By the time we entered the studio to record The Blurred Crusade we were bona fide pop stars. Temporarily. With the success of ‘The Unguarded Moment’, Steve found himself hosting Countdown, the Australian equivalent of Top Of The Pops. Suddenly we had people at our gigs, our records were selling, we were on the TV and the radio; everything was moving at a thousand miles per hour. The whole marketing machine had gone into action. Photo sessions, interviews, gigs. We were in demand!
Somewhere in this mayhem we lost our drummer Nick Ward. Tensions had been riding high. The mood in the church camp was strained. All this wonderful success couldn’t disguise the fact that something was wrong. Personality clashes meant something had to change. Soon after the release of the first album Nick Ward was out and we were looking for a new drummer. We found one in the irrepressible18 year old Richard Ploog who blew everyone else away at the auditions.
Before we made The Blurred Crusade we returned to the studio with our new line up to record an EP of new material, two songs we had been playing live, ‘You’ve Got To Go’ and ‘Fraulein’ and two new tracks Steve had written on his Teac 4 track reel to reel tape recorder, ‘Tear It All Away’ and ‘Too Fast For You’. Steve was prolific at this time but we also managed to record one brand new track written by the band. ‘Sisters’ came together in a rehearsal and featured the beautiful echoing guitar motif that was actually written by Steve in a jam using Peter’s guitar set up. He also wrote a wonderfully evocative lyric for this first band composition. This was the first time that we had written a song together and we proudly played it live… to a lukewarm reception. It was a tricky song for Steve to sing and it didn’t have that chunky square guitar that a lot of the audiences seemed to want to hear. But this song was the first step in a whole new direction towards somewhere less obvious, less rock and pop, somewhere more cerebral only hinted at on the first album. ‘Sisters’ was a thing of beauty for its own sake and we were pleasing ourselves, which was all that mattered. If the audience couldn’t grow with us then we would have to take that chance. We were always consciously trying to move on from the last thing we had done.
The tracks from the double single (as it became known to record collectors) appeared as the extra tracks for the first album releases in the US and Europe. I won’t elaborate too much here as the EP’s will be re-issued separately to the albums, but we also did videos for ‘Too Fast For You’ and ‘Tear It All Away’. The former had been part of a video session that included ‘Bel Air’ and ‘The Unguarded Moment’. The double single received moderate success but mainly gave us some breathing space before we approached the next album. There’s an old Rock and Roll adage about bands that have their whole lives to make their first album and six months to make their second.
Unbelievably, Bob Clearmountain agreed to come to Australia to produce the next record. The stars had aligned. Somehow the idea appealed to him. I don’t remember him receiving any demos from us; he must have simply liked our music. He boarded the plane with his then wife Mary, his Yamaha speakers and tissue paper (more on that one later) and flew halfway across the world. He came based on the work he’d already done for us, a fee that we were never privy to and a trip to Australia that probably sounded like a welcome break from the Power Station, his studio of choice in New York City where he had mixed our last album. Having worked with Roxy Music, Bruce Springsteen, Chic and an impressive list of major artists, he was constantly being asked if he would be available for a project. Working with us probably felt like no pressure at all, an escape from New York.
The welcome gap made by the double single gave Steve time to write some more songs and the band more time to develop and get comfortable with a new member. We smoked some more and yet more and our good ship gigged like crazy and started to find itself musically, albeit in some scary and rough venues around Australia. We were honing our craft in front of an audience that sometimes seemed more angry than overjoyed at our presence. But we didn’t care that much about what people thought. We were blazing our own trail, engrossed in our own magic, only looking up occasionally to see if the trick was working and if it wasn’t, we would just carry on, looking down, holding on till the end of the show like drowning sailors.
