Category Archives: Music Blog

#31songs (9): Bury Your Love Like Treasure, by The Blue Aeroplanes

#31songs (9): Best Ending

‘Bury Your Love Like Treasure’, by The Blue Aeroplanes, from Spitting Out Miracles

Endings are something the Blue Aeroplanes are good at. On several songs they synchronise the completion of the lyric with the closure of the music, which can give a final line an epigrammatic forcefulness even if the words don’t entirely merit it: that’s there as early as ‘Hard Objects’ by Art Objects, and later in ‘And Stones’ from Swagger.  It’s not quite the same as Wire’s aesthetic of ending the music when the words run out: what the Aeroplanes does feels less arbitrary, feels like a culmination.  In other songs though, the musicians are happy to jam around a theme long after Gerard has, so to speak, folded up his poetry book and left the stage; the effect isn’t quite as distinctive, but the sound that the band makes in full flight is magnificent: take the playout to ‘Talking on the Other Phone’ from Friendloverplane 2, for example.

‘Bury Your Love Like Treasure’ opens side two of the vinyl Spitting Out Miracles, and for that reason also deserves an honorary mention in the best opening category: John Stapleton, who at this stage in the band’s history was splicing samples into the band’s music, begins the song with ‘After a Smooooth Landing on Side Two’, taken from goodness-knows-where, and then with a spiky couple of chords we’re launched into the song:

The Album version

The Official Video (shorn of Stapleton’s sample)

There’s a force and simplicity about the music for verses: two strong emphases on the second and third beats, then a long run up and down the scale in the following bar.  (I have an idea that there’s a kind of sea-shanty origin for this: two strong beats for the pull on the rope, and the rest of the two bars to relax and recover.)  The lyrics are relatively forceful and direct too: a relationship in crisis, retaliations on both sides.  The big indecipherable irony lies in the chorus: if the addressee does bury her love, will the speaker’s finding it really be a success for the relationship?  Doesn’t his promise that he’ll ‘still find it’ sound more like a threat?

The main body of the song is done by 2.00, and it’s here that the music treats begin: interwoven backing vocals singing a sort of round, first calming the song down, and then gradually building it up again, working round an organ line that begins thin and simple and itself becomes busier.  There’s a strong folk feeling to it, but also a psychedelic quality. The vocal performances actually sound a bit shaky in places, as if some of the singers were at the edge of their ranges, but that’s part of its charm.

The folk influences on The Blue Aeroplanes are a curious matter, because if a defining feature of folk songs is the potential for anyone to join in with the singing, then Gerard Langley’s vocal performances are the opposite of folk: they’re spectacles to be heard and admired, but they’re not for joining in with. You can’t even sing the song to yourself when it’s over, though you can replay it in your head.  But the playout vocals on ‘Bury Your Love’ invite you to join in.


BAs Bury Your Love

I’m not at all sure it’s a good idea,
I think someone’s mistaken in this house.
Nobody could say your intentions were clear
But who in this place is going to work it all out?

You can bury your love like treasure,
Bury it so deep you can’t even measure it,
Bury your love like treasure,
I’ll still find it.

You can note all this down with a fine-point pen,
All these shared things, special intensities,
But none of it’s been true since way back when,
We can’t even be in the same city.
So tell me the difference between women and men,
You told it me once, tell me again.
Tell me that version, tell it me now,
Here in the morning, once more at noon.
I’ll never be certain I’m not staying here,
With this view of the sea from our white hotel room.

Bury your love like treasure,
Bury it so deep you can’t even measure it,
Bury your love like treasure,
But I’ll still find it.



#31Songs (8): In the Mystery, by The Blue Aeroplanes

#31Songs (8): Best instrumental solo

‘In the Mystery’ by The Blue Aeroplanes, from Spitting Out Miracles (1987)

Spotify link: The Blue Aeroplanes – In The Mystery

The Blue Aeroplanes are primarily a guitar-based band, and there are plenty of guitar solos on their records. On Spitting Out Miracles there often seems to be a Richard Thompson influence. But the most interesting guitar playing actually occurs outside the formal ‘solo’ spot, and often lies in the interweaving of different guitars.  The most surprisingly instrumental by some stretch is the clarinet solo on ‘In the Mystery’, attributed on the sleeve to ‘More Armadillo Traces’: Richard Bell in his notes tells us that the player was Peter Blegvad’s producer Tim Hodgkinson, who was in the Cold Storage studios (Acre Lane, Brixton) mixing Blegvad’s latest album, and who, hearing ‘In the Mystery’, offered to contribute some clarinet (*).  There’s a frenzied quality to it, scrambling up and down scales at speed, which is entirely consistent with some of the guitar playing on the band’s songs around that time, but which with the richer, warmer tone of a clarinet creates a different effect. (Imagine those notes played on an overdriven fuzzy guitar: it would sound more like some aspiring heavy metal guitarist in the style of Yngwe Malmsteen.)  The combination of the clarinet the clanging guitar line is an unprecedented combination of textures.

