a faithhealer's advertisement in the front window, Laurel
and Hardy smile down on the hall and a uniformed beauty from
World War II peers out from a bush in the garden. There's
a converted bedroom full of joss-sticks and amps, eight years'
worth of almost all-night improvisation stashed in cassettes
growing slowly forgotten, and a pair of thin brothers giggling
with glee as they tumble like schoolkids out onto the lawn.
Welcome to Gladstone Road, Wimbledon. Welcome to the world
too easy to treat the cover of Woo's debut album as some kind
of profoundly symbolic group statement - it plumbs the absolute
pits of amateur psychology to take its title "Whichever
Way You Are Going, You Are Going Wrong" - and to see
innocent, near-naked child surrounded by so-called intellectual
superiors clipped from an old copy of Charles Kingsley's "Water
Babies" as emblematic of the states of mind that motivated
Woo. Fact is, though, you wouldn't be too far wrong. Mark
Ives left his folk-rock group and RAF career on the Isle of
Wight in '72, eased himself into an office job and settled
down with his brother Clive, an ex-art student turned semilucrative
illustrator. To pass the time they made tapes. Millions of
'em. Mark fulfilled a life-long dream, jacked in his job and
tripped round India picking up dysentery on the way back.
Now he does a little cleaning, gardening and cooking and indulges
his passion for tennis while his brother's becoming involved
with a kiln. They make a few tapes on the side.
from the world in their semi-detached, Mark and Clive attempted
forms of meditation music mostly for their own amusement,
often with little success. Then two accidents happened. First
a friend in Chichester sought out Cherry Red with a bunch
of local demos, all - it turned out - totally unsuitable.
Mike Alway, Cherry's chap: played the disappointed impresario
a selection of more worthy stuff and the friend suggested
he contact the Ives. Said they sounded like the Velvet Underground.
They didn't, but no matter.
calling to Gladstone Road, marvelled at selections from the
mountain of tapes and simply suggested, somewhat dumbstruck
that the world might also like a listen. This had never occured
to the Ives."What happened to me was for eight years
or so I was just playing music and writing stuff because it
was just the sort of thing I did," Mark blushes. "There
was no kind of intellectual reason for playing. I met people
in Sri Lanka, India who lust sat there" - he drums his
hands on the kitchen table - "and you ask them why they
play and they say 'Because I do'. That's it really."We
didn't feel people would be interested before," confirms
Clive. "Nothing on the radio seemed to suggest our music
would be accepted. Then we heard Mike's record collection."
The second accident was finding that picture. It somehow seemed
to provide a purpose, a reason to make their private play
public, a reason for Woo to exist. "See this guy here?
He's innocent, right?" Mark paws the child-figure on
the cover. "He's self-contained and he's got no problem
but all these people are trying to tell him 'go here, go there'.
Attic', the only vocal song on the album (lyrics by Roger
McGough), is about an ex-art-student who had great dreams
'n' all that but ends up putting his work up under the roof
because certain things have got to him. I mean, I've known
people who have given up playing because other people have
said 'Ah! That's terrible!'
"I bloody had that! My uncle was a saxophone player,
a brilliant jazz player, and for years he said 'You're useless'
and he meant it! I used to go 'Ah? I'll never play the saxophone'
and I never did but I'm very happy playing the clarinet ...
it's a struggle to get over that." What Mark means -
and he admits himself he's got no way with words - is that
Woo's 12 gorgeous instrumentals - carefully, soul-searchingly
selected from their past experiments to form "Whichever
Way" - are designed to convey optimism through mood and
atmosphere. "Just getting love across," as Mark
Call them old hippies if you Iike - accuse them of anti-social
behaviour, lack of sexuality, tweeness, lack of contemporary
suss, even bark without bite, but never doubt their compassion
or their capacity to communicate it.
them their soundscapes are like wishy-washy watercolours against
today's bold, brash graffiti, tell them you can't understand
why they don't appear either escapist or angry in one of this
century's darkest times and Mark will simply smile.
"That's our answer. Now's the time to be brightest. Everything's
grim,I know, but there is something greater and if you can
get in touch with that...POW! Perhaps, through our music,
we do glimmer on something, God or whatever your terminology
laugh or panic. Woo - named after a line in the film "What's
New Pussycat" - don't want to sell you any religion.
That's why they seldom use words. They just want to confirm
in you a peace, that may be already there, crouching dormant
behind your emotions. If you've ever relaxed in a long, lush
soak with Vini Reilly, John Martin or even Skidoo, Woo could
very well do you good too. Because whichever way they're doing
it, they're doing it just right.