Category Archives: Post-punk

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

KAREN NOVOTNY X / SAMANTHA GLASS: Join Hands / Near 86th (7″, Deep Distance DD16, 2013)

Karen Novotny X / Samantha Glass - Join Hands / Near 86th

There’s rather an air of mystery surrounding many aspects of this split 7″ single, pressed on white vinyl. Karen Novotny X is not an individual but a band; they take the A side and spin at 33 rpm. According to the notes on this record’s insert, their track was recorded in East London between winter 1979 and spring 1980 – whether this is actually true is another matter. This and their other releases are all quite recent, and the internet yields nothing that helps to position Karen Novotny X as anything other than a recent band. Unless a couple of different record labels have conspired to release archive recordings at around the same time; and unless nobody had heard of and written about this band before very recently; and unless somebody has taken it upon themselves to run a Facebook page for them which to all intents and purposes looks to be full of the things a currently-active band might share to promote themselves, well, I posit that they’re a band of The Now. Regardless, ‘Join Hands’ is nice, a kind of John-Carpenter-at-a-slow-disco tune that suggests a love of analogue synthesisers and spooky minimal electronica of the late 1970s.

Such aural pleasures are somewhat shared with ‘Near 86th’ by Samantha Glass, which occupies the 45 rpm B side of this record. Now, Samantha Glass isn’t exactly a person as such; it’s a pseudonym, alter ego or alternative name of somebody named Beau Deveraux, who has released cassettes and things through Deep Distance as well as other labels like Not Not Fun. The preferred jam of Glass/Deveraux is a smooth kind of hypnagogic-pop-it’s-okay-to-like – 1980s-tinged but more in terms of world-of-wonder electronic repetition than bombastic, hyper-compressed vocal tunes.

Deep Distance releases tend to come in stock label sleeves*, and this one is no different, although this is augmented by a hand-numbered insert, one side of which makes for a very mysterious mono cover image. As with many of the label’s releases, the artwork was put together by Dom Martin who runs both Deep Distance and sister label The Great Pop Supplement. The collage art used on the insert is by Ingrid Christie – this one, I think – a fine art graduate from the University of Central Lancashire who also completed two years of a science degree, including a 100% grade in mathematics. Apparently. Science + Art = Spooky Record Sleeves, it would seem.

Links: Karen Novotny X / Samantha Glass / Deep Distance

THE LEGEND: 73 in 83 (7″, Creation CRE 001, 1983)

The Legend - 73 in 83

This record is notable for a number of reasons including:

  • It’s the first 7″ release on Creation Records, who of course went on to dominate and reshape the independent music scenes (feel free to argue that point among yourselves) and release records by Primal Scream, Jesus & Mary Chain, Oasis, Jasmine Minks, The Loft, etc…
  • The Legend (often written with an exclamation mark – The Legend! – but nothing so jaunty on this record’s sleeve or labels) is Everett True aka Jerry Thackray, a fine journalist who’s been around for a long time, and who is himself notable in his own right for a number of reasons including:
    • Championing Nirvana and the Seattle/grunge scene right from the start
    • Launching the magazines Careless Talk Costs Lives and Plan B in the 2000s; both excellent magazines, both missed.
  •  Six – six – ‘players’ are credited on the rear sleeve, which is a surprising number if you’ve ever heard the songs. They’re certainly of their time, very sparse, worthy, student-politics-y and, well, pretty poor. Not really a repeat-player, this record, unless I’m feeling like punishing myself.
  • It comes with a free flexi! This is the good stuff, really – a two-song 33 rpm flexi featuring charmingly naive and poppy songs by Laughing Apple (featuring Alan McGee, who of course ran Creation Records and Andrew Innes, who went on to feature in Revolving Paint Dream and Primal Scream) and The Pastels.

The design of the sleeve – a vaguely agitprop-looking and not altogether unpleasant layout – is credited to Communication Blur which was also the name of a fanzine run by Alan McGee in the early 1980s and, presumably, an alter ego for McGee as graphic designer. He’s also credited as one of the ‘players’ as well as getting a production credit here. Busy fellow. Starting as he means to go on, really, as throughout the lifespan of Creation Records he was pretty heavily involved with most aspects of everything.

Update 07/01/14: Thanks to Jerry/Everett for filling me in on a bit of extra detail to do with this record! Apparently the drums and guitar on the record were both played by McGee – the songs came out of a band that Thackray/True and McGee had together for a short time – and the sleeve design was in fact by Ken Popple, the drummer on early Biff Bang Pow! releases. There are lots more True-isms to be had at his excellent blog, The Electrical Storm.

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.

SUICIDE: Suicide (LP, Red Star BRON 508, 1977)

Suicide - SuicideThis is one of those albums that’s widely held up as massively inspirational, a classic, but simultaneously one that would very likely be unheard of by all but the most informed ‘man in the street’. Suicide were associated with the New York-based No Wave microscene of the late 1970s, but seemed somehow detached from it, defiantly (and definitely) getting on with things on their own terms. I wasn’t in New York in the late ’70s – I was in a sleepy, refined suburb of Liverpool – but everything I’ve read seems to suggest that Suicide’s live performances were something of a trigger to much of No Wave’s aggressive, confrontational stance. I’ve also read, however, that Suicide took things further than their peers/followers may have wished to, with more in the way of actual violence and up-in-your-face shock tactics being employed.

