Cut off from the whole… "Zen Boulders" 1979

I've always been fascinated and enthralled by the music of Falling Mirror…ever since producer and fellow Mirror fanatic Tully Mc Cully introduced me to the demos of "I am the actor" and "Making out with Granny" I have always felt that they were a band that were, and in many ways still are, ahead of their time.
Back in 1979 I was into my third year of working at WEA Records ,filled with the revolutionary fire of youth and an burning passion for original music I had moved into the A&R department and had started working with Tully on developing Lesley Rae Dowling.
Raised on Hendrix,the Stooges,The Who,Zeppelin,MC5 ,Cream ect my colours were firmly nailed to the rock mast and my first signing were the blues and spliff- soaked rockers Baxtop whose Jo Bangles single had topped the charts the previous year but self immolated by the end of the year.
South African music in general at that time was,like the rest of the world,focused on light pop…bands like Copperfield,Rising Sons,Clout ect dominated the charts and there was very little support at the then Radio 5 for anything remotely harder or different..But there was a dark underbelly developing,in the towns and cities bands were writing and playing a different tune…Punk came and went in a hail of
pogo-ing and the obligatory torrent of spit and shit, spawning bands like Wild Youth,Dead Babies and the Safari Suits…the Radio Rats,Rag Dolls ect tore up the rule books with a new message wrapped in razor wired three chord guitar revolution.

As a young A&R man looking for a new band that would rock my universe the Mirror came to me like a bolt of lightning,a Paul-on-the-road-to Damascus conversion so to speak.Here was a band that fused the dark energy of Iggy Pop with the guitar pyrotechnics of Jimi,Eric,Jeff and the other Jimmy plus some of the weirdest lyrics I had ever heard !
Hearing the original version of `Granny` for the first time I was instantly struck by Neilen`s voice and phrasing,although delivered in a monotone and in a somewhat sing-song manner there was a sense of underlying menace,something chilling about what appeared to be the innocent comic book tale of Marina and Will…
and that guitar !ohmygod… that guitar.From that day on there was never any doubt in my mind that here was something special and against the wishes of the others at the label I signed the band and entered the strange and arcane world of Falling Mirror..for eternity so it seems.

Although some stations sporadically played the first single "I am the actor" and despite rave press reviews the media at large,and by proxy the public, ignored "Zen Boulders" was just too weird and different for them,they just didn't get it !
Listening now ,23 years later,to Tully`s impeccably remastered version I`m still amazed at the scope and vision of "Zen Boulders…

Time is a thief
Like many early Mirror songs "Time…" has a strong piano base…big fat block chords played by Allan and complimented by his unique picking guitar technique that manages to incorporate elements of both Chet Atkins and Eric Clapton.Neilen`s cracked vocals at his poetic best…"time…the monster that jumps" and who the f**k is Harry Degeldicker?
I am the actor
Inspired by the book 'The Greening of America' I think that its pretty safe to assume that this song is about how Neilen sees himself.There`s always been a strong theatrical element in both his vocal performances and lyrics and over a constant guitar/piano motif he delivers probably the straightest pop vocal he`s ever done..of course that's if you consider lines like :I`m part of a show that contributes to violence" as straight pop !

Making out with Granny
Every time I hear this original version I see Neilen`s crazy bug -eyed ,bared chested howling performance on a 8mm film that Tully shot in the studio (now sadly lost) was one of the most riveting pieces of celluloid I have ever seen.Almost primal in its simplicity `Granny` is one of the great Mirror songs ,all wandering psych-guitar,pounding drumming by Pat and psychotic lyrics "I know your mind is flaming now..your eyes are burning bright"..right Neilen !

Dreamer (we shall be free)
Gentle and melodic..Dreamer could have come from the pen of George Harrison with its flowing acoustic guitars and slide fills.Possibly one of the poppiest tracks that the band wrote for this album …great keyboards lines and vocals from Tully.

When the lights went out in New York City
On the face of it a fairly nonsensical song about the Big Apple save for the somewhat prophetic lyrics " Again we think of the President in the White House full of fear"…makes you think ! Some great oompah brass stabs courtesy of Tully and another fab solo from Allan.

The San Diego Sniping Event
Based on the same incident covered by the Boomtown Rats in "I don't like Mondays" this track features Allan`s soulful guitar and harmonica plus a `heavenly
choir `vocal from Tully and the boys.

Archie and Juggy went down to the store
In keeping with the band`s penchant for including at least one comic book song on each album "Archie…" is rescued from total silliness by Allan`s sterling guitar lines and the hilarious chorus of "Chom-chom-a-rom-a-rom-chom-a-rom-chom" !

What are we here for ?
Slightly Oriental in feel with its piano and guitar this song is a good example of Neilen`s obsession with rhyming couplets..I mean "Strap on your mandolin and play your guitar,take all your poems to the Wimpy bar" !

