Tuesday 30 March 2010

ERSATZ: Smile in Shadow

Not jazz exactly, but . . .

Formed in 1977, ERSATZ was a notable Cambridge punk band whose contemporaries included The Soft Boys, The Waves, The Zeds and The Sinix. From 1979 to 1982 the final (and probably best) incarnation played regularly at The Midland Tavern off Mill Road, a haven for punks and rastas. Influences on the band were diverse - Kraftwerk/Krautrock, Brian Eno/Roxy Music, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Doors, John Coltrane, free jazz, Parliament/Funkadelic, The Pop Group and The Clash. The sound was dense and intense and we referred to it as The Ersatz Wall of Sound - somewhere between John Coltrane's later period and Phil Spector. I joined in 1979 and this 1980 single on the band's Leisure Sounds label catches something of the full-on, liberating, swirling quality of the live sound, which we achieved through throwing cymbals downstairs, layering feedback from guitar and bass and generally improvising in Cambridge's Spaceward Studios.

The single was pretty well received by the music press (Single of the Week in Sounds). John Peel played it on his UK and BBC World Service shows and took time to come to Cambridge to join us for tea at Hugh's flat. We felt like a gang for while and the music got tighter, funkier and spacier. Inevitably we drifted apart musically before shooting off in diverging directions.

At the time of the recording, brilliant tearaway drummer Harvey Bassett was 15. He went on to become a DJ legend at the Ministry of Sound as DJ Harvey and now lives in Hawaii and performs in LA, NYC, Miami etc. as Harvey's Sarcastic Disco. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Adrian Tierney Jones went on to become Assistant Production Editor of the NME and is now an acclaimed beer writer. Bass, synth and keyboard player Hugh Ashton emigrated to Japan where he works as a journalist and novelist. I played guitar, went on to work on an early "world music" project called Somewhere In The Office with the likes of guitarist Mark Graham, drummer Tony Shepherd, jazz saxophonist Kevin Flanagan and bass-playing satirist Chris Morris before leaving the country, thus avoiding much of the 1980s.

The Leisure Sounds label also released CDs and cassettes by the likes of The Dogma Cats and Boo Hewerdine (of The Bible).

Here are reasonable quality MP3s of the A and B sides.

A: Smile in Shadow

B: House of Cards


Unknown said...

Wow! How well I remember the days! I do have that recording and a few others of the time. I have emailed a copy of this to Harvey. All the best, Christine (H's mum)

Unknown said...

ps: I have just ticked the box for follow-up comments. H would love to hear from you - he is on facebook. C.

John Harris said...

Cheers Chrisine,

I'd love to hear from Harvey and will try to contact him via facebook. John

Anonymous said...

Hi John,
Ela forwarded me this story. Brilliant! And a great record too.

David Lewis said...

Hi nice blog. I still have that 45! How are you? Saw Tom recently and we wondered about you. David Lewis

John Harris said...

Hi David. Great to hear from you! We should catch up - drop me a note (blueboybrighton at gmail.com). And hang in to that 45 - it's increasing in value by the day (about £25 currently). John

Anonymous said...

I used to hang out with this band a little - I knew a pre-DJ Harvey drummer named Martyn Prince. I remeber when the band went up-market and purchased a Korg synth. Another band from that time was Sylvia's Dead, lead by a gangly and anaemic character named Julian. I saw both bands on occassion down at the Sea Cadet Hall alongside the gasworks on the Cam. Nick Papadimitriou

guy said...

Thanks for reminding me of the name sylvia's Dead, me(Martyn prince, Julian, chas maybe hugh ashton) supported ersatz poison girls and crass at one of the first gigs at sea cadet hall cambridge. also previous band with julian called saccarine drip. Harvey joined after i left and probably the best youndg drummer of the time appart from perhaps Andy borr from The Users.