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Colour Schemes

The Colour Field

Article from International Musician & Recording World, September 1985

Andy Williams? Bobby Goldsboro? Cleo Laine? Terry Hall? Toby Lyons? Adrian Deevoy?

In the time-honoured tradition of great songwriting duos, Terry Hall and Toby Lyons have been spending long evenings huddled around an acoustic guitar. The vehicle for these masterpieces is The Colour Field.

Toby Lyons crouches with guitar on knee and capo on third fret and strums, on request,the opening chords to Thinking Of You. After a few bars he stops and mumbles, "No, this is stupid. I can't just show you the chords. It's trading licks, isn't it? It's like being a member of Kiss."

Terry Hall wanders around the room picking things up, putting things down. He doesn't play the guitar. "I've tried twice," he shrugs, "and Toby's got both those guitars as spares now. I wanted to be a brilliant guitarist but I wasn't prepared to practice in order to become brilliant. So I had to become friends with Toby."

Is it a very honest relationship?

"Very," confides Terry, "especially when we're naked."

It's fortifying to find Merry Terry Hall with his parched sense of humour and strong line in melancholy still intact. From the dry white whine in The Specials to the voice behind the haircut-as-mushroom-cloud in the Fun Boy Three, he's maintained a healthy cynicism and almost a wonder that he's still here doing what he's doing.

The Colour Field is his last group. Hence, "If I want to write a song with revoltingly pleasant chords or nick a tune off Jack Jones," he can. Not that The Colour Field are a last musical gasp.

"I suppose you could call it a career move," he concedes, "but the music we play and the songs we write and the instruments we use are exactly the ones we want. We're not being dictated to by fashions or trends. It might not be fashionable to like Andy Williams but as a personality thing I much prefer Andy Williams to John Lydon. But when I was 17 there would have been no question about that. I like the idea that Andy Williams has made a career in music without shocking anyone. Cleo Laine has never wrecked a dressing room. That appeals to me."

Towards the end of the Fun Boy Three, Terry Hall had been harbouring such musical desires, but these in alliance with a penchant for The Doors' and Echo and the Bunnymen's psychedelic apocalypso left the rest of of the band cold. So, after coercing the Funboys into playing a version of The Doors' The End whilst burning stars and stripes in US redneck territory. Hall knocked the ethnic Pop on the head and returned to his Coventry home with a headful of soothing MOR tunes. He soon found a sympathetic songwriting partner in Toby Lyons, a hitherto unknown guitarist whose record collection saw post-Punk thrash nestling cheek by jowl with Bobby Goldsboro and even a couple of long players by the man who hated the Cookie Bear.

"It seemed ideal," recalls Hall, "he had a guitar and I thought, 'well that's much easier than carrying a piano around.' So I started to go around to Toby's place to write songs. I really wanted to be in that position where I could just sit in someone's front room and sing a tune and they'd say, 'well, that tune goes with these chords.' It's much more honest to do that then take a tape of the afternoon home and listen to it and choose the good bits. That, to me, is what songwriting is about, not building up huge sounds with Emulators in million pound studios and sticking a tune and some words on as an afterthought."

The prime objectives of the nascent Colour Field were to write memorable-cum-classic songs and to avoid adhering themselves to one particular sound.

"We're not diverse for the sake of it," says Toby, "but we tend to treat each song as a separate project and consequently each song is approached in a completely different frame of mind."

"We tend to write songs that fall into hard and soft categories. That's mainly because Toby's soft, a hopeless romantic. It'd be pointless to have an identifiable sound. That would imply that you're always in the same mood. We can't stamp one sound on every song. We're not U2. It's the same with instruments. No instrument is that sacred that you have to use it on every song."

Toby Lyons' main instrument is a handmade acoustic guitar crafted by a guitar builder friend in his hometown. "He makes them in his shed just up the road from me which is very handy if it ever needs anything done to it like tuning it or changing a string. It cost me £400 but it's beautifully made and it plays well. The only problem with it is you have to be really careful with it when you tour because it's got such a nice finish, one knock and it would be ruined."

Is the acoustic guitar a logical extension of the sitting room?

