The Walls Come Down:
The Unveiling Of BLANKET OF SECRECY
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
1982 was a year filled with excitement and change in the music world. Punk had smashed things up a bit five years earlier, making way for a new musical movement that had morphed into a myriad of subgenres including New Wave, Post-Punk, Synthpop and Power Pop amongst others. During the year, many artists released albums that are now considered ‘career defining’ moments including Michael Jackson (Thriller), XTC (English Settlement), Prince (1999), Madness(The Rise & Fall), The Jam (The Gift), Dexy’s Midnight Runners (Too Rye Aye), Duran Duran (Rio) and The Clash (Combat Rock). Even newer bands were making their mark with debuts from ABC, Culture Club, R.E.M, Marshall Crenshaw, A Flock Of Seagulls and Yazoo causing quite a stir on the scene.
One album that was released that year was the debut by a mysterious trio by the name of Blanket Of Secrecy
. Released on Warner Brothers in the U.S. as Ears Have Walls
and on F-Beat in the UK as Walls Have Ears
, the album was a breath of fresh air that both accepted the challenge of musical change while also remaining firmly rooted in the art of classic Pop songwriting. Listeners may have been intrigued by the lack of information on the identities of the band members, but the music spoke for itself. From the opening track, “Say You Will,” to the instrumental closer “B.O.S. Theme,” the album was filled with instantly memorable tracks that stuck with you long after the needle lifted from the inner groove. The album was, and remains, a pure Pop masterpiece.
“Say You Will” was lifted as the album’s first single and instantly created a buzz. The opening acoustic guitar hook was juxtaposed by a simple electronic backdrop that added a warm atmosphere to the recording. The vocals floated above the music like a cool breeze, inviting the listener into a world where heartache and hope co-existed in equal measures. A stunner of a track, the song gained solid airplay and was destined to become a hit. But then, for reasons to be explained later, Warner Brothers pulled the plug on the single and radio stopped playing it. “Say You Will” may not have achieved the level of success that many had predicted (and that it deserved), but there was still an album in the shops and there was still a chance for Blanket Of Secrecy to leave their mark.
Some bands may have one great song in them and release an album that doesn’t come close to living up to the single’s potential. Blanket Of Secrecy had no shortage of great songs that equaled the majesty of “Say You Will” – “Yo Yo”, “Close To Me”, “Remember Me And You”, “Tell Me Baby”, “Photograph”, “Something I Don’t Need” and “Lovers” (penned by Huang Chung’s Jack Hues and Nick ‘De Spig’ Feldman) immediately come to mind. Not content to stick with one formula, every track on the album was a revelation. Even if the lyrical content wasn’t always upbeat, the joy in creating each of the songs came through in the recording.
While the songs and performances were top notch, much can be said of Roger Bechirian’s production. As an engineer or producer, Bechirian had already been involved with many seminal recordings of the era including albums from The Undertones, Squeeze, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Nick Lowe, Huang Chung, Lene Lovich, Dave Edmunds and many others. He was one of the few producers that a music fan could rely on when making purchasing decisions – if Roger produced it, then it must be good! Up to this point, he was in the same respected league of producers such as Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley, Hugh Jones, Pete Solley, and a few others. It’s as if Bechirian’s involvement meant the quality of the album was most certainly guaranteed.
But just who were Blanket Of Secrecy? When the album came out, their identities were shrouded in –you guessed it- secrecy. The album’s back cover featured a photo of a trio with their backs turned towards the camera. The songs were credited to Tinker/Tailor
apart from “B.O.S. Theme”, which was penned by Tinker/Tailor/Soldier
. “Say You Will” was co-written by Spy
and “Yo Yo” credited Sailor
as co-writer. While some caught wind of the identities of the main players (the name Peter Marsh
was used in several reviews), the record-buying public were left in the dark. Huang Chung’s Jack Hues and Hogg played on the album, but offered only musical assistance on a few tracks. Ultimately, rumors began circulating that the members were from well-known bands and couldn’t contractually reveal themselves. It was even suggested that Blanket Of Secrecy was, in fact, The Attractions
recording under a pseudonym. Alas, they mystery remained unsolved…
for the time being.
