A Brief History of VENUS IN FURS & TIMES
From Original Booklet Liner Notes to VIF - DELTA by Laurie Morris
1980: Times works in a small, independent record shop in Brighton, called Attrix Records. Here he absorbs the latest 'alternative' bands and meets many of the local musicians involved with Brighton's thriving live music scene.
Having acquired a guitar and mastered a few basic chords, Times immediately begins writing songs, with snappy tunes and sardonic lyrics ("...ironic Post-pop trash R n B," he later recalled). With guitarist Jon Goode and bassist David Godot, he forms Joe Dash. After auditions in Autumn 1981, they find red- hot drummer Dan Leechasko, who becomes the committed fourth member.
With this line-up, Joe Dash perform many gigs in Brighton and record two Studio demo tapes (some of which can be heard on the later VIF Retrospective VERVE Album). This is all good clean fun, and JD quickly gather a keen local following, but Times clearly has wider ambitions. Armed with a crop of new songs which reflect his changing attitude to songwriting and having decided the band needs more musical edge, he changes the somewhat wry name of Joe Dash to the title of a novel he's reading. Following a hectic period of songwriting (eight new songs in three months) Times re-launches the band in May 1982 as VENUS IN FURS. With the recruitment of Paul "Ludo" Martin (replacing Godot ) VIF also now have a watertight Rhythm Unit: Ludo's fluid, dynamic basslines, combined with the dramatic, restrained power of Dan Leechasko's drumming provides Times with ideal support for his challenging new material.
The new VIF image is austere, confrontational and psychologically deeper, standing slightly aloof from the audience, yet respecting their intelligence by offering songs with meaningful, probing lyrics which reward the attention paid to them. This is no background Bar band, but atmospheric and powerful, these strange emerging songs a kind of musical storytelling, with taboo subjects from the dark side ... During this involved stage of reinvention, Times' songwriting takes a quantum leap, resulting in a series of new, brooding songs with ominous titles such as Auschwitz, Ghosts Amongst You All, Siren and I and A Leap in the Dark - these and others featured on the VIF live Album CURTAIN from this period.
The result is that audience numbers grow and VIF moves up a gear professionally, playing larger venues alongside 'name' acts such as The Durutti Column, Doll By Doll, Black and The Monochrome Set. A Nov.'82 gig with Adam Ant's band leads to wider exposure, and London Record companies are now monitoring the VIF effect.
Summer, 1983: VIF enter a local Sussex Studio to record the three tracks later released as EXTENDED PLAY Originally appearing along with 'Playback' and the seminal 'Memento Mori', 'Rogue Male' is a fitting song with which to begin. With tight, military-style drum rolls and bugle-like guitar riffs, this track establishes VIF's signature guitar sounds: delicate harmonics become a surging roar that turns into a shower of spiky chords. And vocally, in stylistic contrast to the deadpan storytelling of 'Memento Mori', Times delivers this more urgent story of "disgraced Nobility and ruined grandeur" in a breathy murmur that suddenly erupts with barely containable energy.
Unfortunately, before the 'tour de force' that is EXTENDED PLAY can be released, the band breaks up. (November 1983) But in early 1984, Times meets ace Keyboard, Bassman and sound Engineer Skot Lucy, and things start looking up. While they are busily planning and recording songs for an album, EXTENDED PLAY is finally released, to much acclaim. (Ironic, considering the original line-up have, by now, all gone their separate ways.)
Reviewing the three tracks, Morrissey, writing for the MELODY MAKER in August 1984, calls Times '...a coddled treasure...Ready instead of rough, his voice is not dissimilar to Bid of the Monochrome Set...It's all surely the beginning of a string of vital discs.'
Since EXTENDED PLAY is gaining momentum with radio airplay (John Peel liked it) and steady sales, (especially in Europe) Times and Skot decide to retain the Band name, VENUS IN FURS under which to release their forthcoming album.
Featuring a striking cover from an original painting by Brighton artist, John Masouri, VIF's debut Album, PLATONIC LOVE AND OTHER STORIES is released on their own Label, 'Movement Records' in November 1984 to general bewilderment and fascination. Comparing the album with other, less demanding releases at the time, a critic in ZIGZAG, (January 1985) observes, ' Venus in Furs are more hostile, their love sheathed in stained nappies.' (A very post-punk compliment.) They also call it 'a tightly-laced treat...bristling with modern pop ideals.' An intimate, rock- reverie, 'That First Wild Kiss' storms in like a tornado, describing a passionate clinch with galloping drums and sleek guitar that's pure aural sex. Whereas the title track, 'Platonic Love' observes an estranged, collapsing relationship (reportedly a reference to the VIF band break-up) at a more stately pace, changing mood with an experimental ending: an effect which VIF use to startling effect. An irresistible tango, 'His Master's Voice' has a catchy, memorable tune. Its playful lyric marks the passing mores of changing generations, whereas 'The Challenge' is an emotional, uplifting song, with driving rhythm, the lyrical violin of Tina Lewis, Times' whirling lead guitar and the booming, cavernous production of Skot Lucy.
