|Formed: North Wales, 1982, by JONES and MAY. Became a major act for Clustcwyr in the mid/late 80s, before disintegrating gently. Style: Girlie 80s pop with new-wave / folk tinges. Could range from MEL & KIM to BLONDIE to pretty much anything at times. Sometimes it sounded not unlike early 90s PULP. Songwriters: band compositions generally. Trivia: produced by Gorwel Edwards. Never Gonna Be In Helena's Box was a response to THE MARGARETS' We Wanna Be In Helena's Box. Band were nearly signed to Island in 1988, but split instead.
Born: Cardigan Bay, 1961. Moving folk singer. Very popular live. Moved into folk-rock territory before joining HELENA'S BOX. Style: Folk-rock in the post JONI MITCHELL mold. Close to ALL ABOUT EVE in many ways. Songwriters: Hallow. Trivia: Was dating (the old-enough-to-be-her-father) FOX at the time.
w. ANDY McKAY - bass, vocals / MICHAEL FOX - drums (both ex-CATHY CARROW AND THE COOKIE CLUB)
|Feb '82 (7" - 7LH1) CORINTHIA / RED EYED DAWN
|All three joined Helena's Box pretty much straight away.
|HELENA JONES -
guitar, keyboards / KIRSTEN
MAY - guitars, vocals, keyboards / ANDY
McKAY - bass, vocals / MICHAEL
- drums (all ex-CATHY CARROW
AND THE COOKIE CRUMBS); plus LIZBET
HALLOW - guitars, vocals, keyboards
In September 1981, a chapter in Welsh music closed, when Cathy Carrow and the Cookie Crumbs split for the third and final time. Seven months later, Clustcwyr guru Gorwel Edwards persuaded the band to reform, with Cardigan-born folk musician Lizbet Hallow replacing Cathy Carrow. With this change in personel (and consequently style), the Cookie Crumbs became Helena's Box.
The technical details regarding the creation of Helena's Box are moderately more complicated than simply switching Cathy for Lizbet. In fact, the creation, the shaping, and the inevitable break-up of the band owe much to the heady internal politics and bed-hopping of the various members and their producer Gorwel Edwards. This page attempts a frank analysis of the turbulent history of Helena's Box, from the Cookie Crumbs era, through to their fragmentation on the eve of a major-label contract.
The Cookie Crumbs
Helena Jones joined the Cookie Crumbs as early as 1965, when Lowri Carrow was still alive. It was Carrow's death in 1966 that created the first crisis, with a split narrowly averted by the arrival of the apparently "dishy" Andy McKay. Kirsten May augmented the line-up in 1969, while Michael Fox didn't join until 1973.
The first big Cookie Crumbs split occured at the end of 1974. The generally accepted reasons were, in consecutive order:
• Cathy Carrow's apparent jealousy of the younger and more talented Kirsten MayThe Cookie Crumbs were persuaded to reform by Gorwel Edwards and Dafydd Morgan, who were seeking reliable talent for their new record label, Clustcwyr. During this second phase of existence, the band moved from a bubblegum girl-band image to a slightly more spikey New York punk sound, under the influence of Cathy's boyfriend John Craven. The band split again in 1978 as a result of:
• Bad feeling between Helena and Cathy as a result of Helena's disapproval of John CravenThe shortlived third life of the Cookie Crumbs was brought about by Andy and Helena. It failed through:
• Continued bad feeling between Cathy and KirstenIt was inevitable therefore that, if the band were to reform again, it could not contain Cathy.
The Fourth Coming
Michael Fox had met Lizbet Hallow at a folk club in Camarthen and, despite him being fifteen years older than her, the two had started dating. Kirsten and Andy had also hitched up by early 1982. Michael produced Lizbet's 1982 single ("Corinthia" / "Red Eyed Dawn" (CLUST7LH1)), with the help of Andy on bass and backing vocals, and shortly after the record's release the three of them were approached by Kirsten and Helena to team up and form a new band. The role of Gorwel Edwards in this reformation should not be underestimated, and the idea for Helena's Box almost certainly came from him. He and Helena had been living together for about a year at this point, and it may well be this close association that led to the Helena-centric new name.
