Perhaps the most obscure of the early Factory bands, Blackpool teenagers Tunnelvision performed just seventeen gigs, cut one solitary single, and suffered the indignity of being slated as 'spineless heavy metal' by the New Musical Express. As their live and demo recordings reveal, however, Tunnelvision had far more to offer.
1. Early HistoryThe group first came together as The Pose at the Blackpool Roman Catholic School early in 1979, initially to perform Clash and Buzzcocks covers. The first stable line-up comprised vocalist Chris Shea, guitarist Chris Anderton, drummer Tony Ashworth and bassist Paul Swindles.As the music matured beyond primitive three-chord thrash, The Pose became Tunnelvision early in 1980. Tunnelvision performed their first gig under the new name at Jenk's Bar in Blackpool in February, together with local hopefuls Chainz and Zyclon B. Chris Shea elected to leave at this point, although not before writing striking lyrics to three songs, these being Watching the Hydroplanes, Glenn Miller and Pink Pebbles.Following a re-shuffle Chris Anderton took over on vocals and cast around the Fylde Coast for a suitable second guitarist, eventually settling on Andrew Leeming. From Thornton, Leeming was a protege of Section 25 guitarist Paul Wiggin, with the result that a friendship was forged between the two bands. According to future member Ian Butterworth:
I think Section 25 felt a sort of kinship with Tunnelvision. The two groups were very different at the time, since Blackpool seemed to produce either 1-2-3-4 punk groups or spandex heavy metal bands. To be honest, the Sections felt like our big brothers.
Other hometown gigs in 1980 included a date with Section 25 at the Salvation Army Citadel on May 23rd, and with Eric Random at Stanley Park in August.
2. FactoryOn September 5th 1980, in their occasional capacity as promoters, Section 25 booked a historic gig at Blackpool Scamps. Following the sudden demise of Joy Division six months earlier, Scamps marked the almost secret live debut of New Order, then still a three-piece, whose uncertain status saw them positioned (albeit deliberately) at the bottom of the bill. Section 25 also asked Tunnelvision to play, who for reasons long forgotten ended up performing last.Their raw but powerful set impressed both Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, with the result that Tunnelvision were immediately invited to record a single for Factory. Given that most collectors know Tunnelvision only for the two songs released on vinyl by Factory, the Scamps set is worth recording for posterity: Let's Sing; Hollow Men; Morbid Fear; Glenn Miller; I Never Promised You This; Old Comrades; This is a Time for Building; Watching the Hydroplanes.
3. First Cargo DemoLittle more than a week after Scamps and the Factory offer a first demo tape was hurried recorded at Cargo Studios, Rochdale, with engineer John Brierley at the controls. The four tracks recorded were Morbid Fear, Hydroplanes, Glenn Miller and Old Comrades. In this writer's opinion the latter two songs were the strongest, although Factory expressed a preference for Hydroplanes as a single, discerning 'a great techno ballad' and 'transparently beautiful song' (see Shareholders' Analysis for late 1981).
Shortly after the first Cargo demo was recorded bassist Paul Swindles departed, and was quickly replaced by Ian Butterworth:
Paul Swindles wanted to work in a bank and began missing practices. I had just left my own band through frustration, and got to know Tony and Chris, who asked me along to a practice after they had become sufficiently fed up. It must have gelled straight away as I was then asked to join.
Hydroplanes and Morbid Fear were subsequently remixed from the demo tape by Martin Hannett in January 1981 at Britannia Row, where Section 25 were recording their debut album. No members of Tunnelvision were present, and at subsequent support dates with New Order complete strangers would approach the band to announce proudly that their session had gone well. Whatever the circumstances of the mix, however, the group were not entirely happy with Hannett's wizardry, and preferred the power of the original takes.
4. No FunTunnelvision saw out 1980 with gigs at a Christmas party thrown by Section 25 at JR's Bar on December 29th, followed by a new year date with English Waste at the Calypso Bar on January 8th. Ashworth:
The gig at the Calypso Bar was cancelled on the night because the manager was convinced that we were a 'punk' band. However the gig went ahead when a compromise was reached allowing us the use of the Horseshoe Bar next door. The venue was larger and subsequently turned out to be a more successful gig. A further gig in Blackpool, at the Norbreck Castle, was less successful. We were booked to support Pylon, from Akron, Ohio, but after the soundcheck we were once again informed by the manager that we would not be permitted to play, and were refused an explanation. Also of note around this time we were asked by a local promoter to support Music for Pleasure at the 007 Club, owned by Brian London (an ex heavyweight boxing champion). We refused to play as we were offered just œ10 as expenses.
March 4th 1981 saw Anderton, Butterworth and Leeming join with Mark Ormrod (see 11 below), Gaz Evans (see 10 below), Paul Swindles, J Hayward and S Farmery for an ill-fated jam session at Blackpool Mardi Gras. According to the report in local fanzine Mirror Mirror:
Established musicians Streetfighter played host to Jam Night. The above-named individuals congregated to play their own brand of noise, but mainly to enjoy the response -good or bad. They did not expect prejudice to the extent of physical threats... Just because some 'teenagers' got up for a jam and don't do Black Night or Jailbreak they came face to face with more and more bad feeling. It wouldn't have been so bad if the audience had laughed, or given some sort of feedback. But there was nothing. Blank faces, blank people.
