30 October 2008

Marnie - "Bell Jar" (b/w "Be")

Marnie Bell Jar

Label: Progression
Year of Release: 1995

If you're the kind of person who gets advance copies of singles for review - which, for a brief time, I was - there are certain sleeves that just guarantee the waxing will be shoved to the bottom of the listening pile. It's not that you don't intend to listen to them at all, of course, it's just you sometimes get the sense that any indie band who is prepared to allow certain designs to dominate their work are simply sending out messages that this is "not for you". And so it went with this particular 45, whose Plath referencing sleeve with Plath referencing song title immediately made me suspect the people behind it were the sorts of folk who wrote very angst-ridden teenage poetry and had decided to set it to music. "Play later," I thought, filing it behind a whole bunch of stuff I was genuinely excited about.

When I finally did get around to spinning the A-side "Bell Jar", I was pleasantly surprised by the contents. It does indeed sound like a tremendously moody piece of work, but the interesting thing I find about many bands who attempted this stuff in the mid-nineties is that they glossed the bleakness over with plenty of production sparkles. Had this been issued in '92 or '93, there's little doubt it would have been a Courtney Love referencing slab of angry, clattering gloom, but the mid nineties model introduces more fragile harmonies and melodic guitars to the mix. It starts off like Hole with clunking bass noises and despairing vocals, then somehow loosens up to take you by surprise. It's the music of a parallel universe where grunge didn't so much die, but was given a thorough sheen, and allowed to become slightly more fragile and snuggle up to its poppy side.

Far, far better than the A-side, however, is the flip, the lengthy, 33rpm spinning "Be", which features Roman Jugg out of the Damned on keyboards and just builds and builds upon a very simple idea, ending on a riot of moaning synth noises and soaring guitars - it's a tried and tested rock formula, and if it's one you don't care for much, this isn't going to change your mind one iota, but it's deftly done and leaves me wondering what Marnie might have been like live.

As for who Marnie were, I'm afraid to say I've lost the press release and can't remember, but seem to recall that they were from Essex, had at least two women in the line-up ("Michelle" gets the credit for the A side of this single, and "Olga" the B-side) and released a string of singles through the nineties which failed to sell in sufficient quantities to register in the upper regions of the indie charts. I never did manage to get to any of their gigs, which always seemed to be advertised as taking place in tiny pubs around the UK, and whilst it would seem that they managed to keep on plugging away until the end of the decade, there certainly appears to be no evidence of a Marnie album out there.

Rave reviews from Melody Maker and NME and plays by Peel and Lamacq were also apparently forthcoming, but one suspects that the band suffered from being associated with a tiny indie, and just didn't have the publicity money to turn those fleeting mentions and snatches of airplay into greater things. But this, of course, is all just speculation again...

27 October 2008

Whiteout - Detroit

Whiteout - Detroit

Label: Silvertone
Year of Release: 1994

I predict I'm going to get an almighty slagging from some random readers for daring to speak positively about this single. There is, you see, a particular mindset which dictates that 99% of all British guitar pop singles released between the years 1994 - 97 were awful. Actually, we'll just call the whole thing "Britpop" and save time.

Whilst I hold Britpop responsible for a vast number of ills (the invasion of dumb, posh, high fashion kids into a movement that was supposed to be an 'alternative' safe haven from that stuff and The Kaiser Chiefs to name but two things) it's something of a fallacy to say that the era which spawned it was blighted with low quality product. For one thing, I refuse to accept that Kurt Cobain was somehow more intelligent or lyrically astute than Jarvis Cocker, and nor do I think that Slowdive (good though they actually were) played with as broad a sonic palette as the Super Furry Animals. You can hate the era for how it turned "indie" into a middle of the road fashion statement, for how it killed the music press's marginally leftfield sensibility, or for how at its worst it gave us dullards like Echobelly, but to say it was "all shit" is a sweeping lazy statement. Not only was a lot of the output at the time breathtaking or even exhilirating, it also saw bands as diverse as Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Leftfield getting Radio One playlisted amidst the confusion. For about a year, the music scene was actually huge fun, and there was a sense that bands who should exist only on the margins were creeping into the mainstream - until the inevitable comedown when 600 awful Oasis clones parachuted into Camden. Defining the entire era by that horrific moment, however, is as unfair as defining Punk by the cascade of Oi! bands that emerged by the time the party was over. Pick the fag end of any movement and you'll observe similar nonsense. Perhaps some of the better material just needs to be rediscovered by a generation who can't quite remember how bad things got towards the end of the era.

