The Formative Years
The Rose of Avalanche were founded by Leeds school friends Phil Morris, Paul James Berry and Alan Davis. From an early age the trio hung out together, skipping school, listening to music and making plans to form their own band. Many of these early influences were American bands like Hendrix, MC5, The Stooges and Lou Reed, and these influences would be directly referenced in the bands song writing and Phil’s novel, if a little odd, decision to sing in a mock American style accent.
From the bands official press bio in early 1986:
The Rose of Avalanche: Born in Leeds. Spiritually bathed in the dirt of Detroit. Raised in defiance
According to Phil, the unusual name for the band was chosen to
represent the bands music – the “rose” for the beauty and the “avalanche” for the power.
The lads first discussed forming a band in October 1983, and the band was actually christened in April 1984.
The initial line up of Morris / Berry / Davis wrote the first batch of songs that would establish the band as one of the hottest upcoming acts in the UK Indie / Goth scene. These songs would make up the bulk of the tracks appearing on the bands first four singles released between ’85 and ’86.
By their own admission they were young, naive, and still learning their craft. However right from the off they portrayed a self assured swagger and belief in their potential.
Paul noted of this early period:
There was no calculated master plan like there is with some bands, we were just young and naive and we were really into what we were writing. Especially the first 3 of us. The Early stuff we thought could be mega big. The biggest influence for me personally was Alan (the first bass player) we used to have a really cool rapport. We didn’t just get things and slap them together, we tried to, I don’t know, make a spiritual thing out of it.”
Their first major step was contributing two songs to a compilation album, called “Parkside Shivers“, released by Leeds Independent Label (LIL). These tracks were “LA Rain” and “American Girls”.
At this point the lads were only 18 / 19 years old, but the maturity of the song writing and the lyrical theme’s being explored portrayed an experienced band delivering a finely tuned slab of sleazy, guitar driven rock, belying their actual years.
The reaction to the band off the back of this initial exposure was sudden and overwhelmingly positive. John Peel, the barometer of all things cool, quickly picked up on the band and gave “LA Rain” a lot of air play.
“LA Rain” was quickly released as a 12″ single in its own right, backed with “Rise To The Groove” and “Conceal Me”. For a full review of this single check the Discography. Off the back of the Peel exposure and the growing buzz, “LA Rain” reached Number 1 in the UK Independent Charts.
Whilst in the studio recording “LA Rain”, the band felt that it needed a little something extra. A classically trained guitar player, Glenn Shultz, was working at the Parkside Studio’s and The Rose asked him to play some 12 string guitar on “LA Rain”. Impressed with how quickly Glenn slotted into the vibe the band were trying to create, he was asked to join as a full time member.
This was a landmark move for the band, with both a positive and a negative side. Glenn was older and technically much more proficient that the other members of the band. Glenn’s advanced playing and penchant for the “solo” would come to define The Rose sound for the next 5 years, however this did deviate the band from their original aims, and did not allow them to mature into their own style at their own pace.
“I was told by a lot of people at the time it was a big mistake, but a really liked Glenn as a person, but I knew he was too advanced for us, and I felt we didn’t evolve at our own pace. Like I don’t know, a band like U2, their early stuff like Boy was pretty simple, and their later stuff is still pretty simple but there’s a definite progression. If we’d have spent 5 or 6 years, it would have changed , we’d have all got better as musicians, and we would have found our own identity. Instead we got someone in too soon, and too good. We were one chord and take over the world – totally.”
Glenn himself also recognised the potential for tension:
“I think that, possibly, I was a kind of a shortcut by being there and having more experience the sound evolved somewhat faster but I think that they’d have got to a similar place without me eventually, but it could be argued that I was a detrimental influence (and not just musically!!) because I brought a more standard, old school rock sound in which took them slightly away from the original direction. Some of the very early songs had changes and ideas that I found quite bizarre and left field. That kind of thing vanished almost totally”
The Rose were invited to record a Peel session (recorded on 28th May 1985) and things were buzzing in the Rose camp.
So very quickly this young band found itself in the enviable, if slightly bizarre, situation of having released a Number 1 Indie single, a coveted Peel Session, and all without playing a single gig!
The Rose now had to promote themselves by getting on the road and establishing a live following. A series of sporadic gigs were arranged from the summer of 1985 through most of 1986. They didn’t play any consecutive dates in a tour format, so were often travelling up and down the M1 to play one off gigs in London.
