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Wednesday 20 September 2023


Smokebelch, the Sabres Of Paradise track that will most likely outlive all their others turns thirty today. The 12" single was released on 20th September 1993. The fact that this is three full decades ago will make some of us feel very old. In some ways the intervening thirty years have gone in the blink of an eye but in some ways the release of this record and the world as it was then do feel a very long time ago. I was twenty three when it came out (there's that number again), just starting my teacher training course. Looking back at who and where I was then and who and where I am now it does feel like thirty years. At the same time I can clearly recall buying the 12" in HMV on Market Street, a small quantity of them in the rack at the back of the shop. I can clearly remember taking it back to the flat I shared in Altrincham and playing it over and over. It's remained close to me ever since- in December 2021 we played the Beatless mix at Isaac's funeral, at the graveside. 

In tribute to the record and to celebrate its thirtieth birthday today I thought I'd sequence the various version together, fifty minutes of Smokebelch. It's not exhaustive- the Flute Mix is missing (originally appearing on the B-side of the David Holmes remix 12" and I don't have it digitally) and so is the later, Two Lone Swordsmen version done in memory of Ali Cooke for the Cut The Crap three CD compilation.  

Sabres Of Paradise- Andrew Weatherall, Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns- based the track on LB Bad's New Age Of Faith, a 1989 release written by Lamont Booker. Keyboards on Smokebelch were played by Les Jumeaux, a duo also known as In The Nursery who remixed Sabres' Haunted Dancehall in 1994. The painting on the sleeve was by Richard Sen, graffiti artist, raver and DJ/ producer in his own right. The names came from Andrew noticing smoke pouring from cooling towers (someone,somewhere on the internet had a fuller version of this anecdote but I can't find it at the moment). 

The Beatless version came out later on in 1993, a 7" single given away with initial quantities of the album Sabresonic (also thirty this year, in a couple of months time. I'll come back to that nearer the time). It is four minutes of ambient gorgeousness, the twinkling melody notes pulled out and dancing like the light from the stars. 

Smokebelch I also turned up on Sabresonic, a echo- laden rhythmic monster, kick drum banging away with metallic cymbals and distorted bassline. Darker and with some '93 Weatherall techno menace, the light only appears halfway through with the alternating long synth notes. Meanwhile the drums power onwards. 

The  Smokebelch 12" single, thirty today as I keep saying, came with two versions- the Entry and Exit versions, each coming in at nearly twelve minutes. The two mixes contain those same sounds put together in a different order- the ticking, matchbox percussion, that warm bassline, the squelches, rumbling timpani, synth strings, the dancing woodblock topline, the pianos and synths, snares and thumping kick drum. Nothing fades in or out slowly, everything is lightswitch style, turned on and off, in and out, the different elements layered perfectly. We noticed over the months that followed that it worked in multiple situations- it was euphoric and ecstatic in clubs and in a crowd and could be reflective and more melancholic played at home or in a lower mood. The Exit version is pacier and taken at a greater speed. 

The David Holmes remix came out a week later clad in a yellow sleeve rather than the red one, a fuller, more intense version made for mutating dancefloors into seething messes, an acid squiggle added to it, whistles, rattling marching band snares, breakdowns, more piano and the majorettes carrying us down the road for several minutes at the end. 


  • Smokebelch (Beatless Mix)
  • Smokebelch I
  • Smokebelch II (Entry)
  • Smokebelch II (Exit)
  • Smokebelch II (David Holmes Mix)


LuckyLucas said...

I'm sure I read that they made it building sounds around the theme tune to On Her Majesty's Secret Service and then removed the track leaving the backbone of smokebelch - but did a google search on it and nothing so maybe I imagined it.

thewalker said...

What a remarkable monolith of a tune it is, nicely cataloged Mr Area.

Holmes mix twisted me more than once on the dancefloor, I can recall the first time I heard it, lovely dark club. Was promised some epicness from this new twelve that had arrived, Richard bounded over, this is it! spiraling back inside itself, and then the whistles...

I am rather fond of the Cut The Crap version too, earnest & clangy in a manner The Governor could somehow make funky too.

blureu said...


Swiss Adam said...

I like the TLS Cut the Crap version too but its a different animal from the ones here and it didn't feel right when I put it in the mix.

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff one of the finest moments of music ever. Swc.