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The Outsiders - Close Up sleevenotes (2012 reissue)

date: Apr 16, 2012


 

The Outsiders – Close Up sleeve notes

Recorded in 1978 and released in the spring of 1979 before they would morph into The Sound, ‘Close Up’ was the second and last album from Adrian Borland’s punk trio, The Outsiders, also featuring bassist Bob Lawrence and drummer/ lyricist Adrian ‘Jan’ Janes. Despite the drubbing the critics had meted out to the band’s May 1977 debut LP ‘Calling On Youth’ (see the notes to the ‘Calling on Youth’ CD) The Outsiders had carried on regardless, bridging the gap between the two albums with a four-track EP ‘One to Infinity’, again recorded with Adrian’s father Bob Borland engineering and released on the Raw Edge label (created by Adrian’s parents) as RER002 in November 1977. 

Although the EP’s release found The Outsiders again on the receiving end of a critical broadside (this time from Tony Parsons in the NME, who described it as “Tuneless, gormless, gutless”), it was a bold step forward from ‘Calling on Youth.’ Gone were the acoustic guitars and lengthy solos, replaced by urgency, stabbing riffs and a full-on, hard-edged punk/new wave sound. Of the four, arguably ‘Freeway’ and ‘New Uniform’ were the stand-outs. Though still influenced by the aggressive Detroit sound of The Stooges, the former – with its’ backwards masking and sonic whooshes – was highly exhilarating, while ‘New Uniform’ came with a well-observed kiss-off line (“gotta be one of the crowd to show you don’t conform”) where Adrian had a dig at Julie Burchill who was so critical of his long hair and his failure to conform to the punk image.

Finally, the band received a little positive press early in 1978, when Mick Mercer penned a far more balanced NME piece; also partly, it seems, in response to Burchill’s vitriolic album review of ‘Calling On Youth.’ Having seen them play at a favoured punk-era London haunt, The Speakeasy, Mercer perceptively suggested that ‘Calling on Youth’ (the song) “would have made a very good single, ranking alongside the best Punk discs,” and that their debut album showed not only “promise of greater things to come but it shows The Outsiders were ahead of most of the bands currently getting vast sums of money, and not copying, as people claim.” He then concluded with “Maybe now Iggy’s said they’re “in the groove” many people (even JB) will catch on to them. They’ve got a lot of gigs soon, so go and see them.” Despite playing their first London gig supporting Generation X at the Roxy on December 21st 1976 and also treading the boards at another favoured punk hang-out, The Vortex, regular gigs had proved elusive for The Outsiders. By the time they came to record their second album ‘Close Up’, though, things were at least starting to look up.

ADRIAN JANES: “Getting gigs was a big preoccupation, but really only Adrian had the self-confidence to hustle for them.  They weren't that regular.  For a time in 1977 we had a manager who did get us a fair number of gigs including a residency at a pub called The Man in the Moon in London.  Actually, as 1977 wore on, we got more gigs and better responses. Usually we were supporting, but we got to play some quite prestigious places (in London) like the Marquee and the 100 Club. “

When ‘Close Up’ arrived, it proved The Outsiders had evolved into a powerful, cohesive unit.  Recorded at Spaceward in Cambridge, most of the tracks were still informed by a buzz-saw punk sound a little reminiscent of The Saints or a harder-edged Buzzcocks, yet the whole album sounds refreshingly tight, focussed and intelligent today. 

ADRIAN JANES: “What I don't know if I've got over so far is that 1976-79 was a very exciting time musically, so we were hearing and absorbing a massive array of influences in a short space of time.  Hearing all this music, regular rehearsing and jamming, as well as learning to perform in public, all contributed to sharpening our playing and writing, so yes, evolution is the word.”

As with ‘Calling on Youth’, Adrian Janes contributed most of lyrics on ‘Close Up.’ Citing Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine and Howard Devoto among his influences at the time, he’s also keen to pay tribute to the way Adrian Borland’s input affected his writing:“One of the many bands Adrian made me aware of was Kraftwerk, and I became interested in their way of writing very short, allusive lyrics - that was how I got the approach for (‘Close Up’ tracks) 'Observations' and 'Fixed Up'. I would also have to say that Adrian was a big influence himself.  Although he was very intelligent, he didn't let that get in the way of simplicity and directness.  I tried to absorb that lesson in my own songwriting, so that it became more lyrics enmeshed with the music rather than poems set to music.  I think there's a definite development in that respect from the songs on 'Calling on Youth' to those on 'Close Up', and also in later lyrics I contributed to the Sound including 'Words Fail Me', 'Night Versus Day' and 'We Could Go Far.’“

