Rupert Hine

Pick up a bone


Unfinished Picture

Cover to Rupert Hine's Pick Up A Bone album

It’s not generally known that a lot of well-known record producers are recording artists in their own right. Some, like Alan Parsons, manage to carve out a little cottage industry for themselves, but such cases are rare. Todd Rundgren is probably better known for producing XTC’s Skylarking and, er…Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell than for his string of cult-favourite albums. And Giorgio Moroder is far better known for his association with Donna Summer and a number of 80’s synth-pop acts than for any of his synthesizer-oriented solo albums.

Rupert Hine, if he’s noted for anything, it’s for producing Tina Turner’s Private Dancer and a long string of hit albums for synth-pop act The Fixx. His career as a producer actually began circa 1973, mainly for prog-rock acts like Kevin Ayers, Nektar, Camel, Anthony Phillips and Jonesy. But in the 80’s, he broke out and became a hotshot producer-to-the-stars. Apart from the aforementioned, he worked on albums by Howard Jones, Robert Palmer, Bob Geldof, Saga, Rush, The Members, Chris de Burgh, Stevie Nicks and the Waterboys.

But he has long had a sideline as a recording artist. He received his best acclaim, if not actual commercial success, for the three dark-toned synthesizer-based albums he made for A&M in the 80’s (ImmunityWaving Not Drowning and The Wildest Wish To Fly). Prior to that, he’d made two studio albums with his jazz-funk group Quantum Jump, whose «The Lone Ranger» became a belated British hit single thanks to airplay on The Kenny Everett Show. And that’s not even counting his three releases with the meta-group Thinkman.

But even before this, he’d had a recording career.

Hine’s musical career dates as far back as the early Sixties, when he and musical partner David MacIver were performing on acoustic guitars and harmonicas in folk clubs. Hine calls the music they performed at the time «white-boy blues.»

He formed important associations with fellow musicians during the time, first with a young, struggling American songwriter named Paul Simon, the other with a pop group (sort of the British answer to the Association) called Episode Six. Via the former association, Rupert and David, under that name, released their first single, a song «given» to them by Simon called «The Sounds Of Silence.» Their version was not a hit, needless to say, but it’s important in that its B-side, «Reflections Of Our Love,» established Hine and MacIver as a songwriting force. The two continued to write songs, though, and managed to record an acetate demo of their songs by the end of the Sixties.

Nothing came of the demo, but by the early Seventies, Roger Glover and Ian Gillan, two of the lads’ old mates from Episode Six, had joined Deep Purple. With their album Deep Purple In Rock and its attendant single «Speed King» selling by the boatload, Deep Purple were a hot commodity, and the band were given their own Purple label.

They needed other artists to sign up, and Glover remembered his folk-club buddies. Thus, Hine was one of the first signings to Purple Records. Of course, Hine and MacIver’s quirky, slightly arty, slightly bluesy, folkie singer-songwriter stuff was pretty far removed from the gritty hard-rock of Deep Purple, but Glover enjoyed their offbeat music, and insisted on producing their debut album, Pick up a bone.

«Landscape» kicks things off with a lilting, unaccompanied 12-string guitar intro, leading into the first verse with Hine’s voice accompanied just by the jangling 12-string. A brief instrumental passage follows the verse, with Simon Jeffes’ 6-string acoustic guitar playing an ethereal fill as the strings enter. Bass, piano and soft drums accompany Hine and his guitar for the next verse. The third verse also features a sort of call-and-response, with an echo-like «answer» vocal dubbed over in response to the main verse. An odd song construction, there is no refrain, just three verses, each more modified than the last. This tune explains why I first thought that the album would sound like an Al Stewart album. It is a perfect example of David MacIver’s curious imagistic lyrics. «Move over Oscar, said the Scarecrow/As the black sheep passed his smile…» Incidentally, that Scarecrow does play an important rôle later on in the album…

«Ass All» is an even better example of MacIver’s quirky lyrical style. The title refers not to a fetish for buttocks, nor pack animals, but rather is a reference to the wacky take on southern U.S. dialect he affects in the text (spelled out phonetically in the original lyric sheet to the LP). This is the sort of thing you sure wouldn’t find on an Al Stewart album! Hine gives a spirited performance on the song, his voice effected with a slapback echo similar to that used on many early John Lennon sides. More of an upbeat, country-tinged rocker, with strings and Peter Robinson’s piano dominating the instrumental mix, a tambourine (played by producer Roger Glover) adding a distinctive rhythmic note to proceedings.

