MECCA NORMAL: Rose (7″, K IPU 32, 1992)

This is another choice from a pile of seven inch singles that I purchased from a kindly Brighton-based seller on eBay some years ago. I think I’ve mentioned this transaction on here before. It was a set of K Records and other US indie label releases, and it was a joy to receive them in the mail.

If you haven’t heard of K Records’ ‘International Pop Underground’ series, of which this is a part (IPU = International Pop Underground, you see?), it’s worth acquainting yourself. Since the late eighties (I think), K have been regularly releasing seven inch singles in this series, and as a whole it builds up a pretty comprehensive record – pun intended – of underground artists over time. Here’s an alphabetical list of some of the artists that have been involved:

  • Beck
  • Bis
  • Blood Sausage
  • Gossip
  • Gravel
  • Heavenly
  • Honeybunch
  • Lois
  • Love As Laughter
  • Make-Up
  • Some Velvet Sidewalk

Quite a fruity and impressive list, I’d suggest, in the indie-pop and alternative spheres. And that’s only a sliver of the full set.

Mecca Normal are an odd band. Very confidently, almost defiantly simplistic, using just guitar and voice. The voice (that of Jean Smith) is one that I’m on the fence about, and have been so for years. It’s something of a strangled wail, but it has an odd musicality and an undeniable personality and power. It’s one of those musical things, though, that I’m just not sure if I like that much. I certainly appreciate it, but I’m just not that keen on hearing it! Does that even make sense? Is it patronising to say that I ‘appreciate’ it?

Thinking about it now, the IPU series is missing one thing from my perspective – inserts. That’s what these records need – little paper inserts with full listings of previous IPU releases, and some information about the artists. That’d make the series pretty much the indie-pop-collector fans’ dream!

VIBRACATHEDRAL ORCHESTRA/THE TELESCOPES: Live at AUDIOSCOPE04 (10″, Fourier Transform TRANSFORM007, 2005)

Aha, good work, random number generator. You’ve selected a record that I have several interests in. Firstly, I created this record. Kind of. Now, I wasn’t involved in the music, you understand, but Fourier Transform is my record label. It used to be a label owned and run by my good pal Simon (yes, another Simon) and I, but he bowed out a little while ago. So now it’s ALL MINE! The feeling of wanting to release a record; working with the artists to get it all together and then seeing it come to fruition in the form of boxes of real, physical items, is pretty unbeatable. The day I received delivery of these records – in a car park outside my workplace, proper classy – was very exciting. Did the cover artwork come out? Was the blue vinyl everything I hoped it would be? On all counts – hell yes. I was very happy.

And two great bands, to boot! Vibracathedral Orchestra are semi-legendary – in fact, maybe even full legendary by now – and The Telescopes, well, they were part of my formative music-listening years. When I bought their Creation Records 12″ singles back in the very early ’90s, and quickly dug back into their earlier work, I would not have conceived of actually releasing their music in the future. It’s funny how things work out. This record came about as a most welcome side effect of the Audioscope festival that I run with my good pal Stuart (yes – another personal connection and yes, another good pal). They both performed at it in 2004 – hence the name of the record, which is two live recordings of their performances. Audioscope is an annual knees-up which we organisers like to think presents some exceptional music to an appreciative crowd. We’ve been running it since the year 2001, and happily passing over all of our profits each year to Shelter. Shelter, unfortunately, always need as much money as can be pushed their way – it’s a shame that we have to continue to support them, in that respect. I wonder if their work – eradicating homeless and bad housing throughout the UK – will one day be complete…

Whilst I realise that my dabblings in the so-called music industry have been entirely on a tiny scale, and amount to nothing much more than dabbling around the edges of label running and gig/festival booking, I like being involved in this stuff. In fact, I think I like it partly because I’m not deeply involved enough to have to take it all very seriously. I can free up my creative urges and childish whims as I choose, without it getting me in trouble with anybody except myself, and I have got to meet interesting people and do cool things without the novelty ever wearing thin through being worn down by relentless everyday drudge. (At least, that’s what I expect working full-time within the music industry might quickly become – can anybody out there confirm? Is it really ‘relentless everyday drudge’?)

