Friday, November 17, 2017

'Sweet' Treat From Ric Menck

Here's a bit of trivia for you. Did you know there's a tiny connection between Sarah Records and Matthew Sweet? Ric Menck, probably best known for his power-pop outfit Velvet Crush, or for a few of you as Sweet's drummer on some of his best work, was in a couple of great but slightly lesser-known indie-pop bands in the '80s that deserved more of the limelight. One of those, Choo Choo Train, was on Subway Records, a label that gets touted here with regularity, and the other was the Springfields, an American band from Champaign, Illinois, that caught the ears of Clare and Matt. Sarah 10 was "Sunflower", a three-track 7" from 1988 with "Clown", a Hollies' cover, and the Sweet-penned "Are We Gonna Be Alright?" Sweet has never released a recording of this beauty given to the Springfields.

I have a couple of singles from the Springfields, but I don't own "Sunflower". Instead, I have all three songs from the single on 'The Ballad of Ric Menck' compilation that first came out on Summershine in 1996. I can't recommend this one enough. You'll find some Choo Choo Train, Springfields and solo recordings on there. I like it so much I bought it on two formats! Action Musik reissued it in 2004 with extra songs and liner notes from Menck. If I come across that one, I guess I'll own three copies. Doing this post reminded me of another seldom heard Sweet recording that I'll get to next week.

"Are We Gonna Be Alright?"

Yes, that really is how the songs ends.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Two Good Songs That Sound Great Together

Back when we spent all of our free time making mix tapes, perhaps you did this too. Even if my ear knew they didn't necessarily work as a tandem all that well, I liked to place a song about a musician next to a song by said musician, such as an Alex Chilton tune followed by "Alex Chilton" by the Replacements or "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground and "Velvet Underground" by Jonathan Richman back to back. Like the artist that sings about an artist, in a small way, I always felt like I was thanking one of my heroes by this placement. It was especially fun to put two musicians together that seemingly had very different sounds, such as something by Duke Ellington next to "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder. That's the direction I'm going in today.

Over the weekend, I thought about "Breakfast in Bed" from Dusty Springfield's 1969 album 'Dusty in Memphis' because today is my birthday. I secretly hoped maybe I would get my breakfast served that way this morning. Alas, that's a pretty tall order on a school day and, as is the ritual, I was the one making breakfast for everyone else. I knew I had an album with a song called "Dusty Springfield" in my music room somewhere, but the band wasn't coming to me right away. Let's just say I have had a number of birthdays under my belt, and I'm not quite the savant I used to be when it comes to remembering such things. I was singing it to myself yesterday. So I knew it was jangly indie pop from the golden age of jangly indie pop and probably from the UK. Finally, it hit me like a bolt of lightning a little while ago. If you're curious about just how many birthdays I have had, I'm the same age as 'Dusty in Memphis.' Sigh.

As an aside, I had no idea until today the album cover for 'Dusty in Memphis' was different for folks in the UK. The one above seems so iconic to this Yank.

Dusty Springfield - Breakfast in Bed
The Haywains - Dusty Springfield

Thursday, November 9, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 10)

Apologies, indie fans. A bit of a curve ball today but, perhaps, an interesting curiosity if you kneel at the altar of Brian Wilson. As many of you know, for much of the '90s, I became disenchanted with pop music. I increasingly turned to the loves of my childhood, absconded from my mother's record collection when I was 10, particularly the Kinks and Beach Boys. In the early years of that decade, it was a terrific time to be a fan of the Beach Boys. Reference books, biographies, box sets and other reissues were being released at a furious pace. After reading so much about Brian's influences, naturally, I began seeking out that music too. Again, the timing was perfect. Among my favorites, I really took to Phil Spector just as his 'Back to Mono' box set hit the shelves. I also picked up a decent comp of the Four Freshmen that received a few plays.

In the late '90s, while living in Washington, D.C., my fandom for Brian reached a fever pitch as he began releasing new music and flirting with the idea of touring. During that period, I went to a record convention in the Northern Virginia suburbs. I was shocked as I happened across a booth that had absolutely nothing but Four Freshmen memorabilia. I introduced myself to the fella at the booth and explained my interest due to the Wilson connection. His name was David, from nearby McLean, and I learned he was a Virginia representative of FFS, the Four Freshmen Society. Trust me, it's a big operation. It was a fascinating day of learning as David took me through some of the group's best recordings and explained their place in music as the group moved away from barbershop and introduced jazz elements that kids like Brian really dug as he listened in his bedroom back in Hawthorne, California. Did I just use the term barbershop on this blog?

