About

This is the Animals that Swim blog, which will occasionally be used to post information about the band and to link to online releases.

We haven’t really been active since 2001, but in March 2011 we recorded a couple of new songs. There’s some more ready to do if we happen to have the time, money, motivation etc.

For information about us, Alex’s site http://www.animalsthatswim.co.uk is useful, and there’s a Wikipedia page which is only mildly inaccurate.

Plus if you really want to know more, I’ve copied the sleevenotes for Faded Glamour: The Best of Animals That Swim (released in 2004) below.

“It’s all a bit vague now, but here’s some of what I remember…

It was Hank and Charlie to start with – they had been in a band in New York, and moved back over here in the late eighties. Hugh joined soon after, and various line-ups of the band played sparsely attended gigs in a wide range of strange and ugly venues. Charlie was eventually stopped at the airport and sent back to America, where he still lives, and Del came to play bass at about the same time as this.

We started to organise gigs for ourselves so that we could play with more interesting people, often including poets or comedians, but thankfully never any jugglers. The typical songs around this stage were rather disjointed, in awkward rhythms, and words that didn’t quite fit. Hank used to play his drums standing up, singing with a stained glass bicycle wheel spinning over his head. After Del had been with us for a while we discovered that he could play trumpet, and he gradually started playing it more and more. The first good song we wrote was probably Me and Harry Dean which we played live as a three-piece with Del playing trumpet instead of bass. The version included here is a home recording with harmonica in place of the trumpet.

In about 1991 Nick (later of Transglobal Underground) suggested that we should make our own record, which seemed a good idea. Our friend Dare Mason, who went on to be our regular producer, was recording at the Townhouse 3 (a nice place in Battersea that used to belong to the Who – it was an ex-church with a pulpit still in place, and a collection of Keith Moon’s old percussion lying around out the back). He kindly let us sneak in over the weekend and we managed to finish King Beer and Impossible. We pressed 300 copies, and sold most of them one way or another. We later lost the master of these recordings when the factory that pressed the vinyl closed down, so we recorded a second version of the song for Workshy. The version of King Beer here is the original, which we have had to cut from vinyl for this CD.

Then Al joined the band on guitar and piano, and after a few further line-up shuffles, Lenie Mets played bass on the next couple of records, after which Anthony Coote replaced her for the first two albums. The recording sessions for Roy were a bit of a nightmare as we kept running out of money without ever finishing it. I remember one studio in particular where the tape machine kept wobbling, but the owner refused to admit that his gear wasn’t working… as I remember it, the b-side Weary Mind was an attempt to write something like a Roy Orbison song.

Nick Allport of Che Records came to our rescue after that, and we recorded Fifty Dresses in a damp studio in Leyton. I used to get home late at night smelling like an old dog after these sessions. Nick had just released Marbles by Tindersticks on 10-inch vinyl, and we used the same format to release the ep, which also included Chapel Market and Oregon State Fair.

Nick Evans at Elemental signed us after that – very exciting to sign a contract at last – releasing your own records is fun, but quite stressful in the end. Nick was a good friend of the band over a long period. Workshy came out in 1993, I think – we recorded it for about £3000 in a Fulham studio in about 17 days. The US version had an extra track, New Boots, and also included the single version of Pink Carnations – a better mix than the album, with Hank improving on Hugh’s original vocal. Smooth Steps is also from Workshy.

After that, One Little Indian bought Elemental. We got an improved 2 album deal out of it. The people there were very nice, but I think we were really seen as the baggage from the takeover, and it was hard work getting anything done. It took until 1996 to get the second album out. By now we were probably suffering from not having a manager to guide us through the maze of the business. I Was the King, I Really Was The King was more expensively recorded (in Wapping) than its predecessor, costing about £15,000, and utilising a much more grandiose range of instruments. The title was a quote that Hank found in a book about Orson Welles, describing his reception on a visit to Harlem. The Greenhouse was the first single off this album. Faded Glamour was probably our high point in terms of radio play and success – I remember seeing the video on the television a few times, and by now we were playing reasonably successful tours, and getting invited to the festivals and so on. The Longest Road was written on the way back from a very dull trip to a festival in Belgium.

The problem from the One Little Indian point of view was that we didn’t sell records in the US, and their business model meant that this made us an unprofitable item on the balance sheet for them. Maybe we should have just left the label at that point. Instead we spent the next year or so jumping through hoops to try to get the next record made, but it wasn’t going to happen. Dirt was one of the demos we made towards the abandoned third album.

We all got busier outside the band, with jobs and children and so forth, and for a while it looked as though we wouldn’t make any more records. Then in 2000, Chris Kidson at Snowstorm included Dirt on one of his Xmas singles. We were getting on well enough, and had enough new songs to make Happiness from a Distant Star (we made it very cheaply, with most of the recording done in Dare’s front room), with Terry de Castro now playing bass. The title is a quote taken by Hugh from Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto. The Moon and the Mothership and All Your Stars Are Out were the singles from this album. At the time this felt like a quite upbeat album, but listening back now it seems a bit obsessed with mortality and failure, with a song like Mackie’s Wake about a funeral being one of the more cheery moments.

And now, a couple of years later, we’ve put together this Best Of – it’s good to have the opportunity to make a record which just gathers our favourite tracks into one mix. The additional disc gathers some of the more listenable of the b-sides and demos, some of which are quite hard to obtain now, as at least part of our back catalogue is deleted, and the first few records were short runs. This may be our swansong as a band, after an up and down fifteen year history – we might record together again, but it would be unwise to bet on it. I’ll be interested to listen to this record in another fifteen years time to see how it sounds then.

A lot of people played in the band or helped us in other ways over the years, some of whom we still know, some of whom we don’t. I understand that Dave Harris, a New Zealander who played bass on King Beer, sadly died of an asthma attack a few years after leaving the band. My strongest memories of him are a weird gig we played at the Xmas party at the care home where he worked (guest of honour, Vera Lynn…), and a lunchtime gig in Clapham which we had to call off after he was electrocuted by dodgy wiring during the soundcheck. He refused to go to hospital but we cancelled the gig and sent him home to recover. Our belated thanks to him and everyone else who ever played with us, helped us out, or encouraged us. It was mostly hard work for no reward, but I’m glad we did it anyway.”

HB

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