08 Oct

Guest Blog – Kobra Audio Labs: We Confess – 1977- 1984 Compiled By The Black Dog & Regis [Part Two]

I'm really pleased to be able feature what i think is a fantastic guest post by the wonderfully talented musician (and someone who we've actually featured before with his amazing KAL Tones mix tape), Mark Scanlan better known as Kobra Audio Labs.

I don't walk to work, I get a bus. The bus takes about 45 minutes; sometimes I listen to music & sometimes I don't. This week I have been listening to a 'mystery mix' almost every journey. I say 'mystery' but I know what it is, It's called 'We Confess – 77-84' and it's by Black Dog & Regis. What I don't know is the tracklisting, and all this week I have been thinking about the music, wondering about who made it & thinking about the past…

I was aged 7-14 between 1977 and 1984, a madly fertile time to be a music lover in Britain; so much happening – punk, new wave, new romantics, goths, electro-pop. This mix is a fantastic listen and provides a perfect window through time. I loved it.
I never listen to music while I wait for the bus, so I fiddle with headphones as the bus pulls away, 17 miles to glasgow!
The mix starts with a passionate almost-accapella track… Recorded live, with a bassy synth throb just under the voice, it's an arresting start… most of the week I keep re-playing it cos it's so good (not today). Unlike a number of the following tracks, the shadow of kraftwerk or bowie doesn't hang heavy over this. Something about the theatricality of it – and some vague U2-ish feeling it gives me – makes me think this is Virgin Prunes, maybe?
The next track is instantly recogniseable; the stately grandeur of Associates "White Car In Germany". I don't know their music very well but I used to meet Alan Rankine in the canteen at work a lot so one lunchtime last year I did a youtube trawl through their back catalogue. This track is a belter. Alan doesn't work here anymore.
I was expecting Human League but not so soon. I don't know the track but it reminded me of Catherine Kelly, a girl who used to babysit my sister & I in the early 80s. She used to bring records with her, the only ones I now remember are "Dare" and OMD "Architecture & Morality". She was into CB too.
About 16 minutes in there is beauty of a track, post-punk sounding – vocals reminiscent of Vic Godard – maybe called 'Sincerity'? The best thing about the timescale of 1977-84 is the sense that anything was possible & the most interesting music came from unlikely places; the industrial north, the southern suburbs…
Crossing the River Clyde & up onto the motorway, the bus – some relic from a bygone era, like the music, like me – is packed…
One of the most interesting things about this mix is that there is music which sounds like it could ONLY be made using electronic means and others which you can kinda tell the people involved would have recorded the songs on guitars, pianos, etc had the synths 'n' drum machines not been available.
26 minutes and the first Bowie impersonation comes, saxamaphone included! I really should know this one; my brain keeps saying 'OMD' but my brain is wrong. I'm embarrassed to say I don't know who did 'Hiroshima Mon Amour'… well sophisticated sounding it is too.
Another interesting thing is the lack of instrumental music so far. There have been vocals on every track… The one now (32mins) is great, sounds really familiar but I don't think I know it. the vocal – reminiscent of Hugh Cornwell – is wonky but fantastic.
My bus, previously on the motorway, has suddenly veered off into the city, barrelling through the streets of the bad old east end. The driver has been alerted to an accident on the motorway & has taken suitable evasive action. I may get to hear more of the mix now…
It's getting heavy… and arty; someone sings "prostitutes are the spice of life" with a skronky sax and vaguely industrial sounds alongside fat bass. Most of this music is completely new to me, which is nice.
The next track is the sort of thing you come across regularly on those Rough Trade compilations, the knowing parody… This one is quite cute, and mentions Subway Sect (which is a bonus). It's also where the mix takes it's name from, I assume; 'I Confess'.
Look out, it's Fad Gadget (I think!). Sounding like a blueprint for what good electronic music sounded like in the 80s, I'm still impressed, after all these years. I remember reading about Fad Gadget in Smash Hits in the early 80s but I don't know anything else about him.
Bus is now in the city centre, only 10 minutes or so left of my journey…
'Remembrance Day' is a bit Rockschool, but with a nice, breezy synthline that keeps reminding of Abba's 'Gimme, Gimme, Gimme'. I really should know who sang this; I can picture Janice Long playing this on her Radio 1 Evening Show & me taping it.
The next track contains all the hallmarks of what constitutes 80s synth music to me, including a fantastically strangulated vocal about vampires. Definitely a favourite.
Bus is stuck in traffic, so I'm getting a lot more of a listen than I though…
51 minutes in and this one really reminds me of listening to John Peel in the mid 80s – faintly dreary-sounding indie with vocals a bit like Julian Cope, a little Cure-y on the production, a bit long in the raincoat. If I had been in my local shop ('Round Sounds') in 1984, this track would be filed under 'Serious Young Men' alongside 'Power, Corruption & Lies', 'Heaven Up Here' and 'Pornography'. I think it might be The Chameleons?
Time to get off the bus. I don't often listen to music as I walk through the city so the last sound I hear is a snippet of acoustic guitar with another weirdly stylised vocal… at first I thought it was Robyn Hitchcock but i reckon it's Lawrence so it must be Felt.
Hope you enjoyed the journey across Lanarkshire and through my mind. I can heartily recommend this mix (it has another 40-odd minutes still to run and is all quality) & I am now going to the site to check how wrong I was about those artists…

Hailing from Lanarkshire Mark Scanlan makes music as Kobra Audio Labs. You can find his website at http://kobra-audio.co.uk and his latest K.A.L. album here  http://kobraaudiolabs.bandcamp.com/album/two-blue-towers – simply put it's stunning and I highly recommend you check it out.

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