Immaculate Fools - Searching For Sparks (Cherry Red Records)

Immaculate Fools – Searching For Sparks (Cherry Red Records)

Immaculate Fools, what a wonderful name, I would describe this as the shopfront of any band, and for a lad who lived through the 1980s, I remember this was important. Something to hang your hat on (if we wore hats), waving your arms at the live shows and becoming one with others who were present. Described as a “pop group, formed in 1984…”, this group had their biggest success with their self titled single in 1985. The chorus to the song rang out “…We are enchanted. We are immaculate. We are selected…” and said so much of the time we were living through. The mesmerising way that a certain section of society looked at the world, how they’d make themselves up at the weekend, considering how they differed from most in society – this band were singing their mantra. This biggest chart success was of a single that reached number 51 in the UK, and this seems somewhat criminal when I listen back. Such a strong tune, these deserved far more commercial recognition than they achieved. That said, I remember seeing the corpses of broken dreams that littered the bargain bins in the post-Christmas clear-outs, at the time and admittedly I benefitted from some of these).

This first album, similarly titled Immaculate Fools, starts with ‘Searching For Sparks‘; Kevin Weatherill’s vocal is the first impact that hits your senses, which was the right sound for the job at hand, with what I hear as a reggae-influenced backline, possessing a similar influence to those of Francis Dunnery from It Bites, another band who came out at a similar time. This number is followed by ‘Nothing Means Nothing‘ in which Weatherill tells of the time, when he sings “Everything is measured in money, nothing means nothing anymore…“, in the 80s something very apparent. It was here that I realised exactly where I had heard the tonal quality of Weatherill’s vocal, this was Richard Butler’s Psychedelic Furs, who were active around the same time, although the latter band, of course, achieved greater acknowledgment. I just love Weatherill’s lyricism, the patterns he created with words that echoed those times during which he was singing. These times were illustrated in some small part in the likes of any John Hughes film. He sings in ‘Save It‘, “…save it, save it, save for the right one…” telling of some perfect idyll, that could only be acted out in the storyline of a film – using his guitar delay pedal with which to swathe the musical canvas. The 10 songs that adorn this debut album, are like flicking through the family photograph album, each conjuring such images of a time filled with money and fashion, technological innovation, and industrial decline. But that was the original version – here Cherry Red have done what they do best, bolting on B-sides and new recordings of ‘Save It‘, ‘Hearts of Fortune‘, along with an acoustic version of ‘Immaculate Fools‘.

In the blink of an eye, 2 years had passed and 1987 saw the release of Dumb Poet. The album starts with ‘Never Give Less Than Everything‘, a number which shines with its use of musical effects, which produced maybe a little too much echo and a soundscape familiar to the shoulder pads that were very de rigueur in 1987. I guesss what I’m saying is that this album sounds unfortunately somewhat dated. That’s something that can’t be escaped, but rather than negatively, these songs are building a concrete grounding that could easily be the soundtrack of someone’s life. A little further on and they borrow the moniker of a Pink Floyd number, ‘Wish You Were Here‘, but rather than a pained telling of a friend’s struggle with mental health, this seems to document the physical loss of someone, although it is an incredibly passionate telling, describing the wonderful climate that we all enjoy here in England, although it also could be said that this is a story told through with its author looking through rose-tinted lenses, “…I wish you were here, here in England. The weather is fine, here in England…“; I’m sure we all know that truth can sometimes differ from this ideal? Lovely song though, playing out to the vocalist’s laughter, to the extent that it is sure to brighten the day of even the most cynical. Closing the main body of this 10 track album is ‘Stay Away‘, which for me possessed shades similar to David Bowie that were lent to numbers in the latter part of his career. A song which has to be said was a somewhat sad telling, that I’m sure we could all take from the lyric “Take me down to the river, bury my heart in the sand. Cover my eyes with water, leave me out in the land. Leave me there ride naked, take the ring from my hand. This heart will not forgive, this heart will never mend. Oh leave me as you found me, a hidden lost and found. Leave me with my humour, leave me standing proud. Walk softly through moonlight, walk softly through sand. Let me shine in my darkness, let me fade away now…” – and you thought that pop-music was purely superficial? I hope I have captured the essence of this song. The listener will note that this features what seems to be a Spanish guitar solo, rather fitting as this band proved very popular in Spain and I understand relocated there, well, wouldn’t you? If it were good enough for the BBC’s Eldorado, why not? This version of the album features B-sides and versions of songs from the original release, including a live performance of the title track.

