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Chance is a fine thing: A version of the history of the Eleventh Hour, the unsigned, unknown semi-Croydon band of the eighties

Sarah at the demo recording 1982

Chance would be a fine thing. If it was ever to be released. But on the other hand, Chance is a fine thing anyway. Chance is one of a small number of short songs written and performed to a handful of people in the early eighties in Croydon (some people know this place only as a punchline, other people know better!)  The singer, in any case, was Sarah Quance from Sheffield, pictured above at the recording.  And here it is in partially restored fashion thanks to the expert care and attention of musician and producer, Jack Hayter:

Hopefully we’ll do even more and better with the musical archaeology if we can locate the master tapes. For now, though, we can make out at least that Chance was a simple song built around the pulse from a Korg synthesiser, some spacey guitar and bass strum and ethereal vocals. Extreme analogue. Not digital in any way (until now).

And so, to some history…
11th Hour recording the demo 1982
The Eleventh Hour was a semi-electronic, semi-Croydon band formed and disbanded in the early eighties in Croydon and Leeds. It comprised John Potter (me) , Peter Totterdell, Sarah Quance and Paul Dillon. It existed for almost two years during which time there was one recording session and one rejection/expression of interest from a record company, Cherry Red  (see below)
11th Hour Cherry Red records (partial) rejection
There was a vague promise of further interest, I always thought, but we never followed it up…doh!

Our musical roots and influences were in a mix of places. In addition to all the 70s and 80s pop and prog we were surrounded by, Peter and I had a shared musical love of electronic music, both the abstract shapes of early seventies Tangerine Dream and the precision and minimalist songs of Kraftwerk. But our imaginations were also increasingly fired by music coming out of Manchester (Factory, JD and New Order like everyone else it seemed), Sheffield (Cabaret Voltaire), Liverpool (Echo, Teardrops), Crawley (early Cure) and New York (Talking Heads). And we already knew people or friends of theirs at least in the Leeds scene around the Faversham (Sisters, Mekons, Three Johns, Age of Chance, Son of Sam).
John recording the 11th Hour demo

The one band who really encapsulated for us some kind of new possibility and musical touchstone in those days was the Young Marble Giants. From Cardiiff. They remain other-worldly even now; they set out on an original and largely unexplored musical path, managing to be influential but not copied, mysterious but affecting, and with submerged echoes of things we loved (Eno’s Another Green World is somewhere in there).  Basically, no one else sounded quite like them. No one else does even now. A rhythm box, an elastic bass, a tightly strummed electric guitar, Farfisa organ (which famously fell to bits the night I saw them play the Rock Garden) and the pure tones of Alison Statton.
11th Hour live (Peter) 31 July 1982
Peter and I both came from Croydon. I was from the Lower Addiscombe area and Peter from the badlands of Penge/Beckenham. Dangerously close to Bromley. But we were both at school together in Croydon. Many of my friends had been in bands and I had also played in other people’s – a prog one and a “new wave” one, both fronted and led by a friend of mine called Mark, who still writes songs under the name Mark Fox. And who’s still a friend.
11th Hour live (Sarah) 31 July 1982
Peter and I had already started writing bits and pieces of music together on keyboards, his Korg Synth, my DR-55 drum machine and we were ready for our own musical project by the time we both fetched up at university in Leeds. We put an ad on the union noticeboard and asked for a singer who sounded like Alison Statton and we found the wonderful Sarah Quance from Sheffield, another great city, full of music and pubs and great people. We were called Loaded Silence initially and brought a number of those songs with us but once Paul Dillon of Radlett, Herts joined us on bass, we had the complete line-up and, shortly before Channel 4 started and launched a show of the same name, we had the name Eleventh Hour and some new songs started to come together.
John plays guitar in Chance 11th Hour demo 1982

Songs were usually were brought to rehearsal by me and Peter with some words almost fully there, though by the end Sarah was writing great songs. But the actual music was always ultimately assembled together. We were aware of songwriting disputes in bands over out who did what, whether the arrangement was the thing or the chords that came in, or the melody the singer wrapped around the words. In our case, I think that the Eleventh Hour would not have sounded the way it did without everyone bringing something into the mix. Our sound was quiet, analogue, fuzzy, warm, partly synthetic, partly organic and woven together with real enthusiasm. If we’d signed to anyone, I like to think we would have said it was all written, performed and played by The Eleventh Hour.
11th Hour recording together demo 1982
What were the songs about? Given our musical influences and given where we were from, buildings at night featured heavily. “Hometown” is a tour through the Manhattan of South London (yes I do mean Croydon but the lyrics were anonymised from my first draft which was actually called “Croydon my Croydon”. Hi ho.). “Hotel” observes a massive neon hotel at night. “Chance” represents one of our most original sonic pieces with a distinctive pulse that Peter created on the Korg and some guitar in the distance and strummed bass with, I think to this day, Sarah’s loveliest singing. “Stress” saw us doing the whole instrument swapping thing in a piece which Peter brought almost fully formed. For some reason I moved to bass, Peter to guitar, Paul to keyboards and Sarah to electronic percussion. We all enjoyed it but live there was a bit of a hiatus while all this took place! “Midnight Special” was always my favourite to play because of the long keyboard outro with echoey, spacey piano. Here I was heavily influenced by the loveliest of all Kraftwerk songs, the original version of “Computer Love”. Well, you have to aim high. There were others, and more being written all the time and brought to rehearsal, including “From Where I’m Standing” which Sarah wrote the words and melody to.
Everything came to an end with a kind of future left unfound. There was no acrimony that I can recall. It just ended. I had most of my musical equipment stolen – along with about half my record collection. I guess the DR-55, Crumar, WEM, Peavey amp, Hondo guitar all passed throughout the back room of the Royal Park in Leeds 6. My records probably ended up back in the secondhand stores Gerol’s in the back of the Merrion Centre (from where they had come). It was a blow. And with finals approaching, we all packed it in for the time being which turned into “for all time”! I have played and recorded on and off in and around my day job (most recently some instrumental music made in my shed), Peter will come back to it one day I know, Sarah sang in other bands and wrote beautiful songs, Paul joined the Cassandra Complex and, later, Bazooka Joe. But I don’t know where he is now.
Sarah John and Paul Summer no 1 1982
How important was Croydon to the sound of the band? I don’t know about the others but, for me, I think it was the starting point. It was a suburb. It was also a city. It had affluence. It had poverty in equal measure. South was rich. North was inner city and poor (a microcosm of the simple rich-poor map of the UK). There were tower blocks which set it apart from anywhere else. It had Beano’s secondhand records, Bonaparte’s and Cloakes’s for new albums and singles. It had the Fairfield Halls but also alternative theatre at the Warehouse in Dingwall Road. It had a big gang of people who were all in different bands or looking to do something, anything different. Much maligned and lazily stereotyped, as people have only now begun to point out (thank you Bob Stanley, John Grindrod and Andy Miller), it was my home town. As Neil Young would say, writing about growing up in Canada in, “all of my changes were there”. In fact when he sings “big blue windows behind the stars…” I see Croydon, not the prairie. And I think often about writing and playing those tunes, when I was pinging between home and university and travelling towards whatever was coming up next.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen. Cecil Sharp House. January 16th 2012.

