The PALE FOUNTAINS – ” The Albums “

Posted: February 2, 2023 in MUSIC

The Pale Fountains were formed in Liverpool in 1980 by Mick (as he was then known) Head with Chris McCaffery on bass, Thomas Whelan on drums, trumpeter Andy Diagram and guitarist Ken Moss.

Signing with Virgin in late 1982, this was the first time the music world became aware of the work of singer-songwriter Michael Head.

The Pale Fountains were formed in Liverpool in 1980, and composed of Michael Head (vocalist/guitarist), Chris McCaffery (bassist), Thomas Whelan (drummer), trumpet player Andy Diagram (horns) and Ken Moss (Guitar/Bass). Inspired by 1960s music such as Love, Burt Bacharach and The Beatles, the group released their debut single “(There’s Always) Something on My Mind” on Les Disques du Crépuscule before signing a major label deal in October 1982. Although the Pale Fountains failed to make much commercial headway, the band earned critical praise for the two albums released on the Virgin Label “Pacific Street” released in (1984) and “From Across the Kitchen Table” the following year (1985), was produced by Ian Broudie, who later found fame with The Lightning Seeds

Melding the most forward-thinking aspects of Eighties pop to the lush, acoustic-based psychedelic rock of Love, 1984’s ‘Pacific Street’ was the debut album from Liverpudlian indie band The Pale Fountains. Fronted by Michael Head (later of perennially underrated Shack) the group cut against the grain of much Eighties indie in Britain with a mellow, bossa nova-influenced sound.

“Pacific Street”

The bounciness of the Pale Fountains went penalized in the days of Echo and the Bunnymen and the Smiths. “Optimism — yuck.” Michael Head’s stylistic hopscotch and wide-eyed sunnyness might have translated better in the late ‘90s, had he stuck with that program for his later band, Shack. If the band had set their sights on one or two areas of their record collections for inspiration instead of darn near everything, “Pacific Street” might not have been so out of place when it was released.

At the time of its release in February 1984, Head described “Pacific Street” as “like a greatest hits LP, except we haven’t had any hits!” It not only showcases the ambition of 80s pop in general, but the very specific singularity of the Liverpool scene, that seemed to add love and (Arthur Lee’s) Love to everything recorded. It reflects the swing away from the post-punk and funk of the early years of the decade, aiming for a mellower, bossa-nova influenced pop. It is difficult to understand how tracks such as “Unless” and “(Don’t Let Your Love) Start A War” were not big hits and are not viewed as standards.

Bold indeed, the expanded version of “Pacific Street” (issued by Virgin Records with four bonus tracks) veers from every angle of ‘70s AM soft rock, stylish soul pop à la Orange Juice (but not as effective), Bacharach/David, and Brazilian jazz. You can imagine Dionne Warwick singing the chorus of “Abergele Next Time”; the non-album single “Palm of My Hand” veers dangerously close to muzak, and the steel drum-and-trumpet combos were more than enough to incite gagging from the pop underground. Too bad. Like the following “From Across the Kitchen Table”, “Pacific Street” wasn’t able to succeed on the charts, so the too varied and too happy Pale Fountains were left in limbo. For all its faults, the band’s debut isn’t half bad, and it doesn’t sound horribly outdated decades later.

“From Across the Kitchen Table”

The Pale Fountains’ second record produced by Ian Broudie ditches a couple of the scatter-brained influences of the debut, so it makes for a slightly more consistent listen. Not all of the odd wrinkles are abandoned, though; they still sound as if they are trying too hard to distinguish themselves from the rest of the flock. The Pale Fountains’ strength lies in folksy pop, but on a few too many occasions, the incessant smoothness and inability to latch onto one style holds them back. Surprisingly, the title track is almost synth-pop, but a smattering of horns makes sure it isn’t completely such. On “September Sting,” they try their hands at Laurel Canyon country-rock and fall flat on their jumpers. When they want to, they can write finely tuned, sophisticated pop songs that are quite pleasant. Instrumentally, “Stole the Love” doesn’t sound a great deal different from the Smiths. “Shelter” and “Jean’s Not Happening” are fine strummers.

1985’s . . . “From Across The Kitchen Table” was produced by Ian Broudie, soon to form and redefine sugar-pop with The Lightning Seeds. The album is more unified than its predecessor as it was recorded over a shorter period of time. Lead single “Jean’s Not Happening” is one of the great lost indie gems of the 80s, complete with a powerful string arrangement. The closing song, “September Sting”, is a joyous slice of scouse-a-billy that points the way clearly to later groups such as The Las.

Near four decades later, Michael Head is adored by his hardcore following and the wider world freshly discovers him as each of his new releases achieves widescale acclaim, whether it be his subsequent band, Shack, or his current outfit, the Red Elastic Band. But The Pale Fountains was where it all began.

Though a decent record and an improvement over the debut, “Kitchen Table” frustrates. They were too anxious to zig or zag when they could have stayed the course. After establishing themselves as a cult band, the Pale Fountains eventually broke up, with Michael Head forming the similarly cultish band Shack.

Two compilations have been issued: “Longshot For Your Love” (Marina, 1998) and “Something On My Mind” (Crépuscule, 2013), the latter with a bonus live CD recorded in 1982.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.