Various Artists - C87 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Various Artists - C87

by Jeff Penczak Rating:8 Release Date:2016-06-10

Thirty years on from the groundbreaking and influential (or complete rubbish, depending on which music journalist you follow) NME compilation, C86, co-compiler Neil Taylor fulfills a lifelong (well, three-decade) dream by compiling (along with John Reed) a sequel of sorts. Waxing poetically in his liners as to whether the promise of the previous year’s tape was fulfilled and built upon by subsequent acts, Taylor and Reed have assembled three discs worth of evidence that “1987 was the calm before the storm, the fascinating and transitional period when no-one really knew where indie was headed”. Their conclusion: “1988 went on to become the year when indie began crossing over into the mainstream” (e.g., baggy, shoegaze, Britpop). As such, these 74 tracks could be heard as “indie”’s last gasp. Like its more famous sibling (and Cherry Red’s own 3-disc expansion in 2014), most of these acts never lasted into the next decade or after a single or three and, if lucky, an album. In fact, many of them were already releasing singles several years earlier (and 18 of these tracks were actually released in ’86!)

     So we can take the jaded view that this is merely an excuse to dig up some long-forgotten cherished memories to illustrate that the C86 ethic was still hanging on. Or, preferably, we can enjoy the early efforts of some damn fine influential and loved artists in their formative fumblings. Certainly any opportunity to re-experience little-heard gems from the likes of The Sea Urchins, House of Love, Heart Throbs, The Primitives, Wonder Stuff, Shamen, Darling Buds, and Inspiral Carpets can’t be poo-poo’d at first blush (and that’s just the first disc!) Admittedly, most of these artists’ better days and releases lie ahead, but for the musical archaeologist reveling in how they got there, this is (potentially) another gold mine. So let’s take a closer look at what’s in store.

     The biggest (some would argue best) things to happen to the indie label scene during this period were the Sarah and Creation imprints, so it makes sense to kick things off with two of the labels’ best representatives in the teenaged Sea Urchins (the jangly ‘Pristine Christine’) and The House of Love (although their classic debut ‘Shine On’ is elbowed aside for its disappointing, sub-Teardrops follow-up, ‘Real Animal’). Even better things were on their respective horizons, so it’s instructive (and occasionally surprising) to hear these formative salvos. Likewise, The Wonder Stuff’s giddy debut ‘It’s Not True’ hints at the fun and frivolity to come. The Shamen’s wobbly ‘Young Till Yesterday’ presages the psychedelic mayhem ahead; Andrea Lewis’ brilliant Darling Bids signaled there was something interesting happening across the Mersey and, indeed, three essential albums followed the pogo pop of ‘Spin’, heard here in its original flexi version. Surely fellow Welsh songstress Helen Love was listening.

     Teenage Fanclub fannies will note two early Norman Blake projects, The Clouds and, more importantly The Boy Hairdressers, whose prurient interests are pricked by the lovely harmonies of their lone release ‘Golden Shower” which laid the groundwork for great things to come, as did the Inspiral Carpets’ demo cassette Cow, which supplied the ethereally hypnotic ‘Now You’re Gone’; The Flatmates’ hiccupy, Ramonesy bubblegum punk is cheerfully spotted on their debut ‘I Could Be In Heaven’, Scotland’s Motorcycle Boy are even better, with ex-Shop Assistant Alex Taylor’s sexy, breathy vocals confounding audiences (where’s the motorcycle boy, then) and breaking hearts in the same, er, breath. Debut single ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ is one of the highlights of the entire set, bursting with a pulsating rush and heart-pounding beat that continued across several singles throughout the decade that, shockingly, failed to attract an audience. Their contribution to the first Velvet Underground tribute (Heaven & Hell) is also one of the highlights of that worthwhile collection.  [As an aside, I wonder if Aussie power pop kingpin Dom Mariani heard this before penning DM3’s power pop anthem ‘1x2x Devastated’?]

     Hangman’s Beautiful Daughters is an anomaly, having nothing to do with the band whose album title gave them their name (Incredible String Band) and instead sounding like the second coming of Chrissie Hynde and her Pretenders, based on ‘Don’t Ask My Name’, a B-side penned by label owner (and TV Personality) Dan Treacy; Wedding Present needs to introduction, but I’m a bit surprised by their inclusion, as both the track (‘My Favourite Dress’) and accompanying album (‘George Best’) were huge sellers unlike about 95% of the rest of the box set.

