Various Artists - Big Gold Dreams: A Story Of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989 - - Soundblab

Various Artists - Big Gold Dreams: A Story Of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

by Jeff Penczak Rating:8 Release Date:2019-02-22
Various Artists - Big Gold Dreams: A Story Of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989
Various Artists - Big Gold Dreams: A Story Of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

This massive 5CD box set of often rather obscure indie acts from Scotland follows on the heels of Cherry Red’s city-centric multi-volume overviews of Manchester (North Of England) and Liverpool (Revolutionary Spirit). You may not remember many of these 115 tracks, but they run the gamut from punk to pop, twee to dance and all manner of subgenres in between. An occasional “I didn’t know they were from Scotland” may also escape your lips as your memory is joggled by the likes of Simple Minds, Altered Images, Skids, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Cocteau Twins, Aztec Camera, The Soup Dragons, The Associates, Strawberry Switchblade, Josef K, BMX Bandits, Edwyn Collins, and dozens more. Extensive, trainspotter liners and historical essays in the accompanying 70-page booklet help fill in the blanks.

simple mindsAs Cherry Red have done with previous collections, the obvious choices are often eschewed for debut singles, tasty B-sides and other rarities. Also featured are many pre-fame tracks from musicians who went on to bigger and more lucrative careers. The set kicks off with those car-tune-y cutups, the Rezillos and the speed demon-ic ‘I Can’t Stand My Baby’. Imagine the Plasmatics crossed with B-52’s and retroglide back a few years. Johnny & The Self Abusers pop up in New Wave histories as the birth of Simple Minds, but if you want to hear Kerr & Co. in their punk phase, their lone B-side, ‘Dead Vandals’ is on offer in all its Heartbreakers’-styled snarly glory. Simple Minds’ own early effort ‘Chelsea Girl’ also makes an appearance, a rather jaunty piano-plonker with Kerr’s typically emotive vocal angst. Midge Ure’s early punk scrapings with the rather appealing and energetic pogo-tastic P.V.C.2’s ‘Put You In The Picture’ also serves as an early introduction to his later sonic utterings in Slik and Rich Kids before Ultravox made him a wealthy man.

Likewise, Waterboys fans will nigh recognize Mike Scott’s early fumblings via Another Pretty Face, whose ‘All The Boys Love Carrie’ barely hints at their anthemic future. Don’t fret, though, your ‘boys are faithfully represented later on by their Patti Smith tribute, ‘A Girl Called Johnny’. The Jolt’s take on Paul Weller’s ‘See Saw’ is pretty damn close to the master’s own ‘Eton Rifles’ flip, while offering hints of The Jags’ ‘Back Of My Hand’. The other half of The Rezillos that didn’t become the Revillos formed Shake and offered the same razzle-dazzle party punk along the lines of California’s Dickies. ‘Culture Shock’ verges on yobbo singalong and is a few light years away from Jo Callis’ future employment writing insanely infectious, puffy-shirted New Romantic floor-fillers with Human League.

Skids’ finest moment, ‘Into The Valley’ has deservedly appeared on many a New Wave comp, but their (much) lesser known debut EP reveals their punkier roots with primal screamthe minimalist adrenaline jolt ‘Reasons’, while one of Scotland’s biggest secrets, cult faves Fingerprintz step up (literally, via singer Step Lang!) with the highly infectious ‘Dancing With Myself’ (no, not that one!) from the pen of one of Scotland (and New Wave)’s finest tunesmiths, Jimme O’Neill, who would write equally fine tunes for Lene Lovich, Rachel Sweet and the Manfreds, as well as his band for the last 35 years, The Silencers, who are one of the bands criminally omitted from the box set considering some of the tripe that replaced them.

One of the treats with boxes like this is the wealth of new discoveries that set you off and running to backfill your collection with their back catalogue. One such band are the Zips, whose power pop splash ‘Take Me Down’ deserved a wider audience. The same holds true for T.P.I., purveyors of pure pop perfection with ‘She’s Too Clever For Me’ on their (presumably) own label, Clever Records (catalogue # TPI 1ST1!). Maybe the production by the Bay City Rollers’ original vocalist Nobby Clark had something to do with that? Brilliant name for a (k)nob twiddler, that, and no, the Rollers are not included here! Regardless, it just may be the best thing on the box you’ve never heard before. I’m also unfamiliar with Fun 4, whose fist-pumping ‘Singing In The Showers’ will wake you up faster than ice water. However, I am very acquainted with their drummer Steven Daly, who later pounded skins in the also conspicuous-in-their-absence Orange Juice before becoming a rock snob journalist (Rolling Stone, Spin, Vanity Fair) and penning the hilarious party favourite and rock journalist’s bible, The Rock Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge.

