Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Shriekback Turn On The Sunshine

When Shriekback formed in London during 1981, two of their members brought a considerable amount of pedigree with them. Former XTC keyboardist/vocalist Barry Andrews and bassist Dave Allen (ex-Gang Of Four) joined guitarist/vocalist Carl Marsh (ex-Out On Blue Six) to form a funk-pop trio bent on shaking up the British music scene.
With drum machine in tow Shriekback quickly developed a sound based around Allen’s strong rhythmic bass playing, layered with a mix of Andrews’ keyboard work and the hook laden rhythm guitar of Marsh. Marsh and Andrews shared vocal duties according to their respective limitations in range. With an innovative use of drum tracks and thought provoking lyrics, Shriekback had a solid formula in place for their debut EP ‘Tench’, released on the independent English Y label in 1982.

In 1983 Shriekback emerged from the studio with their first full length album ‘Care’. The album yielded the minor hit ‘Lined Up’ (OZ#42), which also garnered a lot of airplay on U.S. college radio stations. As a result Warner Bros. signed Shriekback and released a slightly altered version of the album ‘Care’ Stateside (#188). In a sign of how fickle the music industry is, Warner Bros. promptly dropped Shriekback soon after ‘Care’s release and pulled the album from release soon after.

During the recording sessions for their next album, drummer Martyn Barker came on board as an official fourth member of Shriekback. The resultant ‘Jam Science’ (UK#85) was originally released only in Europe (via Arista) and featured a tighter sound, more focused on the keyboard wizardry of Andrews and female backup vocals from Emma Burnham. Lifted from the album was the minor hit single ‘Hand On My Heart’ (UK#52).

Shriekback continued their itinerant nature with a shift to Island Records for their next album release ‘Oil And Gold’ (1985). Carl Marsh departed midway through the recording of the album, with Andrews taking over the vocal duties fulltime and guitarist Lu Edmonds lending a harder edge to the group’s sound on the album. But the more rock oriented set, including fan favourites such as ’Nemesis’ and ‘Malaria’, yet again failed to capture a significantly wider audience. The more commercially accessible ‘Big Night Music’ (1986 - US#145/OZ#68) marked yet another stylistic shift for the ever evolving Shriekback. The darker tones of their earlier work were still evident but were augmented by touches of lighter pop and dance strains weaving through the gloom. The core trio of Allen, Andrews and Barker drew on the services of Mike Cozzi (guitar), Steve Halliwell (keyboards) and backing vocalists Wendy and Sarah Partridge for the album and subsequent tour.

With commercial success surely but an album away, Shriekback’s career was dealt another inopportune blow when Dave Allen left the band, leaving Barry Andrews as the sole remaining original member. Doug Wimbush (later of Living Colour) entered the fray to take over bass duties, whilst Cotzi took a more prominent role as a fulltime guitatist. 1988’s ‘Go Bang!’ (US#169) album lived up to its name with an energetic and playful selection of tracks, including a fully funked up version of ‘Get Down Tonight’ (#20 US Dance Chart), complete with full horn section, and the Partridge sisters once again providing backing vocals. The track was of course originally a #1 hit in 1975 for KC & The Sunshine Band. I purchased the Shriekback version on vinyl 45 and played it incessantly. ‘Go Bang!’ also yielded the US Modern Rock Chart hits ‘Intoxication’ (#6) and ‘Shark Walk’ (#19).
With commercial success continuing to elude them, and critics baying to label the group as inconsistent and elusive in style (were they goth, funk, pop, indie rock, dance or everything in between), Shriekback split ranks during 1989. Drummer Martyn Barker hooked up with Dave Allen in the band King Swamp, whilst Barry Andrews formed his own outfit called Illuminati. But the trio reunited in 1992 to record the critically lauded album ‘Sacred City’, which skipped the beat set by ‘Go Bang!’ and returned to the point at which ‘Big Night Music’ had left off. The album was released on Allen’s own burgeoning World Domination label. Soon after Allen left once more to focus his energies on both record label and his first solo album ‘The Elastic Purejoy’. Andrews and Barker continued to tour for a time as Shriekback and for an age shopped around for a new recording deal. In 2000 an album was released in Australia on the Mushroom label to a Shriekback line-up featuring Andrews, Barker, Lu Edmonds (guitarist circa ‘Oil And Gold’) with bassist Simon Edwards and percussionist Mark Raudva. Three more albums have been released subsequently, but ‘Having A Moment’, ‘Cormorant’ (2005) and ‘Glory Bumps’ (2007) all fell short of making an impact beyond Shriekback’s loyal core fan base. All of the members supplement their Shriekback duties with numerous other projects.

Embedding was disabled on the YouTube clip so check out the feel good promo clip for ‘Get Down Tonight’ here:

No comments: