendiary version of 'Police' and is still available via the band's own website

If that doesn't satisfy you then hopefully we don't have to wait too much longer for the next full album. Apparently it is recorded....