The Lotus Eaters

TrackAlbum / Single
The First Picture Of YouNo Sense Of Sin
German GirlNo Sense Of Sin
Can You Keep A SecretNo Sense Of Sin
Set Me ApartNo Sense Of Sin
When You Look At BoysNo Sense Of Sin
You Don't Need Someone NewSylvan Records (Arista) SYL 122-A
Two Virgins TenderSylvan Records (Arista) SYL 122-A
The Lotus EatersSylvan Records (Arista) SYL 121-B
Out On Your Own 12"Sylvan Records (Arista) SYL 124-A
It HurtsSylvan Records (Arista) SYL 125

The 10 songs (listed above) also appear on the expanded 20-track CD reissue of ‘No Sense Of Sin’ released by Cherry Red Records in 2010

 

The Lotus Eaters photo 1

Jeremy Kelly & Peter Coyle

 

 

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Lotus Eaters playlist

 

Contributor: Dave Ross

Fey > adjective
1. mysterious and strange, or trying to appear like this
2. giving an impression of vague unworldliness or mystery:
“a rather fey romantic novelist”

This is slightly unusual for a Toppermost as I’m focussing on just one album. Why? Well, for one there are 18 years between this album and what came next and I’ll be honest I haven’t listened to those. Maybe one day I’ll do a Toppermost on the 21st century Lotus Eaters but for now I’m concentrating on the 20th century version. Also, what comes next is a story of the highs and lows of pop music, especially pop music in the early 80s where huge rewards, fame and fortune were possible. If you were lucky, careers were forged that lasted 40 years. If fate was against you, success was dangled tantalisingly close yet snatched away in a heartbeat.

This story comes in three parts. The rise, the shortest of peaks, followed by a lifetime of trying to climb back up. So, can you do a Toppermost Top 10 for a band and focus on just one album? If the story is worth telling I think you can, especially if that album had an expanded CD version released 20 years after the original with 9 extra tracks. Toppermost? Almost …

My love of fey 80s synth pop duos is well documented. It’s a strong genre in my musical world from China Crisis to the Associates and Blancmange it’s music that I love. So when I recently saw a vinyl copy of No Sense Of Sin, The Lotus Eaters 1984 album that contains the magical The First Picture Of You at a local car boot sale I decided to invest a pound and take it home. Singer and co-writer Peter Coyle stares dreamily from the cover. No sign of keyboard playing co-writer Jeremy “Jem” Kelly though. (I’ve since learned that it was released with two covers, one with a picture of Peter and one with a picture of Jem.)

I played it once and it sort of drifted past me. A second play and it began to seep in, until now, having played it numerous times, I’m wondering if I’ve found a lost gem. On top of that, I used the power of Google to search, curious if there was a story behind The Lotus Eaters. I wasn’t left disappointed, more on that later.

This is no Thompson Twins-style reappraisal, I’m not quite sure what it is but I hope it strikes a chord somewhere.

I’ll start at the beginning. Coyle and Kelly had been in bands in the early 80s. Coyle’s band, the Jass Babies, managed a Peel session, while Kelly had worked with Michael Head who went on to form the Pale Fountains. They met in 1982 and in the same year recorded a Peel session as the Lotus Eaters which included The First Picture Of You and were immediately signed by Arista. Just like that. Easy this music business, right?

 

The First Picture Of You was released as a single in 1983 and what a single it was. Perfect Radio 1 material. The band were stylish, mysterious and Peter Coyle looked like a cross between Nick Heyward, Lloyd Cole and Edwyn Collins. Top Of The Pops followed and success seemed guaranteed. But the record stuck at number 15 when a top 3 seemed guaranteed. Just a blip surely? It is obviously the first choice here:

It’s warm in and out
The pulse of flowing love
Spread the calm to meet the others
Pleasure fills with love ’til dawn
It’s warm in and out
The call for sacred hours
The soft chant of new-born singing
The magic force of your feelings

The No Sense Of Sin album followed the release of The First Picture Of You and it’s a remarkable thing in its own way. It’s as soft and sweet as a bowl of butterscotch Angel Delight. It’s as light as the tiniest feather of goose down. As fragile as a spider’s web made of the finest porcelain. It’s sensitive and kind and androgynous. All things we’ve come to understand as right and good wrapped up in a piece of 80s pop. We want our pop stars to be Keith Moon don’t we? Rough, ready, loud and a nightmare to be around. We want our songs to have edge and our artists to have beards. In 1984, The Lotus Eaters were being sensitive and kind and androgynous. You could say they were years ahead of their time. You could also say that perhaps they were looking back at Wildean themes of love and beauty that didn’t belong in pop music until Morrissey crashed through the glass ceiling that The Lotus Eaters had just tickled with their feather duster.

