"Making of" stories

The sound of Laughter

Part 2: the first single, and the arrival of drummer Steve Jessop

Tim Allison: I worked with Paul [at Beverley Music Centre] and he had this rough but really good demo of Laughter, with him on drums. I remember I sat down and came up with this organ part. No divine inspiration, it just seemed to fit. Then from there we started rehearsing at the old Hull Truck building down Highgate. Jock, our new drummer, came at more or less same time, he was quite young and made it clear he wanted to drum ’till September but was then off to University.

Nyam Nyam, early 1980, from left Tim Allison, Jock Lurie, Paul Trynka, Trevor Simpson

Trevor: Jock added quite a lot to Laughter, he was really good at working with stuff that was more arranged. And he played on Knowledge Chapter 2.

Paul: We made Laughter because a Northern label wanted it on a compilation, then we decided to do it as a single; we discovered a great studio, Cargo, for the B-Side. We had to cobble together Knowledge Chaper 2 pretty quickly, because the planned B-Side, recorded at Studio Playground in Lincoln, hadn’t worked out. It was really Tim who was responsible for sorting out the new version.

Tim Allison, Tower Ballroom, Anlaby Road, Hull

TIm: You’d done the original version of Knowledge, a great three chord setup and I think you had some extra lyrics. Louise is Asleep, the original idea was good and it kinda felt like a Velvet Underground Track, like Sunday Morning, a nice lazy, not too tight, sound. We went to Lincoln to record it and they didn’t have piano, so it was improvised on the day, we put marimba on. It was a good song but it wasn’t right, didn’t go with Laughter. So I was, Why don’t we mess about with the other lyrics and I think by accident it came together. We used to sit in Beverley Music Centre some days and set up this old crappy Soundmaster drum machine, I’d bring in my SH109 and put it on random and hold, we’d stick it through an amp with loads of echo, and leave it running for a couple of hours while people came in the shop and it was really relaxing and weird. And I put in on white noise and it came from there, slow and ponderous.

Original roughs for Laughter, by Liz Woolmington.

Paul: Laughter, in comparison, came in a few minutes. I’d just had an argument with my girlfriend, Sarah, was working out how to say sorry and those words came into my head. I remember Trevor had Colin Escott’s Hank Wiliams biography, and told me how he’d always generate arguments with his wife, then make them into songs. The recording was easy, although the sound at Fairview was always a little sweet. We loved Cargo, Penny and Paul from The Defectors had told us about it, Joy Division and I think the Gang of Four had recorded there. A beautiful, dense, stark sound. So Knowledge, Chapter II, was really just an exploration of the sound of Cargo.

Tim: I think we did it late on Wednesday night and had been panicking because Louise hadn’t worked. The chimes were the chimes that had been used on Atmosphere. And I remember John Brierley insisting you go downstairs and do the vocals where Ian Curtis had done his, I remember you resisting and in the end you caved in.

Paul: it was actually by the coffee machine – terrible coffee which gave you the runs, but you’d drink constantly as these were night-time sessions when it was cheaper and you had to stay awake. Then later on I used to do my vocals in Cargo’s back passage. A great place to be, ooh er.

Tim: so it was the ghost of Ian Curtis on there.

Paul: Laughter was distributed by Red Rhino, from York, who were incredibly important up North, they’d distribute everything. It sold 500 copies within a few days once Peel played it. The sleeves were designed by Liz, Sarah’s sister, and printed by the print shop below the music shop where Tim and I worked, I know I spent a lot of time down there helping glue them together. Meanwhile, we kept doing more demos while Trevor had started this correspondence with 4AD.

Trevor: A friend’s brother told us he was working at 4AD. He’d also told me you paid £20 for a haircut in London. I sent him a copy of Laughter and a jokey letter saying, You must be making a fortune if you’re spending that much on your hair. Weeks later I got a letter back from Ivo [Watts Russell, head of 4AD], saying “I’ve never heard of this man!” But he liked the single. The sound. And the sleeve. He said, It’s not really right for me but I’ll pass it on. Then Vaughan Oliver [4AD graphic designer] was really into it. We really liked his sleeves too we kept writing to him.

Paul: I’d sent a single to John Brierley and Colin Richardson at Cargo. New Order were in there, I think to record Ceremony. Peter Hook saw the sleeve, liked the drawing, liked the music, then wrote to me, offering to help however he could. What a mensch he was. Meanwhile, we’d found Steve Jessop to play drums. It was great, because he wasn’t rock. We’d been searching for an even simpler sound, something… English. The first tryout he really made sense of a new song, Hope Of Heaven – he was playing rimshots; it was starker, simpler.

Steve Jessop: I remember screwing up the first rehearsal and thinking, This isn’t the jangly pop I’m used to. I got hold of a new kit, a Gretsch, from a guy needed the money to buy a new pigeon loft.

Nyam Nyam at the Tower Ballroom, Hull, with Steve Jessop.


6 thoughts on “The sound of Laughter

  1. laughter sold 500 copies within a few days once Peel played it ?
    are you sure its not because Peter Powell (of all people) played it on his radio 1, evening drive time show lol ?!
    i know i nearly crashed driving home when i heard it come on thinking, omg, what the ****, that’s us !!

  2. oh gosh, thinks hard ! for the most part it was roland. an sh09 mono synth and rs09 organ / strings synth. also had a hohner painet t played through roland boss chorus and delay pedals to try hide the cheap sound, which worked quite well live most of the time ! switched the rs09 to a korg poly 6 later on, but on “laughter” and “knowledge” (the b side), it was the rolands 🙂

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