The Soft Boys were out on a limb and felt it coming on in floating currents so powerfully strong they set the body free and hatched an undersea classic. The Cambridge based group had challenged the punk ethos with their daring debut 'A Can Of Bees'; but with their second album, they found the perfect balance of psychedelic beat and jangle pop.
A major change came with new bassist Matthew Seligman, who forced the band to simplify their musical approach: "I couldn’t cope with all the chord changes...But you have to remember, we were just this tiny little band. That is the thing that can be most misunderstood at this remove of time. We were a tiny band with a little indie album. Everything that happened afterwards with the record is thoroughly deserved. I just wish I could go back and show you - it wasn’t in the cards for us. Our band seemed to be the most ephemeral thing, so much promise but nothing delivered at all. [Underwater Moonlight] is a lovely piece of history. But I don’t know how it happened...I never saw anyone ’arrange’ anything. Things would fall into place, without anybody saying anything."
'Underwater Moonlight' was produced by Pat Collier and Mike Kemp at Alaska and James Morgan studios in London and by the staff at Spaceward Studios in Cambridge, England. The sessions featured Robyn Hitchcock on guitar, vocals, and rhythm bass; Kimberley Rew on guitar, vocals, bass guitar, and synthesiser; Matthew Seligman on bass guitar; and Morris Windsor on drums and vocals; with Gerry Hale adding violin; and Andy King on sitar.
Rew reveals: "I think we hit our stride with Underwater Moonlight ... Financially, the second album was done bit by bit. Every time Robyn got enough money together we could record a few songs at a time. Pat Collier was a great producer- he didn't change our sound at all. He was sympathetic and had a natural feel for it. He was low-key and confidence inspiring...The songwriting certainly changed. Robyn was always developing- his songs appealed directly to peoples' feelings. The curtain of dark imagery just got thinner and some light came through. In the early days, we'd have competitions to introduce little twists into the music. We stopped that by the second album and simply supplied the musical setting for the songs...We were always playing live in Cambridge. You had the pub-rock phenomenon there. It was the pub-circuit after pub-rock was over. We did manage to break into the London circuit but we really didn't get any further than that. When we toured nationally, punk became a problem for us. It was the current thing that the kids subscribed to. Because of that, we couldn't get an audience in Sheffield or Leeds. The strength of being individual wasn't good enough. We did get to go to New York in 1980 but that's as far as we got, geographically...We were just contemporary with punk so it tended to set the tone at the time. You were forced to justify why your band wasn't punk then...For the Soft Boys, people weren't patient enough for '60's-type, mainstream rock. That was seen as old-fashioned and because of that, the group couldn't break through commercially."
Hitchcock harkens back: "The first one was 'Can of Bees', and there was in fact another one as well before that which we recorded for the Radar label but aborted. The first good one though was 'Underwater Moonlight'. It’s one of the albums I’m most proud of. It’s certainly the best Soft Boys album...I have made albums since then that I like as much probably...'Underwater Moonlight', however, is definitely up there. It’s like saying though: is it better to be 20 or 40? Neither is, it’s just different. Life isn’t a means to an end, it’s just a series of moments that you make the best of. 'Moonlight' was the work of four young guys in their mid/late twenties and I thought it was pretty good really. I'm definitely pleased with it, and I’m glad it has survived...I pictured the Soft Boys a bit like civil servants. They were powerful, but you wouldn't see them. They were invisible, but they had a huge influence. Funnily enough, that's kind of what happened...My vision of them was that they had been filleted, they had no bones so they could slide under doors and then come back up, like in the Terminator movies, so they could get anywhere, through a keyhole or under a door. They would be bloodless, like they had been drained like Halal, but they would be alive . They didn't have bones and they also had a tremendous sexual appetite in some ghastly way that was left to the imagination. I thought this is too good so I had I had to write about in a song and came up with 'Give it To the Soft Boys'...We were also in one sense all very soft. We were middle class, mother’s boys, wouldn’t hurt a fly, couldn’t confront anyone never mind each other, very nice people who avoided eye contact and really liked Monty Python and kind of laughing at things quietly in silent laughter. Anyway, there it was in a way. We did become invisible, but an influential force after our demise...I felt quite sour about it all which never helps because no one loves you when you’re sour and angry! I remember there was a bill at the Electric Ballroom in London with the Psychedleic Furs, and the Bunnymen, the Teardrop Explodes and Wah, and I thought 'Fuck it ! No one asked us.'...They were a bit younger and in some ways they were more sort of post-punk that us. They were people who had been through punk and had decided to get onto a bit of a psychedelic trip where we were pre-punk and we didn’t really adopt psychedelia. It was already there in our system. They discovered psychedelia and decided to wave it as a flag whereas we didn’t wave it as a flag. It was what we were anyway. A lot of them were from Liverpool, so they were probably a lot more outside-world friendly; Cambridge is rather sheltered."
Windsor waxes: "Robyn didn’t really understand what pop music was about. He was headed in that direction; he wanted to go there. But it is not, at his core, what he is about. [Underwater Moonlight] was his misinterpretation of pop music. That was the great thing about the Soft Boys: We got everything wrong - in all the right ways."
"Queen of Eyes"
Robyn Hitchcock (The Soft Boys) - The Queen of Eyes from Child of Psi on Vimeo.
from "Underwater Moonlight"
"I Got the Hots"
"I Wanna Destroy You"
"Kingdom of Love"
"You'll Have to Go Sideways"
"Innocent Boy" bonus 7"
"Only the Stones Remain"
All songs written and composed by Robyn Hitchcock, except as noted.
1. "I Wanna Destroy You" 2:52
2. "Kingdom of Love" 4:10
3. "Positive Vibrations" 3:10
4. "I Got the Hots" 4:42
5. "Insanely Jealous" 4:15
6. "Tonight" 3:44
7. "You'll Have to Go Sideways" Hitchcock, Kimberley Rew 2:57
8. "Old Pervert" Hitchcock, Rew, Matthew Seligman, Morris Windsor 3:52
9. "Queen of Eyes" 2:01
10. "Underwater Moonlight" 4:17
11. "He's a Reptile" 4:27
12. "Vegetable Man" Syd Barrett 2:59
13. "Strange" 2:59
14. "Only the Stones Remain" 2:50
15. "Where Are the Prawns?" 6:06
16. "Dreams" 4:37
17. "Black Snake Diamond Rock" 4:24
18. "There's Nobody Like You" 3:11
19. "Song #4" 4:35
reissue bonus disc: ...And How It Got There
1. "Old Pervert – Section 1" 1:38
2. "Like a Real Smoothie" 3:43
3. "Alien" 3:13
4. "Bloat (Extract)" 1:00
5. "Underwater Moonlight" 6:24
6. "She Wears My Hair" 5:22
7. "Wang Dang Pig" 3:56
8. "Old Pervert – Section 2" 1:31
9. "Insanely Jealous" 5:03
10. "Leave Me Alone" Lou Reed 6:45
11. "Goodbye Maurice or Steve" 3:14
12. "Old Pervert – Section 3" 0:36
13. "Cherries" 2:54
14. "Amputated" 4:22
15. "Over You" Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera 4:00
16. "I Wanna, Er... (Extract)" 0:42
17. "Old Pervert – Section 4" 1:24
1. Innocent Boy (Studio outtake)