Monday, September 15, 2014


Wire replaced the old version with a gestured wink to a well made world and found a blessed state of experimental post punk tension in this touching display of calibrated contrition.  The band had challenged the preconceptions of punk with their deconstructionist debut 'Pink Flag' and the more textured soundscapes of the follow up 'Chairs Missing'.  Like those two albums, '154' was recorded with producer Mike Thorne at Advision Studios in London.  The album features B. C. Gilbert on guitars and vocals;   Robert Gotobed on drums;   Graham Lewis on vocals and bass guitar;   and Colin Newman on vocals and guitar;   with Hilly Kristal adding bass vocals on "A Mutual Friend";  Kate Lukas on alto flute;  Tim Souster playing electric viola on "A Touching Display";  Mike Thorne on keyboard and synthesizer;  and Joan Whiting contributing cor anglais on "A Mutual Friend".  
Thorne reveals:    "Wire came to their third album with material that had been tested in the lab, songs that had been played in before a restless and often intolerant audience.  That turned out to be an unusual (and deserved) privilege and an enormous creative springboard.  These were fraught sessions.  Perhaps we'd all been living together too long, although the experimental mood on the album was served by the conversational shorthand you develop over a long time, when fewer words are necessary to explain.  After a few quick demos to test and for the five of us just to settle in again, we went off to Advision.  It was like hearing a new group, the confidence and strength gained with the songs on the road immediately effective.  Since they were delivering so strongly, the foundation of a track which could then be pulled around and reconstructed was relatively easy to achieve, so that the overall transmutation could be greater...The publishing credits on the second album show the start of the group's splintering under way.  Many groups start off idealistically sharing credit for the writing, acknowledging that all contribute to the sound and atmosphere even if they don't physically write the music or lyrics.  The third Wire album accentuated the jealousies that cause such splits.  It may have been that the tension contributed to the music, but it was often very hard work indeed...The mixing went smoothly and turned out eventually as a polished album which still incorporated their ideal experimental wildness.  About half way through, though, the personal wear and tear finally got to me.  The music may have been improved by the personal tensions...However, this was simply too high a price to pay for it.  One morning before session I called Mick Collins, the manager and told him I couldn't go on any further after the album.  Please don't tell the group.  He did.  I think there was relief all round in anticipation of the end...After 154 was released, the group carried on their experimental route for a while, notably with a series of memorable gigs, performance art rather than music, at the Jeanette Cochran Theatre, a small space in Bloomsbury, London.  They self-produced a half-hearted single, Our Swimmer, at Scorpio Studios in London, but split energetically to pursue their own solo projects which were so radically different that it seemed a miracle that these four had existed in the same room and breathed the same air for three years.  But that was the strength of Wire.  However bruising the control room confrontations, however different the points of view, a different brand of music would emerge from the tension.  Those were magic times of furious growth and learning for all of us."

