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Pale Saints

An English-based indie band many considered the best and most unassuming of the shoegaze brigade, PALE SAINTS were on top of their game until the departure in 1993 of celestial choirboy crooner Ian Masters, allegedly sick and tired of touring. A 3-man trio at the outset from April 1987, the resultant 2-man/2-woman quartet that toured until the mid-90s were an entirely different proposition – too much for ardent fans to caress.
Formed in Leeds by singer/bassist Ian, he would run an ad to find someone to write songs with – lovers of DEAD CAN DANCE, EYELESS IN GAZA, Ravel, JOHN BARRY, The MISUNDERSTOOD, SEVERED HEADS, TELEVISION and others would be considered; Edinburgh-born guitarist Graeme “Jock” Naysmith and drummer Chris Cooper would prove successful in their application; the latter would combine extracurricular activities with EDSEL AUCTIONEER.
Subsequently spotted by indie stalwart, Ivo Watts-Russell at 4 a.d. at their debut London gig, their boss would book them a place on a Various Artists LP, `Diamonds And Porcupines’, and on a fanzine; both `She Rides The Waves’ and `Children Break’ were recorded in the summer of 1988. The fresh-faced proto-shoegazing outfit had been signed at the same time as their more successful peers LUSH; the two bands sharing a fondness for combining intense, abstract guitar textures and distortion with pop melodies in the mould of The CHAMELEONS or BOO RADLEYS.
PIXIES saviour Gil Norton was on hand to help engineer (alongside producers Richard Formby and Mike Stout) the PALE SAINTS debut EP release, `Barging Into The Presence Of God’. Led out by the sombre and swirling `Sight Of You’ and backed by both `She Rides The Waves’ and `Mother Might’, they registered their opening gambit in the indie charts via airplay from the John Peel Show.
The addition of guitarist Ashley Horner (also moonlighting from EDSEL AUCTIONEER) secured another string to their bow – so to speak – when the band scraped a Top 40 placing for their part-Gil Norton/part-John Fryer debut album, THE COMFORTS OF MADNESS (1990) {*8}. Initial acclaim gave way to rather harsh and unnecessary criticism in some quarters; Masters’ vocals were certainly in no need of a charisma boost as suggested. There was no denying the potential of their unique ideas and talent, and their blissed-out shoegaze – unlike the harsher JESUS AND MARY CHAIN, CHAPTERHOUSE and others – guaranteed a rush of blood to the head for their growing legion of fans; best examples `You Tear The World In Two’, `Sea Of Sound’, `Insubstantial’, a cover of OPAL’s `Fell From The Sun’ and the aforementioned `Sight Of You’.
With Horner duly working full-time on his EDSEL AUCTIONEER project, German-born vocalist/guitarist Meriel Barham (ex-LUSH original) added a new dimension to the band’s delicate/dynamic sound and acted as a counterpoint/foil to Ian. At first in a filler capacity on second EP, `Half-Life’, but more so forthright on a minor hit cover of NANCY SINATRA’s `Kinky Love’ (also a song that was an ingredient on the “Flesh Balloon” EP), Meriel was fitting into the group without much fuss. Meanwhile, attention overseas in the Orient led to PALE SAINTS issued a Japanese-only part-compilation set in 1991 entitled “`Mrs. Dolphin”.
1992’s sophomore set proper, the Hugh Johns-produced IN RIBBONS (1992) {*9}, deserved a better chart position than a lowly #61; the subtlety of its shredding chords and sporadic sonic dreamscapes were let loose all over the shop. Highlights included the arpeggio atmospherics of `Shell’, `Hair Shoes’, `Ordeal’, the 7-minute `Hunted’ and the opening single-to-be `Throwing Back The Apple’. The ethereal Barham was afforded a handful of tracks, her voice beautifully captured on `Thread Of Light’, `Neverending Night’, `Liquid’, `Featherframe’ and a US-only revision of SLAPP HAPPY’s `Blue Flower’; another exclusive to their proceeding EP B-side was another from that source: `Reflections From A Watery World’.
Yet by now all the shoegazing bands had been declared easy meat for a circling press and PALE SAINTS were buried under the weight of the vicious backlash alongside SLOWDIVE, CHAPTERHOUSE, The CATHERINE WHEEL, et al. Even Masters had departed by the release of `Fine Friend’, a single track taken from 1994’s SLOW BUILDINGS {*6}. His berth was usurped by bassist/vocalist Colleen Browne (ex-HEART THROBS, ex-PARACHUTE MEN). Without their talisman, the album ploughed a similar pattern to The BREEDERS, MAZZY STAR and, obviously, LUSH, although in the 10-minute er… “slow building” `Henry’ the quartet’s sonic palette was a breath of fresh air. `Gesture Of A Fear’ had its moments via a classic-rock guitar solo, but in the MBV-styled dirge `Angel (Will You Be My)’ and several others of lactose intolerance, explanations could not be found anywhere.
Meanwhile, the “Pail Saint” Ian Masters had teamed up with A.C. TEMPLE musician Chris Trout, but in SPOONFED HYBRID (one 4 a.d. album in ’93), the dream-pop daze was virtually done and dusted; thereafter, further collaborations as ESP Summer (with HIS NAME IS ALIVE’s Warren Defever) resulted in very little output; Masters relocated to Japan in 2005. When Meriel bailed after contributing her vocals to PALE SAINTS last offering: a tribute album cover of TOM WAITS’ `Jersey Girl’, the group dissolved in 1996; Browne was called up by both WARM JETS, and RIALTO. Naysmith and Cooper founded the short-lived Lorimer, and later The Terminals, who changed their moniker to CYANIDE PILLS (one set in 2011) and, in turn, The Project.
© MC Strong/MCS 1999-2003 // rev-up MCS Jul2015

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