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The Sexual Objects – Softly Softly With Marshmallow

When The Sexual Objects release their second album, Marshmallow, this
week, this long-awaited follow-up to their 2010 debut, Cucumber, will
be a singular experience bar none. Ever the conceptualists, the
Edinburgh sired quintet led by Davy Henderson, a key figure in the
Sound of Young Scotland ever since his first band, Fire Engines,
announced themselves to the world in 1980 with the breathless fury of
alt. muzak mini-album, Lubricate Your Living Room, will put out their
new opus in a uniquely bespoke fashion.

While an accompanying set of instrumentals magnificently christened
Cream Split Up and currently garnering airplay care of Marc Riley on
BBC 6Music will be heard on 10'' vinyl, Marshmallow will be let loose
into the world in an edition of, well, you choose. Because, while the
album is technically self-released on the SOBs own Eyelids in the Rain
micro-label in conjunction with the Creeping Bent Organisation, as was
their 2013 digital only single, Feels With Me, Henderson and co have
opted to put a solitary vinyl edition of Marshmallow up for auction on
eBay.

With the highest bidder also winning the rights to the recordings, they
will subsequently be able to release as many or as few copies of
Marshmallow as they like in whatever format they fancy. Or, if they
wanted to be exclusive to the point of selfishness, they could simply
hoard the tapes away in their metaphorical attic, with the split-screen
sunshine-laden avant-pop appropriations contained therein never to be
heard again except when the band play one of their glorious live shows.

“I had this idea when I was in Win,” says Henderson of a concept that's
been percolating since he fronted his glossy 1980s pop combo. “Wouldn't
it be great to release one copy of an album so it's  like a painting?
It becomes an object. I just thought it would be great to make an
artefact like that, but because you're signed to a major label that
freaks them out. Whereas now, everybody can have a record label, the
same way they can be in a band, so it's an experiment as well, to find
out and experience the mechanics of the whole process of putting out a
record.

“It's also about the fact that music's become so valueless. You can buy
two drinks and it'll cost you a tenner, then you can go to Fopp and buy
Vintage Violence by John Cale, one of the most beautiful, life-changing
records you'll ever hear, for three quid, and it will last you forever.
Music is the most disposable, disrespected thing. Its almost like
you're scum. Its cheaper than a sandwich,” Henderson drawls, “but not
as heavy.”

Henderson is perched on the corner of the stage of Edinburgh's Voodoo
Rooms club alongside SOBs drummer and long-term collaborator Iain
Holford. A few hours later both men will be onstage alongside their
fellow Objects, guitarists Simon Smeeton and Graham Wann,and bass
player and head honcho of Creeping Bent, Douglas MacIntyre, opening up
for Vic Godard & Subway Sect, who are performing one of their Northern
Soul-tinged 1979 Now shows.

Then, Henderson will appear hoodied-up in shades and a Cheshire Cat
grin and announce himself as Martin Scorsese before  filming the
audience as he gets them to chant a celebratory 'Marshmallow!' Just
now, however, the stage is empty, with the odd passing waitress
oblivious to the conspiracy unfolding beside them. It's a conspiracy,
it seems, which has been inspired in part by U2.

“I remember the Fire Engines playing with U2 in Valentino's in
Edinburgh,” Henderson says of a 1981 club show with the future
messiahs. “We were sound-checking, and Bono came in singing Ave Maria.
It's interesting the radius that developed from out of that little
pebble-drop, and the choices we made as a band and the choices they
made, so now they're an industrial corporation, who, by dropping
five-hundred million copies of their album onto iTunes automatically,
completely devalued their music to the level of it becoming spam.
That's not rock and roll. That's fascism. So we're actually doing
something that's more than polar opposite of what they're doing. It's
not just the opposite. It's like a black hole inversion.”

In this sense, Henderson is the ultimate parallel universe pop/art
star, whose back-pages have straddled several generations of post-punk
glamorama, and without whom Franz Ferdinand wouldn't have been able to
cut the well-observed moves that made them famous. Franz Ferdinand are
quite open about their musical debt to Fire Engines, and covered their
song, Get Up and Use Me, on a split single with with a briefly
reignited Engines, who played Franz's Jacqueline.

Henderson was sparked into musical  life after he and pretty much
anyone who went on to make the original Sound of Young Scotland
witnessed Vic Godard's Subway Sect and The Slits supporting The Clash
on the Edinburgh leg of the 1977 White Riot tour. Henderson's first
band, Dirty Reds, eventually morphed into one of the most exhilarating
bands around.

Even then Henderson dealt in concepts. 'Fire Engines or Boredom – You
Can't Have Both' declaimed the posters for a band who played
fifteen-minute sets and took part in revolutionary theatre shows.

