The Comsat Angels, C.S. Angels, The Headhunters, Dream Command...  All this & more
Guardian Angels - Sounds 20/9/80

Guardian Angels

The Steel City’s Latest Contribution To Popular Culture - Introduced By Pete Lock

Sheffield has so far given us amongst other things The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Def Leppard, two football teams who’ve seen better days and an athlete who’s conquered the world. Any time now Polydor are set to release the debut album of Steel City’s latest contribution to popular culture, The Comsat Angels. Sci-fi fans will be familiar with the name, Comsat being the abbreviation of Communications Satellite.

If The Comsat Angels haven’t featured in your social calendar of late it’s hardly surprising - on the live front the band are not exactly in line for the Queen’s Award for industry. So far this year they’ve played just two gigs bringing their total to just over fifty in three years."

"We’re at a stage where we can’t afford to lose money" explains singer / guitarist Steve Fellows. "To hire a PA that we think is good enough to present our music costs a lot." Drummer Mik Glaisher adds: "I think most bands like to gig a lot when they get their first set together, like we did with ours, but that excitement has worn off and now we realise that there’s more to being in a band than just playing on stage."

A little blasť for such a new band, but an indication of the band’s strong minded independence and their determination not too compromise.

The band, completed by bassist Kevin Bacon and keyboard player Andy Peake, started life as Radio Earth, a would-be jazz-rock combo beset with numerous problems. "We experimented for a long time trying to sort things out, but basically we were playing horrible material" says Steve.

Their inability to accommodate their many influences meant that (a) the music was complex and difficult to play, and (b) no one liked it. They were in this depressed and directionless state when their particular "Lennon meets McCartney" / "Lydon walks into Sex" watershed occured. They went to see The Damned.

Kev: "It wasn’t so much the music as their attitude and the atmosphere they created. We couldn’t equate what we were doing and what they were up to."

The re-evaluation saw them strip their music down to the roots, discarding unnecessary technique and replacing it with energy and emotion. So great was the change that a new handle was deemed to be in order and The Comsat Angels (much better name anyway) were born.

The other effect of Punk was to steer them more towards an independent label for their first single than the established music scene. They claim they’re not adverse to making a few bob and seeing the world but they have no intention of slipping into the "one gig a year" situation. With that in mind it may seem strange that they have now signed to Polydor rather than an independent.

"Polydor’s an institution like the BBC" says Steve, "and they’re big enough to leave us alone, for a while at least, and let us try to succeed on our own terms. A smaller label might have tried to push us a bit more and tried to look after us. What will happen with Polydor if we fail to sell enough records I don’t know."

When it came to recording the album the Comsat's displayed a keen eye for business. They used Polydor’s studio, stayed in a flat rather than a hotel, used a fraction of their budget and were in and out of the studio in ten days flat. As Kev explains:

"One reason for that was because we’d had a lot of time to think about the sort of sound we wanted so it was just a case of going in and recording it. There was another side to it though. Polydor signed us last year when they were going through a reasonably good period, now that the bad period has set in they might start to offload some of the bands. If they see that we only spent a third of what they originally offered us they might hang onto us for a bit."

Describing the Angels music is no easy task. Hypnotic bass & drum patterns emphasise the emotion in Steve’s vocals and the strong but subtle melodies of the songs give the sound an almost unnerving feel.

Steve summed it up a lot more simply when he explained what was left after Radio Earth had been taken apart: "The three things I like in music are a strong rhythm, a nice tune & funny noises. That’s basically what we ended up with in The Comsat Angels."

Picture from Sounds 20/9/80 They have no intention of moving to London. In fact, to avoid the need to travel to the capital to record, they hope, site & funds willing, to build their own studio in Sheffield.

Andy: "Our one worry is that if things start moving too fast and we get bullied into making lots of albums and doing tours then we might not have time to write. If we have the studio we’ll be able to record all year round rather than in a two week spell." Kev takes up the point: "Most of our songs come out of a particular mood so if we have to wait nine months to record them the mood might have changed or we’ll have got so used to playing them that something might be lost."
For the past few months the Comsat's have been looking for a new rehearsal room into which they hope to incorporate their studio at a later date. At present they rehearse in a cellar, which may sound romantic, but in reality damp & none too spacious. This afternoon they’ve found a new home, a basement with only a mailing address for a neighbour. Its also handy for the buses. While the others give the place the once over, Mik expands on the bands touring plans.

"What we want to avoid is becoming too "slick" and to do that you’ve got to strike a balance between prolonged gigging and short bursts."

The bands next live work will be in Holland where they’ll be playing a series of co-operative gigs.

"The Dutch get to see loads of different bands because the government subsidises gigs. That means you can go there and usually break even, if not make a profit. It must have some effect because the shops over there sell Pere Ubu albums like Virgin shift Blondie & Police albums over here."

Without the benefit of extensive live work the Comsat's could find a problem carving out an audience for themselves. The Sheffield fanzine NMX hinted at this when they said: "They’re not extreme enough to be a cult band, nor streamlined enough for the Top Twenty singles." A review of the current single Independence Day in a local paper put it more succinctly: "The Comsat Angels second single has warmed the hearts of radio moguls and deservedly so. They may not come up with the most commercial offerings but their music has wonderfully sinister overtones that make it delightful. No chance."

Fortunately the band see their future in albums more than in singles and even then success has got to be on their terms.

"We intend to continue", says Mik, "and that means selling enough records to carry on without compromising. To us the songs will always be the same whether they sell a thousand or a million."

Steve: "Success on the star level is not something I aspire to. My idea of success is us to continue writing good material. Success on any other level is something alien to me and you’ll have to ask me about it when it happens."

If the albums anything to go by he’s got every chance of being asked about it in the near future.

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