EGGS: Bruiser (LP, TeenBeat TEENBEAT 76, 1994)

Love the photograph on this cover. Who is that, Julie Christie or somebody? It looks like somebody from a 1960s/New Wave-type movie, probably sheltering in the rain after skipping down a Parisian street with her umbrella twirling. Or something. Perhaps it’s one of Eggs? I don’t know. I don’t really know that much about Eggs. I came across them first on a compilation tape made for me by somebody called Karen (I think) who I used to correspond with in the early-to-mid 1990s. She was involved in the fledgling UK strand of the Riot Grrl movement – I first got in touch with her through the fanzine ‘Die Right Now’ that she used to write – and she furnished me with knowledge about a whole lot of exciting and interesting bands.

TeenBeat, like K Records and Simple Machine Records, despite all being around since much earlier than the ’90s, were peripherally connected with Riot Grrl in as much as that they had a very inclusive roster, and released records that may not have had any kind of specific feminist/anarchistic agenda, but that quietly affirmed the idiocy of anybody having a problem with women making music.  Many of the roster’s bands simply happened to include women. (I must be honest – I don’t think Eggs do contain any women, but that’s immaterial). TeenBeat also had a pleasingly random and creative approach to releasing their records. They seemed to put them out in a pretty scattershot fashion, making it seem like they were just sitting around, and then heard a good demo, got it worked up into an album or single, and put it out right there and then. No grand plans or marketing ideas. I remember one single they put out particularly – their one hundredth release, I believe – being a fantastic ‘7″ album’ made up of one-minute long songs by all kinds of excellent bands including Bratmobile, Blast Off Country Style, Tsunami and indeed Eggs. One of Karen’s compilation tapes included the entirety of this ‘album’, and I listened to it a lot. (I’ve since bought my own copy – no home taping killing music going on around here…)

This record was bought some years ago, mail order directly from TeenBeat. It’s always exciting receiving a package of music from another country – somebody somewhere far away packaging things up, taking it to the post office, and then that package travelling halfway across the world to end up on my doormat is a cool concept. In this instance, the package included a handwritten note of thanks from Mr TeenBeat, Mark Robinson. Robinson was (and possibly still is) the main man behind the band Unrest – a band that I seriously loved back then and still now – so I got a minor thrill finding this note in amongst the records that I’d ordered.

FAINE JADE: It Ain’t True (LP, Distortions DB-1007, 1992)

This album was picked up on eBay about three years ago. I regularly poke about amongst the eBay records on offer to see if I can uncover one or two psychedelic gems at bargain prices. This very rarely happens but I do come across a lot of this kind of thing – a more recently-released compilation of hard-to-find tracks by a particular lost hero of the 1960s. It’s a bit like the whole Nuggets/Pebbles/Rubble compilation ethos abstracted to a more extreme degree: this is not just rare, hard-to-find psychedelic obscurama, this is very specific and obsessively compiled rare, hard-to-find psychedelic obscurama.

I thought I’d take a chance on this Faine Jade collection as the artist holds a small but significant place in my musical heart. Faine Jade was one of the artists featured on a set of three compilation tapes that I copied from somebody in around 1995. That person had a friend who’d made tapes for them compiling much of the rare 1960s garage and psychedelic music they loved, interspersed with snippets of B-movie trailers, public information films of the time, and so on. I too very quickly grew to love everything on those tapes. Still to this day, they provide pointers for me of what’s worth checking out. Faine Jade’s ‘It Ain’t True’ was on one of those tapes, and it pleases me to see that somebody – whoever is behind the mysterious Distortions label that released this – took it upon themselves to not only track down that and twelve other tracks, but also to augment the music with several photographs and a lengthy history of the artist on the album’s A4 insert. A quick squizz at the internet reveals that Distortions have released a slew of other stuff in similar vein, including Lyres, Nazz, We The People, Bohemian Vendetta and even a Love single! Good work, Distortions Records.

