Pauline Murray is someone I have always wanted to meet and more-so after the release of her post Penetration break up album Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls. That album disapeared from view for a long long time and now almost 35 years later it gets a full digital remastered re-release. Disque du Crepuscule have added extra tracks, live sessions, photo’s and various limited edition sets…I got to talk to Pauline about the album recording sessions and what happened after.
Why is the album Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls perceived as a great lost new wave album.
It marks a point in time, a certain turning point. First of all, it’s a one off, never to be repeated thing. When we started we were just learning to play…the whole Penetration thing…then toward the end of the seventies you have what I call the flowering of punk. Magazine and a few others were creating head music rather than just a physical effort and it became less punky. Everything you had learned was coming to a flowering.
It is a dark pop album. The songs were written as they came, not really trying to be poppy. My voice is quite accessible but it is not the clean pop that came later, it has a little bit of an edge to it.
It is a blueprint for the new producer albums that followed in the 80’s. It marked a pivotal point in time. Ian Curtis had just killed himself whilst we were doing that record. There was a strange vibe around at that time
RSO the label that financed the album went bust and I suddenly was without a recording contract. We had all the master tapes. It sat in a box for years and I had become very disillusioned with the music business and did not want anything to do with it.
That box sat for years in our (Robert Blamire and Pauline Murray) possession and we thought really this should be out there because it is a bit of a missing link, it sits with the Factory recordings. We own the rights to it and were going to try and release it several times but we thought we could not do it justice. We did get the master tapes digitalized and we approached Simon Raymonde at Bella Union but after a few discussions nothing materialized.
Luckily, James Nice for Les Disques du Crépuscule approached us in March, and we saw his packaging ideas and he showed us what else he had done. We knew this was the right place for it. James met us and we went through the box of tapes and photographs and he choose what he thought would make a great package. We are absolutely delighted in the job he has done.
I absolutely love that album it was my go to Sunday morning album after a night out. It has a sound like nothing else at the time.
I don’t know what it is about it. I made the thing but I was extremely depressed when we made it. It was a very difficult time for me. I think my emotions are wrapped up in the recordings.
I felt a bit out of my depth coming from Penetration and working with Martin and session musicians. I had never done that before.
What else was difficult for you about that album did Martin Hannett very much take charge?
Working with Martin and letting go, being out of control of the music in a sense. We had demo-ed the songs and when you listen back, the arrangements were already there. But we had never worked with piano and strings and sessions musicians.
Martin is not like another producer. A producer might say do that vocal again because you can do it better. I got no guidance whatsoever from him. He would send the track, you would sing it and the track would come again, you would sing it again, then it would come again and again. This would go on about 10 times to the point that it became depressing.
I spoke to Wayne Hussey recently and he said the same thing. Wayne was doing a guitar track he did it loads of times and did not get any feedback at all from the control room and after about 10 times he went into the control room and there was no-one in there apart from Martin who was asleep under the desk. The tape machine was on repeat. That was the sort of thing that was going on.
After Penetration had finished how and why did the this album happen ?
There was only me and Rob who had stayed together from the band. I didn’t want to put another band together as I’d had enough of relying on other people. The fact was that Martin was doing gigs with the Invisible Girls with John Cooper Clarke and Jilted John.
My ex-husband suggested it. They were a ready made band and that’s why I rang Martin and asked if he wanted to do it. Because it was a ready made set up there was no commitment from me to have a band permanently. It was much more flexible.
Who were the Invisible Girls at the time because the line up for live and recordings changed
The main Invisible Girls were Steve Hopkins – he was a major part but doesn’t always get the credit and Martin Hannett. Then they got various other people to come in. So for this record there was Rob Blamire, Steve, Martin, and John Maher who was there when we did the backing tracks. After that we added guitar with Vinni Reilly and later Wayne Hussey.
What are your memories of those recording sessions? Is there anyone else who played on the album but is not credited…who hung around at the time?
Why did you continue you to write with Robert Blamire after Penetration split up?
He was the only one who I felt that I could carry on working with, who was reliable and still wanted to carry on making music. He had written for Penetration so he knew he could write. Then we got together romantically too and we have been together ever since.
We weren’t together when we were writing the album afterwards we did get together after but then it became more difficult to write songs with him. It was all a big learning curve.
Having read the lyrics for the Invisible Girls album separately from hearing it they read like a book of poems. What come first for you the lyrics or the tune?
I am very conscious of lyrics. The music usually come first and it has to be inspiring to me to enable me to write the lyrics, so the musical idea has to spark something off. I could go through the songs and tell you what they are about.
Is there any lyric that stands out for you as a highly personal moment?
