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COPING SAW was an extraordinary band. The drummer (Matt Robson, who today records electronic stuff as Random Number and plays drums in a bewildering array of bands) could at the time play just well enough to hold the music together while coming up with parts that were exciting precisely because no “proper” drummer would have thought of them in a lifetime. The bass and keyboard players, Simone Ivatts and David Lazonby… they dug Repetition. Both were capable of much more, but nothing made them happier than to play the same part remorselessly through an entire song. They were on to a good thing. I contributed messy guitar. It was fun to be free of frontman duties and to play through whatever shitty transistor amp was provided instead of the boorish Marshall I was using for Bear then.
Karren Ablaze! was the architect and singer. Although not even vaguely competent on any instrument, Karren knew her way around the internal workings of a beat combo, and she knew what she liked. Sometimes she’d come back with a thirty-second sliver of the tape of the previous week’s practice and say – that’s the song! And she’d be right. Addictionary is one of those. In its finished form it’s a polite little pop tune, by Coping Saw’s standards, but Karren found a snatch (the snatch?) of that bassline buried under a heap of overloaded condenser mic racket, and from it we grew the song. Others – Basket Owl, Futility and For L spring to mind – were literally “composed to tape”: what you hear on the record is the sound of the song coming into existence, one take, words and all (OK, Sim and I conspired on a couple of chord changes in the latter). There’s a lot of respect due, I think, to a band of non-musicians unafraid to jump in at the deep end like that, and to have the result come out not as jazzcock wankery but a thing with a passing resemblance to a pop song is pleasing and funny.
I’m not sure whether Coping Saw ended ignominiously or gloriously. Following our colourful adventures on the main stage at Benicassim (I’ll tell you about this another time) we set out on a two week tour of France. Unfortunately Karren quit the band and sailed home to England after the third date (I’ll allow the length of my tether as one cause of this). We finished the tour with Simone, new keyboard player Jim Taylor and I doing our best to sing Karren’s parts. They were good times. Pulling together in the face of adversity is always a winner. My favourite story from that tour was the night we played in a small town in the west called Périgueux. It was about ten days in, so our nerves were suitably fried. We’d dropped out of a long day in hyperspace to find ourselves driving for what seemed like hours through thick forest with no sign of human settlement, increasingly convinced we’d taken a wrong turn that was going to cost us our lives at the paws of carnivorous Gallic trolls. Finally we entered the outskirts of the town, to be greeted by an enormous sign that read DON DU SANG. I swear that everybody in the van screamed in unison.
But a Karrenless Coping Saw was no Coping Saw at all. It’s a shame that the new songs we were playing live before Karren split were never recorded, because they were very good, especially the one that began “I’ve got this thing about Spain…” in a rising cloud of mariachi trumpet and minor sevenths.