The Thrills Have Eyes
Dave McCullough comes face to face with Nuneaton’s finest, Eyeless In Gaza
“Whatever you do don’t anywhere mention the Reluctant Stereotypes thing … .”
Martyn Bates (?) says that as if he means it; there is no tone of laid-back rock and rolling jocularity there – aw hey man, don’t dig up my past! No, there is something else there.
“I mean, every time we do an interview, the fact that I used to be in Reluctant Stereotypes comes into it, and it comes across as though we hate them now or something. Which we don’t, as people anyway.
We think their music is awful, like everybody else mind you. But all these groups running each other down. It’s pathetic! Person A likes Band A, so what? Person B likes band B, so what? There you go, that’s fine. Running each other into the ground is unnecessary.”
Coming from your modernist Sheffield or Liverpool or Manchester acts the above comments might seem the norm, big-city claustrophobias being inexorably what they must be.
But from Eyeless In Gaza, nestled, as Cliff Michelmore might say, in the serene and picturesque countryside of the less sooty Midlands, it leaves something to be explained.
They are all but alone: they don’t have to care that much about cosy sweetness and harmony out in the great wild wastes where your Bunnymen, Teardrops and Cabs are likely or not to perish in rock’s version of internacine OK Corrals. Why the concern? Martyn Bates (?), later adds:
“If it hadn’t been for your Cabaret Voltaires or your Falls, I don’t think a band like us would have started. I don’t know, they gave us hope. It didn’t matter where you came from, or if you had a record companies, or anything else … .”
Eyeless In Gaza, two men and a lot of scenery, survive through inspirational thrift. Their would-be-opponents, local neds called Crooks (“we hate Maggie Thatcher/She’s a fuckin’ cunt”) interestingly enough by comparison are one of the (too) many who exist through imitation, through fake unity in disunity.
In sunny, almost pastoral Nuneaton that’s no opposition at all.
Eyeless In Gaza are welded together so strongly I couldn’t take them apart. Literally! Which was Martyn and which was Pete (Becker) I still can’t tell; it could have been the paralysing hangover that prevented me coming to a conclusion on their identities (still unresolved – and embarrassing!). But I think it has more to do with the music.
Eyeless In Gaza, two men and a sparsity of technology, have made an album called ‘Photographs as Memories’ that stands beside Clock Dva’s brilliant ‘Thirst’ as the best album of the year so far. And strangely, it shares with Dva that sense of unity and development-through-isolation.
It is fiercely taut, like ‘Thirst’, and the tautness points towards personal stances: fears, angers and commitments that are not easy to unravel.
God, Martyn Bates’s voice is one long WAAYAAH! It is virtually uninterpretable; even, subconsciously, made to be so – the hearts are laid on the line all right, but you have to dig and scrape for them. You have to search.
The songs are an off-centre idealisation of what Human League, Ultravox and, to the last degree OMITD’s best stuff. Eyeless In Gaza are synth naturally, without compulsion to rock and roll, or diminution to soft-focus background musak.
There is nothing false in here. Bates’s voice a snarling, growling, desperate array of passions, mostly pure anger, like a musical Pop Morell from ‘Sons and Lovers’; his guitar is weirdly John Martyn-like, only much coarser, downright Clashey at times. While Peter Becker’s synth contrasts wildly and (the key) is richly-restrained but evocative.
It’s this contrast between overtly “new” and overtly “old” styles that makes the songs so colourful. This leaves a lot of room – ten, twenty or so years of soaked-in influences (the two unidentified Gazas are no child prodigies).
In the sort of gross country-pub that one of Michelmore’s agents would visit, over a hangover grapefruit, Martyn (?) says, loudly:
“And you like Van Morrison? And Annette Peacock? What about Tim Buckley? Tim Buckley!! And Dylan, and and … .”
Eyeless In Gaza and their (growing numbers of) peers are about a return of (eeugh, it sounds horrible) rich music. Horrible-sounding because of its 70s ennui implications, all duly eradicated and even over-compensated for on something as fiery as ‘Photographs as Memories’ wherein Martyn’s (?) voice is a statement in itself.