This was typical of the way the band operated. Little thought went into consciously writing singles or hits. The standing joke among the band was “I don’t know what I like – I just know what I don’t like”. What was left over was the church. We didn’t care what anyone else thought but we never sat down and said, “Hey we don’t care about what anyone else thinks”. There was no agreed manifesto, no agenda and decisions were intuitive, never contrived. There were parameters but they were extremely blurred. Although the rest of the band all wrote and had ideas, Steve was way ahead of us when it came to a vision of what we should be. He now had the trophy of a hit single under his belt and we looked to him to keep coming up with the goods. At the same time the band was beginning to combine its musical talents and write together. On The Blurred Crusade, two of the band’s most enduring songs were credited to all four members. But before I get into that, Bob was coming.
I seem to remember meeting him in the studio itself. There was no introductory meeting over a cup of coffee, no running through song ideas, no pre studio rehearsal. He arrived with a copy of his latest project under his arm; the new Rolling Stones album Tattoo You, which he had mixed. At this time the Stones were still thought of as musical giants as well as being one of the biggest and certainly most famous bands in the world, not the creatively dry act they are seen as today. We were impressed. Finish the Stones’ album, go work with the church in Australia. Why not?
He was the most mild-mannered, likeable man you could ever hope to meet. Humble, talented, quietly getting on with his work whilst leaving you to quietly get on with yours. I’m not quite sure how we managed to make such an accomplished album without ever really discussing it with him or each other. It just fell into place. He was a genius in the studio; he just made everything sound fantastic. At the time we might have felt we were being over produced, but he didn’t say much and certainly wasn’t pushy so it didn’t feel like it. There was some consternation in the end with his mixes as the drums thundered through and played havoc with the woofers in our home stereos. But we sorted this issue out and he toned them down a bit. (Little did we know what was to come with Seance).
Bob was all about the quality of the sound. He was more of a world-class engineer than a producer per se. He’d brought a pair of Yamaha NS10M speakers with him as reference monitors. He positioned them precisely above the mixing desk. Then he carefully placed a piece of tissue paper over the tweeter. This was either the act of a madman or a sign that his ears were so finely tuned that even the subtlest sonic information would be registered. To explain, in these speakers he’d found an accurate representation of the sounds he was trying to record, but not quite. Allegedly, this thin veil of tissue paper made the tweeters sound less harsh, giving him a truer picture of what he had recorded. I also seem to remember him saying that if the band sounded good on these speakers then the band would sound good anywhere. Studios often have magnificent loud speakers. “The Big Ones” we used to call them. However listening to your music on these massive speakers can be misleading to say the least. Most producers listen to medium size monitors. You need the truth. Most people are more likely to hear you on the radio or a small speaker system or these days a phone! The producer has to make sure the band sounds good on bad speakers. Many producers disappear out of the studios and sit in their car to listen so they can get a real perspective of what they are doing in the expensive studio with its high-end equipment. Bob single handedly began a trend in studio monitoring that has continued to this day. Since Bob, it became the norm to have Yamaha NS10M’s in a recording studio. He was that influential. Even the tissue paper caught on.
Steve had a handful of new tracks for this record but, as the band was entering into its second year with a vibrant new drummer, we started to jam together more and more. The musical chemistry was enhanced by Richard’s fluid drumming. He was effortless on the hi hat and the songs took on a new smooth feeling of flying through the clouds. The band was suddenly breezy and natural; the tension within the group and in the music had dissipated somewhat with Nick Ward’s departure and the songs were now gliding across the tops of the trees, softly brushing the leaves. This velvety backbone, combined with the impossible chords we were creating, enhanced Steve’s songs and opened us up to the possibilities of the music we could make. We were not simply a pop group with three-minute flashes; we had other ideas as shown on the first album with ‘Is This Where You Live’. There was a brooding, progressive side, a psychedelic element, a melodic controlled chaos that was to appear on all our albums as a contrast to the more traditional song. Still, we’d learn the songs that Steve had written and although his songs came more or less complete, we would add elements, finding new ways to play chords, taking his ideas and augmenting them.
