Category Archives: 12″

VERVE: She’s A Superstar (12″, Hut HUTT 16, 1992)

Verve - She's A Superstar

That’s Verve, of course, not The Verve, as they became, slightly later in their career. I can’t quite remember why they changed their name, but it may have been to do with potential mixups with the Verve record label…? I think they were also known as The Verve UK  in America: it must be pretty painful to have to lessen the coolness of your one-word band name when market forces come into play.

Anyway. What a band! This 12″ is from the sweet spot for this band before Richard Ashcroft decided to sing and sing and sing all over every second of every track. ‘She’s A Superstar’, along with other singles from around this time, and the album A Storm In Heaven, was for me some of the best music around. It dovetailed perfectly with the chemically-altered/chemically-enhanced sound of shoegaze that was sweeping the world at the time. Dreamy, tense, soulful music.

Around the time of this record’s release I saw Verve supporting Smashing Pumpkins in, I think, Wolverhampton. Smashing Pumpkins were fine, pretty enjoyable – even despite Billy Corgan deciding to end the set with a fifteen-minute solo poetry reading – and Verve were outstanding. The enjoyment was doubled because the band I was in at the time used to include a cover of Verve’s ‘Slide Away’ in our set – as did, presumably, roughly 1,000 up-and-coming-but-never-really-going-anywhere bands of the time.

The artwork on this record is proper Hipgnosis-style conceptual ambition: bearing in mind that in 1993 digital retouching would have been much more expensive and difficult than now, I’d love to know how this sleeve was put together. The band look on, Pink Floyd Live In Pompeii-style, as multicoloured waterfalls swoop over the band’s name, spelt out in (real?) neon. It’s a Brian Cannon / Microdot design; Brian Cannon was responsible for much of the tripped-out look of Verve’s output and, in later times, went on to craft the record sleeves of Oasis, which I have no doubt played a huge part in that band’s success and image. There’s a Microdot archive of sorts here. I think Oasis supported Verve in their early days – not, unfortunately, on any Verve gigs that I saw.

THE SMITHS: I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish (12″, Rough Trade RTT 198, 1987)

The Smiths – I Started Something I Couldn't Finish

The Smiths are, for me, an odd band. I’ve got a few of their records, but I’d never really describe myself as a fan. Whenever I hear any of the vast majority of their songs, I’m reminded that I like them, and ‘This Charming Man’ and ‘How Soon Is Now’, in particular, I really like. Yet still, I’d never really describe myself as a fan. I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve an inkling that the root of the problem is… Morrissey.

His singing voice often threatens to slip into self-parody, and the way he carries himself has always been kind of a bother. His questionable use of the Union Jack, and more so, his vocal support of Brexit, set him out as somebody who clearly has a very different worldview to me – to put it kindly. Obsessive Smiths fans are a weird phenomenon, too, although I used to enjoy seeing Morrissey-haircutted groups of scrawny lads hanging about in town.

‘Sleeve by Morrissey’, it says on the back of this 12″, and I guess that for all his faults, at least Moz had a certain sense of style or what would now be referred to as ‘branding’. The Smiths’ record sleeves were unfailingly good things – very simple, very effective, very consistent in their approach, and a pleasing connection between sound and image.

On this cover is Avril Angers, in a still from The Family Way from 1966, which I haven’t seen but have just read about. It starred John Mills, grandfather of Kula Shaker’s Crispian Mills, so there’s a six-degrees-type connection between The Smiths and Kula Shaker, if you want one. Despite it being a ‘sleeve by Morrissey’, there are also credits for Caryn Gough (layout) and Jo Slee (art co-ordination), which perhaps brings to mind an Apprentice-style scene with Morrissey sitting next to trained experts, telling them how to do their job. What fun.

According to Wikipedia, Morrissey fronted Slaughter & The Dogs in the late 1970s, which I didn’t know – and which I’m not quite sure is true? He was also a huge New York Dolls fan, which makes me warm to him. A little.

