Thursday 12 August 2021

The Discovery of Comet Nerdlinger

Twenty years ago, during the last days of spring in 2001, Dayglo Fishermen released 'Comet Nerdlinger', the final album in what is sometimes referred to as the band's science fiction trilogy.

Comet Nerdlinger - CD cover: front - design and artwork by David Fothergill

The first two albums in the trilogy, 'Space Dog' and 'Painting Aliens', are hard acts to follow. 'Space Dog' defined a new era for the band with its depth and polished orchestration, and 'Painting Aliens' showcased the band's commercial talent with a flawless collection of what have become classic pop tracks.

How does 'Comet Nerdlinger' compare?

Production of the album started in early 1999, just a few months after the release of 'Painting Aliens'. Envigorated by the response to that album, and even though they were still in the middle of the 'Painting Aliens' promotional tour, the band started writing and recording.

In contrast to the rapid production of the previous album, which was recorded and released in less than a year, this time the band wanted to take their time. Over the next two and a half years, a rather eclectic set of tracks was recorded, initially at the band's Aqua-Lisa studio, and then later, following a couple of months of construction disruption, at a brand new custom-build facility, Cozmic Studios.

The official band photo for the Comet Nerdlinger album

The album kicks off with 'Penthouse Perfection', a fast, relentless song, simple in arrangement and instrumentation. The drum track, consisting of bass drum and snare and nothing else, is ever-present from the start as a distorted guitar and keyboard bassline accompany the almost detached tone of Ginny's vocal. There's heavy use of reverb on the sustained synth that fills out the choruses, and also on the synth that pops up to provide much of the melody in the second verse. The guitar mellows in the short midsection, losing the distortion to provide a momentary interlude before the final chorus erupts. It's a fun, but quite ordinary start to the album.

The next track, 'Smokey Joe's', was one of the first written for the album, which is probably why it could sit just as easily amongst the tracks of the previous album. This up-tempo song has a strong narrative, telling the story of a wealthy man lead astray by a woman he meets at Smokey Joe's bar. Over the course of the night, he's unwittingly involved in a drunken robbery, trashes a sports car, and engages in drug-enhanced salsa dancing. They end up fleeing the city by getting the subway out to where it snows.

Right at the start, as the music builds, a brief radio sample gives us a clue as to the city where the debauchery takes place. From then on a catchy bassline drives the song along, accompanied by electronic drums and staccato distorted guitar that injects some essential menace. Richard's vocal tells the story in the verses, with Ginny taking over in the choruses. All the while, soft and often dreamy keyboard sounds, especially in the improvised midsection, accentuate the almost disembodied experience of the intoxicated pair. It's a solid and enjoyable toe-tapping track.

'Paint Me Blue' calms things down, and shows us the album's gentle side for the first time. Mellow piano and guitar chords introduce the song, along with soft acoustic-sounding drums bathed in a very subtle gated reverb. Ginny is given plenty of space for her vocals, which she uses well, deepening her voice on the verses and jumping an octave or more on the choruses. For the most part, the guitars and synths stay in the background, adding atmosphere and depth, and following the vocal melody on the choruses. 

Like 'Smokey Joe's', 'Paint Me Blue' would have been at home on 'Painting Aliens', settling right in with the lighter pop elements of that album. It's a thoroughly pleasant track, providing a relaxing breathing space for what comes next.

The only known photos of the band working in Cozmic Studios during the production of Comet Nerdlinger. The photos were taken in October 2000 while recording the song 'Hang the DJ'. Seen in the top photo (from the left) are Sean Wills, Peter Fothergill and Richard Burton.

The next track is often considered to be the album's true beginning, where new sounds and more unusual arrangements finally emerge. 'Hang the DJ' starts with a sense of dread, as a brooding synth and the distant wail of a guitar are joined by a rough pulsing bass and drumline, and then the feared Jamaican voodoo posse, first featured in 1993 on the song 'Voodoo', make themselves heard in a bone-chilling manner. Things progress hypnotically and ceaselessly, and soon we hear the very rare and deep vocal of former band member Sean Wills - the first time he'd recorded with the band since leaving in 1992. Ginny takes over the vocals for the next sections, with a break in between for something a little unexpected. And as if that wasn't enough, the classic Dayglo Fishermen trumpet sample is heard regularly, appearing behind and around the vocals.

This is essentially a dance track, an almost macabre one, well-suited to some of the darker nightclubs in the undesirable parts of town. It's one of the highlights of the album.

'Touching the Untouchable' eases into existence with what sounds like a giant ship edging into port. Two mournful cellos play, and then a slow but powerful drum rhythm kicks in, followed by unusual and threatening synth sounds that lead into a sparse verse. Peter's excellent choice of sounds creates an effective cold-war ambience, especially with the metallic machine-like background pulse that tries to enslave us. It succeeds. There is no escape.

What stands out the most on this mesmeric track is Richard's vocal, which is arguably one of his finest, drawing us in with an emotional performance that oozes melancholy and pain, and that sits perfectly with the backing music. This is Dayglo Fishermen doing what they do best.

The mood is lightened considerably with the next song, 'Soncabaret'. A jaunty bassline introduces us to this high-tempo and highly melodic song. Simple drums and soft and delicate keyboards soon join the mix, and then the verse begins. Ginny's light and airy vocal speeds the song along, floating through the choruses as the guitar harmonises behind. The mood shifts slightly in the midsection, with additional drums and distorted guitar seeing us all the way to the final chorus and the long and indulgent half-tempo outro.

'Soncabaret' is probably the most popular song on the album, but despite that, it's only been performed live on two occasions; it was previewed to a very select audience during The Garage gig in 1999, and nine years later at the Limelight Theatre, Aylesbury in 2008. It deserves more, much more. Let's hope it's back on the setlist soon.

A rare photo of the exclusive gig at The Garage, Buckinghamshire, in October 1999. It was a phenomenal treat for the select few invited, who got to hear 'Soncabaret' and 'Your Favourite Love' more than 18 months before their official release. Seen above (from the left) are Richard Burton, Peter Fothergill and Ginny Owens.