«Me You Mine» is another gentle, reflective piece like «Landscape.» Clearly the lyrics, which are mostly nonsense doggerel («Acree Acree/Fascinate/Me feeling every fine/Me you mine»), aren’t as important as the music, a point hammered home by the wordless «la la la» refrain. Make no mistake, though, this is not exactly a Eurovision contender, even if the drums and big string swells do come in on the chorus. Far too quirky and odd for that, but it has a nice and memorable melody all the same.

«Scarecrow» is the big «wow» piece of the album. Given a stark backing of just acoustic fingerstyle guitar and strings (which don’t enter till rather late in the song, and are used in a very subtle, background way. Yet another triumph for Paul Buckmaster.), it ensures you give your full attention to Hine’s somber vocal performance and MacIver’s dark lyrics. This particular set of lyrics is not merely a set of clever wordplay or impressionist painting with words. Rather, it’s a mood piece, using the figure of the scarecrow as a metaphor for the face one puts to the world, encountering only cruelty and harshness in return. One can only imagine the severe depression MacIver was going through at the time of writing it. Still, it’s an incredibly powerful and honest song, and not one you’ll forget any time soon. I nearly broke down and cried the first time I heard it.

Things take a total 180° turn for «Kerosene.» Based on a rockier rhythm punctuated by electric guitar and organ, it comes as close as anything on this album to progressive rock. Spotlighted is another striking performance by Hine, giving a dramatic reading to MacIver’s weird, poetic musing on lust. Adding to the weirdness are some off-kilter organ lines from Robinson, screaming strings, Latin percussion breaks and an echo-laden fade-out featuring a sneak-preview of the folky «Instant Muse.» This oddity points toward the even greater experimentation to be found on the follow-up album, Unfinished Picture.

Hine straps on his blues harp for the offhanded country-folkie number «Running Away.» After the very serious one-two punch of «Scarecrow» and «Kerosene,» something in a lighter vein was definitely called for, and this fun little tune is just the antidote for seriousness. Hine’s affable performance on this entirely acoustic tune makes the tune. Peter Morgan’s acoustic double bass adds a touch of distinction to proceedings, piano and soft drums completing the instrumental picture well.

The menace returns for «Medicine Munday,» a black comic piece featuring lyrics about a cannibal and an absolutely sinister vocal performance by Hine. I correctly identified Randy Newman as a possible influence here, Hine has as much admitted in interviews that Newman was one of his early influences. The blend of Steve Hammond’s odd, angular use of banjo and yet another striking Paul Buckmaster string arrangement make this one especially arresting. The dubbed-on restaurant sounds on the balance of the tune add to the darkly comic atmosphere.

In yet another sharp turnaround in tone, «More Than One, Less Than Five» turns out to be one of the most honestly affecting tunes on the album. The simple tale of a younger man’s affection for an older woman certainly makes an effective folkie ballad. The arrangement is similar to that on «Scarecrow,» largely acoustic guitar with strings entering gradually. This time, woodwinds (flutes and oboes) add extra colour at the end of the piece. Of these early pieces, this one certainly had the most potential to be interpreted by other singers. And sure enough, when Hine got his first producing gig (Yvonne Elliman’s Food of Love album), this song was included.

«Boo Boo’s Faux Pas» veers off into jazzy, slightly funky territory, with Hine scatting along with the saxophones as he strums his guitar. Again, Pete Morgan’s acoustic bass work is absolutely splendid, and sells the piece. As before, this seems to point toward the further experimentation found on Unfinished Picture, yet isn’t too stylistically different from the rest of the album, having its basis in Hine’s folk guitar stylings. Perhaps some of John Martyn’s jazz dabblings on Solid Air and ensuing albums might be a valid comparison, but Hine’s take on the style is a lot more whimsical. MacIver’s delightfully sarcastic lyrics are the icing on the cake.

