Articles / Reviews

The Sound - Destiny Stops Screaming (UNCUT 21-03-2002)

date: Mar 21, 2002



"He was a serious baby," according to his mother. "It took ages before he smiled." Adrian Borland, a neglected musical giant, was born in 1957 and died in April 1999. "What bothers me," his mother says in a Dutch-published book in Adrian's honour (Book Of (Happy) Memories), "is that I will never know if he jumped in front of the train on an impulse or not." A month before his death, Adrian posted a missive on his record label's website. He writes with typical all-or-nothing imagery of the material he's working on. "I'll either finally get the music in my head on tape or I'll feel like quitting altogether." He seems excited about the Renascent label's CD reissue programme of all the albums by The Sound, his brilliant but overlooked band of the Eighties. "To those that still care," he writes, "thanks, you'll be hearing from me! Adrian Borland. P.S. Sane, as we speak."

Graham Bailey, aka Graham Green, was the bass player in The Sound, Michael Dudley was the drummer. Max Mayers, the keyboard player, died of AIDS on Boxing Day, 1993. Green tells me: "I've only recently begun to get over Adrian's death, Max's death, and the band's split. It was my life for so long, a marriage of sorts. But I've just seen Michael for the first time in years, and it's only now that I'm able to listen to the records and enjoy them. My son thinks they're very cool." The story of The Sound is so heartbreaking that Russell Crowe or Geoffrey Rush could option the movie rights as an Oscar banker. Gifted boy, a vessel for something sacred, aflame with naive enthusiasm, is beaten down by a cold, uncaring music industry because he isn't pretty or marketable enough. Badly bruised, he perseveres, but develops a mental illness. He fights it, seems to be entering his forties fairly chilled, then commits suicide. The stuff of rock'riroll myth, surely? Except this is the real world, and Borland's tragedy doesn't have the muscle of a multinational Geffen/Cobain conglomerate or celebrity Hollywood widow milking it. And Borland didn't die a young, glamorous poster boy for angst; he went out playing iffy pubs in Wimbledon (and to still-adoring crowds in Holland). I knew and liked him for nearly 20 years. At first I was a feverish fan-boy and he was a potential rock god. Later I was a journalist, sneaking a plug in for his latest album every now and again, against the fashions of the time, though not as often as he would've preferred. Always a zealous talker rather than listener, he was a truly hefty drinker, and there were times when this was leave-the-answerphone-on unappealing. He had a recurring line in 'Bono took all my ideas, I coulda been a contender', which wasn't delusional, or beyond comprehension, but was undignified. He just wanted to testify, really, and was profoundly vexed that he'd been denied the big stage he'd craved since he was a kid. . .

When you hear The Sound's music, and some of Adrian's subsequent solo stuff, you can imagine an alternate universe where he's bigger than Jesus and these records dominate the rock heritage lists; Passionate, powerful, dark exploding into light, they rumble up from deep within the psyche but burst like fireworks over moonlight-bathed rooftops. To hear Borland ripping his heart out on them is to hear the unhyped, unfilleted,un-airbrushed real thing. Primal rock poetry: what Mike Scott once called "the big music". "Those eight years with The Sound," reflects Michael Dudley, "were the most intense of my life. When I think back on it all - the early promise leached away, the struggle and dedication, the artistic success clouded by how it all ended, with me embittered and angry with all the other members, as if it had all come to nothing - it still hurts. I've had time to stop apportioning blame, but some wounds run too deep." From the beginning. The Sound didn't take the music lightly. On the first album, 1980's Jeopardy, singer/songwriter Borland intones on "Words Fail Me": "My need gnaws at me/My need claws at me/My need lurks inside/My need won't be satisfied." It's entirely representative of the record's preoccupations. "Heyday" offers: "You're so young to be confused/Well that's about the time it starts". Emerging from south London and Surrey in the post-punk climate of the early Eighties, The Sound were, like contemporaries such as Joy Division, Echo And The Bunnymen, Wah! Heat, The Birthday Party, The Comsat Angels and, arguably, U2, convinced music could effect change. Words like 'spirit'and'heart'weren't yet devalued currency; and if the music scene was maturing melodically, punk's attitudes and energies still smouldered. Borland was obsessed with Lou Reed, Patti Smith (a biography of whom he was reading when he died) and Iggy Pop. He'd formed his first band, Syndrome, later to become The Outsiders, at 16 with Adrian Janes. They played their first gig at The Roxy in London, supporting Generation X. When they launched into "Raw Power" (or possibly "TV Eye", according to some witnesses), Iggy Pop jumped onstage and joined in. "For a joke I'd put Iggy and David Bowie on the guest list," Borland said. "Bowie didn't turn up, but Iggy actually did! I was dumbstruck: I mean, here was my hero! He leapt down the stairs and joined in for the second verse. It blew me away. I was 19: I was just gone." Reading this as the norm, Adrian jumped onstage with Patti Smith soon afterwards, possibly to less rapturous acclaim. 'In May 1977, The Outsiders released an album, Calling On Youth, on a label set up by Borland's parents. It was the first British punk album released with a band's own money. A second, Close Up, followed, but after little interest outside John Peel, the band changed personnel and name. "The Outsiders didn't have the working-class cred to take it all the way," suggests Stephen Budd, who put out The Sound's first EP, Physical World, on his Torch label. "But Christ, he could play..."

