The Eyeless In Gaza guide to avoiding entropy by Des Moines
“Number one in Nuneaton! With a bullet? You’re kidding. No, we’re not going to re-press. Hype the alternative charts? What for? Yeah, we know Samson had no eyes – or was that Milton? … Aldous Huxley’s my man. You ran out of copies? No, nothing we can do. ‘Electronic hip-shooters’ huh? Hey, Pete! They’ve just told us we’re what made Nuneaton famous!”
Bates bids goodbye to his imaginary caller and replaces the receiver. He’s been on a natural high for weeks now – and who’d find fault with how he gets his kicks? Sift through the ashen dross you used to call your record collection and you won’t find a better post-punk 45 than Eyeless In Gaza’s non-alternative chartbuster ‘Kodak Ghosts Run Amok’ – ask anyone. Ask Dave McCullough.
The story begins back in February, when EIG “formed” out of a chance meeting between the aforementioned Martyn Bates (lead vocal, guitar, sax) and Pete Becker (synths, drum, tapes, violin, stylophone, etc.). Introduced by Steve Parker, keyboardist of another Nuneaton two-piece Bron Area, they quickly established a working rapport, “a telepathy, even”, and never looked back.
Previously, Bates had been vocalist with new WEA band Reluctant Stereotypes – an experience he recalls now with superficial cynicism.
“Everything broke up; everyone wanted to do different things. I could have carried on with the two that kept going, but it didn’t seem worth it. They’re just putting on an act now – does this sound like sour grapes? – and trying to make money. Like a ’72 progressive band gone ska-reggae to get more in the public eye! I’ve only ever been interested in music which has passion and feeling, not the kind that’s overloaded with pretensions, technology and advanced musicianship.”
Until February, Becker had been prostituting his talents playing ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon’ for pin money with a working men’s club band. He’d bought a Wasp synthesiser for £200 last September, though, had mastered it by November, and was soon obsessively into solo home-taping.
His musical passions were Big Youth and American jazz-funk: he only got into New Wave latish – he doesn’t pay attention to any media, but started to respect bands like the Bunnymen “for being experimental, but never outrageously so.”
Having joined fortunes so spontaneously, Bates and Becker acted pronto to get some vinyl shipped, recording five songs on a Teac 4-track – three of which featured on their classic ‘Kodak Ghosts’ Ep.
Produced Pete Bosworth, original guitarist with the Reluctant Stereotypes, it was a supreme independent debut. They knew it. Bates ripped a map out of a National Geographic for sleeve visuals, ordered 1,000 copies of the record (for £400) and commenced his systematic distribution plan.
Three months later, they’d sold them all, recouped in full, “got the name around” and made Magnanimous Mac’s Playlist to boot.
Eyeless In Gaza’s songs, concise two-and-a-half minute electronic fables, are nearly all precious in some way or other. The Ep’s first B-song, for instance, ‘China Blue Vision’, is a stunning laconic foray into pop Gothicism.
Even so, ‘Kodak Ghosts’ itself is in a different class, and ‘a bit special’. An old song, written when Bates was 17 and in a “neo-Caravan/Brinsley Schwartz-type band” in ’74, it’s been reworked to incorporate some of Huxley’s vision and the (spiritual) inspiration of Bates’ hero, Robert Wyatt.
Like much of the band’s repertoire, the number tells a story, moodily delivered by Bates’ mercurial sandpaper vocal, and embellished with Becker’s irresistible melodies – “shifting backdrops and aural soundscapes of a scrubbed, bare-bones nature,” he calls them.
Since ‘Kodak Ghost’, Bates attests, the band’s music has got a lot more experimental, ‘more violent’. The intention is to let it develop at its own pace. Recently, they’ve just finished recording an album.
Simultaneously, Becker’s been recording a collection of succinct synthesiser sketches for his cassette ‘They Brought the Stratosphere’, (available from him, at 43 Eastfield Road, Nuneaton). Occasional sequences wouldn’t discredit the closest comparison I could name: Yellow Magic Orchestra, but, inevitably, the serious expectations are all for Eyeless.
Despite Bates’ feeling that the band “could use someone else to help colour the songs after we’ve worked out the nucleus,” the band is likely to remain a two-piece. Their total control over their instrumentation is such that they have no apparent limitations and “it’s convenient and practical”. Their motto, anyway, is “continuous experimentation, avoiding entropy both inside and outside the confines of the group.”
At present, both members work day jobs – Bates is a hospital porter and Becker’s a lab assistant working on (and in) Coventry’s sewage – and like things that way.
“It’s nice for music not to be everything,” says Bates. “We’d like to be successful, more in the public eye, but there are no pressures on us, because we’re friends. Money will never be the motivation – unlike a lot of bands, who have socio-economic objectives, y’know?”
Becker, formerly a bona fide hermit and a new recruit to the modern world, said he wished he’d said that. A wiser man, he drew breath and went off to discomix ‘Delilah’.