The Blue Orchids - The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain)

The Blue Orchids
The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain)

Released 1981 on Rough Trade
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 10/03/2007ce

2003 reissue on LTM

1. Disney Boys
2. The Flood
3. Work
4. The House That Faded Out
5. Sun Connection
6. Dumb Magician
7. Tighten My Belt
8. A Year with No Head
9. Hanging Man
10. Bad Education
11. Wait
12. No Looking Back
13. Low Profile
14. Mad As the Mist and Snow
15. Agents of Change
16. Conscience
17. Release
18. Long Night Out
19. All Tomorrow's Parties

Watching the Fall-documentary on BBC4 last year discussion of the early years made you realise that The Fall weren't Mark E. Smith's group. It was not long before it became that way, it seemed a lost opportunity not to interview Martin Bramah who appeared to lose the band to Smith. You wonder if Bramah had stayed on board what kind of records would have been produced? 'The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain)' gives you some idea, expanding on the sound of the Bramah-Baines-featuring 'Live at the Witch Trials' it sounds like The Fall gone psychedelic...Maybe MES's shamanic qualaties had helped set free Bramah and Baines as they were ditched from the first few line-ups of the might Fall. As undoubtedly great as The Fall were during the Riley-years on Step Forward, Kamera and Rough Trade, for awhile Smith's former peers/employees produced equally great music. A complete contrast to the lo-fi sound of the Fall from Dragnet to Slates, The Blue Orchids were definite relatives of the Zoo-singles of The Teardrop Explodes and the better side of The Stranglers (...whether it's a good or bad thing, Inspiral Carpets would have been nowhere without them and Felt's best album 'Forever Breathes the Lonely Word' appears to be a relative).

Originally called The Blessed Orchids by John Cooper Clarke, they turned Blue and releases a few singles on Rough Trade and this album which topped the Indie Charts in 1982. The two singles that preceded the album Disney Boys b/w The Flood and Work b/w The House That Faded Out gave an indication of what was to come - a blend of the angular post Clear Spot/Television sound that The Fall and peers like Buzzcocks, Josef K, and Wire ran in the slipstream of and the psychedelic. The latter is probably not that far from the approach found in songs like 'Cloud 149' & 'Camera Camera' - an awareness of the 'Nuggets'-era, but delivered with the angular guitar rhythms of the post-punk era.

'Disney Boys' opens with a guitar-intro not unlike The Fall's 'Industrial Estate', before the band come in - penned by Baines it is seen as a relative of the 'Greatest Hit'-track 'A Year with No Head' and the time between The Fall and The Orchids which may included a lost year for Baines pitched somewhere between LSD and mental illness. 'The Flood' was an anthem for the group at the time, a mantra for what was to come - this single was produced by Mayo Thompson of Pere Ubu/Red Krayola-fame who was also working with The Fall at the time. It seems tapped into the past...

'Work' sets Baines Yamaha-keyboard against a deliberately robotic rhythm and sinister guitars, Bramah's vocals in the tradition of MES and Tom Verlaine - though I always thought that some of their stuff wasn't far away from Subway Sect's legendary 'Ambition'-single. 'The House That Faded Out' offers more robotic drums, though there is a hint of dub in there, the song veering off sideways...

Minor line-up changes occurred, seeing Durutti Column-member Toby Tolman join the band prior to the recording/release of 'The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain).' The album a cohesive statement made by a band using psychedelics as a means of advancement, taking a drug associated with the hippies that punk was supposed to have wiped out - the band also on a pagan-trip, initiated by a stolen copy of Robert Graves' 'The White Goddess.' The Blue Orchids seemed very 60s-80s then...