Peter and I would work hard on our guitar tones, making sure we had the right amp and effects set up. We both had vintage Vox AC30’s and Fender Stratocasters. We used a lot of similar equipment in those days. We both had these clunky old Ibanez UE 405 Multi Effects units. They had four effects in them: Compressor, Stereo Chorus, Parametric Equalizer and Analog Delay. They were instant mood machines. I would have the compressor set to give the sound some edge, the chorus swirling and the delay with the longest setting and a short decay so that the delay speed didn’t interrupt the rhythm of the song we were playing. With these three effects on all the time there was a wonderful moody intertwining meshing beautiful noise coming out of the amp. Peter was doing the same sort of thing so our guitars were just spiraling giants in lush soundscapes. We also both had Boss stereo chorus/tremolo pedals, (made out of metal not plastic). You can hear the tremolo effect on Peter’s solo on ‘Field of Mars’. This combination of amps, guitars and effects made our guitars sound like waterfalls of sparkling diamonds.
So our sound as well as our vision was coming together and developing. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Chris Gilbey came back from a trip to America with a blonde 1965 Rickenbacker 12 string. Now I could continue investigating that instrument and its place in the church. Adding this instrument to our already luxurious sound, gave the band another sonic variation, another dimension. The 12 string songs were impossible to re-create on a 6 string. The instrument had its own unique sound and if I ever broke a string and had to pick up the Strat at a show then the song would struggle one-legged to the end.
Whenever we were reviewed after that guitar arrived the inevitable Byrds comparisons came along. This inspired me to go and buy some albums by the band. I only really knew Mr Tambourine Man and I couldn’t really hear the connection. Roger McGuinn, although a great innovator, approached the instrument quite differently. Quite early on I began to imagine the 12 string not only for melodic arpeggios but for mad fast distorted heavy songs too. More on that in the sleeve notes for later albums.
Peter also brought in another guitar for this album. A 1963 Gibson 330 semi acoustic. A really lovely old instrument that would have been just as at home in an antique shop as it was in the studio. On the song ‘A Fire Burns’ you can hear our two new guitars together. That’s Pete on the intro riff with the growling Gibson and that’s me on the other guitar with the ringing Rickenbacker. Also notice the match strike. I vaguely remember Steve recording that and amusing myself by the thought of whether or not he’d done a good take.
The album spawned a hit; the upbeat, elegiac ‘Almost With You’. We made a damned silly video clip with a knight running around without his horse and four extremely stoned band members pretending to have a Seance. We probably could’ve communicated with the spirits our eyes were so bloodshot, we looked almost dead anyway! This section of the video was part of a short film, the conclusion being ‘You Took’; a ridiculous fairy tale of unconvincing model castles and a dubious story line that was shown in cinemas in Australia before the main feature. It was long enough to be considered a film at over ten minutes, but although the music was worth listening to, the visuals were certainly something to put you off your popcorn.
We always struggled with the reality of promoting our music. We weren’t really any good at it. We wanted to write the music, make records, play live. Inevitably the film clip issue brought it to our attention that our look mattered. But being in your early to mid twenties, the look kind of looked after itself. We were arguably the first band to rediscover paisley. Luckily we came up with some better musical combinations than we did sartorial ones.
‘Almost With You’ was an elegant slice of intelligent pop reaching number 21 on the Australian charts. There were 12 string arpeggios galore, complete with a beautiful Spanish guitar solo from Peter over a cavalcade of roaming chords that we all claim to have had some part in writing. The essence of the song though was Steve’s and this album contained some of his most lovely tunes, short and simple with appealing lyrics of invented other worlds. Side One’s closer ‘Secret Corners’ at one minute forty five seconds and Side Two’s closer ‘Don’t Look Back’ at a second under two minutes are short but sweet examples of this. There was also the hopelessly romantic ‘To Be In Your Eyes’. I still imagine Astrud Gilberto singing this song as a Bossa Nova.
