THE STORY OF "I CONFESS"
A few weeks ago, I made one of my usual lame-o attempts to tease some sort of meta-narrative out of "I Confess" by Dorothy, mainly in response to some inter-blog chit-chat about conceptual overlap between the ATV and PTV camps...or, in layman's terms I took an old, semi-obscure 7" record that I really love and wrote a bunch of shite about it. Can't help myself; I'm so totally up my own arse that I love (mis-)reading between the lines and drilling out all sorts of non-existant nonsense that wasn't ever there in the first place. Maybe I should take up knitting.
Anyway, I was chuffed as nuts when Dorothy herself (aka Max) got in touch w/ me about the record. Here, in her own words (w/ a couple of interjections by me) is the story of "I Confess":
Max: "I can't remember exactly when "I Confess" was made (in 1981??), but I was older than 19...I was born in 1955, so I was probably more like 25 or so...Genesis (P Orridge) seemed to think 19 was the age that every pop star should be and he made up all that blurb. The project was actually the start of Psychic TV...Gen was feeling that Throbbing Gristle had come to its natural end and that it was time to do something else. He had always had a sneaky interest in Pop and was writing songs with Alex Ferguson from ATV .
So, to answer your query about how I got together with Alex...I knew him and Mark P a bit, but Gen was an old friend, so he was my reason for being involved. At the time, I was the drummer in a band called Rema Rema that had sometimes played on the same bill as TG and included Marco (Banshees/Ants)...we had a record deal with 4AD. We did lots of noise/feedback/early electronica stuff, but I also had a strong interest in Pop...Rema Rema was just splitting then as Marco had rejoined the Banshees, and Adam was on the horizon too...I was about to do a record for Cherry Red that was a cover of Nancy Sinatra songs and other such things, but that didn't materialise.
I think the mood of the moment was that a lot of us (including me Alex, Gen, Marco, Adam etc etc) who had been part of the 1975 thing that eventually became known as Punk had really had it up to our eyes with deep, dark destruction, gloom and doom... or at least we still felt all that was valid, but that there had to be a bit of white light and laughter too...a bit of Mamas and Papas and Abba and Ohio Express and T Rex or whatever let into the equation. In fact, the Sex Pistols had always had that live: Glen Matlock was a real pop fan, hence the fact that the first load of Pistols songs had very good pop melodies and they did a cover of "Stepping Stone" by The Monkees. But he left and Sid joined and... well, that's another story. But the early 80s quirky pop thing (Soft Cell, Bow Wow Wow, Human League, Duran Duran, Spandau, Steve Strange, reborn Adam Ant etc) was actually all there and happening all throughout the late 70s...it just got a bit swamped by the Evening Standard cartoon indenti-kit gobbing punk image (Sham 69 have a lot to answer for). But the reality for us in 75/76 was boogie-ing in gay clubs to Donna Summer I Feel Love and Abba and Roxy Music..."
It's interesting what you say about dancing to Gay Disco....there was always a weird cross-over between Punk and the Soul Boy scene in London round that time which was airbrushed out by the media in favour of sensationalism...
Max: "For sure...Pistols, Banshees et al were usually to be found hanging out in lesbian supper bar Louises, or The Global Village in Charing Cross... that whole Canning Town gobbing scene was something else altogether.
But back to "I Confess". This was originally the B-side. I was brought in to sing "Softness" which Gen and Alex had written together...there was no B-side, so I wrote the lyrics overnight and we quickly put it together with a tune Alex had up his sleeve (and he always had half a dozen tunes up his sleeve at any given time). So this is a real Pop Story, 'cause when we went into the studio and did the A-side and B-side, the next day everyone who heard the tracks said we had to have "I Confess as the A-side" . It was entered as a contender for the Eurovision Song contest (really!), but unfortunately not chosen to represent England. Of course, all of TG very much liked the idea of challenging expectations of the Industrial label by having a sweet and chirpy Eurovision style pop song released on the label, so that's why we put it out on Industrial...So it was a pretty trad split of me as singer writing my own lyrics and Alex as composer/musician doing the music, and Gen being a sort of Svengali masterminding it all."
Amazing you wrote those lyrics overnight....I love the fact you rhymed "Subway Sect" with "Musique Concrete"....pure, total Pop genius! Eurovision Song contest would've been incredible....why it was never a hit is a mystery to me....guess it's all down to distribution, air-play, etc....but to some of us of a certain age and temperament, it's a lost pop gem...
Max: "Well thank you. I'd been a Pierre Henry fan for years and particularly liked the mock-pop work he did in the 60's, so it seemed right that he got a mention in a pop song released on Industrial. A lot of the references were literally a case of looking round my room and jotting down what I saw on the shelves (or more likely floor). And ,even though it only was a small pressing, it attracted some interesting responses...I got a signed book from Colin Wilson, for example. There was some stuff a year or two later about the track being bought by another bigger label and distributed, but it never happened... I forgot about it for a long time, and haven't met anyone who's heard of it in decades, but funnily enough I met a few people in the past few months who mentioned it: a friend of mine who's an artist/musician and (I find out now) an old Temple of Psychick Youth person suddenly mentioned it and I dug it out from the loft, then I met up with Alex Binney (tattooist who is married to Nicola Bowery, Leigh B's widow) who I hadn't seen for years and he mentioned it...then your email came in, then I went to an art show that was curated by Foxtrot Echo (former member of Coum Transmissions) and someone there mentioned it... so, something in the air...
