A tale of The Icicle Works and the end of the innocence.
"Daddy, Daddy, I Have Found The Girl That I Want To Live With...."
1984 was a strange year....not in the way George Orwell allegorised, but in a personal way and, as such in a musical way. For me, 1984 was dominated by two albums, both debuts, both eponymous; 'The Smiths' and 'The Icicle Works'.
The beginning of 1984 had belonged pretty much to 'The Smiths', an album which we've dealt with pretty thoroughly in a previous Blog. The Winter and Festive period of late'84 was soundtracked almost solely by 'The Icicle Works'. So let's take a look at that much neglected gem of an album and put it into some kind of Streetlamp context....
If Morrissey would have us believe that sex was something purely natural, then Ian McNabb(The Icicle Works principle songwriter and vocalist) put forward the notion that love was something that evolved as a part of nature. That it was part of life's cycle, almost in a spiritual, even Buddhist sense. 'The Icicle Works' is draped in images of nature, from the trees on the sleeve to the song titles; 'As The Dragonfly Flies', 'Reaping The Richest Harvest', 'Chop The Tree', 'Birds Fly(Whisper To A Scream), 'Out Of Season', 'Love Is A Wonderful Colour'.
The lyrics too swell with images of love growing as a thing of natural beauty; in opening track 'Chop The Tree' we hear "When in the winter of our discontent// We found a way// To tie a bond between our hearts// In the open field should there we lay", and in 'Birds Fly(Whisper To a Scream) "Love come, down upon us 'till you flow like water// Burning, with the hope of insight// Feathered, look they're covered with a bright elation// Stolen, in the sight of love".
There are also many references to faith and a non-specific religious spirituality a la Joy Division but with the downbeat alienation replaced with upbeat positivism. Kind of like a non-Christian U2 and without the pious breast-beating.
The Icicle Works were a trio comprising Ian McNabb(vocals, guitars, keyboards), Chris Layhe(bass, backing vocals, percussion) and Chris Sharrock(drums). They emerged from Liverpool and were lumped in with other Big Pop/New Psychedelia bands from the same city of the time such as The Teardrop Explodes, Wah! and Echo & The Bunnymen. In Ian McNabb they had a vocalist who sounded like a re-vitalised Scott Walker, in fact I was often asked when playing Icicle Works records if it was a new release by Walker. The thing is, The Icicle Works made records that Scott Walker fans wish he would release in place of those 'difficult' industrial/art albums he releases now.
Throughout most of the 1980s I played drums in various bands and even today I am the percussionist in ~Sighrens~ but I have never had any kind of muso interest in drums or drummers. I wanted to become a drummer after hearing Adam & The Ants and their unusual Burundi style drumming. However I have to say that Chris Sharrock is easily the best drummer I have ever heard. His drumming on The Icicle Works songs add such a dynamism, as well as tone, texture and atmosphere. The drumming on my favourite Icicle works song 'A Factory In The Desert' in particular is miraculous, the drums practically SING and are the touchstone foundation of every track.
As I said in the opening paragraph, their debut album was vitally important to me in late 1984, and here's why. As I've already hinted at, the lyrics of 'The Icicle Works' play out as though life and love is a biological and spiritual symbiosis, a beauteous thing of nature if you will. In late 1984 it was clear to me and my friends that things were about to change....permanently. By the Winter of 1984 we had all left school, and therefore the group of friends we had known since we were about 5 years old were now scattered to the four winds. Many friends we would never see again, some we would see infrequently over the years, each time seeing them reminding us of our own defeat at the hands of time. Some we would cling to in perpetuity and still remain close friends to this day. It was also a time to put away childish things and start living in a more mature and adult fashion. For the first time, it really felt like we weren't kids anymore. For the previous three or four years my friends and I had pounded the cold streets of Bannockburn in ill attire searching for.....what? We didn't know. We still don't know. Often on those freezing cold November nights we'd walk around in tee-shirts and flimsy jackets looking longingly into the crowded bars and pubs, wishing we could join the throng.....and now we could. But it wasn't the great revelation we imagined. It became the beginning of our shacklement to alcohol. I don't mean that we all developed drink problems, just that the clarity of mind we had enjoyed as children would become muddied by the Mother's Ruin. That Christmas and New Year of 1984 was the first I would view without the eyes of a child, the blossoming of child into man you would think, yet somehow not as magical or special as I would like to remember. That Festive period I played 'The Icicle Works' to death. Just as with 'The Smiths' where I would use Morrissey's lyrics as a self-help manual, here I used Ian McNabb's lyrics like a safety blanket, like a guide constantly reminding me that if viewed through the correct eyes, then life and love could be spectacular and didn't have to be shrouded in the melancholic misery that alcohol brings with it. In Scotland people become slaves to alcohol, not necessarily becoming alcoholics, but finding it difficult to interface or communicate with each other unless it's via the glass.
In 1984 I, like many others, began that slow descent into a world where beauty becomes muddy through an altered state of mind. Yet by clinging to lines like "Yes our wisdom holds the secret// Our foolishness the key// We are architects of innocence// Delinquents of prestige// Don't hold us down, don't cramp our style", I was able to avoid slipping too far.
As the world opened up to us, the last line of the last song on the album('Nirvana') played like a mantra, "When will you let your feelings out of the cage?"
The Icicle Works followed their debut album with an album called 'The Small Price Of A Bicycle' which, brilliant lead single 'Hollow Horse' aside, suffered from that post-Live Aid Big Production that marred a lot of records in 1985. Third album 'If You Want To Defeat Your Enemy, Sing His Song' was a return to form, and final album, 1988's 'Blind' was another small masterpiece(and the second CD I ever bought).
But their debut album will forever hold a large place in my heart and my history; a snapshot of my final moments before the long slide into adulthood.
"Don' t hold us down, don't cramp our style, This is Lover's Day!"