BLUEBOY: Clearer (7″, Sarah SARAH 55, 1991)

Blueboy - Clearer

This is only the second Sarah Records release so far that’s come up as a candidate for my witterings on here. That’s quite a surprise to me. As I’ve said before, Sarah was one of the first record labels that I pointed my fevered collector attentions at, and as such there are a lot of Sarah records squirrelled away on my shelves. Not a full collection, however – that milestone is as yet to be reached (and if anybody has a mint condition copy of The Sea Urchins’ ‘Pristine Christine’ they’d like to donate, get in touch…)

Shortly after the time of this record’s release, I became aware that Sarah were holding some kind of Christmas party knees-up in Bristol, and that it was being held on the day of my birthday (22nd December, by the way, for the SARAH 1 donaters out there). At the time, I was relatively naive about things and unable to travel far beyond what was easily reachable by train, let alone making my way to an event that would necessitate some kind of late return home or – shock – working out somewhere to stay for the night. (I wasn’t a thunderously rock’n’roll eighteen year old, at least in terms of travelling outside of Shropshire). However, this party seemed so inviting, and I felt it was fate that it was being held on my birthday. Being a skint, but innovative young chap, I decided to work up the courage to phone up Sarah Records, and nervously ask if I could have a free ticket, y’know, being as it was going to be my birthday an’ all. To my delight and surprise this was agreed to by a very friendly Clare Wadd! But. It never worked out. I didn’t sort out any kind of travel or accommodation plans, and so my birthday came and went as normal, with no indie-pop celebrations! Ho hum.

That party was being held on the Thekla in Bristol, a stationary boat containing a venue. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve since made it to the venue, to experience one of the most intimidating gigs of my life so far. It’s funny that within the time that had passed between around 1991 and around 2005, my listening tastes had gone from twee, super-melodic indie-pop music to utterly brutal, scream-drenched cavernous drone. That was never planned!

VARIOUS: Saturday Night Special (7″, Leadmill LEAD002, 1995)

Various - Saturday Night Special

I have no recollection of when and where I picked up this record. It was definitely some time after its release date of 1995 (or, specifically, 14 August 1995 as an associated insert confirms); instinct suggests it was at some point during the last three or four years from now. What I mean by that is that I remember it not being part of my collection, and I also remember it being so. My mind triangulates the change from one state to the other as being in the realms of ‘quite recently’, rather than ‘very recently’, ‘ages ago’ or something else.

This record raises a number of questions:

  1. Music venues releasing records: Leadmill Records was run by the Sheffield Leadmill venue, which is trumpeted on the back cover as Melody Maker’s 1994 number one live venue/club in the UK. How many other venues have released records? What makes the people running and booking bands at a venue decide to release records? Does this only happen when things are going extraordinarily well and there’s enough money flying around to plough a grand or two into a vanity project?
  2. The use of the word ‘still’: The aforementioned trumpeting back cover blurb starts by saying ‘The Leadmill is still a live music venue & club based in the heart of Sheffield…’ Why still? Was it once not going to be a venue? Does the word suggest a wearied acceptance that this building is always going to be a venue, whether we like it or not?
  3. Choice of bands on the compilation: The bands on this compilation are Man Or Astroman, Perfume, Back To The Planet and Blakeman. MOA and BTTP are (or at least were) well known bands at the time; Perfume and Blakeman, not so much. Blakeman are the subject of the record’s insert, an A6 postcard which includes the band’s contact address as… The Leadmill! So – who were they? The Leadmill house band? Promoters at the venue? The bankrollers of this record?
  4. Strange record side naming: Instead of Side A and Side B, or Side 1 or Side 2, this record’s sides are referred to as ‘maureenlipmanside’ and ‘bobhoskinsside’. What the hell is that about? What does it mean?
  5. Awful cover art: Who saw this cover art and thought ‘yes! that’s it! that’s exactly what our record needs!’ – apologies to whoever put it together, but I think the cover is horrific. Confusing and unattractive. Why a gun? Why a target over a telephone dial? Why ‘It’s Good To Talk’? In capitalised words?

So many questions.

My favourite out of the bands on here is Man Or Astroman. They’ve long been on my list of ‘bands I should buy loads of records by’. All I have beyond this track is a taped copy of one of their albums. I used to play that tape a lot and whilst the combination of surf-style garage rock and 1950s science fiction samples may sound cheesy and not fun, I remember it being – to use a word I’ve never used before – hella fun.

BOUQUET: Elderberry Place (7″, Caramel CARAMEL ONE, ?)

Bouquet - Elderberry Place

Ah, records don’t get much more archetypally cute indie-pop than this! This was a self-released record that came out in the early nineties. Bouquet were something of a big player in the letter/fanzine-based indie-pop scene of those times; they contributed to a lot of compilation tapes, flexis and fanzines, including some that I put out myself. This was their first hard vinyl record, I think, and I have no idea whether it was available through any other means than through the postal service. Indeed, the flyer inside even states ‘If you can help sell some singles, please write to…’ which makes me think that no great big distribution deal had been sealed on this release. That’s really admirable, and I guess it’s the (much more physical) forerunner of today’s means of bypassing traditional distribution methods by using the internet. So much of this stuff went on throughout the eighties and nineties – an entirely self-sustaining industry of records, publications and communications that existed completely outside even the farthest fringes of the ‘mainstream’ music business. The two worlds didn’t often collide, except in a few rare cases.

One particularly relevant example of this was the bizarre time in 1997 when White Town got to number one in the actual, real pop music singles charts with ‘Your Woman’. It’s relevant here because this Bouquet record was recorded at Satya Studio, Derby – aka the home of Jyoti Mishra, the man behind White Town. He was a friend of a friend of mine many times over, but I never met him properly. I used to spend a lot of time visiting Derby and corresponding with people from Derby, many of whom were very close friends with Jyoti, but for some reason the closest I ever got was a very brief and drunken hello whilst attending an indie disco at which he was DJing, at the Blue Note in Derby. He played both My Bloody Valentine and The Field Mice that night – and both went down equally well.

Oddly, Jyoti Mishra also has the honour of being the first person that I ever e-mailed. When I was at university in the mid-nineties I was trying to arrange a fanzine interview with him (this was pre-number one, I was very on-the-ball at spotting stars-in-waiting…) and for some reason I decided that the best way to approach this was using this mysterious internet that I’d heard about. At the time, e-mailing wasn’t a case of firing up Mail or Outlook and tapping away. There was a convoluted process of using Telnet to hack into the global internetwork, negotiate through a series of stark MS-DOS style lines of instruction in order to access the corner of the online world that I wanted, and then the careful process of constructing, saving and ‘broadcasting’ a message to a mysterious list of numbers which was, I know now, an e-mail address. The recipient would also have gone through similar hoops to find out if they had ‘received’ an ‘e-mail’. None of this checking one’s e-mail every minute to distract from other things – this was a thing in its own right!

Interestingly, the official name of the single that featured ‘Your Woman’ was in fact ‘Abort, Retry, Fail’ – perhaps influenced by these early electronic communication difficulties? Maybe not…

MIKE OLDFIELD: Tubular Bells (LP, Virgin V2001, 1973)

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

And… the Tubular Bells! This album reminds me of a lot of things. I only bought a copy for myself around five years ago, but a copy was owned by my parents and I used to really enjoy listening to it. The B-side, in particular, with its sober voiceover announcing the huge variety of instruments played on the piece, I used to love (and still do). Maybe it appeals to the cataloguer/collector-type in me, to have the elements of the music filed into a series of proclamations across the duration of the record?

My parents had a modest but excellent quality stereo system on which records were played as I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s. They used to know a couple that we lived next door to, and I recall them getting in an extraordinarily futuristic-looking Bang + Olufsen stereo when I was probably around eight or nine years old. It looked like a weird, space age table; sleek, silver. That kind of thing predated the fetishistic ‘look at my technology’ obsessions that enveloped much of the 1980s – but it looked darned cool, at the time. Funny how Bang + Olufsen haven’t really moved away from that glossy presentation of actually rather simple technology, even thirty years later.

I have a vague memory that their stereo was actually quadrophonic, but that may be a fake memory. I was young, after all. Another strong recollection of that couples’ household is that their chair and table legs were placed onto small metal disc-shaped trays, to prevent them digging holes into the carpets. Not sure why that’s a memory, as it’s possibly one of the most unimportant things one could keep in one’s mind.

Odd how this record, except for some dabblings in the record shop industry, pretty much signalled the launch of the now mega-globo-huge-corp Virgin. It was a cool record label for a time, and if a label can be defined by the first release that they decide to put out, Virgin was a fantastically hippy-dippy experimental dreamer of a label.