Biography of the Silencers

(By Jimme O'Neill)

Four Scots meet in London in 1985 : Jimme O'Neill &Cha Burns (both ex-Fingerprintz) ; Martin Hanlin ; Joe Donelly. Fingerprintz were a new wave, Smith-inspired "combo" who released three albums on Virgin (The Very Dab, Distinguish Marks and Beat Noir) and were largely ignored in Britain and Europe despite some stunning reviews, their 'quirky dark surreal pop' did, however, attract a following in America.

After the demise of Fingerprintz, they demo three new tracks at Scarf Studios in South London : Painted Moon, I See Red and I Can't Cry. The concept is guitar-based atmosphere pop with "one foot in the 60's and one in the 80's". Written by Jimme in a little room in Battersea, the songs are less quirky and more melodic than the Fingerprintz material, more passionate and personal.

Painted Moon : a personnal reaction to the Falkland war.

I Can't Cry : a girl decides to have an abortion (autobiographical?)

I See Red : surreal pop (banned by Radio 1 for its drug references)

The Fingerprintz

Songs that have beauty and melody, but also an emotional edge - there's got to be a reason for a song's existence, otherwise why bother ? Every record company in London loves the demo. The band ultimately sign to RCA, MD John Preston was an old pal of Bruce Findlay (Simple Minds' manager who'd by also started to manage Jimme & Co) but also a genuine fan of the band.

In May 86, The Silencers commence recording their first album for RCA at Hansa Studios, in Berlin with Adam Williams (who ?) producing. Two months and several breakdowns later, they scrap it and start again... They arrange to restart (with Callum Malcom and Dave Bascombe at the controls) at Castlesound Studios in Edinburgh - on the day before they're due to start recording, Cha has a brain haemorrhage in London ! Recording goes ahead because, at this point, the rest of the band have no idea whether he's going to recover or not.

Six weeks later, Cha is back playing guitar, but still re-learning to read... not music, his ABC. By this stage, they have become so paranoid that thet basically use the vocals and guitars from the original demos for the re-recordings ! It takes months and becomes a nightmare of analysis and re-evaluation.

Painted Moon is released in Britain in April 87. It gets no play on British radio. The Silencers tour with the Pretenders in Europe and Britain and then do their own British tour. Not much interest... America, however, likes the album and Painted Moon starts taking off on radio.They tour coast to coast in the US - on their own and then with squeeze. Two days before the biggest gig on the tour, Madison Square Gardens with Squeeze, Cha has a convultion and is hopitalized. At the time, they think it's another stroke and are all devastated. However Cha emerges the next day "reasonably" ok, they do the concert and it's a great success. Back to Bligthy... America says "come back soon !".

Early 88 and the band tour Europe with The Alarm. Painted Moon gets re-released in Britain and is played to death on Radio 1 for about 7 weeks. Unfortunately the band are not touring and the radio play takes the record company by surprise - records don't appear to have made it into the shops...

Jimme moves from London back to Scotland. The second Silencers album - A Blues For Buddha - is written and recorded at CaVa Studios in Glasgow with "Flood" (an old mate from Trident Studios in London) at the helm (U2, Smashing Pumpkins, etc...). The songs are more folky/bluesy/country. The Real Mc Coy is written about living back in Glasgow, while Scottish Rain is a love song with a sting in the tail (radioactive rain from Chernobyl...).

The band tour Europe for four months with "management stable-mates" Simple Minds. Meanwhile, the Americans decide that the new album is too dreamy and not "rock" enough - they never regain their good relationship with the States. The band play Wembley Stadium with the Minds' and it proves to be the only show on the tour which Jimme doesn't enjoy !

"I was very nervous - 80000 Londoners ! Also, at the same time, Celtic and Rangers are playing each other in Glasgow and it's Mo Johnston's first game for Rangers against my beloved Celtic... final score 1-1. I met "jet-set" Mo at the Minds performance later on that evening and tried to kick him, but he was too fast !" (Jimme)

Davie Crichton joins the band on fiddle, accordion & keyboards. The band starts writing the third album but run into problems - they try to write "by committee" but it doesn't work. They enter a difficult time of demoing and rehearsals where everybody gets frustrated... Tensions build up culminating in Jimme and Joe (Donnelly) having fist-fight during a game of five-a-side footy in Glasgow. The really sad thing is, they're on the same side. Joe decides to leave the band two weeks later. Martin Hanlin stays for a week, then he goes too. No rhythm section.

