Category Archives: Indie-pop

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.

UNCLE WIGGLY: Non-Stuff (LP, Hemiola HEM 7, ?)

Uncle Wiggly - Non-Stuff

The lot of a small-time reviewer is an odd one. I reached merely moderate levels of coverage and/or influence with a series of fanzines – and an associated cassette tape label – back in the early/mid 1990s, selling fanzines to people around the world and maintaining an enjoyable and rich amount of postal-based correspondence with huge numbers of people. However, you’d think I was single-handedly running NME based on the longevity of mailing lists on which I seem to have found myself; only after several moves of house have the postal submissions for reviews been stopped, and I still receive emails asking for demos to be listened to.

Back when review submissions took the form of actual, physical discs and cassettes, it was a rare treat to accidentally stumble onto somebody’s press list and to receive wares from labels I actually wanted to hear. Hemiola was one such label – a Leeds-based emporium that released great things by bands including Fly Ashtray, Cha-Cha Cohen, Eggs, Unrest, Dymaxion and Kenny Process Team. These may not all be familiar names, but they’re all good bands that are worth looking up. Uncle Wiggly are too; an (I think) New York band that combine slacker-esque indie rock with odd hints of Krautrock repetition and experiment, all wrapped up into a fuzzy melodic ball. Here’s side A of Non-Stuff, with the lead track ‘Kakaphonic’ elegantly summing up the feel of the album:

Some facts about Uncle Wiggly according to Wikipedia and Discogs: They released records on the marvellous Shimmy-Disc and Teenbeat labels. Non-Stuff was only ever released in this format, even though “many consider this to be their finest work, deftly combining their art-rock influences with some killer pop tunes”. The band has not played together since 2000. Band member James Kavoussi played in Fly Ashtray before Uncle Wiggly existed; and continues to play in Fly Ashtray to this day.

No credit is given for the album sleeve design – with its understated typography (including, in my opinion, a pretty ugly typeface for the band name) and somewhat sinister cut & paste photographic montage. The back cover shows a distorted, TV interference-like image, which is credited to Tonya Smay. If it’s the same person I just found on LinkedIn, she has a massive amount of experience in digital art and animation, including working on a Kanye West video and the “Yahoo 2014 Logo Rebrand Animation”!

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

MIAOW: When It All Comes Down (7″, Factory FAC 179-7, 1987)

Miaow - When It All Comes Down

I must admit, I (recently) bought this record purely because I’m a huge fan of the American band Unrest – they covered ‘When It All Comes Down’ and held a strange obsession with Miaow singer and guitarist Cath Carroll, naming a (fantastic) song for her and using a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph of her as the cover image for their Perfect Teeth album. It’s a great song, and the Miaow version is jaunty, melodic and good listening – indeed, proof that Unrest’s version is a very faithful cover.

Miaow were a band from Manchester who were active in the 1980s (including contributing a track to every indie-pop fan’s primer of choice, C86) and Cath Carroll has done a lot of interesting things. Here are a few of them, plucked from a (hopefully correct) Wikipedia page:

  • She played in a band called Property Of… in the late 1970s, along with former Warsaw drummer Tony Tabac
  • She wrote for NME and City Limits
  • She married Big Black guitarist Santiago Durango
  • She’s written books about Tom Waits and Fleetwood Mac

This record, released on Factory, sports a disarming image on its sleeve; the sleevenotes don’t mention who created it, but do mention ‘Sleeve: Cath/Brian/Slim Smith’ – yet another string to Carroll’s bow, with the input of ‘Brian’, who isn’t a member of Miaow (anybody know who Brian is?) and Slim Smith, a designer with a huge catalogue of impressive work. Oh, and here’s proof that not all Factory sleeves were designed by Peter Saville!

So, some nice connections to end with: Avant-prog group Henry Cow release a 1974 album named Unrest. Avant-indie group Unrest name themselves after this album from around 1983 onwards. Avant-pop group Miaow slot somewhere in between.

(A final footnote: if the record sleeves looks a little wrinkly, well, as Milli Vanilla would say – blame it on the rain…)

Links: Miaow (on Wikipedia) / Factory Records (fan site)

HELP SHE CAN’T SWIM: Suck Our Band EP (7″, Vacuous Pop VPOP06, ?)

