Category Archives: Indie-pop

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?

THE CAROLINE KNOW: Nail (7″, Bus Stop BUS012, 1990)

The Caroline Know - NailThis is one of a little batch of records that my Dad once bought for me. He was away on a trip in America – I forget where, New York perhaps? – and decided that I might like some records as a holiday gift. This was a most wise decision! Enterprisingly, he made his way to a record shop and asked the owner to recommend a few records based on some facts about what I was into at the time: I liked indie-pop, I liked seven inch singles, and I seemed to like those records with wraparound sleeves that came in plastic bags. The shop owner picked out around five new releases that fitted the bill and, well, it was a great gift to receive!

I know next to nothing about The Caroline Know. Based on some information gleaned from the sleeve and insert that comes with the record, let’s fire up the ol’ internet to see what we can find out:

  • The band is called The Caroline Know: Seems that they were based in Northampton, Massachusetts, although the contact addresses on the record suggest otherwise. They did live in New York; after that, Northampton. They have a MySpace page.
  • The band includes people called Stephen Rand, Les Labarge and J Loenstein: Very sadly, Stephen Rand passed away earlier this year. My condolences to his friends and family. The J stands for Jim: Jim Loenstein. Google tries to alter this name to Lowenstein.
  • According to the sleeve, the band could once be contacted by writing to 226 East 2nd Street, 4B, New York: Look, that’s here.
  • According to the insert, the band could also be contacted by writing to 102 Bedford Avenue, 2R, Brooklyn, New York: That’s here. Looks nice! I like Brooklyn. There’s a place called Turkey’s Nest Tavern on this street as well; I wonder what it’s like? According to Yelp, they do alcoholic drinks in a jumbo size, and offer an absinthe margarita!

I’ve quite a few records on the Bus Stop label, and they’re one of the labels that I’d like to gradually collect everything from. There’s a partial discography, and brief introduction to the history of the label, here.

RED CHAIR FADEAWAY/FUDGE: Never Remember/Girl Wish (7″ flexi, Waterbomb! SPLAT 002, ?)

Red Chair Fadeaway/Fudge flexiAh, the flexi. Truly the symbol of all things DIY, cheap and cheerful and not as disposable as one might think. Put a flexi in a wraparound sleeve, as in this example, and print that wraparound sleeve in a single colour, and you’ve got an archetypal indie-pop release. Waterbomb! was a fanzine, if memory served correctly, and they gave out flexis with each issue – and also, unless I imagined this, made more flexis available for other fanzines to give away as well. There’s no date on this record, but I’d position it at somewhere towards the early 1990s. That time must have seen endless charity shop raids for 1960s annuals and magazines, as no end of records like this, and fanzines of the time, featured copied images of happy, free, nouvelle vague-looking females doing their own thing. On this record, there’s one on the front, one on the back, one on the insert within and even one on the flexi itself!

There’s a lot of indie-pop heritage in this little flexi. Members of Red Chair Fadeaway also played in The Carousel, Dandelion Wine, Razorcuts, Talulah Gosh, The Cinematics, Heavenly, Marine Research, The Would-Be-Goods and Saturn V. Members of Fudge were in Engine No.9. Across the lot of ’em, they’ve probably released a hundred records at least, and yet the average fellow in the street wouldn’t have heard of any of these bands. Maybe that’s a good thing? There’s a whole secret world going on in music, all of the time. “My Secret World”, to quote the Golden Dawn…

A friend of mine recently informed me that you can still get flexis manufactured – this is great, I thought they were a thing of the past, a strange anachronism of ‘this used to all be fields’/’I remember the days before CDs’-type old-man chatter. Maybe I’ll get a flexi made… they’re pretty expensive, though!

TILLMANNS: Run EP (7″, Fraction Discs FRACTION 001, 2006)

Tillmanns - Run EPThis is one of those mysterious records that I’m sure any ardent record collector will have several examples of. I have literally no idea where it came from – I certainly don’t recall purchasing it – and I don’t know who Tillmanns are, or why a release on Fraction Discs was something I’d be interested in. The record does come housed in a wraparound sleeve, which is often (in the case of records I own, at least) a signifier of some kind of indie pop. According to this review I just found, that seems to be very much the case.

