01383 229 133

kyle@bittersweethome.co.uk 

01383 229 133

kyle@bittersweethome.co.uk 

The Seahorses – The Unheard Lost Tapes & The Viper Rooms Show

Doing It Yourself: How We Put ‘The Seahorses’ Under The Microscope Like Never Before

Recently we had the pleasure of chatting to a few of The Seahorses ex band members. We were lucky to be given some old cassettes and VHS tapes from back in the day. Instantly noting the VHS was from the incredible gig played at The Viper Room in February 1997, then spotted a few songs on the cassettes that hadn’t seen the light of day so far. Exciting stuff!

This deserves a write-up and needs to be shared with fans.

Secondly, thanks to Aaron Currie our resident Seahorses guru, for providing this write-up on the lost tapes. Have a read and then have a listen at the end!

ENJOY!

When Kyle got in touch to tell me what he had found, we had hopes of hearing one or two demos or acoustic versions of our known favourite songs. Once this got started and we heard what was on the lost tapes….we knew this was a special find that deserves some detailed attention.

The opportunity to hear brand new never-released material from your favourite artist is, for the most part, unprecedented to music fans in general. Even more so when your favourite artist is in any way connected to the almost ‘secret society’ that is The Stone Roses, and even more so again, when the band in question split up over 20 years ago. So as life-long Seahorses fans, this was a chance that simply couldn’t be passed up, especially when the source of the material was a member of the group himself. The material (spread across 10 cassettes) covers the whole of the band’s short career, from formative acoustic recordings of tracks from the ‘Do It Yourself’ album, to completely unheard songs that would potentially be part of the Minus Blue/Motorcade project.

1996-97: Demos, Rehearsals, Early Mixes and Live

For context, it’s important to understand there was a real lack of extra material regarding The Seahorses first album. There has never been a typical Britpop deluxe re-issue of the LP featuring the B-sides, early takes or even live versions, there’s never even been demos available on bootleg. When you consider that Squire, Fletcher and Helme (with various drummers until Watts’ arrival) had been writing and rehearsing those tracks from June to December of 1996, it’s bizarre that not a note from this formative period has ever been available even unofficially to fans. It’s due to this that it’s always been difficult to put together any sort of creative timeline for the album material outside of anecdotal evidence from interviews. Despite rumours of a “roses version” or “demo” of ‘Love is the Law’, Squire has consistently maintained that the only song written before he left The Stone Roses was ‘Standing On Your Head’, and from the new material here, it seems to point to ‘Love is the Law’ coming along much later than some (including Ian Brown) like to suggest.

Also obtained at the same time as these cassettes were some beautiful photos taken during this early period, which naturally tie in quite nicely. The first cassette contains acoustic demos of many DIY tracks, with John on guitar and Chris singing. Among them is ‘Happiness Is Eggshaped’, with some slight lyrical variations, ‘Standing On Your Head’, ‘1996’ (an early Dylan-esque arrangement of 1999), 2 takes of ‘Moving On’ with a completely different verse melody and a couple more. Not

among them are any of the 3 singles from DIY or the other 2 Helme penned tracks. With Helme commenting that he had written both ‘Hello’ and ‘I Want You To Know’ in the Lake District, I would say it’s fair to assume that the title of “VERY EARLY” is accurate, and that’s before you consider the highlight of this set pf recordings… ‘Drives You Crazy’ is a look behind the curtain on the lyrical progression of ‘Suicide Drive’, with a totally different chorus proclaiming;

Yeah, and the smoke gets in your eyes

And I’m choking on the lies

Swimming hard against the tide

I’ve got a right to know

Who’s taking bets?

We’re not done yet

The rehearsal tape from the end of December is recorded pretty well in stereo and makes for a great listen. With the band only playing 3 gigs in 1996 (all 3 before this rehearsal), it’s likely this is the closest representation to what the band sounded like live pre the recording of DIY that we will ever get to hear. There are some glaring differences from the final versions, ‘Kill Pussycat Kill’ features John playing some country-esque twangy bits with Chris in the acoustic sections, 1999 is still 3 years younger, ‘Sale Of The Century’ segways (albeit poorly) into the still alternate ‘Moving On’ and the ‘Love is the Law’ outro is completely unfinished, heading into a sort of jungle rhythm after Squire fakes his way through the first section of the solo, before dying out. Elsewhere ‘Drives You Crazy’ has become ‘Suicide Drive’ and we get to hear ‘Dreamer’ (likely never performed after the 3 shows in ’96) in a live arrangement. There is much to marvel at here, but ultimately, it’s interesting to me that the band played live like this, it is quite rough in places. I suppose it was naive to underestimate the impact of Visconti and co in Los Angeles…

