Monday 1 January 2018

Space Dog - The Pound of the Hound

The summer of 2017 was the 20th anniversary of the release of Dayglo Fishermen's 'Space Dog' album. The anniversary passed without fuss, which is a shame as the album was a significant milestone in the band's history and development, and something well worth celebrating.

Now is certainly a good time to look back on how that album came about.

'Space Dog' CD album cover - design by David Fothergill

In late 1994, following the release of their album, 'Hocus-Pocus', other commitments forced Dayglo Fishermen to place all production on hold. The two band members, Peter Fothergill and Richard Burton, were heading south to London, and their Northumberland production facility, Artlite Studios, where the band's first 11 albums were recorded, had to be closed.

It was not until March 1996, 17 months later, that Dayglo Fishermen began working on their next project, this time in their new Buckinghamshire production facility, Opium Studios. More importantly, though, the band had recruited a new lead vocalist, Ginny Owens.

Ginny was not given much time to settle in. A few months after she joined the band they performed live at The Garage, a small private venue not far from the band's production facility. Unusually the audience was given a sneak preview of some of the songs already completed for the new album. It was no doubt a tantalising event.

A rare image of the band performing at their first 'Garage' concert. It is the first time Ginny performs with the band. The select audience was treated to several songs from the unreleased 'Space Dog' album.

With the release of the album approaching the band arranged a photo shoot. It was very formal, conservative, and even a bit sombre considering its purpose. It was not at all what would be expected. Perhaps that was the intention: to confuse and surprise, even to shock.

The unexpectedly formal band photo for the 'Space Dog' album cover

Following the photo shoot, former band member David Fothergill was asked to design the cover image and inserts. An image he had designed the year before, showing an unusual dog in a snow-covered country lane, was chosen for the front cover. It was that image that gave inspiration for the album's unusual title.

Dayglo Fishermen performed another live concert in the spring of 1997 at the Rock Garden in London's Covent Garden. Again many of the new songs were played, including the recently completed title track, 'Space Dog'.

Dayglo Fishermen performing at The Rock Garden in London during March 1997. The gig was largely a preview concert for the 'Space Dog' album (released several months later). Songs performed included 'Under the Water', 'Worlds in a Room', 'Turn You On' and 'Space Dog' (which was the opening track performed).

After a year and a half in development, and after being digitally mastered (a first for the band), the 'Space Dog' album was released during the summer of 1997, and for the first time a Dayglo Fishermen album was available in CD format, as well as cassette.

'Space Dog' album cover - cassette tape inlay - design by David Fothergill

It's time to examine the album itself...

Composed to accompany the iconic album cover image, the opening track 'Space Dog' is an epic song about an awe-inspiring, reality-splitting and space-travelling dog.  The dog arrives on Earth in England during the depths of winter. She travels to the far north of the country, apparently having a great time, and then heads back into space to continue her interstellar quest, the nature of which is never revealed.

The song begins with a slow countdown, and then a hard rhythm kicks in, accompanied by guitar and a rather grungy keyboard riff. The mid section drops down to drums and guitar for a while, before building up to a new synth arpeggio and guitar solo. This is followed by a verse filled with a sample of the NASA radio conversation with Neil Armstrong as he prepares to step down to the Moon's surface. Perhaps it's that transmission that Space Dog detected, and which persuaded her to head in our direction.

At almost eight minutes long the song is the longest track on the album, so starting with it could have been an unwise decision. Fortunately the track is one of the album's most memorable. It's a fine way to kick things off.

The much lighter-feeling 'Turn You On' comes next. It is catchy pop song, dominated by melodic bass and guitar, and punchy drums, with organ keyboard sounds lifting the chorus. The song is an ideal live track, and was performed many times, including at the first Limelight Theatre concert in 2008.

'Worlds in a Room' brings the tempo of the album right down. The verses are mellow, with a gentle chugging guitar, soft keyboard tones, and Richard's spoken and almost whispered vocals.  But the softness vanishes in the chorus. Sustained and distorted guitar, accompanied by a rather sinister synth line, fills the soundscape. Ginny's vocals take over the chorus with the now classic line 'I surrender to you, I give you all I can'. This song works particularly well played live, and has been performed several times, including at all of the band's Limelight Theatre concerts.

The tempo stays low for the next track, 'Fly in the Wind'. But, perhaps thankfully, the tension has all but gone. Despite a decent dose of melancholy, the track manages to relax the listener with its smooth guitar and mellow synth brass melodies that seemingly drift off to infinity. Ginny's vocals enhance that effect even more, and exhibit a fragility that she would come to develop and use to great effect on later albums.

There are actually two earlier versions of this song, both of which were featured on the 'Animate' album in 1993.

