I had no idea this record existed, and the reason is obvious: technically, “Flaming Tunes” never 'really' did. It's like a meteorite which, instead of landing somewhere remote, flies by never to be seen again. Though more than a meteorite, “Flaming Tunes” is like a comet, coming near (and moving away again) after a few years. To understand it, one has to know its story: it was released for the first time on cassette, in 1985, in a private and domestic edition, for friends and family. It's not clear how many copies ended up on the underground circuit at the time (already outside post-punk and early industrial music circles; still way before the start of British indie), and those who ever had one in their collection, or even had the chance to hear it, conserved it as a rarity. Gareth Williams had been the bassist of the 'odd' band This Heat, and “Flaming Tunes” was his only material outside of the band, before he started dedicating himself to traveling, studying Hinduism and his move to India (he never returned to music and passed away in December 2001). Mary Currie was his childhood friend, whom he wrote letters to, and who, coincidentally, helped him write these songs, only to never again record any music under her own name. If it wasn't an accident, it seemed like one.
This cassette, therefore, should have been forgotten and lost but Gareth Williams having been part of This Heat made sure their most avid fans traced and adored it. A bootleg version was made in the late 90s, and, in 2009, it was officially reissued on CD, via Life & Living Records - another tiny label directed by friends of Gareth and Mary, who didn't want to let the couple's modest contribution to music history disappear into oblivion. Now, Blackest Ever Black has issued it on vinyl for the very first time, limited to 1000 copies, with calligraphic inserts of the letters in which Gareth Williams tried to convince Mary Currie to play together and make songs, no strings attached. So what is “Flaming Tunes”? What's so special about it that it has achieved such cult status, against all odds, over the past 30 years? Like its own history, the record's content is unusual. It has a lot to do with an avant-garde notion of pop and rock, with some touches of This Heat, logically (dissonance, the odd atonal moment, field recording and electro-acoustic exercises), but also with a kind of weirded-out and dark folk - which, at the time, would be put in the same category as Current 93, Coil, and other bands on the borders between fever and lucidity, not to mention the accessible and the esoteric.
The record concludes on a pastoral tip (“Generous Moon” is like a naked and blurry version of a Nick Drake song, stressed with out of tune guitars, a mournful folk tone and muffled voices, like a dream, or eternal tiredness), and starts with two ballads, “Another Flaming Tune” and “Beguilding The Hours” (which, today, could be written by people like Antony or The Focus Group). In a similar vein, “The Best Weapon” gets into acoustic territory, but with repetitive guitar cycles and a way of singing elevated to a full moon night, dark, between the beauty of Linda Perhacs and the tension of a John Fahey piece: avant-garde and wild nature going hand in hand. The songs - with contributions by friends like Douglas Currie, Frank Trembath (percussion), Georgina Legoretta (guitar), Mick Hobbs (whistle), Chrissie Wild (violin), Alice Granger (flute), and Charles Bullen (a bit of everything) - are richly arranged, and varied: from the easy listening of “Breast Stroke” (years ahead of Stereolab) to the almost playful folk of “Restless Mind” and “Golden Age”, without forgetting the ambient-like “Raindrops From Heaven” (with sounds of frogs, crickets, and water), and the lo-fi improv of “It’s Madness”.
No matter how much you listen to it, “Flaming Tunes” continues to hold secrets and provokes a feeling of unreality, more fascinating than the music itself. It's actually a flawed record, but it conserves what few titles have after so many years: aura, mystery, that Lovecraft-like vertigo of discovering a dusty document, magic and terrible, or everything at the same time, and knowing that you have a dark secret in your hands that shouldn't be shared with anyone. This curious piece, this meteorite, this album doomed to oblivion, has reappeared and sounds more attractive and magnetic than 90% of contemporary music. One could say it's the reissue of the year, or at least one of them, but the value of “Flaming Tunes” isn't exactly conveyed here. In fact, we have only just now started to unearth the treasure and to know its contents.