The album changed everything for Brian was the 1955 release 'Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones'. Wilson once said of the album, "I was 14. They had a demonstration booth where you could listen to it in the store, and I found the Four Freshmen. My mother said, 'Do you really wanna hear this?' and I said, 'Sure!' So I went in this little booth, and I played it and fell in love with it. And I bought it. I loved the sound of the trombones. Wonderful songs -- 'I Remember You', 'Mam'selle'..." In another interview, he went further, saying of the song "You Stepped Out of a Dream", "This is where I learned to arrange harmonies, and also where I learned to sing falsetto. Their four-part harmony was totally original -- not five or three parts, but four parts. Wow!"

I have several albums by the Four Freshmen, but I think the two pictured above, 'Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones' and the comp 'Freshmen Favorites' are the only two I listen to with much regularity. My copy of 'Trombones' is very rough. In fact, while listening, you might run to the window thinking it has started raining. Sorry, that's surface noise. Here are the three songs Brian dropped in the quotes above. It will take you about 10 seconds to realize how much Brian was influenced by them.

"I Remember You"
"You Stepped Out of a Dream"

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 9)

Here's a quick explanation of where I have been. Three weeks ago, my computer died. The repair shop told me the hard drive was fried. After a couple of days of contemplation, I decided to get a new laptop. The old one had already experienced a major repair last year, and who was to say the fan or screen wouldn't break the day after replacing the drive? I chose a model rather quickly, but then I found out there was a good chance it would be going on sale in a week's time. I waited.

The day it went on sale, I returned to the shop with a pile of cash. The model I wanted was not in stock. I could get the sale price, but the laptop would have to be ordered. It would be mailed to my house in 3-5 business days. With a weekend thrown in for good measure, I lost another week. The package arrived yesterday. I quickly took it to the repair shop to have the files on the old hard drive moved to the new one. I just picked it up a few minutes ago. It will probably take me a couple of days to get all of the missing software reinstalled, but I should be all set by the end of the week. In the meantime, I did have the next band in my vinyl collection already ripped. Let's get back to it.

One last thing. It would seem the worst part of the ordeal would be living without that one piece of equipment all of us have come to depend on for just about everything. Nope. For me, it's knowing I won't be able to buy records for a good long while as we try to replenish the coffers. The shopping list is as long as it has ever been.

I realize a post on Friends Again is for about two readers out there (JC and FORW, presumably), but I would be kicking myself if I skipped one of my favorite Scottish bands from my youth. I came to them from a little different angle than JC. He liked them from the beginning, listening to those early singles before they recorded for a major label. When I was a kid, my first taste of Friends again was the band's one and only album, 'Trapped and Unwrapped'. For those who had followed them since the 'Honey at the Core' single in 1983, the 1984 album was a bit of a disappointment. In particular, some of the songs were inferior recordings of those earlier releases. It's an old story, isn't it? I, of course, had nothing to compare them too, and I thought "Lucky Star" and others from the album were terrific pieces of jangle.

Fast forward about a quarter of a century, and I find JC's original Vinyl Villain blog. He starts playing these original versions from Friends Again, and I'm just floored. 'Trapped and Unwrapped' begins collecting dust as I start seeking out the old singles. As you can see from the photo above, during the past five or six years, I have collected quite a few trophies on my hunt for Friends Again relics. Here are a few of my favorites from the band. This is as good a time as any to thank JC for the education.

"Lullaby No. 2" (from 'the Friends Again EP')
"Sunkissed" (Extended Version) (12" single)
"Lucky Star" (original B-side to the "Honey at the Core" 7")

Monday, October 16, 2017

Misstep Mondays: The Fixx

Time to dust off another less than stellar piece of vinyl from my collection. As I mentioned last Monday, this week's pick is another band from the UK that couldn't buy a hit in their homeland but struck gold (platinum, actually) with those of us in America who couldn't keep their eyes off of upstart MTV. That's a pretty apt description of me in '83 when the Fixx's 'Reach the Beach' climbed the Billboard ladder.

