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the Making of "Tolerance"
- Subject: the Making of "Tolerance"
- From: "Richard" <richard@li...net.au>
- Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2004 16:46:16 +1100
The Aeroplanes second album Tolerance is one of the least referenced and
heard of the bands work, coming well down the list of most fans favourite
'Planes albums. Released in 1986 on Fire Records, it is the sound of a band
finding its feet. For many years i did not listen to it at all .. wasnt the
sound of the record was too thin, a rush mix job? But nearly 20 years on
there are many likeable elements to the record, and like
Bagpipe Music by the Art Objects, is an important element to Gerard
Langley's body of work as a whole.
So I wrote this piece about the making of
the album, trying to account for what it contains and how it sounds. I
realise this is a subjective account but i have tried to remember
objectively and with a sense of humour, plus the disclaimer is that it was
long time ago!
Absentee Notes: the Making of "Tolerance"
Following the release of the Action Painting EP in 1985 Gerard recruited a
number of people to the band in order to make it a more viable live
prospect. First came Dave Chapman, a London friend of Nick Jacobs who
a variety of instruments including mandolin, harmonica and guitar, and who
had made an appearance on the Action Painting EP. It was
hoped he would fulfil the "utility" role held by Ian Kearey, who was unable
to commit full time to the Aeroplanes as his bass playing duties with the
Oyster Band were taking priority. In effect Dave stuck mainly to the
electric guitar, at least for live work, leading us quickly into the unique
position of being a band with three guitarists. On bass was Ruth Cochrane
and on rhythm guitar and piano myself, Richard Bell. Both Ruth and I had
been active on the Bristol music scene for a while. In addition to
songwriting i ran a mixed media club night at the Thekla in the docks, The
Intimate Club. DJ John Stapleton also started to play a more prominent
in the group, live with two decks, splicing in spoken word material from
diverse and often comic sources. But the whole question of who was in the
band was rather vague and no-one really knew. Was Angelo Bruschini a
He was certainly important, but too good a guitarist to remain exclusively
tied to the
Aeroplanes. Of course he went on to provide guitar sonic depth to Massive
The live set at that time consisted of the Bop Art material, plus Action
Painting, Warhol's 15, Le Petit Cadeau de Don Juan and Breaking in my
Heart, so the new "associates" collectively and individually began writing
for what was to be the second Blue Aeroplanes album.
Rehearsals and writing sessions took place in a basement room in City Road,
St Pauls, Bristol, under a cafe called The Impulse. There is a picture of
on the inner sleeve of the Bop Art cd, Gerard perched against the piano,
John's sticks flailing to the right, Wojtec looking on. Gerard taped
everything on a portable cassette walkman, all the jamming. He'd come back
to us with an isolated riff and say "repeat that bit 8 times"! He was very
much the director of the music, making the music fit the poems he had
prepared. Although he did not play an instrument he had a strong sense of
musical innovation or cliche, and steered us towards the former. Journal of
an Airman was structured like this. Other tracks were written individually,
most obviously with Nick and his own songs (Shame, When the Wave Comes,
Severn Beach and Rare Flowers from this era). Ups was an Angelo echo piece
which was one
feature of his writing - see "And Stones"! Also Who Built this Station in
the Midwest dates from here. Warhol's 15 was a Nick track that was already
part of the live set, Angelo's Richard Thompson-isms adding some depth.
Tolerance and 30 Love i wrote at home and bought to the band more in hope
than anything, but everyone liked the folky tuning of the later (its open D
major) and Tolerance was a short pop song that made a good contrast with
longer tracks like Control of Embassies. Soul I wrote with Ruth just before
the album got recorded though was not often played live. Wierd Heart was a
Nick/Dave collaboration reflecting their angular guitar influences and
dislike of too-regular time signatures (its working title was "the
Beefheart"), Lover and Confidente a Dave Chapman riff that started as a jam
at Impulse, Arriving similarly. As the material built up I contributed the
Blessing, Dave weighed in with The Couple in the next Room to which Gerard
added words by John Ashberry. Both of these ended up as B-sides on the
Tolerance 12" while the Arthur Lee-influenced Stripped, a personal
favourite, ended up on Friendloverplane and also one of the later Radio 1
sessions, for Simon Mayo in early '88.
So there were at least three writing forces at work at this point: my
folky/REM type pop songs, Dave/Nick's angular alt.rock not wishing anything
to be too polite, and Angelo's spacey echo pieces that no-one else could
play quite like him. Add to this Gerard's nonchalant, edgy spoken delivery
and use of poets like WH Auden and it made for a pretty eclectic mixture.
