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There is something about a rock'n'roll band that appeals. I think it's the feeling that with a little effort we could all be up there, guitars in hand. It is this do it yourself" ethic that ensures that the popularity of guitar-based groups endures, and that even when the hot light of publicity is shining elsewhere those bands will still be formed. At the moment the classic garage band sound is very much back in vogue, coming from US bands such as the White Stripes from Detroit and their ilk. These bands and their members have been playing for years with little publicity and would have carried on doing so regardless of success. This is a similar situation to the scene that formed around the Medway towns just outside London, in the early 80s which produced many bands-.-notably the Milkshakes with leader Billy Childish, but also the Prisoners, whose rough-hewn take on 60s psych and garage made them one of the great "lost" bands of the 1980s. This unique re-issue of their debut album A TASTE OF PINK with additional tracks shows the band development from their earliest home demo through to their move outside their local area onto a wider audience.
The Prisoners formed in 1980 when Allan Crockford, Graham Day and Johnny Symons formed a band at school in Rochester. It was pretty basic stuff, Graham on guitar, Allan on bass and Johnny on drums, mixing punk and 60s influences, rehearsals at parents' homes and maybe the odd gig in between exams. 1981 saw the band take things more seriously, and the band expanded to a four piece with the addition of Bruce Brand from the Milkshakes as a second guitarist, which brought with it a stronger R&B flavour. This arrangement didn't last long and the far more important discovery for the year was Graham's voice as a songwriter.
Late in 1981 (Allan thinks November) the band recorded a home demo as a three piece. It's an interesting document which we present here for the first time. Obviously a little rough around the edges, the band is nonetheless a tight outfit with all the power you could want from a guitar trio. The songs include the previously unheard Talking Bout My Baby, which is strongly marked by one of Graham's biggest influences at that time, the Pretty Things. Two of the other songs, Don't Call My Name and Say Your Prayers, would be recorded again for A Taste Of Pink. The final song, Lilac Reflections, is a bit of a discovery, an early live favourite, still liked by Allan and Graham. This is the first time you will have ever heard it unless you were at the early gigs. These demos once again showed the touch of the Milkshakes as that band's Russell Wilkins helped in the recording - something that he did on and off throughout the Prisoners' career.
The Prisoners became a four piece in early 1982 with the addition of Jamie Taylor on organ. James, like the others, was in the same year at Rochester Mathematical School - and was Johnny Symons' best mate. Originally he played a modern Casio keyboard, which was given a distinct sound by playing its organ sound - loud - through a valve amplifier. The organ and Graham's songs gave the Prisoners a distinctive sound, allowing them their own niche within the local scene. Throughout the first half of 1982 they played all the local venues, most notably the Medway Indian Club (MIC), where they would later record a live album with the Milkshakes.
The Milkshakes were a discernable influence on the Prisoners' attitudes and it was their "get up and get on with it yourself" ethos that convinced the band that they could just go and record an album. So with money saved from their gigs - looked after by Allan's then girlfriend - and the spur of Jamie's impending exodus to university in Newcastle, the band recorded A Taste Of Pink. The album was recorded in two days at a studio in Herne Bay. The first day - a Sunday - saw the putting down of backing tracks and guide vocals recorded live to tape. The following Sunday the lead vocals and any lead instrumental parts were overdubbed. Due to the imminent birth of the engineer's daughter the whole thing was mixed down in an hour.
It is this album that announced the band to the world outside the Medway. The album was pressed at Mayking Records in the Portobello Road, West London after Allan and Graham had made up the sleeve the previous night at Graham's kitchen table. They had scraped enough money together to press 500 copies - not that they could really have expected to sell many more. They only had two or three weeks to sell the album at gigs before James left and they all thought that would be that.
Two things happened to change it all. Firstly, James lasted a mere three days at university before he returned and re-joined. Secondly, the album started to build a following for its blend of exuberant 60s influenced garage rock. It may well be a highly primitive recording, but from the opening blast of Better In Black to the undisguised snarl of Don't Call My Name a mere 30 odd minutes later, this is dirty, adrenaline-fuelled guitar music, short, sharp and aimed straight for the jugular. John Peel played Better In Black and Rough Trade ordered a couple of hundred copies. The Prisoners were starting to make a mark in the wider world. Those 200 copies sold out and Rough Trade ordered 500 more, a process that repeated itself for the next few years.
When we were trawling the tape archive for this CD we discovered a track that for some reason hadn't made the final album. Allan thinks that the band may have thought it was too Jam-like at the time. Today, Baby Come Alive sounds like a great rush of energy and it makes a fine addition to the album. Due to the non-availability of the mixed master, this is a monitor mix with Graham's guide vocal.
The next two tracks are both recorded live, but in recording studios. There's A Time (track 15) is a song that appeared as a French 45 on the Skydog label in 1983. This version is an out-take from the split album recorded with the Milkshakes at Oakwood Studio. The A Taste Of Pink track Pretend (track 14) is taken from a Belgium radio performance that also saw the band doing One Mint Julep and the Small Faces' Grow Your Own. The session ended with Johnny Symons pushing over the speaker stacks and the bands (the Prisoners shared the session with the Milkshakes) having to hand back their gig money to pay for the damage.
Once James Taylor re-joined, the band continued playing gigs around Kent. They didn't play their first London gig until January 1983, at the Moonlight Club in Hampstead with the Barracudas. This was on the same night that BBC Radio Kent broadcast a session with the band recorded at the station's studios. From this session we have lifted the earliest version of a new song Somewhere, that would appear on the band's second album Wisermiserdemelza. January 1983 was also when the early version of Love Changes was performed at a gig at Quines in Canterbury. The night in question was nearly empty due to some atrocious snowy weather.
1983's live work and the small but dedicated crowd of people who had discovered A Taste Of Pink represented an upward curve for the band. This would be confirmed by signing to the Big Beat label and national TV appearances in the following year. It was an exciting time for an exciting band.
By Dean Rudland"