In the summer of 1999, just a few months before 4AD's 20th anniversary, Andy Zax sat down with 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell to discuss the history of 4AD. (NOTE: This interview was conducted for the now defunct Atomic Pop music site)
Born in Northamptonshire in 1954, Ivo Watts-Russell spent his boyhood listening to the cutting-edge sounds served up on the radio by John Peel. Wanting to be around music,17-year-old Ivo moved to London in 1972 and began working in a series of record shops. While working at a shop in Ealing, he became friends with Steve Webbon, a customer who shared his appreciation for the music of Gram Parsons. When Ivo was promoted to manager, he hired Steve as his assistant.
Ivo returned to London in 1975 after a trip to Morocco. Looking for work, he sought out Steve, who had just opened the second store in the fledgling Beggars Banquet chain. The Beggars Banquet stores sold both new and used records--at the time, a radical concept. Steve told Ivo that a third store was about to open in Ealing; at his suggestion Ivo went to see Martin Mills, Beggars Banquet's co-founder (with Nick Austin), who offered him a job.
By 1979, Beggars Banquet had expanded from a chain of shops (by now there were five) to a successful independent record label that had tasted early success with such acts as Tubeway Army and the Lurkers. Ivo was now overseeing all of the shops. He was based out of the Beggars offices in Hogarth Road, located upstairs from the flagship Earls Court store which was being run by fellow music enthusiast Peter Kent. Bands looking for deals with the label would drop their tapes off at the shop downstairs, which meant that Ivo and Peter were often the first to hear them and make recommendations to Martin Mills and Nick Austin about prospective signings. Ivo and Peter became particularly enthused by a demo tape from a band called Modern English, who they urged Mills and Austin to sign.
Mills and Austin eventually suggested giving Ivo and Peter some money to start their own independent label; if anything took off, they could switch it to the Beggars label for distribution. Ivo and Peter readily agreed and proceeded to line up the initial releases for their new venture with the £2000 investment. After lengthy discussions, the label was christened (at Peter's suggestion) Axis.
[As it happened, Ivo had already made a decision to try and put a record out. One of punk's lasting legacies had been the proliferation of d.i.y. indie labels, and Ivo had become intrigued by the possibilities. What would it entail, he wondered, to go about actually releasing a record? He'd become acquainted with engineer John Madden (years later, Madden wound up working with The Wolfgang Press) who had been recording some late-night sessions with friend Martin Atkins. Atkins would go on to play with PiL and Pigface, but at this point he was going by the name Brian Brain. Atkins wanted to release a Brian Brain single and Ivo offered to do it himself. Forty-eight hours later, Mills and Austin (who knew nothing of this) offered financial support. The Brian Brain single never happened, but it brought Ivo from the point of thinking about putting out records to actually having an opportunity to do so in the space of a few weeks.]
Peter and Ivo had been greatly affected by some of the prevailing indie labels of the day--like Fast, Factory and Postcard--all of which were companies that seemed to have as much of an identity as the artists whose records they released. In keeping with that approach, they decided that Axis should debut with four simultaneously released singles.
At the time, it seemed prudent to work with a one-stop company who'd take the lacquers and the films for the singles and press up a finished product. The somewhat unappealing look and sound of what came back--bad vinyl, dodgy sound quality (no test pressings had been made), low-grade paper used for the sleeves, crooked printing on the labels--provided an early lesson in quality control. Still, by the first week of 1980, Ivo and Peter had the records in hand and were prepared to bring them to the world.
Almost at once, they ran into a problem. They'd sent a press release to the British trade publication Music Week announcing the debut of Axis. They swiftly received a phone call from a more established music company--previously unknown to them--who were also called Axis. While granting Ivo and Peter premission to sell off their first batch of singles, the prior Axis insisted that Ivo and Peter find a new name immediately. The solution to the problem came from a promotional flyer that Ivo and Peter had printed up to call attention to the new releases. The flyer's designer had added a bit of typography which played on both the new year and the idea of progress:
Quickly scrambling for a new name (the old one had been arrived at only after lengthy deliberation) one of the two partners (Ivo can't remember which of them it was) glanced at the flyer and suggested "4AD." The other agreed, and with that split-second decision, 4AD was born.