The sound the new group were looking for was three parts late Cookie Crumbs to one part Lizbet-style folk, and to disassociate themselves from Cathy Carrow, they decided they couldn't continue under the Cookie Crumbs banner. Gorwel seems to have suggested that, as the Cookie Crumbs' main vocalist, Helena Jones was a saleable character, and that it would therefore make good sense to give her identity maximum prominence. Helena Jones and the Cookie Crumbs was deemed to be a poor name, and in the end, the (slightly risque) play on Pandora's Box was chosen after a dirty joke between Gorwel and Andy. Other considerations included Helena's Angels, Helena's High Water, Helena Jones and the Electric Biscuit Barrel Club, and Helena's Remainder.
Helena's Box spent 1983 practicing, playing live, and waiting out Cathy Carrow's contract fulfilling releases. The idea, courtesy of Gorwel, was for Cookie Crumbs fans to get bored with Cathy and to give the illusion that she was the break-away project, thus giving greater impetus and credability to Helena's Box. Gowel then put out one last single of his own in November, before Helena's Box entered the studio for the first time to record their debut single.
|Feb '84 (7" - 7HB1) THREE BABYCHAMS AND I'M YOURS / OFFICE PARTY
|This first single scarcely
contained a hint of folk, and almost entirely harked back to the old Cookie
Crumbs sensibilities, albeit repackaged for the consumerist 80s society.
Gorwel's intention for the band was that they should appeal to the night-club
patronising female (and male) office-worker, and the two tracks on this
first disc hit that market pretty squarely. By no means hindered by a modicum
of media attention courtesy of their Cookie Crumbs ancestry, the record
became Clustcwyr's biggest selling conventional single since Dirywio's
"Anhrefn yn Cymru".
The band spent much of the rest of 1984 gigging and promoting themselves.
|Oct '84 (7" - 7HB2) THE BRIGHT LIGHTS OF GWENT / PIERCE YOUR EARS
|These tracks, particularly the second one, carried more of a folk influence, albeit firmly wrapped up in new wave girl-band chic. The single was only the third conventional 7" on Clustcwyr to be given a picture sleeve - a reward for the good performance of the previous release. While this disc didn't do quite so well, it still performed admirably for a Clustcwyr single, and the band were the headline act at the studio's annual Christmas Do.
|Apr '85 (7" - 7HB3) HE TAKES ME TO CHEAP NIGHT-CLUBS / HANDBAG CHIC
|The folk element was somewhat
subdued, with a more groovy pop feel more prominently displayed. Two months
later, early-80s outfit The Margarets returned from a two-year absence
to release their "Tokyo Love-Nest" single. The B-side of this record was
entitled "We Wanna Be In Helena's Box", and saw them performing a pastiche
of the emergent Helena's Box sound. The Margarets' performance at that
year's Christmas Do (which was headlined by Helena's Box for the second
year running) saw them perform dressed (surprisngly convincingly) as Helena's
In response to the Margarets' voiced aspirations of Helenadom, Helena's Box wrote the appropriately titled "Never Gonna Be In Helena's Box" which formed the flip-side to their August 1985 single "Shoulder-Pads" (CLUST7HB4). The single proved to be even more popular than their debut release, helped no-doubt by the crossover value of the B-side.
|Aug '85 (7" - 7HB5) SHOULDER-PADS / NEVER GONNA BE IN HELENA'S BOX
|Jan '86 (lp - AHB1) THREE
BABYCHAMS AND WE'RE YOURS
- Office Party / Pierce Your Ears / Love You / Handbag Chic / The Bright Lights of Gwent / Arson Abbie / Shoulder-Pads / He Takes Me to Cheap Night-clubs / Three Babychams and I'm Yours / Slow Number / Ciao. (cd-iss. Nov'94 - AHB1CD) (cd+=) Never Gonna Be In Helena's Box / Reduced to This / (Going on a) Shopping Spree / Corinthia (Lizbet Hallow) / Red Eyed Dawn (Lizbet Hallow).