My hometown didn't get MTV until the fall of that year, but I was already hooked on the music-video genre through friends' cable systems in other towns and programs like TBS's new show "Night Tracks", USA Network's "Night Flight", HBO's "Video Jukebox" and NBC's "Friday Night Videos". If you timed your channel surfing just right, you could even catch a video on Nickelodeon between shows. I just got nostalgic to see the opening sequence of "Friday Night Videos". The first clip I found says the Fixx will be coming up. Figures.

What can I say about the Fixx? Bland comes to mind. New wave for the masses, maybe. Anyway, my 13-year-old self thought lead single "Saved By Zero" was great. Loved the spooky video too. By the time the song was being used to tout zero-percent financing on television adverts, let's just say the novelty had worn off. The song peaked at No. 20 over here. It didn't even bother to chart at all in the UK.

Follow-up single "One Thing Leads to Another" is, without a doubt, the band's signature tune, reaching the dizzying heights of No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100. In the UK, an anemic No. 86 would have to suffice. The third and final single from the album, "The Sign of Fire", only got to No. 32, but that was still much better than not charting at all at home. When the dust settled, 'Reach the Beach' would sell two-million copies in the United States. Not sure what that says about us, but it can't be good. Other hits would follow, but 1983 would be the Fixx's finest hour.

The Fixx. Not the worst, but a misstep, nonetheless. Did I really just follow Aretha Franklin with the Fixx?

"Saved By Zero"

Saturday, October 14, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 8)

Skipping around the letter F quite a bit, but there is no way I'm going to waste an opportunity to pay homage to the Queen of Soul. It would be too predictable to go to Aretha Franklin's '67 or '68 output, and I probably should just so I can write all about how she had four (yes, four!) top 5 albums during that two-year run on Atlantic Records, but today I'm opting for her lesser known early years.

'The Electrifying Aretha Franklin' was her second album for Columbia, released in 1962 when she had just turned 20 years old. Franklin was being called the "New Queen of the Blues" then, and the music sounded a lot like what another favorite of mine, Ray Charles, was doing at the time. Still, you can already hear her range, and that patented yell of hers was already evident during some of the numbers, albeit accompanied by standards such as "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive".

Many of her songs during these first albums were written and/or arranged by John Leslie McFarland. He's probably best known for co-writing "Stuck on You", Elvis Presley's first hit following his two-year stint in the Army. One of those songs may just very well make you blush. "Rough Lover" is about as politically incorrect as anything you'll find in my collection. Well, maybe I give that nod to the Bacharach/David composition "Wives and Lovers" as sung by Frank Sinatra, but when you consider Franklin was a teenager when she was in the studio belting this one out... you might squirm a bit. Let's just say Franklin sings this one like she means it.

"Rough Lover"

Now, listen here, girls
I'm gonna tell you
What I want right now

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
And I'll find him if I can

He's got to bite nails
Fight bears
And if I get sassy
Be a man who dares
To shut me up and kiss me
So I know he cares
I want a man

Don't want a mean daddy
I want a boss
I want a mean, sweet daddy
Who the devil wouldn't cross

He's got to spit fire
Chew iron
Get mad and start roaring
Like a mountain lion
Then whisper that he loves me
So I know he's mine
I want a man

I'm looking for a guy
Who's big and strong
But weak for me
I'm looking for a guy
Who'll ride around
But never, never set me free

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
With a sentimental plan

So he can kiss nice
Hug tight
He's gotta be sweet and gentle
Day and night
But mean enough to make me
Want to treat him right
I want a man, oh, yeah

I'm looking for a guy
Who's raving strong
But weak for me
I’m looking for a guy
Who'll ride around
But never, never set me free

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
With a sentimental plan

So he can kiss nice
Hug tight
He's gotta be sweet and gentle
Day and night
But mean enough to make me
Want to treat him right
I want a man

I want a man
I don’t want no creampuff, baby
Don’t want no butterfly
I want a man

Oh, yes, I do
Oh, yes, I do

To contrast the booming sounds of "Rough Lover", let's turn it down and listen to what I think is Franklin's best moment on the album. As for 'The Electrifying Aretha Franklin', this one wouldn't bother to chart, and it would be quite a few more years before the general public would succumb to Franklin's charms. Of course, you know all about that.

