THRASHING DOVES – Just Some Trouble
Ken Foreman and his younger brother Brian had been annoying each other in a variety of groups together since their early teens in the leafy South-East London suburb of Orpington, Kent. Post-punk outfit The Climb was no exception, and achieved a degree of attention signed to independent Pinnacle Records in 1981. With locals Ian Button (bass) and Allan Fielder (drums) they toured all over the UK, opening shows for Pretenders and Boomtown Rats. When Allan jumped ship to one of the headliners, Dennis Greaves’ anthemic soul-boys The Truth, it was time for a rethink.
In the summer of 1984, with the talented young Richard Newman on drums and Hari Sajjan on bass, Ken and Brian began to pool their songwriting efforts. Ian switched to an amplified twelve-string guitar, Brian concentrating on the increasingly prominent synthesisers and sequencers. From a Kerouac poem with the image of captive birds in the back of a chinese grocery, Thrashing Doves was born.
Richard left soon after, replaced out of necessity by a Drumtraks rhythm box. In March 1985 Kevin Sargent joined on percussion. A series of low-key headliners and supports around the UK rapidly got them noticed for melodic songwriting and confident performance.
After a rammed, sweaty headliner at London’s Marquee Club in June 1985, and despite the band having recorded no demos, it seemed every major label was after them. There was something creative and bracing in their live sound which combined jangling Stones-style guitars with pounding programmed rhythms. Having Dave Hill (Pretenders) managing them can’t have hurt either.
Rejecting ludicrously-inflated rival bids they were signed to the independently owned A&M Records in October 1985, attracted by better terms, more creative control and importantly the guarantee of two albums.
In the absence of demos to play any potential producer, the band went into Rockfield Studios in Monmouth for two weeks that November to record songs with their live-sound engineer and tour manager Gary Walder. These were sufficient to attract the attention of producers Chris Thomas (Sex Pistols/Roxy Music) and Jimmy Iovine (Lone Justice/Patti Smith). The band travelled to the US in spring 1986 to record two songs with Iovine at Rumbo Recorders in the San Fernando Valley, and others with engineers Thom Panunzio and Bruce Lampcov in LA and in New York.
The first single Matchstick Flotilla was released in 1986 and its clever mix of styles – slide guitar, drum machine, marimbas and glam rock, an ironic lyric about the plight of refugees and a mix by Arthur Baker – got decent notices but little airplay. A dispute between the Musicians’ Union and the UK’s broadcasters the week of release forced an embargo on playing pop videos, particularly black-and-white ones, which further affected its chances.
Later the same year, Biba’s Basement, one of the Jimmy Iovine productions, with its apparent sympathy for anti-consumerist terror groups, also somehow failed to make radio playlists.
No little irony then that, following the clearly anti-Thatcher lyric of the second single, its sequel Beautiful Imbalance recorded in Copenhagen with Chris Thomas had the dubious distinction of being voted favourite by the Prime Minister herself on the Saturday Superstore children’s programme in 1987. With the UK riven by the recent Miners’ Strike and highly divisive Government policies, it did little to help perception of the band. A sniffy inky music press, which often preferred to review the band’s recording contract rather than their music, may well have seen this as the final nail in credibility’s coffin.
Meanwhile, the band continued to tour, combining support slots with Big Audio Dynamite, The Primitives, Love & Rockets and even the mighty Ramones, with those for pop acts – Paul Young, Fergal Sharkey, Julian Lennon and The Bangles – and received surprisingly well by both audiences.
The band had brought in various hired hands to supplement the rhythm section during the recording of Bedrock Vice; Hari Sajjan had left the band just before the release of Beautiful Imbalance. Justin Hildreth (drums) and Gail Ann Dorsey (bass/vocals) joined them for an extensive European tour that had them opening for Alison Moyet.
