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Blow-Up: walk-on parts in the story of Creation and Cherry Red, or an interesting musical history in itself? Or, perhaps, a cautionary tale of a band that had some great tunes and both looked and sounded good live, but who, from a mixture of bad luck and happenstance, never made the impact that they should have.

The beginning. This is a true story, though it sounds for all the world like a Creationist myth: Blow-Up singer and mainspring Nick Roughley was spotted by Bobby Gillespie at a Primal Scream soundcheck some time late in 1986. Bobby remarked on Nick's resemblance to Gerard Malanga, Warhol's male muse, and asked what band he was in. The answer was none - or none that had recorded or performed in public up till then - but, thanks to Alan McGee's interest, not for much longer.

So, Blow-Up were in certain senses a manufactured band. But no instrumental crash courses, in the manner of the Monkees or the Rollers, were needed, as Nick had been a musician since childhood, playing guitar, piano, and Spectrum computer. Still, the band - all then Brighton based - were on what we hadn't then learned to call A Steep Learning Curve. They were signed to Creation even before their first gig - supporting Felt, at Brighton's Escape Club, on Thursday 10 February 1987. With just five songs of their own, they had to plump their set with a couple of covers. 'You were graaaaate', brummied Felt's Lawrence afterwards. Creation boss Alan McGee gushed that they were 'the best band since the Mary Chain', and 'Godhead'. According to David Kavanagh's book on Creation, he told the House of Love, then in the middle of recording their first single, 'I've just signed the best band in the world'. They fairly glowed with pride, until he added, crushingly, 'They're called Blow-Up'.

The first single, 'Good For Me', was released in May 1987 on Creation. While Five Star and the Belle Stars sclerotically clogged the mainstream charts, the song reached number one in the Italian indie top 10. The choice of producer was Mayo Thompson from Red Crayola; the band had wanted a thrashy, garagey sound, but, in the end, didn't think that he took them far enough down that road. (Unfortunately, there is no room on this compilation for the later, thrashier, reworking.) On the b-side, covers of '125', originally by The Haunted, and 'I Won't Hurt You', originally by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, bore testimony to the band's enthusiasm for 60s garage punk, though their influences ranged from psychedelia to disco and electro.

National tour support slots followed with the likes of the Weather Prophets and Loop. Later the band toured with Alex Chilton - another musical idol - and the Shamen, though promised gigs with Primal Scream never materialised, perhaps because of professional rivalry. Being signed to the hip and happening Creation label meant plenty of press attention, but baggage too - and perhaps it was a case of too much too soon. While many reviewers were impressed with the energy of the live shows, far too many words were expended on image and appearance, and not enough on the music. 'When you get called “leather boy Smash Hits pin ups par excellence” it might raise a smile, but it doesn't do you any favours musically, or with other music journalists', says Nick.

An honourable exception was John Robb, who astutely detected the influences Television and the Byrds in the 'rattling, finely crafted pieces' that he heard at the July '87 show at Manchester Boardwalk. Significantly, it was from a Television official bootleg called 'The Blow Up', not the Antonioni film, that the band derived its name. The Antonioni association gave succour to a damaging and unfair assumption among some music writers that the band were sixties revivalists, and nothing more.

Nor did Blow-Up fit - socially or sonically - into the post-C86 indie scene, locally focused in Brighton around 'The Big Twang', the club run by their first manager, Josh Dean. None of the band - the early line up was Nick (vocals and guitar) Alan Stirner (12-string), Trevor Elliot (bass) and Chris Window (drums) - ever wore anoraks, and in general their preference was for white denim and ray-bans over baggy Oxfam trousers and NHS specs, and for Julian Cope rather than the Pastels. Basically, they were a bit too rock and roll for the shoegazers.

A big plus for Blow-Up was the terrific support given by Janice Long, who then hosted the early evening show on Radio 1. She played 'Good For Me' solidly for some twenty weeks, handed the band a studio session in summer of '87 and had Nick in the studio to play selections from the psychedelic end of his record collection that September ('It's just cabaret', he lisped with uncharacteristic campness, when asked his opinion of Dr And the Medics). Not long after, Janice Long controversially lost her early evening slot, allegedly for the heinous crime of being pregnant out of wedlock, and Blow-Up lost their biggest champion. Peel wouldn't play them, probably because she found them first.

Blow-Up's second single, 'Pool Valley', surfaced in November 1987. It was all about sex on acid, apparently, but took its title from Brighton's bus station, which was in turned named after a vanished nineteenth century seawater spa called Brill's Bath. Alan McGee, who produced it with the band, regarded it as 'the hit', and called it 'the New Order song' - more evidence that the band were as creatively influenced by their peers as by their sixties forebears. Production-wise, some preferred the janglier version on the Janice Long session - others didn't.

By time Alan McGee and his Primal protégés had moved to Brighton,with the help of Nick, who sorted them out somewhere to live. Another true story: Nick took the pre-Screamadelica Primals along to some early, pre-acid house warehouse parties; bemused, they objected that 'this wasn't the Rolling Stones' and querulously asked where the fire exits were located. Nick found that he did not quite fit into the Creation boys' gang - or indeed anyone else's - and, correspondingly, McGee's interest in Blow-Up fell away as quickly as it had grown. Blow-Up's Creationera recordings - including demos never intended for the ears of the public - were later collected on a compilation entitled 'Rollercoaster', issued on Dutch label Megadisc in 1988 without the band's consent or knowledge. Sometimes cited as their first album, it was no such thing, and there were similar, unauthorised releases under licence in Japan.

