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…
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)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.