Lewis considers:   “With 154, it was like we were climbing Everest without oxygen ... I think the truth of it is that everything was a huge leap. From the point the band became the four-piece that it was, things just accelerated. We worked a lot, we rehearsed a lot, maybe four times a week, we practiced quite hard. So, what Mike Thorne originally had us do was go in to a couple of studios, to just do demos, just to see how we were going to behave and see if we could actually hack it. Things just kept jumping. So when we came in to record Pink Flag, for instance, we were still extremely inexperienced, we were still learning how to play, really, but we had a lot of motivation. So, on Pink Flag, we not only learned how to make a record but we learned how to play. What happened after that, what seemed the natural thing to do, was to continue at that same rate. There was a whole ‘nother album’s worth of material which came after – or even before – we recorded Pink Flag. There were certain things that had been written before Pink Flag and Mike, one of the important things he did for us was he said “Slow down. You’ve got enough material here to make a really good record. You save the other things, because you’re obviously going somewhere else,” which was obvious to us that we were already going somewhere else with [the material]. As has often been said, the real key to Chairs Missing was the first time we played “Practice Makes Perfect.” When that came along it was just bloody obvious that any of the material that related to Pink Flag was finished, that’s done, we can’t be there anymore, so we better follow that, follow the material. Follow the work...That was the fantastic strength of the group. We really did have a brutal policy towards the material where if two people got tired of something, thought ‘Well, y’know, that’s just not as exciting as it used to be,’ well, that was it...Being in the situation we were, there being three people who were writing, in various combinations, there was always an incredible competition within the material itself. Space was at a premium when it came to put a set of songs together to play live...[Tension] just manifested itself, it was just there. There were an awful lot of things going on outside and around the group at that time, particularly with regard to the record company, with the management we had, people’s personal lives etc. I think in the past we’ve been a little hard on ourselves in the sense that we’ve said “Yeah, we fought and we argued about things” but we always did. It was inherent in the process, it’s what music-making is, it’s some kind of discussion as to a point of view, and of course that’s very subjective. We did have the situation where – we were traveling at speed at that point, y’know what I mean. The velocity had increased over those years and I think we’d come to certain conclusions before we went into make 154. We toured with Roxy Music on a very big European tour and we really didn’t like what we saw, because we’d all been really big fans of that band at the beginning, and to see something which you’d thought was so fundamentally great reappear as something fundamentally, umm, awkward, that was really hard to take. When you saw the specific become epic, it was just..not good. So there were all sorts of things going on. I the sense that, with the three of us writing, there were so, so many ideas kicking around and it was inevitable that you weren’t going to be able to get everything on to the record, it was as simple as that...I think in the end, what you end up with is an extremely intense piece of work. A lot of content and an awful lot going on. Even with Mike Thorne and his relationship with Paul Hardiman, the engineer. Paul was growing, wanting to run his own ship as well, so, y’know, there was a lot of ambition around and I think that’s good, that’s what you want. You want things to be hot, you want people to be ambitious for the work. However, I think because there were so many circumstances beyond our control outside of the studio, I think that exacerbated the situation and led to a lot of tension..(laughs)..a lot of tension...At the time it was the best way we knew how. In retrospect I guess you could say that we could have done it in a different way but of course it’s very easy to say that. It’s one of the strange things about the recording process. There are so many different ways of going about it, finding the one that’s appropriate to the time, yeah, that’s difficult. It’s very rare that it’s easy and you get fantastic results. Having fun is easy but to write about it or to use it, that’s difficult."

Gilbert looks back in liner notes to the compilation 'On Returning':  "A lot of the songs were written through travelling.  Coffee table polaroids.  They were larger observations...I never thought we were a punk group, except through the access.  But the thing one should carry was the optimism that things can actually change.  It's quite interesting to be at close quarters with a revolution, however minor."
Newman says:    "Pink Flag was just the sound of the band playing, Chairs Missing was a fantastic leap into the unknown, and 154 was between brilliant and rubbish ... In between the release of 154 and when the band fizzled out in the spring of 1980 – the band went from being the best band of its generation to just being nonexistent. There were a lot of forces outside of the band but also inside of the band – there was no common cause, no unanimity. There was no general idea about what we should do next.  It just really fell apart."

 '154'  became their highest charting album of their entire career, peaking at number thirty-nine in the UK.   The album gets its title from the number of live performances the band had done up to that point.

full album:

side one
1. "I Should Have Known Better"   Graham Lewis   3:52
2. "Two People in a Room"   Colin Newman, B. C. Gilbert 2:00
3. "The 15th"   Newman 3:05
4. "The Other Window"   Lewis, Gilbert 2:07
5. "Single K.O."   Lewis 2:23
6. "A Touching Display"   Lewis 6:55
7. "On Returning"   Newman 2:06
side two
8. "A Mutual Friend"   Lewis, Newman 4:28
9. "Blessed State"   Gilbert 3:28
10. "Once Is Enough"   Newman 3:23
11. "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W"   Lewis, Newman, Gilbert 3:40
12. "Indirect Enquiries"   Lewis, Newman 3:36
13. "40 Versions"   Gilbert 3:28

Rockpalast   -  On the Box - live 1979


Another The letter 

The 15th 
Practice Makes Perfect  
Two People In A Room  
I Feel Mysterious Today  
Being Sucked In Again 
Once Is Enough  
Blessed State  
A Question of Degree 
Single KO 
40 Versions  
Former Airline  
A Touching Display 
French Film Blurred 
Men 2nd 
Map Ref. 41°N 93°W  
Pink Flag 


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