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Shriekback is not an easy band to classify. They borrowed heavily from funk but had a very different agenda; their music was more suited for contemplation than for parties. They combined synthesizers and drum machines with throbbing bass lines and unorthodox vocals to evoke a primordial world where the line between human and animal was blurred. The title of their fourth album, Big Night Music, might be the most succinct summation of their work: Shriekback's music was always an appropriate soundtrack for life in the dark, but with the emphasis on the possibilities rather than the dangers. Though often haunting, it was not gothic and harbored strains of pop and dance that rose to the surface from time to time. Still, however accessible they became, Shriekback cultivated an air of mystery that made them hard to pin down. Further complicating any evaluation of their career is the fact that they never made a single, brilliant album that concentrated all their strengths in one place; their best material is spread out across a decade during which they underwent a great deal of evolution.
Shriekback came together in 1982 as a loose association based around the trio of Dave Allen (bass), Barry Andrews (keyboards/vocals), and Carl Marsh (vocals/guitar). Allen and Andrews had previously been members of Gang of Four and XTC, respectively; Marsh had played with the more obscure Out on Blue Six. They quickly developed a trademark sound that had little to do with the members' previous credits. The bedrock of that sound was Allen's muscular yet liquid bass playing, which was a quantum leap beyond his relatively crude work with Gang of Four. On top of this Shriekback deployed creative and intricate drum programs; Andrews' multifaceted synthesizer shadings; strategically placed, mostly rhythm guitar from Marsh; and whispered vocals from Andrews along with Marsh's more melodic singing. Both vocalists were technically limited, but this was more than compensated for by the band's tight playing and evocative, intelligent lyrics.
The first Shriekback release was the six-song EP Tench, which appeared on the English Y label in 1982. It was followed in 1983 by the LP Care, also on Y, which featured the quasi-hit "Lined Up," the song that put Shriekback on the map for many people. Care was picked up and released in the U.S. by Warner Brothers, with an altered running order and two different tracks, including the polyrhythmic "My Spine (Is the Bass Line)."
Although Care was critically acclaimed and garnered a fair amount of airplay from both college radio and fledgling modern rock radio, that was not enough for Warner Brothers, who dropped Shriekback and deleted Care shortly after its release. As a result, the follow-up, 1984's Jam Science, was released only in Europe (this time on Arista). Slicker, less murky, and more focused on electronics than its predecessor, Jam Science contained the dub-influenced single "Hand on My Heart."
Much of Shriekback's music from this early period is most readily available on two mistitled, poorly packaged, but indispensable CDs from Kaz Records. The Best of Shriekback: The Infinite is made up of seven songs from Care, three from Tench, and the single "Working on the Ground." The Best of Shriekback Volume Two: Evolution offers one more song from Care and five from Jam Science, along with a nice assortment of remixes and B-sides.
Toward the end of the Jam Science sessions, Shriekback became a quartet with the addition of drummer Martyn Barker; however, they quickly became a trio again when Carl Marsh departed midway through the recording of their third album. Andrews took over as sole vocalist and the addition of Lu Edmonds on guitar brought a more aggressive sound to Oil and Gold, which was released in 1985. Songs like "Malaria" and "Nemesis" rocked harder than anything Shriekback had recorded before, bringing them a far wider audience than they had previously enjoyed. Oil and Gold sold well in its U.S. release on Island Records.
Shriekback released two more albums on Island in the '80s. 1986's Big Night Music featured a core trio of Allen, Andrews, and Barker augmented by hired hands like Mike Cozzi (guitar), Steve Halliwell (keyboards), and Wendy and Sarah Partridge (backing vocals). Continuing Oil and Gold's move toward accessibility, Big Night Music had a more organic sound with an emphasis on live percussion. Shriekback seemed poised on the brink of unlikely stardom, but Allen departed before the recording of Go Bang! (1988), which was poorly received by both critics and fans. Perhaps they were put off by the absence of Allen's signature low end, or maybe it was the inconsistent material, including an ill-advised cover of KC and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight."
That appeared to be the end of Shriekback, who dropped out of sight in the late '80s and early '90s. Their only release during that period was the pointless and exploitative 1990 compilation The Dancing Years. But Allen, Andrews, and Barker reunited in 1992 to record the excellent Sacred City, which essentially picked up where Big Night Music left off. There was another long silence after that, but as of 2000 some form of Shriekback was apparently still in existence; an album called Naked Apes and Pond Life, featuring Andrews, Barker, Edmonds, and two new members, was released that year by the Australian Mushroom label.
Shriekback are an English rock band formed in 1981 in Kentish Town by Barry Andrews, formerly of XTC and League of Gentlemen (keyboards/synthesizers/vocals), and Dave Allen, formerly of the Gang of Four (bass), with Carl Marsh, formerly of Out On Blue Six (guitars/vocals) soon added to the line-up. They were joined by Martyn Barker on drums in 1983. Other members included: Luc Van Acker, Linda Nevill, Emma Burnham, Brian Nevill, Pedro Ortiz, Clare Hirst, Lu Edmunds, Wendy and Sara Partridge (from Electric Guitars), Steve Halliwell, Eve Moon, Ivan Julian, Mike Cozzi, and Jessica Palin/Jose Fina Cupido.Shriekback@Everything2.com
History and member changes
Shriekback was originally formed in 1981 by Barry Andrews, and Dave Allen, expanding to a trio with the addition of Carl Marsh. They enjoyed some success on the dance chart on their original Y Records label, and had a string of hits on the UK Indie Chart, while their debut album, Care (1983) was picked up by Warner in the United States. They left Y for Arista Records for 1984's Jam Science, also recruiting drummer Martyn Barker. The album reached number 85 on the UK Albums Chart, and the single "Hand on my Heart" charted in the Top 60 in the UK. Finding little success, they switched to Island Records for the 1985 album Oil & Gold; Marsh left during the recording of the album, to be replaced by Mike Cozzi. After the follow-up, Big Night Music, Allen left to rejoin Gang of Four, and Shriekback remained a collaborative centred on Andrews. Allen would also go on to play in King Swamp and The Elastic Purejoy. Marsh was also in the band Happyhead.
After a further album in 1988, Go Bang!, the band split up. Andrews continued working on other projects before re-forming Shriekback in 1992, although after the single "The Bastard Sons of Enoch" and album Sacred City, there would be no further releases until 2000's Naked Apes & Pond Life album.
Both Allen and Marsh returned to the studio to contribute to the recording of Shriekback's 2003 release Having a Moment. Since Having a Moment, Andrews has recorded three albums for Malicious Damage (Killing Joke's original label) under the Shriekback moniker. Film director Michael Mann was a fan of Shriekback, and used several of their songs in his films Manhunter and Band of the Hand, and in his television series Miami Vice.
Shriekback are still actively producing music. Their twelfth - and latest - album is Life in the Loading Bay, with a thirteenth, as-of-yet untitled, album forthcoming.Strong, Martin C. (2003) The Great Indie Discography, Canongate, ISBN 1-84195-335-0 "Life in the Loading Bay".