With an album in the shops and the support of their record company, plans were afoot to put the band out on the road, which would have revealed their true identities while exposing the band to a bigger audience. Tentatively scheduled to tour as the opening act for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Blanket Of Secrecy finished up recording their second album so it could be released in a timely fashion. But just as things began to move forward, Blanket Of Secrecy evaporated into thin air. The tour was cancelled, “Say You Will” was deleted, their second album was shelved and the band simply disappeared. Some had speculated that they may have never actually existed as more than a one-off side project, but time has proven otherwise…
Some 20 years later, in the age of the internet, die-hard Blanket Of Secrecy fans found each other in forums, on blogs and on websites devoted to lesser-known bands. The rumors were still active, but the fans’ dedication to the band remained strong, even though little was known about them. That is, until a fan by the name of Gary Maher stepped forward. Seems he had done a little research back in 1984…
“When I called Warner Brothers, some secretary told me who the band members were.” Gary explains. “The names didn't mean much to me except for Roger's, but I wrote the names down on an index card, stuck it in my copy of the album and forgot about it. Years later, I came across the index card and realized that their identities were still shrouded in secrecy to the rest of the world, so I started to spread the word.”
What Gary had discovered unmasked the trio once and for all - the members of Blanket Of Secrecy were Roger Bechirian (AKA Soldier/director, executive producer, keyboards, percussion and backing vocals), Pete Marsh (AKA Tinker/lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion and backing vocals) and Andrew Howell (AKA Tailor/bass, guitar, keyboards, percussion and backing vocals). Maher had, indeed, cracked the case, but now that enquiring minds knew who they were, they obviously wanted to know what, when, where, why and how!
For the first time ever, all three members of Blanket Of Secrecy have decided to set the record straight, once and for all. No rumors. No gossip. Just facts.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Tell me a little bit about your careers before Blanket Of Secrecy.
ROGER BECHIRIAN: I was house engineer at Eden Studios in London. I worked with a broad range of artists and producers, developing my own style of recording and later production. I left after seven years to go my own way with the help of manager Jake Riviera.
ANDREW HOWELL: I had been a bass player in the school band and played one of my first gigs at The Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the 200th anniversary of American independence on July 4th, 1976. I did that with Michael J McEvoy (American) who is now a successful film and TV composer. From there, I joined a Punk outfit called The Rats who changed their name to The Red Lights after The Boomtown Rats turned up from Ireland.
PETE MARSH: After splitting with my band Easy Street in ‘79, Polydor signed me as a solo artist. I worked for a while with film composer and legendry synth man Vangelis. We wrote and produced four tracks, one of which, "Don’t Be Foolish", was a single released in 1980. I also recorded and released a version of "Close To Me" (then called “You Say You Wanna Love Me”) which was produced by Godley And Creme (10cc). I then formed a New Wave band, Twist. We gigged for a while and recorded an album which was produced by Roger Bechirian, whom I had worked with before on Easy Street stuff. With Roger’s encouragement, I bought myself a TEAC 4-track reel to reel recorder, a nice microphone, a drum machine and keyboard and started to experiment.
SPAZ: How did the three of you meet?
ANDREW: I went on a tour in Paris, France with a guy called Frankie Marshall, where we did a session for a publisher recording one of their up and coming songs. Pete Marsh joined us to perform the vocal track and that’s where we formally met. From there, he asked me to do a session on his demos and that’s where it all began. It was on the demo session that I first met Roger
ROGER: I had known Pete for some time. Easy Street would spend time at Eden studios recording demos. As a young trainee engineer, I got those sessions and we became good friends. I later produced an album for Pete with his new band Twist. It was around that time I was introduced to Andy.
PETE: I met Andy at one of The Red Lights gigs in South London and later on we worked in Paris. I knew he was a great bass player and very talented musician. I was looking for someone to collaborate with on my new songs and Andy's approach was perfect. We wanted to make a record that was Pure Pop but eclectic and different. With Roger’s encouragement, the B.O.S. project started to take shape.
SPAZ: When you first started writing and recording the tracks, was it your intention to become a recording entity or just to release a little creative steam and write a few songs?
