Wednesday 29 February 2012

Mother Knows Best

Throwing Up wasn't the most promising name for a group but since they had a record on What's Your Rupture? I figured they might be worth a spin.  2 minutes and 12 seconds and two scorched ears later I was a convert.  "Mother Knows Best" is an unholy explosion (I hesitate to say up) of a song that could've been unbearable had it been bellowed gruffly by a bearded chap in his pants but isn't because it's sung in a perky playground style by a young lady with a pretty voice and dyed orange hair (<-- WARNING: Only click this link if you don't mind playful water spitting).  This was posted on WYR?'s soundcloud page 4 months ago.  Shame on me for not looking before now.  They should play Glasgow with Divorce.  That would be a riot!

Monday 27 February 2012

Fluxing Up The Aesthetic! (CCA, Glasgow 03/03/2012)

How great is that sleeve?  It's not from a new Tenniscoats single but from the Mao Disney - Fluxing Up The Aesthetic compilation 12" on Creeping Bent/We Can Still Picnic.  Excitingly, it marks the vinyl debut of Glasgow 2012's answer to Edinburgh 1981's The Delmontes, the very wonderful Aggi Doom.  Had their contribution, "The Loving Kind", been released on 7" vinyl last year, it would most likely have been my favourite single of the year.  As it is, it's just one great reason A) to buy the 12" and B) to be at the CCA this Saturday for the launch of Mao Disney where they're sure to play it.   Full details for the launch (the top lineup also includes Davy Henderson's The Sexual Objects and the now with added heft Wake The President) can be found on the event's Facebook page.

(The other tracks from the record can heard on Creeping Bent's Soundcloud page.)

Saturday 25 February 2012

Another Sarah Records Story

Did Not Chart recently wrote an excellent piece on his relationship with Sarah Records. It was an object lesson in blogging: it was personal, well thought-out and insightful.  What follows is my version of the story mixed with a few pointed counter opinions on some of the bands who came in for criticism in his piece. Since I didn't read the music press (save for sneaking a peak at the Singles of the Week in the NME and Melody Maker in WH Smith each week), wasn't immersed in the fanzine culture of the time and, for most of the time, didn't know anyone else into Sarah, it won't have the same cultural context but it will be my story.

I came to Sarah Records comparatively late. Their catalogue was already more than 50 releases deep when Blueboy's fragile "Clearer" became my first purchase on the label.  My personal folklore would have it that I rescued it rather than bought it as it came from the Rock department of Glasgow's dingy 23rd Precinct where I suspect it had been, by a fair distance, the softest record in their racks.  I don't recall what attracted me to it but I can guess that it was the sleeve and the (wrong) assumption that the group was named after Orange Juice's incredible song.  When I got home and put the stylus down on my dad's Pye Black Box - I didn't own a record player at the time - I immediately fell in love with its sparse, gentle but not folky sound.  It was unlike anything I'd bought before. At that stage I was still flipping over the up-tempo jangling of The Trashcan Sinatras and The Wedding Present and R.E.M.'s enjoyably inscrutable first few records.  At that time, as money was tight (some of the aforementioned R.E.M. lps were paid for using record tokens obtained through a Robinsons juice promotion) I would keep a note of the records I loved most that John Peel played on his radio show with a view to buying them when I finally had some spare money.  Sometimes, though by no means always, I also noted the label and I started noticing the name Sarah Records' name cropping up semi-regularly.  I went back to 23rd Precinct a while later to see if they had any more Sarah records.  They did. They had Brighter's "Half Hearted" but not being financially reckless it was few weeks before I actually stumped up the pennies for it.  I loved it, too. It sounded extra-jangly on the Pye Black Box on which I would purposefully turn the bass knob down as far as it would go whilst doing the opposite to the treble knob.

In retrospect, I was possibly a bit dim. It didn't occur to me to go back and attempt to hoover up Sarah's earlier releases when they may still have been relatively cheap.  This was partly because around the same time I'd bought Pavement's "Demolition Plot J-7" from Missing Records and had my head turned by American college rock and partly because buying records wasn't about accumulation, it was about brilliance. I only wanted to own amazing music. I remember being utterly bemused that friends would buy an lp because they liked just one song on it.  That just didn't seem worthwhile to me.  No, I only wanted incredible records, singles preferably.  With their emphasis on the 7" single, I was ripe for Sarah.  It didn't occur to me, either, that anyone would or could afford to buy everything on a given label. I really don't remember people doing that.  Mind you, I only really knew 2 people who bought records in any great numbers and neither particularly liked Sarah.

