You didn't think we would let Counting Out Time pass by without at least discussing one IQ album, did you? DPRP wouldn't be DPRP. We had to skip The Wake in 1985 because that was also the year of Misplaced Childhood and have choosen to devote some time and space on Landmarq in 1993, thereby skipping Ever as well. There's no way we're going to skip one of the greatest albums of all time, Subterranea (well, in my honest opinion, that is). We hope this elaborate essay on IQ's masterpiece will make up for skipping the other two highlights of their carreer. As a matter of fact, we made it a two part article. This first part will look at the history of IQ, the development of the album and the various songs. During the Christmas weekend we will bring you part 2, in which we take a closer look at the story of the album and how it was translated into an amazing live show.
(Quite) A Bit of History
In mid 1976 a band called The Lens was formed. The band had various personel changes but at a certain time it included Peter Nicholls, Mike Holmes and Martin Orford, who would later be band members in IQ. Their music mainly consisted of instrumental songs with the odd vocal contribution from Peter. Some of the songs that later ended up on IQ albums were first played by The Lens (for instance, Through the Corridors, About Lake Five and Dans le Parc Du Chateau Noir). The band even recorded a demo album called No TV Tonite.
When The Lens split up in 1981 Mike and Martin decided to form a new band with Tim Esau on bass and Mark Ridout on drums. In this period the band was not quite sure what musical direction to take, resulting in setlist filled with disco (Beef in Box), reggae (Barbell is In), complex progressive rock (It All Stops Here) and hard rock (Kevin from Mars). Mid 1982 Peter Nicholls joined IQ on vocals, shortly afterwards followed by Paul Cook who took over the drum stool from Mark. In September of the same year IQ released their cassette only album Seven Stories into Eight that featured 8 tracks recorded during in several sessions during the previous year.
After extensive gigging the band released their first album Tales from the Lush Attic, which featured the epics The Last Human Gateway and The Enemy Smacks plus live favourite Awake and Nervous, in September 1983.
Their second album, the legendary The Wake was released in June 1985. The album has been called one of the highlights of progressive rock in the eighties but was overshadowed by that other 1985 release Misplaced Childhood. Tensions within the band, which had been living together in one house, resulted in Peter Nicholl's departure from IQ one month after the release of their new album.
With Paul Menel as their new singer, IQ entered a new era in their history. The band tried to become the big rock starts they had always dreamed about being and that goal seemed to become quite obtainable when they were offered a deal by Squawk, a sub-division of Polygram. After the release of their firsy album with Squawk, Nomzamo, in April 1987 the band went on their first European tour.
In February 1989 their second Squawk album, Are You Sitting Comfortably ?, was released. As the previous one, this album also contained quite a few commercial tracks which would make potential hit singles. However, even the tour as support act with Mike and the Mechanics did - although well received by the fans - not bring the expected success and in the summer of 1989 Squawk had to drop the band, after financial problems for the label and lack of dedication from Polygram.
Tim and Paul left IQ and everyone probably thought that this was the end of the band. However, two occassional gigs with Peter Nicholls as special guests and the shock of the death of bass player Les Marshall, who had been an important part in IQ history, brought the band back together again. Early 1991 Peter, Martin, Mike and Paul decided to continue the band with John Jowitt on bass. A new record label, Giant Electric Pea, was founded and a live/rarities album J'ai Pollette d'Arnu financed the recording of a new IQ album, Ever, which was released in June 1993. A concert in Kleeve at which the album was launched was later releaed in the live CD/Video box set Forever Live, in April 1996.
Ever was the album that the fans had been waiting for. With Peter back as a frontman and lots of complex progressive rock songs the CD ranked number one in many reader polls that year. IQ had by now changed into a part-time band. Most of the band members had day-time jobs. The advantage was that they only worked together if everybody really felt like it. The disadvantage up to this day is the extreme difficulty to get the band together. The fact that they live very far apart (as far as Southampton and Manchester) doesn't help either. All of this results in short tours and rare rehearsal or writing sessions. It took them four years to come with the successor of Ever. Then again, Subterranea turned out to be well worth the wait .....