Help She Can't Swim - Suck Our Band EP

There are few things in life quite as satisfying as a 7″ single pressed on really heavy vinyl. This EP is an example of this; a substantial and shiny frisbee of a platter that thunks pleasingly down onto a turntable and feels like it must sound better than a poorly-pressed, bendy, thin, cheap record… right?

There’s no release date mentioned on this record anywhere; as far as I remember it was released in around 2004 or so (and Discogs seems to agree). Help She Can’t Swim were a breed of band that was prevalent in those early ’00s; independent, fun-loving, very colourful, noisy, accidentally fashionable, and joyously free of the weight of sarcasm, irony or self-aware po-faced-ness. Musically they were something of a mashed-up combination of Bis, Heavenly, Lightning Bolt, Nirvana and The Raincoats. At the time, the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival was at its height of yet-to-become-super-popular popularity, and Help She Can’t Swim were the type of band that would decamp en masse to Camber Sands to get drunk and listen to noisy bands. They were probably one of the many bands that staged surprise ‘chalet gigs’ – they didn’t need to be on the official line-up, they just played a gig wherever they felt like it, Summer Holiday-style.

This record was released by Vacuous Pop, an Oxford-based label who at the time were at the epicentre of Oxford’s own take on that ‘ATP music’-related scene. Run by an amazingly energetic and positive guy called Ady, Vacuous Pop released records by bands including Cat On Form (a member of whom went on to form Blood Red Shoes), The Edmund Fitzgerald (members of whom went on to form Foals) and Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies (members of whom went on to form, erm, Youthmovies). Ady also promoted some of Oxford’s best ever gigs, as well, and these created some of my fondest memories of gig-going – for a while, Oxford seemed like the centre of the nation’s musical scene, and some tiny venues played host to some incredible bands.

Ady was kind enough to commission me to produce posters for most of his gigs, and every one of them was a joy to put together. I was involved in the creation of the artwork for this Help She Can’t Swim record: not so much in the art direction, as the band provided the elements and very strong guidance as to how they wanted it to look. They supplied their images on a disc! This was sent in the post! Crazy, pre-broadband days. I was more of an artworker on this task, making their vision come to be, and handling the mundanities of getting artwork print-ready for duplication. This, and the other Vacuous Pop releases I assisted with artwork on, are proud nuggets of design work for me.

This record should be numbered (“Record number [blank space] of 500”, it says on the rear sleeve), but my copy is not numbered. Does that make it rarer than one of the numbered copies? Is it one of the 500? If so, what number should it have? Who knows. I don’t mind.

Links: Help She Can’t Swim on Wikipedia / Vacuous Pop‘s not-updated-in-an-age website

EVEN AS WE SPEAK: One Step Forward EP (7″, Sarah SARAH 49, 1991)

Even As We Speak - One Step Forward EP

Australian band Even As We Speak were an ambitious lot, in the context of the often-lazy, often-detail-rather-than-big-picture world of indie-pop. This EP, for example, plays at 33 1/3 rpm rather than the usual (for Sarah Records, at least) 45 rpm – yet it still only contains one song per side. What does that mean? Why, that Even As We Speak were a veritable prog-rock behemoth of a band – comparatively speaking. These two songs are pretty long, pretty inventive, and include forays off in various directions (including pseudo-New Order style electronic tinges), turning them into tiny epics rather than mere simple tunes.

It was all leading up to their later Sarah album, Feral Pop Frenzy, which was – at the time, and possibly even now – outstandingly ambitious. It had seventeen songs, ran (I think) for over an hour, and was a proper ‘journey’ of an album, and one that even hinted at Concept Album status, with melodic references popping up from song to song.

At their heart, and in their overall sound, Even As We Speak were proud indie-pop badgewearers. I do remember thinking around the time of their releases, though, that they were somehow different – one of several bands at the time that hinted that whilst indie-pop, as we all know, don’t stop, there’s no reason why it can’t be experimented with and pulled in different directions. How grown up!

The photograph of saucepans on the Factory Records-design-style cover is credited as ‘Yukino’s Saucepans, by Akiko’. I wonder if that was Akiko who ran Sugarfrost Records at around the same time…?