     The Primitives were always a favourite around our house, so early EP track ‘We Found A Way To The Sun’ on their own Lazy imprint is a pleasure to relive, illustrating their jingly jangly pop sheen supporting Tracy’s ethereal vocals that would continue unabated once they signed to major RCA for three brilliant albums. Glad to see they’ve reformed and have returned to the indie world (Elefant Records out of Spain) and are still releasing pop masterpieces. Ditto to Talulah Gosh, whose eponymous “theme song” introduced us to Amelia Fletcher, OBE(!)’s “heavenly” (sorry about that!) vocals and twee pop genius. Fletcher and Pursey continue to make beautiful music together as The Catenary Wires, and are well worth investigating.           

     Britpoppers who waxed ecstatically over The Soup Dragons’ mega-smash ‘I’m Free’ may hardly recognise the formative jangly pop of ‘Hang Ten!’, but that’s one of the unending charms of this box set. And let’s be glad that Alan McGee took time off from his day job running Creation Records to provide us with numerous albums of sublime guitar pop via Biff Bang Pow! ‘In A Mourning Town’, the lead track from 1987’s Oblivion is a good jumping off place for folks who didn’t know McGee was in a band! Another influential label during this period was Tony Wilson’s Factory, and while some of the well known acts are understandably passed over, it’s good to hear The Railway Children’s sophomore effort ‘Brighter’ again, even if it does unashamedly rip off the opening to Tears For Fears’ ‘Change’ and, along with Gary Newby’s cheery vocals, manage to sound exactly like Julian Cope and his exploding teardrop (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

     Surprises abound – as in, “how did these people ever release anything worth listening to?” The Heart Throbs harsh, punky debut single (on Fall bassist and future 6Music DJ Marc Riley’s In Tape imprint no less) in no way suggests the utter brilliance awaiting them (and us) on 1990’s best album, Cleopatra Grip; Cud’s sloppy, fuckabout ‘Mind The Gap’ seems like a completely different band that dazzled four years later with the baggy-trousered dance-floor killer ‘Magic’; McCarthy’s charming ‘Frans Hals’ belies their Commie past and their updated krautrockin’ future as Stereolab; who’d’ve thunk that the über-prolific and still plugging B.M.X. Bandits would spring from the silly novelty nonsense of the adenoidal ‘The Day Before Tomorrow’, or that the dreary, drunken mumbled mess of ‘Kick Me Again Jesus’ came from the same pens and throat (Dave Couse) that would propel Dubliners A House to superstardom the next year courtesy the essential On Our Big Fat Merry-Go-Round, featuring several of the year’s finest shouldabeen singles in ‘That’s Not The Truth’ and ‘Clump of Trees’. On the other hand, it’s great to hear the more melancholic side of Dave Pearce via Rosemary’s Children’s debut single ‘Southern Fields’ before he pulled a Syd and went off the deep end and was kicked out of his own band before eventually re-emerging in post-rock, noisy guitar experimentalists Flying Saucer Attack. He returned with a double album last year following a lengthy absence during which he left the music biz.

     Several personal new discoveries led to immediate disappointment that they never made it out of cult status – the jingly, jangly Nivens make a perfect racket on ‘Room Without A View’ – the later tracks I found on YouTube are even better; Bob’s unforgettably catchy and peppy ‘What A Performance’ had me hunting down everything they released (sadly, not a lot); The Waltones’ debut, ‘Downhill’, featuring future Charlatans guitarist Mark Collins is an energetic slice of mod-inflected fizz that sounds like a long lost Jam B-side (or, closer yet, fellow Mancunian Jam soundalikes Bradford); speaking of soundalikes, The Chesterf!elds [sic] sure have The Smiths’ sound and arrangements down pat, and ‘Ask Johnny Dee’ is certainly better than the stuff Moz & Marr were spitting out at the end of their careers (together); Cath Carroll took a break from reviewing records (for NME) and started making them with Miaow and the chirpy, jangly poptastic ‘When It All Comes Down’ is one of several releases worth hunting down; Razorcuts’ also provide jingly, jangly brilliance with the rather Felt-like ‘I Heard You The First Time’; Baby Lemonade sound like the Shangri-Las overrun by Jesus and Mary Chain (whose bassist produced the razor-sharp ‘Secret Goldfish’), and Phil Wilson’s post-June Brides career is definitely worth tracking down if the strident galloper ’10 Miles’ is any indication of what to expect. An absolutely wonderful chap, I’ve spoken with him since he re-emerged with The Granite Shore, and he is glad to be back in the saddle again and once again deserving of your well-earned dosh. I’m also new to East Village, but their Sarah-inspired, Bobby Wratten-like, heartbreaking dream pop is on fine display with ‘Her Father’s Son’. Likewise The Rosehips, who add a Shop Assistant sheen to their distorted pop that reflects the Beach Boysy element we love so much in the other half of JAMC’s catalogue. Finally, the tortured Morrisseyesque autobiographical-sounding ‘The Old Stone Bridge’ also adds a touch of Feltian navelgazing courtesy Ollie Jackson’s Lawrence-ian soulsearching lyrics and minor chord elegance. Fans of both should try to hunt down their releases, each of which seemed to come out on a different label (which may explain their unjust obscurity). Firestation’s A Retrospective from earlier this year should get your started in the right direction.