"I'm glad you like the lyrics. They were very throwaway, but heartfelt...if something can be both things simultaneously. I've always liked list songs, so it seemed an easy route to take when a song had to be written in a hurry. So after we made the record, I'm not sure really why we didn't stay with it...Gen and Alex formed Psychic TV and I was supposed to be the drummer, but for some reason that I've forgotten, I turned it down and formed a sort of punk-pop rockabilly band instead (first called The Weekend Swingers and then The El Trains). Maybe I knew that being in a band with Gen wouldn't work...too close to home, mixing friendship and work etc. He kept asking me to be involved on various occasions over the next few years, and eventually in 1984/5 I joined PTV. I was in the band a year and then we fell out really badly (so a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy), and I got kind of written out of much of the band history, which is one of those things that happen with GPO - he has a tendency to play down the involvement of people he has fallen out with. I've since made it up and seen Gen a few times since, but haven't kept in contact with Alex. I moved out of London in 1988, and had 3 kids in fairly swift succession, so lost contact with many people in the late 80s/90s... Gen now lives in the US and I don't know where Alex is... maybe you've kept track of him?
No idea where Alex F is. I might try and track him down to get his side of the story...dunno how easy that would be.
Max: "Last seen living at the YMCA in Tottenham Court Rd and spending all his time in Soho peepshows (what was that about pervy svengalis?). A Strange boy...other punks played at the sex/sleaze game, but Alex was the real mcCoy: a young dirty old man. Move over Bukowski."
Interesting that you were about 25...that kinda answers my question about the song being very 'knowing' and full of hipster/outsider knowledge stuff...well, of course, duh! you were older than advertised...it struck me that there was some deliberate in-built image/role-playing thing there w/ Alex as the older 'pervy' svengali/Serge Gainsbourg type character and you as the 'exploited' innocent younger girl...but you were probably older (or about the same age) as Alex....brilliant!
Max: "Yeah, I think I was actually older than Alex! And all 3 of us really liked S Gainsbourg, so that was probably in there somewhere."
And Rema Rema...?
Max: "Yeah, I started off playing drums in a bedroom band that went on to become The Ants and The Monochrome Set. I met Andy (Warren), who was in both the Ants and TMS at various times, and Bid when they'd just left school, and they had a band that was modelled on the Velvets and really wanted a girl drummer, so that was that. It got complicated when Adam joined too...Bid + Adam = 2 egotistical singer-songwriter lead singers in one band - no way, Jose! So the band split into 2 halves, and I stayed in the Monochrome Set half (although living with Andy W and best friends with Adam, so it was all a bit incestuous)...but that didn't last too long. Then I was in Subway Sect for about half a day, but then they changed their mind. Then in a sort of Banshees off-shoot thing that became Rema Rema. Everyone was in constantly changing band line-ups then, so it was hard to keep up with it all. Bands formed and dissolved in the course of just one evening at the Roxy."
I was vaguely aware you were in a later line-up of PTV too...you might have known my old friend Andrew Rawling, who moved up from Somerset to Beck Road, Hackney and babysat for Gen...I think he might've driven the PTV van, roughly round that era...
Max: "Yeah I did know Andrew Rawling...and who didn't babysit what Monte Cazzaza always referred to as 'The Porridge Sisters'...he wanted to manage them and make them infant pop stars. I was in PTV when they (we) tried to be pop stars and did "Godstar", which I personally found a bit too self-consciously poppy...a bit trying-too-hard for my taste...but we did loads of recording at that point and there were some really good songs that maybe got released somewhere sometime, I don't know. Hilmar Orn Hilmarson from Iceland was in the band then, with Dave Ball from Soft Cell playing with us a lot of the time (and Hilmar's friends Bjork and Einar from Kukl, which became Sugar Cubes, our support band...so, interesting times. We did a really nice event called The Fabulous Feast of Flowering Light which was one of the best moments in my time with PTV.
Are you still involved in music and stuff these days..
Max: "Yes and no...not playing drums, was only briefly in one other band after PTV and never was a singer really. I've been involved in a lot of performance art/experimental dance & theatre stuff, but I've always been interested in being part of or creating things that involve a cross-over with music. My day job is writing, and editing a performance art/theatre magazine...but occasionally still make 'art' for want of a better word. I did a piece last year that was an installation in a shop window with a soundscape that you heard coming out of the grille under the window. I did this in collaboration with my partner, who is called Foz...he was also in The Monochrome Set, although not when I was, but later, and he then played with Dave Barbarossa of Ants/Bow Wow Wow, before forming David Devant and His Spirit Wife, which I've had a small hand in too, occasionally doing bits of choreography...
Max, many thanks for your time. Cheers!