Musical history is littered with groups whose report card said could have done better. This includes The Prisoners, who were formed in Rochester, Kent in 1980, and released four albums, before splitting up in 1986. However, things could’ve been very different for The Prisoners.

That’s if The Prisoners hadn’t been determined to do their way. For some reason, The Prisoners weren’t willing to listen to advice. Even from music industry veterans. It didn’t seem to matter that these people had spent a lifetime in the music industry, and could’ve helped them make a commercial breakthrough. Instead, The Prisoners continued to continue on their contrarian way.

This meant The Prisoners never graduated from playing in smaller venues, in London’s now thriving underground psychedelic and mod scenes. Nor would The Prisoners’ albums sell in vast quantities. However, things looked promising in the early days.

The Prisoners were formed in 1980, at Rochester High School. Initially, the band was a trio featuring vocalist and guitarist

Graham Day, bassist Allan Crockford and drummer Johnny Symons. By the time organist James Taylor joined, The Prisoners seemed to be spending more time rehearsing than playing live. However, after the addition of James Taylor, the nascent band took its tentative steps onto the competitive Medway scene.

One of the leading lights of the Medway scene, was Billy Childish. Although some remember him as charismatic, others remember his strong, unyielding views on how a band should sound. Incredibly, rather than form their own opinions, The Prisoners became a prisoner to this worldview. However, by then, The Prisoners were only seventeen or eighteen. They were also newcomers to the scene, and would easily be impressed by someone who was in their eyes, was the kingpin in the local scene. 

The Prisoners were soon familiar faces on the local Medway scene. Their influences ranged from R&B, garage, rock, psychedelia, plus The Kinks and The Pretty Things. These influences resulted in a band whose roots may have been in the past, but were capable of creating catch, melodic and memorable music. 

At the heart of The Prisoners’ sound, was Graham Day’s lyrics; James Taylor’s Vox Continental organ; and choppy, punk inspired guitar licks. This was what the audience heard when The Prisoners began to share bills with Billy Childish’s The Milkshakes.

By then, The Milkshakes were regarded as the top band in the Medway scene. Soon, though, it became apparent that they had a rival in The Prisoners. The Milkshakes it seemed, had competition. However, that was until James Taylor announced he was heading to Newcastle University.

Given the importance of James Taylor’s Vox Continental organ in The Prisoners’ sound, this the other band members thought would spell the end of road for the group. So they decided to record an album A Taste Of Pink to document their short musical journey.

For A Taste Of Pink, The Prisoners had written eleven tracks. They were recorded at Oakwood Studios on the 12th September 1982, and were produced The Prisoners. Not long after this, James Taylor headed to Newcastle University.   

When A Taste Of Pink was self-released by The Prisoners, on their Own Up label, only 500 copies had been pressed. They quickly sold out, and another 500 were pressed. By then, James Taylor was having second thoughts about life in academia, and returned home.

As James Taylor returned home, another 500 copies of A Taste Of Pink was pressed. Nobody, apart from The Prisoners know how many albums were sold. All that’s known, is that several times they returned for more stock. By then, The Prisoners were travelling further afield, leaving Billy Childish to remain the kingpin of the Medway scene.

Now The Prisoners were playing all over London. Sometimes, they ventured as far as St. Albans. That’s where Ace Records’ Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll first saw The Prisoners. They saw The Prisoners again in the Hope and Anchor, in Islington, London. That night, The Prisoners were the support band. However, it was the headliner Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll were there to see. By the end of the night though, it was The Prisoners that signed to Big Beat Records.

Originally, the plan was to get The Prisoners’ music heard by a much wider audience. To do this, Roger Armstrong and Ted Carrol decided to bring on Phillip Chevron to produce The Prisoners’ sophomore album The Wisermiserdemelza. It was recently reissued by Big Beat Records, an imprint of Ace Records together with eleven other tracks. These tracks comprise The Prisoners’ Big Beat Records’ years.

With The Prisoners signed to Bog Beat Records, the label began formulating a plan for their latest signing. From the start, this included Phillip Chevron producing The Prisoners’ sophomore album. He was a member of The Radiators, and later, would join The Pogues. However, in 1983, his main concern was getting  The Prisoners’ music heard by a much wider audience. This began with recording their sophomore album, The Wisermiserdemelza.

The Wisermiserdemelza.

For The Wisermiserdemelza, Graham Day penned eleven of the twelve tracks. He also cowrote Tonight with James Taylor. These tracks would be recorded at ICC Studios, in Eastbourne, Sussex.

Before the recording sessions began, producer Roger Chevron made his way to Chatham to hear The Prisoners rehearse. The Prisoners ran through the songs they planned to record. As he listened to The Prisoners, he realised that here was a group it would be best to record live. There should be no overdubbing. For this to be possible, Roger had coax and cajole performances out of The Prisoners. This can’t have been easy.

By then, The Prisoners were regarded as talented, confident and assured group. However, The Prisoners achilles heel was that they didn’t like to take other people’s advice. This could make recording an album interesting.

Fortunately, choosing Roger Chevron to produce the album proved to be a mini masterstroke. He wasn’t a producer first and foremost. Instead, he was a musician who just happened to have produced a few albums. So The Prisoners could relate to Roger. Conversely, he could see where The Prisoners were coming from. This meant when the record session began, things would go relatively smoothly.

