Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Adventures Of A Broken Land

During 1988 I began the gradual transition from buying singles on vinyl 45 format to CD format. It was gradual because for a few years there were relatively few single releases available on CD format, or at least they were a bit scarce to find at times. If memory serves me correctly the first CD single I purchased was ‘Age Of Reason’ by John Farnham (which was actually a picture disc) - either that or ‘Heaven Knows’ by Robert Plant. The Robert Plant CD single was an interesting one (aside from being a great song). The version I bought was on 3 inch CD single format. That was the same format I purchased two more singles on during 1988, both by an Irish/English band called The Adventures. For those of you not familiar with the mini-CD single format, the size of the CD was actually 3 inches in diameter and came with a plastic adaptor that clipped onto the outside, in case your CD player couldn’t handle the smaller version. The plastic frame was pretty flimsy and the attachment tabs were notoriously fragile. It’s not surprising the mini-CD format didn’t last long. After a brief flirtation with ‘cassingles’ to follow, I leapt fulltime into the CD maxi-single format.

The two 3” CD singles by The Adventures that I purchased during 1988 were ‘Broken Land’ and ‘Drowning In The Sea Of Love’, both inspired songs lifted from the band’s album ‘Sea Of Love’. But The Adventures adventure had begun a few years earlier, and is worth recounting. Lead vocalist Terry Sharpe and guitarist Pat Gribben had cut their teeth in the Belfast based power-pop outfit The Starjets during the late 70s/early 80s (released one album in 1979 titled ‘God Bless The Starjets’). By 1984 the duo had relocated to London and put together a new band called The Adventures. Rounding out the line-up were Pat Gribben’s wife Eileen (vocals/violin), Gerard ‘Spud’ Murphy (vocals), Tony Ayre (bass) and Paul Crowder (drums). The sextet signed with the Chrysalis label and manager Simon Fuller (who would later mastermind the Spice Girls). They released their debut single ‘Another Silent Day’ in late 1984 (UK#71). The follow up single ‘Send My Heart’ again flirted with the lower reaches of the British charts (#62) in late ‘84, and was later released in Australia (#92) in 1985. The band then released their debut album ‘Theodore And Friends’) in 1985 (re-titled and re-packaged as ‘The Adventures’ for the U.S. market), and toured in support of Tears For Fears. The album featured a set of songs filled with shimmering guitar riffs and the boyishly pure vocal work of Terry Sharpe. Lyrically there was a strong tone of the spiritual and a core theme of universal love throughout, without being overwhelming in its sense of optimism. Two more singles were yielded in ‘Two Rivers’ and ‘Feel The Raindrops’ (UK#58) during 1985, completing a strong arrival on the pop/rock scene for The Adventures.

The band shifted label camps to Elektra (WEA) for their long awaited sophomore album ‘The Sea Of Love’ in 1988. It was the high point for The Adventures, both critically and commercially. The album was overflowing with lush vocal arrangements and soothing harmonies. Most of the songs had a richer, more layered sound, but were not weighed down by the intricacy of the studio production. The crisp synth intro to the majestic ‘Broken Land’ was searing in its purity and clarity, matched only by Terry Sharpe’s vocals backed by the succulent harmonies Eileen Gribben and ‘Spud’ Murphy. ‘Broken Land’ was lyrically inspired by the unrelentingly fractious religious and social balance in guitarist Pat Gribben’s homeland of Ireland, and a yearning for unity and peace. The song peaked at #20 in the U.K., #46 in Australia and #95 in the U.S., and apparently was the most played song on BBC Radio 1 during 1988. The follow up single was the equally sumptuous ‘Drowning In The Sea Of Love’ (UK#44), featuring the pristine vocal harmonies, and shimmering guitar style The Adventures were building a strong reputation upon. The album ‘The Sea Of Love’ (UK#30/US#144) also yielded the single ‘One Step From Heaven‘ later in 1988, and the band played in support of Fleetwood Mac on a European tour. The slicker studio production on the album did nothing to detract from the emotional accessibility of The Adventures’ music, and just emphasised their collective talent as musicians and songwriters.

During 1989 vocalists Eileen Gribben and ‘Spud’ Murphy both departed the band, reducing The Adventures both in numbers and richness of sound. Their next album ‘Trading Secrets With The Moon’ (UK#64) in 1990 was consequently characterised by a more stripped down, introspective feel. It was more of an attempt at folk-pop, lacking the lush harmonies and cinematic musical scope offered on ‘The Sea Of Love’. The lead out single ‘Your Greatest Shade Of Blue’ missed the charts completely, and the promise offered by their previous album was disappointingly lacking on ‘Trading Secrets With The Moon’.

The Adventures had one more attempt to recapture the magic of their earlier work on 1993’s ‘Lions And Tigers And Bears’ (now on Polydor). I’ve not heard the album but the general consensus from the critics was that it lacked inspiration. The Adventures were retracing old ground without the benefit of the freshness offered on their previous material (and even other’s material in the form of a cover of the old Mamas And Papas song ‘Monday Monday’). The irresistible guitar hooks and inspiring vocal harmonies that had once sounded so crisp had arguably become formulaic in nature. The single ‘Raining All Over The World’ (UK#62) was a rare highlight. With grunge and dance movements in full swing the band saw the writing on the wall, and before the end of 1993 the remaining four members of The Adventures decided to take different creative paths, though never officially split. Guitarist Pat Gribben continued to work as a songwriter, collaborating with singer Ryan Molloy in recent years, and Terry Sharpe has continued for several years working in a covers band called The Dead Handsomes. In August 2007 The Adventures (Terry Sharpe, Pat Gribben, Eileen Gribben) reunited for a handful of shows in Belfast. They reportedly re-recorded some of their earlier songs such as ‘Send My Heart’ and ‘Broken Land’ with a view to issueing a greatest hits package in 2008, but nothing more has eventuated in terms of recording or performing.


missparker0106 said...

Heya AFOS,

Thank you *so* much for recommending Adventures - you are right, Terry Sharpe's voice is beautiful. Such a shame they didn't break through. I can never understand why some bands were destined to fail even though they had everything going for them.

You rock!


A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Hi MissP,

You're most welcome. I agree it's a travesty that some bands just don't break through. Sadly raw talent, inventiveness, and energy just doesn't seem to be enough in some cases. I highly recommend the Adventures' sophomore album 'Sea Of Love' if you have occasion to come across it.

I'm looking forward to the next installment of 'criminally underrated' on your blog :)

AFOS - cool I now have my own acronym :)