Interview / Furniture / Emotional Rescue

Emotional Rescue have been moving Furniture. The first of two E.P.s collecting highlights from the band`s 80s catalogue is in shops now. When The Boom Was On and On Broken Glass, both featuring highly personal songs, that reflect “Thatcher`s Britain”, in prose that recalls the 60s “Kitchen Sink” art of Shelagh Delaney, and the “angry young men” of John Osbourne. Funky organ flashes decorating cinematic tales of doomed romance. Kisses stolen in alleyways. Against disused factory walls.  Jazz in their rhythms. Noir in the sax squeal and skronk. Disillusioned, but defiant protagonists. Threatening to “Burn the bastards down”. “Kick out all the windows. Break down all the doors.” A document of the times. 

The shuffling, clarinet-smoked, Why Are We In Love? treads the same eccentric, uneven Pop path as Pete Brandt`s What You Are. The legendary David Mancuso picked up on the punch drunk Rumba of I Can`t Crack, and made it a huge hit at his Loft parties.

Dance mixes offer harder beats, and synthesized SFX. Marimba moments hint at the group’s later chart-topper, Brilliant Mind (which Weatherall was known to play upstairs at The Shoom). The previously unreleased mix of Bullett sounds like it might have been influenced by the loops of This Heat. Fifteen minutes of hypnotic ambience. Where poetry of post-coital regret gives way drums, violin drones, rippling piano, and spiraling Psychedelic organ grind. A bit like the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, if they chose to cover VU`s Venus In Furs. 

Furniture`s founding members, Jim Irvin, Tim Whelan, and Hamilton Lee, kindly agreed to answer a few questions. You can find a full review of the E.P.s here.

Where are you from?

Jim: We all grew up in West London. Between Twickenham and Ealing.

Were you in any bands before Furniture?

Jim: Tim, Hami and I had been in kid bands, that lasted a couple of gigs in schools and community halls. Furniture began when we were eighteen, so there wasn’t much time beforehand.

Tim: For a while I was also in a West London band called Missing Presumed Dead, who recorded two albums and a John Peel Session. They were best known for a song called My Little Sister’s Turning Into Duane Eddy but I didn’t play on that one.

Hami: My first ever ‘gig’ was playing a snare drum in my sister’s ballet / tap show when I was 12…never looked back.

How did Furniture meet and come together?

Jim: Tim and I had parents who were close friends. Our mothers had been flatmates before they married our fathers. So we sort of grew up together, knew each other forever. Larry (N’Azone; Saxophonist) was Tim’s brother. Hami went to school with Tim. Sally (Still; Bass) and Maya (Gilder; Keyboards) went to school with my sister.

Hami: Our school band was called “Dr. Scholl and the Foot Pads” which consisted of teachers and pupils, playing Jazz standards at German evenings at school.

What inspired you to form a band?

Jim: There was nothing much else I wanted to do as a kid. I started collecting records at the age of five, and music was my main passion. For some reason I never managed to learn how to play an instrument, but words and melodies came to me easily. Tim was the same but he could play guitar, piano and flute, and we understood each other. So it happened naturally. It was a good creative combination. The Punk era was really energising and enabling, so that gave us the spur to start. But Furniture quickly became an exercise in swimming against the tide. We often seemed to be doing the opposite of what everyone else was doing. I suppose we were hoping it’d make us sound timeless.

Hami: I always knew – unrealistically – that I wanted to play music for a living. In some ways, it was easier then.

What music were you listening to at the time? What might have influenced your own music?

Jim: We were inspired by Jazz, John Barry soundtracks, Frank Sinatra, CAN, Chic, The Beatles, Phil Spector. Tim and I loved The Isley Brothers when we were kids. Motown was a big influence. I grew up listening to all the Island acts of the 70s – Fairport Convention, Free, Traffic, Renaissance. The first LPs I bought were Island samplers. I loved lots of female singers too – Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny, Kate Bush. But our main impetus when we started out was the emergence of Punk and Disco, which were the two big explosions around the time we left school. Punk music was too basic for us, we were more into Talking Heads, (Elvis) Costello and the New Wave stuff, plus we`d always loved pop. I was a Beatles kid, so melody and interesting lyrics were essential to me. We loved the idea of making albums that had some variety in them. We never wanted something that sounded the same all the way through. We were totally prepared to switch lanes on every record, if possible.

