Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Altered Images ‎– Happy Birthday ...Plus (2004 Remastered) (1981)

Style: New Wave, Alternative Rock 
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Epic, Portrait, Edsel Records

01.   Intro Happy Birthday
02.   Love And Kisses
03.   Real Toys
04.   Idols
05.   Legionaire
06.   Faithless
07.   Beckoning Strings
08.   Happy Birthday
09.   Midnight
10.   A Days Wait
11.   Leave Me Alone
12.   Insects
13.   Outro Happy Birthday
        Bonus Tracks
14.   Dead Pop Stars
15.   Sentimental
16.   Who Cares?
17.   Happy Birthday (Dance Mix)
18.   So We Go Whispering
19.   Jeepster

Bass – Johnny McElhone
Drums – Tich Anderson
Vocals – Clare Grogan
Guitar – Gerard Caesar, Jim McKinven, Tony McDaid
Written-By – Altered Images
Producer – Steven Severin 
Producer, Engineer – Martin Rushent

I was aware of Altered Images from the point of their debut album since it got a US release by late 1981. That the band took their name from Malcolm Garrett’s ever-changing design firm name was something that triggered my interest, but beyond that I never heard the first note from it. It remained until early 1982 when Altered Images were one of the bands who got a flexi-disc in subscriber copies of Trouser Press. I heard the 12” version of “See Those Eyes” as produced by Martin Rushent and wow – did it ever reek of the work that Rushent had been doing with The Human League around the same time. The same tech/dub sensibilities were at work, along with the obvious Linn Drum and maybe even the Roland Microcomposer along for the ride. I was down with this so I went out and bought a used copy of the first Altered Images album, “Happy Birthday.” It was easy to source, having been released in America in the fall of 1981, but the new track I had heard was from their upcoming second album; not yet released. I recall that it was some months down the line before I saw the import version with the US edition loping along 2-3 months later.

Spinning “Happy Birthday” now was an abject lesson in how completely different to the Rushent-produced, pop-friendly sound the band rode to the [near] top of the charts that their immediate predecessor could have sounded. First of all, the producer was Steve Severin of Siouxsie + The Banshees and the band sounded very much in the shadow of the Banshees, in spite of the intro/outro of the Rushent-led “Happy Birthday” single’s marimba rhythm track that opened and closed the album with Clare Grogan. But the first, real song, “Love + Kisses” was much more in line with the sort of shadowy sound that would be the stock-in-trade of this debut album.

The floor-tom heavy drumming style was an obvious nod to Budgie’s early Banshees sound. In fact, I can detect a whiff of not just the obvious Siouxsie + the Banshees, here, but even a twist of Bauhaus popping up here and there. But that I’m willing to put down to Engineer ted Sharp at Rockfield Studios, where the album was recorded. He would go on to hold similar duties with the next two Bauhaus albums following this releases by Altered Images. The acoustic rhythm guitars were also afforded plenty of space in the mix, making for a pleasing setting for Ms. Grogan’s somewhat minimal vocals that arced gracefully throughout the song; echoing the peals of the flanged guitar chords.

“Real Toys” showed Altered Images at their most political as they conflated gender power structures with its commensurate sexism and even war. The next song, “Idols” was fully in the Banshees wheelhouse. The track sported Banshees-syle bass by Johnny McElhone and even trotted out the glockenspiel; an old Banshees trick straight out of their early days. Then there was a huge sidestep to something that took the Banshees sound at its most bass-led level, and rode it to Winsometown without telling anyone their intentions up front. The instrumental was hung on ringing guitar lines that circled back on themselves with only some strategically placed “la-las” getting the vocal nod from Ms. Grogan at the song’s halfway point any beyond.

Following the sunniest outlier on this album, the vibe snapped back in to the Siouxsie sound big time with “Faithless.” The minor key was a dead giveaway. Slow, deliberate tempos on the first and third verses, contrasted with the more frantic tempos and delivery for verses two and four. The creepy guitar harmonics were surely the hand of Severin? I’d swear that the more upbeat “Beckoning Strings” had its roots in another Post-Punk band than the Banshees. This time PiL! Listen to McElhone’s bass line. It’s pure Jah Wobble delivery. It remains as a rare fusion of PiL and bubblegum pop. At least until the ending, where birds tweet in the outro fade and Ms. Grogan joins them in birdsong! It was not much of a stretch for her voice.

Then there’s the number two bubblegum pop smash that broke Altered Images after their first two singles made no inroads on the charts. “Happy Birthday” had its origins in bassist McElhone’s canny realization that an original song called “Happy Birthday” might have a chance of sticking around like the other well known song with that title. It could not have hurt in giving the pop confection the boost needed to gain commercial traction.

The marimba played in the introduction was almost the last such instrument one would have imagined on a song this sugary sweet. It really sounded like marimba consciousness might have invaded Britain during its “New Pop” phase, what with Haircut 100 also featuring the instrument some months later. I wonder if this was down to the influence of Kid Creole + the Coconuts but unless I miss my guess, their second album was the breakthrough in the UK and that record was charting at roughly the same time as this one. But apart from that very analog instrument [plus the guitars] it sure sounded like drummer “Tich” Anderson had been replaced by Rushent’s Linn Drum machine as the song was sped forward on some very chipper but mechanistic beats. I’m almost wiling to entertain the notion that the 4/4 was the Linn while Anderson added the fills manually.