The Axis singles served largely as an education in how to put out a record. Three of the four discs quickly faded from view: The Fast Set's "Junction One" (AXIS 1), an avant-synth record a la "Being Boiled"-era Human League (David Knight, the group's only member, went on to work with the Shock-Headed Peters and Danielle Dax); Bearz's odd slab of pop-psychedelia,"She's My Girl" (AXIS 2) and Shox's Depeche Mode-esque"No Turning Back" (AXIS 4). It was Bauhaus's "Dark Entries " (AXIS 3, later AD 3) that would have the greatest impact.
Ivo and Peter first met Bauhaus when the group came to meet with Beggars Banquet shortly after the release of their first single,"Bela Lugosi's Dead," on the Small Wonder label. By the time"Dark Entries " was released, the group's dark, theatrical sound was beginning to make an impression on British audiences. The single sold out quickly and was repressed, thereby becoming the first record to actually bear the label"4AD." By year's end, it was followed by two further singles--"Terror Couple Kill Colonel" (AD 7) and"Telegram Sam" (AD 17)--as well as 4AD's first album-length release, In The Flat Field (AD 13).
While the Axis singles had served an important research and development function, the arrival of the label's next act provided Ivo with something more important: a reason for continuing. Returning to the shop one afternoon to find five people about to play Peter their demo tape, Ivo was immediately struck by the music of Rema-Rema:"it was the first point I knew that we were actually doing something serious." Wheel In The Roses (AD 5), the group's lone EP, served as a manifesto of sorts: 4AD's aim as a label should be to release records of the same high quality.
Modern English were one of the bands that Ivo and Peter had originally approached Martin Mills about in 1979. After a self-released 45 ("Drowning Man") they made their 4AD debut with the"Swans On Glass " single (AD 6) which was followed later in the year by"Gathering Dust" (AD 15). Twenty years later,"Gathering Dust" remains a crucial release in 4AD's history for reasons that have nothing to do with the (admittedly excellent) music it contains. When the original art director proved unable to provide the sleeve art, Peter called a friend who recommended a young graphic designer named Vaughan Oliver. A strange coincidence ensued: Modern English had printed up some t-shirts which utilized a Diane Arbus photograph of two people watching television, while Vaughan had the same image in his design portfolio. Result: Vaughan landed the job and began a relationship with 4AD that continues to this day.
In Camera came to Ivo and Peter's attention when they opened a show for Bauhaus. Displaying a spiky PiL-influenced sound on their first single"Final Achievement" (AD 8)--the first 4AD release engineered by John Fryer--the group's sound had matured considerably by the time of their IV Songs EP (AD 19) at the end of the year.
Ivo had long been a fan of Wire, a hugely innovative and highly influential post-punk band, which by 1980 was in the process of fragmenting into several separate recording units. Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis met Ivo at a Bauhaus show and offered him some of the new material they'd been working on. The initial results were two fascinating records of droning electronic experiments: an EP, Like This For Ages (AD 9), released under the name Cupol, and a full-length album 3R4 (AD 16) credited simply to B.C. Gilbert/G. Lewis.
Gilbert and Lewis also wound up producing "Controversial Subject" (AD 10) the debut single by The The. Although in later years The The would become simply an alias for the solo work of Matt Johnson, at this early stage, The The were an actual four-piece band, led by a still teenage Johnson.
The Presage(s) EP (AD 11), was a 7-track collection of songs by artists that either Ivo or Peter had taken an interest in. Of the six artists featured, only Modern English went on to release another record on 4AD; nothing further was heard from CVO, Psychotik Tanks, Last Dance, Spasmodic Caress or the hapless Red Atkins (a 65-year old man whose warblings Peter Kent found amusing).
Ivo first saw The Birthday Party opening for D.A.F. at London's Moonlight Club."People hated them," he recalls. Fascinated by the band's performance and Mick Harvey's Farfisa organ (an unusual choice of instrument in synth-happy 1980) he went backstage and discovered that the group had recently recorded a version of his favorite song from the set--"The Friend Catcher"--and were looking for someone to release it. It became their first single for 4AD (AD 12).
