In 1982, I was too young to appreciate, or even know about, avant-garde side projects by members of my favourite bands. I was however immersed in the gathering pace of the new indie scene, bands emerging from the post-punk explosion and riding into the charts on the coat-tails of acts like Joy Division. Chief among them, Echo & The Bunnymen.
It wasn’t until the late 90s that I became aware of the experimental solo output of Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant, when, lucky me, a CD reissue review copy of ‘Themes For Grind’ arrived in the post. I was vaguely aware of Glide, his 90s side project, but it always felt a bit space rock, kind of strung-out Bunnymen interludes, which massively appeals to my older ears. The pure oddness of ‘Themes For Grind’, his first solo album proper, very much chimed.
Sergeant was a massive Roxy-era Eno fan and had begun mucking around with tapes having seen young Brian wrestling a Revox at the Liverpool Empire in 1973. There’s a great interview on terrascope.co.uk in which Sergeant reveals he was pushing for Eno to produce ‘Heaven Up Here’, but didn’t get his way. Imagine, eh? The same piece reveals that to make ‘Grind’ he’d bought a Teac four-track with a loan from Bill Drummond, The Bunnymen’s manager at the time.
“When I listen to it now,” he says, “it always surprises me how I managed to get the weird sounds without much equipment. I don’t even think there’s a synth on the album”.
‘Themes For Grind’ was a soundtrack to a never-released film by Bill Butt, a promo director who worked extensively with The KLF. The film starred a dark Mr Bean-like character, Grind, who worked in a razorblade factory, “ate Pot Noodle and watched the TV connected to a generator, which interfered with the picture”.
“No one knew where he came from,” Sergeant told Terrascope. “He just arrived.”
The film was never released, disappearing along with Butt’s car when it was stolen. As Sergeant had already made the soundtrack, he decided to release it on his own 92 Happy Customers label. Split into 10 scenes, it’s a wild ride. The cacophonous ‘Scene IV’ is all angle grinding guitars, dark atmospheres, and bright tinkling rhythms, while the exuberant ‘Birdy’ meets Flying Lizard-isms of ‘Scene V’ is all soaring chords and pots and pans percussion. These days, the imaginary soundtrack is a genre in itself, you could argue that this album was an early frontrunner.
The remarkable thing about ‘Themes For Grind’ is that it was a hit, reaching number six in the indie album chart when it was released in March 1982. At the time, The Bunnymen were between albums. They’d released ‘Heaven Up Here’ in May 1981 and ‘Porcupine’ wouldn’t land until February 1983. The closest release to ‘Grind’ was standalone single ‘The Back Of Love’, which peaked at number 19 in May 1982. That the guitarist had a bigger hit with a record like this should be marvelled at.