Remember 4,000,000 Telephones from the 80s? Well, get ready to hit the dial again

I hear you Telephone Thing! Don O'Mahony takes a call from 1980s post-punk group 4,000,000 Telephones
Remember 4,000,000 Telephones from the 80s? Well, get ready to hit the dial again

Redial: 4,000 Telephones re-emerge from the 80s with a new single ahead of an album release.

It wasn’t until after he settled in Cork that Carl Plover realised that he was following in the feet of another son of Lincoln, mathematician and philosopher George Boole, whose time as professor in UCC a century-and-a-half earlier saw him lay the foundations for the information age.

Perhaps not too dissimilarly, Plover had been a drummer with a band taken with numbers and telecommunication networks, Lincoln sextet 4,000,000 Telephones. Back then one would have called them indie rock, but they would since be recognised as post-punk. And while the venerable Boole ushered in Tomorrow’s World, 4,000,000 Telephones were being tipped for greatness in 1986 in an NME feature titled “Tomorrow’s World”. They shared the page with the likes of Colourbox, Cork-London quartet Microdisney, Dublin’s Light A Big Fire and The Housemartins. Unfortunately, it was a case of Lincoln 0 Hull 4, as the Telephones imploded.

John Peel played us and we had a little window where we seemed to have got a lot of national press

“We had a good couple of years,” reflects Plover. “John Peel played us and Janice Long played us and we had a little window where we seemed to have got a lot of national press.

We did a tour of Germany. Things were going well and it burned itself out really. That particular line up split up. And I thought that was the end of it really.”

But still, it was brief but enjoyable adventure. Plover was 20 when 4,000,000 Telephones began. He had been in bands since he was 14, and he met his fellow Telephonists through a musicians collective.

“You could put your name down on a register and if anybody wanted a member of a band you could just find drummers, guitarists,” he explains.

Due to their diverse musical interests, the individual members probably wouldn’t have ended up playing together in normal circumstances, but the register brought them together.

“I think that’s what made the band unique,” Plover offers. “I was coming from a post-punk perspective. I was very influenced by The Fall. I was very influenced by Cabaret Voltaire. I was very influenced by those type of things. But then you had a guitarist who was really into King Crimson, and he was coming from that kind of angle. And then you had a saxophone player who was very into Miles Davis and jazz. That’s what made it really good. You know, mashed all those differences together.”

The band had two main vocalists, but in total four of them shared that duty.

Carl Plover of 4,000,000 Telephones: “We had a good couple of years. John Peel played us and Janice Long played us and we had a little window where we seemed to have got a lot of national press.
Carl Plover of 4,000,000 Telephones: “We had a good couple of years. John Peel played us and Janice Long played us and we had a little window where we seemed to have got a lot of national press.

Says Carl: “We all took turns, the four of us that did the vocals. There was two main ones, myself and Richard [keyboardist Richard Main]. I used to play the drums, but we had one of those really early drum machines, we had a DramatiX drum machine. So half the set we had the DramatiX and when the drum machine was on I would sing and shout. And then when I played the drums for the other half, then Richard would sing. So we were the main two. And then the guitarist and the bass player did a couple of pieces as well. So we kept it fluid. We didn’t settle on one person.”

Epitomising that embrace of technology was Jack Rabelais, who had a reel to reel tape recorder.

“He would cut up voices and he would splice them together with sound effects and we would loop those around. So it was almost pre samples,” says Plover.

“We were doing things a little bit differently, but that was the aim of the band. If it was too conventional we wouldn’t do it. Even drum wise, I wouldn’t do a straight 4/4 beat if it was too obvious we would shy away from it.

“And embracing any technology that came along. So, a drum machine? Let’s do that. Let’s try and do something a little bit different. That was always the starting point. Let’s not do it like everybody else – let’s do it slightly differently.”

And then we just disappeared from each other’s lives

They left behind a self-titled album and a single, and while a different iteration of the group went on to release another album in 1988, Plover and guitarist Eg Lucas formed another brief-lived band, Monkeys With Clothes On, before Plover dedicated himself to writing for theatre. After moving to Cork in the early 00s he emerged as performance poet Wasps Vs Humans. A request from their label, Summerhouse Records, to have their debut mastered on to CD saw them mark the occasion with two gigs, one in Lincoln and another in London, in 2006.

“And then we just disappeared again from each other’s lives,”

And so it remained until the sad news early this year that saxophonist Rick Woolgar had passed away.

4,000,000 Telephones: They're back.
4,000,000 Telephones: They're back.

“That got us all talking again,” notes Plover. “Me and Eg have always been really good friends but Malcolm Tent (bass) and Richard, we kinda lost touch with. So it was very strange for us to sit down and chat over zoom together again. And it just felt really nice.”

They remembered that before the first model of 4,000,000, Telephones was retired they had recorded a second album together, one which never saw the light of day.

"It’s more like the first record but a bit more experimental,” reckons Plover. The album, which will be released later in the year, is preceded by the abrasive, high energy single “Goats” in tribute to Woolgar, who arranged it.

Goats by 4,000,000 Telephones is out Friday, April 16, on Bunker Records.

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