AFTER SOME INITIAL FIRST STEPS in the music world both Martyn Bates and Peter Becker thought it was time to do something new, something wortwhile and tried independently of each other to join the most interesting band around in their area at this time, which was Bron Area (Unknown Friends; Green Avenue). Bron Area suggested Pete and Martyn got together and made something on their own instead. So they did.
Eyeless In Gaza formed in February-March 1980 and released their first DIY single at once in the Spring of that year on their own Ambivalent Scale Recordings label. It was a very straight and fresh sounding start with Kodak Ghosts Run Amok.
They were working very quickly the first two years and already by the end of 1980 had two full albums ready. They also played several gigs in the first years and all the time varied the songs, though many of these songs were subsequently never released. Roughly one third of all the songs they performed live during the 80ies have still not found their way to the public in the form of records.
In their early performances there was little to be found in the pop style of Kodak Ghosts Run Amok. Live they played a mix of very forceful, savage songs and fragile, beautiful improvisations or hymnal songs. Here is an over the top early version of In Your Painting and here is an early instrumental version of Still Air, both from a live gig in the Summer of 1980.
There were early articles on Eyeless In Gaza in such prestigous music magazines as Sounds in 1980 before they even had an album out and all helped to propel Eyeless In Gaza into the highly popular independent band they became. (Independent meant “independent” in those days, by the way.)
By the time Photographs as Memories and later Caught in Flux were released, Eyeless In Gaza themselves had almost forgotten about those songs and they already played songs of other sorts on their live concerts. Photographs featured a very coherent line of songs and were recorded in 24 hours. Many of their most popular and successful songs are found there, like Faceless and No Noise.
Caught In Flux was similar in style but had some more introspective and soothing songs. The beauty of the songs was a little less angular, but even though people may think of it as a progression, it is not all that clear as many of those songs were done in the same period as the songs on Photographs. They had a width of a repertoire right from the start. The most obvious thing about Caught in Flux to listeners is that it is difficult to single out special songs and listen to them in isolation from the others, it is an album that gains unusally much from listening to as a whole. The first song on the album, Sixth Sense, could easily be singled out though, just as tracks on the accompanying 12” Ep. True Colour is a splendid song on the 12 inch. It would be unjust not to give an extract from one of the many more harsh sounding tracks like the fabulous (in the light of the album) Continual, which was also a very much played live track of the first two years.
The two singles that were released in 1981, Invisibility and Others, have no songs that were available before or later on albums. These singles both have very good b-sides, and especially so Others. This is worth pointing out since it speaks of an important side of Eyeless In Gaza, which is the more improvisational and experimental, and can be witnessed in Avenue with Trees from Others and Three Kittens from Invisibility. This element was present from the start in a piece that were on their first demo tape and later released on the Cherry Red Perspectives and Distortion compilation album, You Frighten (which also happens to be the track that introduced me to Eyeless In Gaza and one of my favourites to this day).
1982 started out with releases yet again quite at odds with what they were playing live around Europe. We do not quite know of the exact release date for the Tago Mago/Home Produce cassette. It featured radical improvisational saxophonist Lol Coxhill on one side of the tape and Eyeless on the other. This was the Eyeless In Gaza that never got any airplay, but pieces like Silver and the other short experimental pieces give another glimpse of the relentless searching for new ways to express their musical ideas; new ways of communication. This tape has finally been remastered and material has been added to a new Cd release in 2003.
The creative outbursts continued without any seeming lack of ideas for some time to come. Pale Hands I Loved So Well then came out via Uniton records in Norway. Pale Hands was simply a masterpiece brimming with invention, diverse colours of emotion, beauty, introspectiveness, mystery, melodic sense (if not so much melody), a musical sense that is hard to grasp it can be conveyed in this manner. It was probably not conceived of in this way, but listen to short excerpts from Light Sliding, Warm Breath-Soft and Slow, Blue Distance, and Big Clipper Ship.
