Culture: Getting a handle on Pram; Is Pram the most influential band in Birmingham? Andrew Cowen uncovers the band's strange history.
Birmingham's gone a long way towards shaking off its old image of Britain's heavy metal capital. A new breed of band is tapping into an experimental wellspring and forging a sound that is as representative of the second city as the blustering riffs of yore.
Plone, Broadcast, Telefunken and, daddy of them all, Pram each share a desire to push the boundaries of pop but rather than look to the Sabs, the Priest or the Zep, their muse resides in the space-age bachelor pad music of the 60s, laced with a liberal dose of post punk attitude.
A closely-knit scene, there's a gulf of stylistic difference between the arch pop of Broadcast, the enigmatic precision of Plone and the Fisher Price sinister sound of Pram. Put them together though and you get a multi-faceted glimpse of a new pop possibility.
Pram have been around for over ten years now, pursuing an uncompromising career trajectory through umpteen albums, singles and compilation appearances. Their latest, somewhere between a single and Dark Side of the Moon, is called Somniloquy and comes warm on the heels of last year's acclaimed Museum of Imaginary Animals.
Somniloquy comprises one track from the last album, three new ones and five illuminating remixes. It contributions from Plone who remodel Bewitched in their own image and House of God's Sir Real, a name normally associated with filthy techno. His mix of Million Bubbles Burst is a surprising affair: deep and dark chamber dub. Telefunken out-Pram the headliners with a lovely mix of Omnichord.
Pram formed in 1990, following well-worn footsteps. 'When we first started out, Birmingham was still a town of metal,' says Rosie. 'It was really strange - we used to do gigs supporting really incongruous bands.'
'We did the toilet circuit for about three years, slogging our way round pubs,' picks up guitarist Matthew Eton. 'Unbelievably, we built up a fan base around Britain and France as well. We did the tough one and played any gig in unlikely towns just for the fun of playing.'
While the band raised its profile by traditional means, their stage show was anything but. Using an acoustic guitar through effects pedals and state of the ark keyboards, they proved distinctive enough to attract the attention of independent Too Pure records.
'It was very uncompromising music we used to take to pop venues,' explains Eton. 'Too Pure sorted us out and got us on the right circuit.'
'The sound went through a lot of development by playing loads of gigs,' adds Rosie. 'Now we're a little more blended with the Birmingham scene.'
Eton adds: 'Justin out of Godflesh helped us out by lending us equipment and producing for our early records, which was invaluable. We used to borrow his hi-tech equipment to mix our lo-fi tapes.'
The line-up's changed over the years and now boasts such rock 'n' roll staples as trumpet, Theramin and samples. Most of the distinctive Pram sound can be attributed to the band's avowed preference for old instruments and they still use the sort of kit that most bands would hock as soon as the first royalty cheque arrives.
'Nowadays we use a Yamaha keyboard that's 50 quid out of Cash Converters,' says Eton. 'Most sounds on modern keyboards are just too clean, too loud and too expensive. On the 50 quid keyboard, they're degraded. The emulation of real life instruments wasn't very good and because of that, they just sound better.'
The old keyboards are these days married to modern samplers and computers, plus zithers, a xylophone, flutes, clarinets and the aforementioned Theramin to create the distinctive Pram sound, a retro-futuristic alternative pop universe. Although much of these sound sources are sampled and sequenced for live work, Rosie dreams of one day being able to afford to hire enough musicians to play everything on stage: 'The Pram orchestra - that would be fantastic,' she says.
Unlike many bands outside our capital, Pram have no desire to move to London. 'That would be disastrous,' says Eton. 'Most of us DJ as well and we all have lives and jobs in Birmingham.'
Juggling a working band and jobs does cause some problems, says Rosie: 'It's a pig but it has to be done,' she says. 'We're now on Domino who aren't the wealthiest label in the world. They give us lots of support in lots of ways but the financial element is not too strong.'
'You have to go quite a long way to scratch a living purely out of music,' adds Eton. 'We'd have to go up a couple of levels of sales before we can support six people.'
Yet things are on the rise for Matthew, Rosie and the rest of Pram. Somniloquy is available at a most reasonable price and should win them new fans. Their policy of playing wherever they see an open door has been proved to work. With plans for film work - a logical step for this most cinematic of outfits - and remixes, their time may well be nigh. And that would be ample reward for one of the hardest working groups in the city.
Music for pushchairs - the enigmatic Pram all dressed up and ready to go to the Butterfly Ball