The Strange Flowers career spans over 3 decades, having the band been founded in Pisa in late 1987 by Michele Marinò, Giovanni Bruno, Alessandro Pardini and Maurizio Falciani. In addition to founder members Marinò, Bruno and Pardini, the current line-up of the band includes Valerio Bartolini.
The music of The Strange Flowers came from the roots of garage blues, travelled across the colourful constellation of space rock, to finally blow the visions and the poetry of psychedelic pop.
A constant trademark of The Strange Flowers path has always been an incredible ability of getting close to true success and celebrity and systematically blowing it. Yet, this somehow poetic feature almost always reflected some sort of purity, the refuse of compromising, the will of keeping the integrity and the honesty of a musical project which purposes were fulfilled regardless of success.
Band members: Michele Marinò (vocals, guitar), 1987- present; Giovanni Bruno (guitar), 1987-2006, 2017-present; Alessandro Pardini (bass, background vocals), 1987-1989, 2017-present; Valerio Bartolini 2018-present; Maurizio Falciani (drums), 1987-2006, 2017-2018; Stefano Montefiori (bass, background vocals), 1989-2006; Nicola Cionini (guitar, background vocals), 2006-2016; Tony Boselli (drums), 2006; Gabriele Pozzolini (drums), 2006-2011; Alessandro Santoni (bass, background vocals), 2007-2012; Matteo D’Ignazi (drums), 2011-2016; Matteo Sciocchetto (bass, background vocals), 2012; Giacomo Ferrari (organ, background vocals), 2014-2016; Samuele Bucelli (drums), 2016.
How It All Begun
In the 1980’s, Italian independent music was greatly influenced by 60’s oriented neo-psychedelic and garage rock. Many cities provided bands to this unprecedented scene, and one of the centers was Pisa, where germinal band Useless Boys was the blossom, followed by descendants The Birdmen Of Alcatraz, The Liars and The Steeplejack. Obviously, The Strange Flowers came last and too late, when it was nearly all finished, therefore missing that wave and its impact on Italian independent music. In addition, unlike their town mates, they were influenced by different flavors of rock music in addition to 60’s garage and psychedelia, such as American indie (but also folk), British new wave and space rock. As a matter of fact, when they released their first self-titled 4-track demo tape in November 1987, they stood like a sore thumb within the scene, having already developed some sort of a personal style, an attitude they kept all along this long journey. The first as well as the following cassette compilation, entitled “Underground Mirrors”, raised some interest locally, including radios and labels, especially in the Florence area. But when The Strange Flowers performed at the Festival Nazionale de l’Unità in Florence in September 1988, the lightness and delicacy of the music of those two demo tapes had already gone, having been replaced by an unpredictable, yet violent and visionary attitude that reached its climax in the 20 minutes space rock improvisation of “Strange Girl”. In spite of the enthusiastic response of an audience that included Piero Pelù from Litfiba and Federico Fiumani from Diaframma, the label representatives changed their mind. Their initial idea had been that The Strange Flowers were eventually some sort of reincarnation of REM: the first of many flirts with success that turned to be clouds in The Strange Flowers coffees.
The German Legacy
Still in the hot summer of 1988 young German manager Joachim Friedmann noticed the band at a gig in Pisa. He was there for vacation and legend says that drummer Maurizio Falciani could not avoid being attracted by Joachim’s girlfriend. Although this did not bring Maurizio where he hoped, it brought Joachim at a Strange Flowers gig. Result was that in March 1989 and then in September of the same year The Strange Flowers toured Germany and Switzerland with The Liars, The Sick Rose, and Mod’s legends The Prime Movers, stepping on stages where yet unknown acts of the nascent grunge scene were performing at the same time, such as Nirvana and Soundgarden. Another caress by success. As a result of this German legacy, the first official record was published by Unique in 1990. It was a standard 7” single including “Me And The Eggman” and “Janet’s Faces”, tunes that, amazingly enough, can still be heard at The Strange Flowers exhibitions nowadays. By then, Stefano Montefiori had replaced Alessandro on bass, to form a line-up that would have remained stable for about 15 years. This change would have turned to be another close encounter with success. Thus, years later Stefano became a quite notable journalist in Italy, which could have given the band a fast entrance into mainstream. But, unlike the majority of their compatriots, both the band and Stefano always refused to take that obnoxious easy way.
