With our tongues firmly in our cheeks we released Heyday in the European spring of 1985, the four of us in the most decorous shirts the world had ever seen and an authentic expensive Persian carpet as a backdrop. We were playing up the recent rise and demise of the new psychedelia’s sartorial elegance sometime after we had already abandoned it ourselves. It was the first time we had had a picture of the band on the album cover and there we were, presenting an image to the world that we had already left behind.
I remember we hired the carpet from a posh shop called Nazar carpets in Mosman on Sydney’s North Shore. It was heavy and cumbersome and took some serious maneuvering in order to get it to the location for the photo shoot. When we finally hauled it inside we realized that hanging it was also going to be difficult. Somehow we managed to suspend it and position ourselves appropriately for the shot. In those days user-friendly image editing programs such as Photoshop were not readily available to create a computer generated background. The photographer was Wendy McDougall, well known for her band shots. However, it was a friend of ours – Tony Forbes – who thought up the cover concept. Putting a whole lot of effort into something that was only going to confuse the public was the church at its contrary best.
This was very typical of how we did things. We were always sending out mixed messages. One never really knew where one was with the church. We made it all up as we went along. Sometimes we were like a blind man edging his way along a cliff. But what we did have was intuition, and that has proved to be an essential ingredient in sustaining the band to the present day. But, there was always some kind of built in anti-success gene playing down our commercial side. We were notoriously difficult in interviews and Steve was cagey when it came to defining what the church was actually about. None of us were very good at playing the game. We had many clashes with TV presenters and DJ’s, film crews and cameramen. Journalists either loved us or hated us and we could never really understand why they always needed everything explained. A magician is never asked how he does his trick.
We didn’t really have anything solid for the fans to follow, except ambiguity. The manifesto was sketchy; the albums could be rock, smooth, gothic, pop, folky. The only thread was that they were unmistakably the church. Steve wouldn’t talk to the audience at gigs and the live versions of songs were played extremely aggressively and much faster than on the records. We had stopped playing ‘The Unguarded Moment’ so we were intriguing to some and frustrating to others. We were beginning to lose touch with the masses.
We’d have fans turning up to gigs in paisley shirts, tight black pants and pointy suede boots; girls and blokes wearing hoop earrings and sporting fringes, but it felt kind of strange that people might want to look like us. We would have fans calling out for songs we didn’t play. Some fans already held onto a nostalgic ideal of the band but we were trying to leave the past behind and move on. We couldn’t cater for the desires of the audience; any influence on the musical direction or the set list or the style we played would only restrict our creative process. A band has to be able to not listen to what people say. It was easy to alienate those who were just trying to support us. We didn’t want to play the hits anymore –the catchy songs. We wanted to explore our more progressive side and were willing to risk the ire or the disappointment of the audience for the sake of realising our musical ambitions. We didn’t want to be part of the system that sucked bands in and spat them out. The record company also seemed to want to influence us. Signing us because we were different and then trying to fit us in with everyone else. We didn’t want to be the new sensation; we wanted to be ourselves, making music our way without interference from the periphery.
Apart from all these distractions there were lots of tensions in the band at this time, so it’s incredible that we made such a smooth band-orientated album. I fell out with Steve one afternoon on tour in Hamburg and took the train back to Stockholm without playing the gig. A week later we patched it up but personalities were clashing. Still, the desire was strong and we managed to steady the ship. They say that being in a band is like a marriage but while marriages at least start with love and a common goal, bands have egos and ambition and are often a collection of individuals trying to realize their creative needs and their personal visions. These fragile relationships need serious work and by this time we had been together for 5 years, a long time in Rock and Roll. One way we managed to overcome the human problems was by writing together well and Steve’s acceptance that the band needed to be part of the writing process was one of the reasons we managed to carry on. We wrote eight of the songs on the album together. This successful collaboration was a huge step forward.
Heyday was our first album for two years. Since Seance we had recorded two five track EP’s in Australia, Remote Luxury and Persia. Warner Brothers had signed the church in the USA and they decided to combine those two EP’s as Remote Luxury and make that the first release. The Blurred Crusade and Seance’s failure to secure a release in America meant it had been three years since an album had come out there. The last American release was in fact two EP’s stuck together, so we were anxious to put a real album out in America.