On the strength of these first two releases, VIF gain influential fans in a record company called Backs of Norwich, who offer them, initially, a deal for a second album. In May 1985, STRIP is released - again to healthy reviews. Chris Roberts (SOUNDS critic) describes this as '...surprisingly succulent' and rates it highly, giving the album a creditable four stars.
Defying convention, 'Concerning Status' has a long instrumental introduction. It's a poignant song about gathering fame, laden with quiet irony. With Times' dense, enigmatic lyrics, fans have to listen carefully, trying to puzzle out what this cryptic songwriter might mean. Once 'interpreted' the song becomes a kind of intimate secret between Composer and Listener - part of VIF's unique appeal. This has an early use of the sudden, twist-in-the-tail ending. 'In My Velvet Cage' tracks a mesmeric, nightwing pulse, its probing images delivered like a sleepwalk-soliloquy. Upping the revs, 'All Night Party' is an orgiastic, white-heat hedonist's delight.
By mid-1985, the general consensus in the music media is that VIF 'could be important,' a band to watch out for. By then, the original small pressing (500 copies) of EXTENDED PLAY has long sold out. Backs Records receive so many requests for it, they re-release it as a 12-inch picture disc. While this is turning into 'a must for late night revellers,' (ZIGZAG) and "...a very welcome re-release of one of the finest indie tunes of recent years" (MELODY MAKER), STRIP is selling well and gaining much airplay, especially on European Radio.
But then, just as VIF are taking off - and still under contract for three further albums - Skot relocates to Australia. Backs want Times to audition new band members and go on tour, but he decides to carry on alone, fulfilling his contractual obligations by playing and overdubbing every instrument himself, with Dan Leechasko returning to provide sterling Drum duties.
The result is the awesome REAL MORAL FIBRE - the product of seven months' exhaustive work. With another highly distinctive cover painting by John Masouri, the third VIF album establishes them as a 'band' of consistently high quality. Writing in MELODY MAKER, critic Mick Mercer opines that 'Venus In Furs plainly refuse to release nothing but the most superb records,' while SOUNDS' Chris Roberts concludes: "...they are conceptually faultless." When the shimmering album track 'Love Lies' is released as a 12-inch single, it gains enthusiastic airplay and healthy sales in Europe, America and Asia.
Also from this period comes the atmospheric 'Chandleresque.' Inspired by the detective fiction of the great American novelist Raymond Chandler, tinkling piano, acoustic guitar and reverse-reverb-soaked vocals combine to report a neo-noir tragedy. Sequencers, loops, and sound effects reveal a louche, sultry portrait (of "the Bel-Air wives") - a hothouse 'Cine-flick' in miniature.
In MELODY MAKER of Oct 1986, Mick Mercer, reviewing REAL MORAL FIBRE writes of Times: 'Inspirationally he's a mighty raconteur, his old head - upon young shoulders - resting on Poe's pillow. Musically ...these songs are ostensibly gentle things...with a glint of something harsh at their core... Ah, but it all gets blown apart by the spicy death rattle of 'Verve.' Shriek your head off as 'Candy's mouth is like a burglar alarm' unwinds over whispering, shuddering guile and evil, tarantula guitar.'
Personally, I don't hear anything evil or spider-like in 'Verve.' As a keenly observed tribute to the Velvet Underground (Verve was their record label) it contains a multitude of guitars intricately dubbed together, producing a whirligig of pace and dynamics. Times' deft lyrics refer to members of Andy Warhol's entourage, including Lou Reed, Candy Darling and Nico: "...the Chanteuse is an ice-cool blonde, she holds the mike like a used condom..."
However, with its razor-sharp synths and shadowplay whispers (in Japanese !) some might find 'Mishima's Sepukko' a shade disturbing. This filmic, harrowing depiction of the ritual suicide ( Sepukko) of radical author Yukio Mishima, reflects Times' eclectic reading, and was universally hailed as a startling and original listening experience.
After the wide critical success of REAL MORAL FIBRE, there is pressure to produce a worthy follow-up. Times has been expanding his musical horizons, exploring Classical Composition in particular. The result is album number four: the luminous MEGALOMANIA. Here, further iconic VIF songs rub shoulders with more experimental instrumental pieces. 'Perestroika' (not included here) was originally written for Concert Orchestra. 'The Purist' is a haunting, melancholic confession, utilizing long pauses, false endings and dramatic silence to great effect. 'When I Acquire You' is a dynamic masterpiece which appraises and disinters the balance of power within relationship. With its waspish, chromatic-scale clavinets, nightclub pulsebeat and dizzying guitar solos, this song has become a popular favourite amongst VIF fans. In healthy contrast, the jaunty, delightful French waltz (for piano and Chamber Ensemble) 'La Valse de Salon' vividly evokes the impressionist Paris of Proust, Erik Satie and Montesquieu, revealing Times' instinctive ability to tap into a widely-varied musical prehistory.
