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.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Unfathomable Lyrics

There are many songs on Dayglo Fishermen's vast back-catalogue of albums that contain quite unusual lyrics. This is part of the appeal of the band, but it can also cause confusion and even frustration as to what the meaning behind the lyrics actually is. There is never an official explanation, and that is probably because the band wants the listeners to make up their own minds, or interpret things in relation to their own lives.

One song in particular has been the subject of great debate, but so far a comprehensive and widely accepted definition of its true meaning has yet to emerge. That song is, of course, 'Flaxen', from the band's 1993 album, 'Animate'. It's heavy drums and bass, drenched in gated reverb, pound away relentlessly as some of the most unfathomable lyrics in history are unleashed.

The cover image for Dayglo Fishermen's 1993 album, 'Animate'

The song contains four distinct sections of lyrics, so let's take each in turn. First I will attempt to explain the story. Only then can a possible meaning, if indeed there is one, become clear.

Part One

Listen, extraordinary
Legendary, driving, pounding
Disenchanting harmonies
Need settlement inside a globe
Relocate the spinal chimes
Within its clamouring confines
Of masquerading slimy, shiny
Apple-feasting fools
I consider the 'harmonies' mentioned in line three as some kind of intelligent beings. The preceding adjectives suggest that they are quite amazing, famous, but ultimately disappointing creatures. They need to be moved into some kind of globe, for protection from something yet to be revealed. Within the globe are apple-eating entities, but they are 'masquerading'. This suggests that they cannot be trusted. But what else can the harmonies do but join them?

Part Two

Phantoms silhouetted sharply
Petrify the incandescent
Bodies that revolve around and round
The focal point of sound
Eradicate with shrewd precision
Dissonant, mischievous tones
Purify and fully mend
The madness: it must end
The phantoms are without doubt what the harmonies are fleeing from. Whatever they are, they appear suddenly from the direction of the light to mask their approach. They terrorise the harmonies as they go about their business at 'the focal point of sound': their home. The time has come for the phantoms to be destroyed. The whole area must be cleansed of their presence before peace and sanity can return.

Part Three

Shadows casting incantations
Spectral ghouls from fiendish nations
Trample massively upon
The sound assembled cunningly
Grievous situations need
Omnipotence excessively
The Mystic Mite of flaxen flesh
Must rule the waves of pain
A great war takes place. 'Spectral ghouls' - beings from numerous worlds - unite against the phantoms, but the phantoms prove to be a formidable foe. With the situation becoming desperate, and defeat almost inevitable, the harmonies and their allies call upon the 'Mystic Mite', an immortal and golden-skinned entity, for help.

Part Four

They caterwaul atrociously
Then stress-fully depart the sphere
As glowing grinning escalating
Soaring symphonies unfold
'Agonising tones!' they wail
Cringing as their size reduces
Flinching densely as coercion
Shapes a singularity
The Mystic Mite's almost god-like powers prove to be most effective. The phantoms, who had surrounded the globe where the harmonies had fled to, scream and disperse as the Mystic Mite's extraordinary capability is unleashed. But they cannot escape. The Mystic Mite forms a singularity - a super-dense point of matter with an inescapable gravitational field - right next to the phantoms. They are crushed by the singularity's incredible forces and effectively vanish.

Peace returns. The harmonies are safe, or so they may think.


The choruses are filled with quickly spoken and often mumbled Japanese, which is largely incomprehensible. The final chorus closes with a repeated phrase which translates to English as follows:

This is the facsimile mode

How does this relate to the story? Perhaps this is a warning to the harmonies? Perhaps the apple-feasting fools are not really their friends? After all, they are described as 'masquerading'. Perhaps they are involved in some sort of cloning activity, and invited the harmonies into their globe with malicious intent? Could the globe be the 'facsimile mode'?

It seems that the harmonies, desperate to escape the phantoms, failed to see the mortal danger that faces them once the Mystic Mite leaves. Their fate within the 'facsimile mode' may well end up worse than the one they would have suffered at the hands of the phantoms.

The Meaning?

I have let my thoughts dwell on these lyrics for quite some time, but any deep meaning eludes me. I suspect there isn't any. At most it is telling us that there is safety in numbers, and that it is wise to maintain a good relationship with those that can help you in a crisis. And it is also useful to know someone very powerful who you can call on during the very worst times.

But it is also telling us to beware of those that offer help too readily. However desperate you become for help, always remember to read the small print.

If there is a deeper meaning then the lyrics will need many more years of study to uncover it. That is no bad thing. Many works of art are discussed and reinterpreted again and again for decades, even centuries. Such efforts can arguably be more enjoyable and satisfying that the artwork itself. That may well be the case here.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Quietly in Production

It's well over three years since the release of Dayglo Fishermen's last studio album, 'Midnight Souls Still Remain'. But there still has not been much official news about the new album that's currently in production.

The first, and barely noticeable, confirmation that a new album is in the works appeared on the band's official website early in 2017. Look at the first entry on the history page for 2017. It's probably the most low-key announcement of the commencement of a new album that the band has ever made.

A year later on this blog a little bit more information on the new album was revealed in the article 'Instruments of Mass Destruction', indicating that it will be largely instrumental. It is mentioned as almost an after thought: a casual comment to finish off what is a remarkably insightful read. That brief comment will certainly have set the minds of fans racing.

Unfortunately no more details than that are available, and it's unlikely that anything else will be officially revealed until very close to the album's release. But, for well over a year now, there have been numerous signs that things are progressing steadily. A sustained increase in activity has been noticed at the band's main production facility, Cozmic Studios, and also at their South London production suite, Mammoth Studios.

Such activity does not provide any clue as to what the new album will sound like, but the more observant among you may well have noticed other recent changes that could offer up some idea as to the sound of the new album. For example, it did not go unnoticed that the band debuted a new synthesiser at their 2016 Limelight Theatre concert - the Roland FA-06.

A major clue as to how the new Dayglo Fishermen album might sound was spotted at the band's most recent Limelight Theatre concert in 2016. That clue is the band's new synthesiser, the Roland FA-06, which was debuted without warning. It can be seen here being played by Peter Fothergill.

The rich sampled and synthesised tones of the keyboard can be heard on the recording of that concert, titled 'Midnight Souls Come (a)Live', and on the numerous concert DVD exerts on the band's YouTube channel. Listening and watching those gives tantalising hints as to the aural textures that can be expected on the new album.

More unconfirmed information seems to have been leaked directly from Dayglo Fishermen's production facilities. It's been said that there is a new guitar and new effects equipment at Cozmic Studios. And there's even another new synthesiser at that studio: a Korg Krome workstation.

Cozmic Studio's new Korg Krome Workstation, seen here in an exclusive photo taken in the facility's digital composition suite. 

Finally, it's no secret that Cozmic Studios was recently converted into a state-of-the-art 32-track recording studio, which will certainly influence the sound of the new album, and add new depth to the band's compositions. Recording and mix-down will now remain entirely in the digital domain, which will result in a clarity of sound never before heard - an intoxicating prospect.

Daylo Fishermen's new 32-track digital recording suite

All of the above shows that the band are investing heavily in keeping their sound current and relevant, and are maximising their ability to realise their creativity.

Of course, trying to imagine how the new album will sound is an almost impossible task, even with the clues mentioned above. Dayglo Fishermen are never predictable. It's best to just wait for the album's release, however long and grueling that wait may be.