Drumming the Beating Heart was the last release of the first period in the life of Eyeless In Gaza. This could easily be most peoples favourite album, but probably has not been so since its two sides are somewhat different in style, even though complementing each other. Transience Blues that open the album is a very representative song for the early Eyeless and one that were much played live. The stand-out improvisational piece Dreaming at Rain were also performed live many times. What was new was on the other side of the album with more positive and calm pieces like the delightful Lights of April. With this music in the ears the world comes across as offering more beauty than one ever thought it possibly could before. The early Eyeless musics were very positive and happy in its soul even though it often, at the same time, came across as sad and harsh on the surface. It is worth to note in this connection that Pete and Martyn had often very fun making their music.
Martyns first proper solo release, after the catharsis project – the Dissonance cassette from late 1979, was Letters Written. For those curious about the Dissonance tape, I offer a short representative extract from perhaps Planes in Collision-Falling. It sounds like DDAA, New Blockaders, Throbbing Gristle and Lol Coxhill all playing at once offering their combined knowledge of low-fi-ness to give you new hitherto unexplored depths. Letters Written was a very sweet 10 inch mini-album with somewhat similar sounding short dreamy songs with a folk song touch more pronounced than in the works of Eyeless In Gaza at the time. Jagged Tears of Words is a good example. Peter Becker had also released some early solo tapes on Ambivalent Scale (By Train to the Coast).
The best single Eyeless In Gaza probably did after Kodak Ghosts Run Amok, was, I think, the flexi 7” that came with an issue of the Dutch magazine Vinyl in 1982, called Talking Mythic Language. This one, together with the Veil Like Calm single also came out in 1982. (There was a video done for Veil Like Calm, but it was only first made available to the public as a bonus to the live video Street Lamps n’ Snow that came in 1994.)
Now (in 1983) Eyeless In Gaza left their harsh singing and “caught in flux”-approach to song making. They wanted to make more accessible music, but was apparently not quite clear on what that meant and still had some occasional interest in improvisational music. Rust Red September was the first release that had very polished songs and a gentler appearance. Leaves are Dancing is a very good example from this album. Another fine song is Stealing Autumn. The music press was lyrical about the album and thought Eyeless was on the right track to fame and airplay, even though not quite there. This in-between period for Eyeless gave some surprising releases, like the songs first released on the cassette version of the very successful compilation by Cherry Red Pillows and Prayers. These songs were later on back sides of 12 inch New Risen and Sun Bursts In singles and the Sub Rosa Myths Instructions 1 compilation album. Sun-Like-Gold is one of those very fine pieces and another is Scent on the Evening Air. The video version of the Pillows and Prayers compilation featured the video for the sweet poppy New Risen with Martyn and Pete going on a typical english canal boat ride.
This period had not so many releases as previously, though in fact some among their best songs were made during this time, like Ways of Rachel that somewhat obviously did not fit in quite on the other releases, and was first released on an archive album Orange Ice & Wax Crayons in 1992 together with some other gems from this and the earlier period.
From Spring 1984, and for all of 1985 Eyeless In Gaza plunged fearlessly right into the main pop scene and ‘Sweet Life Longer’ and ‘New Love Here’ was the theme for the day. Most bands were turning more toward straight pop just like Eyeless, so they were just doing what everyone else did for better or worse depending on your point of view. Welcome Now was the single to signal that now it was all pop and nothing else for Eyeless In Gaza. Back from the Rains was not only good pop but also retained some characteristic Eyeless elements and had a very suitable sound for a late hot July afternoon. One of the more colourful and compelling songs was Your Rich Sky.
It became very obvious to bystanders like myself that Eyeless had happily walked down a dead-end alley and I was not suprised for a second that there were no more album to come from Eyeless in the foreseeable future. (It was very much paralleled by the fate of Tuxedomoon – a more post-modern american-continental counterpart to Eyeless.) There was a 12 inch with Back from the Rains and Twilight from the album, but nothing more. Eyeless In Gaza came to their senses somewhat during 1986 and toured with Depeche Mode and played some of their older music once again and tried something new, but they never managed to get back fully on track again in the late 80’s.