Fire Records extended their provisional deal to include recording time in
Bristol and London, in view to making a new Blue Aeroplanes record. The
label was run by Clive Solomon, with whom Gerard had incredible arguments,
but whose vision today seems pretty good - other bands on the roster
included Pulp and later Teenage Fanclub. Like all independent labels money
was thin on the ground, and after the minimal
recording budget there was very little left for promotion or tour support.
Gerard always argued, rightly, that more money should have been made for
making demos and remixing. How could recording time for 10 days or so
guarantee a quality product?
Looking back the economics and the way time was used was a bit crazy. As a
band we may well have spent more on Red Stripe than equipment. We spent
more time angsting over whether to buy a tour bus than fine tuning the song
structures. There were also issues of control. Gerard was in control. It
he who made the decisions on the set lists and
the overall direction of the band. I dont think the band understood
Gerard's vision to the full all of the time, and sometimes being told what
to do boiled over into resentment. Perhaps why so many
people have joined and left over the years is not because "everyone was a
student and had a tutorial on a wednesday" as was put on one of the
sleevenotes, but because it is hard playing second fiddle to someone else's
idea, especially when there is little obvious financial return.
Gerard hated the idea of being pigeonholed by the press into a "scene". The
whole "indie" scene that was happening was anathema to him. Apart from The
Fall there was no-one else really doing what he was trying, and actually
none of us listened to Mark Smith and co. Today in the US with artists like
Howe Gelb, Will Oldham and Iron and Wine the Aeroplanes might "fit" more.
When we were paired with Primal Scream for a gig at the Clarendon in
Hammersmith it felt
uncomfortable. When Felt rang up, however, for a double header at the same
venue, we were happier.
Most of the Tolerance album was recorded in London, although the sound of
the Bristol recordings made at SAM, above the old Moon Club (now Lakota)
the same period is a lot better. Alaska Studios in Waterloo was a dingy old
place that doubled as a rehearsal studio and there was a lot of coming and
going, not least by underground trains that caused the place to shake.
The band members stayed in different places. Gerard and John stayed with
Ealing. I stayed in a squat in Stoke Newington. The house was condemned as
it sloped from East to West and had rats running up from a flooded
Even more dismal was the power-less place round the corner occupied by one
Kurt Ralske, a quiet American guy who was to become Ultra Vivid Scene. Also
hanging around the area was a woman called Debbie, who turned out was in My
Bloody Valentine. Anyway, enough of the name dropping.
To what extent did that group of people share musical taste? Gerard once
described the band member's tastes as a series of overlapping
venn diagrams, ie with some common ground but mostly not. There was thus an
unspoken struggle for creative space within the group. Gerard was a
Dylanologist, also a fan of the diversity of the early 70's Island
and of course the Velvets. His whole place was an education, full of books
and records by and about maverick artists. I could hardly match that, and
kept quiet about rather liking The The .. But Nick Lowe was an artist we
liked. Also Richard Thompson, REM and Nick Drake, add to that Television,
Camper Van Beethoven and Arthur Lee and you have some idea of where we all
crossed. The two Johns (Langley and Stapleton) and Wojtec went for sixties
soul, anything with a degree of authenticity, which in most music in the
disappeared under the weight of synthesizers and studio effects.
Within all this there was the struggle with the label and the publisher,
their expectations of what the recordings might produce, and the bigger
picture of packaging this for the press and the industry at large. At times
the music industry felt like a big battle ground, and i sympathised with
Gerard trying to do something different and out of time that was going to
annoy alot of people. Bop Art did not generate big sales, the band were
something of a cult thing or an acquired taste, depending on how you saw
Elistist? Arty? Certainly plenty of people were never going to get it; a
consant knockback we got was that a band with "talking" instead of singing
could never be widely successful.
The producer of Tolerance was Jon Jo Key, who had played in the Art
I cant honestly remember him influencing things, it was definitely Gerard
the helm. But the engineer was influential, Iain O Higgins, who liked
mucking around with the studio effects. Rare Flowers on the album was (to
me) an experimental mix that ended up released. Wierd Heart went through
same process, though is more successful, with John Stapleton's inspired
word sources. Samplers were invented for people like him! Most of the
was done live, in one or two takes, with a few overdubs. It was all done
dusted in a few days, maybe 10? Now that i know how studios work, ie when
leave things out and when to listen to an EQ, i find it hard to listen to
some of the record. If ever there was a 2" tape that needed retrieving from
the Fire archives and remixed minus all the tinny EQ and excessive reverbs
on the voice and snare, Tolerance is it.
Because of the constraints we were under Gerard at one point just went with
it. Fire weren't paying for any more time, so we had to just work with what
we had. 30 Love was meant to be so lush, when Ian Kearey added autoharp i
walked round the block struck with the beauty of it. Shame about the final
mix! But some tracks are OK sonically. I remember Nick lining the vocal
booth with sheet
metal and cranking his Marshall stack up to 11 (!) for the feedback on
Cant remember if he had his pill box hat on at the time, but he certainly
played a left handed Telecaster. Journal of an Airman, despite the out of
tune trumpets, remains excellent, as does Tolerance itself, if a bit thin.
