Various Artists - Sharon Signs to Cherry Red - Independent Women 1979 - 1985

by Steve Reynolds Rating:10 Release Date:2016-05-27

Sharon Signs to Cherry Red is a compilation of tracks by independent women, girl bands and strictly female vocals. It’s a veritable high-water mark of eclectic and thought-provoking lyrics which poke fun at boys and relationships, and tell homespun kitchen sink dramas. Over this two-disc compilation, the music spans the burgeoning post-punk years to the groundbreaking thrill of 80s indie-pop.

The album title is by The Kamikaze Pilots and talks up the story about Sharon’s angst and personal relationship breakdown resulting in getting signed to Cherry Red. At heart, it's a song about how an injection of cathartic release might just get you signed.

There’s an unrecognisable vocalist on Marine Girls ‘Hate the Girl’ and she goes by the name of Tracey Thorn (her of Everything But the Girl fame). Her band has a half-cocked simplistic Slits approach, completed with some schoolyard vocal baiting. A million miles away from what she would go on to do years later.

Etta Saunders personal project, The Avocados, chugs along beautifully. It once contained post-punk royalty in the form of Viv Albertine. However, this compilation isn’t just a selection of plaintive acoustic numbers, as shown by the tribal p-funk polyrhythms of Bristol’s Scream and Dance with their on-point ‘In Rhythm’. ‘The Jam Jar Song’ by Ingrid is of similar energetic and youthful ilk. Lyrically, it’s pretty sixth form but the tongue-in-cheek rhyming is hilarious: “Makes me feel nifty/ going along at 50”, and “I was bored with my Ford but my sister has a Bentley/ drives it very gently/ makes me get loose/ uses lots of juice”.

Liverpool’s Margi Clarke was a prominent punk figure in the North West who went on to become a successful actress in her own right. She’s queen on Margox’s ‘Jimmy Grin’, which is close to where Toyah drew her early single influences from.

TWA Toots' ‘Please Don’t Play a Rainy Night In Georgia’ is effortlessly smooth and smooze, and the vocal wouldn’t go amiss on a Minnie Riperton track. ‘Seaside (Go Away)’ by Strawberry Switchblade is a mountain away from what they are most remembered for, their sickly pop single ‘Since Yesterday’. Instead, their thumping bass recalls the vigour and muscle of Brummie post-punk faves Au Pairs.

‘Heartbeat’ by The Twinset is a lavish and plush tune which has to be a huge influence on The Pipettes. They even supported their favourite band at the time, The Fall, and wrangled three Peel sessions, such was their beguiling and quick-witted delivery.

Mari Wilson’s ‘If That’s What You Want’ is the blacksheep on the early part of disc one. Her Motown/northern soul influenced sound was loved by Wigan Casino DJ Russ Winstanley, who whole-heartedly threw his weight behind it.

The Candees declared themselves ‘budget Bangles meets poor man’s Pandoras’, but their Raincoats-like sound hits a groove which ain’t bad when you consider they contained future Eastender, Michelle Collins. The Flatbackers ‘Buzzz Going Round’, meanwhile, is chocca with angular bass and guitar, and boasts a vocal not unlike Leeds post-punk stalwalts Delta 5.

Anyone remember cow punk? No, me either, but for five minutes The Shillelagh Sisters ‘Teasing Cheating Man’ had a purpose. Their collision of punk, country and rockabilly is spot on and for pop trivia fans, they had Jacquie O’Sullivan in their ranks who went on to be a prominent member of SAW-era Banarama.

Dolly Mixture’s ‘How Come You’re Such a Hit With the Boys, Jane?’ split opinion on Radio One, with John Peel’s producer John Walters hating it every time he played them on his show. Nowadays, their indie-pop pastiche is much-loved, breathing in The Shangri-Las and complementing it with the driving guitar grit of The Undertones. Elsewhere, The ‘B’ Girls were Toronto’s finest exponents of 80s alt-pop, and even took on their female counterparts The Runaways but with a much poppier and sugary edge. 

Dawn Chorus quite literally kick off CD2 with their own take on ‘Teenage Kicks’. Their version is less aggressive and pushy than the original, but their approach of less speed and more haste works. The laidback vocal and ghostly backing harmonies have a solid and cracking quality. Family Fodder’s ‘Debbie Harry’ jutters skittishly at an alarming pace, with a patchwork quilt of yelps, shrieks and spoken-word creating a brimming maelstrom of joviality and rich creativity.

Tracie Young is probably best known for backing vocals on The Jam’s ‘Beat Surrender’ and her own big solo hit ‘The House That Jack Built’, but here she is rampantly slick and smiley on ‘The Boy Hairdresser’, which comes with a hive of disco rhythms and pointy synths. Paul Weller himself is credited with co-writing this song.

“I wanted 10p for the dryer/ Yes, that’s how we met/ My laundry bag was broken/ my clothes were soaking wet” is the opening line on the reggae-funk drenched ‘Launderette’ by Vivien Goldman, part financed and produced by Public Image Limited. ‘Masochistic Opposite’ by The Mo-dettes is a mish-mash of earthy guitar and acerbic aggression. This was a b-side but such was its potent seduction and poise that it’s ended up on this compilation.

The Petticoats were a one-woman band by the name of Stefanie Heinrich and her spiky work on ‘Normal’ is memorably gritty. Janet Armstrong’s ‘Exploitation’ is another exhumed b-side. Her joyful reggae-tinged skank is another example of youthful exuberance. Her records didn’t sell and after a long hiatus she ended up as a backing singer on Bowie’s ‘Absolute Beginners’.

Trixie’s Big Red Motorcycle are fragile but beautiful; their ‘A Splash of Red’ is roomy. The simple guitar repetition compliments the minimal drum machine, all lovingly held together by lo-fi production. For me it’s the best song on the compilation.

Dee Walker’s ‘Jump Back’ is an ironic slice of pompous pop, the kind that Tracey Allman would ride on the back of and eventually take to the upper echelons of the singles chart. Rex Nayman alias Rexy was a fashion student straight off the Blitz club dancefloor. On the piece of sombre electronica featured here, her chameleon vocal switches between soulful bliss and robotic jerk, to kooky and charming effect.

Amy and the Angels were the original indie one-hit-wonders  and their dance-fused slice of frenetic post-punk fun, ‘I Hate Being in Love’,m was sadly the only thing they ever committed to vinyl. A shame. Meanwhile, The Delmonas brilliant indie-rockabilly approach and resplendent Duane Eddy twang makes their two minute amphetamine rush a real ear-joy. The compilation ends where it began, with The Kamikaze Sex Pilots' ‘Sharon’s Been Deflowered and Defoliated’, featuring the ultimate line: “She likes a band called Tears for Fears/ She really has nothing between her ears”.

Sharon Signs to Cherry Red is a compilation packed with energy and loveable charm. The detail within the accompanying booklet is fantastic, with a huge amount of due diligence ploughed into researching each track. It’s a glass half-full collection of fun and versatility. The unearthing of so many good songs, songwriters and bands adds a whole new list of obscure gems to delve into.

Notable other bands include: Dorothy, Grab Grab the Haddock, The GT's, April and the Fools, Helen and the Horns, The Gymslips, Coming Up Roses, A Craze, Red Roll-on, Sarah Goes Shopping, Sunset Gun, Eleanor Rigby, Jane Kennaway and Strange Behaviour, Pride of the Cross, Jane and Barton

Overall Rating (0)

0 out of 5 stars