The lyrics are more than usually baffling, but they seem to incorporate a fractured hard-boiled detective narrative: note the non-standard ‘don’t cure a thirst’ and the tough-guy ‘we got calls to make’; the collars turned up, the references to the ‘elements of ‘the case’ and a ‘clue’. On top of that, the telegraphically abbreviated count of a journey (‘much bumping, some darkness’) also recalls some of the 1930s poets, especially Auden; Auden too liked to play with popular forms.  There’s an atmosphere of alienation and cultural dislocation, of not being one of the locals and of having to interpret the smallest things carefully. The sea sparkles ‘like the / sequins on her dress’, and nature ‘is Hollywood tonite’ (the sleeve notes give that spelling rather than ‘tonight’):  everything familiar has become artificial. At some level, though, I’m not sure quite of what logic is supposed to hold these elements together.


BAs In the Mystery

Diving into an ice-broken river don’t cure a thirst
so quit this house, we got calls to make. Shut up
in a room, turning inside out. A long journey, much
bumping, some darkness.

                                                Then, the steam on the windows
kept people in like raffia chains, everyone was local
and we didn’t fit the elements of the case. A clue
to this extraordinary behaviour, a hand in some
politic embrace, g
ingham cloth, a crack in the cup.
Now when you cheat, you watch that hand for bites, when
you cheat I watch in admiration.

                                                           I could drink your
dishonesty like tequila, to indiscretion, in madcap
chase of enlightenment, collar turned up. Your face
a way station.  If you’re so young, don’t say such
clever things. [If you must be clever, please learn
about holding and circling.*] Oh, oh baby, but drink is
a blessing we ignore at risk. What can I say about
any love in these times?

The sea sparkles like the
sequins on her dress, and nature is Hollywood tonite.

[*these phrases are in the printed lyrics, but not recorded.]

#31songs (7): Ceiling Roses, by The Blue Aeroplanes

#31songs (7): One that makes you feel like you’re in a film

‘Ceiling Roses’, by The Blue Aeroplanes, from Spitting Out Miracles (1987)

The lyrics to ‘Ceiling Roses’, with their darkened skies, have a strongly visual quality, but the atmosphere is created primarily by the pace of the music, the rich, warm instrumentation, and the modulation to another key for the solos.  The music moves like a strong but slow-moving current of water, with small eddies at the side.  It’s calm but determined.  After the preamble (tentatively blown wind instruments, very breathy, children’s voices), and the lead-in from the drums, the main theme is set down by the violin.  If there’s an electric bass here it’s less important than the cello line: cello rather than bass threads everything together, makes the bottom end of the spectrum less percussive.

One way of thinking about the lyrics is as an unpicking of the idea of a ‘ceiling rose’: a flower?  On the ceiling?  Supporting a light fitting?  But while that idea lies behind it, it’s clearer to start from the weary ‘a decision as always’ in the opening line: something needs to be done, but neither the narrator or the addressee wants to be the one to set things in motion. (I wonder if reluctance, along with drinking, is an ongoing theme on Spitting Out Miracles).  ‘What do I have / to do with it?’ implies a whole conversation in which the narrator is being asked to make the decision by the other party. The part of the ceiling ‘away from the usual rose’ is the dark corner; it’s a break with routine (there’s also a phrase in the sleeve notes about ‘routine matters’ that doesn’t appear in the recording), and a move to a place where everything becomes unclear. In the second verse the darkness has been reworked as an exterior setting, ‘the sky which darkened over houses’.  The ambivalence about the decision is here in the way that this oppressive sky is also covering them in beauty.

After the second verse there’s a change of key and an instrumental break that seems to be a comment on what went before: it reads to me like a darkening of mood.  (Although late Pink Floyd might seem an odd reference point for a post-punk band, especially on this very folk influence album, the pace and the change of key sounds like something on The Wall.)

‘Oh promises come to bar talk’: again, this reads like a response to an unheard phrase from the addressee (‘Will you promise me?’), and it’s a shifty one.  The placatory but non-committal ‘I know, I know . . .’ comes from the same place.  Lips set in a straight line are neither smiling nor downturned, and they also suggest the path that runs ‘through all thought’ to a drunken conclusion.  The final lines return to the opening ‘What do I have / to do with it?’, but don’t seem  any more willing to take the responsibility: if the final ‘I promise’ sounds hopeful, it’s only because we’ve already forgotten about promises being no better than bar talk.  And with the final words delivered, the music again takes a downward turn and comments darkly.


LYRICS (based on sleeve notes from the vinyl release)

BAs Ceiling RosesOkay, a decision as always.  What do I have
to do with it?  Remember skies like a ceiling
away from the usual rose. Less light in the room
for an unclear picture, you can tear up anyway.
[Say goodbye to a lull in routine matters,]* some
people’s faces are always more than beautiful.

In spite of everything, I’m sure. There’s no
point in being told this, sweetness. Set a past
world in reverse, speed backward to a better
time. The sky which darkened over houses in bright
light covered us, we covered in all beauty.