Because the internet is a wonderful thing, I can visit the URL on the back of the sleeve and, although it doesn’t tell me much beyond the fact that Tillmanns have other releases, I can then find my way to the Fraction Discs website, which makes it clear that the record label is very much a continuing thing, and that Fraction Discs is in fact a shop selling all kinds of indie pop releases. You could even buy this Tillmanns record from them, if you wanted to, for 45 SEK, which, according to Google, is equal to around £4.36.

I like the artwork on this record’s cover. It’s a good use of a single-colour print*, setting up a graphic style which has an pleasantly abstract feel to it but which seems to carry some meaning. To me, this looks like the side of a large boat – does that make sense? According to the sleeve, the artwork is by Jörgen Svensson – possibly this guy, who looks to be rather a well-established Swedish artist.

Well, a mostly single-colour print. The Fraction Discs logo on the reverse of the sleeve contains a tiny little red-coloured segment, which doesn’t look as if it was coloured in by hand, but is in fact part of the printing. I respect this: accepting the cost of printing an extra colour (which won’t have been insubstantial, in the scheme of things) to make sure that the logo is displayed correctly.

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.

AMERICA-UK: There’s A Place (7″, Easy! Tiger MUSE001, 1997)

America-UK - There's A Place

1997, the year of Tony Blair’s Labour Party victory in the general election… and the year of release of this single. Some kind of political statement is being made, perhaps, with the cover art (unless it’s just a sly interpretation of the artist’s name). Tony and Cherie, eating a tasty burger, Tony wearing a tie patterned with the American flag. On the back, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill sporting a Union Jack bowtie, Hillary with a half-drunk pint of bitter. What does it mean? Something, I’m sure. The cross-pollination of ideas between the UK and the USA, or something more cynical. Who knows?

I know who knows. The guy that did the cover art. That guy is, in fact, also the guy that released this record. I think his name was Jon, but at this point, honestly I can’t remember. Let’s just assume that Jon was (and indeed is) his name. I met Jon at a fanzine convention that was part of the 1997 Sound City event that took place in Oxford. I lived in Reading at the time, and met up with a fellow fanzine writer named Kim to visit the convention. Jon was a nice fellow, we had a good chat, and I was very impressed by his illustrations – as I recall, this record wasn’t out at the time, but he had available a selection of his fanzines that all sported examples of his fine illustrative (and typographic) style.

At the time, I was running my fanzine Circle Sky and asked Jon if he’d contribute some illustrations to a future edition. He agreed. Good stuff. Now, remember, this was pre-internet for the most part, and in hindsight I’m pleased and impressed that it led to a postal ‘conversation’ that ended up with my receiving two excellent original ink-on-paper illustrations of Primal Scream and Mogwai, to go with articles on those bands that I was running in the fanzine. I still have them somewhere. I should dig them out.

Useful information: Now, at the time of writing, it’s obviously not pre-internet, so I can link to this. It’s diskant’s ‘Mogwai Artzine’ from 1998, to which Jon – as I can now confirm his name to be – contributed a (different) Mogwai illustration. You can see it here. It’s good, isn’t it? I also contributed to the Artzine, as did several other people – some of whom I still know, some of whom I don’t. It’s nice that stuff like this got put together and published, I think.

THE GROOVE FARM: The Big Black Plastic Explosion! (12″, Subway SUBWAY 19T, 1988)

The Groove Farm - The Big Black Plastic Explosion‘Big Black’ in this record’s title refers to the glory of a twelve-inch piece of vinyl, of course, and not to Steve Albini’s thundering industrial rock band. The Groove Farm were thundering, too, but in an altogether more indie-pop fashion. Thunderingly cute and perky. A twelve-inch record being released by an indie-pop band was a rare occurrence, such was the habit of bands involved in that scene for staying true to the seven inch or album formats. Remember, CDs were very rare things at this time, so I presume the extra cost of twelve inch production was a deterrent, unless it was to be used for a full album. I rememember the furore created when Sarah Records broke with tradition and released the Field Mice’s ‘Missing The Moon’ as a twelve inch, after nothing previously but seven inch singles. Quaint times.

The Groove Farm, of course, begat Beatnik Filmstars, who I loved. This record includes the song ‘Baby Blue Marine’, which I first heard on a compilation tape made for me by the kind fellow that used to run a label called Pillarbox Red Records. One side of the tape was named ‘100% flexi-pop explosion’, as I recall, and was made up of – as you may expect – indie-pop tracks recorded from all kinds of flexidisc releases. The wavering, scratchy nature of the recordings only made the songs sound better. ‘Baby Blue Marine’, on that tape, was taken from The Groove Farm’s split flexi with The Sea Urchins – the latter, of course, having the honour of being the first release from Sarah Records. See how all things are connected?