"I suppose it is," he replies. "An acoustic looks equally at home on a stage and in a front room. It keeps the songwriting element in the performance too. I find it hard to understand how people write a song on an acoustic guitar and by the time the record comes out or they play it live it has no acoustic guitar on it at all, just heaps of synthesizers and drums."

"I suppose I should say here," he says changing track, "that although we're sitting here talking about being songwriters, we're not in the least bit prolific."

"Not in the least," affirms Terry. "It's taken us almost two years to write 18 songs. We really over-analyse everything. We wrote a song recently and it took us about two weeks to come up with a phrase. It's bad in a way because it can really hinder you but it stops you turning out something you're not happy with."

The song Terry Hall is most pleased with to date is the thoroughly whistleable if not classic Thinking Of You; a whimsical tune, a shuffling beat and some touchingly silly words.

Terry: "I don't know if Bobby Goldsboro was serious or not. He could have been pissing himself when he wrote some of those songs"

"It's probably my favourite song of all time," says Terry giving way to modesty." It's just the way the ideas in the words and the music tie in so well. The result of spending many hours lying naked with Toby."

"That started with a tune Terry thought of after listening to Boats and Planes," says Toby impervious to character slurs. "It was all written with just a TR808 drum box and an acoustic guitar. Originally we only came up with that very simple rhythm because we didn't know how to programme the drum box. It was only when we went into the studio with Hugh Jones that we realised that you could program subtle changes into drum machines. The melody that Terry was thinking of turned out to be the chorus. We were in a very romantic mood at the time and so the feel for it was obvious."

"What we wanted to do most of all," says Terry, "was make it pleasant. Much more pleasant than all the other songs we'd done."

"Musically," adds Toby, "we wanted to make it very light and bright so I used a lot of those diminished 'Latino' type chords. They fitted the words well because they could either be very sincere or very tongue-in-cheek. But either way they sounded 'pleasant'. No other word for them really. They're pleasant aren't they?"

But some of the guitar runs are...

"Twee? Is that the word you're fishing for?" enquires Toby.

More 'insipid' really.

"Well thanks very much. Bastard. I must admit I didn't fall off the chair laughing when I wrote them. But a few people have said that they sounded a bit Mecca showband which was exactly what I wanted. It's that whole pseudo-romantic idea of 'Hey, let's take a bus'.

"It's like listening to Bobby Goldsboro," says Terry, "I don't know if Bobby Goldsboro was serious or not. He could have been pissing himself when he wrote some of those songs. But you take an angle on it and choose whether to believe it or not."

"It's just at the time," concludes Toby, "we were getting off on that sort of thing."

"Yeah, really getting off on Bobby Goldsboro," sneersTerry, "really getting our rocks off, banging our balls together."

Although the Colour Field don't enter into the realms of aural haemmorhaging or imaginary fret melting, when in 'harder' mood they can Rock out quite seriously. Faint Hearts boasts a thundering drum pattern and guitar figures that wouldn't appear out of place on a Nuggets compilation.

"There's no point in suppressing the musical ideas you have," says Terry, "just for the sake of your sound. Certain lyrical emotions demand types of music. Even if a song needs strange sound effects we'll use them. We're not precious."

Talk of sound effects leads us to the remarkable similarities between the sounds chosen by The Colour Field to illustrate Cruel Circus and those used by The Smiths on their own vegetarian anthem Meat Is Murder.

"Apparently they're exactly the same effects," says Toby, "and used in the same places. But far be it from me to blow our own trumpet and say we did it first. I think they used some sort of chainsaw noise as well to imply slaughter. Ours was a bit subtler than that. We were probably in a reflective mood when we wrote it. Reflective anger."

Diversification rears its head again when the issue of favourite songs is raised.

"After Thinking Of You," decides Terry, "I think my favourite song is A Promise by the Bunnymen. Everything they do, the way the sound, the way they look, I really like and it all comes together on A Promise. It's like the epitome of the Bunnymen and I can't think of any other records with as much atmosphere."

Toby, too, plumps for atmosphere.

"I think it's got to be San Jose." Long may their odd coupling go on.

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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Sep 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Interview by Adrian Deevoy

Previous article in this issue:

> "Good Drum Sound..."

Next article in this issue:

> Beatroute

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