So…for the first time (for me) up to Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual hub of English Folk Music, on a Monday night to hear music of a different kind, A Winged Victory for the Sullen. The home of folk music is a strange and wonderful place, part arts centre feel, real ale bar, tea room, recital place, evening classes in folk dancing. Black and white photos of Ewan MacColl and the like…and a wonderful main room graced at one side by a fantastic mural.
Great choice for A Winged Victory on reflection – an album made in an analogue fashion through ancient desks with real reverb in big rooms…The collaboration between pianist/composer Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie from Stars of the Lid who met whilst working with the beautiful lost lamented Sparklehorse. Last year they released their self-titled album which, it's fair to say, doesn't naturally and immediately appear to lend itself to live performance. Mis-described in the Guardian Guide at the weekend as miserable music, this uplifting collection of electrical drones and piano and strings is genuinely uncategorisable. Some people can't cope with that. So, because it's slow it gets mis-described (again) as Ambient! Eno himself has said he often goes looking through the Ambient section in stores just to see what's there and it isn't usually anything of the kind. It's closer I guess to Jonsi and Alex's Happiness or Johanson's scores mixed with the back catalogues of pianist/composer Dustin and guitar drone specialist Adam (whose co-founder of Stars of the Lid Brian McBride also continues to make great music).
But it's also none of those things. It is its own original scope and feel, so…best to leave the categories behind and just listen.Winged victory
Tonight, joined on stage by a string trio,  O'Halloran and Wiltzie perform glorious versions of the tracks on Winged Victory. The long penultimate, soaring Symphony Pathetique works best with a huge crescendo of electronics and strings and something that looks like a guitar being played but makes unearthly, beautiful sounds under the control of A.Wiltzie. All the players seemed lost in the music but were also human and smiley – nothing solemn about this occasion (giving further evidence against the Guide's accusation of misery). I'll have to leave trying to pigeonhole it; we all will! If you sometimes  like music which doesn't contain words or all the usual movement, which is mostly still but still changing and which just has the effect of giving you a healthy pause from the river of demand flowing your way then this is for you. Find them on tour and/or get hold of their lovely album. It will stay with you.  Official site.

And from Studio Brussels – a glimpse of how they play and how they sound…

 

Richard’s Top 20 Songs of 2011

 

1)  Dawes-Band-Pic[1]    Dawes – A Little Bit of Everything

 This is my favourite track off my album of the year. Every track on ‘Nothing Is Wrong’ is a gem but this closer is for me the highlight and like 3 or 4 tracks on the album sounds like it could be released as lost outtakes to Jackson Browne’s ‘Late for the Sky’ (also see Moon on the Water, My Way Back Home). Haunting, wry and at times a funny narrative based around three vignettes, a suicidal man overwhelmed by loss and life, an old man reflecting on life’s challenges while finding comfort in simple pleasures and a disillusioned groom to be challenging the pre-determined course life has set out for him.  Even the guitar break conjures David Lindley’s haunting and distinctive guitar sound and the simple piano motif sticks in your head without jarring. Great to see Jackson Browne backing up these boys earlier in the year (and singing on the album too)- he can spot a talent and whether he is recapturing his Laurel Canyon days it feels less affected than Jonathan Wilson’s efforts. To me this sounds like timeless songwriting and exactly like a final track on a 70’s Californian album classic should.

 

 

Fossil Collective 2jpg[1]2)      Fossil Collective – Without a Fight (Dark Dark Horse Remix)

Although the song came out on the wonderful Honey Slides EP in 2010 this remix was given away by Johnny and David the duo behind the Leeds based duo The Fossil Collective this year. As I have been waiting with baited breath for their forthcoming album, this remix provided some recompense. Born from the ashes of indie-rock contenders Vib Gyor (also worth checking out)the EP sits well next to Midlake’s Van Occupanther with a Fleetwood Mac seventies slickness but also a vulnerablility that the original band didn’t seem to tap into. This remix adds another dimension and diverts the slide guitar led epic ballad into a completely different thing. It has to be a good remix and an even better composition if I can’t work out which I prefer.

  

3) Dry the River – Weights & Measures

Epic and beautiful track that soars with the simple but beautiful chorus: ‘I was prepared to love you, never expect anything of you,’  mixes Fleet Foxes with soaring indie sensibilities swelling with strings and brass. A truly wonderful vocal that wavers and tugs at my heart strings like no other track I have heard this year.

