|E.H. artwork by Gareth Monger, 2000|
For the previous four years, the early Keshco demos had been on copied cassettes, through standard home stereo units. Anything that needed extra parts had to be played back through the air. After a while, we got two tape-to-tape systems with the ability to overdub through a mic socket whilst copying, though our mics were uniformly pound-shop crap so the results weren't too good. These cassettes mostly went back and forth within the band, or occasionally to some unlucky girl. In mid-1998, we decided to record a "trying-our-hardest" three-track demo to send to record companies, though it was mostly family members who were subjected to it.
University called. In spring 1999, I splashed out on a Fostex multitracker. The X-77 had four tracks, six inputs, a neat rotary pitch control, and I loved it to bits. This wasn't to say we instantly started recording band masterpieces. I was in Leicester; Robert and Gareth were still in the Fens and soon to head off to Ipswich and Blackpool respectively. When we did meet up, we were more likely to use a dictaphone to get our tunes down (or really, more likely just to sit down and watch Stella Street).
It was around this time that I heard a single by European art-rock duo Schulte/Eriksson. "For The Sake Of Clarity" (YouTube link) was delightful, confusing, polyrhythmic and playful. Eagerly I sent off for their homemade album. Its copy-of-copy, looping fragments made perfect sense to my ears, just as I was acquiring a taste for the Fall through their album "Cerebral Caustic" - not generally regarded as a classic, but the textures were so dense, scuffed, crushed - perfect cassette music.
We'd been going through a poor time of it as a band. Barely rehearsing, nowhere near the sounds we wanted, anything with more than four chords too complex to learn, I got pretty down about the prospects for my new songs. Suddenly here was an answer. We wouldn't learn the carefully written songs, we'd just make stuff up as we went along! Sweet relief! I'd enjoyed making cut-ups on cassettes for years, and so maybe we could do something larger with the technique.
Months passed. At the start of 2000, I splashed out again and spent £200 on a then quite impressive Sony MiniDisc recorder. Now, songs could be added, chopped into bits and redistributed within the running order. Perfect.
What eventually emerged on Earlobe Holistics was an odd mixture, and went through a few edits before its final form. It opens with a typically daft cut-up taken from the 1998 demo, and the attendant first track, "Livsey Street", a rather Madness/Morrissey-aping Britpop vignette recorded initially on Robert's Goodmans Boogie Box, with him on various percussion and me on the vocals, guitars and keys. The final vocal overdub was achieved on one of those big portable radio/cassette systems with the L/R stereo microphones, by playing the fourth-generation backing track through the air towards the right side with me singing and guitaring into the left side. It's amazing there's any top end left.
We then hear the first evidence of the Fostex 4-track - "On Our Big Travel" which is a whimsical solo affair recorded in Leicester. Following this is a dictaphone chant improvised by me, Robert and Gareth, "Photograph"; and another solo recording, "Airport 1981" which is tuneful enough but highly indebted to Stereolab. We tried rehearsing it as a 4-piece band when we were preparing for stardom the following summer, but couldn't quite get it to swing.
"Videoesque" was an early spoken-word piece about decay looked at through the ephemeral medium of a video collection - my teenage videos regularly feature programmes on the verge of disintegration, what with being recorded through a dodgy Fen aerial, through a dirty video head, onto a 4-hour cassette recording at half-speed to cram even more material on board. Ludicrous signal to noise ratios. Bad enough recording from Anglia, but what if I wanted a programme from Central...? It's backed by a drum loop of Robert from 1995, on the school snare drum. Heehee!
"Ding Dong Dang" is a jingle made from guitar harmonics. Someone stick it on an ident. Then there's "Drowning In Melodrama", which was written in Spring 1998 as a deliberately easy track - six verses following the same chord pattern. The lyric's nothing to fax home about, but does namecheck "Screw The Roses, Send Me The Thorns" which should be in every sensible bedside cabinet. Some interest has been added later with a few judicious overdubs, courtesy of shareware program Multiquence, including some backwards school noises. Double heehee!
We're still approaching the halfway point here, so I'll stick to the interesting bits. "Angry" was recorded on a visit to Ipswich (me with guitar, Robert drumming on his desk) and has resurfaced a few times (even recently with Luke). It's somewhere between Portishead and a resigned Elvis Costello. "F/S Double" is a guitar in odd tuning, something like C-F-Bb-G-A-D.
(The original) Side Two features an experiment called "What Would You" where Robert and I were trying to keep shifting rhythms against each other, and he was using his voice like a sampling keyboard - "what would you, what would you do if I, wha- what wou- what would you do" (etc). The piece I'm most fond of, though, was one of many three-man improvised instrumentals that we did in 1995/6 during our lunchtimes. We would usually grab as many keyboards as we could find leads for, and set them up in a practice room with my trusty Spinney Tronic tape recorder laid in the middle. "Earlobe Enhancement" is a seven-minute slab of Casiotone prog that is about the closest we got to Boards Of Canada territory, four years before I knew they existed. It features a sterling contribution from our old co-founder, bass player and single-finger-chord picker, Aeldun, including his unexpected (to him) solo in the middle. Robert and I do very characteristic keyboard noodling, and the whole thing's been augmented with some careful overdubs through Multiquence.
The whole thing ends with an avalanche of cut-ups and finally a squealing solo from Robert on broken ukelele with a crappy mic stuck inside the sound hole. Yes, you should hear "Jazzy Bob's Lead Noodling Hour".
So, what happened to Earlobe Holistics? Well, nothing. It came with us to Glastonbury in 2000, where copies were handed to new-folkies It's Jo & Danny, and to a security guy "to give to Jools Holland". We'd hoped to track down John Peel, but alas no. Upon joining mp3.com that summer, I got on with assembling what would become the mainly solo The Seeds Of Wom, whilst we briefly tried our hand at being a four-piece band again. These days, E.H. is available on CD, and still stands as the only way to hear what Keshco sounded like in the late 1990s.