TALULAH GOSH: Where’s The Cougar, Matey? (12″, 53rd & 3rd AGARR 14T)

Talulah Gosh - Where's The Cougar Matey

Early on in my headlong dive into indie-pop that took place from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Talulah Gosh revealed themselves as one of the fundamentals of that whole scene. Through a fast-expanding Sarah Records back catalogue I discovered Heavenly, who were predated by Talulah Gosh; Sarah also released the Talulah Gosh collection They’ve Scoffed The Lot. This was a band that not only seemed indelibly locked in to the early days of what was variously and confusingly named indie-pop, twee, C86, cute, anorak, etc, but that sonically typified everything I liked about that music – well-crafted songs, noisy, frantically-played buzzsaw guitars, skipping drum patterns and some underlying feelings of anger, irony and humour. This record is a perfect example, with short, bittersweet songs included the excellently-named ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, Thank God’.

Now I live in Oxford, even more connections have revealed themselves. Musically, Talulah Gosh were as much early ‘players’ in indie-pop as they were Oxford’s own music scene, as explained in the documentary film Anyone Can Play Guitar. Through my own meanderings through Oxford’s music scene, I now know somebody that went to school and grew up with Amelia Fletcher, I’ve seen guitar player Peter Momtchiloff countless times in countless bands (and just, generally, around), and I’ve had a bit part in a film that had singer Eithne Farry as its lead dressmaker. It’s a strange, small, funny world.

Where’s The Cougar, Matey? followed two 7″ singles on 53rd & 3rd as the extended version of third single ‘Bringing Up Baby’, the lead track on this five-song 12″. Visually, it’s rather nice – a simple multicoloured pattern design on the front and on the back,  more patterns and an overlaid monochrome photograph and sleeve notes. This kind of overlaying of imagery and colours was a common feature of indie-pop fanzines and record sleeves – it speaks of a certain DIY attitude as much as a hand-finished cut-and-paste approach to artwork. The sleeve is credited to Mathew Fletcher, Talulah Gosh’s drummer and the brother of Amelia. He very sadly took his own life in 1996: here’s a nice article by The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn on that subject and on the enduring positive influence of Mathew and Talulah Gosh.

Oh, and 53rd & 3rd is named after a Ramones song. Cool. It was started in 1985 by a few people including Stephen Pastel of, er, The Pastels.

Links: Talulah Gosh on Wikipedia / 53rd & 3rd on Tweenet

THE OSCILLATION: Cable Street Sessions (12″, Cardinal Fuzz CFUL024, 2014)

The Oscillation - Cable Street Sessions

Cardinal Fuzz has become one of my favourite record labels of recent times – they seem as concerned with a high quality of finish and design on their releases as I think any label should be, and their records all spin around the axis of noisy, guitar-based psychedelic/experimental music. Win, and indeed win.

Cable Street Sessions is a new 12″ by The Oscillation, who have here four pretty intense, pretty aggressive repeato-fuzz pieces that include a cover of The Deviants’ ‘Somewhere To Go’. They’re a superb live band – I’ve put them on a couple of times before as part of the festival I co-run, and never not been impressed. They’ve also got some interesting connections – drummer Valentina Magaletti has been in about 15,000 bands in the past, and has been a name that consistently crops up as one makes one’s way around the independent music world; bass player Tom Relleen is also an excellent booking agent (one of the good guys in an industry that seems increasingly full of… not-so-good guys).

A designer isn’t credited either on the sleeve or the insert that comes with this record; although the photography on both is by Anita Awbi. It’s a fun design, with the heavily treated cover photograph psych-ed up with its repeated distorted circle motif, and typography that shifts things in a slightly gonzo/punk direction. And, of course, it’s printed onto reflective mirror board, to up the stakes in terms of shininess and can’t-take-a-photograph-without-accidentally-doing-a-selfie-ness. (It also reminds me of The Verve’s A Northern Soul album packaging, which was similarly reflective).

“Some of the heaviest and best kraut-a-delic music out there…” says the label’s website about this record. They’re not far wrong.

Links: The Oscillation / Cardinal Fuzz

THE HUMAN LEAGUE: Open Your Heart / Non-Stop (12″, Virgin VS453-12, 1981)

The Human League - Open Your Heart / Non-Stop

My random number generator, before picking this record for me, suggested five or six 7″ singles – problematic, as my 7″s are still not in an easy-to-handle order, meaning that I can’t quickly track down any of them in particular. Note to self: sort this out.

