THE MAGIC SHOP/THE VISITORS: It’s True/Goldmining (7″ flexi, Sha-La-La BA BA BA-BA BA 008, 1987)

The Magic Shop/The Visitors flexi

A flexible slice of indie-pop history, this – the Sha-La-La label was the precursor to Sarah Records; they released a number of flexidiscs that were generally sold with fanzines. They all had fantastically evocative, two-colour wraparound sleeves, which tended to use imagery that was much the style of the time (and the genre): 1960s/1970s-esque pictures of, mostly, groovy-looking women. I imagine that many a set of 60s fashion magazines, along with old Jacky or Blue Peter annuals, were plundered to provide imagery for records and fanzines of the time.

I’ve said that this flexi is a 7″ – it’s actually not quite that wide; it seems to be more like 5.5″. Flexis seem to be a bit more flexible (pun intended) in terms of their size. I’ve seen them at a variety of sizes, from around 4″ up to 11″. However, I haven’t seen a new one for a good number of years now – I wonder if anywhere still manufactures them? In the early 1990s, my friend Rob and I had a plan to start a record label which was to be named Autumn Records. It never happened, but I got as far as investigating the costs of flexi manufacturing – even back then, I only remember there being one or two places in the whole of the UK that would do the job. Happy times, though – I remember that you could supply the music to the flexi manufacturer on cassette tape! None of your super-fancy high-bit-rate mastered-for-vinyl sound files required.

The back of this record’s sleeve (which features The Visitors’ cover – each band got one side of the sleeve) includes contact details for The Visitors: Stuart, Moorcourt Close, Sidmouth. (I’ve cut a bit out of the address – can’t be given out a full address on the internet, can I?) Now, with the magic of Google Street View, I can have a virtual wander around that street – and so can you. Looks quite nice, doesn’t it? I wonder if Stuart from The Visitors still lives there?

ALLEN CLAPP: A Change In The Weather (7″, Four Letter Words 004, ?)

Allen Clapp - A Change In The Weather

This record – as a package – is a little thing of beauty. Some aspects of it that appeal to me are:

  • The sleeve: it’s a type of standard seven inch single inner sleeve, elevated to the status of The Cover by way of some really nice, what look to be hand-stamped (or perhaps screen-printed) pieces of lettering and illustration. Very simple, very cost-effective, and very successful.
  • The record itself: it’s one-sided. Physically, I mean – not musically. I really like the odd surprise of a one-sided record – flipping it over to see, well, nothing. It’s cool how alien that looks when you’re so used to the appearance of grooves on a slice of vinyl. Ever tried to play the smooth side of a one-sided record? The stylus freaks out, skips all over the place and then flings itself to safety.
  • The insert that comes with the record: it includes details of this record’s original price, and that of the other releases on Four Letter Words at the time. The most expensive item is a fanzine plus flexi combination, which cost just two dollars including postage. As is confirmed by text on the insert, this is ‘budget pop’.

Four Letter Words records was run by a guy called Maz, who Wikipedia tells me was in the Mummies. I never knew this before now. It’s a surprising clash of cultures – on one side the indie-pop, hand-finished recording scene you see represented here; on the other, a garage punk band who dressed in tattered bandages and were somewhat legendary. I guess it’s all punk rock, DIY, independent thinking, though, isn’t it? Allen Clapp had been friends with Maz since the early 1980s; they grew up together in California. Isn’t that nice? This record was released in the very early 1990s, as I recall, but as is the case with so many indie-pop releases, it’s difficult to track down an exact release date.

For fun, I thought I’d look up how much it’d cost today to release a one-sided seven inch record – let’s say, in an edition of 300 copies, which is what I imagine the scale of this Allen Clapp release to have been. But, you know what? I can’t find a single place on the internet that seems to offer this as a service. Maybe I’ve found a gap in Google? Maybe there’s just too much music now, and nobody feels they could adequately represent themselves on just a single side of seven inch vinyl?

EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL: I Don’t Want To Talk About It (12″, Blanco Y Negro NEG 34T, 1988)

Everything But The Girl - I Don't Want To Talk About It

The concept of ‘perfect pop’ is a long-standing one amongst indie kids. It’s a term often thrown back at critics of songs, almost a defense mechanism: ‘yes, it’s very badly-recorded, but it’s perfect pop!’, ‘I know it’s Girls Aloud, and they’re completely manufactured, but it’s just a perfect pop song!’, and so forth. It’s a term used often in the hand-crayoned, hairslide-heavy realm of indie-pop, and there are a few bands – mostly from the early 1980s – who are pulled out as the big guns of perfect pop; the bands that created the framework for much that followed. Everything But The Girl are one of these bands, along with many others like Orange Juice, Haircut 100 and Aztec Camera. None of these are/were thunderingly independent or fiercely different, as one might expect – and so it’s surprising that ‘perfect pop’ is so often a term used in the context of independent music ideals. Perhaps it a question of scale – pop includes all manner of dross that clogs up the charts, but perfect pop represents a strain of that larger selection which ticks boxes for people who enjoy it alongside ever wider echoes of independently-released records.

For the record, in my opinion ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ isn’t perfect pop. I find it somewhat boring and dreary. However, Everything But The Girl have a selection of contenders in their long history for the perfect pop epithet.

On the back of this record’s sleeve, within some oddly-precise liner notes, it states that ‘The cover photograph of discarded confetti is by Richard Haughton’. Some points that this raises in my mind:

  1. Why the need to tell us what the photograph is of? Shouldn’t it be obvious from, well, looking at the photograph? Or is somebody concerned that it’s not obvious what it’s of? In that case, why was it used?
  2. The photograph is actually pretty poor – it’s been blown up to the point where it’s quite blurred and the colours are dulled. More than that, it’s just not that interesting an image.
  3. If this is the same Richard Haughton, he’s snapped some pretty big names! Paul McCartney, Simon Le Bon, New Order… even Phil Collins. His website’s homepage is very odd, though. If you’re on a big monitor and you increase your browser window size so that it’s larger than the image on the homepage, you’ll see that there’s a copy of that image behind the main one, and that the copy scales to fit the browser window. I don’t know why the main image itself doesn’t scale. This kind of thing bugs me.

Some randomly-selected ‘perfect pop’ links from a Google search:

THE GO-BETWEENS: Before Hollywood (LP, Rough Trade ROUGH 54, 1982)

The Go-Betweens - Before Hollywood

Item number one, inspired by the selection of this record

2345. As I fired up the random number generator to select a record for this post, I noticed that the number of records in the list of possibilities now stands at 2,345. That number must surely have some kind of numerological, Kabbalistic meaning? I bet it represents travel, or progression, or something along those lines. Regardless, it’s a very satisying number to type: 2345. Get to a keyboard and try it.

Item number two, inspired by the label that released this record

I’m constantly, overwhelmingly impressed and in awe of the selection of bands that Rough Trade Records have released. Look at this quickly-compiled list of a few of them:

  • Cabaret Voltaire
  • Subway Sect
  • The Raincoats
  • The Pop Group
  • Robert Wyatt
  • The Slits
  • The Fall
  • Wire
  • The Pastels
  • The Smiths
  • Galaxie 500

…and that’s just a handful Any label would (or should) have been proud to release one record by one of those artists. But here’s a label that released many by them all, alongside many more. I don’t know why this is impressive – it’s just pressing records, it’s just shifting product, ultimately – but it is impressive. It speaks of a long-term sense of quality and class that should be an inspiration to all record labels.

Item number three, inspired by the players on this record

Lindy Morrison (drums, backing vocals) once stood as the candidate for the Australian Democrats party in New South Wales.
Grant McLennan (bass, guitars, vocals) very sadly passed away in 2006. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral.
Robert Forster (guitar, vocals) has appeared in a large number of Hollywood movies, including Mulholland Dr., Jackie Brown and the remake of Psycho.

Item number four, inspired by the cover of this record

Band photographs are a funny thing, aren’t they? It’s always difficult to find a photograph that sums up both a band’s collective personality along with that of its individuals; let alone their music. This record’s cover photograph, by Tom Sheehan (who has also shot a massive number of other artists – look him up), does a pretty good job. It’s informal yet strangely confrontational and distracted. The band members look deep in their own thoughts, but are drawn together by the colours of the composition. There is what looks like a blurred clock at the front of the image; what does it mean?