This perennial local dilemma was summed up by Blackpool Rox fanzine later in the year:
Blackpool -the town with the bands, and the town without the audience and venues to show them off to anyone. Now there is a more diverse and talented mixture of bands than ever before, but the venues are still booking cabaret bands. Venues are not prepared to take risks, and to get gigs the bands are having to hire church halls or pretend to have parties. Who want to see fat old men in leather pants at Jenk's on stage and in the audience for another fifty years?
5. Second Cargo DemoOn March 1st 1981 Tunnelvision recorded a second four-song demo at Cargo, again engineered by John Brierley. For the princely sum of œ90, 100 Men, Whitened Sepulchre, Guessing the Way and The Man Who Would Be King were captured on a tape that few would ever hear. The second demo nevertheless evidenced a more sophisticated band, particularly on 100 Men and Man Who Would Be King, and benefitted from the fact that the group now felt sufficiently confident to add their own input.Unfortunately the master was subsequently mislaid, after New Order bassist Peter Hook collected the tape from the studio for safekeeping by Factory. Which seems all the more ironic given that Tunnelvision had paid for the session themselves.
6. Beyond BlackpoolOn March 27th Tunnelvision played their first gig outside their home town as support to New Order at Bristol Trinity Hall. This superb set (thankfully captured on a mixing board cassette) comprised: The Man Who Would be King; Guessing the Way; The Blue; Hollow Men; Emotionless; Glenn Miller; Whitened Sepulchre; 100 Men and Hydroplanes. Man Who Would be King was reprised as an encore, reflecting the fact that it remains probably their strongest song.Despite being called back for an encore, Andy Leeming was alarmed by the theft of his camera, while Ian Butterworth was rushed to Bristol Infirmary after being struck by a bottle. None of which served to dampen their enthusiasm for supporting New Order at several further dates in succeeding months, namely Sheffield Romeo and Juliet's (April 22nd), and at two London gigs in May. The Sheffield date was reviewed by City Limits:
Tunnelvision... are another band working in the vein opened up by Joy Division, although comparisons stop there. Tunnelvision are a four-piece whose slow, plodding songs were mostly boring. Some of what they did displayed moods and emotions that show they are aptly named. The last song [100 Men] featured excellent use of (I think) syn-drum, setting up a pattern at odds to the flow that was almost disturbing. Is there any light at the end? Wait six months and investigate.
7. 'Spineless Heavy Metal'Tunnelvision played their debut London date as support to New Order on May 6th 1981, at the Kentish Town Forum. The Forum gig was reviewed by the NME in predictably disparaging terms:
The first two groups -Safehouse, and Tunnelvision- on New Order's second ever London show, came across as pale and derivative echoes of another time and another group. And I wasn't the only person in Kentish Town's gothic Irish ballroom to think so: I lost count of the number of times I overheard the observation that "all these groups sound just like Joy Division".
Tunnelvision, Factory's latest sons, were marginally better. Another quartet, they too rely on harsh, guitar-laden assault, though their chords are choppier, their bass rhythms chunkier. But there are still far too many uncomfortable echoes of their obvious mentors, Joy Division. The majority of their songs open with the all-too familiar sombre bassline, later underpinned by that jagged, regulated snaredrum. These mechanics and dynamics, once so devastatingly used by JD, have been successfully incorporated by other groups -take a listen to Positive Noise's 'Ghosts' single for proof of that. But wholesale imitation simply winds up sounding like spineless heavy metal, devoid of punch or passion.
Melody Maker were no more positive:
What's depressing... is the way post-Joy Division groups like support bands Tunnelvision and Safehouse have adopted the serious young man pose and doom-laden atmospheres in an attempt to sound as 'heavy' as JD were in their day. Both bands were stodgy, depressing and ultimately pretentious. The usually immaculate billing chosen by Final Solution had somewhere gone awry.
The unkindest cut came a month later, when NME reviewed the much-delayed FAC 39 single:
At the New Order gig at Kentish Town's Forum the aptly named Tunnelvision tortured the entire audience with their stunningly inept imitations of the bill-toppers, playing for so long that scores of people had to miss their last buses and tubes.
Immediately following the Forum gig (but before any reviews appeared!), guitarist Andy Leeming elected to return to Blackpool, apparently phased by the prospect of having to sleep in a hotel bed rather than his own. As a result the second London date, at the Tabernacle, was performed as a three piece.
Curiously, a press ad for London Covent Garden venue the Rock Garden indicates that Tunnelvision were due to play as support for Troops for Tomorrow on May 30th. The band did not play there, however, and indeed had previously been rejected by the same venue on the grounds that the Cargo demo sounded too much like a Factory band.