Oh promises come to bar talk, set those lips
in a straight line, y’know you look intransigent
and cold. To think you have a polio heart,
I read it and it’s true, you run through all
thought to a drunken conclusion. I know, I know . . .

I know, I have
all to do with it, nothing to do with it. When
we wake up, we’ll be somewhere else, I promise.

[*printed in the sleeve notes, but not part of the recorded lyric.]

#31songs (6): Spitting Out Miracles, by The Blue Aeroplanes

#31songs (6): Best bass

‘Spitting Out Miracles’, by The Blue Aeroplanes

Spitting Out Miracles (the album) is the one where it all comes together for The Blue Aeroplanes.  It didn’t have the commercial success of its successor, Swagger, in part because the songs and the production don’t have the commercial-minded clarity of Swagger, and in part, no doubt, because Fire Records didn’t have the commercial muscle to promote it.  Miracles has its roots in folk and folk-rock, where Swagger is much more indie rock in its sound, and that, commercially speaking, might have been a point against it. I heard Swagger first, and loved it immediately; when I came to Miracles later I liked it, but it took longer to sink its roots.  Perhaps because it was a longer, slower process, it now feels like the one that touches me more deeply.

There’s a force to the production and the arrangements that the previous two albums achieved only intermittently; and on this album the band can achieve that force even on songs that don’t use the conventional structures of verse and chorus.  True, the album begins with what sound like the familiar spindly guitar sounds from its predecessors, in the first ten seconds of ‘Coats’; but then Gerard comes in very assertively (‘Note this down!’) along with drums and bass, and we’re in different territory.

‘Spitting Out Miracles’ likewise opens with a solitary guitar line, though its sound is a little thicker than on ‘Coats’ (chorus pedal, I guess); but after the guitar has played its phrase the whole band comes in, enriched particularly by Nigel Eaton’s hurdy gurdy line.  The drums deliver an uncomplicated and assertive beat, and that’s fine: there’s plenty else going on.  Richard Bell has written that the producer Charlie Llewelyn insisted that the band recorded without click tracks, so tempos shift within songs naturally and, as Bell puts it, the performances are allowed to breathe (*).  Bell notes a couple of places where the tempo seems to shift too much to his taste, and ‘Spitting Out Miracles’ is one of them.  But I like that feature: along with the wheeziness of the hurdy-gurdy there’s a wooziness to the pace which suggests that the song is slightly unsteady on its legs.  That’s appropriate: there’s a lot drinking on this album; whisky, tequila, and a beer courtesy of Kenneth Patchen; drinking up each other in the guise of going out.

The beauty of Ruth Cochrane’s bass line is hard to convey, but the essence of it lies in the alternation (for much of the song, though not all) between one bar playing basic low notes and the next playing a higher line, rhythmically and harmonically more complicated. The one bar anchors the song and contributes to its emphatic quality, the other joins in with the guitars and the hurdy-gurdy in the song’s joyful running up and down the scales.   I think she’s playing some chords in there as well.  It’s not too prominent in the mix, but without it the song would lack much of its force and energy.

The lyric is about the end of a relationship: unusually, for a love lyric, the narrator is the one who wants to end it, and the addressee needs to be persuaded of it.  Hence the brutality of the opening lines: ‘there’s no more and that’s a fact’.  It could be, in view of the whisky and cigarettes, that they’re out of booze, but more likely they’re out of things to say to each other and things to do together.  (The same imperative tone turns up later, though gentler: ‘Treat it as a good thing, / just remember that it’s gone.’)  The relationship has become scripted along predictable lines: it’s an act; they can recall the lines as if it were scripted, complete with the awkward pauses.  Or perhaps the scriptedness is a sign of the narrator’s detachment from the situation.  It’s also a song about the Lawrentian dilemma (as in Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow) of trying to maintain boundaries to one’s identity while also finding oneself completely involved with the other person.  ‘I’ve seen you dressed in armour, / I’ve seen you get undressed.’ What love is all about, he concludes cynically, is drinking up each other.


BAs Spitting Out Miracles

Get it into your head.
There’s no more and that’s a fact.
We’re trying to engage,
in other pursuits, wilder moments
and better versions of the act.
I’ve seen you dressed in armour,
I’ve seen you get undressed,
I know I should* want to possess you
But should you want to be possessed?

Ah, that slightly hoarse laugh
(too much whisky and cigarettes).
Recalling every line in detail
bar none come complete with
awkward pauses. Say no more,
I can manage it.  I can manage
it, but I just can’t imagine it.

Treat it as a good thing,
just remember that it’s gone.
Not only that, but remember
it was unsuitable and wrong.

True love is just a big absence
and nothing to ask for. Remember,
there’s no music but music is yours.
With our daily checks on fortune
how can we believe, believe
in anything else? Say goodbye
to tricking out your old dreams.