A coast-to-coast tour of the US and Canada started in Portland, Maine in Spring 1987 and gained the band both acclaim and notoriety. While college radio was open to their melodic, eclectic sound, the band’s lyrical content alerted them to the recently established Parents Music Resource Center; they quickly found their album blacklisted and advisory-stickered. Despite packed houses in many cities, and a storming gig at the Roxy in Hollywood that had John Hiatt and Ry Cooder’s Little Village opening for them, the tour came to an abrupt and premature end when Ken Foreman was rushed to hospital in Oakland suffering from crippling kidney stones.
In the summer and autumn of 1987, the second album Trouble in the Home was recorded in London with Gavin MacKillop (Shriekback/The La’s) and mixed by Hugh Padgham. The band was moving away from the programmed synths and drum machine towards more traditional instrumentation. Gail Ann Dorsey remained on bass, with James Eller performing on some tracks and David Palmer (ABC) was brought in on drums.
In fact, it was David Palmer who arrived at a Townhouse Studio 2 tracking session one afternoon after a night’s heavy clubbing to announce: “You should get down to Shoom. There are two thousand kids going ape-shit to Jesus on the Payroll.” Young DJs Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling had alighted upon a couple of the band’s neglected B sides; one a mix of Jesus on the Payroll with a distinctive piano riff, the other a cover of the Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil recorded live at the Marquee Club. Both combined looped beats with guitars, and formed part of what became a loose Balearic Beat scene, setting the template later adopted by a raft of bands in the early 90s such as Happy Mondays and Primal Scream.
Meanwhile, the band toured the UK and Spain with James Eller on bass, with three singles released from the album.
After a period of tumultuous change, leaving A&M, yet another change of management and some tricky financial problems, the band signed to Elektra Records in New York in 1989 as The Doves. Rhythms tracks for Affinity were laid down at RAK in London and overdubs at New York’s Battery and Right Track with Gail Dorsey again on bass and Steve Creese on drums, Tommy Lipuma (Miles Davis) producing. Angie Brown was brought into the band to sing Beaten Up In Love Again and provide a vocal counterpoint to Ken, who travelled to Minneapolis to oversee the mixing with David Z at Prince’s Paisley Park.
Beaten Up In Love Again gained them many fans via extensive radio play, and the album received renewed press acclaim. Steve Creese and bassist Claire Kenny (Aztec Camera) joined them on UK tours supporting Level 42 and later Duran Duran, attempting to position them among the pop mainstream and won them new fans among the more perceptive.
Unfortunately, the relationship with Elektra didn’t last more than one album, but the band continued to persevere. As Angie’s powerful, soulful voice and commanding stage performances demanded a greater role, a complete name change was felt necessary. As Ramona 55 they released a 12-inch EP on their own label, Electric Wonderland, featuring the new composition Crutch and a storming version of Prince song, The Cross, (1992).
This and the continuing success of live performances led to a new album deal being signed with EastWest Records. A self-produced album was recorded and mixed in London but although a single More Than I Love You (1994) was very favourably received, due to corporate upheaval at the record company the album never saw the light of day.
And that brings us to the end of this potted history of Thrashing Doves, The Doves and Ramona 55. In their various guises they never failed to live up to their potential, on stage or in the studio. Somehow – and who could say why? – this never translated into the sales success it truly deserved.
Subsequently, Ken and Brian Foreman continued with the independent Electric Wonderland Productions and set up their own studio in West London. Amongst other things, they wrote and produced the album, Love Affair for Amii ‘Knock On Wood’ Stewart, produced an old Ramona 55 song, Precious Stones, for a Jan Cyrka/Carol Decker single and had their music featured in numerous movies and TV advertising campaigns. Despite some successes, including Randy Crawford earning them a Gold Disc for her performance of their song When I Get Over You, Electric Wonderland Productions came to an end in 2004.
Ken Foreman and Ian Button now lecture and mentor variously in Music Production and Songwriting in Southeast England. Ian is still busy musically, having played guitar for Death in Vegas and Dot Allison, producing other artists and releasing work as Papernut Cambridge on his own label. Kevin Sargent is a composer for film and television, with BAFTA and Ivor Novello Award nominations among his credits including The Hour and The Wrong Mans. Brian Foreman is currently taking a break from music business activities.