I remember buying The Headboys lone album 40 years ago on the strength of the brilliant Genesis-does-New-Wave ‘The Shape Of Things To Come’, one of New headboysWave’s finest lost nuggets, so I’m glad the compilers have revived it here. “Nae dolbies, nae aphex, nae bother”, indeed. If you’ve read Martin Aston’s brilliant 4AD biography Facing The Other Way you’ll recall reading about The Freeze, the early project by Gordon Sharp and David Clancy before they morphed into label favourites Cindytalk. Well, ‘Paranoia’ is your chance to hear where Cindytalk began, although you’ll certainly not recognize their atmospheric moody tunes within this vicious slice of punky panic. That comes up later as the box set ends with their hauntological nightmare-inducing ‘Beginning Of Wisdom’ so you can compare and contrast!

Flowers’ ‘Confessions’ is a fine recreation of Delta 5’s angular dance-pop and frontwoman Hilary Morrison is a key ingredient in the Scottish music scene, having co-founded the legendary Fast Product imprint. Another new find are the excellent TV21, represented by the energetic power-pop punch ‘Playing With Fire’. While not the Stones’ song, there is a Stones’ connection – they broke up after a gig in Edinburgh supporting…yup, the Rolling Stones! Alex Fergusson should be a household name to anyone reading this (via his Alternative TV, Orange Juice, Go-Betweens, Psychic TV connections), but his Depeche Mode-in-the-making dancefloor-filler ‘Stay With Me Tonight’ out-Vincent’s Clarke. I wish he credited the lovely young lass providing the vocals, though.

Eschewing their later brilliant singles we know and love so well, Disk 2 opens with Altered Images’ debut, ‘Dead Pop Stars’. As ominous and eerie as the title sounds, it’s throbbing bass to the fore and Clare Grogan’s Betty Boop-ish Siouxsie impersonation might be down to Banshee bassist Steven Severin in the producer’s chair. It’s altered imagescertainly doesn’t foretell their giddy dance hits and one wonders what would have happened if they continued in this vein! The teenaged Prats offer the doomy, gloomy Joy Divisionish dirge ‘Die Todten Reyten Schnell’ (Dracula fans will understand), but things pick up, way up when The Delmontes (not to be confused with The Man From Delmonte!) pop over for the dark dance groover ‘Tous Les Soirs’, one of only two singles they cut at the turn of the decade. Their debut wears its Castaways influence on its shiny sleeves, but suggests the band should have had better success. The other half of Johnny’s Self Abusers who didn’t find fame and fortune as Simple Minds pulled on a pair of Cuban Heels and tried to become a Scottish Talking Heads. Obviously they failed, but ‘Walking On Water’ is a game attempt!

The Associates seem to have garnered a cult following, but I sit and scratch my head over how anyone could buy Billy Mackenzie’s operatic loop-de-loops in search of the ghost of Klaus Nomi. ‘Tell Me Easter’s On Friday’ is a great title, though. Wading through much of the rest of Disk 2 in a happy mood may depend on your penchant for herky-jerky, angular syncopation in your diet, with difficult dance moves awaiting you throughout the likes of Fire Engines (who supply the box set’s title), Article 58, Restricted Code, and Thomas Leer all leading you straight to your chiropractor’s office. The principals in The Wake ended up making beautiful music together as The Occasional Keepers after they hooked up with the brilliant Bobby Wratten. The Gang of Four-style floor shaker ‘On Our Honeymoon’ is shorter than a wedding night rendezvous and all the better for it. Boots For Dancing offer funk punk a la Medium Medium or Liquid Liquid on their ‘Ooh Bop Sh’Bam’ boot stomper, as do APB, who were more successful following a move to the New York City dance clubs with booty shakers like ‘I’d Like To Shoot You Down’ and the insanely infectious enclosed follow-up, ‘Palace Filled With Love’, while Everest The Hard Way’s ‘Tightrope’ effectively channels Joy Division and Television.

