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I'll always see the third line-up of myself, Jim Taylor and Jamie Wood (with much help from Emma Smith and Anna Hawkins) as the 'true' Bear, but the biz lost interest after the first Bear split, and I know that there are those who regard Disneytime (recorded with Bear 2: Duncan Wheat and Ross Orton) as our finest hour. The first Bear was doomed from the outset: Sally Crewe and I both had strong and different ideas about what we wanted to do. Having said which, I do have a grudging respect for any act that chooses to introduce itself to the world via a ten and half minute prog dirge.
Perhaps my view of the final, and by far the longest-enduring, Bear line-up as the real McCoy is coloured by the fact that I felt Duncan and Ross only really signed up at the prospect of some major-label payola. At the time our UK label, Ché, was in the pocket of Warners, and for a while it seemed as if Seymour Stein was going to sign us to Sire for the rest of the world. Given that this was the man who had signed Throwing Muses and Talking Heads, along with numerous other total genius one-offs, I'll cheerfully own up to having been gagging to get my gums around the corporate member myself. But Stein lost interest after a particularly stodgy performance upstairs at some pub in Camden Town, and Ross and Duncan lost interest shortly thereafter. In retrospect, this was a good thing. Not to denigrate the musical contribution of Duncan and Ross, both of whom came up with some great parts, but it didn't quite feel like a band.
I'm pretty sure that the majority of the few people who have an opinion would rate Schadenfreude as the weakest of the Bear albums, but I like its sprawling attempt to shoehorn a little bit of everything onto one CD. True, the mix is poor, and its shortcomings are exacerbated by an appalling mastering job. Check – if you’ve already cut your toenails and watched some magenta paint dry – the difference between the 7" and album versions of Zero One to Control: hard to believe these originate from the same recording. But the album’s full of little moments. Golf out of Smokers doesn't like it because songs like Counting Chickens and Taxi For Lester Bangs date themselves by ranting at the Britpop hegemony that, by 1997, had hardened into a moribund dadrock consensus wherein something like Kula Shaker could, however briefly, be taken seriously. I can see his point, but… Counting Chickens - OK, it's full of nasty post-ironic chord sequences, but it’s got a Jane Siberry sample. And Cockney Daleks. And a solo for trumpet and flute. What's not to like? Oh, sod it. Golf’s right. Pastiche is for losers. My favourite moment on Schadenfreude is the vocal that Anna pulls out – in one take – towards the end of Sally-James. I don't think even she knew she had it in her. This juxtaposed with Tom Baker's moving eulogy for the human race from (Dr Who and) The Ark in Space gets me every time. It’s very far from pastiche.
I know that I wrote The Shortest Day as an attempt to use all of the interesting sounds from a couple of newly-acquired toy Casio keyboards in one half-hour instrumental piece. I have no idea why. There was a kind of etiolated fun to be had in playing it live, because each of us had to follow a list of instructions for how to change the noise we were making over the time (example: 2'35" - move 'resonance' fader to 6). God, it was fun. We didn't have a clock that would both display the time in minutes and seconds and be large enough for us all to see, so we used a TV and VCR, with the video timer displayed on screen. Little did the beard-stroking Wire reader who watched us playing support slots to the likes of Broadcast and Black Box Recorder know that while we were dispensing our art music we were watching videos of Bagpuss and the Clangers. I recently sent a copy of this to a man at my local university who specialises in whatever you’d like to call this kind of thing. He seemed to like it, although I didn't really understand what he had to say about it. I like the first bit, with the telephone (which the music don pointed out is a Penguin Café Orchestra rip) and the last bit, with the bowed bass and Jim (on trumpet) valiantly trying to keep up with the little Casio's 'Fanfare' setting, but some of what's in between is pretty fucking enervating. Especially the section that’s almost identical to the “abstract” section of Monkey Bee by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett.
I'd like to think that Taking Money From Kids wouldn't be out of place in the still eclectic climate of the late Noughties. There's no filler on any Bear album – gentle reader, how could you even think it? - but , erm, TMFK is especially light on filler. And Anthony Chapman's production is perfect: clear and uncomplicated despite there being plenty of cake-layering. If a marketing consultancy took a random sample of music consumers, waterboarded them for a month and then squatted over their child with a hammer, most of them would pick this as their favourite Bear album. Which is reassuring.
Bear ground to a halt in mid-2002. We had recorded backing tracks and guide vocals for a bunch of new songs, but good as some of these might have been if we'd finished them, it’s obvious in retrospect that it wasn't really happening. I like our version of First We Take Manhattan – high and low as a kite on the worst girl trouble ever and the appalling, compelling theatre of 9/11, that song meant so many different things to me when I sang it out into the void that was early 2002 from where I was standing.