"Blue Holiday"

Thursday, October 12, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 7)

Although I never stopped trying, I just couldn't get into the Fiery Furnaces. I found the work of siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger to be too much of a challenge to my pop sensibility. Yes, the duo tried my patience, but I always gave their latest work a listen out of loyalty to the fact they originally hailed from Oak Park, Illinois, which was very near where I was living during their heyday.

With the Fiery Furnaces on a hiatus that has stuck to this day, Eleanor released her first solo album in 2011, and the song "My Mistakes" got stuck in my head that summer and has seemingly never left. Unlike her previous band, she keeps it simple here, and I'm entranced by her laid-back sing-speak style that reminds me a little bit of Patti Smith. There is an intimacy to the entire album that makes you feel like she is sitting there with you, spinning yarns about friends and places you both have in common. Eleanor has had two albums since then, and I have enjoyed them both immensely, but it's 'Last Summer' I spin the most.

"My Mistakes"
"Roosevelt Island"

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 6)

I don't know about you, but after the latest Monday Misstep, I'm feeling the need to cleanse the palate. This beautiful piece of sophisti-pop, in the same vein as Carmel, Everything But the Girl and the Style Council, should go down better than lemon sorbet. "Window Shopping" from the Friday Club would be in the conversation for my favorite single in the collection. It's one of the most coveted on the shelf, too, regularly selling for $100 or more on Discogs. Why? It's not so much because "Window Shopping" is the only release the somewhat obscure seven-piece outfit from Scarborough ever put out. Rather, it comes down to the label and the timing. You see, this is the last recording and the penultimate release in the legendary 2 Tone discography.

In 1985, the Friday Club found out where Jerry Dammers lived, which was a squat in Stockwell, and they dropped a tape and a gig flyer in his mailbox. Dammers actually came to the show. Afterwards, he laughingly told the band he had "never heard a band so out of tune". So they were shocked when he called the next day and told them he wanted to produce and release "Window Shopping" on 2 Tone. Simon Bates started playing it on Radio 1, and "Window Shopping" broke into the top 100. Unfortunately, he went on vacation, and that was that. The Friday Club spent the last couple of months of the year opening for Madness. I will surely make the "Mad Not Mad" tour one of my first stops when we all have time machines, but there isn't too much more to say about "Window Shopping." No, it's never going to be remembered like the songs of 2 Tone's salad days, but, as Dammers summed it up, it's a nice song about being skint."

There is a 12" extended version of "Window Shopping" that's even tougher to find than the 7", and it's the one piece of vinyl I most desire. So, keep your eyes peeled and remember your old pal Brian. Thanks.

"Window Shopping"
"Window Shopping" (Instrumental)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Misstep Mondays: A Flock of Seagulls

Yep. A Flock of Seagulls. In general, I only flew with the flock for about a second, but I never did completely grow out of this particular single, released in late 1982. There is a haunting quality to the song that has stuck with me, and I have always preferred the mammoth 12" version. If this band gives you the shivers, don't play this one. It clocks in at more than nine minutes, and you'll by in the corner curled up in the fetal position by the end.

A message to my fellow countrymen: We have always been told a Flock of Seagulls were solely an American phenomenon, created by MTV, and that the Brits were far too smart to fall for this schlock. I have subscribed to this theory for 35 years, but I just checked the charts... not really the case. We did take to early single "I Ran (So Far Away)" with much more zeal, but the UK stuck with the band longer. As for "Wishing," the song peaked at No. 10 in their home country and No. 26 here in America. That was more or less the end of the line for the folicly-confused band in these parts.

Back next week with another UK band from the letter F, and this one actually was a bigger deal in this part of the world.

"Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)" (Long Version)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 5)

I have written about my love for the Flatmates and the Subway Organization ad nauseam. Saying this is my favorite band from my favorite label will have to suffice today. Just like Fire Engines featured last week, a stellar CD compilation of the Flatmates has seemingly made taking the time to pull out the old singles seem like a chore, but then I played the vinyl last night and realized that's a completely foolish sentiment. Not only do they sound great, pops and all, but just looking at the details of the covers, inserts and sleeves is such a treat.

Here is the complete 12" single of "Shimmer," the audience pick for second-best Subway single earlier this year on these very pages. Coincidentally, "Shimmer" peaked at No. 2 on the indie chart in 1988. Where are you, Debbie Haynes?!?

