MFH / Pump
MFH were formed by Andrew Cox (Maths) and David Elliott (Geography) at Sussex University in November 1979. The former had a home-made synthesizer, the latter a large record collection, and between them a guitar, some circuit boards and a few effects units. Neither could really play, but in the just-do-it spirit of punk they pooled their influences and made some noise-bordering-on-music like countless other ‘bedroom bands’. This was the era of new wave experimentalism, Cabaret Voltaire, TG & Industrial, guitars & drums giving way to synths & drum-machines, abrasive short instrumentals, 4-track portastudios, and the advent of cassette labels. It was a great time to be in music when the term ‘music’ was up for grabs.
First Move was recorded in bedrooms and under a campus laboratory in the middle of the night using the most basic material, including short-wave radio, calculator and electric razor. It became the first cassette album to be released on York House Recordings (YHR), the name of their campus accommodation, in January 1980. Within 30 Miles followed in the early summer, recorded at Sussex University’s tiny radio station where David presented a radio show to an occasional audience. The tracks were a lot shorter, simpler and cleaner. Masks– an abrasive mix of very short and very long tracks – followed in the autumn, by which time Andrew had dropped out of college and both were living in Brighton.
1981 saw Andrew return ‘home’ to Cornwall where he would continue his own music. He’d already released a solo, Arioch, (recorded on a heavily modified Jen SX2000 synthesizer – which, coincidentally, came out at the same time as Pete Shelley’s very similar Sky Yen) and Methods. Their next recording session together was in April 1981 in a Cornish bungalow where, hermit-like and with a week’s worth of beans & beer, plus David’s new Korg MS10, they produced Ground Zero, an almost polished work.
There followed a long gap in which David concentrated on his Neumusik fanzine and released a wide range of other artists on YHR while supposedly studying at Strasbourg University. At the same time Andrew continued his ‘solo career’, releasing Hydra (1981). It wasn’t until April 1982 that they reunited back in Brighton for a week, together with a rented ARP Odyssey and a 4-track portastudio (everything previous to this had been recorded straight to stereo cassette), resulting in two-thirds of what was to become Head (the other third stemming from a separate session in the summer). It eventually appeared in February 1983 along with Andrew’s Songs from the Earth, in what turned out to be the final batch of YHR releases.
During the mid-80s, with Andrew in Cornwall and David newly arrived in London, playing and recording together was sporadic to put it mildly. A track appeared on Dave Henderson’s semi-legendary The Elephant Table Album (1983) as well as numerous other cassette compilations. A support slot at the Hammersmith Clarendon showed they were still as unprofessional as ever. Meanwhile David joined the two other Davids (Henderson and Tibet) at Sounds, each battling to review the weirdest, most obscure band possible. It was perhaps not coincidental that the once great music weekly folded a few years later.
In 1986 Andrew moved to within commuting distance of London and as a result the pair started recording on a more regular basis. MFH became Pump. Material was amassed and out came The Decoration of the Duma Continues (1987) on Final Image. The music was a strange mixture, ranging from – as Melody Maker put it – “the clanging and abrasion of rusted and misaligned gears and ratchets” to “the pealing of bells heard in a delirium”. Whatever, it didn’t make the Top 20.
Other bits and pieces followed although, as the pair had ‘respectable’ day jobs (Andrew a computer programmer, David an arts manager), the gaps between the bits and the pieces became somewhat lengthy. Some concerts were played to promote the album, including an appearance at the UK Electronica Festival in Stafford and a support slot to Danielle Dax in London. A track appeared on a BBC documentary about trains. And work began on the ‘difficult second album’.
Sombrero Fallout was recorded in various locations and mixed by Colin Potter at ICR. It was due to be released by Trident Music International in 1993 but for unfathomable reasons it never happened. A pity, as it was a more mature, consistent album than Decoration... The rest of the 90s saw the duo drift apart as day jobs took precedence, with David’s move to Japan effectively signalling Pump’s demise.
Fast forward to 2009 and Andrew’s tragic death, the result of a long battle with alcoholism. For those who knew him, we miss his intelligence, wit and creativity…
Strangely it coincided with renewed interest in early 80s cassette culture and the fact that Sombrero Fallout never got the release it deserved. Plague Recordings stepped in and out it finally came, on CD, in 2010. The following year, The Decoration of the Duma Continues got a vinyl re-release (with a much nicer gatefold cover), followed by a CD compilation, MFH 1979-85 in 2012, both on Forced Nostalgia. An old track, 'Mistral', made it onto Cherry Red's Close To The Noise Floor (Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984) box set in 2016. And there were a couple of posthumous Andrew Cox releases in 2014, again via Forced Nostalgia: a CD compilation, Past Imperfect, and one of the last pieces of music Andrew recorded, the ambient, download-only The Simulacra.
Is that the end? Well, I doubt MFH / Pump will be appearing on 80s revival tours, but watch this space for news of an archive album on Berlin's Mauerstadtmusik label.
MFH's five cassette albums on YHR (scroll right & click to enlarge).
Various MFH photos (scroll right & click to enlarge)
MFH's first and last gigs. There were only two.