Original Sleeve Notes
Nice Job For The Lad
At the school we attended, the only acceptable alternative to going to university was to join the armed forces. It was seen as a good way to learn a trade – everyone seemed to ignore the fact that the primary purpose of a soldier, sailor or airman is to kill or be killed. Two years after this song was released, the Falklands War brought the realisation home with considerable force.
Peter Paints His Fence
Garry Bailey of the band Chain Of Dots gave us the name for the EP, so we recorded this instrumental dub as the title track. I have absolutely no idea who Peter was, what his fence enclosed, or what colour he painted it.
This was our lampooning of the po-faced electronic music scene, with words by Mike Holmes.
People Laugh At Me (Cos I Like Weird Music)
A tribute to the work of the wonderful Street Level organisation.
John’s Vacuum Cleaner
I’ve always liked a song that tells a story, and I suppose that others must feel the same, as this is the song by which many people remember us (if they remember us at all). It also provided us with the pinnacle of our media exposure when John Peel played it on his Radio 1 show. Just to clear up a common misconception: John’s relationship with his vacuum cleaner was completely platonic.
Actually named after a path in the gardens of Hampton Court Palace, for no reason other than that we liked the name. If people thought about the words at all, they probably thought that this was our “manifesto”. In fact, it is Protag’s ultra-cynical riposte to those who thought we were “selling out” if we learnt to play our instruments, although he claims it didn’t really capture whatever it was he was trying to say.
The first song we recorded with lyrics and guitar by Mic.
Scared To Be Alone
A title borrowed from one of my early influences, Dory Previn. During live performances we discovered that this track would segue reasonably smoothly into a version of The Good Missionaries’ “Fire From Heaven”.
Another of Mic’s songs. This is interesting as a sort of time capsule from the late seventies, with its observations drawn from the pages of The Sun newspaper. Who remembers “Red Robbo” nowadays?
When we were asked to contribute to the “We Couldn’t Agree On A Title” LP, I didn’t want to supply either a sub-standard out-take or a song that was available elsewhere, so I set about writing something especially for the project. I stuck my finger in a dictionary at random and it alighted on the word “invertebrate”, so that became the title and subject of the song. This track features two bass guitars (the normal one and the heavily distorted and flanged one) and demonstrates, if further proof were needed, that Protag is indeed Lord Of The Bass.
I suspect that when we titled our third cassette “Blues Masters Of The Humber Delta” it was seen as some sort of a joke, but I’ve always been a big fan of the blues. The first verse of this song was a re-write of a traditional blues song called “2:19 Train”, and the rest of the lyrics just seemed to fall into place. That bum note right at the end always brings a smile to my lips.
Ignorance Is Bliss
This is one of the first songs I ever wrote. The original version featured “The World’s Worst Guitar Solo” which was certainly pretty awful when I played it. Mic’s version here, however, is considerably more proficient – “The World’s Second-Worst Guitar Solo”, perhaps?
On the other hand, this is one of the last songs I was to write and the cracks are really starting to show. A bitter and disillusioned song about…well, bitterness and disillusionment, really.
This follows the “gloomy one-word song title” trend pioneered by the likes of Joy Division, and the song itself, while sounding nothing like Joy Division, has gloom by the bucketful.
This is Protag’s minimalist protest song. There were originally more words, describing the things which were “too big”, but it was eventually decided that everything was too big, so just those two words would suffice. I suppose this is a distant cousin to “Peter Paints His Fence” and other tracks from the early years of the Automatons – those are pots and pans being used for percussion in the background.
Although this is another song of resentful disenchantment, I consider this to be my finest lyric. It is also probably the most musically complex thing we ever did.
Drunk In Woolwich (On New Year’s Eve)
Composed, as the title says, in Woolwich on New Year’s Eve, when we were very drunk. We played a sort of lyrical Consequences game, where we each took it in turns to write one line of a song, hiding all but the last word from the next person. The result formed the words of this track. Mic and Protag swapped instruments to give it that even-more-amateurish-than-usual feel, and Mic supplied the emetically realistic sound-effects.
Short Haired Man (In A Long Haired Town)
Despite being written in the first person, this is not a song about me. It was inspired by Nigel Jacklin of the band Alien Brains. Deep down, I have always been quite conservative (with a very small “c”!) and I have a sneaking admiration for people who can be unconventional with a total disregard for the disapproval of others. This is my tribute to them.
No Identifiable Sign Of Life
This was originally featured on the “Magnitizdat” compilation cassette and is the earliest of the recordings in this collection. Written by Protag, it is one of the few songs to feature him on lead vocal – and no drum machine, either!
When The Pubs Close ( Denmark St. version)
Words by Garry Bailey. This is an alternative to the version which appeared on the “Blues Masters” cassette, and I think that the Welsh Male Voice Choir style backing vocals help to emphasise the fact that our tongues were very firmly in our cheeks on this one.
This tale of an airline suicide bomber is probably the only Instant Automatons song to feature a brass section. That’s me on sax and Protag on the battered trumpet in the background.
Ballad Of The New Things
A grim song about the shallow joy of materialism – not a particularly innovative notion, but the words are more or less autobiographical.
Party girl goes insane and commits suicide by self-defenestration. Or was it all a dream?
So It’s Come To This
The title of this song was a favourite dismissive comment of ours that could be applied to almost any situation, and was originally inspired by a line in the song “Dress Rehearsal Rag” by Leonard Cohen. The bulk of the song itself was written, not in a hotel room (in true rock’n’roll style) but in the waiting room at Habrough railway station. If my train had been on time, it might have been considerably shorter. Blame British Rail.
Gillian Is Normal (Boyce-Codd 2002 remix)
Like a number of the Automatons’ other songs, this was written about a real person – in this case the deeply unadventurous girlfriend of one of my workmates. I may have embellished the facts somewhat – I don’t think she actually did keep a magic monkey’s paw in a drawer in the kitchen table – but I plead artistic licence.
Tried Too Hard
This is actually a dub version – the original had all the instruments in the mix all the way through and the last verse has disappeared from this version – but it’s the only version I have.
Nothing Ever Happens To Me (Sam ‘n’ Ella remix)
This was my attempt to write one of those rambling Dylanesque story-songs like “Motorpsycho Nightmare” and “Bob Dylan’s 115 th Dream”. We set the lyrics to a backing that Mic and Protag had already composed. I was quite pleased with the result, and we had a lot of fun recording it.
Mark Lancaster (a.k.a. Mark Automaton)