The Prisoners pre-empted the visceral energy of the Hives and the White Stripes and anticipated the baggy shuffle of the Charlatans and the Inspiral Carpets. Lead singer Graham Day's scorching Hendrix-influenced guitar riffs and organist James Taylor's hypnotising Hammond whirls and irresistible go go rhythms not only changed my life but far more influential music types too.
In From The Cold, their fourth LP, originally released on Stiff subsidiary Countdown, was the band's swan song. It's not difficult to see why. Live gigs were already incendiary affairs. Graham picked up his guitar amp and speakers and chucked them at James at one gig at the Clarendon in London. Another time he slammed down his guitar and stormed off stage leaving the rest of the band twiddling their thumbs at the Escape Club in Brighton. Being holed up in a studio with producer Troy Tate for a whole five months, an exceedingly long time in Prisoners' terms, (previous albums had taken a mere three days to put down) only led to further outbreaks of internecine tension and rivalry.
By the time of the album's release, Stiff were on the verge of going bust. The LP was available for just two weeks. After the initial pressing sold out there was no money left to press up any more. As a result few got to hear what would in many circles be hailed the Prisoners' finest moment. That is until now with this fabulous reissue of the original LP plus five bonus tracks. Along with Dean Rudland's informative sleeve notes and photos from the time, we get cuts like Mourn My Health, Deceiving Eye and Wish The Rain, which showcase Day's whisky-sodden lyrical intensity. Laced with melancholia, despair and sheer hopelessness, they tear at the heart strings. The album's closer: Main Title Theme (The Lesser Evil) is a dark, brooding instrumental up there with John Barry's Ipcress File soundtrack and a hint at where James Taylor would be heading with his quartet after the band's demise, while the infectious All You Gotta Do Is Say, co-written with Graham's girlfriend Fay Hallam (of fellow Countdown act Makin' Time), could have given the Prisoners the hit single they so rightly deserved.
As for the bonus tracks included here, we get the band's delicious 1986 single, Whenever I'm Gone plus its B-sides Promised Land and Grave Digger, and culled from Rare And Unissued, a compilation of demos and rarities on Hangman records from 1988, are the tracks Happiness For Once and the magnificent Pop Star Party. The latter's lyrics lambasted Stiff Records but it was the few seconds silence during the song's intro that caused a stir. It sounded as if the tape had been broken and hastily glued back together again. Graham, the story went, had been in a fight with the label. Unhappy with the company's treatment of the group, he had snatched the tape out of Stiff's owner Dave Robinson's hands and run off with it. Sadly, this wasn't true - the track had simply been mastered over leader tape - but it helps shed light on a group who, despite having an extremely intelligent songsmith in Day and arguably the most effusive and soulful white vocalist since Marriott and Winwood, never quite managed to make it.
By Lois Wilson