Norway - Full Moon 204 - 04/25/13
The Colors Turned Red
The Colors Turned Red
Made in Haugesund
What a drag it is getting old, Rolling Stones claimed back in 1966, i.e. in the early stone age when the members were still young. Well, even grumpy, a-greying men can have fun on the town once in a while. Some of us at the Luna Kafé headquarters had a great evening out last week when The Colors Turned Red (TCTR) hit Oslo the same evening as Justin Bieber's third and last Oslo show. Well, TCTR didn't manage the same stir, hysteria and media attention as young Justin, but I guess none of the chosen few, in comparison, who witnessed the Colored boys were disappointed. And it was a lot cheaper tickets, band effects and close-ups with the band members on offer than for the disturbed female teenagers at a somewhat bigger arena on the other side of town.
I discovered the boys in TCTR at a relatively early stage. I was taken by the cassette movement in Norway in the early 1980s. Cassettes was the ultimate cheap way to release young, enthusiastic and independent music at the time. A young quartet/quintet from Haugesund on the southwestern coast started Im Nebel in 1982 and released a split cassette with Mausoleum some time in 1983. "Im Nebel" is the title of a gloomy poem by German Nobel price literature winner Hermann Hesse (no less!). The band name brings associations to the nazi concentration camps (Nacht und Nebel), also the origin for the name Joy Division, a major inspiration for the Im Nebel members in early days, I guess. One of my last live experiences as a student in Bergen in late 1983 was a two day event in connection with Norwegian Rock Association's annual meeting in town. A host of the best national bands at the time were present, including Liliedugg, Alle Tiders Duster, Famlende Forsøk, Raga Rockers and The Aller Værste!. And also the young quintet from Haugesund that sounded better live than on cassette.
When I moved to Oslo six months later to start to work, I had to leave home a few days in advance to witness the first Langøya Festival at an island in the Oslo fjord. Some bands of the cassette movement were represented here as well, including Mørkelagt Bevegelse, Ym-stammen and Im Nebel. The latter had improved a lot in the intervening months, especially the confident scene presence of vocalist Johnny Hazard, as far as I can remember. And with new strong and less depressive songs as well. By then they had been presented on national radio and TV, too, I seem to remember. Im Nebel's second cassette had been released by the time the band visited my native town at a festival celebrating the independent cassette artists some weeks later. It was the ultimate meeting point for the followers of the movement that summer where the bands and artists and a few more could enjoy each others music, company, cassettes and fanzines. Im Nebel's gig was one of sesveral highlights. The cassette wave reached its peak that year, not least due to Im Nebel's Mutasjon 7 that included better songs, more hi-tech recording and cover than the average. Some of the most hardcore members of the movement mumbled that it was a betrayal because the release was too professional and included some lyrics in English... But the band members didn't mind; they had bigger ambitions.
The following year they went to Bergen to record at Sigma Lydstudio, the state of the art recording studio in Norway at the time. The result was the self released 7 inch vinyl single "The Colours Turned Red"/"Just Like That" in December 1985. By now they had left the depressive trend inspired by Joy Division, the early Cure etc. There were several other colours in the music and air in addition to the initial grey and stated red, even though the lyrics were far from merry.
Soon after they found out it was time for a name change due to the new musical direction. The title of the single's A-side was adapted, with Colors spelled in the American way without the u. I was a bit disappointed about that initially, thinking the change had to do with a bias in favour of the new guitar-based Paisley Underground movement of California at the time (Green On Red, Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, True West, The Three O'Clock, The Long Ryders etc.) and bands from the same area in the 1960s, like The Byrds, Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield. It turned out the u had been dropped due to the number of letters of the words; without the u they counted 3-6-6-3. More snappy that way. And the band was still as inspired by artist from this side of the Atlantic as on the American west coast. By now the boys toured quite a bit even though they didn't have a record contract. I saw them a few times, thought they had some great songs, but had lost some of the initial originality or sincereness. They seemed to be steering more towards the middle of the road. I remember meeting them at a concert with The Triffids (or was it The Go-Betweens?) at the (for some of us) semi-legendary Oslo club Sardine's around November 1987. They were very excited. They had accepted a record contract with Danish Mega Records and the next day they were heading for Copenhagen to start the recording of their debut album.
