The essence of The Legendary Pink Dots, those hard to pin down, quasi-political day-glo anarchistic psychedelic punkeroos with more albums to their name than tour dates and more ex-members than an amputator’s refrigerator, can be distilled down to two main characters, vocalist and keyboard player Edward Ka-spel (sometimes a.k.a. Qa-Sepel} and keyboard maestro Phil Knight (a.k.a. The Silver Man). We spoke to them both at length in an attempt to find out more about this fascinating band who were once an integral part of the burgeoning English underground scene, fled in a shock wave of horror and apathy to Holland got themselves onto a Belgian record label and then toured the world triumphantly poking two fingers in the faces of the Establishment.
The Legendary Pink Dots got kissed into life at Stonehenge in 1980, or so the legend goes. Edward, Phil and April, the lost founder member. were crashed out in their tents one night when they were woken up by the sound of a mysterious band playing. The three of them walked down to a misty field where a band was playing complete with a full light show, and stood there alone gaping at the dreamscape in front of them. Quite how that led to the inception of the Legendary Pink Dots wasn’t made clear, but if you understood that alright you shouldn’t have too many problems with the rest of this article.
Edward: “We still don’t know what the name of the band was that we saw. When we got back to our squat, I bought myself a cheap synthesiser and we already had a drum machine and piano, so we decided to give it a go ourselves. We just jammed away, sometimes right through the night. Then a fourth member joined, Nick, on guitars, but it was still totally improvised right down to the lyrics.’
So here we have an embryonic Legendary Pink Dots, sometime in late 198O, jamming away in a well appointed squat in Ilford (I mean, how many squats have you come across with a piano in?). What was it though that helped them make the transition from just jamming to something more serious?
Edward again: ‘They were interesting times, there were a lot of bands making cassettes and then selling them the next day. I was interested in finding out about new music, especially the weird stuff: the first bands I’d been into were Faust and Can, for instance. To be honest, most of the cassettes I got were terrible, people banging dustbin lids and screaming. We thought that even what we were doing was better than that, so we considered doing cassettes ourselves and just exchanging them with other bands. We did our first one, ‘Only Dreaming’, which had a hand-made pop-up cover. and sent it to different bands and suddenly we were getting offers to release it. Dave Barker was doing his ‘Wonderful World Of Glass’ compilation and heard one of our cassettes which he liked and wanted a track to go on there, but it came at the same time as an offer from another label that wanted to sign us – Car Crash International. They disappeared without trace. Then InPhase signed us (and ripped us off badly) – the result being that we had a record label before we’d even started properly. We had only done a few live appearances at folk clubs and at a CND festival, our first real gig was in Cologne in 1983. We were terribly nervous, we’d never rehearsed for playing live and there we were – top of the bill in front of 400 people.’
The Pink Dots’ first album was ‘Brighter Now’ (TKOO1 LP & CD, 1982), based on recordings which were originally released as a cassette by the band. Douglas Peet (from Death In June/Current 93) was working for Rough Trade: he heard the tape and liked it, and was willing to pay the pressing costs on behalf of InPhase who were in a distinctly dodgy state at the time. 1000 copies were made, and enough interest was shown for InPhase to press a second album (‘Curse’, TK002 LP & CD, 1983) – the recordings for which were originally intended to be the band’s first album, had the cassette not been vinylised the year before.
The following year saw a further two albums released, ‘The Tower’ (TK003 LP & CD, 1984) and ‘Faces In The Fire’ (BIAS 1, LP & CD, 1984), the latter of which was the first release on the highly regarded Play It Again Sam label in Belgium.
Edward: ”The Tower’ was an interesting one, a political future-shock album – the Tories had just got back into power and I was screaming with outrage, wrote a whole album about the political trends in England. I put my heart and soul into that one, it got really acclaimed in Holland and France – but not in the country it was written for’. What prompted the move abroad? ‘I had a Dutch girlfriend, and I finally left England and went to Holland to live’.
An event which would have spelled the end for many a band, with their mentor moving away to live in another country. A further year was to pass before Phil and other members of the band were to emigrate, although violinist Patrick found it impossible and effectively retired.
