It was in 1980 that Caroline Crawley (vocals/clarinet) and Jemaur Tayle (acoustic guitar/vocals) first met in their home-town of Bournemouth, England, and discovered they had a mutual appreciation of the poet Shelley. Consequently they took the name of their band from his poem ‘Spirit Of Solitude’. Neither of them could read or write music, or play any of their chosen instruments so, in 1982, Crawley quit her ‘A’ Level studies and they moved to London in search of a string section and oboist, with the intention of using these traditionally classical instruments along with the guitar and their two voices in a pop context. Inspired by T. Rex, Nick Drake and Van Morrison, the self-taught duo found their musicians and touted themselves around London, until in June 1984 they won a Kid Jensen BBC radio session. Following a baffling support to the Jesus And Mary Chain at the ICA, where their classical ensemble shocked the assembled crowd, they were swiftly signed up by Rough Trade Records. Two sweet and mellow singles followed, ‘Cavalry Of Cloud’ and ‘Anatomy Of Love’, both to ecstatic reviews, and after a memorable appearance on The Tube television programme, their controversial debut, Helleborine, was released in May 1987. Its swirling romanticism was promptly dubbed ‘pretentious’ by the music press, gaining Shelleyan Orphan the title of ‘Pre-Raphaelite Fruitcakes’.
The next two years were spent writing, recording and maturing the duo’s sound, and with the addition of more traditional rock instruments to their string-orientated line-up, the band produced the more immediate and accessible Century Flower. The album was a significant step forward, using unusual time signatures and baroque instrumentation to spectacular effect. The richly harmonic ‘Shatter’ and superb ‘Timeblind’ were among the highlights. Supporting the Cure across Europe and America, they showed another side to their gentle image and betrayed a new-found energy and exuberance. This failed to translate to record, however, with the band’s third and final album Humroot a disappointing way for this occasionally inspired unit to bow out.