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The Spaceman Reissue Program – Pure Phase

Pure Phase by Spiritualized is often overlooked by fans and critics. With contributions from band members and other musicians, this article aims to raise its standing.

Chapter 14. Feel Like Goin’ Home

Which brings us to the final number on a truly jaw-dropping album. While researching [this book] I must have listened to this song at least 50 times in the last week. Not one listen has diminished the aural experience in the slightest. If anything, my appreciation level has increased with each play. Today, as it was all the way back when released, it is an astonishing musical achievement.

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Stop reading. Now. Listen to this track and you will be transported. Who knows where? The listener can be taken wherever they please when listening to music? Better to ask, how will the listener be transported? As discussed elsewhere in this book, it is achieved by ‘phasing’.

Former Spiritualized guitarist Mark Refoy: “I vaguely seem to remember Jason talking about Steve Reich but at the time I was clueless about anything like that. It’s only since after my time in Spiritualized that I became very interested in such music, experimental electronica, etc. I now know that the Steve Reich concept of phasing, initially done with tape, is a repetitive musical phrase or loop playing with another identical loop and gradually shifting in and out of time as they play together thus creating a unique ‘phasing’ effect creating strange poly rhythms and harmonies. Compelling stuff, I love it.”

This chapter will explore a track that, at its core, combines two instruments – strings (for convenience counted as one instrument) and banjo – which are nearly obliterated by feedback, while framed within a blues trope. In lesser hands it could get messy. Pierce conjures up a sonic masterpiece.

Pierce forced the listeners to ask themselves: what is home?


Do you hear what I hear? A roar that sounds like a motorbike erupts in the distance and speeds closer and closer. Suddenly it flies past, then, as quick as a flash, it is away into the distance. The discordance bounces back and forth between the speakers. Is this a dark hint to Suicide’s Ghost Rider?

Then, a sweet tinkling sound is sprinkled into the mix. More sounds rush between the speakers. No longer the sounds of a two-wheeled beast, but what could be something like a whirly tube. A circular sound, spinning and twisting. Wilfully disorientating. Designed to create consternation in your brain. But not a mechanical noise, definitely electronic. Could almost serve as the soundtrack to the revelatory underwater scenes in James Cameron’s The Deep.

Refoy was able to provide a grown-up, professional explanation how the otherworldly sounds were conjured: ‘Jason spent ages getting those weird sounds at the beginning, if I remember right it was reverb feeding back on itself.’ So, not bits of plastic being spun around then.

Leon Hunt, session banjoist, was hugely impressed by this opening salvo: “I remember one of the songs I worked on had this really cool rasping/fizzing sound all over it, which turned out to be one of the reverb units feeding back on itself, never heard it done before (or since) very clever.”

Leon Hunt https://www.facebook.com/leonandjason

Pierce had enlisted a proper banjo player, but he had another ace up his sleeve.

Refoy: ‘Some time before we started recording Pure Phase I’d bought this great Bălănescu Quartet CD of them covering Kraftwerk songs, I loved it. I used to play it in the tour bus. Jason liked it too. I suggested to him that he should hire them to play on Spiritualized songs. Sometime later he said: ‘Guess who I’ve got in to play on our next album?’ I’d completely forgotten about The Bălănescu Quartet. I said, ‘I haven’t a clue, who?’ Jason, teasingly, ‘It was your idea.’ I still didn’t know. He then said, ‘The Bălănescu Quartet but they’re really difficult to get hold of.’ Fair play to him, it was a great idea to get hold of them and use them.”

Then as the musical tumult starts to ebb, slowly, gently, two notes played on the organ, or could be flute, rise up in the mix. Building, ascending until a twang of a bass cues in the unmitigated majesty of the interplay between the contemporary music ensemble The Bălănescu Quartet and Leon Hunt. The combination lasts 1 minute 13 seconds and is one of the most beautiful segments of music in rock. The quartet restates an eight-note refrain – it’s a thing of wonder. The banjo picking keeps a steady pace. The bass drum low down in the mix plays the same pattern from entry until the end of the song, a cymbal splash even less frequently.

Of the string melody, comprising violins, viola, and cello, Bălănescu said: “I am afraid I remember very little about the recording. Just that we had a lot of freedom in what we did and they probably did a lot with it later in the mix. Don’t remember a banjo being involved but I do remember Jason’s creative drive.”

Claire Connors was the arranger of the quartet during the sessions. I had visions of Jason fussing around trying to coax them to play exactly how he wanted. Seems that he wisely let them carry on with what they did best.