(For a more elaborate history of IQ, check out Maurice Dam's splendid article From Beef Till Ever on The Lush Attic).
The Making of Subterranea
As early as the end of 1994 the band started playing new compositions to the audiences of their live shows. The earliest thing was a short instrumental intro for The Darkest Hour (later to become the intro for The Narrow Margin). In 1995 two additional songs followed, one of which was an instrumental version of Breathtaker (the other one was never used).
In 1996 during a short tour to promote Forever Live the band played the first 10 minutes of the epic The Narrow Margin (then called Clank Tingy Tingy), Laid Low & Breathtaker (Big Pouf Paino) and a new song that would not make it to the new album (Big Pouf Hair later to be called Eyes for the Blind).
At this time the band was still planning to release their new album in the end of 1996.
After the gigs in April the composing of the album progressed. The band even turned down several offers for gigs because they had reserved the concerned periods for writing sessions of the album. A new (later) release date of March 1997 was announced and the band planned to start a promotional tour in April 1997.
Then in November 1996 the band announced that the release of the album would be postponed even further; September 1997 ! However, the good news was that the band had decided to really go for it and make it a double CD concept album, complete with theatrical stage show with a full length performance of the album.
There were an enormous number of ideas for both the album and the show. The band had always wanted to write a concept album which they could also bring live with a big show. As you can imagine the excitement among the fans was enormous and the good news made everybody forget the postponed release date.
By this time the various working titles that had been used for the album for short or long periods. Titles like Too Many Wigs, Wherein Swam Swans, Wacks Away Me Hearties!, Lost in Toast, Gonks go Beat and Bitten by Bats were dropped in favour of a new title, being Subterranea. Judging from that title, the band must have had a pretty good idea about the story back then.
When we got further into 1997 the band worked hard at different parts of the whole concept; the music, the lyrics, the sleeve and the stage show. Several production meetings with band and crew took place and Martin did some computer pre-production work.
Recording sessions for Subterrenea were planned to start in June and there was still a lot of work to be done.
In March 8 tracks had been written, which equalled about 50 minutes of 'raw' music. In May 1997, a month before the recording sessions would begin, the band did a short tour during which they played State of Mine (New 7/8), Failsafe (Seagulls/All Night Long), Laid Low/Breathtaker and Speak my Name. Another Subterannean piece of work also saw the light of day during these concerts: a pre-view T-shirt. It had a small white IQ-logo and the title Subterranea in a red, hand-written looking font on the front. On the back there was a big white barcode with the strange word 5U67ERR4NE4 beneath it. In the font they used on the t-shirt you can identify this as Subterranea.
In June 1997 recording sessions for the new album began, as well as a race against the clock to have it ready for the two launch gigs planned in the beginning of September. When the band eventually went into the studio (Nomansland, New Forest) on the 16th of June, more than 3/4 of the material had already been written. This equaled about 80 minutes of music (of which the audience had heard 6 pieces till now).
In June most of the drums, bass and guitar were put down. The final guitar parts were added on the 5th of July. The keyboards and vocals were added after that.
More new music was written in the studio and the final product ended up at a nifty 19 tracks and 102mins 31secs.
On the 10th of August the finishing touches were put on the mixing process. Ten days later the album was mastered at The Townhouse (London). The lyrics and artwork were added and ... voila: a new album was born.
The release of the album was anticipated in a '7 day countdown' on the Official IQ Internet site. Each day a couple of titles from the track list were revealed and people could listen to some samples from the album and look at pictures taken in the studio during the recording sessions.
The first production batch of 15.000 copies of Subterranea arrived at GEP on the 3rd of September; just in time for the Bury gig two days later, where the album would be officially released. And then it finally was the 5th of September and the fans who attented one or both gigs at The Met could get their grubby hands on the new CD. The new studio album for which they had been waiting for so long ...
