Ah, Beat Happening and even more ah, Calvin Johnson. Mr Johnson is an underappreciated lynchpin of modern independent music. For a still young-looking chap, he’s been around for a long time, having a hand in the very early days of Sub Pop in the late seventies before setting up K Records and pretty much defining much of American underground music from that point onwards. He’s one of those quietly inspirational people who just gets on with things and doesn’t feel the need to constantly shout about it.
I was first introduced to Calvin Johnson’s band Beat Happening in the very early nineties, by my friend Paul. I’d find myself quite often hanging out with him and discovering all kinds of seemingly-random musical gems: Beat Happening, The Monkees’ Head soundtrack, obscure folk and soul acts, and so on. He made me a compilation tape around this time, featuring some of this stuff interspersed with his own cover versions of songs played on acoustic guitar. One of those covers was ‘Nancy Sin’, and it was a very faithful version.
I’ve actually got two copies of this record, as I bought one soon after Paul’s cover version and then much later scored a ‘job lot’ of American indie 7″s on eBay from a guy in Brighton. Now that was an exciting package to receive – a chunky sellotaped-up box containing thirty or so obscure releases on K Records along with several other labels.
Calvin Johnson played a solo set to around forty people in a tiny upstairs room in a pub in Oxford a couple of years ago. It was amazing. He wandered around the small crowd, acoustic guitar in hand, chatting with and taking requests from anyone and everyone. It was more of an ‘evening spent hanging out with’ than a regular gig. Excellent!