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The Peace & Freedom Magazine Modern Art Interview

One-man band, Modern Art, have been building up a favourable reputation for themselves (himself!) over the last few years and the man behind both the band and the much-vaunted Color label, Gary Gipps, answered a few questions, with a few plugs inbetween! Interviewed by Paul Rance for Peace & Freedom, No. 4, Summer/Autumn 1986.

Which came first; Modern Art or Color Tapes?

I started M.A. first, but the idea of setting up a tape label first came into my head around 1980, but then I didn't think I would have done the label justice. I was in a New Wave band called The Ordinary with Dave Morgan (who achieved success later with The Loft) and Tony Clough (later of WeR7 and New 7th Music). Tony set up one of the first indie home taping labels in early 1979 called Conventional Tapes. I think it was successful because DIY tapes were new. Conventional folded, but it was a starting point for us all. I was very keen in setting up a label releasing quality tape packages as cheaply as possible. It wasn't until the end of 1982 that I thought now was the time to do it.

I had a brief two-year stint with Mystery Plane playing the usual clubs and pubs of London. Very depressiing. When that line-up of Mystery Plane disintegrated and Lives of Angels and Modern Art became bands I thought then that here are three groups with some good quality recordings, and it would be good to set up a label to release their material. Color Tapes was launced in 1983 and our first three releases were "Elevator to Eden" by Lives of Angels, "Punishment Block" - Mystery Plane and "Underwater Kites" by Modern Art. Another reason for setting up Color was the fact that it was actually released in August 1982 by the now defunct label "Music For Midgets" and it had got a really good response from feedback and in the music press. It had also sold a few hundred copies in a space of a few months. "Elevator to Eden" has now been released as an LP on Fire Records and "Kites" has now clocked in sales of about 500 copies - our biggest selling tape - and it is still selling!

Can you tell P&F readers a bit about the bands who've appeared on Color?

I guess Mystery Plane are a good starter, because that band has produced two other groups - Lives of Angels and Modern Art. Mystery Plane were actually known as 3D5, first with Gerald O'Connell, Zero and Paul Thompson (of The Cure). This was in 1978. A few line-up changes later the group became Mystery Plane in 1980, with Catherine O'Connell and a continuous change of drummers. I joined Mystery Plane in 1981. We did the usual rock and roll circuit in London (Marquee, Rock Garden, etc.) and after a few deals falling through and the manager quitting, things didn't look too rosy, especially when Gerald and Catherine left around September '82. Myself and Zero experimented with different MP line-ups, with Dave Morgan agaiin and Tony Clough, but it wasn't until I left that Mystery Plane really got things going with their unique "Southern State" rockabilly sound. The line-up that produced "The Dead Presley Tapes" was Zero, Curse and Missile, back in April 1983. Missile left soon after, and in the interim, Color put out "Hell House", a compilation of material recorded between 1982-84, and no new material appeared until 1985, with the brilliant "Fractured". The line-up being Zero and Curse. Mystery Plane are currently preparing their new tape and a track of this can be found on the new Color release "An Hour of Color, Vol. III" (discreet plug -Ed).

Lives of Angels, who came out of Mystery Plane, are a duo formed in 1983 by Gerald & Catherine O'Connell. They have appeared on all of the "An Hour of Color" series of compilations, and had their first release on Color "Elevator to eden", now revised by Fire Records - timeless pop music. WeR7 (pronounced We are Seven) first appeared on Conventional Tapes in 1980 with the very experimental "Disquiet Music" C60. The line-up was Tony Clough, myself and Dave Morgan (we were also known as The Ordinary then, too, as well as A.D.H.). The name WeR7 was ditched for a few years. In 1982 Tony and myself recorded some experimental tracks, and decided to reactivate the name WeR7 on the C60 "Dance to This", on Music For Midgets. Another experimental tape followed, but it was much more commercial, "Rock 'n' Roll is the Most" - a C60 also on Music for Midgets. It wasn't until the next release, "Mental Town", that WeR7 first appeared on Color. By this time, WeR7 had really evolved into Tony doing most of it, with myself contributing ideas, but not much music, and the sound of WeR7 could be described as a sort of mish-mash of styles from pop/rock/experimental with lots of tape effects. Since then WeR7 have only contributed to the "An Hour of Color" compilation tapes, but have been developing their unique sound. A new tape on Color is being compiled. A sort of "Best of" WeR7, right across the board type thing with material from way back to 1976 up to the present with WeR7 of 1985.

Modern Art come into the category of not being able to pigeon-hole. Do you make an effort to switch styles and consequently stretch yourself musically?

I don't consciously think, O.K., Modern Art are going to play in so and so style today, it just happens that sometimes Modern Art are more classical on some recordings and then it's back to pop on the next. I think that it is good not to be piseon-holed. I think there are too many groups who are guilty of finding a fomula and sticking to it. There's nothing wrong in that, but when you pick up a M.A. product, you can't really be totally sure of what to expect, so it's a bit more exciting.

