Something In The Air
The mid 80's saw a renaissance of guitar music, which echoed throughout the world. Bands such as Rain Parade, Green On Red and The Dream Syndicate in the U.S.A. to The Hoodoo Gurus, Lime Spiders and Scientist in Australia plus many more from all points in between. But the new energy wasn't limited to the well-known examples by any means. There was a whole resurgence in towns and cities all over the globe. In Calne, for instance, '85 was the most productive year for music in over a decade. Steve Lines was the creative force behind much of what happened in Calne through '85 and '86. He gave the local music scene a focal point and a sense of identity when he began publishing The Mardenbeat, a local music magazine (along with Paul Ricketts and Rod Goodway) and through the magazine he also gave bands a chance to play live when he organised a series of parties and events (which sometimes included up to eight local acts on the bill). He was in several bands himself, including The Tryp (a recording project only) THE DOCTOR'S POND (a psychedelic 'swamp rock' band who went through several line-up changes) and The Chaos Brothers (a 70's inspired punk band playing mostly cover versions). All through '85 and into '86 the sleepy country town of Calne buzzed with, as Thunderclap Newman once put it, "Something In The Air". Calne had a thriving music scene with bands playing somewhere in town every weekend. Calne, of course, soon went back to sleep again but not without leaving pockets of "Something in the Air" such as Stormclouds
Stormclouds On The Horizon
STORMCLOUDS were formed in March '86 from the ashes of The New Mexicans, a band put together by Steve Lines and Mark Angell just to entice two nubile backing singers (Louise Allen and Diane Doddington) away from another local band. Steve: We decided to form a band called The New Mexicans as a cover up just so we could get near these two backing singers that we lusted after. We told them that if they joined our band they could sing lead vocals and would have creative input, blah blah blah - we just wanted to get inside their pants. It worked but The New Mexicans didn't last long as Mark and Diane soon lost interest in anything musical (being much more concerned in things physical). We did record a few demos, but I managed to erase them by accident and no recordings remain of this short-lived (sex-crazed) project. I liked the idea of putting a band together with a female vocalist though, so Louise and I decided to continue as a duo. I had two or three songs which I had written in an earlier band, including "It's Raining Still" and "When The Dream Fades" which we decided to keep and Stormclouds was born. This was March '86." Steve began writing songs right away, having at last found a band, which suited his material, and by the time the Calne Music and Arts Festival came around in June they were ready for their first gig, which was at The King George pub, Calne on 9th June. Steve: "Basically it was up to Stormclouds and Paul Ricketts to keep the evening going, we took it in turns to play three songs each until somebody else felt like playing. A couple of members of a local band called 8 Mike Hike did a few songs and I did some Doctor's Pond stuff with Dave Seal and Mike Humphreys and also a few Chaos Brothers songs, also with Mike, under the name The Chaos Twins. Lou did a version of The Bangles Manic Monday with Diane Doddington on guitar and vocals. A few days later on the 13th we were all playing again at Priestly School, where Rod Goodway's new band Jellymonsters, was also on the bill."
It's Raining Still
In September '86 Stormclouds began recording sessions for what would become their first cassette album "It's Raining Still". Steve: "Rod was planning to record an album's worth of Jellymonsters songs and he asked Lou and I if we'd help him out and at the same time we could lay down songs for our own tape. So this is what happened, we'd meet at my place every Sunday afternoon and write and record. I'd put bass on one of Rod's songs, then he'd put some lead guitar on one of mine, and so things progressed. A lot of Stormclouds songs were actually written as we went along. I didn't know if we'd ever get the chance to record again, so we tried a bit of everything from country & western through garage, folk, and psych, so the tape doesn't really hang together as an album."It's Raining Still by Stormclouds and Two True Believers by Jellymonsters were completed in February '87 and saw release a month later on Steve's 'Mardentapes' label.
Steve: "I sent the Jellymonsters and Stormclouds tapes to Alan Duffy thinking that maybe he'd be interested in putting them out on Acid tapes, even though word was filtering down to Calne that he was thinking of folding the label to concentrate on putting out vinyl. About a week later I received a letter saying "Thanks for the tapes, I haven't played them yet but the covers are great, would you like to take over Acid Tapes?" Of course I wrote back and said yes! Soon after I received two parcels stacked with master tapes, labels and cassette covers. It was a complete mess. It took me a couple of months to sort everything out and I finally put out my first releases in August '87. Strangely enough the last tape that Alan Duffy put out was our album by THE TRYP ...." Amongst Steve's first releases on Acid Tapes were the Jellymonsters and Stormclouds tapes. It's Raining Still was reviewed in Mardenbeat by Paul Ricketts: "On this release Stormclouds were accompanied by Rod Goodway and Christine Cotter from Jellymonsters. The tape is a bag of different styles as if they were casting about to find what they could do. From the garage anger of Don't Push Me Around to the folksy fluff brought on by a borrowed banjo, which was, thankfully, repossessed after Preacher Man and Rubbernecked Chicken, were recorded. More promising were the psych tracks such as Darkness Weaves and When The Dream Fades and the lonesome eerie acoustic songs such as The Darkest Hour and Turn Away. In the end it was a collection of songs that didn't hang together with the character of an album." During this time Steve had also been playing several out of town gigs with The Chaos Brothers risking life and limb in the glue pits of Wiltshire.
