"Lost, Found & Great: Obscure Pop Gems Of The Past" is the title of a series under which Tapete sporadically re-releases brilliant, but hard-to-get or even out-of-print POP albums. Now it is the time for The Times' legendary albums "This Is London" and "Go! With The Times" which were originally released in 1983 and 1985.
More than four decades on, with yet another round of punk anniversaries safely behind us, here's a chance to remind ourselves that not everyone believed or indeed peddled the myth of the Year Zero. Maybe that's because they were young enough not to have to prove their youth. A good three years junior to Johnny Rotten and six years to Joe Strummer, Edward Ball had spent his 1960s childhood equally entranced by the Beatles on the radio and Patrick McGoohan playing The Prisoner on TV. And while the promises of a popular culture infused with fresh art school ideas had gone stale by the 1970s, a teenage Ed Ball would recognise the dawning of an independent DIY culture as a chance to rekindle them in a brand new way. To do so he had to bypass the corporate machine, then otherwise busy selling the Year Zero narrative to a gullible media, and set out on an unbeaten path that would soon converge with the leftmost edges of the nascent mod revival. Having formed his first band O-Level in 1976, Ball found a kindred spirit in schoolfriend Daniel Treacy. For a while their bands Television Personalities (fronted by Treacy) and Teenage Filmstars (fronted by Ball) existed in tandem until the latter morphed into The Times. Following a legal dispute around the name of their DIY label Whaam!, obviously monikered after Roy Lichtenstein's 1963 painting as opposed to a certain pop band of the day, Ball launched his band's very own Artpop! imprint (Deep into the next century Lady Gaga would have the same idea, albeit stopping short of hand-painting her record sleeves as the Times had done).
Having released six Times LPs between 1982 and 1986, by the end of the decade Ball reemerged on Alan McGee's Creation Records, delving into electronic psychedelia and supplementing his recording career with a day job as a friendly executive/receptionist at the company's London office. There he would sit behind a desk in front of one of his own paintings, sometimes speaking dismissively of himself in the third person to unsuspecting visitors.
Some time later, Ball would return to writing observational pop songs destined for the lower reaches of the charts as a fully paid up member of the Mill Hill Self Hate Club. By that time, Britpop had come and gone without giving its by now bald-headed prophet much credit for his services to the cause. But then you could also see that as a blessing. Here then is that rarest of things: British guitar pop history without baggage. Because only the best went with The Times back in the early eighties.
Robert Rotifer, Canterbury, 2017
LINERNOTES by BERND BEGEMANN
“Do you want to go on tour? With a famous English band called The Times? There's just one catch though...”
“Yes! Yes... but WHAT catch?”
“You're going to have to let them use your amps and drum kit.”
The voice at the other end of the line sounded embarrassed about this.
Wrongly so, I thought.
“No problem at all! Not in the slightest!”
“And, well, on top of that...”
“What? What else?”
“There's no fee, but there's accommodation. Plus two meals a day.”
“Well, that ... that should be ... okay, I guess.”
To be frank, around that time our band, bearing the beautifully constructive name Die Antwort (The Answer), would have PAID to be allowed to tour with anyone as hot as The Times. That's if we'd had the money.
“I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape” had been a modest hit around our scene, but their song “Cloud Over Liverpool” was an instant classic, a mighty epic.
The idea that we would be allowed to be a part of this ...
Springtime ‘85, and the Autobahn was ours.
In the company of four extremely civilised Englishmen who, in spite of their youth, had a fantastically aristocratic and composed air about them. I remember cultural excursions through German town centres, taking in the architecture, debating cricket and the new Smiths LP Meat is Murder. And no, none of us really liked it. Not enough melodies and much too uptight.
One evening when I broke a string I borrowed Edward Ball's guitar only to break one of his strings as well. I was very embarrassed, but maybe I should have confessed to Edward ...?
As it happened he only realised the calamity just as he was about to play in front of 300 or so people in a Munich lecture theatre. “Thanks for busting my D-string, Bernd, so I don‘t have to do it myself.”
Pure class, that man.
Even then this album was already something of an historical document: Recorded in 1980 but released only in 1985, these tracks had marked songwriter Edward Ball's emancipation from his charismatic colleague Daniel Treacy with whom he had co-founded the legendary Television Personalities.
This is the sound of young Londoners mining their city's rich pop heritage for useable material.
Unlike the classic official debut album “This is London”, it's not a fully realised production. There are hardly any overdubs, some tracks sound more like kids having fun at a party than a band with a plan. But there are also proper killer tunes such as “Red With Purple Flashes”, named after an interview quote of their sixties heroes The Creation describing their own sound.
Then there's “Pinstripes”, which seamlessly joins a line of tragic but comical working class songs carved out by the likes of Ray Davies and Paul Weller. Not forgetting “Reflections in an Imperfect Mirror”... For all those who weren't around at the time there will be so much more to discover. Meanwhile, a wildly romantic reunion lies in store for all of us who were lucky enough to witness the magic modernist beat laboratory that was The Times in full flight.
Bernd Begemann, Hamburg, 2017
LINERNOTES by MARTIN CARR
He never writes
First Times – 1993. The Mod Cafe in Hackney, unchanged since the dawn of Times, steam running down the Morris blue tile and us, drinking hot brown tea from chipped cups in sharp suits and pointed boots. Ed with so much to say, so much information to share. Art and life I would say, Art IS life, he would reply, a reflection of ourselves in a river, some Times clear, some Times unfocussed but always, at its best, the truth.
Some Times – 1995. Tokyo. Twenty three floors up from the busy mid-morning streets, desks and chairs have been pushed to the side of the room and a photographer is bouncing on his toes, knees bent, this way and that, popping and snapping Edward Ball posing on the office floor. Ed is somewhere in his early thirties, his head shaved and his body taut and muscular. He is boyish yet there is something else there, a shadow, something you wouldn't want to mess with. Of course, that was irresistable to me, flame to my moth. On occasion I nudged him to the outer limits of his saintly patience whereupon those dark eyes would say 'no more' and his voice would drop a semi-tone as he, ever so politely, informed me that if a used and scrunched up scratch card smacked him on the back of the head one more time, there would be Ed to pay.
The Kung Fu Monk writhes around on the twenty third floor of Sony Japan, a saucy Margate postcard wearing tiny shorts and skin tight Chelsea FC shirt. 'This could be my last chance!' he yells, sticking his arse out and molesting the camera.
Other Times – I would fall apart and he would help patch me up, so generous with his time, always ready to spread a little love. Intelligent and artistic, everything flowing from first principles and a steely discipline. His songs, full of heartache and humour, are food for the heart and mind. I could have learned so much more from him but I didn't listen to anyone back then, I thought I knew it all.
Everybody has their own Times, some take notes. They bend and shape the Times into songs, words and pictures like so many beautiful and provocative Times machines.
So step back into this, discover who we thought we were.
He never calls.
Martin Carr, Cardiff, 2017