Your lyrics have a dramatic quality – making me think of 60s kitchen sink stuff like Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, and A Taste Of Honey. Were they influenced by literature or film? 

Jim: Sometimes. We pulled in all sorts of stuff. Pierre’s Fight on The Wrong People was directly influenced by a film, Carmen Jones. I liked bringing in quotes from all over the culture. There’d be bits of girl group lyrics, things about film stars, music hall acts, things I’d seen in the newspaper, but also just descriptions of scenes I’d been in. And ruined love affairs.

Latin rhythms feature on a lot of your tracks. Were you involved in the early 80s Jazz “revival” that revolved around places like The WAG in London, and Berlin in Manchester? 

Jim: That was going on kind of parallel to us. We actually played The WAG, but that was slightly after its posey peak. I was never one for going to places to see and be seen. We were not great self-promoters. Which is why it took us so long to take off. And we weren’t fashionable. At one point we were co-opted by Rusty Egan who DJ’d at a lot of the New Romantic places and he booked us for The Camden Palace which was a big deal, and we didn’t fit in, which we were kind of proud of, although it was a bit scary to do. We fully expected people to take one look at us and boo and throw things. But they kind of liked our oddness. Three or four boys of varying sizes and complexion, a half-Filipino girl, a half-Indian girl. We were a real circus troop. It was hard to work out how these people might have ever found each other. So that intrigued people.

Regarding the rhythms, CAN’s Jaki Leibzeit was a big influence upon Hami. He liked those bubbling, sequencer like patterns. It was more that than Latin. 

Hami: Yeah…Jaki Leibzeit, Elvin Jones, Tony Allen and Clyde Stubblefield, amongst loads of others.

Tim: We knew The WAG, but it was a little pricey for us. We also remember Dave Hucker at Sol Y Sombra. Some of us hung round the LMC and listened to people playing loud improvised music, and having louder arguments about it. The antecedents of bands such as Working Week and Scritti Politti were hanging round the place too.

Was Premonition Records your own label?

Jim: It was set up for us by Survival, the label belonging to our managers. They didn’t feel we fit in with the electro sound they were concentrating on at the time, so they give us our own imprint. The idea was that Premonition would be a launch pad for other nascent acts. In the end, I think it was only us and Jeanette (Dwyer) who came out on that label. Survival suddenly diversified into Soul, Heavy Metal and Scottish Folk, so the genre problem no longer existed. We had a lot of control over artwork and the stuff surrounding our records – ads, photos and press releases – and so on, so that was good.

How did it feel to be on Top Of The Pops?

Jim: We didn’t do the live show. They showed our video one week. Then we didn’t qualify again before the single dropped down the charts. We did loads of TV, though. The Tube was in 1985, I think, before we signed to Stiff, and that was brilliant. We did it with The Bangles and The Cramps. It was live. We played I Miss You and Brilliant Mind. That was our first time on TV and it was terrifying. You can see it on YouTube, us looking fearful and then starting to enjoy it. We brought a bus load of fans with us to Newcastle so we got the biggest cheer of the night. When we were rehearsing I Miss You, the day before the show, we finished the song and heard a round of applause from somewhere. We looked up and it was The Cramps. That was such a classy thing to do, clap for the nervous new kids. I’ve always loved them for that.

Hami: We also “played / mimed” to Brilliant Mind on Razzamatazz (Kid’s TV show). There was a mass clapping along with the song. A few kids liked the colour of my socks….which were red, if I recall. 

Tim: My memory is that it felt sodding terrible. Stiff Records went bankrupt the week we went into the charts, and the next week our records were being deleted and the lawyers were starting to rub their hands in anticipation. I went to the local pub, spent the last of my money on a half of lager and one play of it on the video jukebox, and went off to sign on the dole. I thought “If this is what having a hit single is like, I hope it never fucking happens again”.

