ELECTRIC SOUND OF JOY: Play Away (7″, Earworm WORM 9, 1997)

Electric Sound Of Joy - Play Away

Ah, Earworm – great label. They always seemed to be about the detail and the quality. Interesting bands and music, always packaged with an eye on keeping things fresh and worthy of a collector’s interest. This single, for example, has the simplest of covers, but it’s printed on pleasingly rough brown paper and contains an insert on the same stock, with typography that looks genuinely like it was constructed using old Letraset packs. (This matters in this modern age when a page of type can be instantaneously banged out by computer). There’s another insert in here as well where the exact contact details (at the time) of Earworm boss Dom, and Electric Sound Of Joy’s Paul can be found – actual home addresses along with telephone numbers. Do people still give away this amount of information about themselves these days, when everything can be immediately circulated and distributed across the world?

I once saw Electric Sound Of Joy supporting Godspeed You Black Emperor! in the late ’90s, in some picturesque theatre in London that I forget the name of. That was a great show. ESOJ were sublime, GYBE! (such was the positioning of that exclamation mark back then) were mind-blowing. What’s more, I found myself standing next to Prolapse’s Linda Steelyard for the latter’s set, who asked me who the opening band were. It was a real meeting of minds; the conversation was something like this:

LS: ‘Do you know who that first band were?’
SM: ‘They’re called Electric Sound Of Joy. They were good weren’t they? Are you in Prolapse?’
LS: ‘Yes’.
SM: ‘Cool, I like your band.’

Good times. Standing on the other side of me was where-is-he-now Irish comedian Sean Hughes. Crazy!

FRACTION: Moon Blood (LP, Radioactive RRLP054, ?)

Fraction - Moon Blood

Another record bought on the recommendation of Volcanic Tongue’s excited twitterings (in the traditional, non-internet sense of the word…), this is a reissue of some long-lost 1971 album that – according to VT – contains ‘vocals that taste of jugs of PCP and long, almost oppressively intense, guitar-drenched paeans to personal exorcism’. Well I never. It’s also numbered, limited edition fans: my copy is #0194 of 1000.

With no recollection whatsoever of what this actually sounds like, I’ll give it a spin right now and note my thoughts.

Side One, Track One: ‘Sanc-Divided’… cor lumme if it’s not a relatively accurate Doors rip-off. All mysterious vocals and creeping basslines.
Side One, Track Two: ‘Come Out Of Her’… more of the same, with a bit of a Country Joe & The Fish ‘Bass Strings’-like swelling of sound thang going on. This sounds more 1969 than 1971 – maybe their acid hadn’t worn off yet. The vocals are impressively rasping, this gives me a sore throat listening to it.
Side One, Track Three: ‘Eye Of The Hurricane’… aha, now we’re in ’71 and we’ve gone all Black Sabbath/Led Zep. Epic!
Side Two, Track One: ‘Sons Come To Birth’… sounds like a long-lost Steppenwolf B-side.
Side Two, Track Two: ‘This Bird (Sky High)’… ooh, right back into the deep depths of Country Joe reverb and confused wonder. This is great, proper stoned hippy journey to the centre of the third eye music. They keep forgetting the groove they just got into and the song suddenly turns into something else (most often yet another shade of the work of the Doors).

So there you go. Glib, no? I’ve just summed up a band’s hard work and dedication there in only a few brief lines. I will listen to this record more though, now I’ve dug it out again – incredibly reminiscent of other bands it may be, but as I always say, it’s better to sound exactly like a great band than it is to sound a little bit like a crap band. (Actually, I’ve never said that before). This is music to smoke reefer, wear a fringed suede cowboy jacket, grow a zapata and find yourself in the Californian desert to.

CUD: Once Again (12″, A&M AMY 0081, 1992)

Cud - Once Again

I used to bleedin’ love Cud between the years of around 1990-1994. They were one of the first bands that saw me diligently buying every single release they put out, whilst constantly scouring record shops for their earlier work. Remember those days before eBay when it actually took some time and effort to build up a record collection?

