Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rays of Summershine From the Rainyard

When I think of great Aussie pop, the first bands that come to my mind are the Go-Betweens, Triffids, Sugargliders, Lucksmiths, Crayon Fields and, going way back, Easybeats. Well, I think the Rainyard should be added to this shortlist. Until recently, the only song I knew from this band straight outta Perth was "Hell Bent Suicidal Over You, Baby." It was the third single the legendary (in a just world, anyway) Summershine Records ever released, way back in 1990. The song was also on the label compilation 'Just a Taste' that saw the light of day here in America via Slumberland nearly two decades ago.

A couple of years ago, members of the band bundled all of their output, from the aforementioned single to songs from a slew of compilations, and self released it as the digital album 'A Thousand Days." Turns out the lads were jangle gods that would have fit in quite nicely with the C86 crowd that clearly influenced them.

Last month, Pretty Olivia Records took these 15 songs and reissued them on vinyl. The Spanish boutique label pressed 300 copies, and they seem to be going fast. You can still download it too, but c'mon, these hooks were made for wax.

The Rainyard - So Happy Now

Here's a little bonus from the aforementioned 'Just a Taste' sampler.

The Rainyard - Hellbent Suicidal Over You, Baby

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Phil Wilson on Caff

On July 1, 1986, Phil Wilson's band officially called it quits with a press release that read, "The June Brides have decided to part company and become legend." In 1987, Wilson as solo artist would release two fantastic singles for Creation, "Waiting For a Change" and "10 Miles." The label, seemingly, put its weight behind these records by releasing them as a 7", 12" and double 7" with gatefold sleeve. Alas, these songs weren't chart busters, and Alan McGee, busy with his new act the House of Love, was on to bigger things.

It would be about two years before we would hear from Wilson again. Thankfully, Bob Stanley's Caff Corporation released the one-off "Better Days" in the second half of 1989. Like most of Caff's output, this single was a low-budget affair. While Wilson was backed by the Triffids on his first Creation release, now he was playing bass and guitar while being backed a drum machine. In retrospect, the lyrics seem ominous ("I can't find the place where I belong"), but it really is a bouncy number. Here is what Wilson had to say in the insert for this 45:

'Better Days' and 'You Won't Speak' were recorded as demos in Spring 1988 by myself and Andrew Innes at the Acid Factory (this is a rather silly name for his spare bedroom). Creation were no longer interested in releasing my stuff and I couldn't be bothered to tout around looking for a new deal. So the songs have languished on a shelf ever since. I, in he meantime, stopped being a shiny pop person and became a boring old Civil Servant - a position that suits me down to the ground. At the moment I have no plans or desire to return to the cesspool of the music business. Thanks to Caff, however, for releasing this, and to you for buying it!

Phil Wilson

It would be nearly 20 years before another new release from Wilson. If you have heard 'God Bless Jim Kennedy" and the two 7" singles from the reunited June Brides, however, you know this story has a happy ending. Buy the brand-new EP "She Seems Quite Free," and get yourself an education. In the meantime, here's the A-side of CAFF 3. It's one of the toughest singles to find. Currently, there are none for sale on Discogs or Ebay, but it is available on the must-have compilation 'Every Conversation: The Story of June Brides & Phil Wilson.'

Phil Wilson - Better Days

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Razorcuts on Caff

This is probably my favorite song to come from Bob Stanley's legendary label. Razorcuts had quite the pedigree -- Subway Organisation, Creation, Flying Nun -- and a concluding single with Caff always seemed fitting. The four songs on "Sometimes I Worry About You" were early demos salvaged from the original masters at Redchurch Recordings in London.

As you can imagine, this is a tough find. Currently, there are three of these singles for sale on Discogs starting at a pricey $65. I'm lucky enough to have this one, but when I attempted to transfer it to digital form for this post, well, let's just say my turntable wasn't as enamored with the single as I am. Then I recalled, hot on the heels of its wonderful but woefully out of print 'R is for... Razorcuts' compilation in 2003, Matinée Recordings had revived a couple of these songs for the "A Is For Alphabet" EP in 2003. I was shocked to find it was still available from the label. So, for this occasion, I snagged one.

Stanley contributed to the liner notes of the aforementioned 'R is for... Razorcuts.' Here is a condensed version of his wonderful prose (apologies to the author for chopping it up a bit). It not only succinctly tells the story of the band, but it sums up the entire feeling of the music scene at the time.

