One of the older kids, super-cool, least I thought at the time; now I’d label him as a poser! With lengthy-hanging fringe, he’d habitually flick back with the frills of his cuff, he’d slide rather than walk, in winkle-picker pixie boots. On the eve of breakdancing, when I was duty bound to be attired in whatever my mum chose, normally hand-me-down stay-press and Fred Perry shirts, this kid was one step ahead; a “new romantic.” Like the pensive look of Simon Le-Bon, it was a trend I fell short a few years from.
He gave my brother a mix tape, while I marvelled at the computer-generated sound of electro from the US, this cassette was filled with synth-pop, and with it I realised there was already a definite electronic sound the UK charts only simmered over. Thanks to Ministry of Sound eighties compilations for the reminder, I realise I was “into it” all the time, as the pop of the era nestled it, prior to selling electronica out to the hit factories later in the decade.
Electronic music in its infancy heralded a new realm, which old rockers despised and punk groups tuned into or else fell into obscurity. Say what they liked about Adam Ant, he was filling his dandy purse and they weren’t. But why burp all this up now? Well, for nostalgic purposes this Strange Tales CD, “Unknown to Science” is outstanding. Its opening track, “Strange Tales Theme,” flew me back there, nicely. I kept it in my jean’s back pocket right through the Saddleback Festival, after singer Sally Dobson handed it to me. No matter how many ales I sunk, I remembered to take it out of my pocket before I sat down; I’m glad I protected it.
It’s lived on the CD player in my kitchen since, a review overdue, but its brilliance took me by surprise. Few months prior Sally sent me a track, “Not a Witch,” to add to our online Now spoof of local music. While I liked it, I have to admit it was a tad gothic for my taste. Whilst I’d approach Joy Division in the eighties, to dye my hair black and apply eyeliner would’ve been a substantial number of steps too far. Once relocated to Wiltshire in 87, I noticed a trend we didn’t have in Essex; the goth-look. To me the corridors of St Johns looked like the school scenes in Uncle Buck.
I found by default I had to worship Robert Smith if I wanted to get off with Marlborough girls sozzled on Cinzano, but venturing further wasn’t for me, and I alienated myself away from fields with anything Nephilim in, veered clear of Sisters of Mercy, in case they bite. It just felt so gloomy and miserable.
Glad to say by subject matter Not A Witch is the most gothic fashioned on the album, other tunes of melodic, bass and synth-driven sounds were more satisfying to my ear, more upbeat, prompting memories of Depeche Mode, The Human League and the plethora of eighties pop bands on the aforementioned “hair-flicking” cool kid’s mixtape. If you send me back to 1985 I could add a track like “Entropy” onto it unnoticed, it bounds with retrospective indulgence.
“Unknown to Science” then is a keeper on my shelf; overflowing with baroque ardour, admonitory narrative inspired by the darker crooks of essence, but absorbent of pop, with tracks like the catchy “Human Forest” and beguiling “Nanobots,” and utilitarian punk, like “Wolf Eyes,” rather than overtly gothic like “Not a Witch.” The band describe it thus; “musical curiosities from the darker side of the street,” it only swerves close to being gothic, and if any comparison needs to be made, I’d tinker on Yazoo.
While it’s a tall order to assume Sally’s vocals to be as commanding as Moyet, they caress the band’s élan and balance the nature of Strange Tales powerfully and stunningly. Fronted by Wiltshire’s Sally Dobson on synth/drum programming as well as aforesaid vocals, reinforced by the characteristic basslines of Paul Sloots, resident of West Sussex and veteran of the Crawley music scene, they’re now joined by guitarist Lea Truckle.
On speaking with Sally, who locally regularly gigs acoustically, I was curious which she preferred, solo or as Strange Tales. Indirectly she explained that due to location of its members, Strange Tales was a rarity. I am however keen to hear them perform live as a three-piece, as “Unknown to Science,” is a worthy treasure and dissimilar to our current local scene. Give it and try and I’ll guarantee you’ll feel the same way, even if you were absent from the era of lengthy-hanging fringes, frills on cuffs and pixie boots.
You can pick a copy up at Vinyl Realm, or for more info check their website here.