The Legendary Pink Dots
Rough Guide to Rock, 1999

by Richard Fontenoy

Formed London, 1980.

The Legendary Pink Dots were formed by Edward Ka-Spel (lyrics/vocals/instruments) and Philip Knight, aka The Silver Man (keyboards/ tape/samples). They're a cult band with a prolific, home-made output, starting with a series of cassette-only releases on their own Mirrordot label, and moving on to at least eighteen official LPs/CDs released mainly through Belgian label Play It Again Sam, plus many more cassettes.

Though initially based in England, the Dots moved to Nijmegen in Holland after the first three LPs, Brighter Now (1982), Curse (1983) and The Tower (1984), which collected much material from early tapes. Initially following in the footsteps of such luminaries of British psychedelia as Gong and Julian Cope, the Dots added influences from the industrial and Goth scenes (particularly in their use of electronics), spicing the mix with the uncanny lyrics of Edward Ka-Spel, whose delivery ranged from the wistful storytelling of "Hanging Gardens" to the more paranoid "City Ghosts" (both on Brighter Now).

The basic line-up in the early 80s consisted of Ka-Spel and The Silver Man plus April Iliffe (vocals/keyboards), Stret Majest (guitars), Roland Calloway (bass) and Patrick Wright (violin/keyboards/vocals) and, from 1985, Graham Whitehead. Keeping track of Legendary Pink Dots personnel, however, requires decoding their many pseudonyms, with Ka-Spel alone appearing as D'Archangel, Che Banana, The Prophet Qa'spel (or Sepel) and Edward Ka'spel over the years.

With Faces In The Fire (1984), the Dots launched themselves as one of Play It Again Sam's most active acts, with fourteen subsequent albums during their ten years on the label. 1984 also saw the release of Edward Ka-Spel's solo "Dance China Doll" and Laugh China Doll, the first of eleven solo albums, many of which feature members of the Pink Dots, along with Elke Ka-Spel, Edward's wife.

Asylum (1985) was one of the Dots' defining moments. It was disturbing, humorous, theatrical and downright weird, particularly the charging cavalry of "So Gallantly Screaming", the backwards voices of "Go Ask Alice", and the near-psychopathic melodies of "Fifteen Flies In The Marmalade". Subsequent releases, Island Of Jewels (1986), Any Day Now (1987) and The Golden Age (1988), were of variable quality, and late 1987 had seen another change of personnel with Hanz Myre (sax/flute/electronics) and Bob Pistoor (guitar/bass) joining The Silver Man, Ka-Spel and Wright in a band biased towards sequenced keyboards.

This line-up toured the US with some success, promoting a compilation album, Stone Circles (1987), while Edward Ka-Spel played New York and Canada with a band consisting of present and former Dots members. Ka-Spel and The Silver Man also collaborated with industrialists Skinny Puppy (with whom they had toured) in the Tear Garden project.

The Dots spent 1989 re-recording, mixing and compiling older material and live recordings, along with some new tracks, into various formats, notably the Legendary Pink Box (1989) triple LP/double CD. Their next studio album, Crushed Velvet Apocalypse (1990), combined atmospheric electronics with Ka-Spel's ever-excellent lyrics, plus the eccentric reeds of Niels van Hoornblower (sax/flute/clarinet), to produce their biggest success to date. It was a fine Dots era, followed up with the breathtaking The Maria Dimension (1991), which re-invented the genre of space-rock. The band's planned US tour was cancelled, however, when they were refused visas due to 'a lack of artistic merit'; curiously, their next album, The Shadow Weaver (1992), was deemed of a quality sufficient to impress the US Immigration Department, as well as their growing fan base.

Malachai (Shadow Weaver Pt. 2) followed in 1993, with bass guitar duties on both records performed by Ryan Moore (also of Tear Garden), while Martijn de Kleer took over on guitars. What turned out to be the Dots' last CD for Play It Again Sam, 9 Lives To Wonder (1994) featured Cevin Key of Skinny Puppy on drums, adding yet another dimension to the Pink Dots sound.

Having been dropped by their label, the Dots decided to release all future CDs through their own label, Terminal Kaleidoscope - the first fruit being From here You'll Watch The World Go By (1995) - and will doubtless be happy to do their own thing, stranger than most and as legendary as ever.

The Maria Dimension (1991; Play It Again Sam). The Dots space out, freak out and sow confusion everywhere. Almost every track is perfectly mixed and composed.

Shadow Weaver (1992; Play It Again Sam). The throbbing electronics and spacey guitars on "City Of Needles" are among the Dots' best yet, while "Guilty Man" is Ka-Spel's intensely paranoiac guilt trip of several lifetimes. "The Key To Heaven" is existentialism on a stick.

9 Lives To Wonder (1994; Play It Again Sam). Cevin Key guests on drums and adds an organic, occasionally almost dubby, flavour to the Pink Dots sound. Almost faultless.