So Brilliant Mind didn`t make you all rich then?

Jim: Nope. It was a minor hit in one territory, Britain. It didn’t get high enough in the charts – before Stiff started having problems with distribution – to generate a ton of cash. In fact, we made nothing from the mechanical sales, just from the airplay as writers. We still see money from it, because it has fanned out all over the world, turned up on a lot of compilation albums, and still gets played on the radio. It has stood the test of time, and that’s the best possible outcome for a song.

I associate Furniture with the politicized Pop of The Blow Monkeys and It’s Immaterial. Who do you consider to have been your contemporaries?

Jim: We were never political, really. We were of that period, but there weren’t many bands of the time who we admired. We loved Talk Talk’s Colour of Spring and Spirit of Eden, but that came out much later. I also adored The Blue Nile’s Hats. There were individual songs and records, The Waterboys, The The, Scritti Pollitti, a few things that we admired, rather than bands we followed from that time. I didn’t really enjoy the ‘80s musically. I was listening more to Marvin Gaye than to the bloody Thompson Twins or whatever else was going on.

Hami: It’s Immaterial were good. I think they were in the audience at The WAG club once.

Are you aware that I Can’t Crack was a big hit at underground New York clubs, such as David Manscuo`s Loft?

Jim: So we’ve been told. I’d have loved to have seen that.

Tim: Well bugger me.

Hami: I’ll second that.

Can you tell me what I Can’t Crack is about? Who are the bastards that you want to burn down? What windows do you want to kick out? Which doors do you want to break down?

Tim: As far as I remember the song is about how there are times when having a nervous breakdown would be practical, but not attainable. What doesn’t kill you makes you angrier, that sort of thing. The bastards were probably in Acton. You could have hung around Acton High Street and taken your pick back in the day. I had a job doing the sound at The King’s Head, which I did very badly. The windows and doors line is a straight lift from Wang Dang Doodle by Howlin’ Wolf.

Did you know that Brilliant Mind was a big record on the London Balearic scene?

Tim: Yes, and personally it made me very happy. There’d been a lot of argy bargy about the rhythm being too left field, and why didn’t we put a standard 1980s Linn Drum on it and make it sound like everyone else. When people wanted to dance to it, it proved our point.

Hami: At the Brilliant Mind video shoot, Dave Robinson still insisted that it needed a back beat. We said NO!

Jim: The 12” mix is really good.

Can you tell me what Brilliant Mind is about?

Jim: In essence, Brilliant Mind is a note-to-self about being a bit autistic and trying to understand the rest of mankind. 

It started out as being about how much I hated the big, empty sound of ‘80s music and the Thatcher-era attitudes that went with it – that idea of expansion, scale, big money, big ambitions, big drums, that whole Simple Minds, U2, river deep, mountain highness. I didn’t dislike “big music “ per se. I enjoyed The Waterboys` records of that period. But there was something about that 1984 moment – when the song was written – where really soulless stuff was topping the charts and being lauded in the music press, and I felt someone, them or me, was missing the point. And that broadened out in the other verses into not really getting the way the world is going, or the way that other people think.

Were you involved at all the Balearic / Acid House / Second Summer Of Love “revolution” of the late 80s?

Jim: Not personally. In 1987 and 1988 we toured the world under the sponsorship of The British Council. We played in Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia. That really blew our minds. I think that’s when Tim and Hami started to ferment the idea for Transglobal Underground, albeit subconsciously, and we started to bring those elements into our music when we made Food, Sex and Paranoia in 1989. Once again, we weren’t entirely in sync with the age. But we loved the Soul II Soul records, and things that were moving the culture on. We loved those drum sounds and although we were writing Turkish-influenced stuff like Swing Tender or epic, volcanic songs like One Step Behind You, we were also experimenting with pop and dance – Slow Motion Kisses, Love Me – which I think would have been more pronounced on the next album. If it had been finished.