Coming next is 'Things Fall Apart (The Centre Cannot Hold)'. Edgy and mildly disturbing, it builds slowly from a repeating synth, adding drums and then bass and then guitar, and finally vocals. Feelings of menace and even dread are evoked as the hypnotic rhythm grips the listener to the end. It's quite a contrast to the previous song, and perfect preparation for the next.

Continuing on from the edgy and menacing feel of the previous song, 'Under the Water' starts with a tense siren sound before launching straight into a heavy rhythm. Soft and distant synth melodies add to the atmosphere, with occasional calmer sections of electric piano providing a respite from the tension. The song is one of the standout tracks on the album and has been performed live several times.

'Cool' is a melodic mid-tempo song that sits well at the album's halfway point. The song seems to be about someone experiencing a form of extended consciousness, or at least some wild visions. As the song progresses things get even stranger, with mention of 'The Guardians' (perhaps the same ones mentioned seven years earlier on the song 'Easy Projector') and a golden dome. Interesting. Very interesting.

A smooth synth bass line kicks off 'Half Moon Junction'. It's a light mid-tempo pop song with Richard singing the verse and Ginny taking on the chorus. The middle section drops down to a swelling synth pad before the rhythm and guitar return, culminating in an unexpected pan pipe solo. The track has a very clean and refreshing sound to it, and certainly deserves its place on the album.

Dominated largely by a continuous and heavily reverberated piano line, 'Diving For Pearls' brings the tempo and mood right down. It's Richard''s turn to demostrate fragility as his vocals convey an impressive sense of suffering. As the song progresses the soundscape is developed by deep and echoing sounds. A gentle synth brass sound - a common theme on the album - fills the middle section. Distorted guitar makes an appearance in the closing moments of the track, rightfully kept in the background as the piano plays its final notes.

Although appearing towards the end of  'Space Dog', 'Shadowlands' was the first song to be recorded for the album. Most notably though, it is the first ever Dayglo Fishermen song to feature Ginny's vocals. The track begins with mellow synths and guitars, and then a gentle vocal by Richard eases us into the first verse. The first chorus erupts with drums, bass and piano, with Ginny's voice taking control. It's a simple and melodic composition that sits well within the distinctly lighter second half of the album.

The next track is 'It's Only Pleasure', which is actually the third incarnation of the song. The first version of the song appeared in 1993 on the 'Animate' album. Its catchy delayed synth and guitar riffs proved so popular with the band that a new version was recorded for the 'Hocus-Pocus' album the following year. This latest version rides on the success of the first two with a simpler and less delayed arrangement. A worthy addition to the album.

Adding '2000' onto the name of things seemed to be a fashion in the nineties, and Dayglo Fishermen follow that trend here. 'Minneapolis 2000' is remake of 'Minneapolis' which featured on their 1994 album 'Big Spoon'. Everything about the track is pleasant, from the smooth keyboards to the silky deep bass and the gentle guitar. Unlike the original, which featured the casual ramblings of a native Minnesotan, this version paints a lyrical picture of the city of Minneapolis, including a reference to the Claes Oldenburg sculpture 'Spoon Bridge and Cherry' situated in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, an image of which was used on the 'Big Spoon' album cover. A reference is also made to 'The Tower' (known officially as the 'IDS Center'), which is actually the skyscraper on which 'DGF' is written on that same album cover.

The album finishes with 'Close Your Eyes'. It's a simple and mellisonant track, most notable for its frail and nervous vocals sung by guest artist Kate Archibold. The song was not originally recorded for this album, but for Richard and Peter's other work, 'Opium', in 1994. This is that exact same version. According to the production notes Kate was not used to singing in a studio environment so the nervousness in her voice is probably genuine, which makes the song all the more endearing.

It's interesting to note that there is actually an earlier version of the song. The original version of 'Close Your Eyes' was released in 1992 on the album 'After the Storm', another of Richard and Peter's other works. That version features Richard's voice, is much longer and consists of a more complex arrangement. It was certainly wise to create more space in the instrumentation for Kate's voice in the later version.

I've left 'Night Boat to China' until last. It was not included on the original release, the reasons for which will become obvious if you listen to it. It was later added as the album was made available to download. At over seven and a half minutes long 'Night Boat to China' is the second longest track on the album. It excels in monotony, but it can actually be quite hypnotic if listened to in the right mood. Amazingly the song was the first song played at one of the Garage concerts. Worth a listen, though perhaps just one time.

The 'Space Dog' album was the beginning of a new era for Dayglo Fishermen, an era of more structure and polish, and of more considered orchestration. It saw what appeared to be the end of the band's wild experimentation, and with it the apparent loss of innocent fun. But actually the band had simply evolved and steered itself in a new direction. The band were now operating on a completely different level.  The album demonstrated that Dayglo Fishermen had not lost any of their creativity or passion - far from it, and it laid the groundwork for what was to come: a series of intensely original and professional collections of work with a maturity rarely apparent on the early albums.

That space-faring canine is to be saluted. Long may she roam the galaxy.

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