Which brings us, two paragraphs late(r), on to the single in question. Whiteout didn't actually start out as also-rans in the whole race, actually being considered as serious contenders for a time. The four scruffy teens from Scotland weren't necessarily playing with new ideas, seemingly copping riffs from the Faces and numerous sixties bands, but they did so in a way that, for a time, actually made them seem as if they might be as good as the debut album-era Oasis. If that sounds laughable, one listen of "Detroit" should make things slightly clearer - it fizzes with an energy that a lot of bands at the same time couldn't have topped, has one of the better choruses of the year, and actually sounds completely in love with itself, even risking the kind of key change at the end which other bands would be too knowing to bother with. It's the sort of thing that could only have been created by a gaggle of arrogant teens with tremendously low self-doubt - which may be repugnant to some, but in my opinion the best simple rock ideas should be done precisely this way. It's the vinyl equivalent of a firework display which pulls out thousands of pounds worth of pyrotechnics right near the end when you thought it couldn't top itself. At no point across its four minutes does it ever trough out.

Whiteout didn't hit the big time, of course, and a number of factors have been blamed for this - their label (Silvertone were supposedly never the most organised cookies), the fact they based themselves in Scotland rather than moving to London to be on the media's doorstep, or the fact that certain journalists in the press never quite took to them. Personally, I have to wonder if leaving most of the singles off their album "Bite It" and filling it with lots of slow tempo ballads was the best move in the world - after all, Dadrock styled epics were never really what the majority of us rated them for in the first place. Despite that, though, "Detroit" is one of my favourite singles of 1994, whether you like it or not. And let's face it, this blog shouldn't really be about going for the easy options all the time.

The B-side "Dee Troyt" is a slightly unusual slow version which was produced by Brian O'Shaugnessy, who created The Firm's "Star Trekkin'", then went on to produce Primal Scream, Saint Etienne, Denim and Misty's Big Adventure. What a peculiar career the man has had.

23 October 2008

Kevin Rowland - Young Man

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1988

Since it now seems to be considered "modern" and clever to refuse to allow YouTube clips to be embedded into blogs, you're going to have to make do with a link for this one, I'm afraid... as if that makes a shred of difference to the situation apart from inconveniencing you, the reader, by making you browse away, and therefore making you less likely to listen to the song or view the vid.

A rant against controlling YouTube users (or in this case controlling record companies) aside, I've always felt this is one of Rowland's finer moments which went totally unnoticed at the time. The album from which it stems, "The Wanderer", is far from being up there with his best, a fact I'm sure he would even acknowledge himself, but if this your worst then perhaps there's not much point in making an issue out of it. "Young Man" is a very simple and direct message to angry adolescents, self-hating teenagers and youthful misfits everywhere, which is uniquely touching in a way Brian Wilson would kill to be in his old age. There is none of Kev's bitter, world-to-rights ranting here (spectacular though that is) and instead it's replaced with gentle reflection and a very affectionate lyric. "You'll be fine", he reassures the listener, making this the only song I can think of (apart from perhaps Mike Reid's novelty disc "The Ugly Duckling", which we'll overlook) which takes a gentle, reassuring look at mixed-up kids everywhere.

It takes a particular kind of genius to be this direct and simplistic and make it seem insightful, although when he sings lines like "There's no need to be the best at everything you do" you are left wondering just how much of this is biographical. I wish I'd heard this at a difficult age, though - I didn't manage to stumble across this track until I was in my late twenties. Ah well.

And where is that new Dexy's Midnight Runners album, eh?

21 October 2008

Draculas Daughter - Candy

Dracula's Daughter

Label: Kalevala
Year of Release: 1997

You'll remember, of course, that a few months back I mentioned that Bill Drummond and Mark Manning (aka Zodiac Mindwarp) wrote and released a number of records in 1997 under the guise of up-and-coming acts from Finland? Oh, you don't. Well, if you really need more information on the slightly baffling project (which in fairness is no more or less baffling than most Drummond activities) a website still sits here:

As only 500 copies of each were ever pressed and imported to Britain, they're naturally extremely scarce, and actually tremendously varied in quality as well. Some - such as KLF roadie Gimpo's self-titled "Gimpo" - are an absolute waste of precious pressing plant resources. Others - like Aurora Borealis' self-titled "Aurora Borealis" - were actually extremely good, but I won't waffle on about that one too much since it's already been posted on this blog elsewhere.

