Ghost Dance- Gathering Dust

 

 Ghost Dance: still waiting for the last train…

 

 

Another one from the archives…!

 

 

Found in a Kemptown charity shop for 99p, this is a compilation of Ghost Dance’s first three EPs, and I already have everything on here, but I’m a completist aren’t I. Plus it’s nice to have everything on one album as my original singles are all quite worn by now, and there are brilliant Spinal Tap worthy sleevenotes from appropriately-named producer Bill Spectre, though the tracks he didn’t produce are the ones that have the best sound on this album.

  What can I say about Ghost Dance? They were I think probably the first band I fell in love with, though I swiftly fell out of love with them after the period represented here, which is only one year. Their second single was one of the first that I bought, early in 1986, and it was definitely a major part of the soundtrack to my early teenage years. It is a source of major regret that I never managed to see them live, though I nearly did twice, but I stupidly gave in to my parents’ 10.30 curfew and so missed them both times. But I painstakingly copied out their logo in felt tip pen, intending to have it painted on my leather jacket if I ever managed to get one, and had a considerable crush on lead singer Anne-Marie Hurst. She had previously been in first generation second-string goth band Skeletal Family, and had left them in 1985 when they signed a major label deal- her replacement was named Katrina I believe, she was blonde and they went rubbish shortly afterwards. Gary Marx- surely the unsung and unassuming ur-guitarist of gothic rock- had meanwhile just left the Sisters of Mercy, and had a load of songs he’d written for that band left lying around. They hooked up with Paul ‘Etch’ Etchell, former bassist with the Citron Girls (no, me neither), and a drum machine called Pandora, Dr Avalanche’s kid sister by the sound of things. Operating out of Keighley, they surfed the second generation goth wave alongside the Mission and Fields of the Nephilim, but were overtly a pop band from the start. Exhilaratingly uncomplicated and shallow, they gave the kids what they wanted- anthemic, catchy tunes you could dance to- and had just enough of a melodramatic, melancholy edge in their music to satisfy the sorrowful, romantic stirrings of the adolescent soul. 

  This collection starts with the lead track of their first single, ‘River of no Return.’ It’s classic autumnal goth-pop, from the high-in-the-mix chiming guitar riff to Anne-Marie’s curiously strident vocals, which almost recall the chick from Shocking Blue, another band I loved around this time. She mutters marvellously meaningless gothic clichés over a minimal bassline, and on the line “I can see you’re getting scared,” a scream rings out in the background. There’s a breakdown section after the second chorus; my copy jumps on this track too.

  ‘Celebrate’ was later re-worked for Ghost Dance’s debut LP proper, the disastrous major label, mainstream-pop crossover bid Stop the World. Here it’s another great combination of, er, chiming guitar riffs, low-in-the-mix vocals saying absolutely nothing and a relentless, less-is-more drum machine beat. There’s a 2-bar distorted bass solo after the second chorus that then gradually builds up again, and the whole song has a perfect chicken-dancing goth two-step rhythm.

  ‘Heart full of Soul’ has a classic chorus-plus-distortion guitar sound and is far better than the Yardbirds’ original in my highly subjective opinion. Everything is deconstructed down to its bare essentials, in a way that owes more to lumpen glam than punk, and as a result is ten times as powerful. Anne-Marie’s straining, yelping vocal is very sexy in a goth girl next door, Kim Wilde kind of way. ‘Can the Can’ is more perfect gothic bubblegum, but done completely straight and deadpan in spite of the absurd “eagle meets the tiger” lyrics- no more absurd than Ghost Dance’s own though, I suppose. Again, Anne-Marie comes over very sexy on the breakdown section, and does a fine scream, though she’s definitely more Joan Jett than Suzi Quatro.

  ‘Last Train’ is taken from the third EP, and a change of producer definitely shows in the clearer, crisper sound. This album is generally quite muffled all the way through, and I’m not sure if that’s due to the quality of the vinyl or the recording. Anyway, there’s a single-string Sisters of Mercy guitar riff, a four-square, bass-driven verse, and then the riff kicks back in for the chorus. The “last train” itself works both as mythic archetype and a social-realist reference to the actual last train from say, Leeds to Sowerby Bridge that your average Ghost Dance fan may find himself running for after the show. Indeed, he’ll probably be worrying about missing it while they’re playing this song, and may have to leave early to catch it, cursing his parents- so the hookline “take me anywhere but home” resonates particularly strongly. Going to gigs by train is probably an experience quite particular to growing up in small northern valley towns; incidentally, the Sisters wrote quite a few train songs as well, making it something of a classic northern gothic theme.