   

4)      Indigo Girls – Yoke 

Stunning Amy Ray track as good as anything they have ever done and the best thing by a country mile from their mediocre ‘Beauty Queen Sister’. Although I have history with this band and saw their first ever appearance in the UK at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club in the late eighties (on my work experience at Greater London Radio) their many offereings have been patchy. This track reminds me that keeping on top of their output still pays dividends. Atmospheric with an gritty, brooding vocal from the edgier and darker of the duo with a trance like fiddle, vibes and with understated backing from Emily Saliers ensure I will always keep up with whatever they do together or apart.

 

5)      Beirut – The Rip Tide

 Never bonded with Beirut until this album – pleased to see the songs taking centre stage and not the influences and stamps in Zach Condon’s passport. This track possibly is the most straightforward track that he has ever done but feels all the better for it.

 

6)      Jordie Lane – Not From Round Here

 I think this Melbourne songwriter wears his colours and love of US seventies singer/songwriters for all to see yet there is no doubt this is an Australian. Maybe it’s the space in the music and the simple, earnest no- nonsense lyric. This is a haunting, rambling song with a chorus that reaches a beautiful peak behind Cohen-esque picking and a wash of banjo. Confusingly his Blood Thinner album was recorded in a windowless room in California and in the motel Gram last stayed in Joshua tree. I would’ve thought there are plenty of ghosts closer to home.

 

7)      Roadside Graves – Double Feature

Great slice of Americana with a delicious resonating guitar and a  few twists and turns. Couldn't find a clip but is available on itunes.

8)      Daniel Martin Moore – In the Cool of the Day

 Absolutely beautiful and sparse piano led version of the ol’ Appalachian Jean Ritchie song.

 

9)      Lau Vs Adem – Ghosts

I think Kris Drever is such a talent - an amazing guitarist with such a unique voice and hopefully more songs like this up his sleeve.

 

10) Abbe May – Cast That Devil Out

From isolated Bunbury in Western Australian (150 Km south of Perth- and where I considered emigrating to) – grungy blues guitarist one part Black Keys, one part PJ Harvey with a dash of Australiana thrown in. Love her ‘Design Desire’ album – check out ‘Blood River’ from that album as a contrast to this pumping pile-driving number.

Not the best youtube clip I'm afraid

 

11)      Fionn Reagan – 100 Acres of Sycamores

 

12)      The Middle East – Land of the Bloody Unknown

More aussies – this time from Townsville over in the East. Great music from an unlikely source.  

13)      Emilie Simon – Mon Chevalier

Although this is used in the film Franky Knight with Audrey Tatou this song is steepd in the sadness of the sudden passing of Emilie's fiance.  

14)      Jones Street Station – The Understanding

Lots of fun, makes you want to be impulsive in a crazy rom-com way. Always brings a smile to my face. Love the video too.

 

15)      Bryan John Appleby – Noah’s Nameless Wife

He has the beard and the voice and a rather lovely song too. Watch out Bon Iver.

 

16)      Girls – Vomit

I love the Dark Side Of the Moon ending to this song. 

 

17)   The Antlers – No Widows

 

18)   Cass McCombs – County Line

 So melancholic and soulful with that lovely warm Fender Rhodes sound - brave to have this as the lead track off your album. It is something special though. You never know what Cass McCombs will come up with next having released 2 records in the past few months – both of them very good.

 

 

19)   Dolorean – Country Clutter

I love this band so much and Al James is the nicest guy in music and I hope one day he is a household name. This first clip is from one of my fave gigs of the year. Love the lyric to this too.

 

 

20)   Neil Halstead – Home for the Season

I forgot about Neil Halstead and have been a fan since Mojave 3 days, although this has an Xmas theme I am sure I will listen to this year round.

 

Dawes, Jonathan Wilson & Jackson Browne 19th July 2011

Jackson 008 There are always so many great opportunities to see live music in London that I could probably find an artist or band that I would want to see every night. I have long decided that choosing the venue is a good way to traverse what can be a time-consuming and expensive path. Tuesday 19th July was one of those evenings where the venue really paid off. How wonderful then to be sat opposite Jackson Browne in a boozer while he catches up with friends (I notice he asks for a plate and steals some fish and chips) knowing I am about to see him in a venue not much bigger than the living room of my small terraced house (admittedly I am including the open plan kitchen… but hey that is still an intimate setting!)