We’d decided quite early on that we would like English producer/engineer Peter Walsh to work with us on the album. He had produced New Gold Dream for Simple Minds and we were into that album when it was released. (His brother Greg Walsh was also a producer and interestingly, they had both produced different Heaven 17 albums.) He had also worked with Scott Walker on the Climate Of Hunter album. We were impressed because we loved Scott’s music and he was notoriously difficult to work with, extremely left of centre and it would take a special person to produce his records.
When I listen back to New Gold Dream now it sounds very strange – the drums up front, the vocal buried in the background in reverb, twangy bass. Still, there was something about the mood of this album that appealed to us. Simple Minds were something new and in the early ’80s they had an uncanny ability for writing songs that were simultaneously catchy and mysterious. EMI liked the idea of Peter Walsh producing the album and a deal was struck. In retrospect Peter was our first real producer – someone who understood music and made musical contributions to the songs. He was also a lovely guy, with a baby face and a soft demeanour, easy to be around.
Before he arrived we had started work writing new songs in the White Room rehearsal studios, located somewhere in a back alley in inner city Sydney. These sessions were fruitful and most of the songs on the album were written here. We would see if the band could manage to write more than a couple of free form jams. Could we write real constructed songs with words and melodies like Steve had done in his little music room? As it happened, Steve was quite open to this idea and the musical direction we were taking was more to his tastes anyway. There was just so much potential in the band as a songwriting force. The only song Steve wrote by himself on the record was ‘Disenchanted’ and it was well interpreted by the band. It was a sparkling slice of wry 12 string pop and a real songwriter’s song with an autobiographical narrative that reflected Steve’s complex personality.
The other non-band song on the record was ‘Youth Worshipper’ co-written by Steve and Karin Jansson, who went on to co-write ‘Under The Milky Way’ with him on Starfish. ‘Youth Worshipper’ sees Steve commenting on plastic surgery, and the quest for eternal youth and the lengths people are prepared to go to achieve this goal, “Hoofs and horns and tooth and bone, gonna stitch you up where you’ve come un-sewn” was a reference to the unsavoury ingredients used in make-up to beautify oneself and the awful consequences of botched operations.
Generally the lyrics of the songs that Steve wrote by himself dealt with less abstract subjects, whereas there was a more poetic slant on the band songs, the subjects hidden in the shadows of the words. There was an occasional glimpse of the dilemma of a life in the limelight but they were mostly dreamlike interpretations or truths obscured in vivid imagery. One of the best examples of this was ‘Myrrh’, a resounding success as a band composition. “Emerald haunt in overdrive, nightmare descent into Jericho city”. Steve’s colorful imagery was rich and evocative and the music saw the band soaring effortlessly in a vigorous rush of forward motion. It achieved everything we were aiming for; the feeling of galloping into the future, unobvious chord progressions, instrumental sections and it moved like a bullet with the texture of silk. It was like a heavyweight boxer, tough as nails but light on his feet.
For my part, ‘Myrrh’ was an exercise in precise rhythms with nameless chords. Peter contributed ringing harmonics and soaring E-bow solos. It was a fantastic opening song for the album, setting up the mood, drawing you into its irresistible energy and intrigue. This was one of the first songs Peter Walsh heard when he arrived at the rehearsal studios one sunny Sydney afternoon. He patiently sat and listened to us run through our new songs. How he could sit there with all that noise I just don’t know, but he seemed to be taking it all in and he made notes as we played. (Must buy earplugs!) He would then suggest changing a section of a song – lengthen that bit, shorten this bit. That bit could be better; this bit needs to be more dynamic.
I remember there was a section in ‘Myrrh’ that he suggested should be twice as long. We all thought it was a great idea because it made more of the build up into the section after it. Because of ideas like this we warmed to him quickly. He dropped in and out for a few days, making suggestions, getting over his jetlag and acclimatising to the Australian vibe. Eventually we all had a handle on the songs and were ready to return to Studios 301.
By the time we got into the studio we had a really good idea of how we intended to put the songs down on tape. I’ve already talked about the opening track but the second track on the album was also a real gem. ‘Tristesse’ had a melodic flourishing electric 12 string guitar riff as an intro. It was another song that signalled a real step forward as a band because it had all the melody of a pop song with all the maturity of a song well crafted. It was both accessible and interesting; not a single, but a great album track full of light and vitality. It had no apparent sonic darkness and this was a breath of fresh air after the claustrophobic Seance. We were succeeding in sounding different to our last album but still sounding like ourselves. It was a crucial element in our development; we were moving on again. It was a succinct and enticing start to an album after the fractured and uncertain Remote Luxury/Persia EP’s.