Things had been bleak.

The screaming low point of Band Aid's Xmas 45 pushed buttons nationwide. Fuck this. A back to basics insurrection of the three B's (Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds) gave Britain a new wave of treble-laden beat... Red and black, the colours of the Angry Brigade and the sleeve of Your Generation, were the colours of the new wave's offspring; key fanzine Hungry Beat and a rash of polythene-bagged ruff pop 45s. DIY not EMI was the clarion call.

Pretty early on came the Razorcuts' debut of Big Pink Cake (Ronettes drums added to the B recipe) backed with I'll Still Be There. The latter still stands apart from its contemporaries thanks to its Mies Van Der Rohe-like simplicity - tambourine, twelve-string plangent harmonies. I can hear little else. "In love or despair, you know I'll still be there." For a generation of would-be Roger McGuinns and Jean Sebergs, this was our song.

This was a medium as suited to singles and EPs as it was to informal venues like The Coal Hole on The Strand or The Black Horse on Royal College street. Fanzines and phone numbers were swapped. The atmosphere was fervently anti-rock - Razorcuts concerts often had the feeling of a social. Short-term revolutions and lifelong friendships were hatched. Two more grade A singles - Sorry to Embarrass You and I Heard You The First Time - prefaced a Razorcuts deal with Creation. Creation's philosophy was different: the boys 'planed it to Leamington Spa to record two LPs but no further singles. If this lost them pop momentum it at least paved the way for the baroquerie of Gregory's Carousel and Tim's Red Chair Fadeaway. But by this time new action was to be found in Manchester dungeons and the balmy Balearics.

Finally, here is the lead song from CAFF10, officially released in 1990. "Sometimes I Worry About You" is a 16-track demo recorded on Oct. 24, 1984. The other three songs on the EP were demos from late 1985 and early 1986, including "Sorry To Embarrass You." You may know that one because it was rerecorded for Subway in '86 and became a Top 10 indie hit.

Razorcuts - Sometimes I Worry About You

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Another Sunny Day on Caff

Bob Stanley released singles from a few of my indie heroes, and here is one of the biggest of that bunch. From 1988 to 1990, as Another Sunny Day, Harvey Williams produced some of the best singles Sarah Records ever released. During this prolific period, Caff put out this one-off 7" of early demos... and covers at that. Here's a portion of what Mr. Stanley had to say in the insert:

...[H]ere's another archive goodie, this time from Penzance's titan of teen pop, Harvey "Festive" Williams (as he was known in his baseball days). Both "tracks" were "cut" on a now deceased portastudio Stamfordbrook, W. London. 'Gen Eng' was a 1983 single by OMD which appeared later that year on their seminal 'Dazzle Ships' album. Says Harvey: "That LP was a perfect combination of submarine noises, anguished vocals, thrashed guitars and Czechoslovenke radio. I accept no substitute." 'Kilburn Towers' meanwhile is from a 1968 Bee Gees LP called 'Idea'. Over to Festive: "'Kilburn Towers' is a typical, beautiful late sixties Bee Gees ballad. Strings and mellotron to the fore, atmos melody, Barry's chestwig. Without the Bee Gees I could not live." Until the Spring has sprung, Bob

Thought for the day from Ronnie Corbett: "Jesus sounds remarkably like cheeses."

There are three of these 7" singles from Another Sunny Day available on Discogs, ranging from about $64 to $114. Both of these songs are also available as bonus tracks on the Cherry Red reissue of 'London Weekend,' one of my favorite albums from the era. Without further adieu, here's CAFF 7, the label's first release of 1990.

Another Sunny Day - Genetic Engineering
Another Sunny Day - Kilburn Towers

Saturday, August 23, 2014

New Songs From the June Brides

It was a banner day when I got this news in my inbox yesterday. The followup to the brilliant single "A January Moon," from the reunited June Brides, will be out in September. As before, the "She Seems Quite Free" EP is a joint 7" between Occultation Recordings in the United Kingdom and Slumberland Records in America.