The cassette entitled “Rough Mixes” features every song from the initial Royaltone sessions except ‘Dreamer’. A general theme throughout these is harmonies higher in the mix, as well as string sections where applicable and Squire’s Leslie cabinets being a lot more audible. Most songs are very similar to the finished versions (probably the same takes, minus some overdubs), but a handful are quite different. ‘Moving On’ still has the alternate verse melody from the Lake District demo, ‘Standing On Your Head’ is a half-step lower and Love is the Law is quite an early take, swapping the reverse delay in the solo for straight up backwards guitars. Also, worth noting is ‘1996’ now being titled ‘A Night To Remember’. In the heap of stuff included with the cassettes were some notes Tony Visconti left for mixing engineer Rob Jacobs, in which he requests an edit of ‘A Night To Remember’ in ProTools for a single version. It seems Geffen were undecided on what the 3rd single from DIY would be, as Squire would say it was to be ‘Happiness Is Eggshaped’ in July 97.

A tape marked “NEW SONGS OF CHRIS March 97” has only two tracks, both in a simple acoustic guitar/vocal arrangement. The first of which is ‘You Can Talk To Me’ in a pretty infantile state, there’s some slight lyrical differences and the notable lack of the chorus, which was Squire’s contribution, nonetheless a gorgeous recording. The second track is the first (chronologically speaking) totally unheard song from this haul. As there’s nothing else written on the cassette cover I’ve taken the liberty of titling this one “I’m On The Line” myself. This is a really interesting look into Helme’s writing in this short period, he plays a 12 string and this song is somewhere between ‘Falling Is Easy’ and ‘Don’t Try’, it’s not earth shattering, but a pleasant ditty.

There’s also a master recording of the Steve Lamacq Radio 1 Session from May, the quality is unparalleled in comparison to the bootlegged versions, which omit a listenable version of ‘Love is the Law’. As this is directly from the mixing desk, the band is heard chatting and messing about during the broadcasted sections. Chris and Andy duet on ‘The Ballad Of Stuart Fletcher’ (ha ha ha) before one of my all-time favourite versions of Love is the Law, which Squire suitably champions as “the whole 9 yards”.

1998: 2nd Album Demos

Now we get into the more messy stuff… the conception among casual fans is as follows; “the Seahorses unreleased second album is available on YouTube, check it out” – but the more invested enthusiast would be quick to point out that there’s a huge difference between unreleased and unfinished, and that the ‘Minus Blue boot’ (as it has become known) would be lucky to tell half the story. Ultimately there’s a lot that we as fans are forced to piece together from this short but interesting era, the band were sort of operating out of orbit of the press and there is limited information available, but it’s not an impossible task.

Featured on the well circulated bootleg is only 9 (counting Tombraid and Night Train as one) of at least 21 songs which are known to exist. A few of these songs are available on live recordings, but some are known from as little as photos of demo cassettes and setlists, some of them are only known to exist due to these new tapes. Among die-hard Seahorses fans (we are out there, I swear) a couple of these ‘missing’ songs have almost become stuff of legend, especially the ones only available on live bootlegs. ‘City In The Sky’ is often crowned the stand-out of the 2nd album material despite a studio version being unavailable and ‘Moth’ is another which has always received plaudits even without a final cut. There’s also the matter of the ‘Minus Blue’ boot claiming that most of the songs were cut in August of 98, including ‘Into The Light’. The fairly recent surfacing of the bands final show at Slane Castle brings this well into reasonable dispute, as they perform ‘What Can You See’ (a very early version of ‘Into The Light’, with an entirely different arrangement, lyric and harmonic progression) on August the 29th. When you factor in how similar the sounds are on stuff supposedly recorded in August 98, to that of January 99 it’s not outlandish to conclude they are guide/rough takes done at the same studio.

There are various recordings across 3 tapes all marked as “Seahorses Riverside March”. It’s quite clear that only 1 of these tapes is truly from that time period, and it includes 2 pretty rough versions of ‘Moth’ (both lacking a middle guitar solo, like the version from the Buckley gig in May) and not much else. You can hear it’s been taped over a few times, there’s a very short snippet of a full band take of ‘Reach Out’, then you hear Chris working out the chords on his own. One of the tapes was sadly completely blank, but the last one proved the most valuable of the 3. With live studio cuts of ‘700 Horses’, ‘City In The Sky’,’ Tombraid’ and the alternative version of ‘Feel Like a God’

Rehearsals in 1996

1998 Various ‘Stuff’

Acoustic Demos

Maida Vale Radio Session – May 1997

Oasis – The Earliest Audio In The Bands History? A ‘Pre Noel’ Demo Tape
When A Manc Met The Mod’ – Bittersweet Home’s Kyle Dale & The Magic Mod