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One Horse Rider Attrition have just released their first full studio album for almost a decade. Alan Rider unravels the story behind it, and more, with Martin Bowes in the first of a two-part interview.

One Horse Rider

Attrition have just released their first full studio album for almost a decade. Alan Rider unravels the story behind it, and more, with Martin Bowes in the first of a two-part interview.

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: March, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

"I'd come down off the stage and stand in the audience and watch the show for one song. People standing next to me were thinking what is going on? It used to freak them out, but it was the only opportunity I had to see Attrition live myself.

Attrition Week Logo

To mark the release of their 17th studio LP, it's Attrition Week in Outsideleft...

Martin Bowes, the continuous mainstay of Attrition over the past 44 years is in a good mood. ‘The Black Maria’, Attrition’s 17th studio album and the first for almost a decade (the previous one being 2015’s WW1 themed ‘Millions of the Mouthless Dead’) is finally coming out.  Not that he has been sitting idle in the meantime, having pumped out numerous live recordings, performances, re-mixes, compilations, collaborations and reissues in the intervening period, bringing Attrition’s total output to around 40 albums, not including ‘The Black Maria’. There is no sign of the brakes being applied anytime soon either, with promotional tour dates being arranged, merchandise produced, and interviews carried out.

I should declare an interest here. Back in the early ‘80s I was closely involved with Attrition myself, having put out several of Attrition’s earliest releases on my Adventures in Reality label, toured with them as visual engineer, occasional support act, and even performed on stage with them once or twice. They’ve come a long way since then though, yet in one way have almost come full circle, with the original 1980 line up recently reforming. 

Martin Bowes: That was really all about Woody, who did the Death House album with myself and Ash (original Attrition keyboard player) wanting to do music again. I don't think he was on anything else we did except he did a couple of gigs with us in ’83 (as did you), so he just wanted to do something. He recorded a new version of Death House (I called it ‘Death House Variations’) and at the end of lockdown we did a live version of it. We did that two or three times, actually. That was quite fun to do, because we had never done anything like that before. Ash flew over from The States and joined us and Julia [Attrition’s original singer and Ash’s sister] would come and watch. Then after a bit, Ash said “I'm really excited about playing again” and Julia said she'd love to sing again. She hadn't done anything for 20 years. She hadn't done a gig since the ‘90s.  She recorded the Dante's Kitchen album in 2004 and that was it. So it all sort of just came together. It was weird at first, but I think they both realised that that was the best time in their life, you know? Just doing music. I think a lot of people, once they get through all money worries, and getting and keeping a job, and a roof over their heads, they go back to what they originally were into. It's a bit flexible as Ash can't make all of the gigs, because he has to fly out from America at his own expense. For accounting purposes, I pay him a pound, which I think is entirely reasonable!

OL: Worth every penny I’d say!
MB:
Yeah, he is well worth a pound! Woody generally can do it, and Julia’s husband John does a little bit sometimes when the others can’t. He played with us in the ‘90s when we toured America and at some UK shows. Julia doesn't really want to travel abroad though and she's only doing UK shows, so I've been working with Alia in Toronto for a good few years and she's really up for flying all around the world. The thing we want to do is have them both sing together at some point, probably in the UK. Julia is actually on two songs on the album, ‘The Switch’ and ‘The Black Maria’ as she had rejoined at the end of my recording it. She's just effortless. I ask her to do something and she does it first take and I’m like, oh, yeah, that's fantastic. Whereas with other people I do lots of takes to find something, although saying that, there are a lot of different singers on the new album. That’s because I decided let's not have a thing where people see Attrition as just one singer. I think that's wrong, so I have got different people in. I’ve got Emka from the band Black Nail Cabaret as guest on The Great Derailer track and she's brilliant. I like her stuff a lot. Alia has done something, Yvette from a band called Vaselyne, and various different guests. I quite like doing that, it’s more interesting. 

OUTSIDELEFT: You’ve done collaborations too with what you could term your heroes, Wolfgang Flur from Kraftwerk and TV Smith from The Adverts.
MB:
The Wolfgang Flur connection was through Annie Hogan as she has worked with Wolfgang, in fact she has worked with everyone from Nick Cave to Marc Almond and Paul Weller. When we were doing the World War One album, ‘Millions of The Mouthless Dead’, which I'd always wanted to do because of my granddad being wounded at the Front. We had postcards that he sent and they were reproduced in the album, Wolfgang heard some of that album, through Annie and then he sent me an email. He said he really liked the music, it was really atmospheric, and I was like, wow. So that was another noteworthy moment. He did a bit of German speaking, as we had all the different nationalities in the war, or most of them. We didn’t have anyone from Türkiye, but we had British, French, German. So that was great. Just an amazing moment. It's funny because when you're young, and you have somebody that you really love what they do, you do feel like they're different, they're like, really special. I don't think it ever really goes away totally even when you're older. Even if you get to know them, that memory, the excitement of being young and hearing them that’s always with you. People have done it with me, you know, when they meet me, and they go a bit funny, you know and I'm just telling jokes.

