network news: the stolen moments
The Stolen Moments lived fast, "died" young, and left a good-looking back-catalogue. Spanning what seemed at the time to be the whole range of musical styles (although in retrospect we notice a lack of anything much resembling boy-band pop in their oeuvre) the Moments were, frankly, quite baffling. Their records veered from garage-punk to musique concrète, from ambient noise to industrial funk. Their performances could take any form, and almost any venue. It is rumoured that they once performed naked and covered in mud, on the back of a flat-bed lorry at the East of England Show near Peterborough. And all this within the space of two years, whilst the world was listening to the squeaky-clean sounds of Olivia Newton-John and Cabaret Voltaire. Name-checked by luminaries as diverse as Nurse With Wound and Jonathan Coleclough, Sonic Youth and Nocturnal Emissions, they remain a pivotal band in the British post-punk/Industrial scene. So why aren't they more famous? We tracked down original guitarist Dave Pearson, to ask him.
NETWORK NEWS: Thanks
for agreeing to talk to us, Dave. What star sign are you?
DAVE: No, no, not at all. I'm just surprised that it took so long.
NN: But you were pretty obscure even in your heyday, weren't you?
DAVE: I guess so, in conventional terms. But our following, if small, was fanatical. Many of those people have continued to write to me and ring me up ever since.
NN: What do they say when they ring you up?
DAVE: Oh you know. 'Were the band ever videoed in concert?' or 'Have you heard the new Pulp song? It's a dead rip-off of one of yours' (laughs). That sort of thing. One guy called me up from the States and sang the lyrics to 'Training Ground'. That was a bit scary. I had to pretend my tea was getting cold to get him off the line. The Moments may not have had much success at the time in terms of record sales, critical / popular acclaim or any other of those sort of benchmarks, but unlike Emily [the Moments' original drummer - she published her own account of the band three years ago -Ed.], I'm not surprised that there are still people out there interested in what we did. So I'll try and fill in some of the gaps. For instance, in Emily's discography she omits all the records we made before she joined. In fact, she includes a few I've never heard of! Maybe I wasn't paying attention… And most strangely of all, she seems to imply that the band had hardly begun before she joined. But in those six months we did some of our best gigs, and had some of our best laughs. We also fell out spectacularly more than a few times. I remember trying to hitch to a gig in Norwich because no-one else in the band would travel with me. It was my own fault I guess; I was in a sort-of 'biblical prophet' phase, and hadn't shaved or washed for two months. I never actually found the venue, a pub called the 'Cow and Pins'. I've always suspected that the rest of the band only pretended to have played a stormer that night, when in fact they'd just stayed at home.
NN: Let's go back to the beginning. How did the Moments first get together?
DAVE: Well, Dave and I were at sixth-form college in Ely. We met whilst we were both skiving A-level Archaeology. We loved the whole 'just get up and do it' ethos of the late-seventies new wave bands, so we decided to try to make something happen ourselves. The local music scene seemed to be suffocating under the dead-hand of Pink Floyd imitators like Littleport's 'Blue Cerebrum' and the lame Elvis impersonations of a still-young Robyn Hitchcock. We wanted more than that. Much, much more... Surely we didn't need to be able to play instruments? We didn't even need instruments! We spray-painted our band name on a wall of the local Technical College and waited. Then we changed our minds and sprayed another name. Then we met this guy called Jonathan Melton and a mutual friend suggested our best name yet: Jonathan Melton and the Mowbrays. This was it. We sprayed his name on several more walls. We started rumours that we'd seen this new band and that they were bloody ace (laughs). Eventually the inevitable happened and we were invited to play in the basement room of a pub. Can't remember what it was called. Unfortunately Jonathan Melton himself had never been interested in actually performing - he saw the whole thing as a kind of art prank. But we kept his name nonetheless. When we arrived at the pub that night we were relieved to see that there was another band playing, so we bought them a few drinks and they let us use their instruments. We had at least brought one instrument of our own - a simple homemade box with three oscillators inside. Plugged straight into a guitar amp it produced a mind-numbingly harsh constant screeching sound which we used for most of our set.
