Monday, 31 December 2007

City of Sin by This Picture

I first saw This Picture playing a lunchtime set in the big top at Greenbelt 1987. In the programme they professed to be influenced by Led Zeppelin and The Waterboys, a clever way for a rock group to avoid mentioning U2 in the 1980s. Their peformance was understated, but the music was interesting, so I resolved to keep an eye out for them.

A year later they were headlining in the big top on a Saturday night and their confidence had grown measurably. Simon Bye was prowling the stage with an air of practised distraction, resembling a rustic Michael Hutchence in his brown corduroy jacket. Stephen Hughes's remarkable bass playing ensured he wasn't dwarfed by the green-illuminated Trace Elliot stack standing behind him. Top hat-wearing Robert Forrester tore at his guitar while brother Duncan was pounding the drums behind him. This was the template for This Picture live shows for the next couple of years.

I began following This Picture's London shows. I remember two at The Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, supporting Something Happens and Blue In Heaven. At one I cheered the announcement of "Rape The Hillside", only for Simon Bye to pause after the first word of the title leaving me feeling extremely uncomfortable. There was no Underground to Harlesdesn, so I'd borrow my dad's car and drive back to Essex afterwards around a nearly-deserted North Circular Road.

A friend of the group who'd travelled up from the west country kindly made me a tape of their Radio One session for Janice Long and their first demo, both featuring signature song "Naked Rain". Within a year Rough Trade would release a one-off EP featuring a less-interesting version with violins over the introduction.

The group signed to Dedicated Records whose headquarters in Notting Hill weren't far from the office where I worked as a record plugger. I struck up a friendship with Colleen who worked there and popped in regularly to drop off copies of records we were promoting, and - self-servingly - pick up copies of their latest stock. It was great - and slightly rare - meeting people who were as enthusiastic about music as I was.

There was a hiatus as Stephen Hughes was replaced by Austen Rowley on bass. That saddened me, but I continued to follow This Picture across London - The Borderline, Fulham Greyhound and The Underworld - to the mainstage at Greenbelt. They released an album - A Violent Impression - featuring some of the songs they were playing live, alongside newer compositions. It felt slightly unbalanced and the songs sounded like they'd been swamped by the studio during the extended gestation.

I spoke with Simon briefly at The Underworld show, half hoping we might get some plugging work, only to find they were handled by one of the leading pluggers in the business. He told me about Stephen's departure, remaining optimistic for the future. As time went on, the recession deepened. I left the music business. Dedicated Records was disbanded. This Picture ended up on Arista who released this album and then tried to ignore it. Other than the singles, I don't recognise the songs... but it still has its moments.


fotoviva said...

was wonderful and am trying to collect all their b-sides from that era. I hear they have/are recording another album due for release sometime but not heard anything have you?

Richard Hare said...

I've seen rumours of live appearances and recordings by former members, but nothing about the band recording again.