Hey, let’s discover
what it’s all about,
let’s drink up each other
in the guise of going out,
spitting out miracles.

(*for years I heard ‘shouldn’t’: I think there’s a micro pause between ‘should’ and ‘want’ that I interpreted as ‘n’t’.)

#31Songs (5): Soul, by The Blue Aeroplanes

#31Songs (5): Best closer on an album

‘Soul’, by The Blue Aeroplanes, from Tolerance (1986)

The Blue Aeroplanes’ first two studio albums, Bop Art and Tolerance, don’t contain their best work from this era.  The best from that era comes in the form of singles and EPs gathered together on the Friendloverplane album, and as I’ve already suggested, the album versions of ‘Gunning the Works’ and ‘Tolerance’ are not the best available.  But the Tolerance LP does contain perhaps the best closing track on any Aeroplanes album.  I like an album to have a shape, in terms of a changing mood as well as changes of tempo and style; and in particular I appreciate the power of a strong final song.  Some of this dates back to the days of vinyl: being so caught up in the final track that you can happily listen to the click of the run-out track, or the faint buzz of an automatically lifted needle, as you try to take in the last track and the album as a whole.

The appeal of ‘Soul’ from Tolerance lies in the music rather than the lyrics, though Gerard’s delivery is powerful in its intimate, under-the-breath quality.  The music, written by Richard Bell and Ruth Cochrane shortly before the album was recorded, balances a simple descending bassline and strummed guitar against wails of distorted and feeding-back guitars.  Bell recalls guitarist Nick Jacobs ‘lining the vocal booth with sheet metal and cranking his Marshall stack up to 11 (!) for the feedback’ (*).  Bell doesn’t mention The Jesus and Mary Chain, but the tension in the piece between melody and noise is reminiscent of what they were doing at the time: ‘Never Understand’ came out in February 1985 and Psychocandy was released in November of the same year.  I haven’t been able to find out exactly when Tolerance was recorded, but I suspect sufficiently late enough for the Mary Chain to be a source.  That said, the  reflective pace of ‘Soul’ and the more restrained position of its feedback in the mix make it a different proposition from ‘Never Understand.’ The overall effect is of a campfire song with terrible creatures howling in the woods; or of a confession by flickering candlelight as a storm rages outside.

The lyrics are cryptic, but if we take ‘Soul’ to be soul music, then certain things like the ‘white hands’ in ‘black gloves’ and the other contrasts of black and white start to fall into place, especially if one recognises the black roots of soul music: the lyrics seem to concern cultural appropriation. White hands in black gloves are involved in a kind of cultural masquerade.  There’s also an emphasis in the lyric on costume, especially of an aspirational sort: the black gloves, the black tuxedo, the white tie.  These costumes have the power to transform someone, from the shack-dweller to a celebrity in the limelight.  But towards the end there are notes of self doubt — ‘Can this be me?’ — made all the more powerful by Gerard’s delivery. The closing phrase ‘pleased to call it / Soul’ suggests that it might not really be soul anymore.  The images of tuxedo and white tie suggest that something has been commodified for the light entertainment market, and that in the process it has ceased to be truly ‘soul’.  Is his contemporaries’ swallowing of ‘the cultures’ another act of appropriation?  Is this a pun on ‘to swallow the culture’s soul’?  The subtle power of the music and the vocal performance persuade me to take the lyric seriously, but it’s oblique and abstract.


LYRICS (from

Played by white hands
Tight in black gloves
Skinning it up
As hot as cool

Hit it, boy
It’s wild and trackless
Where the cats in black tux
are stepping

From the shacks
to the front of the street
It’s lovingly taken
by small devils

Yeah, the heart of the drama
Come out like grass
In drums

Jumped and jay walked
In New York
Clubbed and cake walked
Till Ladbroke Grove

Can this be me?
Growing up and growing old
To watch my contemporaries
Swallow the cultures whole

Swaying in white tie
Eyes trail from the white life
Swaying in the white tie
pleased to call it

#31Songs (extra): Gunning the Works, by The Blue Aeroplanes

#31Songs (extra): (No particular cue)

‘Gunning the Works’, by The Blue Aeroplanes, from Bop Art (1984) and Friendloverplane (1987)

(This is the point where the highly engineered 31 Songs master plan falls apart: I like this song, but there’s no suitable cue for it.  So I’ll write about it anyway.)

There are two versions of this song, significantly different in pace, one on Bop Art (1984), and the other collected on Friendloverplane (1988).  I heard the Friendloverplane version first and still vastly prefer it: it goes at a much higher tempo, and Gerard’s vocal performance feels  more confident and committed.  If there’s a slight loss it’s that the bass gets somewhat buried in the mix, but it can have its effect even when the listener isn’t particularly conscious of it; it’s a very busy bassline, especially at the faster tempo.  In the Bop Art version the bass has a fatter, softer sound, and is more prominent.  The Bop Art drums have a crude echo on them that makes them sound like a weird kind of rockabilly.

