Back in 1985 I used to spend a bit of time hanging out in a bar where my friend Drew worked.
The bar owner used to let us play whatever we wanted if the bar was quiet and one day Drew brought in a 12" single called "Two Rivers" by a band I'd never heard of before called The Adventures. I will never forget hearing this song for the first time over the bar's PA system - the pounding bass, strong vocals and more than anything the distinctly appealing melody struck me almost immediately.
I headed down to our local record shop and picked up the Adventures' newly released album entitled "Theodore and Friends" and Drew and I felt utterly certain we had discovered the next big thing in music.
Of course I am fully aware that nearly everyone reading this will wonder "who on earth were the Adventures?", proof that Drew and I were clearly out of touch with what was going to be the next big thing in music on this occasion.
However since then I have always had a copy of "Theodore and Friends" - in fact the very first item I ever bought on eBay was a copy of the CD back in 2000, tracking down an out of print copy in New York and paying a pretty penny for it too, such is my affection for this album, and for the Adventures in general - a band who sadly never reached their potential.
At the heart of the Adventures were Pat Gribben and Terry Sharpe. Gribben and Sharpe were Belfast boys who had been members of a band called the Starjets who had been Muff Winwood's first signing when he took up his tenure as head of A&R at Epic records. Sadly the Starjets' 1979 debut album flopped leading to the band being dropped, but Gribben and Sharpe were undeterred and decided to continue working together.
Pat Gribben's wife, Eileen, joined as an additional vocalist, along with Spud Murphy on guitar, Tony Ayre on bass and Pat Crowder on drums. Pat Gribben was the band's principal songwriter and guitarist, with Sharpe the lead singer.
The band signed to Chrysalis, and for pop trivia fans amongst you, they, along with Paul Hardcastle, were the first acts signed to Simon Fuller's 19 Management.
The band only ever had one UK hit single, the epic "Broken Land" in 1987, which reached number 20 - but "Theodore and Friends" predates this by two years.
~~Theodore and Friends~~
This is one of those albums I will always love, even though having recently purchased a reissued CD copy (the one I am reviewing) I can see that when it's good, it's very, very good, and when it's not it's mediocre.
The reissued copy on Lemon Recordings has the original ten tracks from 1985, along with seven bonus tracks. The original album artwork is included along with an interview with Pat Gribben about how the Adventures came about and his feelings on the album. Sadly the process of copying over the original artwork hasn't been carried out too well, leading to grainy images which were crystal clear on the original release.
The sleeve notes also include the original picture sleeves for debut single "Another Silent Day" and, in what was a pure blast from the past for me, the 12" sleeve for "Two Rivers" - these are crystal clear leading me to wonder what happened to the original album artwork. Another issue I have is on the songwriting credits - with Pat Gribben inexplicably and dare I say unforgiveably referred to as Pat Cribben.
The sound of the Adventures was always a guitar and rhythm led sound, leading to quite epic and at times almost spiritual music. I often felt that Deacon Blue filched a lot of their ideas from the Adventures, but on this offering you can also hear the influences of bands such as Tears for Fears and the Fixx - a synth pop band I loved in the early 80s who didn't do much in their home country but managed to break America through MTV and poncey videos.
Listening to this album today much of the sound is very much of the era - but despite the fact much of this is "big music" (to quote the Waterboys) it is refreshingly free of much of the pomposity that was starting to creep into music around this time.
The album opens with "Always" which starts with a frantic guitar playing before the rhythm section kicks in. The frantic pace continues with almost choral backing vocals throughout to counterpoint against Sharpe's vocals. Sharpe doesn't have the most distinctive of voices but he can carry a song well especially in his upper register. He conveys a song which references faith and religion as analogies to love beautifully.
The strongest track on this album is "Feel the Raindrops". I might have discovered the Adventures through "Two Rivers", but it is "Feel the Raindrops" which is their finest work.
This song once again is driven by guitar and thundering drumbeats, and Sharpe sings incredibly well here. The bridge is an absolute vocal crescendo of almost choral proportions as the song works it's way to a natural conclusion. Eileen Gribben's vocals are outstanding on this song - she works beautifully with Sharpe.
I mentioned that I first heard the Adventures' music playing over a loud PA in a rather quiet bar and to this day I cannot listen to their music quietly - there is something about the sound of their songs which is grandiose without being bombastic, which just requires you to turn up the volume, and "Feel the Raindrops" is a song best appreciated when it's being played loud.