Rema-Rema had split up, but ex-members Gary Asquith, Mick Allen and Mark Cox carried on, forming Mass with the addition of Danny Briottet. Their first single"You And I" (AD 14) was a stately progression on from the primal intensity of Rema-Rema, but it's quiet psychedelia was no less compelling.
Powered by the angelic vocals of Cyrus Bruton, Dance Chapter were initially seen by Peter Kent as a band who might be capable of filling the void left by the death of Joy Division's Ian Curtis. Though there was little musical similarity between the two bands, Dance Chapter's first single"Anonymity" (AD 18) was an impressively tense piece of work.
At the conclusion of 1980, having released 19 records, Ivo and Peter Kent decided to go their separate ways. Peter would leave to start another Beggars-funded label, Situation Two, while Ivo would remain as 4AD's sole proprietor. At the same time, Ivo took the opportunity to redefine 4AD's mission: rather than acting as a testing ground for Beggars Banquet, he wanted 4AD to stand on its own. Bauhaus departed for Beggars--the first and last 4AD act to follow the initial plan of "graduating" to the bigger label. Henceforth, 4AD would be its own entity.
1981 began with three one-off releases. Sort Sol were a dark-tinged Danish band who'd already released a European album on Polygram. "Marble Station" (AD 101) and its flipside "Misguided" were Ivo's two favorite tracks from the album, which he asked to put out as a single. The record's most enduring contribution to 4AD's history can be found on its sleeve, which features the first work for the label by photographer Nigel Grierson, soon to team up with Vaughan Oliver under the name 23 Envelope.
Sheffield's The Past Seven Days' "Raindance" (AD 102) was a dramatic six-minute slab of guitar-driven anthemic drama that should have been the start of an interesting career. Sadly, though the band left 4AD to sign with the then-hot Dindisc label (home to OMD and Martha & The Muffins), they never released another record.
My Captains, from Oxford, were a band that Ivo had seen live, liked, and asked to make a record. The four-song 7-inch EP that resulted (AD 103) quickly faded from view and has become one of 4AD's more sought-after obscurities.
The first three evanescent singles of 1981 were quickly followed two debut albums of lasting merit. The Birthday Party returned with their first proper LP, Prayers On Fire (AD 104). Showcasing such classics of the band's repertoire as "King Ink," "Nick The Stripper" and "Zoo-Music Girl" it was a scorching document of Nick Cave & Co. in peak form. The band had begun to attract a fanatical following; the subsequent single "Release The Bats" topped the UK independent charts. As the group's popularity surged, 4AD finished the year by issuing their early single "Mr. Clarinet" (AD 114) for the first time in Britain.
Modern English expanded on the promise of their singles with Mesh & Lace (AD 105), a memorably atmospheric album that helped re-position guitar-rock's role in the wake of Joy Division, PiL and Wire. It also sported the first official 23 Envelope sleeve credit, thus ushering in an artistic collaboration that would help to provide 4AD with a recognizable visual identity. Modern English finished off the year with the single "Smiles And Laughter" (AD 110).
The Gilbert/Lewis duo returned with one final 4AD single, the chaotic tone-poem "Ends With The Sea" (AD 106). At the same time, Ivo had become acquainted with another ex-Wire member, Colin Newman. Budget constraints had kept Ivo from being able to fund Newman's first solo album, A-Z (released by Beggars Banquet), but when Newman came to Ivo with an idea for an instrumental album to be recorded on a shoestring, Ivo agreed. Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish (AD 108) was the result.
Following the previous year's single, Mass returned with their final release, Labour Of Love (AD 107). The group subsequently split into halves, with Gary Asquith and Danny Briottet going on to form Renegade Soundwave. Mick Allen and Mark Cox remained with 4AD for their new project, The Wolfgang Press.
An important addition to the 4AD roster was Dif Juz, an all-instrumental quartet whose evocative compositions--sometimes ambient, sometimes angular--proved quietly mesmerizing while paving the way for a host of so-called "post-rock" bands that emerged 15 years later. They released two EPs in 1981: Huremics (AD 109) and Vibrating Air (AD 116).