"On My Mind"
"If Not For You"

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 4)

For me, Minutemen were practically over before they began. I was 14 when 'Double Nickels on the Dime' came out, and it was one of those life-changing albums that, as the Robster would say, I will take to my grave. This one release opened up the entire world of SST Records to me. That same year, Minutemen would make a tour stop at Mabel's in Champaign, Illinois, a legendary club about 80 miles from where I grew up. I begged my parents to let me go, but there was just no way that was going to happen. It wouldn't be long before D. Boon would die in a van accident. I never got to see my beloved Minutemen.

By the time I went off to college in Chicago, Mike Watt and George Hurley had reunited, along with Ed Crawford, to form fIREHOSE. I love Ed's story. In a nutshell, Ed was a huge Minutemen fan attending Ohio State when he caught wind Mike and George might be ready to give it another go. He found Watt's phone number and called him in California to ask for a tryout. That didn't work, but he didn't give up. He left Columbus for San Pedro and asked him again. Next time you think about shirking a challenge, think of Ed. There weren't many band's working as hard as fIREHOSE. Between 1986 and 1993 they would release five studio albums, a couple of EPs and play nearly 1,000 shows. Chicago was a regular stop when touring, and I caught fIREHOSE every time they would swing by, which was often.

fIREHOSE was one of those early '90s alt bands that got swept up in the indie pilfering the major labels pulled after Nirvana took over the world. Although I hated to see them go to Columbia, in my opinion, fIREHOSE was one of the rare bands that didn't dip much in quality when they moved to the big leagues. Having said that, I'll take side one of their first album, 'Ragin, Full-On", over anything in their discography. There are still vestiges of Minutemen found here. Yep, this trio definitely knew how to jam econo. Here are three songs to prove it.

"Brave Captain"
"It Matters"
"Another Theory Shot to Shit"

Monday, October 2, 2017

Misstep Mondays: Fiction Factory

As many of you know, I have spent more than a year now (closer to two, actually) transferring my vinyl to a digital format. It's a huge undertaking, even with skipping many less-than-vital albums and singles, and it turns out I have a bevy of those. This is especially true of the synth-driven bands of my youth. Rather than flipping by these not-so-proud moments, I have decided to come clean with these missteps.

As I mentioned last week, from 1982 to about 1985, there didn't seem to be a new wave or new-wave inspired hit from across the pond that I didn't buy. Sure, I have shared a few of these, such as B-Movie, but most of the bands featured on Misstep Mondays will be a step or two down the musical ladder from a song like "Nowhere Girl". Then again, that will be for you the audience to decide.

That brings us to this inaugural pick. I'm busy transferring vinyl from the letter F, and that's where we will find our first couple of inclusions. Fiction Factory ticked a few boxes for me in 1984, but the most important was that they were from Scotland. You will certainly know the pretty ballad "(Feels Like) Heaven", a No. 6 smash in the UK that also went top 10 in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Ireland and did quite well in other places around the world. The song did nothing in my home country, but the video did get a few plays on shows I was watching at the time. Funny thing is, thanks to a certain nostalgia-fuelled satellite-radio station, I hear it more now than I even did when I was a kid. I have to admit when it comes on I don't touch the dial.

As for the album the song comes from, "Throw the Warped Wheel Out", it's one I'm not sure I have played since 1984... well, at least not until last night. Utterly forgettable. Perhaps I have played it before but just don't remember. The follow-up single to "(Feels Like) Heaven" was "Ghosts of Love". Wow, what a momentum killer. It peaked at No. 64 in the UK and only charted in one other country. There were better choices from the album but only marginally so. There would be no other hits for Fiction Factory, and the band would release their last album a year later. I'm not a big fan of the term one-hit wonder, but if the shoe fits. Back next Monday with another misstep from the letter F.

"(Feels Like) Heaven"
"Ghosts of Love"

Friday, September 29, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 3)

Alan Horne wanted them, but Bob Last was the one that snagged Fire Engines. Their first shows outside of Edinburgh were with Orange Juice and Josef K in Glasgow, playing for the likes of Bobby Gillespie, Alan McGee and the brothers Reid. Can you imagine? Actually, if you think about who was there, it all starts to make sense. In their short time together, the impact of Fire Engines would be dramatic and far reaching.

