[sic] Magazine

Eyeless In Gaza – Original Albums Collection, Box Set

Doc Martins, mohair and patchouli oil. Ah, memories.

The early eighties were the heyday of the independent label movement. The short sharp shock of punk rock had given way to a fertile musical landscape where anything went, anyone could get signed and ideas often outran musical ability. Outside of the mainstream chart and daytime radio existed a subculture of independent or ‘indie’. This was the domain of NME, Sounds, Record Mirror and Melody Maker. We even had an alternative chart, the supposedly lesser selling but more credible artists. Cherry Red themselves were one of the major players of indie, a major ‘non-major’ if you like. They had some of the most eclectic acts of all.

Of course independent also had brilliant music and brilliant musicians. (Cherry Red had Everything But The Girl) Yet if I’m 100% honest there was a pretentious side to the scene, a snobbery even which bordered upon elitism. For a fan to be respected and stand out among the ‘in crowd’ they had to favour a truly ‘outré’ band. As such Eyeless In Gaza were an indie poseurs dream. They had the best name (from a Huxley novel but chosen purely for the sound of it) and the best image (amid a whole bunch of spiky-haired pre-Raphaelites Eyeless In Gaza looked more like post punk beat poets. The publicity shots were brilliant – the clothes, those hats, they were the coolest act going. For any student walking to campus with their newly purchased album tucked under their arm, (No bag. Never a bag.) Eyeless in Gaza were the most credible lifestyle statement going. They trumped any 4AD, Rough Trade or Factory band. They were the outsiders outsider.

Martyn Bates and Peter Becker formed Eyeless In Gaza in 1980 having both been hospital workers, (another aspect that resonated with me). The band existed until 1987, Bates then going solo before Eyeless began afresh in 93. They’re still active. The whole of this box set is culled from that fertile 1981-82 period and catches the band at its most experimental and naive. This box carries the debut, Photographs As Memories along with Caught In Flux and Drumming The Beating heart/Pale Hands I Loved So Well. I remember wanting these albums so much just for the titles alone. There was more though. There was substance behind the style. Eyeless dealt in experimental art pop and the emphasis was not always on pop. A lot of their music was challenging, even for its day. There was a remoteness to them too, an unknowable quality. We looked up to them but they were more lecturers than teachers. You couldn’t get close.

Happily this lecturer was (and is) a poet. Bates had plenty to say and a wonderful way of doing so. His was a unique singing style, a whooping vocal approach at times approximating the ravings of a park bench drunkard. Yet Bates was inspired. He eschewed consonants by any means possible, his mouth becoming a billowing sail to catch and redirect his wind-like words. Easy to see why, for many, Martyn Bates is their favourite singer of all time. In his hands, Eyeless In Gaza tracks became incantations rather than mere songs.


Eyeless In Gaza occupied a flickering, twilit space somewhere between Durutti Column and Danse Society although they sounded like neither. Shrill keyboards were oft the architect behind the music’s shifting appeal. By turns their pieces could be odd, eerie and even catchy. An example can be found on the debut, Photographs As Memories, (included here in remastered form), Here you have a pairing of songs to perfectly sum up Eyeless In Gaza. ‘Speech Rapid Fire’ is toward the ‘pop’ end of the duo’s spectrum and rather lovely. Its chorus invites us to ‘licence your malice, with hidden endeavour, silence empathic, boxing clever’ ‘Speech Rapid Fire’ could almost be an anthem in the style of The Jam or The Skids but the following track ‘John Of Patmos’ is rendered almost unlistenable with insane sax ramblings and a churning, Pink Industry-esque sequencer. That’s Eyeless In gaza in a nutshell. That’s what they do.

The Caught In Flux disc bundles The Eyes Of Beautiful Losers EP and there is a bonus disc curated by the band themselves called Recollections and Rarities. This is the cream on top for me containing some ultra rare b-sides and yes, ‘Invisibility’ is there. Completists will need this Box Set to get the rarities or maybe just to have the early albums on CD format. Newcomers could pick this up. It certainly is decent value. I just offer the small caveat that four discs of Eyeless in one sitting is a challenge. There are neater ‘best of’s out there. This Box isn’t trying to be the highlights show. This is full emersion.

Be warned then but it isn’t really a warning. The poetry, the titles, the oddness. Eyeless In Gaza were, and probably still are, the ultimate indie muso life statement. I should have gotten over them by now. Grown out of it.

I haven’t.

Box Set at Cherry Red

Official Band Webpage