And so onwards, or rather, backwards, to 1988, or maybe 1989, and to a compilation I picked up on cassette in Cardiff’s legendary Spillers Records.
I wasn’t really in the habit of buying cassettes, so I must have really wanted this, and can only assume that a vinyl or CD copy wasn’t available in the shop on the day I visited.
Also, looking at the track listing, I can’t see anyone on there that I was especially bothered with at the time. Maybe I bought this at around the time that I was just getting into either James or Inspiral Carpets, I dunno.
I suspect that the cover art had more to do with my compulsion to purchase there and then, for in 1988, I was obsessed with all things Smiths-related, and stone the crows if that isn’t either Morrissey or someone trying very hard to look like him right there on the cover:
Often with impulse buys such as these, I would listen to them a couple of times, and invariably decide that there was only one or two songs on them that I was particularly bothered about. However, I think because this was on cassette and therefore not so easy to skip to the next track if I disliked the one that was playing, in the way that it was with the vinyl or CD formats popular at the time, then I listened to it a lot and consequently came to love well over half of the 14 songs on here.
Let’s have a listen to the ones I liked and still like, shall we?
First up, a quirky band with a wacky name which I imagine they hoped, when announced, would elicit a positive response:
The Man From Delmonte – Australia Fair
According to Wikipedia, they were once managed by then-journalist and Frank Sidebottom band member, now-author and screenwriter Jon Ronson. According to Google, there’s a band in Glasgow currently playing cover versions at weddings that is also called The Man From Delmonte. Looking at the photos and their set-lists on their website, I’m fairly confident they are not the same band.
Inspiral Carpets – Joe (Original Version)
This is the version with original singer Stephen Holt on vocals. It’s nowhere near as good as when the band re-recorded it with new singer Tom Hingley a few months later. Still worth a listen, though.
I know nothing about this next lot, other than their name seems to be a place in Netherlands, and that they released an EP called Time Flies, also in 1988. This isn’t on it; it reminds me a little bit of The Bodines’ Therese:
Pepplekade 14 – Uptown
Next up, another band that the internet seems to know nothing about. I’m assuming that the purveyors of this rather heart-felt number are named after the 1970 Dylan album. Or maybe not.
New Morning – Working For A Payroll
On now to a band who I own a few records by, and who I love (one of their singles – not this one – is one of my favourite records ever, and will feature here soon), and who I think had they held it together, could have been a pretty great Indie band of the time. Sadly, by the time they released their debut album in 1989, they seemed to have lost their way a little, and they split in 1990. Guitarist Rob Collins went on to join The Charlatans.
The Waltones – Smile
Next, another track by an artist that I can find very little about on t’internet, although I think I may have located her Twitter. If it is her, she seems to be a clinical psychologist now. The pop world’s loss is the world of science and medicine’s gain. I say loss, because this is rather great:
Penny Priest – Sometimes
And so to a band who a few years later would release a single also called Sometimes. You know who this lot are without any further explanation. As the compilation came out in 1988, this when they were still quite folksy. I had probably heard their marvellous Strip-mine album around the same time; I definitely owned a copy of The Smiths’ version of What’s The World. Either would have been sufficient to prompt me to buy this.
James – Sky is Falling
I’m not sure I knew about Bradford when I bought this. Maybe I did, as Morrissey was waxing lyrical about their gorgeous single Skin Storm around this time, and my record collection from this period of my life is littered with records I bought simply because he had mentioned them in an interview somewhere. (Raymonde, anyone….?)
Bradford – Lust Roulette
Another band who fall into the “could have been massive” category now; their big mistake was signing to a major label. As soon as they did – and, heavens above, had a hit single, how very, very dare they! – their credibility and appeal seemed to vanish. Shame.
The Railway Children – Sunflower Room
I’ve listened to the next song God knows how many times over the years, and always thought the voice reminded me of someone, but have never been able to quite put my finger on it. And then, when writing this and performing the most basic of internet searches, I found out that it’s actually John Bramwell, in pre- I Am Kloot days. I think I’ll spend the rest of my days face-palming myself about that, because now, as I listen to it again, it’s bloody obvious it’s him.