ROGER: From my point of view, I was never going to be on stage or any of that. I wanted to record and produce the records and have a hand in the direction of the band with our then-manager Jake.
PETE: Roger convinced Jake and Peter Barnes from Plangent Vision Music (UK publisher), of the potential in the band, time at Ampro Studio was booked by Jake. The studio at that time belonged to Nick Lowe. It was originally built by Tony Visconti in the basement of his house and some of the great Mark Bolan and Bowie tracks were recorded there. We spent a couple of months recording demos and some of the tracks went on to become masters on the B.O.S. album. On the strength of those recordings, Jake negotiated a deal with Warner Bros. Records in Burbank, and we swiftly made plans to go to Rockfield Studios in rural Wales to finish the album.
ANDREW: There was no doubt in my mind that this was going somewhere. Once the demos were finished, Roger and Pete asked me to join the project full time, and full time it was. Oh no, dear me no, this was never a little thing.
SPAZ: Who came up with the whole idea of recording under pseudonyms…? It was a brilliant concept that established that B.O.S. were more focused on the music, and not a desire for celebrity. But do you think it ultimately hurt the band?
ANDREW: A pub-based brainstorming session.
ROGER: We, Andy, Pete, Jake and I, had met at a pub near Jake's office. We were trying to come up with a name. Jake had the idea of keeping things secret. He didn’t want it known that I was a part of a band because he didn’t want to distract from my engineering and producing career. Crazy but true! So thinking of ‘secret’ led to all the slogans people got used to in the war: 'Careless talk costs lives', 'Walls have ears'… which led to ‘a blanket of secrecy.’ So there’s the name, there’s the concept, a hole in one! After that, the names for each of us came from the idea of spies code names. All a bit silly, but it worked.
ANDREW: It was a brilliant concept but as the whole thing collapsed anyway, I don’t think it did us any harm. In fact, it helped to create a kind of “cult” image for the band.
PETE: A difficult concept to market but, at the time, I thought it was brilliant!
SPAZ: The album certainly contains plenty of electronic elements, but how did you feel about the project being lumped in with the Synthpop brigade?
PETE: True, the album has been branded Synthpop by some commentators but there was a lot of real playing going on. We were always looking for performance and spontaneity.
ROGER: I didn’t think about that. We had a unique sound.
ANDREW: We were certainly ahead of our time in the way we approached the writing and recording process. I don’t suppose we could be referred to as much else by those who pigeon hole music. But it didn’t sum us up very well. We were much better than that. I wouldn’t call a Casio 202 and a tiny little drum machine “plenty of electronic elements.” The album was “played.” We had no drummer and had to overdub different parts of a real kit to build the rhythm tracks. No sequencers, no midi, and no flying faders mind you - we had a filthy great desk and Studer A80 24 track machine to play with. I suppose they’re electronic.
SPAZ: How were the songs written and recorded? Did one of you come up with an idea and the three of you would build upon it?
ANDREW: Pete and I would get together at his place in Blackheath and just mess around with a Dr. Rhythm drum machine, a Casio 202, a guitar, an acoustic and bass to see what would happen. Then we started to build the ideas on a four track reel to reel. It didn’t always work but that was the usual approach to the things we wrote together. Once we had an idea on tape, Roger would listen to it and, once the deal was struck, then we went to Ampro Studios in Shepherds Bush to do proper 24 track versions.
PETE: It was a blast - lots of ideas bouncing around. The backing tracks were always being updated but when it felt right, it was time for me to record my vocals. Sometimes I couldn’t better the guide lead vocal so it would survive. Next was my backing vocals which took ages, sometimes up to 24 tracks mixed down to stereo pairs. In those days, the recording process was long and laborious. Roger was very much the technical brains behind the project. He would engineer and use his studio expertise to create a recording environment that was relaxed and fluid.
Andy had a bigger input with the finished article, although he might not admit it. We all, Jake, me, his publisher and various A&R people involved in the project, could see the enormous talent in him.
SPAZ: How did you get involved with Jack Hues and Hogg from Huang Chung? Was “Lovers” ever recorded (though unreleased) by Huang Chung or did they write that for B.O.S.?