In 1987 after getting no real good contracts that they could agree to, Eyeless sort of fizzled out (as someone described it) – Pete worked together with In Embrace (Wallpaper, Bathwater, Perfume and God) for some time and Martyn started to get on with some solo albums and collaborations of various sorts (Simon Fisher Turner and others). Martyn’s first real solo album The Return of the Quiet came out at the end of 1987 after a release of The Look of Love single that few people managed to find. Martyn wanted to work with Bron Area’s Steven Parker and they tried to do something as Cry Acetylene Angel, but nothing ever materialised. (Martin Packwood (other founding Bron Area member) is featured on The Return of the Quiet.)
Kodak Ghosts Run Amok – Chronological Singles, etc., 1980-86 Lp was released in 1987 and was the last Lp released by Cherry Red. It contained nothing new. A Cd version was released in Japan and was the first Cd release of Eyeless In Gaza (very to hard to find from start).
Martyn Bates then released three solo albums (Love Smashed on a Rock, Letters to a Scattered Family, Stars Come Trembling) and a 12 inch during 1988-91 on Integrity, a sub label to belgian label Antler records. One song on the beautiful You So Secret 12” is When You Praise Her. There was also a fine 3 inch mini-Cd on the Sordide Sentimental label called Port of Stormy Lights. The albums were much in the same style and long discussions could be held over which is the best of them. Personally I think the last of these was ultimately the best, Stars Come Trembling (I had to order it from an obscure german mailorder service (Jarmusic) to get hold of it). The standout piece was the last track, Glow of Sight, and it actually featured Pete Becker. I learned much later that Eyeless actually played this song in an earlier version live in 1986. It did not signal the return of Eyeless In Gaza, but was a curious thing at the time.
Had I looked around a bit more of what Anne Clark was up to in 1991, there would have been another sign of Eyeless beginning to work together again as they joined in on her The Law is an Anagram of Wealth and some further works by her. Anne had apparently wanted to work with Martyn for a long time after having heard his The Return of the Quiet album (which Martyn did not rate very high later) but eventually they worked together sporadically from 1991 to 1998.
After having turned to classical music, while I still listened to the few musicians that went their own way during this rather bleak period between 1987-1991, like Wim Mertens and Current 93. – One day in 1992 I browsed reluctantly in the ‘E’ section at the local record shop, not knowing why as I knew of no other good artists in that section besides Eyeless In Gaza. I remember almost getting some kind of shock when I spotted Orange Ice & Wax Crayons – seldom in my life have I been so happy. I got even more happy when listening to it and thought these Eyeless guys were true criminals – not releasing this great stuff until now, like Fever Pitch and Bite and Music for Playgrounds. Perhaps even more happy I got reading their own comments on the songs where they showed a clear understanding of what had merits and not in their output (maybe they were a bit too condemnatory of their pop stuff, but if you listened to the included Early Empty Lanes (which I spare you from) then it would not be difficult to agree with them). This was promising, if only they would also start doing something new!
So it happened yet one more time that I found their Fabulous Library album not so many months later (early 1993 I believe) at the shop. Something new at long last! Now this was good enough for me, even though it was a bit different from what I had expected, which by itself was not unexpected either, so … . Songs like Slow Train and Loves a Sometime Thing sounded quite different from earlier. It was obvious that Elizabeth S. and Pete played very important roles on this album and it in fact started as project by them – Martyn joined in later.
I had turned a friend into Eyeless In Gaza and he also wanted this album, but the shop did not seem able to get hold of another copy, so I suggested he wrote to the address on the back and he got it that way. That way Eyeless In Gaza also got his address and the next time I heard from Eyeless In Gaza (apart from the Cherry Red collection Voice) was via my friend who in 1994 received a flyer from Hive-Arc (a temporary A-Scale working name) announcing a new real Eyeless In Gaza album in the style of Pale Hands I Loved So Well. Now it was for real! Eyeless was really back!
Saw You In Reminding Pictures was not easy to digest and it took some time to really get into it, but since then it replaced Pale Hands I Loved So Well as my all time favourite Eyeless In Gaza album and I still think it is easily one of the best albums ever. Some pieces are Full Beautiful; Reminding Pictures and Drive the Nail Thru the Snake.
