silent corner, empty stage…
Perfect Sound Forever
Remembering The Freeze with Cinder of Cindytalk
Interview by Scott Bass
Original Scottish punker/future experimental music visionary Gordon Sharp (now Cinder) fronted an obscure-but-fondly-remembered outfit during the early days of UK punk. The group had a unique approach to the format from the get-go and quickly abandoned their punk rock peers, embarking on a journey into completely different waters that continues to this day. This email interview with Cinder was conducted in March, 2017.
PSF: Thanks to David Clancy for connecting us for this exchange — is it right that you were school chums?
Cinder: Yes, David and I must have met first in Primary School in the mid-to late ’60′s and then went on to be in Secondary School together throughout much of the ’70′s. This was Linlithgow Academy and please note that this was the Scottish school system where academy just meant state school. Nothing fancy at all. David and I would have bonded through a mutual love of music. He had an older brother, John, who was in a band at our school, very much a late ’60′s early ’70′s psych rock style band with a slight Hawkwind bent that appealed to us. It seemed mildly rebellious if I recall and that wasn’t without its own appeal. I never saw them live as we were a bit young but I remember standing outside the school listening to them rehearse in the main hall (something we would end up doing ourselves with The Freeze many years later.) This would have been around 1973/1974 I think. Around that same time, at one of our year’s Christmas discos, for some inexplicable reason, David, myself, and a couple of other schoolmates found ourselves onstage doing an impromptu show in front of the whole hall, miming to various favourites hits of the time (Roxy Music, David Bowie, Cockney Rebel, T. Rex etc.). Interestingly, I was designated singer, whilst David was clearly on air guitar. I remember the adrenalin rush and I suspect this bizarre event planted a deep seed for our future band building project. We would probably have been around 13 at the time.
PSF: When you formed The Freeze together was that your first band?
Cinder: Yes, technically it was. I had tried to start something a year or so earlier with a different group of kids at school but that turned out to be a non-starter so I was biding my time until I could find something seemed capable of taking hold. Sometime in the middle of 1976, David and I must have started discussing the possibility of starting a band. I was an avid music listener, always in and out of record shops, mainly in Falkirk or Edinburgh, always looking for something new and exciting. One day in May that year, I was in Orbit Records in Falkirk and the person behind the counter, Lindsay Hutton (Next Big Thing), put on the Ramones’ first album and it totally blew me away. He had an early copy of the album, he said, because his father (the owner of the shop) had just arrived back from New York with a stash of new releases. This was the fuse being lit and I knew I had no choice but to get something concrete going immediately. We were young, alienated teenagers (well, I certainly felt that way, not entirely sure David shared that feeling) in what still felt like a post-war, messed up, old-world country. We wanted to change it somehow and music seemed like as good a way as any. Mind you, I remember stopping myself and thinking ‘but what exactly can you do!!?’ David could play the guitar, was a bit of a boffin with electronics, even back then. He seemed altogether more qualified than me but I had the energy, the spirit, the desire. How hard could it be to make a tit of yourself onstage whilst roaring into a microphone?
PSF: It’s remarkable that a group typically thought of as “post-punk” would date all the way back to 1976; what inspired you at the time to take a different approach?
