Paint a Vulva Picture
Guitars are sew substitutes! Flashy thrusting sports cars! Sneering tension between young lovers andloud lads! Is this the coy, introverted SLOWDIVE we know and love? Yes reveeals ANDREW COLLINS, as he walks on air to their stunning new album, ten goes down to the pub to confront its obscenely young creators. Spitfire brigade: AJ Barratt
TWO...four... six . ~ . eight. . . undulate! Never loved Elvis. Never loved The Clash. Don't remember Star Wars coming out. Punk never happened. It was all precincts and adventure playgrounds round here when I was a kid.
Welcome to The Wank Generation. Kids born in 1972 who never had it so good, but don't know any better. They make you feel old, these whey-faced cherubs in Ride and Slowdive and Revolver, far more so than bum-fluff policemen or junior doctors - because the very little they know about music is so much more apparent and external.
Perhaps being cautioned by some constable with all the authority of Tucker Jenkins is less unnerving because at least you know he left school at 16, whilst Ride and Slowdive and Chapterhouse went to college, where, let's face it, reality and all its attendant stresses and traps are not on the agenda. The Wank Generation are learning about life from behind a row of monitors, enveloped in a gossamer mist of their own making.
And it's all The Jesus And Mary Chain's fault. Fact.
"They were the original shoegazers!" proclaim Slowdive. Forget Blame Northside! "It was only after people started comparing the 'Slowdive' EP with the Cocteau Twins that I started listening to them," claims singer/ songwriter/wet blanket/liar Neil Halstead. Slowdive are already as well-versed in the art of evasion as their portly Scottish forebears; they also deny naming themselves after Siouxsie And The Banshees' 'Slowdive' off 'Kiss In The Dreamhouse', and Neil insists that the debut Slowdive album, 'Just For A Day', sounds that way because he was listening to. Bob Dylan's 'Desire' non-stop during its making. Sure.
"We've all got Spitfires, all five of us!" he jabbers, untruthfully, unaware thatadmitting you're 20 years old and non-pedestrian is tantamount to actually being called T arquin and Fotheringay. Slowdive have in truth only got two Spitfires (as seen in the accompanying What Sports Car? photo sesh), just in case anyone from Class War starts digging for loose change.
So is it an accurate media picture, that all the so-called shoegazing bands are poshos and pansies whose parents bought them their instruments?
"Pretty true, yes."
"My mum bought mine." So why do you play music which is not the Manic Street Preachers?
"Because we come from a middle class background, we've got nothing to kick against." And don't you wish you had?
"No, because the Manic Street Preachers are just reliving punk." They're not. They're too young to remember it - how can they?
"Alright, they're passionate about punk. We're not."
I bet you like The Clash.
Neil: "I've only heard two Clash songs- 'Rock The Casbah' and 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go'."
Hark! I hear the rustle of expense account forms being shuffled by pony-tailed sloths at advertising agencies - how excited must they be at the prospect of Neil Halstead, the kid who learnt his punk rock from their jeans commercials.
THREE. . . FIVE.. .seven ... nine. . . asinine! You could never accuse Slowdive of being dull. You could play their LP in a court of law and accuse it of not making you want to become a random serial killer or dance all night at Farmer Giles' place- but we'll come to that shortly.
Slowdive are five; Neil, 20, the no-eyed beanpole with 'serious' Biro-ed on to his arm; Rachel Goswell, 20, shoe-gazing pin-up by default and singer, born in Fareham and once distracted by a job in the Reading Our Price; Nick Chaplin, 20, loud-mouthed bassist with apprentice Mark Gardener foptop; Simon Scott, 20, ex-chef and ex-Charlottes drummer blessed with the face of a Beatrix Potter animal; and Christian Savill, 20, originally from Bury, who was expelled from, gasp, public school for dyeing his hair black ("I wanted to look like Will Sergeant!"). These young people may have difficulty admitting to their obvious musical debts, but they are not crap people to share a pint with.
I meet up with them at Creation Records' HQ in London's squalid East End. On entry into this living shrine to Alan McGee's most ludicrous fantasies, I become convinced that this is actually a cartoon of the Creation offices, so exaggerated and overstated are its trappings. It is, indeed, situated above a textile sweatshop, and what do I find there but members of Ride lolling around on the carpet beneath the Kylie/Miss Kier posters, Douglas Hart on the phone, and Bobby Gillespie exchanging tongues with the girl out of The Telescopes. It's too correct! Too rehearsed! Too much.
"McGee's got more charisma than anyone on Creation," say Slowdive, in the maverick label's favour, as we lope off to the pub. No cash, though, I grumble, as the band make me pay for all the drinks.
Slowdive converged in Reading, December 1989, when Simon was drafted in to replace The Old Drummer, who'd pissed off to Swansea Uni. (They call it "Uni', not me, guv.) Their first EP, 'Slowdive EP' (ker-pow!), wafted into the world last December, a gentle, anaemic item whose decidedly soothing qualities, once joined by the three tracks on the follow-up 'Morningrise' EP, urged our own saloon-bar-sociologist Simon Williams to coin the term 'PostRave Comedown'. It seemed that the 24 hour Lucozade party was over, or at least irrelevant, in certain quarters of the Thames Valley, and 10, here was the balm to subdue that bag of bristling nerve endings which used to be your head.
