“Do you remember a bloke called Derek?” is the question that opens this album. Derek was real. I had met Derek in a pub in Minster on the isle of Sheppey. He had asked me whether I followed the football. When I said I didn’t, he decided to launch into a digressive monologue about the current developments in the game, which inevitably moved into the territory of “some of my best friends are black but…” I finished my pint, made my excuses and left.
Since 1997 when I first visited Dungeness, I had been taking the train to places around the Kent coast, Southend too, to take the sea air, investigate the land, and follow the derelict sea forts out in the estuary. The sea and the coastal towns, from here to St Ives, breathe through the album Quails Are Given.
The Benelux had been established as a project to “break out of the straitjacket of the Entropy Circus”. Where the earlier project had been suggestive of decay and ever decreasing cycles of kipple, The Benelux, other than referring to Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, could be read literally as “bene” and “lux”: The Good Light. The album was entirely made up of songs, and was the first to be recorded on the Fostex A8 eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, which was a vast improvement in sound quality and clarity.
Merrick Godhaven, who used the track Pizza & Beer on volume two of his Moving On compilation described the album as sounding like Belle & Sebastian on acid. It’s a very English seasidey sort of vibe. The Hovercraft Rescue Services praises the “selfless girls and fearless guys” of this imaginary organisation, and You Don’t Bring Me Fishes is a song of loss and longing from the viewpoint of a cat, while The Mixture As Before evokes strange magic found on the shoreline; the line “mother Mary came to me” foreshadows the appearance of Stella Maris in three years time.
But it’s not a coherent coastal concept album: Hook of Holland follows long trajectories across telephone networks and An Anglican Lovesong, possibly the only song to ever use the words “quinquagesima” and “septuagesima”, references the supertrams of Sheffield, which I had visited on a regular basis while Bridget had been studying for her masters degree. And London had not been entirely neglected here either; after a murder is committed The Trial of an Ugly Man, the mob retire for “a buffet is a Hoxton loft apartment”.
The album also features my first cover version since the scrappy Hawkwind Masters of the Universe that was my first four track recording. I had been in contact with Phil Turnbull through KRMB for two or three years at this time. He would send me tapes of music, including gems from his years in the Sydney post-punk scene of the early 80s. His last project, No Night Sweats, had been a sort of quirky electronic cabaret duo, and The Goodbye Song, connects this album with another coastal town, Woolongong, on the other side of the world.
As a songwriterly album, Quails Are Given is unconventional. My voice often imitates the plaintiff tones of Robert Wyatt, but there are often discordant backing vocals pitchshifted by adjusting the tape speed during recording. On the track Stalker the tape lurches to a sudden stop midway to open a hole in the fabric of spacetime before resuming as if nothing had happened. Zanzu The Girl From Eridu borrows its words from a poem in a Jack Vance novel and its surface is fractured by a random note generator program that I had written on the Amiga in the 80s.
Sally Kitchener and Solomon Kirchner appear here for the first time as my accomplices. Kirchner had been the protagonist of a serialised story that I was writing at the time, and was a kind of Jewish alter ego; similarly Sally Kitchener was my female counterpart, possibly a Jungian anima. Kirchner has recently put out his first solo single, Finchley in the Rain, and hopefully Sally will come out of my shadow in due course and release her own material.
Quails Are Given can be streamed or downloaded from archive.org.
Next: Fritware Painted With Lustre.