Music For Astronauts
It is worth noting that Unique Records is today one of the most important independent labels in Germany, but at the time of “Me And The Eggman” it was just a small, family-run business. Again, fame and success of the label came too late for The Strange Flowers to take any advantage of it. At the same time the band was suffering from what they thought was an unmerited lack of consideration in their home Country and by the end of 1990 they were about to give up. It was Joachim to save them, as he managed to raise some interest by German labels for an album. After a long and painful break, the Flowers entered Westlink Studio in late 1991 to exit in March 1992 with the master of “Music For Astronauts”, which included 11 original numbers plus their notorious cover of Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”. Due to be released by Screaming Apple, in spite of Joachim’s efforts, the album saw the light only 2 years later, when it was published within the “Teen Trash” series by Music Maniac, to be showcased at the legendary 60’s Festival “Beat-O-Mania” in Munich, where the Strange Flowers shared the same stage and performed with Rudi Protrudi from The Fuzztones, who had written the liner notes and designed the cover of “Music For Astronauts”. As a matter of fact Rudi had become, as he stated himself a few years later, “a big fan of The Strange Flowers”. Two songs from that performance and a cover version of The Electric Prunes’ “Little Olive”, with Rudi singing and playing harp, were included in the live compilation “Beat-O-Mania At Its Best”. But it was all too late. The two year interval between the end of the sessions and the release of Music For Astronauts had destroyed the band’s enthusiasm and self-confidence. Expectations had gone and disillusion had taken over. Although nobody ever pronounced the word “split”, as a matter of fact The Strange Flowers ceased almost any activity beginning in May 1994.
Here is a review of their first two record releases, written by Timothy Gassen and published within the book “The Knights of Fuzz”: “Forming in 1987 near Florence, Italy, this colorful group has toured Italy, Germany and Switzerland, depositing at least 3 demo tapes in its wake. The demo I heard bursts with energy and verve, as this decidedly trippy foursome weave lilting melodic guitar and vocals with a strong sense of beat and drive. It is their debut 45, though, that merits the most praise. The double-sided gem shimmers with wonderful 12-string guitar and soaring vocal harmony. The B side “Janet’s Faces” might even be the stronger of the two tracks, with its spine-tingling chorus and beautiful arrangement (all that’s missing is a patented Roger McGunn Rickenbacker solo). The long awaited LP (recorded in 1991) also features sparkling harmonies, expert guitar work and sensitive flowery arrangements. It veers a bit off from their psych-pop sound into spacier areas, but always with discipline – there are no longer rambling guitar jams, and even the longest track clocks in at only four minutes. In the best tradition of 80’s Moffs and 1966 Beatles The Strange Flowers are a blossom to cherish”.