Following up “LA Rain” was the second single “Goddess“. This again replicated the success of “LA Rain” by going to Number 1 in the UK Indie Charts, and being named as “Single Of The Week” in influential UK music paper Sounds.
So although the band were basking in the success of their recorded output, they were still very much finding their feet playing live. With the great level of expectation off the back their chart success, they were expected to deliver live from the off. Music press reviews of their early live shows referenced “wooden” performances, which I guess was understandable considering their age and experience levels.
The whole American / 60′s Rock thing also fixated the music press. Rather than wanting to judge the band for what they were, journalists often lazily pigeon holed the band into one of two camps…Firstly the Hippy / 60′s revival that was happening in the mid 80′s, due to Phil’s mock accent, hair length & style of the band (or lack of!), or secondly the Goth tag due to them hailing from Leeds, using a drum machine, and having swirly art record covers. (Note the band was NOT named after The Sisters of Mercy’s drum machine!)
Although frustrating, it is understandable that the music press did this, after all there are very few truly genre shifting bands that come along. I think the band were a little naive in their dealings with the press, and rather than using them to their advantage to push what they were doing to a wider audience (which Wayne Hussey of The Mission was adept at), The Rose came across as awkward and obtrusive in many dealing with the press. Again, this was perhaps reflective of their age and the naivety of thinking the music should do the talking. However this coupled with the “wooden” live reviews, started to undermine the initial positivity of their recorded output.
1985 closed out on a high with “LA Rain” being named at #26 in John Peels annual “Festive 50″.
The Fire Years
1986 opened with LiL releasing “First Avalanche“, in March 1986. This was an unapproved compilation of the the “LA Rain” and “Goddess” singles packaged together with two extra tracks: “American Girls” (from “Parkside Shivers”), and the previously unreleased “Stick In The Works”, which according to Phil was only at a demo stage. This unauthorised releasing and re-packaging of material was to dog the band throughout their career.
The band recorded their second Radio 1 session for Janice Long on 5th March 1986.
After the success of 1985, a number of record companies were circling around the band. The band decided to sign to the “Twist And Shout” publishing company, later to become part of Fire Records. Without knowing it the band had just effectively signed away all artistic control and any chance of seeing much of a financial return from their endeavours…
Paul described the situation in an interview with this website in 1997:
“(it was like) The first time we’d ever been to London , it’s like one of these clichés, and we got ripped off. Alan, me and Phil went down to their office. The only reason I remember is because I nicked this book out of the office (laughs) and I was really proud!….When it came to signing the contract I was in Paris, so Sid the guy that helped us out a lot, signed it for me. We never got anything off them, I think we got a £300 advance, that was it. We were just young and stupid, we didn’t have a manager. I remember us all sitting in a studio, again cliché, trying to work out all this legal jargon, passing it around”
The bands first release on Fire was “Too Many Castles In The Sky” in April 1986. This again delivered chart success, going Top 5 in the UK Indie Charts and selling consistently enough to stay in the chart for some considerable time. At this stage the band had still only clocked up around 30 gigs and received limited press exposure.
The first of two personal changes happened in early ’86. The band ditched the ridged constraints of the drum machine in favour of a “real” drummer, and Mark Thompson joined the ranks of the band around Spring 1986.
Around early summer of 1986, founder member Alan Davis decided to leave the band. We don’t (currently!) have Alan’s side of the story to tell, but Paul and Glenn both offered some insight into the decision to quit. Paul insinuated that Alan was never completely comfortable with the change in direction of the band once Glenn had joined. Alan apparently also had growing career prospects outside of the band, and there is a suggestion he followed his head over his heart, and rather than pursue to dream of being a rock star, he choose a more stable path to try and make some money!
Alan’s replacement was Nicol McKay who had played with Mark Thompson in a previous band. Alan’s departure was not detectable on record until 1987, as the bands fourth single was recorded with him still in the fold. “Velveteen” was released in September 1986 to coincide with The Rose of Avalanche supporting The Mission on their mammoth “World Crusade Tour” in the UK and Europe which would run from October ’86 through to March 1987.
The decision to take The Mission support slot caused a degree of controversy within the band. On the plus side it would undoubtedly gain them exposure to bigger crowds and develop them in terms of touring extensively, but they would be forever linked to the Leeds Goth scene and the baggage that came with it:
“We had a manager that got us involved with a company that had the Mission, and because they were bigger then us, we were always looked down on…The tour came up, and we had to pay for that , and it was £8,000 which was a lot at that time. Glenn nearly left after the England dates because he couldn’t hack it. It was just too much we were getting out of our skulls every night, it was total madness. But we thought this was normal. The things that piss me off now were the people around the Mission, they used to treat us like shit. You know it was “Who the fuck are you?” You know we didn’t know anything different, and to be on a tour with these guys who’d done it all with the Sisters, they were totally fucking professional. We were just slobs! It really spoilt it, because of the atmosphere. On the German leg of the tour we travelled in a converted horse box!!”
