A Mix-Tape Maker’s Best Friend

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:

machestercover2

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.

Milltown Brothers – Janice Is Gone

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.”

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.

More soon.

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A Mix-Tape Maker‚Äôs Best Friend #4

I’ve not written one of these for a while, and a couple if things prompted me to dig out today’s compilation CD.

Firstly, on this week’s edition of The Chain, Alex G suggested a track by All About Eve, which reminded me that I had bought a compilation album entitled CD88¬†back in 1988 that had a track by them on it.

Secondly, I found that the ever wonderful Cherry Red Records have released a triple CD of Indie tracks from 1988, entitled C88, which, looking at the track-listing has just entered my list of must-get albums at number one.

CD88 was one of a long series of Indie Top 20 albums released by Beechwood Music Ltd which started back in 1987 and ran into the mid-1990s. There’s a pretty wonderful and comprehensive blog which focuses on these albums here.

The albums were released two or three times a year, with the occasional Best of the Year editions thrown in every now and then for good measure. CD88 was one such volume, sort of. For it’s important not to be misled by the title: it’s not a Best of the Indie tracks which were released in 1988, it’s a Best of Indie tracks which was released in 1988. Confused? Let me put it another way: it covers¬†the first five volumes of the Indie Top 20 compilations, which were released in¬†1987¬†and 1988.

Here’s what it says on the booklet that accompanies the CD (which, I have found when writing this, also got a vinyl release):

“CD88 is a testament to the vital role played by the independent chart. Many of these hit singles have never been and might never be available on CD elsewhere.

CD88 is a collection of outstanding singles that have since become indie classics, and for many, subsequently served as the springboard from their Independent roots to major label and Gallup chart status.

Each track is chosen from the successful Indie Top 20 compilations, plus four classic tracks previously not included in the series. Indie Top 20 is released every three months to highlight the best of the new singles which have made a high impact on the National Independent Chart.”

It’s funny when you find yourself getting all wistful and nostalgic at the mere mention of the Gallup charts, isn’t it?

Anyway, I was going to just post the songs that I love from this compilation Рa Best of the Best, if you will Рbut, on reflection, have them all, along with their original artwork. Perversely, for an album celebrating the Indie Top 20, there are only nineteen songs on it:

cd88

  1. All About Eve – Our Summer

I’m not a massive fan of All About Eve (the band, not the film, or The Wedding Present track), but this is okay enough, and definitely fits the “before they were famous” mould that defines many of the acts/songs here, for this record reached the giddy heights of #87 in the UK charts in 1987.

2. Cardiacs – Is This The Life

If you’ve ever wondered where Chain Gang regular The Robster got the inspiration for the title of his excellent blog, then look no further.

As well as making me think of Rob, this record always reminds me of my first¬†year at college, when me and my buddies would traipse along to the Student’s Union every other Tuesday to attend “Funk Off”, the Indie Night, and it was here that I first heard this tune.

This was before I started DJing there myself – I wrote about how I started DJ’ing at college, and how the chap who taught me to DJ had introduced me to quite a few records¬†(here) and¬†this is one of them¬†– and one of the resident DJs, Jolly Jim, had played it;¬†generally someone in our gang would be able to tell you what a record was if you didn’t know, but this one drew blank looks from everyone. I couldn’t not know, so I nervously shuffled up to the DJ booth which would soon¬†become practically my second home.

“‘Scuse me mate,” I called to Jim. “What’s this record?”

Jim looked at me with some mixture¬†of surprise and joy; surprise because admitting you didn’t know a record was definitely not considered a cool thing to do at Funk Off, and joy because he was able to impart some wisdom.

So the Cardiacs¬†track was probably the one most responsible for me buying this album in the first place. If you’ve never heard this one¬†before, I urge you to give it a listen (Part 1 of 2).

3. Fields of the Nephilim – Preacher Man

Goths, but Goths By Numbers. Wannabe Eldritches. That’s all I got.