“Midnight” was one of the few songs here with prominent keyboards. The organ drone and random waveforms in the intro really stuck out here. And yet the album credits say nothing about the instruments in the margins of these songs. Anderson laid down the motorik beat and not unlike a song by The Cure, the track was half over before the vocals entered into it. The lyrics here were very cryptic as is sounded like Ms. Grogan was repeating “rape on Sunday is a terrible thing” and going on about “serial number 024.”

José Mário Branco ‎– A Mãe (1978)

Genre: Folk, World, & Country, Stage & Screen
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: EMI, Parlophone, Warner Music Portugal

01.   Prólogo
02.   As Canseiras Desta Vida
03.   Águas Paradas Não Movem Moínhos
04.   Remendos E Côdeas
05.   1º De Maio
06.   Qual É Coisa Qual É Ela (Elogio Do Comunismo)
07.   ABC (Elogio Da Aprendizagem)
08.   Os Meninos De Amanhã (Elogio Do Revolucionário)
09.   Nada Os Salvará
10.   Camarada Maria Rodrigues
11.   O Terceiro Amigo
12.   Cantiga De Alevantar
13.   Aquele Que Está Vivo Não Diga Nunca "Nunca"

Arranged By – José Mário Branco, Luís Pedro Faro
Written-By – José Mário Branco

O que guardamos de um criador para além do resultado mais visível daquilo que cria?

À margem de livros, quadros, discos, coreografias, há outros objectos, fragmentos e elementos documentais que concorrem para o que viremos a conhecer como a obra de alguém e que, muitas vezes, são tão inacessíveis ao público como os processos mentais que originaram determinada criação. Há excepções, sob a forma de acervos ou espólios devidamente catalogados, muitas vezes guardados em fundações ou arquivos, que preservam esses testemunhos e os disponibilizam junto de investigadores e académicos, mas é pouco frequente que esses fundos documentais estejam acessíveis a qualquer pessoa que tenha curiosidade em conhecê-los.

Nome fundamental da música e da cultura portuguesas a partir da segunda metade do século XX, José Mário Branco tem discografia extensa, em nome próprio e com trabalhos de autoria colectiva. Álbuns como Mudam-se os Tempos, Mudam-se as Vontades, Margem de Certa Maneira ou FMI acompanharam momentos muito intensos da história contemporânea portuguesa, da luta contra o fascismo aos anos quentes do início da democracia, e o passar do tempo confirmou esses e outros discos com a assinatura do autor como elementos fundamentais da cultura portuguesa de décadas recentes, quer no cânone musical, quer na memória colectiva. Agora, o Centro de Estudos de Sociologia e Estética Musical (CESEM), organismo que integra a Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa, dá um passo importante em direcção a uma maior apropriação colectiva desse património criado por José Mário Branco. Em parceria com o próprio músico, o CESEM criou um arquivo on-line que disponibiliza partituras, correspondência, anotações, fotografias e inúmeros outros documentos que permitem conhecer de outro modo o trabalho de José Mário Branco.

Para além da documentação associada aos discos assinados pelo músico, a solo ou em colectivo (como os do Grupo de Acção Cultural), deambular pelo Arquivo José Mário Branco permite conhecer ou redescobrir as inúmeras colaborações que o autor desenvolveu com outros músicos, tantas vezes como produtor, bem como os trabalhos feitos para televisão, cinema ou teatro. Partituras criadas para a peça Galileu Galileu, de Bertold Brecht, encenada por Carlos Avilez para o Teatro Experimental de Cascais, em 1986, para o filme Agosto, de Jorge Silva Melo, estreado em 1991, ou apresentadas no programa televisivo Notas Soltas, de 1984. Fotografias dos espectáculos realizados em 2001, com João Lóio, Regina Castro e Manuela de Freitas. Alinhamentos de concertos, horários de entrevistas, correspondência sobre projectos e espectáculos. E depois há as letras das canções, as que José Mário Branco gravou e as que criou para outros, tantos, bem como o alinhamento completo dos álbuns. Organizados por tipologia das fontes e pelas entradas que ajudam a estruturar o acervo (álbuns espectáculos, teatro, cinema, rádio, etc), os documentos permitem uma navegação intuitiva, mas igualmente uma pesquisa detalhada em função de interesses concretos.

Cumpre-se, deste modo, a intenção de disponibilizar o acervo de José Mário Branco para quem queira estudá-lo, ou estudar, através dele, aspectos concretos da história contemporânea portuguesa, mas também para quem pretenda deambular sem destino certo, respigando imagens, pautas, informações avulsas sobre o trabalho do autor. Foi esse o acordo firmado entre José Mário Branco e o CESEM, devidamente explicado na apresentação do site que alberga este arquivo: «No final do processo, foi acordado que estes materiais digitais, coerentemente organizados, seriam inseridos numa base de dados própria, para livre consulta em linha, concebida como instrumento auxiliar para o estudo, divulgação e reapropriação social da sua obra.» Reapropriemo-nos, então.

Este artigo foi publicado ao abrigo da nossa parceria com a Fundação José Saramago. Foi publicado originalmente na Revista Blimunda de junho de 2018.