On McGee's advice (they remained on friendly terms), Blow-Up - with Nick now joined by Paul Reeves on drums, Aziz Hashmi on bass, and Justin Ruskin Spear (son of Roger) on guitar - signed to the Red Rhino subsidiary Ediesta. They were blissfully unaware of what many in 'the biz' already knew - that the parent label was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. It tottered on for just long enough for them to record and put out their third single, Forever Holiday, but not long enough to distribute or promote it properly. The NME reviewer, among others, tipped his hat to the song's 'strong, slightly dirty 60s style guitar hook'; the single later got a deserved rerelease on Cherry Red in late 1989.

By this time, however, a lot of momentum had been lost. Blow-Up's first album, then provisionally entitled 'Sidekick', was in the can at the time of Red Rhino's collapse, but not mixed, nor its recording sessions paid for. In the year that it took for the spaghetti of debt and blame to be unravelled, however, Blow-Up really came of age as a live band, touring widely in Britain and Europe, and putting the hours into songwriting that had been denied them by their meteoric rise.

The first album, eventually entitled 'In Watermelon Sugar', finally came out in February 1990 on Cherry Red who, in the guise of Complete Music, had been Nick's publishers from the outset. If being on Creation had been almost too hip for Blow-Up's own good, they had the opposite problem with Cherry Red who, for all their professionalism, were at that time widely regarded as unfashionable, making press attention harder to come by.

Nonetheless, those who listened up tended to like what they heard. The single, 'Own World Waiting', boasted a 'hookline that could get your grandmother whistling'; so said John Harris in Sounds, who predicted that the song had 'every chance of finding its way on to Top of the Pops'. Melody Maker's Dave Simpson called 'In Watermelon Sugar' 'a triumph of bedazzled, incandescent dreaming': nearly two decades later, a more sober assessment is that it featured some great moments, but suffered from not being properly mixed or finished - another fallout from the Red Rhino collapse. The album - which was self-produced - had been recorded in just two weeks, and at a cost of less than £2000.

During the somewhat lengthier recording sessions for the next album, it soon became clear that 'World' was the single. Cherry Red backed it strongly, and put in plenty of promotional work. For the radio edit, there was the prospect of daytime play and a promotional video was shot - all on a generous budget for an indie label. But at the time of the single's release in January 1991 the first Gulf War was still raging, and BBC programmers found the collision of the words 'Blow-Up' and 'World' uncongenial. As a result, instead of heading for the charts, the single was banned for the duration of hostilities, joining the ranks of other accidentally controversial songs like Phil Collins's 'In the Air Tonight' and Split Enz's 'Six months in a leaky boat' - and absolutely anything by Bomb the Bass and Massive Attack. Cherry Red put the single out again later in the year, but by this time it was old news, and made little impression.

It was to this unlucky fanfare that Blow-Up released their second album, 'Amazon Eyegasm', in September 1991. Now featuring Will 'Kev' Taylor on guitar and Eddie Quinn on drums, the band co-produced the album with John A. Rivers, known for his work with Felt, Love and Rockets, and Swell Maps. Again, the journalists who could see past the Cherry Red logo registered positive reactions. The NME reviewer praised its 'fine, generally lightweight melodies … Amazon Eyegasm' isn't twee, thumb in mouth rubbish, either', before declaring, a little melodramatically, that 'the likes of Blow-Up don't just have a right to exist - they had a duty'. Sounds pronounced the album 'the best Blow-Up record yet', with 'Thorn of Crowns' - 'an aching sprawl into summer seduction' - singled out for special attention.

After this Blow-Up carried on gigging and recording, resisting the siren calls of A&R men to jump on the Madchester bandwagon by playing up Nick's Pennine origins, or by putting out dance remixes. There was interest from major labels, but nothing came to fruition. In 1992 the band cut several high-end demos for Sony, who were very close to signing the band up, but made the musi-cally dubious but commercially propitious decision to plump for Jamiroquai instead. Guitar music was dead, apparently (where have we heard that one before?) - and this was barely a year before the onset of Britpop. Highlights of the later 'lost' recordings include 'Samantha Talk', 'I Want To Be Alone' and 'Z Gurl Or Something', and easily enough other material to fill a second CD. Live, the band - by this time featuring a rhythm section of Dil Davies (drums) and Adrian 'Sleeez' Marshall (bass) - were, arguably, better than ever.

Later Nick took a back seat, using his skills as a songwriter for (and with) others - and with Logic and an Apple Mac rather than a Gibson and a four-track. His experiences, good and bad, made him think about managing bands too, but the schmoozing and glad-handing that goes with that particular territory never come naturally to him. This, as much as SCUD missiles or anything else, may explain why Blow-Up reside in cult corner, and not closer to the centre of the room.

All these years later, the band still look back with pride on their records - they may not have set the world alight, owing to circumstances beyond their control, but this collection shows that they were doing something pure that has stood the test of time. Much of the material here is being made available in a digital format for the first time, and now you can listen and judge for yourself.


Site by Peter Robert Smith