EYELESS IN GAZA – Flight of Feel

THE uplifting feel Martyn Bates has acquired in the past few months has certainly shone through in the music that him and Pete Becker are weaving: They’re going for your heart in a dance. If for some reason I came into about £30,000 tomorrow I’d pay off the mortgage. The amount I’d seriously hand these two to give ‘Flight of Swallows’ the full studio works, make a video and put out a single would make you weep. These boys walk on semi-tones and we need them. Since we last crossed paths Eyeless In Gaza have brought out their most promising LP ‘Rust Red September’ which includes the single that sums them up ‘New Risen’. Martyn Bates is in a lively mood.

“As you noticed we decided to change some of the ideas about our sound basically because we thought we weren’t doing justice to a lot of our songs. Like with ‘Rust Red’ the production’s a lot cleaner. We spent a lot of time over it. We always used to do things very much in one take.”

One side of their work I find baffling and something they seem unable to control is their prolific ability to write which causes problems if you leave it a week between gigs they may have written about a dozen new songs. It does make it hard for an audience to familiarise with material.

“We still feel the same way as we ever felt. You get stale if you keep repeating it too often. We like to introduce new stuff. What you saw tonight was a definite concession to the audience. We played three songs from the album which is really unusual.”

This amounts to the equivalent of a greatest hits package. Somewhere there must be a middle ground. The introduction of a drum machine sound is a good talking point for Martyn.

“It makes the sound easier to get into for a lot of people. I’m really frightened of the way we project. We’ve alienated a lot of people. We didn’t really want to do that and we’ve been thinking about it seriously, some of the methods of working. The basic reason you get up on stage or you decide to do a record is you’ve got something to communicate. OK, we could carry on doing ‘Drumming the Beating Heart’ and the first two records and keep selling them to an audience of 10,000.”

A lot of Eyeless is very much relaxing music whilst the music business has its eyes set on the dance floors.

“We’re very sort of in-betweenie. Well now we are, once we weren’t at all. It’s still very much listening music but you can dance to it now.”

R.T. “Things like ‘New Risen’ (the last single), why don’t you feel you should play that?”

“We feel we should play it but, er, we could do it if we had space on the drum machine, we’ve only space for six songs. Perhaps we should ’cos we like the song. Mind you we haven’t even had time to think. We’ve been really busy having just got back from Ireland then two days before that we’d just got back from Germany. Before that we went to fucking Holland!”

R.T. “How do you go down over there?”

“Very well”.

R.T. “Does gigging pay well enough to get the essentials around in Europe?”

“Well it’s our bread and butter really. Every time we go back to a town or a gig the audiences seem to get bigger. We always get two or three encores but it doesn’t correspond in record sales.”

R.T. “You were saying they can’t even get hold of your records in Ireland.”

“No nobody can get them. You can get them on import but they’re nine and a half punts (laughs) which is ridiculous.”

R.T. “The same in Europe?”

“Yea, it’s still obscure in Europe. Cherry Red are affiliated with lots of people who started up when they did. I don’t know if they can do the job. A lot of them are just ‘one guy in his front room’ operations trying to do all this work.”

R.T. “A possible change of label?”

“Yeah, I think so. If anybody came along with an offer, we’d certainly consider it.”

R. T. “Someone that could do the promotion better.”

‘That’s it really. Someone who could give us the big push. Cherry Red have never paid for one advert in the music press. They’ve never had any posters printed or anything. They just seem to put them out and hope for the best which is stupid.”

R.T. “Looking possibly towards a major label?”

“We’d do it, if it was the right deal and we didn’t think they were gonna turn round and shit on us. We’d have to be very cautious. In one respect Cherry Red allow us to function. I know they believe in us and that the boss keeps saying ‘One day, one day something will crack.’ What he hopes is that a Radio One producer will like one of our singles. Then he says ‘I’ll get behind it, I’ll pay for you to do a video.’ Unfortunately hyping is the name and language of the game really. You have to do it to compete really.”

R.T. “Does the change to Gallop, chartwise, improve your position any?”

“Yes it does but the main problem with Cherry Red is the distribution. Generally it doesn’t seem to be growing a lot. I know the records are improving. I know they’re getting more easy to listen to but at the same time they’re still us, without selling ourselves short.”

R. T. “I’d obviously heard ‘New Risen’ live but when it came out on 12” it was like the dawn of a new age … .”

“Definitely we’ve set ourselves a precedent. You should hear the next fucking single. I told you didn’t I … trumpets! ‘dadadata!’ Haydn’s dinner! It’s the first song we played tonight (Sun Bursts In). It’s got a brass section on it.”

R.T. “Do you have a manager?”