The Second Coming
In 1997 Michele moved to Boston US, where he bought a multi-track recorder to make countless demos, including songs the Flowers had arranged and played in the dark years between 1992 and 1994. It was not clear what he had in mind and those demos remained in his shell. Meanwhile things had changed in Europe. Joachim had expanded his management activity and had been able to obtain a contract with a major Label for The Lemonbabies. Of course, the Strange Flowers were not there. Also the Italian scenario had changed. A new indie wave had arisen on the impulse of new and old acts, among which the most brilliant was Afterhours. Still flirting with fortune, Joachim had refused Afterhours for a German tour a few years earlier. Having returned to Italy, between 2003 and 2004 Michele came across some recordings The Strange Flowers had made back in 1993 and it was convinced by his long time friend and fan Pietro Andrea Annicelli that it was about time for the Flowers to be back. Having recorded a new song in late 2003, Pietro’s Edizioni Dei Corrieri Cosmici released an EP entitled “Across The River And Through The Trees”, which was celebrated by a short series of gigs, including one at the Reverberation II Festival in Berlin, where the Flowers shared the same stage with their teen idols The Electric Prunes, receiving congratulations from James Lowe himself. The incredibly positive response of the Berlin’s audience made the band aware of a potential they had forgotten, and, not the least, of the fact that their name and music were still valued. Therefore, there was no reluctance when Mike Grimminger, a long time fan who had just founded Beyond Your Mind Records, asked the band for an album. After a very short series of rehearsal sessions, the band entered Westlink studio in May 2005 to record the basic tracks of Ortoflorovivaistica. Then, recordings continued at Michele’s home, to be finished in October. When the album was released in December the impact was as great as The Strange Flowers would have never imagined. Thanks to a free and easy approach to the music, the Flowers had been able to put in this record all of their best elements at that time. As a matter of fact the album was immediately ranked as one of the best psychedelic records of all time (“an essential guide to the modern psychedelician” as the subtitle states), which was testified by countless and enthusiastic reviews (including some in the major Italian press, such as Corriere Della Sera and Repubblica) and by its reprint on vinyl in March 2006 by Nasoni Records. Here are some of the most notable reviews: Corriere Della Sera: “…aprite la finestra quando ascoltate queste canzoni perché è musica che ha bisogno di spazio, si espande, occupa la stanza…”; Rumore: “…una delle band più visionarie e credibili della ormai poco viva scena psichedelica italiana…”; Venerdì di Repubblica: “…30 anni di musica allucinata riletti con allegra (in)coscienza…”; Coloursonic: “….these Strange Flowers are still in bloom…”; Concreteweb: ”.. Ortoflorovivaistica is full of beautiful and powerful masterpieces that are performed with so much feeling and passion you wonder what was going around the time of writing and recording…the boys from Pisa should definitely be proud of themselves with this one. Brilliant!…”
Ortoflorovivaistica was promoted by a series of shows in Italy and Germany, among which the most remarkable was the one at Berlin’s Bassy Club, where the band performed again with Rudi Protrudi, nearly 12 years after their first exhibition together. As a matter of fact, the legacy with Rudi had already been testified by the liner notes he had written for Ortoflorovivaistica. In addition, the Flowers had been included in The Fuzztone Tribute Album with their super psychedelic version of “Look For The Question Mark”, which would have appeared again in a second Fuzztone Tribute of 2012, entitled “In Fuzz We Trust”, in which The Strange Flowers were sided by legendary Pretty Things member Wally Waller, under the name of Wallflowers. For the Ortoflorovivaistica tour, the Flowers had introduced for the first time a video show that accompanied their music, which was originally designed and produced by Pierpaolo Magnani of Associazione Culturale DN@ who followed the band for the next two years, to then leave and be replaced by Giulia Altobelli, the Strange Flowers photographer and video maker ever since. In 2006 the band released a split CD with Argentinians BabyScream, including an out-take of Ortoflorovivaistica and two covers.
Facing with the prospect of professionism, in June 2006 Giovanni and Maurizio were forced to leave the band, to be replaced by Nicola Cionini on guitars and Toni Boselli on drums. With this line-up the band performed at the Swamp Room Happening in Hannover and at the Nuvolari Festival in Cuneo. Meanwhile Michele was ready to release another album, entitled The Imaginary Space Travel Of The Naked Monkeys, which contains all of the out-takes of Ortoflorovivaistica. The album was published in March 2007, it was the last with Beyond Your Mind Records and, sadly enough, also the last with The Strange Flowers most enduring line-up.
The Second Republic Of The Strange Flowers
After the appearance at the Nuvolari Festival, Toni was replaced by Gabriele Pozzolini on drums, and with this line-up the band performed for the first time in London at The Social and opened for the Fuzztones during their European tour in late 2006. By the end of that year, Stefano had also left the band. When in March 2007 Alessandro Santoni joined on bass, the line-up of the second Republic of The Strange Flowers was completed. After an appearance at Leipzig’s Pop Up Festival, the band started a very intensive year of touring, at the same time working on a new album, which was recorded by the end of the year under the supervision of Gianpaolo Antoni and released by Teen Sound Records, to be followed by a quite long tour touching Italy, Germany and The Netherlands. The, album, entitled “Aeroplanes In The Backyard” is an intriguing mix of garage punk and psychedelic pop, which reaches its climax in “Everyone Has Spot In The Sunshine”, by far one of the best Strange Flowers performances ever.