Anyway, to the first record picked that I can easily locate. I’ll never tire of The Human League – they bridged several musical gaps for me, from being around when I was very young (as radio/TV-based pop music), through reflecting the kind of ‘pure pop’ moments that I craved in my late teens and twenties, and ticking a variety of post-punk/electronica boxes that appeals to my more po-faced muso side.

I picked up this record at some point within the last twenty years – certainly not when it was released, but probably as a charity shop find. One issue for the record-buying completist can be a love of a more mainstream band – it’s easy to get lost in a morass of endless releases and formats; is it really necessary to track down the 7″, 12″, 12″ remix and cassette version of every old single? For me, it’s a no – such format-itis makes me realise that what I really like is collecting all of the music rather than the releases; albeit tinged with some desire to make sure I’m grabbing the music in any different versions that were released, and as its ‘original’ release, whatever that may mean.

‘Open Your Heart’ is a superb song, a fine combination of off-kilter electronics, post-punk-seriousness in the vocal style and unashamed melodic pop. ‘Non-Stop’ pushes things slightly too far in a cutesy-childrens’-TV-theme direction for my liking. Despite having a clear break between songs on the record, they’re bracketed together as a single 8 minute 15 second piece. Art, innit.

And art always seemed close to The Human League’s collective heart, in terms of their records’ packaging. Check out the white space, the careful positioning, the sparse use of colour and the typographical spacing on this record’s front cover; on the back a single line containing the bracketed word ‘Instrumentals’ is justified by spacing the left and right brackets to the edges of the measure, while the word itself is left centred. Nicely done. The band also had the whole ‘Blue’/’Red’ thing going on – their band name augmented with a colour which, according to Wikipedia, was to “to help buyers differentiate between the band’s musical styles”.

Cover design is credited to ‘Adrian and Philip’ – presumably frontman Phil(ip) Oakey along with Philip Adrian Wright (renamed as Adrian to avoid confusion?), who was the  band’s ‘Director Of Visuals’. More bands need a ‘Director Of Visuals’. There’s also a credit for ‘Layout And Co-ordination’ given to the mysterious ‘Ken (at A.S.)’. That’ll be designer Ken Ansell, then of Ansell Sadgrove, now Creative Director at London design agency Clinic. Perhaps Oakey and Wright did the conceptual bit, and Ansell gave it life?

Links: The Human League

GUMBALL: Light Shines Through (12″, Paperhouse PAPER 012 T, 1991)

Gumball - Light Shines Through

I don’t remember where I picked up this record, but I’ve a feeling it was one of those ‘randomly acquired in a record shop’ purchases – on one of those record-shopping trips where I’m not looking for anything in particular, but usually emerge with a stack of unexpected new things that I didn’t realise I was after.

This record contains meaty, organ-heavy, dumbo garage rock that’s simultaneously of the grunge era and of the endless ‘influenced by mid-60s garage punk’ era. More than that, it spins off into widdly-diddly-guitar-solo worlds a la Dinosaur Jr, as well as the lysergic freakout of ‘Saint’ and the power pop of ‘Damn! Bam!’.

Once, in the past, perhaps around the time of this record’s release, I saw Gumball play an in-store at the Rough Trade shop in London. (Which one? The one that was below Slam City Skates in, I think, Neal’s Yard). That was fun, but not as fun as seeing Trumans Water, who played a set at the same event, and who were insane, unhinged and brilliant. Before the show I attended a Gumball press conference – presumably they had an album or something due out; perhaps Special Kiss, from which a couple of tracks on this record are taken? – and it was so busy that I had to stand outside, tape recorder in hand, straining to hear what was happening. Upon returning home I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover that my recording didn’t yield much more than a hissy mess with some very quiet, almost entirely unintelligible voices. That article didn’t get written. Still, thanks for the invite, whichever PR company invited me!

The illustration on this record’s cover is a bit of an Ed Hardy-by-way-of-Savage-Pencil thang, credited on the rear sleeve to Robert Parker. I’ve found this Robert Parker through Google, but I presume they are not the same person, unless he has a very diverse stylistic range.