The other one was Tim Smith (TV Smith) from The Adverts. Obviously, I love them. It was I think 1999 I think, or 2000. I’d had a few beers, and thought I'm going to write to him, because we can that now on the internet, you can get in touch with your heroes. I said how I’d always loved what he'd done, and he got back to me, we got chatting and I sent him some Attrition CDs, and he sent me some of his solo stuff, which was great. When he came up to Coventry and played, he stayed with us and then actually the next year I booked him to play in Coventry. When he was here, we recorded a version of ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’, which was probably a bit too obvious to choose that song, but you know, I just wanted to do it and it turned out really well. I haven't seen him for years, but I went to see him at the 100 Club punk festival last month, and it was great to see him again. I tried to do an industrial mashup of it in 2000 or 2001 and I just couldn't do it. I thought I can't, this is such a sacred song and I ended up shelving it. Then I came back to it in about 2013 and finished it off and it was released as ‘Attrition versus TV Smith’ with different mixes on 12 inch vinyl and CD in 2014. I loved that. It would be nice to do a live version of it at some point.

OL: The last full studio album was ‘Millions of The Mouthless Dead’ – your WW1 themed album- in 2015.  That’s almost a decade ago.  I know you’ve put out a fair bit of stuff since then, collaborations, live albums and so on, but why such a gap between that and the new album ‘The Black Maria’?
MB:
Well as you say, I have put out live releases and have done other projects since then.  There was the Engram album (side project with John Costello) that came out in 2018.  I have also recorded another album by my improvised synth project DPM (Don’t Play Music) which is finished but not yet released, so I have done albums as you said, just not Attrition ones. I think that generally you do slow down when you have already released loads of albums. I sometimes think I don’t want to keep saying the same thing over and over again, so it does take longer to do each one. I think you find that with most bands don’t you? Each album is also a very personal story and in the years since 2016 I have had a lot going on and all of the business with Kerrie [Martin’s wife who was also in Attrition until they divorced, and who tragically died in January 2022] certainly didn’t help.  I was trying to write about what had happened with the divorce, because that was a really big thing, but it was really hard to write about it, so there were lots of unfinished lyrics. After she died, I finished them really quickly so it was like the end of a story that hadn’t had an ending until then. I did put out some singles and videos, but I was also very busy with mastering work in the studio [The Cage – Martin’s professional recording and mastering studio] for other bands and labels, especially during the lockdown. That was the other thing. I just didn’t feel inspired during that period.

OL: That’s strange, because for a lot of bands, the enforced lockdown was quite productive for them as there was nothing else to do but write and record at home.
MB:
The thing was, because everyone was doing that, the studio was busier than ever with mastering work. We were just about to go on a big South American tour in 2020 too, which I was really looking forward to, and that all collapsed of course, and all the other things we had planned all collapsed, so I just wasn’t in a very inspired place and had all this mastering work to do, so I thought I would just focus on that for a bit. I also resurrected Alternative Sounds [Martin’s 1979 fanzine] as a CD and magazine combo, and there were exhibitions we contributed to, as did you, so there were loads of things that delayed the album, but at the same time, it doesn’t really matter does it?  There’s no fixed timetable set for releasing an album is there?

OL: It’s here now though, so that’s fine. I guess also that because you have the mastering work coming in to pay the bills, you don’t have to release albums just to make a living, so the timing is entirely up to you.
MB:
I did get a bit frustrated though, because I was so busy doing work for other people that I often only ended up with an hour on a Friday afternoon for Attrition, which is only enough time to get a snare sound or something. It’s different now though and I am really inspired. I’m already working on the next release and am thinking I need to get this album out as there is new stuff I want to do. I am actually going to be doing lots of stuff now, so it’s fine. There were delays with the vinyl too. Those were going to come out on a label called Sleeper Records, but after stringing me along for months they totally let me down in the end, so I will just release the vinyl myself now.

OL: With all the pressing delays the album must feel a bit like old news now.
MB:
Well, pressing delays are not a new thing. When we did our first album [The Attrition of Reason], we recorded that at the end of 1983, but that didn’t come out until August ’84.  CDs are really quick now though.   You can get a CD in a couple of weeks.  With streaming you can pretty much release it straight after recording it.  We’ve all got used to that, so pressing delays feel like they are long but they aren’t really.

OL: The business model has changed a bit now though, hasn’t it? Physical copies are often pressed in smaller numbers, hundreds not thousands, and you often get paid with a share of the pressing rather than get paid royalties.
MB:
I’ve often accepted 20-25% of the pressing as payment, because then you don’t have to worry about getting statements and payment off the label and having to hassle them for it.

OL: You can sell them at gigs too. I’ve actually often thought that many electronic bands are a bit boring to watch live, just poking away glumly at keyboards, or even sitting at a table peering at a laptop. You have always taken a different approach to live stuff though.
MB:
You could say the same of some guitar bands where they just stand there looking dishevelled playing their guitars and not moving.  I always fancied doing my own Attrition tribute band called The Jeopardy Maids. I thought that would be a great name.