The album had nineteen tracks, varying from a mere one and a half minute to the twenty minutes closing piece. The general feel of the album is a bit like a cross between Ever and The Wake, although it's really unlike anything the band had ever done, and much more 'ambitious' than those albums.
The music varies from dark and heavy to quiet and emotional. There were several musical themes that keep coming back throughout the album, like the 'clank tingy tingy' sound, the King of Fools theme and the Infernal Chorus theme.
Guest musician Tony Wright plays saxophone on Subterranea and Capricorn.
The album features photographic artwork and pictures that illustrate the concept of the album. Unlike the other albums with Pete, there was no Peter Nicholls drawings to be found in this one. Instead, the artwork was done by Tony Lythgoe, who has done the design of Forever Live previously.
The artwork also showed two new IQ logo's. The first is a 'quick painted' version in the same style as the album title. The second one, which can also be detected in various pictures in the 20-page booklet, is a rectangle with a circle and four dots, representing a cryptic IQ.
I'm not going to describe what the different songs on the album sound like. You probably already know them by heart. If not, you should be ashamed of yourself and go out and buy a copy right away. Instead of reviewing the songs I have compiled all the interesting trivia I have been able to dig up (with special thanks to IQ keyboard player Martin Orford). Here's the story behind each song.
Overture - Martin: "We always had an Overture in mind for the start of Subterranea, but some of the ones we came up with in band rehearsals were pretty dire, although we did get some ideas that were eventually used. In the end I just put the best bits together on the computer and that was that." Overture features melodies that would later retun in the tracks Breathtaker, Tunnel Vision, Failsafe/King of Fools, Infernal Chorus and High Waters.
Provider - Martin: "One of my little "folk tunes", with lyrics by Peter. I had originally intended this tune to be an orchestrated piece not unlike something Ralph Vaughan-Williams might have done, but in the end, only the bare melody was used."
Subterranea - Martin: "Lyrics by Pete, chorus by Mike, verses by me, bass lines by JJ, stomp by Cookie, genius from Tony Wright."
Sleepless Incidental - Working title 'Acoustic Track'. Martin: "When we were running out of time to finish the album, we decided what sort of track should follow Subterranea, and I went away and wrote it all apart from the lyrics while the others were recording other songs."
Failsafe - It was known under the title All Night Long for a while because the start resembled a Rainbow song with the same name. Played live in the short May/June tour 1997 under the title '(Fucking) Seagulls'. Martin: "Never heard the seagulls title before! It wasn't inspired by "All Night Long", though it was noticed by Mike at an early stage that the tune bore some resemblance, even though it's in a completely different time signature. There's some really good stuff in Failsafe, especially the end section."
Speak My Name - A track which was initially meant as a song for Martin's solo album. First played live during the May/June 1997 tour. Martin: "Exactly right, it was a finished track that Peter added lyrics to, although the "Speak My Name" lines already existed."
Tunnel Vision - This one already existed when Paul Menel was still in the band, although with different lyrics (it was called Capital City at a very early stage). Working title for Subterranea: Life in a Day. Martin: "Yes it was called Capital City, but the lyrics were crap and it never worked as it should. Mike always hated the original verses, so he contributed new ones. The floating synth section at the end is one of my favourite parts of the album."
Infernal Chorus - Working title: The Kill. Martin: "A functional piece of drama constructed from riffs that also appear in other songs, especially Failsafe and Somewhere in Time."
King of Fools - Inspired by 'I am the Walrus' (Beatles). Working title: Beatlesy. Martin: "Peter had a song idea in his head when he came to visit me one weekend, and I got him to record it just before he got on the train to go home. That song became the middle section of Failsafe, and King of Fools is Mike's mutated and sinister arrangement of that section."
Sense in Sanity - The lyrics to this song were composed first. Martin later wrote the keyboard arrangements for it. Martin: "As an experiment Peter wrote the lyrics first, and I provided the music. The vocal melody is the same little folk song tune (although it's not a traditional one) that's used in Provider."