This record includes a cover version of ‘Red Dress’, originally recorded by Alvin Stardust, with whom The Groove Farm seemed to have an ongoing obsession: a later album of theirs, also on Subway Records, was named Alvin is King. Alvin Stardust would, of course, later appear in the very early days of TV teen soap Hollyoaks, as one of the original owners of the Dog In The Pond pub. He is best remembered though for this kind of thing:

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

CONFETTI: Whatever Became Of Alice And Jane (7″, Sunday SUNDAY 012, 1992)

Confetti - Sea Anemon EPIt doesn’t get much more cutesy indie-pop than Confetti. If it does, Sunday Records probably released the records involved. As well as several Confetti singles, they also put out releases by the Fat Tulips, Strawberry Story and Po! in their early days. The American-based label, whose postal address situates them in the excellently-named Rolling Meadows, Illinois, were in the early nineties the USA’s go-to imprint for UK indie-pop, before developing further to put out work by all kinds of international popsters (with a slight emphasis on the American and Australian).

Bizarrely, one of Sunday’s early releases was a now somewhat sought-after flexidisc by Slowdive, collecting two perky, tweeish tracks, ‘Beach Song’ and ‘Take Me Down’, on a richly blue-coloured disc in an appallingly minimal sleeve. I guess that Slowdive were right on the very edge of the twee/indie-pop scene at the time, but I doubt Sunday would’ve expected them to go on to sign to Creation and become, in a small way, legendary.

This record’s sleeve highlights one of the odder habits of early-90s indie-pop, the use of extraordinarily faint colours when having a single-colour sleeve printed. I’ve got a lot of records whose cover imagery is barely visible because of this trait; the pop (music) psychologist in me might suggest that this reflects the timid nature of the music within, and the idea of a secret world available only to those ‘in the know’. Or… maybe it was just cheaper to print this way, who knows.

Upon retrieving this record from my shelves and examining the inserts within the sleeve, I see that it may actually be called the Sea Anemon EP, rather than ‘Whatever Became Of Alice And Jane’, which is the title of the lead track. A chink in my otherwise faultless recording of details in my ‘My Records’ spreadsheet? No! Surely not! I blame that printing – it’s almost impossible to make out the EP title on that front cover. Darned indie-popsters!

THE STATIC WAVES: Wear The Suit (7″, Sound Of New York, ?)

The Static Waves - Wear The Suit

The Static Waves were a fuzzy indie-pop-noise kinda band from the mid-nineties*, a member of which I was in touch with via the fanzine/mail scene of the time. As far as I remember, I’d had a couple of their demo tapes and then I was very pleased to hear they’d decided to release their own debut single, ‘Wear The Suit’. As is often the case with self-released records, the purist in me would suggest that the band made a few rookie errors by missing out on a few details:

  1. The wraparound sleeve opens left-to-right, rather than right-to-left. Now, it may just be me who finds this irksome, so I’m prepared to let this one go.
  2. Sound Of New York records was the band’s own label (and that’s to be admired), but they neglected to give this record a catalogue number. Shock! How can it be catalogued without a catalogue number?! The runout groove doesn’t help, it merely shows the pressing plant’s ID for the record – AH 24388, if you’re interested. However, if I remember rightly, the band may have been from York (in the UK), which would make Sound Of New York records a pleasingly witty label name.
  3. No release date is shown anywhere on the sleeve or the record itself. This is a popular oversight in my experience, but that doesn’t make it a good one, people. Look to the future! All I can now say is that this record was released ‘in the mid-nineties’ – not exactly watertight historical accuracy, is it?
  4. What, no inserts? I always find it a shame when a band’s released their own product and neglected to stuff it full of all kind of free bits and pieces of ephemera. Photocopies are cheap and everybody has a pair of scissors somewhere. Live the dream! Add some inserts!

These tongue-in-cheek points aside, excellent work The Static Waves; more bands should release their own records. I guess back when this came out there was pretty much no internet as we know it today, so releasing stuff had to take the form of physical products. Bands are releasing their own records ten-a-penny right now, they’re just coming out in the form of downloads and fancy technological jiggery-pokery.

Can’t beat a good real record, though.

*Oh, and it seems that the band were still going until 2006!

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?