Sunday, 6 April 2014

the passage

for all and none. It’s the title of an album from the passage. lower case is important. The first group I really obsessed over. They were relatively so obscure that I felt that they were mine and mine alone. Dick Witts was the man behind the group, a former percussionist with the Manchester Philharmonic Orchestra he worked with Tony Friel, later involved with Mark E. Smith and The Fall, to release two singles on an obscure label. I guess the first song I ever heard by the band would have been ‘Do the Bastinado’ and my Peel tape from them has him explaining that it was a torture being hit on the underpart of the feet. Next up was definitely ‘Shave Your Head’ with a brilliant bass synth line and the lyric, ‘take it out on your friends, shave your head’. I was hooked.

As was my thing at the time I wrote to the passage at the address given out and Dick replied. His writing was striking, neat, odd. He was very interesting too. We swapped a good eight or nine letters over a couple of years and the music they released continued to be experimental electronica with some great guitar chords over the top, superb drumming, and the lyrics of someone evidently very intelligent. I was completely in love with them, and always will be. Their four albums will always feature in my top 50, and certain songs will be with me forever. I never understood why they weren’t more popular, but then that seems to have been the case for a lot of bands I fell head over heels with. 

taboos - sleeve art
Bizarrely, around 2004 I was travelling back from Brighton on the train and this chap looked so like Dick I was awestruck. I didn’t what to do, whether to say anything or just let it go. We’d never met, he’d never remember me and yet, yet I must say something surely? He was writing for quite some time so I decided to get up and walk past, see if I could check out the hand writing. It was him, no doubt. So, how the hell was I was going to approach him? I was still trying to figure that out when he started gathering his possessions together, as if he was getting out at the next stop, Gatwick. No turning back. ‘Hi Dick, I used to write to write to you when you were in the passage, thank you so much for writing back and giving me so much pleasure with all your albums.’ He was so nice. So polite, telling me about a recent website set up by another fan Keith Nuttall. I’d sent Keith some info on a cassette I had in my collection. The discussion was short but wow, another hero I’d met. How brilliant was that?

The passage remain one of the more obscure bands I have liked and yet their music is as fresh and as relevant as any of it. Their commentary was profound, genius to an impressionable lad back in the day. I loved all of their songs. Quirky, experimental, brilliant. I love that their artwork was so consistent over all of their releases. I was annoyed that Cherry Red released a sort of ‘best of’ without informing the band. I wrote to Cherry Red to complain about that but never received a reply. One of the novels i am working am is titled after another passage song, and the chapter titles similarly so. That my tutor doesn’t think it’s appropriate is difficult for me, it means so much you see. I guess time will tell whether I stick with that plan or not. Whatever happens I will still love the passage, their ‘difficult’ music, their opinionated lyrics, the genius of Dick Witts.

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