Lost In The Jellyclouds
Having recorded a tape each Stormclouds and Jellymonsters decided to join together and play some live gigs. Simon Bewley (from The Doctor's Pond and The Chaos Brothers) was drafted in on drums and a friend of Lou's, Vikki Sinclair, came in on backing vocals. They chose the name Jellyclouds, for obvious reasons, and their first gig was at Compton Bassett, on 2nd May 1987. Steve: "After this gig we were asked by a local band if we'd like to support them on their gigs and soon we were gigging all around the area on a regular basis. I didn't much like the band we were supporting and they didn't much like me either. We went down better than they did at gigs and despite the fact that they thought they were some kind of folk/punk anarchists (they weren't) they just didn't understand Jellyclouds at all. We would materialise from dark dressing rooms in midnight black shades, psychedelic clothes and plastic beads; often end the gigs with instrument abuse and screaming feedback; and vanish into the night as soon as our set was over in the 'Jellymobile'. We played a lot of gigs with this band and as the months went on tensions grew. Mainly between their lead singer, and me the rest of the Jellyclouds got on fine with them. The friction soon came to a head. At a gig in Calne Town Hall on November 6th after Jellyclouds had finished their set (in a wall of feedback and one person actually throwing up at the front of the stage) the 'other' band (who had supported us this time), started an argument with me and all four of them (and their huge dog) confronted me in the car park and we hurled abuse at each other for a while, resulting in them going off to complain to Rod and to sack us as support band. This didn't break my heart, they were a bunch of jerks. Coincidentally Stormclouds played a set at this gig (we hadn't done anything while Jellyclouds were touring)." This wasn't quite the end of Jellyclouds however - they continued to rehearse right up until the New Year, although half-heartedly. Rod was beginning to see some interest in Magic Muscle and it looked like a vinyl release was in the offing. Fed up with the drum machine a couple of drummers were auditioned (with limited success) and new material was tried out. Steve: "This is when Rod and I began experimenting with an Eastern influence, a couple of his new songs at the time paved the way for what he would do later, with considerable success, in Ethereal Counterbalance. I was writing stuff like Nightmares In The Sky and What Do They Say and listening to a lot of David Roback and Rain Parade stuff - however, I was also listening to a lot of T.Rex and Jesus and Mary Chain and this is what would influence Stormclouds' direction next".
Before Stormclouds began work on their next tape they managed to get a gig working with a French TV crew who were making a documentary on 'ghost towns' of Europe They'd chosen Calne as a good example. After getting drunk with the director on an all night Vodka binge, Steve managed to persuade him that Stormclouds should appear in the documentary playing a song he'd written about Calne. As it happened he hadn't written a song about Calne, but that didn't matter, that was a small problem. The next morning he turned up with a song he'd just written and filming began. The filming was done in the Lansdowne Strand Hotel, Calne (the same place where Julian Cope photographed the cover to his "20 Mothers" album - an album cover which Steve would have appeared on if he hadn't got bored and gone left the photo session early). The documentary eventually went out across Europe. Steve: "I've actually met somebody who has seen the documentary, so I know it was shown. There was a French au pair living in Calne who got into Stormclouds while she was here and when she went home she was stunned one night to see us appear, without warning, on her TV set!
