Dark Round The Edges
Dark Round The Edges
THERE was just one surprise in Record Collector magazine's millennium guide to the rarest records.
It wasn't the No 1, ‘That'll Be the Day’ by the Quarry Men, the group to which three of the Beatles belonged, because you would expect the top listings to be of famous groups in their beginnings.
It was the album at No.13.
A record by Dark, a virtually unknown band from 1972.
Some forty years on, they sat around a pub table, the builder, the computer engineer, the courier and the man who works nights at Tesco.
They were all drinking Coca-Colas or halves of shandy.
Quiet men, family men. "Ours is an amazing story," said one wistfully. "The sooner they film it the better."
Our Original Famous Front Cover
In the early Seventies they were a rock group in Northampton, and called themselves Dark. They had attracted a huge local following, so, wanting to get something down for posterity and maybe gain attention from a record company, they decided to make an LP.
Unfortunately Dark failed to find any interest and they broke up.
For them, like so many other groups, it looked as though their short time together would, at best, be a story to tell their children, an incident in their own long-ago youth.
But it didn't work out like that.
In the early ‘90s, a visiting American executive, clearing out the debris from an office at EMI, one of the companies to which they had sent their LP, found ‘Dark Round The Edges’.
The result is that a group, who had never made more money than you could count on the fingers of one hand, achieved cult status, and copies of their LP now fetch upwards of £6,600 each
(one being listed on ebay for 9900 euros).
In the listings the Sex Pistols were at No 16, the Stones at No 42, but the builder, the engineer, the courier and the Tesco man were at No 13.
And only the builder still has a copy.
Dark was Steve Giles' band.
Now working for Tesco, having for many years worked as a photographer, he formed it while
he was still at grammar school. He was 15, and had been given a guitar for Christmas.
Early DARK, circa 1970. L-R Bruce Duncan,
Charlie Hiams, Steve Giles, Martin Moloney
The then bass guitarist was in the same form, and the drummer had been in the Boys' Brigade. He lasted for 2 rehearsals and was then temporarily replaced by another school mate who, considering he’d never picked up a drumstick in his life before, was surprisingly good!
Eventually, he too decided he’d had enough. Steve had to find another drummer.
Recruitment was always the problem, and he solved it by taking space among the used
cars in the classified ads of the Northampton Chronicle and Echo - "Dark seeks drummer".
Clive Thorneycroft, the builder, answered the ad. "I thought it was a black music band."
"No, I'd seen a photograph of a model called Mireille Darc," said Steve Giles.
"That's where the name came from."
"Well, I never knew that," said Martin Weaver, the computer engineer.
"Nor me," said Ron Johnson, the courier.
DARK early 1971. L-R Carl Bush, Steve Giles,
Martin Moloney, Clive Thorneycroft
Ron replied to the next advert. "Bass player needed. Must be able to improvise."
He wasn't sure what "to improvise" meant, but felt he was on safe ground, having played every instrument in a dance band from the age of nine.
"My dad had been in bands since his Army days, so I just followed him"
Martin was the last to join Dark.
He did so not because he had seen a classified ad but because he was on the run!
DARK late 1971. Hartwell Village Hall.
L-R Ron Johnson, Clive Thorneycroft, Steve Giles.
"I was in a heavy metal band, and these Hells Angels used to follow us around because we were loud. Only they kept beating us up when we weren't playing.”
The other three all remembered Martin's arrival because he turned up claiming to have a synthesizer that he had built himself. The synthesizer was 6 ft high and 3 ft wide and they watched, flabbergasted, as he began to lug this down the cellar steps.
The cellar was under the photographic shop then owned by Steve’s father, and had two advantages: it was free and there were no neighbours.
It also had one enormous disadvantage: it was damp to the point where fungi grew on the walls. The smell of damp got into their clothes and into their
shoulder-length Seventies hair, so Dark smelt as though they had been exhumed.
But they accepted Martin into the dampness because Steve had decided to make an LP, and even though the synthesizer only worked on occasion, its inventor could both sing and play guitar.
Their first claim to fame was the night they got a booking to support Status Quo, then in their beginnings, at a club in Wellingborough.
DARK Late 1972: Wootton Memorial Hall
L-R Ron Johnson, Martin Weaver, Clive Thorneycroft,Steve Giles.
"Only our van broke down, so we had to dash over to Wellingborough in one of our cars and ask Status Quo's roadie to come out and get us in their artic! We had to strap our kit down to stop it rolling around like half a dozen marbles in a shoe box! That was the biggest gig of our career. We got £7, only their roadie charged us £5, so we cleared £2."
