Foundations: Black Submarine

Nick McCabe and bandmates on their most influential LPs...
Black Submarine

Got a subtle sense of déjà vu? Could it be because at least two members of Black Submarine enjoyed a rather successful spell in the mainstream in the 1990s, as members of The Verve? Could be, could be.

While quite clearly a new project, with its debut LP ‘New Shores’ released on March 10th and a debut single, ‘Here So Rain’, released the week before, the faces of Simon Jones and Nick McCabe will be recognisable to a legion of indie fans of a certain vintage. Both were founder members of the Richard Ashcroft-fronted act, who won two Brit awards and achieved a global hit with 1997’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’.

The pair is joined in Black Submarine by former Portishead man Michele ‘Mig’ Schillace on drums, multi-instrumentalist Davide Rossi and London-based vocalist Amelia Tucker. Ahead of ‘New Shores’, Clash asked the band for its musical Foundations – and got a pick from each of the five members.

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Black Submarine, ‘Here So Rain’

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Nick McCabe chooses: New Order – ‘Low-Life’ (1985)

“One lunchtime at school, I’m round at a friend’s house playing on his Dragon 32 computer and his mum puts on ‘Low-Life’ by New Order. At this point I'm already obsessive about music – I’m a devotee of PiL, Joy Division's ‘Closer’, the Clockwork Orange OST and Holst’s The Planets Suite, but I’m also a (pretty substandard) B-boy spending all my pocket money on Street Sounds Electro compilations and Sergio Tacchini knockoffs. I already admired New Order at this time, but this is where I became obsessive.

“It's hard to describe how insidious genre fascism was in the ‘80s, but this for me is the point where I realised that anything is fair game. ‘Low-Life’ combines the icy imaginary landscapes of electronics with honest and visceral expression. It also still speaks to my sensibilities as a Northerner in search of “something more”. Epic, bleakly beautiful, but simultaneously sardonic and mocking, I instantly knew the "accent" even if it was more metropolitan than my small-town dialect, and I think it's a lesson in how to communicate "big themes" without the usual accompanying induction of nausea. The acid makes it all the more personal. 

“Also, Bernard Sumner doesn’t get enough credit as a vocalist, but for me the reduction of styling to just melody and isolated moments of inflection and some genuinely and incongruously funny lines was a real revelation in a world of overly stylised bullshit.

“‘Low-Life’ is, retrospectively for me, a chemically poignant foreshadow of my life and one of several epiphanic moments pointing the way to my own fantasy of music.”

‘The Perfect Kiss’

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Simon Jones chooses: The Cure – ‘Disintegration’ (1989)

“I have to thank my first girlfriend for ‘making’ me listen to The Cure – she was a dedicated fan and was pretty obsessed with Robert smith. I kinda just wrote them off as a ‘goth’ band, me being more of a Smiths fan at the time.

“Anyway, after forced, endless plays of their back catalogue, it began to sink in, and then in 1989 ‘Disintegration’ was released. The first thing that struck me was the long intense introductions to a lot of the tracks – having been brought up taping the top 40 on a Sunday off the radio, this stood out as being on a whole new level of sophistication.

“I suppose ‘Lovesong’ would be the immediate attention grabber, as it’s probably the most pop tune on the record, and it was also to become ‘our song’, which happens in those teen relationships (cringe!).  I remember the album getting a pretty negative review in the NME, I think it was, but the points of criticism were the things I liked about the record – the long, self-indulgent intros and instrumental sections, and the ‘break-up’ lyrics.

“I mean, I loved all these things – especially the lyrics, as they became more poignant during our subsequent break-up, when I’d play it endlessly. It became ‘our’ break-up record, one of those sentimental records that you’d play and feel sorry for yourself – one to wallow in teenage angst with, ha, ha! Songs like ‘Pictures Of You’ and the title track, and of course ‘Lovesong’ – oh the pain of being a teenager! But isn’t this what great music is about?

“Anyway, today it’s still a firm favourite that I listen too regularly, though I’d have to say ‘Lullaby’ is my absolute favourite track now. I always loved the twisted feel of the track and the ‘nightmare’ lyrics, but being a musician I saw it in a different light, than as a teenager. The amazing bassline, rhythm section, the pizzicato string hook, everything perfect, a true work of a band on top of their game and definitely influential.

“It’s strange knowing that their label, Fiction, thought the album would be commercial suicide, when in fact it became the band’s commercial peak. It’s fantastic that a record like this could succeed and reach such great highs; it certainly struck a deep chord with me. Genius!”

The Cure, ‘Lullaby’

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Davide Rossi chooses: Madness – ‘One Step Beyond…’ (1979)

“When I was just but a child, growing up in the suburbs of a very industrial Turin and in the back of my mom’s knitting shop, my only access to music was a shitty black and white telly, an old-school radio and a very old record player.

“My mother didn't come from a musical background at all, but she had a couple of records... I remember John Lennon’s single ‘Imagine’, ‘Sugar Baby Love’ by The Rubettes, and very little else.

