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...


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