MODERN ENGLISH


MODERN ENGLISH
Event on 2017-03-21 20:30:00
with DJ Tristan Iseult
Bands are like families, bound by something deeper than friendship andliable to implode just as irrevocably. Yet that familial bond can equally drawyou back, and so it is that four-fifths of the original Modern English haverecorded their first album together in 30 years.Funded by PledgeMusic and released via Kartel Music Group, Take Me To TheTrees not only reconnect the band to their roots, in the fervent and fecundworld of late 1970s/early 1980s post-punk Britain, but they have co-producedit with Martyn Young of Colourbox and M/A/R/R/S fame, whose lastproduction job was 1986. Moreover, the albums beautiful cover is byvenerated art director Vaughan Oliver, whose very first sleeve design wasModern Englishs Gathering Dust single in 1980.Original members Robbie Grey (vocals), Mick Conroy (bass), Gary McDowell(guitar) and Steven Walker (keyboards) first reunited in 2010, to tour the US,UK and Paris, before accepting an invitation to re-record I Melt With You forMark Pellingtons film of the same name. The bands most famous track was aUS Top 50 single in 1984 after being featured in the rom-com film smash ValleyGirl following Sire licensing its parent album After The Snow from their UK label4AD. It all went haywire from there, in a Beatles and Stones way, with all thetrappings that went with it, Grey recalls.Given Modern Englishs roots were post-punk icons Wire and Joy Division dark and austere while still melodic and passionate it was strange to betreated like the new Duran Duran, and the band split after the third album,Ricochet Days (1986). 4AD was a family-run label, where we felt taken careof, Grey recalls (he, McDowell and Conroy were part of the first version of4ADs so-called house band This Mortal Coil, born in 1983 with covers ofModern English songs 16 Days and Gathering Dust), and then we enteredthe shark-infested waters of the mainstream, but business wasnt why we gotinto music in the first place. It wasnt enjoyable, or creative, but stifling.Which explains the sense of unfinished business to Take Me To The Trees, areturn to the sound and vision of Modern Englishs debut single DrowningMan (on their own Limp label) and, after becoming just the second band (afterBauhaus) to sign to 4AD, the singles Swans On Glass and Gathering Dust andthe debut album Mesh And Lace (1981), of which James Murphy of LCDSoundystem says, That record is a sneaky secret that everyone writes off,because they just think it's going to be a Melt With You' but it sounds wayscarier than any Joy Division record."Scary, though, was no longer on the agenda, not when Grey and Conroyreformed Modern English for 1990s Pillow Talk album, or when Grey fronted anew version for 1996s Everythings Bad and 2010s Soundtrack. But whenConroy moved from London to Suffolk in 2008, which turned out to be 20minutes from where Grey lived (when he wasnt spending time at his home onthe island of Koh Mak in Thailand), the pair met up and realised what theydbeen missing: the original band.McDowell had also been living in Thailand, though in Pattaya: party central!says Grey. He loves riding his motorbike around. While my thing is beachesand the weather. They hadnt seen each other in over 20 years; no one hadseen Walker either, until they all started rehearsing for the 2010 tour. It waslike the intervening years hadnt happened, says Conroy. And the old songsstill sounded as good.After the tour, they started swopping new ideas, some from jamming in aroom, like we used to do, says Grey. We looked at each other, just laughing.It was amazing.Grey vouches for McDowells guitar style: Nobody else I know plays like Gary,maybe John McGeoch [Magazine, the Banshees] is closest, all abstract andinteresting. Its been hard writing Modern English songs without someone likehim. Conroy is equally complimentary about Walker, whod been working inrecord retail rather than making music: Stephen was the non-musician, theEno of the band, thinking outside the box. Sometimes hell do something thatnone of us would have dreamt of.The final part of the jigsaw was Martyn Young, who Conroy had known sinceschool, while Modern English and Colourbox were peers at 4AD, and hadstayed in touch. Martyn saw us live a few years ago, and said that one newsong especially affected him, Conroy recalls. We said we were recording newmaterial, but it wasnt happening as wed hoped, and he said, sounds like youneed a producer Hed always said no to us before! Martyn brings an amazingset of ears, and an incredible knowledge of computers and sound. He alsounderstands what were doing, and didnt try and change us. And who else wasgoing to design the cover but Vaughan? We were so relieved when he also saidyes!The bands fired-up vitality is palpable in the albums pulsating opener YoureCorrupt, laced with Greys rant against corporate greed, and the throwawaynature of modern culture. Its a time when even the truth is watered down.Sweet Revenge and Flood Of Light equally have the edgy style Greyreckons, of their Mesh And Lace era, and lyrically cut up, and strange. Somelyrics, like Dont Seem Right, were written in Suffolk, so theyre gloomier,while others were penned in Thailand, like Moonbeam, under starry skiesand a full moon. The album title Take Me To The Trees (a line from the songTrees) was also inspired by nature: it seemed like a sister title to [1982album] After The Snow, and to us getting lost along the way.The band have also found room for a new, spectral mood in the ballads ItDont Seem Right (a love song of people forced apart) and Come Out OfYour Hole (which started as a sexual image before evolving into somethingelse altogether). As the album finally took shape, the band toured Americaagain in the summer of 2016, playing Mesh And Lace in its entirety, as thealbum was reissued by the US indie Drastic Plastic. Its been brilliant, saysGrey. The audiences were, in the main, young. Im out of the loop in themodern world, but the music we used to make is fashionable again. Well playthe new album next time, and were writing new songs.The family that is Modern English look like sticking together a while longer.Martin AstonAuthor of Facing the Other Way: The Story Of 4AD

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