Regardless of history and context, I think Suicide hold up as a 100% cool band for several reasons:

  • The name. Single-word band names are often a good thing, but once somebody’s taken the word, it’s gone forever, and may have been wasted. Suicide (the band) seem the perfect match for suicide (the word) – nihilistic, direct, unequivocal.
  • The artwork. This record’s front cover is superb. No messing about, just elegantly shattered typography and gory streaks of blood. It could have been a neo-goth faux-artistic statement of a sleeve, but the white background sets it off as such a stark image that it seems as if it’s always existed, and somehow created itself as a direct result of the music within.
  • The band members. As the sleeve says: ALAN – Vocals. MARTIN REV – Instrument. Again, stark and direct. Reclaiming the name ‘Alan’ as something cool and otherworldly. ‘Instrument’: that’s all you need to know. Alan’s band surname was Vega; neither Alan or Martin’s band surnames were their own. According to Wikipedia, their original names were Boruch Alan Bermowitz and Martin Reverby. Those in themselves are pretty cool names.
  • The music. If you haven’t heard it, well, you should listen. I don’t think anything has ever sounded like the music on this album, beforehand or afterwards. What do you know, it’s on Spotify.

For all their coolness, Suicide almost destroyed their own myth for me when I saw them perform a few years ago. The terror and risk I was expecting was pushed aside and replaced with slightly camp onstage prancing, oversized shades on a man who wasn’t as young as he used to be, and – although this wasn’t their fault – being made to perform on a huge stage that completely usurped the whites-of-the-eyes closeness that I think is really necessary to experience this music being played live.

I say they almost destroyed the myth, but they didn’t succeed. This album is strong enough to pretty much deal with any such assaults on its integrity.

MAGAZINE: Touch And Go (7″, Virgin VS 207, 1978)

Magazine - Touch And Go

I picked this up a couple of years ago from a second-hand record shop. I was drawn to it less because of it being Magazine and more because of the title ‘Touch And Go’ being, I presume, the inspiration for the amazing Touch And Go record label who’ve released stuff by a barrel-load of outstanding bands. Magazine I’ve yet to be convinced by – they’re one of those bands that I’m constantly told are brilliant, and I’d love to love them, but they never seem to click. I don’t dislike them by any means; they just kind of pass me by in a musical sense. I’ll soldier on. Maybe it’s like with food, where if you eat something you don’t like eight times you’ll begin to enjoy it. Magazine are my brussel sprouts.

Fantastic cover design on this record. It has a touch of the Saul Bass style with its off-kilter modernism, and reminds me of Blue Note’s cover designs in the typography and dynamism.

It’s funny that the now ultra-gigantic Virgin monster used to be just a modest little independent record label. Well, maybe not modest – perhaps just simple. When Richard Branson was putting together his first release (Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells), was he scheming away and imagining running train companies, airlines, space travel companies? Here’s a brilliant (if true) Wikipedia paragraph about the early days of Virgin – Powell is Nik Powell, another of Virgin’s starters:

Branson & Powell had initially run a small record shop called Virgin Records and Tapes on Notting Hill Gate, London, specialising particularly in “krautrock” imports, and offering bean bags and free vegetarian food for the benefit of customers listening to the music on offer.

I’d love a record shop like that to exist today!

Oh, and if you’re wondering, ‘Goldfinger’ on the B-side of this record is a cover of the Bond movie theme.

SWELL MAPS: A Trip To Marineville (LP, Rough Trade/Rather ROUGH 2, 1979)

Swell Maps - A Trip To Marineville

This album is an insight into a strange set of minds. I bought it in around ’92 or so after hearing Swell Maps’ name dropped in the context of a variety of indie-pop and fanzine mentions of – very vaguely and very possibly wrongly – music that prefigured the Pastels and was ‘shambolic’ before the whole post-C86 world of shambolicism became a going concern. Just looking at the sleeve and artwork raises some immediate questions:

  • What/where is Marineville?
  • What’s the significance of the burning home on the front cover?
  • What are these songs all about – ‘Vertical Slum’, ‘Midget Submarines’, ‘Harmony In Your Bathroom’, etc… are they literal or some kind of bizarre set of metaphors?

I can’t answer any of these, but I like the fact that before even playing, this album has successfully generated a strange world of intrigue that seems both ramshackle (in the cut-and-paste styling of the inner sleeve collage, or the wide variety of recording sessions noted under each song’s liner notes) and oddly ‘complete’ (in the confidence to include a free 7″ containing four more songs, when the album itself already contains around seventeen). The band members have their performance names – Epic Soundtracks, Golden Cockrill, Phones B. Sportsman and so on – and the whole package suggests as much time sitting around devising plans and schemes as was spent creating the music. And that, of course, is how it should be – non-careerist music created by weirdo artists with a hidden, defined set of personal guidelines for doing so.

I wasn’t old enough to be interested at the time, but I wonder if other records were released in the late-1970s rush of invention that followed punk and led to so-called post-punk which share such a sense of invention, adventure and playfulness as this one? In a very small but somewhat significant way, I believe that this record and others like it paved the way for the entirety of the ‘indie’ scene that grew up in the ’80s and which is now, essentially, the mainstream. Naturally, this album’s on Rough Trade, who had a finger in pretty much every musical pie of note from the late ’70s through the mid ’80s. Respect.