Meanwhile, in an already busy life, Times co-writes and produces yet another album, with old school friend, Colin Johnson. On ECHOES OF LOST SOULS by ' The Brothers Christ ' (a low-key limited pressing: 500 copies, now highly collectable), Times can relax and have fun. Sparkling with psychedelia, snappy rockers and electronic songs alike, 'ECHOES' gives him the freedom to expand his frontiers. From this Album comes the one-take Echoplex improvisation 'Loop': a tacit example of skill and intuitive precision. The result, a subsonic 'guitarscape', carries you away like a cross-continental train ride: exhilarating.
In December 1988, following three years' exhausting writing and recording, Times disappears to the South of France for a much-needed break. A grand piano is shipped across the Channel and transported to his hideaway. (The house lends its name to the track 'Prairie de Regasse', an uplifting piece for 12-string Guitars, full of sparkling light.) Taking this opportunity to study music theory and Piano Composition, Times enjoys the peace and good regional wines, both of which help to inspire many fine and characteristic instrumental melodies. (Released a full decade later as 'SCANT POLYPHONY' - The Piano Music Of Times)
In mid 1989, a VIF 12-inch single, 'Almost' is released. Popular on European dancefloors, 'Almost' marks a conscious "commercial" stab at a wider audience: scintillating guitar licks, rippling sequencer and melodic strings punctuate this timeless pop-ballade. Meanwhile, returning from his French idyll, Times begins work on the fifth VIF album. Released in 1990, THE SPEED OF A PUN is a mixture of rock, ambient and chamber music and has an unexpectedly lighter mood, full of humour and playful touches. Mary Anne Hobbs, a reviewer for the NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS describes PUN as having 'largely ambient, experimental, spooky instrumental passages written like a sound track to Tales Of The Unexpected. It gave me the f-ing creeps.'
Maybe that was because some new, startling edges were being revealed.
'Baby Veils' delivers a complex, dream-like tale. MEDLEY was composed after absorbing Baroque and modern Chamber composition: 'Air Knives', for multiple cello and violins, is a pilot's term for flight turbulence, 'Istanbul' is a beguiling Eastern sound-hive, with clarinets, trombone, saxophone, piano, strings and bassoon weaving a tight polyphonic tapestry. 'Julia Before Paris' is a relaxed, gently cascading pianistic counterpoint. Here Times shows us another side: wistful, meditative and tender.
From VERVE (a collection of VIF out-takes) we have two lesser-known tracks: 'Leah' and 'Eno, The World Ranger.' In this affectionate, closely observed tribute to one of Times' contemporaries, (the title is an anagram of Eno's '70s classic, 'Another Green World') we are moving briskly through a livid, verdant rain forest of the imagination. 'Leah (The Slut Of Haddam Hall) is a cautionary tale of a bewitching Seductress, full of black humour, dead-eye imagery and hypnotic, vamping saxophones.
1992 - 1996 proves to be a testing period of transition for VIF. Personal issues are to be faced (marriage, divorce, two sons are born). Amid this intensive upheaval, Times takes a few years outside of VIF, becoming an English Teacher in a local College, but at the same time keeping his musical hand in by giving private Piano tuition.
However, these "lost" years are not wasted: Summer 1996 ushers in a new Venus In Furs collection - the stark, emotionally candid WOMBERANG. A dark star, indeed, this album contains some of Times' most searing and heartfelt songs. 'Diane With A Gun' opens with jagged guitars, scatter-shot drums and the smoky story of a lover whose 'trigger is her smile.' 'Prince and Princess Midas in Reverse' unfolds as an intimate, bitter-sweet roman a clef, rife with inverted puns and double meanings. Over an oozing, tremulous calypso beat, Times' finest crooning vocal and quizzical prose gradually builds to a shattering denouement. In a characteristic switch of tone, 'Delta of Venus' is a crashing blitz of incendiary guitars and raunchy, telling wordplay on the compelling power of female sexuality.
This is followed in 1998 by SOFT LIFE ( the title refers to a "settled, bourgeois existence"), a kaleidoscopic, Janus-like collection which shows Times maintaining his ability to reveal and unsettle; 'Punch Drunk And Mesmerised' opens with melodic, eloquent guitars in the expansive intro, and the lyrics are cool, relaxed and confident. 'Cold Whispers' tells a spooky, claustrophobic story about a young girl's paranoia in Rehab, whereas 'Jesus Has Left the Building' is a phlegmatic, cool-eyed take on Christianity with an infectious, catchy tune and dexterous, laconic lyrics.
In conclusion, 'Love Bullets' is a buzzy, candid song which prescribes philosophical acceptance when losing loved ones. Times' rhythmic, darting clavinets and edgy guitars are full of restless agitation, whilst the voice is at once moving, provocative and tellingly real.
1999 - 2006 sees a host of solo instrumental Projects: Nuit Blanche a Paris, (a colourful Soundtrack), Scant Polyphony (the aforementioned Piano pieces) the 'Krautrock'-influenced Venusburg and Perplexities - an eclectic collection of incidental ambient works.
Asked to describe his music, Times once memorably stated: "...it's a kind of ...high-contrast World Cinema for the mind."
With DELTA - The Essential VENUS IN FURS, we are cordially invited into this shadowy Mind-Theatre, and our tickets checked, seats found, eagerly await the main feature ...
TIMES continues to compose.
Laurie Morris, England 2011