This 12″ is from their A&M days, after they’d bizarrely hit the big time – or, well, the small time, at least. ‘Bizarrely’ because they were always a bit of a weird outsider band, and just seemingly not normal enough to really make it, despite some superb songs and a brilliant (if deranged) frontman. Gone were their limited releases on Imaginary Records, distributed in hard-to-find places – these were their days of national press, big tours, and what seemed like endless marketing money to spend on freebies and gimmicks. This record, for example, comes with a free poster, which is a pretty straightforward trick – but other A&M Cud releases came with, off the top of my head, a set of commemorative stamps; a three-dimensional cardboard house; and some kind of cut-out-the-eyeholes face mask. Then, as so often happens when the industry steps in to ‘help,’ they were gone as quickly as they were famous.

A friend of mine played a gig recently with the now-reformed Cud, and said it was a mix of nostalgia and pain – nostalgia at the obvious thrill of seeing a great old band playing some great old songs; pain at it being fifteen years later with no apparent forward movement from the band and, most awkwardly, the fans. The fans aren’t the young blades they once were any more; it’s all ‘a night off from the kids’ nowadays and an excuse to work on an already-expanded beer gut. (Not in my case of course; I don’t have kids).

Here’s a true fact: I once met William Potter from Cud at a comics convention in London – he was at the event representing his cartooning as part of the Deadline magazine team. He drew me a picture. That same day I also got pictures from Jamie Hewlett (you know, the guy that did Tank Girl and then Gorillaz), Raymond Briggs (you know, the guy that did The Snowman and When The Wind Blows) and Dave Gibson (you know, the guy that did Watchmen). I was in awe of these meetings back then, and in fact am still now…

VARIOUS: In Spelunca (10″, Vesuvius POMP 001, 1995)

In Spelunca

If I was from Glasgow I’d be able to tell you how the Vesuvius label fits into a great musical culture of the city, stretching back many years. However, I’m not, so I can’t. But I do know that it does. This was their first release, a proper indie job with photocopied insert, hand-stamped labels and no concessions to The Industry. To be honest the musical quality is variable, but it’s more that this represents the ability of people to release records on their own terms that makes me like this kind of thing. Plus, the 10″ format is always a delight.

On here we’ve got Melody Dog, Manxish Boys, Sally Skull, Hello Skinny, Lung Leg, Cotton Gum, The Yummy Fur and Starstruck. Not particularly a list of legendary names, I’ll grant you – except for The Yummy Fur of course, members of whom went on to form Franz Ferdinand and blah blah blah. Anybody who was deeply entrenched in the mail-order-driven world of indie-pop in the mid-90s will probably recognise the names, as they graced many an A6 flyer for a fanzine or a record that would get stuffed into an envelope before sending out, er, a fanzine or a record. Happy pre-internet days.

Once when visiting my friend Marceline in Glasgow we were wandering through town and she pointed out to me a doorway that apparently led to the organisation run by Pat who used to run Vesuvius. You know what though? I’ve no recollection of what that organisation is. And I’m not being enigmatic, I’ve just got a rubbish memory.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: The Velvet Underground & Nico (LP, Polydor SPELP 20, 1967)

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico

No, no, no, I know that this isn’t the original release from 1967, it’s a Polydor reissue, but there’s no other date mentioned on the sleeve or the record. I’m just not cool enough to own one of the original copies with its peel-off banana and stuff. (Whilst I’d love to say that it’s all about the music and the packaging or particular release doesn’t matter to me, that would be an outright lie…)

What can be said about this record? Everybody in the universe must have heard it by now, surely? It’s the record that launched a thousand billion bands, that redefined the landscape of late sixties music, that brought Pop Art to the musical mainstream, that did everything a lot of music critics tell you that it did. It’s damned fine, though. I prefer White Light White Heat, but this album stands up to the test of time. The band photographs on the back are pretty great, as well. I always thought that Sterling Morrison looked the coolest. Who’d have thought that Lou Reed would grow up to become such a colossal, self-obsessed knob? Perhaps it happens to us all.

