success of 'Clock Comes Down the Stairs' gave Microdisney prospects of
a much brighter future as they entered 1996. James Compton (ex Darts)
had joined them on keyboards bringing not just his outstanding abilities
and a bigger keyboard, but adding another eccentric touch to the band.
He was a flamboyant showbiz entertainer if ever there was one and to watch
him on stage you wouldn't think that he had a clue what the band were
about. Somehow though you knew that he knew, adding irony to a band you
thought had already pushed irony to its limits. One abiding gig memory
was Sean promoting an up and coming Microdisney gig for a Northern Ireland
anti strip-search benefit- in an anal-retentive voice James Compton told
people to 'come along and enjoy yourselves'.
After the success of 'Clock', Microdisney were being noticed. Virgin signed
them and the rest should have been history. The Virgin move was probably
not a difficult one for the band to decide. Although lacking the independence,
credibility and ethics of Rough Trade, Virgin had always had a better
name than the other majors, if only for signing the Sex Pistols 10 years
earlier and being owned by a cuddly character with a beard. More importantly
the band had always felt they had never been given the backing they deserved
from Rough Trade whether due to lack of resources or lack of belief in
the band. The choice wasn't between honouring their indie ethics and becoming
megastars, the choice was a simple one of survival. It may have ended
up as 'out of the frying pan' but it was clearly an offer they couldn't
refuse. No one saw it as a 'sell out'.
Once signed to Virgin, Microdisney entered a well deserved period of rest
and relaxation. Gigs were a rare treat in 1986 confined to one Glastonbury
appearance and a handful of others just to let people know they were still
alive. 1986 saw them working on and recording a new LP at leisure. The
LP 'Crooked Mile' was released in January
1987, much as it had been in the old Rough Trade days, six months late.
Just as before, most of the songs were already known with three already
included in a Peel Session from a year earlier and several others part
of their live set for ages. 'Town to Town',
the single released a couple of weeks before the LP was well received.
It nearly made the Top Forty, although with various promotional gimmicks
and without an indie chart as a guide it was difficult to judge how much
was hype and how much was heartfelt. It did however win the 'Saturday
Superstore' pop panel vote and earned them a pleasurable appearance on
the Tom O'Connor show which, for once without a scowl, they played in
the spirit it was intended. With Virgin's backing, the trickle of press
coverage became an avalanche, they were almost popular.
What was blindingly obvious though through all of this new found fame
was that they had made a complete Pig's Breakfast of the recording. Sean
was quoted as saying 'it sounded like it was recorded in 1973- and that's
bad'. They had simply murdered arguably the best songs they were ever
to write. This became a problem between themselves and Virgin, who were
keen to release an immediate follow up from the LP and strike while the
iron was hot. Despite the LP having at least 3 other songs good enough
to be singles, Microdisney had worked out by then that the recordings
weren't up to it and no further single was released from 'Crooked Mile'.
By February 1987 their promotional tour fizzled out and things went quiet
again as they commenced an 'unmitigated slog' on the follow-up LP.
The first offering was the previously unheard 'Singer's
Hampstead Home' in the Autumn. This time they had got it right, not
only a powerful song but an extremely powerful production. Just as they
were getting it right they were being ignored again, perhaps with the
song being considered too 'close to home' for daytime radio DJ's. Instead
of the new LP following right behind the single, Microdisney were back
to the waiting game. It took until February 1988 for the follow up single,
'Gale Force Wind', just as strong as the
last one, and March before the LP saw the light of day. Ever since 'Everybody
Is Fantastic' all those years ago, we had been waiting to see what Microdisney
could really do with proper resources. Finally we got it with '39
Minutes' , a production that captured the hard side of their nature
but took nothing away from the pop melodies. An LP where punches weren't
pulled and where they didn't have to resort to '464' style songs to get
the message through. Microdisney could no longer be ignored through being
misunderstood, instead they were ignored by those who just didn't want
to know. Live appearances continued until April 1988, but they had failed
to make it. They produced a T-Shirt to tell
everyone they were shit- they split up. I could have cried.
All that was left was for a 'Peel Sessions'
release in 1989 and a 'Big Sleeping
House' greatest hits in 1995. Additionally, much to my pleasure, the
Rough Trade LP's were all re-released in CD format in 1996- those CD's
already proving to be the most difficult to obtain.