If you think you may get whiplash from all the wild stylistic and mood shifts, better strap it in for the title track, which surprises us all by turning into a jaunty sing-along! This tune really freaked me out the first time I heard it, as after «Scarecrow» and «Medicine Munday,» I was convinced that they were going to pull the rug out from underneath me and stab me with some sort of disturbing «twist» ending. It never happens, of course, but for all its whimsy, there does seem to be a curious sort of menace just under the surface. Perhaps it’s just something about Hine’s voice, which try as he may can’t help but sound a little spooky. Really, though, there’s not too  much here that’s vastly stylistically different from «Ass All.» They even have similar lyrical constructs, with the faux-Southern patois intact here too. The brief acoustic guitar jangle of «Instant Muse» grows out of this, closing the album on an intimate note.

Unfinished Picture, Rupert Hine's second album

Typically, Pick Up A Bone received some good critical accolades, but sold very poorly. Still, Glover had enough faith in Hine and MacIver that he saw to it they got an advance on a second album. With the advance, Hine purchased an electric piano on which he and MacIver wrote most of the songs. As a result, the sound begins to change on Unfinished Picture, moving away from the folky Anglo-blues of Pick Up A Bone and into more experimental realms. Though recorded at A.I.R. London, the sound is also a lot more intimate than its predecessor. A lot of this has to do with the smaller cast of characters, with Hine on keys and acoustic guitars, Simon Jeffes on guitars, John G. Perry (then of Caravan, and later to join Hine in Quantum Jump) on bass and a succession of drummers including Mick Waller and Mike Giles. Even the orchestral arrangements (by Jeffes rather than Paul Buckmaster) seem smaller and more intimate. The fact that one of the orchestral tracks was recorded in a church rather than a recording studio adds to that intimate feel.

The tone of the music has changed as well. This album takes a definite turn towards the conceptual and cinematic, with a somber pipe-organ intro followed by a child’s voice saying, «One day…» Ostensibly a soundtrack to Anthony Stern’s* impossible-to-find feature film Wheel, it also takes on an altogether darker sound than its predecessor. The mix of whimsy and dark menace that was suggested on the previous album’s title track is fully realized here.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album’s opener, «Orange Song.» On the surface, it seems to be just a rhythmic folk guitar based tune with a swing feel, featuring some chugging cellos joining in in due time and later on, an instrumental bridge with raucous, squawking horns. But if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll miss how grotesque this little tune really is:

Stop Anachinaeva
Ooshticka she leave to pick up later
Mountainistic lady shaver
Trim the furry limb

You may well ask, «what the hell is he on about?» Luckily, MacIver saw fit to include the following explanatory text along with the lyrics of the original vinyl:

A ritual circumcision song
Anachinaeva does it with her teeth

Ugh! Thanks for that imagery, Dave! I may never sleep again. The lyrics fairly bleed with Freudian references to oranges, nightingales, snakes and razors, and featuring loaded words like «dangle» and «cockaleaky» and…

I’m going to stop talking about this now.

Moving swiftly on, «Doubtfully Grey» is similarly comical folk, but of a considerably less creepy nature. MacIver here equates a relationship with Darwinian evolution. And I get the distinct feeling that this particular tune was based on an actual conversation; the line «‘I don’t understand your songs,’ she said» is a dead giveaway. More MacIver wordplay, based on the song’s title, closes out the piece. The arrangement is for the most part very stripped-down, acoustic guitars and light percussion giving a slight samba feel. But a crescendo of keening strings at the end seems to pop in out of nowhere, providing a sonic link to…

«Don’t Be Alarmed,» probably the closest the album comes to the laid-back bluesy feel of  Pick up a bone. This one features drums and bass reëntering the picture, with a multiple acoustic guitar arrangement. Jeffes adds some Oldfieldian sped-up guitar and some skittering runs here and there adding an odd bent to the tune.

