The Monochrome Set
|Track||Album / Single|
|Eine Symphonie Des Grauens||Rough Trade RT 019|
|Goodbye Joe||Strange Boutique|
|The Monochrome Set||Strange Boutique|
|405 Lines||Love Zombies|
|The Mating Game||Eligible Bachelors|
|The Jet Set Junta||Eligible Bachelors|
|Jacob's Ladder||The Lost Weekend|
|Wallflower||The Lost Weekend|
The Monochrome Set (1982) clockwise from top: Bid (guitar, vocals), Lester Square (guitar, vocals), Morris Windsor (drums), Andy Warren (bass, vocals)
Contributor: Richard Warran
Born a little too late for punk rock and also finding my shy teenage self rather scared of the clothes, attitude and sound of the music that came out in ˈ76 and ˈ77, it wasn’t until post punk and new wave came along that I suddenly discovered a load of new bands that I fell in love with, and that seemed slightly less intimidating to the fifteen-year-old me than the punk movement.
The Monochrome Set were one of these bands. I first heard them, probably on John Peel’s Radio 1 show. It was one of their early singles, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (in my toppermost ten), that caught the attention of my young ears. A strange sounding song that seemed rather mysterious to me, even the cover with its Eastern European men looking like whirling dervishes gave the record a mysterious feel. Sung by the rather exotic and enigmatic lead singer Bid (born Ganesh Seshadri), suddenly this was a band I was hooked on.
My canvas school bag was was soon etched in permanent black marker pen with the band’s name. I managed to get a few school friends in the sixth form interested and remember seeing them live at The Venue in Victoria in 1981 on the ‘Love Zombies’ tour promoting their second album. Thirty-three years later I saw them last summer at The Hope in Brighton, my longest gap in seeing the same band twice. They still had it and I was seventeen again, at least for one night only.
The Monochrome Set were formed at Hornsey Art School in London from the remnants of a previous band The B-Sides. Another member was a certain Stuart Goddard who later became both a dandy highwayman and a swashbuckling pop pirate. The first Monochrome Set line up was Bid, Lester Square on guitar, John D. Haney on drums and Charlie X on bass. Their first single, He’s Frank, was released on Rough Trade in 1979, followed by another single The Monochrome Set, another track in my top ten.
They released their first album, Strange Boutique, in 1980. It climbed to a dizzying chart position of No.62 and was quickly followed by Love Zombies, another great album which again peaked in the lower end of the album chart. Always a band with a great eye for design, both of their first two albums had great covers and their live sets featured the films and set designs of experimental filmmaker Tony Potts.
The Monochrome Set signed with Cherry Red Records in ˈ82 and, as well as appearing on the great compilation album Pillows & Prayers, they released Eligible Bachelors and the single The Mating Game a song about exactly that with lyrics only this band could write.
Whether Eligible Bachelors prompted the major record labels to come knocking I don’t know but the band did sign with Blanco Y Negro, a subsidiary of Warner Bros, and recorded and released The Lost Weekend album in 1985. Two great singles, Jacob’s Ladder and Wallflower, were released from the album and, although both poppier and more radio friendly than previous singles, both failed in commercial terms and their brief flirtation with the might of a major record label ended. The Monochrome Set broke up a short time later.
After a five year hiatus, they reformed in 1990 with original members Andy Warren and Lester Square joining Bid and new members Orson Presence and Mike Slocombe. The band had always had a big fan base in Japan and so they toured there and in Europe, extensively, releasing four albums during this period. Lead singer Bid also released material with his other band, Scarlet’s Well.
Towards the end of the 90s, the band stopped touring and took an extended break before a one-night-only performance at Cherry Red’s 30th birthday party at Dingwalls in October 2008.
Platinum Coils, the tenth album, was released in 2012, followed by Super Plastic City in 2013. Since then, they have signed to the German record label Tapete and have released two great albums Spaces Everywhere and Cosmonaut.
The Monochrome Set continue to tour, both in the UK and in Europe, and in my opinion are still as good as ever they were. Go check them out in a city near you soon.
“The Monochrome Set appeared in the hazy period just after punk and hung around for a good two decades, releasing clever albums full of hook-crammed melodies and coloured with a dark sense of humour.” John Robb, The Guardian
“Platinum Coils, The Monochrome Set’s latest release, is a great record, up there with their finest work. The band’s tenth album continues to show Bid’s distinctive way with words, the cool force of Lester Square’s Western-tinged guitars, and Andy Warren’s solid yet fluid basswork synchs with new drummers Steve Brummell and Jen Denitto, who share percussion duties.” Aug Stone, God Is In The TV
“It’s a rare boon to find a reunited band who’ve matured without becoming dull. The Monochrome Set were early proponents of jangly 80s indie with a bit of new-wave spike; they stuttered to a halt several times but came back renewed in 2012. Spaces Everywhere, their third album since returning, is spooky, catch, skiffly pop, swinging between scratchy rockabilly on Iceman, big Who-like crescendos on Avenue and, on The Z-Train, adventures in Coral-esque psych.” Matthew Horton, NME
“Cosmonaut is a soundtrack to those lazy days lying back thinking of everything and nothing. It is a curiosity shop of delight; a collection of hidden gems and half remembered photographs of mysterious origin. It is my current favourite of the four albums released in the past five years but they are all great albums. Here’s to the next four.” Mark Ray, Louder Than War
ALBUMS: Strange Boutique (1980), Love Zombies (1980), Eligible Bachelors (1982), The Lost Weekend (1985), Dante’s Casino (1990), Jack (1991), Charade (1993), Misère (1994), Trinity Road (1995), Platinum Coils (2012), Super Plastic City (2013), Spaces Everywhere (2015), Cosmonaut (2016)
Richard Warran lives in Haywards Heath, famed for being a rather dull but close to Brighton and London commuter town. He has a passion for music and travel sometimes combining the two and can often be found at gigs in the above two cities. Find him on Twitter @rickwarran1.