PAULINE MURRAY – PENETRATION: RESOLUTION
Penetration release their first studio album, ‘Resolution’, in a staggering 36 years, over a decade after founding members Pauline Murray and Robert Blamire reformed the band. The album brings with it original Buzzcocks and The Invisible Girls’ drummer John Maher and a guest track contribution from original Penetration guitarist Fred Purser. Arguably one of punk’s strongest female singers, Pauline Murray talks about the band’s third studio album, her fears about making it and the age of the machine.
You’ve recently released your first studio album, ‘Resolution’, in 36 years…
Yes it’s a very long time when you say it like that!
…What took you so long?
The band split up in 1979 after two albums and I did Pauline Murray and The Invisible girls with Martin Hannett, then quit music altogether because I got really sick of it.
The band reformed in 2001-2 to do a few gigs for about 10 years and do all the old stuff. We did a couple of 7″ singles about 4 years ago and got those out ourselves. I didn’t really want to do an album: I thought it was a really tall order. But Rob [Blamire] said, “It’s really boring doing all of these old songs. If we want to move forward we should make an album.” Rob got all the ideas together and produced it. We asked John Maher, who we’ve worked with before on The Invisible Girls’ album [Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls], to do the drums and Vaughan Oliver to do the cover sleeve. [Vaughan]’s an old school friend of ours – I was in the same art class when I was 16 – and he’s done all the 4AD covers and is very highly regarded.
I didn’t even want to do the album – I was frightened! How am I going to get into that headspace? What is Penetration? How are we going to surpass what we’ve done…how are we going to take it forward? How are we going to come up with a good album? I had to have faith and it’s a funny old thing…I just kept thinking to myself, “You can do it.” I had to have great faith so I could come up with good lyrics and tunes that I could sing. It was a brave thing to do.
How much did PledgeMusic contribute to bringing the record out?
Absolutely, 100% – we couldn’t have done it otherwise. [Rob] thought it would be a good idea to do it through Pledge[Music]. I wasn’t too keen on that because of fans having to put the money up and if you don’t like it you’ve got to release it. Anyway, we pressed the Pledge[Music] button, the counter went round and I thought, “My God! We’ve got to do this now.” I knew there was no way out so got my head into it. There was only about four songs written – three of them had been on previous singles and another one we hadn’t finished. So in the main we had to write as well.
How did John Maher get involved?
A couple of years ago someone approached us about putting The Invisible Girls together so Rob had already been in touch with John last year. But that all fell through. Rob said, “We’re going to do a new Penetration album. Will you come and do it?” And [John] took a great leap of faith. He was having to do drumming to vague ideas we were putting together as we went along. It’s turned out absolutely remarkable considering the way it wasn’t all worked out and written. It’s been very organic. Rob produced it, he knew certain people and steered it in a certain direction but at the same time it was organic in the way it came together. But it wasn’t an accident the way it was set up. [John’s] a great drummer and he’s a different type to the one we had originally. We’ve all added something to that album – it’s absolute teamwork. The whole thing was made in Newcastle upon tyne – it was ours until we let it go.
Was it a short time you had to do the recordings in?
Absolutely. We pressed the Pledge[Music] button on the last weekend of January . We finished the album on 22 June , but we weren’t doing it solid. We would get John down from his Isle of Harris retreat and do a weekend…maybe get three drum tracks done. Then he would come down a few weeks later and we’d get another three done and we’d do that another four or five times. We’ve got a studio so we started working on the guitars and went to Fred [Purser], who was an original in the band.
What was Fred’s involvement in recording and mixing and how did he get involved in the first place?
We tried to retain links with the past and Fred has a recording studio which he’s had for 25 years near where we live. Rob wanted to keep it authentic to what the band is about, but we couldn’t remember what we did – we couldn’t remember recording our first two albums! Fred knew how the guitars were recorded so he was brought in to keep it authentic. He wasn’t helping with guitar parts: the main help was to set the bar for the guitar sounds. We went to his studio and told him what we wanted and then went back to ours and did all the guitar. And right at the end we asked Fred if he could put a guitar [solo] on the track ‘Beat Goes On’. So it all links in: everything’s circular but takes it forward.
The sound of the album is a lot different to your early albums…more mellow and reflective whereas you had a lot of punch in the first two. How much were you making a link with those or were you using a fresh slate?
We were very young when we did the first two albums and inexperienced. Now we’ve moved on, grown up and I’ve done other musical things. The Invisible Girls is a lot more mellow than Penetration and this one is almost like Penetration’s third album before The Invisible Girls, although there’s one song with a keyboard on it. The drums are very different to our original drummer but it’s John Maher, who was an original person back in the day, so he’s got that vibe from that time.