ANDREW: I didn’t know Jack. He was a friend of Pete and Roger’s who had worked with Huang Chung before.
PETE: I had known Jack for some years. We even did some gigs together in South East London. One day, he played me a new song called "Lovers." He said it wasn’t suitable for his Huang Chung project and he suggested I try it. I loved the song and Roger and Andy agreed.
ROGER: They were all part of the Deptford posse, Pete, Jack, Chris and Glen from Squeeze. They all knew each other and their wives all knew each other. Jack didn’t think that “Lovers” was right for Huang Chung and offered it to Pete. I wanted it orchestrated and asked Jack to do the arrangements, which he was delighted to do.
PETE: Jack wrote a fabulous orchestral score. I still have the original manuscript.
ROGER: He also conducted the string section. I'll never forget the string players, after getting the take in the studio, all taping their bows on their music stands, clapping for Jack’s first time conducting and what they felt was a good score.
SPAZ: “Say You Will” received a lot of attention when it was released as a single and is still fondly remembered as your most well-known track. Were there any other songs off the album that were earmarked as being the follow up single?
ROGER: “Close to Me”
SPAZ: The album was titled Walls Have Ears in the UK but Ears Have Walls in the U.S. Do you remember why the title change?
ANDREW: We got into the idea of mixing things up a bit. I thought it went with the concept but we had lengthy discussions as to whether anyone (America, sorry!) would get it. I prefer Ears Have Walls: otherwise, it’s just Elvis Presley.
SPAZ: How did the front and back cover art come about?
PETE: When the album was ready for release, we worked with the brilliant artist Barney Bubbles on the cover design. He created a unique plasticine model which was then photographed (The original model disintegrated shortly after Barney’s death in 1983). Photographer Brian Griffin went to great lengths to disguise our identities. We ended up with a very moody and evocative video for the single “Say You Will” which was directed by Barney and lit by Brian in his studio where the whole film production took place.
SPAZ: Was there a lot of material left over from the album sessions?
ANDREW: There was quite a bit of material overall. We had been very busy and prolific little bunnies. The extra ideas went on the second album but there are a few others floating around. I think Roger and Pete have numerous cassettes of the four track stuff. I ate mine.
ROGER: I will have some of them out as exclusive tracks and later as part of the second album launch.
SPAZ: Had the band played live by this point? Or were there at least plans to play live?
ROGER: Not at that point. But during the making of the second album, Jake came to Rockfield studios, where we were recording, and told us we were on Tom Petty's world tour! We had to think about getting a band together.
ANDREW: Pete and I did one little gig at a South London pub in Lee Green, The Old Tigers Head, to try things out. There were plans afoot, after the release, to do a world tour supporting Petty but sadly not to be. That would have been a blast.
SPAZ: What is the story behind the unreleased second album?
ANDREW: Jake was so convinced the first album would be massive and we’d be too busy touring to get back to the studio. So, after the first one was finished, we took a short break and went back to Rockfield to lay down some more tracks.
ROGER: Jake didn’t feel we would have time to record and get it out in time otherwise. It features some amazing guest stars.
PETE: We couldn’t wait to get back in the studio because we had so much new material and wanted to keep the creative flow going as long as possible. Fortunately, Roger was able to get us back into Rockfield again. We recorded a number of new songs live in the studio with Attractions drummer Pete Thomas.
ANDREW: Personally, I think the second album had a great deal of promise and there are loads of tracks on it that easily match Walls Have Ears.
SPAZ: Pete appears on Nick Lowe’s The Abominable Showman album (produced by Roger), which also features an unreleased Blanket Of Secrecy song. Was Roger working with Nick at the same time as the B.O.S. album?
ROGER: I was producing the album with Nick. I brought Pete in for backing vocals. Pete also did the backups for me on a Robert Ellis Orrall duet with Carlene Carter.
PETE: Yes, Nick covered one of our songs, "Cool Reaction.”
SPAZ: What happened after the Walls Have Ears release?
ANDREW: You know that famous image of an Angel on one shoulder and the Devil on the other whispering in our ears? Well let’s just say that the Devil won out. I should state that this was not the whole band/team. It came totally out of the blue and devastated us especially Roger and I, Jake was particularly hit.