Bop Art version on Spotify

Friendloverplane version on Spotify

I like the way they’ve more or less abandoned conventional verse-chorus structure, and yet it’s still a catchy pop song.  There’s the ghost of a refrain, in that the song returns several times to ‘I didn’t know people could be so unkind / divided’, but it’s just the one line.  Musically speaking, on the first appearance it seems as if this phrase will be marked by the repeated pair of chords played in unison in power-chord style; but on the first repeat those chords come after the refrain phrase, and then lie beneath a sort of guitar solo (though the instrument could be a mandolin); on the next repeats of the chorus the power chords don’t appear at all.  On Friendloverplane the guitars are very distinctive: not altogether likeable, in that they’re tinny and thin sounding, but riffs they play have a kind of demented energy to them, like flies spiralling around inside a glass bottle, occasionally hitting the sides.

I’d known this song for some years before I heard the phrase ‘gunning the works’ explained. It seems to be Gerard’s variant on ‘gumming (up) the works’, but what really matters is the idea of throwing a spanner in the works. It dates from an era of industrial relations and worker-power that perhaps disappeared in the late 1970s: if management were pissing off the workers on the factory floor, as a last resort someone could always ‘accidentally’ drop a spanner into a crucial piece of machinery and cause a partial closedown. The device that ought to be constructive becomes destructive.  Whether ‘gunning’ is a local variant on ‘gumming’, or a mishearing of it, or  whether it’s a deliberate reworking of the phrase to give something more aggressive, there’s no way of telling.  It works, and I was surprised that I can’t find any trace of ‘gunning the works’ as an accepted variant of ‘gumming’.

Here it’s the central metaphor for destructive impulses in relationships, though if we follow through the industrial-relations roots of it, it could be a metaphor for the things we do to secure some self-determination in a potentially oppressive space.  In this song, at times the destruction is self-destruction: ‘she wants the thing that holds her back’, and later ‘the boy’ who does so.  The narrator, likewise, likes not only to see ‘you’ sing and dance, but also to point him out.  The ‘crook’d and pointed finger’ is odd: is it supposed to be witch-like?  Or a crook that captures him and draws him in?  Even odder is the baby behind glass, ‘eating dirt and being independent’.  This comes across as a parody of liberal parenting: the parents observe, but remain non-interventionist, letting the baby do stupid and self-destructive things while congratulating themselves on its impressive independence. Is it the same for the factory workers who wreck the machinery and the lovers who wreck their relationships, but who pride themselves on their new-found autonomy?

With the exception of the slower pace for ‘She wants the boy that holds her back’, the mood of the music is determined by the opening line, ‘I like to see you sing and dance’. It’s exuberant and joyful, even when the song is about destruction, and so there’s a curious contradiction: the lyrics hint that this behaviour is stupid and regrettable, but the music is gleefully committed to it.




(from, revised: I have ‘eating dirt’ where it has ‘heading death’)

I like to see you sing and dance

I like to see you jump and shout and point
your crooked and jointed finger at me

I didn’t know people could be so unkind

It’s you they call disillusioned

It’s not their fault
But they do want someone to blame

I didn’t know people could be so unkind

His body is sprung and loaded
She wants the thing that holds her back

His shoulder, a holster
Her head on his shoulder
Her shoulder, a holster
His head on her shoulder
Her shoulder, a holster
His head on her shoulder
Her shoulder, a holster
His head on her shoulder

I didn’t know people could be so divided

At the crossroads by Mothercare
Clicking heels in earnest
They shows she knows what a spanner is for

It’s for gunning the works

And I didn’t know people could be so unkind

It’s you they call desperate
It’s not their fault
But they do want someone to blame

It’s cold and the baby’s behind glass
eating dirt and being independent

At home everything’s

She wants the boy that holds her back
You know it’s not his/her* fault
But she does need someone to blame

(*his on Bop Art, her on Friendloverplane)

#31Songs (4): 20th Century Composites, by Art Objects

#31Songs (4): A Song About Music

20th Century Composites, by Art Objects, from Bagpipe Music (1981)

In late 1970s and early 80s New Wave there’s a distinct and distinctive strand of self-conscious deconstruction of the conventions of pop and rock, usually done in a comical spirit. Hipgnosis’s cover for XTC’s Go 2 (1978) was one of the most conspicuous demonstrations:


Wilson Neate’s 33 1/3 book on Wire’s Pink Flag (1977) sees Wire as implementing such critiques in their song writing: their song structures self-consciously dismantle conventional pop music structures; they lengthen or shorten introductions, and in other ways play with the frames.

Much later, on Harvester, the Blue Aeroplanes covered Wire’s ‘Outdoor Miner’, so that band were clearly on their radar, but what the Art Objects do in ’20th Century Composites’ is closer in spirit to XTC’s album cover: Art Objects no more abolish the catchy pop song than XTC get rid of the outer sleeve of their record; they continue in the tradition while drawing attention to its weaknesses and exhaustion.

