On Ice - Sounds
LONG SERIOUS INTERVIEW
THE JOURNALIST & THE VOCALIST IN EARNEST
Part 1: "A rose by any other name
Admittedly it wasnt an inspired moment of blinding
originality, but when The Comsat Angels chose the title
of a JG Ballard short story as their name -
and the British author seemed unperturbed by this move
- they could hardly have imagined they would later be
prevented from touring America on account of this.
Singing Angel Steve sits in my hotel room in Iceland
and ponders the mis-fortunes that have befallen the
"Just as we were about to go over there, we got
an urgent phone call from the promoter, saying that
Communications Satellite Incorporated were going
to injunct every individual promoter on the tour unless
we changed our name. Things had got to such a point
that we felt we still had to go, so we decided we had
to change the name to CSA in order to
to be able to do it and play.
But this only affects us in America as yet, not Canada
or the rest of the world. We signed an agreement in
fact, and they allowed us to say "formerly The
Comsat Angels" on the posters this time, but the
problem is that they have the copyright on the word
"Comsat" for the next 20 years!"
Didnt Ballard have the same problem with his story
"No he didnt, which is peculiar! Obviously
theyre less likely to have heard of that since
hes English and so maybe it wasnt published
in America. Our main problem was that it would cost
us $10,000 to bring a counter-action, which we couldnt
But if they decide to bring any action in England, well
Did you get any good publicity from that in America?
"We did, actually, yeah, though its a shame it
has to come through something like that - we did a TV
interview which also showed us playing a few songs.
Its not as though were competing with them,
but they said their reputation may be harmed by association
with us.. we were willing to put on our records "we
have nothing to do with Communications Satellite Incorporated",
but theyre just so touchy about it all. Theyve
got government connections, its all a bit strange."
Has it cost them much money?
"Nah - all theyve done is send a few threatening
letters! But even if it had, they can afford it! I dont
know if its important or not, but they were about to
telephone each promoter on tour even before we had finalised
all the details. I suppose if I was paranoid, Id
say it was down to wire-taps and stuff like that
I mean, they are a communications company!"
So how far did you get before the tour was called off
due to the appendicitis attack suffered by bassist
"We managed to do New York & some of Canada,
and the saddest thing of all is that it was going so
and they just went nuts! They were shouting
out for sings, really screaming - no-one feels worse
about it than Kev, but theres nothing we can do
about it now."
So youve got plans to go back?
"Oh certainly! At the beginning of next year, by
which time we hope to have an American record company.
The college radio stations are getting to be very influential
- we were shown their playlists and we were placed at
number one & number two in one - its astounding!
It seems that a large number of kids in America are
getting really fed up with Foreigner &
Led Zeppelin & stuff, because honestly the FM
radio is really that bad - we heard Stairway To
Heaven four times in one day!"
Part II: Playing the game - and still hoping to
Now 3 albums old, The Comsat's have developed a strong,
healthy cult following
but thats a long
way off real commercial success. Would the band like
to be more commercial?
"Commercial?" echoes Steve. "Thats
such a difficult word! I want to sell more records,
definitely! I like very accessible music - thats
my favourite type of music. Ive always thought
of our music as accessible, but thats obviously
not the case ..."
Does it surprise you that you don't sell more? Or does
it surprise you that you sell even as many as you do?
"Neither! I never think about it - you only think
about things like that when people say "This didn't
sell too well". . but we don't think about it now,
not after the first few singles weren't hits."
So why release singles?
"Because we'd like to have a hit! Every time a
single comes out, we think "This is gonna do it"
- we feel very good about its chances - then the reviews
come out, which always sours it a bit. Then the sales
figures, which sour it a little further and we tend
to think "Oh, maybe it wasn't so good after all",
which is a bit dangerous.
"That's why we don't play our last single It's
History at the moment - I wanna do it, but the others
don't. They think 'No, it was a failure, therefore,
there's something wrong with it'. . . but I know it's
good and want to do it! We'll get round to it eventually
Can you imagine having a hit record though?
"I can, yeah! There's nothing I'd like better -
that's probably because it's something that's eluded
us! I really would like to have a hit, but I'm not desperate
Is your lack of chart success made worse by the stardom
of fellow Sheffield groups ABC and Human
"Oh well, there are groups having hits who come
from all over the place! It's just coincidence they
both come from Sheffield. I feel really pleased for
them, proud even. There's a sense of Sheffield being
proud of those groups!"
"But although I like the people in both of those
groups, and although I like some of their stuff, the
bulk of it doesn't move me at all!"
So where do the Comsat's rate in Sheffield now?
"Its hard to tell. I wouldn't think very
highly! People in Sheffield seem to accept you only
after you've been accepted on a national scale. But
respect in Sheffield isn't something that bothers me
at all. I don't want respect in Sheffield. It's where
I live, I'd rather be able to walk around unbothered,
Part III: Into style but out of fashion
Do you get frustrated by how long it takes for original
ideas to be recorded? Translated into songs on record?
"Yeah, I think everybody does. When we work on
a song, we work on it for ages and if its not
right, we just keep battering away - see, I think every
song should have its own sound. I know that's not a
popular view, but
a lot of groups seem to have
a 'sound' and conform to that, but I think the content
is more important than the form. The content should
dictate the form and everything should work for that
piece. Whatever instruments it takes to make it sound
But the Comsat Angels' songs seem to conform to a certain
sound with the same instrumentation all the time!
