Sunday 30 March 2008

Tape Art: Daydreamin' In the Summershine

In 1988 Daydreamin' In The Summershine (nice title, cheers), was a mixtape of swoony indie jangle-pop – designed for listening to whilst lying in the grass on a summers day, obviously. Note the ancient art of wax-resist being put to good use for the Crayola-ed Flowers cover design.

The tracklisting went like this:
Sunflower – The Springfields
Moths – 14 Iced Bears
Everglades – The Sea Urchins
The Old Stone Bridge – Emily
Are We Gonna Be Alright – The Springfields
Dreamabout – The Poppyheads
Dust Remains – 14 Iced Bears
Black Star Carnival – Primal Scream

Strawberry Wine – My Bloody Valentine
The Clown – The Springfields
I’m In Love With A Girl Who Doesn’t Know I Exist – Another Sunny Day
Secret Goldfish – Baby Lemonade
Some Candy Talking - The Jesus And Mary Chain
Ocean Blue - The Primitives
Pictures You Weave - The Poppyheads
Cut - 14 Iced Bears
Turning Stone - The Soup Dragons

Listening to late eighties jangle pop led me down the spangled garden path to late sixties West Coast USA. First the jangle became more psychedelic and then the psychedelia got tinged with country. By 1992, I’d decided my Daydreamin' soundtrack needed to be updated, or maybe that should be backdated, as I taped over the jangle pop, eradicating it in favour of sunny Laurel Canyon vibes. Only Primal Scream (albeit E-ed up and unrecognisable from their previous selves) and the eternal Sea Urchins survived the regime change. Note the light dusting of proto-grunge Yank guitar stuff in there too – a sign of the times:

Gunga Din – The Byrds
Higher Than The Sun - Primal Scream
Half The Time – The Lemonheads
A Morning Odyssey – The Sea Urchins
100 Years from Now – The Byrds
Desiree – The Left Banke

Sweet Thing – The Stairs
Mineral – Buffalo Tom
Sail On Sailor – The Beach Boys
Return Of The Grievous Angel

She Comes In Colors – Love
I Am A Child – Buffalo Springfield

Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young
Hot Burrito 1# - The Flying Burrito Brothers
Jonathan Jonathan – The Rockingbirds
Happy – The Rolling Stones
Bubblegum Factory – Redd Kross

Tape Art: The Left Banke

I first heard The Left Banke when Sean Soup Dragon was playing his fave tracks on the Janice Long show ca. 1987. He included ‘I’ve Got Something On My Mind’ and noted that he loved The Left Banke’s harpsichord sound and if anyone had a spare harpsichord they wanted rid of he’d gladly take it. I was smitten and played the track (taped off the radio, obv.) often. I didn’t get to hear more Left Banke until a few year’s later on a non-descript drizzly Wednesday night, hanging out in a squat in St John’s Wood, no money, nothing much going on. My friend stuck on this tape copied from the Bam Caruso-released Left Banke LP ‘And Suddenly It’s…’ and the whole world sparkled and spiralled with baroque-psych beauty. I had to have a copy immediately, and this tape got a hammering. A year or so later I found my own copy of the Bam Caruso LP. I win!

Tape Art: Love

When I first went away to university, I played this Love tape first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I have never ever got sick of ‘Forever Changes’, and the day I do, will be the day something’s gone very wrong indeed. This tape (which also featured ‘Da Capo’ minus the very long and rambling blues-thing ‘Revelation’ which I edited out of the mix) buoyed me up for a ‘hectic’ day at art school and soothed me to sleep at night as I lay in my room trying not to think about the fact that the landlady’s cats had wee-ed all over my copy of Loop’s ‘Arc Light’. The furry gits.

Tape Art: Their Satanic Majesties Request

Clearly, drawing in the facial features of Mick ‘n’ Keef et al would have rendered this splendid facsimile of The Rolling Stones ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ laughable, so as a comment on the dead-eyed seam of pseudo-psych oblivion the band were mining on this record I’ve cleverly left their mugs blank. Nice.

Hurray For Tapes!

