Although The Icicle works were formed in Liverpool in 1980, they didn’t release their self-titled debut until 1984. The band’s line-up of Ian McNabb on guitar and vocals, Chris Layhe on bass and Chris Sharrock on drums contributed some powerful melodic Pop to the Liverpool scene at the time. Frustratingly, different songs from their debut were hits in different countries. In the UK, Love Is A Wonderful Colour reached No.15 in the UK chart, whereas in the US Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly) reached No.37.
The Americans weren’t happy with the mix of the UK single with a spoken girl’s voice in the intro. They didn’t like “The” Icicle Works and they had a terrible Time with Birds Fly (Whisper to A Scream. So they took away “The” removed the girl’s voice and swapped the words around in the title and Voila! Top Forty US hit – they are just so perceptive at major labels. The Canadians also changed the title but kept the girl voice intro and “The”, the song reached No.19 in the Canadian charts.
Unfortunately in the singles department, that was about it for The Icicle Works, never reaching higher than No.52 in the UK and not charting at all in the US on the mainstream chart. For some reason the missing “The” didn’t allow the band to have more US hits and even though Love Is A Wonderful Colour was a hit in the UK – they didn’t think to try putting “The” back in the band name – weird!
The debut album reached No.24 in the UK and No.40 in the US. Three albums followed that made the lower reaches of the UK charts, The Small Price Of A Bicycle (1985), No.55, If You Want To Defeat Your Enemy Sing His Song (1987) No.28 and Blind (1988) No.40. Their final album Permanent Damage (1990) failed to chart and they broke up in 1991.
Ian McNabb went onto make ten solo albums, the first, Truth And Beauty (1993) reached No.51 in the UK chart, the second, Head Like A Rock (1994) reached No.29 and Merseybeast (1996) reached No.30. Later albums scraped into the Top 200 in the UK or didn’t chart. McNabb has played with The Wild Swans, Crazy Horse and The Waterboys and Ringo Starr (on bass). McNabb’s powerful voiceis similar to Julian Cope and if he’d been born in the fifties and been a sixties pop star he might have been a Liverpudlian Scott Walker.
The Icicle Works went through many line up changes but the original drummer Chris Sharrock went on to play with The La’s, The Wild Swans, World Party, The Lightning Seeds, Robbie Williams Live, Oasis and Beady Eye. Bassist Chris Layhe went behind the scenes but still plays in his own band Shadow History.
It’s hard to pinpoint why The Icicle Works didn’t manage to have more hits? Possibly because they started off as a vibrant Pop band but quickly established more of a Rock sound, consequently falling through the cracks – not commercial enough for radio and not heavy enough to attract a Rock audience either. Still, for a moment they jumped out of the radio and grabbed your attention. Latterly Ian McNabb has some worthy songs to investigate over the fifteen albums he has made with the band and by himself. Perhaps McNabb should have gone back to the American label and asked them if they could re-organise some words and advise him on whether to use “The” or not, so as to make him popular again!