In the run up to my 21st birthday I must've been wittering on about Sarah Records incessantly so my sister ordered me a bunch of back catalogue releases.  Nearly 20 years on it's still one of the best birthday presents I have ever received.  When I heard The Field Mice's "Missing The Moon" it seemed like the most incredible piece of music I'd ever heard. It still sounds that way:

That bit at 5min 36secs where the new guitar comes in and the pace quickens never fails to set my pulse racing. I'll still take "Missing The Moon" over all the Factory Records releases that no doubt inspired it.

By the time I was becoming devoted to Sarah Records Did Not Chart was moving on, discovering the myriad treats to be found in the output of The Bus Stop Label, Slumberland Records and Summershine Records.  I had no room or money for them at that time, though.  That came later.  Listening back to the mid-period Sarah records, they stack up very well against the incredible early, more widely regarded releases (The Sea Urchins, 14 Iced Bears, The Orchids, The Springfields etc.).  Over the years I've read lots of carping about Brighter, The Sweetest Ache and especially Secret Shine. I can only say that I loved all three.  I never saw The Sweetest Ache as anaemic Field Mice imitators.  Their "Heaven-Scented World" remains one of my favourite songs ever and one of the few b-sides I've come close to wearing out.  The way the jumbled, disorientating intro gives way to the softest, prettiest male voice you ever heard still makes my heart soar.  When it plays I can almost reconnect with the unsure, intimidated-by-life youngster I once was.

As for the oft-maligned Secret Shine, songs like "Loveblind", "Temporal" (from their debut album "Untouched") and "Liquid Indigo" still sound like vital, thrilling slices of pop whenever they grace my turntable.  I say turntable but in reality I bought a lot of Sarah's records on cd-single.  They always did them incredibly well.  The two which I loved most were Northern Picture Library's "Paris/Last September's Farewell Kiss e.p." and Blueboy's "Johnny Rave".  "Paris" was and is a potent - there's nothing remotely twee about those surging guitars - and profoundly moving song that ranks amongst Bob Wratten's finest and, in my opinion, features Annemari Davies's most heartbreaking vocal.  Its opening few lines are still remarkably affecting:

What you want is a girlfriend
That's what I don't want to be
I've never really enjoyed it
Never been much good at it

When Sarah Records announced it was shutting up shop I was genuinely sad. Sure they hadn't changed the world, hadn't stormed the charts or made Bob Wratten a millionaire but they had been a huge part of my life.   At the time I didn't feel that it had run its course.  Did I like Shelley's "Reproduction Is Pollution" ? You bet I did.  I always thought that the beat poetry of The Blue Aeroplanes was its direct antecedent and I dug that.  The final single, Blueboy's "Dirty Mags", was brilliant - like a better version of the Britpop that had been ubiquitous at the time. I found it infinitely more enjoyable than Suede and Oasis and their ilk. That it was urgent and not nearly as breakable as their early records didn't matter a jot.  I had just graduated from University and had precisely no money but I still made the trip to Bristol on August Bank Holiday Monday 1995 for a day for destroying things on board The Thekla. I'd never done anything remotely impulsive like that before.  Being skint, I couldn't afford a hotel so from when the bands finished until the time of the first bus to London I walked the streets of Bristol, snatching a few minutes of sleep here and there whenever I happened upon a bench.  I wasn't the only one.  At various points in the night I'd spy a floppy fringe and a cherry red cherries t-shirt and we'd exchange a bashful, knowing glance (but no words). Sadly, I remember so little of the evening itself even though I reviewed it for a fanzine. If I can find the zine and it's not too embarrassing, I'll post what I wrote here as much to remind myself of what went on. Ironically, it's the moment of bliss I spent in the sunshine, after showering and eating in the YMCA, listening to Secret Shine run through Take That covers during their soundcheck as a balloon race soared slowly overhead that is the strongest musical memory I have of that day.

