I’m not gonna just sit here and lie to you good people. This re-released (again!) polygenesis creation is as much of a new experience and revelation for me, as I suspect, it is for most of you.
The Raincoats seminal post-punk, hell, post-everything, 1981 LP never showed up on my radar until recently. Of course I’d heard, long since, dieing murmurs; occasional mentions in passing conversations; and the odd recommendation, but I’d never really felt compelled to investigate these visionary sisters out for myself. More fool me as it appears I was missing a vital link in the chain of musical command, between the end of punk and the burgeoning experimental indie scenes.
An aleatory wealth of inspired influences seep into the Coats, seemingly, pliable jabing sound; plucked from an affinity, and, respect for the likes of, “Michael Nyman, ethnic music, Eskimo singing, reggae and punk”. Though often lumped in with their contemporaries The Slits, A Certain Ratio and The Pop Group – with some justification I might add – this all women gang of fey individuals humbly ploughed their own unique furrow; away from the rock music enviroment. Setting an agenda, the Ladbroke Grove groups’ founders, Ana de Silva and Gina Birch, found solace in the avant garde, and absorbed staccato rhytmns and time signatures from Africa, the Middle East and, what sounds like, Turkey. With more melancholy on board than a bankrupt Nordic trawler, christened Kierkergaard; the Coats cooing elegiac tracts conveyed the sorrow, woe and plight of sisterhood, whilst taking the listener on a winding consaguine trip through erratic diversions.
‘Odyshape’ was itself a sort of sea-change for the group. Produced after assorted line-up changes – two of the original quartet, Nick Turner and Ross Grighton, left after only a year, with one of their replacements, Palmolive, jumping ship for Spain after the inaugural release of the bands 1979 debut, ‘Fairytale In The Supermarket’ – and a tour of the US, they adopted various inventive omnivorous instruments into their sound, and began to write more cryptic songs. They also welcomed into the ranks the fresh-faced young drummer Ingrid Weiss, whose potent, and serendiptous style lasted just long enough to leave a mark, before she also left as recordings were underway. Weiss managed to come back to play on the tracks she had input on, but one-time Soft Machine rebel and radical drummer, Robert Wyatt, and, purveyor of drum equipment and kazoos, Charles Hayward were called in to do the rest. However, most of the composing and songwriting was done without a drummer. And so the Coats second album was created in a time of flux, borne out with the, often, frantic paced muscianship; contorted plaintive bowed basslines – Gina Birch would use a cellist’s bow on her bass guitar to “make a delicious deep raggedy sound” – jarring resonance; and sloping meandering grooves: yet no matter how experimental and fucked-up, a tune always manages to manifest.
In some ways they connect with the ideals of Krautrock, sounding in tune with groups like Can – I’m specifically thinking of their ‘E.F.S’ series – who also merged their own sound with that of world music, and made a something refreshing, but wholly western. At other times, they sail close to the moorings of Captain Beefheart, with their sporadic bursts and manical speed shifts – listen to the fretboard scratching ‘And Then It’s OK’ for starters. But it is the steely stoic tones and air of Nico that especially rings true – whether intentional or not – in both the lyrics and vocals; creating a strange atavistic mood that touches upon old folklore and the timeless hymn-like dedications to toil and sweat.
The girls disbanded in 1984; agreeing they’d pushed the boundaries as far as the audience would go. A reformation ten years later brought welcome reverential attention – fans from Curt Kobain to Kim Gordon were thrilled – though in 2011 their influence has never been more obvious – in fact, their set to perform their Rough Trade debut, at the Neutral Milk Hotel curated, Minehead, All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in December.
Revival of ‘Odyshape’ is one of those desideratum reminders of just how risky and adventurous, music could be. The Hornsey College of Art ladies have convinced me of my stupidity in not seeking them out sooner.
Due: Out Now