POPINJAYS: Monster Mouth (7″, One Little Indian 61 TP 7, 1992)

Popinjays - Monster Mouth

This record currently nestles on my shelf betwixt singles by The Popguns and The Poppyheads. It was because of The Popguns that I picked this up at the time; I liked their bouncy indie-pop and figured (illogically enough) that a band with a slightly similar name, and a cute record sleeve, must be another bouncy indie-pop band. Popinjays kind of were, but they were far more commercial-sounding and somewhat slicker, which was obviously alien to my indie-pop-don’t-stop-DIY-to-the-core nature back then. Looking at the small print on the cover, I see that ‘Monster Mouth’ is produced by Ian Broudie, of Lightning Seeds fame, alongside several million production credits. I’ve never quite got Lightning Seeds, they always seem somewhat bland and stuck in an awkward halfway house between chart pop and ramshackle indie pop. Broudie’s production tends to gloss up a band too much, for me, and somewhat diminish the sketchy nature than can often enhance a sweet pop tune.

Nice cover on this record: as I said, it’s cute. A little yellow submarine making its way through the deep blue, with some neat depth of field stuff going on to focus the attention onto the bowl-haired indie girl driving the craft. I like too how One Little Indian’s catalogue numbering works – 61 TP 7 – release number 61, a 7 inch, and ‘TP’=’teepee’. Where One Little Indian might live, you see? Pointless fun.

SONNEVILLE: 46 Tours EP (7″, Alienor ALIEN µ, 1994)

Sonneville - 46 Tours EP

Lumme, this is the second of a sparse few releases that Alienor put out that’s come up for discussion as the result of my wacky scientific random number generator tool. So be it, I can’t argue with fate, it’s like the Dice Man or something. It does, however mean that I had to find the µ character on my keyboard because of Alienor’s insistence of using Greek characters for their catalogue numbering. Still, I’ve found it now – another useful character in my typographical armery: MU. µµµ.

I really like clear vinyl, as this single is pressed onto. I’m not sure what makes clear vinyl clear – is it the absence of colouring put in during the pressing process, or is it a different substrate altogether? If the former, why aren’t more records clear vinyl? They look great. I especially enjoy the clear vinyl look of a good lathe-cut record; they have a look all their own, somehow smoother and more sleek than a regularly-pressed record. If you haven’t heard of lathe cutting, it’s basically the process of an individual hand-cutting every single copy of a record using a machine that runs at the speed of a normal record being played. I.E., very labour-intensive. In my exploits as a wannabe record label impresario, I have had one record produced using this process, as it affords the possibility of a very small run of vinyl. I believe, although correct me if I’m wrong, that there is now pretty much only one place to get lathe-cut vinyl produced – a guy called Peter King, who is based in New Zealand. He made my records, and it was a fine adventure getting them done. I had to correspond via fax with him, which wasn’t so easy given the obvious time difference; and the process was long and tricky. However, the outcome was spectacular and well worth it. In today’s mass-produced age it’s great to ask a supplier for an exact number of something – in this case records – and have that number delivered. No more, no less. Just like the olden times.

THE GRAVY TRAIN: St George’s Way (7″, A Turntable Friend TURN 13, 1993)

The Gravy Train - St George's Way

Now, this isn’t a record from the hip edgy band The Gravy Train!!! [exclamation marks theirs, not mine] who have released stuff quite recently on Kill Rock Stars. No, this is the early-to-mid-nineties Newcastle-based (I think) indie-pop outfit, who don’t have the exclamation marks but who have enough of a sense of Manic! Pop! Thrills! to not need them so explicitly stated. Despite the gritty kitchen sink drama/dour working men’s club feel created by the photograph on the cover – anybody know where this photo is from, by the way? – The Gravy Train were chirpy and cheeky. Not full-on hairslides and crayons indie pop, but more part of a refined, melodic, straightforward style of music that was one of several strands that emerged from the post-C86 album underground, and continued to get on with things whilst the world went mad for ‘indie’ in the sense of Inspiral Carpets, Stone Roses and so on. Not that I have anything against Inspiral Carpets, Stone Roses and so on, you understand. But in the late 1980s those bands and their peers inadvertantly catapulted the word ‘indie’ into British mainstream consciousness and it very quickly lost all meaning, to become a term applied to musical style rather than any movement relating to independence, politics or art. Now, of course, we’ve got ‘indie’ bands on huge major labels, called ‘indie’ on the basis of holding a guitar and having a haircut*.

I wonder what happened to A Turntable Friend Records? They were a German-based label, operating out of a place called Duisburg, and they were responsible for – I think – around 25 releases; mostly 7″ records, and a couple of albums. I don’t think that anything they released wasn’t worth hearing. They also held up the much-loved habits of the indie pop record label – mono labels on the records featuring photocopied-looking imagery and Letraset-looking type, and photocopied inserts containing lists of other releases, contact addresses and so on. Every record should come with at least one insert, I think.

*Of course, it was the popularity of this late-80s indie music that turned me into the obsessive that I am now. So it had its purpose. Hah!

HEY COLOSSUS/LORDS: The Money Will Roll Right In/Back Up! Back Up! (7″, Theory Of Nothing WANTON, ?)

