Jun 25, 2024

Banjo beats 'n' techno treats: oh my goodness, it's The Grid

What's your favourite kind of grid. Electricity? Drainage? Ordnance Survey map reference? Cattle?

My favourite grid is the electronic music duo The Grid, comprising David Ball out of Soft Cell and all-round knob-twiddling genius Richard Norris. You might think that cattle grids might be better at keeping cows in the correct field, but I've heard rumours that Ball and Norris are excellent bovine wranglers.

The Grid first dropped into my life with A Beat Called Love in 1990. This was a slice of sunny electronic pop that sat neatly alongside equally cheery popsters The Beloved. Its parent album Electric Head came out six weeks before Big Life put out The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, so this was pioneering, like when Hannibal built Stonehenge out of elephants or something.

Their second album 456 had big-name guest spots, with featured acts including Robert Fripp, Zodiac Mindwarp and Yello's Dieter Meier. They even had Sun Ra talk about how he liked the sun for a track called Face The Sun. You can't get sunnier than that, unless US emo band Sunny Day Real Estate decide to drive a Nissan Sunny into the heart of the sun.

Their 1993 single Crystal Clear remains one of my bestest favourite choons. It's so trippy and glistening and dubby and whoooah, and I still play it about 900 times a day. Alex Gifford plays Hammond organ on the track. Alex went on to form the Propellerheads, who famously turned Shirley Bassey into a big beat star on History Repeating.

Most people will remember The Grid for Swamp Thing, a banjo-jangled novelty techno track that hit the top ten singles chart in 1994. It was denied further success because it had the misfortune to be releaed during the dark reign of terror that was the eternal chart-topping snoozeathon Love Is All Around by Wet Wet Wet.

The Grid appeared on Top Of The Pops something like eight times. Often dressed in white, often doing silly dances, and not taking anything too seriously at all. It's worth looking them up: 1994's Rollercoaster may only have slightly scraped the top 20, but the performance is brilliant fun.

Let's finish this with a recommendation. Richard Norris's book Strange Things Are Happening reveals all about his (mis)adventures in music, and outlines the extraordinary career of a guy who has dabbled with but stayed pleasingly beyond the boundary of the mainstream. If I'm feeling egotistical, this blog piece will be headed by a photo of me meeting Richard at the Manchester launch of his book.

Other Griddiness to get you giddy? Their 2018 album of Moog meanderings One Way Traffic. Their debut single Floatation, which you can read about in Electronic Sound^. Richard Norris's Music For Healing series^, alleviating anxieties month by month. Or just stare at a cattle grid for half an hour and wait for it to become a musical genius.

Further Fats: Charts in crisis: here's why there are so few number one singles (2017)

Further Fats: A Full On Guide to Full On: Megatonk's Belgium and Frendzy's Can't Stop (these are real tracks, honest) (2020)

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