We played before much in the way of an audience had turned up, but we were overjoyed with our own performance. And then, flushed with this success, a series of small musical soirées was arranged in the wholly inappropriate setting of Huntingdon St. Mary's Church Hall. It was the hippest venue for miles around because Crass had just played there. Four nights were taken up with performances in front of a total of 24 friends and more or less bemused punters. We were dreadful. One gig was so bad we gave up after fifteen minutes and took the audience down to the pub for a drink instead. We asked around each night to see if there was anyone else in the audience called Dave, but we couldn't persuade either of the two we found to join us. But Bruce and Laura did. Bruce had a fairly unstable synthesizer he'd built at home from a kit, and when we rehearsed he would sing along to its tinny wails and warbles with the kind of ferocious concentration you see in small children playing with toy trucks and trains. Sadly he refused to ever play in front of an audience, but he let us tape him, and for a while we opened our set by placing a radio/cassette on stage and slowly joining in with one of his otherworldly dirges. He would stand in the audience, nodding seriously. Soon after this he started a small motorcycle dispatch company and stopped coming to rehearsals, and we stopped using the tapes. We never fully understood why Laura joined. She would come to rehearsals and voice her strong opinions about the music, but never actually joined in making it. We didn't mind - she was good company, and surprised us all by putting up the money for our first single. I think she'd borrowed most of it from her brother, who, fortunately, had never heard us. When the records came back from the plant the sound quality was terrible, but we couldn’t afford to redo them, and we would have had no idea how to market the things at that point anyway. We ended up slipping them into cornflake packets in Sainsbury’s, taping copies to the cover of the local paper, stuff like that. I haven't seen a copy in twenty years - I can't even tell you what it was called.
NN: I've never even heard of that one.
DAVE: No, well, maybe you're right about obscure! Anyway. After that, Laura suddenly left and Peter joined. Peter couldn't understand why we still used Jonathan Melton's name when he wasn't even in the band. Rather than face his continual confusion, we renamed ourselves the Melton Moments. Peter was a complete mental live wire and had invented his own private sign language with which he would signal on stage whilst singing. No-one else understood the signals but he became quite a draw, especially when he was trying to drum, sing and sign simultaneously. He would stand over our single snare drum waving the sticks all over the place, and very occasionally striking the drum. Dave and I would sometimes mimic him, resulting in a trio of wailing jerky scarecrows striking disjointed notes from our instruments. In fact this was the origin of our often-overlooked track 'Dusky Lobes'. (laughs)
Oh, who am I kidding? All our stuff is overlooked! Anyway. We actually had some proper instruments by this stage. Luckily for us, the post-punk euphoria was wearing thin and there were plenty of bargain instruments to be had from disillusioned wannabe Joe Strummers. Whole drum kits would turn up free if you had the transport to take them away. By careful arrangement with Bruce's crew of dispatch riders we managed to do one gig where the three of us had a drum kit each. Adam and the Antz were still fresh in people's memory back then so the audience was full of anticipation. But neither Dave nor I felt much like drumming that night so mostly we just let Peter rove from kit to kit as we played, and we left them all there in the pub afterwards (we had no return transport arranged, let alone anywhere to keep them).
Armed with all this great second-hand equipment Peter, Dave and I rehearsed and rehearsed, and slowly perfected reproducing the sounds of thousands of insects in a mating frenzy, until one night, quite out of the blue, Dave played a note on his bass. Bottom E probably. Suddenly, the whole world of tonality was laid before us. Soon we realised we had some actual songs. Or at least there were things we seemed to do similarly each time we played. We'd been taping the gigs and Dave had even listened to some of the tapes. He made a collage of all the bits he reckoned were best and we spent a long weekend playing along to the tape over and over again, until we had something like an actual set. We even gave names to some bits of it. Peter hated this development and left the band in disgust, but Dave and I felt there might be some benefit in learning to recreate some of the accidentally glorious moments that littered our performances.
We recorded a new demo tape (after losing the previous one in a chip shop - we only had one copy.) Dave had heard John Peel waxing lyrical one night about the vocals on an early Motorhead record, which he described as sounding like it had been recorded down a well. With an eye, characteristically, on the main chance, one side of our demo was recorded to sound like the music was being played at the bottom of a deep well through several layers of thick mud. The other side was recorded at the bottom of a well through several layers of thick mud, in an establishment in Norwich called 'The Basement Club'. An appropriate name given the band's then position in the musical pecking order. Then Laura reappeared. She'd paid her brother back, and had enough money left to book us a real studio.
