sat 23/09/2017

Reissue CDs Weekly: Gerry & The Holograms | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Gerry & The Holograms

Reissue CDs Weekly: Gerry & The Holograms

Did an obscure Manchester electronic duo influence New Order?

C. P. Lee (left) and John Scott: aka the Dalek-voiced Gerry & The Holograms

It’s been suggested that New Order’s “Blue Monday” borrowed from Gerry & The Holograms’ eponymous 1979 A-side. In July 2015, The Guardian ran an article saying “if ‘Blue Monday’ had a starting point, it was ‘Gerry & The Holograms’ by a group of the same name, an obscure Mancunian slice of electronica, released on Absurd Records.” Although the piece noted that members of New Order acknowledged their 1983 single drew on tracks by Kraftwerk, Ennio Morricone, Donna Summer and Sylvester, nothing was quoted from the band to acknowledge the apparent debt to “Gerry & The Holograms”.

Yet, the track’s synthesised walking rhythm and vocal line – though treated to sound like a singing Dalek – do suggest those of “Blue Monday”. But until New Order are directly asked about the ostensible connection, this musical chicken and egg conundrum will remain unresolved.

Return of The Dissidents The Fractional Crystallisation of Gerry and the HologramsNonetheless, the liner notes of a new Gerry & The Holograms compilation quote the duo’s John Scott as saying, "Hundreds of people have asked how I feel about New Order appropriating our music. Unless I won the lottery I couldn't afford to fight the battle. It's a David versus Goliath situation to be honest. I can’t afford to have an opinion."

The chance to hear the – undeniably – obscure though seemingly influential Gerry & The Holograms afresh comes with the release of Return of the Dissidents: The Fractional Crystallisation of Gerry & The Holograms an 11-track collection of this peculiar outfit’s musical offerings. Bar the A-side and its flip “Increased Resistance”, almost everything is previously unissued (the liner notes say Scott released “Space Invaders” under another unidentified pseudonym).

Return of the Dissidents also includes never-heard follow-up single to "Gerry & The Holograms", “The Emperor’s New Music” (pictured below left). When it reached shops, the record was glued to the inside of its sleeve and therefore destined never to be placed on a turntable. This review will not spoil the surprise of finally learning what the formerly unplayable “The Emperor’s New Music” actually sounds like.

Before the release of Return of The Dissidents, interest in Gerry & The Holograms was not limited to the purported influence on New Order. Frank Zappa had played “Gerry & The Holograms” on BBC Radio 1’s Star Special in January 1980. He also span the single while DJing at New York’s Mudd Club.

Gerry & The Holograms The Emperor's New MusicThe object of Zappa's interest was a studio-only duo formed by Scott and C.P. Lee. The latter was the prime mover in Manchester satire-rock band Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias who, since 1976, had been issuing records lampooning the film Jaws, Elvis Presley, punk rock and Status Quo’s boogie music. Scott was from Liverpool, Manchester based and first hit vinyl when he created the music for John Cooper Clarke’s first EP in 1977. The next year, he did the same with the Jilted John single. Both those were on the indie label Rabid. Absurd was started by some of those already involved in Rabid for music which was avowedly hard to market.

Lee had dealt in reconfiguring the conventional, so landing at Absurd initially seems odd but two of his fellow Albertos formed the experimental Mothmen: confirmation of a hitherto untapped exploratory side to their earlier band. With Gerry & The Holograms, Lee and Scott created a unit fully in line with the bizarre Absurd roster which also included the Throbbing Gristle-like Blah Blah Blah and the dub/African music-inspired Mothmen. Everything on the label is collectable. Copies of the original “Gerry & The Holograms” single in its Meet the Dissidents-branded sleeve sell for £80 to £150 (pictured below right).

gerry & the holograms absurd singleMost of Return of The Dissidents is instrumental. Lee’s vocals were limited to the single. This means the compilation is more one of The Holograms as Gerry is missing in action. Nonetheless, what’s collected reveals Scott as fond of bubbling, kinetic rhythm machine-driven, Yellow Magic Orchestra-esque instrumentals which would have suited the soundtracks for documentaries on science: music to accompany images of test tubes bubbling or graphics of cells multiplying. All terrific stuff, it points to Scott’s future work for television and film soundtracks which supplemented his main job as a studio engineer. He created the music for an episode of Count Duckula.

Return of The Dissidents is a little frustrating as it is sloppily billed as a “Complete Unreleased LP” from 1979 and also annotated as collecting a series of tracks taped from 1979 to 1983: the latter is more likely to be the case. The recording date of a more “Blue Monday”-like alternate “Gerry & The Holograms” with added rhythm machine is not given. Indeed, no specific dates are noted. Knowing these would be useful. And “Ha Ha Said the Clones” (originally mooted as a Pete Shelley produced Albertos single), a Gerry & The Holograms single announced in the music press for a January 1980 release, is not included and not mentioned in the liner notes.

Despite the reservations, the vinyl-only Return of The Dissidents: The Fractional Crystallisation of Gerry & The Holograms plugs a gap in the story of Manchester's music by disinterring an assemblage of previously unheard gems. It also brings the curious an opportunity to make their own minds up about whether New Order were – or were not – listening to Gerry & The Holograms.

Until New Order are asked about the ostensible connection with Gerry & The Hologams, the musical chicken and egg conundrum will remain unresolved

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