The Sound Of Knives And Forks

A Short History of 391

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was DADA
It is difficult to put a date to the formation of 391 as a band, because they never really did form as a "band". Founded in the first quarter of 1978 by Mark Lancaster of The Instant Automatons and photographer/artist John C. Hocknell, they began making infrequent lo-fi recordings of what has come to be known as "industrial noise" - a sort of performance-art with musical instruments - which they hoped would reflect the movement from which they appeared to take their name. "391" was a Dadaist magazine edited by Francis Picabia, although recently Hocknell has affirmed that he originally conceived of the name during a visit to the local library - 391, in the Dewey Decimal classification scheme, is the category for "Costume" . This explanation, however, is generally held to be a complete and utter fabrication on Hocknell's part, especially by the other members of 391.
An EP, Prisoner Of The Living Room, and a C60 cassette, What's Wrong With My Hi-Fi? were recorded for release on Deleted Records, but neither subsequently appeared. Excerpts of both these works, however, eventually emerged in the mid 1980s on the 391 retrospective cassette, New Roads: New Ruts
With the rise of "industrial" artists like Throbbing Gristle and their hordes of imitators, 391 took the first of several direction changes, recruiting Hocknell's colleague, photographer Sharon Petche, and electronics enthusiast/tape collector Theo Maxwell. They left one track, Brains Under Glass, on the Deleted compilation tape Magnitizdat as their first epitaph.

Chaos in the Soul
Next followed an unsettled period in which Mark was not directly involved (being busy with The Instant Automatons and Alien Brains). Chaos was being pitted against order and the few recorded results that emerged were ugly slabs of angular sound. A perfect example of this form is Overture, which appears on the cassette album No Easy Way Out, a guitar/violin/tape-loop morass. The one track that escaped from these sessions to be included on a contemporary release (the Alien Brains tape Menial Disorders) was What Makes People Behave Violently?, an unsettling collage of soundbites from interviews with Stockhausen and Mary Whitehouse overlaying tape-loops of breaking glass and striking matches.
In this tense environment, the inevitable happened: John and Sharon had a major argument, Theo moved back to London to open an electronics shop in Tottenham Court Road, and the "band" split. Hocknell went back to photography and Random Visions, his independent design company. Sharon and Mark had a short involvement with a band called The Small Furry Things, but produced nothing of significance. One track, Jelly Babies, survived and was included on New Roads: New Ruts.

The Advent of Fashionable Trousers
1980 arrived, and in April of that year Mark, John and a girl called Barbara decided to form an alternative cassette/art outlet. The Famous Fashionable Trousers Label was born, and almost immediately the two ex-391ers started planning to collaborate on a cassette album. They needed a name and, after much debate, reincarnated 391 for the third time. Sharon and Theo were contacted and agreed to participate. After spending the intervening time apart with the individual members absorbing differing influences, the sound of the new 391 was totally different to its previous permutations. They weren't sure how people would react, so, fearing the worst, the resulting album was restricted to 30 minutes. The Child's Dilemma was a co-release with 30 minutes of Merz (an electronic "pop" band also named after a Dada periodical) on the other side. As it turned out, the public seemed to "like" the 391 side more than the more commercial Merz side - a fact that always puzzled 391.
The Child's Dilemma contains several different styles reflecting the different personalities involved - throwbacks to the "noise" and "structured chaos" periods (Blue Suede Shoes and Mary's Got A Complex/Winks Of The Book), poetry (I Wanted To Be A Doctor and Poem 52), rock (Jet Plane and Who's Riding Your Bike?) and jazz (Sausage Factory), along with other pieces that do not fall easily into any category (the aptly-named Category-Mistake and the radically re-written Prisoner Of The Living Room, for example).

No Easy Way Out
Encouraged by the positive reaction to this release, 391 began work on their next (and, to many, best) cassette, No Easy Way Out which was designed primarily to be the tenth and last release on Fashionable Trousers and to allow the label to go out in a blaze of glory. In actual fact, the release of No Easy Way Out was delayed and FT died a squalid and humiliating death amid unfulfilled orders, broken promises and letters of complaint from the National Council for Civil Liberties.
No Easy Way Out was originally conceived as having 30 one-minute tracks on one side and one 30-minute track on the other, but this format was felt to be too constricting and was eventually abandoned. Side Two does, however, feature the original track In One Ear And Out The Other, approximately 30 minutes long and structured like a classical symphony in four movements.
This cassette was also notable for the inclusion of I Passed By The Brook, a track by offshoot band The English Assassins. They consisted of Mark, Nigel Jacklin of Alien Brains and occasional Instant Automatons backing singer Su The Vampyre. A considerable amount of material had been recorded at Nigel's headquarters, a bedsit in Hanwell, West London, for a projected cassette-album that did not ultimately appear.
Three out-takes from the No Easy Way Out sessions (Requiem For Fashionable Trousers, an alternative version of Living In A Factory and a version of An Die Freude) were included on Dean Poole's 5 x C60 Various Artists package on Sexy Records. An Die Freude (the choral part of Beethoven's 9th Symphony), a ludicrously over-the-top jazz-punk jam that lurches and reels along for about 7 minutes, is thought by many to be 391's finest moment of this era.

Everything Else by Everyone Else
The sleeve of No Easy Way Out bore the cryptic statement "391 - we're the same as Everyone Else". This was meant as a pointer to the next project: the name 391 was to be killed off and replaced by Everyone Else in an attempt to throw off the limitations and preconceptions imposed by the "Dadaist" tag. Two new members were recruited, John's wife Jackie and his old art-school friend William Thorne.
Work was begun on a cassette, Everything Else, but not far into the preliminary recording sessions Sharon announced her intention to quit and pursue a career in film-making. The other members of Everyone Else seemed to accept this development, even agreeing to provide the soundtrack music for Sharon's first film The Empty Room.
However, Sharon's stabilising effect on the band had been underestimated and in a couple of months, with only four tracks completed, Everyone Else fell apart.
Subsequently, John and Mark collected up all the existing masters of unreleased and difficult to obtain material and compiled the definitive 391 retrospective, New Roads: New Ruts. This cassette included material from the offshoot bands The Small Furry Things and The English Assassins as well as all the existing Everyone Else recordings, and seemed to hammer the last nail into the coffin of the 391 experiment.

Postscript: Calculus For Goats and the Rebirth of 391
The 391 concept lay dormant for the following twenty years until, in early 2004, Mark made contact with New York-based cultural labourer christophilax. From their ensuing dialogue, a plan was hatched to collaborate on an auditory artefact, and 391 were reformed for the purpose. In the intervening years, recording methods had advanced beyond all recognition, but the band members embraced the new technology with an enthusiasm that only those who have previously had to manually splice tape-loops could comprehend. The newly-reformed 391 recorded five new tracks that were sent to christophilax for further processing and eventually released on the CD Calculus For Goats, credited to c-391. The original tracks were also issued as a limited edition 391 CD-EP under the name On Carey Street, which was given away free with all orders from the Waterden online catalogue until stocks ran out. More CDs followed.