THE PRISONERS-THE LAST FOURFATHERS.
The Prisoners-The Last Fourfathers.
Label: Big Beat Records.
Musical history is littered with the story of groups who could’ve gone on to enjoy a long and successful career. This includes The Prisoners, who were one of the leading lights of the Medway Scene.
They were formed in Rochester, Kent in 1980, and released four albums. This included The Last Fourfathers which was released on the band’s Own Up label in 1985. Despite failing to attract the attention of critics it’s now regarded as one of their finest hours.
That’s why nowadays, the album is in such demand and original copies can cost upwards of £100. This is beyond the budget of most of the group’s fans. Fortunately, The Last Fourfathers has just been reissued by Big Beat Records, an imprint of Ace Records. This welcome reissue is a reminder of a group who should’ve gone on to greater things but sadly, split-up a year later in 1966. It was a case of what might have been.
Things could’ve been very different for The Prisoners. However, The Prisoners were determined to do things their way and 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.
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 catchy, 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 and Billy Childish its kingpin. 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.
A Taste Of Pink!
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.
By now, The Prisoners were playing all over London and Sometimes, they ventured as far as St. Albans. That’s where Ace Records’ Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll first saw The Prisoners.
The next time they saw The Prisoners was in the Hope and Anchor, in Islington, London. That night, they 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.
With The Prisoners signed to Big 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, Thewisermiserdemelza.
For Thewisermiserdemelza, 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, he had to 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 him and he could see where the band were coming from. This meant when the record session began things would go relatively smoothly.
Producer Roger Chevron and The Prisoners headed to ICC Studios, where they recorded twelve tracks in just six days. These twelve tracks would become the band’s sophomore album.
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 whatever is needed 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 what was a young, inexperienced band that had never been been signed to a record label before. However, The Prisoners were also a talented band That’s apparent on their sophomore album.
This is apparent when 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 Thewisermiserdemelza. 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 album’s highlights were Hurricane, Love Me Lies and Tonight.
Then on Come The Misunderstood and The Dream Is Gone,the darkness descends and the band showcase their trademark psychedelic sound that had proved popular on the live circuit. However, would their sophomore album Thewisermiserdemelza prove as popular?
Sadly, the answer was no. When Thewisermiserdemelza 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 Thewisermiserdemelza. 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 what became The Electric Fit E.P. which featured Melanie, What I Want, The Last Thing On Your Mind and Revenge Of The Cybermen. The E.P. was released layer in 1984.
Sadly, wasn’t third time lucky for The Prisoners when they released The Electric Fit E.P. When it failed commercially this was a huge blow for the band. Despite this, Big Beat Records were going to have one more roll of the dice.
Later in 1984, The Prisoners recorded the Love Changes E.P. It was produced by Russell Wilkins and featured songs written by Graham Day. When the E.P. failed to find an audience 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 their third album The Last Fourfathers in 1985.
The Last Fourfathers.
Despite no longer having a recording deal, The Prisoners decided to begin work on their third album. It became The Last Fourfathers.
For their third album the band wrote twelve new tracks. Graham Day penned I Am The Fisherman, Mrs Fothergill, The Drowning, Whenever I’m Gone and Explosion On Uranus. He cowrote Nobody Wants Your Your Love with Billy Childish, Take You For A Ride with Alan Crockford and Night Of The Nazgul with James Taylor. The pair also joined forces with producer Russell Wilkins to write Thinking Of You (Broken Pieces). This wasn’t the producer’s only contribution to the album. He and the band cowrote F.O.P., Who’s Sorry Now and I Drink The Ocean. These tracks became The Last Fourfathers.
When recording began, it was the same line-up that featured on the group’s two previous albums. This meant drummer Johnny Symons, bassist Allan Crockford, pianist and organist James Taylor while vocalist Graham Day plays guitar, clarinet and bongos. Taking charge of production on The Last Fourfathers was Russell Wilkins.
The result was a truly captivating genre-melting album of British rock ‘n’ roll that features elements of freakbeat, funk garage punk, mod soul and psychedelia. Add to that garage rock and soul on an album that benefits from a rock steady rhythm section, soaring, searing trippy guitars, James Taylor’s masterful and sometimes frenzied Hammond organ workouts while Graham Day unleashes powerful but soulful vocals as he delivers lyrics that veer between thoughtful to witty on The Last Fourfathers.
Throughout an album that opens with the uber funky Nobody Wants Your Love, the Rochester four piece take no prisoners. The music was catchy, irresistible, melodic and often a call to dance as a myriad of disparate influences shine through. This includes everyone from Small Faces, early Pink Floyd, sixties soul and garage rock through to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Pretty Things, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and even the first two albums by The Nice. These influences can be heard on The Last Fourfathers which was released in 1985.
With no recording contract, The Prisoners decided to release The Last Fourfathers on their Own Up label. This was how they had released their debut album A Taste Of Pink! It had sold well and the group had to have the album repressed several times.
Four years later, and The Prisoners were a much more experienced, accomplished and talented band who certainly weren’t lacking in confidence. As they prepared to self-release The Last Fourfathers they must have been hoping that the album would fare better commercially than their sophomore album Thewisermiserdemelza.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be and when The Last Fourfathers was released it wasn’t to critical acclaim and commercial success. The album was overlooked by critics and very few copies were sold. It was a huge disappointment for The Prisoners.
It was only later, that The Last Fourfathers started to find the audience it deserved. By then, copies of the album were hard to find and this cult classic was much prized among fans of the band. They knew that that had in their possession an album that in 1985 deserved to be heard by a much wider audience. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and it was nearly the end of the road for the leading lights of The Medway Scene.
By 1986, The Prisoners had signed to a Countdown, an imprint of Stiff Records. The group’s one and only album for the label was In From The Cold which saw them try to crossover. However, after the release of the album The Prisoners’ split-up. For some music industry insiders this came was no surprise.
Throughout their recording career, many people remarked that The Prisoners weren’t the easiest group to work with. They were determined to do things their way. However, 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.
The Prisoners genre-melting third album The Last Fourfathers was recently reissued by Big Beat Records and showcases a truly talented band who should’ve gone on enjoy a long and successful career. However, in some ways, they were their own enemy. Sadly, 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. Their two finest albums are 1983s Thewisermiserdemelza and the cult classic The Last Fourfathers which is belatedly starting to find the wider audience it so richly deserves.
The Prisoners-The Last Fourfathers.