Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Greatness of Kiss and Make Up

First in a rare and occasional series where I wax lyrically about singles from my past particularly singles that were different or momentous for their own reasons.

In 1989, Sarah Records band, The Field Mice recorded a song, Let’s Kiss and Make Up, appearing on their debut album Snowball, it was merely a single jewel in a box of diamonds.
Snowball, released on 10 inch, as was always the case with Sarah Records albums at that time, yes it played havoc with the aesthetics of a record collection, but you knew what you were getting with Sarah, you get 10 inch for mini albums, 12 inch for compilations and the 7 inches came in square clear bags, with an insert!

Weighing in at 8 tracks long, Snowball is a joy to listen to and even now, beyond the crackle and a slight jump around track 5, when I feel like taking a break from San Franciscan punks NOFX or rocking out a little less with Robert Plant, I return to Snowball, in particular the soundtrack of my 19 year old life in Let’s Kiss and Make Up.

In 1990, the Cracknell-less Saint Etienne took the seemingly odd move of covering The Field Mice track for release as a single, following up their cover of the Neil Young track, Only Love Can Break Your Heart not with Moira Lambert on vocal duties, but with Dead Famous People vocalist Donna Savage, the next single would see permanent vocalist Sarah Cracknell join the band, but for Kiss and Make Up, New Zealander Savage would suffice more than admirably.
Saint Etienne in their cover, took the song and didn’t mangle it out of all recognition, the love of pop music was clearly evident and so why would they mess around with something that was already a bona fide pop classic, maybe not in your house, but on the streets of Shrewsbury it certainly was, and by streets, I mean clubs, and by clubs I mean The Fridge, and by The Fridge I mean the bit before they warmed up with Fields of the Nephilim.

Kiss And Make Up by Saint Etienne

Saint Etienne took all the best bits of pop music and made them their own. So many bands at the end of the eighties and the early nineties were covering songs and essentially adding a shuffley dance beat and a bit of wah-wah, and this shit sold, it sold in its droves, I have covers of Velvet Underground tunes with a shuffley dance beat and a wah-wah, and I hate shuffley dance beats and wah-wah’s, so if they could sell to a cynical bastard like me, they could sell to anyone, but what was evident from the off, Saint Etienne were different to that, they clearly adored pop music and one day they would achieve pop perfection with You’re In A Bad Way, but before then they would release to an unsuspecting world, Kiss and Make up, and the only response, certainly in our house, to that would be, “f**kin hell, that’s Let’s Kiss and Make Up”.

In these days of Arctic Monkeys covering Girls Aloud, Talent show winners reinterpreting Leonard Cohen, no cover is truly surprising, the lines are blurred, these days if The Saturdays were to cover Peter and The Test Tube Babies, it would not raise a single eyebrow, I would hope it would be Run Like Hell though. No cow is sacred anymore. At the time though although The Field Mice are revered and worshipped and uttered as our lord our fathers at places like Indie Tracks, they were not a ridiculously huge band around the time of this release. I saw them sharing a stage with US hardcore band, Alice Donut in Newcastle, and it certainly was an odd pairing however it was a moderate audience and this was after Kiss and Make up had been released, they were not big at all. Indie was not the marketable, packaged, global selling brand it is now.

I asked the former singer and songwriter of The Field Mice, Bobby Wratten a few brief questions on Saint Etienne’s take on the song and he kindly responded.

When were you first aware that Saint Etienne were going to cover one of your songs?

BW: Michael and I knew Bob Stanley through him being a fan of Sarah Records (the label we were on). We helped out on the very first Saint Etienne demo around Christmas 1989. This was very much an early sketch for Saint Etienne.

Was it specifically Kiss and Make Up or was it a case of opening up the NME and seeing a review?

BW: Their first proper demo featured Only Love Can Break Your Heart and Kiss And Make Up, (again with our help) so we knew very early on that they were going to do our song. By the time it got to the single version we were no longer involved.

How did you feel about it then?

BW: I remember liking it. They took our skeletal version and turned it into a pop record.

Do you feel any differently now?

BW: I haven't heard it in a very long time and although it's always a compliment when someone covers one of your songs my heart does sink a little every time it's reissued because the publishing has never been straight forward for Kiss and Make Up.

Did you have an existing relationship with the band via someone like Ian Catt and so it was quite a compliment or was it a case if I could afford a lawyer, you would hear from him?

BW: We actually introduced Saint Etienne to Ian Catt who had done five records with us by the time he did Saint Etienne's proper demo. As I say it was a compliment but certain issues have clouded the whole thing over the years which at this late stage are best left alone and on the whole weren't the fault of Saint Etienne.

At the time of release, more and more bands were investigating remixes or tapping into the previously undiscovered dance element of their music, did you see an addition to your fan base as a result of Saint Etienne’s cover? A fan base that may have though that their interpretation was representative of The Field Mice?

BW: It's very hard to tell. After their single came out we were asked about it in nearly every interview and I'm sure their cover introduced the name The Field Mice to a lot more people but as to seeing an addition to our fan base nothing was particularly noticeable. I guess once they realised the Saint Etienne version wasn't very representative of The Field Mice they lost interest!

People are like that, the fickle swine’s.

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