[sic] Magazine

A tribute to Adrian Borland and The Sound.

Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the death of Adrian Borland. The years have not softened the blow. Indeed the closer one gets to the history surrounding Adrian and The Sound the more desperately sad the story becomes.

“The Sound are the greatest undiscovered British band of the 80s”
Mick Griffiths

I’m guessing maybe half of you know the music of The Sound, while the other half may not? In a nutshell The Sound existed in the early 80’s and at one moment were considered to be about the hottest property going. I’ve seen them described as “the missing link between Joy Division and Echo And The Bunnymen” This kind of claim is simultaneously both glib and true. I am never sure if such comparisons do any band any favours. Yet I’m certain if you have any love for either of those lofted, lauded bands you should adore The Sound.

Back in the early 80’s indie anthems were nothing to be ashamed of. The Sound, alongside the likes of The Bunnymen, U2, The Waterboys, Big Country and The Chameleons, – these bands all embraced ‘the big sound’ at a time when it embodied passion, joy, emotion and melody, not simply lighter-waving on a big screen at Wembley. U2 made the anthem un-cool forever with the singularly awful ‘Pride (In the name of love)’ ‘Pride’ spoils an otherwise magisterial album and it drove a nail into the coffin of ‘the big sound’. Simple Minds would shovel the dirt onto said coffin with material like ‘Alive and Kicking’. From the mid eighties on, arena rock was considered stale as indie fashions became ever more ‘lo-fi’.

In an article for The Guardian on ‘overlooked albums’, Alan McGee wrote in praise of The Sound’s early album Jeopardy. McGee is 99% on the money. He loses 1% for omitting the fact that follow-up album, From The Lions Mouth is even better. This is as essential as almost any album I can recommend. They say ‘he who hesitates is lost’. Just look at the artwork! Hesitate no longer. For me, From The Lions Mouth is one of the greatest albums of all time. British, post punk or otherwise. It’s a ‘must have’.

500full300From The Lions Mouth

Sadly Adrian took his own life in 1999. I don’t feel qualified to explain this. Depression played a part certainly but I am reluctant to discuss illness or suicide. I am a writer. I am not a physician. Clichéd rock journalism would have me mythologize these aspects. Joy DivisionThe SoundCurtisBorland. So easy, isn’t it? For once I am glad that I don’t have an Editor on my back demanding such a romanticized hack job. Maybe Adrian’s (relative) obscurity played a part in his depression but his story was not Ian Curtis’. Tragic, yes, The same, no. What people really need to understand is that when From The Lions Mouth was released in 1981 most critics expected The Sound to eclipse that crop of bands I mentioned. Yet it was to be those arch careerists, U2, who’d take that sound and conquer the planet.

So what made The Sound really special? Partly I think it was due to the tension between the bands euphoric, chiming music and Adrian’s sensitive subject matter. Often when such factors work at odds with each other the clashing forces spark to create something remarkable. I should make clear that the whole band were excellent. It wasn’t only Adrian. The classic line up comprised Graham Bailey, Colvin Mayers, Michael Dudley and Borland himself. The Sound were tight. Friends of mine who witnessed the band attest to their live prowess. Listen, if you can, to the legendary live album From The Hothouse. There you’ll notice how the live songs have heightened tempo and an energy of their own. The band are pulled along by their own music, like a mad dog taking its owner for a walk. The Sound were more than Adrian. What’s so remarkable about Borland, and what makes him stand out versus the likes of Bono, Kerr, and McCullough etc, is that Adrian played guitar as well as writing and fronting the songs. More than play, in fact, Borland was a force of nature on guitar, more akin to Stuart Adamson than any of the aforementioned frontmen.

the-sound1The Sound.

Adrian’s mental state was quite possibly hidden in plain sight within his lyrics. The cold war politics of his early material were only a reflection of his own internal conflicts. Polarity and juxtapositions are recurrent themes within Borland songs and songtitles. eg ‘Night Versus Day’, ‘Heads And Hearts’, ‘Harmony & Destruction’, etc. This was Borlands’ own struggle. He was uneasy with himself and about the best he achieved was a kind of mistrusting, internal impasse. Doubt and insecurity punctuated his writing but the listener is left in no doubt that this was Adrian’s reality. This was for real.

I never knew Adrian. I wish I had. I wish I could have told him just how much his music meant to me. Not that it would have changed anything. In the subsequent years friends have hosted and supported tribute concerts in Adrian’s name at the legendary Amsterdam Paradiso. This is the venue that played host to some of the greatest performances of bands such as Joy Division and Cocteau Twins. The Netherlands itself was at least one small bastion of success for Adrian. I could not conjure a more appropriate location.

The Sound can’t come back, sadly, but in recent years that sound came back. Interpol, Editors, Killers and White Lies have all been as anthemic as The Sound. Let’s at least end on a note of optimism. Adrian is gone but his music lives on. If I have anything to do with it his music should live on forever. To my ear the music of The Sound has never sounded so relevant. Now a couple of recent developments may assist in this objective. Firstly, there’s a box set coming out comprising the three early albums, plus Live At The BBC and a whole load of extras. This is a great entry point as the original albums are hard to find, not to mention expensive. The Box Set looks like great value. I haven’t got it, so I cannot bring you a full review. Sorry about that.

Secondly, it looks like a documentary is in production. This is great news. I always find rock docs fascinating. When they’re done well I’m hooked even if the band was never previously on my radar. The Borland Documentary is being crowd funded so you can play your part in keeping the music of The Sound alive. Just go, pledge, and play a part in making it all happen. Plus of course you’ll get see the final thing.

Get involved. This is the story of Adrian Borland. His sound. Our sound. The Sound.

Box Set Reissue

Pledge support for the documentary

Adrian Borland Official Website