Someone will no doubt call them “earnest bedwetters” or some other crass put down but these guys were putting their feelings out there on record and dressing them up in catchy, light 3-minute pop songs. Musically, the songs are very similar and very much of their time. In fact, I defy you to find anything that defines the era any better. The drum sound, the production, everything about it. Lyrically it borders on sixth form poetry but it’s clearly trying to be something a bit different, something lovely and thoughtful.

Five more singles followed and none troubled the top 50, never mind the top 40. To listen to them now if you remember the era, it’s a mystery as to why? So I’ve chosen these songs from the album as part of the 10 and selected some lyrics from them for you to peruse and hopefully listen to and try and solve the mystery. Either way I think you’ll feel better for it.

German Girl
The dusty rooms
We are travellers of the sorrow
We can build a humble home
A home without woe

Can You Keep A Secret
This is birthday card
All the love I have
You must know by now is yours
This is birthday card
All the love you gave
You must know by now is mine
This is birthday card
All my teenage love
Coming up to the surface now
This is birthday card
Spangled love affair
Taste in me a bright new thirst

Set Me Apart
The language of tears
The pure and the perfect
Don’t let me settle in this hazy grief
Still all your secrets of more than one love
Floating forever in your freedom
Set me apart from other boys

When You Look At Boys
When you look at boys
What do you feel
When you look at boys
Do you look in detail
You look and you stare
At dancing, spiral beauty
My heart can break up
In this wild thought

There, it’s like a stroll through a summer meadow or a view from a Himalayan retreat – and breathe – aaaaah … If you were a fan of Two Door Cinema Club you’ll find something very familiar here. Anyway, on to the 2010 Cherry Red expanded version and five more songs to make the top 10. I think the songs that didn’t make the album are more interesting and maybe there’s some regret that they didn’t take some bolder choices. Imagine the outcry if they’d released something like the next choice? A song called Two Virgins Tender. They just don’t let up on the fey sentimentality. It’s all a bit weird, yet beautiful and innocent and quite disarming. I can’t find any lyrics online but it starts …

We are two virgins looking to the chaos of our friends
No one would know that we have been together
Love is not a mark of weakness
it is the mark of action leading us in the one direction
Every voice comes from sex

Ok … I’ve also chosen the second single, You Don’t Need Someone New, which wasn’t on the album for some reason and, while not as perfect as The First Picture Of You, should have been a top 10 song.

Next is the eponymous The Lotus Eaters, a strange almost folk-style song which perhaps would have made a better choice for the album than as a single. The next choice is the 12″ version of Out On Your Own which was single number 4 which didn’t chart at all, not even top 100. It’s a great 80s song. Containing all the stuff you’d need for an 80’s hit. Even some Big Country style guitar which is really ironic with what comes later in this piece. The last choice is It Hurts which was the final single and could well have been aimed at the record buying public who had turned their backs on their fey, sensitive, kind, androgynous, sweet, light, fragile pop music.

Your body says yes your heart says no
My heart says don’t
Need you, need you, need you now
I need you now, I need you now I, need you now
I need you now, I need you now

You take hold of the flame in my heart
Makes me mad makes me burn the stars
Makes you cruel, makes you push me out side
And it hurts yes it hurts so and it hurts
And it hurts yes it hurts so and it hurts

There must be a taste of murder in it
There must be a taste of murder in it
Life it’s self depends on it
Life it’s self
I need you now, I need you now I, need you now
I need you now, I need you now

Sad this music business, right?