PETE: I was tempted by other offers. Basically, I lost my way and I regret it!
SPAZ: What other projects have you been involved with since B.O.S.’ demise?
ANDREW: I went on to work with Simon Byrne and Roger on an album Called Dream Crazy which got signed up to Epic Records in New York. We wrote “Heart And Soul”, which appeared on The Monkees album Pool It, which Roger produced. After that, I did some work with a few of Roger’s projects, helping singers with backing tracks and ideas. I did an audition for The Kim Wilde band but I was too good! Kim was cool though and a friend of Carlene Carter, who the Blankets worked with on C’est C Bon. I helped produce Dr. And The Medics’ first single and recorded (in my studio) a few local bands. I fell in love and quit the biz. I much prefer being with Alex.
PETE: I carried on songwriting and got involved with a music library. In 2006, I moved to France and teamed up with some brilliant French musicians. I’ve written loads of new songs and done many concerts. I’m really enjoying playing live again.
ROGER: I carried on engineering and producing, later setting up my own production company in New York. I then drifted into management, signing Tom McRae to BMG. He basically began the whole singer/songwriter movement. Then Irish band Bell X1 signing to Island/Universal. They became the second biggest band out of Ireland after U2 (whom they supported), playing to stadium audiences and gaining a following around the world.
SPAZ: Were you aware of the band’s internet presence over the years and the well-deserved respect and devotion of your fans? Are you still surprised by the effect your music has had on people? Gary Maher certainly made his mark by ‘exposing’the band’s members a while back…
ANDREW: I only became aware of it when I did a free trial on the internet and found Gary’s page. It was through him that Roger and I got back in touch after a 12 year gap. I AM BLOWN AWAY by the fact that we have any fans at all. I had no idea that the music had had such an effect. In fact, Gary almost made me cry at one point telling me how much he loved the album. When he found out I was only 22 at the time, he commented on how mature an album it was for someone so young to be involved in. Mature? Moi? Anyway, I count Gary as a real inspiration as well, so there!
PETE: I’m surprised and very pleased that the band has so much interest on the internet. I’ve spoken with Gary and really appreciate his devotion!
SPAZ: While you are all in touch these days, did you manage to stay in contact over the years?
ROGER: I'd been in touch with Andrew but not with Pete until recently.
ANDREW: We had previously got back together as B.O.S. and some new songs were recorded but that was a long, long time ago. I bumped into Pete at a giant DIY store in Charlton and it turned out we had been living just round the corner from each other (literally), in Plumstead SE18, for about 11 years! Anyway, I’ve seen more of Roger than Pete.
PETE: When Roger told me he wanted to remaster the album, I contacted Andy and suggested we write some new stuff. Over the last six months, we’ve written and recorded 16 new songs. I’ve really enjoyed it. We did it all on the internet, exchanging files and ideas on the web. You couldn’t do that in the ‘80s. Now, it’s up to Roger to mix it
SPAZ: What inspired Roger to go back and remaster the album for release?
ROGER: Its part of an ongoing idea I have to release a bunch of things I've been part of over the years.
ANDREW: For me, there is a need for closure. A lot of time, money and hard, although enjoyable, work went into the album and Roger applied all his many and various talents to the tracks. Indeed the whole album is a part of him and it only exists, as it does, because of him. He is a consummate professional as well as a creative genius and therefore, this is something that just has to be done… although, he would probably never admit it. That’s my opinion anyway.
SPAZ: How do you feel about the project now, some 30 years later? Do you believe that it has stood the test of time?
ROGER: Yes I do, strangely. I'm not sure if it’s down to the fact that I know the work so totally. Every fader push, EQ tweak, FX, performance, and over dub…every little detail. But I do think we had captured a certain magic between us, we created something new and unique. It was a magical moment.
PETE: I feel the album still sounds original. Memorable songs, great performances, great vocals, brilliant production.
ANDREW: I still love the whole idea of having been involved on such an amazing project. Project seems such a mercenary term. It was the best and the worst of my musical experience. And we wouldn’t be having this conversation if it hadn’t stood the test of time.
