Friday, 16 April 2010

Cult Bands - The Violet Hour

The history of rock, it seems, is littered with so-called ‘cult’ albums. In order to qualify for cult status, an album needs to have been made by a little known band which forms, creates and then disbands in a flash after which the album is promptly deleted from the catalogue. This then allows a sort of underground swell of fandom to carry the word so that rare copies are treated like gold dust thereafter.

On this basis, an album that qualifies for cult status is ‘The Fire Sermon’ by Leeds-based band, The Violet Hour, released in 1991 and smartly withdrawn in 1992, soon after their break-up. The Violet Hour began life in 1988 when keyboardist Markus Waite met guitarist Martyn Wilson. Andrew Fox then joined on bass and Sean Holborn became the eventual drummer. But they needed a singer and one soon arrived in the form of Leeds University student, Doris Brendel and thus The Violet Hour was born.

Fast forward to 2010 and my link is formed when an email from Doris arrives in my inbox. It turns out that she is acquainted with my muso brother, Dave who has pointed her in my direction on the basis that I might like her music. To cut to the chase, she has sent me a copy of ‘The Fire Sermon’, which was finally re-released by Sky-Rocket records in September last year, and I am beginning to understand what cults are all about because this is one beautiful album.

Back in 1991, its sound was compared to that of contemporaries, All About Eve and there is definitely a degree of similarity but whereas AAE was Julianne Regan’s velvet claw in the iron glove of a macho band, The Violet Hour is almost the reverse – a sort of iron claw in a velvet glove. Doris’s vocals are much earthier and bluesier than Julianne’s and give an emotional centre around which the band’s complex arrangements swirl and glide. If anything, I would say that this album was released 20 years too late. It belongs to the era of blues and classically influenced progressive rock where bands like Jefferson Airplane, Caravan and early Renaissance stalked the earth. There are reminders of early Genesis in the use of flute and piano as well as injections of Celtic folk via violin and pipes. More importantly, it belongs to an era when bands comprised real musicians who wrote melodic, yet challenging music and then arranged and played it with genuine competence.

It is easy to see why the Velvet Hour was compared with their forebears from the 60s and 70s but they were also a band of their own time. In the late 80s and early 90s the music world was split between Grunge and Pop, yet there was a third genre underlying the main battle and it was the so-called ‘shoegazers’. My own favourites, Lush, were amongst their number which also included The Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine and Ride. These bands were the aural architects, the dream-poppers and The Violet Hour has real overtones of this type of music. Personally, I liked this period in musical history and that is probably why I like this album, but then I Iike music that is well written and performed with soul – who doesn’t?

If you’d like to know more about The Velvet Hour and Doris Brendel, visit her site at where you can hear excerpts of this album and all her solo work to date. Well worth a visit.  She also has a page at where you can find more details about her solo stuff and up-coming album, 'The Last Adventure'.

Also, don’t forget that my brother’s band, The Yarmouth Honeys, are still operational and you can learn about them and hear tracks at Dave Warminger’s MySpace site.

Oh yeah, and if you'd like to read more about my views on music don't forget my book, 'Memoirs of a Music Obsessive'.


Charlie said...

I like the new look. Blogger really has come up with some good, new designs.

musicobsessive said...

Thanks Charlie. Actually it was your revamp, along with a few other blogs that I read, that galvanised me into updating my own blog's look a little. I'm very pleased with it although some of the features that I'd like to change have failed in draft Blogger - a few glitches to iron out methinks!

Jayne said...

The new look blog looks fantastic! I like how you have spaced everything out, and the colours you have used.

Would Daisy Chainsaw count as a cult band? I had their album on cassette (she says, proud). I wasn't into the shoegazers although my then boyfriend was, and kept making me tapes to listen to, I am sure The Cocteau Twins were on them. I still have the tapes - I grew to like them, unike the then boyfriend, who didn't make it past school!

musicobsessive said...

Hi Jayne. So glad you like the new look. Everybody seems to be updating their blog and mine was beginning to look a bit dated so I had a go at improving it using the new Blogger Template Designer. If you go to http://bloggerindraft.blogspot you can read about the new template designer available only in beta form (so expect a few glitches if you use it).

As to Daisy Chainsaw - if I remember correctly, they had 2 albums out over about 5 years which sort of rules them out of true cult status. BUT they did ignore Madonna's invitation to join her Maverick label and signed with ultra-trendy Indie label, One Little Indian so that counts for a lot. And they were completely mad, so perhaps on balance they are a cult band. I'll also award points for the cassette copy which probably means it is virtually unplayable now - or if it is, it deposits great wodges of magnetic gloop on to your playback heads!

Jess said...

LOVED The Violet Hour and it's brilliant that, after years of periodical googling, I have finally found where to purchase the album without having to pay silly money on eBay.

This band were a pivotal part of my (otherwise awful) uni experience in 1991, and hearing them again immediately fills me with squidgy love; I feel that they created all their music especially for me...

Viva la t'internet.

music obsessive said...

Hi Jess - Thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad that you found your long lost musical past. As a confirmed music lover, I know what it means to be re-united with a piece of your musical life and it makes me feel proud to know that I played a small part. Btw, I just checked out your profile and see that one of your fav books is 'Wuthering Heights'. Mine too (and why don't film makers ever show the proper story?). I must have a look at your blog.

Kevin said...

Hey there,

Thanks for the post on this record. Back in the early 90's a friend of mine from the UK sent me a copy of the original release and I absolutely love it to this day - front to back.


music obsessive said...

Hi Kevin - glad you found my post. It seems there are a lot of people out there like yourself who value this album. I can understand why - it has a haunting quality that stays with you long after the event.

Peter said...

Got the VH album shortly after I saw them as support act to Marillion in Ahoy. Loved the album, kept looking out for a new album, but never did find one, and music store attendandents gave me a blank stare when asking about them.

Now I know why, thanks, and I will surely check out her solo material.


music obsessive said...

Hi Peter - Do check out Doris's new album 'Not Utopia' Click on the Doris Brendel link on the left sidebar to see my review.

Tim (Kalyr) said...

Coming to a very old thread here, I know, but was very impressed seeing Doris Brendel at a festival last weekend, which left me wondering how someone that good could have released several albums without ever appearing on my radar.

I was chatting with former Mostly Autumn frontwoman Heather Findlay the same weekend and she told me Violet Hour were an early influence on that band, who formed in the mid-90s and are still going.