Aeroplanes In The Backyard was very appreciated by fans, as testified by the impressive sales, as well as by the press, as shown by the countless, national and international enthusiastic reviews. As a consequence, in the fall of 2008 the band was ready to cross the ocean and play in the US, but their 20 gigs tour had to be canceled at the last minute because of a severe peptic ulcer that took Gabriele into the operating room. When he was back in action, the tour could not take place anymore because the Flowers were already committed to prepare a new album for Go Down Records.
The Vagina Mother Disaster
In late 2008 the band started working on the album that would have later been entitled Vagina Mother. Being offered a contract by a major Italian label, the Flowers refused on the request of singing in Italian (the umpteenth flirt with success so far), and accepted the proposal of Go Down. After being contacted by producers such as Bobby McEntire from The Twilight Singers, in spite of an initial agreement with Amerigo Verardi (Allison Run, Lula, producer, among others, of Baustelle), the label chose Federico Guglielmi, at that time head of the music section of notorious Italian magazine Il Mucchio and somehow considered one of the gurus of independent music in Italy. As a matter of fact, he had favored and promoted the Italian scene in the 80’s and produced a series of bands including The Technicolour Dream and Magic Potion. Guglielmi decided to take the band to Point Of View Records Studios in Rome, when in the summer of 2009 Vagina Mother was recorded, a choice that turned to be a disaster. Thus, the dozen of good-to-very-good songs the band had prepared was killed by the rather bad outcome of the recordings, of the mixing, and of the mastering, resulting in a sound that did not satisfy neither the band nor the producer. Whether it was the Strange Flowers fault or whether it was Guglielmi’s or the studio’s (that Guglielmi had chosen but the band had accepted) was obviously impossible to establish. Whatever the case, the great expectations the band had put into this album became dust in a second, as soon as the album was released in spite of the many doubts everybody involved had, in November 2009, one month after the video “A Rose In Your Mouth”, directed by Giulia Altobelli and featuring actor Paolo Giommarelli. The Vagina Mother tour started in November 2009 to finish in June 2010 and in spite of everything was quite successful, as was the album that received countless positive (but also negative) reviews, which was all not sufficient to heal a wound that is nowadays still bleeding.
The Grace Of Losers
Again, after the Vagina Mother disaster Flowers were about to wither. Nicola and Michele did everything they could to save their creature, and in late 2010 they started a series of writing sessions at Michele’s house, resulting in a bunch of what they thought were very good songs. They had to work hard to revive Gabriele’s and Alessandro’s interest, but in the end, once again, they made it. It took a long year to see the band in a recording studio again, which happened in the fall of 2011 at Savonarola 69 and Labella’s Studio in Ponte a Egola (Pisa, IT) and Montelupo Fiorentino (Firenze, IT), respectively. With a reborn enthusiasm, the band recorded one of their best albums ever, namely The Grace Of Losers, a title that does not necessarily reflect the history of the band, but rather their poetic way of thinking. This time the band preferred to do everything on their own, not to depend on anybody, because of which they album was self-released in December 2011.
In spite of the absence of a structured promotion, The Grace Of Losers was very well sold and reviewed worldwide, and it is still regarded as one of the best albums of the band. Somehow, it compensated the guys for the pain Vagina Mother had caused, which was eventually not enough for Gabriele, who left the band quite inconveniently just a month before the start of The Grace Of Losers tour, to move to more remunerative territories. Fortunately enough, the band was able enough to hire Matteo D’Ignazi, and start what turned to be their most successful tour ever, touching six different Countries (Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands), and lasting up to July 2012, when the band decided to quit for a while.