I did a quick search on eBay for ‘feral pop frenzy’ and there’s a vinyl copy for sale at £29.99. I won’t link to it, in case the auction has ended by now, but I will link to the seller – Oscar The Cat’s Records – who is worth mentioning as they include within their product photographs a cat, presumably Oscar.

BOYRACER: More Songs About Frustration And Self-Hate (LP, A Turntable Friend TURN 20, 1994)

Boyracer - More Songs About Frustration And Self-Hate

This is a great album and one that I listened to very regularly soon after its release. I was a big fan of Boyracer in the 1990s, as they bridged a gap between the indie-pop and the noisy weirdo music that I was simultaneously listening to a lot of at the time. They were more on the indie-pop side of things, but not afraid to veer into odd feedback or song structures on a whim, and this resulted in no end of catchy-yet-strange songs. This record is vibrant clear red vinyl, and the sleeve also contains an A4 photocopied insert that includes, as so many records did at the time, the actual postal address of one of the band – no PO Box number or faceless URL here.

That postal address was a house on Spofforth Hill in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, which was also the street you’ll see in contact addresses on early Hood records. Hood, who towards the late 1990s got signed to Domino and for a brief period were ‘almost a big thing’, were very closely allied to Boyracer – as well as members living opposite eachother on Spofforth Hill, for a time they shared and swapped band members and appeared jointly on no end of compilation records and tapes (including several that I released myself). For a time I wished I lived on Spofforth Hill, to be part of what seemed like a very vibrant mini-scene centred around a single street: I was in touch by letter with members of both Hood and Boyracer for some years, and between them they furnished me with a lot of musical knowledge in the form of mixtapes, recommendations and through their own music.

A Turntable Friend was an indie-pop record label based in Germany, who were a bit of a ‘German Sarah records’ – indeed, Boyracer released records on Sarah as well as A Turntable Friend. There’s a good discography of everything released by the label on the TweeNet website, which also includes a not-comprehensive-but-not-bad list of Boyracer releases.

The inner sleeve of my copy of More Songs About Frustration And Self-Hate is signed by Stewart and Nicola of the band. This makes me happy today, as it did on the day the record arrived after my purchasing it directly from that house on Spofforth Hill.

THE BACHELOR PAD/BABY LEMONADE: Girl Of Your Dreams/Jiffy Neckwear Creation (7″, Sha-la-la BA BA BA-BA BA 003, 1987)

The Bachelor Pad/Baby Lemonade flexi

I’ve called this a 7″ in the title up there, but the flexi itself isn’t actually seven inches in diameter like a ‘real’ seven-inch single – it’s slightly smaller, perhaps 6″ in diameter? I’ve refrained from calling it a 6″ though, despite having such a category set up on here, because it’s packaged in a typical wraparound sleeve, the likes of which would house a seven inch single. So that makes sense, eh? My categorisation and pigeonholing technique is unstoppable!

I have several of the Sha-la-la flexis, but none were bought at the time of release and so none come with whatever fanzines they were bundled with. As far as I know, they weren’t each bundled with a specific fanzine – what tended to be the case is that, say, 1,000 flexis were produced, and then batches given to a variety of fanzine folks to give away with their wares. (Indeed, back in my fanzine-writing days, several times I was pleasantly surprised by receiving in the post a batch of unexpected flexis and records, with the instruction to help spread the word by giving them away!)

Sha-la-la was, of course, a precursor to Sarah Records, and indeed many of the bands that appeared on Sha-la-la flexis went on to also release records on Sarah. In the case of this one, though, neither The Bachelor Pad or Baby Lemonade did so. Sha-la-la flexis gave one side each of their wraparound sleeves over to the two bands they featured; the image above shows The Bachelor Pad’s side, with Wilfrid Brambell pictured, he of course of Steptoe And Son and A Hard Day’s Night fame. The Baby Lemonade side is a far more typical indie-pop-wraparound-sleeve kind of image – it shows a Warhol-style repetitive image of a toy ray gun, printed in basic two-colour style.

Let’s use the magic of Google to find out an interesting fact about these two bands.

