29 October 2012

The Belltower - Exploration Day EP

Label: Ultimate
Year of Release: 1991

In 1991, the term "shoegazing" was predominantly used by critics (originally as a rather derogatory term) to describe a sudden rash of British kids with cute fringes obsessed with both My Bloody Valentine and the numerous functions of their guitar effects pedals.  These days there are whole blogs and websites dedicated to this sub-genre - we'll argue about whether it can sensibly be called a genre another time, perhaps - and a lot of superlatives are thrown around about how wonderful it must have been to have been young at that time.  Well, I was, and I can tell you that whilst many of the records were indeed strong, live almost all of these bands were deeply dreary, and it was sometimes difficult to tell if you were watching one of the support acts or the headlining act, since they all looked rather similar and were often reluctant to introduce themselves or engage in any banter.  If this sounds like NME styled propaganda, I'm sorry - it really is the truth.  Or, at the very least, it's my truth.  You may have different needs from live gigs.

Whilst Britain tended to dominate the field at this point, a few acts from across the pond with similar ideas did emerge, perhaps most notably Drop Nineteens and this bunch, who enjoyed a lower profile.  Whilst Boston's Drop Nineteens shot music videos of themselves going for spins in huge American cars and had vague, grungey hints of the American underground in their sound, there was little to distinguish The Belltower from their British counterparts.  This, their debut EP produced by Terry Bickers, featured guitars melting in the era's favoured treacly effects, dreamy vocals (handled at times by their male lead singer Jody Porter, at others by Britta Phillips) and an intriguing welding of the punkier edge of indie and psychedelia.  It was critically lauded at the time, but in retrospect perhaps the band lacked enough of a firm identity of their own to really stand out amongst the pack, and they never really did push through to the levels of minor success that many of their kin managed.  Jody Porter eventually went on to perform with Fountains of Wayne, whereas Britta Phillips has since enjoyed a reasonably successful career as an actress.

The high point of this EP is the wintery "Solstice" with its blissful organ backdrop, the low point "Never Going Home" which almost (though not quite) nudges towards Celine Dion-esque puffing Celtic noises.  As for what they were like live, I don't know - they were a support act at a Chapterhouse gig I attended, but for some reason never showed.  And I did count all the acts on the bill as they emerged, so I'm sure I'm not mistaken to say that they were missing.

1. Outshine The Sun
2. Beatnixon Blues
3. Solstice
4. Never Going Home


wilberforce said...

although i was getting into my thirties by the time the "shoegazing" scene came around, i still bought all the music mags religiously so was well aware of the hype despite basically not having heard anything. so partly out of curiosity (and partly because they looked so cool) i made my way to the town & country club in kentish town (it might have been renamed the forum by then) to see chapterhouse on the second of two nights they were billed as playing there... however, when i arrived i discovered the gig had been cancelled, presumably due to lack of interest!

23 Daves said...

Honestly - if you missed Chapterhouse live circa 1991, you missed nothing. One of the dullest gigs I've ever been to, although of course, for all I know they may have improved immeasurably in the years that followed...

Anonymous said...

Absolutely love Belltower and this EP. What an underrated band they were! They should have been massive.