By 1981 the first wave of DIY cassette culture was winding down; the weekly music papers Sounds and the NME stopped their columns listing tape releases and though cassettes continued to be put out it quickly became more of an underground movement focussing on noise music. It had been four years since Snatch Tapes had had its first cassette release and with the simple arrogance that comes with youth I felt that Storm Bugs had done the DIY noise thing. It was time for a change.
This element of pastiche was to be developed in the music recorded from 1981 onwards. Fellow Storm Bug Steven Ball was studying Film Video and Sound at Maidstone College of Art and through him I met another student Michael Denton. Having heard that I had some facility with sound he asked for help recording music for his videos. Visually and sonically the frame of reference was less photocopied black and white grainy industrial, and more 1950s jazz LPs with their use of vibraphones and bright block colour sleeves.
I spent some time trying to promote these new numbers, even wangling an audience with the head of A & R at EMI. I had sold him the project over the phone on the basis that it was a cross between Kraftwerk and ABBA, which of course it wasn’t. The interview lasted a few minutes before he began fast forwarding the tape to the next track commenting nicely, if disapproving that it sounded like the more experimental end of Kate Bush’s output (Bush was on EMI at the time). Fifteen minutes later I was back on the street with my cassette. I tried with other labels including Rough Trade where Geoff Travis kindly listened to the whole tape on headphones in front of me, but politely said no. My svengali impresario career seemingly not making much progress I put the reel to reel tapes in the cupboard and moved on to the next project.
Meanwhile Steven Ball and I had been discussing making a film together based on a story much heard in the Medway towns (where we had spent our teens) of repeated ghost sightings of a hitchhiker on Blue Bell Hill in Rochester. The legend went that following a car crash in 1965 that motorists travelling alone up the hill at night would see a woman hitching at the side of the road. The drivers would stop and offer her a lift. The woman would insist on sitting in the back of the car, but as they neared the bottom of the hill the drivers would turn round only to find that the woman had disappeared. The area around the hill is the location for Neolithic burial sites and is criss-crossed by ley lines. A somewhat complex scenario was worked up, a trilogy no less of short pieces which involved not only the ghost sightings, but also a journey across nearby Cliffe Marshes by the ‘ghost’ played by Angela Staples. The approach was to treat the landscape as a kind of shifting palimpsest on which the memory of events that had taken place were in some way recorded, and which could be subsequently activated or played back.
Following the completion of Green on The Horizon Steven slightly unexpectedly moved to Australia, no reflection on the film, which was well received, touring extensively as part of the Electric Eyes programme. I embarked on the second part of the trilogy Hangway Turning, again with funding from South East Arts. This time the film featured not only the ghost but a psychic investigator called Thomas Cubitt played by Alien Brain Nigel Jacklin. The West Square studio was now located next to Morley College and had acquired new digital equipment including a Yamaha soundbank synthesizer. In an afternoon session a few basic tracks were recorded using the soundbank fed through a VCS3 for added reverb and ring modulation treatments. Three of these pieces from the session, namely Scene of the Crash, Looking Back, and the title track On One of These Bends are included on the new LP.
There was still part three of the trilogy to complete, though it had never really been established what exactly that might entail, and the project morphed into Shadowman. This coincided with a move to run down flat in New Eltham, a somewhat nothing place on the very fringes of London (you could literally walk down the dual carriageway past the sign that said you are now entering Kent). Feeling somewhat exiled from everything, Shadowman has the filmmaker’s shadow as the only character. The E for Echo vocal loop features as the main music in the film.
Shadowman completed in 1991 was to be the last single screen piece I was to make for ten years, spending the 1990s working on sound and light installations. Listening back to the two sides of the LP without the moving images its nostalgic musical sequences and feeling of displacement and loss turns it into something of a memento mori for the films, and maybe the decade itself.