The Street Lamps n’ Snow video was released in 1994, though it took me some time to learn about its existence. It offered a gig from perhaps the high point of Eyeless In Gaza live performing, in late November 1982. It contained several previously unreleased songs. Old Hours, Slow Daybreak and Street Lamps n’ Snow are two of the pieces. The two music videos they ever made, Veil Like Calm and New Risen, was also added as well a curiously infective intro and end called Snow Theme. Not a professional made video, but happily one of the few such surviving documents (I know of no other video, in fact).
In 1995 Eyeless In Gaza was back in full force. Streets I Ran was a companion release to Saw You In Reminding Pictures, with somewhat less experimental songs. Very spacious songs and different. It is difficult to describe. From drone-like ghostly melancholic guitars (Songs of Living Sons) to strong singing with gentle backing (Twilight Walking) to claustrophobic filmic paranoia (Up the Walls of Song).
Later that year saw the release of the first “ordinary” album release since Back from the Rains. Bitter Apples was puzzling and seemed to contain so much work as if they had spent all those quiet years trimming and perfecting these songs. It was clear the sound had changed yet again and it was now a fuller, more compact sound from Eyeless. I first thought all was new material, but a few of the pieces was actually played live back in the 80’s, but you cannot really tell which of them and more surprising still is that none similar-sounding track was ever released back then even though they actually sounded similar back then on these tracks. All I mean to say is that given what we saw on Orange Ice & Wax Crayons and here, it is obvious that Eyeless In Gaza could already back in 1984 had released a couple of more albums with very different styles to them, and all very good! Bitter Apples has diverse tracks like: Bitter Apples, Year Dot and Jump to Glory Jane.
Already back in 1994, Martyn Bates had released a solo album of music settings to James Joyce’s Chamber Music poems and a second volume was released on Sub Rosa in January 1996 (All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters). Martyn had also started to work with Mick Harris of Scorn, Lull, etc. They had released an album of Murder Ballads (early english poems) with Martyn singing slowly over the massive and detailed soundscapes of Mick Harris (The Banks of Fordie). It was clear Martyn was not content with only reviving Eyeless In Gaza and so also released a new “proper” solo album going back to where he left off with Letters Written in 1982. Mystery Seas (Letters Written #2) is a very intense album of organ-based songs. Examples: If I Could See in Everyone and Midday Coming Misty. 1995 was a great year for Eyeless fans and the year this web site was conceived of.
The milestone albums Drumming the Beating Heart & Pale Hands I Loved So Well were rereleased on Cd for the first time in 1996, but not handled properly by Cherry Red unfortunately – mastering was poor and one track was cut in half and the original masters for Drumming was lost (as with several other early master tapes). Martyn Bates solo albums Letters Written & The Return of the Quiet were also rereleased on Cd more succesfully by Cherry Red the same year.
More importantly Eyeless In Gaza released another brand new album called All Under the Leaves, the Leaves of Life. This sounded more fresh and forward-looking than Bitter Apples, but was also more bitter and harsh in all ways. Always that ambivalence! As with Bitter Apples here also appeared a few early songs delivered with more experience. The sound was more coherent on this album and happily featured some great organ playing once again! Monstrous Joy, The Leaves of Life – Seven Virgins and Struck like Jacob Marley are powerful songs from this album.
Imagination Feels Like Poison was Martyn Bates follow-up album to Mystery Seas in 1997. It featured other instrumentation and banjo was important here. It is a very colourful album again. It is very poetic in its style with a grand finale song setting of W.B. Yeats poem The Mountain Tomb. For banjo, try I Can’t Look for You.
In 1997 and 1998 Eyeless In Gaza worked together with experimental artists Tactile on some projects, including finishing a good album as Creature Box, which still has not been released due to unforseen circumstances.
Caught in Flux/The Eyes of Beautiful Losers was re-released succesfully on Cd by Cherry Red in 1997, this time the mastering is superb as Martyn and Pete were directly involved.
In 1998 Martyn Bates and Anne Clark released an album together with songs to the poetry of Rainer M. Rilke on the suggestion of Anne. Just After Sunset – The Poetry of Rainer M. Rilke was the last time Anne Clark and Eyeless In Gaza worked together (Pete also contributed). Song of the Sea is a sweet song from this fine album.