The two, arguably three, great epics on the album were ‘An Interlude’, ‘You Took’ and ‘Field Of Mars’. ‘You Took’ and ‘An Interlude’ were the next two songs that the band wrote together after ‘Sisters’ and it was becoming obvious that, although Steve was a talented songwriter, the songs that we wrote as a band were equally relevant. Both these songs came out of jams and both were electric 12 string songs. I don’t think they could have been written without that instrument in the mixture, other songs yes but not these two. ‘An Interlude’ begins with a sparkling arpeggio, introduces Pete’s lazy Pink Floyd guitar lines and features Richard’s concert hall drumming; all this grandeur but somehow it manages to save itself from its own pomposity by its graceful, easy mood. Steve sings of a dream world of capture and escape, willing prisoners and doubtful guests in netherworlds of imagined mythical figures. The female voice behind Steve’s is Mary, Bob’s wife. Also on this track the Roland Vocoder first heard on ‘Is This Where You Live’. It appears in the instrumental section between the verses and at the end of the song, creating another grand and eerie atmosphere.
‘You Took’ is classic church. It continues to be a crowd favourite with its dynamic peaks and troughs, intense climbing, jamming and extended instrumental middle section which grows and grows and grows till you just can’t take anymore and when the final release comes it feels like an express train ejected out of a tunnel into the relief of daylight. This semi progressive direction encouraged the band to approach writing sessions as an adventure and ultimately led to releasing records in the future that were just jams from beginning to end.
I can’t remember very much about writing ‘Field of Mars’ apart from the intro arpeggio. It’s one of those songs that just wrote itself. Everything falls into place and the next chord sequence is already laid out ahead of you. It was probably written in five minutes. An interesting point is that Steve wrote the words but for some reason I sang it. Apparently it was Peter’s idea, and he produced my vocal with Bob. I think we just figured that it would suit my pastoral English voice!! Ha Ha! Massive production on the drums from Bob Clearmountain. Never really worked live – just couldn’t get it to sound big enough.
‘When You Were Mine’, the preceding track and second track on the album was the complete opposite. This was one of Steve’s songs that the band transformed into a snarling beast. Another build up intro starting with drums, then bass and then the two guitars coming in together with an almighty crash, a cacophony of tangled Strats that builds into a crescendo turning into a theme riff that just rockets along. This was a Steve song perfectly captured by the band and we opened our live set with it for a long time. It was also the second single off the album, in an edited version. It was an example of realising the musical vision. The lyrical vision remained aloof. Strange half invented characters inhabit an unfinished world; a stark landscape of cold dreams. Shapes form and disappear before your eyes as you try to focus on who they are or why they are there. It was perhaps a little too oblique for a commercial audience after ‘Almost With You’ and failed to make any real impact on the charts.
Of course, when this album came out it was pre CD so we were very aware of sequencing. Great albums have been lost in the sequencing. The first track on the album is extremely important for obvious reasons but in those days the first track on Side Two was also extremely important. Bands such as Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and Blur were so in love with the idea of Side One and Side Two that they put intermissions in the middle of their CD’s to try and create the feeling of turning the album over. On The Blurred Crusade there was only one song that could open Side Two and that was ‘Just For You’. The knock on the door at the beginning was as conceptual as it was light hearted. The idea was that Steve was sitting in a room trying to write a song. There’s a knock on the door, he puts the guitar down and walks across the room to answer it. As he opens the door the song he is trying to write pours into the room. Note Peter’s driving guitar at the end of this track. A classic combination of Strat and Vox, possibly using an old Echoplex delay. Big sound. ‘Just For You’ highlighted Richard’s fluent drumming; a fresh slice of carefree pop with ringing electric and strumming acoustic guitars.