Looking back on it, one of the things that set Sarah apart was that it produced some great ephemera: all those wonderfully funny/furious typewritten newsletters and inserts, the 5" flexis,  the absurdly yellow Le Jardin de Heavenly carrier bag with the bright red butterfly on it (which inexplicably used to wind up the Rock chaps at Uni) and, of course, the board game Saropoly.  Then there were the letters from co-owner of Sarah Matt Haynes.  I didn't get all that many of them but the ones I did receive were fabulous. There was one particularly hilarious one - I hope I still have it somewhere - which he wrote on the back of a glossy photo that he'd been sent by a light-entertainment hopeful who had hoped to get a slot on a Sarah Records bill.  The chap claimed to be a "Singer and Entertainer" which, in typically skewed fashion, prompted Matt to wonder if that meant his singing wasn't entertaining.  When I briefly flirted with releasing records, Wurlitzer Jukebox and Sarah were my primary influences.

In the final analysis, I'm glad I discovered Sarah when I did and I'm glad I stuck with them to the end.  As a sensitive, easily-intimidated late teenager the fact there was something as intelligent, non-aggressive and committed to beauty as Sarah Records to cling onto was very welcome.  One Bob Wratten-penned lyric in particular summed-up how I felt about life and it was a genuine comfort that someone felt similarly:

If the sun going down can make me cry why should I
why should I
why should I not like the way I am?

Huge thanks to Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes for their vision, hard work and impeccable taste. I just hope that the film and book that are currently in production are of a sufficiently high standard to do their contribution to culture justice for it's a story that deserves to be told well.

Flutter By Butterfly

Giddy, uplifting and saucer-eyed with wonder, Flowchart's "Flutter By Butterfly" (Wurlitzer Jukebox) always felt like a kindergarten version of The Orb's genius "Little Fluffy Clouds".  Over the course of two decades of music listening I can count on one hand the number of good records I've heard which feature children's voices.  The Zombies' "Hung Up On A Dream" is, perhaps, the most obvious one and I've always had a soft spot for Nico's "Le Petit Chevalier" but, really, there aren't many.  How "Flutter By Butterfly" manages to fall just the right side of sickly sweet is a mystery but it does. In recent times Girl Unit's alien anthem "Wut" pulled off a similar trick with its tampered vocals almost ludicrously stirring synths.  It, too, was great.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Sterling Morrison, Corner 10th and First 1966

Not only does Roy Montgomery's piece (I always feel a bit uncomfortable, pretentious even, using that word but in this case it feels appropriate) have a tremendous title, it is also has a unique, claustrophobic feel.  There was a time in the 90s when it seemed like his stunning "Temple IV" (Kranky) album and the first Flying Saucer Attack lp were all I wanted to hear.  Then, somehow, I almost completely forgot about him.    Thankfully, one of my seemingly endless trawls through sales lists reminded me of his existence.  I bought his split 7" with Loren Mazzacane Connors - "Sterling Morrison, Corner 10th and First 1966" is Montgomery's contribution - partly because it's brilliant and partly, if I'm being honest, to assuage my guilt at forgetting him.  

Sunday 19 February 2012

The Pheromoans (Nice'n'Sleazy, 18/02/2012)

Being a member of The Pheromoans is not without its hazards.  Last night at Nice'n'Sleazy at least a couple of the six were shaking off the effects of their frenetic playing after each song - Repetitive Strain Injury is a real risk if you're a Pheromoan!  Their set in support of Tyvek at The Captain's Rest was one of the live highlights of 2011 for me so they had a lot to live up to this time.   Despite not now having the element of surprise, they didn't come close to disappointing.  Their at times rickety, at times rollicking D.I.Y. pop may takes its cues fairly directly from the dishevelled pop poetry of The Fall and the flaky paint artiness of The Nightingales but you have to admire them for determinedly taking the more awkward road.  I don't remember them having violin or keyboard last year - I'm certainly not renowned for being the most observant! - but their sound really benefited from them.  I wish I could remember just a few of the cool snatches of lyrics that flew by.  Maybe I'll take a notebook next time.  According to RjW, their self-deprecating lead singer, in Leeds on Friday night they sold precisely no records.  I can only assume that that was because all the astute kids in the audience had already devoured them. I bought two 7"s and an lp and can't wait to get familiar with them which is the least I can do after The Pheromoans braved musculoskeletal disorders to produce them.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Neo(n) Boys

When I read last year that Grass Widow's "Milo Minute" 7" had a Neo Boys track on the flip, I cockily assumed that somebody had mis-typed Neon Boys.  I now know it was no such thing, Neo Boys being a brilliant early-80s group from Portland, Oregon whose "Under Control" graced a very early Sub Pop cassette.  (Isn't it great when a tiresome know-it-all gets gunked?)  I wish I'd heard their music when Lung Leg were still plying their sparky, post-Raincoats brand of D.I.Y. punk and TDK D90s were still king.  Just think of the tape segu├ęs I could've made!  Naughtily, I opted for a cheap-ish grey area issue of their "Never Comes Down" single rather than one of the pricier Trap Records originals to be found on discogs.  It is of course, wondrous.