At ICC Studios, vocalist and guitarist Graham Day, was joined by organist James Taylor joined. Providing the album’s heartbeat was a rhythm section of bassist Allan Crockford and drummer Johnny Symons. Producing The Wisermiserdemelza was Phillip Chevron, who coaxed, cajoled and encouraged the twelve tracks were recorded out of The Prisoners. After six days, the album was recorded, and ready for release later in 1983.

Now the hard work began for Big Beat Records. They had to get The Prisoners’ music heard by a wider audience. Usually, bands are willing to do what it needs to get their album into the hands of record buyers. However, The Prisoners were different. 

They were determined to do things on their terms. Whether it was their sound, image or advise about the music industry worked, The Prisoners dug their heels in. It was frustrating for those that were advising them. They had been around the music industry all their working lives; while The Prisoners were a young, inexperienced band, that never been been signed to a record label before. However, The Prisoners were also a talented band.

This became apparent when The Prisoners and producer Roger Chevron listened to The Wisermiserdemelza. Their sophomore album featured The Prisoners at their most psychedelic. Roger Chevron’s decision to record the band live had been vindicated. Here was an album that captured the energy of The Prisoners’ live shows.  

From the opening bars of the album opener Go Go, right through to the closing notes of Go Go The Prisoners are firing on all cylinders on The Wisermiserdemelza. In between, they reference groups like The Pretty Things and The Kinks, while fusing elements of garage rock, pop,  R&B and rock to their psychedelic sound. Among the highlights of The Wisermiserdemelza were Hurricane, Love Me Lies and Tonight. Then on Come the Misunderstood and The Dream Is Gone, the darkness descends, and The Prisoners showcase their trademark psychedelic sound that had proved popular on the live circuit. However, would their sophomore album The Wisermiserdemelza prove as popular?

The answer to that was no. When The Wisermiserdemelza was released, very few copies of the album sold. It didn’t even come close to replicating the success of their self-released debut album A Taste of Pink! For Big Beat Records who had place their faith in The Prisoners, it was a disappointing outcome. However, they weren’t giving up…yet.

Later in 1983, Hurricane was released as the lead single from The Wisermiserdemelza. On the flip-side was Tomorrow She Said. It’s one of the eleven bonus tracks on The Wisermiserdemelza. However, lightning struck twice and Tomorrow She Said failed commercially. Still, Big Beat Records weren’t giving up on The Prisoners.

In 1984, The Prisoners returned to the studio. This time, there was no sign of Roger Chevron. Instead, Russell Wilkins produced the four songs penned by Graham Day. They became The Electric Fit E.P. which featured Melanie, What I Want, The Last Thing On Your Mind and Revenge Of The Cybermen. They’re among the bonus tracks on The Wisermiserdemelza compilation. It’ll be the first time most people have heard these songs.

It wasn’t third time lucky for The Prisoners when they released The Electric Fit E.P. Again, it failed commercially. For The Prisoners this was a huge blow. Melanie was an stomping garage rock anthem, while Last Thing On Your Mind brings back memories of The Small Faces. Despite the undoubted quality of these tracks, The Electric Fit E.P. passed people by. Despite this, Big Beat Records were going to have one more roll of the dice.

Later in 1984, The Prisoners released the Love Changes E.P. It had been produced by Russell Wilkins and featured songs written by Graham Day. The title-track features on The Wisermiserdemelza. However, when the Love Changes E.P. was released, it failed commercially. This was the end of an era for The Prisoners and Big Beat Records.

After The Love Changes E.P. The Prisoners’ left Big Beat Records. No label could continue to release singles, E.P.s or albums which weren’t selling. It seemed that the plan to have The Prisoners’ music heard by a wider audience hadn’t worked. However, it wasn’t the end of the line for The Prisoners.

Following their departure from Big Beat Records, The Prisoners released another two albums. They self-released The Last Fourfathers in 1985. By 1986, The Prisoners had signed to a Countdown, an imprint of Stiff Records. 

The Prisoners’ one and only album for Countdown was In From The Cold. It saw The Prisoner’ attempt to crossover. However, after the release of In From The Cold, The Prisoners’ split-up. This was no surprise.

Throughout their recording career, many people remarked that The Prisoners weren’t the easiest group to work with. The Prisoners were determined to do things their way. Ploughing their own furrow proved costly for The Prisoners.

By not listening to the advice of others, especially those that had been around the musical block a few times, The Prisoners recording career lasted just three years. During that period, they released four albums. These albums showcase a talented and assured band; and one who should’ve reached greater heights. Probably, The Prisoners’ best album is The Wisermiserdemelza which was recently reissued by Big Beat Records, along with eleven bonus tracks. 

Among the bonus track include singles on The Wisermiserdemelza, are songs that featured on B-Sides and E.P.s. That’s not forgetting Coming Home, Reaching My Head and a second version of Revenge Of The Cybermen, which featured on the Revenge Of The Prisoners compilation. It was released by the American label Pink Dust in 1984.  Back then, everything in The Prisoners’ garden looked rosy.

By 1986, two of The Prisoners’ songs described the situation the band found themselves in perfectly. A Dream Is Gone For Now And Forever. These were prophetic words and describe The Prisoners’ story perfectly. They were the band who had the talent to enjoy a long and successful career. However, in some ways, they were their own enemy. Their determination to do things their way, cut short their career. However, for six years, The Prisoners were one of the exciting bands on London’s live circuit, and in 1983, released the best album of their career, The Wisermiserdemelza.










1 Comment

  1. Adam

    Derek – that’s a great read about one of my favourite bands of all time. Thank you

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