An Original Album, with Colour Gatefold Sleeve and Lyric Booklet
But the LP was their great achievement.The Record Collector confessed to its wonder at what they achieved. "Tightly played, the chief characteristic was Dark's incredible marriage of mellowness with raw power.
Click Player to hear 'Darkside' - first track on the 'Dark Round The Edges' LP
Steve said, "I knew we were good but we weren't getting anywhere. I just wanted to get something down on record before we split up".
The LP cost £34.68 to record and £87.17½p to produce, for which they were supposed to have a whip-round, only Steve, then earning £6 a week, seems to have picked up the entire tab.
Just 32 of them were made initially, and when these came back in their white sleeves, he used the
facilities of his father's business to add his own photographs, which he glued on. The effect was quite beautiful.
On the cover was a girl he knew at the time, the local vicar's daughter, shown staring out of a bay window at his parents’ house. He’s no idea where she is now. “She moved away after getting married. I took her wedding photos”!
The record was bought mostly by friends, who paid £3 each, and their response prompted them to press another 32, some of which they sent out to record companies. They never even received an acknowledgment.
Nevertheless they went down to London and knocked on doors. One company, Island Records, held out the promise of work and even quoted a fee (£40 for a seven-day week), provided the group organised a gig its executives could come and watch. Dark organised a gig, but Island Records never turned up.
And that was it really. They broke up in late 1972 and drifted apart. There were jobs, marriages, children and even other bands, but it was the end of Dark, until in 1993 their phones began to ring.
Martin remembers, "This chap, he'd apparently rung every Weaver in the Northampton phone book, asked if I still had the LP, which I did at the time. He offered me £500, and I thought it a wind-up. So I rang Clive, and he thought it a wind-up as well. But then he rang back to tell me not to do anything. It was for real!"
Then began a series of extraordinary phone calls from dealers the World over.
Eventually Steve got a call from an American called Greg Breth. "Can you imagine answering the phone in the early hours to someone who says, 'Hi, I'm Gregg Breth'?"
He wasn't interested in buying an original. He wanted to release the LP again on vinyl.
So he paid for the rights to repress and distribute it from America and for Steve to get new lacquers
cut and pressings made in this country.
Fortunately, Steve still had the ¼” Stereo Master Tapes safely stored away, so 500 pressings were
made and shipped over to the States.
Then a guy called Steven Smith got in touch and paid for the rights to produce a CD of the album
from this country.
By now the group had sold its LP's - Ron, who had scratched his, for £1,200 and Steve to a Milan
dealer for £1,500 ("for some reason we're quite big in Italy").
Hoping the long-delayed breakthrough had finally come, they got together to record a new Dark album ‘Anonymous Days’ with the proceeds from all these deals.
Original Album & Master Tape
They even went back to the old cellar to rehearse.
Fortunately by now, the dampness had been treated and provided a much better playing environment. Ron, who hadn't played in a band for over 20 years, unpacked his original bass guitar and they started rehearsing. ("At first we sounded like Les Dawson plays rock").
They improved dramatically over the next few weeks and recorded their 2nd album ‘Anonymous Days’ on their own DarkEdges label. Although to date not achieving the ‘mystique’ attributed to ‘Dark Round The Edges’, was received very well by those around the World who were keen to snap up new material by the now legendary Dark!
"But this'll become a collectors’ item as well, just you watch. Come back in 20 years time," said Ron, who has a weakness for black comedy.
Click Player to hear 'Shadow Of The Rain'
from the original 'Anonymous Days' album
In the late ‘90s an Italian company did a new deal to produce an exact replica of the Dark LP, sleeve, photographs of the vicar's daughter, the lot. But instead of the usual black record they pressed this on white marbled vinyl, so it already looks like a thing of legend.
And so the builder, the computer engineer, the courier and the man who works nights at Tesco now have a small, but growing, army of loyal fans the World over - but "We often wonder what might have happened if we had met the right people, but the boat was missed!" said Clive.
"We may be higher up the list than them, and we may look better than they do, but I do find myself, usually on building sites, in the winter, in the cold, wondering what life would have been like had we been the Rolling Stones."
Adapted from the article in ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ of December 22nd 1998 by Byron Rogers.
For some more in-depth info on 'The Story Of Dark', check out this online interview Steve did for It's Psychedelic Baby magazine:
July 9th 1972
It was a Sunday morning.
