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Special Intensities: the making of Spitting Out Miracles

  • Subject: Special Intensities: the making of Spitting Out Miracles
  • From: "Richard" <>
  • Date: Sun, 29 Feb 2004 17:08:29 +1100

 OK folks, here it is, Part Two!

As 1986 morphed into 87 the band started to write new material.

Cowardice and Caprice was first. This track I think was a real turning 
for the Blue Aeroplanes.  For my part I felt I was starting to be taken
seriously as a writer; I purposefully put a lot of thought into the chords
and movement between verse and chorus. The A6 last chord was a bit tongue 
cheek but it stayed. Everyone in the group found a space to do what they do
.. but well rather than for the sake of it. Nick and Dave's sliding 
Ruth's subtle underpinning bass, John Stapleton's apt bit of spoken word in
the break-down section, and the truly great words. Gerard had Costello's
King of America album .. and the other imagery suggests a romantic liaison.
Gerard told me once what the "recording angels" were but i cant remember -
something to do with the logo of an American record label? We demoed the
song at SAM in Bristol, nailing the tempo and feel. Later incarnations of
the group regularly voted Cowardice as their favourite track by the old 
up, and its still in the live set from time to time.

Julie was next, a Nick song also demoed at that SAM session, with John
Langley stepping up to the mic for backing vocals.  The "background vocals"
were sometimes a bit thin in the group .. maybe John should have done more.
You could make a case for him being the best singer to have passed through
the band .. check that high bit in King of the Soapbox!  But listening back
my efforts on Coats and Julie dont sound too bad really.

What do you Mean? was arranged at rehearsal at Impulse. Ruth's bassline had
us all struggling to keep up. Structurally it was one of those tracks that
Gerard directed so that the words would fit. Coats was Dave's follow up to
Lover and Confidente, with its odd chord changes, dark rock mood and great
improvised solo at the conclusion.

In the Mystery and Teaching English through Sex and Death were pieces that
Dave had on mandolin. Ruth and I helped with the arrangement of the former,
which we joked sounded like an enthusiastic Greek waiter. That's Dave
counting in on the latter.

My brother Bill was now living in Montpelier, Bristol and became a 
member of the band, playing violin, mandolin (on Gunning the Works from
Friendloverplane) and singing. Days of 49 was a one verse idea Bill and me
had been knocking around at home. Gerard added some more words to give the
whole thing a point and there it was.

I had supported CND, and Ruth had been to Greenham Common, to the US base
there. (Before joining the band Ruth and I had camped outside the Wills
Building at Bristol University in a makeshift nuclear bunker. It was a
friday and the Tory students walking back to Clifton from a night out 
at us. I held up my black beret, which had a white peace sign and dove on

Gerard usually avoids overtly political statements .. perhaps best left to
the Michael Moores of the world. But his politics are spot on,
"anti-conservative" he once summed up to me. Bill and I also had another
band in Bristol at this time, Big Folk. Strangely, for the one London gig 
played, a benefit on the bandstand at Hampstead Heath, we were joined by
Angelo. Bill later played in two other Bristol bands, pop group The
Montgomery Clifts and the bluegrass-tinged Angel Band. After years of
musical retirement he last month (Jan 04) played Days of 49 and Dimming of
the Day (ours, not the Richard Thompson song) at a folk night in Birmingham

Do the Dead Know What Time it is? and Continually Torn Apart (B side of 
Your Love) were fired-up jams at Impulse. By now everything we played had a
sparkle. The line up had been together long enough to know how to 
I purposefully stayed away from Season Ticket and Teaching English, what 
there guitar-wise was enough. John Langley's drumming was sublime, he was
really enjoying the new material. We chose to start both Ceiling Roses and
Days of 49 with drumming. On the sleeve of the vinyl edition his picture 
taken at Impulse. Gerard unearthed an idea I had auditioned for him two
years earlier and before you could say "Star and Garter" we had Ceiling
Roses. (A similar process must have occurred with Fragile from Life Model.
It was in the live set by 1989, but the first I knew of the band's 
to release it was when I bought the album. Not sure about the gospel 

