Dr Phibes & The House of Wax Equations – Liverpool based band in late 80s/ early 90s but had a Deeside singer, Howard King (gtr,voc) (ex In Line With Sphere, Abstract) who formed the band at college in Crewe with Lee Belsham (bass) (also The Expanding Men) and Keith York (drms). They rel a pile of stuff on their own 50 Seel Street label (the name was taken from the squat they were living in). Played Glastonbury & also The Bistro, the NME loved them, Radio One’s John Peel and Mark Radcliffe adored them.
Tragically Howard King’s mental health deteriorated and he was tried and convicted at Caernarfon Crown Court for murdering his mother at their Connah’s Quay home in Feb97.
Sadly Lee Belsham died of cancer (18.05.17).
[By Pete Cashmore (orig published in The Guardian)]
The post-Madchester years were an odd time to be a young indie fan, with many of the most popular bands being not just really pretty bad, but funny as well. Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Sultans of Ping FC, The Frank and Walters – you can guess what they sounded like without even hearing their music.
At the same time, there were terrific, unique bands falling entirely by the wayside: New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Five Thirty, World of Twist (who were prone to quirk but backed it up with drama and poise, in the Pulp style). And Dr Phibes and the House of Wax Equations.
From Deeside and eventually debunked to Liverpool, Dr Phibes, as fans called them, to save time, were formed at Crewe college, whose only other contribution to the modern pop pantheon has been former Corrie star and prospective Conservative candidate Adam Rickitt. They were a three-piece who made a hell of a noise, and were genuinely, densely psychedelic.
Everything about them was peculiar. Obviously, there was that name, a melding of two Vincent Price film titles with the baffling addendum of Equations – what on earth did that mean? They were prone to giving songs forced portmanteau titles (Sugarblast, Misdiagnosedive) or lapsing into hippyish guff (Eye Am the Sky, I Am Forever) and on the occasions when you could make out singer Howard King Jr’s lyrics, they tended to err towards the bollocks side. “I have the power / of a dying flower,” indeed.
Musically, though, they were incredible. Bassist Lee Belsham’s style was fluid and ominously dubby, and drummer Keith York veered between gentle restraint and explosions of Reni-style flailing, as King coaxed weird, spidery patterns through a bank of effects pedals. Baggy they were not.
Another thing that set them apart from the rest was that King is black, which may not seem like a big deal now but was practically unheard of in early 1990s indie, especially in a lead singer. Indeed, a few journalists at the time felt compelled to compare him to Jimi Hendrix and, although I would call into question the reason for the comparison being made, it’s not as absurd as it sounds. There’s a superb, all-too-brief live performance on YouTube for Granada TV’s late-night live music show The New Sessions, where King grapples and manhandles and slashes at his guitar in a decidedly Hendrixesque fashion. He was a great abuser of his instrument, though limited as a vocalist, his words enigmatically low in the mix until he would explode into anguished squealing. Backed up by a sympathetic live show on a small stage, they were a great live act. The best way I can describe the sound is enraged shoegazing.
It’s also interesting that King is performing, as he was wont to do, in a heavily defaced James hoodie, making it unclear whether they were an influence or he was cocking a snook at one of the era’s dreariest bands. I like to think it’s the latter.
Dr Phibes could certainly noodle – across two albums, only three tracks clock in at under five minutes, as opposed to 10 on the far side of six. But it was never without, as they say in football punditry, a final product – on tracks like Eye Am the Sky or Moment of Truth, I’m reminded of Spirit of Eden-era Talk Talk, particularly their track Desire, languidly jazzy but always ready to become ferocious, with King deploying his voice as an extra instrument in much the same way as Mark Hollis.
And then, after two LPs (the tense, sinewy Whirlpool is the superior) and four EPs across three years, Dr Phibes and the House of Wax Equations simply fizzled out.