Gumball features Don Fleming (both as musician and, on this record, producer). He’s a guy with a long, varied career in America’s indie rock underground scene, including:

  • Producing records by Sonic Youth, Hole, Teenage Fanclub (yes, they’re not American) and more
  • Being a member of Dim Stars (with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Television’s Richard Hell) as well as, for a while, Half Japanese
  • Playing in the Backbeat Band, a beat combo put together to create music for the 1994 movie Backbeat, featuring Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Mike Mills (REM), Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters) and Henry Rollins (Black Flag). Funny old situation, that. Read about the movie here.

Oh, and look: here’s Don Fleming the American football player.

SHIT AND SHINE: Find Out What Happens When People Start Being Polite For A Fucking Change (12″, Gangsigns GS004, 2013)

Shit And Shine - Find Out What Happens When People Start Being Polite For A Fucking Change

Shit And Shine are an extraordinarily enigmatic, shapeshifting band. It’s difficult to tell at any point in their history so far – they’ve been going for five, ten, twenty, fifty years? – who is in the band, where they are from, who decides what they are going to release (and how), and, vitally, what they’re playing at with their music.

I’ve got a lot of their records, and they skid about from all out atonal noise to guitar-heavy drone pounding to electronic experimentalism. Find Out What Happens When People Start Being Polite For A Fucking Change (a great record title – more on this band’s excellent titling skills later) is five tracks of relatively light-sounding rhythmic disco electronica, striated by moments of weirded-out distorted vocals, and saturated in an overall sense of Shit And Shine not being quite right in the collective head. This is in no way a criticism.

I don’t know if this record is supposed to spin at 45 or 33 – it sounds good at either speed. The sleeve is as vague and strange as the music – beyond the title and band name it shows nothing except a super-sinister photograph, although the labels include track titles, label name and catalogue number. The record and its artwork is, for a cataloguer and designer like me, equally frustrating and rewarding.

A few years ago I put the band on as part of a music festival that I run, and even though I met several members (who were all genial and accommodating), they maintained an air of mystery and oddness throughout the day. Musically, they were outstanding – multiple drummers packed onto a small stage, and around 45 minutes of relentless repetition and unbearably tense dynamics. It still remains one of the best live sets I’ve ever witnessed from any band, anywhere.

As mentioned, Shit And Shine have a propensity for brilliant and confrontational record and song titles. To wit:

  • Toilet Door Tits
  • The Biggest Cock In Christendom
  • When Extreme Dogs Go Wrong
  • Creepy Ballerina

…and so on. Who knows what these titles mean, if anything. I imagine that the band themselves don’t even know. Or maybe they do? Maybe it’s all part of a very carefully-constructed plan. Enigmatic, see.

DESERT HEAT: Cat Mask At Huggie Temple (12″, MIE 020, ?)

Desert Heat - Cat Mask At Huggie Temple

MIE is a UK record label with a pretty impressive back catalogue of releases. Their early releases tended toward exquisite packaging, with no end of hand-stitched, screenprinted and hand-assembled artwork being on offer. More recently they’ve toned down the (labour-intensive) hand-finished stuff, but retain an eye for a good-looking sleeve.

This record is a 12″ in the classic sense – it plays at 45 rpm and has a track on each side. No 33 rpm is-it-really-so-long-that-I-should-call-it-an-album-even-though-it-only-has-a-couple-of-tracks worry, but also no wasted space: the tracks are good and long. The aptly-named Desert Heat recall the almost freeform, improvisational, psychedelic guitar work of (often Californian) bands from the very late 1960s and early 1970s; the music here is almost like two (vocal-free) slices of infinite groovy soloing, with an overall sense of wasted, sun-baked, heavy-lidded reflective joy. The band are actually from Dublin, but they pull this stuff off better than you might think for residents of an often rainy country. As a description on the MIE website has it: “Semi-improvised yet impossibly tight, Desert Heat can only embody the flickering mirage on the open road under the fading heat of the evening sun.”

The slightly textured card of the record sleeve is apt for the dusty music, but there’s pleasure to be had in the fact that the inside of the sleeve is smooth – it makes it easier to slide the inner sleeve, also printed on good heavy stock – in and out. Thumbs up. The photographs on the sleeves, and handwritten lettering on the record’s back, inner sleeve and labels, are credited to band member Cian Nugent (no relation to Ted Nugent, I presume); the credits also thank non-band member Richard Proffitt for ‘objects’ – meaning, I think, the odd sculptural collection of found objects pictured on the rear sleeve. Overall layout is credited to Conor Lumsden, a Dublin-based graphic designer and musician, according to Twitter. There’s no release date mentioned on the record, but I think that this came out in 2013.

