Biting Tongues was formed when Tony Wilson's Factory Club in Manchester offered an open invitation to experiment, which was taken up when Ken Hollings, Howard Walmsley, Eddie Sherwood and a few others decided to make some noise to accompany their 16mm silent epic Biting Tongues. A further performance followed a few weeks later, when Colin Seddon and Graham Massey disbanded their Post Natals project and joined up. The film itself, a flashing series of negative images, became a memory; the name remained.
Sources for texts included overheard or taped conversations, news reports, lines from old movies, the enthused writings of criminals, occultists and political theorists… There was an openness, an acceptance of experimentation, in the way Biting Tongues approached things that allowed them to try out new procedures, new ideas.
The first album Don't Heal was recorded in two short sessions, played straight through without a break between tracks. The 'Dark Room Skin Transfers' took place at Drone Studios in Chorlton in August 1980 and suffers from a very dry sound, thanks to a 1970s studio vogue for dead rooms. The walls were completely clad in denim. It was recorded and mixed in a single afternoon, with very few overdubs. 'The White Valise' side from January 1981 benefited from the more upmarket sounds of Pennine studios in Rochdale, even down to the noises made by the coffee machine in the hall, which can be heard at the start of Heart Disease. Don't Heal was the first release on Situation 2 but sales were fairly modest.
Meanwhile Tongues activity grew increasingly diverse. By the time Libreville appeared in 1983, Feverhouse, a feature film project that Howard and Ken had managed to secure funding for in early 1983. Written by Ken and featuring an onscreen performance by Graham among others, filming for Feverhouse continued throughout that year, thanks to additional funding from an altruistic Tony Wilson. Factory later released the finished 55 minute film through their Ikon video arm. The soundtrack was a conscious effort to keep the guitar/drums/bass convention out of the proceedings led to a fairly loop-driven, ambient affair using the AMS digital delay capture device. The results were very percussion-orientated (sticks and stones), highlighting the then fashionable limited trumpet playing technique employed by ACR, Gristle and 23 Skidoo. The Feverhouse soundtrack was later released on vinyl as Fact 105. Returning to 1983, the Tongues continued in a very experimental vein with frequent use of two drum kits, Colin laying down his bass to sit behind the second set.
By 1984 Ken Hollings and Eddie Sherwood felt that it was time to move on. Enter Phil Kirby on drums, who provided high octane jazz influenced workouts which took few prisoners. The Tongues ethic of pushing boundaries now found a new direction, as the musical content increased in density, and the delivery became even more frenetic. The band began collaborating with wizard sound engineer John Hurst, who had previously worked with A Certain Ratio and Section 25, and who now became a fifth member of Biting Tongues, processing their sound from the mixing desk via boxes such as the powertran digital delay/looper and the harmonizer.
Tom Barnish joined fulltime as trombonist, fattening the sound further still, and various voices were pushed through the blender, one being Basil Clarke from Yargo. All the material at this point was new but little was recorded. Then Colin departed to pursue his new obsession with African and Brazilian percussion, going on to form the long running Manchester institution Inner Sense Percussion Ensemble, again with Eddie Sherwood.
In 1985 Factory gave Feverhouse a belated commercial release on album and video, which led to the band joining the label for some long overdue new recordings. Mark Derbey took over on bass, and in May the band went into Square One studios in Bury to record the thunderous Trouble Hand ep. Side two was recorded at Out of the Blue studios in Ancoats, where the band also had a rehearsal space. Factory spent serious money on Trouble Hand, not least on the artwork, and although the single sold modestly, the label became the first to stick by the band beyond one lone release. In 1986 Yargo bass player Patrick Steer took over from Mark Derbey, and the band recorded an excellent second ep for Factory, Compressor. Sadly the band never cut a full album during this fertile Factory period, although a 50 minute video titled Wall of Surf was released by Ikon. However, in 1987 the band suffered a hard knock after the rhythm section (Phil Kirby and Paddy Steer) left to concentrate on Yargo full time, after that band signed a lucrative deal with London Records.
Graham Massey, Howard Walmsley and Tom Barnish carried on, with Massey steering the band in a more overtly midi/electronic direction after completing a recording course at Spirit Studios. Live, various brass players and percussionists were added as the band explored far-flung sonic landscapes and textures - Suicide meets Fela via pre-cool Bollywood. In the studio, however, the music continued to evolve in a different direction. Although the band had always utilised found and treated sounds as an integral component of their music, the possibilities afforded by sampling and software brought about a marked shift in emphasis. At the same time Massey formed 808 State with Martin Price, Darren Partington, Andy Barker and A Guy Called Gerald, and in November 1988 gamely began work on two albums: Recharge for Biting Tongues, and Quadrastate for 808. Where 808 State are concerned the rest is (chart) history, although for the Tongues the outcome was less happy. Although new label Cut Deep survived long enough to release the club-friendly single Love Out early in 1989, featuring guest vocalist Denise Johnstone, and the remodelled band began to pick up some excellent press, the label folded before Recharge reached the stores.
GM: A few test pressings of Recharge have circulated for years as the holy grail for fans of early 808, due to the fact it was recorded in the same sessions as Quadrastate. If it wasn't for the fact of Howard leaving his soprano sax in the studio overnight, Pacific State might have been another story…
Biting Tongues discography
Evening State/Lock Up State (12", Antler 006, 1986)
Trouble Hand ep (12", Factory Fac 134, 1985)
Compressor ep (7"/12", Factory Fac 188, 1987)
Love Out (12"/CDS, Cut Deep 004, 1989)
Don't Heal Situation 2 (SIT.U1), 1981
Live It New Hormones (CAT 3), 1981 (cassette)
Libreville Paragon (Virtue 1), 1983
Feverhouse Factory (Fact 105), 1985
Recharge Cut Deep (CUT 006), 1989
Iyabhoone / Iguargliness on Northern Lights (New Hormones, 1982)
House of Hatchets on Head Over Ears (Play Hard, 1987)
Half Deepmen on Nightlands (Final Image, 1987)
Feverhouse Fact 105/Ikon 10 (1985)
Wall of Surf Ikon 26 (1988)
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