TALKING HEADS: Remain In Light (LP, Sire SRK 6095 NP, 1980)

Talking Heads - Remain In Light

I have a strange relationship with Talking Heads. They’re one of those bands that I feel I should really like, because they – at least the context of endless name-dropping by music reviewers the world over – tick several of my ‘this is my kind of thing’ boxes:

  • ‘edgy’, slightly angular music
  • weirdness
  • art-school sensibilities
  • post-punk/new-wave era
  • pop music at heart

For some reason, though, today they don’t really click. You can perhaps see from the beaten-up sleeve of this record that it’s not been particularly well looked after. That’s not actually down to me, as I purchased it second-hand for around ten pence from a charity shop a couple of years back, but the fact represents something. I don’t care about the band enough to have purchased immaculate quality copies of their records; to be honest I doubt I would have spent more than a pound on this, even if it had been in much better shape than it is.

Why is this? Why doesn’t this band really do it for me? I fear that the reason might be bound up in impossible pretentiousness. Let me explain. I used to love Talking Heads when I was in my early teenage years. My dad was a big fan, and I became aware of a couple of their albums by osmosis, before finally taking the plunge and making cassette copies for myself. (Hey – taking the plunge in this case may well have been piracy, but no way would I have had the money to buy an actual record at the time…)

I was once in a school play (I forget which play – perhaps The Wizard of Oz, where I played the Wizard himself as well as ‘farmhand’, but that’s another story). During rehearsals and scene-painting chores I took in my Talking Heads cassette for us all to listen to. It didn’t go down well. People thought it was ‘weird’ music.

Maybe that’s the point? Back then, it was weird music, because my frame of reference was very slim. Nowadays, though, Talking Heads seem too normal to really get me going. Have I spoilt myself with years of increasingly obscure, increasingly bizarre music? Perhaps if I wasn’t now in a musical/mental place that sees me happily (nay, rabidly) buying a 3xCD box set featuring Rhys Chatham playing the same chord for three albums’ duration, I’d still retain a happy, open approach to my music appreciation?

Perhaps I have spoilt myself? To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think the solution is for me to continue listening to music, and accept the shifting tides of enjoyment that naturally occur. In a few years’ time, I may be waxing lyrical about the brilliance of this album, whilst wondering how the hell I used to listen to extreme noise music for enjoyment. Such is life. Such is music.

LOIS: The Trouble With Me (7″, K IPU 40, ?)

Lois - The Trouble With Me

No release date is given on this record, but I think it came out in the very early 1990s. Lois Maffeo was an intrinsic part of the more indie-pop end of the nascent American Riot Grrl scene of that time, and part of the excellently-named Courtney Love, who for ever after would need to be referred to as Courtney Love (the band), as they’re nothing to do with Courtney Love (the person). I wonder how many promoters and gig-goers got caught out by that band name? Hah!

Lois seemed to have a few famous friends, relatively speaking. On this record she gets help from:

  • Molly Neuman (Bratmobile, Frumpies)
  • Stephen Immerwahr (Codeine)
  • Donna Dresch (Team Dresch)

Cool. That kind of ‘guest star appearance’ speaks less of some kind of unit-shifting corporate strategy and more of an intensely creative, supportive and co-operative scene that existed in American indie music at the time (and perhaps still does?). There were a lot of bands, and a lot of people, and they all got mixed up into all sorts of different situations.

I’ve never really looked closely at the sleeve of this record until now. It seems to be some kind of shrine, perhaps? A shrine to Sammy Davis Jr, John Wayne, Tyrone Power and a whole load of other people? No idea what it means, and I can’t work it out. I presume it means something, as it’s quite an odd image and not one that would be either stumbled upon or randomly chosen.

This is the fortieth release in K Records’ International Pop Underground series, which continues to this day I believe. I love this series of records, and everything it stands for. They’ve been released by K since the mid-to-late eighties and are a pretty impressive ‘shopping list of talent’ that has been comprising and documenting the shifting sands of independent music for over twenty years (!) now. I demand that you stop reading this now and visit the K Records website, where you can see the amazing breadth of artists that have had records out as part of this series.