On February 15th 1987 the band went to the BBC Maida Vale studios, to 
a session for Radio One, our first taste of the music "establishment". It
was interesting to see how fast the engineers worked .. Ted de Bono and 
Etchells tracked, overdubbed and mixed four songs in one afternoon. Gerard
chose Cowardice, What do You Mean, Coats and Shame, a Nick song which didnt
make the album and frankly sounded terrible on the session when it went out
on the Janice Long programme on March3rd. The four tracks were eventually
released in 1988 on the Strange Fruit label which specialised in Radio One

With our confidence a bit high from all this I had a long hard look at the
material and thought "we need one more track". I loved the Weather 
"Almost Prayed" and started a riff a bit like it, adding a REMish chorus 
a middle 8 key change (A to Aflat) which was inspired by a similar moment 
Peter Blegvad's The Naked Shakespeare. The band loved it, especially Ruth
and Nick; Gerard rushed to bless the new baby .. Spitting Out Miracles. Not
to be outdone, Nick weighed in with Bury Your Love Like Treasure, which
shares the same opening E shape as Action Painting. We were ready to 

Cold Storage in Acre Lane, Brixton was a step up from our previous 
experience. It was a purpose built studio run by people interested in 
not just making money. The previous client to us was coincidentally Peter
Blegvad, making I think King Strut. His producer Tim Hodgkinson was mixing
the album when we were in. he heard us working on In the Mystery and 
some clarinet (credited to More Armadillo Traces), one of the Aeroplanes'
more succesful use of woodwind.

I cant remember where anyone stayed, I just remember the vibe was summery,
and postive because the material was strong. Charlie Llewellyn, a friend of
Gerards from the Bop Art days, understood the band and went to great 
to capture warm sounds and performances. He insisted on "no click tracks" -
and that really allowed the performances to breathe. There are a couple of
moments where we could have used one perhaps - In the Mystery after
"Hollywood tonight" seems to go out of time, and Miracles takes a few
seconds to sink into tempo.

Charlie also suggested a few guests. He was friends with Michelle Shocked,
who turned up one day, giggled a lot and played mandolin on Teaching
English. He also knew Neti Vandraager who was an authentic bluegrass fiddle
player from the States, living in London. Her solos on Days of 49 blew us
away. Matthew Gale played organ in a band called Palace of Light. Mark
Espiner was a cellist from Bristol, who later went on to be a multimedia
writer for The Wire.

Bill Bell recorded his violin parts but was never really happy with the mix
of his vocal on Days of 49, finding it too nasal. I dont think anyone else
notices. I dont remember the melodeon going on Ceiling Roses. But surely 
star guest performance is by Nigel Eaton, hurdy gurdy on the title track.
Nigel was in a band called Blowzabella, who Ian Kearey knew from the
folk/roots circuit. What an inspired coupling - that music and that
instrument. These days Nigel is one of the world's best hurdy gurdy 
touring with people like Robert Plant. He hand makes them too.

When we recorded Do the Dead Know What Time it is? (all live, one take) I
remember thinking how Doors-y it was. I didnt know Kenneth Patchen ..maybe
Gerard is reading from him in the photo in the cd edition - taken at the
Tropic Club, Bristol. Season Ticket was also a one take, no overdubs 
Dave, Nick, Ruth and John creating a moody atmosphere. I love Gerard's 
on this one - is it about a Columbine-style tragedy? John Stapleton came up
with some inspired audio samples; after a smooth landing on side two, stop
talking and give her the gun, thats nothing to kid around about, my name's
Friday .. is it dolphins at the start of Ceiling Roses? Some kind of sonar
machinery at the beginning of Days of 49?