Apart from the distant chimes of a church bell, which were just audible above the birdsong, the town street was quiet.
It would also have been deserted had it not been for the four young lads standing outside one of the houses.
They were waiting for a response to their knock on the door.
One of them looked around quizzically. He’d not been here before.
“You sure this is the right place”?
After all, the house looked exactly the same as all the others in the Victorian terrace, except that the front window had been boarded up from inside.
“Yeh” laughed another. He had been here before. “You’ll see”!
Alan Bowley answered the door. ‘Quizzical’ peered inside, still unconvinced. The hallway and the stairs to the first floor would have been identical to those of every other house in the street.
There was a door on the left of the hallway which was ajar. He peered in.
The two reception rooms had been knocked into one and the walls were adorned with acoustic tiles and curtains. To the left of the door, the room had been partitioned off by about five feet. The double door into that partition was open and through it, and through the double glazed window in its wall, he could see tape decks, cables, microphones and all manner of sound recording equipment.
This was obviously the engineer’s control booth – hence the boarded up window. So it was the right place!
At the other end of the room was a curtained off doorway. Pulling the curtain aside revealed a step down into a small room which, presumably, had once been a kitchen.
It was now cunningly disguised as a drum booth, beyond which WAS a kitchen, although, in reality, it was little more than a sink, water heater and a kettle.
Another door in the drum booth led outside to the back of the building - just a small yard at the bottom of which was the only toilet on the premises - the ‘Outside Loo’.
He didn’t realize it then but that was to play a surprising role during the next few days.
He went back in and started to help the others set up their equipment.
It was July 9th, 1972. Steve, Clive, Ron and Martin had arrived at S.I.S. Recording studios in Military Road, Northampton.
Today they were going to start laying down the six tracks they had been rehearsing for the album they wanted to record.
Steve had already chosen a title for it – Dark Round The Edges.
He had also taken photos for the sleeve and today Reg Bason was to take more during the recording session.
Over the next few weeks, Steve would sit in the lounge of his parents’ house producing the sleeves for the album by painstakingly gluing the photographs he had printed himself, onto the card covers.
But, at this moment in time, Steve, Clive, Ron and Martin had no clue that their LP, intended to, basically, be a memento of their time together, but also a possible way of gaining some recognition, would eventually become one of the most valuable, collectable and sought after pressings of all time.
DARK were just about to take the first step on the road that would turn them into legends.
Video taken on our trip to Abbey Road Studios in London to have 'Dark Round The Edges' remastered from the Original ¼" master tape.
This is for a planned 50th Anniversary Boxset of material from 1969 to 1996 which will be available later this year in both CD and LP formats.
Updates of availability will be posted as and when!
An Interview I did for NNBC 106.9 on the afternoon of Tuesday 31st Jan 2017.
Brother of bass player Ron - Andy Johnson, who was rhythm guitarist for DARK's last 3 gigs with the DRTE line-up, is now a producer for the Radio Station, which can also be heard online at www.nnbc.co.uk
He invited me along to the studio for an interview following the sale of one of our original colour gatefolds for £25,000 earlier in January.
I decided it might be a nice Idea to film the proceedings - and here is the result.
First track on the 'Dark Round The Edges' album.
Recorded 'Live' at The Racehorse pub on Abington Square, Northampton on Wednesday October 19th 2011.
This is taken from the last ever 'Farewell' gig of the DARK Round The Edges line-up.
Taken from our 'Welcome To The Edge' DVD which is video of our time at New Money Recording Studios in Milton Keynes laying down the tracks 'In The Sky', 'Could Have Sworn' and this one.
Martin recorded his part at his studio in Bulgaria whilst I played my solo at my home.
These are all tracks that have featured as earlier versions recorded in 1971 as 'Bonus Tracks' on many 'Dark Round The Edges' releases.
We decided to have one last recording session, so revamped them for this.
The reason that this has' original lyrics' is that, with the rearranged ending, the song had a completely different feel, so Ron wrote new lyrics.
At Last The Sun Rises On DARK
In 1972, four Northampton lads made an LP.
Now that LP is more collectable than that of the Stones!
Over forty years later, Dark are bemused by its delayed success.
2023 will see the release of a 50th Anniversary Edition Boxset of material from 1969-1996, available in both CD & LP Formats.
Check out the top video at the bottom of this page and, for more details go to 'What Next For DARK?'