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Crispy Ambulance \ Biography

A questing (and quaintly named) postpunk quartet from South Manchester, Crispy Ambulance frequently dismissed as Joy Division copyists in 1980, and proof that Factory Records were occasionally fallible. The truth is very different, for as their Factory Benelux recordings prove, Crispy Ambulance were a bold, innovative and often fearless group whose layering of experimental textures and timbres over traditional rock structures has barely dated, and still sounds astonishingly fresh.

The group initially came together as a duo in 1977 with the intention of performing Magazine and Hawkwind covers. "Hawkwind were like the step-brothers of punk," proposes mainman Alan Hempsall, then aged 17. "Very anarchic, and all their songs were just as easy to play." After debuting at Spurley Hey Youth Centre on 1 January 1978, Alan and guitarist Robert Davenport were joined by bassist Keith Darbyshire and drummer Gary Madeley. "All four of us first discovered music in the early 1970s. Rob was into Todd Rundgren and Jethro Tull, Gary liked Gong - as did I - and at some point Keith dragged the rest of them off to see Rush at the Apollo. I went along to the first Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976, chiefly out of curiosity, but I was more into Magma at the time so I pretty much shrugged it off. I preferred things that were hard to pin down, so the first new wave band I really got into was Magazine, and after that Throbbing Gristle."

By 1978 the teenage quartet were gigging regularly in the Greater Manchester area, often at Manchester Musicians' Collective nights at the Band on the Wall and the Cyprus Tavern. The novel moniker was suggested by friend Graham Massey, later of Biting Tongues and 808 State. "He has a way with words," said Hempsall, "and at the time every other band was called 'The...' (fill in blank space), whereas 'Crispy Ambulance' gave nothing away with regard to image, musical style etc, but at the same time captured the imagination."

"None of our early tunes passed the test of time and it took about 18 months to find an identity. Then Joy Division stumbled upon us in 1978 at a gig we played in Manchester, and they liked our approach, even if the material was a little weak. They dragged Rob Gretton, their new manager, down to see us some months later, and as a result we did a gig with them at The Factory club in Hulme on 13 July 1979, around the time Unknown Pleasures was released."

More local gigs followed, as well as a couple of demo recordings at Graveyard Studio in Prestwich. These included Motorway Boys, a superior meditation on adolescent drug ritual, which would later surface on The Blue and Yellow of the Yacht Club, a cassette-only compilation of formative early material, and appeared more recently on the Keeping Control - Independent Music From Manchester CD box set. In January 1980 the band returned to Graveyard to record their first single, picking From the Cradle to the Grave and Four Minutes From the Frontline as the strongest numbers in an ever-changing live set. The 7" was released in April as a double a-side on their own Aural Assault label.

"The idea for Aural Assault came from the fact that we'd already tried Rough Trade and Factory and they'd turned us down," explains Hempsall. "But Rough Trade gave us loads of info and addresses for a do-it-yourself single, which Rob Gretton encouraged us to do. So I came up with the bank loan and the name. There was an initial pressing of 1000, which sold quite quickly, and a repressing of 4000, half of which remained under my bed. Looking back, I recall how pissed off I was at having been turned down by all these independent labels, but if I had my time over I'd do the same again."

Following the untimely death of Ian Curtis in May 1980 Rob Gretton became a director at Factory Records, and in July persuaded Crispy Ambulance to release their next recording through the label. Ironically, given previous snubs, 4AD also expressed interest in the band at the same time. Titled Unsightly and Serene, FAC 32 became one of Gretton's first projects as an A&R man at Factory. Hempsall: "We recorded the second single in two days in July, with a day's rest in the middle. It was on the middle day that I discovered Factory wanted us. We used Stuart Pickering and Graveyard again because we had demo-ed with him in the early days. Also, he had been my old physics teacher at school. We wanted the second single to be a 12", but when it was mastered Tony Wilson just decided to do a 10", so it was out of our hands."

