Forgotten Songs: Matt Eaton of Pram on Algebra Suicide’s “True Romance at the Worlds Fair”

"It's perfect, it couldn't have been made any other way, and listening back, it resonates over the years."

Mar 15, 2019 By Matt Eaton Web Exclusive
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Forgotten Songs is our recurring series where a musician or one of our writers examines a song they love that they feel has been overlooked. It could be a song by an artist who never made it big, or it could be a B-side/rarity or unheralded album track by a more well known artist. It could even be one of the artist's own songs. For this edition of Forgotten Songs, Matt Eaton of Birmingham, England's Pram writes about a song he came across in the 1980s, one where he's only just discovered who the artist behind the track actually was.

Last summer Pram released a new album, Across the Meridian, on Domino. It was the band's first album in 11 years, since 2007's The Moving Frontier. The band's current lineup is rounded out by Sam Owen, Max Simpson, and Harry Dawes. Across the Meridian was begun in a remote studio in Wales before being finished at their own studio in Birmingham and continues Pram's deep dive into film scores, obscure soundtracks, Krautrock, and other soundscapes evocative of both the past and the future (see also Stereolab, Broadcast, The United States of America, and others who have mined similar noises).

Read on as Eaton reminisces of a time when home taping was the future.

Sometime in 1987 the young Matt dubbed a song from his cassette recording of an entire John Peel show onto a compilation of best bits and greatest hits. We would use and reuse cassettes until they wore out, dubbed into the muffled distance, or became tangled and mangled beyond repair. At £1 or so for a pack of five they were expensive and although Eliot Baines (the shady, silent arch shoplifter, notorious around our school) would steal pretty much anything to order at half price or less, it was the sheer bother of approaching Eliot, describing in detail the type (the amount of minutes in total preceded by the letter C), the format (so-called metal tapes, no thank you), and the brand that put us off from asking. Eliot would invariably turn up with something not quite right, damaged, incomplete, or just plain wrong and demand his sale with an injured look that somehow promised some unspecified suffering if refused.

I remember the title of the song "True Romance at the Worlds Fair," and I don't think that I ever made a note of the band that released it in that year. Big things were afoot in my world of music, I was listening to Can, The Stooges, PiL (no, still don't get it), '60s garage, Silver Apples, Lee Perry, and Joe Gibb's dubs, obsessively and covertly recording the John Peel show onto cassette five nights a week, working my way through the canon of The Beatles, and experimenting with a wonderful now defunct Hitachi boom box that sported a drum machine the equal of the famous Roland CR-78, and crucially, an overdubbing facility. With this machine I would put together collages of slowed down bands, scrapes, bangs, extracts of the William Burroughs readings that I was collecting from record fairs, and whispered poetry that I now find I don't care to revisit.

The recordings were not for public consumption, and I don't think that anything was more important than the making of them, not the listening back, not the content, and certainly not their physical presence, on the cassette tapes littering my bedroom. What mattered was the exploration, you could climb a mountain, become a gymnast, excel and be celebrated, have a girlfriend, all these things are new when you're young, but I suppose that it was just chance that I, and thousands of kids in England, accidentally became explorers of our imaginations and expressed this journey in sound. You could form a band, play the guitar or bass, and shout your literal thoughts to an audience of school friends and I did a bit of that. Or you could learn how to play like the musicians in your record collection, be a musical technician, command the respect of your peers, I gave it a go, but to be honest I couldn't be bothered to learn how to play the guitar properly in any conventional sense, it just wasn't interesting enough. Bang it, scrape it, let it feedback for an hour (sorry Mum), fine, but learn to play a solo?

The song, "True Romance at the Worlds Fair" has lived in my consciousness since 1987, alongside countless well-known tunes, sound events, and lost gems.

Physically, for me, it exists in one place only, on an unusual bright orange and yellow C60 cassette in one of the three crates of plainer cassettes that I have shared space with for 30 years.

Imagine when I realized that it would probably be online somewhere! Well, yesterday I tentatively searched it out, knowing with sadness that I had made a decision that could dispel all of its magical history. It took about 20 seconds if that and the top result was on genius.com. The name of the band was Algebra Suicide and they were a "Poetry and Music" group from New York. The song "True Romance at the Worlds Fair" was on the LP The Secret Like Crazy released 1987 as we know, and the song itself was a single in 1982.

I've little curiosity at the moment about the rest of the LP, the group's biography, their other releases, their place in the world, or the artists as people. The version of the song, the one that contains part of my childhood, and that signposted tiny fragments of the subsequent years, only exists in one place, on that tape, lost somewhere in Birmingham UK.

Is it even a good piece of music? I've no idea, the music is functional, it feels like it was made with loving care and attention and that crudity that makes an instinctive and emotional connection with the receptive listener, but is it good? It's a couple of guitars, a couple of chords, and a drum machine not dissimilar to the old Hitachi Beat Box, and on this rhythm a laconic young woman says her piece, a Short Cut of travel, the City, mundanity, and loneliness.

It's perfect, it couldn't have been made any other way, and listening back, it resonates over the years. It feels like time travel.

And weirdly it sounds exactly the same as I remember it, the texture, her voice, the intonation, the odd and sloppy guitars, everything.

There's much I could say about the lyric, it's small but with a big reach, much like how I imagine the protagonist, humor, a weariness, and an endless gaze into the future, demanding what happens next? But your version of this song will be different, my version pops up in odd places, in lonely times of loss, in deep reflective peace, in absurdity and peril, in events real and imagined.

www.pram.bandcamp.com

www.dominomusic.com/artists/pram

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alex saim
March 15th 2019
1:46pm

It’s perfect

Mousuni Island
March 19th 2019
12:30am

Mousuni Island