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The Wake \ Biography

The Wake formed in Glasgow (Scotland) in April 1981, after singer/guitarist Caesar teamed up with drummer Steven Allen and a bassist, Joe Donnelly. Previously Caesar had played guitar in Altered Images, writing first single Dead Pop Stars and appearing on the first two John Peel sessions, but left the group shortly before they crashed into the mainstream pop charts with Happy Birthday.

With few opportunities to play large live shows the new group financed a single on their own Scan 45 label, coupling upbeat indiepop number On Our Honeymoon with Give Up, a darker song featuring a keyboard line picked out by band friend Robert 'Bobby' Gillespie. Although the single sold modestly on release in January 1982, the band received a major fillip when Bobby Gillespie replaced Donnelly on bass, followed soon after by the recruitment of Steven's sister Carolyn on keyboards.

In search of a label deal The Wake decided to look beyond Glasgow to Manchester. Although New Hormones had run out of money, New Order manager Rob Gretton found much to admire in early demo tapes and the Scan 45 single, and in October The Wake entered Strawberry Studio in Stockport to record a seven-track mini album for Factory Records. "I'd say Rob was thinking in terms of a single," recalls Caesar. "But we wanted to do something lengthier while we had the opportunity. Who knows what sound engineer Chris Nagle made of the four shy Scottish waifs with tuning and tempo problems, who displayed a bizarre mix of cluelessness and self-assurance. But his easy-going manner, super confident technical abilities and natural quiet creativity really helped us to get the feel we were aiming at, especially on tracks like The Old Men and Heartburn."

Harmony was speedily released as Fact 60 in December, and in some respects represents the missing link between Postcard's fabled 'Sound of Young Scotland' and early Factory. A subsequent European pressing on Factory Benelux (FBN 29) added a more experimental out-take, Chance. Harmony earned a five-star review from Dave McCullough in rock weekly Sounds, who praised: "The first genuine record I can think of for months. Favour is, believe it or not, a hit single for Factory if they cared. If I played it to you and told you it was the new New Order 45 you'd almost certainly say at first how much they've improved... They are on that soaring pitch of optimism, somewhere between Transmission and Glittering Prize. When you hear it, you'll recognise it at once and move away from the recent, gorgeously indecent chart rubbish. This is awake."

Together with a string of support dates with New Order around the UK during the early months of 1983, Harmony finally got The Wake noticed outside their Glasgow hometown. In May the band returned to Manchester to record a new single, cut at Revolution studio and offering extended versions of Something Outside and dub-informed workout Host. "We were alot more confident about what we were doing by that point," says Caesar. "More confident to the point that we thought it was quite the thing to play away for nearly eight minutes per song. This was a genuine belief in the notion of expanding the time limits of whatever sort of music we were making, rather than any obtuse desire to test the listener's patience."

In July the band recorded a radio session for John Peel featuring three new tracks: The Drill, Uniform and Here Comes Everybody. Other unheard nuggets from this period include Country of the Blind, Company, and excellent uptempo song Recovery. Most of these can be heard on the archive CD Assembly, which includes an entire show taped at Ayr Pavilion in April. A live rendition of Uniform (recorded at The Haçienda in July supporting Howard Devoto) also appeared on the Factory Outing video (Fact 71). "It was a bit disappointing to hear Peel announce as the session went out - and as we were about to take the stage at The Haçienda - that Uniform was very depressing," says Caesar. "To be fair, it's certainly no Teenage Kicks."

Bobby Gillespie was already dividing his time between The Wake and an embryonic version of Primal Scream, and was asked to leave the band shortly after the Peel recording. Within a year he would re-emerge playing drums in the Jesus and Mary Chain, swapping one cult label (Factory) for another (Creation). His replacement on bass in The Wake was Alex 'Mac' MacPherson, who joined in August, with new single Something Outside appearing in October on Factory Benelux (FBN 24).

Sprightly pop single Talk About the Past (Fac 88) followed in January 1984, featuring Vini Reilly (of The Durutti Column) on piano, and drew glowing reviews. By now The Wake had secured a publishing deal with Island affiliate Blue Mountain Music, while the parent label expressed interest in signing the group. Ultimately, however, Caesar's desire to have the final say on singles and cover art would scupper the deal. "Basically we were trying to retain the creative controls we had at Factory," he confirms today. Briefly it looked as if Talk About the Past might reach beyond a cult indie rock audience, but despite being marketed by Blue Mountain (rather than by Factory) Fac 88 failed to break into the national chart. Factory foreman Tony Wilson would later cite the absence of a manager as one reason The Wake failed to break through commercially. Equally, Caesar still heeded lessons learned during his time in Altered Images.

Following a Haçienda showcase on January 20th, and a BBC session for David Jensen in February, short-stay bassist MacPherson departed in April, and The Wake forged on as a trio. Despite the fact that much of their second album had already been written, both recording and release were delayed, with the band obliged to complete another string of Scottish dates with New Order in February 1985 with taped bass. Once again produced by Keith 'Oz' McCormick at Revolution, Here Comes Everybody finally arrived in November as Fact 130, offering atmospheric synth pop performed with taste and restraint, with highlights including O Pamela, Melancholy Man and All I Asked You To Do. Nevertheless a lack of obvious novelty continued to draw critical fire, with an additional charge of pretension now added for referencing Russian artist El Lissitzky on the cover. While acknowledging an "undeniable prettiness" and "soppy bedsit heart", NME fell back on lazy comparisons with New Order. Rival rock weekly Sounds somehow managed to find the album simultaneously "irksome but likeable".