While I booked my ticket to see Dawes whose recent 'Nothing is Wrong' album is both wonderful and a fairly obvious homage to early seventies Jackson Browne there were rumours cirulating that Jackson was to attend the same line-up's Borderline show on the following night. Unable to attend the Borderline show I was so pleased to see the large cases outside the Slaughtered Lamb in Farringdon emblazoned with 'Jackson Browne'. Dawes having backed Robbie Robertson now had JB as a mentor and it seemed that he wasn't going to let these young bucks out of his sight even for a warm-up gig in a tiny basement.

Just a few days earlier I was offered a free ticket to see James Taylor at the 02 and while it was nice to be in the same stadium size space as a legend there were too many MOR moments and sterile arrangements which were too far removed from Mud Slim and Sweet Baby James. This gig was the polar opposite.

Dawes started proceedings with 'Million Dollar Bill' a quieter moment from 'Nothing is Wrong' and previewed on the Middle Brother 'supergroup' offering suggesting that in Slaughtered lamb tradition that this would be a muted gig. With a rhodes and pump organ, bass, muted drums and an electric the foursome worked their way through the album and the volume crept up.   Taylor Goldsmith's voice was passionate and powerful, hell… 'A Little Bit of Everything' ( which could close Jackson Browne's 1974 'Late for the Sky' LP) with it's strangly poignant vignettes led by that simple motif put a lump in my throat. While straightlaced and unambigous Dawes hit the spot, highights include a John prine Cover (Crazy as a Loon) and of course 'When My Time Comes' which has my Kiwi friend howling along even though he has never heard it before. 

Jonathan Wilson, freshly signed to Bella Union had a hard act to follow and quite frankly he failed to deliver his hippy-ish laurel canyon revisited thing felt a little fake and although I have bought into it before his songs felt hollow. I am not sure if Simon Raymonde from Bella Union was wishing he had beat Loose Music to 'Dawes' I know I would be. Maybe we could all see JB sat two sofas to the left of where I was sitting. Jackson joined Jonathan Wilson for a song before launching into a beautiful 'These Days' and 'Our Lady of the Well' then 'Take it Easy'.  Hats off to a legend who is still happy to kick around in a small pub in Farringdon and champion young talent. James Taylor I hope you are taking note!

What is this blog for?

This blog is for reviews of the various live shows that we go to as well as being about the music we enjoy listening to…along with some pointers to videos and music tracks we’ve enjoyed…along with links to music blogs we’ve enjoyed. In spite of what friends and family might assume, this is not going to be exclusively limited to what gets called “Americana” by Uncut (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing – in fact quite the reverse!) but includes a wide variety of music we’re interested in.  The only consistent connecting theme is it seems to be about music made by people who are mainly off the really giant commercial radar (with some exceptions) but who seem to be in it because they enjoy working with those few chords and twisting them into something new and timeless.  Or something like that. So we’ll reference things we’ve been to see recently and in the recent past and years ago and just yesterday and maybe even at the time.

Those of you familiar with King Creosote will recoginse the title of this blog as being part of a great song of his. We really don’t intend to take this name in vain but to take it as an inspirational title. Last April at the Slaughtered Lamb he played my favourite song “And the Racket They Made” by request *after* the show was finished and people were leaving.  He didn’t have to do this and he could have politely asked me to back off and leave him alone (there I was whining that he hadn’t played it after an immaculate 2 hour set).  There were no cameras recording this lovely extra performance and this song in particular  – but it happened.  Really.  And the only thing recording it is this, a post on my other blog and memory.

So this blog is a means of recording some of what happens out there in the still beautiful and unpredictable world of live music (away from most of the corporate venues at least).

Hope you like it.