State of Mine - Working title: 'new 7/8'. Played as the first song after the intro tape during the short 1997 tour and went straight into It All Stops Here. Trivia: 'state of mine' is part of the lyrics of Breathtaker and Sense in Sanity was called 'State of Mine' at a certain stage. Martin: "State Of Mine is Mike's thrilling prog 7/8 arrangement of my piano piece that became Laid Low."
Laid Low/Breathtaker - In 1995 Breathtaker made it's live debut as a short instrumental piece of +/- 2-3 minutes which crossed over into the closing section of Last Human Gateway. Later (1996) it developed into it's current form under the name 'Big Pouf Piano'. Played again during the short 1997 tour. The lyrics were still changing during the recording sessions. Martin: "One of the earliest parts of Subterranea. The piano intro and the opening heavy guitar synth riff is mine, but much of the main song sections were by Mike and Peter."
Capricorn - Working title: Puckit. Martin:"A great song by Mike, using one of my riffs from Somewhere in Time as the chorus. Rob Aubrey and I didn't dare tell the others when we got Tony to put the sax parts down as we were sure thay wouldn't like them. Luckily we were wrong!"
The Other Side - Working title: Alesis. Martin: "A nice bit of atmospherics entirely written and performed by Mike."
Unsolid Ground - Working title: Plimpton. Martin: "A true band composition, this came out of a jam just before we were due to start recording, and was swiftly organised into a song."
Somewhere in Time - Working title: Bette Davis. Martin: "Another one that was finished late in the day, though most of it existed much earlier. I wrote all of it up to "So many held..", but Mike always reckoned the start sounded like 'Bette Davis Eyes' by Kim Carnes, hence the working title. The manic end section was a band composition with JJ taking a leading role."
High Waters - The start of the guitar solo originated in a song, written by Mike, that was played live in 1995 (and crossed over into Outer Limits) but was never released. Working title: Mimp. Martin: "A little tune of mine that was supposed to be part of a much longer track, it was embelished with melodies from elsewhere, and a very fine guitar solo indeed by Mike. A short track, but one that encapsulates much of IQ's strengths."
The Narrow Margin - The start of this song was already played live for the first time in the end of 1994 as an intro for Darkest Hour, accompanied by a poem recited by Pete. Later it grew into a 10 minute track 'Clank Tingy Tingy', played live in 1996. The bit after the 'fire sequence' was called 'ELB' because it sounded like Emerson Lake and Palmer.
Martin: "A huge rambling track. I was never quite sure if it would all work, and I'm still not sure if it does now. Although I contributed some sections to it, "The Narrow Margin" is Mike's tour-de-force, and he pretty much masterminded the whole structure of it with the input of Peter's lyrics and ideas for the plot."
Eyes for the Blind - Was orginally played live during 1996 under the title 'Big Pouf Hair'. Didn't make it on the album and was later released on the rarities album The Lost Attic. Martin: "Written by Peter and I (later with lovely guitar synth from Mike and fretless from JJ) in a very early session at Pete's house in Bolton. Pete's tune and lyrics; my chords."
Peter: "It's a reflective little track about regret and missed opportunities, and it would probably fit between 'Unsolid Ground' and 'Somewhere in Time'."
The Universal Scam - Another left-over from the Subterranea sessions, initially intented as a bonus track for a Japanese release of Subterranea. Only existed as an instrumental track prior to it being recorded for The Lost Attic. Martin: "Another track that pre-dates Subterranea. Built around a great heavy riff from Mike, this became a proper song quite late on, even though it had existed in some form or other for a number of years."
Peter: "This track would probably slot in somewhere between 'Speak my Name' and 'Tunnel Vision'.
Written by Ed Sander
For more IQ information check out DPRP's Lush Attic IQ Pages.
Sources for Part 1:
• From Beef Till Ever article.
• Collected Underground article.
• The IQ FAQ.
• Various Official Fan Club Magazines and Fascination magazines.
• Various articles on The Lush Attic.
• Special thanks to Widge for his help!