“Nooo! (groans). We need a manager. Actually a guy from Bronze was on the phone the other day they manage the Lotus Eaters he never mentioned the music once. It’s like ‘How many records do you sell blah blah blah!’ We’re gonna go meet him because in one respect he’s the sort of person you need as long as he leaves you alone artistically. It’s a very dodgy thing. We could find ourselves in a fucking mess. We’ve got to try and do something because it’s not growing fast enough. We’ve been doing it since Feb. ’80 and to loads of people we’re still the grubby little independent group. We know we’ve got more to offer than that. We’ve got to prove ourselves and there needs to be rhyme and reason to it a sort of focus and schematic approach, musically and artistically sorry about those two words. It feels great but it’s not reaching enough people. We feel they’d like it if only they could hear the fucking stuff, nobody knows we exist. Once upon a time it used to be great to say ‘yeah, we’ve got three albums out’. Now if I say we’ve got four albums out it’s ‘four albums … and you haven’t got anywhere?’ It’s a bit silly. You shouldn’t judge things in these ways but your personality is such that you need to see a thing growing.”

As rare as a blue rain is an Eyeless In Gaza video. Wait for it … .

“We’ve done two official Eyeless videos. One was for ‘Veil Like Calm’ which was a bit naff.”

R.T. “I’ve never seen it anywhere.”

“We’ve never seen it. We can’t get hold of a copy. We did a Cherry Red video, supposedly going to emerge shortly. We did ‘New Risen’. We were like (self mockingly) floating down this canal on a barge (laughs). Surreal! That was fun to do. Cherry Red did that on a really shoe tight budget. I think it was something like £2,000 and there were about eleven acts!! and he had to do an hour long video … on £2,000!”

There’s a mention of Michael Jackson ploughing half a million into a video of the Thriller album.

“What half a million! That’s ridiculous. Well he’s supposed to be a bit … you know. (Yes, we know.) His records are great though.”

R.T. “What else are you listening to these days?”

“Well, I’ve lost touch with the-charts recently. A year ago I felt really unsure. I saw them as a glossy false world. Now it’s just the same as us getting on stage and doing what we do. It’s there to be interpreted. Little girls like Duran Duran and it’s art if you like. It means something to them just the same as Eyeless meaning something to someone else. Actually I’ve come out in favour of Duran Duran (a loud laugh). A year ago I didn’t feel as happy as I do now and I think it shows in the music.”

R.T. “You’ve got married since.”

“Yeah, I would have been horrified, frightened to death to get married a year ago. I’m happier in general. Finally doing what I want to do with my life, like making music for a living. I feel freer. I think it took about six months to exorcise the demon of my mother. Bless her heart, she’s a lovely woman in a lot of respects but very demanding.”

Back to his new found calmness … .

“Those first two LP’s are like ‘aagh! stab everybody!’ now it’s just more relaxed.”

In the space of two and a half weeks Eyeless In Gaza shot off to Scandinavia and Martyn’s view (on returning to the homeland) of the tour?

“Pretty good actually but still the problem of playing places where they can’t get hold of the records. The usual dilemma. We did twelve gigs in fourteen nights which is quite punishing for us really but I enjoyed it.”

Their time has just got to be getting close.

The evening I ring Martyn, Janice Long is broadcasting the one and only Eyeless In Gaza session to date, a fact Martyn is unaware of but naturally pleased about.

“We did it about three months ago, the tracks being ‘Pulse Of The Rain; ‘Far Lands Blue’ and ‘Flight Of Swallows’.

This being approximately where we came in, is where we leave. It’s getting close.

Testing character
1 Name: Peter Becker
2 Guideline In life: Emotion, Intuition, Money
3 First record you’ll admit to buying: Money – The Beatles
4. Fundamental mistakes of the music press: Telling lies, ignoring Eyeless In Gaza
5 Healthy side of music business: Honesty, making money for Eyeless In Gaza
6. Treasured belongings: Money
7 Gigs to cherish (a) Yours: Oct. 13 ’82, Crown, Dudley
(b) Others: Adam & The Ants, 77 Club, Nuneaton
8 The sun shines out of: The sky?
9. Places for (a) Sedation: The fields at dawn in winter!
(b) Excitation: The fields at dusk in summer!
10 Best friend: Jane
11. Eternal vinyl: Examples: Unknown Soldier – Weather Report; Moonlight In Vermont – Maynard Ferguson; Trois Gymnopedies – Satie; Edo Lullaby – Japanese (trad); Portrait Of Tracy – Pastorius; Blues For The Fisherman – Leviev; Ouch Monkeys – Teardrop; Gedhing Tedhak Saking – Javanese Gamelan
12. Bad experiences: Having ’surgery’ performed on a tooth abscess without anaesthetic
13. Makes me laugh: Jane
14. Your tracks that please most: Bright Play of Eyes – early demo
15. Examples of lost morality: Romanticism
16. Examples of good video: Anything that bears repeated plays
17. Fears for the future (a) Personal: Stagnation
(b) Universal: World War Three
18. Favourite (a) Film: Eraserhead
(b) Album: Kilimanjaro (Teardrop Explodes)
(c) Club: Stockingford Labour
(d) Book: Recipe books
19. Pets: Dennis the Dinosaur
20. Passions (outside of music): Food, exploring
21. Closest to ideal format rock on TV: TOTP (maximum music, minimum yakkin’)
22. Bands to watch: Eyeless In Gaza
23. Countries worthwhile: Iceland
worth wasting: Don’t waste; recycle
24. Stories I could tell you!: My sordid past
25. Action at the 4-minute warning: Kill everybody
26. That’s what Xmas means to me: Frozen sick on the doorsteps of The Nags Head