I always presumed Faine Jade to be a band name, but the record’s insert informs me that it’s a man, an artist, with that name. It also reveals that he used to be known as Chuck. Chuck Jade would have been a pretty hip name for a young psychedelic traveller: Faine Jade just about nails it. I wonder what Chuck Faine is up to these days? Still recording? You have to love the internet, as it means that I can, and have just e-mailed the man himself in the hope of finding out… updates as and when I get them.

(Update 18 January 2010: I got a reply to my e-mail! Apparently Faine Jade has been repairing an old TEAC four-track, and expects to mix some tracks from around 1970 in the near future. They include a cover of ‘All Shook Up’! Excellent news.)

BATTLES: Atlas (12″, Warp WAP219, 2007)

I really liked the first couple of Battles EPs, as they were totally weird, chilly alien post-rock music of a kind I had never heard before. As the band signed to Warp and started introducing vocals to their instrumentation, I began to find them slightly less compellingly odd. I didn’t not understand them any more and so there wasn’t as much to hold my attention. However, this changed when I saw the band performing on Later With Jools Holland (of all things) and could see the bizarre way that those squeaky Chipmunks vocals were being manipulated in real time, alongside the already complex and fiercely controlled musicianship that was going on. That re-ignited my sense of wonder in what they were doing. Good for them. Jools Holland is still a tool, though, and I am very, very, very glad that he didn’t feel the need to pitch in with some boogie-woogie piano during their performance, like he often does.

You need to experience Battles live, but you need to do so in the right environment. For example, I saw them at Oxford’s Zodiac (as it was then called), supported by Foals, and they were extraordinarily good, with exactly the right audience (enthusiastic but attentive) and sonics (clear and defined). Some time after that I saw them at the Truck Festival, and they were no good at all from my vantage point. I admit that I was at the back of the crowd, but that meant that the audience wasn’t right (I was surrounded by chatter) and the sonics were terrible (gig in a barn; the aforementioned chatter; muddy and messy sound mix). More so than a lot of other bands, this is a real ‘set and setting’ band – to appropriate a phrase from Timothy Leary.

A Battles track (‘Race:In’ I think?) has been recently used on a set of Audi ads on television and in the cinema. I was reminded of this most recently when I saw it prior to watching Avatar recently. There’s a long-standing argument that goes on amongst indie kids about whether a hip+cool artist like Battles is selling out by having their music featured on advertising. My standpoint on this is that as long as the company/brand being promoted is one that the artist doesn’t have any personal problems with, it’s up to them. More than ever, in today’s world of downloads and the immediate exchange of digital files making it easier than ever to transfer music without commerce being involved, perhaps it’s one of the few ways that a band can actually support themselves with music? My main, over-riding feeling on the subject is who really cares. So a band has their music on an ad. So what. They’re not killing babies or injecting drugs into grandmothers. They’re furnishing themselves with the means to create more music – and in the case of a band you like, can that be a bad thing?

WORLD OF TWIST: Sons Of The Stage (7″, Circa YR 62, 1991)

The band name ‘World Of Twist’ totally takes me back to heady teenage indie-disco days; drinking to excess back when that just meant having more than a couple of pints, and getting down to what then seemed like super-underground music that the ‘norms’ hadn’t discovered yet. Sure, now I realise that I was swept up in the final lurch of ‘indie’ being minced through major label machines into a simple pigeonhole-friendly term, but 1991 was right in the middle of that process. It was before the endless ‘twelve-inch dance remix’ B-sides that ruined many a record for the first third of the nineties, but after the innocent simplicity and joy of many people discovering that music did exist outside of what was in the charts and on the radio. It all seems so quaint and archaic now; eeeeee I remember the old days.

Strange how many of the bands of the late eighties/early nineties ‘Indie Explosion’ (© any number of pointless compilations at the time) have recently reappeared. Over the past couple of years there have been gigs and tours by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Carter, Sultans of Ping FC and who knows what other bands that everybody thought had long disappeared into some floppy-haired, syncopated-beat-under-fuzz-guitar lined coffin of history. Is that how it’s to be, now? Are we on a fifteen-year cycle of repetition, or have people just gotten caught up in this ‘Don’t Look Back’ obsession with digging up the past and attempting to recreate feelings that would be best left as good memories, rather than getting spoilt by their being viewed through a modern, ‘more mature’ lens?