Of the four singles from the album, none of them sounded like actual hits. They were more like lead songs from the album, ‘taster tracks’ to introduce us to the radio stations or MTV. They were really just expensive advertisements – we all know how out of control the budgets for video clips became as MTV took off. Budgets for making albums were often less than budgets for making the videos. It was a case of the tail wagging the proverbial dog but the reality was that the best marketing idea was just as important as having the best album.
In America MTV mainly consisted of high rotation videos of extremely commercial music. But every Sunday night there was an alternative music show called 120 minutes. A new world was opening up for bands of our ilk and the alternative scene was beginning to take hold in America. We were much more in tune with our English contemporaries such as Echo And The Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs – bands who were steeped in mood and mystery who had enigmatic lead singers. There were a few bands who led this new cool ‘80s alternative British Invasion into the USA – The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Modern English, The Chameleons, Gene Loves Jezebel, New Order, The Mighty Lemon Drops – all these bands were making inroads into the States and we seemed to have much more in common with them than our Australian contemporaries, such as Midnight Oil, INXS and Men At Work.
Some of these English bands became massively popular in America and in the summer of 1986 we toured there with Echo And The Bunnymen. It was a perfect pairing, (especially for me as I was a big fan of the band and had all of their records). This tour exposed us to a new audience and it suddenly felt like we had “arrived” in America. In New York we opened for The Bunnymen at The Felt Forum, part of the Madison Square Garden complex. Iggy Pop (James Osterberg) came backstage sporting a rather nice umbrella. “Hello I’m James, nice to meet you”. What a cool guy.
‘Already Yesterday’ was the first single from the album (in Australia only). All of our tracks had working titles. ‘Already Yesterday’s was ‘Hover’. We tried to come up with working titles that made some kind of sense; something that would remind us of the song before the lyrics had been written and been given a proper title. Something about the riff I played at the beginning of the song evoked the sensation of ‘hovering’. It was called ‘Hover’ for a long time before Steve wrote the words and melody. This song is actually two parts joined together – my riff that starts the song and continues through the verse, and Peter’s chord progression that became the chorus. I remember enjoying playing that riff immensely as it was a tricky fingering on the fretboard and had that nice little tremolo bar flurry at the end. Peter K tells me he produced the choir on this track. When I hear it now it sounds like a group of session singers that might be better suited to more commercial projects – which is exactly what they were. But what can you do? In the same way that you can’t expect classical musicians to jam and come up with ideas beyond what is written on the sheet music in front of them, session singers sound eternally overly professional, often not fitting in with the mood of the band. They have all these vocal skills but they tend to sound like people who sing on adverts, which is what they would do more often than sing with a band like the church. Here was an example of a great song that wasn’t a great single and it got little commercial attention. But we had to release a single and make a video because that’s how bands were marketed. At this point we were turning into a non-singles band that still had to release singles. In fact, we were an albums band that had had hit singles, morphing into an enduring musical entity, leaving behind the merry-go-round of the pop world where you were only as big as your last hit. We wanted to get away from being slaves to the ephemeral, searching for hits as our primary purpose.
The video for ‘Already Yesterday’ just didn’t work well and I don’t think it got much airplay. It was filmed in Hyde Park in the centre of Sydney and at a house on Avalon beach (note the lyric). There was something half hearted about the band performance. I remember Richard couldn’t take it seriously. Maybe the director (whose name escapes me) just couldn’t capture that special something with his concept. Whoever was to blame, it continued the string of ‘misses’ as we failed to make an impression on the charts. The B-side was Peter’s ‘As You Will’ featuring the charming chorus lyric, “ornamental or warm and gentle on the way to paradise, as you will someday” I think it’s me playing the solos and the funky rhythm guitar on this vibrant track.
‘Tantalized’ was the second single. This song came out of a jam Peter and I had at the rehearsal studio when Richard and Steve were out of the room. Peter was behind the drum kit and I was slashing at chords like a mad person on my Rickenbacker 12 string then cruising into a frantic rhythm in the B-section before returning to the pattern that would be the verse. When the others came back we had this monster in there with us. Steve joined in, Richard got behind the kit and Peter went back to his guitar. (This swapping of instruments became common as we grew into the 21st century). Countless Australian pub tours certainly left their mark on this raucous Rock and Roll song but the chorus had that flying church dream trademark that set us apart from other bands. Steve went away and wrote a great lyric and melody that suited this explosive band composition. Instead of sticking to delicate jangling arpeggios I began to experiment with the Rickenbacker 12 string, using it through a fuzz box and a loud amp hitting Pete Townshend type chords and then launching into fast double speed guitar solos. In the studio Peter Walsh decided we should have horns on this song and he and Peter K co-produced them. I always thought that the idea of horns worked well on the song, but at the same time felt like horns in the church were slightly misplaced.
