|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2010)|
Modified Toy Orchestra
|Past members||Steve Perkins
Mr. Verdigris Horn
- 1 History
- 2 Outside band activities
- 3 Band members
- 4 Discography
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Originally from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Rosie Cuckston, Matt Eaton and Andy Weir went to school together. In the late 1980s Cuckston and Eaton moved to Birmingham, where Cuckston met Shropshire-born Samantha "Sam" Owen by chance (at a local supermarket's Singles Night). Weir had moved to London to study art, but kept in touch. The four musicians began working together in Birmingham under the temporary name Hole in 1988 (performing solely with vocals and a homemade theremin), changing their name to Pram some time later. Cuckston sang and played keyboards, Eaton played mostly guitar, Weir played drums, and Owen played bass guitar. A little later the group added a fifth member, Max Simpson, on keyboard and sampler. Over time, the various band members introduced their multi-instrumental skills to the project - in particular, Sam Owen and Matt Eaton shared bass guitar and six-string guitar roles (as well as adding to the keyboards) and Owen also performed on various woodwind instruments as well as singing backing vocals.
Pram's name (and their developing incorporation of unusual and toy instruments into their sound - including theremin, zither, toy piano, glass hammer, glockenspiel, and a Hawaiian bubble machine) emphasised their unearthly, childlike tone and presentation. Rosie Cuckston's eerie vocals and lyrics dealt with depression, loneliness and the dark side of childhood. The band's early recordings had a Krautrock-influenced blend of rhythmic guitar, keyboards and percussion which would eventually see them associated with the emerging post-rock genre, as would other elements of their work (although the band have rejected the label). The band was also inspired by multimedia and by memories of broadcast material: Sam Owen has commented that "in some ways film, animation, children's TV, Play For Today and public information broadcasts all lodged their spirit into our songs as much as the music we listened to."
In 2011, Matt Eaton recalled "there was never any discussion at that time what the group would sound like. We appropriated some of the working methods of Can and Faust... if a piece had a similarity/reminded someone of another work it was generally rejected. The emphasis was on new. We were inspired a lot by groups like The Slits, and especially The Raincoats. They invented their own ways of playing music - that's a surefire way towards artistic fulfilment." Other cited influences on the nascent Pram included Sonic Youth, The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, The Fall, Big Black, The Residents and Alice Coltrane as well as various dub and bhangra artists.
Pram's first EP, Gash (engineered by Justin Broadrick) was self-released and sold by mail order and at gigs. While much harsher and more immediate than the band's subsequent recordings, it presented them as an inventive and dedicated experimental band and got them early attention from record labels.
The Too Pure years
Pram's growing reputation engaged the interest of Too Pure Records (then home to Stereolab, Mouse on Mars and PJ Harvey). Signing to Too Pure in 1993, Pram embarked on the release of several increasingly sophisticated recordings, the first of which was the Iron Lung EP.
The EP was followed by the band's debut album, 1993's The Stars Are So Big, The Earth Is So Small... Stay as You Are (its title taken from the Country Joe and the Fish song "Magoo", on the album I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die). During the recording sessions, a trumpeter (credited only as "The Verdigris Horn") joined the band and played on several album tracks, including the quarter-hour "In Dreams You Too Can Fly". In April 1994, Pram released the Meshes EP, which was followed in September by their second album Helium. This record featured increasing use of the sampler.
Pram's subsequent recordings began to show a marked interest in exotica. Although their third album, 1995's Sargasso Sea, was awarded a rating of 0/10 when reviewed by the NME (which Pram took as a compliment), the band continued to gain momentum and popularity.
In late 1995, Pram were dropped by Too Pure due to poor sales (although the band have acknowledged that despite the end of the business relationship the label had always let them be themselves).
For a couple of years, Pram performed and recorded without a long-term record deal. Their first release during this period was a 1995 self-released cassette compilation of early demos and live recordings called Perambulations. Their next EP, Music for Your Movies, was released on November 1996 through Stereolab's label Duophonic Records. It was followed by the vinyl-only "Omnichord/Sixty Years of Telephony" single on the small independent label Wurlitzer Jukebox Records. Another non-album single, "The Last Astronaut", was released in 1997 on the Kooky label. Also in 1997, the band expanded and reissued their debut EP Gash as a full-length album on the æ label, adding five tracks from Perambulations and doubling the length.
Pram's lineup changed several times during this period. Andy Weir (reported in some quarters to have passed away in the mid-1990s) was replaced on drums by Daren Garrett (who would later play in The Nightingales): by late 1997, Garrett would be replaced by Mark Butterworth. Former Long Fin Killie drummer Dave Turner would also have a stint with the band. A theremin player known only as "The Colonel" joined the band in 1996, bringing his own home-made theremin with him. (Pram's original theremin player reportedly left to become a bomb disposal worker).
The Domino years, part 1
A fourth Pram album called North Pole Radio Station was recorded for Wurlitzer Jukebox, but the label shut down before it could be released. By 1998, however, the band had found a new home at Domino Records. (distributed by Merge Records in the US) and North Pole Radio Station was released on Domino in March 1998. A related EP called Sleepy Sweet was released the following August. Also in 1998, Pram recorded the soundtrack to Martin Davies' 10-minute animated film "Keep in a Dry Place and Away From Children". The band released the soundtrack as an EP on Domino in 1999, which also featured a remix by Mouse on Mars. In the same year, Domino collected various single and EP tracks from between 1997 and 1999 on the Telemetric Melodies compilation.