  Also from the third EP, ‘A Deeper Blue’ is built around a descending, circular riff and a surprisingly melodic chorus, probably stolen from ‘Blue Turk’ by Alice Cooper, providing more evidence of Ghost Dance’s glam rock roots. The hardcore punk-goth bridge section is definitely more Skeletal Family than Sisters derived. There’s also a fine, almost FM-rock guitar solo, and a neo-psychedelic fade-out.

  Side two opens with two of the band’s earliest numbers. ‘Yesterday Again’ is an old Skeletal Family song, also covered by Jude the Obscure. It’s a classic minimalist goth ballad, built on a pulsing, one-note synthesiser bassline that recalls the Sisters’ ‘Afterhours,’ a heavily echoed, minor-key guitar riff set on repeat and a ‘China Girl’ glam descend chorus. A break-up song that positively wallows in glorious self-pity, it’s wonderfully simplistic, even though by the end you expect it to turn into the Sisters’ ‘Some kind of Stranger’ at any moment- you can easily sing one song over the other… Roxy Music’s ‘Both Ends Burning’ is rendered as a straight-ahead rocker, with the drum machine set on autopilot and Marx playing the same three chords repeatedly over the top, the glam descend once again. It works though, and perfectly illustrates Ghost Dance’s seductive naivety. Despite the various members’ past experience in several successful groups, there’s a local-band amateurishness throughout proceedings, a DIY, primitive ethos that’s almost Billy Childish-like in theory, if not in actual sound. I guess that you could get away with that kind of thing in the 1980s, in a way that you certainly couldn’t now.

  Some- but not all- of that innocence had evaporated by the time of the band’s third single. ‘Grip of Love’ may be the band’s finest moment, a perfectly-conceived pop song with a great galloping rhythm and cleaner production than the previous two EPs. By now Richard Steele had joined on second guitar, and so the chorus-distortion main riff is underpinned by chiming 12-string. Yet its b-side, ‘Where Spirits Fly’ is a curiously charmless affair; driving and dynamic, it’s effective but formulaic. Of course, all of Ghost Dance’s songs are formulaic, but this one is too slick so as to sound almost cynical. It’s not a bad song- it was an old Sisters number that they never recorded- but it’s not one of my favourites. The album ends with ‘Radar Love,’ another cover that surpasses the stodgy original. There’s a driving bassline, a cute squeal from Anne-Marie, a top flight drum machine solo and then one of the great low E down the neck guitar scrapes on record. It jumps at the end though.

  After this, Anne-Marie went blonde, they replaced Pandora with a mere mortal (John Grant), and produced one last great EP- though I disliked it at the time- before signing to Chrysalis and re-emerging in 1989 as an AOR pop-rock outfit denying any gothic connection whatsoever. They lost all their old fans, failed to gain any new ones, flopped miserably and split up- though goth was dead in the water by the beginning of the 90s anyway, killed by the double-whammy of grunge and acid house. Etch briefly joined the Mission, and Richard Steele ended up in big-in-America ‘90s glam-rockers Spacehog, alongside members of cult Leeds fellow travellers the Dust Devils. Anne-Marie has recently been singing with a reformed Skeletal Family, having apparently spent the intervening years living the normal life, having kids and so on. And of the whereabouts of the great Gary Marx, I know nowt.

  This stuff has aged surprisingly well. It owes more to Kim Wilde, Joan Jett and the Sweet than Joy Division, and could still show the likes of The Killers a thing or too. It’s just classic pop music, gothic bubblegum indeed that still has me in the grip of love.

 

(edit: Etch also played in minimally-monikered and mightily-mulletted, but actually quite good on their day Bradford Metallers Loud, while Gary Marx can be found here: www.garymarx.com

And see also: www.ghostdance.co.uk )

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