This has been a week of happy endings for me, and I’m not referring to a trip to the massage parlor (this time).
Y’see, twenty-odd years ago, I bought one of those awesome Sire Records compilations Just Say Yes, which featured a veritable who’s who of new wave/alternative rock in the late ’80s. Amongst the Depeche Mode and Erasure remixes sat a song by The Wild Swans, a combo from Liverpool that had been kicking around in various forms since the dawn of the decade. The Wild Swans were a little New Order, a little Echo & The Bunnymen (in fact, Bunny drummer Pete de Freitas produced their debut single), and a dash of every other jangle-rock band of the moment – Sire had a habit of signing a lot of bands that sort of blended together. Isn’t that right Ocean Blue?
In fact, vocalist/keyboardist Paul Simpson doesn’t have much good to say about his experience on Sire – from a 2004 interview:
“Being on a major was just one compromise after another. To be fair, Sire did give us a huge push in America and we even had a hit single in Germany but it’s at home you want to shine. The Smiths psychically destroyed us. They had the pretty jangle and the soaring vocal melodies but with the extra winning ingredients of big blouses, gladioli and humour. We were prop and humour-free. I know I keep saying it but that beautiful keyboard refrain from There is A Light That Never Goes Out is Ged’s from “Enchanted”. Later I would just crumple when voices from the audience would accuse us of being Smiths copyists but inside I’d be thinking how these morons were revealing to the whole concert hall how ignorant they were.”
And elsewhere, Simpson continues:
“Everything changed after we signed the deal with Sire,” explains Simpson. “Overnight we completely lost touch with reality. We should have recorded our debut album cheaply in Liverpool with a good engineer instead of in an expensive toilet in London with a name producer at the controls.” Such experiences are no doubt common amongst many bands whose priorities lie outside Platinum sales discs. “Major label thinking is like a virus, you forget why you started the band and fall into the ‘hit’ record mind-set.” Simpson’s final words on the matter should probably be the first line in any guide to being in a band: “Major labels suck the poetry from your bones and fill the gaps with a cement made from cocaine and crushed teenagers.”
Despite his distaste for the Sire years, I loved the song featured on Just Say Yes, “Young Manhood,” (download) which also got a fair amount of play on MTV’s 12o Minutes:
When a second Wild Swans song, “Bible Dreams,” (download) was featured on the next Sire compilation, Just Say Yo, I was a convert. I looked everywhere for their full-length album, Bringing Home The Ashes, to no avail. It was briefly issued on CD in 1988, but I would have settled for vinyl, a cassette, a Mini Disc, anything. No dice. As the years passed, I would see second-hand prices for Ashes climb and climb to nearly three figures, so it appeared that this would be one album that would escape my grasp.
Strangely enough, the Swans’ second Sire release, Space Flower, which saw the band dump the jangle for Manchester-inspired dance beats, was plentiful as dandelions. I must have seen hundreds of copies of that thing in used bins for years, while never stumbling across a stray copy of Ashes. But early last year, a ray of hope broke through when reissue label Wounded Bird announced they were finally re-issuing the album in the U.S.
But I still couldn’t find a copy.
I know, I know, I could have ordered it from Amazon, or eBay, etc., but where’s the fun in that? I enjoy the hunt, people. So imagine my joy this weekend during another trip to Amoeba (them again!) where, again on a lark, I hit the W’s to find a copy of Ashes on CD, still newly wrapped for a mere $13.98.
I love a happy ending. And sorry Paul, I also love Bringing Home The Ashes, even if you don’t.
Neither single charted.
Get Wild Swans music at Amazon or on