“She bought me a two-octaves Bontempi organ when I was about four, because I was playing pretty much everything else in the house. She thought that that would avoid pans and pots being smashed, glasses being broken… And she was right: after getting it, I would watch telly or listen to the radio and pick up any melody or song and try to replicate them on my ‘flashy’ little keyboard.

“When I was about nine years old, I remember a few programs showing videos from strange English bands, and the most strange and astounding were the ones from this band called Madness. I was totally into their music, and watching Monsieur Barso playing madly on those keyboards made me decide I would become a keyboard player one day... you know, when I would be big!

“A few months later my mom was finally resigned to my seriousness about it, and she managed to introduce me to an organ teacher. I remember this lady, who told me, however, that I shouldn’t bother to study organ, because there were no jobs for organists in the music business at the time! She said that as a violinist I would do much better... and that’s how I picked up the violin and went to do an exam a few months later at the Conservatory Of Music in Turin. Successfully so, as I got accepted at the tender age of 10!

“Well, going back to Madness... I loved that album and I have to be thankful to Monsieur Barso and the rest of the band if now I’m here doing this job, I guess!”

Madness, ‘One Step Beyond’

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Mig Schillace chooses: Portishead – ‘Dummy’ (1994)

“The album that has been the most influential on my playing style is, without a doubt, ‘Dummy’ by Portishead. There have been many important musical influences before that point in my life, however, that it would seem wrong not to mention as well.

“The whole reason for me wanting to play drums was seeing Keith Moon’s destructive performance with The Who on TOTP. When I was seven-years-old, my grandfather built me a small drum kit for Christmas, and I ended up trashing it within an hour, thinking that’s how it was done.

“My family moved from Bristol to my dad’s home in Messina, Sicily when I was between the ages of four and six, and my grandparents would always play lots of Neopolitan music, like Roberto Murolo’s ‘Dicitencello Vuje’. I think the darker beauty of some of these records had a massive impact on the music I liked as I got older. In particular, Morrissey’s voice and dry wit in The Smiths’ ‘Hatful of Hollow’ always reminds me of Neapolitan folk vibes.

“I also went through a phase, early on, of listening to my mum’s ‘60s and Motown albums. Albums like ‘Axis: Bold As Love’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Revolver’ by The Beatles, and the ‘Motown Chartbusters Vol. 3’ compilation all still really stand out for me as being important. 

“I first met Geoff Barrow before Portishead were known by that name. I was asked to pop into a studio to record some drums. Even then, I could tell that there was something really special about Geoff – and he was just 16 at the time. We spent two days recording drum patterns, which is something I’d never done before. I really liked the whole process – without saying too much – of how Geoff went about creating drum patterns. 

“A couple of years later, ‘Dummy’ was released and I thought it was one of the most groundbreaking albums I’d ever heard. The mood of the album really appealed to me in a nostalgic sense, is it invoked some of the same feelings I had hearing music as a kid in Sicily, but it was how expansive and cinematic the record was that really blew me away.

“The impact of this album was cemented into my life soon after, when I was asked to stand in for Clive Deemer, Portishead’s long-time drummer, who’d had a scooter accident on holiday. I ended up playing Portishead’s first three live shows, MTV Live, a Radio 1 session and Jools Holland. ‘Dummy’ will always be important to me as it reminds me of a very significant time of my life.”

Portishead, ‘Glory Box’

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Amelia Tucker chooses: Kate Bush – ‘The Sensual World’ (1989)

“I first heard this album when I was five, it must have been before I started school – sitting on a slightly threadbare red carpet next to my dad’s record player, clutching the record’s inner liner and following the lyrics as the songs played.

“My mum would put music on while she did housework. I remember being very contented, and feeling like if I could keep track of which song was playing, I could find my way back to them. 

“When I moved out, and lost access to my parents’ treasure trove of vinyl, I bought Kate Bush albums on CD, one by one, as I could afford them. I bought other albums first for some reason: ‘The Red Shoes’ and ‘Hounds Of Love’, ‘The Kick Inside’ and ‘The Dreaming’. When I finally got hold of ‘The Sensual World’, I thought I knew it – I’d heard it so many times when I was small. But it was like listening for the first time, as this time I knew what the lyrics meant as well.

“As a little kid, metaphor, politics, religion were all lost on me, but as a teenager I feasted like it was brand new. Even now I keep seeing it from new angles. For example, ‘Deeper Understanding’ seems like it’s looking through a gap in time, at our present-day relationship with technology, but was written well before mobile phones, MMORPGs and so on.  

“I could write an essay about my enormous admiration for Kate Bush, but this album in particular stands out for me as an example of what to aim for in my own stuff. It’s exceptional as music, as poems, and as a whole work; I love it more with every time I hear it.”

Kate Bush, ‘The Sensual World’

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Black Submarine play London’s Wilton’s Music Hall tonight (February 6th) – click here for details. 

Find the band online here

Read further Foundations features on Clash here.

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