In the Surrey Comet of August 6,1980, Gill Pringle interviewed the group's then-manager. "Categories are irrelevant and debase all forms of music," he grumbles, rather wonderfully. "If necessary, the band would agree to one of 'atmospheric dance music', a la Joy Division, or maybe just modern rock." Big of him. Pringle's piece begins: "Local band The Sound are on the brink of success now they have signed to Warner Bros on the Korova label." Korova was a hip label at the time, and had got the Bunnymen up and running. But things didn't go as smoothly for The Sound. It was as if they were jinxed. jeopardy, recorded for o£700, started a buzz just fine. Then they recorded the classic From The Lions Mouth, stirringly produced by Hugh Jones at around the time he worked on the Bunnymen's Heaven Up Here. The press went wild. The public went quiet. The record company went backwards.On the sleeve notes to the re-release, Michael Dudley writes: "This was going to be it, then. The BIG IMPORTANT second album, at the start of Generalissimo Thatcher's New Dark Age. Stardom beckoned (so they told us)." "This could be the end of the line for me and 'rock' records - it's that good," raved Steve Sutherland in Melody Maker. I spent my first few weeks in London in a two-bedroom squat with around ten bed-hopping dope fiends, thousands of beetles with backs like cobalt, and this record on heavy rotation, so obviously every twitching, surging note and word is etched onto my brain. The Sound were meant to be massive and right here is where it was supposed to happen. That it didn't remains a mystery. Borland felt the label had got behind lan McCulloch over him on the basis of Mac's photogenic looks. Many years later, he still felt Lions Mouth sounded great - "not very Eighties" Perhaps they'd just -just - missed the vogue-hoat: the gaiety of synth-pop and new romanticism was lacing up its boots. In Italy, Dudley broke his hand, played a gig with his arm in plaster, but was forced to concede that the Lyceum gig supporting U2 five days later would have to be cancelled. "So we never got to meet you, Bonio," Dudley says "Still, we heard in later years that he liked the band. Which was nice." My squatmates and I decided to follow the group (and co-headliners The Comsat Angels) around the UK on tour. They let us share the van and give them beer. Fond, if foggy, memories. They were a hell of a live band throughout the decade. (Of the 1985 Marquee gigs captured on the ferocious live album In The Hothouse, Melody Maker's Mat Smith wrote: ""The sheer power searing off the stage is enough to push even the most cynical observer through the back wall and halfway down Wardour Street.") .

"The record company were disappointed with the meagre sales," recalls Dudley, "and were pressuring us to go 'corporate rock' - they expected us to be the new Genesis or something. They were getting less friendly and our A&R man bailed to LA so they dumped us on the parent company, WEA, as a write-off against tax. Things were getting nervy We could feel the weasels dosing in. Get more commercial? Fuck that. The going got weird, and so did we. Things had become perverse: it was time to go deeper, and bite the hand that feeds." 1983's All Fall Down, their third album, succeeded in getting the band dropped, and even the critics didn't care for it. "Some of our best work is here," says Dudley, "and some of our worst." The former category would include "Monument", an epic ballad, and the jagged insistence of avant-rock flurries like "Party Of My Mind" and "Where The Love Is". "It felt like the future we wanted was ours by right," suggests Dudley, "though it was fading even as we reached for it, cheated by the whims of fate and capricious circumstance. We were pulled in all directions at once, the steering wheel broken and loose in our hands. We disappeared through the hall of mirrors into glass and smoke." It wasn't over but, if spirits were broken, this is when the fault-lines set in. The Sound still recorded and toured, but kind of knew they'd never get the platform they deserved, needed."The Sound was primarily about friendship," remembers Green. "Adrian and I were friends since we were seven, and in an immature way we wanted to change (or later, more realistically, at least influence) the world political scene. Also, we were just shy middle-class Surrey boys who wanted to get laid. In order to follow these goals, being in a rock'n'roll band was it! "We had some success: the No Nukes' festival in Holland, for example, was an educational experience. Nuclear energy is not inherently evil: if abused, the effects are cataclysmic; if harnessed, a very efficient form of power generation. During our now famous rendition of 'Missiles', Adrian began challenging the movement, and before long there were dozens of fires in the auditorium, with people burning the 'no nukes' literature. We realised how much power people have when on stage. The memory haunts me to this day, and gives me some insight into what drives politicians." The Sound had their politico moments, but were mostly driven by Borland's relentless soul-searching, his demon-battling, his (on a good night) winning. They regrouped, signed to the Statik label in the UK and made a strong if unspectacular mini album, Shock Of Daylight, a strong and spectacular album, Heads And Hearts (where Borland's writing and the band's taut dynamics were back to their best) and the awesome live monster In The Hothouse, one of those rare live works which catches a band (and an audience) burning up. You hear, feel the resentment, rage, belief, hope. In 1987, Belgian label Play It Again Sam released Thunder Up, the last Sound album.

