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Gladys 37

Gladys Winthorpe's Emporium Of Particularly Underacknowledged Fall Compositions

In this, the latest in a series of what I somewhat selfishly consider to be "unappreciated" Fall songs, I'll be looking at another wee tune from the mid-eighties (with a nod to the possibility that the group's Beggars Banquet albums are due to be re-released at some point this year).

Number 37: Stephen Song

Smith, M. E.: vox
Smith, B. E.: guitar, vox
Scanlon, C: guitar
Hanley, S: bass
Hanley, P: drums
Burns Babe, K K: drums(?), bass(?)
Friday, G: vox

If nothing else, "Stephen Song" is noteworthy for the fact that a lyric contained within it provided Brix with the name for her more pop-orientated side-project, the Adult Net. Tucked away in the middle of the second side of "The Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall", it provides a stable return to "proper" songs after the weird
and almost free-form "Bug Day" (which may or may not be the subject of a future column). It is one of three Fall songs - assumedly all recorded within the same period - which feature guest vocals courtesy of The Virgin Prunes' Gavin Friday [1].

The song is certainly one of the more melodic Fall tunes; coupled with a lively performance, the results are infectious. It is primarily made up of a single repeated section rather than a more conventional verse/chorus structure. The most immediate hook here is Doc Shanley's bright 9 note descending phrase which starts the song and reappears each time the main section is repeated. The rest of his bass riff in this main section is almost a single note with guitars - left and right - providing rhythmic accompaniment in a similar way. One oddity is the drum pattern, which is nothing like I've heard anywhere else - almost half on-beat and half off! I'm assuming it's Paul Hanley
playing this [2] but due to the slightly murky production, it's difficult to work out whether Karl plays a second drum-kit or bass [3] here.

There is also a contrasting "middle eight" section which appears a couple of times. The first starts at 1.12; the second, a much briefer rendition, is at 2.24. Both consist of a (central) soaring fuzz-toned guitar, a simple 4-note to- and fro-ing bassline and clattering left-and-right tom-toms (contituting the strongest evidence of a 2 drummer line-up) [4]. Main sections after the first middle eight continue the guitar, whilst Brix's tuneful backing vocals [5, 6, 7] are ushered in after the second. After a few more repeats of the main section after the second middle eight, the song collapses, spent, with just a few taps of the snare providing an innovative conclusion [8].

Initially MES and Gavin Friday trade their vocal lines with ease (after the first lines of the song are delivered in unison). After that, it gets a bit more free-form; there's two simultaneous narratives during the first middle eight and subsequently, Mr Friday takes a much lower profile - MES seems to prefer his multi-tracked vocals instead [9, 10].

There are some exquisitely crafted lyrics here. Particular favourite phrases include "Men coming between each other for the sake of a two-minute urge" and "Our hero deeply loved moonlit walks past privet and wide-leaved foliage". Seems lke MES did a lot of work on these. To me, it seems to describe a character who distances himself from some things that others do that he considers beneath him. "It has nothing to do with me," he repeats. He uses a (psychological?) 'net' as protection from the harmful influences around him. "And it was class," MES concludes.

Notes:

1. The others being "Copped It" and "Clear Off!"
2. Providing a splendidly exhilarating drum-roll at 1:37.
3. Evidence for Karl playing second bass: the seemingly doubled bass during the "hook" at 0:16.
4. Note how the "hook" appears at the end of the middle eight to incicate that the song is about to return to the main section (at 1.31and 2.31).
5. Is it me, or is the tune she sings rather reminiscent of something which would appear in an English folk song?
6. There might be an edit here (2.33) when the main section returns and Brix starts singing.
7. Micro-Listening [tm] students may have spotted a squeak of feedback from the fuzz guitar at 2.52.
8. This sounds vaguely military to me. It also links in with a similar snare pattern in the following song, "Craigness".
9. Mr Friday is still there - just - at 2.06 (saying something about "... to you").
10. MES is multi-tracked several times in places; for example, "No man's land ever had this" at 2.21.
 
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