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Reissue CDs Weekly: The Loft - Ghost Trains & Country Lanes | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Loft - Ghost Trains & Country Lanes

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Loft - Ghost Trains & Country Lanes

The ill-fated early Creation Records band gets anthologised

The Loft: subtle, according to Alan McGee

“All the best bits of Dylan and the Velvets with a post-punk Eighties edge to it.” That’s how Alan McGee described The Loft to NME in November 1984. Their first single, “Why Does the Rain”, had come out on his Creation label that September. Their next, “Up the Hill and Down the Slope”, arrived in April 1985.

It was some claim. The interview coincided with the release of the debut single by another rising Creation band, the Jesus and Mary Chain. McGee went on: “Jesus and Mary Chain are the shock troops in this war on pop, they'll smash down doors which more subtle bands like The Loft will discreetly sneak under.”

The Loft Ghost Trains & Country LanesAs it happened, there was no sneaking under. Those two Loft singles were all that they issued. Across their various formats, there were seven tracks in all. Add in a BBC session recorded for the Janice Long show in December 1984, and that was all that anyone could hear of what The Loft sounded like in a recording studio.

These ’84/’85 tracks form the foundation of Ghost Trains & Country Lanes: Studio, Stage & Sessions (1984-2005), a new double-CD Loft retrospective, their third (!) compilation. Its cover re-uses the band photo first seen on their debut single's sleeve. The by-now usual core material is supplemented by an OK-sounding audience recording of an engagingly confident show taped on a Sony Pro-Walkman on 8 June 1984 at the London pub venue booked by McGee. There’s a fair amount of background chat: a bootlegger’s A- quality. There are also 10 tracks from 2005 and 2015 reunions (a demo session and a set of radio recordings).

For the original-era band, the end came on 24 June 1985. On stage at London’s Hammersmith Palais, while supporting Terry Hall’s band The Colourfield, intra-band tensions came into the open. According to the band’s website, before the show “[frontman] Peter Astor informed bassist Bill Prince over the phone of his wish to sack him and guitarist Andy Strickland and continue with drummer Dave Morgan under the same name. After Prince told Strickland of the call, Strickland demanded that Astor be present for the gig. Astor showed; prior to the final song of the band's set, Strickland foiled the singer and told the packed crowd that The Loft would be no more after that show.” With bitter-sweet timing, later that week music weekly Sounds ran an article on Creation which commented on The Loft’s “bright future.”

Although The Loft’s lifespan was limited and abruptly curtailed, they were obviously a fertile hothouse for some major talents. Members went on to The Caretaker Race, The Weather Prophets and The Wishing Stones. Peter Astor has made heaps of great records. And there was a form of afterlife: “Why Does the Rain” was in The Loft's repertoire (heard here in the live set) and was later recorded by The Weather Prophets.

the loft Why Does The RainBack when The Loft were extant, McGee’s hubristic, recognition-friendly Dylan and Velvets references made sense but the band’s cover version of Richard Hell’s “Time” more closely telegraphed where there were coming from. As well as Mr Hell’s more reflective side, Television were in there too. The Loft were obviously British with a concomitant diffidence, yet their fondness for mid-Seventies New York artiness coloured what they did, just as it was with their contemporaries Felt. (pictured left, the “Why Does the Rain” single)

“We can’t go back in time,” they sang on “The Canal and the Big Red Town”. Even so, the clipped and wayward guitar solo on the live “The Nothing Box” evokes the Television of 1975. Though fresh and alive in 1984, The Loft would have been at home at CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City ten or so years earlier.

Great as The Loft were, it’s hard to hear how they would have sneaked under a door opened by the Jesus and Mary Chain. They were too arty, too spikey to make such a leap. A bit later, Travis brought a smoothed-out, tension-free take on what they were doing to a wider audience.

Aspects of this release frustrate. In the booklet it says “this compilation brings together virtually everything they committed to tape.” Yet the band, in their formative configuration as The Living Room, recorded a 10-track demo in October 1982 which was issued in 2015. It would have been tidy if the tracks were collected here. Further demos are mentioned. Couldn’t these have been included? Nonetheless, as an entry point into this fine band Ghost Trains & Country Lanes is a must.

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