Raindrops Keep Fallin'
In January 1988 Jellyclouds finally decided to call it a day. Steve: "Magic Muscle was beginning to happen for Rod and although he said that Jellyclouds we're "on ice" we knew it was the and began gigging as Stormclouds again." Rod went on to re-form Magic Muscle and Steve and Lou reverted back to Stormclouds and immediately started studio work again. Steve: "I had access to a Tascam Porta Studio through Mark Angell. I borrowed it from him under the pretence that I would record some demos for him to put vocals onto, then we'd reform a new line-up of The New Mexicans. (As it turned out we did put down a couple of demos, using mutated Stormclouds backing tracks but we couldn't find a drummer or guitarist to play live so we wrote a set of acoustic country and western songs inspired by our favourite movies and did a one off gig as a two-piece at Compton Bassett on 2nd September 1988. Stormclouds also played)" So, in March '88 Stormclouds began recording material for their second cassette album release. Steve: "It took us just four months to record our second tape, the songs were coming thick and fast. The first tape was a mixed bag of styles and we wanted this tape to sound like a coherent album. I'd heard stuff by The Primitives and other bands who were stealing from The Ramones and I thought I could do it better". Raindrops was released on Acid Tapes in May 1988. This is what Paul Ricketts had to say about it in Unhinged magazine: "This is a million miles from the angst etc of all modern rock's singer songwriter types from James Taylor to Henry Rollins. The trick is that pop doesn't attempt to be meaningful, it aims to be important for three minutes. If Stormclouds lack the Chinnichap sense of theatre, they have the humour and sense of fun (the droogish swaggering The Ungrateful Dead is funny) rather than the too conscious humour of Rubberneck Chicken on the first tape.) And long before such bands as the Pooh Stick Stormclouds were inhabiting their songs like cartoon characters in a cartoon world - the B movie live thrust of The Creature From Galaxy X, He's Trash and The 2 Dimensional Man. At live gigs from around this time they usually looked like they'd stepped out of a TV show such as Scooby Doo, Where Are You, though if Louise looked like one of the mini-skirted heroines, Steve's sardonic scowling, even if prompted by equipment malfunctions, made him out more like on of the villains of the show. The acoustic side is limited to Look At Her Eyes, otherwise all the songs that would be folkier, such as Down To The Sea, (which surfaced on a later compilation tape in an acoustic version), To Tuesday (a mind dislocated song from the first tape) and Hideaway, (the closest Mary Chain cop) are all given the fuzzed-up treatment. Even the psyche song It's Raining Still gets the fuzz. For all the blackness of the cover, this album is just too sneering and feisty to be depressed and down." Following the release of Raindrops the band did quite a few gigs to promote it, playing as a duo with a backing tape of bass and drums.
Flex That Magic Muscle
Meanwhile Rod Goodway had been successful in re-forming Magic Muscle and they'd released an album of archive material titled The Pipe, The Roar and the Grid and decided to embark on a short tour to promote it. They asked Stormclouds along as support. To coincide with this, (more chance than planning), Paul Ricketts had put out a Stormclouds flexi with his Unhinged magazine: The Creature From Galaxy X/He's Trash. Steve: "We went on tour with Magic Muscle and had a lot of fun, meeting lots of great people. I wasn't pleased with our gigs though, we had a lot of trouble with the backing tape. At the Birmingham gig we walked off stage because it was so bad.". This is what Clive Jones had to say on the Thekla gig in Unhinged: "First to take the stage on the night were Stormclouds, celebrating the release of their great new tape Raindrops. They're in their electric incarnation for this show, so we have Louise Allen on vocals and Steve Lines playing electric guitar over taped bass and drums. Problems with the monitors mean they can't deliver their best performance, much to the duo's disappointment. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, I'd prefer to concentrate on what's right with these two, an irresistible combination of ace songs and stellar vocals must surely bring them to a wider audience soon."
Saturday Night Clive
Following the Magic Muscle tour Stormclouds didn't play live much until they were invited by Clive Jones, (Stormclouds' official archivist) to play a gig at his house. Their first gig there was on 3rd December '88 and for the next couple of years they would play occasional 'house gigs' along with special guests like Barbara Manning, Sonja Hunter, Scott Miller and Pat Thomas. Steve: The house gigs were great. You'd play to an audience of, at the most, twenty, but they'd all be listening, unlike pub gigs where you had to fight over the noise. It was good to play along side the likes of Barbara Manning and Sonja Hunter as well - Clive had quite a procession of 'names' play at his house! A lot of these gigs are on audiotape and videotape
Christmas With Stormclouds
Beginning with "Groovy Yule" in December '89 Stormclouds began putting out a series of limited edition Christmas tapes for friends. Steve: The beginning of Groovy Yule was based on an old T. Rex Christmas Flexi I got when I was in the fan club. The Chipmunks Christmas album was a big influence too." Once again the band were reviewed in Unhinged: "It's a light as air, throwaway pop rush, sometimes quiet almost folky, but track by track getting more and more fuzz laden with interruptions of found sound from films to tie together the Christmassy theme. From the singalon Groovy Yule with its chittering leprechaun voices under it like the intrusion of the pagan ceremony that it really is. It's Like Christmas - "Every day's like Christmas when you're here." is the really syrupy love song. Snowclouds is a sleigh ride through the sky sound in the same way hat Roadrunner is a driving song. Christmas Kiss is the Ramones brought to Christmas with echoes of Spector (these Christmas collections have a fine tradition there). Last track is Santa Claws where the usual themes of loss and heartbreak and death that haunt Stormclouds songs comes out in a countryblue song. The second Christmas tape was released two years later and titled Have A Cool Yule followed by Cosmic Christmas in December '93. Steve: Cosmic Christmas was recorded solo by me just after Lou left the band. We'd put out a Christmas tape every two years and I wasn't going to stop now. This was a very limited run of about 5 or 6 copies (if you've heard me sing, you'll know why)" In December '95 Music & Elsewhere released a compilation of all these tapes, with a few extra tracks, titled Christmas With Stormclouds.