"It ended at The End, a club in Vitoria, Spain," remembers Green. "Adrian was always obsessed by Jim Morrison and The Doors, and interpreted the name of the club, the first gig of our 1987 European tour, to be an omen, and flipped out: I can't describe how it feels to witness a friend suffer so intensely, in real life, things most people consider nightmares. After returning to the UK briefly, we did a few last Dutch concerts, but these were lacklustre. I don't know if we would've been able to cope with success had it come our way: Personally, I feel privileged to still be around, having lost two good friends. I suppose the fact we're still remembered around the world is the best testament to The Sound." In 1989, Borland told me: "The worst thing we could've done was carry on at the same level, become insignificant. I wasn't consciously happy that we stopped, but I am in retrospect. It happened in a Strange way - mental disorders, drugs, and God knows what. My fault, really. Eight years is a long time. Maybe I'm schizophrenic - half of me has this desire to create a nice harmonic order to things. Then as soon as I've got that, I want to tear it down, pull things around, shake up preconceptions."His mother has since revealed that Borland endured a schizoid affective disorder from 1986 onwards: "Every other year or so he had periods when he lost contact with reality and heard voices in his head. He often tried to commit suicide. Those were dreadful times, both for him and for us." Through the late Eighties and Nineties Borland released five solo albums. He lived in Haarlem in Holland for some time, where he felt (and was) more appreciated. And in 1995, Mark Burgess of The Chameleons released a well-meaning track called "I Know How Borland Feels". Borland produced many other bands, and enjoyed recording his side project, the "totally over the top, mutant, great fun" Honolulu Mountain Daffodils, to which I was a contributor. Some of the songs he threw away here, like "Drug Dog Girl", would've be among others' best work. "There's a vital stance in rock'n'roll, an attitude, which I still have," he told me. "But the important thing is that the songs are greatness." His favourites (by other people) were "China Girl", "Search And Destroy" and The Waterboys' "The Whole Of The Moon". No doubt he related to Iggy's line concerning "the world's forgotten boy".

Back in Wimbledon, a relationship began with a sweetheart from his schooldays, then ended, shortly before his death. The album he was working on with Pat Rowles when he died. Harmony And Destruction, is now posthumously released by Red Sun, with many tracks using the guide vocals. It's a tough listen, and features the verse: "When the bells are rung for me and I am done with breathing/Fold my arms in front of me, and whisper destiny's stopped screaming.'" "It does cheer me up when I hear Bono's got our stuff," he told me in 1989. "Or when I'm standing there waiting for The Mission or The House Of Love to come onstage and they tap me on the shoulder and say how much they like "Lions Mouth" or my guitar playing. It's an ego thing, but it is nice." In the tribute book, Amsterdam journalist Joke van Gemerde remembers Borland saying: "Y'know those articles that start 'Whatever happened to?' Don't ever do that to me." Later, Van Gemerde writes: "He hadn't slept for nights in a row. He was afraid the medication would make him drowsy and affect the vocals on his new record. Early next morning he went for a walk. Along the railway." "I don't know if The Sound are going to be seen as important," Borland said once. "I don't really care. We really affected some people's lives. Music speaks so much louder than words anyway. I walk around with all these songs in my mind, and my head explodes if I don't record them."

The Sound's albums are out now on Renascent (
Harmony And Destruction is out now on Red Sun (
For more on The Sound visit


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