Tim: I’d had a brief stint as a DJ in the early 80s, giving it up because I thought it wasn’t a proper job, about a year before it became clear it was a much better bet than being a muso. As for Acid House, I was out and around and absorbed plenty of ideas….Transglobal Underground wouldn’t have existed without that whole explosion of energy and the way peoples minds and musical tastes changed at the time. On the other hand, I’m not such a four-to-the-floor person, plus I kept having to drive people in the area to Greenwich hospital when they’d overdone it, so that got a bit tiresome.

Hami: Tim and I both formed new side bands when we returned from the Middle East. His was called “Mohammed Gary Cooper” and mine was called “The Flavel Bambi Septet”…after my bedsit gas cooker, of course.

What inspired the experimental piece, Bullett? Why was the extended version never released at the time of its recording? 

Jim: Tim can probably remember how Bullett came about better than I can. Back then I’d send him sheets of lyrics that he’d set to music, and sometimes he’d take lines he liked and incorporate them into something he was working on. But in this case I recall us piecing the lyric together – each of us taking turns to write lines. I believe I started with “Can I have a Kleenex?” and we went from there. I think I came up with the last line, “Remember when we stood on the bridge and cried?” because that had happened to me. But it could just as easily have been Tim’s line. He took what we had and set it to music at the piano, but it was left open for improvising.

I have a feeling it was recorded shortly after Simon Beaton, our original guitar player, had to leave the band because he suffered from kidney failure and needed a transplant. He was in hospital for months. His departure really forced us to decide what we were going to do next, and that’s when we veered from the Punk’n’Funk sound we had started out with – see our first single Shaking Story – and began trying the jazzier, CAN-influenced stuff we’d been discussing. Frankly because Simon and Ian McDonald, his close friend, who played bass with us and who left at about the same time, didn’t really like that kind of stuff, and probably wouldn’t have done it. Now we had a chance. 

At around the same time, I bought a cheap synthesiser, which Tim and I used to write I Miss You, and we started working with friends who played unusual things like double bass, trombone and viola, just to see what we could do with those colours. Tim played the flute, but he never used it in Furniture. I can’t recall whether the loop came first, or happened on the same day as the recording. I think we had it already and Tim wanted to use it as the basis of the song.

Our friend Sid Wells had just built himself a little eight-track studio in the back of a truck. He’d pull up outside a friend’s house, or rehearsal space, and just record what was going on. It was great fun to use that. It was a cheap way to record, pay him a few quid for his time and buy the multi-track tape. They did Bullett, I think, at a house in Meon Road, which was where Simon lived, possibly while he was in hospital. His brother Tim Beaton also lived there and he played violin and bass with us occasionally.

Now I’m getting a flashback about doing something at Tim’s house in Ealing, because I’m sure that upright piano sound was the piano in his hallway. I definitely attended a session there with the mobile, but that may not have been it. I know I’m not on it, so I’m fairly sure I wasn’t at the main session. But I do remember hearing the mix for the first time and being blown away by it. For a long time it was my favourite song, and yet, because of the way it was done, we didn’t really consider it a Furniture track, as such, until it went on The Lovemongers (compilation) about four years later. We did try to play it live, once or twice, but syncing to the loop playing on a cassette machine was really difficult.

We all liked the long, “complete” version but it wasn’t practical to put it on any of the albums. It didn’t sound like anything else, with its drifting, muddy mix, and wouldn’t have fit on When The Boom Was On. It only really made it, as an edit, onto The Lovemongers compilation because we needed more material, and we all loved it. I was very keen to have it on there because it has a real mystique to it. Over the years, it’s become a connoisseur’s favourite. It get’s really strong reactions because it has a such sonic warmth, and that’s mainly because of the wobbly tape loop, the mobile, the out-of- tune piano and the haphazard way it was all done, and because the lyric is so raw.