Stormclouds In Space
Steve: "By now I had bought my own Porta Studio and Stormclouds were ready to begin work on our third album Lost In Space. I had a better understanding of recording so I decided to do another tape of fuzz songs similar to Raindrops, but hopefully with better production." Once again Unhinged reviewed the tape: Lost In Space may be similar to Raindrops, but it was no duplicate. Fuzzed for sure, but the rhythms under the fuzz are all Bolan, whose beat subtly runs through this in the same unexpected way it ran through Opal's Happy Nightmare Baby, and for those of you asleep in your ears there was 20th Century Girl to make the tribute obvious. This use of Bolan is surprisingly under- used in contemporary pop - I would have expected the influence to spring up mutating through the 80's just as 50's Chuck Berry resurfaced mutating through the 60's. Still this ranks as Stormclouds most satisfying release, simply an exuberant parcel of pop songs from the sci-fi/trash culture of Lost In Space, Shadowqueen, Satellite Baby and Junk; the flaring anger of Get Lost and The Last Song; the disjointed dreaming of Sandman (the de-tuned TV feel of this would soon surface as the Psychotronic tape); the death songs like Candy (the country music morbidity keeps surfacing, even if the sound disappeared from Stormclouds music with the banjo); the sole, sparse, acoustic muser Heart Of Stone to the classic pop of Let's Talk About Love. Lost In Space was released on Acid Tapes February 1990
"When I'm not watching TV, I read comics!"
A year later (February '91) Stormclouds were back with yet another release, Psychotronic, (again on Acid tapes). Steve: "This was a tribute to all my favourite movies and TV shows. Also I wanted to do an album that was keyboard dominated rather than heavy with fuzz guitars. I also wanted a slightly more otherworldly/ psychedelic feel to the whole thing." Reviews of Psychotronic were mixed. Hairy Hi-fi: "Tacky Sci-Fi and psych beat in the best 'Clouds tape yet. Several spacy 'Clouds classics and some newies are fed into, a continuous programme of cute galactic distortion. Midnight In Hell: "A collection of lightweight songs intended as a tribute to the group's favourite SF TV and movies. The fact that the songs all sound the same becomes very irritating after a while." Unhinged: "Initially this sounded a weaker release than their normal standard because the roar of fuzz is gone. The whole project developed from them acquiring a keyboard with a rhythm box and writing to fit its constrictions. The songs mostly come from Sci-Fi films, titles like Galaxina, The Boy With The X-Ray Eyes, The Day The Earth Stood Still or the obvious Star Trek reference in He's Dead Jim. If anything the heavy use of echo and the softly bubbling keyboards makes this more underwater, like something out of Stingray than something out of space. The songs are all cut about with sound steals from the relevant films - like being hit by a kaleidoscope of ear camera angles. The keyboards strangeness makes this more like a fairground, listeners riding in a daze on a carousel, Louise singing in subdued tones like she's not sure whose dream she's in. Where this scores over other 'out of your senses' releases of the last few years is that Stormclouds never belabour the point, allowing the inbuilt dislocation of the structure to make this queasy listening rather then the heavy psych tack of as good as shouting "HEY THIS IS WEIRD!" in your face all the time. And, as you can trust by now, the songs all fall inside the three minute limit, totally safe from the rock opera/concept album elongation." Following this Unhinged magazine put out Junk a collection of demos and outtakes from earlier tapes. Henry Race reviewed it in Unhinged: "It provides a worthy insight into the peculiar world of a band whose songs are as much influenced by Rupert Bear, Rip Van Winkle, The Space Family Robinson and Mick Farren as they are by the Ramones, Jesus And Mary Chain. T. Rex and The Archies. - a combination that I'll settle for any day. Almost all of the ten tracks on this tape demonstrate a frighteningly well developed pop sensibility, you know the stuff, a handful of chords, chilling harmonies and hook lines in the chorus that you'd kill to have written yourself. Paul Ricketts had this to say: This collected together a bunch of unreleased songs such as Metropolis, The New Gods, where Steve shows flashes of lead guitar, almost the first time he's stepped outside the Johnny Ramone guitar ethos of 'chord only and buzz', Jellyclouds a fond memory of their days in the Jellyclouds with the strange claim in the lyrics that they were jumping up and down: as far as I recall they barely moved on stage, Remember a tribute to the long forgotten Michael Stipe, Winter's Frozen Hand and Santa Is A Spaceman and alternative takes of Down To The Sea, To Sleep, Perchance To Dream, with its keyline in Stormclouds philosophy that "Life is just a dream", When Worlds Collide, and Let's Talk About Love.