By 2000, three new members had joined Pram - former Broadcast drummer Steve Perkins, multi-instrumentalist Nick Sales (of the long-running Birmingham performance art group Blissbody) and trumpeter Alex Clare (who may or may not have been the mysterious "Verdegris Horn"). All three performed on the band's fifth album, The Museum of Imaginary Animals which was released in 2000. The album featured the single "The Owl Service", named after the Alan Garner book of the same name. The Somniloquy EP was released the following year and featuring both new tracks and remixes of various recent album tracks and singles by fellow Brummie experimentalists Plone and Tele:funken (the latter credited as "Terry Funken") as well as Andy Votel, Sir Real and Balky Mute.
The Domino years, part 2
Pram's sixth album - 2003's Dark Island - proved to be more of a breakthrough in terms of the band's profile. One of its songs, "Track of the Cat", was used on a BT Group advert. A remix of "Simon from Sydney/Untitled 2", commissioned by Warp Records, was used on Volkswagen's "30 years in the Making" advertising campaign. By now, the band's lineup had changed again: while Steve Perkins had drummed on three tracks on Dark Island, he was replaced during the sessions by Laurence Hunt. Trumpeter Hannah Baines (of Misty's Big Adventure) was briefly a member of the band for live performances in 2003.
In 2004, NME finally reversed their previous scathing opinion of Pram by tipping them as the next big band to watch out for. In 2006, trombonist Harry Dawes (who also played theremin and stylophone) joined the band - by this time, both Sales and Clare had left for other projects.
In spite of the relatively greater success of Dark Island, Pram did not release another album for another four years, when they released their seventh studio album The Moving Frontier in September 2007. This was named number 7 in Wire Magazine's Top Ten records of the year. A remix EP based on Moving Frontier tracks, Prisoner of the Seven Pines, followed in 2008  as did a full self-released collection of the band's visual work (short films, music videos and animations), collated on a limited edition 90-minute DVD called Shadow Shows of the Phantascope
Work as remixers
Outside band activities
Matt Eaton produces his own music under the name 'Micronormous' and has released a number of tracks on compilation albums - in Autumn 2009 he was reporting as working on an album for Warm Circuit records (home of the Modified Toy Orchestra). Eaton also DJs with Mark Cancellara (ex-Plone) at Silver Dollar, a reggae club in Birmingham.
- Rosie Cuckston (vocals, keyboards, bass, theremin)
- Sam Owen (flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone, accordion, keyboards, melodica, guitar, bass)
- Matthew Eaton (guitar, bass, keyboards, sampler, strings)
- Max Simpson (sampler, keyboards, bass, melodica, synthesizer)
- Laurence Hunt (drums, percussion, bass, keyboards - 2003-present)
- Harry Dawes (trombone, theremin, stylophone - 2006-present)
- Andy Weir (drums)
- Daren Garret (drums)
- Steve Perkins (drums)
- Nick Sales (zither, theremin, bass, keyboards, sampler)
- Alex Clare (trumpet)
- Dave Turner (drums)
- Mark Butterworth (drums)
- Hannah Baines (trumpet, cello)
- "Mr. Verdigris Horn" (horns) a.ka. "Verdigris", "Mr. Verdigris", "Verdigris Al", "The Mysterious Verdigris Horn"
- "The Colonel" (theremin)
- The Stars Are So Big, The Earth Is So Small... Stay as You Are (1993), Too Pure
- Helium (1994), Too Pure
- Sargasso Sea (1995), Too Pure
- North Pole Radio Station (1998), Domino
- The Museum of Imaginary Animals (2000), Domino
- Dark Island (2003), Domino
- The Moving Frontier (2007), Domino
Singles and EPs
- Gash (1992), Howl - original 6-song EP
- Iron Lung EP (1993), Too Pure
- Meshes EP (1994), Too Pure
- Music for Your Movies EP (1996), Duophonic
- "Omnichord" (1997), Wurlitzer Jukebox
- Sleepy Sweet EP (1998), Domino
- "The Last Astronaut" (1998), Kooky
- "Keep in a Dry Place and Away From Children" (1999), Domino
- "The Owl Service" (2000), Domino
- Somniloquy (2001), Domino - mini-album
- Prisoner of the Seven Pines EP (2008), Domino
- Perambulations (1995) - self-released. Cassette-only collection of early recordings, some live.
- Gash (1997), æ. Debut EP expanded to album length via the addition of 5 songs from Perambulations
- Telemetric Melodies (1999), Domino. Album collecting various single/EP tracks from 1997–99
- Brum Brum (1989, Pram's song "Jack Sabbath" appears on this compilation, along with other Brummie bands)
- Shadow Shows of the Phantascope (2008)
- "Pram - defiantly different" - article by Jason Keller in NOW Magazine vol. 28 no. 8, October 21-28 2008
- "A New Nineties: Part Four: Why Pram Wrote The Best Album Of The Nineties" - article in The Quietus by Neil Kulkarni, December 22 2011
- Strong, Martin C. (2003) The Great Indie Discography, Canongate, ISBN 1-84195-335-0, p. 927-8
- "Pram - end 1997" - interview
- Andy Pryke's summary of Pram
- Ankeny, Jason "Pram Biography", Allmusic, retrieved 2010-12-31
- Pram's Official Website
- Official MySpace Page
- Band Interview
- 'Happy music is for discos' BBC Interview
- MTV.com bio
- Keep in a Dry Place and Away from Children (animated film)
- Review of 'Photophonic' Tour in The Telegraph
- YouTube page of Scott Johnston (who does visuals for their tours)
- "A New Nineties - Part Four: Why Pram Wrote The Best Album Of The Nineties" - article in The Quietus by Neil Kulkarni, December 22nd 2011.