It’s 1976 and your dreams of success have been realised. You’re in a band with a childhood friend, have a string of Top 10 albums and hit singles behind you and the future looks golden. You’ve invented a gadget which will make your guitar sound like a small orchestra. The sounds you can suddenly create excite and inspire you but don’t fit in with the band’s musical direction. So you and your pal leave the group and lock yourselves away in a Stockport’s Strawberry Studios for a year and a half with an eccentric, if brilliant, comedian, who likes a drink or two. You emerge in October 1977, having created a concept album; an absurdist play with musical interludes, spread across two hours and three records. You then find that the musical landscape has changed. Reviewers are under-whelmed. The LP enters the charts at 52 and disappears the following week. You are Kevin Godley or Lol Creme, the band is 10cc and the album is ‘Consequences’.
Consequences is possibly the only triple album that started life as a B-side. In 1974 ‘Gizmo My Way’ was the flipside of 10cc’s top 10 hit ‘The Wall Street Shuffle’. The prototype gadget used on the track was called a Gizmo or Gizmotron, a small box you could attach to the bridge of the guitar which mechanically bowed and vibrated the instrument’s strings. After a lengthy collaboration with the physics department at Manchester University’s Institute of Science and Technology (and their grandly titled Industrial Liaison Bureau) they had a commercially viable model and decided to explore the musical possibilities it offered. The plan was to record an LP showcasing what it could do and boys with toys being what they are, the notional album slowly expanded to a triple. It was released after a lengthy gestation period in a lavish box with a colour booklet and even had an accompanying advertisement which played in cinemas. It cost £11 at a time when the average weekly wage was just less than £80.
The first two sides of the six are probably closest to the original concept. Over the eight largely instrumental tracks they demonstrate the Gizmo to great effect, conjuring up various elemental soundscapes such as crackling fire and whispering wind and set up the concept of Mankind battling against the forces of nature. The sounds you can now create on a smart phone in seconds would have taken hundreds of hours of sweaty-browed perseverance in the analogue days of the mid-70s. In fact, Paul Gambaccini’s notes in the album booklet state that they managed around “a minute a day of finished product”. If the album had finished here, it would have been regarded as both an interesting footnote to 10cc’s history and a great marketing device.
It’s on side 3, that things start to turn decidedly odd. According to Gambaccini, Lol wanted to use Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov to play characters. In the final reckoning the only Peter who plays any parts was the album’s scriptwriter Peter Cook. However, as Kevin Godley recalled “Our sync was bad. He was always ready to boogie at eight o’clock in the morning, freshly bathed and showered. And we were dead to the world until lunchtime. And there was maybe an hour or two where our thoughts would coincide, somewhere between eleven and one, then poor old Peter would rapidly go downhill with the odd bottle. And we would be rolling up spliffs”. This lack of creative focus is discernible in long sections of the dialogue; despite the occasional gnomic and funny lines (“It’s not a good omen when goldfish commit suicide”) the script generally confuses even the most avid listener. The spoken word extracts tend to detract from the music, mostly smooth but slightly wonky 70’s pop. Tony Mitchell, reviewing for Sounds noted: “Frankly, I fear that ‘Consequences’ simply does not retain the listener’s attention for the requisite two hours”. It’s hard to disagree – the album is overlong and overblown even by the more forgiving standards of the day.
Cook’s play concerns Mr. Blint, a musician and composer, who rents out his attic to a firm of lawyers conducting divorce proceedings. There is a hole in the attic’s floor which allows Blint to interrupt their meetings and pass on useful advice about pyramids and the number 17 (which, like 42 in The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy is revealed to have mysterious powers). The central premise is that the world is facing the apocalypse and only his carefully calibrated music can save it. The sixth side comprises solely of Mr. Blint’s Tune – Movements 1-17, a 14 minute proggy, quasi-classical instrumental piece which somehow keeps the Earth from destruction.
Despite the meandering nature of parts of the original project, there are some beautiful songs and pieces of music to be discovered. Lost Weekend and Sailor are wide-screen yet intimate songs of love and yearning, sung by Sarah Vaughan. Five O’Clock in the Morning is a sleepy ballad about the start of the day. “The day is open for business, but still your eyes are closed, you spread your dreams, like butter on your toast”. It was the only single to be released from the album and they made an appearance on Top Of The Pops but it failed to chart. Soon after the album’s release, they realised that they had been over-ambitious. The box set was expensive and Peter Cook’s contributions were lengthy and appeared self-indulgent.
Although the album failed to make much impact on the musical world on its release, it has since gained a cult following. Andy Votel , the musician, DJ and founder of reissues label ‘Finders Keepers’ appeared on BBC 6 Music’s ‘Freak Zone’ show in 2012 to talk about Godley and Creme’s music. He said “This album’s up there with those great French concept albums like Jean-Claude Vannier’s L’Enfant Assasin des Mouches or Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson. It’s well ahead of its time and it did its job. It showcased the versatility of the Gizmo tenfold.”
The Gizmo – despite US and UK patents and some famous rock names such as Paul McCartney, Phil Manzanera, Jimmy Page, Todd Rundgren and Justin Hayward using the device on their own records -didn’t catch on either. It was often unreliable and soon superseded by the more practical e-Bow. It’s recently been up-dated and you can now buy a Gizmotron 2.0, fully endorsed by Kevin Godley, for around $400.
Consequences is a record that creates its own world to immerse yourself in and demands your attention, rewarding concentration rather than background listening. It’s schizophrenic and doesn’t know where it fits in the world – it’s part comedy, part mystery, part marketing tool, part soundscape, part philosophical musing, part drama and part pop. It broke up a famous band and thought it was going to change the course of popular music. It is one of the grandest follies in rock history. For all these reasons it is worth celebrating. In these days when even the most pedestrian, unambitious albums are remastered and given lavish ‘legacy’ editions once a decade has passed, it’s sad that such an intriguing piece of work has remained off the shelves for so long.
Thanks to Giles Booth ( http://www.suppertime.co.uk/blint/) , Peter Wadsworth (http://www.strawberrynorth.co.uk/history.htm) and Andy Votel.
The 50th anniversary of Strawberry Studios will be marked with an exhibition at Stockport Museum in January 2017. Go to http://www.strawberry50.com/ for more information.