/ Sensation no. 1, Sub Aqua, 1988
Laugh were a group in a hurry, and as a unit if not in name, spent more than a decade journeying through the musical styles of their times. Had the quartet from Manchester met with more encouragement, I suspect they would even now be travelling through the ever more subtle variations in 21st century pop. But even with the addition of singer Stella Grundy and rebranded as Intastella, they were never quite able to sync with public taste.
The journey began with a triple A side, striking the kind of confident posture you’d expect from a group of Mancunians. On ‘Take your time yeah!’ the group are in tearing haste, at delightful odds with singer Martin Wright’s ‘relax boy!’ lyric. A wave of melody is also cut by skittering rhythms on ‘Never had it so bad’; Laugh would not have been Laugh without a gifted drummer, Spencer Birtwistle, who many years later would go on to take up the hottest seat in music, as drummer in the Fall. ‘Hey! I’m still thinking’ offered up an eighties group’s version of a sixties beat group’s beat, only doubly urgent. Again the lyric is charmingly self-critical, a comic admission of a young man’s inability to see what’s under his nose; what it is that, in the eyes of his girlfriend, he has done wrong.
If their debut threatened to skate out of control at any given moment, their next single was altogether more assured. The significant lyrical intrigue of Martin Wright dreaming that he was ‘Paul McCartney’ was set to scratchy guitars and a stomping glam rock beat which gave way to varying pace as the song built to its closing peak. On the B side was ‘Come on come out’, another fast and furious self-directed exhortation to get on with stuff, things, life, growling with energy, but notable also for the first signs of the group Laugh would become, in the form of a slowed down coda of hypnotic repetition that nodded to the freaky dancers with whom they shared a city and stage space. By the time they re-recorded the song for their LP, that process would be complete.
Could anyone make a more urgent noise than ‘Time to lose it’? Hard, relentless and heavy, their excoriating third single was the sound of a group in transition letting loose a volley of anger and frustration that their ambition was being so consistently scotched by disinterest. A few people were interested, among them John Peel, for whom Laugh recorded two sessions, and Factory press officer, Jeff Barrett. In late 1988, Laugh released the first long player – Sensation number one – on Heavenly’s predecessor, Sub Aqua. The LP’s arrival was signalled by a 12 inch of the same name. ‘Sensation no. 1’’s impact was instantaneous, and, well, sensational. The group had completely and rhythmically reinvented themselves, in the fine tradition of so many Mancunian groups. Rhythms derived from the foot-stomping seventies funk of Hamilton Bohannon were steel-plated with the sequenced precision of house, and the change in style and tempo had beneficial effects on Martin Wright’s melodic lines too, allowing him more space to work with. I must have played the two arrangements on the 12” and ‘It’s easy’, and then the equally inventive LP, more than any other records that year. ‘It’s easy’ was just as good as the A side, combining human and machine generated rhythms for maximum groove. It reappeared on the album in a slightly different mix.
Sensation number one was the sound of a group relaxing into their twenties, relaxing into the culture that the Hacienda had begun to foster. (The Factory connection was further strengthened through Stockholm Monster Shan Hira’s presence as engineer.) Guitars were still in evidence, but they were now adding flavour rather than leading the charge. Relaxed, but not loose; Laugh retained and in fact reinforced the tautness of their earlier approach, attentive to the rhythmic dynamics, structure and detail of each track. Neither were they noticeably druggy. Songs like the ultra-baggy ‘Hearing sound having fun’, the South American flavoured ‘Good to feel good’ and the relentlessly upbeat ‘Up’ conveyed the euphoric flavour of the second Summer of Love without relying on what soon became bug-eyed, loved-up commonplaces. Laugh’s positivity seemed more of a natural high, a rhythm-obsessed one.
Sadly Sub Aqua was John the Baptist to Heavenly’s Jesus, and with the stampede of interest in the Happy Mondays – whose Bummed LP was recorded after Sensation number one, but released at more or less the same time as it – few seemed to notice the warmth of Laugh’s glow. As the eighties turned into the nineties, they regrouped, and re-emerged as Intastella. [Continued here]
- Laugh – It’s easy
- Laugh – Sensation no. 1
- Laugh – Sensation no. 1 (B side version)
- Take your time yeah!, Never had it so bad and Hey! I’m still thinking over at A jumped-up pantry boy
- Time to lose it over at A jumped up pantry boy
- Paul McCartney (YouTube)