Before I owned actual real life records, I had a motley collection of C-60s and C-90s to keep me entertained as I did kidstuff in my bedroom. These contained top 40 tunes taped off Radio One on a Sunday Night. I just taped the whole lot, it didn’t matter if I knew or even liked the songs I just had to own the music. I remember one cassette in particular that had Godley and Crème’s ‘Under Your Thumb’ on it with added sarcastic ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ added ‘live’ by me as the song recorded. As Godley (or possibly Crème) intoned "I noticed something very strange indeed", I leant towards the mic and sniggered "Coo!!". I like to think it added a personal touch to the song.

Next, I owned real life records but no record player, so I had to record them onto tapes using my parents’ hi-fi. Tapes were really tedious, you spent aeons Rewinding and back and forth trying to find your favourite song amongst the miles of magnetic tape. The miles of magnetic tape that would decide for no good reason to unspool whilst playing and create a terrifying birds nest inside your tape player that you didn’t discover until the songs started going all woozy. Then you had to unpick the whole lot from around the innards of the player and carefully wind it back inside the cassette using a pencil. Argh!

But tapes were kind of cute, too - nice little packages you could keep in your pocket. Or if you were hard you could secretly keep fags in the cassette cases. Plus, you could stick bits of Sellotape over the hole things on the top of commercially recorded cassettes and aha ha! tape over them with better stuff. In this way my copy of Kajagoogoo’s ‘White Feathers’ album (cripes!) became an ace Sea Urchins compilation. Best of all, you could design your own covers for them, the spines of which looked fab lined up on the shelf, all colourful-like with carefully Letrasetted titles.

I’ve been having a clear-out and some of my tapes really have to be binned. I never listen to them anymore, despite my tape deck being the largest, most expensive piece of equipment in my ‘sound system’. So I thought I’d record a few of them for posterity here. Cassette tapes I salute you.

Saturday 29 March 2008

Glasgow Anorak Filth

From Sounds, 11 August 1990:

‘Long renowned as the "mad fucker" mate of archetypal Glasgow band man Stephen Pastel, Norman [Blake] once played in the original BMX Bandits with Sean Dickson and the brilliantly eccentric Duglas (who occasionally supports TFC by miming to backing tapes). Blake went onto The Boy Hairdressers with current Teen axeman Raymond McGinley, a fresh faced 26-year-old from North West Glasgow — a cultural gap bridged by some tasteful six string. The Boy Hairdressers were, however, a dead duck. "We got labeled with the post-anorak tag," notes Raymond. "The so-called dirty movement, when everybody got into the ‘sex thing’...Like it was amateur sex and I’m not into that." "The whole thing was a reaction against people calling it anorak music," adds Norman. "Which was a joke anyway, it was only people in places like Bristol that took it seriously."

The much maligned ‘Anorak’ era, which eventually became the stereotype of indie music, all started because of Stephen Pastel’s tongue-in-cheek 'rak. The piss-taking cynics on the Glasgow scene quickly picked up the garment and the joke soon got out of hand. The subsequent "dirty" movement, hosted by The Vaselines' tongue-in-cheek pop sleaze, was a reaction against the 7-inch versus 12-inch crap that most of the airheaded fanzines of the time were involved in.’ - John Robb

Sunday 16 March 2008

The School / Pocketbooks / The Sunny Street / The Give It Ups -12 March 2008, Buffalo Bar

Here we are down the Buffalo Bar again shimmying in an idle indie breeze, but in a shock move we’re not at a Fortuna Pop! night. We’ve broken our F Pop! only rule and ventured into Goonite territory for a little light midweek pop fun (although Sean FP! is in attendance, so the world hasn’t spun that far off its axis).

First up are the shockingly schmindie The Give It Ups – some might say the band are asking for it with that name, but some would be being needlessly cruel and not paying attention to the cheery pop manoeuvres occurring in front of them. It would be a cold-hearted soul indeed who couldn’t find some joy in the foolishly wistful ‘Be My Cat’. The very silly ‘I Wanna Be Metal’ and the fairly silly ‘Dinosaur Song’. It’s all very BMX Bandits ramshackle. This is my favourite kind of ramshackle – as captured on the BMXer's splendid ‘E102’ E.P. (sample: “Stop, stop stop something’s went wrong!’) During the final song the glockenspiel falls off its stand and the wee glockenspiel man has to scrabble around on the floor for it. He gets it set up again, only for it to tumble back down. All this is hilarious and brilliantly, pathetically indie. I choose to view the incident as an ironic pastiche of the fumbling, apologetic world of twee indie-pop - a brilliant piece of performance art.

