As the decade turned, as 1989 begat 1990, so the most innovative sounds of the previous year began to inspire others. Chief amongst these was what became known as the “Soul II Soul” shuffle, the languid beats and laid back tone which had defined the early work of Jazzi B’s chart-topping group and which had become one of the defining sounds of that summer. If you were making a club record at the end of the 1980s and Italia House wasn’t your thing, you were unashamedly plugged into the Shuffle and reaping the rewards.
Such was the influence of the groove that by the spring of 1990 the dance pages of Record Mirror were noting with wry amusement that the overall effect had been to slow the average bpm (beats per minute) of the nation’s dancefloors virtually to a crawl. Hi tempo, hi energy was for the moment out the door. Clubbers wanted to do nothing more than sway.
Riding this wave, in particular, were four-piece Innocence. The production trio of Anna Jolley, Brian Harris and Mark Jolley had made waves individually with the odd remix over the preceding 2-3 years but hit commercial paydirt of their own with the recruitment of singer Gee Morris and the creation of an elegant new concept. Innocence were at the forefront of what would become the chill-out, their tracks an alluring mix of Balearic beats, ambient soundscapes and the crystal clear tones of Morris. Soul music you could dance to, fall asleep to and fall in love with all at the same time. Cooltempo Records snapped them up in an instant.
The first Innocence single was a critical sensation. In its full version Natural Thing ran almost ten minutes long, the main body of the song (with its “coming on, keep coming on” refrain) all but vanishing after three minutes. Instead it gave way to an extended ambient breakdown which cheekily mixed in what was almost the entirety of Dave Gilmour’s guitar solo from Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The fact that this never attracted any legal issue suggested either that the group had full permission to do or that the star tacitly approved of the work. The concept was taken a stage further with the No One Gets Out Of Here Alive mix which stirred in elements of Riders On The Storm by The Doors. A full blown cover of the song would later appear on international editions of the group’s debut album.
Natural Thing was one of the more rapturously greeted club hits of the first few months of 1990, its destiny was to end up Innocence’s highest charting single when it peaked at Number 16 in late March, its reputation and regard possibly outstripping its overall commercial performance.
Following this early success, however, subsequent singles from the group’s debut album Belief struggled to match even that mid-table peak. Silent Voice barely scraped the Top 40 in the summer and Let’s Push It barely improved on that with a visit to the Top 30 in the autumn.
Yet it is their fourth single which concerns us here. Despite being lavished with the kind of attention which suggested it was being pitched as a major seasonal smash hit, it barely tickled the charts at all.
The tale of heartbreak A Matter Of Fact was not at first listen one of the standout tracks from the debut Innocence release. Following on from the full ten minute version of Natural Thing on the tracklisting, it in its original form it was a sparsely produced track. Beats, bass and voice. This gave it a haunting and elegant simplicity. The song was one of the more unabashedly ambient cuts from the album and as far removed from a pop hit as you could imagine. Hence a transformation for single release. A Matter Of Fact had several gallons of fairy dust sprinkled on it – more beats, a melancholy piano riff and perhaps most crucially of all a full string arrangement. The chilled-out cut was now an epic soulful pop masterpiece. More than anything they had released before, this was surely destined for the Top 10.
The timing of its release as a single was no coincidence. It appeared in the shops at the end of November. This was Innocence’s pitch for a Christmas time smash and a much needed boost for the album which by that time had sunk out of sight. Yet to widespread shock it just didn’t work. Charting just outside the Top 40 in its first week on release, the newly enhanced A Matter Of Fact simply refused to take off. Over the next few weeks it would move 46-37-38-39 before dropping out of the Top 40 by Christmas. Perhaps a Top Of The Pops appearance would have helped to propel the single further into public consciousness but the failure of the single to move up, as opposed to down, the charts put paid to that idea.
So the song remains something of a lost classic. I bought the single anyway, and to hear it again transports me back to the tinsel-clad sixth form common room and my starring role in the Christmas revue that year. Back to memories of my parents’ house being a building site,replica tag heuer watches and of failing to land Christmas kisses with the girl who first screamed across the common room how much she loved the song.
The Innocence project was good for one more album, their second album Build spawning two more minor Top 40 hits in 1992, but none had quite the impact or indeed the cultural significance of anything on their debut. Singer Gee would later attempt a solo career, her only album landing to little attention in 1994.