Tim: I can remember how and where Bullett was recorded, but not when or why. A version was released on The Lovemongers, which initially was a promo item for Japan. Premonition needed something sending over to Japan quick. We put a load of singles and demos together and ended up five minutes short, so I edited Bullett down to fill the album up. No one seemed that bothered about it one way or another, so we took it no further.  The song is about shagging, which is perhaps why the short version was disappointing. We played it a few times live; Jim introduced it with the words “Post-coital is my favourite sort of depression” which isn’t a bad summing up. It’s sheer luck that a full version of it still existed on tape, and very gratifying that anyone at all would want to hear it after all this time.

Hami: It was recorded with the aid of a pair of brushes, a few CAN records and some L.S.D. All of which inspired the cyclical brush drum track. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I’m still playing the same groove these days.

How did signing to Arista affect the band and your music?

Jim: We’d been out of action in the studio for almost three years, because of the problems we’d had freeing ourselves from the Stiff contract, which was bought up by ZTT, who wouldn’t release anything we demo-ed, but also wouldn’t let us go. So it was a great relief and pleasure to be recording again. We cut Food Sex & Paranoia in Wessex Studios, in North London, shortly after Talk Talk had been in there to do Spirit Of Eden. Then we did the overdubs and mixes in New York at Mike Thorne’s studio in Greenwich Village. That was one of the best times of my life. Four months in New York over the summer, making a record was sheer bliss.

Tim: I learned during that period that the one group of people that major record companies treat worse than musicians is their own staff.

Hami: Ahh, the Summer of ‘88…Yeah, NYC was an inspiration for me too – I still love it even though it’s changed a lot. I was glad to get out of the UK at that time, after splitting up with a long time girlfriend.

When and why did Furniture spilt?

Jim: We just hit a wall and there was writing on it! Our audience wasn’t getting any bigger. The sound of music was moving on – Madchester, Acid House and all that. Maya, our keyboard player, had left, and we carried on as a four-piece, me, Tim, Hami and Sally, and we were quite excited by that. It was a raw, sparer sound, and we were writing interesting things. There was a song called My Enemy Turns Me On which was particularly out there. We headlined the second stage at Reading Festival in 1990, and that was a highlight for us, but other than that we could see the numbers turning up to our shows were diminishing, and I think we were all, secretly, becoming tired of it. We’d been together for ten years. Tim, Hami and I were nudging our thirties, and it seemed time to make a decision about adulthood. 

I didn’t realise at the time, but I’d grown to hate almost everything about being in a band, except writing and recording. It was making me ill. I kept developing all these weird allergies and rashes and ailments that completely cleared up when we decided to stop. Also, we were making the “third” album – fourth if you count When The Boom Was On, fifth if you count The Lovemongers – in the studio at our management office, which was free to use, and one day we turned up and the studio had gone. One of the partners had suddenly departed and taken the studio as his share of the business. It happened overnight and we felt that was the final straw. Something was telling us to knock it on the head! It was 1990. We compiled the best-of compilation, She Gets Out The Scrapbook and called it a day.

Hami: I can’t recall us ever actually splitting up….we just sort of faded out.

Tim: A strange aside; our last single, One Step Behind You was covered by the lead singer of Alphaville (Marian Gold) as a solo single, without our knowledge, consent and without, as far as I know, anyone receiving a penny in any sort of royalty for it. The only reason I know this is that Maya found it on Youtube five years after it was released. The guy also put…quite tastefully… some of the lines of the song into one of his own songs – now that I don’t mind, especially after the Wang Dang Doodle thing.

What did you do next?

Jim: Tim and Hami went on to Transglobal Underground. I tried to get into writing for other people for a while but I didn’t really know what I was doing and had some bad luck. Everyone I worked with lost their recording deals – not my fault, I hasten to add! Then I made a record in 1991 with my friend Chris Ingham, which came out under the name Because. It was called Mad, Scared Dumb and Gorgeous, and was an attempt at Blue Nile meets The Beach Boys, Steely Dan and late XTC. We got lots of interest and were fully prepared for that to take off, but then it just petered out. We didn’t have a manager or anyone who could keep the balloon in the air and we just let it go.

