The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


The Fates
Furia (Reissue) Rob St John , July 18th, 2014 18:56

1985 was a year of transition for Una Baines. Her mother, Bridget, was diagnosed with cancer, her band, Blue Orchids, split up and as Baines puts it, "amongst other things, Halley's comet was making its once every 75 year appearance". Amidst all this change, Baines recorded the Furia LP as The Fates, a strange and beautiful record which barely made an impression on release, yet which has endured in the hands of enthusiasts and is now being re-released through Finders Keepers's Bird imprint.

Blue Orchids, who Baines had formed in 1979 with Martin Bramah after both left The Fall, disbanded following a couple of well received singles and an album on Rough Trade. Originally named by John Cooper Clarke as 'The Blessed Orchids', their 1981 album The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain) perhaps gave an indication of what was to come with The Fates: woozy post-punk frayed at the edges by a wyrd undercurrent woven by Baines's wandering Casio-tones.

And echoes there, too, of Mark E Smith's shamanic presence - perhaps not surprising given that Baines and Bramah were key members of the first Fall lineups between 1976 and '78. Indeed, according to Dave Simpson's book The Fallen, Smith encouraged Baines's minimal keyboard style when they were in a relationship as teenagers and during the early days of The Fall. You can hear it on The Fall's 'Repetition' and again on Blue Orchids's 1980 Peel Session: keyboard lines that pitch up somewhere between The Seeds' primitive minimalism and a wandering (Casio preset) wurlitzer. Baines' time in The Fall ended in 1978, as she suffered a number of nervous breakdowns, which she attributes to her and Smith, "wanting to break down every barrier. Musical. Personal. Mental", a highly charged period in which the effects of drugs and stress led to Baines being hospitalised.

Around 1980, Nico moved to Manchester, living in squats in the (at this point unnamed and ungentrified) Northern Quarter, where she cast a spectral presence over a generation of Mancunian bands under her influence. Soon after, The Blue Orchids became Nico's backing band, as Baines describes in Furia's liner notes, "This was the stuff that dreams / nightmares are made of. I had worshipped Nico for many years (this was my idolatrous period). Back when I lived at home when I was 16, Mark [E Smith] had bought me a piano and I had taught myself loads of Nico songs on it. I was very surreal to be working with her".

After two European tours (there's a recording of 'Venus' from Rotterdam in 1982 here) with Nico, Bramagh and Baines parted company with the singer. As a teenager Baines had come across Robert Graves' 1948 book The White Goddess, which proposes Goddess worship as an important proto-religion, drawing particularly heavily from Celtic mythology for evidence. Graves suggested that the male-orientated nature of modern religion, and the sublimation of the "White Goddess" - who, he argues, lies at the root of all goddess figures in various European mythologies - is a source of the modern world's inequality and violence. Graves' idea of the "White Goddess" has been largely discredited by historians and anthropologists due to shaky evidence, yet there's certainly something engaging and empowering about his work. The ideas put forward by the "White Goddess" were to become a central inspiration for Baines in bringing The Fates together.

The Fates are described in Roman (as Parcae), Greek (as Moirai) and Norse (as Norns) mythology as three women who control and 'weave the threads' of fate in the world. In later Anglo-Saxon culture, the word 'wyrd' described similar ideas of fate and destiny. It's interesting perhaps, in this context, how you can trace lines from Furia's sound and aesthetic through to the new wyrd folk revival of the early 2000s. More broadly, it was within this context of goddess worship - with Nico as strong female icon weaving dense lyrical imagery and strong harmonium lines, and with Baines finding inspiration in a feminist deep ecology of a pagan past - that The Fates' only record, Furia, was birthed.

Recorded in mid-1985 on a tiny budget in a studio belonging to fellow original Fall member Tony Friel, Furia was scheduled for release on All Hallow's Eve that year, but was delayed until February 1986, released through Baines's own Taboo Records label (catalogue number: HAG1). The Fates' members were drawn from Baines's all women band Beyond The Glass, alongside Bramah on guitar, drummer Pawlette Storey, flautist Charlotte Bill (who also had a brief spell in The Fall) and Friel's partner Lynne on vocals, who as Baines recalls "were 'paid' in food and tea!". They never played live.

After a couple of favourable reviews in NME and Sounds, the record - and The Fates - largely folded from view: a forgotten artifact that tied together a number of threads of Mancunian musical history. Finders Keepers are now re-releasing Furia through their Bird imprint, following collaborations between Baines and David Chatton Barker (founder of Folklore Tapes) to bring this remarkably prescient and weirdly beautiful record back out into the light.

Furia whirrs into life with the ritualistic rattle and strum of 'Ceaseless Effort', and hand drums skitter and a flute flits across 'Bridget Of Ireland', a song written for Baines's dying mother, where: "your room is a cauldron of light, your love is the sun shining bright'. Mark E Smith reckoned that Furia sounded like the Third Ear Band, and whilst Furia is more political and primal, and less expansive than those avant-folk experimentalists, you can perhaps see a parallel.

Furia's first side is described by Baines as "waxing", a relatively conventional set of songs, followed by a "waning" second half where the music becomes increasingly free. Two songs on the waxing side could be pop hits in a not-too-distant universe. 'Sheila' struts to a loping Velvets backbeat as Baines sings "I'm just a woman who wants to be free, I can't see a future in your fantasy" and on 'No Romance' the massed vocals and keyboard lines are carefree and celebratory.

With perhaps a slight nod to the start of Baines's musical career, Furia begins its waxing phase with repetition. The line "we lie with the night, and rise like graceful lovers in the silhouette of dawn" becomes chant-like on 'Strength I', repeated over strummed guitars and hand percussion which clatters somewhere between the campfire and the dubplate. The tone of the record is at once cleansed and clouded by 'Holy Hymn''s ceremonial synthesised dirge and the sinister soundscapes and spoken incantations of 'Who Am I' and 'Ritual'. Here, Baines challenges misogyny and the persecution of women (the Pendle Witches are "thanked" in the liner notes) and celebrates a goddess, who she describes, "beats in my heart is the wild [with] untamed female energy, the source of creativity". Graceful lovers in the silhouette of dawn reprise in Furia's final track 'Strength II' where an unaccompanied set of voices repeat the lines as though summoning first light, a little uncertain at first, then full of strength and harmony.

In a way, it's hard to write about this record without giving more space to its rich backstory than the songs themselves. That said, Furia is a strong, strange record that stands up on its own, and that I've listened to almost constantly since I was sent a review copy a few months ago. It has soundtracked dark walks home across the countryside and stifling motorway drives with the windows wide open, and remained consistently a creative, challenging and memorable companion (although I did get some odd looks in a traffic jam when some of the more avant-bard moments were blaring out). Despite the tangled web of musical histories and connections that it is caught in, Furia has a distinct voice and identity of its own: in turn playful, political and experimental. It's highly recommended.