Slowdive

TrackAlbum / EP
SlowdiveSlowdive
MorningriseMorningrise
Catch The BreezeHolding Our Breath
AlisonSouvlaki
When The Sun HitsSouvlaki
SingSouvlaki
Souvlaki Space StationSouvlaki
RuttiPygmalion
Crazy For YouPygmalion
Blue Skied 'An ClearPygmalion

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Slowdive photo

Slowdive (l to r): Neil Halstead (vocals, guitar), Christian Savill (guitar), Rachel Goswell (vocals, guitar), Neil Chaplin (bass), Simon Scott (drums)

 

Contributor: David Tanner

It’s always strange when you discover groups after they’ve split up, when at the time they were totally off your radar. This happened to me with Slowdive, and needs a bit of explanation.

Everyone who loves music has a period when they consumed it obsessively. For me this period was 1964-1975, basically my teenage and college years. After this time, I still listened and bought a lot of music, but music itself began to splinter into endless genres and by the mid 1980s John Peel’s show wasn’t the must-listen for me it once had been. I’d drift in and out of listening but having to get up for work didn’t sit well with a programme that ended at midnight.

So, I missed stuff and have been on an enormous catch up over the last few years after overlooking much great music. In the early 90s I should have been listening to both Suede and Slowdive, but I just listened to Suede.

The first thing I can remember hearing by Slowdive was their cover of Some Velvet Morning, the Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra tune. That led me to the Souvlaki album and then forwards and back to the rest of their discography.

Slowdive were dubbed by one wry critic “the My Bloody Valentine Creation can afford” after the protracted genesis of MBV’s Loveless. But though they signed them up, Creation soon lost interest and concentrated on their more fashionable and profitable acts; although to be fair they did actually release all the albums.

They formed in 1989 in Reading and released their first EP Slowdive in 1990. The track Slowdive sets out their musical stall (floaty vocals and effects-heavy guitars) and also their influences (The Primitives, MBV, JAMC, House of Love, Velvet Underground according to Rachel Goswell). This track is actually the original demo recording for Creation, the band being dissatisfied with later recordings.

The Morningrise EP was their next release with its stunning title track Morningrise, for me the highlight of their early EPs. Guitars drone, heavy with reverb, as Neil’s languid vocal is layered into the noisy mix.

This was followed up in 1991 by the Holding Our Breath EP and Catch The Breeze, another beautiful slice of dreamy pop and guitar effects. Also on this EP was their ethereal take on Syd Barrett’s Golden Hair which only just failed to make it into my top ten.

So, after this great run of EPs, Just For A Day, the first album, came as a great disappointment.

“[We] went into a studio for six weeks and had no songs at the start and at the end we had an album.” Neil Halstead

Quite, and it sounds just like that, and not in a good way. What we get is an album almost totally devoid of tunes, except of course the already released Catch The Breeze. I admit I came to this album last when I was discovering Slowdive. I’d started with Souvlaki gone on to Pygmalion then started back with the early EPs. Just For A Day sort of washed over me and made no impression. I’ve listened to it a couple of times for this post and it still leaves me cold. It had a similar effect on the critics.

The initial good reviews Slowdive had garnered began to disappear as other distractions in the form of grunge and britpop began to monopolise the music press and Slowdive and the shoegaze genre became unfashionable.

They began producing demos for the next album, heavily influenced by Joy Division and Berlin-era Bowie. Alan McGee remembered: “I think I rejected the first 25 demos they sent me. I wasn’t being a c**t they just weren’t very good.” The band remember being told by McGee, “You’ve got no songs, they’re all shit”. (from the Pitchfork documentary on YT)

At the time, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell were having a messy break up, which added to the gloom around the band.

Their manager sent Halstead off to a cottage in North Wales to concentrate on writing some more material. He didn’t particularly like it there, but he did begin to write new songs that actually sounded like Slowdive and not their influences. They also brought in Ed Buller (Boo Radleys and Suede producer) who loved their orchestral textures, but began to remove extraneous layers of guitars to reveal the tunes beneath. The band had originally approached Brian Eno to produce but he was only interested in collaborating on some songs: Sing and Here She Comes the eventual outcome.