"Yeah, well that's the outside view! The inside
view is..well, there has to be some similarity between
the songs, simply because it's the same people doing
them, and we have a 'style' which is not apparent to
us, but is obviously apparent to other people."
Why isn't it apparent to you?
"Well, because were actually doing it!"
Are you too close to it?
"Not too close, no! We're just close to it. We're
there, doing it. So you tend to lose a bit of objectivity
simply through the fact that you're doing it. We always
try to make everything appropriate, but without throwing
in orchestras and everything!"
But this new LP has a greater sense of subdued maturity,
which almost makes it seem a less surprising music,
don't you think?
"Less surprising! Well - that always happens. You
get familiar with the way a group does something and
that's the effect with every third LP by any group I've
ever heard as well!"
Does if have to be like that?
"No it doesn't but you can't (pause) I dunno, I
wouldn't want to chop and change for the sake of it,
but neither would want to pursue something because it
seemed to be working every time. It's like, songs just
pop out and you try to catch them!"
What inspires you to write songs these days?
"Mainly just the urge to want across to write something
For posterity? To be acclaimed? .
"No - simply for satisfaction. Theres always
something a little out of reach that you try to grab
- and grabbing for that is satisfying."
Do you consider what you're doing?
"Oh yeah, all the time - I mean, you have to. you
have to be responsible or try and be responsible! I
don't mean to any particular moral code, but you have
to be true to yourself to do the things you want."
Do you ever find you're too wrapped up in thinking about
"Yeah, but I know when that happens, and we know
how to stop it we just go in and blast away, improvise
for about four or five hours!"
Can you ever step back and look objectively at your
"Yeah when Im drunk! Or when I hear it in
an unexpected environment, like when I heard 'It's History'
on Dutch radio as we were travelling in the car then
you kinda hear it the way others must do."
Your earlier songs seemed to have a greater sense of
clashing of instruments - with more frustration to exercise
/ exorcise - is that because you're less frustrated
"Definitely, yeah! I feel a lot happier now mostly
due to getting out the things that were bothering me
into the songs, especially on the second album."
Did you lose your frustrations merely by expressing
"Not by expressing them, no - by identifying them!"
And it helps being in a successful pop group
"I'm not in a successful group! I'm in an UNsuccessful
THE BASTARDS!!! After picking up photographer Alison
and myself from the prim, pleasant hotel in Iceland's
capital of Reykjavik and taking us for a two-hour
bus trip across desolate, blasted country side "The
driver a good place for a photo session" The
Comsat Angels led us through a natural assault course
of mountain-climbing and river-wading (ooh that's
cold!) that made me wish I'd stayed in my hotel room.
mean, we were miles from anywhere! In fact, just about
everything in Iceland seems to be miles from anywhere.
I was cold and wet and miserable, weighed down by
Alison's bag of camera equipment. And all the bloody
Comsat's - the supposed bleak northerners - could
do was frolic about under a waterfall screaming with
what is there to say about going to Iceland with a
rock band? The countryside consists mainly of solidified
rock lava from the volcanoes, and contrary to popular
misconception there is no ice. The people are infuriatingly
polite and docile. Except on Friday nights when they
get drunk, go to see a group like the visiting Comsat's,
and steal your drinks from out of your hands.
Drummer Mik reckons he'd quite like to go back for
a holiday sometime. Me, I never want to see the place
Part V. Sound advice.
What sort of songs did you like when you were younger?
"That's funny, because I was just thinking about
that the other day - it was mainly songs which had
sound in them that contributed to the feel of the
thing. A tune can work musically, but then theres
also sounds within it that add to the picture. I can
give you some example. There's Telstar with
the beginning that always struck me as being very
evocative - that 'kkkkchhhssshh' (does radio wave
interference impression!) which faded out on the b
side as well - and even Messing About On The River
- with the plopping noises!"
"And Back in the USSR by The Beatles
- with that jet noise and at the end it turns into
incredible wind noise swirling around. Oh, and Wichita
Lineman by Glen Campbell, which has gotta
be about my all time favourite song You know at the
end, where the strings are going 'de de-de-de' like
Morse code brilliant!"
What about the megaphone on the fabulous Indiana
Wants Me, I add.
"Oh yeah R. Dean Taylor, Gotta See
Jane as well, with those windscreen wipers, that's
really evocative, isn't it?"
Are you ever tempted to use such effects?
"Well. I think we do! Maybe not such literal
sounds, but sometimes we figure a song needs something
else, but not music - a sound. It's hard, because
youre working with things like synthesisers,
which is an awful instrument, it hasnt been
at all exploited yet for its ability to make pure
"But we tend not to use such literal sounds,
we prefer to use things that we can reproduce when
we're playing live. I mean, we just wouldn't record
a jet taking off!"
Of course not! Angels have no need of such earth bound
machines. Their music soars above the clouds and can
take you places you never dreamed off. If you'll only
let it. If only
SHORT SNAPPY INTERVIEW
PHOTOGRAPHER AND VOCALIST CHATTING ON THE PLANE HOME
"So whats Sheffield like? I've never been
Steve: "It's a bit like Iceland: but without
the lava flow."
" Have you ever lived in London?"
Steve "No: I hate it! I dont like accents
Alison: "Bitch! I love that Northern sense of humour
- it's very dry."
Steve "Only when it doesn't rain!"
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