The iJamming! Weekly Download: Three Colors

Three Colors: on CD at Last

Three what? Three who? Perhaps I should explain. The following paragraphs are from the sleeve notes to One Big CD, released last week on GB Music. They were written by Yours Truly. Yes, this time it’s personal.

Long overdue.

I’ll take the blame. After all, Three Colors were doing perfectly well at the point I first saw them, in April 1986 at a college gig somewhere in the Boston area. At the vanguard of a flourishing local scene, drawing frenzied crowds from New England to New York, more than a few wise souls was tipping them for greatness.

Had they stayed in America rather than follow me back to London, who knows? Maybe they would have been signed for millions by an American major, their deliciously twisted pop music artfully marketed to the masses who were then buying Crowded House albums by the truckload, and the songs you have here would have been available on CD for nearly two decades already. Then again, and much more likely, maybe Three Colors would have been passed over completely by a cruel and capricious music industry, they’d never have traveled beyond the east coast, and they’d never have been able to tell their children how Chris Harford once lived in an attic in a filthy, neglected corner of South London. An unfurnished attic. An attic that wasn’t intended for anything but storage. An attic that later collapsed into the bedroom below – luckily when no one was in the actual bed. An attic I then tried to deny to the landlords had ever been converted into a bedroom, despite all evidence to the contrary. An attic that led to eviction from the premises, understandably enough.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I had received the debut 3 Colors EP in the mail one day early in 1986, just as my fanzine, Jamming!, was winding up after a ten year rollercoaster ride. With a rare bit of time on my hands, I found myself playing the record almost immediately – and then again. And several times more after that. With the exception of ‘One Big Tree’ – which was so shamelessly commercial it could have been considered, as per later hits by R.E.M., a form of satire – the songs weren’t particularly obvious. But nor were they deliberately difficult. Likewise the lyrics, which somehow combined flowery prose with a five year old’s directness. From ‘Bowling Ball’’s simplicity to the opaqueness of ‘Rise Out Of Nothing,’ from ‘Curious One’’s jazz rock to the (relatively) raw power of ‘Red Room,’ the whole package came across with a naïve charm that I found incredibly beautiful.

That EP forms the first six songs of the One Big CD retrospective. The subsequent mini-album This Is Norwood forms the next six. Demos of varying audio quality round out the 19-song collection. A video of ‘One Big Tree’ by Alex Steyermark reinforces the group’s genre-defying appeal. I love these songs.

A still from the ‘One Big Tree’ video, included on One Big CD. L-R: Hub, Chris, Barry, Dana, Max.

As with all the best bands, Three Colors were a unique combination of personalities. And as with all the best bands, this was most evident onstage, where Chris Harford’s natural histrionics were offset by Hub Moore’s comparatively Zen-like calm. Either member would have made a good band leader, but neither of their bands would have been half as interesting. And even though Chris and Hub didn’t write together that much, to me that only made them more like Lennon and McCartney. Meanwhile, Barry Stringfellow was all boisterous precision at the back, Dana Colley stunned audiences nightly with his solo on ‘Curious One,’ and Max Moore… well Max was an odd fit, and that too was part of the band’s charm.

Three Colors broke up in 1988. Chris Harford and Hub Moore both went on to brief major label deals. Dana Colley went on to play with Morphine. His sax solo is dominant in this Chris Harford-led song, ‘Curious One.

What happened? 3 Colors photographed in South London, 1987, suitably grey and depressed. Photo by, I believe, Bleddyn Butcher.

You can hear excerpts from the rest of One Big CD at CDBaby, where you can also order a copy. You can also hear the songs ‘One Big Tree,’ ‘Next’ and ‘Rise Out of Nothing’ at the group’s newly-launched myspace page. I’ll leave the last words to the sleeve notes:

At my wedding in 1993, my wife and I asked Hub Moore to play during the actual service: with Chris Harford in the audience, he sang ‘Lucky’ and ‘Thank You.’

I had always thought ‘Thank You’ was directed to a lover, and viewed it that way at our wedding, but on his own sleeve notes to this retrospective, Hub notes that it’s actually a love letter to Lightnin’ Hopkins. And that’s what I mean about Three Colors. They only sounded like they were straightforward; there was always something more curious and complex at work underneath. Guys, if that song was indeed aimed at a musician, let me turn it around and dedicate it to you. And let it be known too: I really did mean what I wrote back in that NME review. You deserved far more. But at least we all now have the music on CD. Thank you.

Three Colors ‘Curious One’ MP3

One Big CD at CD Baby.
Three Colors MySpace
GB Music

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December 2021