So we went to Spaceward for a day, and recorded the 'Accent Grave' single. It sounds pretty fresh to my ears now, but at the time we still had to struggle to play our instruments, and it sounded the way it did mostly by accident. It's so fast mainly because we were too shy to play slowly. That was on a Monday. On Wednesday, Emily latched on to us at an otherwise quite forgettable gig, and bullied us into letting her play. Lord knows what she was up to. She even jacked in her course for it. But we liked her pink hair and her kind of insane sincerity. You could make the stupidest joke and she'd just look at you and say "Really? The chicken really did that?" And then, no other other bands had girl drummers at the time. It was a complete novelty. Those days in Kettering turned into a daze. We were supping vodka morning, noon and night. The bloke upstairs was dealing pigeons and brought in various lumps for us to sample. In theory, Dave was crashing on the spare bed. But there wasn't a spare bed. Just sleeping bags at the foot of the double bed which slept Emily and whoever she was with at the time. The bed jingled. It was full of broken glass. Dave split from his girlfriend and smashed the place up one night when he got back from the pub. It stunk of stale beer, overflowing ashtrays, armpits, farts and catsick. I had never seen such sleaze. Although we never admitted it to each other, I think we all realised that we were still shite. Worse than shite. Hideous.
But then, one night, I don't remember when, but I think it was at the Cyclops in Newmarket, somehow everything came together. The room was small, but our sound seemed huge, booming. For the first time ever, Emily didn't mess up the complex intro to 'Training Ground'. Three songs in we moved into 'Accent grave' and a bunch of local fifth-formers got up and started pogo-ing. Suddenly, the whole room was a moshing frenzy. We followed it with a Buzzcocks-influenced number we later dropped, and then, without ever having rehearsed it, we all segued together into a version of 'You keep me hanging on'. In the midst of the madness, I noticed that the fat bloke leaping around at the front was the bloke who was supposed to be on the door. Fuck knows how many people there were in that room that night. But the door money went missing. In fact, some people got backstage and pinched our van. But we didn't care. It had been such a great evening. We persuaded a few of the crowd to carry our gear (we'd amassed a fair amount by then) back to someones' house, where we set up again and started to write and play new material on the spot. We were fed and housed for several very productive days, until our wayward trumpet trios got too much for the residents.
But as Dave and I started to get more professional, it became more and more obvious that Emily wasn't going to cut it in this group. I had just about persuaded him of this fact when they embarked on their ill-starred 'affair', documented in harrowing detail in the song of the same name. From then on he was convinced her drumming was just fine. I attempted to highlight her time-keeping problems by speeding songs up to breakneck speed, or dropping them down to a mogadon plod. I kept this up night after night, but unfortunately she rose to the challenge and within a month even I had to admit she was now shit hot. And the songs took on a whole new feel played at extreme tempos. I loved it. Emily pulled all sorts of scams. She sold low quality speed to nearby squatters, until they got wise to her. Gradually she got off the drugs and became hyper-straight. She and Dave worked at a succession of temp agencies, and we dreamt of getting the band going so well that we didn't have to work any more. There were complaints from the neighbours as we practised with increasingly sophisticated electronics wired up to big bass speakers.
On stage we'd hit the deep bass until it made half the crowd nauseous. Dave had diarrhoea for three months because of it. Every day he used to write dozens of letters to anyone who might be even vaguely interested in the music. He had this belief in the necessity of an underground to bypass bourgeois entertainment systems which he said just administered aural valium. I wasn't convinced. Quite a few people started asking if they could join the band, so we would let prospective members sit in for a night, which added an element of unpredictability and tension that often made us play even better. One time we had two harmonica players pestering us, so we got them both to turn up on the same night, blindfolded them, gave them each headphones and played them a cassette of 'The feeding of the 5000' (several times) at horrendous volume. They played along to it as best they could while we ran through our usual set. I thought it was great, particularly the intervals between the songs, and the twenty five minutes at the end after we'd finished our set. Also, people started to offer to release our music, albeit always on tiny labels. Laura dealt with these offers, and it was thanks to her that Cherry Bomb Records existed (actually a string of tiny labels all persuaded by Laura to use the same name.) We all went round in something of a daze, with unprovoked outbursts of hysterical giggling a not uncommon occurrence.
