Regular contributor Rob Morgan (@durutti74) recently took delivery of The Telescopes new re-issue courtesy of those wonderful purveyors of quality music Cherry Red and has very kindly produced a top notch review.
As we’ve come to expect from Rob “review” doesn’t really do it justice being more of an “insight” that runs much deeper than a simple appraisal.
“Splashdown – the complete Creation Recordings 1990 – 1992” (Cherry Red)
Were the Telescopes really shoegazers? Let’s look at the evidence. Influenced by Loop, Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine? Check. Made some of their best music across numerous EPs? Check. Signed to Creation Records? Check. So far so shoegaze. But there was always more to the Telescopes than met the eye. This overdue compilation of their four EPs and one àlbum for Creation (plus lots of extras) gives a fuller picture of their capabilities.
The story of how the Telescopes were signed to Creation is worth noting here. Their initial records were issued on Cheree Records distributed through What Goes On, a German label specialising in garage bands, Australian noise and other oddities. The Telescopes emerged in 1989 with a series of singles – “Kick The Wall”, “7th Disaster”, “The Perfect Needle”, “To Kill A Slow Girl Walking” – and an album “Taste” which were well received by the indie scene but lambasted by the music press for not being Loop or MBV. But they did well enough to establish a fan base for their nihilistic walls of guitar.
By the end of 1989 “The Perfect Needle” was sitting in Peel’s Festive Fifty, “To Kill A Slow Girl Walking” was doing well in the Indie charts and showed leaps forward in their musical development (not least the astonishing oceanic wash of “Pure Sweetest Ocean”) and somehow in the middle of this What Goes On goes bust. The Telescopes are now label-less with a newly recorded EP ready to go. Luckily Alan McGee was impressed enough to sign them to Creation Records and a fruitful two years of releases begins.
It makes sense that this compilation starts with the four EPs issued between 1990 and 1991 as this shows the development of the band. The “Precious Little” EP (saved from their label crash) gives a taste of their original noisy origins – the wall of distorted guitar which crash like waves across the title track – but gives hints of what is to come, the use of dynamics on “Deep Hole Ends”, the quiet tension within “Never Hurt You” and the organ wash during the bridges on “I Sense” show progress amongst the droning guitars.
The next EP “Everso” was issued towards the end of 1990 and is the equivalent of switching from black and white to technicolour. It’s not quite that the Telescopes went “baggy” but they took elements of the indie dance sound and mixed it into their music which itself was showing signs of a psychedelic influence. “Everso” revels in a funky bass line, male female harmonies and an urgent sense of wonder. On the EP the Telescopes take “Never Learn Not To Love” by the Beach Boys (it’s on their “20/20” album from ’68) and extend it into a spooked beauty. But then it was originally written by Charles Manson as “Cease To Exist”. The third song on the EP – “Wish Of You” – is barely 90 seconds long but exhibits their best features, a fragile drift of melody and ascending dynamics.
The third Creation single “Celeste” was my introduction to the band, watching the retina shredding video on “Snub TV” early in 1991 and I was seriously impressed – the song took the psychedelic wash of Spacemen 3 and grafted it onto the groovy undercarriage of the Stone Roses while producing an almost perfect pop song. The b side “All A Dream” is slower and is a beautiful wash of sound, a great combination of songs – there’s also a nine minute remix of “Celeste” which is very much of its time but worth a listen, you can hear the individual elements of the music being highlighted.
The fourth EP “Flying” was issued in the summer of 1991 at the height of shoegazing’s popularity but stands apart from the contemporary releases by Chapterhouse, Slowdive and Lush by fully integrating the psychedelic elements into the sound. Each of the four songs is a three minute gem, full of sitars, droning organs, tremelo guitars and soaring harmonies all bathed in a rich haze of reverb. It’s a unique sound and probably as far as they could take their take on modern psychedelia. After the success of the “Flying” EP, the Telescopes disappeared to work on their second album.
There is some conjecture about what the second Telescopes album is actually called. Is it untitled? Is it eponymous? Is it called “Higher ‘n’ Higher” after the words highlighted on the sleeve (a blown up extract from the insert, a full music book with chords and lyrics to each song)? The sleeve itself is a painting by Paul Cannell who had created the memorable sleeves for “Higher Than The Sun”, “Don’t Fight It Feel It” and “Screamadelica” the previous year.
Whatever it is called, the second Telescopes album takes a step back from the psychedelic bliss out of their 1991 singles and revels in an organic vibe, the sound of a group of five musicians interacting with each other in a room. All of side one of the album (the first six songs on disc two of this compilation) are linked by little snippets of a group jam session, giving the impression of the band performing live for the listener. Highlights include the late night shuffling jazz mood of “You Set My Soul” (gorgeous piano by Ed Ball here), a gentler reworking of “High On Fire” from the “Flying” EP and the oceanic ebb and flow of side closer “And”.
Side two is no slouch either, “Yeah” dares to stop mid song allowing all the instruments to naturally decay for 20 seconds before the band restart as if by magic. “Ocean drive” rocks out and ends with a little wig out before leading into “Please Tell Mother”, one of my favourite Telescopes songs. Every detail within the song is lovely, from the building layers of guitars to the sound of a wind up toy car being rolled across the stereo spectrum – it’s a perfect song.
The album closes with another beautiful song – “To The Shore” – which drifts off in a reverie of reverb. Sadly the album wasn’t well received at the time and apparently sold less than 5,000 copies. But those who bought the album loved it. I bought it on the day of release back in May 1992 and have listened to it hundreds of times, it’s an absorbing and delightful experience and there are few other records I can think of which have the same feeling within the music and lyrics. However tensions within the band lead to them splitting up after this album was released, though they reformed ten years later.
If “Splashdown” contained just the four EPs and the second album, that would be enough but Cherry Red have pulled out the stops in excavating some unreleased gems. Disc One concludes with four songs from a proposed fifth EP, a group of songs which work as remixes of their “Flying” EP – sometimes more instrumental in nature and sometimes with extracts from other songs of theirs (“16T#3” brings back the whale song from “Pure Sweetest Ocean”) and all four songs offer intriguing perspectives on their sound.
On Disc Two there are a handful of cover versions which are interesting curios (but no room for their brooding version of Tim Rose’s “Morning dew”? Shame!) and best of all the songs from their Peel Session from September 1991. I absolutely hammered my tape of this session at the time and it contains four songs which would be included on the second album, but these versions have the urgency and intensity and psychedelic swirl of the “Flying” EP. Indeed the version of “Please Tell Mother” is absolutely stunning, sounding like the band are playing on a cliff edge staring into an abyss. Or maybe it’s just me.
As ever with Cherry Red the packaging is immaculate, excellent informative sleeve notes and the sound quality is superb. The remastering has brought out new depths in the music – I’ve been listening to these songs for over two decades and I’ve picked up new nuances and sounds in this collection. The songs from side one of the untitles album have a new clarity, as if you are sitting in that jam session room with the band. An amazing sound experience.
So were the Telescopes shoegazing? Well yes but they were so much more than that, as this collection demonstrates. The Telescopes continue to this day producing invigorating and innovative music – their latest release “Hidden Fields” is excellent – but “Splashdown” shows them during their most musically fertile (and commercially successful) period. If you owned the original records there’s plenty new to discover. If you’ve only heard of the Telescopes through their reputation, then there is a wealth of great music to enjoy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob writes about music and other less important subjects at his blog A Goldfish Called Regret (agoldfishcalledregret.wordpress.com) and also creates podcasts for Goldfish Radio (https://m.mixcloud.com/robmorgan589).
He never achieved his ambition of making a Sarah Record.
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