Next comes 'Junk Culture', a trio of linked tracks that together total well over twelve minutes of music. 

Junk Culture part one is called 'Coffee Table Ice Cream' and begins with the eerie backward sound of children's toys. Drums and bass appear, followed by a short guitar line played in reverse, which sets up the atmosphere perfectly for what is a song largely about disappointment. A more hopeful high piano melody appears later in the verses, contrasting nicely with the rest of the music that for the most part lingers in the lower registers. That lingering is especially evident during the expansive midsection that showcases the band's expertise at building tension and foreboding using only the very subtlest changes in tone and instrumentation.

As the final chorus ends, and the closing jangle of sound fades, we realise just how embedded 'Coffee Table Ice Cream' has become within our minds, creating an almost irresistible urge to play it again. A standout track.

Junk Culture part two, titled 'Your Favourite Slave', boosts the energy levels immediately with harsh, heavy drums from start to finish. Strong guitar riffs dominate this track, filling out the background as the vocals evoke feelings of danger and submission. Ginny handles the main vocal, but Richard is heard in short electrifying sections that help lift the song out of the ordinary. It's an intense experience.

The final part, 'Your Favourite Love', is quite the opposite of its predecessor. The gentle and heavily delayed guitar and heavenly canvas of keyboards give Ginny the perfect backdrop for what is a beautifully restrained vocal performance. At the halfway point a slow pulsing synth joins the mix, eventually becoming the only sound as the song reaches its poignant conclusion.

'Your Favourite Love' became an unexpected hit at the band's concerts. It was first performed at The Garage in 1999 as part of an exclusive preview of two of the album's early songs. Later, in 2008, 2011 and 2016, it was performed at the Limelight Theatre. Ginny's remarkably emotional and often fragile performance of the song on those occasions far exceeded what she achieved in the studio. 

Comet Nerdlinger - CD cover: inside

The song 'Drink Dance Kiss' is up next. It starts lazily, gradually building keyboards over a simple percussive sound. We hear the crowd of a lively bar, and then the drums and bass guitar finally lock the foundations of the music in place. Following an unusual three-bar loop, the verses tell us about the comings and goings of those in the bar.  The midsection, with its baleful guitar and almost spooky synths, works well, bringing us down a little, reminding us that the worries of the world are still there, despite the dulling effects of a few drinks. Tomorrow will come.

The loose feel of the bass guitar lifts this track beyond the ordinary, giving the impression of a generally relaxed evening.

Despite the album being described as having a science fiction theme, 'Nerdlinger One' is the only track that fits that description. It's a pulsing, hypnotic track that begins with the voice of a boy offering sweets to a sinister-sounding creature. As that scene plays out, a fast heartbeat-like drum track builds, which is then joined by a deep bass synth that blends seamlessly with the rich pad sound playing minor seventh chords in the background. Guitars join in and the heart-beat drums intensify as Ginny's breathy repeating vocal lifts the first third of the track. The middle third is filled with guitar, heightening the drama with a long layered solo, before dropping back to a simplified heartbeat drumline.

It's at this point that the story of Comet Nerdlinger One is finally told. In a very rare vocal performance, Peter tells us about a mysterious dark comet that's approaching from deep space. As its dusty tail sweeps like a veil across Earth, the microscopic lifeforms within it descend and infect everyone on the planet.  Humanity is dissolved and rises out of the atmosphere to merge with the comet, becoming part of the infection that will one day dissolve the beings of another world. It's an unusual and captivating piece, one that at the very least inspired the amazing album cover artwork.

A slow jazz drum pattern draws us into 'Constant Running', captivating us from the very start. The drums are brushed, not hit, and that, along with the mellow bass and gentle, other-worldly arpeggiated synths, creates a softness of feeling that has rarely been achieved.

Despite having what is probably the lowest tempo of any Dayglo Fishermen track, we remain spellbound as we are guided to the song's peaceful conclusion, enlivened right before the end by the unexpected piano chords. It all feels effortless, which is its greatest accomplishment of all.

Comet Nerdlinger - CD cover: back

'Down Down Down' is a rock song, plain and simple. It wastes no time in getting up to speed as the guitars power us through the verses and choruses with accomplished ease. Keyboards add to the background ambience, coming to the fore only in the choruses to enhance the vocal line. An expected but expertly-played guitar solo dominates the midsection, building as it progresses, thrusting us into the song's final short verse and chorus.

The penultimate track, 'The Valley', slows things right down again. Filled with dreamy and magical synth sounds, melodies and amiable guitars, the song treads easily on its path, like a journey through the pleasant parts of Middle-earth. Ginny's vocal is given plenty of room to shine and she makes the most of it, her tone and emotion perfectly pitched and full of hope and promise. This song could easily take you away if you let it.

The album's finale is an instrumental piece named 'Picasso in Bed'. It begins with an almost proto-human chant. As swelling strings fade in and the chanting ceases, birdsong materialises, and a guitar starts to pick its way into the mix. Soon new synth sounds wax and wane, along with an ever-changing guitar, and then a high piano melody plays lazily while alien clicks clatter at the very limits of perception. A repeating keyboard melody plays for the final minute, and the guitar chugs gently along with it until everything else fades and we are left with nothing but the whispering remains of reverberation. Masterful.

Dayglo Fishermen have composed many instrumental tracks, but with 'Picasso in Bed' the band has created one of the very best. The structure and layers of the piece are beautifully put together, with each sound perfectly placed, and nothing overdone. It's a truly sublime way to bring the album to a close.

Comet Nerdlinger - cassette inlay

'Comet Nerdlinger' is a transitionary album, with some songs that would be more at home on the previous album, and others that could well have been held back for the following one. But it also has many tracks, such as 'Touching the Untouchable', 'Coffee Table Ice Cream' and 'Constant Running', that carve their own unique path and belong firmly on this album and no other.

