Sounds June 17 1989
With cheap comparisons to Genesis and Yes, IT BITES are struggling to live down their progressive rock tag. But a new album called Eat Me In St Louis with a sleeve design by Roger Dean might not be the best way to succeed. Keith Cameron hears their story.
HEWN FROM the living rock of their native Cumbria, It Bites are an archaeologist's nightmare.
These flashing young blades, none older than 24, have reaped critical notoriety and contempt for their exhumation of early period Yes and Genesis.
The 1986 debut album, 'The Big Lad in The Windmill', sported a quite vile 'conceptual' sleeve painting, whilse last year's 'Once Around The World' was produced by hippy relic Steve Hillage.
This epic gave up the bulk of it's second side to a 15-minute musical journey around the globe - forget 'Tales From Topographic oceans' , we're goin' round the world!
It was a trip crammed with nauseous, baroque witticisms and psuedo-classically trained fret-frittery.
Dinsours barely out of puberty was the popular conclusion: when did you say the next ice age wa due?
But to dismiss the IBs so bluntly overlooks the finely tuned pop sensibility that lurks beneath all but their most indulgent moments - a quality which spawned the 'Calling All The Heroes' hit, and gives them enormous potential for Marillion-style pomp-rock mass crossover.
It also fails to account properly for the exsistance of this unique phenomenon, whose antics now border on the self-parodic.
For Instance, frontmand Francis (Frank) Dunnery has recently invented the tapboard, a new type of guitar enabling the owner to play even quicker.
He has also lent his vocals to the forthcoming Yes (Not Yes) album by Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe; bassist Richard Nolan appears on the new Tony Banks album, thereby preempting any Genesis slurs.
And, in the ultimate wilful embrace of the unmentionable past, the sleeve artwork for the new album comes from the hallowed hand of Roger Dean!
What's it called? It's called 'Eat Me in St Louis'
If this plot was any thicker it would be attending remedial classes.
But you wouldn't catch Frank there. Like a true punk rock rebel he quit school at 15 - and the rest is, well, history.
"I was always very intelligent at school, always high up in class. But at 15 I just thought, F*** this, I don't wanna know about hills, I don't wanna know about science, I just wanna play my guitar."
Frank's first love was actually drums but, watching his onstage guiatr prowess, you realise that inventing the tapboard was prahaps inevitable.
His slight embarrassment at this arch-muso development is tempered by a surprising honesty about It Bites plagiarism of the past.
"We got blamed for this Genesis thing, which is rightly so, really, for the first two albums....
"But I've always wondered why people call us old-fashioned when bands like Simply red - and I'm not slagging Simply red here cos I like 'em - are not doing anything new. I wouldn't say Bon Jovi was particulary modern.
"I'm not a fool. i totally understand why people say It Bites are like Genesis or Yes - it's obvious, blatently obvious. I don't think the new album is so much so, though I think the last two albums are.
"but you gotta understand about that first album, I was a 19 year old kid. Why can't people just look at it and say, he done well for a 19 year old?
"You might look at it and say, Oh, it's boring, progressive rock but actually I think we deserve some credit for that album.
"The second album maybe not, because it went over the top and we got into this thing of wanting to show everyone we could play, man, which I'm not particulary interested in now. It was just a phase. We got through phases.
But why that phase? Frank has lived in London for the last six years, yet his base musical values are rooted in the small rural town of Egremont.
Lot's of time and a guitar in his hands led to a dangerously well-developed perfectionist streak.
"If you're an artist and you've got good potential at 19 or 19 in being technically good at your craft, would you draw a square? Or would you try and draw something that was good?
"Why should I lower myself to punk when I don't have to? Why should I play punk rock? Punk has it's beauty, the aggression and the risk and the danger of it all, the f**-you attitude - I love all that.
"But at a musical level I'm much higher than that. Say, Miles Davis - I can't hear Miles Davis cos the guy is way above me. It's like a spiritual thing, you hear things at a certain level,".
So you approach music from a purely technical angle, where you've got all this ability and you have to show it off?
"I did at first and, yeah, it was a mistake. It was something we had to get out of our systme. It Bites will never do another Once Around the World, ever.
"We won't do that, but that was very important to us at the time. We wanted to say to people, Look, but arn't we very clever? I can't be bothered now to write all them long sections, I just wanna see some good songs.
"People say to me that there's more guitar on this album, but there isn't really. It's just that instead of flying around at 9,000 miles an hour, I've been playing tuens that people can remember.
He's right there 'Eat Me' sees It Bites moving away from the foolish excesses of old. But Frank, a Roger Dean sleeve?!
"That was to annoy people, that. People think we're these silly little boys who run around smiling all the time, very goody-goody. We're the biggest piss-takers you've ever met! Roger Dean... I mean he's a decent artist. We just said Let's annoy these f***ers, let's give 'ema Roger Dean cover".
You're well aware of it all, then?.
"of course. Always have been. No, that's bollocks, we havn't always been. We are now. You tend to realise how pretentious you've all been in the past - but I'm sure next year I'll look back and think, Well what a pretentious album this one was.
"I can't help it, I'm such a pretentious guy!"
Article from Sounds June 17th 1989 and can be found on Page 21
Many thanks to Duncan West for sending me a copy of the article.
I have kept the text as the orginal article and to my knowledge have not changed it in any way.
Last Updated 20/09/97