The beautiful 'Invisible Box' edition of the reissued 'Pauline Murray And The Invisble Girls' album arrived today. It looks every bit as wonderful as it sounds (and I couldn't resist adding my own original copy to the photo...). It reminds me that it is almost exactly six years since I wrote about the record for my 'Don't Forget To Dance' fanzine so it seemed an opportune moment to publish those words here. You can download a PDF of the whole fanzine here if you are so inclined, whilst you can order the Pauline Murray record here.
Searching For Heaven (from 'Don't Forget To Dance' fanzine.2008)
When I was fifteen my friend Scott and I used to ride our bikes the seven and a half miles into Ayr every Saturday morning. We’d lock our bikes up behind Alan McGibbon’s cycle shop, pop our heads in to say hello and drool over the Campag gear, then head up Sandgate. We had a route. The usual stops. I barely remember them now. Halfords to laugh at the crappy bikes. A bakery for a pie. John Menzies to play on the ZX Spectrums and to idly flick through the records.
I did not really have a clue about music when I was fifteen. I liked The Jam, but so did a lot of people. I remember my brother sitting in our dad’s armchair by the stereo, headphones plugged in and listening to ‘Setting Sons’ and ‘Sound Affects’ over and over. The few records we had were secret treasures, obsessed over for weeks. Months.
I did not listen to Peel. If I listened to the radio at all it was to Kid Jenson, or Mike Read on the evening show. Mark Goodier or Billy Sloan on Radio Clyde. Or was that BBC Radio Scotland? The disco show on Radio 1 sometimes too. The punks would have sneered, but what did I care? Chic and Sister Sledge sounded better than 999.
Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls. That was a name I knew, oddly enough. I did not know about Penetration then though. Nor did I know that Pauline Murray was from Birmingham. The only group I knew from Birmingham was The Photos. One of my first loves. Again, people would sneer, but I loved The Photos. Wendy Wu. Who didn’t love Wendy Wu? And actually the only reason I knew that The Photos were from Birmingham was that they sang about Barbarellas and Maxine with her panda eyes looking sublime. Anarchy in Birmingham doing fine. And The Photos album was the first proper album I bought. Malcolm Garrett with a hand in the sleeve. The Blackmail Tapes as a limited edition bonus disc. So much fun it was obscene.
I loved Pauline Murray too. Every week I would pick up the Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls album and gaze at that sleeve. Now I was not really aware of the Factory thing at the time but I knew I loved that album cover. Trevor Key and Peter Saville. But the only song I had heard by Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls was not listed on that record, which is one reason I did not buy it for several months. That and the fact that all my pocket money was going on bike stuff.
‘Searching For Heaven’ had been on the radio and I loved it to bits. It sounded like it ought to. Don’t all the best songs? It was only years later that I tracked down a copy. I think I paid 50p. What a find. It appeared on a CD reissue of the Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls album many years after that, but that CD is as ludicrously rare as the original record now. You will pay upwards of twenty quid for a copy of the reissue on Amazon.
I am not sure how much I paid for the album in 1981. It probably was not a great deal more than a pound or two. One of the best investments I ever made. I would never sell it though. No collector would want it anyway because it is bent and battered, the way well loved records should be.
‘Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls’ was a great record. It was ahead of its time. Several people have said that of it recent years, and it is true. But then Martin Hannett was always a strange maverick out there in his own universe. It is part of the mythology of Manchester now, isn’t it? The Martin Hannett story. The Joy Division and Factory films, with Hannett appearing as some crazed, troubled genius. Whatever.
Hannett was a key part of The Invisible Girls, along with Steve Hopkins. When they backed John Cooper Clarke on his early albums The Invisible Girls would include luminaries like Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks and Bill Nelson of Be-Bop Deluxe fame. On the Pauline Murray records Hannett and Hopkins were joined by the likes of Robert Blamire, John Maher and Vini Reilly. I did not know those names at the time, but just listing them now has my mouth hanging open. What a collection. The links to Buzzcocks, Penetration, Durutti Column, Scars. The links are there to be followed. So many stories to be told. Blamire in Pentration with Murray, and the producer behind Scars seminal Pop masterpiece ‘Author! Author!’ Maher as drummer in Buzzcocks, as vital a part of their punk fuzz buzz as any. Reilly, as well, Vini Reilly. What else?
There is a story to be told too about the guitarist on ‘Searching For Heaven’. One Wayne Hussey, later of Goth unpleasantness The Mission. But it’s certainly a story to conveniently forget.
‘Searching For Heaven’ may not have been on the album, but from the off there were other songs on there that cut me just as beautifully. Songs that cascaded through my mind and that soundtracked so many evenings spent window gazing, dreaming of escapes. Electrical rhythms counting out sheep as I waited for another morning and the walk with the purple tide over the golf courses to school. Somebody wake me before I go to sleep. Songs that slipped into my consciousness and accompanied me on rides to Dalry or Largs or The Nick’O’Balloch or wherever. Nowhere and anywhere. Time slipping. Time sliding. A sound that was metallic, like the click of the chain through the derailleur. Spooked warmth. Cold steel cacophony underpinned by a hint of red light. Ghosts of somewhere. Light slicing in the darkness, like the beams across Pauline on the fractured sleeve. Was this post-punk? Probably. But then the fools in the playground told you Punk wasn’t dead. They painted that on the bridge by the council flats. Twenty-five years later you could just about still read it. But what did they know anyway?
And twenty-eight years later, Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls still sounds like a glorious record, much further ahead than many of others of the time. Then or now. And you know, even though I have not played it for several years, I know every little nuance of every song. Every rhythm. Every guitar shimmer. Every luscious tremble and strain in Pauline’s voice. There are too few recent records I could say the same thing about. Perhaps that first Brakes album or Gravenhurst. Playwrights possibly. The Clientele certainly. And yet…
It’s not the same. Something in me says it should not be. Could not be. And nothing wrong with that. Nothing to do with how great something is, or its place in the strange strand of history except the place it holds in one’s own personal timeline.
Of course I am no longer fifteen. Am so glad not to be so. Remember what Richard Hell said about all the bullshit of adolescence, after all. But I hope the fundamental essence of being fifteen is the same as it ever was and that the same spirit of obsession remains, regardless of the enormous wealth of possibilities and ease of access that exists these days. I do hope that somewhere some fifteen year old may be blissfully unaware of Pauline Murray but is immersed completely and utterly in whoever they have just discovered. I hope someone is spending hours in whatever is today’s equivalent of sitting in dad’s armchair plugged into the only record player; is hitting ‘repeat’ on the CD player or iTunes playlist, oblivious to all else. The way it should be.