The album was mixed and Gerard announced that Miracles was now the title
track - that made two in a row for me. Looking back, what alternatives 
have been hanging around? Bibi dressed in see-through? Daily Checks on

I love the vinyl sleeve, a gatefold. Gerard had the idea of non-obvious
mugshots for the inside, also the lyrics are printed in full and are very
readable, a big lack in the cd edition which came out in 1990. But the cd
sounds better, quite a few of the tracks were remixed. The cover painting 
Ann Sheldon is perfect, it really sums up alot of the lyrical content
..there is a lot of stuff about relationships, longing, and the imperfect
ickiness of being in a couple. What indeed can we say about love in these
times? Has anything changed?

The first 1000 vinyl records had a 7" flexi disc with Ian Kearey's lovely
interpretation of Cowardice, and Rodney Allen making his debut for the
group -doing Days of 49, recorded in a small studio in Bristol Docks with
Chris Martin engineering (I think Rod and Gerard borrowed 10 minutes from a
Big Folk demo session to record it).

The reviews for Spitting out Miracles were terrific. In one of the national
papers, maybe the Independent, it was in the top 5 UK albums of the year.
Three of the tracks got a lot of airplay, and still do, judging from the
occasional small royalty cheque: Miracles, Cowardice and Bury Your Love. 
latter was issued as a 12" single (two of the B sides turned up on
Friendloverplane, but one, Vice King's Son written by Dave, did not and is
thus one of the least heard Blue Aeroplanes tracks).  One weekend we went 
Wojtec's place in Ealing and had a mad party for the cameras, the whole
thing was filmed and turned into the promo for Bury Your Love.

Not on the album (and rightly so, its annoyingly lush) is Veils of Colour,
which came out as a 12" in 1988 instead of the obvious second release of
Miracles. I recorded 20 acoustic guitar parts for it, all layered into one.
At last we got the trumpet in tune. That release had a limited edition
poster with it, a collage of Nick's with images from a huge student
demonstration in Paris, and the words to 3 songs handwritten by Gerard, the
first time Arriving and Built in a Day had been made public. That song also
also had a video made, a rather pretentious and slow effort by Bristol Uni
film students, set in the Moon Club and an old folks home (?) .. must be
somethign to do with the words. We continued to play live - a stormer at
Ashton Court and a sharing a tour with a band from Southampton called
Stiched Back Foot Airmen.

1988 was a year of transition for the group.  Ruth left and moved to 
We recorded another session for Radio One, this time for the Simon Mayo
programme, laying down Stripped, Breaking in my Heart, Veils of Colour (I
prefer it to the released version) and Angelo's tune 88 Out.  Its a good
session, still sounds alright, but has never been available.

Where to next? Rather than a bona fide 3rd album, Fire put out the
compilation Friendloverplane, collecting together B sides, out-takes and
alternative versions. I think now it is a work of art, including as it does
the Willie Nile and Bob Dylan songs we were doing in the live set, and just
the sheer diversity of the thing. Probably warrants a whole separate
chapter. And the inner sleeve photos . .at least two taken at Ashton Court
Festival. But at the time industry people were confused .. why had the band
stalled on the momentum they had built up?

Then Nick left. I think he just needed time out. He perhaps needed to form
his own band, as his songs were not getting the airing he wanted in the
Aeroplanes. Soon after, Dave left as well. The band was at a crossroads:
obscure art rock or chart-worrying famous? It was going the latter way, and
Dave wasnt going to fit.

It had been a brilliant three years. The line up that made Tolerance and
Spitting out Miracles was a bunch of very different individuals, brought
together by a svengali, who made friends, created some art and then
dispersed. It was an intelligent, pushy, emotional and good humoured time 
our lives. This list has given me a good excuse to remember it all.

Richard Bell
February 29th 2004

thanks Paul Vallis and Paul Vearncombe for encouragement and proof reading.

stay tuned for Part Three: Writing Swagger ...

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