1999 was a year without any really important releases, but during which Eyeless In Gaza completed their (to date) latest new album. Eyeless In Gaza decided that they wanted to work with a new company (World Serpent Distribution had released the previous albums). Song of the Beautiful Wanton was released on Soleilmoon in the USA with a repertoire of bands not unlike that of World Serpent in England. I had the great opportunity of hearing the album already in the studio in 1999, but it was difficult to digest in one take, even though it was very clear Eyeless had produced yet another great album and once again changed direction and sound quite a bit.
Song of the Beautiful Wanton has both more pop and more folk touches to it than the previous albums of the 90’s. More melodies, more dynamic sound, more rythmic elements and seemingly more relaxed than before. It is a mix of beauty and magic. Some fine pieces: One Light Then, Lord Gregory and Sorrow Loves Yr Laughter.
Photographs as Memories was rereleased in 2000 and Eyeless In Gaza created a new master for it with improved and lovely sound quality and you can also find the Invisibility and Others singles here.
Martyn Bates started to work with Alan Trench of Orchis back in the 90’s and their first album as Twelve Thousand Days first saw the light of day in 2000. In the Garden of Wild Stars was a remarkable album with a great sound of its own even though a clear mix of Martyn’s later solo releases and the Orchis sound. It is very finely crafted with some very strong songs and atmospheres that grows upon repeated listenings (Sally Free and Easy). In 2001 followed a second album The Devil in the Grain with better sound quality and more fulfilling as an album, though perhaps less inventive (Beauty is Fading).
Apart from the highly sucessful work of 12,000 Days, the big event of 2001 was the release of the Martyn Bates mini-album Dance of Hours with outstanding songs such as Once Blessed.
Cherry Red released in 2002 the Sixth Sense – The Singles Collection Cd with all previously unreleased singles tracks apart from Talking Mythic Language. Unfortunately it is in mono (Cherry Red yet again not able to handle things properly), but it sounds okay anyway.
2003 saw the re-release of the most rare of the earlier Eyeless In Gaza releases – Home Produce: Country Bizarre – The Tago Mago recordings: remixed and expanded. NDN Records in the US that gave us the Dance of Hours Cd, now made a great work in delivering this gem to the public. It has gotten very positive reviews in important music magazines such as The Wire and Ptolemaic Terrascope. Listen to No here – one of the new pieces on this album.
During 2004 many things were in the works, but nothing materialised until 2005. What was noteworthy was that Eyeless In Gaza decided to do a live appearance. Even if this was for a private occasion, this was the first time since 1993 that they had performed live together and really since 1987 in Reus, Spain, as the few gigs they did in 1993 were only short sets as support for Anne Clark in Germany and Holland. Most surprising to me was the wonderful delivery of Back from the Rains (a song I have previously found a bit boring). Live at Isle of Wight (November 2004) were featured in some excerpts on the re-release in 2005 (Saw You in Reminding Pictures Dvd) of their old superb live video from Le Havre in November 1982 (incl. their two ever only music videos New Risen and Veil Like Calm).
2005 marked the 25th anniversary for Eyeless In Gaza and this was celebrated with the aforementioned video release and a new “best of” album – No Noise – The Very Best of Eyeless In Gaza (both released in July by Cherry Red, properly for once). Eyeless In Gaza then gave a public concert in London on July 29th which marked the first such concert in England since 1986! Peter Becker later also joined Martyn on one of his two solo gigs in Brussels and Paris this year. Martyn Bates made music for a short film The Resurrection Apprentice and released a mini-album on Hand/Eye (Dark Holler) called Leitmotif (limited ed.). This basically contained one long song – The Twa Sisters-Minorie – that was split into three parts alternated with unusual and exciting instrumental pieces. Martyn also continued working with 12,000 Days (with Alan Trench) and they released the Ep At the Landgate on Shining Day and it was a popular release, judging by reviews.
