Falling Mirror - Zen Boulders
Falling Mirror – Zen Boulders (LP 1979)
Falling Mirror - Zen Boulders
Falling Mirror – Zen Boulders (LP 1979, back cover)
Falling Mirror - Zen Boulders (2 for 1 CD re-issue with The Storming Of The Loft in 2002)
Falling Mirror – Zen Boulders (2 for 1 CD re-issue with The Storming Of The Loft in 2002)
Falling Mirror - Zen Boulders (2010 re-issue)
Falling Mirror – Zen Boulders (2010 re-issue)

Tracks

  1. Time (Is A Thief)
  2. I Am The Actor
  3. Makin’ Out With Granny
  4. Dreamer (We Shall Be Free)
  5. When The Lights Went Off In New York City
  6. The San Diego Sniping Event
  7. Archie And Juggie Went Down To The Store
  8. What Are We Here For?
  9. Wish She Could Leave
  10. Boy And Girl Alone On A Throne

All tracks composed by Allan Faull/Nielen Mirror.
Recorded at Spaced-Out Sound Studios, Cape Town.
Produced and arranged by Tully McCully.

Falling Mirror – Zen Boulders

Musicians

  • Nielen Mirror: Vocals, percussion
  • Allan Faull: Guitars, keyboards, vocals
  • Pat Humphreys: Drums, percussion
  • Tully McCully: Bass, synthesizer, vocals

Release information

LP: 1979, WEA, WBC (X) 9011
CD: August 2002, Retrofresh, freshcd124 (2 for 1 re-issue with The Storming Of The Loft)

SA ROCK DIGEST ISSUE #166, 12th August 2002

FALLING MIRROR – ‘ZEN BOULDERS & THE STORMING OF THE LOFT’

The second Falling Mirror release on Benjy Mudie’s RetroFresh label is a “twofer”, with the band’s debut ‘Zen Boulders’ sitting snugly alongside their second album, ‘The Storming Of The Loft’ on one CD. This is the first in RetroFresh’s ‘2 for 1’ series, and the band’s third album, ‘Fantasy Kid’ and their final unreleased album (recorded in 1996), ‘Hammerhead Hotel’ could also appear in this extremely economical and worthy form. This clearly shows Mudie’s devotion to this unique ’80’s Cape Town band, recently acknowledged as his personal favourite out of all of the South African artists and bands that he worked with and supported, and who have been re-released through the RetroFresh label.

The full, strange story of the two cousins, guitarist Allan Faull and vocalist Nielen Mirror, can be found at the Falling Mirror website at http://www.rock.co.za/fallingmirror. These are the extended liner notes by Stephen Segerman that originally appeared on the 2001 CD release of the band’s fourth album, ‘Johnny Calls The Chemist’. The liner notes (see below) for the ‘Zen Boulders/The Storming Of The Loft’ CD re-issue were written by Benjy Mudie and explain his feelings on first hearing the group after being alerted by Tully McCully, and on a song-by-song basis.

‘Zen Boulders’ was a bold opening statement, filled with Nielen’s sinister-sweet lyrics and Allan’s guitar genius. Songs like ‘I Am The Actor’, ‘Time Is A Thief’ and the original ‘Making Out With Granny’ impressed the critics of the day, but not the SA rock customers.

Undaunted, Falling Mirror headed back to McCully’s Spaced Out Sounds Studio and recorded an album influenced by Nielen’s attempts to woo a loft-living potential girlfriend. This was the sound of a band in full throttle, from the opening Doors-like ‘Highway Blues’ and the radio-rocker, ‘Neutron Bop’, to the touching ‘If I Was James Dean’ and the chilling ‘We Build A Big Fire’.

The 20 tracks on display here show a band emerging from a dark past to a settled sound. Two great albums for the price of one.

Download an MP3 of ‘Then It Turns Around‘ from the, as yet, unreleased ‘Hammerhead Hotel‘ album at http://www.samp3.com

Liner Notes

Long hailed as one of the most innovative rock groups of the 80s, Cape Town’s Falling Mirror released two albums in late 1979/80. Here together for the first time on one album are the debut “Zen Boulders”, including the hits “I am the Actor” and the original version of “Makin’ out with granny” twinned with the follow-up epic “The storming of the Loft” which features “If I was James Dean”, “Neutron Bop” and the chilling “We build a big fire”. If you are a fan of the Mirror then this 2 on 1 release is just up your street!