Hey Colossus vs Lords - split single

I can’t quite remember why or how, but I was aware of this record being on the cards for some time before it came out, and so was corresponding with a fellow called Manj about it, his forthcoming first Theory Of Nothing release, for a little while. I’ve got friendly connections with both Hey Colossus and Lords and have followed both bands’ glittering musical careers since the start, so I guess that news of this split release somehow entered my consciousness through these paths. Anyway. I remember this Manj chap being a friendly sort, and thought at the time that it was good that people still bothered to communicate in a friendly and chatty way via e-mail (as we were doing) as much as used to happen via post in the olden fanzine days of yore.

Impressive production values on this record – chunky maximum-weight vinyl, pressed in a delightful shade of brown, wrapped in a thick card wraparound sleeve and containing a couple of full-colour inserts on even more thick card. Quite a weighty item in all. For some reason, though, the plastic outer sleeve is slightly too large for the wraparound sleeve, and so an extra piece of cardboard has been included to bulk up the space and stop the record sliding around too much inside. This gives the whole package a strangely unfinished feel. Perhaps I should just put the damn thing in a decently-sized plastic sleeve, throw away the cardboard and stop obsessing about such things.

To my knowledge, there was only one further release on Theory Of Nothing, despite Manj’s promises of much more to come in the hand-written note he included on that piece of cardboard (I told you he was a friendly chap). That was another split, featuring Billy Mahonie and The Jesus Years. I never got myself a copy. I wonder if I still can?

The Hey Colossus track on this record is a brilliant hard-rockin’ cover of Fang’s ‘The Money Will Roll Right In’. Never heard of Fang? Well, because the internet is a wonderful thing, here’s some footage of them performing the song in 1986. Awesome riff, dudes.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNmx1r0Cx8M]

BEAT HAPPENING: Nancy Sin (7″, K IPU 15, 1990)

Beat Happening - Nancy Sin

Ah, Beat Happening and even more ah, Calvin Johnson. Mr Johnson is an underappreciated lynchpin of modern independent music. For a still young-looking chap, he’s been around for a long time, having a hand in the very early days of Sub Pop in the late seventies before setting up K Records and pretty much defining much of American underground music from that point onwards. He’s one of those quietly inspirational people who just gets on with things and doesn’t feel the need to constantly shout about it.

I was first introduced to Calvin Johnson’s band Beat Happening in the very early nineties, by my friend Paul. I’d find myself quite often hanging out with him and discovering all kinds of seemingly-random musical gems: Beat Happening, The Monkees’ Head soundtrack, obscure folk and soul acts, and so on. He made me a compilation tape around this time, featuring some of this stuff interspersed with his own cover versions of songs played on acoustic guitar. One of those covers was ‘Nancy Sin’, and it was a very faithful version.

I’ve actually got two copies of this record, as I bought one soon after Paul’s cover version and then much later scored a ‘job lot’ of American indie 7″s on eBay from a guy in Brighton. Now that was an exciting package to receive – a chunky sellotaped-up box containing thirty or so obscure releases on K Records along with several other labels.

Calvin Johnson played a solo set to around forty people in a tiny upstairs room in a pub in Oxford a couple of years ago. It was amazing. He wandered around the small crowd, acoustic guitar in hand, chatting with and taking requests from anyone and everyone. It was more of an ‘evening spent hanging out with’ than a regular gig. Excellent!

JASON AND THE ASTRONAUTS: Burn Down The Boys School (7″, Unlabel UN015, ?)

Jason And The Astronauts - Burn Down The Boys School

I bought this 7″ a few years back. I’m not entirely sure when. The label unfortunately didn’t feel fit to include a ‘released on…’ date anywhere within the package. Shocker! Don’t they know that some people live for these facts? Cataloguers of the world need information. Just like in The Prisoner. And like that show’s Number Six, Unlabel defiantly state “you won’t get it!” with their lack of detail.

Unlabel once released a CD album every single week for an entire year, and beyond that they’ve released several tonnes’ worth of vinyl and compact discs, representing and cataloguing the post-rock/underground music scene pretty comprehensively for some years. I’m always impressed when an independent label sticks to their guns, and Unlabel have done that to an extreme level. Bravo. My one criticism? It’s that the packaging on some of their releases in the past hasn’t been entirely up my street, being a kind of über-rational framework of design that includes artist name, track name and imagery in a ridiculously tight and consistent layout.

This record’s packaging, however, is a joy to behold. I’m a sucker for individually-mounted photographs on record sleeves, and have a few examples of such a thing. I presume that there is a different photograph on each of the 200 copies of this record in existence; or at least I hope that there is. The plain brown paper stock is neat-o, too, and works in beauteous harmony with the monochrome photograph and simple typewriter-style lettering.

Musically, I can’t remember what this record sounds like – and unfortunately I’m in no position to find out right now, as I’m deeply involved with listening to my new Lula Côrtes CD that arrived a few days ago. It’s all floating flute and weirdo world music, combined with some of the odd instrumental feelings created by 1970s film soundtrackers Goblin. As I recollect, Jason And The Astronauts are ramshackle, slightly post-something indie noise pop kinda thing. And if that string of words doesn’t make you want to hear more, I don’t know what will…