One of the more unusual early 4AD artifacts was a one-off single which teamed David Jay (a.k.a. David J) of Bauhaus with René Halkett, an 81-year old painter/writer who had been a member of the original Bauhaus in the 1920's. "Nothing" (AD 112) featured Halkett's recited words over Jay's music.
After The The's initial 4AD single the previous year, Matt Johnson took the group to Some Bizarre, for whom he recorded "Cold Spell Ahead." Johnson and Ivo had remained friendly, and when Johnson told Ivo he wanted to make an album under his own name for 4AD, Ivo was quick to agree. The album, Burning Blue Soul (AD 113)--an unusual and compelling work which mixed extensive studio experimentation with Johnson's evocative voice--gave Ivo his first chance to enter a studio in the role of co-producer. Although it was originally released as a "Matt Johnson" record, when it came time to reissue the album on CD in the early 90's, Johnson insisted that it be retroactively credited to The The.
Dance Chapter followed "Anonymity" with a four-song EP, Chapter II (AD 115), after which they parted company with 4AD. The EP deserves a footnote in musical history largely because of a fateful incident that occurred while it was being made. While driving back to London following a difficult session at Spaceward Studios in Cambridge (a favored location for many early 4AD recordings, largely because it was cheap), Ivo popped in a demo tape from a new band called the Cocteau Twins.
The year ended with Nature Mortes - Still Lives (AD 117), a Japan-only compilation of previously released tracks from the past two years. Just 500 copies of the album were imported back into the UK, making the album an instant collector's item.
After 1981's inexpensive instrumental album Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish, Ivo managed to come up with the funds for a proper Colin Newman album. Unlike its predecessor, Not To (CAD 201) was a full-fledged album of songs that featured contributions from fellow Wire-members Robert Gotobed and Graham Lewis. It was followed later in the year by a 7-inch single coupling "We Means We Starts" (AD 209) with an alternate version of Not To's title track.
The Birthday Party's first release of 1982 was a split EP with the seminal American No Wave figure Lydia Lunch (JAD 202). Both halves of the record were recorded live at London's The Venue, which provided valuable exposure for many of the label's acts via a series of "4AD nights" during this period. The Birthday Party's side, Drunk On The Pope's Blood, was, as its subtitle promised, "16 minutes of sheer hell": an astonishing document of the band at its most chaotically brilliant. Lunch's side, The Agony Is The Ecstasy, captures a lengthy, semi-improvised performance featuring backing from Siouxsie & The Banshees' Steven Severin.
A further collaboration between the two camps was issued later in the year: a Rowland S. Howard/Lydia Lunch single that coupled a wonderfully sinister version of the Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood classic "Some Velvet Morning" (BAD 210) with the evocative late-night original, "I Fell In Love With A Ghost."
The major Birthday Party release of 1982 was Junkyard (CAD 207), which would turn out to be their final full-length album. Emblazoned with an original cover illustration by famed "Ratfink" cartoonist Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, it captured the band at new levels of ferocity on tracks like "Dead Joe" and "Big-Jesus-Trash-Can." More sedate moments (relatively speaking) like "She's Hit" and "6" Gold Blade" were perhaps even more disturbing in their merciless depictions of violence and rage.
With Bauhaus still a going concern in 1982, guitarist Daniel Ash's first collaboration with Glenn Campling, the four-song EP "Tones On Tail" (BAD 203) began as a side project. When Bauhaus split the following year, Ash elevated Tones On Tail to full-time status, releasing a series of singles and an album on Situation Two and Beggars Banquet, before reuniting with fellow Bauhaus members David J and Kevin Haskins as Love & Rockets.
The Happy Family were the earliest vehicle for the cerebral songs of Edinburgh university drop-out Nicholas Currie, later to find his true vocation as a post-Brel, post-Gainsbourg "tender pervert" called Momus. Ivo's attention had been attracted by a demo featuring ex-Josef K guitarist Malcolm Ross. A three-song single, "Puritans" (AD 204)--which owed a rather large sonic debt to both Josef K and Orange Juice--was followed by an ambitious, complex concept album, The Man On Your Street (CAD 214). It was intended as a sort of Brechtian musical, but 4AD lacked the budget to supply the horns and orchestrations needed to flesh out the songs.