Fortunately, the occasional feeling that a song does not quite fit in here does not detract from our enjoyment. The album is a complex and entertaining collection of music, demanding at times, but littered with delightful surprises. It's a worthy addition to Dayglo Fishermen's vast back catalogue.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Thirty Years

This month Dayglo Fishermen celebrate their 30th anniversary. It's a rare thing for a band to reach such a milestone, and it takes a special level of commitment and passion to get even close.

Over those three decades Dayglo Fishermen have released 20 studio albums - an average of one album every 18 months, and an average of one track composed, recorded and mastered every six weeks during that period. It's an astonishing achievement.

A very early Dayglo Fishermen group photo, taken in 1991, during the recording of the band's second album, 'Strange Plaice'. The band's so called 'classic' line up can be seen here (clockwise from the left): Eamonn Maddick, Peter Fothergill, Richard Burton, David Fothergill and Peter Carmichael.

It's hard to choose just what to pick as highlights of the band's long career, so here's an extreme summary of how things have transpired so far.

In the Beginning

During the spring of 1990 four young men got together with the intention of recording a single song. It was meant to be nothing more than an example of what could be achieved in a hillside recording studio on the edge of a small town in a very rural location. After just a couple of hours the results far exceeded what was intended. The song 'Fish' had been brought into existence. You can read the full account of how the band's first song was recorded in the article 'The Origin of 'Fish''.

The album cover cassette inlay for 'Drenched', Dayglo Fishermen's debut album, released in 1990

That recording session cultivated such a wave of excitement and enthusiasm that the four men, Peter Fothergill, David Fothergill, Peter Carmichael and Eamonn Maddick, immediately made plans to record more together. Just a few months later Dayglo Fishermen released their debut album, 'Drenched'. The music was an unusual and refreshing change from the high school rock bands that had saturated the local music scene. It was very well received.

Richard Burton, who had been working with Peter Fothergill for a couple of years on other projects, joined the band, bringing with him fresh ideas and his unique guitar sound. Over the following two years Dayglo Fishermen's extraordinary creativity was unleashed with such relentless passion that four more studio albums were released, including 'Strange Plaice' and 'And So It Is', most notable for the song 'But Where Were the Mice?'.

With a new band member, Sean Wills, on board, that frenetic period culminated in the 1992 release of 'Magic Organ', which lingered solely on the dark side of life. The music is harsh, lyrically as well as aurally, but somehow just as compelling as much of their lighter work.

The album cover artwork for 'Magic Organ', released in 1992 (left: front cover, right: inside cover). The imagery features an almost maddening array of burning scratches, which complements the music perfectly.

The production of  'Magic Organ' proved to be an almost torturous experience which stretched an already growing tension within the band to its limit. Creative differences became intolerable. Read the article 'The Art of Darkness' to learn just how dark the experience of creating an album can go.

Second Wind

Dayglo Fishermen were down to just two members, but the air had been cleared and the future was full of promise. With renewed vigour Peter Fothergill and Richard Burton began work on a new album and in September 1992 released 'What the Hell'. The contrast with 'Magic Organ' was profound. The new album was lighter, fresher, and positive, despite its occasional drift into political references.

Over the next two years the band released five more albums, which included the eponymous 'The Dayglo Fishermen'  in 1993, but it was the release of the now classic 'Big Spoon' a year later that really stands out during that period.

The album cover for 'Big Spoon', released in 1994. The album is widely regarded as one of Dayglo Fishermen's finest and most influential.  

'Big Spoon' was a significant change from the band's usual sequence of song structures, and that was exactly as it was planned to be. It was far more instrumental in nature, and featured a deeper and much more sophisticated sound that would be carried through to later albums. Read the article 'Big Spoon' for a detailed account of the album.

Towards the end of 1994 the band took a long break from recording. Richard moved to southeast England, and within months Peter also headed south to London.


In the spring of 1996, with Peter established in London, and Richard in Buckinghamshire, Dayglo Fishermen began recording once again. They were joined by Ginny Owens, a talented local singer with a unique voice. Just over a year later the 'Space Dog' album was released. The album was a return to a more typical song structure, but with more a more refined sound and some wonderfully subtle layers of orchestration. And it was all crowned with the smooth and often haunting sound of Ginny's vocals. You can read an in-depth account of the album in the article 'Space Dog - The Pound of the Hound'.
The album cover artwork for 'Space Dog' (left) released in 1997, and 'Painting Aliens' released in 1998

Just a year later Dayglo Fishermen released what has become known as their classic pop album: 'Painting Aliens'. The blending of traditional pop methods with the band's own unconventional ideas proved highly popular, making it one of the band's most accessible albums ever. Read a detailed account of the album in the article 'Painting Aliens'.

Many of the album's tracks, such as 'Something's Watching', 'Underground' and the title song 'Painting Aliens', were so popular that they have been performed at every one of the band's concerts ever since the album was released.

Into the New Millennium

The frequency of Dayglo Fishermen releases would slow quite significantly from now on, but the creativity and desire of the band never waned. As the rest of the world embraced the possibilities of the new century the band quietly recorded and released an eclectic series of albums, including 'Comet Nerdlinger', 'Queen of the Sunset City' and 'I Can See a Boat ... It No Longer Floats'. Each album features a wild variety of styles and textures, and each saw the band's technical and creative abilities reach new heights.

The album cover artwork for 'Comet Nerdlinger' - released in 2001 (top left), 'Queen of the Sunset City' released in 2003 (top right), 'I Can See a Boat ... It No Longer Floats' released in 2006 (bottom left) and 'In the Limelight', the band's first live album, released in 2008.

This period closed with the release of Dayglo Fishermen's first ever live album, 'In the Limelight' - a recording of the band's exhilarating 2008 concert at the Limelight Theatre in Aylesbury, UK.