Ups has lyrics about the Dug Out in Park Street, an awesome dance/indie
place to hang out at that time. The night they opened the video bar we sat
up there watching things like Tears for Fears's Mad World. Angelo's echo
technique is very distinctive on Ups, a style which Gerard had encouraged
with tracks like Passengers of
Fortune on the Art Objects record, and which was to rise to one of the
'Planes all time tunes, And Stones. Another plus of the album is John
Langley's inventive drumming - inventive, busy, pushing, pulling and always
Lover and Confidente was the first single in mid 86. To our surprise Sounds
made it record of the week, though it didnt get much airplay. The cover has
me whispering into an ear belonging to a woman called Helen O'Neill. She
writes a food column for an Australian sunday paper - trivia fact fans! A
video was made by some students at Bristol Poly, shot live and at a party
St Andrews. Tolerance came out next as the second single, released as a 7"
and 12" with extra tracks, and things started to move. Janice Long on
Radio 1 championed the song, playing it about 30 times. Jed's (Wojtec's
impersonation on the chorus appealed, and the video, shot for about 500
in an autumnal London park and containing images of the legendary plastic
sheeting across the stage, captured a few TV commissioning editors'
imaginations. One week it was being screened on the Old Grey Whistle Test
BBC2, the next week the band went out live from the Glasgow studio, a last
minute replacement for The Smiths. We played Arriving. The cameras ignored
Ruth. Weren't women allowed in art\rock bands or something? Andy Kershaw
frowned with confusion at the whole thing, Stapleton's "blue .. blue .. "
squawking out of the speakers after the song had finished.
Finally the album came out, to rather mixed reviews. "Interesting but not
consistant" was the general vibe, which most people would still agree with.
The sleeve didnt help, a bad bit of advice there and a rare example of
Gerard letting his control standards slip, though the back cover of the
in full live throttle at the Trinity in Bristol is alright. Nick's photo of
his girlfriend on the Tolerance 12" is a more alluring image. Fire Records
licensed the album to Emergo, a european label with distribution through
much of the continent. That version of the artwork has a black margin and a
much larger picture. What was it from, a Hollywood movie? Also the euro
release had the legend "contains three extra tracks" along the top, but i
only counted two, Breaking and Midwest.
But all these things were kind of meant to happen, and were indicative of a
band in a formative stage, a band still finding out what it was good at.
me it was when Ann Sheldon's (the band's Paul Klee after all!) paintings
began to regularly grace the artwork that a coherance was established.
How many copies did Tolerance sell? I have
no idea, but probably not many. We also signed the publishing to Fire's
sister company Twist and Shout.
Gigs were where the band was strongest, and from which the reputation grew,
with the added attraction of dancer Wojtec and trademark Solidarity T
(until it got removed). We worked hard as a gigging band, playing all round
the UK. In Bristol our haunts were the Western Star, Tropic, Trinity,
Thekla, Glastonbury and
Ashton Court festivals. In London we played the Clarendon (with its
sound), and the other indie ghettos in the suberbs. But as soon as we
to a live agency things improved - great shows at Club Dog in Wood Green
(terrific promoter, Michael Dog), the George Robey in Stoke Newington, The
Marquee and the Limelight in the centre of town. A turning point was a
brilliant and packed gig at ULU supporting Its Immaterial. We did buy a
van, and employed Andi Woods to drive it and manage us on the road,
including the "no sleep 'till Tromso" tour of Norway in spring '87. Live
reviews in the music press got other promoters in Europe interested, and
short tours of Switzerland, Austria, and a one-off in Berlin followed. In
Austria the national radio taped one of our shows and broadcast
it the next afternoon, just as we were arriving in Vienna. Or did i dream
The vibe in and around the group was building, even if the chemistry wasnt
always right. Fractured and inspired amateurism just about sums it up,
although i would also say there was a lot of love ; we loved the music and
never got sick of playing the songs. The NME didnt like us, allowing us
one grudging feature. I guess we were not experimental enough, or not
commercial enough. But the Melody Maker did, at the same time they were
going for artists like Band of Holy Joy. All bands need journos as
supporters and outside the loyal writers at Out West\Venue there was Chris
Roberts at the Maker. He discovered The Sundays and Bjork, and was such a
fan of the Aeroplanes he ended up writing the sleevenotes to
So if Tolerance wasnt a great album, we suspected we had one in us. Through
1987 we tuned our guitars, really thought about the writing, did some
Spitting out Miracles was coming.
Richard Bell, Feb 2004