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The Wake \ Biography

The Wake formed in Glasgow (Scotland) in April 1981, after singer/guitarist Caesar joined forces with drummer Steven Allen and a bassist, Joe Donnelly. Caesar had previously played with Altered Images and wrote their first single Dead Pop Stars, but elected to leave shortly before the band crashed into the British pop charts.

With few opportunities to play live shows, the new group financed a single on their own Scan 45 label, which coupled sunny On Our Honeymoon with the darker song Give Up, the latter featuring a keyboard line picked out by band friend (and one-time Altered Images roadie) Robert 'Bobby' Gillespie.

Although the single sold modestly on release in January 1982, the group received a boost when Bobby Gillespie replaced Donnelly on bass, followed by Steven's sister Carolyn on keyboards. Meanwhile New Order manager Rob Gretton found much to admire in the Scan 45 single, and in October the group went into Strawberry Studio in Stockport to record a seven-track mini album for Factory Records.

Harmony was released on Factory (Fact 60) in December, and is some respects represents the missing link between the sound of Postcard and early Factory. The subsequent European pressing on Factory Benelux (FBN 29) also included a more experimental out-take, Chance. Harmony earned a five-star review from Dave McCullough in Sounds, who praised: "The first genuine record I can think of for months. Favour is, believe it or not, a hit single for Factory if they cared. If I played it to you and told you it was the new New Order 45 you'd almost certainly say at first how much they've improved... They are on that soaring pitch of optimism, somewhere between Transmission and Glittering Prize. When you hear it, you'll recognise it at once and move away from the recent, gorgeously indecent chart rubbish. This is awake."

The group finally began to get noticed outside Scotland in 1983, after dates supporting New Order in Bristol and Newcastle, followed by a string of shows in Scotland in April. As an awed punter at the date at Edinburgh Assembly Rooms on the 12th, I can vouch for the fact that The Wake proved the equal of the headline act that night. The show from Ayr Pavilion on the 15th was later released on the Assembly CD.

May saw the recording of a new single for Factory Benelux (FBN 24), cut at Revolution in Manchester and featuring extended versions of Something Outside and the dub-informed Host. In July the band recorded a three song John Peel session for BBC radio, featuring three new songs: The Drill, Uniform and Here Comes Everybody. Other unheard songs from this period include Country of the Blind and the excellent Recovery. A live take of Uniform recorded at The Haçienda in July 1983 (supporting Howard Devoto) also appears on the Factory Outing video (Fact 71).

Bobby Gillespie was already dividing his time between The Wake and an embryonic Primal Scream, and was asked to leave the band shortly after taping the Peel Session. Within a year he would re-emerge as the drummer in the Jesus and Mary Chain, swapping one cult label (Factory) for another (Creation). Within The Wake he was replaced on bass by Alex 'Mac' MacPherson in August, with the Factory Benelux single appearing in October. At about this time the group also worked up a cover of Stevie Wonder's Living For the City in their live set.

Sprightly pop single Talk About the Past (Fac 88) followed in January 1984, featuring Vini Reilly (of Durutti Column) on piano, and was showcased with another gig at The Haçienda. The band also secured a publishing deal with Blue Mountain Music, while Island Records expressed interest in signing the group, although their insistance on non-album singles and creative control scuppered the deal. For a moment it looked though Talk About The Past might reach beyond a cult audience, though despite being actively promoted by Blue Mountain (rather than Factory) the single did not make the national chart, and and Factory foreman Tony Wilson would later cite the absence of a manager as one reason The Wake failed to achieve a commercial breakthrough. Following a Haçienda showcase on 20 January, and the recording of a four track David Jensen BBC radio session in February, short-stay bassist MacPherson departed in April, and the band carried on as a trio.

Although much of the the second album, Here Comes Everybody, had already been written, both recording and release were delayed, and the band had to complete another string of Scottish dates with New Order in February 1985 with taped bass. Here Comes Everybody (Fact 130) finally appeared in November, featuring a clutch of excellent songs such as Torn Calender, All I Asked You to Do and O Pamela (covered by Nouvelle Vague in 2006), as well as a polished studio production by Oz. It's undoubtedly a pop album, but a sombre one, and drew mixed reactions from the press. Nonetheless it remains a firm favourite with fans of the group.

Two further non-album singles would appear through Factory: Of the Matter (Fac 113, 7" only, October 1985) and a swansong 12" EP, Something That No-One Else Could Bring (Fac 178, November 1987). Featuring another short-stay bassist, John Rahim, the EP was produced by John Leckie and marked a shift in sound towards shorter, more direct songs, with Plastic Flowers the standout track.

However by 1988 the group's relationship with Factory had soured, following wrangles over the artwork for Fac 178, as well as promotion, management and distribution. After linking up with Bristol-based label Sarah Records for future releases, and with Rahim having drifted away, two members of fellow Glasgow band The Orchids - bassist James Moody and guitarist Matthew Drummond - stepped in as guest musicians.

In 1989 The Wake opened their account for Sarah with a well-regarded single, Crush the Flowers (Sarah 21). During the Sarah years the band toured with The Orchids in Germany and France, and with also in France with The Field Mice. 1991 saw a new album, Make it Loud (Sarah 602), followed by another single, Major John (Sarah 48), the latter proving Steven Allen's last recordings with the group.

After another period of relative silence, in 1994 Caesar and Carolyn returned with a fourth studio album, Tidal Wave of Hype (Sarah 618). Guest musicians again included Moody and Drummond, as well as Duncan Cameron on bass and David McLean on additional keyboards. Around this time Caesar also played some live bass for the remaining Orchids after Moody left the band. But after Sarah shut up shop in 1995 The Wake found no suitable outlet for new material, and elected to call it a day.

Caesar (as Gerard McInulty) and Carolyn subsequently concentrated on an experimental theatre performance group, Twelve Stars, whose productions have included Treatise on the Steppenwolf, staged in Glasgow in May 2003 with a live soundtrack by The Durutti Column, and Do I Mean Anything To You Or Am I Just Passing By? (Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, November 2006). Nonetheless, the entire Wake back catalogue has been reissued on CD by LTM, as well as a DVD featuring both Haçienda shows from 1983 and 1984. In addition two new tracks have appeared on compilations: Town of 85 Lights, as The Wake, in 2003, and Jesus From the Block, as The Portal, in 2005.

Caesar and Carolyn have also collaborated with Bobby Wratten of The Field Mice/Trembling Blue Stars on two albums as The Occasional Keepers: The Beauty of the Empty Vessel (2005) and True North (2008). Meanwhile 2006 saw the release of Nouvelle Vague's 'easy listening' cover of O Pamela, already used on the soundtrack of the C4 drama Sugar Rush. Melancholy Man, another track from their 1985 album Here Comes Everybody, had also appeared on the Late Night Tales compilation curated by MGMT. In 2009 Caesar and Carolyn reformed The Wake to perform at A Factory Night (Again) at the Plan K venue in Brussels, afterwards going on to play in London, Paris and New York, with Ronnie Borland and Chris Quinn of The Orchids on bass and drums. With Ian Catt (St Etienne) and Duncan Cameron (Teenage Fanclub), the group also recorded a new album, A Light Far Out, released in May 2012. A vinyl version followed on the revived Factory Benelux imprint in 2013.

'Really it's been a process of rediscovery,' explains Caesar. 'After getting back together to play the Factory Night at Plan K in Brussels, then going on to play a few more gigs, we set about making a fifth album. Hopefully it combines elements from our past recordings with our more recent work as The Occasional Keepers - to create something that resonates in the present day.'

James Nice

The Wake