Since then the album has attained the status of a dreampop classic. "Here Comes Everybody was the first time I became fully involved in the writing and recording of an album," says Carolyn Allen. "I remember being excited and anxious to do well, and on the whole it was great fun but hard work. The part I remember most though was the last day and night of mixing. We were struggling to finish when suddenly everything changed. We were tired. I lay down on the couch to listen with pieces of music echoing in and out of my half sleep. It was so dreamlike, then emotional, as I realised that making an album is a very private experience, but one you hope will be loved by others."

"Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental..." adds Caesar. "I wrote most of the words for the songs at the studio as the music was being put together or back in a room at the guest house in preparation for the next day's session. The stories emerging were a bit more direct and personal than in previous lyrics, and with the pressure of a daily deadline I just let it happen. With hindsight, although the songs seem autobiographical, nearly all the situations and implied characters weren't real. I've never kept a diary. I didn't know anyone called Pamela. There was no melancholy man and I've never worn a long grey overcoat. But up and down the length of Church Road in the quite affluent area of Cheadle Hulme I swear I saw versions of those people going to and from school, work and home."

Two further non-album singles would appear on Factory: Of the Matter (Fac 113 in October 1985, on 7" only) and a swansong EP, Something That No-One Else Could Bring (Fac 178, November 1987). Featuring another short-stay bassist, John Rahim, the EP was produced by John Leckie and marked a shift in sound towards shorter, more direct songs. "We thought we'd like to try something different," relates Caesar. "John was very orientated towards the Sixties and psychedelia, into phasing and backwards parts, and organs, which was fine by us as by then we wanted to get away from string synth sounds. Then a fight over the artwork made it clear that there wasn’t much of a future for us at Factory. We wanted something a bit cheap-looking, more post-punky, like The Fall. I discussed it with Alan Erasmus, who said we wanted something more Rugby League than Rugby Union. I had to go away and find out what that meant exactly."

After recording demos of several new songs, the group linked up with esteemed Bristol-based indie Sarah Records for future releases. Rahim drifted away, after which two members of fellow Glasgow band The Orchids - bassist James Moody and guitarist Matthew Drummond - stepped in as guest musicians. The Wake opened their account for Sarah in October 1989 with Crush the Flowers (Sarah 21), an uptempo pop single on which vocals were shared by Caesar and Carolyn. During the Sarah years the band would tour with The Orchids in Europe, and also in France with The Field Mice. January 1991 brought a third studio album, Make It Loud (Sarah 602), followed by another single, Major John (Sarah 48), the latter proving to be Steven Allen's last recordings with the group.

After another period of relative silence, Caesar and Carolyn returned in 1994 with a fourth album, Tidal Wave of Hype (Sarah 618). Guest musicians again included Moody and Drummond, as well as Duncan Cameron on bass and David McLean on additional keyboards. Around this time Caesar also played some live bass for the remaining Orchids after Moody left the band. However, after Sarah shut up shop in 1995 The Wake found no suitable outlet for new material, and elected to call it a day.

Caesar (as Gerard McInulty) and Carolyn subsequently concentrated on an experimental theatre performance group, Twelve Stars, whose productions included Treatise on the Steppenwolf, staged in Glasgow in May 2003 with a live soundtrack by The Durutti Column, and Do I Mean Anything To You Or Am I Just Passing By? (Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, November 2006). During this extended hiatus the entire Wake back catalogue on Factory and Sarah was reissued on CD by LTM, together with a DVD featuring both Haçienda shows from 1983 and 1984. In addition two new tracks slipped out on low-key compilations: Town of 85 Lights in 2003 (as The Wake), and Jesus From the Block in 2005 (as The Portal).

Caesar and Carolyn also collaborated with close friend Bobby Wratten of The Field Mice/Trembling Blue Stars on two albums as The Occasional Keepers: The Beauty of the Empty Vessel (2005) and True North (2008). 2006 saw the release of Nouvelle Vague's 'easy listening' cover of O Pamela, which also featured on the soundtrack of Channel 4 drama Sugar Rush. Melancholy Man, another track from their classic 1985 album Here Comes Everybody, also appeared on a Late Night Tales compilation curated by American group MGMT. Subsequently a boxed vinyl edition of Here Comes Everybody was issued via Captured Tracks.

In 2009 Caesar and Carolyn reformed The Wake to perform at A Factory Night (Again) at the Plan K venue in Brussels. Afterwards the revived group went on to play in London, Paris and New York, with Ronnie Borland and Chris Quinn of The Orchids guesting on bass and drums. Assisted by Ian Catt (St Etienne) and Duncan Cameron, the band then recorded a new album, A Light Far Out, released in May 2012. A vinyl version followed on Factory Benelux in 2013, along with an FBN edition of Harmony on CD and double vinyl.

"Really it's been a process of rediscovery," explained Caesar. "After getting back together to play the Factory Night at Plan K in Brussels, then going on to play a few more gigs, we set about making a fifth album. Hopefully it combines elements from our past recordings with our more recent work as The Occasional Keepers - to create something that resonates in the present day."

The autumn of 2014 brought a 'best of' collection on Factory Benelux. Titled Testament, the album featured highlights from both the Factory and Sarah years, as well as Clouds Disco (a previously unreleased outtake from 2012), and cover typography by Peter Saville. The vinyl edition also included a bonus CD of very early Wake material from 1981/82, located on cassettes preserved in the Rob Gretton tape archive, with no less than seven lost songs. Judged to be a highlight, Clouds Disco was also issued as a 7" single for Record Store Day in April 2015, backed with previously unreleased track The Sun Is A Star.

James Nice

The Wake
The Wake