Alexander Bălănescu https://www.balanescu.com/

Bălănescu continued: “As to the banjo, I know very little about it. It’s unusual in the combination with a string quartet. I have worked quite a lot together with mandolin, oud, kora but not banjo.”

A common theme is that the memories of most everyone involved being very hazy. Can be forgiven though as all this happened a quarter of a century ago! Time, hey? And for some of the participants, the booze. And for others, weed. And weed and booze.

The banjoist’s memories are, hilariously, unclear. Hunt: “It’s a long time ago so my memories are fairly vague. My contributions were all overdubs so the only time I played live with a member of the band was when one of them would occasionally pick up an acoustic guitar to try to describe what sort of thing they were after. Might have been a chap called Jason??? It was at a studio in Bath called Moles. I spent several hours there hanging out, playing. Pretty sure I was the least stoned person in the room (which, at the time, was saying something) 😂. It was all very relaxed and informal. I’d never heard of the band so had very little idea what they might want me to play. From memory, it was a fun session. I must have a listen to it.”

After the initial quartet/banjo interplay, the reverb feedback returns, at the top of the mix, to pummel the listener just a little bit more (another minute). This track is an emotional rollercoaster. It’s brilliant.§ The listener is sucked into the commotion, pulled by the gentle interplay and the disorientating feedback.

Then a nanosecond’s silence. Another bass twang signals the end of the section. Then Refoy, guitar, and Jonny Mattock, percussion, crash in for the song’s coda.

It’s another remarkable twist in a song that is breathtaking in its audacity. After all, as Bălănescu hinted at above, since when does music consist of a duet between banjo and a string quartet? But here we have Pierce mashing up strings and banjo, all within a blues framework. More of which later.

Refoy: “As far as I can remember I only used the Vox Conqueror on one song, ‘Feel Like Goin’ Home’. It was Jason’s amp and it had this great distorted sound if you cranked it up. I don’t think I used any pedal effects. It might’ve been Jason’s suggestion that I use that particular amp, to see if I’d play any differently with an amp I’d never played before. Or maybe I asked to play it, sorry I can’t remember! At the time I used two amps, a Fender Twin and a Fender Super Reverb. I was playing along to the song, getting a feel for it. It was easy really, the two chords fit really well and I came up with the little refrain towards the end, which added a bit of melody; it almost has a yearning feel to it which fits the song title. I don’t recall who did the very high single guitar notes (it might be slide guitar), whether it was myself or Jason I don’t know.”

The banjoist’s work isn’t done for the day. Hunt plays descending chords and joins in on a traditional blues/country unit of guitar, drums, bass, and slide guitar; the song begins an extended fade out that marks the end of both the song and the tour de force lp. Sean Cook’s bass lines are unfussy with just a couple of licks to remind everyone that he’s no slouch either.

Sean Cook

Refoy: “I remember the guy playing banjo in ‘Feel Like Goin’ Home’, I think he was discovered via the local musicians’ union in Bath. He was very good, doing all those descending arpeggios under Jason’s instruction.”

Mattock: “I think the drums on the end of that track was something that we’ d been jamming the day before so we thought it went well with the first part of the song. I had a minimal set up in the studio – a lot of cymbal washes all over the album! – so that I could really be kind of focused and raw in my performances. We’d just come off quite a bit of touring with the back end of Lazer Guided Melodies and had fragments of ideas and songs that naturally we jammed in Bath Moles Studio. We could quite easily have made LGM part two but we wanted to experiment with sounds and being at Moles we had the time to lay down a lot of individual parts for tracks. I remember one late-night/drunk session|| where we thought we’d nailed a really good version of ‘These Blues’ but our engineer hadn’t pressed record! The version that ended up on the album was not as good in my opinion and I’m sure the rest of the band would agree with me too. (Laughs)

The downtempo feel of the coda allows Pierce to sign off lyrically. His voice is tremulous, but he is in perfect control. You are invited to make your own reading of Pierce’s desire or needs. He is an open book. He is not plaintive or beseeching or demanding.

And I, feel
Feel like, feel like
Feel like I’m goin’
Feel like I’m goin’ home

(He emphasises ‘feel’ at the start of the line while at the same time harmonising with the slide guitar.)

Take it down to my soul
Lay it back, feel so good
Summer sun turns me on
Lay me back, feels so good

Source: metrolyrics

Granted, the lyrics don’t seem very special set in black and white.
And… I had a long conversation with someone whose musical opinion I rate highly. This person, an incredibly gifted musician, whose favourite guitarist is Jeff Beck. He knows about this kinda music from Chuck Berry to The Strokes and has even been spotted dancing like a loon to techno in a club. This person gently insisted that Pierce couldn’t be considered in the top echelon of rock n rollers as his lyrics weren’t always great.

