Have you ever loved a band so much that they become a part of you? That everything you do is somehow inside their music? That just by listening to the music, you become lost in a world where nobody else can ever be? Thatís how it is with me and Ultrasound.
First and foremost with any band has got to be the music, and with Ultrasound, thatís exactly what itís all about. Music, music and more music. Theyíre all self-confessed music junkies, with Tinyís record collection once numbering well over 2000 records (which have since been transferred onto tape and sold to buy cigarettes and amps). Just by listening to the debut album, Everything Picture, itís plain to see how important music is to this band as the album is bursting with it. Itís literally so packed with music that it leaks out of the edges in places that you donít notice until itís too late. Album opener Cross My Heart is one of the best examples of this, with a wall of sound being constructed for the listener to hear. Building up through the effects pedals and keyboard sounds, itís an explosive opener to the album. Live, itís also the set opener and has much the same effect.
The Ďanthemsí would flood a valley if they were water. But theyíre more than anthems, theyíre a soundtrack to our lives, with the rallying cry of Stay Young, the optimism of Floodlit World and the desperation of Suckle creating tension, fear, love and unity. Live, these are the songs which move us to tears as the band mean every note, every word. You can see it in their eyes.
Yet itís the other side to Ultrasound which sets them apart - the side which has earned them the "prog rock" labels. To some, their defining title track, Everything Picture, degenerates into nothing more than random noise, noise that hurts the ears but has no effect on the mind as itís all too much. But to understand the beauty of Ultrasoundís chaos, youíve got to be on their level, actually get inside the music and be carried away in its bubble. Concentrate on the feeling behind this music, feel the passion, the obsession which has the ability to take the listener into a different world, a different atmosphere. You can capture that feeling in the faces of the band - the complete absorption which comes with the "moments of syncronicity" which guitarist Richard Green holds so dear. And if youíre lucky, you might just experience those moments too. You wonít realise what this feels like until it actually happens, but as soon as it does, youíll know. When life is nothing more than you, the band and the music, and everyone else at the gig has momentarily disappeared, thatís when it happens.
So why is it that Ultrasound donít seem to sell any records? This week, Everything Picture entered the charts at number 23. Not bad, but not brilliant, especially when compared with Suedeís self-titled debut which went straight into the charts in 1993 at number 1, and sold 100 000 copies in just 6 days. The comparisons to Suede crop up time and again. To me, itís because, like Suede before them, Ultrasound are creating something new, something exciting, something challenging. Musically, there are similarities as both bands enjoy virtuoso guitarists, with Richard even admitting to using ideas and riffs borrowed from Bernard Butler ("Who wouldnít? Heís always been a hero of mine")
Ultrasoundís singles fare even worse than the album. Admittedly, they have spoiled things in the past for themselves by making singles unchartable, but for recent single Floodlit World, they did everything by the book - 2 cds each consisting of 3 medium-length tracks, adverts in the NME, accompanying interviews and Single Of The Week on the Evening Session. Yet it only went in at number 38. Why is this? Surely it isnít the music, though some might claim to dislike Tinyís voice. There are problems with the record company, Nude records, who are refusing to make Ultrasound tour merchandise, put hidden tracks on vinyl records when the band clearly donít want them to be there, and, worst of all, editing their songs without their consent. When Richard discovered that the record company had edited the next single, Aire And Calder, at the video shoot for it, he went "fucking ballistic". As he says, "How dare they edit our song, our music that weíve spent hours and hours and hours creating till itís perfect?" It was then that he rang Saul Galpern (Nude Records boss) up and called him some names which arenít printable. Why do people try to mould Ultrasound into something different? It canít be done. Theyíre how they want to be, and nobody can change them.
However, the main reason for their lack of commercial success must be due to whatís built up in the press - the reviews and image created of the band. NME gave Everything Picture 6 out of 10, yet the words of the review felt like the album should be rewarded a much lower mark. I asked Richard about this and his response was: "To be honest, I wish theyíd had the guts to give it a 2 or a 3. Then maybe people would buy it on account of its apparent crapness. I know I would." And with that, heís summed it up. The NME just donít have guts any more. They build bands up, only to knock them down again 6 months later when theyíve found the next big thing/Gay Dad, or when they realise that there isnít going to be a big prog rock revival, that Ultrasound arenít going to appeal to everyone and that, hey, maybe they were wrong. But instead of admitting this, they give the band negative publicity, bad reviews and interviews which focus on drugs and sex, without listening to what the band really has to say so that they make the band look bad rather than the publication.
How does the band feel about their lack of commercial success? Tiny feels "mostly frustration, and a bit of anger", and is currently relying on the record company to pay his rent. Richard is homeless at the moment, although this is partly through choice ("I quite like the idea that wherever I am, thatís the important place, the place that I should be").
The question on my mind is, where will Ultrasound be in 2 yearsí time? Will they have persevered and succeeded, and be promoting that "difficult" second album, or will they have quietly faded into the background like so many other bands, while Tiny goes on to host arts programmes on Channel 4? I know that itís in their nature to keep going. Theyíve been playing in a band together, in various guises, for 10 years now, and theyíve experienced many failures. I believe that they must keep going and not give in. Itís still early days yet, and once they create a definite niche for themselves, theyíll be able to go on forever. Bands such as Dark Star seem set to follow in Ultrasoundís footsteps by writing long songs which will probably be labelled as either "prog" or "noisy", so theyíre not alone. Besides, theyíve got to keep going because they believe in their music, and some of us do too.
What I cannot bear is when
journalists focus on Tinyís size. In the last two issues of the NME, the
live review barely mentioned the music, rejecting it in favour of talking
about Tinyís weight, and the album review was accompanied by a cartoon
of Tiny eating drummer Andy. Yes, Tiny is fat. Yes, heís about 7 years
older than most of todayís rock stars. But so what? How does it affect
their music? What makes Ultrasound so special, so accessible, is that theyíre
all people like you and me. Having a conversation with Richard is as easy
as chatting to your best friend. And whatís more, he makes you feel special
and appreciated, more than just a fan. Getting to know Richard and the
rest of the band, even just a little bit, has made me appreciate their
music even more as I now realise that they are just ordinary people with
extraordinary talents. They live in our world, and because of this, you
realise just how romantic, poignant and inspiring they really are. At the
gig I went to a few days ago, Tiny said to the crowd "The plan is not to
be perfect. Itís to be yourself". What could be truer? So stay young, paint
an everything picture, live the impossible dream, suckle their love, listen
to the sentimental songs and remember that weíre in the same band. All