The first recorded output of the 4th incarnation of the band was the “Always There” single released in March 1987. This was the final “approved” released by the band on Fire, and signalled the start of a very long and bitter legal dispute between the band and their label.
Frustrated by the lack of creative control and money, the band sought to leave the label. Fire were obviously keen to hold on to them due to their growing commercial success. Unfortunately it seems a compromise could not be reached and the whole thing ended up in court. While in dispute it was impossible for the band to release anything, and with no product to promote no promoters were that interested in booking the band to play live.
Thus, right at the point when the band was primed to take off, the wheels came off and the band was effectively put on ice for the best part of 18 months…
“It was hell. A lot of us went through sleepless nights for weeks on end, not knowing what to do. We nearly split up twice. It’s very hard to go through something like that; just see you life disappear down the tubes…They were ripping us off – hadn’t paid us a penny in three and a half years, and released sub standard material. There was an LP that came out called ‘In Rock’, which wasn’t even finished. It started off as a 4 track 12″ single, and they turned it into an LP by taking the vocals off 2 tracks so they got 6 tracks, and they added the B side of an earlier single.”
The fallout from the Fire dispute wrote off three quarters of 1988, apart from some sporadic gigging, often under different names to avoid legal issues.
Once the legal dispute had been settled out of court the band found themselves a new financial backer and setup their own label – Avalantic Records, to ensure they retained complete creative control.
The first release on Avalantic was “The World Is Ours” single, and the band promoted this by embarking on the Winter Thrash Tour at the tail end of 1988. It was if the band was starting all over again, the early promise of 1985 feeling like a distant memory…
“It was soul destroying. A lot of bands who used to support us have become quite big, like Fields of the Nephilim, The Wedding Present, All About Eve, and the Wonder Stuff. If we had the backing they have had, instead of like the put down that we have had, and hindrance from the record company, we would have been as big as the Mission , I honestly believe that”
The Rose quickly followed off by entering 1989 with another single, the title track of their upcoming first “official” studio album – “Never Another Sunset“. Both of these releases were promoted by another UK wide tour – The Groove Collision Tour.
Just as it seemed the band were re-establishing themselves, a further revelation came from the settlement with Fire Records, Glenn explaining in the 2006 interview with this website:
“At some point Fire Records contacted us and told us that not only did they want the percentage we’d agreed as part of the severance deal but that as the album Never Another Sunset was released within weeks of signing this agreement it must have been recorded prior to the agreement and was therefore covered by the old agreement. They wanted everything, which seemed to be the basis of our contract with Fire. Unfortunately we had signed the contracts and they did have the law on their side so there was nothing we could do.”
This blow seemed to be the final straw for Glenn and Nicol, and they decided to leave the band in the summer of 1989.
Phil and Paul did consider replacing Glenn to continue the dual guitar style the band had established, but the Hippy / 60′s fad was over, and new tastes were developing.
Paul mentioned that when they wrote their first batch of songs as kids they wanted to take over the world with 3 chord songs. With the departure of Glenn, Morris and Berry saw the opportunity to try and recapture that early energy and simplicity in the song writing, so elected not to replace Glenn.
The new lineup featuring new bass player Darren Horner, toured in the UK at the end of 1989 and released one single, featuring songs written while Schultz and McKay were still in the band. This was 1989′s “A Peace Inside EP“.
The band also attempted a “re-brand” and during this period as they started to call themselves “The Rose”, dropping the “of Avalanche” from their name. This new name featured in fan club mailings and the press kit for the Peace Inside EP, however it seemed short lived as the band never released an actual record under the shortened moniker.
Mark then decided enough was enough and left. Mark’s replacement was Andy Porter, and thus completed the 6th and final line up change for the band.
At this point the band effectively disappeared from the UK music scene with focus shifting to exclusively focusing on mainland Europe, for example the “I Believe EP” released in 1990 was only available in Europe. Paul always said that it was far easier to receive the freedom to do your own thing in Europe, where in the UK the promoters always wanted a product to shift or a “name” to feature.