I also started writing reviews for Melody Maker, Time Out and The Guardian, just to pay my rent, and that turned into a new career. I became the reviews editor at Melody Maker, Sally joined me there and became an important contributor, and then in 1994 I became the founding features editor of MOJO. I did journalism full time for ten years until 2001 and then went back into songwriting, but I still contribute to MOJO. I started out writing dance music. Sally and I collaborated on The Weekend, a big dance banger with a DJ named Michael Grayin 2004, but then I started writing with all kinds of artists. I’ve written with Lana Del Rey, David Guetta, Lissie, Nothing But Thieves, Unloved. It’s a dream gig. 

Tim: Maya now works in broadcasting in Australia. Larry works in music technology in London.

I have a question for Tim and Hami. Transglobal Underground`s Temple Head was huge on the Balearic scene. Can you tell me, is one of the samples used lifted from Jingle Jungle by The Starlights – a J.P. Massiera production?

Tim: Almost certainly not, as there are so many versions of that chant, and Temple Head was done so long ago,  to be honest, we’d never be able to tell you where it came from.

Talking of Balearic though. In the days when Boy George was a Balearic DJ he used to play both Brilliant Mind and Temple Head without knowing they were partly by the same people. I’ve always liked that about him.

Do you still make music?

Jim: I hadn’t written anything for myself since Because, about twenty-seven years ago, until earlier this year. I think I might have started making my first solo record, by accident. It’s early days, but I’ve written some stuff that I’m very happy with. And now I just have to see if i can turn it into a great record. If I can’t, I won’t put it out. There’s no pressure. I’m nervous about singing again, but I fancy doing something that brings together all the stuff I’ve learned over the years. The first songs I wrote have lots of clues to my influences in them.

Tim: Outside, of course, Transglobal Underground, I have sung again from time to time. I founded an assemblage called The Blood Tub Orchestra… we destroy and re-assemble Music Hall songs. Ugly old British music for an even uglier modern Britain. We have an album called The Seven Curses of the Music Hall, which was released last year. I’m also sing with a bunch of West London early 80’s survivors called the Magic Sponge.

Which current artists do you like?

Jim: Recently, I’ve loved Childish Gambino’s Awaken My Love, The O`My’s Tomorrow, Khruangbin, Jungle’s second album, For Ever, was brilliant. Julia Jacklin’s Crushing and Aldous Harding’s Party. Bits of Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak and Kanye. I loved Radiohead’s Moon Shaped Pool. In Pop, I’ve really enjoyed the Billie Eilish singles. Lana is still great. I’m very lucky to have worked with Conor Mason of Nothing But Thieves who has one of this generation’s best voices.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Jim: Okay, randomly, the first albums at the front of my vinyl record box right now…Peter Green’s solo album End Of The Game. I adore his run of Fleetwood Mac singles from Need Your Love So Bad to Green Manalishi, but this is his instrumental jam album, made after he went weird and left the band. Fleetwood Mac’s Mystery To Me, a terrific album from the overlooked Bob Welch period. Eclection, a forgotten British Folk-Psych classic. Tennis Yours Conditionally, brilliant, waspish synth pop. The Best of Al Green, speaks for itself. Split by The Groundhogs. The Budos Band II, rousing instrumental band on Daptone. Canterbury Tales, a compilation of the best of Caravan. Matching Mole’s self-titled album. Mark-Almond – the band not the singer – their second album, the one with The City on it. Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill. Jorge Ben Ben. Osibisa Wcyoya. Paul Desmond’s Glad To Be Unhappy, and Stan Getz with Lauren Almeida.

Hami: It’s Getting Better by Mama Cass and Daydream Believer by The Monkees.

Tim: Wang Dang Doodle by Howlin’ Wolf. I’m not taking the piss. I have an iPod with nothing on it but my own work in progress and the Wolf. 

Furniture`s When The Boom Was On is in shops now, care of Emotional Rescue. A second E.P. On Broken Glass is due any minute now. 

When The Boom Was On

On Broken Glass

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