NN: How about the Peel session. Do you remember that?
DAVE: (shrugs) What should I say? Don't really want to talk about it. That was our big chance of course, and we blew it. Or rather they blew it; Dave and Em. Silly cunts. It was never broadcast, of course.
NN: It's widely bootlegged though.
DAVE: Is it?
NN: The Moments toured once, didn't they? Early '82-ish?
DAVE: Yeah, yeah. Just before we did the album. Laura squatted a phone box for two days straight. She'd rung the operator telling her the phone had eaten her money; the operator put the first call through free, and somehow forgot to stop it, and so she thought she'd make the most of it. She called me at one point to bring her some chips! The she emerged two days later, having found us a string of gigs in random sequence, lasting about six weeks. I seem to remember playing Derby, Brighton, Carlisle, in that order... For three gigs we were third support to a dreadful soft metal band in half-full Odeons and Apollos; then suddenly we'd be on before the Poison Girls or the Primevals, or someone, at some anarcho-squat venue. At some point during the tour Dave and Emily decided that we were to become a kind of arty-Dada-ist outfit. Lyrics from sweet wrappers, songs with a single drum beat somewhere in them, bales of hay to feed the amps, that kind of stuff. We even started playing a live version of the second (blank) side of 'Splayed', introducing it as 'our best recorded moment'. I couldn't hack it, and sometimes I'd loosen all my guitar strings and strike heroic poses whilst attempting to play the now floppy instrument, but usually I'd just climb off the stage and leave them to it. No-one was asking to join the band any more. Not even Vi Subversa. After a while I began to feel really destructive towards the Stolen Moments, the whole concept. At one supposedly 'important' gig I plugged the screeching oscillator box back in and took my trousers off again. To my frustration Em and Dave thought this was great. We arrived at several gigs to find they hadn't heard of us, but we usually managed to get a chance to play. Once we had to settle for the pub next door, so we just zoomed around the town altering all the main band's posters. I'm still sure that the review of that gig in the Record Mirror was actually of us, but the reviewer hadn't noticed, or chose not to notice. I mean, have Hawkwind ever done a song called 'Red arrow', or done synchronised dance steps? I don't think so. But the tour fizzled out rather than actually ending. The last three or four gigs just weren't there. I mean, even the venues weren't there.
NN: What about the album? And is it true it's going to be re-released?
DAVE: Well, I hope it is! Half a dozen labels have said they're interested, it's just a case of waiting for one of them to actually put up the cash. [Ed: Unfortunately, this is a gross simplification of the situation. Emily has insisted that all three members agree on the terms of any re-release, and the other Dave has proved very hard to track down. Also, no-one seems very sure who has the master... let alone the multi-track tape which some of the labels insist on having so they can arrange some kind of tie-in 'remix' album...] Anyway. When we came to recording the album I was beginning to feel really isolated from the others. We started quick. We recorded five rough tracks in half an hour, and then they decided that we would 'be' different people for each of the next five songs. This involved dressing up in jump suits for 'Red arrow', strings of onions for a song about being down and out in Paris, you know, the lot. Total shit. I will admit, Dave had some ideas. I liked they way he used about 15 mandolin tracks with oodles of reverb on 'Do you love me?', then took off the mandolins and just left all the reverb and Em's vocal. She couldn't really sing, of course, but it doesn't matter there because she's just doing that husky whisper. But I never understood why they got a goose in for the background though. That just seemed silly. It ruined the track. And it shat on my amp as well. Three tracks, including the epic 'Heironymous Bosch', were recorded, mixed and released without anyone appearing to notice that one of Dave's bass strings was nastily flat. The review in 'Sounds' was closer than it thought when it said that the record sounded "almost as if everyone had been kitted out in diver's suits before they entered the studio". 'Come around me' suffered from a low frequency sympathetic resonance from the bass on certain parts. A problem that was never truly solved in spite of all attempts by Dave and the engineer to identify and dampen the vibration. The single version was pressed slightly off-centre too; the worst of them would hardly keep the needle on the record; the least-bad (or 'best') had an extra kind-of woozy wobble in the sound, entirely unrelated to the music. The finished album 'had its moments' as one of the other oh-so-clever reviews put it, but I really didn't care by then. Gigs had become a nightmare. I felt some kind of residual loyalty to Dave and still turned up to play, but most of the time it was as if we were playing in different bands. Occasionally Dave and I would end a gig by both slowly loosening our bass and guitar's strings until they dropped below audibility into a kind of subsonic flapping, but apart from a few moments like that, all the links seemed to have broken.
