Sunday, May 17, 2020

Table Matters by Storm Bugs 40th Anniversary

 The front and back sleeve of the Table Matters EP

1980, 40 years ago was a highpoint for all things Storm Bugs and Snatch Tapes. Cassette wise the Snatch 2 compilation, A Safe Substitute (Storm Bugs) and Reprint (Claire Thomas and Susan Vezey) were released, and on vinyl the Storm Bugs Table Matters EP.  The 7-inch was the first of the bunch to be released in May. 

The Rachel McMillan Halls of residencies Creek Rd with the power station behind

Having moved to London in September 1978 to attend Goldsmiths College I was holed up in a halls of residence on Creek Rd in Deptford. There was a coal-fired power station on the Thames just behind the building and as a result the halls was allocated twice the number of cleaners of other halls. The cleaners and I soon reached a mutual agreement however that they wouldn’t bother with my room as I had so much kit in there. From my parents house in Strood I had brought a motley collection of domestic reel-to-reel recorders and various rewired radios and cassette machines. 

Revox G36 valve reel-to-reel machine 

With the help of a student grant I was able to nip up to Charring Cross rd and buy a Kay/Teisco guitar, a Coloursound tremolo, bongos, xylophone and other assorted noise-making paraphernalia. I was already making use of the electronic music studios at Goldsmiths, but even though that was often empty during the day I couldn’t get in there more than once or twice a week so in parallel I was running a bedrooms ‘studio’. In early 1979 I was able to buy a reconditioned G36 Revox, an old tank of a thing with glowing valves, which had apparently been used, in some top-flight recording studio in London as a tape echo machine. As a favour an engineer reconditioned it with new heads, nonetheless it still cost £120, which was quite a sum in 1979. The Revox’s top speed was 7 ½ IPS but it was a quantum leap forward from the Philips domestic reel-to-reels. Aside from straight recordings you could make loops and bring to bear a range of tape editing and musique concrete techniques. 

In the Goldsmiths electronic music studio I was recording instrumental tracks using their range of EMS equipment (two VCS3s and a Synthi A). In the coal fired power station studio it was far more DIY with the somewhat random electronic noises produced by the Sythi Bug – a circuit bent radio with switches and potentiometers attached at various points and scratched records. It was probably finding some naturally occurring stuck groove in my poorly cared for record collection that led me to then take a scalpel to various discs to intentionally create what carelessness had previously done. Having the Revox I could have recorded and then looped sections on tape but there was something both fetishistic and sacrilegious about taking a sharp blade to black vinyl. Making a record partly from other records had a pleasing circularity to it. Scratched records by the Sex Pistols, Peter Baumann, and Lou Reed were all used to make Table Matters.

Scratched discs produce a click or thump as the needle jumps and I hit on the idea of feeding the sound through an old speaker on top of which was a biscuit tin lid with nut and bolts which would jump and rattle on the beat. Feed a guitar through at the same time and one had a fuzz percussion unit.

We have then the basic ingredients for the recording of  most of Table Matters aside from the vocals.  I hadn’t thus far written any songs and the process, which I still use to this day, was to record an instrumental track and then vocalise over it until some form of song like structure emerges. The microphone used was a cheap stage mic and copious amounts of echo from the Revox were added. The lyrics were a take on high street consumerism ‘Eat Good Beans’, ‘Cash Wash’, ‘Make Customers Matter’ a track inspired by a tape I had found in the store cupboard of a bookshop during a summer job in 1979. The tape was intended for the instruction and training of staff of WH Smith bookshops with a view to ensuring that they tried to make their shop the “favourite one in the town”.  

Rather than reflect on the tracks here is a review by Ed Pinsent from: the Sound Projector 16th Issue.