French Impressionists are certainly different, I’ll give that to them. ‘Pick Up The Rhythm’ is somewhere between cocktail jazz and show tunes, sort of like a beboppin’ Nouveau Vague! The setup is similar as well, with female guest vocalists charming us (Louise Ness in this case) while founder Malcolm Fisher and mates plonk the 88s, finger pop and toe tap away in the background. Love ‘em or toss ‘em, no one was making music like the Frimps. Hey! Elastica, ‘Eat Your Heart Out’! No, really. Before piggybacking on Wire, Stranglers, et. al.’s back catalogue throughout the ’90s, Justine Frischmann & Co. may have also picked up their name from this Scottish dance trio, whose Bananarama fluffiness coupled with their utterly charming bouncy floor magnets across several singles and an LP for major Virgin deserved a wider audience.

On to Disc 3 and the essential Cocteau Twins, arguably Scotland’s finest band. The choices are endless, so grabbing the typically cryptically-titled ‘Feathers Oar-cocteausBlades’ (which actually makes a wee bit of sense if spelled differently!) from their debut EP is as good a choice as any! Just sit back and let Liz’s Coct-ese wash over you while the lads create nails-on-blackboard metallic shards of industrial sync-pop behind her. The loverly Bell sisters last appeared on Cherry Red’s box set of UK female acts, Sharon Signs To Cherry Red, but here we’re treated to an unreleased demo of another headscratcher, a swinging soiree boppin’ poppin’ arrangement of jazz standard ‘Out of Nowhere’ that’s more B-52’s than Bing Crosby! Damn shame they really recorded anything other than that aforementioned cassette. And who can ever forget the first gushing blushing goosepimples that accompanied your first hearing of the Bluebells ‘Cath’, one of the 80’s’ finest jingle-jangle singalong love anthems.

If you love female vocalists and/or femme-fronted bands as much as I do, then you’ll gush over the Strawberry Switchblade rarity ‘Trees and Flowers’. As colourful and flashy as their outfits and aching like a long-lost Lesley Gore 60s’ b-side, the gals brought fun back to the airwaves with a lone brilliant album, although their future held exciting things, particularly for Rose McDowall who spent many years in Psychic TV, Coil, Death In June, Nurse With Wound, and Current 93 and whose solo album Cut With The Cake Knife (possibly consisting of songs originally intended for a second Switchblade album) was recently reissued to great acclaim by Soundblab. [We’ve forgiven the liners’ author for inexplicably spelling her name wrong!] The Suede Crocodiles are new to me, but if you’re into Squeeze, this is the band for you – as they hit the Difford/Tilbrook hook heaven nail on the head with the swinging ‘Stop The Rain’.

strawberry switchbladeWhile most of the track selections here address the dance, pop, funk, punk, jazz and soul end of the musical spectrum, I’m glad the compilers saw fit to explore Scotland’s psychedelic underbelly and few struck that pose better than The Pastels (via the hypnotically trippy ‘Baby Honey’) and The Revolving Paint Dream, whose ‘Flowers In The Sky’ was the second release on Creation Records and featured label owner Alan McGee’s former Laughing Apple partner Andrew Innes on his way to superstardom in Primal Scream. The pitstop was worth it, for we wouldn’t want the Rain Parade-like brilliance to have escaped unnoticed or buried under the Primals’ Stones fascinations. Not to be outdone by his mate, McGee formed Biff Bang Pow! (like his label, named after the cult ‘60s freakbeat psych band). Six albums, numerous singles and compilation appearances ensued (how’d he have time to run one of the great indie labels of all time!?), of which ‘There Must Be A Better Life’, an early single is representative of their highly imaginative oeuvre.

Aztec Camera were responsible for some of Scotland (and the New Wave’s) finest anthemic barnstormers (the Top 20 smashes ‘Good Morning Britain’ with The Clash’s Mick Jones and ‘Oblivious’), but the compilers have opted for the smooth dance jumper ‘All I Need Is Everything’, sort of like Paul Weller’s Style Council but with better tunes. The Wee Cherubs perfectly-titled dreamily nostalgic ‘Dreaming’ is perfect for hiding in your room composing bedsitter images of sunny afternoons in the park or spending lazy afternoons in a hammock in the backyard. Sublime!