We used an old recording trick in the middle 8 of ‘Just For You’. We slowed the tape down and then played the guitar part at this different speed. Changing the speed also changes the key so we had to adapt the chords accordingly. When we played the tape back at normal speed the guitar now sounded like a harpsichord. You can hear it quite clearly. Nowadays the use of modern, powerful computers mean these and more effects can be achieved at the touch of a key. The Blurred Crusade would have sounded markedly different had it been recorded today. Although music is characterized by the sound and the techniques of its day, The Blurred Crusade seems to possess a certain timeless quality.
As on the first album, the title was coined by taking a line from the lyric to one of the songs, in this instance ‘You Took’; I suggested Our Side and Their Side instead of Side One and Side Two. It was misconstrued as meaning the band Side and the record company Side. Based on Paul Pattie’s cover image of the four knights, I was thinking of two armies going into battle. There is actually something amusing about the cover. It was always obvious to us who was who.
Included here are the B-sides from the two singles. ‘Almost With You’ came in an evocative picture sleeve of ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh’ painted by Sir John Everett Millais in 1870. It was a reproduction spotted by Steve somewhere. There was no real relevance to using it except we liked it. The B-side, ‘Life Speeds Up’ was something of an epic in its own right. Featuring Peter on Tubular Bells, this song had lots and lots of parts. It was another live favourite and had an extremely rocking end section that put both band and audience into a frenzy. The drums at the end were an example of Bob Clearmountain’s famous over the top drum sound. Absolutely not toned down. Perhaps this is why the track didn’t make the album. Consequently it became relegated to the standing of a B-side but it really was a worthy track. ‘When You Were Mine’ came in a paper sleeve. The B-side was ‘The Golden Dawn’, an instrumental that Steve and I wrote. As far away from ‘Life Speeds Up’ as could possibly be, it’s an odd track, the up front electric 12 string Rickenbacker and bass guitar playing some nearly questionable notes, rubbing against each other but consequently creating some strange atmospheres. Peter is in there somewhere too playing some lead lines at the end. It was something of a ditty but had a kind of unnerving quality about it. Something incongruous, like a simple tune that you suddenly can’t follow anymore. You can hear Richard’s suppressed Keith Moon drum technique and Steve’s seesaw fretless bass. And of course all that mysterious whispering.
The lyrics for the album were printed on the inner sleeve. Also included was an insert of four black and white pictures of the band. No one was credited for the photos. That’s Peter playing the stolen white Strat. That photo and also Richard’s were taken at anonymous gigs. I think the shots of Steve and I are from the ‘Tear It All Away’ video shoot. It took place at a church in Glebe, an inner city suburb of Sydney where we would later spend lots of time recording future albums. Early copies of this album had an embossed front cover and the European release featured a gatefold sleeve and the pictures in a blue wash. I still own that Rickenbacker 12 string but it has retired from the road.
Like its predecessor, The Blurred Crusade went gold in Australia. In retrospect it’s hard to believe that Capitol records in America passed on the album. We had these songs, Bob Clearmountain and a look and sound that fitted in perfectly with the burgeoning Los Angeles (albeit ephemeral) Paisley Underground scene with The Three O’clock, The Long Ryders, The Rain Parade and of course The Bangles, who went on to have US number one singles. REM were just starting in Athens, Georgia and releasing their first EP Chronic Town in 1982. All this right there on their doorstep and still The Blurred Crusade didn’t manage to stimulate the imagination of Capitol Records. They simply failed to notice what was going on all around them. Typically only recognising a scene after the fact, they were unable to see the potential of the band even though it was plainly obvious that there was a place for the church. They could never have believed that we would still be together 30 years later. Mind you, neither could we. Perhaps there was no financial incentive, the record having already been paid for by the Australian label. Consequently, Capitol had no investment to recoup. (Arista Records would release it years later on a new format known as Compact Disc, riding on the success of Starfish). But for the time being the momentum in the States was lost. Also, the church’s management at the time may have been inexperienced in dealing with major American Record Companies. This combined with the fact that the band was not US based were all contributing factors. It would be a long time between drinks for the church in America; our next album Seance also failed to secure a release.