The 'Table Matters' EP was released on vinyl by Loop Records in 1980; it's five tracks of.      edgy, clattering mayhem, made with a combination of electronics, radios, guitars, tape loops, percussion and much more. Effectively a Sanderson solo set, this EP displays wild and rugged invention compressed into short bursts of electrifying genius; four of the cuts are only two minutes apiece. Using found spoken word tapes and warped voicings, Storm Bugs deliver something that is not so much a critique of consumerism, as a semi-nightmarish distorted view of shopping in England in 1980, replete with Kwik-Save signs, shoddy goods, and futile attempts to keep customers happy. ‘Table Matters’ is almost their Santa Dog; it's a perfect cryptic statement, almost inexhaustible in content, transpires in less than 15 minutes and leaves you feeling troubled for days. Great!

The tracks were finished in the autumn of 1979 and then mastered up at the Goldsmiths studio where touches of ring modulation were added or in the case of 'Our Main Objective' a VCS3 and sequencer pattern. The record was cut at Porky Prime Cuts in Portland Place. George Peckham had cut many of my favourite singles by the likes of T.Rex and was famous for squeezing as much volume onto a lacquers possible, and for his cryptic comments etched into the run-out grooves. Rather than today when often as not records are anonymously cut by a technician with the help of a computer, back then one could attend the cutting session, and though Porky didn’t seem overly excited by the material he did a great job. 

The lacquers were sent off in late 1979 to the Linguaphone Institute in Slough. Yes that same Linguaphone who had originally made language records but who were known for their high quality pressing plant. The record then entered something of a black hole. I would ring the factory in Slough once a week from a call box to try and ascertain progress only to be told that the disc was in the system. It wasn’t until early 1980 that the records appeared. 

 The screen printed and photocopied sleeve designs 

The record has been recorded and pressed on a shoestring basically by using money from my student grant and a summer job. The budget hadn’t stretched to labels or a cover. This was however where Steven Ball who was back in the Medway Towns came in. Steven convinced his landlord who ran various businesses to print a sleeve - free of charge or more accurately in return for acting as unpaid messenger boy. Steven came up to London and we went down the Charring Cross Rd where he took various black and white photos. From these the collage design for the cover was pasted together and the camera ready artwork prepared. Weeks went past with no sign of the sleeve and keen to get the record out and get some funds in, a number were sold with one-off photocopied collages I made. My then girlfriend over the Easter holidays went to a printing workshop in the Bristol and designed and screen printed some A3 poster sleeves, which  folded around the record. Finally in mid 1980 the ‘proper’ sleeves arrived (see top of page). 


Then it was off to Rough Trade who in the utopian spirit of DIY would at that point take a box of 25 copies of any new single pretty much without question. I had built up quite a few contacts through putting together the Snatch Tapes compilations and the associated listings in the NME and Sounds and so perhaps another 50 or so were sold that way. As Storm Bugs didn’t play live and indeed as has probably been gathered from the above were not really a band at all but in this iteration was just a keen nineteen year old and a tape recorder selling the remaining copies proved more difficult. Kris Needs in Zig Zag reviewed the record favourably and Rough Trade took another box for the UK. Surprisingly somebody in a Rough Trade affiliate in America had heard the record and wanted 50 copies.  It was these copies that were to enter in the collections of American aficionados of all things English and post-punk and which led to the inclusion of ‘Cash Wash’ and ‘Eat Good Beans’ on the I Hate The Pop Group compilation LP 20 years later and started the process of re-issuing the Storm Bugs material.

Though the promotion of the EP was somewhat haphazard there was an accompanying film made by Steven Ball on Super 8 shot in Chatham High Street for which I did a special remix of some of the music. Only a handful of people saw it back then but it has been recently transferred to video in a high resolution scan and can be seen here. 

Copies of the Table Matters EP with the ‘proper’ sleeve can be had for as little as £70 or as much as £400, ironically the rarer early sleeves can be less expensive as people aren’t always sure what they are. In terms of re-issues the 2007 Storm Bugs LP Supplementary Benefit on Vinyl on Demand includes both sides of the EP mastered from the original vinyl. Digitally the tracks are available via Bandcamp and for the 40th anniversary with the addition of instrumental versions of two of the numbers plus a live rendition of 'Window Shopping' from 2012. 

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