Johnny Dangerously – Subway Life
And finally, to a band that I have a little story about. At the end of the 1988/89 academic year, I joined the Ents Team at university – aww, who am I kidding, it was a Polytechnic when I was there, changing to a University literally days after I graduated – and began DJ’ing. Often on a Friday night, we would showcase an up-and-coming band, and there would be a DJ in between the acts and then again after they’d all finished. I’d been dropping this next song regularly on the Indie Night I did, and so when the band were booked for one of the Friday night shows, it made sense for me to do the DJ’ing honours. (Plus, I got paid the same as if I did a whole night. Which was nice.)
We had a general rule of thumb that whilst we would play records by bands booked to appear in the future, we wouldn’t play their records on the night, just in case their live performance drew unfavourable comparisons.
So after they’d finished, I made my way to the Ents Office, which doubled up on gig nights as the band’s dressing room. Occasionally, audience members would queue up outside the dressing room door (which was right next to the stage) after the gig and ask if they could come backstage and meet them. Even more occasionally, they agreed.
The only person waiting was my mate Keith, and, since I had an AAA pass (there really wasn’t that many areas that I needed access to, to be honest), I told him to come in. The band were there, towelling themselves down, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, generally winding down.
“Great gig, lads!” I exclaimed.
They looked up, semi-gratefully, nodding, grunting a “Cheers mate” response.
“Shame you didn’t play Janice is Gone,” Keith enthused.
They all stopped what they were doing, turned to stare at him, mouths agape.
“You know Janice is Gone??” one said in an apparent state of shock.
“Yeh,” Keith continued, “Jez’s is always playing it.”
They all looked at me.
“Hello!” I said cheerfully, giving them a wave. “I’m Jez and I play Janice is Gone a lot. Usually goes down pretty well, too.”
I’ve never seen a group of guys look so incredulously excited.
“We’re playing the Students Union in Cardiff tomorrow. Want to come? We’ll stick you on the guest list?”
Keith and I joined them in excited incredulity. Put on the guest list by the band! This was the most amazing thing that had ever happened to these two 19 year old music nerds.
And so the next night, we rocked up to the front of the queue for The Hanging Gardens in Cardiff University’s Students Union, a much bigger venue then the one at our Polytechnic, but where they did much the same thing on a Saturday night as we did on a Friday.
“Hi, we’re on the guest list,” I said to the guy on the door, who got his clipboard out, found our names, and ushered us in. Already this was going brilliantly.
The band came on, and true to their word, played the song, and dedicated it to Keith and I, “their oldest fans”.
Here it is. It really is a cracking little record. The titular Janice is none other than Janice Long, and the song is about when (if I remember correctly) she was forced to leave her Radio 1 show because she was pregnant and unmarried. Generally, mostly, when I’ve played this to people since, they’ve wondered why the band didn’t carry on making songs this good.
The Milltown Brothers – Janice Is Gone
Pretty great, isn’t it? Told you so.
After the gig, Keith and I went backstage again, congratulated the band and thanked them for playing Janice… It had gone down well, so they were pretty chuffed too, and said they’d think about keeping it in the set for a while. They gave us some beer from the rider (which was way more impressive than the one we’d provided them with the night before). After a while we all ventured out into the venue again, where an Indie Disco was in full swing.
I say this like we were part of their gang by now. We felt like we were, but looking back at it now, I can clearly see that we were just following them round, very occasionally exchanging words.
And then it all kicked off. The keyboard player got himself into a conversation, and then a disagreement, and then an argument, and then a fight, with one of the bouncers. The next thing we knew, he, along with the rest of the band, were being escorted from the premises. One of the bouncers looked at Keith and I. “Are you with them?”
“Who? Us??” we replied, butter-wouldn’t-melt expressions magically appearing. “No mate, we’re just students. That’s the band you’ve just thrown out. We were just standing near them.”
He shrugged and walked off.
Many bands on the way up say they can’t get arrested. The Milltown Brothers managed to get themselves chucked out of their own gig.