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Ceiling Tales


White Eat, white light, and what gear from the Wobbly Ones.

Neil Arthur is the tall one who sings, and he's not here. Stephen Luscombe, who is possessed only of medium height and a Jupiter 8, left him with another music hack at 2.00 the previous afternoon, and that was the last anyone heard of him.

You think that's bad? Last year both members of Blancmange vanished. Following the success of the singles "Living On The Ceiling" and "Waves", and the critical acclaim for their album "Happy Families", they Jumboed to America to record a follow-up LP, due for release in a matter of weeks.

A perverse pair, their background includes a stint of experimental music coupled with design and sculpture.

They were drawn into Stevo's "Some Bizarre" project, and early gigs revolved around Neil's guitar, a battered Italian home organ and a catalogue of backing track cassettes.

Then came a deal with London and an album which hinted at the diversity inherent in Blancmange and the characteristics of its hitman components - Stephen, slight, soft spoken at first but ultimately enthusiastic and Neil, an irrepressible joker but an unforgiving perfectionist with his own efforts.

They returned to England ready for Christmas and the release of "That's Love, That It Is", the first new 45 from the American sojourn. This is when we spoke. This is what they said, it is.

You keep me running round and round
Well that's all right with me...

"We finished recording in Sigma Studios in New York and would have liked to have been there to mix, but we were a bit knackered and if you pay a producer it's like you don't buy a dog and bark yourself.

"The atmosphere was nice, and studio five was best because it had an SSL computer desk which made life a lot easier when you're looking for one particular spot in a song — ours get so bloody complicated, they go on for hours.

"Our computer readout was ridiculous — 'the diddly-bom bit', and 'the bit that goes with the sitar'. We were going to 48 tracks on most things, and having to mix to slave. It got confusing, especially with one track called 'Murder' which has eight different guitar parts, two guitar players, loads of synths, Linn drums, bass, voices, sitar, tabla, percussion, and God knows what else.

"We kept forgetting what we'd put on the first 48-track reel and things clashed... sometimes we had to go back and do it again, but in other instances, a lot of interesting ideas came out." SL

Up and down, I'm up the wall...

"I've got a Korg Poly-Six, an old Gibson electric copy and an acoustic, a sixties Epiphone, I think it's called a Coronet, or something — I'll work out songs on anything, sometimes a kazoo, as long as I can get a sound then I'm more interested in getting on with the song.

"There's no one set way of going about writing something — I might just sing into me Walkman. With 'Murder' I was watching a Bob Hope film and all of a sudden this woman came on singing this song with an incredible beat, so I whacked the video on, got the sound, ran up stairs and fiddled about with it. I was singing 'Murder... teeshutum, teeshutum...' just using my voice to represent the instruments." NA

I'm up the bloody tree...

"The first performance in the studio is always the best. Stephen says 'you've got it, you've got it' and I say no, I can get it better, but it usually IS the best.

"There was one line which went 'I'm sure I'm the only one that cares', and at first I used to sing 'who cares' and it never sounded right. Everybody else was saying it's fine but I said oh no, I want to do it again. I sometimes go a bit over the top. I get too critical, too close to it. I'm a bit stubborn." NA

That's all right with me...

"We were just bashing away at synths half the time — complete improvisation — things would fall out of the machine. The Roland Jupiter 8 is great for that because you can whizz through all the presets and play at the same time.

"It's like another dimension from playing the piano, it's something I don't think a lot of people associate with the synthesiser, they're still very frightened of it; 'I'm not going to hit this too hard, it might break'. I've learned to do that, to abuse it, it doesn't actually become an instrument until you start doing that." SL

"David McClymont and Malcolm Ross from Orange Juice played on 'Murder', they were great. We're going to do something more with them, it's all people we've got to know, not just session musicians but people who've got sympathy for your music... ha, ha... sympathy for it, well, maybe that's not the right word. David Rhodes plays a lot of guitar. We met him when we were supporting Japan on tour and he was playing with them. He was the only one who always came and talked to us." NA

Well it feels all right to me...

"We usually link the JP8 to the Linn but I've been having trouble with that lately so we used the Doctor Click interface box. The best thing about that is it makes accidents. On 'That's Love, That It Is', there's a little beat which is just out of time – I dunno what you'd call it, a demi-semiquaver or something. The Doctor Click did it so we kept it, we'll never know how to recreate it. I love the idea of technology going a bit bananas." SL

Yeah, looks all right to me.

"When we started writing, we would more or less 'write a song', but it's now got round to the stage where Neil and I sit at home with our equipment and write sketches, then come into the studio and patch the parts together.