Despite him being a great friend of mine we have to disregard his opinion this time.

We are talking about feeling now. Pure emotion. I feel like I am going home. Jason isn’t equivocal on the matter. He is yearning for it. It isn’t physical.

It’s not the blues number written by Muddy Waters and covered by many other acts, including The Pretty Things.

Well, it getting'
Late on into the evenin' and I feel like, like blowin' my home
When I woke up this mornin' all I had, I had was gone
Late on into the evenin', child, I feel like, like blowin' my home
Well now, woke up this mornin', all I had was gone

And it’s not an MOR country-style song, such as the one made famous by Charlie Rich that has been interpreted by various artists, including The Notting Hillbillies and Christian music bands.

Lord I feel like going home
I tried and I failed and I'm tired and weary
Everything I ever done was wrong
And I feel like going home

It’s worth bearing in mind that Pierce, who has always used the words ‘Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ liberally in his songs, makes no mention of either in this song. Unlike the Charlie Rich version.

Pierce is being deliberately vague; playing his cards close to his chest. The song could simply be about going home after a holiday. Or after an extended stay in hospital. Alan Bumstead maintains that: ‘”Going home” has to be a metaphor for climbing back inside the womb and returning to some blissful state of pre-birth.’

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Footnotes

#The media tattle around the band’s keyboardist, Kate Radley, and The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft must have helped. (At that time, I remember Radley’s birthday being listed in the ‘Birthdays’ section of that esteemed organ The Sun!)

ΔTo gauge the opinion of people who know a fair bit about Spiritualized recordings, I created a poll in the Spacemen 3 Appreciation Society. I purposely left LAGWAFIS out. (For me, none of the Spiritualized albums after Let It Come Down can shine a light on the first two.) Judging by the result maybe I was backing the wrong horse from the start.

*Here, the chrysalis of this very website’s name can exclusively be revealed, the revelation that people have been anxiously been waiting for! “In interview with Kostelanetz, [La Monte] Young agrees that performing this activity in a concert situation makes clear that even a butterfly makes a sound.”2 NB To clarify, this website’s logo is an homage to the Playing with Fire artwork.

In fairness, Jason did agree to be interviewed by me. In 1991. I approached him as part of a journalism college project and he was more than happy to help. However, his reply was received well after the project deadline!

 Jonny remembers things differently: ‘Steve Reich I’m aware of and like a few of his compositions but as a band we were on our own planet really and hadn’t referenced him at all. Since then I have listened and enjoyed but we were definitely doing our own thing, probably influenced a lot by JJ Cale/Van Morrison/13th Floor Elevators/VU/Eno.’

Mark provided some background regarding his departure from Spiritualized: “When we were recording Pure Phase I was just as much a permanent band member as when we were recording LGM but by the time it came out I wasn’t in Spiritualized anymore. Hence on the album credits it looks like I’m a guest musician but I felt very involved in the making of it and was just as determined to do a good if not better job than LGM.”

Clearly the producer of Nicky Campbell’s afternoon show on Radio 1 was in agreement with this opinion. This section of music was used as the bed of some mawkish Simon Bates-style ‘Our Tune’ segment. Listeners were encouraged to write in with the tales of woe while this gorgeous piece of music played out in the background. During the summer, after finishing our degrees, the current author’s great mate Benj was driving vans up and down a sweltering South Coast. “There I was sweating like a pig and I thought ‘brilliant, Spiritualized on the radio’, only for Nicky bloody Campbell to talk all over it.'”

Bălănescu explained how he got to work with Spiritualized: “At that time bands who approached us for collaboration would be somehow pre-selected by the fact that they were aware of our work. That means they were interested in an area of music that had a lot in common with our work.”

§A thought crops up in my mind. Were each of the reverb feedback effects created uniquely each time in the track or were they recorded and reused throughout the track?

||Mattock continued: “Aside from the music, I have good memories of the times – we had a pub opposite the studio and we’d often bump into Van Morrison walking along the Bath streets, the studio was split over three floors – club at the bottom, massive live room in the middle and control room above, I’m surprised we got an album done at all!”


References

  1. Keith Potter. (2000) Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass. Cambridge University Press, New York. p. 91.
  2. Keith Potter. (2000) Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass. Cambridge University Press, New York. p. 50.

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