THE MONOCHROME SET – Volume, Contrast, Brilliance… Vol.1

VCB1It appears, as time rolls on, that there are certain bands whose sound is entirely synonymous with the era from whence they emanated.
As a sweeping generalisation, for those who worked throughout the 1980s this is not usually a good thing – suffering, as many did, the production mores of a slew of lesser Trevor Horn types, desperate in trying to get the latest trendy indie band to sound radio friendly.
On the other hand there are a small number of groups from that decade who were ‘cool’ then and, it appears, shall ever remain so.
At the very peak of this shortest of lists comes The Monochrome Set.
Guitarist Lester Square (aka Thomas Hardy) and bassist Andy Warren were founder members of Adam & The Ants but decided to strike out on their own after growing disenchanted with the musical directions pursued by Adam. Joined by Indian (alleged) prince Ganesh Sashadri – aka Bid – on vocals and guitar, and drummer J D Haney, the newly-formed band signed with Geoff Travis. Which is where VOLUME, CONTRAST, BRILLIANCE… VOL.1 begins.
The group’s Rough Trade years are represented by a handful of tracks from the first few singles; EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS, a pounding swirl with an irresistible melody; ALPHAVILLE, an aural representation of Jean Luc Godard’s startling vision; LESTER LEAPS IN, a swinging theme tune for a band re-imagining themselves as visitors from another planet trying to make sense of Carnaby Street in the 1960s…
This compilation comprises those early studio recordings plus unique versions of the likes of THE JET SET JUNTA and HE’S FRANK (SLIGHT RETURN), extracted from radio sessions of the time – including a number recorded for John Peel, an early and avid fan. His on-air introduction to FAT FUN – thinking aloud that “those Monochrome boys” might be having a pop at him – is included for posterity. However, despite being something of a hotch-potch of apparently disparate bits and pieces, VOLUME, CONTRAST, BRILLIANCE… VOL.1 turns out to be utterly essential: a restless, jocular, perfectly sequenced and – most tellingly – coherent document of the first four years of The Monochrome Set’s existence.
Commercially none of the band’s material was successful – apart from the odd very minor chart placing – but artistically they were wilfully uncompromising high achievers. Innovative and unique, the combination of loquacious lyrics, laced with dry wit, and ebullient Morriconi-style guitar playing were, and are still, worthy of the attention of anyone interested in guitar based indie rock. Cited as a major influence on Franz Ferdinand, Orange Juice, Fire Engines and a whole host of UK indie and post-punk bands, Lester Square’s ringing guitar sound has been echoed in many bands and still sounds as fresh and vital as ever.
Nor would it be a great stretch of credible imagination to believe that Morrissey took more than a little something from Bid’s mannered vocals and clever use of words. The highlight, here, is undoubtedly Bid’s incisive literacy; sometimes playful, sometimes risqué, but always insightful and worthy of attention – particularly on ICC LES ENFANTS and THE RULING CLASS, where initial impressions are subverted and then twisted as the songs unfold.

Purchasers of the original 1983 version of VOLUME, CONTRAST, BRILLIANCE… VOL.1 now have the added incentive of both sides of Bid’s hard-to-find solo single REACH FOR YOUR GUN tacked on – a typically careful gesture by specialist vinyl reissue label Optic Nerve. There is much to love here for those with a heart, a soul and / or feet. Highly recommended.

Buy VOLUME, CONTRAST, BRILLIANCE… VOL.1 from Optic Nerve, here. Read The Mouth Magazine’s interview with Bid (conducted in June this year), here.

{Review: PS}