How a boy from the Sri Lankan jungle formed the greatest post-punk band you’ve never heard.
Fronted by an intense singer with an oblique songbook and a mysterious past Glorious Din were unlike any other group to emerge from San Francisco’s ‘80s underground. With singer Eric Cope, the chosen persona of a Joy Division-obsessed Sri Lankan boy who travelled halfway around the world to follow his punk dream.
The multifaceted nature of the ‘80s scene – encompassing everything from three-chord thrash punk to garage-band pop, experimental art rock and atonal noise, all created by bands with overlapping memberships – can seem baffling to outsiders. Of the many acts clamouring for attention, Glorious Din was perhaps the best, their mesmerising sound instantly getting under the skin via their non-standard drum patterns, eastern-sounding guitar melodies, a melodic bass in pole position, and a dissociative foreign singer who intoned prophetic poems in a trance. The enigmatic group acted as a catalyst too, helping total unknowns to gain recognition and being the uncommon glue linking Faith No More, the Dead Kennedys and Michael Franti, as well as R.E.M and the Cocteau Twins, such is the reach of their influence.
The music of the ‘80s counterculture thrived in peripheral spaces, and part of Glorious Din’s appeal was their mysteriousness: a quartet of mismatched musicians not necessarily playing their chosen instruments, with the obscure lyrics of their intense frontman near impossible to decipher. The group imploded after only three years, but their cult appeal has lasted far longer through their two albums and related material on their Insight label.
Glorious Din’s second album, Closely Watched Trains, had a very different sound from its predecessor. Eric was listening to a lot of Nick Drake, so they mixed the vocals and guitar much louder than the other instruments. Nevertheless, the album showed a growth and maturity on the band’s part. Paget plays a metal dobro on some numbers, which adds a sheen of folk to the post-punk proceedings, as heard on the opener ‘Stilt Walkers’. ‘1651 Map’ has Cope seemingly recounting a colonial uprising or an industrial dispute over a sparse rhythm led by Paget’s minimal guitar, and early number ‘Voices Everywhere’ is here reprised as a joyous blast, the lyrics speaking of a pending arrival.
Paget is well-represented with ‘Red Dirt’, which has fantastic modulated bass from Heeschen, ‘Circle Star’, another freedom track inspired by his wanderings, and the melodious ‘Blood’, which closes out the set. Cope’s songs have repeated references to trains, hence the album’s title. But by the time the album surfaced, the band had already broken up. Now exactly 30 years later Closely Watched Trains is still a more than rewarding listen and a vivid document of the times.