     Of course all is not peaches and cream – the tuneless and tone deaf Vaselines are eminently forgettable (unless you’re a Nirvana fan), as are the sub-Fall annoying noises of The Great Leap Forward and the unlistenable Bachelor Pad. Kitchens of Distinction spent too much time trying to recreate Tom Verlaine and Television (at least on the evidence of their debut B-side, ‘Escape!’); I, Ludicrous are... and their faux Fall racket is annoying as well. Of all the lost treasures and should-have-been’s included herein, it’s puzzling that these no good noiseniks are still hanging around and clearing rooms thirty years on.

     Dog Faced Hermans succeed in annoying everyone within earshot of their anarchic, frat party on acid crap exemplified by the mercilessly interminable screeching, bellowing vomitous ‘Catbrain Walk’, whose unlistenable noise unfortunately continues on Stump’s ‘Tupperware Stripper’, which is just plain wrong on every level. The hair-raising insanity continues on the third disc with Gaye Bikers On Acid’s angry and aggressive ‘Everythang’s Groovy’, again on 6Music DJ and Fall bassist Mark Riley’s In Tape imprint (great DJ, Riley, but questionable taste in music, although slaving under Mark E. Smith’s iron fist may have something to do with that). It doesn’t get any better as we slosh through rubbish by Bog-Shed (Ian Dury wannabe with none of the talent or sense of humour), the tuneless A Witness, Mackenzies, and the big fat grade Z (for Zappaesque) embarrassment from The Shrubs that marks one too many scourings of the Ron Johnson label and may just be about the worse record I’ve ever heard in my life (and believe me, as a reviewer, I’ve heard some seriously demented shite.) And unless you absolutely have to own everything Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine-related, then you can also give a pass to Jamie Wednesday’s party poopin’ ‘We Three Things Of Orient Aren’t’ (the title alone speaks volumes).

     As we wade through the rest of the third disc, it doesn’t appear it’s going to let us off the hook, and all we can do is thank God for the skip button so we don’t have to suffer another second though another Riley signing, Stitched-Back Foot Airman. Be thankful you’ve never heard of them before I mentioned it and hope you never hear of (or from) them again. So that pretty much shitcans about half the disc, saved only by the uplifting, Smithsy Jesse Garon and The Desperadoes and the crystalline pop of The Desert Wolves, the effervescent Siddeleys, who I discovered a few years ago and have been in love with ever since (you need the Slum Clearance catchall comp from a few years back). The rather downbeat, but always interesting Weather Prophets’ sophomore Creation B-side ‘In My Room’ kicks off a run of three post-Loft bands (the compilers obviously being huge fans of the “Creation Artefacts” – cf., Cherry Red’s comp for more details) that include the equally morose Wishing Stones and the pick of the litter, Andy Strickland’s Stones-meets-Felt swagger of The Caretaker Race (represented by a demo version of ‘Man Overboard’ that wouldn’t get a polished studio release until 1990). I also enjoy everything the too-clever-for-their-own-good Dentists released, so the upbeat toetapper ‘Just Like Oliver Reed’ is worth the re-listen the comp provides.

     I could have used less noise and more tuneage on disc three, which is the only reason for docking a few points from this otherwise exciting, interesting, “historically significant” artifact of an age too-sadly long gone. But contrary to some wag’s cautiously optimistic threat that you can never go home again, Cherry Red have delivered once again. I just shudder to think who got left on the cutting room floor to make room for some of that junk on disc 3.

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