By 1982, In Camera had fallen apart. The Fin EP (BAD 205) was their epitaph: a Peel session from December, 1980 which Ivo licensed from the BBC. Easily the band's strongest release, it featured the monolithic 12-minute epic "Fatal Day." Guitarist Andrew Grey remained affiliated with 4AD, joining the Wolfgang Press in 1984.
Modern English returned with their second album, After The Snow (CAD 206). The album was produced by Hugh Jones (his recent work on Echo & The Bunnymen's Heaven Up Here had been much admired), who played an important role in shaping the songs and exposing the band's latent abilities as pop craftsmen. Two singles were extracted from the album: "Life In The Gladhouse" (BAD 208) and the classic "I Melt With You" (BAD 212). Although the group's U.K. profile remained low, Sire Records licensed the record for the United States, where "I Melt With You" enjoyed massive success in clubs and on modern rock radio, and was featured in the movie Valley Girl.
Without a doubt, 4AD's major new arrival in 1982 was the Cocteau Twins. Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser (bassist Will Heggie completed the lineup at this point) had given Ivo a demo while they were in London following the Birthday Party around on tour. Ivo first played it while driving back from a Dance Chapter session in Cambridge; the tape was poorly recorded, but he was immediately struck by the sound of Robin's guitar. That he had also stumbled upon one of the most remarkable vocalists of the decade didn't become clear until he invited the group down to London to record a single at Blackwing studios with John Fryer. Upon hearing the results--and Liz Fraser's vocals--he immediately invited the group to record a full-length release (the two tracks from the initial session--"Speak No Evil" and "Perhaps Some Other Aeon"--remained unreleased for several years). The album Garlands (CAD 211) and the Lullabies EP (BAD 213) which followed shortly afterwards immediately found favor with the BBC's ever-influential John Peel, who invited the group to record a session for his show. The radio exposure, coupled with a string of live dates supporting the Birthday Party, quickly established an audience for the band.
The year ended with the debut single from Colourbox, a duo composed of brothers Martyn and Steven ("Scab") Young, whom Ivo had met through Ray Conroy--brother of Modern English's Mick Conroy--who was managing them. Their first single (BAD 215) featured two inviting pieces of danceable pop featuring vocals by Debian Curry--the aggressive synth-grooves of "Breakdown" on the A side, and the dreamy, dub-inflected "Tarantula" on the B. But Colourbox were never willing to stand still; within a few months, they had re-recorded "Breakdown" and remixed "Tarantula." It was the prelude to a series of stunningly inventive releases that managed to anticipate musical developments that would still be considered "cutting edge" fifteen years later. [Beck, Tricky and Bjork, among many others, are among those who owe Colourbox a debt of gratitude.]
1983 proved to be an auspicious year for 4AD, with several key releases and a move to new offices in Alma Road, Wandsworth. In addition, Ivo was able to hire 4AD's first two employees: Vaughan Oliver--whose intended duties included moving boxes of records around in addition to designing their sleeves-- and Deborah Edgely, who began as Ivo's assistant, and quickly assumed the responsibility for 4AD's press coverage.
The Birthday Party's The Bad Seed EP (BAD 301) proved to be their final recordings for 4AD. Ivo had underwritten the group's trip to Berlin to record, but 4AD was still a very small operation; the financial burdens of supporting the group's further efforts proved too great. The Birthday Party departed, amicably, for Daniel Miller's Mute label, recording one final EP, Mutiny, before dissolving. Later in 1983, Ivo issued The Friend Catcher EP (BAD 307) which collected most of the tracks from the "Release The Bats," "Mr. Clarinet" and "The Friend Catcher" 7-inches.
Along the same archival lines as The Friend Catcher EP, Bauhaus's 4AD EP (BAD 312) brought together half a dozen tracks drawn from the group's first three singles.