Below you'll find our first listen to one of the three tracks. "Being There" and "She Seems Quite Free" are penned by Phil Wilson, and guitarist Simon Beesley concludes the trio with "I'm Undone." In case you're late to the party, original members Frank Sweeney and Jon Hunter round out the classic lineup. Did you ever think you would hear that trumpet again? Wonderful. On drums this time is Steve Beswick. He played with the Wild Swans on 'The Coldest Winter For a Hundred Years," truly one of the best albums of this or any decade. Arash Torabi is on bass. Fans of Phil Wilson's 2010 solo album 'God Bless Jim Kennedy' will remember his name.

If you pick up this 7" from one of the aforementioned labels, gifts abound, including a special full-color insert and badge. So, you know what to do. Enough of me, already. Please listen. "Everything changes... as love rearranges us all." Interesting words, Mr. Wilson.

Update: I'm rubbing my eyes in disbelief. The band has shared another song. Here's "She Seems Quite Free."

And Yet Another Update: It's a trifecta! Here is Mr. Beesley's "I'm Undone." Now we can hear the entire EP.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Orchids on Caff

Clearly, Bob Stanley was a strong supporter of Sarah Records. As a music writer, he championed the label on paper. Check out his review of 'Lyceum.' As the head of Caff Corporation, he released three one-off singles plucked from Sarah's talented stable. When you consider there were only 17 singles on Caff, three is a pretty hefty number. CAFF 11 comes from the Orchids, and this 7" was released when the Scottish band was at the top its game. It was September of 1990. 'Lyceum' had been out for about a year, and the fantastic single "Something for the Longing" had hit the shelves about six months earlier. I didn't realize until many years later, when 'Lyceum' was reissued by LTM in 2005 with this single as part of the bonus tracks, that "An Ill Wind That Blows" and its flip side were actually demos that the band recorded in 1987. Even though the Orchids was in its infancy, just that it wasn't evident these were early rudimentary recordings are a testament to the quality. Sarah always had a reputation as music for sad sacks. "An Ill Wind That Blows" certainly feeds into that label, but I think it's wonderful.

As I write this, there are three copies of "An Ill Wind That Blows" on Discogs... ranging between $40 and $100. If that's too rich for your blood, the 'Lyceum' reissue is still in print.

The Orchids - An Ill Wind That Blows
The Orchids - All Those Things

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Claim on Caff

Do you remember Jon Favreau's 'Dinner For Five' that used to be on IFC? If I ever hosted a program like that, one of my first guests would be Bob Stanley. One of the myriad of reasons why I would have no audience, however, is that I'm not sure I would even ask him about Saint Etienne. He's a first-rate writer and chronicler of music, and he is known to have an incredible vinyl collection. How could I possibly get around to the importance of 'Fox Base Alpha' during the 30 minutes... including commercials? I'm sure I would be able to hear everyone's remote controls click as I stare at Stanley with starry eyes and spend an entire segment asking him about his days running Caff Records while the other guests pick at their food and curse their agents under their breaths.

For the next few posts, I thought it might be fun to listen to a few songs from the legendary label. Caff's run was quite short, from 1989 until 1992, but the 17 one-off releases, all on 7" and limited to 500 copies each, have certainly left a mark. A quick look at ebay shows prices range from $30 to $130 for one of these pieces of vinyl. Perhaps singles by Manic Street Preachers and Pulp will be the ones the masses will remember most, but those aren't the ones that first pop into my mind.

Let's start with CAFF 8. Ah, the Claim. Here's a bit of what Stanley had to say about the lads. I lifted this from the liner notes to 'Black Path,' the band's retrospective put out by Rev-Ola in 1995: "The Claim: hopelessly obscure but with enough melodic clout, character and charm not to let it worry them unduly. It's very English, not in a whimsical 'village green' way but in a kitchen sink, fish and chips way... Until this urgent, honest, heart-warming pop becomes fashionable again, the Claim will have an audience limited to those who can appreciate good music without any hype, dogtags or slogans."

More because of geography than anything else, the Claim are often compared to the Dentists, but I have always heard more of the band's love for the Jam (not as much on this single, however) and their heroes the Jasmine Minks. While you give this a listen, read a recent piece Stanley wrote for the Guardian that every record collector is sure to enjoy.

The Claim - Birth of a Teenager
The Claim - Mike the Bike (featuring Vic Templar)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Early Takes From the Bluebells Answer the Bell

The liner notes to the just released 'Exile on Twee Street,' a collection of early recordings made before the band signed with London Records, is an extended Q&A with band members. The closing question gets to the meat of the matter. "Some of the songs were later reworked on London with a proper recording budget. How do you think these early prototypes compare with the 'proper' versions which followed?" Lawrence Donegan nailed it with his succinct reply: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that the demos are always better than the 'proper' recordings."