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 McCully 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 a 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, etc 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, etc 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, etc 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 Nielen’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”… it 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. Nielen’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 Nielen 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 Nielen’s crazy bug-eyed, bare-chested howling performance on a 8mm film that Tully shot in the studio (now sadly lost)… it 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 Nielen!

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 bands 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 Nielen’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 an 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 Nielen 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 follow-up album. Down to a trio of Nielen, 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 multi-tracked guitar orchestra and underpinned by Tully’s thundering basswork Nielen 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 Nielen`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 Nielen 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 Nielen that makes for a classic Mirror song….”

I wish I was a purple door
late 60s psychedelic guitars ala Jethro Tull merge with distinctly Elizabethan madrigal harmonies make for a very strange song indeed. I don’t know what Nielen 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 multi-tracked harmony guitars Nielen’s ode to the long departed screen star was the closest that they got to a hit single.

Toyland
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… Nielen’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 Nielen 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

Reviews

With a title like ‘Zen Boulders’ one can be forgiven for expecting a big Stones influence on Falling Mirror’s 1979 debut album. However, the influence seems to come more from Pink Floyd than from Mick Jagger and the boys. Allan Faull’s guitar work creates sonic landscapes of vast beauty in a similar vein to Floyd. Add to this Nielen Marais’ brittle vocals that walk a tightrope between calm sensible and cracked psychotic, with a foot in each camp, but never taking sides, and you’ve got an album of serene psychotic beauty.

It’s not only the guitar and vocals that grab one’s attention, but also some wonderful piano playing that gives body and atmosphere to the album. Tracks like ‘Time (is the Thief)’ and ‘I am the Actor’ (both of which appear on the ‘Shattered’ compilation) benefit greatly from the added keyboards and those familiar with the version of ‘Making out with Granny’ on the ‘Johnny Calls the Chemist’ album may be interested to note that the screaming guitar intro to this classic song began life as some dramatic chords pounded on the piano.

The trade mark rock ‘n roll number is ‘Archie and Juggie went Down to the Store’ which I don’t think is as musically astute as ones that followed (‘Neutron Bop’ and ‘Encounter in a Take Away Shop’), but lyrically surpasses the others, telling the story of America’s favourite High School cartoon kids, but stripping the comic of it’s innocence by having Reggie shooting Archie. All this action occurs around a cheerful chorus of ‘Chom-Chom-a-Romma-Rom-Chomma-Rom-Chom’.

In 1979, the Boomtown Rats were riding high in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with their song about a high school massacre in San Diego ‘I don’t like Mondays’. The Rats’ hit was regarded as controversial, but one wonders how the world would have reacted had they heard Falling Mirror’s take on the same event, choosing to entitle their song ‘The San Diego Sniping Event’.

The album ends with the epic ‘Boy and Girl Alone on a Throne’ which starts quietly with some beautiful Hotel California-ish guitar picking but builds to a frenzied orgasm of guitar and drums that leaves one highly satisfied and reaching for a cigarette.

Although not a huge commercial success, Falling Mirror’s debut gave the SA music scene something to reflect on. The album balances delicately on the rim of the teacup of the psyche, not quite reaching the safety of the saucer of sanity but also not plunging into the murky brew of drugs and madness. One can say that ‘Zen Boulders’ rocks. Not in a barrage of drums and guitars kind of way (other than the finale of the closing track), but more in a refined edgy mellow kind of way.

John Samson, London, UK, November 2001

Chris Prior, 1979
Chris Prior, 1979
Muff Anderson, Sunday Times, October 1979
Muff Anderson, Sunday Times, October 1979

Comments


‘Makin’ Out With Granny’ (3.30) was remixed and extended to 5 minutes in 1985 and released as a single and also on the “Johnny Calls The Chemist” album.

Falling Mirror - Makin' Out With Granny (Psychotic Remix)
Falling Mirror – Makin’ Out With Granny (Psychotic Remix)

Albums

Zen Boulders (1979) | The Storming Of The Loft (1980) | Fantasy Kid (1981) | Johnny Calls The Chemist (1986) | Special Agent Duck (2010) | Dream Girl (2011) | Yesterday Can Change (2019)