Friday, 3 February 2017
Oliver!: The House of Love - Fade Away [Peel Session] (7 March 1992)
Perhaps, more than anything I've written about so far, I'm invoking Blogger's Privilege by including this selection from The House of Love's fifth Peel Session. There are a couple of reasons why I highlight this:
a) It's quite a ropey recording, though I've got used to it the more I've listened to it.
b) If I didn't know the sublime version on the Babe Rainbow album, I might have passed on this version, despite the all-electric instrumentation and new verses, it suffers a crucial omission in its performance, which I will rave about later.
c) I love The House of Love but if the John Peel Wiki is to be believed, opportunities to write about them in connection to appearances on his show from 1992 onwards are getting scarce.
For a spell, over 2001-02 in particular, I gorged myself on The House of Love's back catalogue, inspired by hearing Peel play a version Destroy The Heart, recorded for his show in 1988 while I was driving home from a performance of She Stoops to Conquer with St.Austell Players on 21 November 2000. I won't rehash the history of The House of Love, you can click on the 21 November 2000 link to read about what they did up to the loss of their first lead guitarist, Terry Bickers in 1989. Suffice to say I caned both The John Peel Sessions 1988:89 and especially, the Best Of. The latter purchased during a weekend in Manchester when I reconciled myself to the fact that my first fiancée was not going to return to my life, but hey, I got to hear The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes for the first time, and at the right time, because had I heard it a week earlier when this Manchester trip was at that time the most important thing in my life EVER, it would have destroyed me. David Cavanagh's sleeve notes about the band's career were a mere aperitif of a summary compared to the sumptuous banquet he would deliver about their bumpy but beautiful journey to a kind of battered success by 1990 in My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize. However, the bit in those notes that pricked my curiosity was his rave about the band's first post-Bickers album, Babe Rainbow:
"Babe Rainbow is one of those records, like Bikini Red by Screaming Blue Messiahs or In The Spanish Cave by Thin White Rope, that nobody ever talks about, but should be placed in a time capsule with a note attached saying 'This is how a guitar record[really] sounded.' Drowsy and delicate; snarling and angry; lacy and liquid. Babe Rainbow belongs to the secret history of classic guitar music. Buy it tomorrow; in fact go back to the record shop and buy it now. I personally play it once a month and I don't care who knows it." (David Cavanagh - The House of Love - Best Of. 1998).
Half of Babe Rainbow was already on the Best Of compilation, but that paragraph; one of the most empathetically passionate testimonials to the merit of a record that I've ever seen allowed the record to take on a status of near mythic greatness. All the more so considering it came after the band's brief commercial heyday. But, unfortunately I couldn't take Cavanagh up on his suggestion because local record stores in Falmouth and Truro only appeared to stock the albums I already had.
Please, bear with me while I return to affairs of the heart for a moment. Arguably the best weekend of my life, in terms of material possession improvements would have to have been the weekend of 3-4 November 2001. Over that weekend, I accompanied my then partner, Ruth, on a weekend's dog sitting for a friend of hers at a secluded cottage in the countryside in East Cornwall. Now, Ruth was a wonderful woman for a number of reasons, but one of them was because she worked in association with Cornwall College, mostly out of their St.Austell base, but sometimes down at the Camborne site, which meant that she was in the same proximity of the library which housed a book that I read voraciously when I was suffering through a year's study there over 1993-94. The book was Cult Movies 2 by Danny Peary the 1983 follow-up to his 100 film essay tome from 2 years previously. Peary's book was everything one could wish from a work of criticism. Insightful and accessible, brimming with observation, research - a high degree of personal opinion and anecdote - a dry sense of humour, a willingness to go against the grain (several of the essays covered films that Peary himself disliked but which had earned cult status through long runs on the Midnight Movie circuit or extensive bookings in rep cinemas) and above all, an encyclopaedic experience of film watched right through the years. I didn't want to be John Peel when I was 17, but I wouldn't have minded being Danny Peary. I told Ruth (at great length) about the book, and my memories of reading it at almost every break or lunchtime - I had no choice given there was fuck all to do in Pool where the college was based. She would smile indulgently and say that she would see what she could do. She subsequently told me that she had asked at the library and they no longer had it. I never entertained any serious hopes about it coming to me, and had forgotten about it when she came over to collect me on the evening of Friday 2 November for the drive to the cottage, which was about an hour from where I lived in Falmouth. "Be careful getting into the car," she told me. "There's something for you on the passenger seat". The something was a package. After confirming that it was fine to open it there, I did so to find myself holding a copy of Danny Peary's first Cult Movies book. "I found a site on the Internet selling old books and that was on it," Ruth said. "I couldn't remember if that was the one you talked about." It wasn't but I wasn't going to quibble, and besides the list of films covered by Cult Movies 1 was advertised by Cult Movies 2, so it was almost there by proxy anyway. Bowled
over by Ruth's thoughtfulness and kindness (not to mention initiative, I hadn't a clue about Internet shopping in 2001), I showered her with kisses and thanks - all the while promising that I would look after her all weekend. She had no need to lift a finger after this wonderful guesture. Granted, my perfect boyfriend persona briefly slipped when I had a swearing meltdown two hours later after our attempts to coax the dog out from under the bed it was hiding beneath on our arrival were met with a threatening growl. But when he was good and ready, he came out and joined us and relaxed. Meanwhile, Ruth and I got the fire going in the lounge. The wine was poured and as the flames crackled in the fireplace, we sat on the sofa and I put my arm around her, while my other hand lovingly caressed...the pages of my new Cult Movies book. Well, wouldn't you?
