In 1988 My Bloody Valentine were a struggling underground band on the London circuit. They had supported my band, the Membranes, a couple of times at riotious shows in Manchester. We knew them quite well and brought them up for the gigs. Sometimes we would stay in their Kentish Town squat in London. We thought they were a great band and really cool people.
Membranes member Nick Brown played violin on some tracks for MBV and I remember lending Kevin Shields my ‘Rat’ pedal and my quadreverb as he tried to find his amazing guitar style. When they wrote the amazing ‘You Made Me Realise’ I interviewed them for late lamented Sounds music paper in 1988…
AND IT’S about bloody time too! The arse end of this godawful decade finally saw that lethargic shaggy dog, My Bloody Valentine, snarl into confident, postman-chomping action.
The belting single, ‘You Made Me Realise’, released by Creation Records is the one that finally expresses those streaks of genius glimpsed long before, kicking several years of records, as they closed in on their sound, into a cocked hat.
It was the turning point in a topsy-turvy adventure for the four-piece. Only months before its release these pop wizards nearly bit the dust.
“Before we signed to Creation, we were so fed up that we nearly split the band,” murmurs guitarist and singer Kevin Shields, the band’s most eloquent spokesman. We are sat in a scruffy South London rehearsal room. It’s pretty cold as the band sag into the room’s mouldy settee as we talk and photographer Steve Gullick nervously goes about his first assignment.
“‘You Made Me Realise’ wasn’t even planned as a single either, ‘ adds Kevin, ‘we were originally going to hide it on the B-side. It was Alan McGee who told us that it was a perfect A-side.”
BORN IN New York, Shields was shunted over to Dublin by his Irish parents 20 years ago. Ironically, with the current craze for all things American, staying in his birthplace would have helped him succeed in the crazy world of showbiz more than mere talent as it seems that these days you have to be from America before anyone will listen to you.
“I should wave my passport around, or speak with a New York accent that way we might get a little more respect,” he mutters cynically.
My Bloody Valentine are at the thin end of the wedge. After the classic You Made Me Realise’, they’ve followed up with the great ‘Isn’t Anything’ album. It shows a confident group, boldly striding forth out of bed into the late afternoon.
The introverted, personal leanings of the LP are linked to either firebrand amphetamine anthems or lush, well-crafted slices of pure pop.
“We thought that we’d make an LP that was easy to play live. We really didn’t want to put out anything that was too shitty to play. The songs on the record are about things that mean something to us. I can’t write Crass-style protest lyrics. I can only write about things that I know about. I can’t write lyrics like yours that make pictures in the mind, that’s not my style.”
My Bloody Valentine spluttered into action at the beginning of the 80s, in the fair city of Dublin. Kevin and his manic, drumming cohort Colm O’Ciosoig were coerced to play in a small local punk outfit called Complex. The band soon folded but the pair formed My Bloody Valentine. Suffocated by Dublin’s, at the time, small town atmosphere, they split and, instead of opting for the time-honoured trail down to London, they left for Berlin, Colm doing a stint as a bus conductor in Dublin to get the necessary dough to finance the sojourn.
“We had a really good time in Berlin. The obvious thing for most Irish bands is to go to England, but Europe seemed a much better option for us. We had read about The Birthday Party living out in Europe and that inspired us,” explains Colm.
“Europe seemed a lot more open, and it was definitely the financially better option. We got ÃÂ£100 per gig, even though we were totally unknown. If we’d been trying to get on in England, we would barely have been scraping fifth on the bill.”
Their European adventures included the release of their debut mini-LP, for the German Tycoon label, called ‘This Is Your Bloody Valentine’, a record that saw the group wandering around with an early Doors influence ââ more goth than wrath but goth as we understand it- creatively dark. But even at this early stage, there were enough deft touches to promise a healthy future.
Post Berlin, the rockin’ gang split for Rotterdam and remained there long enough to release their ‘Geek’ EP which was the first effort to really showcase their melodic, âË60s-influenced psyche sound.
Finally the group moved to London but 1986 Brit scene proved a tough egg for the barely unpacked new arrivals to crack as kevin remembers.
“The convoy squatting people were about the only people that seemed interested in putting us on we couldn’t even get on the bill at a tiny club like The Enterprise in London.
“And when we eventually picked up a bit of a following, we were too rough and noisy to play there anyway.”
By now, there were signed to the Lazy label and cut their breakthrough singe, âËSunny Sundae Smile’. The record charged up the indie charts, putting the Bloody Val’s collective foot into the door.
Due to a condition that meant touring was out of the question, their original vocalist at the time. Dave, left and singer-guitarist Bilinda Butcher joined to flesh out Kevin’s patented guitar sound and cajole more of his melodies to the fore.
The mini-LP they released at the time, ‘Ecstasy’, was so badly produced that it left several classic songs mugged like defenceless grannies on a cold inner city night. Not surprisingly, disillusionment set in and the combo considered splitting up. Only the sudden sighting of ginger-mopped Alan McGee swooping down from Brighton saved their badly-stitched pants.
It wasn’t the first time that the McGee/Mary Chain axis had hovered outside their door.
“I was supposed to audition for the Mary Chain,” says Colm.
“I thought it might be fun if I got the job, you know, free travel to Japan and all that. But I realised I wouldn’t be able to do it. Their songs were too slow! I would have failed the audition miserably, so I didn’t bother to turn up.”
Colm’s frantic drumming is about the best on the scene. Live, his flailing arms and hair instantly remind one of Keith Moon before he pickled himself in alcohol and tiresome pranks. The rest of the Valentines look on with confused admiration as their sticksman pwers his way through the set.
“Technically, I’m not very good ââ so I have to play very hard,” he lies.
“In the studio sometimes, when we hear the drum tracks on their own, they sound like somebody falling down the stairs,” laughs Kevin.
THE MOVE to Creation, coupled with the eventual unveiling of their previously hidden power on the last two singles and LP, has given them fresh hope.
“Creation treat us really well. They’ve really helped to bring us up to this level and at the moment, with The House Of Love leaving, we’re the biggest band they’ve got.”
My Bloody Valentine sound almost bemused by this hard fact. But why not? Their pop/noise blasts have won them fans from both the anorak indie kids with the âËByrds were a punk band’ mentality, right through to the Sonic Youth art-noise generation. Strangely, they feel that they have to apologise for their melodic streak.
“We’ve tried to make up unmelodic songs, but we just can’t do it! We can’t make s0-called unmelodic music. Your limitations give you your identity, I suppose. We seem to be doing things the wrong way round here ââ most bands start off wild and mellow out, but we started off quiet and got harder as time went on.”
My Bloody Valentine can stand on their own two feet ââ although somewhat groggily in the face of the credibility test onslaught which critically gauges them against their US contemporaries.
“We attempt to do different things. We have surprise things like âËFeed Me With Your Kiss’ ââ the US bands tend to have a very consistent sound that they rarely alter.”
But the worst things in My Bloody Valentine’s world at present seems to be the rehearsal room microphones.
“They smell like shit,” moans Kevin.
“They always smell like pepper, really strong. Some of them really stink,” adds Bilinda, whispering into the straining tape recorder. “We had one at the last rehearsal studio that just wouldn’t work at all. So we gave it to the guy to cleanout and he unscrewed the top and all this stuff just fell out. Yeuch.