The Comsat Angels, C.S. Angels, The Headhunters, Dream Command...  All this & more
Comsat Angels  - by Lynden Barber

A buffoon bedecked lounge in the Birmingham Holiday Inn, bright tropical shirts and Maclean's gleam.  

A piano, a drum-kit and a microphone, and men trying to be younger than their years. Radio 1 DJ's, somebody tells me.

Oh, the fun, the glitter, the high life.  

''I've been a cynic since I was eight years old! '' jokes Mik Glaisher, the Comsat's drummer with the peculiarly spelt name.

The Comsat Angels are looking particularly disgusted with the sight of Andy Peebles and Paul Burnett, oafing through the rock ‘n roll classics to the delighted grins of the Radio 1 Crew bathing in their aura. And they don't take too kindly to the invitation to take the rostrum for an informal rendition of Independence Day, their first single & one of the only true classic 45's of the year.  

Miserable, this Sheffield bunch, you might think. But no. ''Have you heard our Born To Be Wild?'' asks lanky keyboardsman Andy Peake.  

''No, '' interrupts Kevin Bacon, the bassist. "Love Will Tear Us Apart! ''  

You’re sounding more like The Damned, I tell them.  

"Oh, we do have fun, '' says guitarist and vocalist Steve Fellows. ''We’ve got mountains of tapes that no one will ever hear. We've got an alter ego, in fact. It's fun... music is capable of a whole range of things.''  

Once in Sheffield they performed a country and Western version of Monkey Pilot, a song from their Waiting For A Miracle album.

''Because it was Sheffield a lot of people didn't notice, and thought it was puzzling, '' says Steve. "The way people see bands is always in terms of what they're supposed to be, and if you mess up their preconceptions too much they get annoyed.''  

Yes, the Comsat Angels do have fun. But then they are not a "fun band.''  

Their music has the feel of dissatisfaction running through it. Slightly down but certainly not depressing.  

'' Waiting for a miracle... but nothing ever happens,'' they tell us on this stimulating debut album. All music is a product of its social environment... just with the Comsat's this is rather more obvious than usual. People are not too happy these days.  

'' I can only write about things that I know about and actually have opinions about, ''says Steve Fellows a day later. ''I've desperately been trying to write some happy stuff, but it just comes out sounding cynical, which is worse. Like everybody, you see things and moan about things."  

''If you're happy you're too busy enjoying being happy to say anything about it. For me writing is a way of putting things in perspective. I realise now, after thinking about it for a bit, that one of my main influences is hymns. I can remember singing things like There Is A Green Hill Far Away and stuff - the things they actually describe are really down and sad, yet the feeling you get from singing them is really uplifting.''  

This strikes a chord... Steve had said the same thing about Joy Division's music when I first met him backstage after a gig at London's Marquee several weeks earlier.  

And it's true - music can be melancholy and uplifting - and the Comsat Angels are both. I don't feel depressed when I listen to them... I feel invigorated.  

He continues: ''although some of the things are quite down subjects, by confronting them, if you like, that can make them less frightening.''  

Steve says that these days he tries to cut out conscious ideas when he’s writing. He simply says what he thinks and realises the meaning later. But what are those feelings he gets when he writes? Is he, for example, a cynic?

''Somebody once said if you scratch a cynic you find a disappointed idealist. I must be a disappointed idealist. Things never live up to expectations. As a child you live in the world of your parents when everything's taken care of, you’re not exposed to many miserable things. Only this year, for the first time ever, relations that I have known actually died, which is really weird. I’ve never had people dying on me before.''  

This feeling of disappointed idealism extents outside of his personal life to the world at large, too.

''But I don't get down, I don't get miserable about it too much...   "

One suggests that there's a general feeling of pessimism around music at the moment, Fellows leaps back: ''I'm not a pessimist. I'm a realist... I think. Optimism means that you feel the future is going to be better pessimism means you feel it is going to be worse. As far as I’m concerned you just try and rationalise what happens. I can't help it. I'm sorry for the people who find what we do depressing, but that's it. It's not realism, its real.''  

Kev, who’s been sitting there very quietly with the rest of the band suddenly gets agitated: ''what's more depressing, watching a happy band and getting depressed by the quality of it, or watching a so-called depressing band? I'd say the happy band.''  

Steve says people like The Doolies really depress him.  

‘‘It just seems so false... it's like that Radio 1 thing last night (I wondered when we'd get round to that), all this fake jollity. It reminded me of what it would be like in a bunker or a fall-out shelter. It was just a bit weird, I have never seen things so desperate, so we must have had a good time. Strange, I was just wondering what will be doing when we’re 80, sitting round the old people's home playing Closer!''  

The Comsat Angels are maturing into such a powerful band that they are almost frightening. Their live set now features five new songs - Be Brave ("and with Reagan in power we’re going to have to be..." says Steve when introducing the song at the Aston University gig) the brooding Dark Parade, Eye Of The Lens, probably the next single, Home Is The Range and an untitled one which is probably the bands strongest musical statement yet, plumbing the emotional peaks with a dark power that, incredibly, matches Joy Division at their best without actually sounding like them.  

Fellows wrote Dark Parade after watching the Iranians display of American corpses following the Carter invasion debacle.  

‘‘It was horrifying... the fact that I was able to see it in such sharp focus as well as the actual events.'' his voice dies to a whisper ''on TV, pictures of burnt out helicopters were presented quite aesthetically, which is really strange. I suppose in a kind of sense its a comment on the media as well.''  

Its an indication that their lyrical concerns are becoming less ego orientated – ‘‘Less solipsism", as Steve puts it, provoking the others to laugh at his use of a long and esoteric word.

‘‘As far as I'm concerned, they're more direct, its probably easier to discern the meaning.''  

The band are so modest about their achievements and this sometimes makes you want to grab them by the lapels - although their attitude is at least refreshing when contrasted to the unbridled arrogance of some of their contemporaries.  

Steve describes their music as going from ''weakness to slightly strong - I'm personally far more pleased with these things. Forgive me for saying it, but I feel we are getting closer to something... I hate to put it that way. It just seems to be going somewhere where it hasn’t been before“ 

The hyper-criticism seemed to come to a head after gigs, when they tend to magnify the importance of technical shortcomings, but when I witnessed a gig on their home turf - Sheffield - the bands exuberance shines from the stage.  

The realise they’re climbing to the plateau they know they are capable of reaching, and it shows.  

Total War sticks together with jigsaw logic. Waiting For A Miracle is delivered at a gallop - the Comsat's go Ramones! - with Postcard as an encore, building like a tidal wave.  

Getting close to something? No, the Comsat's are already there.

Lynden Barber

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