NN: So when did it all finally fall apart?
DAVE: The final straw came when I turned up for a gig (actually the main promotion launch for the album), and found the two of them billed as the support act, expecting me to play the main gig on my own. They billed themselves as 'TurnipheaD' and played the Moments' 'Hard/Soft', in flamenco style, followed by a medley of TV theme tunes during which Dave span around on the spot until he got so dizzy he fell over. If I'd been on stage with them I'd have laughed, but as it was I just glowered from the back of the hall and shouted half-serious death threats. They closed their set by setting fire to my best guitar. What could I do? It seemed a bit late to leave the band, since I now appeared to be the only member left. But I quit anyway. Fuck 'em.
NN: (laughs) Yeah, why not? Anything else?
DAVE: One missing strand in Emily's account of the Stolen Moments is her temporary defection to another band. We'd played with the Dug Outs a couple of times at the Sea Cadets in Cambridge, in front of small but raucous audiences, so we knew their drummer was better than ours. Dug, their bass player, fancied Emily something rotten and managed to engineer a drummer exchange between the two bands. We missed her razor sharp putdowns, but Tony, the new drummer, had two cymbals, so we didn't make too much fuss. When Emily spurned Dug's clumsy advances their rhythm section limped along for a while, and then they were both out on their respective ears. The Dug Outs briefly became the Phil Outs (a three-piece). Dug hung around at Dave's house for long enough to annoy Dave with his poor baking skills, and Tony's twin-cymbals were losing their novelty value, so we cut a deal: Emily returned, Tony and Dug left and the Phil Outs became the Dug Ins. Following? We never shared a bill with them again, but Tony sometimes stood in when Emily was working nights. He's credited as playing on a few of the 'Sell by Date' tracks, but I'm sure he'd moved to France by then. Another mystery: who was it who wrote the sleeve notes for the LP? It certainly wasn't me or Dave, and Emily wouldn't have credited another drummer with her own work. Would she?
NN: What about nowadays. Do you still make music?
DAVE: Not really. I listen to music, and play along, but I haven't recorded for years.
NN: What do you listen to?
DAVE: Oh, Laaz Rockit, things like that. Asymmetric time signatures. A bit of Hedningarna. Hildergard Westerkamp. Slayer, perhaps. I don't think much of the Nu-Metal scene though. There's a Feldman tribute band called the Dirty Windscreens who play at my local now and then, but they're getting a bit too slick for my tastes these days. I liked them more when they struggled through the scores - now they've memorised their set.
NN: Thanks very much. All the best.