Have Modern Art appeared on any compos apart from Color?

Modern Art have appeared on many compilation tapes/records - many have been tapes where the label have failed to tell me they've used tracks, which is very annoying... "A Tribute to Jo Change" (MFM), "Skin Talk" (101 International), "Band-It 14" (Band-It), "Sound of Color" (Rain Tapes), "MFM Sampler" (MFM), "Independance Promo" (Independance, some I can remember! (MA are also featured on the P&F Compo).

You seem to have an open ear for all kinds of music as regards Color - will this continue or will things become more channelled into one type of music?

Color have been really getting organised over a period of about two years. Basically, all of the Color bands can be classified under pop - I don't want to change that. I wouldn't want to release records/tapes by any other groups, because working with a smaller number of groups is better, and the Color groups are related, anyway.

Do you have any strong links with other indie labels, and, if so, who in particular?

As Lives of Angels have now reissued their Color Tape release "Elevator to Eden" on Fire Records, we've built up a good contact with them. Fire is run by Johnny Waller and Clive Soloman. I think there could be a joint Color/Fire release at some point in the future.

You also publish a fanzine, "Purple Twilight"; does this mainly feature indie bands and, if so, deliberately, as opposed to seeking i'views with bigger names?

Purple Twilight has really been finding its feet the last few issues, and I have no control over the actual contents of each issue. However, I would like to think it favours featuring indie bands and, more importantly, reviews of DIY tapes/home taping bands. I like to think it's unique in that it doesn't totally rely on music to fill its pages. There's lots of different things going on from stories, art, poetry, cartoons, as well as non-musical articles. I don't actually edit it any longer. Each issue should be totally different.

What are your plans as regards videos - if any?

Color are actually going to start issuing videos this year. A video I made in December 1983, called "Dimension of Noise" will be coming out at long last.

Although it is a Modern Art video, it is not typical, because I do not appear in it. Instead the viewer is faced with collages and paintings interspersed with a film I made in 1980 of the industrial marshlands of London and old sci-fi clips from the 50's. The other video we are putting out, initially, is "Artificial Intelligence" by Lives of Angels, which lasts three hours and is also of an experimental nature. "Dimension of Noise" was originally envisaged as a cassette and video released together, however, it hasn't quite worked out like that!

Modern Art Music Reviews

Dreams to Live

Melodic, with a nice feel and good vocals. Liked the solo instrumental spots. The B-side "Beautiful Truth" is a fine acoustic instrumental with an Indian feel, via sitary (!) guitar.

- Paul Rance, Peace & Freedom, No. 3, January 1986

Modern Artefact No. 1 (Cassette)

Cassette single of some originality. Great effects. Good tunes and weird vocals, which blend in well, especially on "Search for a Soul". "Fatal Crash Immersed the Start" is the stronger more powerful sound, though, I feel. The cassette comes in a unique transparent sleeve, complete with much, well, artefacts.

- Paul Rance, Peace & Freedom, No. 4, Summer/Autumn 1986

Artefact No. 2 (Cassette)

An hour of instrumental music. A kaleidoscope of keyboards and the ideal film soundtrack for those dream-type sequences.

- Paul Rance, Peace & Freedom, No. 4, Summer/Autumn 1986

Underwater Kites (Cassette)

Modern Art's first tape LP. Off-centre pop, with outstanding tracks beiing the instrumental "Vision" and the classic synth-orientated "Landscape from a Dream".

- Paul Rance, Peace & Freedom, No. 4, Summer/Autumn 1986

Oriental Towers (Cassette)

Some bluesey guitar, some classical guitar, some rock guitar. A new guitar man is born, but the one-man band is competent with synth, bass, etc. Outstanding tracks are instrumentals "Oriental Towers", Beautiful Truth" and the haunting "Calico Shadows".

- Paul Rance, Peace & Freedom, No. 4, Summer/Autumn 1986

Living in the Distortion Parade (Cassette)

Features everything - guitars, synth, fiddle, etc. Gary Ramon must be the most prolific songwriter, performer, producer in Indieland. No don't tell me if I'm wrong... "Visions of Cairo, fiddle and all, is the pick.

- Paul Rance, Peace & Freedom, Vol. 5, No. 3, Spring/Summer 1988

Stereoland (Cassette)

Rich guitar sound in a Siouxsie cum psychedelic vein. "Goldon Legend" is a jaunty pop number, which opens up proceedings, and "Blue Stone" is rich in natty breaks. On side 2, "Red Tornado" has an opening akin to Hendrix (!), with backward guitar cutting swathes thru my aurality. "Peruvia", by contrast, has a Latin guitar feel. All in all a fine album of contrasting instrumentation, but similar depth of feel.

- Paul Rance, Peace & Freedom, Vol. 5, No. 4, Autumn/Winter 1988

Pastel Sunrise (Cassette)

Three tapes of superb instrumentation and snazzy tunes.

- Paul Rance, Peace & Freedom, Vol. 5, No. 4, Autumn/Winter 1988

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