Fire Engines had developed in Edinburgh alongside Scars and others
around Bob Last and Hilary Morrison's Fast Product label, which was led
by ideas and design as much as the music they were wrapped around.
While Alan Horne wanted the band for Postcard Records, Fire Engines
eventually released the primitive mood music of their only album,
Lubricate Your Living Room, for Last's post-Fast Pop:Aural operation.
As with Fast Product, a critical flirtation with consumerism and
packaging was essential to Pop:Aural's modus operandi.

Fire Engines too flirted with the mainstream on string-laden single,
Candyskin, a Peel session cover of Heaven 17's (We Don't Need This)
Fascist Groove Thang - before the Human League splinter group had
released their debut single – and their 12'' swan-song, Big Gold Dream.

This era is documented on the soon to be released The Sound of Young
Scotland, a pair of feature-length documentaries which mixes up
rarely-seen archive footage with new interviews with pretty much
everyone who shaped the times, including a magnificently be-shaded
Henderson.

Henderson attempted major label pop entryism with his next band, Win,
whose glossily produced first single, You've Got The Power,
soundtracked a 1980s TV lager ad, while two knowing albums never quite
crossed over. He got back to basics with The Nectarine No.9, producing
a plethora of low-slung three-guitar noir epics and lo-fi collages
across a slew of albums spread throughout a decade that crossed into a
new century.

It is the Nectarines final line-up that make up the core of The Sexual
Objects, who serve up a brighter, loucher and altogether sassier if
equally skewed take on post-punk-and-roll. Their single, Here Come The
Rubber Cops, first released in 2008, was produced by Boards of Canada,
while on Cucumber, Prince, T Rex and Todd Rungren were all in the mix,
as they have been, really, since Fire Engines days.

In the intervening four years since Cucumber, The SOBs forged an
ongoing relationship with Vic Godard, with whom they frequently play
(sometimes as The Sectual Objects). Henderson, meanwhile, appeared on
Primal Scream's 2013 album, More Light, playing on Invisible City and
Turn Each Other Inside Out while sharing studio space with Sun Ra's
Arkestra, whose Rocket No 9 Henderson covered with the Nectarines. (Sun
Ra, incidentally, used to release albums on his own El Saturn imprint
in editions of no more than seventy-five, which would be sold at shows
or by mail order or else distributed by hand).

Live, The Sexual Objects have been on fire, from covering Henderson's
own You've Got The Power to open their set playing a Glasgow show with
The Pop Group, to 'reconvening' The Nectarine No 9 to play their dark
1995 masterpiece, Saint Jack – originally released on the briefly
revived Postcard label -  in full, to numerous shows with Godard. With
the auction announced during this week's Marc Riley session and more
live shows pending, it is a happy accident that Marshmallow's last day
of sale will fall on January 25th, which is not only Burns Night, but
thirty-four years to the day since Fire Engines and U2 shared a stage.

“The Sexual Objects was only meant to be a temporary thing for two
years to do a bunch of singles that became Cucumber,” Henderson says.
“That was based on the idea of how classic sixties and seventies songs
could recycle each other so they were almost exactly the same, the
classic ones being The Kinks doing You Really Got Me and All Day and
All of the Night.

“Then around the time of Davy Graham dying, I started finding out about
detuning the guitar, and what you could do with that, and I also
started listening to Cream, who I'd always resisted for years, but it's
this really free and anarchic pop. So Marshmallow is a guitar album,
and it's a pop album, and there's that really American guitar playing,
like the Beach Boys meets Rock and Roll Animal or something.”

Henderson talks in abstracts about Marshmallow in terms of colour, and
likens it to the vivid light-scapes of American artist James Turrell.

“It's full of really saturated chords,” says Henderson, before
expressing a desire to perform the album at the centre of a room of
living colour. “The record tries to emulate artists who use really
saturated colours to create these unimagined landscapes. It's a form of
appropriation that tries to emulate colour sonically.”

This writer has been privileged to have had a hand-packaged Cdr of
Marshmallow in his possession ever since it was handed over in a Jiffy
bag by Henderson one afternoon in Edinburgh's Waverley Station as if it
was contraband in some equally home-made espionage thriller. The
cloak-and-dagger effect continued throughout numerous text message
exchanges.

'Now's the time to destroy yr. Compact Disc simulation of Marshmallow /
Kultcream...' Henderson wrote in the gloriously idiosyncratic style
that fuels his lyrics. '...for your own security please provide
photographic evidence of defunct CD...'

Henderson's Mission Impossible style missive was followed up with talk
of a 'technical Hitchcock' or else a teasing 'ssshh!' and signed
'William Franklin' in homage to the 1970s TV ads for Schweppes soft
drinks.

