Pram In Session – 2018 – Past Daily Soundbooth
Pram in session tonight for Marc Riley at BBC 6 Music – recorded August 22nd of this year. Pram are a British experimental pop band, formed in the Balsall Heath/Moseley area of Birmingham, England in 1988.
Originally from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Rosie Cuckston, Matt Eaton and Andy Weir went to school together. In the late 1980s Cuckston and Eaton moved to Birmingham, where Cuckston met Shropshire-born Samantha “Sam” Owen by chance (at a local supermarket’s Singles Night). Weir had moved to London to study art, but kept in touch. In 1988, the four musicians began working together in Birmingham under the temporary name Hole (performing solely with vocals and a homemade theremin), changing their name to Pram some time later.
In the initial Pram lineup, Cuckston sang and played keyboards, Eaton played mostly guitar, Weir played drums, and Owen played bass guitar. A little later the group added a fifth member, Max Simpson, on keyboard and sampler. Over time, the various band members introduced their multi-instrumental skills to the project – in particular, Sam Owen and Matt Eaton shared bass guitar and six-string guitar roles (as well as adding to the keyboards) and Owen also performed on various woodwind and reed instruments as well as singing backing vocals.
Pram’s name (and their developing incorporation of unusual and toy instruments into their sound – including theremin, zither, toy piano, glass hammer, glockenspiel, and a Hawaiian bubble machine) emphasized their unearthly, childlike tone and presentation. Rosie Cuckston’s eerie vocals and lyrics dealt with depression, loneliness and the dark side of childhood. The band’s early recordings had a Krautrock-influenced blend of rhythmic guitar, keyboards and percussion which would eventually see them associated with the emerging post-rock genre, as would other elements of their work (although the band have rejected the label). The band was also inspired by multimedia and by memories of broadcast material: Sam Owen has commented that “in some ways film, animation, children’s TV, Play For Today and public information broadcasts all lodged their spirit into our songs as much as the music we listened to.”
In 2011, Matt Eaton recalled “there was never any discussion at that time what the group would sound like. We appropriated some of the working methods of Can and Faust… if a piece had a similarity/reminded someone of another work it was generally rejected. The emphasis was on new. We were inspired a lot by groups like The Slits, and especially The Raincoats. They invented their own ways of playing music – that’s a surefire way towards artistic fulfillment.” Other cited influences on the nascent Pram included Sonic Youth, The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, The Fall, Big Black, The Residents and Alice Coltrane as well as various dub and bhangra artists.
Pram’s first EP, Gash (engineered by Justin Broadrick) was self-released and sold by mail order and at gigs. While much harsher and more immediate than the band’s subsequent recordings, it presented them as an inventive and dedicated experimental band and got them early attention from record labels.
Pram’s growing reputation soon engaged the interest of Too Pure Records (then home to Stereolab, Mouse on Mars and PJ Harvey). Signing to Too Pure in 1993, Pram embarked on the release of several increasingly sophisticated recordings, the first of which was the Iron Lung EP.
Andy Weir left shortly after the release of the EP and was replaced as drummer by Daren Garratt, who would perform on all subsequent recordings until the dawn of the new millennium. This new line-up gelled instantly and would write, record and mix the band’s debut album, 1993’s The Stars Are So Big, The Earth Is So Small… Stay as You Are in time to meet their agreed, scheduled September release date. During the recording sessions, a trumpeter (credited only as “The Verdigris Horn”) also joined the band and played on several album tracks, including the quarter-hour “In Dreams You Too Can Fly”.
In April 1994, Pram released the Meshes EP, which was followed in September by their second album Helium. This record featured increasing use of the sampler. Pram’s subsequent recordings began to show a marked interest in exotica.
Although their third album, 1995’s Sargasso Sea, was awarded a rating of 0/10 when reviewed by the NME (which Pram took as a compliment), the band continued to gain momentum and popularity. Despite this, the band’s sales were insufficient to save their business relationship with Too Pure, and the label dropped the band in late 1995. Pram have acknowledged that, despite the end of the business relationship, the label had always respected their artistic integrity and let them be themselves.
In September 2007 Pram released their seventh studio album The Moving Frontier. It was named number 7 in Wire Magazine’s Top Ten records of the year. A remix EP based on various Moving Frontier tracks, Prisoner of the Seven Pines, followed in 2008 as did a full self-released collection of the band’s visual work (short films, music videos and animations), collated on a limited edition 90-minute DVD called Shadow Shows of the Phantascope.
Following the release of Prisoner of the Seven Pines and Shadow Shows of the Phantascope, Pram went into a period of dormancy for almost a decade while the various members concentrated on other projects.
Pram reconvened in 2016 as a lineup of Sam Owen, Matt Eaton, Max Simpson and Harry Dawes (minus founder member and singer Rosie Cuckston, who’d left to concentrate on writing and academia). Now working as a predominantly instrumental project with an increased interest in film and site-specific work, the band performed at the Imaginary Musics festival in Switzerland in May 2017 (playing an audio-visual “music for Kopfkino” set) and at a combined sound-art installation and concert (‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’) in Birmingham’s Martineau Gardens as part of the for-Wards project and festival for June 2017.
Once again signed to Domino Records, the band released a new album, Across the Meridian, on 20 July 2018 (with Sam Owen now handling vocals). The album was launched at a Club Integrale Midlands concert at the Edge, on 20th July 2018, followed by concerts at The Lexington, London, on 22nd July and the Soup Kitchen, Manchester, on 26th July (with Fliss Kitson of The Nightingales playing drums).
So now you know – all you have left to do is hit the play button and dive in for the next 10 minutes and 51 seconds.