During 2006 Eyeless In Gaza finally came back and released a new long-awaited album – Summer Salt & Subway Sun. This album marked a departure from their focus on the more folk oriented music found on Song of the Beautiful Wanton. Now the focus was on electric guitars, playfulness and city ambience. The music is distinctively Eyeless music with it’s colourfulness, depth and wonderful singing, but yet again something new. A total reworking of an old song – Paper Aeroplanes – is among my favourites on this album. The other main event this year was the Eyeless In Gaza & Martyn Bates live concerts at Eglise Sainte-Catherine in Brussels, Belgium in June which was really good and here they played some new songs from the Summer Salt album and one unreleased song called Voices. Martyn Bates released one mini-album with esteemed drone musicians Troum – To a Child Dancing in the Wind where the title song is outstanding. Also this year came another long-awaited full album with 12,000 Days – From the Walled Garden which is probably the most successful album thus far by them. Both these albums got quite a lot of positive reviews. Monument and Effigy is a representative song from the album. 2006 also marked the release of two more varied ‘overview’ albums of Eyeless In Gaza and for the first time of Martyn Bates solo works: Plague of Years (songs and instrumentals 1980-2006) & Your Jewled Footsteps (solo and collaboration works 1979-2006) (both released by Sub Rosa). Eyeless In Gaza ended this year with two successful live gigs in Greece.
In 2007 there were two Eyeless In Gaza concerts – one not so successful in Antwerpen, Belgium, but one very successful at the Periferias festival in Huesca, Spain. Eyeless In Gaza also gave a concert with minimal announcement – a totally unamplified set at a small church in the middle of England. 2007 also marked the year when The Wire eventually got around to recognise the works by Eyeless In Gaza and featured a good article on them in the April issue. There were no Eyeless In Gaza releases this year, but Martyn Bates had his first solo project – Dissonance – released in deluxe packagings by Beta-lactam Ring to much acclaim. Finally, the earlier planned release by Virgin UK of Martyn Bates & Max Eastley’s Songs of Transformation finally saw the light of day on Musica Maxima Magnetica. The songs features very nice singing by Martyn Bates as exemplified in George Collins. Björk this year mentioned Eyeless In Gaza as one of the most unfairly overlooked bands around.
2008 marked more activity and Eyeless In Gaza and Martyn Bates both released new albums! Martyn Bates first released A Map of the Stars in Summer mini-album with one Eyeless In Gaza piece on it plus a new book of solo lyrics! The album songs are clearly among the best Martyn Bates has ever done – just listen to Where Was the World for example. Eyeless In Gaza’s album Summer Salt & Subway Sun was originally intended as a double album release, but for various reasons only the first album was completed and released back in 2006. Now Beta-lactam released both albums and with better distribution. There were also a long fun and nice song on a third disc in a special edition of the box called Wildcat Fights. Reviews of the release was somewhat mixed and some did not quite follow where Eyeless were heading. As is often the case with Eyeless albums, they tend to grow a lot upon subsequent listenings as one discovers that there is more to them than what is glanced at first. All New is a somewhat good, but perhaps puzzling example from Subway Sun. This is simply one of the best releases by Eyeless In Gaza to this day! Cherry Red found help in getting remastered Eyeless In Gaza albums re-released without having to pay much. The remastering was very good and thus these Cherry Red albums can now really be recommended to get on Cd (if they are still to be found when you read this). Remastered Cds: Drumming the Beating Heart & Pale Hands I Loved So Well (the most important albums needing remastering) and Caught in Flux/The Eyes of Beautiful Losers, Photographs as Memories, Back from the Rains as well as Martyn Bates solo album (only the last one) Letters Written & The Return of the Quiet. Eyeless In Gaza gave a highly successful concert in Berlin in November. 2008 ended with yet another Eyeless In Gaza song released by Mojo magazine – Priests (a song setting of a Leonard Cohen song).
2009 promises to be an even more interesting year and a new Eyeless In Gaza album is in the works (with one third new material) and a new 12,000 Days Ep is on the way. Eyeless In Gaza may also finish a great new archive release of 3 Cds of previously unheard gems. Already All Under the Leaves, the Leaves of Life has been re-released (with two bonus tracks). Martyn Bates three solo albums from 1988-1990 has been made available again. Martyn Bates started the year with a fine performance in London in January (assisted by Pete Becker and Elizabeth S.) and more live events are in the pipeline for later this year.