The next morning, I took a walk around the house and wandered into what appeared to be a study. One wall was taken up with shelves of books, videos (still just in the ascendancy over DVDs in 2001)
and CDs. Working to the maxim that while you should never judge someone on what their cultural
tastes are, but it's wise to prepare yourself to be disappointed by them, I browsed the shelves. I saw
records I should have heard but hadn't yet (Nevermind, The Stone Roses), records with a reputation
that I hadn't heard (Loveless), 60s big hitters (Highway 61 Revisited), complete surprises (Richie
Havens 1968 album, Mixed Bag) and Babe Rainbow. Hey?....what!!!...Frantically scrabbling for the
shelf, I tore it down and looked at it like the Holy Grail. I marched into the dining room, where Ruth
was having breakfast. "Please, please, please can we go to Liskeard today for an hour. It's essential that I buy some blank audio cassettes." "Why?" she asked. I held the copy of Babe Rainbow up and said nothing. "Fair enough," Ruth said and went back to her breakfast. I put the album on the stereo and joined her
If you've only been introduced to a band via a Best Of/Greatest Hits collection, it's always a worrying
moment when you first listen to a "proper" album by them. What if the stuff you haven't heard,
which didn't make the cut for a Best Of turns out to be filler or just utter crap? In the case of Babe
Rainbow, all was well. I didn't care for Cruel and Philly Phile was a bit "Meh" but the other three
"new" tracks were all wonderful: High In Your Face would have made a better choice of single than
Crush Me; Burn Down the World showed that The House of Love could do epic as well as anyone. Sitting in the midddle of the album was Fade Away. In an album of spectacular guitar music, this was a gentle acoustic love song, couched in Chadwick's familiar mix of impenetrable poetry ("Maybe you're the crime I just can't find") and sexual suggestion ("Maybe you're the cream when the moment comes"). Towards the end, the electric guitars come in - subtle and damped down - woozy like a Miami sunrise. But the thing which really makes it for me are Andrea Heukamp's backing vocals. When discussing The House of Love's distinctive sound, attention tends to focus around either Chadwick's baritone or Bickers's guitar work (which to me sounds like The Cocteau Twins with balls). But Heukamp's backing vocals on the first and third albums, are just as crucial to me. Her glacial Germanic tones perfectly fit The House of Love's moody emotionalism. But she pulls off the trick of sounding like a balm amidst the intese battleground of many of their songs. Her presence on Babe Rainbow, which she assisted on with guitar and backing vocals, though without rejoining as a permanent member feels like an attempt to brin some civilising serenity back into a band that had lost its way while recording and touring their major label debut. I'd go as far as to say that Heukamp was the best ever backing vocalist within a band (discounting all those who also sung lead within bands as well - the thought of her singing alongside Lennon or McCartney or alongside The Hollies is a good one). She was distinctive, audible, totally in sync with the track whether it be one of those glimmering, shimmering early masterpieces like Nothing To Me, a guitar-shredding pop masterpiece like Feel or another acoustic lament of emotions and elements like Loneliness is a Gun - Heukamp's backing vocals are another perfectly applied touch in the artistry and greatness of The House of Love. And make no mistake, The House of Love were a genuinely great band. In writing this piece, I've cast my mind back over tunes that I would play someone who had never heard of them before. From the debut album, I could blitz them with the building malevolence of Salome or Road and the exquisite delicacy of Man To Child. From the chaotic second album (both first and second albums
were eponymous), which took a year to record and contained more producers than a Broadway musical, in which the band lost its sanity and patience with each other before being shoved out on a
massively long UK tour, it still produced wonders like Never, I Don't Know Why I Love You, Beatles and The Stones, In A Room, The Hedonist, 32nd Floor and Se Dest. And while I've been writing about Babe Rainbow, I can't believe that I haven't mentioned You Don't Understand and that's before
I've even mentioned b-sides like Safe.
Well there we have it, if opportunities to write about The House of Love are scarce in the years to come, I trust that I've more than made up for it now. But they deserve every word of praise they get.
With added Andrea Heukamp!
Videos courtesy of demanthor and guli soto