Monday, 27 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 83 - B.E.F. 'Music for Stowaways'

Between 1978 and 1982 British pop music was awash with groups of pale young men who so dearly wanted to be Kraftwerk. Armed with their basic synthesisers and drum machines they beavered away for hours trying to replicate the sound of the masters.
Some came fairly close to succeeding (failing mainly as a result of the one thing they couldn’t do anything about – they weren’t German), but as time wore on they all developed their own styles and all reached a spot somewhere on a scale between international mega-stars and absolute obscurity.
The ones who did succeed went on to make some of the most memorable music of the 1980s, and, in some cases, far beyond.
One of the groups who came close to emulating Kraftwerk’s superiority were The Human League. Phil Oakey, Martin Ware, Ian Craig Marsh and, later, Philip Adrian Wright, made some of the most ground-breaking electronic music of the late 1970s – at which point they unceremoniously split up. Phil and Philip got custody of the name, recruited some new members and the rest is history.
Martin and Ian recruited Glenn Gregory to become Heaven 17, who, as we know, also achieved quite considerable success.
But, before either of these two groups released their first 'post-split' albums, Ware and Marsh, under the guise of B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation) released our experiment subject of the day, the cassette only ‘Music for Stowaways’. The Stowaway in question being an early name for the personal cassette player, or ‘Walkman’. Absolutely nothing to do with Shirley Temple.
There are eight tracks of largely instrumental, atmospheric electronic music, much closer in style to the early work of The Human League than to the impending Heaven 17 classic ‘Penthouse and Pavement’.
There’s an ‘uptown’ side and a ‘downtown’ side (much more special than simple 1 and 2) and the former opens with what is unfortunately the least engaging track on the album, ‘The optimum chant’. Once that one’s out of the way, however, things start to improve considerably. Best bits are almost certainly ‘Groove Thang’ an earlier, more instrumental version of ‘(We don’t need this) fascist groove thang’ that so brilliantly acts as the opener on ‘Penthouse and Pavement’. On the ‘downtown’ side the tracks to look out for are ‘The old at rest’ and the haunting ‘Decline of the West’
Apparently only 10,000 copies were made (there’s currently one for sale on Amazon for £200 if you fancy!). My copy is not for sale though.
Label – Virgin
Year – 1981
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