|The cover depicts the band photographed on a skiing holiday in Switzerland the previous Autumn. Most of the album had been recorded by that point and was fine-tuned in November 1985. In general, the previously unreleased tracks were gentler and folkier in tone than the singles, and acted as a sort of chill-out space between the more familliar up-beat material. The album, which was produced by Gorwel Edwards and engineered by Dafydd Morgan, came out only three months after Dafydd's collaboration with Cathy Carrow (The Kitchen Floor), and sold double the number of copies.
|This was followed by a one-off collaboration with THE MARGARETS:
|Mar '86 (7" - 7HB6) REDUCED TO THIS / (GOING ON A) SHOPPING SPREE
|It remains the biggest selling
standard 7" on Clustcwyr, and saw the start of a close friendship between
the two acts which eventually resulted in the formation of Rotten Fruit,
four years later.
Clustcwyr in 1985 and '86 was firmly dominated by Helena's Box and The Margarets, and the two overtly glamourous bands shared a double-headed tour of the country in Spring 1986. This was followed by a brief spell of recording which resulted in the release of Clustcwyr's first 12" single.
|Jul '86 (12" - 12HB1) RITA FAIRCLOUGH / I LOVE HIM FOR HIS ACCESS CARD
|Side one was a liberal reworking
of a famous Cookie Crumbs B-side - a live favourite, that Andy insisted
they record after finding out from Julie Mason that Cathy was rather short
of cash. It is interesting to compare Gorwel's production with John Craven's
work on the original - both have an amazing amount of energy although Gorwel's
production is far cleaner and more synth-orientated. The record was moderately
popular within the local disco culture, and helped bring the band to the
attention of higher powers in the music industry.
A second national tour with The Margarets followed and the two bands played a double-header at the Clustcwyr Christmas Do. It was around this time that the first round of bed-hopping apparently took place.
So far, Helena's Box had been comprised of three couples: Helena + Gorwel, Lizbet + Michael, and Kirsten + Andy. The first couple to split was Kirsten and Andy, who parted ways amicably before the second tour. During this tour, Kirsten apparently spent a couple of nights in the company of The Margarets' transvestite lead singer Julie Mason, but nothing serious came of this. There are also several reports that things were getting a little steamy between Helena and Michael on the tour, while, at the Christmas Do, Kirsten and Lizbet apparently had a one off encounter.
The start of 1987 saw the band back in the studio, working on the material for their follow-up album.
|Jun '87 (7" - 7HB7) MY FAVOURITE SHOES / POWER-SHOWER
|The record resumed the electronic
sound that they had developed on their last single - especially the B-side.
It was during a mid-1987 tour that Lizbet and Gorwel began an affair which ironically remained undiscovered almost entirely as a result of a parallel affair between Helena and Michael. In the meantime, the band's next single was put on hold when Clustcwyr decided to shell out the money for a pop video.
"Cat Fighting" was Clustcwyr's first (and so far last) attempt at a promo film. Filming took place during the Autumn, and was directed by Dafydd Morgan and Adam Lucas. But it took longer to put together than had originally been anticipated, and much of the film hat to be shot again when it was eaten by the video-editing machine.
Since the 12" single, the approach with Helena's Box had been to market them mainly as a female vocal trio, and so the two male band-members were largely kept out of shot in the video, and didn't appear at all on the other promotional material.
The film was debuted at the Clustcwyr Christmas Do (which Helena's Box again headlined), and the single was finally put out in February 1988. The promotion must have paid off, because not only did it sell rather well, but it also led to Island Records taking an interest in the band's progress.
|Feb '88 (7" - 7HB8) CAT-FIGHTING / BRIGHT RED LIPPY
|May '88 (lp - AHB2) HELENA'S
BOX OF DELIGHTS
- My Boyfriend's Car / Bright Red Lippy / I Love Him for His Access Card / Shop Assistants Get All the Perks / Cinerama / Power-Shower / My Favourite Shoes / Tina / Cat-Fighting / Diffuser. (cd-iss. Nov'94 - AHB2CD) (cd+=) Three Babychams and I'm Yours 12" / Shoulder-Pads 12" / Rita Fairclough.