Curiously, this trauma proves inspirational on the songwriting front and Jimme experiences a welcome burst of creativity. Two new members are recruited - Tonny Soave on drums and Lewis Rankine on bass - and the third album is recorded in the summer of 1990. Jimme becomes the "flag" for the new album. The music is a mixture of pop, Celtic rock, experimental funk, blues and country - a real "tour de force" and different from anything the band have done before. They start the album with John Leckie at the controls, but predictably sack him after a couple of months and continue with Mark Wallis (who had mixed a few tracks on A Letter From St. Paul including Painted Moon).

Before the tour of Europe, Jimme decides that the vocal department could do with a bit of strengthning and Jame "Jinky" Gilmour joins the band. He'd been hanging around locally and had sung at Jimme's New Year (they're legendary apparently), impressing everybody there. The Silencers become a 6-piece. By now the band are BIG STARS in France (for some reason) and in Spain where Bulletproof Heart is the radio record of the year. This was a song about "the troubles" in Ireland which Jimme had originally recorded with Fingerprintz back in 1980...

Some say this is a dangerous

place/Dangerous women/Lipstick mace

Men disappear without a trace/Stay

anonymous/Hide your face

In this town/You need a bulletproof heart

It becomes a big radio record in Europe and, almost by design, is released (and banned) as the Gulf War starts - " songs about guns please !..."

By the end of 91, the band has a big following in Scotland, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. Lewis Rankine is replaced by Stevie Kane on bass. Tony (the drummer) has stated that one more concert might push him over the edge and violence (towards Lewis) is likely... They continue touring in their own inimitable style - very few people just how hard The Silencers rocked and played during this period, coupled with some legendary exploits under the influence of legal and illegal substances... Davie Crichton has become disillusioned and a combination of personal problems and tour fatigue leads him to leave the group.

"It was a real shame because he was a real character and a great musician. During the Celtic blues period of the band, he was a real feature and we used to busk together for fun during tours". (Jimme)

Stevie Kane has a brother Phil who's a great piano player/accordionist/organist and he slots in to replace Davie.

Lack of success in England becomes a problem and, despite healthy sales in Europe, two gold records in France and one in Spain, the band are in massive debt to RCA... For a while it looks like the band may not get to make another record for the label, but eventually manage to record Seconds of Pleasure - keeping costs down, Jimme co-producing the album with Kenny Mac Donald in Glasgow's Park Lane Studios. I Can Feel It is the single and, once again, it gets played all over Europe but is blanked in Britain.

During the "Pleasure Tour", Jinky starts having heart problems (literally) his heart rate races and doesn't stop. He has to get electric shocks to slow it down. They even consider bringing a nurse on the tour instead of a tour manager but the show must go on !!! The live show has now developed to the stage where the band are flying every night - so much energy and commitment. They give their audience 120% and they respond accordingly. Unfortunately, the band con only tour in the areas where they can finance their own operation - without any support from RCA, this narrows things down to France, Scotland and Switzerland.


The band signs to BMG in France and Permanent in Britain and, during the simmer of 94, record So Be It. At the same time, they are contacted by the Scottish Tourist Board to record Wild Mountain Thyme for an advertising campain - they take time off from the album to do this.

They tour in Europe again in May 95, which proves a difficult time with only limited support from BMG France. The audience is still there - it's just shrunk a bit. Jinky and Tony take this as a signal that it's all over and go on a massive bender/downer during the tour - those Rock n' Roll demons strike again. The shows are still excellent and the audience response is still brilliant, but inevitably Jinky and Tony leave the band after the tour.

Jinky rejoins brieffly, but his heart (no pun intended) isn't in it and he bows out finally in the New Year. Jim Mc Dermott (Kevin Mc Dermott Orchestra) comes in to help out on drums and Jimme's daughter, Aura, who'd shared the vocals on Wild Mountain thyme also joins the band. The band continues to gig occasionally in Scotland and Europe and are gearing up for a new era.

James continues to write new songs and to think ahead :

"I want to take the time to make anything new very special. You ain't heard nothing yet !"

Of Blood & Rain, Jimme says :

"At the end of the day, it's a collection of great songs. Songs that stand the test of time - bloddsongs... songs about the weather... I know from the letters I receive that my band are important to many people. That makes me feel good. The album is a way of dealing with the past to open the future. Silent but not forgotten..."

(Jimme O'Neill, August 1996)



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