At the end of the decade the UK alternative music scene was going through dramatic change. There was a history of underground music genres bubbling under the main single & album chart, with the bigger acts of those genres occasionally breaking through into the charts alongside the mainstream established acts.
Remember this was back in the 1980′s when single sales were still significant enough to represent a challenge for any underground / Indie act to break the Top 40.
The “alternative” or “Goth” genre had enjoyed a pretty unrivaled run as the largest of these genres for the majority of the 1980′s, with bands like The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, All About Eve, The Cult all breaking into the Top 40 charts. However towards the end of the decade, “Goth” was suddenly replaced as the top dog by a number of emerging genres.
The “second summer of love” saw Acid House & Dance break out from the underground of illegal raves and clubs into the mainstream charts. “Shoegazing” bands dominated the Indie Charts, and then Madchester exploded in the late 80′s / early 90′s.
Suddenly bands like The Mission who were previously untouchable, found themselves torn apart by personnel changes, and in the desire to innovate their sound, released disastrous albums like “Masque” where they attempted to associate themselves with the new younger credible bands on the scene like Utah Saints. Unfortunately they only succeeded in alienating their existing fan base, and failing to attract any new fans in the process.
The Rose too faced this new market dynamic, their response being “String ‘A’ Beads“, their second studio album. Indie rock was quickly picking up the dance influences, and bands like Jesus Jones and EMF suddenly were becoming huge mainstream acts. The Rose had experimented in the studio with tracks like “I Believe Dub Track 1990″, and “Stringa” saw the delivery of 10 new tracks, drawing from this new sound and marking a significant shift from the previous album, “Never Another Sunset”.
The musical dynamic of the band had changed significantly. With Paul as the single guitarist, compositions were much simpler and cleaner. The bass came to the forefront in songs to compensate for the loss of the second guitar. Most notably the fresh approach to the drumming sound from Andy Porter sought to add the dance / electronic element to the sound, via the heavy use of electronic and sequenced drums.
The band closed 1990 touring String ‘A’ Beads extensively in mainland Europe.
Walking on thin I.C.E.
1991 opened with a further European Tour, but again no UK dates, the Rose seemly now happy to give themselves no publicity in the UK at all. There was never any mention of them in any of the music press, but they didn’t seem to help the situation, turning down the chance to play live on the infamous ‘James Whale Show’, where Wayne Hussey had appeared totally pissed out of his head. After the 4 year wait for the first album, the second in two years was released in August 1991, called “I.C.E.”
“I.C.E.” followed on where ‘Stringa’ had left off, with short, sharp, uncomplicated Rock songs, but it has to be said, compared to the earlier records it was poor.
Paul noted that by the stage they came to record “I.C.E.” the band had been going for some 7 years. The income from the music alone was never going to be enough to earn a full time living from, so the band members had growing interests outside of the band, leading to “I.C.E.” being recorded during the night shift.
I think this lack of focus and commitment is evident in the final product, the record lacking that enthusiastic feel of a band passionately throwing everything they have into it.
The band toured again in 1992, but at the end of the tour Paul decided to quit. The band had generated enough interest and sales in Europe to be offered new distribution deals, but Paul was increasingly frustrated with the lack of ambition in the band, who were seemingly content to continue at their current level. For him it should have been all or nothing.
After six line up changes over the years, and Paul being an original member, it was a terminal blow to the band. The move hit Phil hard as they had been friends since their school days.
After the final Rose split, the drum machine was dusted off, and Phil & Darren teamed up with Glenn Shultz again. A new rhythm guitarist, Neil Richardson, was recruited. This new line was called “Diversion“.
They gigged once as the opening act at the first Carling Festival in Leeds and recorded a demo. However Europe was only interested in the Rose name, and nobody wanted to start again from scratch in this country as everybody in the band and support crew had other careers by now that were earning a higher income than the band.
Morris, Horner and Schultz came back together one last time under The Rose of Avalanche name on 29th May 1993 at The Duchess of York in Leeds. They played a full 83 minute set, showcasing a number of new tracks meaning that the song writing process had continued, however Phil was clear from his on stage conversation with the crowd that this was to be their final ever show. For pointless trivia fans out there, the Rose’s final ever song played live was a cover of the Stereo MC’s “Step It Up”
So the Rose eventually fizzled out by mutual apathy, and the fact that everybody had found a more rewarding life outside of the band.
Originally written by James Parton October 1997. Updated July 1999, September 2007, May 2008, May 2012, and March 2014.