Unlike the usual odds-and-sods packages that seem to be just for die-hard fans, these 20 tracks could actually win a legion of new listeners. For those who were always confused about why "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" was slated to be 81-12 on the list of releases from Postcard Records, three minutes into this album it becomes crystal clear what Alan Horne heard back then. The lo-fi sound really suits Bobby Bluebell and the lads, and there is no way with this lot you could associate them with the "wimpy" label they would become saddled with a very short time later. In fact, you can really hear the influence of Edwyn Collins and his crew on some of these recordings, and the Bluebells go into great detail in the liner notes about how Orange Juice helped them on and off the stage during this period.

I assumed I would enjoy these first stabs at the songs I already knew, such as "Some Sweet Day," "Happy Birthday" and "Forevermore," but the real surprises were with the songs I never knew existed before 'Exile on Twee Street.' Cheers to Cherry Red for releasing these gems and putting to rest why it was the Bluebells were such an integral part of the Glasgow scene during the city's most exciting period for music. This one is sure to show up near the top of my year-end list of best reissues.

For the benefit of American readers, order this one on the UK version of Amazon. I know it saved me a ton of dough.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

When the Posies Backed Big Star

Earlier this week, Swiss Adam at Bagging Area had a post about the Posies that instantly took me back to the summer of 1993. I'm constantly blogging about that time in my life because I had the good fortune of working at a record store then, and it really was as wonderful a job as you may have imagined. Anyway, there were a dozen or so new releases that summer my peers and I took a shine to and seemed to spin at the shop daily. One of them was a live Big Star reunion of sorts called 'Columbia.' Here's how Karen Shook summed up the show in the liner notes:

You know, it never hurts to ask. With all that in mind, a college radio station in Columbia, Missouri, asked Alex Chilton a simple question and got a minor miracle in return. And so a few weeks later, at KCOU's behest, there we all were under a big striped tent and the spring sun. Alex, Jody Stephens, the Posies' Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer as delighted hired hands, and a few hundred people who have loved Big Star so long and so fiercely that even 20 years' worth of the record industry hasn't succeeded in erasing its memory. What was it like? I stop making sense when I try to talk about it. We waited, and watched, and pinched ourselves. And when those chiming guitar chords, those shiny choruses appeared like they'd never been away, I wouldn't have traded places with God. They plated some pop songs, I guess, and we sang along. And as Jody beamed out from behind the kit and the Posies played their hearts out, I thought I saw Alex Chilton listening to his past and smiling.

The late music critic Robert Palmer had a chance to dig a little deeper with Stephens and Chilton about the April 25, 1993, show. Here is a condensed version:

Stephens got the initial call from the student organizers of the University of Missouri's annual Springfest, asking whether he'd consider doing a Big Star set if Alex agreed. He says he "didn't want to be the first to say no." To everyone's surprise, Chilton didn't say no either, despite the fact that he has scrupulously avoided trading on the Big Star name for almost two decades. [He did tell his callers, "You don't have much money, but hey, cool, I'm not doing anything that day."]

It was Stephens who drafted Posies' Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer to round out the new Big Star lineup. Jody credits Stringfellow and Auer with "balancing out Alex the way Chris did. And there were some cliffhanging moments when their playing brought the music around again." Together, the revitalized Big Star made music that sounds so right-on-time, it almost comes as a shock when you recall that these songs were first recorded 20 years ago.

The further adventures of Big Star may never mean more to Alex than any other stop on his lifetime musical odyssey; if they did, he wouldn't be Alex Chilton. But it's evident that the melodic contours and deeply felt existential shorthand of his best Big Star songs still speak to his soul. He sings them as if his life depended on it, particularly "The Ballad of El Goodo," which might be more relevant to his state of mind now than when he wrote it, and his classic astrological torch song "September Gurls." "Hearing Alex's performances reminds you what a great creative player he is," adds Stephens. "Stuff he does off the cuff has more emotional and musical content than most people get from sweating out a part for days."

