1991 – Peggy Suicide – Julian Cope


1991 - Peggy Suicide

I was absolutely convinced that “The Day The Earth Stood Still” was a good song but knew something was missing. The bass line, the piano part and the hook were great, it just didn’t have the energy I wanted. So, the rethink: speed it up, cut the crap (make it as near the golden three minutes long as possible – or shorter) and simplify the drums. That worked but it still lacked an ingredient that I couldn’t figure out. With that one on a back burner, Justin and I kept recording demos of new songs, an obsession with Marilyn Monroe led me to write, “Pump The Drug”, whilst a flick through a poetry book, picking out random lines and phrases which I then assembled into an order that sounded meaningful (but which was, in truth, utterly meaningless) resulted in a song called, “Everybody Will Shout”.

It was the new album by long time favourite Julian Cope that made me realise what I’d been missing all this time. Harmonies. Why on earth I’d never realised sooner I don’t know; I’d spent six and a half years in a close-harmony band and was currently singing backing vocals in The Holy Rollers so it wasn’t as if I didn’t know what harmonies were, I’d just never thought to put them in my own songs!

“Peggy Suicide” is a typically bonkers Cope album that swings between often pretentious-sounding nonsense and out-and-out brilliant rockers with choruses that fly. He’d incorporated ‘baggy’ in some of the drum beats, along with classic organ sounds and fuzzed-up guitars in songs that are at times basically long, drawn out jams (“East Easy Rider”) whilst at other times perfect pop songs (“Beautiful Love”). However, I don’t know why and perhaps it was because they’re very loosely (or clumsily?) done, but it was in the chorus of the fifth song, “Safesurfer” that Cope’s harmonies, singing, “You don’t have to be afraid love, cos I’m a safe surfer darling”, suddenly leapt out at me, building up in a way that was reminiscent of ‘Twist And Shout’ by The Beatles. Then, on “Soldier Blue” they’re there again, tighter this time but still obvious.

We went to see him play at The Leadmill in Sheffield in May and, apart from noticing he used a very cool red, Gibson ES-335 guitar, I was struck by the backing vocals. That was what we needed to put in our songs.

And we did. On the new and much improved demo, the chorus of “The Day The Earth Stood Still” now had four parts to it and sounded great. At last, it came alive.

So much so in fact, that I decided to go one step further. It was time to go back into the proper studio but this time produce our very own 7″ vinyl single. I booked some more time back at The Powder Rooms with Jason & Co. and explained what we wanted this time. We’d all learned a lot since the last time and I’d pre-programmed all the music so raced through and recorded four songs, including “Pump The Drug”, “Everybody Will Shout” and a new one called, “Diamonds”. Getting the music done quickly meant we had more time to get the vocals right, including, of course, the harmonies. I was also keen to feature my new guitar, a Gibson ES-347 that I’d recently bought from Carlsbro Sound Centre on City Road in Sheffield. The humbucker pick-ups were really meaty and gave a great rock sound which sounded great on “Diamonds”.

The Gibson gave the band a more rock edge too. The Holy Rollers had changed. Fran, the “drummer” got married, Scott left to try his luck as a solo artist and Nicola left because, she reasonably said, as a nineteen year old she didn’t want to spend every Saturday night in some Godforsaken Working Men’s Club when she should be out clubbing with her mates. Justin and I had been going to the Hook, Line and Sinker pub in Kimberworth Park every Monday, where Morris Croft (The Wayne Vincent Sound) ran the night, singing his country songs in between inviting members of the audience to get up and do a bit. We regularly got up and sang a couple of songs from our set whilst Morris’ son, Martin played along on his bass. We went down really well and naturally got talking. It turned out that Martin had a band too called Debut. They played their own material in and around Sheffield and were doing ok, though not getting paid. Justin and I were asked to take part in a charity event where we did our bit, along with a few others, before Debut finished the night off. Martin played bass for us along with their band’s drummer Craig. It was great! We asked if they fancied joining The Holy Rollers, playing the clubs and getting paid for it. Despite being warned by his current girlfriend, “Don’t get involved with those two, they’re nutters!” Craig was in immediately! A couple of quick rehearsals later, we were off – Justin as sole frontman of a totally live band – at last, no more backing tapes. Perhaps stereotypically, the women in the audience generally loved Justin because he was a good looking lad who could really dance, whilst the men in the audience wanted to punch him because he was a good looking lad who could really dance and was attracting the women! To his eternal credit, Justin was utterly unaware of all this and just lost himself in the performance – one of the best front men I’ve ever seen.

Meanwhile, everything was sorted. The test pressings had been approved, the labels designed (I took the ‘dancing couple’ logo from an old book called “Entertainment” by David Kennedy) and printed and the whole package paid for. In October, I received the shipment of ten boxes of thirty 7″ singles from the vinyl pressing plant at SRT. We’d made a single and I could play it on my turntable. Wow, my own single! The A side, naturally, was “The Day The Earth Stood Still” whilst on the B side we opted for “Pump The Drug”. (On the label I put a little number 2 after the band name to distinguish this incarnation of the duo from the original one started at college with Robert.) Now the hard part: I sent copies to loads of record companies and released it independently, which meant arranging for it to be sold in local record shops, all promoted with self-designed flyers and posters. It never made much money but we did sell a couple of hundred copies and it appeared at the bottom end of the charts one week. We were delighted and I knew I’d been right to believe in the song, especially now I’d recognised the power of harmonies. From now on, they would be like dog-muck in Bridlington. Everywhere.

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