The Stolen Moments Discography
Sleeve notes to "Give It Up"
Emily pulled at her boot. She watched as the lamp bit his dead flesh. It narrowed her nipples, feeling the Standards. Noticing his stare, she kicked off the skirt. Swann had a stick about two feet long with a pin or needle filed at the end of it. He once knocked me down and belaboured me with a thick stick over the head and face, cursing me in the most horrid way. Then suddenly Laura left and Peter couldn't understand. Laura went deep into the tunnel she'd built in the mystery of her being and dug out two handguns. Jonathan thrust his lamp deep into her thigh. Instinctively he threw out his legs for an ankle sweep but met nothing but air. Both were shuddering, the clock struck ten. We seek nothing less than this, the woman's world. We renamed ourselves. Paul hit the floor hard, coming all over her, spraying her tits and belly with globs of liquid. Laura sighed with circles. Arms up, he snaked his way along the floor on his back, limped across toward them and bent down on one knee. Emily giggled, as the throat felt for her cock. She mumbled in the amber glow, half buried in the soft rain. Kissed his hot flesh. A ripple found a wooden bench and Dave managed to slide his lips over her waist. He fought to hold back. Instead came a stomp to the stomach. Paul guided Molly into the waiting car, resting where it pleasured her. She kissed his pressure, her hand on Emily's skirt, his fingers on a quest for the sweet inside her, like a pit-bull raised in a crack-house. Fuck. Laura the skinhead ducked to the left and punished Paul's ribs with a hard upper cut. His skull bouncing against the wet tiles. It was very seldom that we missed a day without being beaten. As for the doctor, he committed suicide in his garage. Emily drank like nothing before. Her fingers poisoned the skirt, a class above her, the refugee on the corner grazed on a fairy tale. Two figures writhing sweatily on the floorboards. Completely face, the skin clenched his fists and came for him. He shot out a quick left jab. But the chapel climbed off Dave and removed the owl, then faster, her abdomen fused with his. He managed to slide his lips over a model of the mud-flats. Two glanced off his arm. He would would come slyly behind us, and run it into the thigh. Occasionally striking the drum. Otherwise, his face would have been driven to the other side. "I'll do you next if you don't fuck off!" the big skinhead croaked. "Turn around"-his own liquid skin. The moments' distraction was all Paul needed. He thrust both his legs up into the skinhead's groin, howling and clutching her hot flesh. "Here" demanded Buffy, her buttocks rubbed her belly, splattering blood across his jeans. Paul leapt up, one arm holding his ribs, yanking on to us at a gig, and bullied us into letting her play. She even jacked in her temples. But we liked her pink rough tongue. I was a long time before I came to myself again. I bear the marks, and suffer pain from it to this day, and always shall as long as I live. The bone was fractured. He led her by the hand across the lino floor and folded the pub into soft flesh and warm liquid. "Laura, me thumb", she gingerly mouthed, felt her wet erection. Down below her clit was tingling too, eager for its turn. The skinhead lunged forward with his shoulder, pushing Paul back against the stall. The younger members were less nervous. He drew his revolver and placed the tip of the cold muzzle to Bruce's arsehole. "Mmm, now. Now!" screamed Laura. Paul knew he had to end this fight soon itself immediately and go into hiding. Most of the Syndicate were in their late thirties. Emily had never found a class whose aims are contrary to their own. As the warm phlegm continued to pump into her, his companion's stockinged toes slid up the road, blood everywhere and she cut him up. She pulled off her long white gloves, deer jumping across his buttocks. Dave lashed his hips. Emily drank her class attack and came to us for our first single. We sold the entire pressing. She was ashamed of herself. Peter was trying to drum, sing and sign simultaneously. Dave had invented his own private language with which he would signal before the nazi's friends showed up to stomp him into a pulp. He extended his thumb and drove it fast and hard up into the harbour. Thames a long thin ovoid shape. He had never let his gaze drop. It sounds pretty fresh to my ears now, but at the time we still had to struggle to play. To save my head I raised my arm, which he then bent with all his might. My elbow was broken. He sighed with bliss as his hands rubbed the juices over her nipples, making them tingle. She scrambled up onto his thigh and collapsed gibbering onto the piss-covered floor. Paul grabbed a wad of paper towels and walked past Sweden. Dave puzzled, it was clearly nothing like before. He thought of sneaking out the back door, I'll just ram my fist into their throat. I don't want to be around when we get lumped. Some members argued that the Syndicate should dissolve on stage whilst singing. A trio of wailing jerky scarecrows striking disjointed notes from our relationship, hips in the streets below. He followed Spaceward for a day, and recorded the instruments, and it sounded the way it did. It's so fast mainly because of the skinhead's eye. He could feel his digit burrowing. The skins' right ear driving one knee up into the cartilage. Before 6.30am, Laura is wearing lipstick. Most of the fishing boats have gone out. That was on a Monday. On Wednesday, Emily read to them, her fingers raked his leg. Your books have poisoned the zodiac, rubbing his hardness against her. Wet labia squelched across the river. No-one else understood the signals.