Draculas (sic) Daughter's "Candy" sit somewhere between the two. Manning and Drummond periodically used local Finnish musicians and singers for the recordings and just directed their style, and it seems fairly safe to say that's what happened in this case. What you've got here, then, is a pretty good Velvet Underground apeing disc which wouldn't have been out of place amidst the mid eighties music scene, or indeed the late sixties one. It's hypnotic, repetitive and insistent, and features some agreeably lazy, scuzzed up guitar work in the instrumental break. Please don't ask me why the original title "Supermodel" is scrubbed out on the label, because I have absolutely no clue...

One has to wonder if Drummond was trying to belatedly achieve with Kalevala a project he mooted a long time ago for Zoo Records, where he created "parallel universe" versions of bands on their catalogue. The Teardrop Explodes were to become Whopper, and featured Cope's alter-ego Kevin Stapleton on lead vocals who "enjoyed a game of rugby and liked the odd pint". These occasionally poorly disguised Finnish bands with their records released by a fictional clueless sounding Finnish indie record label owner do bring to mind a parallel universe Zoo Records, set up in Helsinki rather than Liverpool. Only Drummond could honestly back me up on my hunch, though, and I've a funny feeling he won't bother.

19 October 2008

Bubonique - 20 Golden Showers

Bubonique 20 Golden Showers

Label: Kitchenware
Year of Release: 1993

Way back in the early nineties when he was something more of a media darling and star than he is today (and could seemingly be found propping up the bar of every London gig you went to) the comedian Sean Hughes decided he wanted to make a record. This was at a time when Vic Reeves had recently hit the top spot with "Dizzy", and given the fact that Hughes regularly pranced around in front of the camera dancing to Morrissey and The Smiths on his series "Sean's Show", there was some speculation about what form his project might take. Would he cover the Mozmeister, perhaps, or do his own slightly doomy song in tribute to the great man?

In an interview in 1992 with the NME, it was revealed that he was recording with Cathal Coughlan of Microdisney and The Fatima Mansions, and speculation mounted. The fact that Sean revealed that he had mostly been improvising in the studio and could only remember singing "Play that funky music, Irish guy" should have thrown cold water over the entire thing, but there was still a lot of goodwill for the project. Coughlan was highly respected in the music press at this time for being a satirical maverick, and Hughes was also seen as being something of an emerging comedy genius, so the odds of a quality product seemed fairly high.

In the end, what we got was this. A fuzzy, lo-fi, scattershot, sprawling mess of an album which picked up good reviews, and was certainly startling and shocking enough to warrant a couple of listens, but was forgotten about quite quickly by everybody who came into contact with it. Porn and snuff movie samples jostle for space with Dave Lee Travis radio broadcasts (where he waffles about talented people working in bunkers away from the glare of the modern world), bizarre parodies of REM, Ice T and Guns and Roses, and frankly inexplicable jokes about necrophilia and fisting. The humour within seems considerably more Coughlan than Hughes, although reduced to crude basics rather than the "Swiftean satire" every music critic usually associated with him.

To make the album that bit more inaccessible, it was mastered as one long track so if you wanted to skip forward to particular parts of it, you had no choice but to hold down the "forward" button on your stereo, and on top of that the volume mastering was different at various points. During particularly quiet moments, a stinging blast of distortion sometimes kicks in so that any listener using headphones is forced to rip them off quickly. Please do consider yourselves warned about this aspect.

For anyone interested in the careers of either Cathal Coughlan or Sean Hughes, this CD has to be heard, but the balance between humour and self-indulgence is perhaps a bit amiss. The parodies, for example, are excellent, the GnR referencing "I Think You're Cool" hitting the nail firmly on the head, and the vicious REM mocking "East Sheep Station" doubtless being fuelled by Stipe's own misgivings about Coughlan's work (he once walked out of a Fatima Mansions gig snarling "I hate art rock bands", which was a rather unexpected criticism given some of REM's output). Beyond those, the obsession with bleak samples and strange in-jokes (who was Shak Parouk, for example?) have meant that this album doesn't really figure strongly on either artist's CV these days. You get the impression that it was something they had enormous fun producing, but didn't see as being an important piece of work.

