Jellyfish is dead – long live Jellyfish!

In 1993 I heard a song on the radio that completely blew me away – ‘The Ghost at Number One’ by a band called Jellyfish.

I’ve always been a sucker for well-crafted pop music with melodies, harmonies and imaginative production – which is odd because I can’t listen to the Beatles anymore – and this song certainly delivered these and then some. They reminded me a bit of XTC – of whom I am inordinately fond – but more American, not unsurprisingly. I bought the album, heard ‘Joining a Fanclub’ from it and thought I’d died and gone to powerpop heaven!

Here’s a live version which is great, but doesn’t quite have the lushness of the studio version.

It was all there – soaring harmonies, crunchy guitars, witty lyrics, some great production tricks and the whole glorious concoction summed up in a mere few minutes everything I love about music. The rest of the album didn’t disappoint either…

I then found that they’d made an album before – ‘Bellybutton’ – and bought that, too. Not quite up to the standard of what to most people is ‘the difficult second album’ but pretty damn good.

I really thought that this band was going to be HUGE, but after those two albums…nothing…

Remember, this was when Grunge was at its height. Nirvana were right there dominating the music scene and Seattle was the new Liverpool, San Francisco, LA, what you will. Jellyfish didn’t look right amongst all of this (see photo below for how they looked for their first album and, OK, they might have toned down the outfits for the second album but that is NOT a good look!), their sound wasn’t basic enough to appeal to the grunge fans and, reading between the lines, it seems that there was a certain amount of conflict within the band which had caused an earlier personnel change after the first album.

They split in 1994 amidst a certain amount of acrimony from what I can gather and I thought that that was it.

However, virtually everyone that was involved in the band – whether as permanent members or as studio-only participants – has gone on to other things which go a long way towards making the demise of Jellyfish more tolerable.

I’ve managed to track down as much of this post-Jellyfish music as I can and there’s some simply stellar stuff there with the whole lot forming an incestuous and tortuous patchwork of music – ranging from electropop to an ELO pastiche with Slash somewhere in the middle.

So, here’s a quick rundown of as much of the continuing story as I’ve managed to discover.

Here’s the original Jellyfish line up which appeared on the Bellybutton album:

Andy Sturmer – vocals, drums, keyboards, guitar
Roger Manning – keyboards, vocals
Jason Falkner – guitars, bass, vocals
Chris Manning — bass, vocals (live only)
Niko Wenner — guitars, vocals, keyboard (live only)

Falkner left after touring the album as he got fed up with just being the guitarist and Chris Manning also left as he didn’t like touring.

Here’s the Spilt Milk lineup:

Andy Sturmer – vocals, drums, keyboards, guitar
Roger Manning – keyboards, vocals
Tim Smith — bass, vocals
Eric Dover – guitar, vocals (live only)

They also roped in Jon Brion on guitar. He’s a genius – on keyboards he seems to be able to play anything in any style and his recent concerts are mostly one man affairs with him seemingly liable to drop any song in the world into the setlist at anytime. He’s released a fine solo album, too.

Anyway, Jason Falkner released several excellent solo albums, including two CDs’ worth of instrumental Beatles tunes, as well as a collaboration with Brion in a band project called the Grays, releasing but one album called Ro Sham Bo. He also recorded another band project called TV Eyes, the album is called this too, with Roger Manning. Falkner also found time to participate in a sort of ELO tribute/pastiche album with Manning and Sturmer (remember him?) which came out as Alpacas Orgling by LEO.

After Jellyfish Roger Manning went on to form Imperial Drag with Eric Dover and they released a great album, with glam overtones, lots of guitars and some androgynous lyrics.  Manning then released a couple of solo albums, the latest of which, Catnip Dynamite, is probably more like Jellyfish than anything else released since the band split up. Not surprising, since Andy Sturmer was involved. He wasn’t idle after Jellyfish broke up either. He made hit pop records in Japan with Puffy AmiYumi and is currently writing music for Disney and other animation projects.

Dover then went on to sing with Slash’s Snakepit and worked with Alice Cooper and then brought out an album called Stranger than Fiction under the band name of Sextus and I believe he calls himself that name now. It’s the only album I’ve mentioned so far which I haven’t got, but his MySpace page has some tracks from it and, sure enough it’s mindblowingly good. So good, in fact, that I’m going to order it after I’ve posted this blog entry!

Tim Smith formed a band called the Umajets after Jellyfish and Eric Dover and Roger Manning guested on their debut album.

Chris Manning is a record engineer and producer now with a whole slew of successful credits and Niko Wenner – as far as I know – is in an experimental outfit called Oxbow, unless there’s two guitarists with the same name. If it is the same guy then the latest Oxbow album – The Narcotic Story – is the most un-Jellyfishish (!) solo venture of the lot.

(Pause for breath)

And so it goes on..I’m bound to have missed out some collaboration or other as it’s such an involved and complex history. Has any defunct band ever been so prolific and so ready to join tagteam forces in some sort of fractalistic musical frenzy?

I purposely haven’t given any links in this entry – the story’s so involved that it’s probably more fun to find it out for yourself. Start with this (OK, I’ve given you one link!) and then just chase the links. You’ll discover some interesting stuff and some fabulous music. I haven’t been even remotely disappointed by anything which came out of the ashes of Jellyfish and I hope you won’t be either.

Of course, it would be great if the band would reform and maybe they will – by accident.

They’ll all find themselves in the studio together one day, working on someone’s solo album and realise that the band’s back together again!

Just for a giggle, here’s Puffy AmiYumi’s take on ‘Joining a Fanclub’.

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