Listening to the 45's now, I think that a significant component of the sound of the band was the character of the drumming from Toni D'Ana. It was not the usual elemental bass drum/snare drum power base. Instead the drumming was characterized, I think, by the manifestation of patterns. It was original and sensitive, contributing a sense of fluidity that has a life of it's own which, when listened to carefully, has great personality that one can never know in full, thus retaining a likeable enigmatic quality. Robin Havana's approach to playing the guitar and song writing was also original. Unusual, interesting and edgy chord sequences set the tone and although often repeated they are changed well in advance of becoming too comfortable or boring. The line is kept intriguing. I think Bruce Banner's bass guitar playing is of a very high calibre indeed, exploring a wide range of tonal and rhythmic areas while at the same time being constructive and cohesive. Hel's minimal 'beep beep' keyboard playing on the song 'OK Let's Go' contributes to making that song highly distinctive and a favourite of mine. Elsewhere too her playing sounds refreshingly free of the synthetic and predictable. Regarding my own contribution, I think I had talent for finding strong vocal melodies and lyrics. Often an opening move would just come out of me to set things off, and then Robin's guitar and my guitar created some vibrant counterpoint, for example in the song 'Here's Looking At You'. Along with my guitar, I certainly was 'highly strung' and nervous in the live appearances! My stage name 'Shaakking Stephen', was appropriate. That we all had stage names externalized a kind of warm humour that I think was never really picked up on at the time. There was a lot going on in our music. It was a radical departure from what I had done before - I was 19, I was changing.
My best memories were of the actual writing of the songs together. It was, in my opinion, a truly democratic process. That was great and there were moments of very bright humour too in the process. Writing of material was never a problem and it was exciting. It was Tom Paine who liked the band to the extent that he funded the three singles, and took on the role of 'manager'. I had the pleasure of meeting up again with Tom Paine (1952-2018) on two occasions in the relatively near past and it is with great sadness that I heard that he came to the end of his life this year, 2018.
Those were still the days where many thought the way 'out' was to be, for example, a great footballer or in a successful band - to be famous. I am not saying that the other band members thought in that way at all - but unfortunately I did - a huge mistake. The 'Pop/Rock' world was still so seductive then. I think that's all changed now. Related to that, for me a strong early Metropak song is, in my opinion 'You're A Rebel', which shines the spotlight on those who think they are rebels but just want to be famous - to be seen, to be heard, to be fast.. I was one of those 'rebels without a cause' so I see the song aimed at myself as much as it is to others. There are many who can justifiably be called Rebels in the most dramatic meaning of the word, by which I mean doing something far 'Greater' than what many may at best aspire to do in everyday life where one listens to ones own inner voice to choose between good or bad. Am I one of those Greats? No. - Are You a Rebel?
For me it was good, very good, being in the group in the beginning, and I was good in the beginning, but as the group developed I struggled to keep up in mood as the complexity grew and the group interrelationships became more subtle. Instead of seeing that as a positive and as a personal adventure, I weakened and eventually left the group in a selfish Spinal Tap like scenario (but without the humour) after the second single was recorded - though not really understanding why I left at the time. Perhaps it's just as well. Repeatedly, great challenges come later in life and that era represented a very small proportion of time relatively speaking. To be so totally focused on that early stage would say little for the rest of ones life.
Something that I think would have helped me greatly, along with a guitar tuner, would have been listening to The Velvet Underground. Surprisingly, I never listened to them until about 1983. Had I listened to them, I think my confidence would have been boosted. The music that influenced me at that time was, in no particular order, Pere Ubu, Wire, The Fall, The B52's, Talking Heads, Devo, The Only Ones, The Sex Pistols. David Bowie was in there of course too, with his album 'Heroes' released in 1977 and seeing him perform in Glasgow at around that time remains a very great highlight. Prior to that era my record collection consisted of many records by artists who, at least for a while, were to be rejected but who provided the musical background whereby bands such as The Sex Pistols could easily sound so influentially radical.
Also, although I was young and very thin, no one told me that you had to have a vintage guitar! I got one later of course - too later. This reminds me that when we say to our friends that we have been to a concert, we say 'I went to see such and such a band' We don't usually say we went to 'hear' them. A lot of it was and is about the look. It is surprising how important having a vintage guitar seemed to be to many bands in Scotland around 1979/80 and I do not mean that in a judgmental way.
There is often talk of British bands being influenced by the so called New Wave movement that is reported to have started in New York before being picked up on in the UK. Exciting things were happening in New York venues such as CBGB's. I think it notable that Metropak were, as far as I know, the only Edinburgh band of that era (1980) to perform (thanks I think to Tom Paine's contacts there) in New York at Tier Three, The Mud Club and The UK Club while those venues were still at their prime. Thus there was a very tangible connection with the music scene in New York. I had left the group before the New York gigs. Looking back of course it would have been amazing to be there in New York at that time.
So what remains? Some valuable and rekindled friendships, three good collectible and cherished singles comprising of studio recordings of seven songs, a handful of photographs and some film without sound. There were many more songs that survive only in very rough recording format and these would have shown more range, variety and depth had they been recorded in a studio. I have many rehearsal tapes to remind me of the songs we wrote when I was in the band, for example the song called 'Follow Me' which was full of unexpected twists and turns. I am unfamiliar with the material Metropak wrote after I left the band and when the band were also known as Pak, except the two songs on the third single, and the little I have heard of that phase in the bands development appeals to me very much. It strikes me as very emotional, expressionistic and sharp. I find beauty too in the third single.
Was there the album? No. Was there the John Peel Session? No - although he liked and played the singles and called the first one a 'mighty record'. Was there the tour supporting the better known band? No. Was there the National Press? No, and any local press seemed often to be, how shall I put it, 'not exactly onside?' For example I think we were once described in a review as sounding like 'a badly recorded Devo bootleg played backwards' or words to that effect. Sometimes it seemed to me there was an unpleasant kind of cartel in operation. If that is not true, then it is how it felt to me at the time. I would have laughed all that off now and relished fighting back but at that time could I? No.
I can understand to some extent why the band are not included in the documentaries, archives and books - for example Vic Galloway's book called 'Rip It Up' (2018) along with all other books published so far about music in Scotland because what remains of Metropak might be considered somewhat embryonic in form or hard to label. We were never every ones cup of tea and it seemed we put some peoples backs up though that was never intentional. There was never the 'big splash', but this too is the case for other bands who somehow do get mentioned at least on the historical roll call. Whether this exclusion is a matter of policy or if it simply stems from a lack of awareness of the band or some kind of boycott stretching way back is something I do not know.
Unfortunately there isn't quite enough studio recorded material to communicate the full scope of the band's music, memories of which provide me with the broader picture that is impossible to share however much I would like to, hence in part my frustration.
But it's alright. The recorded songs are finding an audience all over the world on the digital music platforms and the original vinyl records are sought after and sell for surprisingly high prices. It would be counter productive to push people to the recordings and better to let people find them themselves. Ironically, it is the obscurity that generates much of what interest there is in the group. Probably it's all best left at that'.
-Stephen Harrison - 2018 - Edinburgh