Welcoming them with open arms, Dutch State Radio promoted an album by the band called ‘The Lovers’ (Torso 33007, 1985), and the following year the Pink Dots released ‘Asylum’ (BIAS 12, LP & CD, 1985) which is generally considered to be a milestone in the band’s career. The first album to be recorded with Edward living in Holland and the rest of the band in England however, was ‘Island Of Jewels’ (BIAS 41, LP & CD, 1986), which is a strange and sometimes difficult album to get into. Were they pleased with the results themselves?
Edward: ‘It was a strange album ‘Island of Jewels’. I find it very difficult to listen to it now. Any track taken in isolation doesn’t sound so bad, but put together as an album it sounds so schizophrenic. Some of our best and worst moments are on that album We got it together the following year, ‘Any Day Now’ is one of our best in many ways. We’d also begun doing tours across Europe by then.’
‘Any Day Now’ (BIAS 80, LP & CD, 1987) was their eighth album and their most successful, selling around 15,000 copies, mostly in Europe. Those European tours mentioned above took in Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia, and an American tour was lined up for immediately after which was cancelled as the band splintered into fragments once again. The remnants recorded a bleak and emotional album called ‘The Golden Age’ (BIAS 103, LP & CD, 1988) and some songs which were to become a mini-album called ‘Greetings 9’ (MASO 70009, 1988). A fair old mixture of record labels – but wouldn’t the Dots rather be on a major lab el, with all the distribution power that would bring?
Edward: ‘Basically, we just want to survive at what we do. If you love what you’re doing and can live on it, then that’s tremendous, we’re not millionaires, but we can live off it. We actually earn far less than we could get on the dole in Holland! But I’m not against big labels particularly, if you look at all the great records of the past they were all on big labels. It’s just that we don’t stand on any artistic interference whatsoever. Besides, we’re with a good label, Play It Again Sam. We’ve grown together over the years.’
Grown, true, although the band has been splitting at the seams. With so many different line-up changes, isn’t it inevitable that the sound will change? Who’s in the band at the moment anyway apart from Edward and Phil?
Edward: We’ve got a really good sitar/guitar player, Bob Pistoor (a.k.a. Father Pastorius). a real veteran who was playing psychedelic stuff in the early 7O’s. Joining the Pink Dots was like opening a Pandora’s box for him, it was exactly what he was looking for. The fourth member, Niels Van Hoornblower plays sax and flute and bass. There are no drums, we use loops or hand percussion on our new album.’
Phil: ‘We’ve only played with a drummer once or twice, and I guess it’s been our bad luck but we always seemed to hit upon bad ones. One stopped in the middle of a gig because he wanted to light a cigarette, told us to carry on without him. The other was a psychotic, he was supposed to be one of Holland’s top drummers but he couldn’t even keep time. It could have been because of the macrobiotic food he kept trying to cook in the back of the van… anyway, he didn’t last long either, maybe 3 weeks. Now we’re in a bit of a dilemma, because none of us like drum machines either, especially the new ones. The old ones that chug along and actually sound like a drum machine are alright. We still use a lot of the old technology, like ring modulators. We’ve always had two sides to us, we like good melodies – we write songs with good melodies – but we also like really weird sounds. That’s always been the essence of the Pink Dots, bringing those two opposites together. With the last album, Crushed Velvet Apocaly pse, we hit a new level where it almost becomes sound pictures.’
‘The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse (BIAS 149, LP & CD. 1990) is indeed a superb album, and was the one that for me instigated this article. The band have just released their new album ‘The Maria Dimension’ (BIAS 184. LP and CD) – see Steve Prescott’s review elsewhere – which closes with a corker of a track entitled ‘Evolution’ that certainly continues the trend described above. The CD version incidentally features an additional 5 tracks on a 3″ CD single with the first 3000 copies.
Let’s leave the last words to Edward and Phil:
‘There’s never been a master plan behind the Pink Dots – all our releases are part of one huge story, a spiralling tapestry without end.’
‘It’ll end only with Edward’s last breath . . .
The Legendary Pink Dots were interviewed by Nick in January 1991. This article was banged out by McMuff a month or so later … thanks go to all concerned.