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This Mortal Coil

+ {The Hope Blister}

The brainchild of 4 a.d. Records main man, Ivo Watts-Russell (born 1954, Northamptonshire, England) and producer John Fryer (born 1958), the London-based THIS MORTAL COIL were basically a loose collective of mainly roster artists gathered together with the intention of creating atmospheric and inspiring gothic-esque sounds, most effectively through their startling cover interpretations of mainly, un-pop, acts.
Kick-starting their campaign in summer 1983 with the ethereal and esoteric TIM BUCKLEY classic, `Song To The Siren’ (sung serenely by the freshest face at 4 a.d., Elizabeth Fraser), the single was an indie chart-topper as well as a minor hit. Wherein Liz’s lyrical mystical mantra was actually coherent to the unfamiliar ear, the track has since become a cult classic, even providing inspiration for The CHEMICAL BROTHERS (or The Dust Brothers, as they were known at the time). Often wrongly regarded as a COCTEAU TWINS off-shoot due to the initial supplement feature of guitar dervish ROBIN GUTHRIE, one only had to switch to its MODERN ENGLISH-penned flipsides (`Sixteen Days’ and `Gathering Dust’), where Liz was joined by CINDYTALK singer Gordon Sharp, COLOURBOX keyboardist Martyn Young and M.E.’s Gary McDowell (guitar) and Michael Conroy (bass) – Robbie Grey chose not to be involved at this stage.
Encouraged by a riveting response helped along by listeners to the John Peel show, THIS MORTAL COIL – the name stemming from a Shakespeare phrase – took the opportunity to provide a wider platform for the emerging talent on Ivo’s label, roping in selected personnel from DEAD CAN DANCE, REMA-REMA and X-MAL DEUTSCHLAND, alongside “outsider” vocalists (including the aforementioned Sharp) to record a full-length collective set, IT’LL END IN TEARS (1984) {*9}.
Preceded by the ALEX CHILTON-penned `Kangaroo’ single (featuring the aforementioned Sharp, Martin McCarrick and Simon Raymonde), and backed by said Raymonde and Steven Young’s respective COCTEAU-to-COLOURBOX-meets-TMC’s title-track flip, the album dented the UK Top 40 and found US distribution at Valentino Records (licensed from Atco).
Its combination of low-key covers, featuring another BIG STAR cue, `Holocaust’ (interpreted by HOWARD DEVOTO), ROY HARPER’s `Another Day’ (featuring COCTEAU Liz), COLIN NEWMAN’s `Not Me’ (sung by Robbie G and Simon R), and a moody instrumental (`Fyt’), all was received with lavish praise from the critics. With the remainder supplied by, and showcasing, the vocal talents of LISA GERRARD (`Waves Become Wings’ and `Dreams Made Flesh’), SIMON RAYMONDE (`The Last Ray’ and `Barramundi’) and Sharp (`A Single Wish’ – with Steven Y and Simon R – on REMA-REMA’s `Fond Affections’), the dust was indeed golden, not gathering.
While Ivo and Fryer continued to expand 4 a.d. with fresh Stateside acts (e.g. PIXIES, THROWING MUSES et al), there was a different “supergroup” flavour to the unexpected 1986 follow-up, FILIGREE & SHADOW {*8}. Retaining previous affiliates Raymonde (DEAD CAN DANCE’s Peter Ulrich in for Brendan Perry and Lisa on `At First, And Then’), Steven Young, Martin McCarrick and Mark Cox (the latter joined by WOLFGANG PRESS associate Andrew Gray on guitar), this wintry double-set echoed the almost ghostly charms of its forebears. Stars of the show, arguably new kids on the vox block, Dominic Appleton (a find from non-4 a.d. act BREATHLESS), Deirdre and Louise Rutkowski, and part-organist John Turner, a permeative approach was centred for Martyn Young’s heavenly `Tarantula’, GENE CLARK’s `Strength Of Strings’, Gary Ogan’s `I Want To Live’, TOM RAPP’s `The Jeweller’ and TIM BUCKLEY’s `Morning Glory’.
RICHENEL (and Turner) on board for another BUCKLEY piece, `I Must Have Been Blind’ and singer Jean (plus Raymonde) turning in an astounding performance on VAN MORRISON’s `Come Here My Love’; both Turner and Raymonde augmenting ALISON LIMERICK on her rendition of JUDY COLLINS’ `My Father’. One could forever wax lyrical on the merits of other inventive interpretations from the likes of TALKING HEADS’ `Drugs’ (Limerick, Gray and S. Young), WIRE’s `Alone’ (Limerick, Raymonde and HEAVENLY BODIES’ Caroline Seaman), GARY DUNCAN’s `Firebrothers’ (Richenel, Turner and Chris Pye) and David Curtis/DIF JUZ’s own `Meniscus’; Richard Thomas and Alan Curtis were present elsewhere.
As songwriters, Messrs Ivo and Fryer had more of a say on THIS MORTAL COIL’s third and final instalment, the Top 30 double-set BLOOD (1991) {*8}. Starring a slightly stripped-down cast of singers/musicians, including stalwarts Deirdre R and, in part, Alison L (on a handful of covers from GENE CLARK’s `With Tomorrow’ and SPIRIT’s `Nature’s Way’, to MARY MARGARET O’HARA’s `Help Me Lift You Up’ and DAVID ROBACK’s `Carolyn’s Song’), KIM DEAL and TANYA DONELLY (on CHRIS BELL’s `You And Your Sister’), SHELLEYAN ORPHAN’s Caroline Crawley (on SYD BARRETT’s `Late Night’) and The APARTMENTS’ `Mr. Somewhere’, plus HEIDI BERRY – alongside Deirdre and Louise – (for RODNEY CROWELL’s `’Til I Gain Control Again’). There was even room on board for a singular Dominic and Deirdre appearance on CHRIS BELL’s `I Am The Cosmos’, and PIETER NOOTEN on his own singing collaboration with Deirdre: `Several Times’, plus also a Nazim Hikmet poem-turned-BYRDS-exercise, `I Come And Stand At Every Door’.
The proverbial 7-year-itch came to an end when Ivo resurfaced with a new outfit, The HOPE BLISTER, and attendant dream-pop set, …SMILE’S OK (1998) {*7}. Similar in some respects to the long-absent TMC, the project gathered together friends such as star singer Louise Rutkowski and drummer Richard Thomas from said past exploits, plus Audrey Riley (strings), Sue Dench (viola), Leo Payne and Chris Tombling (violins) and, as integral a part as any, ex-LEVITATION bassist Laurence O’Keefe. As sparse and sombre as one might expect such a group of musicians to be, the theatrical covers aspect mostly shone through on Neil Halstead of MOJAVE 3’s `Dagger’, HEIDI BERRY’s `Only Human’, CHRIS KNOX’s `Outer Skin’, The CRANES’ `Sweet Unknown’, DAVID SYLVIAN’s ‘Let The Happiness In’, Iceland’s SLOW BLOW’s `Is Jesus Your Pal?’, BRIAN ENO’s `The Spider And I’ and JOHN CALE’s `Hanky Panky Nohow’. The need then for a subsequent mail-order-only set, UNDERARMS {*3} – remixed by Kompakt act Markus Guentner – was indeed a mystery.
One awaits a THIS MORTAL COIL return, although proverbial pigs might fly first.
© MC Strong/MCS 1999-2003/GRD series MCS Jul2016

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