Miranda Sex Garden - one of the UK’s leading underground bands - returns after a five year absence and featuring a new line-up. Their new album Carnival of Souls marks the re-emergence of a band which they admit is made up of the "most inappropriate people ever to work together".
Carnival of Souls is the first album to appear on a new record label, SugarDaddy Records, which lead vocalist Katharine Blake has co-founded. It is also the first since the success of Katharine’s other project - the Mediaeval Baebes - for which she is musical director and whose first two albums have topped the classical charts.
The current incarnation of Miranda Sex Garden consists of founder member Katharine on lead vocals, Trevor Sharpe on drums, Ben Golomstock on weird guitar, Teresa Casella (TC also from the Baebes) on bass, Mike Servent on keyboards and Barney Hollington on violin. The new album features the haunting 'Tonight' on which the band is joined by Katharine’s father Robin on sax and brother Andrew on trumpet; a startling cover of the Duke Ellington jazz standard 'Caravan' and the instrumental 'Escape from Kilburn', a song depicting their exodus from the area towards the upmarket heights of Tufnell Park and Stoke Newington.
The band has come a long way since 1991 when the band consisted of Katharine, Jocelyn West and Kelly McCusker singing madrigals - a trio who had been discovered busking on the Portobello Road by Barry Adamson. Their first album Madra - featuring the single 'Gush Forth My Tears' - was recorded for Mute in just 2 days. Danny Rampling did the remix; Katharine hated it and is unable to listen to it to this day. This era saw Miranda singing madrigals to hostile Blur fans at London’s Astoria. The girls’ refusal to flinch despite the routine beer boy catcalls of "Get yer tits out" won them the respect of press and public alike. "We wouldn’t stop" remembered Kelly. "The tension was incredible. We enjoyed it".
The album Madra had the critics effusing greatly. "The tabernacle in which we sit is transformed by sheer dint of harmony and poise into another place, where the sky lies like a canopy of blue velvet and the brightest stars are MSG" gushed forth the Evening Standard.
Ben and Trevor joined the band for the mini-album Iris, which was followed by the single Play in January 1993. Kelly and Jocelyn departed and other fellow-travellers - notably Donna McKevitt and Hepzibah Sessa - came and later went. The album Suspiria - named after an Italian horror film by Dario Argento and featuring an ultimately weird version of David Lynch’s 'In Heaven (Everything is Fine)' (from Eraserhead) saw the band move away from their classical origins to produce an album which was described by Melody Maker as "like a mosaic or a stained glass window, it can seem thoroughly artificial and heart-stoppingly beautifaul at the same time". The band went on to play live shows with the likes of Nick Cave, Curve and the Balanescu Quartet and played on the soundtrack for Derek Jarman’s Blue.
The band went on their first tour supporting Spiritualized and then began playing at London’s S&M emporium The Torture Garden. Their erotic dabblings (Katharine says "we managed to corner the perv market for a while") also found a place at The Lunatic Fringe for which Katharine also supplied performance art and cabaret. The sessions involved mad all night parties with Miranda Sex Garden headlining eclectic performances from the likes of the late Leigh Bowery, Kula Shaker (known at the time as The Ks), and "a very drunk and very naked" Simon Fisher Turner.
1994 saw the release of Fairytales of Slavery, produced by Einsturzende Neubauten’s Alex Hacke and expressing their growing interest in all things fetishistic. The album was launched with a performance by the band in the window of Tower Records, Piccadilly Circus as bemused tourists strained to catch the significance of this representation of their single Peepshow. A support gig in Berlin turned into an extraordinary experience when 22,000 angry Depeche Mode fans threw everything they could find at the stage - blankets, gherkins and other rubbish. MSG responded musically to the challenge. "It felt like warfare" recalls Ben, "but it was great fun".
Miranda Sex Garden left Mute Records in 1995 and went their separate ways. Katharine continued her cabaret performances in London at the Waikiki Lounge with sets including "Diamonds are Forever" in which she performed in a spangley silver film star dress, then revealed her gold painted body for a naked rendition of 'Goldfinger'. She formed the Mediaeval Baebes on Mayday 1996. (Their third album Undrentide, produced by John Cale, comes out in April.)
Miranda Sex Garden came together again when Katharine met a mysterious male benefactor - the eponymous SugarDaddy - who had been enchanted by the music at a Mediaeval Baebes concert. She founded the company "SugarDaddy Records" with him in the spring of 1999. The album was recorded in a recording studio in the middle of a Norwich graveyard in August 1999. Recording began on Friday 13 August "for that special gothic flavour".
The album was recorded in twelve days during which time the band buried themselves in an orgy of drink, sleep, Nintendo 64 and candle-worship. A video - showing the band dancing around the graveyard worshipping the pagan god of "Red Bull" - was to become a piece of Miranda cult classicism until it mysteriously disappeared on the return journey home. Even today, it is said that the video still exists and could re-emerge at any moment.
But it was the naked photoshoot for the album artwork that risked tearing the band down the middle. A disused warehouse was hired for the evening and a lot of people turned up with the promise of free drink if they would peel for the cameras. The result is artistically a success (and can be seen on the album cover), but years of pent-up frustration erupted between Trevor and Ben who had a punch-up.
There are some encouraging signs though - the music itself, which the band consider to be the seminal Miranda Sex Garden album. The fact that live, few can touch them. The fact that TC plays the meanest bass around; the fact that Katharine’s vocal sends men (and not a few women) dissolving helpless to the ground.
Seeing Trevor Sharpe act like "Animal" from the Muppets on drums. Vibe-ing out to whatever it is Ben does on guitar. Freaking to Mikey’s kinky keyboard riffs. And watching Barney burn up the fiddle.
The audience’s hope that their gothic and erotic expectations will fuse in a night of fetishistic debauchery. So it is with unnatural and unwholesome pleasure that we celebrate the return of MIRANDA SEX GARDEN.