The Shadow Ring: City Lights
Release Date: October 6, 2023.
Throughout their legendary, decade-long run, the Shadow Ring were an enigmatic force on the international musical sub-underground. Before their disbandment in 2002, this shambolic rock outfit, formed by a group of rowdy teenagers in southeast England, left behind a mighty run of eight LPs, a handful of 7"s, and a spate of raucous live shows and cryptic zine appearances on both sides of the Atlantic, all which have bolstered their enduring word-of-mouth mystique. Beginning this year with the first-ever vinyl pressing of the self-released pre-Shadow Ring tape The Cat & Bells Club (1992), Blank Forms Editions is conducting a systematic retrospective of the storied group, including a multi-year LP reissue effort and a forthcoming comprehensive CD box set and a nearly five hundred page book.
Recorded and self-released by the group’s own Dry Leaf Discs in 1993, City Lights is the debut record of the then duo Graham Lambkin and Darren Harris—an assured arrival statement teeming with stripling angst and ambition. Lifelong chums Lambkin and Harris were barely nineteen and living at home in the seaside town of Folkestone, Kent, with few overhead expenses. The two were freshly employed as a forklift operator at a hardware store and an aide at a home for children with disabilities, respectively, affording them the time and funds to commit to a proper full-length release. Frontman Lambkin describes the album as a “microscopic examination of leisure activities, this time centered around a nightclub,” a conceit surging through its lyrics, song titles, cover art (depicting an audience of cats and mice at the Leas Club, a Folkestone fixture), and flip side (replete with fictional bandmates and pseudonymous liner notes).
On a recently-acquired secondhand guitar, Lambkin plays repetitive, brooding licks that form the record’s backbone, weaving in and out of sync with Harris’s free-form percussion and the pair’s sing-song poetry. Tracks range from unraveling nursery-rhyme ditties to extended jams awash with Casiotone and toy piano noodling. The duo’s musical hobby-horses work themselves in: the influence of Mark E. Smith’s breathless deadpan, the headless outer-edges of ESP-Disk’s back catalog, the eerie atmospherics of Hirsche Nicht Aufs Sofa, and the deconstructed rock tunes of the Dunedin scene are all detectable, although there is a sui generis quality to the Shadow Ring’s artless temerity. “I’ve got to see and taste those city lights,” intones Lambkin on the album’s title track—indeed, this is a record of naked drive and pent-up desperation, and a shimmering glimpse of what’s to come.