Were someone to ask the question, I'd have to do some serious mulling-over to decide whether I liked Neo Boys or Neon Boys more.  After all, the two Neon Boys tracks on Richard Hell's "Spurts" cd always sound like world beaters.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Indie Label

Popkiss! was fun last night. I wore a new shirt for the occasion and to prove just what a stereotype I am, the style was 'Indie'.  Oh dear. Here's what I played. As ever, a strong representation from the mighty Slumberland .

Girls At Our Best Getting Nowhere Fast
Jo Stance Hey Girl (this was played by mistake. I actually intended to play a song with one more 'Hey' in the title!)
Los Bonsais Ultramrinos
The Delmontes Don't Cry Your Tears
The Concretes You Can't Hurry Love
Sea Lions A Cloud
Comet Gain You Can't Hide Your Love Forever
Bleached Searching Through The Past
Blondie Slow Motion
Kids On A Crime Spree Trumpets of Death
The Pastels Holy Moly
Mahogany Neo-plastic Boogie Woogie
Golden Wishful Thinking
Cudgels Joybang!
Obedient Wives Club This Is It
Big Troubles She Smiles For Pictures*
The Boo Radleys Does This Hurt?
Eux Autres My Love Will Not Bring You Down
Tracey Rogers Baby

Tracey Rogers' tough Mod stormer "Baby" sounded amazing. It appears on Bob Stanley's brilliant compilation of 60s UK beat girls which also includes a cracking Diano Dors track.  Worth hearing, too, is The Sorrows' moody take on it.

* - Credit to Angela Popkiss for suggesting playing Big Troubles' song after the Obedient Wives Club song. I hadn't spotted the similarities.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Glasgow Popkiss!

This Friday (10th February) I'll be foolin' around behind the (virtual) decks at Popkiss at Heavenly on Hope Street.  Also guesting is the wonderfully named Biddles.  Big thanks to Angela Popkiss for giving me the chance to share the tunes that cause the swoons.  If I can find my copy, this Jarvis Cocker penned, Wiggs &Stanley produced bri-nylon dancepop classic will almost certainly get an airing:

Sunday 5 February 2012

Candy Jo Tyler "Mr. Tambourine Man"

caUSE co-MOTION! made some of the best rattly pop of recent years.  They also re-introduced the world to Candy Jo Tyler's extra-perky take on "Mr. Tambourine Man" via their essential podcast for Slumberland Records.  It took a while, but I finally found a great condition copy*.  I can only agree with everything Arno from the group said at the time:

A way upbeat version of "The Tambourine Man." Handclaps, xylophone, stops and starts, along with Candy’s low-range singing. It’s the most unexpected take on this song I’ve heard, and pretty great.

What sets it apart from a lot of the female voiced pop of the mid-60s is Candy's unique, slightly rough, Country-tinged voice.  It's a whole lot less cute than, say, Marie Applebee's or Diane Renay's but it really works against the sugary backdrop of the music.  Unfortunately, my copy arrived without the lovely generic Laurie Records sleeve. That was rectified, however, by a quick visit to and a few dollars to a seller in the US.  Happy days!  Wouldn't it be nice to have another lovely SLR podcast to enjoy?

Hear it in all its glee club glory HERE (it's the first song)

* Unfortunately, it wasn't included on Ace Records' brilliant Laurie girl groups cd.  If it had been I would've settled for having it on that.

New (to me) vintage D.I.Y. #1 : Happy Refugees

Happy Refugees I can safely say would've have bypassed me totally were it not for the good work of Acute Records and boomkat saying the following in their review of the "Return To Last Chance Saloon" compilation:

"Happy Refugees are noted favourites of US revivalists Crystal Stilts and Girls Names"

I've not fully digested the record but initial impressions are good.  "Hamburger Boy" rattles along with primitive beats, heads down but quiet guitars and fab,  non-aggressively ranted lyrics.