The Factory association had already been strengthened when Hempsall stood in for Ian Curtis at Joy Division's infamous 'riot' gig at Bury Derby Hall on 8 April 1980, performing Digital, Love Will Tear Us Apart and Sister Ray. Those seeking a blow-by-blow account are directed to Shadowplayers, the Factory documentary film released in 2006; the amusing portrayal of the same event in the movie Control (2008) is highly fictionalised. Also worth noting is that Hempsall, in interviewing Joy Division for sci-fi magazine Extro at the sessions for Love Will Tear Us Apart, was responsible for one of the few genuinely enlightening band interviews to appear in print during their short lifetime.

Alas Tony Wilson didn't share Gretton's enthusiasm for Crispy Ambulance. "Tony never liked us, but suffered us because Rob liked what we did. Since Rob had become a shareholder, Tony had no choice but to bite his lip. Tony later told me that Crispy Ambulance was the worst band name on Factory - until he signed Thick Pigeon."

Alongside FAC 32, July 1980 also saw the band record a four song session for Piccadilly Radio. While both The Presence and Concorde Square would later be re-recorded with Martin Hannett for release as a single, Eastern Bloc and A Sense of Reason remained exclusive to the session. Remarkably, all four songs taped for John Peel the following January were also kept exclusive to radio. "The John Peel session kind of summed up our whole approach," Hempsall reflects. "There was always an internal battle within the group. On the one hand, naturally wanting to do our very best, the surest way of achieving this being to be tight and well-rehearsed. Working at a total counterpoint to this was the urge to be more experimental, to take risks. So for the BBC session we had three songs that lasted about two months, and one which we made up on the spot (Egypt), and never played again."

The high quality of both sessions would be confirmed by Tim Anstaett in the Offense Newsletter: "Drug User/Drug Pusher is one of the many tracks that gives irrefutable testimony to Crispy Ambulance's brilliance, but it's the one that presents the strongest arguments. Come On is the most rock n' roll sounding they ever got, and October 31st is the only one that sounds like it would fit right in on The Plateau Phase."

But this is to jump ahead. In the summer of 1980 Hempsall declined an invitation to try out as vocalist in New Order, preferring instead to stick with his own band. In November second single Unsightly and Serene was issued as FAC 32, with driving rocker Deaf emerging as one of the band's most durable songs. Conversely the maudlin flipside, Not What I Expected, remains one of the slightest songs committed to vinyl by the band, while an overly gothic sleeve design (borrowed from Dante's Inferno) edged into the realm of cliche. This was unfortunate, since unflattering comparisons between Joy Division and Crispy Ambulance now became commonplace, and would continue to blight their career long after they found their own sound and identity. Confusing form and substance, critics also found fault in the fact that not every Factory act was as visibly novel as A Certain Ratio or Durutti Column. The result was doctrinaire reviews such as this single line from NME on the ICA Rock Week: "Crispy Ambulance were so uninspiring (and uninspired) that they do not deserve to waste any more of this space."

"Live it's like a visual drug," the garrulous singer told Sounds, whose staffer Dave McCullough became a rare press champion. "You get the audience out there expecting a regular Factory act and they discover that the singer's got long hair, the guitarist wears flares, the drummer's got a beard and the bassist has his overcoat on. We're always engineering things for an audience, never pandering to them."

Certainly the group tended to confound in the context of live performance. "On the whole we always kept gigs to a minimum because we found we could make each performance more unique with new material for each one, whereas on a tour the performances lose some of their individuality,' said Hempsall. "We preferred the idea that by keeping gigs down we were giving the audience something special, and not to be repeated. This also meant we enjoyed playing live even more because the novelty never wore off."

"We have only a bare skeletal structure preconceived, leaving a vast amount of space for spontaneity onstage. Being extremists is a risky business, but that's just what I like about it. For me, there's no fun in safety... We presume the audience will expect one thing of us, so we do the opposite. It's a basic fear of typecasting."