We shot a video for ‘Tantalized’ with an American director and his wife, Larry and Leslie Williams. We got along with them extremely well and they were a real pleasure to work with. The problem was that I was living in Stockholm and the band was in Sydney. Simple, I’ll fly to Sydney. So I left Stockholm on January 1st and flew to Sydney for one day. We filmed the video and I was back in Stockholm by January 4th. The jetlag never had a chance to take hold. The fact that I’d flown from a Swedish winter to an Australian summer for a day didn’t faze me much. I just thought of it as a necessary trip and Warner Brothers were willing to pay for it. I think they sent me Business Class too. Oh! the days of endless budgets and youthful abandon. As it happened ‘Tantalized’ turned out to be one of the best videos we ever made, mainly due to Larry and Leslie’s quick fire editing which suited the song’s energy and fast changes. Even so, it wasn’t a hit. The B-side was ‘The View’ written and sung by me. By this time I had acquired a Teac 4-track and was writing songs at home. We were all starting to write songs by ourselves as well as together and consequently many, many solo albums would be released through the years.
‘Columbus’ was the last single (except for Europe) and was possibly the most accessible of all, featuring Peter’s memorable riff, (doubled on piano), my strident chiming 12 string Rickenbacker and Steve’s Fender Coronado bass underpinning the rhythm. But again, it was more about exposure on TV shows like 120 minutes, as opposed to Top 40 radio stations – cultivating the cooler audience rather than going for the masses. The ‘Columbus’ video was filmed in LA on the back of a flat bed truck and directed again by the husband and wife team of Larry and Leslie Williams. (I told you we liked them). I remember being driven around and being ogled by the public, hoping not to fall off in mid mimed middle 8. I don’t think it was aired much but people liked the song. It was one of those situations where the video seemed to trivialize the song. Pointless. Nevertheless, ‘Columbus’ was a powerful song and had a stirring middle 8, set up by Richard’s repeating snare hit, Steve’s skipping bass line, my shifting 12 string arpeggios and metal slicing guitar from Peter. This was the only band song not written in the studio. It was actually written at a soundcheck on our first American tour in 1984. We originally thought we’d written it in Columbus, Ohio – which is how it got its name. Sometimes working titles stuck and gave Steve concepts for words. We then realized that it was actually written at a soundcheck in Eau Claire, Wisconsin – another town on the same tour. I’m not sure the song would have had the same lyrical poignancy had it been called ‘Eau Claire’ instead of ‘Columbus’.
The B-side was the enticing, magical folk song ‘Trance Ending’ which was recorded at Steve’s house on his 8 Track. He had upgraded his studio and we all came in and played on it. The extra four tracks made the home recording a lot easier. Steve commented later that this was his favourite song of the Heyday era sessions. A more thoughtful introspective church is revealed in this song and that’s what he liked about it. We would tend to gravitate towards this kind of song in the coming years. We were getting a glimpse of records we would make in the future; songs with captivating verses and flourishing beautiful choruses, songs that seemed to have no chords or form, pure music for its own sake. We would leave the pop concept of the band well and truly behind us, (although it seemed like pop songs would inadvertently write themselves in the studio). Our future lay in more challenging music rather than trite singles. So we generally tried to avoid writing hooky, catchy songs, going more for mood, interesting chord progressions and less predictability.
‘Disenchanted’, the fourth single, was only released in Europe, replacing ‘Columbus’ (although a promo ‘Columbus’ came out in Spain). Carrere Records had by now decided it was all over between us. The label were not exactly rolling in money, although at some point they had had a major hit on the continent with a cheesy song called ‘Words’ by F.R. David. Whatever their financial situation, the label still felt like that we had thrown away £5,000 on the Duran Duran tour debacle. They weren’t keen on investing any extra money in us after that and as the Remote Luxury album didn’t sell well, they dropped us. We were picked up by EMI in the UK probably as a favour to EMI Australia who thought there may still be hope for us in the rest of the world as Warner Brothers were releasing Heyday in the USA. EMI UK must have believed this jangling melodic song stood a chance on the radio in Europe (there was no video) but it wasn’t picked up. It was probably poorly promoted. In Europe, the B-side of ‘Disenchanted’ was also ‘Trance Ending’. Bizarrely, on the 12-inch there was an extra track ‘You’ve Got To Go’ from the double single from 1981. EMI must have thought that an unavailable track would encourage people in the UK to buy the 12-inch. It didn’t work.
