Exclusive: Guitarist Mick Finkler talks about The Teardrop Explodes’ ‘Sleeping Gas’ Single.
Above Photo (© Judy Herzl): Teardrop Explodes singer, Julian Cope – ‘The Boris Johnson of Punk.’
The Teardrop Explodes’ first ever single was called ‘Sleeping Gas’ and it gets two mentions in Bombed Out!
One reference to the song is as a chapter heading for some entirely appropriate proceeds described later in the book.
But the first mention of the track is in connection with the early 1979 musical output of three main Liverpool bands at that time: Echo & The Bunnymen, who brought out their first single, ‘Pictures On My Wall’, Teardrop Explodes who brought out Sleeping Gas and the band I was in, Pink Military Stand Alone, who brought out a live EP called ‘Buddha Waking Disney Sleeping’ all around the same time.
Recorded live in Eric’s before I joined the band, Pink Military’s Buddha Waking was most certainly less polished and more Experimental than the other two singles, which I thought were fantastic.
There is some great guitar playing by John Kirkham on the Pink Military EP, and it had some commercial success, although we were definitely not a mainstream commercial band at the time.
I can vividly remember both Sleeping Gas and Pictures on my Wall being released in 1979, and I recently got the chance to talk to Mick Finkler, the Teardrop Explodes guitarist who co-wrote and played on Sleeping Gas, so I asked him what he remembered about the song back then.
This is what he said:
“I’m guessing it started with a riff that I was messing about with and Julian Cope joined in – a lot of our early stuff came from that.
Then Paul Simpson will have added those octaves on the keyboard, and Gary Dwyer started a disco beat of sorts. It’s Julian’s bass line that really kicks the song along though. It’s pretty much two chords all the way through and it was supposed to be hypnotic I suppose, lots of repetition.
The lyrics are pretty typical of Julian’s early ramblings, slightly off-kilter, a touch whimsical, a pinch of Talking Heads and a spoonful of English Lit O level. He was very keen on the idea of us “wandering” around, he used that line on two songs – Sleeping Gas and on the B side of Bouncing Babies – All I Am Is Loving You.
Anyway, Julian thought we did a lot of aimless wandering around, which was absolutely true. I remember him talking about Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation” – how, when he heard it, it kind of chimed with him, like that was our generation, the blank generation. I think Sleeping Gas’s lyrics had some roots in that kind of nihilism.
Everyone thought Julian was a bit of a ponce for writing lyrics like “It’s just like sleeping gas, it’s so ethereal”. But he was really just the Boris Johnson of punk, refusing to dumb down for the masses.
We were really excited when Bill Drummond asked us to do some recording in the the MVCU studios in Liverpool – it seemed such a big deal. We decided to do Sleeping Gas and Camera Camera, then we forced Gary Dwyer to do Kirkby Workers Dream Fades as the third song on the EP. He hated that kind of pretentious stuff, but, looking back, it was great – really pissed people off. So we went in, and Noddy Knowler engineered the session. We were probably painful to work with. We were always fighting about stuff, but Noddy was cool, didn’t really get involved.
We did Sleeping Gas in two or three takes. The intro is just me and Simmo playing a little D Major arpeggio thing: but it’s a really recognisable intro, if a bit Toytown.
Bill Drummond asked what we wanted on the sleeve, and I said “a piano”. I’ve no idea why, the word just popped into my head. We wanted the sleeve to look like an old modern jazz thing, though it probably looks more like a learn-in-a-day piano tutorial book. The photos on the back were done at my mum and dad’s house, because I had a cold and refused to go into town.
So, I was living in Penny Lane with Pete Wylie, Gary Dwyer and Ian McCulloch when Sleeping Gas was released. I got up early, went down to the newsagents and picked up a copy of Sounds and discovered Giovanni Dadomo had made us single of the week.
I think that was one of the best moments of my life actually. I ran back, woke Gary up and told him he was a pop star. He fucking loved that.
And then it was all downhill from there…..
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