8. Fac 39In fact the Rock Garden management may be forgiven for dismissing Tunnelvision as mere Factory pretenders, for the release of the Hydroplanes single (FAC 39) was delayed until June 1981. Housed in an attractive green and silver sleeve designed by Martyn Atkins, the first 10,000 copies were pressed (on 7" only) in clear vinyl, a decision taken at the Factory HQ on the basis of an obscure pun along the lines of 'tunnelvision/see right through it'. The reviews published in the UK rock weeklies were predictable, and uniformly poor:
The Wrap is simple thought condensed on (b)op art -cheeky demystification spread on jammy aesthetics. The vinyl is milky clear? Watching the Hydroplanes and Morbid Fear are a waste of signs, their pursuit unclear. Rubbish, in fact. What is Factory up to? (NME)
Tunnelvision continue their blind assault on all music lovers with a couple of pitiful dirges sung in a voice that's even worse than mine, provoking me to ask yet again: for how much longer must we tolerate these hordes of upstart JD/NO copyists? (Record Mirror)
Only Melody Maker offered feint praise, reviewing the single in tandem with Je Veux Ton Amour, Section 25's French-language take on Dirty Disco:
On dark, windy nights the ghost of Joy Division stalks the corridors of this column. To be fair, the Tunnelvision effort has a certain naive charm. (Patronising? I wouldn't know how to be). But if Section 25 think that going Frog will disguise how horrendously boring they are they've got another think coming.
Despite such bad press the single managed a strong showing in the independent chart, and after the first run sold out was repressed on black vinyl, going on to sell a further 6,000 copies. By their own account, however, Factory barely broke even, evidently having squandered vast sums on the studio and the sleeve... Indeed the band were unable even to claw back publishing monies, since membership of the MCPS then required that a minimum of three songs should be commercially available.
9. Three Man And A Drum MachineFollowing the London Tabernacle gig in May, Anderton, Butterworth and Ashworth had elected to continue as a three-piece, and afterwards opened for bandaged Canadian violin weirdo Nash the Slash at Liverpool Brady's. However, a week before what should have been a valedictory hometown gig at Blackpool JR's Bar in July, drummer Tony Ashworth elected to sell his drum kit and purchase a guitar. As a result this and subsequent gigs were performed with a drum machine, which removed much of the driving power which had made previous Tunnelvision performances so compelling.
My decision to change from live drums to a drum machine was influenced by the upsurge in electronic bands at the time. On reflection this was a mistake, and acted as a catalyst for the band's demise. (Ashworth)
Despite this setback, Tunnelvision completed a string of dates late in 1981, at Preston Warehouse (September 3rd, with the Mau Maus), Manchester Gallery (October 1st, with Stockholm Monsters), Blackpool Gaiety Bar (November, again with the Mau Maus) and the Sheffield Library Theatre (also November).
Although no further demos or desk-recorded live tapes were made, poor quality recordings of a number of late period Tunnelvision compositions such as Eyes, I Don't Need You Anymore and The Crack survive. The three-piece lineup also recorded a revised arrangement of Hydroplanes on a portastudio, which outshone the Factory single.
Tunnelvision's last live stand was a short and intermittently shambolic set at London venue Heaven in January 1982:
The last gig was at Heaven, where we knew that it just wasn't happening without a proper drummer behind us. Nor had the Blackpool JR's gig been a good homecoming. Through nerves the three of us got smashed beforehand. (Butterworth)
10. The CrackAlthough new drummer Gaz Evans (ex Incident) was auditioned in February 1982, the new line-up fell apart after just one rehearsal. In announcing the split, Blackpool Rox fanzine reported that Ashworth and Evans intended to carry on as Tunnelvision, and were rumoured to be sending a demo tape to Factory. However, this seems not to have come to pass.
Looking back I think we were too young (with an average age of 18) to understand the workings and politics involved in a record label, particularly one like Factory. Communication was the problem in the end. (Butterworth)
That's probably the reason were never did a second single, which would probably have been Glenn Miller. Rather than pushing for it, we just sat back and waited for it to be handed to us on a plate. But it never was. (Anderton)
11. Vee VVAnderton and Butterworth went on to form Vee VV, together with Mark Ormrod (ex Zyclon B and Bossanova), Martin Reynolds and Dave Milner. Initially influenced by A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo and the Pop Group, the band recorded an excellent flexi single (Love Canal) for Blam! fanzine, before releasing a 7" on Cathexis (Kindest Cut) and the 12" Boom Slump ep on Vinyl Drip. According to Butterworth:
Vee VV was slightly more together and gained popularity quite quickly -Peel, label interest, a move to London... and a split in Manchester while supporting My Bloody Valentine. Months before, gigs with the Stone Roses and New Order couldn't keep the band together. A few months later Madchester took off and Vee VV were no more.
Prior to joining Vee VV, Ormrod and Reynolds had formed Cat Noise with ex Tunnelvision members Chris Shea and Paul Swindles, although the project appears to have been shortlived.
12. Buyer Beware!Collectors should note that a single (I'm Gonna Cry) released on the Octave label in 1985 by a rock band also called Tunnelvision has no connection whatsoever with the group behind FAC 39. A compact disc comprising the two Cargo demos and selected live tracks from Bristol Trinity Hall and Blackpool Scamps will be released by LTM (LTMCD 2313) in February 1998.
James Nice, August 1997.