We wanted to keep the two-guitar effect, so we used the same techniques where you’ve got one guitar coming out of one speaker. And the guitarists – Paul [Harvey]’s more melodic; Steve [Wallace]’s a little heavier like Fred. But that’s how we are now. I got the guitarists to write because when I write it’s a different result: my own songs are different to Penetration. Some of them are mine, like ‘Just Drifting’ and the intro. ‘Guilty’ and ‘The Feeling’ are much more poppy. But some of my others weren’t really fitting with the band, so we had the band write.
What other songs were you thinking of putting in?
At the end of last year I started doing solo acoustic which I’ve never done before…totally out of my comfort zone. I have quite a few songs of that written but which aren’t recorded. When I tried to put one of those into Penetration it didn’t work. So we got the guitarists writing.
Why did you choose to put singles in the album?
We did them as 7″ singles and two of them I’d written and one I’d written with Steve. They’re good songs and we did decent single versions of them but we felt like they would disappear if we didn’t take them with us…that they would just disappear forever because those singles are out of print, they’re very limited and we felt they were good songs we’d done live a lot. We felt like we wanted to bring them with us but improve upon them.
You didn’t put them in because you were worried you might lose a bit of the fan base? Was it a slight insecurity on that part…you weren’t sure how they’d receive the music?
We didn’t have an album written; it gave us something to fall back on. We did them live a lot, people liked them and they were a backbone to launch off new ones.
With the new tracks, was there anything that inspired you when you wrote those?
We had some ideas – we wanted it to sound like a proper album. We didn’t want it to be ‘Track 1’ and ‘Track 3’. We wanted people to listen to it as an album. I wanted to start with an instrumental and end with that, mainly for the live show. Having been away for 36 years, I didn’t want to launch straight into the singing. I wanted it to have a little mystery to it before it started.
And the last track…you did the spoken word with the instrumental backing?
We did want something that was an outro; we didn’t just want to end it. That was just from messing about. And then Rob edited it up and we had this piece of music. I didn’t know what I was going to do on that and it was the last song to do and mix…and I just had this idea about that story ‘The Machine Stops’, which I’d referenced back in the early days. We had a song called ‘Duty Free Technology’ which was one of the very first songs we wrote and it referenced that short story. Suddenly that jumped into my head and it almost completed the circle. I did it in one take and it just seemed to fit. That was the last track.
What was the symbolism behind that story…was there some kind of message?
It was written in 1909 by E.M. Forster and it talks about how people are living underground in cell-like structures where they’re on their own and everything gets done for them – press a button and it gives you food; press a button and the music comes on. It talks about speaking to your son who lives on the other side of the world, referencing Skype and modern devices. And it always just struck me – I loved it. When I read it as an 18-year-old, who would have known you would be relying on the machine like we do. So it was very, very visionary to be written all that time ago. It seemed to fit with the music.
Do you think it completed the album or did it leave it open?
It was a good end to the album because if you just left it with a singing song it was a bit ordinary and that’s different; more dramatic. It can leave it open to anything.
Did you feel you were trying to redeem yourselves after the poor reception of ‘Coming Up For Air’?
Nah, it didn’t relate to those albums. That was a long, long time ago. But we had to do it now; we had to do it in 2015. When we did those [early] albums there was a lot going on in music – it was very exciting. But in 2015 it’s not that exciting: there’s a lot of stagnant air about the place and it’s difficult to be creative, to think about what you want to say. You’re not going to say it like you said it in your youth.
Are you planning on releasing any further singles?
We weren’t planning on it but when we did the Pledge[Music] campaign we did record Buzzcocks’ ‘I Don’t Mind’ because John played on it, so knew the drum track. We just added the guitars and stuck more or less to the original. But we did it as a giveaway to the people who had pledged so it’s not available. We’re thinking of putting that out and some more covers. But we put out ‘Beat Goes On’, which is really catchy. People have said they really like that.
Have you had a good reception on the tour so far?
Really positive. The fans have said that they really love it and that’s the main thing: if we’d come up with a terrible album, people would tell you. We’ve had great reviews. We did a show [in Whitley Bay] where we did the whole album from top to bottom and then did another set of old stuff. The bottom line is we’re happy with it, because you’ve got to be happy with it yourself…and if you’re happy with it, it doesn’t matter what anyone says – you’ve got more armour. I think we’ve personally achieved a great thing just to make a Penetration album and come out of it in a positive manner.
Penetration’s third studio album, ‘Resolution’, is available now on CD, vinyl and as a digital download and singles ‘Beat Goes On’ and ‘Just Drifting’ are available as digital downloads on Polestar records.
Photos © as watermarked or credited.
© Ayisha Khan.