Hamburg, Germany's Xmal Deutschland impressed Ivo with an "incredibly raw" demo tape whose live power was never completely captured in the studio. Nevertheless, the spiky intensity of the four-woman, one-man band proved compelling enough on their debut album Fetisch (CAD 302) and two subsequent singles--a different version of the album's lead-off track "Qual" (BAD 305) and a re-recorded and extended version of Xmal's pre-4AD debut "Incubus Succubus II" (BAD 311)--to capture the attention of John Peel and a substantial UK audience. Live performance proved to be the band's real strength: Ivo recalls a particularly memorable show from this period where Xmal, opening for the Cocteau Twins at one of The Venue's 4AD showcases, won over a crowd of aloof scenesters in a matter of moments.
For the Cocteau Twins, 1983 was a year of frantic activity, beginning with the Peppermint Pig EP (BAD 303). Ably produced by Alan Rankine of The Associates, the experience left Robin Guthrie convinced that the group no longer required an outside hand to achieve their aims in the recording studio. Peppermint Pig was also the last Cocteau Twins record to feature bassist Will Heggie. After a grueling 50-date tour with Orchestral Maneouvres In The Dark, he was ousted from the band and Robin and Elizabeth recorded the Head Over Heels (CAD 313) album and its companion piece--the Sunburst And Snowblind EP (BAD 314)--as a duo. A massive leap forward from anything they had done before, Head Over Heels marked an artistic coming-of-age for the Cocteau Twins. John Peel was impressed enough to mark its release by playing both sides of the album in their entirety on successive evenings.
Swiftly developing a taste for the possibilities of the studio, Colourbox re-recorded "Breakdown" (BAD 215) from scratch. The new version of "Breakdown" (BAD 304) proved sufficiently potent to stir up interest from A&M Records in America, who licensed the single for the United States, then promptly did nothing with it. Inspired by mix tapes of early New York hip-hop DJs, Martyn Young had begun to explore the possibilities of tape manipulation and remixing. His approach to cutting up sound was meticulous, often using 30 or 40 tape splices to create yield just five seconds of music (no samplers were involved). An excellent illustration of the approach is the fact that the four-song Colourbox EP (BAD 315) that appeared at the end of the year had been painstakingly edited down from over eight hours of mixes.
The Wolfgang Press was a new project from Mark Cox and Michael Allen, formerly of Mass and Rema-Rema, which made its debut with The Burden Of Mules (CAD 308). Ivo remained genuinely interested in the creative chemistry between Mark and Mick, and the album provided the first glimpses of the powerfully original sound that would begin to flower on subsequent releases. Contributing to the album were members of Dif Juz and In Camera, one of whom--Andrew Grey--would officially join The Wolfgang Press the following year.
Throughout 1983, Modern English were still tasting success in America in the wake of "I Melt With You." While the Gathering Dust EP (BAD 306) collected various non-LP single sides, and the remix of "Someone's Calling" (BAD 309) was largely intended for American ears, the group had still had little impact in the UK and Europe. After seeing the band play at the Ritz in New York, Ivo thought he might have a solution. The band had encored with powerful back-to-back versions of two of their earliest songs: "16 Days" and "Gathering Dust." Ivo suggested to the group that they re-record the songs in the manner of the live set.
After Modern English decided against the idea, Ivo remained sufficiently intrigued by its possibilities that he decided to go ahead and do it himself. He hired a Linn drum, enlisted Elizabeth Fraser from the Cocteau Twins and Gordon Sharp from Cindytalk as vocalists, and persuaded Mick Conroy and Gary McDowell of Modern English to provide bass and guitar. The resulting reworking of "16 Days/Gathering Dust" became the A-side of the first This Mortal Coil release (BAD 310). When it came time to think about a B-side, Ivo decided to record a version of one of his all-time favorite songs: Tim Buckley's "Song To The Siren." The original plan was for Liz Fraser to sing it a capella, but the guitar part that Robin Guthrie had laid down on tape for her to use as a guide wound up becoming an integral part of the final version. The resulting B-side became one of 4AD's most beloved releases; eventually issued as the A-side of a 7-inch single (AD 310), it spent several months hovering in the British Top 100.
For Ivo, "Song To The Siren" marked a turning point, a realization that This Mortal Coil was more than just the idea of covering a few Modern English songs. The accomplishment of "Song To The Siren"--successfully pairing a song of great personal import with a singer whose work was equally meaningful--became the reason for wanting to do more.
