Look Blue Go Purple - Still Bewitched

by Steve Rhodes Rating:10 Release Date:2017-05-05

With a band name created by randomly selecting cut up words from an assortment, Look Blue Go Purple were anything but a cut-and-paste band. Formed in the early 80s in the fledgling DIY scene centred around Dunedin, given international recognition from the renowned Flying Nun record label and their initial breakthrough artists, such as The Clean, The Chills and The Verlaines. LBGP explored post-punk, 60s jangling psychedelia, The Velvet Underground's primitive and spacious recording techniques and cultural influences closer to home, producing three excellent EPs over a period of four years. Whilst many of their fellow Flying Nun artists had grander ambitions to reach overseas audiences and obtain recognition outside of their home country, LBGP's knuckled down, improving their techniques and increasing their live presence as they went along, which perhaps has contributed to them unfairly remaining under the radar for much of their career.

One of the few New Zealand all-female bands at the time, their releases, all present in Still Bewitched along with a number of live performances, unlike a lot of records from the 80s, still feel contemporary, easily standing the test of time, that have directly inspired a number of local and international artists, as well as having a seemingly coincidental influence as echoes can be heard in bands such as Fuzzbox, Lush and The Wedding Present.

'Safety In Crosswords' is a fantastic introduction, with busy percussion and a quick pace from the off, a Hammond organ takes centre stage, floating over proceedings in a haunting minor-key. A quirky and spiky bass and trebly guitars, especially the regular, rising bass-drops add charm to a record, which has the post-punk vibes of The Shop Assistants and The Raincoats, along with the etheriel-ness of The Sundays, especially in the vocals. Norma O Malley's organ again features as a lead instrument on 'Circumspect Penelope' which slides along as the guitars lightly chop throughout. Remaining firmly in the minor key the spartan, multi-vocals beautifully soar as the song speeds along to a quick conclusion. The pace drops for 'Vain Hopes', with Norma switching to flute in a style not too distant from latter Blind Mr Jones. The gorgeous vocals are more echoed, spacious and haunting, which Lush would use to full effect during their early Gala-era recordings and nods to an uncomplicated Electrelane. The pace temporarily picks up in the bridge and the bass drum hits heavy, taking on prog elements that could sit easily with King Crimson. 'As Does The Sun' is more pastoral and folkier, especially in the opening with spaciously plucked guitars that Mazzy Star would regularly employ. Again minor-key especially with Francesca Griffin's (nee Kathy Bull) bass-lines, Norma's flute still predominantly takes the lead in a plaintive and emotional song, that feels like Miranda Sex Garden covering The Smiths.

LBGPEP 2's opening track and perhaps their most well-known song 'Cactus Cat' is an instant departure, with more of a twee feel, probably not helped by some of the lyrics “Yeah she's my cactus cat, she is my best friend”, which Belle & Sebastian fans could salivate at, but whilst the song is undoubtedly poppy, it still retains an edge, especially with Francesca's busy bass, Lesley's drums and the choppy guitars. The song excels in the beautifully summery middle-eight, with luscious high-end keys and sonically-enhanced guitars with a touch of reverb, before returning to the default position. You'd need a heart of stone not to have a smile listening to this.

'Grace' returns to the post-punk stance with it's Talking Heads/Wire/Au-Pairs foot stepping low end bass and set back guitars, but retains the optimistic feel and vocal clarity of 'Cactus Cat'. A mantric track with a lullaby-esque tone and nice touches of percussion and a chiming triangle added to proceedings. '100 Times' takes more of sombre stance, similar to the first EP, but still feels upbeat, with a gorgeous atmospheric chorus and a lovely parting shot of a piano note at the end. But it's the last two tracks of the EP that are the strongest and perhaps the best of LBGP's career.

'Winged Rumor' feels mystical from the start enhanced by the return of Norma's spacious flute. James Galway this ain't. Denise and Kath's repetitive guitars and Lesley's almost-motorik drumming, take a more Krautrock direction in a manner Stereolab would perfect early in their career. There is more oomph to this track, with the verse feeling like The Heart Throbs at their most enchanting, but it's the hypnotic descending chorus that stands out, as the flute and guitars totally synch into each other, with the track as a whole a combination of all of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's 'periods' of music.

'Hiawatha' feels darker and more experimental than anything else they released, with lightly plucked and chiming guitars from the start, an organ, almost used a foghorn in places and shrills elsewhere, and rolling, tribal drumming throughout. Vocals are used differently, beginning in a spoken-word tone that Linda Steelyard from Prolapse would perfect in the 1990s, multi-vocals appear in a chant-like state further into the song, with the odd howl adding dissonance to a great track.

Is This It is a more conventional record, with it's opener 'I Don't Want You Anyway' perhaps the most C-86 of the lot, with the organ sat in the background, a spiky bass and guitars that jangle more than ever. The Primitives entire career could be based off this. Likewise 'Year Of The Tiger' which is a little more indistinct but still chugs along pleasantly. The lyrics feel more confrontational too as 'In Your Favour' highlights “I'm a fool to believe in you and what you said. I'm a fool to believe in you at all”, reminiscent of Heavenly, Mambo Taxi and other bands from the fringes of early 90s Riot Girl. 'Conscious/Unconscious' though is more left-field with a swirling organ, combined with high-end vocals giving a child-like quality in the vein of Birmingham 90s luminaries Pram and Novak, and 'Days Of Old' has a dustbowl Mid-West feel, with a folkier twist, that John Peel favs Broken Dog could be proud to call their own.

Accompanying the EPs are a number of band-picked previously unreleased live tracks that all showcase the strength of LBGP's live performances over the years. Full of melody and confidence they capture the energy and differing styles the band produced over the years, from the bouncing 'Ralta', the theatrical and playful 'Spike', with its early Stranglers feel sitting with long-lost early 90s British artists such as Blubber or Blessed Ethel, the clarion calling 'A Request' with its' “Neitzche 6pm” shout outs that nods to Le Tigre, the spiky and speedy 'Juxtaposition', the spacious and fuller sounding 'A Girl Like Her', the slow/fast shape-shifting 'Last Breath', the reflective 'Eyes Are The Door' and the hypnotic 'Codeine'. The latter of which is probably the best of an excellent bunch.

Collecting their EPs and a number of live performances Still Bewitched is an excellent and comprehensive retrospective that will hopefully give Look Blue Go Purple more recognition for their trailblazing ethos that can be found in numerous acts in the years that followed and those releasing material today.

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