Up Until Now

The arrival of advanced new equipment energised the band. The result, in 2010, was the release of 'Moons That Cast Their Light'. The album has a retro feel and is brimming with sparkling synths,  lush guitar textures and dreamy vocals. It contains several stand out tracks, including the quirky pop song 'Teen Angst' and the beautiful 'Never a Shadow (Without a Light)'.

The band photo used in publicity for Dayglo Fishermen's 2011 concert following the release of the album 'Moons That Cast Their Light' the previous year. Seen on the top row are Richard Burton, Ginny Owens and Peter Fothergill. Below is Sean Wills, a former band member who had been a featured artist on the last few albums. He would rejoin the band as a full member after the concert.

To help promote the album, in 2011 Dayglo Fishermen performed once again at the Limelight Theatre in Aylesbury. The concert, which featured performances of many of the band's classic songs as well as new material, was such a success that a live recording of the event, titled '260311', was released soon after.

Dayglo Fishermen performing at their 2011 Limelight Theatre concert. This photo was used as the cover for '260311', the live album of that performance, which was released later that same year.

After opening a new dedicated production facility in London, Dayglo Fishermen commenced work on the album 'Midnight Souls Still Remain', which was released in 2015. The album is a powerful mix of pulsing synthesiser rhythms, energising guitars and expansive and layered vocals. At times it's purity of vision is quite astonishing as each track leads into the next. The article 'Midnight Souls Revealed' provides a full insight into each song.

The CD cover and inside images for the 2015 album 'Midnight Souls Still Remain'

The band immediately started work on another album, but in 2016 still found the time to showcase 'Midnight Souls Still Remain' and, of course, some of their classic songs live at the Limelight Theatre. The following year they released a live DVD of the event titled 'Midnight Souls Come (a)Live'.

In recent years Dayglo Fishermen have been very tight lipped about an album's contents before release, and their latest studio album was no exception. There were many rumours, of course: the main one being that the album was far more instrumental in nature. When the album was released in 2019 that rumour was proven correct. Named simply 'Time', the album is an epic soundscape that's like nothing else the band has ever released, yet it's also unmistakably Dayglo Fishermen with influences stretching back to the band's earliest compositions. Read ''Time' Has Come' for a detailed account of the album.

The cover image for the album 'Time', released in 2019

Back in 1990 Dayglo Fishermen embarked on an epic journey, one that is still underway today. The destination is unknown and it may never be reached, but along the way the band have managed to create quite remarkable music. And they have honoured us by releasing it for all the world to hear.

With their latest album, 'Time', now available to stream on all the major music services, such as Spotify, Amazon MusicGoogle Play and Deezer, the whole world now has even more opportunity to hear the band's work.

Here's to the next 30 years...

Wednesday 1 January 2020

'Time' Has Come

In November last year Dayglo Fishermen released their much anticipated new album, 'Time'.

Just over two and a half years in production, the album marks a departure from the relatively conventionally structured collections of songs that the band usually releases. Largely instrumental in nature, the new album is vast and epic in its scope, and has been described as "a remarkable cinematic journey through the lightness and darkness of existence", and "an immense soundscape that straddles worlds and dimensions".

The CD cover image for Dayglo Fishermen's album 'Time'

As the album plays, and as each track seamlessly blends with the next, there is a clear impression of sophisticated progression; like a complex story unfolding as its tapestry of plot lines and twists weave together in an often unpredictable, but ultimately satisfying, fashion.

The album begins with the rush of waves as 'First Light' eases us into that story. The gentle sound of water as it shifts sand and pebbles is incredibly soothing. A mellow keyboard pad joins the mix as the waves slowly intensify, and then a thoughtful guitar melody takes control. The guitar evokes images of deserts and salt flats; an intriguing contrast to the waves that continue to ebb and flow all around. The track's intention, perhaps, is to issue a warning that our planet's current oceans will one day become arid and lifeless. That may be reading too much into a beginning that, for most, will having nothing but a calming effect. It's a perfect start to the album.

'Time Out From This World' comes to life with an indecisive drift through random radio stations. A luscious synth pad begins swelling back and forth - a fine complement to waves of the previous track. A gentle bell-like arpeggio begins, and then drops away as a rich bass sound take charge, accompanied by a soft jazz drum section. Guitars build, and the bells return, almost whistling at times as the multiplex of textures intermingle: and all of this progresses at a leisurely pace, instilling a sense of security and peace, and feelings of confidence and serenity with the accomplished ease we expect on any band's 20th studio album. As things drop away an almost vocal synth begins a regular punch of the sound space. A muted trumpet, a familiar sample to those that have listened to the band's previous albums, plays mournfully, eventually followed by a more optimistic piano that lifts the mood with a beautiful melody, and then the main sequence returns. As a distorted guitar builds and slides up in pitch the track drops back to skim through some radio stations once again. Here we are left to drift awhile, unfocused, until a lonely voice asks 'Can you hear me?'.

North African flutes play through the introduction of 'Before the Storm' evoking thoughts of deserts, campfires and deep sunsets. A hypnotic drum sequence soon kicks in, followed by a rasping synth bass sound, and then layers of guitar begin to build as keyboard pads swirl in the background. An unexpected synth melody suddenly appears as an interlude, but it's short-lived. The main theme returns, this time with a wandering bass guitar line in the mix as the guitars layer up once more. As the keyboards build in the background a distorted guitar takes over to create the track's final crescendo. And then things drop back until the drums cease and a brief whisper of voices is heard; an eerie hint of what is to come later on.

The CD inside cover image for Dayglo Fishermen's album 'Time'

A rich rhythmic synth riff, drifting left and right across the aural landscape, heralds the start of 'The Heavens Opened'. As the soft synth bass drum sequence begins two bass lines, keyboard and guitar, play along, matching the bass drum. Ever so gently a guitar joins in, strumming slowly and sweetly, and then a high and pulsing staccato synth cycles through the octaves as it fades in over several bars. An orchestral flourish rushes in to signal the start of the second and highly melodic section. Everything picks up as full drum sequence and a compelling synth melody takes over. Things repeat, building in intensity, before dropping back to the rhythmic synth riff. Whale song makes a surprising appearance here; A classic Dayglo Fishermen ploy, and then a pulsating synth introduces itself. A guitar plays around, until the orchestral flourish launches the final act. The pulsating synth takes control this time, playing through its addictive melody. As the key rises a powerful distorted guitar harmony joins the fray, lifting the track up to its glorious finale before releasing the listener back to how it started. It's an incredibly energising experience.