This is the message the band posted on their Facebook page on August 29, 2012, which testifies quite well the mood of the band at that time, after 7 intensive years of awesome and ugly things stepping on one another over and over: “A little farewell note, not yet for good, though. The Grace Of Losers tour was virtually concluded on July 29th. Before a deserved break, it’s time for us to make a balance and a few considerations. Two reprints, numerous reviews, the majority of which positive, worldwide radio airplay, a few awards (obviously abroad), about 40 gigs in 6 (six!!!) different Countries, always with enthusiastic audience reactions. All of this without a label, a press office or a booking agency and in spite of countless difficulties and drawbacks. Of course, this was not enough to appear in the cover of musical magazines, with all the due consequences. Nevertheless, we are proud of our beautiful journey and of our integrity. We had a splendid, unforgettable time, not the least thanks to you, who have followed and supported us with love and friendship. Sooner or later we’ll come back, we don’t know yet when, but we’ll come back! Meanwhile hold on, stick to your dreams and don’t get fooled by such an unfair and sick world! Best things are yet to come! With love, The Strange Flowers family”.
The Third Republic Of The Strange Flowers
The band stayed away from the scenes for quite a long period, after which, once again, music knocked at The Strange Flowers door. But it was time for a change, and in 2014 they decided to reunite with a new line-up, which in addition to Michele, Nicola and Matteo, implied the substitution of the bass player (Alessandro) with an organist. And of course, they could just hire one of the best, namely Giacomo Ferrari. The work of new line-up gave birth to the band’s seventh album, entitled Pearls At Swine and published by Area Pirata on June 15th 2015. Pearls At Swine received enthusiastic reviews and the band toured Europe once again. In the spirit of continuous renewal, in March 2016 another replacement occurred.
Thus, Matteo D’Ignazi left the band to pursue other enterprises and was replaced by Samuele Bucelli, a notable drummer from the Florence area. The Pearls At Swine tour as well as this band line-up came to an end in July 2016.
Best Things Are Yet To Come
Following a year of silence, in March 2017 the Second Republic of The Strange Flowers (Marinò-Cionini-Santoni-Pozzolini) reunited to record their version of Strange Girl, entitled Strange Girl 2000, to be included in a 30th year anniversary compilation. For the same purpose, a few months later, the very first and original line-up (Marinò-Bruno-Pardini-Falciani) reunited too and recorded two previously unreleased songs, one of which was “Goodbye Summer Skies”, the first song they wrote and played together. Following that experience, the latter line-up decided to reunite stably. On December 7h 2017 the double-CD 30th year anniversary compilation, entitled “Best Things Are Yet To Come”, including 5 unreleased tracks, as well as several newly mixed and mastered songs, was released by Area Pirata, subsequently receiving more than enthusiastic reviews. On January 27th 2018 the Strange Flowers celebrated their 30th anniversary with a concert that took place in Pisa at the Borderline Club, when nearly all of the present and past members of the band played, and the gig turned to be a blast.
The Fourth Republic Of The Strange Flowers
In March 2018, unfortunately, Maurizio Falciani had to leave the band once again and it was replaced by Valerio Bartolini, thereby establishing a new, namely the fourth, Republic of The Strange Flowers. Following a baptism of the newborn Republic with a a series of concerts across 2018 and 2019, in 2019 the band recorded a new album, released by Area Pirata on April 2, 2020 and entitled Songs For Imaginary Movies. The band was supposed to start touring once again in April 2020, but tour was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic, with only a few appearances between 2020 and 2021. In September 2021 the band released a new single (La Frattura) and a new video, their second song in Italian in more than 30 years.
Crossing a Wasteland
The band spent the COVID pandemic in the studio, to come out with a new album in October 2022, released on vinyl by Onde Italiane/Rubber Soul Record and for streaming/download by Area Pirata Records, exploring new musical territories and once again moving forwards from their psychedelic roots. A tour will follow.
Stay tuned! Best things are really yet to come!
Photos @ Giulia Altobelli, Carlo Silipo, Ilaria Magliocchetti Lombi