"I keep thinking I must get one of those little Casios where you can punch in a melody so you don't forget it, but I never get round to it. I have to write the notes down just in the form of a pattern on a piece of paper.

"I'm always surprised it works. I wouldn't have thought there would have been enough detail, but the other day I found an old notebook I thought I'd lost and I saw this pattern and suddenly it all came flooding back to me... what the tune was, where I'd been, everything.

"We used to do our scores like that We didn't understand music so we'd draw the whole thing out as blocks of colour. And sometimes you could reverse the process and rearrange the colours so they were pleasing to the eye in a new way and you'd think, if that's the case, how are they going to SOUND? Sometimes it works. Sometimes it's a complete disaster." SL

I'm so tall I'm so tall
You raise me and then you let me fall...

"One of the reasons I picked up the JP8 in the first place is because the layout of the machine is so good. That colour coding on all the buttons is a brilliant idea. After a while you begin to associate the colour with a particular function.

"I read somewhere that Brian Eno has an old Minimoog which has so many faults he likes, he won't send it back to the manufacturers in case they repair the wrong things. My JP8 has Blancmange stickers, a coaster for my cup of tea stuck to the top, the number eight button sticks. I know all its idiosyncrasies. Another JP8 wouldn't have the same grottiness.

"I'd like to try the Yamaha DX7 but I've still got to fathom out this idea of FM. this I started reading the American manual and you know what they're like – the on/off switch is the "on/off procedure indicator switch' – it's two pages before you've turned the machine on." SL

I'm so small, I'm so small
Wrap me round your finger, see me fall...

"The Blancmange sound used to be Neil's voice and the Bunny One. The Bunny One is one of those Italian home organs I got for about £200 three years ago in Blanks of Kilburn. I still use it now. It's got flute, brass, clarinet with little pictures, and there's a rhythm box – bossa nova, samba, that sort of thing. Someone asked me to auction it for charity once — anything else, my left leg, anything, but not the Bunny." SL

Living on the ceiling...

"The album's called 'Suddenly (Dancing Round Our Handbags)'. We saw it one night at this really swish disco in New York called the Limelight, some Warhol bash, everyone swanning around, and there were the girls, dancing in a circle around their handbags in the middle of the floor — just like the Goldmine, Canvey Island." SL

No more room down there...

"I've always got more lyrics than pieces of music. More often than not when I'm writing a lyric I'll have an idea of the sound and song structure I want. I'm not an incredibly proficient guitar player, and I don't think it matters. I believe the reason we're together is that anybody can do music... you just need a bit of nouse up here." NA

"I think it's really really good and healthy that synths are being taken away from that horrible robotic thing. That was just a fashion in music, it's got nothing to do with synthesisers. Guitars have never been stuck with Bill Haley and the Comets, so why should synths be stuck with the New Romantics?" SL

Things fall into place...

"'Vishnu' (B side of 'That's Love...') started off as the soundtrack to an Indian film — I had a recording of it, and I'd written this rhythm I didn't know what to do with. One Sunday afternoon I sat there punching in and out of the tape recorder to see what would fit. Suddenly this voice appeared out of nowhere and fitted perfectly, a fluke really.

"I've done a track that combines Aboriginal music with Indian folk music and music from Kenya, so that in the end you lose where it actually comes from. People ask you how you work and you think, I dunno, how DO I work? Most of the time it's just a matter of doodling around for a whole day." SL

You get the joke...

"On 'Kind' on the last album, Neil walked into the studio one day with a carry bag and said 'I've just been shopping', so we kept it, made the backing singers do it as well.

"Then we were doing a short tour and were playing the final date in Aylesbury. Neil had just started when the backing singers appeared... in a Tesco trolley and proceeded to sing the whole song in it.

"When we started doing our things at home, we had no real equipment so we used toys, or made things out of biscuit tins. There was a Smash tin with a bit of silver foil over the top, that was the snare, and the inside of a roll of kitchen foil. When you banged the tube on your hand it made a nice 'doink'. I think we'll probably start doing that again soon... we're getting a bit bored with synths." SL

Fall into place

"The new album is a lot more varied, but I think that's Blancmange. I would openly admit that I don't actually know when I record a song exactly what it's going to be like because I want to be surprised by the end result. If I knew, I wouldn't bother doing it, to be quite honest. Why waste the money in a studio if you already know exactly what you're going to get? That's like showing off, really, it's like saying... look. I'll prove it." NA

More with this artist

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Prophet T8

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Win A JVC Keyboard

One Two Testing - Copyright: IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


One Two Testing - Feb 1984





Interview by Paul Colbert

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> Prophet T8

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> Win A JVC Keyboard

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