SPAZ: With the digital re-release of Walls Have Ears, what is next for B.O.S.?
ANDREW: The release of the previously unheard second album but only the Good Lord knows exactly what then. If it takes off to a reasonable degree then there are other songs all ready to go, enough for a third album. Anyone interested in funding it?
PETE: Hopefully, at least three more albums. Keep the dream alive!
SPAZ: If possible, can you share your memories of the album’s tracks?
“Say You Will”
ROGER: I knew this was the hit. I wanted the acoustic guitar riff to sound like an earthquake. I spent ages choosing the right ad-libs from Pete at the end of the song. He sounds amazing.
ANDREW: Without a shadow of a doubt at all, “Say You Will” is the most fantastic song I have ever worked on. The bass line and acoustic guitar riff are totally brilliant. The vocals awesome… I remember being face down on the desk with the monitors at full blast not able to believe what I was hearing. There are some pretty good sound systems around today but to be in the control room at Rockfield studios on the night the mix got played back blows them all away. There I said it - best musical moment in my life.
ANDREW: “Young Heart” has a fast and finger-stretching bass part which I wrote in the key of F! I can still feel the pain in my left hand today, but a great Pop song and well worth the blisters.
“Love Me Too”
ANDREW: Another great and quite fast song with a brilliant vocal from Pete…again!
“Remember Me And You”
ANDREW: “Remember Me And You” was great fun to record, a real rolling along track with a brill catchy chorus.
“Long Cool Glass”
ANDREW: “Long Cool Glass” had a bottle of wine being opened on tape. We deliberately got the timing wrong so we could drink a load of the stuff. Unfortunately, the more we drank, the more out of sync we got. We got there in the end but felt very ill the next day..
ANDREW: “Photograph” is one of my favorite tracks. I love the bass line and guitar echoes. And if you believe in that sort of thing, the lyrics are almost prophetic. “You could have been a star, travelled the world far and wide.”
ANDREW: Pete wrote “Yo Yo” with an old mate of ours, Ron Chadwick, who was a surrealist artist, I have a painting of his hanging on the wall in my music room. It’s the Beatles with storm clouds gathering in the distance. Again, very fast with loads and loads of vocals and a very infectious feel and chorus.
“Close To Me”
ANDREW: “Close To Me” is another favorite. Fantastic feel and the sounds are mainly from the old Casio which made the track so special, too much of anything else would have lost it.
“Something I Don’t Need”
ANDREW: Good idea. I remember Roger spending hours creating the effects on the vocals in the middle section “Ahhs.” Great sound.
“Tell Me Baby”
ANDREW: Real rocky track which tested Pete’s stamina, not! He sang this with relish and real feeling as well. Late night session I recall.
ANDREW: Like I said before, great string arrangement by a very skilled musician (Jack Hues) and a fantastic job by Roger who put his heart and soul into the track.
ROGER: Great vocal performance and great string arrangements.
ANDREW: “B.O.S. Theme” started life with me, I think, but grew in the studio. Started out as a bit of fun but ended up with a very haunting sound. I loved playing on it. It should have been picked up for TV.
ROGER: I recorded rain outside the studio and mixed it in to the chorus. Andy’s bass parts are just great and made the tune.
“Feather In My Hand”
ANDREW: Another killer riff with some cool power chords in the chorus, quirky vocal in the verse and another excellent example of Pete’s vocal range.
“In The Garden”
ANDREW: I seem to recall that grew out of something else and starts to point to where we were going. Weird and wonderful… that’s really all I can say.
ROGER: The backing track was from something else I had been working on. Everything else was pasted on top.
Thirty years after the album was released, Roger has gone back to the original tapes and remastered them. While there have been numerous bootleg versions floating around on the internet over the past decade, the band is officially reissuing the album as it was meant to be heard. The warmth of the recording and the full and crisp sound brings the band’s music to life again. The timelessness of the songwriting and performances still sound fresh and invigorating. This release will be rapturously embraced by their long-time fans, but it also gives a whole new generation the opportunity to hear one of the greatest unsung Pop albums of the past 30 years.
Special thanks to Andrew Howell, Roger Bechirian, Pete Marsh and Gary Maher.
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