The richness of room left between the influences, the eclecticism, for an album such as ‘Photographs as Memories’ emotional range is more difficult.
Interviewing the two Gazas was like interviewing the album itself – there was little response except the essence that’s already there and already garbled in it.
But the punchy aggressiveness and the synthy elegance of the album tell more than enough.
They tell you about Pete Becker’s background (before he told Harry Pop in the pub); about his family’s leaving of their native Ukraine, their desire of going back there, and Pete’s wondering what his native country must be like: its customs, its people (cruel irony in the self-Michelmoring crap there).
Eyeless In Gaza make truly deeply personal music and the inevitable result is a sadness alone. Martyn (?) disagrees:
“It isn’t sad, it’s all knotted-up and punchy. Don’t say that!”
Which is true. The taut punchiness is there which defines the main pop-thrust but it comes across eventually as last lunges of despair. The songs are short sharp, one-take scenes of despair saved by warmth.
All short sharp tracks (about seven on each side) that couldn’t go on any longer because if they did it would be too painful maybe or. more certainly, Martyn (?) would get a hernia of the larynx … .
Perhaps they will learn to relax without relaxing the passion-quotient (a stirring thought that, of rich elongated synth music). Martyn (we’ll settle for that name):
“The new stuff, on the third album, will have more continuity without losing that freshness of approach … .”
The third album! No rockist idling around up in Nuneaton! The day we met them Eyeless In Gaza were off early to finish mixing the second Cherry Red Lp, with a brand new track, ‘Invisibility’ about to come out as a single. Be prepared for a bombardment of new Classicism!
Pete: “Things have worked out well with Cherry Red because we know everybody there. I don’t think we’d sign to a major label. I like the idea of having a hand in everything that you do. You’re effective in your chosen area. I wouldn’t want to be swamped by some vast corporate sign above, with us a little non-entity … .”
If Eyeless In Gaza’s records were shawls or Aran sweaters it’d make Cherry Red (much-improving C.R. at that) a cottage industry. That suits ‘picturesque’ Nuneaton down to the ground.
Methodically the first Eyeless single was ‘Kodak Ghosts Run Amok’ (released on their own Ambivalent Scale, soon reissued via Cherry Red) and the idea of continuousness of photographically-recorded time stretches, obviously, to the new album (The front sleeve has a moving picture of Pete as babe in his mothers arms looking out across a lake. It’s sheer daring naturalness leaves you gasping.
If anything, while the Gazas have just now had the inevitable so-called futuristic labellings, they are a band deeply into the past. They are obsessed by looking back.
We go into a kind of Nuneaton Museum for Harry Pop’s photographs (which they did not like posing for – significant??) and, warily, an old lady caretakeress guides us predictably to a “modern art” section, all dribbles of paint over confusing canvasses.
Eyeless In Gaza, two men with the time-travellers look of the miners in D.H. Lawrence’s Nottingham, hated it!
They turned, graphically, exaggeratedly, to the just adjoining traditional art section. Modern muck, aw we hate it! It was that kind of reaction. Ditto for the music they make.
“It’s better than sounding like a fuckin’ robot! That futurist nonsense is the easy way out, it’s so easy to project … .”
Martyn: “But I don’t want to loose that warm thing through it. This is all an alienated trip, nothing to do with us at all. It’s nice to keep the introspective thing.”
Pete: “It’s so easy to make a synth sound robotic. It’s the nature of the instrument. It’s easy to do, you just click and switch … .”
Martyn: “But we never ever entertain thoughts of that, do we? The music should sound alive not stiff and wooden … . We love the intuitive thing. We abandon something if it doesn’t sound right right away. If we thought too much about it, it might get too complicated.”
Pete: “It’d be a series of notes without meaning. Do it while it’s still partier … .”
Partier!! That’s the stuff! Eyeless In Gaza are a photo-negative of Gary Numan or somebody bad like that. It is mighty dance-pop-thought-music-with-feeling. Why can’t we have labels like that? Who wants to narrow music down to a pre-Presley, ape-house shuffle?
Eyeless In Gaza work so fast they don’t leave a shadow! The Nuneaton public deserve to know what’s going on behind the curtains in Martyn’s upstairs bedroom.