“The first thing he did when he walked into the studio was to rip the clock off the wall and put it by the mixing desk … He then said ‘Okay, you’re going to play the guitar and I’m going to record it. I don’t care what you are going to play, just play something.’” Neil Halstead

So, it’s 1993, the music press hate shoegaze, and hate Slowdive, and its into this fetid environment that Souvlaki is released.

“[This] record is a soulless void … I would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again.” Dave Simpson, Melody Maker

I disagree … Slowdive’s finest hour has many highlights. It has a solid gold pop song in Alison, a constant ear worm of mine.

Listen close, and don’t be stoned
I’ll be here in the morning
Cause I’m just floating

It has Rachel Goswell’s ‘happy song’ and firm fan favourite, the Pixies influenced When The Sun Hits which Alan McGee thought must be about heroin. It wasn’t.

There is the sublime chiming atmospherics of the Eno collaboration Sing which has great vocals from Rachel and a suburb climax as Eno treated guitars are added layer by layer, minute by minute then fading to the finish.

And then there’s Souvlaki Space Station with its reverb and delay set to 11 and a dub inspired bass line.

“We ‘played’ the faders as the track was running, adding delays and effects in real time to the mix and recording it all.” Neil Halstead

The live versions of this track from their recent reunion gigs have been stunning:

In February 1995, their final album, Pygmalion, followed and what the world wasn’t looking for from a Creation act in 1995 was a drifting, druggy, ambient, electronic masterpiece.

“… For which read, yet more career suicide” John Harris, NME

“Trellisaze, Rutti – what do these titles say to you, other than ‘Slap me’” Melody Maker

“Creation’s reaction to Pygmalion was fairly muted; confused would probably be closer to the truth. Alan had asked for a pop record and I think he, and the rest of the label, thought we were taking the piss … Perhaps if a label like Warp would have put it out we might have had more success, certainly context is important and it might have helped with the press. I don’t think they understood where it was coming from or indeed where music in general was headed; there was a strong ‘post-rock’ scene before they thought to call it that and I still feel that if we had put the record out a few years later they might have been able to place it a little easier.” Neil Halstead, interviewed in 2012 by Sonic Cathedral

Rutti opens the album with a repeated guitar figure, before the drums and bass enter and pulse underneath, with sparse vocals, heavy with echo and reverb (as are all the vocals on Pygmalion).

Crazy For You has an initial guitar riff straight out of Vini Reilly as layers of repetitious vocals swoosh in and out of the mix.

Blue Skied ˈAn Clear has a very Cocteau Twins feel to it with Rachel’s high pitched effect laden vocals.

To nobody’s surprise Slowdive were dropped by Creation a week after the release of Pygmalion.

It really was an album a little ahead of its time and has since been much more positively reappraised – even by the NME!

In a final about-turn they recorded an Americana/Country album and changed their name to Mojave 3 to reflect the change in style, going on to produce a series of well received albums under that name from 1995 to 2006.

The story could have ended there but in January 2014 it was announced that Slowdive were reforming to play the Primavera Sound Festival and a tour followed that performance. They have even been playing songs from Pygmalion, never performed live before and getting great reviews.

Since then, Rachel Goswell has been part of Minor Victories with Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, Editors’ Justin Lockey, and his brother James Lockey. They have released their first album and in an interview with Stereogum, Goswell stated that a new Slowdive album is nearing completion.

“It’s quite difficult because we’ve all got children and we all live in different parts of the country. As you get older, it is quite a challenge. But we recorded quite a lot of music last year, and Neil has spent all of this year, in fact, in the studio piecing bits and bolts together, doing more writing on what we recorded. And we’ve got a lot of songs, and I recorded vocals on a couple about three weeks ago.”

It will be interesting to hear that and see how the press treats them this time round.

 

Slowdive official website

Losing Today – Slowdive website

The Slowdive Database

Neil Halstead official website

The Slowdive & Mojave 3 Digest Archive

The Souvlaki Space Station: A Slowdive Digital Museum

Slowdive biography (iTunes)

David Tanner hails originally from South Wales and spent 40 years working as a librarian – the last 30 in Yorkshire – and is now happily retired in France. There are not many music genres he doesn’t like and he’s never stopped seeking out good music. Always another unknown band around the corner! He writes about music and random culture at Other Formats Are Available.

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