We precariously surf the ridiculous/sublime interface between The Give It Ups and next band up The Sunny Street - a cool electro pop sorbet between tonight’s sugar sweet indie pop courses. With elegant Gallic nonchalance they describe themselves as a ‘London-based French popduo founded on a boring day… The songs are mostly about love.’

The band consists of Remi from Electrophonvintage on wistfully strummed guitar playing to a backing track emanating from a tiny i-Pod lying at his feet - we keep worrying he's going to stand on it. He's accompanied by downy, sugar-spun vocals from Delphine who's looking elegant in a navy dress and heels, like she’s just nipped out from taking high tea at the Waldorf. Their music sounds like the best of Labrador records, taking in both The Radio Dept’s daydream ennui (on 'Greasy Crisps' - an unlikely title for this achily delicate wisp of a song) and The Acid House King’s Springtime sweetness ('Comedians'). In fact The Sunny Street’s album can be found on fellow Swedish label beginning with ‘La…’, Lavender. The Sunny Street are today’s most delightful discovery. Even their cover of the cheesy old Haddaway dance track ‘What Is Love?’ sounds waifishly touching.

Twinkly ivory-tickling heralds the arrival of Pocketbooks newly released single ‘Waking Up’ and grey skies turn blue. The last time I saw Pocketbooks was in September 2006 (I’ve been busy, okay?) and cripes, they’ve come a long way baby. They’re knocking out perfectly-formed indie pop songs left, right and centre, dizzying us with their dash.

Belle and Sebastian are the obvious reference point here – sprightly, heart-burst pop backed with fearsome song-writing skillz. Fab. Like B&S, there are skinny white Northern Soul bits just discernable in Pocketbooks’ sound; certain drumbeats and rhythms, piano sounds and handclaps make me hear ghost versions of the songs scooting off across the dance-floor garnering a brass section and boys doing talc-fuelled spins as they go.

Emma’s ice-cream vocals tumble around Andy’s counter-point voice and we revel in the wordy, wry kitchen sink lyrics about lost Oyster Cards (oh little blue card you truely are a cultural reference point for our times), night buses and library cards, although professionally I absolutely cannot condone the line ‘I’ll let you use my library card’. ‘Cross The Line’ sees some classic boy/girl vocal action with Emma and Andy cutely trading waspish remarks. The sweetly exasperated-sounding ‘Don’t Stop’ comes complete with lyrical Grange Hill metaphysics ‘I’m lost inside a flippin’ vortex’.
Slathered over the top of Andy and Emma’s keyboard lines is Ian’s fantastically spangly guitar which makes you think "Sea Urchins! Yeah!" and jangles so ferociously that it threatens to detach itself from the rest of the band and overwhelm the whole of Highbury in a Jim Beattie-esque sonic tidal wave. Its all mighty exhilarating pop kids.

Finally it's The School and their syllabus of swinging sunburst pop. They’ve got a brand new drummer, and leader Liz is feeling sleepy, but it doesn’t really show as they rattle through a set that sounds like it’s constructed from pop classics from a parallel universe. ‘Shoulder’ will have you convinced it’s a cover such is the perfection of its shoo be doo girl group northern soul swirl. Liz’s panda-eyed girl next door voice has the tiniest little crack in it giving it an endearing warmth and vulnerability. There’s chirpy new single ‘Valentine’ (an untimely release on pink vinyl) and the galloping swoon of ‘Let It Slip’ and ‘Can You Feel It’. My favourite is still the anomalous ‘Sunshine’ a great big pop spectacle that sounds like a lysergically demented school orchestra and the exception to The School’s rule of girl-group cute-pop.

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 ‘’ 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.

Sunday 2 March 2008

Keyboard Choir / Champion Kickboxer / Hong Kong In The 60s / The Leaf Library – 22 February 2008, Buffalo Bar

This month’s Fortuna Pop! Beat Hotel happening is imbued with the spirit of Our Lady of the Oscillator, Delia Derbyshire. There she is on the flier looking all ‘60s girl-boffinish in her hair-band, leaning over a bank of reel to reel tapes. Utter coolness.