Cinder: No, I don’t think that it’s particularly remarkable. I would hazard a guess that a decent amount of the early UK based post-punk bands started as early as that or certainly within that general period. We didn’t start off thinking we were post-punk, we absolutely thought we were a punk band, caught up in the spirit of the moment. We were just a bit younger than the majority of the first generation of punk bands, also we were remote in as much as we were in Scotland distanced from the action. We got dribs and drabs of what was going on but London and Manchester were the centres of the storm. Our first rehearsal (and songwriting attempt) was on the 3rd of November 1976. By Hogmanay that year, we played our first gig at a party of a school friend. All very domestic but it was a start and by the Spring of 1977, we had found a drummer and were up and running properly. A lot needed to be learnt and in truth our musical edges were very blurred in those early days. It took time to find the right line-up and attitude. Another Linlithgow Academy school friend, slightly older than us, Keith Grant, joined to play bass. From Edinburgh we found the perfect drummer, Graeme Radin. None of us followed the identikit punk uniform. We had no desire to fall into that trap either musically or visually. To us it was all about spirit – an idea – rather than another form of control and conformity. We were also a band with a softer touch… Graeme was more of a bloke – when the violence kicked off as it often did in those days, three of us would run one way (away), only Graeme was up to the challenge of brute force. It always struck me that this was a very crucial point with The Freeze, it would have an effect on our music changing almost as soon as we found our feet. It was all about shifting, growing, trying new things. Once I had properly learnt how to roar my throat raw I grew tired of the one-dimensional approach and figured there was more fun to be had by exploring the emotions my voice could bring. We were all thinking similarly. Reached this point, now where can we go… I should add that, certainly from a personal perspective, we weren’t thinking of migrating away from the punk mindset at least in political and/or aesthetic terms. We were still young and still felt a total connection to the revolution that inspired us, we just wanted to stretch it as far as we were capable of at that time. Incidentally, by 1979, we were already improvising large parts of our live sets. This was something that became a much greater part of the journey as time went on.
PSF: Was the “rivalry” with the Scars real?
No. Small town cliques, small town thinking. How to hype up your (fast) product. Stupid.
PSF: John Peel liked the band enough to request two different sessions, do you think they will ever be released?
Cinder: I’m currently speaking with Richard Johnson (Fourth Dimension Records / Adverse Effect Magazine) about this. He approached me a couple of years ago about a Freeze release on his Winter Hill imprint. My initial idea was to compile a proper retrospective with the first two Freeze releases, the John Peel sessions and then segue into the early Cindytalk recordings. I would also like to include a CD of live recordings plus a DVD with a full live set from 1981, recorded at Night Moves in Glasgow. I have the latter on a VHS video somewhere (in storage) but i’m not 100% sure exactly where. Haven’t seen it in a number of years, it may well have rotted away…
PSF: Did you get any press after appearing on the Punk 45 compilation?
Cinder: No, as far as The Freeze is concerned, this would be the first bit of press since the early 1980′s. I think that with The Freeze essentially mutating into Cindytalk and with Cindytalk itself continually morphing into new areas of sound, The Freeze were somewhat consumed by the brave new steps we were taking. I’m something of a burnt-earth practitioner. Destroying to create. We were never going to be one of those revivalist bands coming back during our mid-life crises to play the old songs for a few shows. Didn’t need to, Cindytalk were playing shows regularly throughout this period.
PSF: Is it true that The Freeze changed names to Cindytalk because of a similar named London-based group?
Cinder: Hmm… I was becoming aware of the stupidly generic quality of the name from fairly early on and was deep-thinking of a change from as early as 1980. We had come across a couple of other bands with the same name around the UK – one was prog-rock band Budgie who seemed to be launching a new project and wanted to use the Freeze name. They sent us a message warning us off. We told them to do one. But then a year or so later, the London Freeez came along, had some mainstream chart success and that sort of put the cat amongst the pigeons. Their different spelling was probably due to us being around so there was no point in us contacting them to consider a change. There was supposedly some confusion where people turned up to see either or looking for the other band but i’m sure it wasn’t many. It was a final straw though, I was convinced at that point that we had to change the name and that we specifically had to find a hybrid name that was unlikely to ever be used elsewhere. With generic names, it’s quite likely there will be various other bands with that name and then when the internet came along it proved that you needed to have an idiosyncratic moniker lest you became hard to find.
PSF: Did the Freeze from Boston cause much confusion and have you heard their records?
Cinder: No confusion in that period at all. Not sure the UK was particularly aware of them. I certainly never came across them in those days. It was many many years later that I was informed that there was a band with the same name from the U.S. It must have been in the mid to late 1990′s. I did listen on Youtube once. Not my thing.
PSF: Was the stylistic change ramped up with the name change or was it a more gradual thing evolving from a post-punk to more darker, more experimental take?
