Sandy Robertson gets his teeth into ANNABEL LAMB
ANNABEL LAMB is that rarest of things in the modernist pop pantheon, the artist who defies glib categorisation. When even the best of 'em can be summed up as 'HM', 'hard rock', 'synthipop' or any one of a depressingly formal list of categories, Annabel escapes like a phantom. She does this not by the easy trick of being merely 'weird', either: the cover of her debut album of a few months back, 'Once Bitten', gives few clues to her style: a photograph, a name, a record inside. But what a record! Passionate yet precise, tough but touchable...

To call her a singer/songwriter, while accurate, tends to bring on reeling visions of the worst of the early 70s; bedsitters full of dog-eared Dansette-fodder and empty baked beans cans... 57 varieties of wimpery! Compare her to Neil Young, maybe, another adventurer who refused to be pinned down by genre politics. Now, not before time, Annabel Lamb has a hit single, which in fact, odd as this may seem, appears to be a bit of a thorny one for some of her staunchest followers. "Why should someone so talented have to do a cover version to get a hit?", they yelp in unison. But all is not what it looks to be...

We met in the environs of a NW3 pub, hunched over the tables outside as sunlight splattered what remained of A's blonde tresses, newly shorn with an impish pigtail that fits well with the cute smile she tries (and often fails) to avoid in pictures. So tell me... she told me. Her cover of the old Doors classic 'Riders On The Storm' is not some wicked A&M masterplan, but the, erk, fulfilment of a long-felt want. Everybody got dreams! In the moments as I write the platter has jumped about 40 places up the ladder

"What happened was, basically I'd always wanted to cover a Doors song, 'cause I've loved them since I was very small. My sisters had all these records and I was hearing them when I was like eight! Even then I loved the sound of Jim Morrison's voice, though of course I'd no idea what the lyrics were about, and didn't care. Also, I was learning piano at the time so the keyboard player was my hero..."
Flash fast forward to age 26, under contract and raring to goooo! "I had three favourites, 'The End', 'Crystal Ship' and 'Riders On The Storm'. I was talking to my producer Wally Brill, and he told me that Ray Manzarek (Doors keyboarder) was on A&M too! He's done an album of Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana' with Philip Glass for them. And he's also put together a new Doors compilation for Elektra of unreleased stuff, which is coming out at the end of the year."
Take the fact that A&M brass hat David Anderle was one of the first guys to pick up on The Doors way back when, in another time, another label... The plot started to thicken: "Ray had heard my album, it turned out, and he thought my voice would be perfect for 'Riders On The Storm'. He also played the piano solo on it just like the original, same sound and everything. We went to California to record it…

Waxed at Townhouse, London plus Conway Recorders and the legendary Capitol Tower in LA; the Lamb version of 'Storm' is as slinky and creepy as the original: most definitely not a redundant retread. And that blistering axe solo! "Isn't it amazing? It was done by this guy called Alan Johannes, who's in the band that A&M have been watching… He's the most unlikely-looking guy you could imagine, about 19 or 20, chubby little schoolboy. He asked to hear the track once, then he just turned to the wall and played! He did it in the first take, he just went wild! I couldn't believe it! Going nuts on the guitar..."
So enamoured is Lamb-chops with the finished product of her Californian endeavours that she now plans, to do the whole of her next album using the same pattern of a start in London and a finish in Los Angeles. But don't worry, you doubters of the validity of grave-robbing: "No, there will be one cover but it's by a guy I know, it's not a classic cover. It is difficult when you do a cover, especially a song like 'Riders', to convince people that it's a song you've loved for years and you aren't just jumping on some bandwagon. I've always wanted to do one of those three Doors songs - that's all I can say about it."

One wonders if A&M had any sleepless nites, pre-hit, about how something so, so, so obviously non-bandwagonised as Annabel Lamb could be sold in the marketplace which is always hungry, saliva dripping from its red, gaping maw, for image, image, image? "It's really hard to decide how to market something new," she emphasises, with a graceful hint of hesitancy that helps her avoid sounding pompous.
"And I'd like to think I'm fairly original! I always find that people have to box you somewhere, they don't feel secure if they haven't got something to hang on you. If it's good they'll say something like 'She's as evocative as Marianne Faithfull'. If it's bad... well, there was one this week said I was trying to be an upper-crust Toyah! I can't imagine how anyone..." she gasps, lost for words, "They've got to find someone to compare you with, they can't ever say maybe it's new, maybe it's original...
"Obviously, everyone has influences and if you listen to every record in the world you can find a way to compare it to something else. But I find it very, ahh, frustrating. The sound of my voice is my voice, I don't go out to copy anybody. A&M stuck their neck out a bit, but they have a great tradition of having people on the label for a long time. And they develop people, like Joan Armatrading has been there for eight years! And Joe Jackson…which is part of the reason I signed with them. I didn't want to be an overnight success and then goodbye. I wasn't interested in that, and also I write, and you need time to change your writing. I mean, this album's gonna be quite a bit different from the first one; my writing's changed since then."

Annabel can't see herself being flogged as a pop star. Maybe we should dub her the first of The Rock Brats', like 'The Movie Brats' - that group of youngish usurpers, cine-literate tykes who knew what they were about and up and did it their way! Spielberg, Scorsese, De Palma, Milius... And hey, like Steven Spielberg did with his reworking of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Lamb-kin has tinkered with her 'Once Bitten' LP for the USA market.
"The album came out in February here, and we knew the USA version wouldn't come out till August, so once we'd done 'Riders' it seemed stupid not to put it on. I would've put it on over here if I'd done it back then. The mix is the same, the order of the tracks might be altered. And it's got this different cover..."
Annabel Lamb is off as you read this, doing a batch of those odder than odd pop music shows they have in Germany and so on, and then she prepares to tour, with old pals The Europeans, who were signed at the same time she was. "It's great to tour with people you know. I love them, it'll be a riot I'm sure!" But the old, cold rigmarole of album/tour/album is not the way Annabel's mind runs. As keen-eyed perusers of titles will note (and those who read the last Sounds story on her). Lamb is a John Carpenter fan, as much for his music as his direction.
"I'd love to do a film soundtrack. I collect them, but I can't afford all I'd like. When I was about 12, I got into Michael Legrand, and lately John Carpenter, he's so funny, so good... If someone would give me a script and ask me to write music for ten scenes..."

Will she overreach herself? I get the feeling that when she saw the huge, ruined LA mansions where the pix for her US album sleeve were shot, Annabel Lamb recalled the old Ozymandias moral, for sure. Despair, though? Nahhhhh...

Photographs: TONY MOTTRAM
SOUNDS - September 3, 1983