The Leaf Library are the first to display their Radiophonic Workshop-inspired pop for our delectation, making a welcome return after a loonng time of not being here. They emit sounds that spin perfectly between electro-drone kosmiche and downy, gazing-out-of-windows indie-pop. There are rogue moments of jangling amidst the electric hum. I catch hints of Tigermilk era Bellend Sebastian in their second song - sweet YTS electronica. The third song (sorry no titles here) is dizzy drone loveliness, autumnal and luminescent. The fourth song ebbs and flows elegantly, tucking sparkly guitar in amongst a restrained, pattering Mo Tucker minimalism. The fifth song, an old one, is chiming machine-tooled motorik indie-pop and sounds like ripples on a lake with Stereolab vocals, (sorry the ‘S’ band had to be mentioned here at some point).

The stage is shadowy, highlighted by red light, adding an air of the bohemian. Through the crowd I catch glimpses of the drummer, a girl with a cascade of perfectly straight blonde hair, her face in profile against the red back wall. To her right, Jona does his Thurston Moore thrashy thing on a Rickenbacker bass. Up front Kate plays keyboards and sings. Sometimes there are girl vocals, sometimes boy vocals from guitarist Matt (Matt scoffed at the idea that he could be perceived as a ‘boy’ when I mentioned it before, but I mean the vocals are boyish). For the final song they switch and share the singing as the music rises from drifting and delicate to droning and shuddering, careening along on a reverbed up ending. Marvellous.

In a shock move, Hong Kong in the 60s, list ‘old Chinese and Japanese pop’ amongst their influences. It is a musical genre about which I am damn ignorant, so I am keen to be enlightened. To begin, the band is Tim and Mei Yau on keyboard and guitar, playing faltering, other-worldly pop. A few songs in, they are joined by Christopher who strides onstage to crack out a splendid, throaty rendition of Beat Happening’s ‘Redhead Walking’, whilst the others throw a louche garage swagger into the song. This, though, is an aural anomaly, mostly HK in the 60s make fragile music, laced with spectral tape crackle and softly fizzing radio interference. Mei Yau sings delicately against a glowing keyboard sound. The songs are lulling in their delicate hesitancy, like Broadcast at their most soothing or Saint Etienne relaxing under cherry blossoms. Hong Kong in The 60s end with another cover, this time taken from the fabled oriental pop genre, ‘Tian Mi Mi’ by Teresa Teng. It is melancholically beautiful, with a delicious heart-tugging undertow topped by oddball electronic squiggling produced by Mei Yau on a er, little wibbly keyboard thing (technical term). Hurrah! I feel a bit enlightened now.

We last saw Champion Kickboxer in February 2005 when their mossy, spooky single ‘Like Him and Her and Her and Me’ had recently been released. They don’t play it tonight (old news), but it’s okay ‘cos Champion Kickboxer have new spookily mossy songs to be heard. Their set starts off in early Super Furries sort of territory (the Ankst singles years), rambling over similar psychedelic meadows and marshes to those inhabited by Radio Luxembourg. But where Radio Lux do Barrety sunshine, Champion Kickboxer submerge into an eerie netherworld of sprained popsongs. Their songs are esoteric, ponderously odd, a touch queasy. There are tripsy tunes and drip dripping mournful melodies. The band employ toppling, twining vocals to great effect, voices bouncing off one another, echoes in a basement - see the stately ‘Master Of Dancing’ and the sorrowful swirl of ‘Photos’. The songs appear to become progressively more unhinged, there’s one about a monster plant, and something about ice-cubes in the garden. By the end we’re lost in a rapturous lysergic whirl. Which is just as it should be.

Our first tangling with the mighty electronic wonderscapes of Keyboard Choir was at Truck 2006. Disappointingly, the Choir are no longer clad in fabulously shit home-made robot costumes – bah! Where’s the fun in that? It’s almost as if they want us to listen to the music and not be distracted by folk clad in bog-rolls and tinfoil shuffling around the gaff. So Keyboard Choir stick to rumbling out clutches of apocalyptic synth assaults, soaring across sickly orange skies and nose-diving dizzyingly. They are lead by a conductor who stands centre-stage, back to the audience (you know, like…a conductor) gesticulating at several keyboard players (the ‘Keyboard Choir’, see?). We are ensconced in a far corner, but through the magic of that-mirror-that-is-inexplicably-on-the-wall to one side of the Buffalo Bar stage, it seems like the conductor man is facing us. Mirrors ,eh? We take all this in for a while, but midnight is approaching and the 277 is about to turn into a pumpkin or be driven by mice or something, so we sneak out, sound-tracked by shattering universes.