As implied, the agreement then was that, as there was to only be one
copy of Marshmallow in existence to be auctioned, this 'advance'
bootleg was to be destroyed once the genuine article was put on the
market. While hardly the K Foundation torching a million quid,
Henderson's instructions nevertheless smack of Gustav Metzger's notions
of auto-destructive art that went on to inspire Pete Townsend to smash
his guitars in a calculated fit of Mod abandon.

In an age of built-in obsolescence, both my inner consumer and my inner
collector are having trouble letting go of something so precious. At
time of writing, the Cdr is still in one piece, but that will have to
end soon.

Both the hand-crafted cardboard sleeve and the Cdr itself are covered
in stickers on which track-listings are typed with what looks like was
probably an old-school Remington or Olivetti, complete with Tippex-free
crossings out. Two more stickers on the sleeve have faint pencil
scrawls on them.

'Oh no!!' reads the first beneath the track-listing for side 1, “Life
in tatters cos of the flippin' Wu Tang Clan! What am I gonna do?'

The message continues on the other side, beneath the listings for side
2. '...someone help me, help me please!' it reads, then, just in case,
'Donny Osmond, Puppy Love 1972.'

The Wu Tangs reference was inspired by the veteran hip hop collective's
2014 release of compilation album, The Wu – One Night in Shaolin. Like
Marshmallow, The Wu's collection of unreleased material has not been
released commercially, but in a silver-and-nickel boxed edition of one.
The aim was to tour this as an objet d'art around galleries and
festivals before being sold off, reputedly for millions, to the highest
bidder.

In sound, at least, Marshmallow is equally priceless. Where Cucumber
was a loosely knitted-together singles collection, Marshmallow feels
richer, more fleshed out, and, as Henderson has hinted, wears its
influences on its sunshine-dappled sleeve. While Cream Split Up
features titles such as Robert Quine, Ron Asheton (which comes with a
video by original Jesus and Mary Chain bass player and long-term indie
auteur Douglas Hart) and Tel-Ray Collins (plus one named after BBC
Radio 2 newsreader Fenella Fudge), a key song on Marshmallow is
tellingly called Kevin Ayers.

With nine tracks split over two sides, the Marshmallow side features
five songs, which are followed by a quartet of instrumentals on the
Kultcream side. The opening Cincinnati Blooms sets the tone with an
opening guitar salvo that grooves its way through a pre-punk rifferama
married to 1970s synth swirls that eventually give way to lyrics that
reference Davy Graham.

The following Sometimes is equally knee-deep in knowingly 1970s Mick
Ronson style iconography that comes gift-wrapped with a warmth that
permeates throughout the record. If there was any justice and these
things mattered anymore, it would be a smash hit single. 'I Get My
Kicks/Nickin' Licks/From Your Town' is as telling as it gets, and is
the perfect cue for Kevin Ayers, a suitably kooky confection that
twists its way into a vocoder-led stratosphere.

The pace calms down for the title track, a piano and harmony led slow
dance through some strung-out Lou Reed style melancholy that gives way
to The Shadow of Jet Plane's opening mediaeval style acoustic guitar
refrain that name-checks doomed singer/songwriter Judee Sill before
taking flight.

In marked contrast, the Kultcream side features four instrumentals. The
first, Astrastube, is an exploratory set of guitar patterns that
reflects back on themselves, while Anglia Wagen is so darn wiggy it
could be sound-tracking a psychedelic science-fiction beach party. It
is the fifteen-minute sprawl of Squash, however, that forms Kultcream's
centrepiece.

As it swaggers into view, it inadvertently poaches the melody from Rod
Stewart's Hot Legs, only to take a woozy-assed detour more akin to the
Twin Peaks bar-band on an even more out-there trip. Finally, Pye Hill
no.1 (or Leaflet according to Henderson's home-made sleeve) is a brief
sketch composed by Holford in which a vintage keyboard sounds
transformed into a choir of angels trying to beam their way heavenwards.

It's the perfect outro to what is possibly the most complete-sounding
collection Henderson has made during his assorted musical adventures to
date, and it would be a crying shame if no-one else got to hear it.

Of course, the release of both Marshmallow and Cream Split Up already
look like something of a curse. Since they were recorded, former Cream
bass player Jack Bruce has passed away. More recently, Bono from U2 has
been in an accident which, he says, may prevent him from ever playing
the guitar again.

Would-be collectors should pay no heed to such superstitious
tittle-tattle, however. After all, if they do take a chance on
Marshmallow, they will own 100% reproduction rights to the record
forever. No review copies will be sent out.

“We don't know what the outcome of this will be,” Henderson admits.
“It's an experiment, and, like all experiments, it may fail, but that
doesn't matter.”

The Sexual Objects play Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, as part of
Independent Venue Week, on January 29th, supported by Snide Rhythms.
Marshmallow will be up for auction on eBay for ten days only from
January 15th-25th.
http://www.sneakypetes.co.uk/

The Quietus, January 2015.

ends


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