Released with the catalogue number RER003 on the Raw Edge label, ‘Close Up’ has long been under-valued.  Brimming with confidence and swagger, the brilliantly anthemic ‘Vital Hours’  comes racing out of the traps like one of punk’s great lost, shoulda-been hit singles while both ‘Count For Something’ and ‘Semi-Detached Living’ seethe with restless energy.   The nervy, tense discipline of ‘Touch & Go’ and the slow, churning lament ‘Keep The Pain Inside’ are signposts to the aggressive, but atmospheric post-punk peaks The Sound would so memorably go on to scale, while the album’s epic, 6-minute anti-war commentary ‘Conspiracy of War’ could almost be the blueprint for ‘Jeopardy’s key track, the dramatic ‘Missiles.’ This track especially demonstrated just how keen a sense of dynamics The Outsiders had developed as a unit and also demonstrated they were itching to travel some distance beyond punk’s three-chord bag of tricks. Not that the critics noticed much of a progression when ‘Close Up’ was released  in the spring of 1979. Writing in ‘Record Mirror’, the late Philip Hall (later to found Hall or Nothing PR and manage the Manic Street Preachers) took up from where the damning reviews for ‘Calling on Youth’ left off:

“When I learnt that The Outsiders came from my home town of Wimbledon I couldn’t help feeling some allegiance towards them. However after hearing their album all I can feel is sympathy,” was his opening gambit, before he concluded “The Outsiders really have been extremely lucky to have had songs transferred from their cassette recorders, where they probably sound quite promising, onto expensive vinyl. I’m sure that good old Wimbledon can do better than this. “

When compared to Julie Burchill’s demolition of ‘Calling on Youth’, the NME review of the album (penned by John Hamblett) grudgingly regained a little ground when it proclaimed “a few reservations – but a band with a future.” With an irony that seemed to dog The Outsiders, the review singled out bassist Bob Lawrence’s playing for praise. “For my money (he’s) the star of the show – (he) plays wonderfully round-sounding bass lines that impress consistently,” noted Hamblett. This is ironic in the sense that while Lawrence played on ‘Close Up’, by the time the album was released he’d quit The Outsiders, to be replaced by another of Adrian Borland’s old school mates, Graham Bailey, or ‘Graham Green’ as he called himself at the time. Although he didn’t play on ‘Close Up’, Graham featured in the fish-eye lens photo of the band that adorned the LP’s original front cover.

ADRIAN JANES: “Bob decided to go to university as our progress was so slow, and went off to study in the autumn of 1978.  I suppose similar feelings, for similar reasons, were building up in me, as I went to university in October 1979.Graham was an old friend of Adrian's.  I think they'd been neighbours, and although he didn't go to the same senior school as Adrian, Bob and I, I think he and Adrian remained friends and in touch.  So once Bob had decided to leave (actually before we recorded 'Close Up', although he was able to be around for the recording sessions) Adrian approached him as a replacement.  Graham first played live with us on November 18th 1978, at Passfield Hall (part of the London School of Economics).  Counting every gig from the debut of Syndrome at the Urangi Club (in London’s Southfields in December 1974) this was our 50th live appearance.  Bi (Marshall) took to playing clarinet on a couple of songs in this same period.”  

The Outsiders continued on into 1979. With Graham on bass, the band played a short UK tour in the spring, ending at a London pub called The Old Swan on April 29th. After that, Adrian Janes also left The Outsiders to head off to university, although he would still contribute lyrics for The Sound and the Borland/ Bailey side project Second Layer. With Mike Dudley coming in on drums and Bi Marshall also on board, The Sound was born and both Outsiders albums have since remained minor cult items direly in need of re-appraisal. 

BOB BORLAND: “I don't think Jan or Bob Lawrence thought of music as a long term career. However Adrian was determined to pursue a career in rock music. Only if it became absolutely clear that he could not make a living as a musician would he consider an alternative. Even then, his plan was to continue with music in his spare time. After ‘Close Up’ he was starting to consider alternative careers and he had secured a place to study business management at Kingston College. However he did not go through with that because The Sound then secured the deal with Korova Records. John Peel never did a session with The Outsiders. However we sent him copies of the records and he sometimes included some of the songs in his programmes with some kind comments. He knew that they had been recorded on a Teac (at home) and he commented on the recordings. However I wasn't sure if he was criticising or praising the way they had been recorded. I was acutely aware of my lack of recording experience.” 

ADRIAN JANES: “I don't think either album produced interest from record companies.  My memory of 1977-79 is of a long, slow slog in which we did make musical progress and gained a few fans, and also played more and better venues, but although the albums were sold to shops (Rough Trade Distribution being a big help here) I don't know if the shops then managed to shift the albums.   The thing is, we didn't consider ourselves a punk band (although New Wave would be OK in the context of the time), though it was punk venues like the Roxy and the Vortex that tended to give us a chance.”

© 2012 Tim Peacock (Record Collector)

With invaluable assistance from Bob Borland, Adrian Janes and Rients Bootsma (Brittle Heaven)



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