For some reason I’m now reminded of the scene in Oliver Stone’s The Doors movie where Nico ‘gets friendly’ with Jim Morrison in a lift. That was Nico in that scene, right? That was one of the only films I think I’ve been to where I saw people actually walk out of the cinema either in disgust or out of boredom. I guess they weren’t Doors fans. They will have missed Billy Idol’s excellent star turn though – more fool them.

MUDHONEY: Superfuzz Bigmuff (LP, Glitterhouse GR 0034, ?)

Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff

Such a great cover on this record. The only thing that narks me about it is that the text on the spine runs up the other way than what I’m used to… and obviously I’m just a xenophobe in this respect, as this is a German release (Glitterhouse seems/seemed to be the German licence for many Sub Pop releases?) and that’s the way they do things over there. But still. Tchuh! Perhaps I should cut off the spine and sellotape it on the other way up. Anything to maintain unity in the spine-facing side to my record collection.

I bought this on eBay, I think, a couple of years back. Many many years before this though, I remember regularly visiting a shop in Birmingham called Second City Sounds, and seeing it there every time. I was constantly enthralled by the cover, but not hip enough (or indeed rich enough) back then to decide to buy it. I think that Second City Sounds has gone, now. It used to be great. I was always impressed as they had SARAH001 on the wall, along with some super-rare original singles by The Creation that I always lusted after. It was always worth walking down there despite it being on a seedy road stuffed with adult shops and long-mac-wearers – and some kind of Food & Drink College, as far as I remember.

Once I was asked in a pub – the White Lion in Wellington, Telford, I think – whether I was Mark Arm from Mudhoney. “No”, I said. Because I look nothing like him. I was always confused by that, but secretly pleased that I was 0.01% a famous rock star in some kind of way.

CRESCENT: Lost (7″, Planet PUNK 002, 1993)

Crescent - LostI can’t quite remember where I picked up this record – I have a slightly guilty feeling that it was ‘borrowed’ from my friend Simon some time ago and that I never got around to returning it. And now, hell’s bells, he lives entirely in the middle of nowhere – well, Wales, but deepest, darkest Wales – and I rarely see him. Let’s just agree that I’m keeping the record safe for him for the time being.

Planet Records was always an enigmatic label – their releases seemed immediately hard to find and had a mysterious quality that reinforced each one as a special event. Crescent released at least a couple of singles on Planet, and were in some ways the perfect act for them. They’re deeply mysterious, perhaps (I seem to remember) something to do with Flying Saucer Attack, and the blurry, creepy photograph that adorns the sleeve here reflects the blurry, creepy music they make. On one level Crescent are a simple rock band, in the vein of Spacemen 3 or Loop or even Mudhoney – garage-punk riffs and fuzzed-out guitars – but in the same way as Flying Saucer Attack used to do, they drape their sound in a combined mist of lo-fi recording and paranoid soft-edged bleed between instruments. This sounds like it could have been recorded on a crappy tape deck during a band rehearsal, and it’s all the better for it – upping the recording quality rarely equates to upping the mystique and personality of a band.

I remember an old fanzine running a great article about Planet Records way back when. It may have been one of the artful works of Dickon Edwards, and it may have been called ‘Every brush mark is torn from my body’, or a similar quote from Tony Hancock’s The Rebel. I’ll have to see if I can dig that out.

EARTH: Earth 2 (2LP, Sub Pop SP 185, 1992)

Earth - Earth 2I’m a johnny-come-lately to this band, really. I’d love to say that yeah, I bought this on the day it came out in ’92 after following Earth’s early progress through hip underground clubs and fanzines – but no, that just wouldn’t be true. I got into Sunn o))) a few years back, instead, and pretty quickly heard about how they started life as an Earth tribute act before going off down their own unique, doomy, droney, brilliant route. I first heard Earth supporting Sunn o))) on the Thekla in Bristol, some time ago. Now that was a gig – the headline set being possibly the loudest one I’ve ever experienced, just unutterably intense, relentless and terrifying. I’m ashamed to say that I had to leave before they were done, fearing my poor head would cave in.