They did, however, follow it up with another effort a couple of year's later. "Trance Arse Volume Three" parodied Blur in a track called "Oi Copper!", and was apparently otherwise more of the same. If anyone has a copy, I'd like to hear it. In the meantime, enjoy the link, all of you... but not the easily offended.

Track Listing:
1. Summer (The Fist Time)
2. I Think You're Cool
3. Play That Funky Music Irish Guy
4. Cop Lover
5. Codsucker Blues
6. My Baby Gave Me Rabies
7. Elvis '93 (You Can Fuck Elvis)

8. Theme From "Chicken Arse"
9. Iron Child
10. Yoda Lady
11. Anytime, AnyPlace, It's Okay to Bubo With Shak Parouk
12. 2 J.G.
13. East Sheep Station
14. Love Me Deadly, Kiss Me Headley
15. DLT 666 No Idea (Insincere)
16. The Bubonique America's Top Ten
17. Frank is Frank (Hurry Up and Die, Buddy)
18. Jellypop Perky Jean
19. Dildo Neighbour
20. Ang On Ronno
21. Love Camp Seven
22. Nation of Bubonique
23. Closedown

16 October 2008

Second Hand Record Dip Part 18 - The Spectrum - Headin' for a Heatwave

The Spectrum Headin' For A Heatwave

Who: The Spectrum
What: Headin' For A Heatwave (b/w I Wanna Be With You)
Label: RCA Victor
Found: Reckless Records, Soho (RIP)
Year of Release: 1967
Cost: Two pounds

I've freely admitted before that I'm no big fan of The Spectrum, but I realise that they're a highly sought after act by some fans of all things popsike, so I'm including this single on the blog for the benefit of the curious.

However, because I have no great love of their work, and there's nothing particularly absurd or unusual about it either, it's rather tricky for me to wax lyrical about the contents of this disc. Suffice to say that this is a very smooth, slick kind of sixties pop which did manage to get some airplay on the pirate stations at the time. Soulful vocals and pounding orchestral arrangements dominate, along with some agreeable electric organ work (on the flip) and close harmonies. This makes them seem like they must have been a very professional act - but there's a certain lack of energy, adventure or excitement which prevents both sides from completely winning me over. Nonetheless though, their fans will probably be happy to listen to these tracks as MP3s. Curiously, the B-side "I Wanna Be With You" is definitely the best offering, sounding like the work of a finger-poppin' mod band you might have heard playing in dive bars around the time.

RCA released shedloads of Spectrum 45s throughout the decade which frequently pop up in second hand record stores in quantities which make me suspect that some of their singles may have bubbled just outside the charts. Sadly though, that's just a hunch, and I can't tell you for definite how close they were to the big time. They made it in Spain, however, where "Heatwave" was a massive smash. So there you go.

14 October 2008

That Petrol Emotion - Big Decision

That Petrol Emotion - Big Decision

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1987

Not even the might of two different major labels could propel That Petrol Emotion into the big time. This - their most successful single, which reached number 42 - was issued on Polydor, and they had shifted over to Virgin by the end of the year who couldn't quite push them in an upwards direction either.

Formed from the ashes of The Undertones and the Derry Hitmakers, Northern Ireland's That Petrol Emotion were another band amongst a long, long line of acts who struggled to gain mainstream recognition at a time when most guitar-based pop was never going to do the business. Unless you were The Smiths, The Cure, The Bunnymen or The Mary Chain, or producing the huff and bluster associated with Simple Minds and U2, you were in for an uphill struggle. Even if you did manage to have one hit, the odds of following it up successfully were seldom strong, as The Primitives will surely tell you.

TPE were also effectively forerunners of a certain type of early nineties noise which would - to their extreme aggravation, I'm sure - fare slightly better for other artists in the new decade. The central riff around which "Big Decision" is built bears an uncanny resemblance to the Wonder Stuff's "Unbearable", a fact Miles Hunt acknowledged with some frustration, claiming never to have heard their song until its release at the time. Sonically they also had a resemblance to numerous other Camden-bothering, long hair-flicking, Lamacq-loved bands who managed a few top thirty hits then got forgotten about by the time Britpop rolled around. None of this would be greatly acknowledged by either A&R rep or music journalist, though, and they began 1993 releasing records on their own label. This is almost always the death knell for any band, and so it proved, until they reformed for some one-off gigs this year.