One of the most impressive songs on the album is the regal ‘Happy Hunting Ground’. As ‘Columbus’ ends, an instrumental interlude begins with sweet harmonics that sound for a fleeting moment like the beginning of ‘And You And I’ by Yes but then Richard’s bongos take over and the track moves off in another direction. Peter’s spacey acoustic 12 string ‘sprangs’ in reverb and Steve’s processional bass fades in like a dusty camel train appearing over the horizon. My electric 12 string part is a simple plaintive motif. Then a repeated arpeggio slides down the neck like ice slipping from a roof. In 1.45 seconds it’s gone and a rumbling drumbeat takes over. Pizzicato violins and Peter’s tremolo guitar set up an air of expectation. The 12 string fanfare heralds the arrival of some pompous king. Harmony multi-tracked Rickenbacker 12 strings and Peter’s volume swell evoke another procession but this time it’s something even more grandiose. Although the title suggests an American Indian scenario, to me it sounds more majestic – a magisterial monarch more than a proud Indian chief. The violins then whisk up into the ether, across the heavens into an epic movie soundtrack anchored by pumping bass, low Gyoto Monk chanting and dressed with soft stabbing trumpets. It’s beautifully arranged and shows off the church’s ability to make thematic soundtrack music as well as Peter Walsh’s arranging and production skills.
Despite a strong melody and lyric, choirs, horns and violins, intertwining guitars and bass, ‘Night Of Light’ is somehow the weakest track on the album. It’s funny how the song with everything manages to do the least for your soul. It possesses all these elements yet the result is run of the mill, although it does have an interesting and surprising ending. If only the song had started like this and grown from there.
The album finishes with the dependable ‘Roman’. And like ‘Myrrh’, the title doesn’t appear in the lyric. A furtive introduction sets up my cracking riff and the band explodes into the verse. The middle 8 is a cascade of dancing arpeggios. Although the chorus doesn’t quite live up to the verse in my mind, it was a powerful song to end the album and we played it in our live set regularly. It was our long time lighting engineer Trevor Johnstone’s favourite track.
Listening back to Heyday after all these years it’s surprising to hear how soft the production is. It seems that after Seance we went to the other extreme. The drums are so thick and natural on Heyday that they almost sound like they were recorded in a fairy tale forest. Yet through all that warmth and lushness in the sound, the anxiety in Richard’s playing can be heard. It’s like he’s always one pace in front of the band instead of behind it. This was an issue we would have to face in the future. For my part, the songs were wonderful opportunities for lots of electric 12 string guitar parts. Moreover, the interaction between the other stringed instruments, Peter’s guitar parts and Steve’s bass were nothing short of magical. Peter Walsh obviously understood the dynamic of the guitars, and the rich tones on Heyday showcased the intricate webs we weaved. The songs still sound strong and I wonder whether, if we had gone with a different cover (less irony), whether we may have appealed to a larger audience. Not everyone got the joke in the cover art or the title. The concept of not being able to know one’s heyday from the point of view of the present seemed an obvious paradox but I don’t remember anyone picking up on it.
To sum up, Heyday was a great success for the church – and as the band evolved we succeeded in breaking into the alternative clique in America. We found a new following and made a great record that the fans and the band loved. The critics liked it too. We were on the cover of Australian Rolling Stone magazine. The record sold reasonably well and attracted alternative airplay and was generally well received in Europe, the US and Australia. All seemed to be going well with our new American label Warner Brothers. The only thing we didn’t have was a hit single. That might have been what was responsible for the next sequence of events, as we were literally on the way to the studio to start recording a new album when we were unceremoniously dropped by Warners in the USA and EMI in Australia. Carrere were long gone in Europe and EMI UK lost the little interest they had. After all our work and progress, after the hits, the creative success, the TV appearances, the photo sessions, the interviews, the front covers, we no longer had a record deal. We hadn’t had a hit for three years and had no idea if we would ever be signed to a record label again. Then something miraculous happened…