The acoustic guitar riff may have taken only seconds to compose, but it’s brilliant: it’s catchy, but  it derives from twelve-bar boogie; played on an electric and it could sit quite happily at the start of a Status Quo song.  But there, after the first few iterations, you’d expect the chord to shift up; Art Objects stick with the same two chords, like a stuck record, and at the end of the first verse there’s an sudden silence.  Then were back into the riff again for another verse, before the sound fills out slightly for the chorus, with a catchy but angular keyboard riff coming in.  The backing vocals in the chorus are a neat touch: ‘Ba-by’, sung with a slur between the two notes, and recorded with little or no reverb: compared to some of the band’s chorus additions, it’s minimal and it’s almost mechanical in its delivery. It’s more the evacuated sign of a chorus rather than the thing itself. The long drum roll after the second chorus (slightly phased) also feels like a deliberately performed cliche, though like all these things, one that lets the band have their cake and eat it.  The coup de grace comes with the lyrics on the play out: ‘Verse chorus / Verse chorus / Middle eight / Solo’: a standard rock-song structure that, in their more experimental pieces, Art Objects were working to go beyond, as were  The Blue Aeroplanes after them.

It’s hilarious and catchy. Where the lyric goes slightly wrong is more an ideological matter: it conflates the artificial and formally cliched art work with the artificial woman.  It might mean that it’s about the artificial depictions of women in cliched works of art (she has stepped ‘out of the page’), but it falls a bit too easily into a misogynist tradition of rejecting women for their artificiality.  (See Jonathan Swift, for example).  Particularly problematic is the denial of self-reflection in ‘There are traditions you can’t even feel / Moving in your blood’: the speaker sets himself up as the one who knows, the one who can pass judgement on the artificial construct.


LYRICS (from the liner notes)

photo 2

#31Songs (3): Batpoem, by Art Objects

#31Songs (3): Title Alludes to a Film

‘Batpoem’, by Art Objects, from Bagpipe Music (1981)

‘Batpoem’ doesn’t only allude to a film, but to the whole pop-cultural myth of the superhero.  Moreover, as the original liner notes indicate, it updates a number done by Adrian Henri as part of the The Liverpool Scene on their album The Amazing Adventures of the Liverpool Scene, which apparently appeared in 1968 or 1969 (sources differ).  Here’s the Liverpool Scene’s version on YouTube:

I can’t find a YouTube version of the Art Objects song, but there is one on Spotify:

Gerard Langley’s notes add: ‘That was the 60’s.  It’s the 80’s now and Batman’s in the White House’.  While Henri’s lyrics had been sarcastic about a culture hung-up on superhero interventions, Langley’s Reagan-era account turns the screw even tighter.

photo 1

I think Henri’s lyrics about ‘damsels in distress’ in various states of undress was a criticism of patriarchal attitudes and of the imaginary irresistible attractiveness produced by  ‘Batpill’ (or the fantasy of rape implied); Langley’s ‘The Batpill don’t seem to work no more’ doesn’t allow any space for thinking otherwise.

As a performance the Art Objects’ version exposes the Liverpool Scene one as a fairly pale and lame late-evening joke.  This is the punkiest and most savage performance I can think of from Art Objects or the Blue Aeroplanes: the drums are solid, the guitars fuzzy and crudely reverbed, and Gerard’s delivery is hoarse and vitriolic.


#31Songs (2): Hard Objects, by Art Objects

#31Songs (2): A Political Song

Hard Objects, by Art Objects

The origins of The Blue Aeroplanes lie in a band called Art Objects, and in the light of the many changes of personnel in the Aeroplanes, and the minimal difference between Art Objects and their successor, it makes sense to start here. Art Objects played their first gig at Aston Court festival in the summer of 1978, at which point they consisted of Gerard Langley on vocals, Wojtek Dmochowski as a dancer, and J. J. Key on guitar and other noises. (My account comes from a piece by Bill Stair, who joined the following year as a bassist.)  It’s clear that from the outset the band had no intention of being a standard rock unit, and though the following year they added a drummer, another guitarist, and the aforementioned bassist, their approach was experimental. That said, as is clear from one listen to ‘Hard Objects’, they were perfectly capable of writing catchy tunes.  ‘Hard Objects’ was recorded early in 1980 and released on newly formed Bristol label Fried Egg Records.

Many elements of the Aeroplanes’ sound are in place: Gerard doesn’t sing, and so the usual melodic focal point of popular song is denied us; but the backing vocals compensate by twisting a vocal melody around his declaimed lyrics; there are melodic elements in the guitars and in the bass, but there are also more experimental, guitar-derived shriekings and groanings.  The style of the ending anticipates the end of ‘And Stones’ from the Swagger album, with the climax of the music coinciding with the end of the lyrics; and the delay-pedal guitars also anticipate that song.