|The launch of the album
was not a happy one though. Both affairs came out in the open the weekend
before, after Andy inadvertently let the cat out of the bag, and most of
the band weren't talking to each other. The band essentially split, in
practice if not in so many words, and when Island contacted Gorwel regards
signing up the group, he had little choice but to decline the offer. This
was much to the annoyance of Dafydd, who's comment after Gorwel hung up
was reportedly: "You could at least've tried to sell them the Angels of
Box of Delights sold less well that the first album, but still did respectably for a Clustcwyr release. It was stylistically more diverse with the folksy ditties and the classic new-wave numbers alongside the newer-style electronic disco anthems.
After the break-up, there was one final, posthumous release from Helena's Box, in the form of a 12" containing remixes of "Three Babychams" and "Shoulder-Pads", courtesy of Gorwel. The record was the band's least successful.
|Oct '88 (12" - 12HB2) THREE BABYCHAMS AND I'M YOURS / SHOULDER-PADS (both are extended remixes)
|Following the split there
was a brief lull in the creative muse of the band members. First to restart
something were Andy and Michael who, in 1990, were persuaded by two of
The Margarets to join a new indie outfit called Rotten Fruit. Shortly afterwards,
Lizbet and Kirsten (who were now officially a couple) started making music
on the folk scene under the name Llefrith (meaning "Sweet Milk"). Helena
Jones didn't have a solo career until 1995, while Gorwel put all his efforts
into running the business end of Clustcwyr.
-- Evan Paris
go on to join ROTTEN FRUIT.
MAY and HALLOW form LLEFRITH
1951. Joined the COOKIE CRUMBS in 1965, and helped
keep the band alive during several crises. Her relationship with label-boss
EDWARDS saw the formation of HELENA'S BOX in 1982. Went solo following
the band's implosion. Style:
Chirpy pop a la BEAUTIFUL SOUTH or
a less folksy KIRSTY McCOLL. Occassionally recalling the HELENA'S BOX /
MARGARETS sound of the 1980s. Songwriters:
Jones. Trivia: Now presents a daytime chatshow on local cable television.
with backing from JOSH ROSE - bass; and DANIEL CURRAN - drums (both ex-THE MOISTURE FARMERS)
|May '95 (7" - 7HB9) SO CONFUSING / PRETTY
|Oct '95 (7" - 7HB10) WHAT'S WRONG? / MY EXPLOSIVE BARBIE DOLL
|Feb '96 (cd - AHB3CD) MIDNIGHT
- Never Trust a Cowboy / Back to the Kitchen Sink / What's Wrong? / Fortnight / My Explosive Barbie Doll / Denial / Midnight Snacking / Pretty / Bad Hair Day / Does It Worry You? / Not That You'd Notice / So Confusing
|Jun '03 - Live version of "Never Trust a Cowboy" appears on The
Cookie Crumbs' Cookie Jar, as does the promo film for "Cat Fighting".
Now backed by CURRAN,
and MARTIN FARROW -
|Nov '04 (cd - AHB4CD) HELENA'S
BOOK OF SPELLS
- Mabel Reborn / How To Tell Your Best Friend That You're Sleeping With Her Son (in four easy stages) / La / Love Spell #1 / Julie Andrews / Never Date A Boy Who Owns a Volvo / My Daughter's Music Teacher / Yahtzee! / Bridget Jones' Dairy / Somewhere in the Seventies / Love Spell #2 / Rhapsody in Lilac / Sawn Off Stilettos / 10 Things My Mother Told Me That I Think Are Best Ignored / 10 Things My Mother Told Me That I Wish I'd Not Ignored / Love Spell #3 / This One Goes Out To The One I Stood Up in August 1969 / In the WI / Love Spell #4
The following released on Earwax, in collaboration with JOHN CRAVEN:
|Feb '05 (video-cds-rom (credit card format) -
EWX45050200110) WAX WALLET
10: HELENA'S BOXERCISE WORKOUT
Jones and Craven gig together through 2005, before embarking on a "honeymoon" tour of Europe.