Spacemen 3 - History - Break-up, Final Album, and Formation of Spiritualized (1989-91) - 1989


At the beginning of 1989 Spacemen 3 had been one of the "hottest indie band in England" (Erik Morse) and were gaining the attention of major US record labels. However, despite their success in winter 1988-89, their prospects were very different less than a year later. The personal and working relationship between Peter Kember and Jason Pierce, still the principal members of the band, would completely disintegrate, leading to Spacemen 3 to eventually disband.

Spacemen 3 used the short break between the UK and European tours in Spring 1989 as an opportunity to record a new single. Two songs were recorded, at VHF Studios: "Hypnotized", a new song by Pierce, who had recently acquired his own 4-track recorder; and "Just To See You Smile", by Kember. The songwriters spent a day's session on each other's song, although Kember's contribution to "Hypnotized" was not ultimately used. Kember accused Pierce of copying his sounds; he felt the flutter multi-tap reverb on "Hypnotized" was the same as he had employed on "Honey" and "Let Me Down Gently" on Playing With Fire.

Whilst Spacemen 3 were on tour in Europe in April–May 1989, manager Gerald Palmer prepared the new single for release. Without consulting Kember or Pierce, Palmer mastered the tracks, had the sleeve artwork designed, and selected "Hypnotized" for the A-side. When Kember found out he was furious; however, Palmer refused to postpone the pressing of the single. A resulting feud permanently damaged Kember and Palmer's working relationship.

When Spacemen 3 returned to England from their European tour at the end of May 1989, there was tension between Kember and Pierce. In June, Spacemen 3 played ten UK gigs. Initially, Pierce was making his own way to these dates, but when he instead used the tour van there was a bad atmosphere between Kember and Pierce.

The single "Hypnotized" was released on 3 July 1989. It was their "most anticipated release yet" (Erik Morse) and immediately charted inside the top 10 of the NME and Melody Maker indie charts. It was Sounds Single of the Week. After two weeks, Hypnotized reached No. 1 on the Melody Maker indie chart, and No. 2 on the NME indie chart (second only to The Stone Roses' "She Bangs The Drums"). It was voted No. 33 in John Peel's end of year Festive Fifty.

A third guitarist, Mark Refoy, had been recruited at the beginning of Summer 1989, to play on later live dates and work on the next album. Refoy had been a friend and keen fan of the band for several years, and had contributed to Kember's solo album. He was guitarist in the indie band 'The Tell-tale Hearts' who had disbanded in 1987. Refoy made his first live performance with Spacemen 3 at their Rugby 'homecoming' gig on 20 July.

On 23 July, Spacemen 3 played their biggest headlining gig at The Town & Country Club, London, a 2,000-capacity venue. On 22 August, they played a warm-up gig at Subterranea, London, for the Reading Festival, their first festival gig. Spacemen 3 played at the Reading Festival on 25 August 1989. This would transpire to be their last ever live performance.

At the beginning of September 1989, Spacemen 3 were about to undertake a substantial tour of the United States - despite disagreement between Kember and Pierce as to whether Kate Radley could accompany them. The tour schedule had been finalised and they were due to be in America for the rest of the year, playing about 50 gigs. The band had grievances with their manager Gerald Palmer, such as perceived lack of monies being received, and summoned him to a meeting at VHF Studios. The meeting, which was secretly recorded, involved intense arguments and accusations, and nothing was resolved. In an interview in 1991, Kember described Palmer as "the most devious guy I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet".

A few days later Kember and Pierce met Palmer again and sacked him. However, Palmer's partnership agreement with Kember and Pierce meant that he was contractually still effectively one third of Spacemen 3. Palmer had already incurred at least £10,000 in recording expenses for the next album. In response to his dismissal as manager, he decided to withdraw his commitment to finance the US tour. The imminent US tour was therefore cancelled at the eleventh hour. Tour posters had already been printed. The considerable time and money Bomp! Records' Greg Shaw had expended in preparing the tour was wasted.

The official explanation at the time - and that reported in the UK music press - was that the US tour had been cancelled because they had not been able to obtain work permits due to the drug convictions of band members. However, it has since transpired that this was not the case: work permits had been obtained for the band, albeit with difficulty.

Recording for Spacemen 3's fourth studio album, Recurring, had commenced at the beginning of August 1989, again at VHF Studios. According to Mark Refoy, Kember and Pierce rarely appeared at the studio at the same time and there was "quite a tense atmosphere" between them. When work recommenced after the Reading Festival, Kember and Pierce were recording separately from one another. Pierce contributed guitar parts to Kember's songs, but Kember did not play on any of Pierce's songs. When Kember heard Pierce's demos, he again renewed his claim that he was copying his sounds and effects, and accused Pierce's "Billy Whizz" of being a composition he had written several years prior. The two were now estranged and working completely separately. They agreed to have separate sides of the album for their own songs, all of which they had written and composed individually. The other three band members - Carruthers, Mattock and Refoy - were called in to contribute sessions when required.

In late September, Kember made a solo performance at a gig supporting The Telescopes. Kember and Pierce agreed to be in the studio together to record a cover of Mudhoney's "When Tomorrow Hits", for a prospective split single with Mudhoney. When Kember heard Mudhoney's version of "Revolution", with altered lyrics, he was offended and this collaborative Sub Pop release was called off however. The recording of "When Tomorrow Hits" was the last occasion Kember and Pierce would work together. A disconsolate Will Carruthers left the band at this point, fed up with the discord and lack of remuneration.

Recording for the album proceeded slowly and was still ongoing in Autumn 1989, by which point Kember had used two to three times the amount of studio time as Pierce. According to band members, Kember's behaviour was becoming increasingly obsessive and erratic. He was regularly missing booked studio slots. In late October, Kember's debut solo single, "Angel" was released. It received a lukewarm reception.

On 14 November 1989, the four remaining Spacemen 3 band members met to discuss finishing the album and arranging future live dates. The meeting was unproductive. Reportedly, Kember and Pierce both said little. Jonny Mattock told Kember he was difficult to work with. Mattock and Mark Refoy, both peeved, left the meeting prematurely and effectively resigned from Spacemen 3. In December, Gerald Palmer attempted to mediate between his business partners, Kember and Pierce, meeting them individually because Pierce reportedly refused contact with Kember.

Read more about this topic:  Spacemen 3, History, Break-up, Final Album, and Formation of Spiritualized (1989-91)

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