Other single releases "Send my Heart" and "Two Rivers" are not quite on the same level of quality as "Feel the Raindrops", but they come pretty close. "Send my Heart" is a lyrical piece of work despite the overall sound of pumping bassline, heavy drumming and exquisite guitar giving it a heavier overall sound, and "Two Rivers" is just a wonderfully melodic pop song - once again the arrangement, particularly on the backing vocals, gives that choral, almost ecclesiastical, sound.
Ironically enough the first single released from the album is arguably the weakest. "Another Silent Day" starts with a percussion and vocal only before the very 1980s guitar kicks in. I must admit I find the introduction the most interesting part of this song as Sharpe sings over a choir who sound distinctly African. The backing vocals are what keep me listening to this song - Sharpe's voice is a bit pitchy as he sings over a dense aural scenery which just avoids having that eighties "everything but the kitchen sink" production.
Of the rest of the album the quality isn't quite there - the only really strong track is "Don't Tell Me", a ballad which is heartfelt and touching. I really love Eileen Gribben's voice on this - it's one of the rare chances we have to hear her singing upfront. "Love in Chains" is worth a mention too - the guitar playing on this is distinctive and memorable, and the harmonies are sung well but there is no denying the song isn't one of the Adventures' best.
The rest of the original 10 track album release is a bit on the mediocre side. "These Children" has an introduction which sounds almost identical to that of "Vienna" by Ultravox, and doesn't really work overall. "Lost in Hollywood" is a bit of a dirge and a rather forgettable one at that, while "When the World Turns Upside Down" lacks the sheer melodic power some of the other tracks have.
The re-issue features seven bonus tracks, including extended remixes of "Feel the Randrops" and "Send My Heart". I was really disappointed at the omission of the extended remix of "Two Rivers" however - particularly in light of the fact the cover of this 12" single is featured in the sleeve notes. I think the "Two Rivers" remix works really well whereas the remixes of "Feel the Raindrops" and "Send my Heart" are inferior to the album versions.
A rather pointless cover of Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime" is included and sadly it's more karaoke than reinterpretation, and there is also a live version of "These Children", but the only really worthy bonus track is "Nowhere Near Me" which starts with a synthesised string introduction and has sweet backing vocals from Eileen Gribben before Sharpe starts to sing. Sadly this song sounds badly dated now.
When I first owned this album on vinyl I tended to stick mainly to side one because that's where the singles were. Having listened to the reissue several times you can see a dip in quality after the sixth track.
I fear the reason for this is the fact there isn't one single producer in charge of this album and it means the sound changes as we work our way through producers. The songs produced by Gary Bell ("Always", "Feel the Raindrops" and "Two Rivers") and Bob Sargent ("Send My Heart") sound fresher overall than the rest of the songs from the original album, which were produced by Steve Harvey. Had the entire album been produced by Gary Bell this might have resulted in an album which instead of only being half full of brilliant songs would have been full of brilliant songs as he seems to have got the best out of the band.
However in spite of the fact I will probably only listen to about 6 tracks from the 17 on offer here on my iPod I am still glad that I picked up this reissue of a very hard to find album from the eighties.
The songs that are particularly strong are ones which mean a lot to me from my youth but are ones which I believe touch people too. Certainly my sister, who was a goth in the 80s, to this day remembers "Feels the Raindrops" and loves it.
I still have no idea why Radio 1 didn't play this wonderful Northern Irish band and help more people hear what they had to say in 1985, because the Adventures truly had a lot to offer and I feel a lot of people missed out on their uplifting, melodic and beautifully crafted singles as a result.
The Adventures still play occasionally in Northern Ireland, having played their last gigs there in 2009. It goes without saying that I wish they would pop over to Scotland to play!
The reissued CD is available on Amazon for £7.99 - and if you don't fancy buying I recommend you seek out some of their singles on YouTube to hear one of the bands who inexplicably missed out on the success they deserved.
Feel The Raindrops
Send My Heart
Don't Tell Me
Another Silent Day
When the World Turns Upside Down
Love in Chains
Lost in Hollywood
Feel the Raindrops (Extended Remix)
Life During Wartime (Live)
Nowhere Near Me
Send My Heart (Extended Remix)
These Children (Live)
Tristesse En Vitesse
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Feel The Raindrops
3 Send My Heart
4 Two Rivers
5 Don't Tell Me
6 Another Silent Day
7 When The World Turns Upside Down
8 Love In Chains
9 Lost In Hollywood
10 These Children
11 Feel The Raindrops
12 Happy Depression
13 Life During Wartime
14 Nowhere Near Me
15 Send My Heart
16 These Children
17 Tristesse En Vitesse