I didn't enjoy the album that much in the first place. The production was typical of the day, lots of reverb and echo, and reminded me of the commercial end of Simple Minds and a drum sound almost as huge as Big Country's in between. It drowned the songs to some extent, though I had to admit there were some great melodies, especially choruses, in there. It gained a lot of favourable critics nationally, though, some saying they could be bigger than A-ha. Alas, the album didn't sell too well, only about 4 500 copies I've read. I guess the promotion of the album from the Danes wasn't too convincing. The company was not exactly mega... And by the end of the year (1988 that is) the band was no more. TCTR resurrected in 2004 (strange matter this, the fathers return to their folly of youth when the kids grow up, or never quite drop the follies), released a four track Summer EP in 2005 and the album All the Way Up in 2006, though of course without the media buzz of the debut album. I saw them live again once more around this time, and they were great, better than on record.
In the meantime guitarist and main songwriter Haakon Larsen had continued as a member of Wholy Martin (one great album and a few EPs) among others, drummer Morten Jackman in The Tramps, Helldorado and his brother Pål's bands Jackman and Wunderkammer, while keyboardist Bengt Hansen was involved in recordings with some of the above mentioned to name but a few. 2011 saw the release of the self titled album by Duel In The Sun that included Haakon, Morten and Johnny plus Bjørn Fløystad (also a member of Wholy Martin) and with contributions from Bengt and Colors' bassman Ketil Torgersen as well. Incidentally, Morten's brother Pål Jackman was Im Nebel's bass player for a while in the early days. Now he is renowned as one of Norway's best and most original film directors.
And now we've finally reached what this is supposed to be about. The Colors Turned Red's self titled debut album from April 1988 in new clothes. To commemorate its 25 years anniversary, it's now relaunched on vinyl (red, of course!), including a CD, in a limited edition, and available for streaming and downloading for the first time as well. The new remastered version gives more justice to the songs themselves. It sounds more powerful than the the original version, given more depth, esepcially the thick vinyl edition. Check also our Luna manager's description of the remastered "Breaking Bounds" off the album a couple of full moons ago. The drum sound is occasionally still too big for my liking, and we don't avoid the dreadful short (luckily!) American TV-series-sounding saxophone solos of "Attracted" and "Too Proud To Tell".
At the gig they played the album from start till end in the same running order as on the LP and CD. Starting with the playful poppy Byrdsian "Big Balloons" to the pretty and remorseful band-name-/titletrack. It sounded even better live than the remastered LP and proved what a tight little band this is and used to be. And also demonstrated that the songs are a lot stronger than can be heard on the original release, without all that reverb, sax solos and female backing vocals. After the first five songs they took a little extra break, time to turn the LP (it's the LP-format that counts nowadays!), telling us a little about the next song, the otherwise Beach Boys-flavoured "Too Proud To Tell", that everyone ought to know the chorus of nowadays, Johnny explained. But while Justin Bieber sings 'Baby Baby Baby' in the chorus of his "Baby" song, TCTR are content with only 'Baby Baby'. The performance revealed other elements I'd never noticed before, too. For instance, "After Ages" had a short part that remined of early The Who ("I Can't Explain", maybe?). And we were in for most of Who's "The Real Me" off Quadrophenia at the end of "Time Machine Ride", I think. My ultimate puberty rock song, if ever there was one. Big smiles!
When they had run through the entire LP, we got some highlights from the releases in 2005 and 06. All of them sounded excellent in this environment, not least "New California" that seemed to be dealing with Haugesund, 'even better than the old California', despite a lot more rain and herrings. To make the journey complete, they finished the encores with an Im Nebel number, "Just Like That", the B-side of "The Colours Turned Red" single. Yet another goodie, on vinyl even more flavoured by Echo & The Bunnymen than "Can't Get Over" on the remastered album. Though not embarrassing much in the live environment. A great enegy-filled pill to finish a great evening!
Afterwards there was time to buy the new LP (including CD), get the boys in the band to sign it (doesn't happen that often for yours truly any more) and a chat and a bit of nostalgia with them. Bengt was dressed in the same shirt as depicted on the LP 25 years ago! Haakon mentioned they played with the idea of recording the LP-songs anew the way they sound live now at the anniversary gigs. That sounds terrific to me, though maybe not commercially viable at the moment. In the meantime; grab a copy of and enjoy the remastered The Colors Turned Red while you can! Check out Made in Haugesund on Facebook for further instructions. On my way home I met some tired Beliebers with hearts still painted on their cheeks, carrying Bieber posters and stuff. I'm not sure if they were more excited than me, carrying my newly bought and signed The Colors Turned Red remastered LP, after our gig experiences that evening.
Copyright © 2013 JP