For «Where In My Life,» we start on a sharp detour away from anything resembling Pick up a bone at all. Hine’s vocal performance is at its most ethereal, fitting the music and impressionistic text perfectly. The backing track was built up entirely by Hine’s ARP 2600 synthesizer, presumably the same one he used on Caravan’s For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night album. Back in 1973, the all-synthesizer arrangement was quite extroardinary, and it totally works for the song. It’s here that we first get a (rather skeletal, admittedly) taste of what Hine would later do on his albums for A&M like Immunity.

«Anvils In Five» is undeniably the strangest piece on the album, and considering it follows «Where In My Life,» that’s really saying something. Recorded in a suburban London church, the backing track is wholly orchestral, building in dark intensity from beginning to end, finishing on a fortissimo pipe-organ chord (played by Hine). Hine recites the lyrics in a creepy, low monotone, words inspired by the five senses. Since there’s no melody to speak of, it forces you to concentrate on the text and the arrangement. Very much a mood piece, and definitely one of the more impressive moments on this disc. It’s followed by «Friends and Lovers,» a simple, intimate piano/vocal ballad. Recorded in the same church as «Anvils In Five,» it concludes with the sound of the piano lid closing, footsteps moving from one speaker to the next and a door being shut.

«Move Along» returns us, however fleetingly, to familiar territory, as it’s another Randy Newman-esque folk-blues number. Hine even pulls out the harmonica one last time. And MacIver is up to his old tricks, returning to the faux-Southern dialect à la «Ass All.» But Jeffes, it seems, couldn’t allow any of the pieces on this album have a «normal» arrangement, so the song eschews conventional drums altogether, substituting instead a battery of Latin percussion from famed sideman Ray Cooper. Here we get our first listen to that electric piano of Hine’s, Jeffes’ subtle sustained guitar notes adding extra colour to the sound.

The outlandishly titled «Concord(e) Pastich(e)» is probably the most intricate piece on the album. Beginning with a verse accompanied only by piano, Hine starts on a second, only to abruptly stop on the line «We used to run from here to over there,» which hard-pans from one speaker to the next. Then Jeffes’ arpeggiated guitar and Perry’s bass enter, overlaid by a second guitar playing a long, slightly distorted solo. After much deliberation, the drums and organ enter. The liner notes to this particular tune proclaim «Headphones are an extreme advantage,» obviously referring to Hine’s heavily treated and barely audible recitation over the long, otherwise instrumental balance of the track. The piece doesn’t end as much as it just stops, very abruptly indeed.

«On The Waterline» starts off with just Hine’s voice backed by his own piano. But anyone worried that this will turn into «Friends And Lovers: Part 2» should be consoled by the harpsichord and cymbal (the latter courtesy ex-King Crimson drummer Mike Giles) accents entering in the second verse. Actual drumming appears in the third verse, though still in a watercolour rather than rhytmic manner. At last the piece gains rhythmic momentum over the closing «All the children cry» refrain, mainly via Hine’s piano and harpsichord, with Giles still playing off the rhythm in a jazzy manner. Again, something of a mood piece, but for those who were put off by the lack of melody on «Anvils In Five,» this should prove immensely more satisfying.

So, who should go for these albums? Fans of Hine’s 80’s output are likely to find Pick up a bone a shocking experience, since it’s so far removed from what he did later. Unfinished Picture should prove rather less so, as some tracks («Where In My Life,» «Anvils In Five») are something like embryonic visions that later came to fruition on Immunity and its successors. Indeed, many of the more experimental moments of Unfinished Picture bore fruit not only in Hine’s own subsequent work, but also in latter-day expermental and «post-rock» acts like Radiohead.

That said, while Unfinished Picture is probably the more technically impressive, influential release, Pick up a bone is definitely the more satisfying listen of the two. Mainly because it offers a far more memorable set of actual songs. Fans of offbeat and unusual songs are sure to dig both, though.

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©2004 by Progbear

*Stern is best known for directing the Yessongs concert film for Yes. Wheel is simply impossible to find in any format, and I wonder if it was ever released.

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