OL: But if you were in it, wouldn’t that just be Attrition with a different name?
MB:
I just liked the idea of having your own tribute band.  I like to do things differently. When we played ‘I Am Eternity’ live, I’d have someone else doing the electronics, whoever was singing for us would sing and I’d come down off the stage and stand in the audience and watch the show for that song. People standing next to me were thinking what is going on?  It used to freak them out, but it was the only opportunity I had to see Attrition live myself.

Attrition

OL: That’s a bit like an act I saw (can’t recall who) who set up a hidden stage at the back of the hall and when the show started, they appeared on that so everyone had to turn around and all those who had rushed in early to bag their spot in front of the stage ended up at the back!  I love that sort of disruption of the established gig convention.  I remember that gig you played in a railway Arch in Hackney in the ‘80s with Coil supporting (The Recession Club I think it was called) and you had to pause every time a train went over as the whole place shook and no one could hear anything.
MB:
That railway arch is still there actually. It’s in Ponsford Street. I was near it recently and because it’s over 40 years now, I'm gonna go there when I'm in London soon and have a photo taken. One of those little nostalgia trips! It was really industrial, wasn’t it? We played a show in Tuscon, Arizona which was the same with these massive mile long freight trains passing behind the club. It was the same thing exactly. That made me laugh.

OL:  I remember that the stage lighting was an old WW2 searchlight but the rest of the place was pitch black so everyone kept bumping into each other. There were merchandise stalls too but no one could see what was on them!
MB:
A lot of electronic bands have films and slides projected onto them, and sometimes that can look good, but sometimes people are just hiding behind them and that’s an excuse for not really performing in a way. I know we used to have the slides and films you did for us back in the early days, but that was great as it was a DIY punk/Human League thing and they were custom made images linked to the song and not just blurry colours or random pictures. I mainly do vocals live now and I have a midi sax I use, which looks cool and I put it through a synth and distortion so it’s just playing noise really, but because it looks like a sax people notice it and talk about it.  It’s a bit different to just standing by a synth and pressing a key.

OL: People need to have a different experience to the record don’t they, so it’s worth them showing up. If it’s all programmed then it’s not really live is it?
MB:
Because there is a lot of it that is programmed, that’s not very flexible, its more set in stone, so I like to make sure the rest of it has room for improvisation and can be different.  The old Musicians Union had a campaign against synths and drum machines ‘Keep Music Live’ with these round stickers they put everywhere and I used to add an ‘A’ so it read ‘Keep Music Alive’, which is much better. I do like to add extra bits to the vocals, effects here and there, and add expression to the lyrics live.  It’s great to be able to do the same song in different places at different times using different equipment as you get a different inflection that way. I always choose the livelier tracks for live as some of the other tracks are better for sitting and listening to at home with a spliff or whatever!

OL: In terms of genre, Attrition have been termed Goth, Industrial, Darkwave, Electronic, even Anarchist Punk when you appeared on the Crass Records Bullshot Detector album.  Never Heavy Metal though (yet!). Personally, I think Attrition are more Gothic.  Not spikey hair and eye liner Gothic, but the true dark poetry Gothic, setting a mood and atmosphere. 
MB:
That’s true actually.  As you know, we’ve done quite a lot of atmospheric soundtrack stuff, which has been used on TV and film and there is the Death House, Mary Ann Cotton, and Invocation albums. I know a lot of these terms came in after we started but you do need some kind of reference point, especially when people are writing about us, otherwise it's too vague. Cherry Red have been doing some really good box sets, you know? They did a Goth one and they asked us to have a track on that. It was five CDs with a book. They said we've got The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division… and as soon as I heard they had Joy Division on there I said “yes, I’m Goth!” so it doesn't really matter. We’re also on the Industrial one that's just come out, and then they're doing a Dark Wave one and we're going to be on that. We were on the Early Electronics compilation they did too. I guess Dark Wave is probably the best term for us if I really had to choose.Attrition

Stay tuned, readers, for Part 2 of this interview, when we will dig into DIY, get book-ish, and explore soundtracks.

Don’t forget, for the next fortnight you can also download for free a copy of the 30 track album ‘In Dark Dreams 1980-2015’ collecting together 30 tracks from the first 35 years of Attrition’s career, along with an accompanying PDF booklet.   Just click on the link below https://attritionuk.bandcamp.com/album/in-dark-dreams-1980-2015

Order ‘The Black Maria’ in all formats from Bandcamp here→


Essentials
1. Attrition Week is Coming to Outsideleft→
2. It's Attrition Week in Outsideleft: Riding the Black Maria→
3. Attrition Week: Alan Rider reviews The Black Maria LP→
4. Attrition Week: Part 1 of Martin Bowes conversation with Alan Rider→
5. Attrition Week: Part 2 of Martin Bowes conversation with Alan Rider→
6. Attrition Week: Martin Bowes provides The Black Maria Track by Track→

Order ‘The Black Maria’ in all formats from Bandcamp 
here→ 

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.


about Alan Rider »»

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