I doubt TPE will ever be elevated to the levels of respect afforded for the more "authentic", culty indie bands that littered the eighties, but they shouldn't be lightly dismissed either.

13 October 2008

Caterina Caselli - Il Volto Della Vita

Year of Release: 1968
Label: CGD

It's a peculiarity of Italian popular culture that they did very much seem to enjoy taking the foreign hits of the day and putting out their own native language versions. All European nations indulged in this behaviour to a certain degree (not least the British who upset Nena by wanting an English version of "99 Red Balloons" where even the Yanks were happy with a German version) but the Italians seemed to have a whole industry going on. Sixties garage freaks can dig up endless Italian versions of tracks which were barely even hits in America, ska freaks can find some really rather ropey covers of Two Tone classics, and for all I know somebody right now is doing an Italian cover of Kate Nash. Pass it on if so - I'd like to hear it.

There is, of course, a marvellous "What The Fuck?" factor to finding some flop ditty being widely enjoyed by an Italian audience, and the above YouTube clip chronicles one of those very moments. Up above you'll find Italian actress, music producer and singer Caterina Caselli performing a frighteningly bouyant version of David McWilliams' "Days of Pearly Spencer" to a stadium filled with equally enthused folk. One can only assume that she didn't translate the lyrics literally, as obviously the subject of homelessness combined with hints of the end of the human race shouldn't naturally lead itself to this much cheer. It's a bit like seeing a stadium going bonkers to somebody doing a bouncy version of Scott Walker's "Next".

Caterina has had a long career in film and music in her native Italy, and was still releasing singles as late as 1990. I'm not too sure about her vocal rendition here, it sounds very off-key in places to my ears, but that could possibly just be because I'm so used to McWilliams' understated original.

9 October 2008

Beacon Street Union - South End Incident/ Speed Kills

Beacon Street Union

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1967

The Boston-based Beacon Street Union were a psychedelic rock band who achieved some moderate and very culty success in America in the late sixties, and pop up on compilations rather less frequently than you'd expect for some baffling reason. They weren't half bad in their arty, hippy-ish ways, as the "Speed Kills" side of this single proves, whose 1:45 two chord rush actually predates some of Wire's more interesting miniatures by a whole decade.

According to other online sources, the band used to enjoy throwing bags of flour around on stage to create a low budget "fog" effect (is this what Fields of the Nephilim were also trying to do, then?) and messed with the audience's ears where expectations of volume were concerned, blasting eardrums out frequently without warning. They had enough of a following to get a few albums out in their career, and they certainly had their fans, but ultimately never achieved much in the USA apart from some very low-rung Top 75 placings.

In Britain it's safe to say they achieved even less, although somebody clearly cared enough to get this single imported - the hole through the middle of the label indicates that this was shipped over rather than purchased on holiday. Perhaps they were a Southend-on-Sea resident who had their own interpretation of the "South End Incident" side, which is drenched in sheer paranoia and foreboding, very much like the Honeycombs "Eyes" track I placed on this blog not too long ago.

8 October 2008

Second Hand Record Store Dip Part 17 - Marshall Hain - Coming Home

Marshall Hain Coming Home

Who: Marshall Hain
What: Coming Home
Label: Harvest
Found: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow
Year of Release: 1978
Cost: One pound

Marshall Hain are often quoted as being "one hit wonders", their stupendous single "Dancing in the City" being the alleged 'hit'. Really though, it's entirely up to you where you draw the line - if you think that anything which worked its way into the Top 40 was technically a hit single, then this follow-up "Coming Home" did indeed burrow its way in, spending a mere week at Number 39 before waving goodbye to the Sunday afternoon Radio One countdown forever.

A quick listen to this reveals why they failed to capitalise on their promising start. "Coming Home" is a pretty but undistinguished ballad which completely lacks all of the sultry heat of its predecessor. I used to own a K-Tel compilation called "Night Moves" filled with late seventies MOR ballads, and "Coming Home" would have sat quite nicely on there next to Judy Tzuke, Randy Vanwarmer and Sad Cafe, waiting to be played by couples on their Ford Cortina stereos as they came home from late nights on the town. The point is, where "City" was a very distinctive piece of work, "Coming Home" sounds like it could have been recorded by just about any MOR artist in that period, whereas the B-side "Different Point" flags up how they ended up on the predominantly hard rock/ art rock Harvest label, being full of over-enthusiastic jazzy workouts. And at the risk of exposing my ignorance, was this the first ever use of the "Bvvvvwwwaawwwwow" Paul Young bass guitar noise?

