Take Me To The Trees
Bands are like families, bound by something deeper than friendship – and liable to implode just as irrevocably. Yet that familial bond can equally draw you back, and so it is that four-‐fifths of the original Modern English have recorded their first album together in 30 years.
Funded by PledgeMusic and released via Kartel Music Group, Take Me To The Trees not only reconnect the band to their roots, in the fervent and fecund world of late 1970s/early 1980s post-‐punk Britain, but they have co-‐produced it with Martyn Young of Colourbox and M/A/R/R/S fame, whose last production job was 1986. Moreover, the album’s beautiful cover is by venerated art director Vaughan Oliver, whose very first sleeve design was Modern English’s ‘Gathering Dust’ single in 1980.
Original members Robbie Grey (vocals), Mick Conroy (bass), Gary McDowell (guitar) and Steven Walker (keyboards) first reunited in 2010, to tour the US, UK and Paris, before accepting an invitation to re‐record ‘I Melt With You’ for Mark Pellington’s film of the same name. The band’s most famous track was a US Top 50 single in 1984 after being featured in the rom-com film smash Valley Girl following Sire licensing its parent album After The Snow from their UK label 4AD. “It all went haywire from there, in a Beatles and Stones way, with all the trappings that went with it,’ Grey recalls.
Given Modern English’s roots were post‐punk icons Wire and Joy Division – dark and austere while still melodic and passionate – it was strange to be treated like the new Duran, and the band split after the third album, Ricochet Days (1986). “4AD was a family-run label, where we felt taken care of,” Grey recalls (he, McDowell and Conroy were part of the first version of 4AD’s so-called ‘house band’. This Mortal Coil, born in 1983 with covers of Modern English songs ‘16 Days’ and ‘Gathering Dust’), “and then we entered the shark-infested waters of the mainstream, but business wasn’t why we got into music in the first place. It wasn’t enjoyable, or creative, but stifling.” Which explains the sense of unfinished business to Take Me To The Trees, a return to the sound and vision of Modern English’s debut single ‘Drowning Man’ (on their own Limp label) and, after becoming just the second band (after Bauhaus) to sign to 4AD, the singles ‘Swans On Glass’ and ‘Gathering Dust’ and the debut album Mesh And Lace (1981), of which James Murphy of LCD Soundystem says, “That record is a sneaky secret that everyone writes off, because they just think it’s going to be a ‘Melt With You‘ but it sounds way scarier than any Joy Division record.“
The band have also found room for a new, spectral mood in the ballads ‘It Don’t Seem Right’ (“a love song of people forced apart”) and ‚Come Out Of Your Hole’ (which started as a sexual image “before evolving into something else altogether”). As the album finally took shape, the band toured America again in the summer of 2016, playing Mesh And Lace in its entirety, as the album was reissued by the US indie Drastic Plastic. “It’s been brilliant,” says Grey. “The audiences were, in the main, young. I’m out of the loop in the modern world, but the music we used to make is fashionable again. We’ll play the new album next time, and we’re writing new songs.”
The family that is Modern English look like sticking together a while longer.
Author of Facing the Other Way: The Story Of 4AD