Modern English

Modern English

Bands are like families, bound by something deeper than friendship – and liable to implode just as irrevocably. Yet that familial bond can equally draw you back, and so it is that four-fifths of the original Modern English have recorded their first album together in 30 years. Funded by PledgeMusic and released via Kartel Music Group, Take Me To The Trees not only reconnect the band to their roots, in the fervent and fecund world of late 1970s/early 1980s post-punk Britain, but they have co-produced it with Martyn Young of Colourbox and M/A/R/R/S fame, whose last production job was 1986. Moreover, the albums beautiful cover is by venerated art director Vaughan Oliver, whose very first sleeve design was Modern Englishs Gathering Dust single in 1980. Original members Robbie Grey (vocals), Mick Conroy (bass), Gary McDowell (guitar) and Steven Walker (keyboards) first reunited in 2010, to tour the US, UK and Paris, before accepting an invitation to re-record I Melt With You for Mark Pellingtons film of the same name. The bands most famous track was a US Top 50 single in 1984 after being featured in the rom-com film smash Valley Girl following Sire licensing its parent album After The Snow from their UK label 4AD. It all went haywire from there, in a Beatles and Stones way, with all the trappings that went with it, Grey recalls. Given Modern Englishs roots were post-punk icons Wire and Joy Division –dark and austere while still melodic and passionate – it was strange to be treated like the new Duran Duran, and the band split after the third album, Ricochet Days (1986). 4AD was a family-run label, where we felt taken care of, Grey recalls (he, McDowell and Conroy were part of the first version of 4ADs so-called house band This Mortal Coil, born in 1983 with covers of Modern English songs 16 Days and Gathering Dust), and then we entered the shark-infested waters of the mainstream, but business wasnt why we got into music in the first place. It wasnt enjoyable, or creative, but stifling.

Which explains the sense of unfinished business to Take Me To The Trees, a return to the sound and vision of Modern Englishs debut single Drowning Man (on their own Limp label) and, after becoming just the second band (after Bauhaus) to sign to 4AD, the singles Swans On Glass and Gathering Dust and the debut album Mesh And Lace (1981), of which James Murphy of LCD Soundystem says, That record is a sneaky secret that everyone writes off, because they just think it's going to be a Melt With You' but it sounds way scarier than any Joy Division record." Scary, though, was no longer on the agenda, not when Grey and Conroy reformed Modern English for 1990s Pillow Talk album, or when Grey fronted a new version for 1996s Everything’s Bad and 2010s Soundtrack. But when Conroy moved from London to Suffolk in 2008, which turned out to be 20 minutes from where Grey lived (when he wasnt spending time at his home on the island of Koh Mak in Thailand), the pair met up and realised what theyd been missing: the original band. McDowell had also been living in Thailand, though in Pattaya:party central!says Grey. He loves riding his motorbike around. While my thing is beaches and the weather. They hadnt seen each other in over 20 years; no one had seen Walker either, until they all started rehearsing for the 2010 tour. It was like the intervening years hadnt happened, says Conroy. And the old songs still sounded as good.After the tour, they started swopping new ideas, some from jamming in a room, like we used to do, says Grey. We looked at each other, just laughing. It was amazing.Grey vouches for McDowells guitar style: Nobody else I know plays like Gary, maybe John McGeoch [Magazine, the Banshees] is closest, all abstract and interesting. Its been hard writing Modern English songs without someone like him. Conroy is equally complimentary about Walker, whod been working in record retail rather than making music: Stephen was the non-musician, the Eno of the band, thinking outside the box. Sometimes hell do something that none of us would have dreamt of.The final part of the jigsaw was Martyn Young, who Conroy had known since school, while Modern English and Colourbox were peers at 4AD, and had stayed in touch. Martyn saw us live a few years ago, and said that one new

song especially affected him, Conroy recalls. We said we were recording new material, but it wasnt happening as wed hoped, and he said, sounds like you need a producer...Hed always said no to us before! Martyn brings an amazing set of ears, and an incredible knowledge of computers and sound. He also understands what were doing, and didnt try and change us. And who else was going to design the cover but Vaughan? We were so relieved when he also said yes!The bands fired-up vitality is palpable in the albums pulsating opener Youre Corrupt, laced with Greys rant against corporate greed, and the throwaway nature of modern culture. Its a time when even the truth is watered down.Sweet Revenge and Flood Of Light equally have the edgy style Grey reckons, of their Mesh And Lace era, and lyrically cut up, and strange. Some lyrics, like Dont Seem Right, were written in Suffolk, so theyre gloomier,while others were penned in Thailand, like Moonbeam, under starry skies and a full moon. The album title Take Me To The Trees (a line from the song Trees) was also inspired by nature: it seemed like a sister title to [1982 album] After The Snow, and to us getting lost along the way.The band have also found room for a new, spectral mood in the ballads It Dont Seem Right (a love song of people forced apart) and Come Out Of Your Hole (which started as a sexual image before evolving into something else altogether). As the album finally took shape, the band toured America again in the summer of 2016, playing Mesh And Lace in its entirety, as the album was reissued by the US indie Drastic Plastic. Its been brilliant, says Grey. The audiences were, in the main, young. Im out of the loop in the modern world, but the music we used to make is fashionable again. Well play the new album next time, and were writing new songs.The family that is Modern English look like sticking together a while longer. Martin Aston Author of Facing the Other Way: The Story Of 4AD

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