Lyrically, though, it’s much more direct and message-oriented than Gerard Langley’s other material: it’s a protest song, and one can imagine it working well in a scene of CND and other leftish gigs.  The opening line is pure blues, of course, but I like to think of it as being derived indirectly, via W. H. Auden’s blues-poems from the 1930s, of which ‘Funeral Blues’ is now by far the best known.  The delivery is punchy and direct. Something that I can’t quite put my finger on goes wrong in the conclusion (‘The nuclear bomb …’ onwards): I don’t think it’s so much that the lyrics spell things out too obviously and are a little overwrought, but rather that the sneering tone in the delivery is over-emphatic: the sneer is intended for those in power, for sure, but the implication is that we as listeners won’t get the point of the lyrics without it; and given that the lyrics are very direct at this point, that seems to be a failure of nerve or lack of faith in the audience.


LYRICS (my transcription)

I woke up this morning I walked to the wall (HARD OBJECTS)
The size of their guns did not worry me at all (HARD OBJECTS)
The beauty of the morning was a wound still ahead (HARD OBJECTS)
The gaunt stab of weapons and things better left unsaid.

Living in the shadow of — HARD OBJECTS
Carving at a road with — HARD OBJECTS
Another cut or two with — HARD OBJECTS

I was living at the heart of one room space
With a badly twisted body and infected face
The hole in the ribs had exposed a [? giant lung]
Oh what it is to me, young

I’m threatened day and night by — HARD OBJECTS
Suffering death by — HARD OBJECTS
Hung about and weighted with — HARD OBJECTS

Well the front page is full till the flags have been raised
A captive beast staggering bloody and crazed
It’s a myth, an old myth of cruelty that we shared
That you can die as you live or bring pressure to bear.

Without listening for the sound of — HARD OBJECTS
Looking for the prying of — HARD OBJECTS
The ticking and the clicking of — HARD OBJECTS
The whirring and the grinding of — HARD OBJECTS
The spokes and wheels and ratchets of — HARD OBJECTS
I hate the uses made of — HARD OBJECTS
The authority invested in — HARD OBJECTS
Beaten in the face by . . .


The nuclear bomb is a blunt instrument in the hands of disturbed children playing […] marbles.
The law is a blunt instrument for the use, as they so wish, of those in a position of authority.
The mass media is a blunt instrument in the hands of men whose sole desire it is to rob a bank.
The economy is a blunt instrument with which the politically wealthy can have the poor or subservient systematically beaten to ensure the minimum resistance.
Desire and affection are blunt instruments effectively employed by professional […] whose hands are permanently stained with hypocrisy and printer’s ink.
Education is a two-edged weapon which after a certain point those in power would like to keep for their exclusive use.
And the voice of protest and dissent is the only weapon possessed by the majority of victims and it’s lying unused at the feet of people too busy living and dying to bother to pick it up.

#31Songs (1): Tolerance, by The Blue Aeroplanes

In July I enjoyed writing a blog a day about The Jazz Butcher’s songs. This is the first in a series about The Blue Aeroplanes, using mostly the same cues, though I don’t think I can sustain the rate of a blog-per-day.  Like the Jazz Butcher series, after the first entry this will be arranged in approximately chronological order by the date the record was released.

#31Songs (1): The First One I Ever Heard

‘Tolerance’ by The Blue Aeroplanes

I first heard The Blue Aeroplanes on a cheap and cheerful compilation album I bought on vinyl around 1987 or 1988, the Beechwood Indie Top 20, vol.2.


The song on the album was ‘Tolerance’: this exists in at least three versions, and I’m not sure from memory which the compilers used, though I think it’s the one found on The Blue Aeroplanes’ Tolerance LP or the one on their Friendloverplane compilation.  The Tolerance version begins with a melodic bass-line, and is sustained throughout by it, while the Friendloverplane version begins with delicate chiming guitars, and in the verses is altogether wispier than its Tolerance counterpart:

There’s another later version with a more emphatic drum beat which turns up on the Warhol’s 15 compilation:

‘Tolerance’ really stood out on the Indie Top 20 compilation.  The Brilliant Corners’ ‘Brian Rix’ was funny but disposable; Michelle Shocked’s ‘If Love Was a Train’ had a bit more substance, and led me to her debut album (the proper debut rather than the Texas Campfire Tapes); but something about ‘Tolerance’ stayed with me: Gerard Langley’s spoken vocals; the contrasting, passionate, Johnny-Rottenish vocal on the chorus, which at the time I believed mistakenly to be Langley; the suggestion, within the dense and difficult lyric, that the singer was siding with the female protagonist (‘She should go out more and he should show some tolerance’); no vocal melody in the verses, of course, but all sorts of melodic suggestions in the guitars and in the bassline. All these were completely new to me.  It stayed with me, but for some reason — lack of information in those pre-internet days, combined with a limited record-buying budget? — I didn’t follow it up and buy anything more by them.