The whisper of voices returns, their words incomprehensible, mysterious, even ominous. At a remarkably slow 30 beats per minute 'Cracks Appear' begins. A lonely bass drum, accompanied by a plucked double bass, maintains the feeling of dread as a distant distorted guitar comes into play. A sparse piano plays chords on the beat, and soon some light cymbals manage brighten things just a bit. The voices return on occasion to remind us of their presence, and a whirling section of strings building during the sparse middle section, both of which remind us that there is something sinister lurking just beyond our comprehension. Everything works together to instil a chilling and almost hopeless sensation. As the track draws to a close with melancholic piano and a short guitar melody, the voices make a final appearance and repeat their unfathomable message.

A pulsing synth bass and gently chugging guitar brings us back from the brink of darkness as 'Ghosts in My Life' kicks in. Soon a simple, soft synth melody captivates the listener.  After brief and sparkling bridge section the synth melody plays again, this time with some interesting interplay with another synth and guitar. And soon we are in new section, with vocals, accompanied by powerful sustained keyboards that fill the background with a broad and rich sound. A simplified first section plays again, and then we enter a sparse middle section as an unusual synth sound plays, interspersed with some heavily distorted guitars, building until the vocal section returns and brings everything to a close.

Dominated by a loosely tapped cymbal rhythm, 'Darkness Falls' ends the first half of the album with a softly hypnotic piece. Despite its title, the track feels light and soothing as guitars and smooth keyboard pads drift around. Some deep chanting voices appear now and then, which are slightly unsettling, if only for the briefest of moments, but those moments are forgotten as uplifting vocals take over. A distorted guitar leads the listener out of the track and on to a moment of silence in preparation for the second half of the album. Its an outstandingly fluid composition.

The CD back cover image for Dayglo Fishermen's album 'Time'

'An Enchanted Evening' begins with a mellow and sustained synth sound. The curious and soft hooting of birdsong is soon heard, captivating the listener as a gentle and sparse guitar starts to play. And so it continues, drifting beautifully without purpose and structure, drawing the listener in, and closing out the world beyond. It's as if nothing else exists, and nothing else matters. It's quite possibly one of the purest moments of pleasure on the album, made all the more remarkable due to the absolute simplicity of the track's arrangement. Perfection.

A mid tempo drum and bass rhythm, complete with the crackle of dust on a stylus, lead us straight in to the wonderful 'I Returned Her Glance'. Gentle guitar and mellow keyboards ease things along until the vocals, softy spoken, begin, and then a superb instrumental section builds, with a loosely played high synth arpeggio twinkling all around until a guitar melody takes over. The vocals return briefly, and then another instrumental section, featuring an exquisitely played piano melody, takes the piece to its conclusion. This track stands out as not only one of the finest on the album, but as one of the band's finest ever. It is impossible to praise it enough.

A fast and complex rhythm of cymbals, both acoustic and synthesised, takes us in to 'No One Home'. Guitar and keyboard bass lines kick in with the drums and after a bizarre trumpet plays a brief solo a soft keyboard melody begins; a comfortable contrast to the oddly timed and staccato synth bass. All the while a gently strummed guitar, and later a distant distorted guitar, provide a subtle but vital depth to the sound. As the track progresses we are treated to a mix of sections featuring a walking lead synth backed by organs, and a longer part with a simple but effective guitar melody - essential as always with the bass line as it is. Vocals appear briefly in the later stages, providing a satisfying human presence in the lead up to the finale.

With its synth dominated melodies 'Fight or Flight' is the perfect companion to the previous track. The melodies evoke more tension this time, and the more unusual drum rhythm and a sustained bass guitar over the synth bass line enhances that feeling. Numerous lines of guitar - plucked, sustained, distorted - build as the piece progresses, dropping back on occasion to make room for vocals. The concluding section intensifies with a rich distorted guitar melody that provides an immaculate harmony to the ongoing keyboard melody beneath it.  As the guitar slides up into a wash of reverberation we are left alone, expecting a moment of contemplation. But it is not to be.

Photos from inner sanctum of Dayglo Fishermen are very rare nowadays. This one was taken in the band's primary production facility, Cozmic Studios, sometime in 2018 as the album 'Time' was being recorded. The new Korg Kronos Workstation is shown, along with some of the band's vast collection of guitars, all of  which feature heavily on the new album.

An interlude of sorts follows. 'Exorcising Ghosts' is a brief return to the vocal section of 'Ghosts in My Life'. Most of the orchestration is stripped away leaving nothing but the guitar and voices. Despite its familiarity it is still an unexpected shock that creates a moment of confusion, jarring us out of the mood created by the previous two tracks. We are being set up for something quite different.

'Surfing on a Cloud' starts with a short vocal before a simple up-tempo drum sequence begins. We are teased for a while with bursts of synth bass and a deep chorused pad sound, drawing us in until the fast bass arpeggio kicks off. Distorted and clean guitars build along with the keyboards as this relentlessly shameless and unapologetic dance track does exactly what it's supposed to do; get our bodies moving and our minds freed of inhibitions. It's so refreshing, and utterly addicting.

The sound of random radio stations returns. 'Time's Up' takes us back to an earlier track for a while; the final section of 'Time Out From This World'. There's an additional guitar melody in the mix, subtly lifting the mood and circling us back to our experience an hour ago.