Wish she could leave
For me the tour-de-force of the album and one of the finest examples of just how great a player Allan Faull is…over a insistent strumming acoustic he works magic across the fretboard…all plucks,bends,hammers…sweet as a bell and a lesson in understatement for all budding players.

Boy and girl…alone on a throne
Echoes of Hotel California (although I doubt whether that was intentional) this is the strangest song on Zen Boulders…in a sing song manner Neilen intones his almost haiku like poetry "Machines are killing the trees…"A great multi tracked guitar solo from Allan underpinned by Tully`s muscular basswork and string arrangements.

Although flawed "Zen Boulders" certainly was very different from anything released that year and with its near virtuoso guitar work and dark lyrics it's a great debut album and hinted of great things to come………………..

We build a big fire….The storming of the Loft 1980
Unfazed by the lack of commercial success with Zen Boulders the band were on a huge creative roll and headed back into the studio for the followup album Down to a trio of Neilen,Allan and Tully (Patrick having left the band although he does play on some tracks) Falling Mirror were into overdrive with songs and ideas pouring out.
'The Storming of the loft" was loosely based on Nielen's relationship with an artist girlfriend who lived in a loft studio. Nielen described his "conquest" of her through the metaphor of a storming (from the word "stormtrooper") of both her physical and emotional world.
As with the debut album Tully typically first recorded Allan and Nielen performing with acoustic guitar and a guide vocal. Tully would then create an appropriate feel and arrangement, recording the bass, drum and keyboard sections before Allan and Nielen would contribute the full guitar and vocal tracks .Tully's creative contribution confirmed him as the band's George Martin and their third permanent member.
Many Mirror fans regard this album as their "Dark side of the Moon and in listening to the album after all these years there `s no doubt that here was a band at their creative zenith:

Highway Blues
From the opening strummed chords of Highway Blues it was crystal clear that Falling Mirror has grown in leaps in bounds.Fuelled by Allan`s majestic multitracked guitar orchestra and underpinned by Tully`s thundering basswork Neilen delivers one of his strongest lyrical vocal. Performances.

The storming of the Loft
With a memorable bassline that wouldn't be out of place on a reggae record "The Loft" is Neilen`s tale of obsession and desire based on real life events.His cocky almost insolent vocals slink across the track backed with a pounding piano and wailing slide guitars.

Neutron Bop
A real rock `n roll barnstormer complete with wailing blues harp and guitar playing as good as anything Scotty Moore,Keith Richard or Bo Diddley have done…this
pre- apocalyptic stomper was videoed on the top of the studios and featured Neilen in a silver Lurex catsuit !

Whose that noisy boy who never says a word?
Shades of the Silver Beetles ! Allan`s best Lennon harp solo and typically weird and obscure sing-a-long lyrics from Neilen that makes for a classic Mirror song…."

I wish I was a purple door
late 60`s psychedelic guitars ala Jethro Tull merge with distinctly Elizabethan madrigal harmonies make for a very strange song indeed.I don't know what Neilen was on at the time but his lyrics are perhaps the weirdest he has ever written !

We build a big fire
There`s no question that this song is one the most chilling performances ever set to music.With voodoo drums tapping out a disturbing backbeat and swirling minimalist guitars Nielen openly hints at the demonic urges raging inside his acid-drenched, out-on-the-edge fantasy-filled brain. Hearing that song on headphones, alone in a dark room, is as close as one can get to what journalist Patrick Lee wrote "Listening to Falling Mirror is like spending the evening alone in a floodlit stadium; everything's okay here, isn't it?"…scary stuff !

If I was James Dean
Along with the later "Johnny…." single this song was the most played single on radio at home and was released in Europe by WEA Records.Under a rangy, throbbing bassline and multitracked harmony guitars Neilen`s ode to the long departed screen star was the closest that they got to a hit single.

The opening fairground noise gives way to some of Allan`s most savage guitar work and this perverted ditty of misguided cartoon characters ("Noddy didn't realize that smoking grass and drinking wine….").

You think you`re so great
Wonderfully bouncy and breezy with chiming acoustics and driving bass this song pokes fun at the cult of ego…Neilen`s rigid digit cocked at society and its misfits !
"you think you're so great but you're really so small ………."

Why the envy Miss Glitter?
Perhaps the most poignant song ever written about the fashion industry,over a simple piano chord Neilen talk-sings about his love for a model…With a sweet bluesy guitar wailing throughout he ranges from being sad and lonely to absolute rage and derangement by the end.

Within the space of 12 months Falling Mirror had released two great albums,sadly ignored by the majority of the media pundits but they nonetheless both remain classic rock albums.It would be another year before they headed back to the studio with Tully to record "Fantasy Kid" which would be their last record for five years .

Benjy Mudie
Retro Fresh 2002