Links: MIE

(And, for fun, here are the Desert Heat that did not make this record – but, instead, “one of Country’s hottest acts. Catchy melodies, passionate vocals, wailing guitars, a driving back-beat…”)

Update 23/01/14: A snippet of info via Twitter from Henry, the kind fellow behind MIE: “[the record] was released mid-13 and the band are 1/3 Irish and 2/3 US!”

PRIMAL SCREAM: Kowalski (12″, Creation CRE 245T, 1997)

Primal Scream - KowalskiThis came out in 1997 – really? – thirteen years ago! Wow. It genuinely doesn’t seem that long ago. For me, ‘Kowalski’ and the Vanishing Point album from which it was taken are pretty much the high point in what’s been an amazingly long career for Primal Scream. At this stage, they were at the apex of messed-up coolness, and injecting a lot of weird, experimental stuff into what remained some very accessible music.

This record is dedicated by the band to Cleavon J Little, the guy who played Super Soul in the Vanishing Point movie which Primal Scream were obsessing about around the time of these records coming out. Super Soul was the hypercool blind DJ who guided, via radio, the lead character Kowalski as he drove across parts of America. As I remember it, Vanishing Point the movie doesn’t really stand up to repeated views – it gets kind of boring – and I prefer Blazing Saddles, Cleavon J Little’s other most well-known role. I like the idea of an alternate past where Primal Scream get obsessed with that movie, instead, and release records based around the idea of eating beans and acting like idiots. “Willkommen. Bienvenue. Welcome. C’mon in…”

Around the time of these records coming out, or shortly after, I saw Primal Screaam play at Brixton Academy. It was outstanding. Asian Dub Foundation supported, and did a largely instruments/backing track-free set that didn’t kick off until around midnight. Primal Scream, as they say, ‘tore the roof off,’ with a set that featured My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields on guitar, along with guests including Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan and (I think) Paul Simonon of The Clash. They were playing a lot of stuff that would later form the Xtrmntr album. It was a late night, and it was busy, and I got separated from the friends with whom I’d gone to the gig. Leaving the venue at around 3.30 am or so, worse for wear, I decided to wander the Brixton streets to find a taxi, before hopping into an unmarked car and drunkenly guiding it back to where I was staying in London. My friends weren’t there, and didn’t return for a couple of hours, during which time I slept peacefully on their front steps. Looking back, there’s many reasons why I shouldn’t really have survived that evening without more incidents or injuries. Luck was on my side.

Here’s the Vanishing Point trailer, for some fun:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pA4ymmXa8rs]

PASSING CLOUDS: Protect Your Baby Ears EP (12″, Bite Back! BB! 022, 1991)

Passing Clouds - Protect Your Baby Ears EPMy sister, who is a few years older than I, went to University in Norwich. Knowing that I was a music fan, she used to tell me, now and then, about what was going on musically in Norwich. Sometimes these stories would involve a band called Passing Clouds, a member of whom was friends with one of my sister’s friends. They seemed to be a big musical fish in the small Norfolkian pond, and I was quietly impressed by this ‘friend-by-proxy’ connection with someone almost an Actual Real Musician.

As this was a pre-internet-taking-over-the-world, let’s-go-indie-pop-through-the-mail kind of time, somehow I came across the postal address for Grant Madden, the aforementioned musician – and Passing Clouds vocalist. Ostensibly to ask if the band might like to contribute to one of the cassette compilations that I was releasing at the time, I dropped him a line. I can’t honestly remember if this led to the band actually being on one of my releases – such information is not on the internet; maybe I should put it there? – but it did result in getting copies of this record and another 12″ by the band. And they were free! And they were, and still are, very good!

Grant Madden moved on to form a band called Half Time Oranges, who released an album called Clive Baker Set Fire To Me, a title that has some kind of humorous football-related meaning, which is completely lost on me. That album was released by Rutland Records – named after Britain’s smallest county, which is a very indie-pop-twee kind of name – and that label also released records by Po! and The Cudgels, both of whom were on some of the compilations that I released. And so the circles-within-circles nature of that indie-pop scene is reinforced once again.