The Legendary Pink Dots
A 10 Year History
Alternative Scene, October 1991

by Steve Hill

Just last year marked the tenth anniversary of the formation of one of the music industry's most unusual and most obscure bands, the Legendary Pink Dots. The band is fronted by Edward Ka-Spel who writes lyrics like the ones above and below, taken from the 19- minute opus Premonition 13.

Listening to the words is the greatest benefit of hearing the Legendary Pink Dots, because Ka-Spel is one of the masters of the art of lyric writing. In fact, Ka-Spel is more of a storyteller, as many of the Pink Dots songs are narrative. One of his many talents is wordplay...witness song titles like Vigil-Anti, A Lust For Powder, Rope and Glory, So Gallantly Screaming, and Green Gang. His lyrics are loaded with such wordplay and unusual rhyming schemes. Ka-Spel can get away with writing the way he does because the music is constructed outside of the normal musical boundaries.

Next time you hear a rock song on the radio, you'll probably hear an intro, a few verses, a chorus, an instrument solo, a few more verses, and choruses until the end. That's a pretty standard formula...and there's not much creativity you can enjoy while employing that particular structure. The biggest structural difference for the Pink Dots is the replacement of the instrument solo with an entirely different piece of music stuck right in the middle of the song.

For instance, the song Neon Mariners from the ANY DAY NOW album pretty much comes to a halt in the middle and is replaced by some weird, unearthly noises and strange melodies for just a few moments before the original song returns. Ka-Spel tends to favor this type of replacement more often when his songs are very pop/rock oriented...the closer the songs are to standard radio fodder, the more he seems to want to put a knot in the middle of the whole smooth strand.

The Pink Dots were originally called One Day when they got together in August 1980. After a very brief period during which they were known as Pink Blotches, they settled on the Legendary Pink Dots as a permanent name. Their first few years were rife with personnel changes but it didn't take long for the music press in England to take note of this band from Ilford. This in itself is somewhat surprising for a band that was only releasing material on cassette.

Nevertheless, music papers such as NME took notice and gave the band's music high praise. A review of the first Pink Dots album BRIGHTER NOW appeared in the UK newspaper The Gazette:

BRIGHTER NOW now stands as an experiment in musical suppression considering the later Pink Dots material. In fact, the Pink Dots' formative years span their first five albums upon which they developed their sound and style gradually to the sound and style that it is today. It wasn't until their 1986 album ISLAND OF JEWELS that they achieved a style they liked and wanted to keep. Ka-Spel explained the evolution of the band's album titles in a 1986 interview.

"Originally it had to be called AFTER THE TOWER because it's the sequel to THE TOWER. Really coincidentally all the albums have actually taken up tarot cards, like CURSE, THE TOWER, THE LOVERS, ASYLUM (that was our first deliberate tarot card reference). So we wondered 'what's the card that comes after the Tower?' and we came up with ISLAND OF JEWELS." After ISLAND OF JEWELS came ANY DAY NOW, which features one of the all-time favorite Pink Dots songs, Casting The Runes. Also on the album is the ten-minute masterpiece Waiting For The Cloud which sets the style for one of Ka-Spel's side projects, The Tear Garden.

The Tear Garden is Ka-Spel and cevin Key from Skinny Puppy and their output is decidedly adventurous for both of them. Although the Tear Garden material doesn't sound like either the Pink Dots or Skinny Puppy, the songs are exactly what you'd expect from a marriage between the two bands.

After the release of a Tear Garden compilation, Play It Again Sam records released the first Pink Dots compilation, STONE CIRCLES. It features one or more tracks from each of their albums to date, choosing classics (Love Puppets) and occasionally presenting an unusual selection from an album (for instance the inclusion of Our Lady in Darkness from ISLAND OF JEWELS instead of The Shock of Contact). Despite its flaws as an anthology, it is nevertheless an excellent way to introduce yourself to the band.

When 1988 rolled around, the Pink Dots released THE GOLDEN AGE and proved that they were only getting better at what they do. Ka- Spel, the Silver Man (Phil Harminix), Hanz Myre, and Patrick Q Wright were the core members of the Pink Dots at the time and they all adequately impressed listeners with their talents...Myre's wind instruments, Wright's strings and keyboards and drums, the Silver Man's outstanding keyboards, and especially Ka-Spel's lyrics. Although his voice has a unique sound to it (the particularly obvious defect being his weak R's), Ka-Spel never has trouble expressing his ideas and thoughts through words:

The last Pink Dots album was last year's THE CRUSHED VELVET APOCALYPSE which was memorable and significant enough to warrant a mention in Rolling Stone magazine (if only for a comparison to Syd Barrett). Comparisons to Barrett seem to be somewhat frequent and indeed somewhat accurate. But the Pink Dots are more than just that. They are a band with not just songs to hear and love but songs and stories to enjoy. They also know that not everything is doom and gloom, and their collective sense of humor bubbles to the surface of the music quite frequently.

As with most alternative music, the Pink Dots will only appeal to a select audience (that's the very nature of alternative versus mainstream). There is something that is strangely addictive about their music, though, something about its style that makes it ideal mood music for any and all moods. The music can flow effortlessly from a wistful, melancholy violin piece like Poppy Day to an eerie, slow chiller like The Death of Jack the Ripper to a fast, demented, and cynical song like Rattlesnake Arena and right back again to a solemn mood piece. For a band to manipulate emotions and emotional responses as easily as the Pink Dots is the most telling testament of their musical accomplishment and quality as well as their superiority over most other "ordinary" bands. As Ka-Spel says, "I'll do anything as long as it's different."