Up There In The North of England

Wednesday morning I posted about the Echo & The Bunnymen mailing list drive to get Ian McCulloch & co. “back at the top” of the charts by asking fans world-wide to pre-order their single through online retailer townsend-records. Figured I should check out the web site and see what it was all about. No, it’s nothing to do with The Who front man (despite how often people mis-spell Pete Townshend) but “a chain of record stores based in the north of England, (which) has been trading for over 25 years.” Some of you, no doubt, already knew that. Townsend is also now a record label and I see that one of its artists is another Ian from Liverpool. Not McCulloch (the Bunnymen are now signed to Cooking Vinyl) but Ian McNabb.

For many years, Ian McNabb fronted The Icicle Works, a group whose credibility never matched their creativity. Perhaps that’s because they were a difficult act to pin down: their singles ranged from the psych-garage of ‘Understanding Jane’ to the straight-up power pop of ‘Who Do You Want For Your Love?’ , though their biggest hits, ‘Hollow Horse’ and ‘Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)’ were rightfully accused of pretentiousness, and sadly I’ll never forget Jools Holland ridiculing – on Tube camera while introducing the band – the title ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour.’ (Most people of a certain British age will instead recall, probably with equal embarrassment, breakfast DJ Mike Read confessing that that was his fave song to shag to.)

Equal parts Hit & Miss, but when they were great, they were incredible. Buy at At

In addition, The Icicle Works gave not a toss for fashion, which meant they were rarely granted a good review and had to win fans the old-fashioned way – through constant single releases and consistently quality live shows. Musically, McNabb, and co. veered so far all over the place that no true Icicle Works fan should claim to have loved every song (‘Shit Creek’ was rightfully named) but some of the aforementioned singles formed a soundtrack to my life, and particularly to a certain love. Yes, I’m having trouble understanding Jane…

Anyway, time moves on, the Icicle Works duly broke up, drummer Chris Sharrock – one of the finest of his generation – went on to work with The Lightning Seeds, World Party and others, while I lost track of bassist Chris Layhe’s activities. I run into solo artist Ian McNabb once every few years, where we usually exchange warm hugs and equally warm memories of Icicle Works shows everywhere from Zurich to Newcastle to Liverpool and London. I haven’t heard Ian’s new album for Townsend, Before All Of This, and it’s not available through American iTunes. I haven’t been transfixed by his solo work, not even 1995’s Head Like A Rock, for which he managed to recruit none other than Neil Young’s Crazy Horse as his backing band. But I’ll always have more than enough time for him. Anyone out there care to chime in on The Icicle Works in general, and Ian McNabb’s new music in particular?

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4 Comment(s)

  1. 22 August, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    Some bands seem seasonal to me. I know the Clash was political and stood against social injustice. I also know that they sound great while lazing around a posh pool with drink in hand- not a care in the world. Joe Strummer would probably throttle me for saying so- but there you go.

    A band like Aztec Camera I associate with summer. I think it is the name- Aztec- Sun- Summer. And songs like Oblivious are perfect for long lost summer days and nights. Icicle Works I associate with winter and it is the bands name that does it: Icicle- Ice- Winter. Whisper To A Scream (Birds Fly) doesn’t exactly give me the chills even though I think it a perfect pop song. What the start of that song always makes me think is that I’m playing the record at 45 instead of 33.

    Another reason I associate Icicle Works with winter was back when I was young enough to get boyhood crushes I thought I was in love with this girl and she told me to meet her at the end of this deserted road in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, in the middle of nowhere. As I waited and froze my fingers, my brittle ears were battling frostbite by being covered by wobbly little Walkman headphones. The cassette tape I was playing was Icicle Works. Though at the time the name of the band and my situation was lost to me. I was too busy muttering, “Where is she?” as I watched by breath float into the night sky and I crunched my Doc Martians into the snow banks. It took a half smoked pack of clove cigarettes and three hours until I realized she wasn’t coming.

    That was the night that I realized people let you down but your music collection never does. After that I stopped spending money on clothes and trying to look nice and spent every penny on music. I’m sure many people who come to IJamming have had similar experiences. Mine just happened to coincide with Icicle Works.

  2. 24 August, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    Nice story, McCutcheon

    Have you ever heard the song ‘Girl Don’t Come’ by Sandy Shaw? Describes your scenario perfectly – except it may be set in summer. In London.

    My Icicle Works memories often involve the band themselves, and absolutely insanely huge amounts of alcohol. However, ‘Understanding Jane’ and ‘Who Do You Want For Your Love?’ from their ‘later years’ really helped describe/define a very difficult and intense relationship and I’d have felt that way even if I’d never seen the band perform or heard anything else by them.



  3. 25 August, 2005 at 7:45 am

    Sandy Shaw wore Doc Martians?

  4. Phil

    7 September, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    Whisper To A Scream was a top 10 hit here in Toronto, and was one of the very first records I ever bought. The song still pops up reguarly in oldies rotations on the loval radio stations.

    As for the band’s winter associations, I’ve *always* felt that the first Icicle Works album has a real ‘wintry’ feel to it. Just like a bright winter’s day, everthing on the album seems clear, crisp, slightly otherworldly, and cool in a detached but compelling sort of way. Aimee Mann’s recent solo albums have the same kind of vibe to me.


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