Getting good, isn’t it? Well, it’s only just begun and as we stare into a new decade Immaculate Fools were to release their third album Another Man’s World in June, which would hear the band test a new sound. The title track was to head the album and my televisual reference was fitting. The band had left behind the greed and excess of the 1980s, taking off the metaphorical shoulder pads and performing an album that sounded quite different from their previous forays. A result of sunshine and sangria maybe? Recorded and rooted in the rock of a more experienced artist, the number starts with the asserted bass run of Kevin’s brother Paul, then his acoustic guitar begins, “One man’s greed, is another man’s pain. One man’s loss is another man’s gain. One man’s pride is another man’s shame. One man’s sorrow is another man’s flame. Just another day, just another day. In another man’s world, in another man’s world, not mine…“, this is beginning to sound like a man who has stared the dark side in the face and is refusing to follow the line. The musical backing on this number is full-bodied, with a solid rhythm maintaining its structure. This band had left the superficial 80s far behind and following in the footsteps of similar musical acts north of the border like Simple Minds and Deacon Blue. It’s at track three and ‘The Prince‘ that I have to make reference to a friend of the band, that of The Wonder Stuff‘s Miles Hunt (the biographer here, who adds his own story behind Immaculate Fools to this set of albums as someone “…who feels incredibly fortunate to be telling it….” With a fiddle arrangement added to the number, it was clear the band had grown, leaving the vagaries of fashion behind them, and were now walking with the likes of not just The Wonder Stuff, but fellow musicians to the north and south of the M25! Whether this invigorated turn was a result of an injection of vitamin D, or something else, the band was sounding great, they were evolving. Having added a folk element to their frontline, Immaculate Fools could quite easily have joined the likes of The Stuffies, Pop Will Eat Itself, or even The Levellers, who were achieving popular success around this time.

Their fourth album, The Toy Shop followed in 1992. The sound had got bigger and the opening track ‘Stand Down‘ appeared to echo a song of a similar name performed by The Beat ten years earlier. Although by the time Immaculate Fools released their song, the subject had long gone, it was 1992 that she left the House of Commons, moving to the House of Lords, and maybe it was a case of out of sight, although not necessarily out of mind? But was it the British political scene that bothered Weatherill anymore? Another journey into his civic mind was in the song ‘Political Wish‘ in which he sings “…I’m making a political wish and I wish it all down on you. I’m getting so sick of it all, that you’re not worth the shit on my shoe…“, preaching to the converted, the writing was getting even stronger, even if, by now, his audience was mostly in Germany and Spain (their now home). It was here they had become ‘superstars’, so having found adulation, why return to the drizzly shores of Kent? This particular 10 track album was not one that could be confused with treading water, as the sound was becoming more assertive and the songs, not just political. A wonderful number was the ‘The Leaving Song‘, exceptionally Celtic in tone, in which a story set long ago, paints a glorious picture in which we lived hand to mouth, in the knowledge that we were governed by kings and queens. Weatherill picks up the story. “With kings and fools and naives in tow, the leaving song has far to go. They shake your head and rattle your bones. With shallow truths and hollow hopes. The leaving song – [repeated]. If this winter is hard where will you go? The snow may fall and the wind may blow. On a pair of good boots and a brand new coat. The eyes may feast, but the purse can’t own,” again proving just how cinematic his writing is, something evident from early in the band’s career. A further 3 tracks have been added to the content of the original album, in the form of an edit of ‘Stand Down‘ and a further 2 B-sides.

Woodhouse follows and strangely enough commences with the unmistakeable drone of a didgeridoo, the Australian Aboriginal wind instrument. This I have to say was the last sound I thought it likely to hear, but this is a reworking of The Beatles‘ psychedelia, in which Kevin Woodhouse does a fine job of conjuring the memory of John Lennon‘s famous B-side ‘Rain‘, a vocal harmony playing the number out. This album is full of a certain tone the band appeared to have settled on, that of a Celtic character, played to gorgeous chorus effected guitar. Standout moments have to be the folk-tinged ‘The Ship Song‘, the Pogues tinged ‘Pass The Jug Around‘, complete with a harmonica solo and a revisit to Dumb Poets’Wish You Were Here‘. The following year saw the release of Kiss and Punch, released on the Cooking Vinyl label and this was another heady journey through the creative minds of these relocated Kent boys. Kicking off with ‘Little Bird Sing‘, this is a brush with bluegrass, steel guitar, harmonica, and obscured vocals stuck firmly to the side of this song. Continuing with the frantic ‘Ready For Me‘, it was turning out to be another heady brew from a band still not tired with making music, as the song goes, “…Steam with them, twist and turn with them, win or lose with them, fall with them. Rise from them….”

This set of 7 albums completes with Live, an original release. A collection of songs, performed live, from the band’s early career. This compiled set of songs, ranging between 1984 & 1988, display a band who, it has to be said, are almost unrecognisable from the musicians they would become. Immaculate Fools continue to perform and have released a further 3 original albums following this set, the most recent of which was Stardust and Water, which was allegedly released on Kevin Weatherill’s 70th birthday! Along with a project he worked on with Miles Hunt, that was Dirty Ray, another filthy set of rock songs, does this man know no end? Immaculate Fools are most certainly worth investigating. 

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