4. Danielle Dax – Cat-House

This, on the other hand,¬†is another absolute belter of a forgotten track. Although, having said that,¬†a few years ago, Hel and I DJ’d a couple of times at the now defunct Mucky Pup bar in Islington. I happened to be there on a night when we weren’t playing, and was staggered when the DJ played this, partly because I was annoyed that I hadn’t played it the week before, but mostly because I genuinely¬†didn’t think anyone else remembered it, much less did I expect to meet anyone else who did. As it played, I spoke to the DJ, commending him on his choice. He looked at me with an air of bafflement. “You know this record??” he asked. Oh yes. If you’ve never heard this one before, I urge you to give it a listen (Part¬†2 of 2).

5. Crazyhead – Baby Turpentine

This lot cropped up on my Replenishing the Vinyl series a couple of weeks ago, and The Robster left a comment about how this was his favourite track by them. Mine too, mate, mine too.

6. The Wedding Present – Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm

In the late 1980s, no Indie compilation worth it’s salt was without a track by The Wedding Present, a band who I still love to this day, as I have mentioned many, many times on these pages. This is one of their greatest (early) singles. Take it away, Grapper!

7. The Soup Dragons – Hang Ten!

Ditto: The Soup Dragons, whilst they were still in their playful pop mode, as they were here. Many happy memories of pogoing around the Students Union dancefloor to this one.

8. The Rose of Avalanche – Velveteen

Not really my cup of tea, this one, though it’s one of my brother’s favourites, so at least he’ll get chance to hear it again.

9. Half Man Half Biscuit – Dickie Davies Eyes

Any excuse to blow the dust of this one.

10. Michelle Shocked – Fog Town

Thankfully, the version lifted from The Texas Campfire Tapes, rather than the (nowhere near as good) rock version which crops up as a bonus track on Short Sharp Shocked.

11. The Chesterfields – Ask Johnny Dee

My old mate Rich got in touch after I last posted a track by this lot to tell me that this tune reminded him of when we were kids listening to records in my bedroom. I’m not sure there’s a finer definition of late 80s jangly indie pop than that.

12. Wire – Kidney Bingos

I’d never heard of Wire before I picked this CD up, but this is great. Not as great as similar period Eardrum Buzz and nowhere near as good as their earlier stuff, but a bad Wire record is still a pretty good Wire record in my book.

13. Bradford – Skin Storm

This lot were, not least because of the¬†blessing they received from¬†one Steven Patrick Morrissey, once tipped to be the next big thing, but it never happened for them. Mostly because every other record of there’s seemed to sound almost exactly like this, but not as good.

14. Sweet Honey In The Rock – Chile Your Waters Run Red Through Soweto

Perhaps the surprise inclusion on this compilation. Nowadays, this would doubtless attract sneery comments about diversity targets being met, but that would detract from the fact that this is a brave and beautiful political record, latterly covered by Billy Bragg.

15. A Certain Ratio – Mickey Way (The Candy Bar)

Manchester legends, who I’ve never really got into for some reason. My loss, I’d imagine. And having just listened to that for the first time in god knows how many years, it is pretty ace.

16. Ciccone Youth – Into The Groovy

A side project of the Sonic Youth gang, plus Firehose and Minutemen member Mike Watt and J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr, taken from a tongue in cheek tribute to Madonna which I’m not going to name as I have a sneaky feeling that if I did, it might crop up again on these pages quite soon….

17. The Beloved – Forever Dancing

From before they became successful, one listen to this will tell you why commercial success eluded them for another year or so.

18. The Shamen – Jesus Loves Amerika

The sound of another band, soon to be quite large indeed, still honing their musical sound. The deliberate mis-spelling of America is, I suspect, making a point still relevant today.

19. Pop Will Eat Itself – There Is No Love Between Us Anymore

Taken from Box Frenzy, their first album where they stepped away from their grebo sound and started using samplers.

One last thing before I go: this compilation holds a special place in my heart, for it was the first record of many that I ever bought in the oldest record shop in the world, Cardiff’s “Spillers Records”, a store which became a regular haunt for me over the following twenty years. It’s moved premises since I last lived in Cardiff, but this is how I remember it:

spillers-2

Now that’s a proper record shop. And now I’m getting all wistful and nostalgic again.

You can read about it here, or, better still, go here and spend a few quid to keep them going.

More soon.