Searching for “the bachelor pad band” yields an interesting interview with the band, carried out by the Cloudberry Cake Proselytism website/fanzine, that describes some of the fanzine/music scene they were involved in at the time of this record (and before), including reference to the legendary Splash One club in Glasgow run in the early-to-mid 1980s by Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Jesus & Mary Chain. It also turns up this great promo video for The Bachelor Pad’s ‘Country Pancake’:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ0lWp8zJv8]

Lovely!

“baby lemonade band” – the ‘band’ bit is required to sidestep a whole load of Syd Barrett-related results coming up – initially led me to the website of a different Baby Lemonade (this one) and, well, not much else. Anybody got interesting links and factoids to do with Baby Lemonade?

VARIOUS: Touchdown (LP, Fontana TOUCH 1, 1982)

Various - Touchdown

Funny old compilation album, this one – record labels used to do quite a lot of ‘themed’ albums in the 1980s, although often more musically similar in theme, rather than having an out-and-out thread that tied together a disparate collection of bands. Touchdown isn’t a collection that’s built around the idea of the Moon landing; or somehow related to American football – it isn’t really even bands that all have the instrumentation pictured on the front cover’s rather fetching illustration. The theme here seems to be ‘bands from the early 1980s that were all doing, to varying degrees, a kind of spiky, energetic post-punk-pop music’. It features…

  • The Higsons
  • Farmers Boys
  • Animal Magic
  • Popular Voice
  • Maximum Joy
  • Vital Excursions
  • Dislocation Dance
  • Design For Living
  • Pinski Zoo

…and each band gets a track. A few of those names are familiar from some dusty old editions of Record Collector, perhaps, but it’s The Higsons that’s most likely to be oddly familiar. They featured Charlie Higson, who would of course later go on to forge a very successful career in comedy, becoming a key part of the team behind The Fast Show as well as having a hand in many other shows. You can even see him, as a cheeky youngster, in a photograph on the back of the sleeve. He looks very ‘of the time’ – short, messy hair, a rough-looking shirt/denim combination that reminds of the days before all non-mainstream band members wore t-shirts and jeans 95% of the time, and instead had to make do with what was then available in shops. That looks remind me, very specifically, of seeing bands appearing in the middle of episodes of The Young Ones.

THE GOLDEN DAWN: George Hamilton’s Dead (7″, Sarah SARAH 17, 1989)

The Golden Dawn - George Hamilton's Dead

Another seven inch single on Sarah Records. I guess there’s a stronger chance of such releases being the ones that pop up as a randomly-selected choice, because there are a lot of them in my collection!

This The Golden Dawn isn’t the 1960s The Golden Dawn, of course, who released the outstanding psychedelic LP Power Plant. Perhaps I’ll talk about them on here at some point in the future – it’s all in the hands of the random number generator, as you know… This The Golden Dawn do have a bit of a psychedelic edge, I have to admit, although it’s shot through with a healthy dose of indie-pop simplicity and lightness. The Golden Dawn and 14 Iced Bears were two of the Sarah bands that I liked the most – they seemed to have a slight edge that took them beyond the most straightforward indie-pop, and in their case it took them into a somewhat 60s-tinged edge that pressed my buttons during the early ’90s. (Of course, the entire C86, indie-pop and fanzine scene had a rather healthy obsession with the 1960s – but generally it seemed to take the form of the imagery or personalities of the time, rather than directly influencing the music).

As with most of the Sarah releases before roughly SARAH 40 or so, this record included a poster insert. It shows The Golden Dawn with a selection of high-contrast monochrome photographs, which reflect the style (and, more specifically, haircuts), that were so popular around the time because of bands like Jesus And Mary Chain and Primal Scream. At this time, all that a good band photograph needed was a couple of bowl haircuts, a paisley shirt or two, a slightly otherworldly look around the eyes and a lot of contrast.

The other insert included in the record is one of Sarah’s ‘also for sale’ lists, in the form of a long, thin, folded piece of paper. Even at the time of this record coming out, SARAHs 1 through 10, 13 and 14 had all sold out. The rest were still available, though, for the fantastic price (including postage) of just £1.70 apiece. The insert also reports that Heavenly’s ‘I Fell In Love Last Night’ was just about to be released – a record that would nicely bridge the gap between the ‘old days’ of Talulah Gosh and the new sound of Heavenly, who would become intertwined with Riot Grrrl and quite heavily influence a lot of bands and musicians.