On 5 December 1990 I bought the Friendloverplane compilation at the Our Price in the Westgate in Oxford —  I tucked the receipt into the booklet, £11.99, and it’s still there — and learned that the chorus vocals were actually a guest appearance by Jedzrej Dmochowski, brother of Wojtek, the band’s dancer. I think by that stage I’d bought Swagger, which had come out in February 1990, and which I remember being heavily advertised on flyposters on hoardings outside Somerville.  ‘Tolerance’ still stood out on Friendloverplane, but the compilation also gave an indication of the sheer range of their output in their first seven years: they’d first performed as The Blue Aeroplanes in 1981 (or so it says on Wikipedia); the compilation had come out in 1988.  ‘Veils of Colour’ had some similar horn sounds, though more melancholy; ‘Severn Beach’ highlighted their skill at crafting a catchy chorus; ‘Etiquette’, had the same sceptical attitude as ‘Tolerance’ towards conventional gender relations, and a funkyish new wave feel to it; ‘Days of 49’ had Rodney Allen on vocals and showed off their folk side. There were samples, there was social protest, there were lyrics of baffling obliquity, there was a Bob Dylan cover.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

‘Tolerance’ isn’t an easy lyric to understand: we have glimpses and fragments of a narrative scenario, some or all of it seen in recollection, a time (‘that time’) in the past that the speaker is trying to measure and come to terms with.  The splitting of the lyric between Gerard and Jedzrej adds a further interpretative problem: are we to understand this as some sort of duet, with Jedzrej replying to to Gerard’s lines, or is Jedzrej simply voicing a more passionate outburst on Gerard’s behalf?  It has more characters than most love songs: there’s a woman at the centre of it, there’s a first person who is presumably, like the singers, male; there’s a him; and there’s a ‘you’ of uncertain gender who ‘said she looked older’ (an insult, a compliment, or a neutral comparison?), who gave her shelter, who cried on her shoulder, and who got lost and found.  Heterosexual love-song convention would have ‘you’ be female, but it’s clear this is no conventional love song.

It could be a story of infidelities: that would be why she concealed him with her quick arms, and one way of thinking about the lamp being the mark of ‘something new’ is to picture it occurring late at night, the lovers suddenly illuminated by a streetlight, a new and unwelcome revelation.  (There’s a scene like that in Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, and this song is every bit as cubist as Woolf’s novel).  There’s a lot about light (punningly in ‘old flames’), and a line about wintry air: it’s a song of dark evenings and distrust.  It’s also a song with hints of regrets: ‘it was me / Who said you should go there / And she should come along’.  What were the consequences of the speaker’s saying ‘you’ should go there (where?) and her coming along?  Did the ‘you’ and ‘she’ start a relationship in consequence?

In so far as it’s reflecting on that past history, it also asks what keeps people together: the need for shelter?  something as abstract as ‘her intent’?  And it asks at what point that becomes oppressively controlling: she should go out more? He should show more tolerance, the lyric says, though tolerance itself is still a controlling attitude.

And is it also weighing up relationships alongside the other things people fill their time with? Painting and art for example?  Pass-times and ambitions?  Are the ‘absentee notes’ lovers’ apologies, sardonically spoken of as it they were letters to one’s manager?  And is the ‘X’ a signing-off kiss, or the manager’s dismissive cross?

‘And here we are again’, says Gerard with more than his usual weariness before the final chorus,  and this seems both an admission that such situations repeat themselves (‘how we repeat these patterns’, as he says in another, later, song), but also a wry gesture towards the form of popular song in verses and choruses. An earlier song, ’20th Century Composites’, by an earlier incarnation of the band, Art Objects, had ended with the band singing ‘Verse chorus / Verse chorus / Middle eight / Solo’, so they have form in this regard.  One of the oddities of ‘Tolerance’ is that the opening line seems to cast the events into a remembered past, but the present tense of other lines suggests that the situation is present: past and present can’t be kept so easily apart.  The narrator would like ‘that time’ to be in the past, but like a chorus it keeps on coming round again. And these kinds of puzzle in the lyrics keep me coming back to it.




(Adapted from what I found at I hear ‘flames’ where they have ‘flings’, and ‘pubs’ where they have ‘poems’.)

You could measure the effects of that time in light
A lamp could be the mark of something new
There were plants and frames and paintings invisible structure
She did conceal him with her quick arms
And her intent was the only thing that kept him there

And it was you
Who said she looked older
While it was me
Who stood by the door
But it was you
Who gave her the shelter
That she looked to him for

A worthwhile pass-time but a sad ambition
Absentee notes in the next room with X
She should go out more and he should show some tolerance
Ah, big ridicule such little thing
Such grip on everything we have

On everything we have

And it was you
Who cried on her shoulder
And it was you
Who got lost and found
And it was me
Who said you should go there
And she should come along

Our coat tails drag marks
Old flames don’t hold a candle
When the lights go out
at that civilised time

What do we have?
More pubs
The emptier the better
And events in the future
Like a state of undress

Through that wintry air
Kiss news down the line
And here we are again

And it was you
Who cried on her shoulder
And it was you
Who got lost and found
And it was me
Who said you should go there
But it was you who gave her the shelter