"Garish colours hit me from the billboard
 Feeding my greed. It's a setup!

Just one spin and you too will be lip-curling and sneering, "Please don't die on the sidewalk, it's so embarrassing!".  "Last Chance Saloon" is astonishing, Its guitars all super-trebly and rusty Brillo pad abrasive.  A less gothic take on The Birthday Party maybe?  Having said 'less gothic', there are a fair few references to death  throughout the lyrics.  On the much sparser "Bury Me", however, there are a couple of lines of innocent yearning worthy of Dan Treacy at his "Someone To Share My Life With" best:

"I just need some who can make me smile
  I just need someone who can make me cry"

"Screaming and Shouting", with its warmth and bar room piano, brings to mind Vic Godard and his Subway Sect.  There are many touches which elevate Happy Refugees above a lot of their 80s peers.  They must've sounded glorious on John Peel!  Definitely one for the Swell Maps fans.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Sabrina Werl "Raindrops"

Last night I went to The Old Hairdressers to see new film Death of the Mod Dream.  It was an odd, unsettling, micro-budget, D.I.Y. affair which felt a bit like watching a VHS compliation of public access TV (anyone remember Laurie Pike's Channel 4 show Manhattan Cable and its cast of slightly worrying oddballs?) on fast forward.  Afterwards, as I walked home eating chips from Dinos, this song from it looped in my head:

Sabrina's vocal is wonderful,  its childlike blankness and the gauziness of the recording lending it an air of considerable sadness.  The way she sings 'open road' in her beautiful Scottish accent is knee-bucklingly pretty. Musically, it's remarkably effective, too.  Each glockenspiel tinkle is like a tiny crystal ball being shattered on a marble floor and the hazy, soft-psych guitars are just right.  That it had me desperate to hear again the stunning Christine Wanless version of "In The Afternoon" by The Revolving Paint Dream - one of the high-points of Creation Records' output, for me - is one of the biggest compliments I can pay "Raindrops".  It was worth enduring an hour and a half of bewilderment to hear such a lovely song.

Update: According to Billy Samson, director of the film, Sabrina is actually German.  If that's the case, she's a German who does a Scottish accent extremely well!

Update 2: It transpires that Werl lived in Glasgow for a decade.  That explains the Scottish touches to her accent.  Phew, glad that's sorted!

He ain't The Boss of me

For a while when I was at primary school, if you were made to look like a chump (it happened a lot to me) it was called being 'gunked' e.g. folks would derisively sneer, "Ha!'re gunked!". For years I've told anyone who's asked that I don't understand the appeal of Bruce Springsteen's music. That I just don't enjoy all the straining, the bulging neck veins, the internal organ rupturing drums and the chunky muscularity of his ubiquitous 80s hits.  When The Observer gave away a book of his lyrics it kicked around for a while unopened before being tossed in the recycling.  Then, a couple of years back, I giddily played Chromatics' "I'm On Fire" down the phone to J thinking it was a spooky/creepy Chromatics original only to be put straight with a chuckle.  Gunked!  On a recent trip to London I picked up a copy of Eux Autres' "Broken Bows" (Where It's At Is Where You Are/Bon Mots) cd.  From the first spin the track which made me sit up and really take notice was this*:

And, wouldn't you know it, it's another Springsteen cover. Gunked again!  It's nice to have my opinions challenged but my antipathy for Springsteen's music has been so long-lasting that I didn't expect it to ever be called into question.  This morning Janice Forsyth (whose show is shamefully facing the axe this summer) on Radio Scotland played Bruce's new single.  I listened with keen ears, eager to hear what I've been missing all these years. And...nothing,  No gunk this time.  Sure, there were some pretty melodies in the mix, some nice guitar parts, some pretty glockenspiel etc. but as a whole it was stodgy and a bit sickly.  Bruce's voice is a little more weather worn than I've heard it which takes the edge of his shoutiness but I still can't love it which is a shame as I'm sure he has interesting things to say.  Maybe in a few years when I've forgotten all about it some Swedish girl group will tackle it for a b-side and I'll turn cartwheels for it and be gunked all over again.

* - The rest of the cd is smashing and the Springsteen cover is by no means the only reason to enjoy it.

PS This Springsteen song does have its Merritts.