Cinder: Yes, it was absolutely an evolving thing. We were improvising new pieces into our set as early as 1979, maybe even before that. We just had a desire to seek out new territories, to not stand still, and that is still an important part of my work today. I haven’t changed my attitude to the music that much over the years, I just refused to stand still. I get fidgety and so I wriggle free of genre constraints as best I can. Working in more abstract areas gives you so much more freedom to be playful and confrontational. Obviously, your audience shrinks down but then I’ve never really been all that interested in appealing to a mass market… that usually brings the controlling straight jacket.
PSF: Tell me about the new Cindytalk album.
Cinder: The Labyrinth Of The Straight Line was recorded between 2013-2015 in London and Okamoto, Japan, was released on Editions Mego and is, I think, the last of the current sequence of Cindytalk albums that started with my first eMego album The Crackle Of My Soul (2009.) I’m looking to another change in direction or at the very least a recalibration of my current working methods. The album title relates to Jorge Luis Borges and his layer upon layer of magic realism… forever spiraling into mystery. The Labyrinth album also relates to my love of the European Underground Techno scene of the 1990′s. The stale UK rock music media referred to the new explosion of creativity as “faceless techno bollocks” but what they failed to notice in this cyclical (rather than linear) music was the infinite detail held within a single “straight line” of sound, forever changing, moving forwards and morphing into something completely different. Of course, typically for Cindytalk, this is not a techno album in any way whatsoever, more, this is my interpretation of the ideas that struck me within that music but played out in a much more fractured, fragmented way. I’m far too contrary to follow the rules too closely and I’ve long been interested in redefining dance music in my own peculiar way, without beats and with decimated rhythmic qualities. My involvement with Sound System culture over the last 20 plus years has kindly allowed me to play this material at “raves” in various parts of the world, it’s heartening to see rooms full of people (finding the headspace to) dance to this stuff. Quite literally off the beat and track (beaten track) – Cindytalk in a nutshell. Another theme with the album is my use of very specific samples from Ken McMullen’s wonderful 1983 film Ghost Dance. I first saw this film as part of the very first Channel 4 film season, back in the day when Channel 4 was a decent channel that sponsored proper film makers trying out their ideas. Ghost Dance was full of ideas, maybe too many, stumbling over each other but I’m quite partial to the overreach of artists. Just fucking go for it, follow the ideas and if it comes across a bit messy, allow the audience to pick through it and make up their own minds up. The best art is always that which allows the audience to properly participate, joining the dots. 36 years after Ghost Dance first aired on British telly, its ripples are still going off out into the distance.
PSF: What’s your take on the current state of music today and are there any artists you’re fond of?
Cinder: It’s hard to be too positive about the state of music these days BUT there are always pockets of resistance so it’s better to be hopefully than to sink into despair. Nah. Happiness writes white whilst despair creates… Music seems to have been sidelined by today’s generation, a mere backdrop to their social whirlings. That’s why the festival scene is about the only regular gig for a lot of us. I’ve never particularly liked the festival vibe but I’ve ended up playing at loads around the world. They pay well enough, the bigger ones at least but it’s a distance from the purely dedicated show where people turn up specifically to see you play. It’s what it is, I suppose. There’s almost nothing from the mainstream or rock worlds that I currently listen to (or like) which is sad. Can’t recall the last time I heard anything from that world that made me sit up and take notice. I still love all the old stuff that inspired me as a youngster of course but my tastes have continued to grow over the years. As of 2017, I love Prole Sector, Blackmass Plastics, Scalameriya, Mumdance, Logos, Pinch, Shapednoise, The Sprawl, Samuel Kerridge, Fire At Work, Empty Set, Umwelt, (i still adore) Autechre… and Praxis Records (label + shop) in Berlin is very special to me, family pretty much. Incidentally the annual Praxis shindig is held at one of Berlin’s most longstanding Punk squats, Köpi – one of the few electronic events Köpi allows. Cindytalk (as Bambule) played at the 2015 edition (The End Is Nigh.) As I said there are always beautiful pockets of resistance, so no matter how much it seems like an ocean of mediocrity, good ideas will always find a way to reveal themselves, it just might not be via the format of the song…