After two promising singles, the first real sign that Crispy Ambulance were more than just a odd name came with their third vinyl outing, Live On A Hot August Night. Not live, and taped at Cargo Studio in Rochdale in January 1981, the session was produced by legendary sonic architect Martin Hannett, who in only a few hours conjured a superlative sound rated by many as one of his finest productions. Experimenting boldly with track length and structure, the single offered two extended pieces, with The Presence a hypnotic ballad, drifting almost weightlessly above a soft electronic pulse and whiplash snare, counterbalanced on the flip by the uptempo metallic KO of Concorde Square.

In common with many other musicians, Hempsall found working with Hannett somewhat disconcerting. "At Cargo we discovered that Martin wasn't going to be doing a great deal in terms of production. He just sat at the back and did very little at all, and let John Brierley do all the engineering. His input was nil. We were also told in no uncertain terms that Martin didn't like his bands being there at the mix, and that he'd rather just get on with it, so I had to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to attend the final mixing at Britannia Row."

Concorde Square closes with an eerie 6 minute dronescape pitched somewhere between Eno and Stockhausen. "That was something I'd dreamt up, because I was listening to a lot of choral music at the time. The voices were very pure and I'd done about six or seven overdubs in different tones over a full octave. To my horror, when I got to Britannia Row I found Martin feeding my pure, untreated vocal signal through an ARP 2600. It looked like a telephone exchange, and he was plugging in wires and plugging them out, feeding the signal, all for about two hours. By the end the thing was so twisted it sounded completely different. Do you follow the politics and say nothing? When I listen to it now the results speak for themselves, but in my mind, at the time, I was horrified."

Although Factory shot a video for The Presence, the mordant choral outro on Concorde Square triggered a free transfer to European sister label Factory Benelux. "Hot August Night was the first time we actually went into the studio as a Factory band. As a matter of course Hannett was used because he was The Factory Producer. Then Tony craftily got us off his back by depositing us on Factory Benelux, which we didn't object to because Tony was only making things difficult for us whilst on Factory. Whereas Michel Duval, boss of Factory's Belgian counterpart, genuinely liked us, and had an enthusiasm for the records almost as strong as our own. Rob Gretton was always more interested in tunes than anything else, so when we had six minutes of voices and piano on the end of Concorde Square he found this a bit strange. We began to move out of his field of understanding."

Comprehension was also found wanting amongst lazy journalists when the single appeared on 12" in July. According to Melody Maker: "The best and worst of Martin Hannett and, as usual, you can forget about the band. The Presence illustrates his genius for that eerie, evocative snare-obsessed sound, cleverly maintaining interest in another Curtis clone crooning another doomy dodo of a tune. Concorde Square, however, is the most melodramatic manifestation yet of his frustrating feedback fetish, allowing the group a begrudgingly cursory run for their money before picking put a particularly rich resonance and toying with it into uncharted territories of tedium. One for earnest New Orderites and strict Samaritan-cases only."

At least the Maker had bothered to listen to the record - all 22 minutes - from beginning to end. According to NME: "After the power and the passion that was Joy Division, imitators like Crispy Ambulance just sound listless and unoriginal."

Following the switch to Benelux, the following year Crispy Ambulance would deliver an album which many regard as a jewel in the Factory crown. Recorded over eight days in September at Strawberry 2, The Plateau Phase stands today as a bold, innovative record. Despite limited studio time, and with Chris Nagle in place of Hannett (now in dispute with Factory over The Hacienda), the scope, diversity and ambition of the ten songs still shine through. Wind Season and Bardo Plane offered direct modern rock, while Simon's Ghost (like the choral outro which so perplexed Rob Gretton) brought to mind kosmische music and Popol Vuh. Moreover Are You Ready? (replete with slowed down xylophone chimes) and the lengthy title track dared to hint at progressive rock, causing consternation amongst "earnest New Orderites" such as this writer, who purchased the album on the strength of disapproving comparative reviews.