Smoothly, and without a sign of tension, 'Barefoot Through My Heart' begins. The final track on the album is a canvas of soft and sustained synths, with a sparse echoing melody dancing in the high notes. Now and then a slow breath eases in and out, and then a bass guitar booms into existence. As the piece draws to a close guitars suddenly join in creating a short rhythmic section that soon drops back to the soft synths. The arid guitar from the very start of the album returns, and then the ambience of the seashore drifts back into our consciousness. The music has gone. We are left standing in the foaming water as waves crash and sand rushes around our feet.

'Time' is an extraordinarily mountainous experience of emotions. At its peak we feel the joyous delight of life, and in its deepest valley we are grasped tightly by tension and dread. It is by far Dayglo Fishermen's finest ever concept album.

All the tracks of the album flow together beautifully, and that's how it should be experienced. If you are lucky enough to own the CD version then that is the best way to play it, but if not the following links will allow you to hear the album as it's meant to be heard - as a two-part experience.


'Time' Part One - Tracks 1-7 Linked

'Time' Part Two - Tracks 8-15 Linked

Thursday 1 August 2019

Big Spoon

25 years ago this month in 1994 Dayglo Fishermen released the 'Big Spoon' album. It represented a marked change from the band's typical song structure and sound, and featured a partly instrumental set of compositions. The band's sound had quite suddenly evolved into something much deeper and much more sophisticated.

The cover image for the 'Big Spoon' album

For the previous two years, from 1992, Dayglo Fishermen had had only two band members: Peter Fothergill and Richard Burton. They had already released four albums as a duo, most notably their eponymous album, 'The Dayglo Fishermen', and 'Animate'. Both albums contained some of the band's finest material yet, but Peter and Richard had tired somewhat of the typical song format. The desire to create a collection of works that pushed boundaries, and that would also evoke surprise and wonder, was strong.

With that in mind, in the spring of 1994 the production of 'Big Spoon' began.

Richard Burton (left) and Peter Fothergill. This photo was taken during a band photo shoot soon after the completion of the 'Big Spoon' album in 1994. Ultimately none of the photos were used on the 'Big Spoon' album cover, but the results of the shoot were not wasted. One of the photos was used on the inlay of the 'Hocus-Pocus' album, released later that same year.

By early summer the album's music was complete. A cover image was chosen: a photograph taken by Peter of the 'Spoon Bridge and Cherry' sculpture in Minneapolis, USA during his extended visit there the year before. Former band member and graphic artist David Fothergill was asked to design the cover and inlay.

Peter Fothergill poses proudly with the 'Spoon Bridge and Cherry' sculpture in Minneapolis shortly after its discovery in the of summer of 1993. The unusual and iconic sculpture, created by Claes Oldenburg, has since become synonymous with Dayglo Fishermen's music.

The full cassette inlay for the 'Big Spoon' album

Let's examine the album's music.

The album starts with what is probably the smoothest sounding track the band has ever recorded. Titled 'Minneapolis', the song eases in with a gentle keyboard pad, and then a bell-like melody plays. Soft drums soon kick in along with strummed guitar. The vocals in the verses are actually a conversation with a native of Minneapolis, Rebecca Forman, who rambles on about glitter punks, bra babes, cross-dressing dogs, heroine, and fornicating on the big spoon; all important topics in the city at that time, no doubt. After breaking in the middle for guitar and keyboard solos, the track continues to the end just as it started. It's an incredibly relaxing experience.

Energy levels receive a radical boost as the next track, 'Lisa', kicks in. From the start the punchy drums, laced with gated reverb, pound out a powerful rhythm. Equally powerful synths and guitars are soon playing off each other, filling the soundscape of this instrumental track with huge and instantly memorable melodies. It rarely relents, with minor breaks here and there, and ends as dramatically as it starts. At almost seven minutes long, it risks being too much to take in for such such an intense track, but Dayglo Fishermen are experts at judging such things. 'Lisa' takes the listener right to their threshold, threatening to overwhelm at any moment, and then sets them free.

The first version of this track actually appeared on the 'Animate' album a year earlier. Titled 'Nag Lisa', it's well worth a listen to hear the origin of this remarkable composition.

Ethereal synth cymbals lead us in to the low tempo 'Pulling Punches'. It's a welcome change from the frenetic nature of the previous track. Distorted guitar and mellow keyboards soon fill out the background of the intro.  As the verse begins the guitar becomes a staccato chug creating space as Richard's vocals take the lead. Choruses remain instrumental, building on the theme set up during the intro, until the mid section drops back to synth cymbals and drums before the guitar solo eases into play. It's a laid back track with an edge, and it's brilliantly executed.

A photo taken in the relaxation area at Artlite Studios. The image shows Peter Fothergill (left) and Richard Burton just after the completion of the 'Big Spoon' album.

As the guitar of the previous track continues to fade 'Beyond the Edge' begins. A pounding mid-tempo drum beat starts things off, with a harsh synth bass and guitar line soon joining the mix. As strings and pipe-like keyboards come and go the vocals begin. And so it continues, occasionally dropping down to a single note of a guitar or a keyboard riff, before building rapidly once again. The song is remarkably hypnotic: it entrances the listener and captures their attention in a seemingly unbreakable manner.

The band knew that 'Lisa' would become a firm favourite, and so thankfully decided to rework it here. 'Lisa Composed' begins in a slightly gentler fashion with the synth and guitar melody, but soon the slightly altered but familiar gated drums spring to life once again. This time an arpeggio guitar is added to the mix, changing the feel and boosting the appeal of the melody even further. Towards the end things reduce to echoing synth stabs, and then build up to a final blast of the main theme, before a dissonant chord drops the track down to just the synth melody to finish.

At over eight and a half minutes in length ‘Wait for the Dream’ is the longest track on the album, and a truly epic instrumental. It starts at an almost inaudible level with deep synth tones, building slowly with guitars, and then after a minute or so percussion and mellow keyboard riffs kick in. Things keep building, with sustained synths and guitars adding to the mix, and then at just beyond the halfway point it breaks down only to slowly build again, this time with flute-like synths first, a deep bass and a harder drum sequence.  The guitar also becomes harsher and more imposing. Like many of the tracks on this album, it merges with the next before the listener realises it's over. It's utterly mezmerising, and certainly one of Dayglo Fishermen's finest compositions.