All the songs are sung in Coyle’s barely above-a-whisper almost choral-like vocal style and make for a great selection of 80s ephemera. The problem is that the gorgeous angelic harmonies, the purity of Coyle’s vocal and the impossibly catchy hook on The First Picture Of You, lifts that song way above the others and is just never matched. It’s a gorgeous, brilliant pop song but when I delved into the what happened next to the Lotus Eaters it became something else. The classic case of the blessing and the curse.

So that’s the music. A top ten but I heartily recommend listening to the complete extended version of No Sense Of Sin if you are a Spotify user. Success, as it was, came and went in the blink of an eye. The band broke up in 1985 and despite Coyle and Kelly remaining in and around the industry, even attempting the first of several comebacks in 2001 (a Toppermost for another day), they could never, would never match the perfection of The First Picture Of You or grab the public’s attention in any way. It was over. Tough this music business, right?

Now to the ‘What Happened Next’ part. In my research I found a Peter Coyle website with a biography written in 2017 and it is extraordinary. Here are some excerpts and a link should you choose to read it all. Clearly written from the heart, and searingly honest, it reads as a free-form flow of thoughts of what happens when a pop star has that moment and spends the rest of their life trying to match it. Not even necessarily commercially, just trying to be heard, to recover that moment, to get their music listened to, somehow.

Never one to favour commercialism over creativity, Peter says that since then “I have not focused that much on trying to sell the records. I believed that if I wrote the right song then the rest would take care of itself. I still believe it. I still think that if a song is right, it will find some way of getting out there into people’s heart and soul.”

The beginning of 2017 saw Peter at his exquisite best, as he delivered the songs he had written with Martyn Ware, based on the poems of Picasso, at the Everything You Can Imagine Is Real late shift event at London’s National Portrait Gallery. Blindfolded by a scarlet satin scarf as he began his performance, Peter continued a full sensory experience throughout, the highlight of which was undoubtedly the beautiful purity of his voice.

“At that time (I was 17) in 1979 I would do gigs wrapped up in bin bags or hanging upside down or something. I was very influenced by Peter Gabriel and Ian Curtis and would perform like a screaming banshee.”

“The Lotus Eaters supported Big Country on their UK tour. The Big Country boys were really nice people. There was no bullshit there at all, which I really admire and respect them for. Having said that we were totally the wrong band to support them”

“I was in love with Funkadelic and wanted to get some funk into my soul. We ended up with the I’d Sacrifice Eight Orgasms With Shirley MacLaine Just To Be There album. We wore wigs and sunglasses and flares and just let the music play.”

“I let all my deep black thoughts out and wrote songs about racists about politicians about moneymen about aids about organised religions about machismo both male and female about Chernobyl about the darkest sides of people and nature about life in Liverpool for me about my dreadful state of mind.”

There’s loads more of the same and it becomes a wailing howl of pain as Coyle opens his heart and soul about everything. It’s astonishing.

What does all this mean? I’m not sure but Peter Coyle is now on the Rewind circuit performing The First Picture Of You to middle aged mums and dads looking for a weekend away from the kids and to rekindle some memories of their youth. I hope he’s found some peace and solace in the fact that he did produce a fey, sensitive, kind, androgynous, sweet, light, fragile, lovely, thoughtful, hopeful, ambitious album that contained one exceptional song nearly 40 years ago, and one he should be enormously proud of. There’s no judgement from me. I just thought it a story worth sharing. Cruel this music business, right?

 

This is a revised version of an article which first appeared on the Afterword website

 

The Lotus Eaters photo 2

The Lotus Eaters (1984)

 

The Lotus Eaters photo 3

 

 

 

 

The Lotus Eaters official website

Peter Coyle’s website

The Lotus Eaters UK Facebook

The Lotus Eaters (Wikipedia)

The Lotus Eaters biography (AllMusic)

Dave Ross lives nr Windsor and hides under his online pseudonym Dave Amitri to talk mainly about cricket and music. He has written a drama, “Jimmy Blue”, featuring the music of Del Amitri and is currently writing a series of posts on listening to David Bowie albums for the first time. For updates you can follow him on twitter @DaveAmitri. His previous posts for this site are on The Associates, Nick Heyward, Tears for Fears, Thompson Twins.

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