"It was a perfect storm," says Hempsall. "Chris allowed us to experiment freely whilst we gave him free reign over the mixing desk, outboard toys and overall structure. He deserves a good deal of credit for the overall feel of the album." All 10 tracks continued the bold experimental tone of the Hot August Night EP. "It marked an intense period of creativity informed by the new music we were being exposed to, and the films we'd seen around that time: Eraserhead, Scorpio Rising, Apocalypse Now, Warhol's Dracula and Argento's Suspiria all played a part. To the point where we became curious about what could result from our opening ourselves up to a partial breaking away from traditional song structures and experimenting with the concept of soundtrack and incidental music. Film music looking for a film, so to speak."

Aged 16 in 1982, and a relative newcomer to the sober mysteries of the Factory canon, I purchased The Plateau Phase in the safe expectation of Known Pleasures. Putting the needle to the groove, however, my initial reaction was one of confusion, and even disdain. Are You Ready? kicked off side one with the sound of bells. Church bells perhaps? Alarm bells, more like, at least to my year zero ears, heralding the dark side of the Floyd. And what to make of the lycanthropic howling which presaged Chill? Or the whistling on Death From Above? Or the monolithic metal riffing of Federation?

I had no idea. If anything was certain, it was only that the album sounded very different to the singles which preceded it. True, I quickly came round, but even today I cannot easily explain what makes listening to The Plateau Phase such a unique personal experience. The mood of the album is by turns nocturnal, twilit, druggy, and the tone often claustrophobic, unsettling or relentless. Think of Travel Time, with its nagging guitar motif, like its narrative, "running away from an enemy that's pushing ever onwards". Or the title track, a creeping barrage of bass-heavy synthetics, the lyrics focused on thirst and drowning. There's more "falling back into the water" on Chill, and apparently no dawn following each dark night of the soul.

Only Bardo Plane and Wind Season fulfilled immediate cold wave expectations. The album sounded genuinely disconcerting in 1982, and utterly out of time. This the band encouraged, investing in the dirtiest-sounding ARP synth available in preference to the string models then coming into vogue. And like Magazine, Comsat Angels, The Sound or Random Hold, Crispy Ambulance used the best of what progressive forebears such as Faust, Eno, Crimson, Pink Floyd and Van Der Graaf Generator had offered a decade before, but without stooping to outright plagiarism. In doing so the band actually looked forward, which is precisely why their music has aged so remarkably well, and makes much more sense four decades later.

Spotters may care to note that the album title refers to a stage in the female orgasm. The Plateau Phase was released on Factory Benelux as FBN 12 in March 1982, arriving in an unappealing lilac sleeve commissioned from noted Belgian designer Lucien De Roeck, whose best work was by then clearly behind him. The album peaked at #21 in the independent album charts, failing to reach much beyond the Factory faithful, but according to Sounds the best new album since Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo.

Ironically, sales may well have been boosted by glib comparisons with Joy Division. Although it should have been clear from the music on TPP that the charge was by now redundant, the opinion of Mat Snow, writing in the NME, was typical: "I looked forward with some trepidation to reviewing this LP. The sleeve is offensively tasteful. Subdued lilac with the barest information inscribed in italic calligraphy. Song titles such as The Force and the Wisdom and We Move Through The Plateau Phase did nothing to alleviate my growing apprehension. But the record inside surpassed even my worst expectations. This is one of the most pretentious, turgid and tedious LPs I've ever heard. Slavish imitation of Joy Division doth not good music make. All the trade-marks are there - relentless inverted drumming, ominous bass lines, dramatic flanged guitar, bleak synth washes and a lone desperate voice. But whereas Joy Division were sincere and inspired in their depiction of obsession, loss and desolation, Crispy Ambulance are portentous, inane and very, very boring. Has Tony Wilson gone mad?"