Modern English began the year with a new single, "Chapter 12" (BAD 401) which preceded the release of their final 4AD album, Ricochet Days (CAD 402). With producer Hugh Jones taking an increasingly active role in sculpting the band's music, the result was one of the most underrated albums of the era, coupling an almost Beatlesque sense of melody to the band's increasingly polished sound.
Colourbox's 1984 output consisted of a pair of singles, both featuring vocals by Lorita Grahame. The first was the inadvertent by-product of Ivo loaning Martyn Young his collection of reggae records. Colourbox's cover of U-Roy's "Say You" (BAD 403) was the result. A few months later the super-charged electro-funk of "Punch" (BAD 406) found the group genre-hopping with ease. Both singles deserved to be hits, but 4AD lacked the resources to promote them onto the radio and the charts.
1984's major addition to the roster was Dead Can Dance, who would evolve into one of 4AD's flagship acts. Though the seeds of their later work were present on both their self-titled debut album (CAD 404) and the Garden Of The Arcane Delights (BAD 408), Dead Can Dance during this period were still nominally a dark, post-Joy Division rock & roll band, albeit one with an eccentric lineup (guitar/bass/drums/yang t'chin) and the widely contrasting vocal styles of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry.
The Cocteau Twins lineup stabilized for good with the arrival of bassist Simon Raymonde (formerly of Drowning Craze, and the son of noted arranger Ivor Raymonde). The first new offering of 1984 was the "Pearly Dewdrops' Drops" single (AD 405) and its expanded EP version, The Spangle Maker (BAD 405). One of their finest records, it nearly became a major hit (the group declined to appear on Top Of The Pops to promote it). Later in the year, the group released its third album, Treasure (CAD 412), a critical and commercial success. [One accidental legacy of the album haunts Ivo to this day. Instead of conventional song titles, Liz Fraser had given all of Treasure's songs proper names: "Amelia," "Persephone," etc. The album's first track, christened "Ivo," features Liz singing the refrain "Peep-Bo" (the song's original title) in a manner that caused many listeners to assume that she was singing "Ivo." Result: Ivo still occasionally contends with people who think his name is pronounced "ee-vo." (For the record: it's "eye-vo.")]
Xmal Deutschland returned with their second and last album for the label. Tocsin (CAD 407) coupled a more refined and textured approach than previous efforts, along with a more straightforward rock sound. The group parted ways with 4AD in the months following its release, and subsequently signed to Phonogram.
The Wolfgang Press returned with the first of a trilogy of EPs produced by Robin Guthrie. With Andrew Grey completing the lineup, Scarecrow (BAD 409) marked the group's first steps into the kind of hypnotic avant-funk they'd perfect in the coming years. Featuring musical contributions from Colourbox and guitar from Robin Guthrie, the EP's highlight was a twisted version of Aretha Franklin's "Respect" featuring backing vocals by Liz Fraser.
By late 1984, Ivo had completed work on the first This Mortal Coil album. Working closely with engineer/co-producer John Fryer at Blackwing Studios, Ivo invited a sizeable contingent of players into the studio to work on a selection of songs by the likes of Alex Chilton, Roy Harper, Rema-Rema and Colin Newman (the already-issued "Song To The Siren" was also included on the album). Lisa Gerrard contributed two compositions; several more were written in the studio (Ivo remains particularly proud of "Fyt," the first piece of music he ever wrote). Many of the contributors were 4AD artists--members of the Cocteau Twins, Colourbox, The Wolfgang Press, Modern English and Xmal Deutschland participated - but there were important performances by outsiders as well: Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk and Howard Devoto (Magazine) each contributed vocals, while Martin McCarrick (Marc Almond, Siouxsie & The Banshees) and Gini Ball provided the string parts. The single "Kangaroo" (AD 410) was issued just prior to the album It'll End In Tears (CAD 411). The striking cover photographs of model Pallas Citroen were originally intended for Modern English's Ricochet Days, but the group rejected them.
NEXT > PART TWO (1985-1989)
PART THREE (1990-1994)
PART FOUR (1995-1999)