Anyway, Earth supported, and on that night sounded like a drone-country act. Interesting, yes, but not the revolutionary masters of sound that I’d expect Sunn o))) to have based their early career on. But now I have hindsight, I realise that I was listening to late-period Earth, and that their early releases, like this album, are much more what I was hoping for. Massive, droning arcs of guitar hum and feedback, this album sounds magically invoked rather than being the result of humans playing guitars in a recording studio. I don’t know if they were the first band to take traditional heavy metal/hard rock music and stretch it waaaaaaaaaay out in order to reveal its inner workings – I’m sure there are endless aficionados who will name acts of this ilk that came before – but within my own self-taught chronology of recording history this is pretty exciting, special, original stuff.

A side note: On the way to that Thekla gig I walked past Earth’s Dylan Carlson in the street, and felt a shiver of excitement – not because it was the guy from Earth, but because it was the heroin guy out of that Kurt & Courtney film. Isn’t that tragic?

HERB ALPERT AND THE TIJUANA BRASS: Going Places (LP, Pye NPL 28065, 1965)

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass - Going Places

Good old Herb Alpert. This is one of a number of his Tijuana Brass albums that I own, and sports what I think is a marvellous cover. What better when you’re out for a flight in your shoddily-personalised plane, flying scarf fluttering behind you (despite not actually moving), than to have a 1960s lovely perched on your wing (metaphorical and literal, I’ll warrant) serving you a drink so mysterious that the photographer has had to block it out with some aeroplane architecture?

‘Spanish Flea’ is on this album; the quintessential Alpert number. When I bought this record, along with other Alpert releases, it was in the midst of a widespread mid-1990s reawakening of interest in Easy Listening. This was caused, in part, by a weird Britpop side effect that happened at the time. I’m not sure how it came about, but Pulp’s music (and Denim, perhaps, in a smaller way) begat a whole mini-scene involving clubs like Smashing and Blow Up, contributed to a charity clothing fashion boom summed up by any night in Camden’s Good Mixer on the star-spot, and finally broke into the mainstream with Mike Flowers Pops’ cover of ‘Wonderwall’, if you remember that. Odd times.

Strange to think that this album is over forty years old. I often think such things these days with 1960s records that still sound fresh, invigorating and inventive. In fact I often think two things: (1) Cor, the people involved with this are over 40 years older than they were when they created it, and (2) if nowadays I cast my mind back to ten years ago, the music of that era seems very recent. Was that the same in 1975-1980, with the excesses of psychedelia and beat/garage music a very clear memory for what, to me, seems like a completely separate generation?

SHOP ASSISTANTS: Here It Comes (7″, Avalanche AGAP 001, 1989)

Shop Assistants - Here It ComesCan’t remember where or when I bought this record, but I do know that it was some second-hand record shop where I got excited about stumbling across it – along with another Shoppies single ‘Big E Power’ – not only ‘cos I like the band but also ‘cos the sleeve is sooo much the perfect instance of indie pop packaging. Fold-over sleeve, two-colour printing, crappy quality, it’s got it all. And – joy of joys – it even includes a free flexidisc! This kind of magic just doesn’t happen any more. Hell, the sleeve even states ‘Thanks to Stephen Pastel’!

The Shop Assistants were a great band, emerging from the mid-80s C86/indie-pop scene with all the requisite items in place. Jangly, fuzzed guitars? Check. Soft, slightly off-tune female vocals? Check. They represent a time before indie-pop grew up, and when ‘indie’ meant something rather than a style of music. Avalanche Records was, I believe, a label that grew out of a record shop – and whilst I never visited the original Edinburgh store, I’m sure I’ve been to an Avalanche in Glasgow and presume that it’s connected.  (However, this was in the late 1990s and therefore the store was rather more CD-focussed than I’d prefer…)

My tip for playing flexidiscs: place a 10p piece on either side of the central spindle hole. This’ll stop it flapping about and/or slipping around on the turntable. I’ve been doing this for so long now that my 10ps are the old-fashioned, larger ones that are now out of circulation! Happy days.