Gentle guitar introduces the listener to 'Data Knight'. A soft keyboard pad soon appears to reinforce the idea that this is going to be something quite dreamy, but then things change. Heavy drums and bass kick in, and then a quite sinister string and piano riff takes over. Three and a half minutes into the song Richard's softly spoken vocals finally appear, followed by an intentionally painful guitar solo.  Dropping down to just drums and piano for a while, the final couple of minutes builds to a crescendo, before dropping back to ever deepening strings. It leaves the listener feeling quite tense, but strangely energised. It's a very interesting effect.

The celebration of the completion of 'Big Spoon' was conducted in the usual manner

Next up is 'Shakopee'. The track is named after a native American chief who lived in Minnesota in the late 18th century. A southwestern suburb of the city of Minneapolis is also named after him. This instrumental track begins with a sustained distorted guitar note which is then followed by distant pulsing synth chords. Other synth lines are brought in creating an air of tense expectation, with a guitar riff fading in from beneath enhancing the effect. Things break down before heavy drums kick in, accompanied by deeply flanged guitar. A disturbing voice is heard in the background, speaking in an unknown language that may well be a native American dialect. As a long guitar solo plays out the track ends with a sudden roll of drums, and then gently blends with the next track.

'Samobor' begins with deep synth sounds and then a gentle guitar riff appears briefly, before everything drops away for a lone high-pitched keyboard line to take over. This more positive sounding track soon builds as guitars, drums, bass and keyboards layer together in a rousing progression of instrumentation, before a sudden drop off takes us back to the gentle guitar heard at the beginning to finish things off. The tone of the album is lifted by this track, and what comes next will continue that.

A bright keyboard riff - a mix of piano and choir - marks the start of 'Ark Angel'. This up-tempo track maintains its positive tone throughout as the vocals, spacious synth pads, gentle guitars, and piano progress to the middle section, where things drop back to sustained synths, before slowly building up to a guitar solo and then a final tumultuous chorus. It's a lively way to bring the album to a close. The song proved so popular that the band released it once again on the 'Hocus-Pocus' remix album (along with 'Beyond the Edge' and 'Lisa Composed'), just a month after the release of 'Big Spoon'. Dayglo Fishermen worked fast in those days...

'Big Spoon' is often considered to be a turning point in Dayglo Fishermen's development, but it's more of an excursion. It's a journey to an experimental and self-indulgent land: a place that's great to visit and explore, but not for too long. The band soon returned from that place for the albums that followed.

But it seems that the band are back in that place for their next album...

Monday 10 June 2019

The Very Shortest Instrumentals

In an earlier article I looked back at Dayglo Fishermen's epic instrumental tracks, but there are many very short tracks, mainly instrumental, that are often overlooked. They shouldn't be as they are well worth a listen and make essential contributions to the overall feel and tone of their respective albums. So here they are, in chronological order, and all are under three minutes long.

The early examples of those short tracks tend to be the oddest, and the first one, 'Mystery Artist' from the band's 1991 album, 'Strange Plaice', certainly fits that description.

The cover image for 'Strange Plaice', Dayglo Fishermen's second album, released in 1991. Design by David Fothergill

The track starts with a voice announcing 'This is a lush one' to an adoring background audience, and then a brief but alarming siren-like synth sound leads in to a rapid bass arpeggio. A synthetic voice starts speaking in the manner of a game show host and then a bass drum kicks in accompanied by a heavily flange-laden high-hat sequence. The siren synth sound appears once again, drowning out the game show host, and then everything comes to a halt as an echoing voice proclaims 'Mystery artist'. An energetic folk violinist plays for a while, before the synthetic game show hosts returns to bring things to a close. This track is seriously odd, which makes it a strong contender for the title of Dayglo Fishermen's strangest piece of work ever.

Interestingly, the track was originally much longer. Thankfully the full length version of 'Mystery Artist' was eventually released nine years later on the 'Dayglo Pizza' album. Unfortunately the mystery violinist is totally absent from that version.

Six months after 'Strange Plaice' the band released their third album, 'Fresh Gin'. It's a perplexing album, with much of it making use of backwards versions of previous tracks overlaid with new material. Amongst all of that, though, are a few very interesting short pieces that stand out as probably the finest works on the album.

The cover image for the 'Fresh Gin' album, released in September 1991. The photo is of Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of  radio communications. The shades he's wearing were added by the band. If Marconi had really worn such sunglasses his sense of fashion would have been as revolutionary as his inventions.

The first example is the opening track, 'Fly's Eyes'. It begins with a gentle but mildly creepy voice introducing the band and the music that will follow. Meanwhile, in the background, the band can be heard chattering and laughing inanely while Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics are read out. And then a powerful and sustained synth sound begins, overlaid with a brass melody. This builds as a vibrato-laden saxophone joins the mix, which is then replaced by a high synth. Things soon drop back as what sounds like a distant timpani drum pounds out an ever quickening rhythm. And then a pounding drum and bass line kicks in for the final few bars. It's a weird and memorable introduction to the album.

At just over one and a half minutes in length, the third track on the album, titled 'Dayglo Aquarium (Opening)', begins with a percussive synth drum and bass sequence, which is soon layered with deep strings and staccato panpipes. As a distant organ melody begins to cycle round and round a couple of saxophones start playing in a seemingly random fashion. And then everything drops away to leave the deep strings, accompanied by the ever-present organ melody. After a few bars the strings disappear and the track finishes with the repeating organ melody as it fades away. With its unusual melodies and gentle percussion this track fits perfectly on the album. It could certainly have been extended to become a full-length composition, but its intention was to work as an introduction to the related piece that follows ('Dayglo Aquarium (Main Movement)'), and in that regard it works perfectly.