Going back to the subject of "Dancing In The City" - a topic I'm sure both Marshall and Hain are utterly sick of, wherever they are - it has to be said that it was one of my favourite records ever as a child, and it still hasn't shifted from my iPod playlist as an adult. It cropped up on a "Guilty Pleasures" compilation recently, which baffled me completely - I had no idea I was ever supposed to feel guilty about liking it. What's not to like, after all? Besides sounding quite unique even now, it's one of the few tracks I can think of that sounds strangely sexual despite not referencing the dirty deed once across its four minutes. The soft-porn keyboard sound and subtle saxophone halfway through might be doing that, as well as the slightly hushed vocals and thunder effects. It stinks of a hot sticky night at the local discotheque and suggestive dancing - it's no surprise to me at all that a few YouTube commenters are saying that they either lost their virginity or had their first kiss to the record.

The video is noteworthy as well for giving us so many early music vid cliches in one unexpected hit. Smashing lightbulbs in slow motion? Check. Sinister looking black cat? Check. Neon signs denoting a "city"? Check. Members of the band prowling around "enigmatically"? Check. Whether this was a video that created the cliches or simply followed them I couldn't tell you, but it's a pleasing little retro-nugget.

6 October 2008

Bark Psychosis - Blue

Bark Psychosis Blue

Label: Circa/ 3rd Stone
Year of Release: 1994

Given that the genre "Post Rock" was first coined in a review for a Bark Psychosis record in 1994, it seems somewhat disgraceful that I should even find myself in a position of typing up a L&TB entry for them at all. After all, if they are such pioneers that they kickstarted an entire movement, surely the general public should be singing their praises as much as they do for My Bloody Valentine?

As ever, the truth is a tiny bit more complicated than that. Bristol's Bark Psychosis are a truly wonderful band, but their career veered all over the great musical motorway, mashing up techno, shoegazing, post-punk, trip-hop and even jazz and avant garde into the tyres of their juggernaut as if they were mere hedgehogs (Is this a ludicrous image? Of course it is). Unlike Mogwai or GYBE, they were also pernickity souls who would never settle for repetition of ideas where variation was possible. An eight minute Bark Psychosis track will meander so much that it will frequently finish bearing little relation to what you, the listener, heard at the point of entry, but will seem somehow intrinsically linked to the concept in ways which seem inexplicable. "Hex" on the B-side of this single, for example, begins with an uncomfortable and fierce three minutes of harsh, repetitive noise, which stops suddenly to expose the undercurrent to the track, which progresses slowly towards the conclusion, sounding ambient and soothing, but retaining a slight air of menace. It somehow manages to be as uncomfortable as "Metal Machine Music" but as beautiful as Eno's "Another Green World" simultaneously.

The A-side "Blue" is probably one of the poppier tracks the band ever released, but still shows imagination which was light years ahead of their peers at the time, and a keen ear for the exploration of all the possibilities. It manages to be interesting pop, electronic music and indie simultaneously.

That the band sold sod all in the way of records should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, and that they signed to Circa (a subsidiary of Virgin) is more baffling still. Surely nobody thought this, great though it was, would ever shift units? I managed to interview them around the point "Blue" was released, and whilst I've since lost the transcript, I remember a very intelligent but polite band who were keen to gently correct me about everything I thought was good in the present music scene. At one point a member admitted that he quite liked These Animal Men, and was promptly rounded on by songwriter and singer Graham Sutton. An uncomfortable few seconds followed - but what was interesting about the minor outburst was that most other bands I met around the same time would take the opposite approach, and pretend to like These Animal Men just to seem in some way in tune with the zeitgeist. Bark Psychosis seemed much keener to set themselves outside of all the trends of the time and focus on their own particular ideas.

They went on to play a gig which was astounding, and still seems fresh in my memory even now. It wasn't as if they were especially charismatic on stage, and they even fell back on the old Pink Floyd trick of projecting Super 8 footage to give the audience some other visual image to hang on to - but it often seemed as if they were performing on a tightrope by throwing too much into the mix at once, and I stood rooted to the spot to see if they would ever come a cropper. They didn't, obviously, and they even got themselves an encore, which their tour manager said was "The first one they've had so far".

Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised at their low strike rate. I can't imagine a bunch of skinny indie kids circa 94 really going for some of this stuff around the provinces of Great Britain, and it must have confused the hell out of a lot of people - but through a lot of their output, material which was actually eventually massively influential to both the trip-hop and post rock movements can be heard, and even though that's starting to become acknowledged now, I still don't think it's trumpeted enough.

Oh, and talking of trumpets, that's Del Crabtree from Animals That Swim playing on all their records as well. Being in one brilliant unsung band is unfortunate, but being in two seems somewhat careless... perhaps I should start a poll for the best band featuring Del Crabtree. Although he played trumpet on Erasure's "Sometimes" as well, so it would be a rather varied poll in terms of musical genres, much like Bark Psychosis themselves.

1. Blue
2. Hex
3. Big Shot (Alice's Cheshire Cat Mix)

5 October 2008

Murry The Hump - Cracking Up

Murry The Hump Cracking Up

Label: Too Pure
Year of Release: 2001

Another defunct noughties act I'm afraid, retro fans - although that doesn't mean to say that you shouldn't download the single and listen to it anyway.

Aberystwyth's Murry The Hump were earmarked by some critics in the alternative music press as being "ones to watch" at a time when, quite honestly, nobody was very sure what was or wasn't going to sell anymore. In the post-Britpop, pre-New Rock Revolution days, the NME in particular gave coverage to acts who have now almost completely been written out of overground history, from post-rock bands to "skunk rock" artists and even "intelligent techno" (whatever happened to that phrase? And what was so stupid about techno in the first place?) In The Hump's case, however, they also had other bands on their side who seemed completely convinced they were the next big thing. Alex James out of Blur referred to them as being "the best new band in Britain" at a time when they actually weren't very new and had already paid their dues on the unforgiving pub circuit, and they were offered endless support slots from key bands of the period.

If the singles "Cracking Up" and "Colouring Book" had been issued in the mid-nineties, there's little doubt in my mind they would at least have nudged their way into the charts. Timing is everything, though, and by 2001 there may have been something slightly passe about their lyrically wry, upbeat indie rock. Whilst Travis and Coldplay were bothering the world's airwaves like a bothersome spell of particularly fine drizzle, the humorous, frivolous touches in Murry the Hump's songs didn't have a hope. Low tempo emotional intensity wasn't really their thing, man, as the lyrics "You're like a ten foot wall, I can't get over you" on this single prove.

Almost immediately after their rather good album "Songs of Ignorance" was issued, the band decided to call it a day. According to the lead singer Matt Evans, there was bickering amongst the members and it had "stopped being fun". There were even rumours about court action being taken by ex-members of the band, which seems somewhat unbelievable for an act who never charted - who in their right minds would spend money fighting over 25% of nothing? After all this hoo-ha, the band The Key were formed from the remaining members, who were considerably more Rock in their outlook and nothing like the outfit they all originated from.

Murry The Hump seem destined to be one of those bands who came and went in the blink of an eye, failed to fully realise their potential, and left a lot of fans cursing in their wake. They barely even merit a mention on music sites dedicated to Welsh bands these days, which is a shame for an act who actually produced two of my favourite singles of 2001.

To make matters even sadder, even their host label Too Pure (which has at various points been home to Stereolab, Jack, Pram, Moonshake and PJ Harvey) closed down in July of this year... but whilst the slate may be completely scrubbed clean in most respects, the good old Interweb still has Murry-ish traces around and about, and their official website is still active here:

And you can download the single (plus flip side "No Girl, No Sex") here:

The album also still seems to be available from a few online outlets, which is more than can be said for most of the pre-21st Century Acts featured here on L&TB. One wonders if it will ever be truly possible to wipe out the history of any post-nineties act in the digital age, or if most of them will have material available somewhere forever.

1 October 2008

Circus Days Volumes One and Two

Circus Days

Label: Bam Caruso
Year of Release: 1998

Compilation time again, folks... although when it's a compilation like this one, I need not feel guilty about the slight lack of personal effort on my part.

You see, Circus Days was a project by the editors of the sixties fanzine "Strange Things Are Happening", and they dug up for everybody's pleasure obscure acetates, some of which had apparently never seen the light of day anywhere before. For the most part, these "popsike" tracks explore the moments when psychedelia bled into rather Denmark Street sounding tunes with one eye on the charts - there are no equivalents to "See Emily Play" on the CD, then, and certainly no examples of freaked-out improv numbers, but plenty of peppy tracks with frequently faintly absurd lyrical content. Some of the inclusions like Steve Hillage and The Wire Machine don't quite fit their plans, but on the whole it's a thematically coherent effort.