Even Alex Chilton's celebrated cool begins to warm up a bit when he talks about the concert and this album. "I thought we got a good, screamin' thing going," he says. "It was loose as a goose, and it rocked more than it did the first time around. I was pleased. I mean, there's no point going on-stage and sucking."

As Swiss Adam mentioned, the Posies are one of the power-pop greats, and "Solar Sister" is one of my favorites of that genre, but I will always think of Stringfellow and Auer first as the duo that helped bring Stephens and Chilton together again. Here are four from 'Columbia.' Stephens takes lead vocals on "Way Out West." That's Auer on Chris Bell's solo effort "I Am the Cosmos." (Now there's an album that deserves its own post!) Stringfellow takes his turn on "Back of a Car." Finally, that's Chilton on "The Ballad of El Goodo." To those few under the tent in Columbia that day, I will be forever envious. And thanks for the inspiration, Adam. I had nothing tonight.

Big Star - I Am the Cosmos (Live)
Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo (Live)
Big Star - Back of a Car (Live)
Big Star - Way Out West (Live)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lounge in the Living Room

Let's go straight to the disclaimer: This is most certainly the worst sounding official release in my entire collection. So much so, in fact, I have held off posting about Creation's first full-length LP for several years. It says right on the cover to "Pay No More Than £2.99" for a reason. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, seeing bands like the June Brides or the Pastels at Alan McGee's Tottenham Court Road club would be a top time machine moment for this fella. Here's what Mr. McGee had to say about those days:

Between August 1983 and February 1984 The Living Room was where it happened in London... From that first sweaty night with The Nightingales until the Police Raid at The Personalities gig in February, The Living Room stood for something, most importantly something different to each individual... To this Lost Soul The Living Room meant a place I could go... Nothing to do with Trends, Fashions, Haircuts or Clothes... Jasmine Minks, Three Johns, The Loft or The Legend! all Brilliant all different... Nothing to do with any Cult or Fashion... If you are the type of person that needs deep meanings then ponder on this one... The Living Room meant more in its WC1 residency than Bono Vox, Ian McCullough, Jim Kerr, Kirk Brandon, Ian Page or Jimmy Pursey ever will... But what does it all mean you ask?... Better ask The Legend! that one... -- The Crapachinno Kid...

How about a handful from CRE LP 001, 'Alive in the Living Room,' warts and all? As McGee mentioned, the selection from Television Personalities " cut short due to a police raid on the club." It may not sound great, but "Three Wishes" makes for a very memorable album (and club) closer.

Jasmine Minks - Seven and Seven Is (Live)
The June Brides - I Fall (Live)
The Loft - Your Door Shines Like Gold (Live)
Television Personalities - Three Wishes (Live)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Treat

Well, it's a matter of taste, and I don't mean the ice cream. This single from 1982 came to us via Stiff Records. Pookiesnackenburger was known more as a musical-comedy troupe than a conventional band. After the band's demise, a couple of the fellas started a dance-percussion-theater production known as 'Stomp.' Yes, that 'Stomp.' So, you don't have to feel bad about this song missing the charts. I'm dedicating this one to Dirk. He's learning all about Cornettos this week.

Pookiesnackenburger - Just One Cornetto

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Melancholy

There is almost no finer specimen than the catchy summer song. You just can't help but nod your head, tap your toes and wear a big grin. It makes you feel like a warm breeze... light and airy. It's as if your cares have blown away in copious amounts of hand claps and layered harmonies... for three minutes, anyway. What could be better? Well, for this grump, the best summer songs sound innocent enough, but the lyrics don't quite have that same sunny disposition. Heartbreak doesn't wait for the calendar to turn to September. Here are a few favorites:

Wait a minute. I'm not supposed to be TOO happy.
Elvis Costello - The Other Side of Summer (from 'Mighty Like a Rose')
"The sun struggles up another beautiful day
And I felt glad in my own suspicious way
Despite the contradiction and confusion
Felt tragic without reason
There's malice and there's magic in every season"

It's the cough in the second verse that makes this song perfect.
The Velvet Underground - Who Loves the Sun (from 'Loaded')
"Who loves the sun?
Who cares that it makes plants grow?
Who cares what it does
Since you broke my heart?"

Finally, a glimmer of hope.
The Chamber Strings - Make It Through the Summer (from 'Month of Sundays')
"If I can make it to September, I'm gonna tell her that I love her."

The forecast appears to be more of the same for tomorrow.