Alongside the aforementioned Cocteaus, Jesus and Mary Chain may be Scotland’s most influential musical treasure, with the Reid brothers’ inflammatory blend of Beach Boys and Velvets still exciting fanatics 30 years on (Damage and Joy was one of 2017’s finest albums). Early razorblade slice of industrial skronk ‘Upside Down’ only represents one side of their musical Jekyll/Hyde schizophrenia (unfortunately, not my favourite), but gives you an idea of why they were one of the most important bands of the ’80s from any country. Paul Quinn has a lot going for him in his attempt to sound like a lounge singer crossing Tom Waits, Bryan Ferry, and Nick Cave, and while he doesn’t have the songs to back up such a bold vision, ‘Ain’t That Always The Way’ (with assistance from Orange Juice vocalist Edwyn Collins) will certainly soundtrack a love nest encounter on a cold winter night with a bottle of red and a sparkling fire nearby.

On to Disc 4 and the mid-80s, wherein Scotland and the rest of the UK offered a combination of superstars and forgettable also-rans and hope-to-bes. The former launch the disc via Primal Scream’s debut single ‘All Fall Down’. Spearheaded by Bobbie Gillespie upon his departure from his Jesus and Mary Chain drumkit, it would be a few years and a musical rethink into ersatz Stones (produced by Jimmy Miller, no less) before a string of Top 10 albums turned them into permanent chart residents. Surprising then that it all began with this rather uneventful piece of fluffy twee more suited to Sarah. But that’s half the fun of this box – discovering the humble opening jesus and mary chainsalvos from bands and musicians that went on to scale far more dizzying heights! The Motorcycle Boy (who we will meet later) started their career as JAMC copy band Meat Whiplash (not surprising, considering the Reids produced their lone release), so you can amaze and amuse your mates trying to convince them ‘Don’t Slip Up’ is a long lost JAMC B-side!

Beloved jangle poppers del Amitri check in with the melancholic ‘Hammering Heart’, Momus’ ‘Hotel Marquis De Sade’ sounds like Bowie performing Pinter, and perennial garage thrashers Primevals capture that grimy Bowery brew-ha-ha that birthed the US punk scene at CBGB’s with ‘Living In Hell’. Rockabilly punters will work up a bar room sweat bopping to The Styng Rites’ marvelously-titled debut ‘Baby’s Got A Brand New Brain’ (they later resurfaced as The Kaisers), baggy-trousered dancefloor magnets The Soup Dragons hit paydirt with their Top 5 cover of the Stones’ ‘I’m Free’, but before fame and fortune they were pretty much a Buzzcocks copy band, as evidenced on their debut ‘Whole Wide World’ (not a Wreckless Eric cover!), and the still-plugging-away-after-30+-years BMX Bandits snake-charm their way into your hearts with the frail twee pop of the unreleased at the time studio version of ‘Strawberry Sunday’ which could cause a saccharine overdose!    

I bought my first Close Lobsters cassette back in ’87 (Foxheads Stalk This Land) and was duly impressed by their perky power pop; in fact ‘A Prophecy’ soundtracked much of 1987. But it wasn’t until Fire compiled all their releases on the Firestation Towers box set that I realized what a great band they were. Unfortunately, the title track was not included, as it only appeared on one of NME’s C-86 covermount cassettes. That oversight is rectified here and it was worth the wait. Garbage completists (the band, not rubbish music!) will want to check out Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie’s rousing, Big Country-ish ‘The Rattler’ to hear Shirley Manson’s backing vocals and keyboard flourishes.

 Fiona Carlin’s engaging vocals highlight The Wild Indians’ infectious ‘Penniless’ and the (mostly) female pop sensation Shop Assistants check in with the gorgeous shop assistantschiming ballad ‘Somewhere In China’, featuring one of music’s most precious gifts in Alex Taylor’s whispered, breathy vocals that could melt polar ice caps from, well, somewhere in China! Lowlife’s gloomy melancholia haunts its way into your soul on the decidedly Joy Division-ish ‘Hollow Gut’, an eerie premonition of crooner Craig Lorentson’s premature death from liver and kidney failure at only 44. The Fizzbombs were another (mostly) all-girl band who I first discovered on Cherry Red’s essential C88 box set. Their fizzy soda fountain 60s girl group sheen is apparent on their debut single, the caustic ‘Sign On The Line…’.