Among the best on offer here are Blonde on Blonde's fantastic, blissed out version of the Simon Dupree and The Big Sound cast-off "Castles in the Sky", Head West's deeply lethargic and moody "Someday" (which Blur's comeback single "Out of Time" always faintly reminded me of, despite the fact that tune-wise the two have little in common), Nimrod's proto-glam "The Bird", a fairly early Vashti Bunyan appearance before her whole career underwent a giant resurrection, and The Fingers slightly skewed pop. I'm not even going to bother to add how fantastic Cook and Moore's "Bedazzled" is - but it looks as if I just did.

Rather unfortunately, the "Circus Days" series of compilations appeared to waste most of their good material on the first two volumes, and subsequent issues declined in quality to the extent that Volume Six is hardly worth owning. Additionally, the series lost credibility amongst many sixties buffs when it transpired that a lot of the sleeve credits were just plain wrong. For example, the original compilers credited an unknown sixties act known as Clover for "Ice Cream Man" and another act known as Stars for "Auntie Annies Place". In reality, both recordings were by a studio-bound project called Kidrock*, and the purpose of their work was not to create psychedelic pop but make records which appealed to the pre-secondary school market. It's an easy mistake to make, certainly - a lot of psychedelic inspired stuff is decidedly childlike - but when you add the fact that they didn't even record the tracks until well into the seventies, a lot of red faces occurred. Perhaps it should be more shameful to admit that even though as a grown man I'm not supposed to enjoy either tune, I'm afraid I actually like both...

Additionally, the Pure Pop blog (link in the left hand menu) recently revealed that Johnny Burton's "Polevault Man" was a 1972 release rather than a 1969 one as stated on the sleeve of "Circus Days". There's a distinct sense that the compilers were scrabbling around a bunch of scratchy old unlabelled acetates and indulging in an enormous amount of guesswork about the artists and eras, then printing their guesses on the sleeves rather than admit to their ignorance. This is a shame, as ultimately it wouldn't have detracted from the quality of the material offered one iota, and it's doubtful anyone would have cared much about a few more "Mystery Artist" credits. After all, who could argue with a record which features a song about somebody falling to their death at a funfair in Great Yarmouth (Nick Garrie's "Wheel of Fortune")? Not I for one - take "New York Mining Disaster" and shove it up your collective arses, Gibb brothers.

Track listing:
1. Kidrock - Ice Cream Man
2. Los Brincos - Nobody Wants You Now
3. Rhubarb Rhubarb - Moneylender
4. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore - Bedazzled
5. Lomax All Stars - Honey Machine
6. Kidrock - Auntie Annie's Place
7. Head West - Someday
8. Waterloo - Why May I Not Know
9. Johnny Burton - Polevault Man
10. Tandem - Shapes and Shadows
11. Penny Peeps - I See The Morning
12. Jon Plum - Alice
13. Nick Garrie - Wheel of Fortune
14. Dry Ice - Running to the Convent
15. Arzachel (aka Steve Hillage and Friends) - Garden of Earthly Delights
16. Vashti - I'd Like To Walk Around In Your Mind**
17. Mystery Track
18. Green Scarab - Psychedelic Wilderness
19. Fruit Machine - Follow Me
20. Orange Peel - I Got No Time
21. Smoke - Dreams of Dreams
22. Nimrod - The Bird
23. Fingers - Circus With A Female Clown
24. Blonde on Blonde - Castles in the Sky
25. The Wire Machine - Doves (1944)
26. The Eggy - You're Still Mine
27. Blonde on Blonde - Circles

Part One:

Part Two:

* Whilst I had a Soulseek account, Kidrock would regularly get download after download from fans of the American star. They never did respond to tell me precisely what they thought of the song, but I do hope they enjoyed it.

** Vashti Bunyan has gone on record as saying that she doesn't know how anybody obtained this acetate, since only one copy was ever pressed and then given to an elderly lady Vashti stayed with on her travels. One can only assume that it then worked its way back into the public domain after the old dear shuffled off this mortal coil - or perhaps it was an unwanted gift. Neither option is a particularly pleasant thought.

For more information about the compilations and "Strange Things", go here: