VARIOUS: The Twominutemen 2 (2×7″, Jonson Family JFR 009, 2003)

Various - The Twominutemen 2

This double seven inch, sixteen-track compilation, and the one that came before it (can you guess what that one was called? I’ll leave that up to your keen mind to work out), represent for me an exciting few years in independent British music. Jonson Family, the label that released the compilations, and other labels like them – including Gringo and Errol, and certainly others whose names I forget right now – were releasing the records, the Silver Rocket club in London were putting on a lot of the gigs, and people up and down the country (including an odd focus on Nottingham) were being incredibly proactive in keeping a scene going.

Maybe this stuff still goes on nowadays, but the energy and positivity of this indie/noise/post-rock scene at the time was totally inspiring. I don’t get that sense so much any more, now that everything’s conducted at lightspeed because of no end of internet-based solutions. Perhaps it was just the situation at the time – I was writing a lot for (and hanging out a lot with the people involved with) the Diskant website, going to a lot of gigs including some of the earlier All Tomorrows Parties festivals, starting up my own festival and inviting many of the bands I loved to get involved, and playing in a band that took me all over the country to play shows with tons of bands, several of whom feature on these Twominutemen compilations.

Disparaging though I may have been, sarcastically referring to ‘internet-based solutions’ above, it’s because of the internet that I know that most of the people involved in that scene at the time are still getting up to this and that, and most are involved with music one way or another. Indeed, there’s a fantastic (if rarely updated) blog called Memories Of Running A Shitty Record Label that details the trials and tribulations of Jonson Family records in a pretty hilarious fashion.

One day I’ll make an awesome compilation of the bands that were firing me up in the first half of the 2000s, and it’ll be great. It’ll include Oxes, I’m Being Good, Charlottefield, Cat On Form, Souvaris, Bilge Pump, Lapsus Linguae, Part Chimp and many, many more.

THE HOUSEMARTINS: London 0 Hull 4 (LP, Go! Discs AGOLP 7, 1986)

The Housemartins - London 0 Hull 4

Not a huge amount to say about this record musically – to me it represents a very mainstream and slick side to the whole C86/indie-pop scene that was flourishing at the time of its release. Songs like ‘Happy Hour’ are super-jaunty and great fun, of course, but the more ‘deep’ tunes like ‘Think For A Minute’ unfortunately raises the terrifying spectre of The Beautiful South and their crushingly-MOR schmaltz. I don’t want my indie-pop to have a sense of social responsibility or seriousness! I want songs about flowers and/or love, either unrequited or otherwise!

It is fun seeing Norman Cook pictured on the back of the sleeve, though, in his pre-ecstasy-fuelled raves-on-Brighton-beach days.

My sister used to get the weekly pop magazine Smash Hits around the time of this record coming out, and I’m sure that The Housemartins featured pretty heavily. In fact, as memory serves a lot of bands were featured that would, I imagine, be deemed outside of the readership/demographic of such a magazine these days. I remember reading about Talulah Gosh in Smash Hits – only after one or two of their singles had been released, and recall with fondness a daft interview with Jesus & Mary Chain that asked them utterly banal questions about their favourite crisps, and so on. I didn’t realise it at the time, but Smash Hits was a great magazine. The only aspect of it I didn’t quiet understand was the need to take up around eight pages per issue printing the lyrics of pop hits of the day.

London 0 Hull 4 is, according to the rear sleeve, ‘engineered by Bodger’. I wonder what Bodger’s up to now?

SHELLAC OF NORTH AMERICA: Excellent Italian Greyhound (LP, Touch And Go TG303, 2007)

Shellac Of North America - Excellent Italian Greyhound

I think this is the first Shellac record that I’ve mentioned on here. I’m calling them Shellac Of North America for this post because that’s how they specifically seem to refer to themselves on this record: on previous albums the ‘Of North America’ part has seemed more of a strapline, but on this one, it forms part of the band name as it’s presented on the sleeve. It seems important to get this correct because the band – or rather Steve Albini, the driving force behind Shellac and a notoriously exacting individual – would no doubt think it a vital detail.

As with all Shellac releases, the packaging for Excellent Italian Greyhound is exquisite. Inside the polythene outer bag (sealed shut with a printed sticker that I carefully cut through with a scalpel), the gatefold sleeve is wrapped within an outer dust jacket that shows illustrations by Jay Ryan (a member of the excellent band Dianogah). The gatefold sleeve itself shows photographs of, indeed, the Excellent Italian Greyhound of the album’s title, sat atop a pile of brightly-coloured fruit, and this sleeve contains a printed inner sleeve that finally reveals the record itself, pressed on super-thick vinyl. The only part of the package that seems an afterthought, or an element to not have been given ultimate care and attention, is a CD copy of the album, thrown into the gatefold as a blank, unprinted disc. That seems to suggest the weight that Shellac/Albini place on vinyl’s precedence over CD.

The album’s opening song, ‘The End Of Radio’, builds slowly as simple bass chords underpin Albini’s flat-yet-powerful words. I first heard this song when I saw Shellac playing live at, I think, Koko in London. What was already a very exciting gig to attend (as, based on previous Shellac gigs, I knew I was not only in for some perfectly-presented music but also a super-entertaining performance) was made more special by the support band being Lords, whose guitarist Chris I am a friend of. ‘The End Of Radio’ seemed like a soundcheck at first – if you know the song, you’ll understand why – before exploding into life after several quiet, building minutes.

I met Steve Albini once at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands, when Shellac were curating the event. After an alcohol-heavy day a friend and I were in the bar and she spotted Albini at a nearby table. It was often remarked in the past that I look somewhat like Albini, so my friend took it upon herself to pick me up, drag me to his table and introduce me with a “Hi Steve! This is Simon. He looks like you!” before retreating and leaving me to fend for myself. I handled the awkward occasion as elegantly as I could muster – slurring something like “Thissh is a really excshellent weekend, thanksshh so much…”. To his credit, Albini didn’t deliver a cutting putdown as he so often does with hecklers at gigs; he shook my hand, said thank you and left me to wobble off to continue my festival experience.

Who is the Excellent Italian Greyhound? It’s Shellac drummer Todd Trainer’s pet dog Uffizi, who was once featured (with owner) on Animal Planet’s TV show Dogs 101:

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