World Of Twist’s singer Tony Ogden died in 2006, which is a shame. They were never a huge and famous band, but they had a small and significant part to play in my music-fandom development (even though I only knew two or three of their songs). Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that he started out as the drummer in the band before graduating* to lead man in 1989. Well, I never knew that before.

*Do I mean ‘graduating’? I like drums more than singing. Maybe I meant ‘regressing’?

CHEVAL SOMBRE: I Sleep (7″, Trensmat TR012, 2008)

Another Trensmat release; I’ve previously talked about another of the records from this label – but this one isn’t a lathe-cut record. It’s a regular 7″ single pressed onto rather fetching translucent dull green vinyl. I’d no idea who Cheval Sombre were before coming across this record, and then soon after receiving it I saw a full page review of one of their other records in The Wire. Obviously I’m not as all over the experimental drone/noise music scene as I could be. I’m not sure if I’m happy with that situation or not.

Some aspects of note:

  1. The record’s labels are blank, save for a simple ‘trensmat – every noise has a note’ stamp onto one side. This gives a nice lo-fi feel to things.
  2. An accompanying CD-R joins the record within the sleeve, containing the songs on the record along with one extra piece. However, it’s hard for me to give the name of these songs as the text on the disc has been printed onto one of those plain white CD-Rs and has subsequently seeped out into a strange red-grey blur of bloated text. It looks interesting, but I don’t know what it might be doing to the all-important digital information underneath. I’m afraid to play this CD-R: a fire could break out. Safety first.
  3. I mentioned the back-to-front sleeve opening of the other Trensmat release that I’ve written about here. This record’s sleeve is even more maddening – it’s all wrong; if it’s supposed to open from the right hand side then the text is going in the wrong direction; if it’s supposed to open from the top then the front cover is on the back, and vice versa, or the front cover is printed the wrong way round; if it’s supposed to open from the left hand side with imagery on the front cover, the text on the back is in the wrong direction. (Should I just get over these hangups? Perhaps I should tear the sleeve in half in order to put things around the way I want them).

I have two copies of this record. There was some slight confusion over payment when I ordered this and a couple of other Trensmat releases, meaning that two sets arrived but I’d only paid for one. The very nice man from Trensmat said for me not to worry about it and let me keep both sets. I can’t remember what the other duplicates were, but if anybody wants my spare copy of this, drop me a line…

MAGAZINE: Touch And Go (7″, Virgin VS 207, 1978)

Magazine - Touch And Go

I picked this up a couple of years ago from a second-hand record shop. I was drawn to it less because of it being Magazine and more because of the title ‘Touch And Go’ being, I presume, the inspiration for the amazing Touch And Go record label who’ve released stuff by a barrel-load of outstanding bands. Magazine I’ve yet to be convinced by – they’re one of those bands that I’m constantly told are brilliant, and I’d love to love them, but they never seem to click. I don’t dislike them by any means; they just kind of pass me by in a musical sense. I’ll soldier on. Maybe it’s like with food, where if you eat something you don’t like eight times you’ll begin to enjoy it. Magazine are my brussel sprouts.

Fantastic cover design on this record. It has a touch of the Saul Bass style with its off-kilter modernism, and reminds me of Blue Note’s cover designs in the typography and dynamism.

It’s funny that the now ultra-gigantic Virgin monster used to be just a modest little independent record label. Well, maybe not modest – perhaps just simple. When Richard Branson was putting together his first release (Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells), was he scheming away and imagining running train companies, airlines, space travel companies? Here’s a brilliant (if true) Wikipedia paragraph about the early days of Virgin – Powell is Nik Powell, another of Virgin’s starters:

Branson & Powell had initially run a small record shop called Virgin Records and Tapes on Notting Hill Gate, London, specialising particularly in “krautrock” imports, and offering bean bags and free vegetarian food for the benefit of customers listening to the music on offer.

I’d love a record shop like that to exist today!

Oh, and if you’re wondering, ‘Goldfinger’ on the B-side of this record is a cover of the Bond movie theme.