Interviewed in February 1983, Hempsall remained philosophical. "It was a combination of three factors that made us the media's favourite whipping boys: joining Factory, our early JD influence, and Ian's death. It would be stupid of me to deny that Joy Division had a considerable influence on our music around the time of our first single, and I see no shame in that. Prior to Ian's death people who were fans of JD appreciated what we were trying to do. We never set out the deliberately sound derivative. Then afterwards the same people became wrapped up in the romance of the whole unfortunate episode, and presto! - all of a sudden we were treading on sacred ground."

"Ironically the first single sounded more derivative than anything else, yet when it got reviewed there was not one mention of Joy Division. The Plateau Phase is an album I'm very pleased with and have no doubts about, yet it got the worst reception of them all. The publicity we received in Europe was much more favourable, and the responses at live performances far more enthusiastic than in Britain on the whole."

In January 1982, prior to the release of the album, the band had toured Europe in tandem with Section 25, then reduced to a two-piece after the departure of original guitarist Paul Wiggin. The jaunt was organised by Wally van Middendorp (of Dutch labelmates Minny Pops) and comprised six dates in Holland, with one apiece in Germany (Bochum) and Belgium (Brussels). The Section's sound man, Jon Hurst, was no conservative when it came to interpreting the aural assault produced by both bands onstage, and it's thanks to him that most of these remarkable performances were preserved on tape. On several dates the two groups took the stage for combined encore jams, which included skewed versions of The Beast, Girls Don't Count and Haunted. The latter, from Bochum, can be heard on the Section 25 archive set Live in America and Europe 1982.

The European tour would eventually result in two belated records. The first was an uptempo single, Sexus, recorded in haste at Little Big One in Brussels between gigs and released a full two years later as a 12" on Factory Benelux (FBN 18). Sexus was backed by the more experimental Black Death (Life Is Knife), which, despite sounding improvised, was performed several times on the tour. The group would return to Brussels to remix the tracks prior to release, but alas both still sounded somewhat rushed.

Soundboard tapes taken from the European tour (as well as several UK dates) were later edited down for a cassette-only release, Open, Gates of Fire. This contained roughly two-thirds unheard material, the sheer velocity of which - on Brutal and The Plateau Phase in particular - came as a surprise to those familiar only with the group's more measured studio output. Perhaps the biggest surprise was a strangely straight cover of United, Throbbing Gristle's paean to transcontinental postal correspondence, recorded at the Circus, Soho, in December 1981. Aa full-blown cover of the song was even mooted as a single, although wisely the idea was shelved.

More interesting were two long sequencer-based tracks, Choral and The Poison. Both explored a style the band never took into the studio, not least because a more electronic musical direction failed to gain a unanimous vote of approval among all four members. Nevertheless they offer a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. So too do Rainforest Ritual, At the Sounding of the Klaxon and Nightfall Ends the Ceasefire, all three brooding and sinister rock instrumentals which betray the influence of Faust, Can and sundry arthouse horror flics.

Reviewing the live cassette in Sounds in 1983, the ever-helpful Dave McCullough found time to reappraise the undervalued Factory Benelux album: "The Plateau Phase saw Crispy as the new Doors, there and waiting. The kind of raw energy it whipped up was only matched by the kind of non-response it received. It wasn't only ahead of its time, it seemed to have invented its own time, which is a neat way of putting it, as Plateau was about Time... and still ranks as a monster of an album."

But by then the band had gone. Crispy Ambulance struggled on until November 1982, performing a few more gigs in London and the North of England before deciding that the project had run its course. Despite the fact that the dark matt textures of post-punk had by now given way to the gloss finish of new pop, their final live date, at Nottingham Adub Club on 13 October, featured only new material, including Cult, Say Shake and Lucifer Rising. The mission might have been terminated, but it had not been compromised.

Although the surreal brand name was retired, all four members continued playing together under the name Ram Ram Kino (German slang for porn cinema) with an expanded line-up. EMI expressed interest and financed demo time, but their first and only single was released on Psychic TV's Temple label, with Hempsall again exploring the TG connection. Advantage (Tantric Routines 1-4) contained four funk-based cuts, somewhat reminiscent of Shriekback and Chakk, and marked a deliberate foray into the commercial zone. It's worth seeking out by completists, but both the record and the band lacked the exploratory ambition of Crispy Ambulance, and RRK would eventually fold in 1987.