Who goes up, must come down. It's a handy theory, of course some would say award-winning but it's too neat to button up snugly around the complexities of the shoe-gazing universe. This week's debut Slowdive LP 'Just For A Day' is, whatever the labeldodgers say, footwear-inspecting music par excellence. It makes the Cocteaus sound rowdy; Chapterhouse seem tricksy, and The (Expletive) Cranes absolutely rubbish and unlistenable (which they are). Recorded through a few layers of gauze and, I should imagine, a morning mist, 'Just For A Day' is no record to listen to if you want to get anything done.
It's an ordinary, nondescript Thursday morning. Bus stop. Cashpoint. Tube. Work. Except you've got Slowdive on your earphones. and suddenly you're Patrick Swayze in Ghost, moving amongst the oblivious mortals, unnoticed, separate, parallel, there but not all there. With a cornflower blue aura.
Just count how many trains you miss. They thunder into the station, and they thunder out again, while you melt through the slats of a bench. Only Slowdive can do this (I know, I've tried it). The Government will never pump this music through 1994-style PAs; all commerce and trade would grind to a mellow standstill.
How come five sallow youths with no formal grounding in anything can be responsible for a soundtrack this effective, this sweeping, this fragile, this peaceful?
"We're contented people," offers Nick. "We've got no reason to be discontented." Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....
AH YES, where was I? Slowdive, as creators of music so unfussy and ambient, are gods, naturally. They stand head and shoulders above the competition because of their failure to experiment or pose or shake off the ghosts of the Wank Generation's complacency. Accuse Slowdive of pretense and you scold a 12-month-old kid for being juvenile. However, as a quintet they are split right down the middle. The ambience around the pub table is a game of two halves.
On my left sit The Three Lads, Simon, Christian and Nick, very much the Mark, Nasher and Ped of Frankie Goes To Hollywood (except they play on the records) rude, off-hand, gutter-mouthed, sniggery, breast-obsessed and ghettoised by their very nature. To my right we have Slowdive's official couple, Neil and Rachel, trying hard not to coo at each other during the int (I call it that. Sorry), but going to the toilet at the same time. They've known each other since primary school. When asked to describe Neil, Rachel storms into a domestic tirade: "Can't cook, can't wash his own clothes, can't feed a cat or a goldfish. . .
"Yes, yes, but what of the inevitable friction caused by: a) having a couple in the group, and: b) having a girl!? It means that Neil has to act like a New Man (New Youth) in front of his partner, and The Lads get even more laffs out of being smutty into the tape machine.
"Has Performance got any babes with their tits out in it?"
"It's Anita, innit? And that French bint as well." "Is it sound to go on about tits in the NME?"
"I've felt a girl's tits before. Through her bra."
Needless to say, Rachel is absent at this juncture. "She's an honorary lad!" Nick tries to convince me. I ask her if this is true on her return from the gents.
"Well," she muses, "I don't like it too much when we do tours that last three or four weeks and they're talking about tits all the time. That wears a bit thin."
Do you have fights?
"Not fights as such, we have the occasional sort of stressful atmosphere."
"It's all atmospheres with us!"
"OUR GUITARS are more like clitoris substitutes," Neil drops the bomb. Rachel gives him a slow burning 'Wait 'till get you home' look. He blunders on, it's too late to stop now, I've just heard Analogy OfThe Century! "It's, erm, the feminine side of it - we sort of stroke round our guitars a bit, tickle their fancy."
You never get stuff like this out of the Cocteaus! There is a tangible feeling of having unlocked something here; a potent mix of danger, embarrassment and inspiration curdles the beer. Could this really be the key to Slowdive, are they merely a sum of their own (female) parts? Nick, almost salivating, takes the baton:
"We're just like virgins really, looking down at our feet and wondering what this thing in our hands is, just getting the whole thing over and done with."
Clearly, this metaphor will win Slowdive few friends backstage at a Gunners gig with Axl and Slash and Izzy's dog and the oily neanderthals who run the specialist 'Rock' press'. - but that's because they're all frightened of women. Slowdive did play air guitar in front of the mirror, just in case you're wondering, Swells; unfortunately, they were pretending to be Will Sergeant and William Reid.
SET ADRIFT on not-so-distant memory bliss, Slowdive may be honorary Wank Generation milk monitors in the rock 'n' roll stakes, but at least they don't get their lawyer to approve their sleeve artwork a la Chapterhouse.
To finish, and as some kind of psychological coup, I hand round five slips of paper to the band and make them vote for their favourite member of Slowdive. They squirm, but I assure them it's a secret ballot.
The papers are handed back to me. I unscrew the first one, it reads 'NIGEL'. I unscrew the second, it also says 'NIGEL'. And the third. 'NIGEL', 'NIGEL', 'NIGEL'. So! They even have a sense of self-mocking humour. Two. . . four ... six... eight... who do they appreciate? Three. . . five. . . seven . . . nine. . . erm, My Bloody Valentine. Of course.
Originally appeared in NME 7 September 19911
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