'Sun Connection' is the mid-paced opener which is effectively the title track, the "green money mountain" alluding to the subtitle of the album and tying in with their approach to the era. This was a year or so into Thatcher and in the time between long coats and New Pop, on one level it feels like a rejection of everything surrounding it. On the other hand, it's probably just a band and record on its own trip, which is why there aren't other records much like these. This philosophy is nailed in the refrain of the next track 'Dumb Magician' , that refrain "The only way out is UP!!" was memorably quoted by Mr Cope on the sleeve of his 'Autogeddon' album - maybe the idea was to elicit the revolution the hippies in the 1960s failed at putting into effect? It was also a critique of then label-mates Scritti Politti, who shifted from angular politically inspired post-punk to a variant of new pop (Green Gartside was similarly rejecting indie music, griping about Pere Ubu's early 80s singles, probably quite reasonable if you've heard 'Lonesome Cowboy Dave' at the end of the otherwise great 'Terminal Tower'-compilation). 'Dumb Magician' is probably how the Teardrops should have sounded, it feels like a song made by folk on amphetamines and LSD at the same time, the hippy-elements and allusion to psychedelia is important. The Blue Orchids part of a vague scene alongside The Soft Boys and The Teardrops that invoked the sixties-era - psychedelic music would become much more referenced in the years that followed with acts like Butthole Surfers, the Paisley Underground scene, Husker Du's cover of Eight Miles High, Psychic TV's Godstar, Happy Mondays work with Martin Hannett etc...The Blue Orchids were a part of a new wave of psychedelic music, though like their 60s hippy relatives things wouldn't lead to another plain of transcendence, but to hard drugs, various splits, bands that didn't quite take off, and then a brief return to The Fall from Bramah for the Extricate-album.

'The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain)' utterly stands up, and in some ways it was probably ahead of its time - people often cite The Fall when discussing Pavement (fair enough in the cases of 'Conduit for Sale!'/'New Face in Hell' and 'Two States'/'Guest Informant' as well as something as obvious as 'Hit the Plane Down'), but there was a much more emotional feeling, possibly related to melancholy in Malkmus and co's work. This is very much apparent in 'Bad Education', which has a guitar-sound and feel very much close to Pavement - the thing that they certainly didn't get from the Fall. Bramah admits the deficiences of "a bad education...think I've read too many books/seen too much TV..." We, the TV-babies. Bramah's non-singer vocals feel at their most emotional with Baines' brief vocal appearance and their keyboard sound - it's kind of sad and stoned. Another key track is 'A Year with No Head', written by Bramah, it not only nods to chemical explorers of yore, but maybe the generation founded in the UK in the late 80s/early 90s centred around forms of dance music (acid house, rave, techno) and their own explorations. Instrumental 'Tighten My Belt' (...a drug reference like the later 'Release'?) sounds like Television playing some Krautrock in a suitably tight/wired state...

Included with the CD reissue and also on the compilation 'A Darker Bloom' (1) is 1982's 'Agents of Change' e.p. ('Agents of Change/Conscience/Release/Long Night Out') which showcases a stronger, more forceful sound and is a great release in its own right. Baines' vocals are more apparent on the title track and the band seemed to be advancing on their debut. Odd that this would be their last release until 1985, and that release would only be a single...then nothing til a later incarnation of the Orchids in the early 90s (see the recent 'From Severe to Serene' and 'The Sleeper' releases). Heroin appeared to have been the catalyst, a drug that making an album under the influence of was probably hard - a shame as these songs from 80 to 82 are wild stuff and a loud "What if...?" occurs when listening to this material. The Martin Hannett-produced version of 'All Tomorrows Parties' featuring then Manchester/morphic resident Nico is a great oddity - a shame the parties involved couldn't come together creatively, imagine a collision of 'Desertshore' and 'The Greatest Hit.'

"The only way out is UP!!!"

The Blue Orchids 1980/1982:

Martin Bramah - Vocals;guitar
Una Baines - keyboards;vocals
Rick Goldstraw - guitar; bass guitar
Steve Toyne - bass
Joe Kin (I.F. Rogers) - drums
Toby Toman - drums
Mark Hellyer - bass
Nico - vocals on 'All Tomorrow's Parties' (bonus track)

1. much of 'The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain)' and the whole of the 'Agents of Change' e.p. is also found on the Cherry Red-compilation 'A Darker Bloom' (2002). This compilation includes sleevenotes from Marc' Lard' Riley, once the colleague of Bramah and Baines in The Fall...

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