It's been ages since I posted anything about a record. Is anyone still out there? Probably not. But nevertheless, I feel the urge to type tonight. Don't ask me why.
Back when I was a small person, I used to buy the occasional hi-fi magazine. I liked looking at photos of esoteric bits of audio equipment, none of which I had any chance of owning. If I was really lucky there would be some full frontal spreads of a Revox B77 or a Teac A3300. Anyway, somewhere in this depressing pile of rubbish (this house) is a 1980 copy of Hi-Fi News & Record Review. As the title suggests, not only did this magazine contain full frontal spreads of Revox B77s, but it also had disc reviews in the back. In the issue in question, two things caught my attention. One was a picture of two people known as The Broughtons (who I later came to realise were a late version of The Edgar Broughton Band), and next to it was a review of an LP by an act called Dalek I. Apparently this album contained a love song to an 8-track tape recorder, and had 'topsy' and 'turvy' sides. Those little things stuck with me for some reason, but being 1980 (and I was 9 years old) I wasn't in a position to gamble several weeks' pocket money on a strange sounding album by a band with a weird name.
In the mid 1990s, I was reminded of that album review when watching a BBC series called Rock Family Trees, One edition focused on the 'new Merseybeat' explosion in Liverpool, centered around the club known as Eric's. It turned out that Dalek I were actually called Dalek I Love You, and that there were some links with The Teardrop Explodes and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (who I'd been a huge fan of back in 1980 - my battered copy of 'Organisation' bears witness to that). After watching the programme again a few years later on VHS, I decided to track the thing down illegally on one of those new-fangled peer to peer mp3 sharing things. I gave it a cursory listen, decided I wasn't really into it, and forgot about it again. Then I finally found myself looking at a copy of the LP in a second hand record shop. I decided to buy it, took it home, played it and fell absolutely in love with it. I still am absolutely in love with it...
So, Dalek I Love You. Formed around 1978, by Dave Balfe and Alan Gill. They'd previously been members of a fairly normalish punk band called Radio Blank. Dalek I was a different thing entirely. Often referred to as a synth pop act, this first album isn't actually that synth heavy, certainly nothing like (say) The Human League, but early on the band were noted for having a basic drum machine in place of a conventional tub thumper at the back. The drum machine is still in place on Compass Kum'pas, but augmented by real drums, as well as a lot of 'conventional' electric bass and guitar. As well as a good smattering of electronic oscillators, there is the definite presence of a Vox combo organ, which gives it a sound rather like early OMD. This is quite understandable, as Andy McClusky actually spent a couple of months as a member of Dalek I in 1978, and the band had (allegedly) legendarily nicked a load of gear from a band called Pegasus, which Andy and Paul Humphries had been members of.
There were a lot of comings and goings in the Dalek I camp between 1978 and 1980, actually. Dave Balfe left early on, joining Eric's 'supergroup' Big In Japan (also once home to Bill Drummond, Jayne Casey, Ian Broudie, Budgie and Holly Johnson). Dave Hughes came in, Dalek I became a duo with a bit of outside help, various recording sessions were attempted, a deal with Phonogram was inked, and a long process finally resulted in Compass Kum'pas. The band were still called 'Dalek I Love You', but when the advance cheque turned up, they found that Phonogram had shortened their name. They had to accept it to cash the cheque. Two singles were released on the Vertigo imprint, with the album finally arriving in 1980 on the short lived Back Door label. By this point, Hughes and Gill had put the band to bed... Gill later reactivated the name (in full) for a short period with yet another line up, having spent some time in The Teardrop Explodes (alongside Dave Balfe), where he introduced Julian Cope to acid and wrote the monster hit 'Reward' before that group fell apart in a big way.
So what of the music? It's 'quirky', I suppose. It's also very melodic, with flashes of commercial brilliance in a totally non-commercial way. The songs range from two minute sketches which vanish almost before you can grab hold of them despite being fully formed (Good Times), minimalistic covers (You Really Got Me), glam-shuffle love songs to tape recorders (the aforementioned 8 Track), punchy oddball pop (Freedom Fighters) and expansive epics (Missing 15 Minutes, Heat and Trapped - probably my favourite track on the LP). It's also seriously dynamic. Lots of quiet bits, lots of empty spaces, lots of dubby touches. Sounds appear briefly and then vanish, never to be heard again. Cavernous reverb and saturated echo fill the voids. Missing 15 Minutes 'samples' an album issued to new Dolland & Aitchison employees (you can listen to that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7WoZiLBPlo). Nothing does quite what you expect it to do, but it always seems absolutely right. It's also a very stereo album indeed, and needs to be experienced on some decent headphones. Full of surprises, and always pleasant ones. I'd go so far as to say that it outstrips most of the big electronic LPs of the day, and I'm probably including the first two OMD and maybe even Human League albums here. Considering it was done in '79, it's a remarkable achievement. Listening to it carefully, it must have been an absolute bitch to put together. And what happened? It vanished almost without trace...
Well, not quite. The original issue on Back Door records came out with a white (as here) and red sleeve, then in 1989 Phonogram reissued it on the Fontana label with new artwork, both on LP and CD. In 2011, an American label called Medical Records released 1000 copies on pink vinyl, with yet another new look and a 2 track flexi disc. Why the bloody hell is it still so damned obscure? Search me. All I know is that I cannot listen to it enough, and am actively hunting down a copy of every vinyl variation. I came very late to Compass Kum'pas, but I'm doing my level best to rectify my faux pas. I would suggest you do the same.