I always think Judgment Day has a good set of lyrics. This was inspired about my Grandma dying. It is all a bit dark really. It goes on about having no possessions, because in the end we don’t. No illusions, no arrangements and no future plans. Completely bleak in that moment when you don’t want to let go but hopefully quite uplifting in that it (the song) can connect people universally.
I see in the credits for the album re-release that Robert and yourself have overseen the project. How import to you was that involvement?
Some of the master tapes had been cleaned up but nothing like we really wanted so in that box of recording and tapes was a Japanese vinyl copy of the album and it had never been opened so that was what we used as a starting point. So our involvement was key.
The original tapes had deteriorated and sounded absolutely awful and we had to get the tapes totally re-mastered again and we used this pristine vinyl pressing as a guide to get close to the original sound. I think James Nice has done a great job, the sound is fantastic.
When you talked earlier about how everyone had learned to play their instruments you can really see it on the live recordings that come with new album release.
Those live sessions in Holland were done for a radio broadcast and they used a mobile recording studio outside. By then they were all good players.
What happened after the Invisible Girls album was released because as you had Pauline Murray & The Storm and then disappeared for along time?
After the first album we did a 10 inch single Searching for Heaven and then RSO* went bust so we did not have record deal.
I had left home and went to live in London for 3 months and then Rob and myself moved to Toxteth, Liverpool and the riots started a week later. We couldn’t come home (Newcastle) because there was a lot of personal stuff going on. I had absconded and felt I could not come back.
We started to do some demo’s to try and get a new record deal, which seemed to be the story of our lives- we never got record deals that carried on.
I was half way through singing a song and I said that’s it, I don’t want to do this anymore. I couldn’t face the next phase of looking for a deal and I turned my back on it all.
When we eventually moved back to Newcastle we went to see Chrysalis music publishers whom we had signed to as songwriters when we did the Invisible Girls album and we did another set of songs and in that session we did Holocaust, the Big Star song. I felt more confident writing and we moved forward into the Storm thing.
What did you do to make a living?
To start with we just signed on, we had no money, we never made any money from any of the projects. We managed to release some recordings on our own Polestar label and put a band together to finish the Storm Clouds album and do some live dates around the country. That was the mid to late 80’s. No-one was interested.
Robs family had a printing business so he went back there for a while. I washed dishes for a year in a restaurant which was the best thing I could possibly have done. It put me back into the real world.
After that I had this pipe-dream about opening a rehearsal studio, it was something I had always wanted to do since living in Liverpool. Eventually I found a property through a private landlord who said if you can tidy it up a bit you can have so many months rent free. I took the plunge and signed the lease and started with nothing and gradually built up the business to what I have now….Polestar Studios.
We relocated three years ago, bought a building from the council, it was derelict and we did it all up. We now have 4 rehearsal studios and a recording studio. Maximo Park and John Ashton ( Monkeys, Shadow Puppets) use part of the space.
I have now done this for years, I have two children (now adults) and we now have a different life.
We re-formed Penetration in 2001 and have done some great shows and met some lovely people.
I picked up the acoustic guitar a couple of years ago when Martin Stephenson persuaded me to do a few numbers with Viv Albertine, Gina Birch, Helen McCookerybook. I have written quite a few new songs and it’s a different way for me to present the songs.
We were approached nearly a year ago by Australian promoters who want to get Penetration out there. Because we are virtually unknown, I am going there in a few days to do acoustic performances in Sydney and Mebourne and lots of promotional stuff to pave the way for the band.
This solo acoustic stuff is a new phase for me. It’s challenging but rewarding as I have improved with each performance. It’s intimate and the opposite of Penetration.
Pauline is off on her first Australian tour at the end of October and there are hopes for a release of the Storm Clouds album too. Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls is out now on CD, Vinyl and Limited Edition.
Interview with Pauline Murray and Simon Jay Price from Rockshot. October 2014.
*As well as the label was operating in 1978, the disastrous commercial and critical failure of RSO’s movie version of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Clun Band crippled the company. The woes of this failure were only somewhat offset by the middle of 1979, as the Bee Gees album Spirits Having Flown went on to eventually sell nearly 20 million copies (with the album producing three further number 1 singles that each sold more than one million copies in their own right).
In 1980, the label’s most famous act, the Bee Gees filed a $200 million lawsuit against both RSO and Stigwood, claiming mismanagement. The lawsuit was subsequently settled for an undisclosed amount, and after a public reconciliation, the band remained with the label until its dissolution.
By 1981, Stigwood had ended his involvement with the label, which was absorbed into PolyGram a few years later. All previous RSO releases were later re-released under Polydor’s label.