Don’t know how much time The Beat Poets hung ten in Thurso, but that hasn’t stopped them from breaking out the suntan lotion on the surftastic, bum-wiggling instro ‘Killer Bee Honey’. The dulcet tones of Top 5 superstar and ex-Orange Juice quaffer Edwyn Collins percolate across the giddy anthem ‘Don’t Shilly Shally’, while The Motorcycle Boy emerged after aforementioned Shop Assistant Alex Taylor (she of the dreamy vocals to die for) “joined” Meat Whiplash. The Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio-meets-Brando’s Wild One name change released several singles, but their full length, Scarlet never got past the cassette promo stage, which is one of the 80s motorcycle boymusic scene’s great tragedies. The flip to perhaps my fave 80s raver ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’, ‘Room At The Top’ picks up where Shop Assistants left off – at the top of my permanent replay pile. Alex, where are you now? Please come back and grace us with new music soon.

The final disc deep dives into dance and rave culture, opening with one of the best in The Shamen, represented by ‘Happy Days’ off debut long player Drop, although the syncopated moody ballad is more akin to Depeche Mode than their chart-topping future proclaiming “E’s Are Good” and proselytising love, sex, and intelligence. After the Bluebells closed shop, McCluskey Brothers Ken and David headed for kinder, gentler pastures with intimate bedsitter folk tales like ‘She Said To The Driver’ which feels like a weepy cinematic treatment is in order. Jesse Garon and The Desperadoes is another pseudonym (e.g., no Jesse in sight, although musicologists will get the reference) disguising a revolving door of nearly a dozen different musicians, including members of Fizzbombs, Shop Assistants, and Rote Kapelle. ‘The Adam Faith Experience’ might actually have been a better name, for although the jingly jangly pop experience doesn’t really have anything to do with Adam Faith either, it is a fun listen nonetheless!

The Vaselines might have forever squandered in obscurity had it not been for Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana covering several of their songs for a single and the MTV Unplugged concert. To my ears ‘Teenage Superstars’ is rudimentary Lou Reed-meets-Shonen Knife-styled garage punk, but your mileage may vary if you’re into noisy shambles. Order is restored with a return to the Sarah Records stable for The Orchids and their tender as a feather ‘Tiny Words’. Fans of Felt need this and the recent Who Needs Tomorrow… The 30-year retrospective that Soundblab waxed poetically about in 2017. You’ll also dig the orchidstwee folky pop of The Groovy Little Numbers’ ‘A Place Is So Hard To Find’ featuring Catherine Steven and Joe MacAlinden (the latter from embryonic Teenage Fanclubbers, Boy Hairdressers); the flute break is simply sublime and should have you scurrying for their back catalogue, conveniently collected on the 1998 53rd and 3rd Singles compilation on Avalanche.

The Vultures were a mostly female punk flock in the vein of Raincoats and Slits; ‘Good Thing’ effectively captures their ramshackle sound. Felt’s intricate guitar interplay and melancholic vibe is also at the heart of The Submarines’ ‘Take Me Away’, previously only available on their label (Egg)’s 2004 compilation of unreleased material recorded across the label’s stable 1986-89, while one of the box set’s longest tracks comes from Submarines’ labelmates the Church Grims. At 6½ minutes, ‘Think Like A Girl’ allows for quite a bit of thinking during it’s nervous, Tom Verlaine-like vocals, chiming Joy Division-ish guitars (the bass is also up front throughout), and the martial drum beat encourages highsteppin’ around the bedroom or wherever you listen to your music! Andrea Reid (presumably no relation to the JAMC or Proclaimer Reids) leads us and her Wilderness Children on a rousing, campfire singalong ‘If You Love Him, Let Him Go’, sashaying across the room like a wagon train exodus across the Old West.

Of course there are numerous one-off stabs at stardom that reflect the DIY ethos more than any inherent talent and some questionably glaring omissions (Orange Juice, Big Country, The Blue Nile, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, The Proclaimers, Bronski Beat (two-thirds of whom are from Glasgow), Danny Wilson, Deacon Blue, Wet Wet Wet, The Silencers, … I’m sure you’ll think of others) are inexcusable for a box purporting to catalogue the Scottish Indie scene. But across nearly 6½ hours the set ultimately succeeds in documenting the enormous talent that often absconded next door to the English stages to make names for themselves on their way to becoming the occasional world dominating superstars several of the artists were to become. For the rest, we can still go back and dig out these artists’ old singles and albums and relive those glorious results of our misspent youth and shout a few choruses of ‘Scots Wha Hae’ and down a few pints of Jacobite!

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