SWELL MAPS: A Trip To Marineville (LP, Rough Trade/Rather ROUGH 2, 1979)

Swell Maps - A Trip To Marineville

This album is an insight into a strange set of minds. I bought it in around ’92 or so after hearing Swell Maps’ name dropped in the context of a variety of indie-pop and fanzine mentions of – very vaguely and very possibly wrongly – music that prefigured the Pastels and was ‘shambolic’ before the whole post-C86 world of shambolicism became a going concern. Just looking at the sleeve and artwork raises some immediate questions:

  • What/where is Marineville?
  • What’s the significance of the burning home on the front cover?
  • What are these songs all about – ‘Vertical Slum’, ‘Midget Submarines’, ‘Harmony In Your Bathroom’, etc… are they literal or some kind of bizarre set of metaphors?

I can’t answer any of these, but I like the fact that before even playing, this album has successfully generated a strange world of intrigue that seems both ramshackle (in the cut-and-paste styling of the inner sleeve collage, or the wide variety of recording sessions noted under each song’s liner notes) and oddly ‘complete’ (in the confidence to include a free 7″ containing four more songs, when the album itself already contains around seventeen). The band members have their performance names – Epic Soundtracks, Golden Cockrill, Phones B. Sportsman and so on – and the whole package suggests as much time sitting around devising plans and schemes as was spent creating the music. And that, of course, is how it should be – non-careerist music created by weirdo artists with a hidden, defined set of personal guidelines for doing so.

I wasn’t old enough to be interested at the time, but I wonder if other records were released in the late-1970s rush of invention that followed punk and led to so-called post-punk which share such a sense of invention, adventure and playfulness as this one? In a very small but somewhat significant way, I believe that this record and others like it paved the way for the entirety of the ‘indie’ scene that grew up in the ’80s and which is now, essentially, the mainstream. Naturally, this album’s on Rough Trade, who had a finger in pretty much every musical pie of note from the late ’70s through the mid ’80s. Respect.

VARIOUS: Rubble Six: The Clouds Have Groovy Faces (LP, Past & Present PAPRLP006, ?)

Rubble Six - The Clouds Have Groovy Faces

I will never tire of buying compilations of rare and/or hard-to-find 1960s psychedelia/garage/weirdo/folk music gems. And that’s lucky, as there are what seem like thousands of them out there – some crossing over in their track lists, but on the whole a seemingly endless treasure trove of goodies to be uncovered and enjoyed. I’ve mentioned the Rubble series on here before; this release is one of the Past & Present reissues though, rather than a Bam-Caruso original. (Even when I’ve got all of these records, there will still be the different labels’ issues to keep me occupied in my record hunting. And once I’ve got all of the 1960s compilation vinyl that exists, there are then the CDs to move on to…)

The Rubble series, despite being pretty consistently high quality throughout, make me slightly uncomfortable with their somewhat hackneyed ‘far-out-man’ taglines on each volume – ‘The Clouds Have Groovy Faces’, for example. Why, that’s just paisley-patterned student nonsense. I would prefer more worrying, more disturbing taglines that delve into the darker side of the 1960s – ‘I Took STP And Sawed My Arm Off’, or something. But that’s probably just me. I love the cover of this one, the big bold type works nicely and the imagery is proper The Trip/Psych-Outesque swirling mania.

Looking at the track listing for this volume, it makes me think how some aspects of music never change. We’ve got acts including:

  • The Fairytale
  • The Kinsmen*
  • The Poets
  • The End
  • The Attack
  • The Accent
  • The Elastic Band

…and you thought that it was just a recent trait to lazily bands ‘the something‘? Oh, no.

*I did type that correctly – it’s The Kinsmen, not The Kingsmen (of ‘Louis Louis’ fame). The cheek of it!

HAPSHASH AND THE COLOURED COAT: Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids (LP, Minit MLL 40001, 1967)

Hapshash And The Coloured Coat - Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids

Wow, look at that cover design. Hapshash And The Coloured Coat were a fashion/graphic design house right in the centre of the late 1960s maelstrom of London psychedelia who, true to the spirit of ‘try anything’ released several albums, of which this is their first. The record within that glorious sleeve is on red vinyl, and is the earliest example of coloured vinyl that I’ve ever seen. I’d be very interested to hear of earlier instances. For now I’m happy to consider it the first, and therefore I imagine a stoned hippy or two having their mind further blown by a record being coloured. Woah.

I bought this on eBay four or five years ago after searching for a copy for a long time. With old records, and especially ones like this that were pretty ‘far out’ at the time, I’d really love to know the paths of ownership by which they have travelled from initial release through to my eventual ownership – in this case, over forty years later. Maybe this record once sat in Syd Barrett’s flat? Maybe it was under the arm of some hipster during their attendance at the 24 Hour Technicolor Dream or some such event? Maybe it was bought and hated by a square? Whatever, I’m pleased that it’s ended up with me. Out of all of the 1960s records I own, this is perhaps one of the finest examples of the super-underground freaked-out British music scene that I love and envy so much. Not so much because of the music – which is fine, chant-heavy meandering psych, somewhat lacking in direction – but because of what the record represents. People doing their own thing, being independent minded and creative, trying things out and proving that the idea of alternatives to a mainstream have always existed.

THE OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL: Black Foliage (2LP, Flydaddy BRRC1005781, 1999)

The Olivia Tremor Control - Black Foliage

Some time ago, in the midst of my letter-writing exploits of the past, I regularly corresponded with a guy called Simon who was at university in, as I recall, Bristol. I’d first been in touch as he’d put out some weird and wonderful fanzines, and he in turn ordered some of mine, and we struck up a postal friendship that often included trading cassettes of stuff that we were into at the time. He provided me with a lot of really good stuff – anything from Aphex Twin’s I Care Because You Do to my first exposure to Can and, indeed, the recorded output of Leonard Nimoy. Yes, this was home-taping at its most illegal, but rather than killing music it sprung me into action to find out (and purchase) records by these people. Simon also provided me with the first CDR of music I’d ever been given, which was very exciting and futuristic back in the swirling mists of the early ’00s when the CD player in my hi-fi was generally unused, save for the odd Christmas gift of a Jon Spencer CD here and a Pebbles box set there.

On that CDR, which I retain to this day (and still listen to) was a wide mix of out-there music, which included a track by The Olivia Tremor Control that stood out as a particularly weird, freaked-out take on 1960s psychedelia of the Fifty Foot Hose/Silver Apples ilk. A couple of years later I chanced upon Black Foliage in a second-hand store somewhere and thought, after being exposed to just that one track of this band’s music before, that here would be an album that finally took centre stage as the ultimate psychedelic music. Well, it’s not quite that – it’s great, if somewhat sprawling and less whacked-out than I had expected, but it still leaves me looking for the ultimate head-trip album to jettison me into the stratosphere. Any hints?

VELVET MONKEYS: Untitled (2×7″, Ecstatic Peace! E#8, 1990)

Velvet Monkeys - Untitled

I picked this upon eBay some years back for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s an early Ecstatic Peace! release, from back in the days before Thurston Moore’s label became the more serious and organised concern that it is these days; back when he seemed to randomly release stuff with no great plan in mind. It used to be one of those labels that it was really hard to find information about, let alone any kind of coherent discography or release list. I love the numbering style, too – that whole E#8 thing – it’s kind of geeky yet cool. It suggests a handwritten catalogue number – especially when, as in the case of another EP! release I have, a white label promo of a Kjetil D. Brandsdal album, it’s actually handwritten, and very possibly in that case by Mr Thurston Moore himself. Cor.

The other reason for my interest in this record is that I’d heard the name Velvet Monkeys bandied around a lot and felt the need to investigate. Don Fleming, the band’s main man, is one of those underground American indie legend kinda guys who seems to have been involved in an insane number of things. Way back in around 1991 I attended a press conference at a pub in London to mark the release of a Gumball album (Gumball is another Fleming band). I asked no questions but recorded everything on a Dictaphone, to later find that I had in fact successfully recorded 45 minutes’ worth of a faint buzzing sound with no coherent speech. Hah. As part of that outing, I was invited to watch Gumball play at the Rough Trade shop, downstairs from Slam City Skates. They were cool, not quite the intense freeform psychedelia that their contribution to Sonic Youth’s Year That Punk Broke movie might suggest, but tons o’ fun all the same. The real magic of the day, though, was that Trumans Water played too, and they were incredible. One of the most exciting live spectacles I’ve ever seen, and when viewed from halfway up the spiral staircase that led down to the record shop, even better.