Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The Sea Urchins

The Sea Urchins wore Chelsea boots and mop-tops and sung heartbreak harmonies with melancholy melodies that flipped your stomach over. In my head they lived in a perfect pop universe filled with tree-dappled sunlight and crystal colours. Actually, they were from Birmingham.

On vinyl, The Sea Urchins left a perfect legacy of sixties tinged pop. Listening to them now they sound trapped under glass in some faraway never-existed place where swinging ‘60s Carnaby Street mod pop smooshes with gentle psychedelia and refracts into fragile 80s indie janglepop.

My friend Loz got ‘Clingfilm’ on a flexi with ‘Kvatch’ fanzine. She brought it round and we sat listening gob-smacked by its utter rightness. The song delivered a direct hit to the solar plexus; gently rolling verses splitting open to bleed crackling guitar lines that bound themselves round you and stopped your breath. We couldn’t get over the forlorn voice pleading ‘Why weren’t you special…and was I?’

‘Summershine’ another fanzine-accompanying flexi-disc, was probably the track that alerted every bobhead from the planet Lucozade to The Sea Urchins existence. My copy came on a disc with The Orchids’ ‘I’ve Got A Habit’ courtesy of ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ fanzine. Guitars jangling and tumbling around each other, racing heartbeats and drumbeats, “Running fast all the way back home / Everything’s going right, yeah!” the sound of being seventeen under a summer sky full of possibilities. And always that fragile hairline fracture in James’ voice adding an edge of falling apartness to it all.


Everyone knows about ‘Pristine Christine’, Sarah Record no. 1, irresistibly chiming and jangling in all the right places. Backed by the quaveringly lovely ‘Sullen Eyes’ and ‘Everglades’. I stuck the little poster that came with the record (as was the Sarah way) on my bedroom wall, studying the little photos on it carefully. The band looked so cool, hanging about in the woods in their drainpipe trousers and suede jackets. Bridget with her sharply bobbed hair and striped blazer, brimming with mod-girl syle. The Sea Urchins came to play in Norwich not long after the record’s release –a somewhat shambolic occasion (see review below), but we were Simply Thrilled.

My favourite Sea Urchins song was/is ‘Solace’ (Sarah Record no. 8) which swan-dives from on high, plummeting gorgeously through a dizzying tune, crashing along on a humming organ undertow. The lyrics were evocative, anxious-sounding, they stuck in my existential teenage mind;
‘Trees shake they’re scared again’
‘Above the clouds just laughing down at it raining’
When the guitar solo kicks in, it squalls like a motorcycle revving before looping and tumbling through open skies, utter gorgeousness.

We wrote to The Sea Urchins asking for suggestions for a title for our fanzine. They came up with the perfect ‘Things We Said Today’ (one of my fave Beatles tracks). They also suggested ‘Wild Grass Pictures’ which eventually ended up as the title of the b-side of their last Sarah record (no.33!) ‘A Morning Odyssey’. It was a solitary, acoustically strummed piece with James’ voice vulnerably to the fore, tiny falters and wavers in the soaring delivery making it all the better.


The Sea Urchins moved to Cheree Records for the release of the choppy mod-ish ‘Please Don’t Cry’. I bought the seven inch, then had to get the twelve inch to for its sleeve artwork, which screams CSNY, Topanga ’67. In soft-focus sepia, like you’re squinting back through time at this out of place band. The B-side bears out this country rock stylishness with the indie-jangle meets Flying Burrito Brothers of ‘No Matter What’, and the close harmonies and psychedelic slide guitar of the swooning lament, ‘Time Is All I’ve Seen’.

Then that was it really. In January 1991 we saw the band play a not very busy gig (although Rob 14 Iced Bears was there - plus ca change!) at The Marquee which I have recorded as being 'Okay really. They played 'Pristine Christine' and 'Please Rain Fall'. There are only four of them now, and no Darren - sniff!'. As an encore, James and Robert squabbled over who was going to play the Rickenbacker and James made Robert sing 'Desdemona' quite untunefully.


A couple of years later I found the album ‘Stardust’ in Rough Trade, but I didn’t feel it was worth buying, I didn’t have the cash to randomly splurge on past loves, and anyway I had most of the tracks already. To me The Sea Urchins were a handful of singles and a home-made compilation tape. And they were one of my favourite bands ever.

The Sea Urchins / Friends Of The Family / The Popfish - Wednesday 13th January 1988, Norwich Arts Centre
Melody Maker came this morning and LO! The Mighty Lemon Drops are doing a tour in Feb and even LO!er they’re playing at the UEA on 7th!!!! Hooray!!! I leapt ‘bout the room for joy. M and K turned up and we went to the Arts Centre for another Goldfish Club extravaganza! Hung about in the bar next to The Sea Urchins’ table (I leaned on Jamie Urchin’s chair!! G-A-S-P!) and talked to Mike who is giving up his job and moving to Edinburgh for a ‘lark’. He went to see Primal Scream and New Order at Wembley and afterwards he was wandering about Kentish Town and ‘bumped into’ Kevin from My Bloody Valentine Yo Kev! So he asked if he could sleep on his floor, and he stayed in Kev’s squat and went to see Loop with him! (N.B. thinking about this now, Mike’s tale has a ring of nonsense to it, does it not?) He hasn’t booked owt for the Feb Goldfish Club but he might get Bubblegum Splash! And March he might have The Groove Farm but they cost £150! The Sea Urchins cost £80.


Noel played in Steve’s group The Pop Fish as the first support and they were really good ‘n’ psychedelic although the final song was a bit too Cure-yfied I’m afraid. Then Mike put his tape on (none of that ‘D.J.ing’ malarkey in them days) including such ‘gems’ as The Clouds, Loop, Mighty Lemon Drops, The Motorcycle Boy and The Groove Farm. Then Friends Of The Family were on and they were pretty good with a funny girlie singer. The last song was groovy, the girl singing all soft and sweet and just single notes on the organ, then a pause and then the drummer (who had a Big Black t-shirt on – aces!) would bash a cow bell and it would go all thrashy and the girl would sort of talk on and on over the row. They tried to pull off the old walking off leaving the song in mid-air trick like Loop and Primal Scream did but it didn’t come off so well!

The Sea Urchins then took aaages to get going and sorted out and then in the second song the bass was all out of tune ‘cos at the beginning James had been twiddling it as Darren played trying to get it in tune. James then cracked up and stood there giggling while the rest played on. Then they did it again properly. They did all three tracks off the single (Pristine Christine), but not ‘Summershine’ or ‘Clingfilm’, so those were the only three I knew. At the end they did one psychedelicky one and Darren kept trying to sing with James, so when James had finished he let Darren sing. Darren kept going on and on, so Patrick drums and Robert guitar kept on with him and he wouldn’t get off, even though Bridget and James were chucking things at him and had left the stage altogether. He finished in the end, but not without having a quick bash on the organ, too.



1 comment:

black said...

would you happen to have the lyrics for 'pristine christine'? thank you.