In 1985 LTM released the core of the live cassette as a vinyl album, Fin. Again drawing on tapes recorded by Jon Hurst during the winter of 1981/82, Fin reflected the fact that during this period the band had developed with remarkable speed. Had the band set down a second album in 1982 it might now stand as a classic. As it was, this collection served as a worthy substitute, and one which attracted positive (albeit posthumous) reviews, even from the NME: "Long before Manchester crawled back into flared trousers, bands such as Crispy Ambulance were busily painting their city black with urban mood music. The Crispies were doomed at the time by being compared to Joy Division, but as this record shows, they were much looser and far less serious than the mighty JD. Fin captures them in action onstage, lashing their audience with such songs as Lucifer Rising and a wild version of United. Too bad this fine band ended up in the casualty ward."

"Unlike the sequenced, formulaic English disco bands which trace their lineage to the Factory years, Crispy Ambulance took chances, playing almost entirely new material at every gig. Live, their songs typically featured extended synthesiser or guitar intros and distorted, often improvised vocals. The instrumentals included here - At the Sounding of the Klaxon, built around a disjointed melody interspersed with sound effects; Rainforest Ritual, a spacey guitar solo; and Nightfall Ends the Ceasefire, featuring shimmering drums, long synth chords, and hypnotic guitar picking - are some of the best jams this reviewer has ever heard from a band retrospectively cordoned off into the English new wave scene."

In 1990 both Fin and The Plateau Phase were remastered for CD, each gaining extra tracks, favourable reviews and (for the Factory Benelux album) revised artwork. Both CDs emerged again on LTM in 1999, and the following year were joined by Frozen Blood, an archive CD including both sides of the Factory single as well as the eight studio tracks recorded for Peel and Piccadilly Radio, along with further unheard live cuts. Hempsall: "The reason why so much of our stuff wasn't released on vinyl is because we wrote songs at quite a rate, so in between studio sessions whole sets of material would come and go. Hence the release of Blue and Yellow and Open, Gates of Fire. Of all the material put out on record or tape there must be as much again that has never been heard."

Completists can also seek out A Factory Record, a 7" EP released in 1991 by Washington DC band Unrest on Sub Pop. Alongside covers of ESG, Miaow and Crawling Chaos, Unrest also took a run at Deaf, albeit without improving on the original.

Much to the delight of those who missed them first time round, on 5 November 1999 all four original members reconvened for a one-off show at the Band On the Wall in Manchester. Intended to mark the reissue of Fin and The Plateau Phase on CD, weeks of intensive rehearsal prepared the ground for a fine live performance, attended by a partisan crowd and preserved for posterity on a live CD, Accessory After the Fact, mixed by Graham Massey.

The re-formed band then followed up with two studio albums of new material, Scissorgun (2002) and The Powder Blind Dream (2004). Both were produced by Graham Massey, and released by American label Darla in association with LTM. The group also played four dates on the East Coast of America in November 2002, excerpts from which appeared on the free live CD, Atlantic Crossing, and appeared with Biting Tongues at the London ICA in May 2003. In December 2007 the band resumed activity for two more live shows, with a low-key warm-up in Manchester followed by the sold-out A Factory Night (Once Again) event at Plan K in Brussels, along with Section 25, The Names and Kevin Hewick. Most of the Crispies' set appeared on the subsequent souvenir DVD. Meanwhile a new CD edition of The Plateau Phase on the revived Factory Benelux imprint restored the original De Roeck artwork, colour corrected.

