The Icicle Works
Emerging from the profligate network of Liverpudlian bands that existed during the punk rock and new wave era, the Icicle Works was formed by Ian McNabb (3 November 1960, Liverpool, Merseyside, England; vocals/guitar), Chris Layhe (bass), and Chris Sharrock (drums). McNabb was formerly in City Limits with the near-legendary Edie Shit (b. Howie Mimms), and Sharrock played with the Cherry Boys (who also included Mimms at one point). Taking their name from a science fiction short story – Frederik Pohl’s The Day The Icicle Works Closed Down – they made their recording debut with a six-track cassette, Ascending, released on the local Probe Plus emporium in 1981. The band then founded their own Troll Kitchen label on which they prepared ‘Nirvana’, their premier single. Gaining support from BBC disc jockey John Peel, they came to the attention of Beggars Banquet Records, initially through their Situation 2 offshoot. Their second single, ‘Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)’, was an ‘indie’ hit, but they had to wait for the next effort, ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’, to breach the UK Top 20. The subject matter was typically subverted by McNabb’s irony and cynicism (‘When love calls me, I shall be running swiftly, To find out, just what all the fuss is all about’).
Teaming up with producer Ian Broudie (ex-Big In Japan) helped the Icicle Works to a string of singles successes over the ensuing years, including ‘Hollow Horse’ and ‘Understanding Jane’, with their sound gradually shifting from subtle pop to harder rock territory. In 1986, they recruited Dave Green on keyboards, but the following year the band was turned upside down when both Sharrock and Layhe left within a short space of time. Sharrock joined the La’s and later drummed for World Party. Layhe’s role was taken by former Black bass player Roy Corkhill, while the drummer’s stool was claimed by Zak Starkey, whose father Ringo Starr formerly drummed for another Liverpool band. This line-up prospered for a short time but in 1989 McNabb assembled a new band. Retaining only Corkhill, he added Mark Revell on guitar and vocals, Dave Baldwin on keyboards, and Paul Burgess on drums. The band signed a new recording contract with Epic Records and released one album before McNabb left to go solo.
One of England’s most underrated and natural lyricists, McNabb’s cult status has continued into the new millennium, while his time with the Icicle Works has left a rich legacy of songwriting.