When It All Comes Down

I don’t think I’ve written about the Icicle Works on here before. Raking through the CDs to rip for the iPod threw up the fact that whilst I have their first three Lps on vinyl all I own on CD is a collection based on the first two albums and early 12″ singles.

The band first came to public prominence as part of a second wave of post punk Liverpool bands in the wake of the likes of the Bunnymen, the Teardrops and Wah!

Bands like It’s Immaterial and the Lotus Eaters however represented something more fey than the first wave of Liverpudlian post punks.

The self titled debut LP remains a strange mix. It contains the Icicle Works’ biggest ever hit (‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ – which they stopped playing live quite quickly), some great stuff and a couple of things I really don’t like. The overall impression was that the second wave wasn’t coming close to living up to the first.

Still when lead singer Ian McNabb announced that the second LP wouldn’t be anything like the first, it may even be a country album, I was still quite disappointed and a terribly limp live performance around the time of the lead single from the second LP, did little to encourage me.

Yet the following summer, with something of a dearth of decent live shows, I took a chance on seeing them at Fat Sam’s in Dundee and was blown away. At the time they were often opening with a Pistols’ song (can’t for the life of me remember which one) and although they didn’t do so in Dundee they seemed ennervated by the experience.

I saw the band several times in this period (even in Rosyth!!) and on every occasion they were good value.

The second LP didn’t turn out to be as raw as the live show, but ‘The Small Price of a Biccyle’ remains my favourite record that McNabb has been involved in, even if it was terminally unfashionable.

‘Small Price’ is a resolutely accessible, anthemic record but one which failed to chime with the wider record buying public.

It was clear from the songs chosen as the singles from the record that the band were desperate for a hit. In fact, this was something that was even more obvious on subsequent releases as the band cast about for that elusive breakthrough utilising wildly different styles.

A between LPs single, ‘When It All Comes Down’ ended up with a sub Springsteen mid 80s production and it along with subsequent releases, whether it be the punk Quo of ‘Understanding Jane’, the Prince-like funk of ‘The Kiss Off’ or the white reggae of ‘Little Girl Lost’ resolutely failed to provide that elusive hit

Whatever public interest remained was dwindling fast and I distinctly a rather bitter McNabb thanking the relatively small number of faithful fans who turned up to see the band promote the third LP at Coasters in Edinburgh.

I started to lose interest when that LP, the clumsily titled ‘If You Want To Defeat Your Enemy, Sing Your Own Song’, turned out to be dull and as a consequence I never bought the subsequent releases.

After fourth LP ‘Blind’, founder members Chris Sharrock and Chris Layhe had departed leaving McNabb to put together a new band for final LP ‘Permanent Damage’. Shortly afterwards the band were no more and McNabb embarked on a lengthy solo career.

As with a lot of musicians of his generation, McNabb returned to his most successful era a few years ago when he “reformed” the band for a 25th anniversary tour. But there were no original members other than the singer as seems to be the case for 30th anniversary reunion next year. Hilariously the NME reported the latest Icies tour as ‘former Oasis drummer Chris Sharrock’s former band’!

For me though, the fact that I recall the Icicle Works with fondness is almost entirely down to that second LP . Without that they would be just an 80’s Liverpudlian footnote.

A Whistle Test version of ‘When It All Comes Down’:

One Comment

  1. Ben Winch says:

    For a peak at what Chris Layhe – original Icicles bassist – is up to these days, check out mine and his band Shadow History. First time Chris has been part of a committed rhythm section since the Icicle Works. And yeah, ‘When it All Comes Down’ rocks, though for my money this version is far superior.


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