After another hiatus, in 2014 the original quartet reconvened for four more British dates, performing with Section 25 and Minny Pops in Manchester on 19 April to mark Record Store Day, and drawing high praise from the Guardian newspaper. "Perhaps if they'd not been overshadowed by Joy Division and had such a daft name, dark psychedelists Crispy Ambulance would have had a better fate than being immortalised in a Half Man Half Biscuit track ("You're going on after Crispy Ambulance!"). The reformed, re-energised foursome emit a driven intensity rarely heard from alienated teens, never mind men in their 50s."

The Manchester date was followed by shows in Leeds, Bury and London, the latter two once more in company with Section 25. The group rounded off the year by recording new versions of several older songs for release as an EP in 2015. The project swiftly expanded to became a full studio album, Compulsion, recorded and mixed by fifth member Massey, serving (perhaps) as a belated sequel to The Plateau Phase. It also marked the release, only 30 years late, of original TPP outtake Rain Without Clouds, newly mixed from the original Strawberry multi-track.

Compulsion was issued as a vinyl-only album by Factory Benelux (FBN 54) in a limited edition of 500 copies for Record Store Day in April 2015. After a 'Made In Manchester' triple-bill with Section 25 and B Movie at the Deaf Institute, the group changed tack, electing to write and perform mostly instrumental material, with Hempsall now playing keyboards. "During rehearsals for The Deaf Institute gig we decided we'd like to carry on playing music together. However it didn't seem very worthwhile or rewarding to keep doing our back catalogue just for the sake of it, and with no ultimate goal."

"So we thought about forcing a change in our approach to writing by my giving up singing altogether and moving over to synths and guitars, and allowing Robert to do the same, while Keith and Gary remained on bass and drums to provide a solid foundation from which to experiment with. So far this has worked quite well, with new instrumental arrangements being written seemingly at will. Quite different to the Factory era, and far removed from the two albums on Darla."

This new creative focus was unveiled at a multi-media 'happening' at the Dulcimer (Chorlton) on June 3rd, billed as the Crispy Ambulance Subliminal Impulse Review. Music written for all four SI events staged in 2015/16 was subsequently recorded as a new studio album, Random Textures, issued by Factory Benelux in September 2016, and entirely instrumental. Talking to Louder Than War Hempsall revealed: "We've always liked doing material that could be used as soundtrack music, like Death From Above and Simon's Ghost, albeit for fairly disturbing films. Random Textures is the sound of us spooking ourselves in our cellar studio."

The CD version arrived as a double disc set, with the bonus disc an expanded version of Compulsion. Since then Crispy Ambulance have fallen quiet, a proposed fifth studio album titled Reset:Decoder remaining unfinished, and only Stratos from these sessions appearing on a Factory Benelux compilation (Constellation de Comportements) in 2019. However Hempsall has continued making music as one half of electronic duo Scissorgun, as well as organising the Subliminal Impulse electronic music festival in Manchester between 2019 and 2022, while Madeley, Davenport and Darbyshire still play together as DNR.

Meanwhile the band continue to contribute key tracks to landmark genre compilations such as Factory Records: Communications 1978-1992, Manchester North of England, Keeping Control and the Steven Wilson-curated Intrigue. Best of all, The Presence found itself selected by Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate, as an inheritance track on BBC Radio 4. "There's probably only me and about three other people in the world who like it," teased Armitage. "When Crispy Ambulance released their first album it got the worst review in NME I've ever seen. It included the word turgid. I didn't even know what that meant at the time and I had to look it up. I was 18 when I first heard Live on a Hot August Night and I'd got a summer job in a factory in Huddersfield. I got home one night - and it was a hot August night - and I dragged the record player outside into the garden as far as the lead would allow it to go. I got a can of beer from the fridge and I put this record on, and it was just 13 minutes and 4 seconds of dreaming."

"Crispy Ambulance may be best remembered as a Half Man Half Biscuit punchline," concurs writer/curator Bob Stanley. "But Simon's Ghost, the last track on their album The Plateau Phase, is a beautifully eerie thing."

James Nice (revised 2023)

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Crispy Ambulance
Crispy Ambulance
Crispy Ambulance