Pram (band)

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Pram
Origin Moseley, Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
Genres Experimental rock
Neo-psychedelia
Dream pop
Post-rock
Shoegazing
Years active 1988–2008; 2016–present
Labels Howl
AE
Too Pure
Domino
Merge
Associated acts Broadcast
Monade
Modified Toy Orchestra
Micronormous
Members Sam Owen
Matt Eaton
Max Simpson
Harry Dawes
Past members Rosie Cuckston
Laurence Hunt
Steve Perkins
Daren Garret
Nick Sales
Alex Clare
Dave Turner
Mark Butterworth
Andy Weir
Hannah Baines
Mr. Verdigris Horn
The Colonel

Pram are a British experimental pop band, formed in the Balsall Heath/Moseley area of Birmingham, England in 1988.

History[edit]

Early years[edit]

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. In 1988, the four musicians began working together in Birmingham under the temporary name Hole (performing solely with vocals and a homemade theremin), changing their name to Pram some time later.

In the initial Pram lineup, 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 and reed 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).[1] 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."[2]

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."[2] 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.[2]

Too Pure years[edit]

Pram's first EP, Gash (engineered by Justin Broadrick)[2] 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.

Pram's growing reputation soon engaged the interest of Too Pure Records (then home to Stereolab, Mouse on Mars and PJ Harvey).[3] 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.

Andy Weir left shortly after the release of the EP and was replaced as drummer by Daren Garratt, who would perform on all subsequent recordings until the dawn of the new millennium. This new line-up gelled instantly and would write, record and mix the band's debut album, 1993's The Stars Are So Big, The Earth Is So Small... Stay as You Are in time to meet their agreed, scheduled September release date. During the recording sessions, a trumpeter (credited only as "The Verdigris Horn") also 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. Despite this, the band's sales were insufficient to save their business relationship with Too Pure, and the label dropped the band in late 1995. Pram have acknowledged that, despite the end of the business relationship, the label had always respected their artistic integrity and let them be themselves.

Between labels[edit]

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.

The band's 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. A theremin player known only as "The Colonel" joined the band in 1996, bringing his own home-made theremin with him. By late 1997, Daren Garratt would be replaced on drums by Mark Butterworth[4], although pre-recorded material with Daren would continue to feature on records for the following two years. Former Long Fin Killie drummer Dave Turner would also have a stint with the band.[4]

Domino years, part 1[edit]

By 1998, Pram had found a new home at Domino Records[3] (distributed by Merge Records in the US). Their fourth album, North Pole Radio Station (which had originally been recorded for release on Wurlitzer Jukebox before the label shut down) was released on Domino in March 1998. A related EP called Sleepy Sweet was released the following August.

In 1998, Pram recorded the soundtrack to Martin Davies' 10-minute animated film "Keep in a Dry Place and Away From Children": in 1999, they released it as an EP including a remix by Mouse on Mars. Also in 1999, Domino collected various single and EP tracks from the previous two years and compiled them on the Telemetric Melodies compilation. This were the final recordings to feature Daren Garratt on drums (with the notable exceptions of the "Last Astronaut" 7", the Sleepy Sweet EP and around half of the tracks on the North Pole Radio Station album).

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.[3] 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 in 2001, featuring both new tracks and remixes of various recent album tracks and singles. Remix contributors were Andy Votel, fellow Brummie experimentalists Plone and Tele:funken (the latter credited as "Terry Funken").

Domino years, part 2 (and split)[edit]

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.[5] In spite of the relatively greater success of Dark Island, Pram did not release another album for another four years.

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 September 2007 Pram released their seventh studio album The Moving Frontier. It was named number 7 in Wire Magazine's Top Ten records of the year. A remix EP based on various Moving Frontier tracks, Prisoner of the Seven Pines, followed in 2008 [6] 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[7]

Following the release of Prisoner of the Seven Pines and Shadow Shows of the Phantascope, Pram went into a period of dormancy for almost a decade while the various members concentrated on other projects.

Reformation[edit]

Pram reconvened in 2016 as a lineup of Sam Owen, Matt Eaton, Max Simpson and Harry Dawes (minus founder member and singer Rosie Cuckston, who'd left to concentrate on writing and academia). Now working as a predominantly instrumental project with an increased interest in film and site-specific work, the band performed at the Imaginary Musics festival in Switzerland in May 2017 (playing an audio-visual "music for Kopfkino" set) and at a combined sound-art installation and concert ('Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough') in Birmingham's Martineau Gardens as part of the for-Wards project and festival for June 2017.

Once again signed to Domino Records, the band released a new album, Across the Meridian, on 20 July 2018[8] (with Sam Owen now handling vocals). The album was launched at a Club Integrale Midlands concert at the Edge, on 20th July 2018, followed by concerts at The Lexington, London, on 22nd July and the Soup Kitchen, Manchester, on 26th July (with Fliss Kitson of The Nightingales playing drums).

Work as remixers[edit]

Pram have remixed LFO and the Aphex Twin for the Warp Records 10th anniversary compilation. They have also remixed a song for the Indian singer Mohammed Rafi.[9]

Outside band activities[edit]

Rosie Cuckston recorded songs with Lætitia Sadier as Monade in the late 90s. She appeared on their "M Is The Thirteenth Letter/Monade" and "Split" singles.

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.

Band members[edit]

Current members[edit]

  • Sam Owen (vocals, flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone, accordion, keyboards, melodica, guitar, bass)
  • Matthew Eaton (guitar, bass, keyboards, sampler, strings)
  • Max Simpson (sampler, keyboards, bass, melodica, synthesizer)
  • Harry Dawes (trombone, theremin, stylophone - 2006–present)

Past members[edit]

  • Rosie Cuckston (vocals, keyboards)
  • Laurence Hunt (drums)
  • Andy Weir (drums)
  • Daren Garratt (drums)
  • Steve Perkins (drums)
  • Nick Sales (zither, theremin, bass, guitar, 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)

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

Singles and EPs[edit]

Compilations[edit]

  • 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

Compilation appearances[edit]

  • Brum Brum (1989, Pram's song "Jack Sabbath" appears on this compilation, along with other Brummie bands)

DVDs[edit]

  • Shadow Shows of the Phantascope (2008)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Pram - defiantly different" - article by Jason Keller in NOW Magazine vol. 28 no. 8, 21–28 October 2008
  2. ^ a b c d "A New Nineties: Part Four: Why Pram Wrote The Best Album Of The Nineties" - article in The Quietus by Neil Kulkarni, 22 December 2011
  3. ^ a b c Strong, Martin C. (2003) The Great Indie Discography, Canongate, ISBN 1-84195-335-0, p. 927-8
  4. ^ a b "Pram interview 1997". Bearos.freeserve.co.uk. Archived from the original on 17 February 2001. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  5. ^ "Pram". AndyPryke.com. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  6. ^ Hamilton, Billy (2008-08-05). "Album Review: Pram - Prisoner Of The Seven Pines EP / Releases / Releases // Drowned In Sound". Drownedinsound.com. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  7. ^ "Pram — DVD - "Shadow Shows of the Phantascope"". Pram.bigcartel.com. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  8. ^ "Pram announce new album 'Across the Meridian'" (Domino Records news page, 13 June 2018
  9. ^ Ankeny, Jason "Pram Biography", Allmusic, retrieved 2010-12-31

External links[edit]