'Fly's Reprise' provides the introduction to side-two of the album (this was a cassette-only release), and as the name suggests, it's a remix of 'Fly's Eyes'. There is no spoken introduction this time. Instead a high-pitched and echoing synth start things off, followed by a heavily chorused keyboard sound playing through the chord sequence. A choir sample plays the main melody, replacing the brass sound of the first version. The twinkling sound that accompanies it suggests that a version of the Korg M1's famous 'Universe' sound is being used. The timpani sound is replaced by a deep organ, which stops abruptly before the drum and bass section begins. As the chorused keyboard plays a rather dissonant progression a sampled voice is heard, and then the track ends with screams and a round of applause. This version has a more ominous feel than the first, and it works well in the context of the album. Interesting indeed.

'S. F. Cart' lasts barely more than a minute, and is one of the shortest of all the tracks mentioned in this article. It's a frantic composition, featuring backwards drums and squidgy bass in a relentless tumble to the end where a panther's roar finishes things quite abruptly. It's all taken from 'Cast Adrift', the final track on Dayglo Fishermen's debut album, 'Drenched'. The use of reversed samples of earlier work is a theme on 'Fresh Gin', so in that sense this track fits in well. It certainly provides an energising interlude between the two lengthy and low-tempo tracks that precede and follow it.

The cover image for the 1992 album, 'And So It Is'. Artwork and design by David Fothergill

Dayglo Fishermen's fourth album, 'And So It Is', recorded in January 1992, contains three tracks that are under three minutes long. Two of them - 'Forms Collide' and 'But Where Were the Mice?' - are fantastic songs (the latter being one of the band's most popular songs ever) but the focus of this article is instrumentals, which leaves us with the intriguingly titled 'This is Radio Dayglo'.

The track is actually a remix of 'Drenched', the title track of the band's first album, but without the synthesised voice. Instead two loosely played guitars strum away over the busy and heavily effected drum track. The deep plucked bass line of the original remains, giving a solid foundation that enables the off-beat snare to continue for the entirety of the track. For the final minute, as the guitars play off each other with a relaxed ease, an unusual pulsing synth sound enters the mix, which eventually finishes the piece awash with an ever deepening reverb effect.  As with most tracks on this album 'This is Radio Dayglo' is a largely forgotten and unusual pleasure. It's well worth rediscovering.

Short instrumental tracks take a back seat for quite a while after that. In fact, another one does not appear until the release of  'Queen of the Sunset City' 11 years later. Thankfully that album provides like no other.

The album opens with 'Strange Delight', which at a length of only 38 seconds is the shortest of all Dayglo Fishermen compositions. It begins with the eerie voices of two children, and then a simple monophonic drum and bass track starts up, reminiscent of the preset rhythms of cheap keyboards of the 1980s. A guitar-like keyboard sound plays throughout, its melancholic melody complementing the little voices that take the track to its sudden echoing conclusion.

The cover image for 'Queen of the Sunset City', released in 2003. Artwork by Richard Burton, design by David Fothergill. Richard's original acrylic painting for this now hangs proudly on the wall within the confines of Mammoth Studios, the band's London recording facility.

At about the half-way point of the album 'Selfish Bitch!' makes itself heard. It begins with a sparse piano and drum pattern as a distorted guitar fades in from the distance. A bass line quickly joins the mix. The piano melody reappears and is joined by a sci-fi synthesizer sound. Things very quickly drop back to drums, bass and guitar, before ending pretty much as it began. It leaves the listener bemused but wanting more, and it certainly has the potential to be a full length composition.

'Requiem I' follows immediately after. It begins with a rich string keyboard sound, accompanied by an almost wispy synth that plays in the upper octaves. The guitar melody begins, gently at first, but it soon becomes harsher and more sinister as the strings deepen. And then, as the strings bend even lower, an abrupt and dissonant chord signals the end of the guitar's work. The strings deepen even further, and then fade away. It ends far too soon, but fortunately there is a second part which we'll come across shortly.

Experimental and avant-garde jazz is not something Dayglo Fishermen are known for, but 'Cold War' comes very close fitting into both those categories. It begins with a rich and full-bodied deep bass, with a light and loose piano line joining in a bar later. Seemingly random cymbals then play. Other than the bass there is nothing to easily latch on to, which has a remarkably hypnotising effect, sending the mind free-wheeling to the edge of oblivion. As it fades out after less than two and a half minutes the listener is brought back to full consciousness at least ten minutes too soon. This track would still work at twice the length.

The penultimate  track on the album, 'Requiem II (A Song for Anja)', is a lighter version of the first part. Strings, this time gentle and soothing, bring us back into the Requiem world. An acoustic guitar plays freely, mesmerising the listener and taking them far away from the realms of reality. The wispy synth sound soon returns to drift around in the background. It is an astonishingly beautiful piece of music.

Instead of an album cover, something different: the teaser flyer to promote the album 'I Can See a Boat ... It No Longer Floats'. Despite what the flyer says, the album was eventually released in the autumn of 2006, not the spring. Artwork by Richard Burton, design by Peter Fothergill

The final example is from the band's 2006 album, 'I Can See a Boat ... It No Longer Floats'. Titled 'A Song to Say Goodbye', the track begins with the gentlest of keyboard sounds playing a slow and contemplative chord sequence. A very distant high synth fades in behind a rather pensive trumpet melody. A sparse and delayed guitar plays in the background, which continues after the trumpet vanishes. At the half-way point a new and more percussive keyboard sound joins the mix, adding a new layer to the chord sequence. A mournful wah-wah guitar takes the lead, before dropping away to let the original guitar become more prominent again. And then a deep and resonant synthesiser finally assumes control in the last section as all other instruments drop away.

As the final track on the album, 'A Song to Say Goodbye' is a very poignant way to finish the album. The touching, and even regretful, emotions it evokes in the listener are extraordinary considering the short length of the piece.

Listening to all of the above tracks is a fantastic demonstration of Dayglo Fishermen's ability to summon the strongest of emotions in the listener, even in the shortest of compositions. I recommend taking the (short) time to experience to them all.