If you weigh both sides, I think the "Candyskin" 7" is the band's best single, and that's where we start today. Davy Henderson trades in the yelps for more conventional vocals and produces an indie smash, but it's the instrumental B-side akin to the earlier recordings that gets more plays in this house. What a racket! Follow-up single "Big Gold Dream" is as commercial as Fire Engines ever got, and it would prove to be the end of the road for the band. Henderson said shortly after, "Around the time of the second John Peel Session, we were shit -- our compass was a fake -- we should have trusted our magnets -- we should've trusted our inability." A great song, nonetheless.

I really enjoyed pulling out these two seven-inch singles last night. In 2007, Acute released the band compilation 'Hungry Beat' on an inferior format, and I was first in line. Ever since, whenever I have needed a fix of Fire Engines, I have played this CD, leaving these perfect pieces of vinyl to collect dust. I pledge to right that wrong starting right now.

"Meat Whiplash"

Big Gold Dream"
"Sympathetic Anaesthetic"

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 2)

It's pure coincidence I find myself up to Bryan Ferry at the same time JC has had two interesting posts on Roxy Music. I have always been a much bigger fan of Roxy Music than I ever was of Ferry's solo work, but I was really into his two mid-'80s albums, 'Boys and Girls' and 'Bête Noire'. I can think of a few reasons for this.

This was the time of my life I was most into Roxy Music. So, it just made sense to buy Ferry's new music. I was also into the aesthetic. As an impressionable teenager, I loved Ferry's look and the way he carried himself. He was the essence of cool. Still is, actually. The album covers and sleeves were sharp too. Finally, and maybe most importantly, my girlfriend really liked him. I have it on good authority she still does. I should know. I married her.

I would say Ferry's work with Johnny Marr during this period played a part as well, but that relationship didn't get me to buy "Avonmore' in 2014, did it? In fact, I never owned any albums by Ferry after 'Bête Noire', but I always give his new releases a listen with the hope this will be the one to bring me back in the fold. I may not own anything after 1988, but I do have a slew of 12" singles by Ferry from the 1980s. Here are a few of my favorites. Class.

"Slave to Love" (Special 12" Re-Mix)
"Don't Stop the Dance" (Special 12" Re-Mix)
"The Right Stuff" (12" Dance Mix)
"Kiss and Tell" (Extended Remix)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 1)

I took the entire summer off from this vinyl-ripping series because, well, I got burned out. Tonight, I feel refreshed and raring to go, but I am going to be more selective with my choices. I may only choose 10 to 12 bands per letter to keep things moving. I also thought it would be fun to come clean about some of the more cringe-worthy selections from my vinyl collection. When I was a lad, specifically between 1982 and 1985, I seemed to buy just about every hit that came from across the pond... as long as it had a synthesizer in it. Save your laughs and groans for next week when I unveil Misstep Mondays. In the meantime, let's get this f-ing thing started.

The Feelies have featured on these pages many times in the eight-and-a-half years this blog has been operating, and I believe all six of their LPs have already had a proper airing. That doesn't leave much for me to play today, but there is no way I'm going to pass up an opportunity to tout a band in my collection I consider to be in the upper echelon of absolutely essential. So, how about a cover?

The Feelies have been performing inspired covers from the word go. Songs by the Beatles, Stones, Velvet Underground, Stooges, Monkees, Jonathan Richman and Neil Young have appeared with regularity on LPs, B-sides or as crowd-pleasing show closers since 1980. VU's "What Goes On" is my absolute favorite (already featured here before), but a close second would be Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot". The band has been playing that one at shows since the '80s, and a recording of the song showed up at least twice during that decade, including as a B-side of the 12" promo single for "Away" in 1988 and on a flexi that came with an issue of The BOB magazine in 1989. Tough finds, though.

Fortunately, in 2016, a four-song vinyl EP of covers called "Uncovered" was released for Record Store Day, and "Dancing Barefoot" was included. With my days as RSD lemming long behind me, I wasn't willing to wake up early and line up for it. Luckily, my local mom-and-pop shop still had a copy when I stopped in the next day. Bassist Brenda Sauter takes the lead vocals, and she does a hell of a job with one of Smith's most beloved songs.

"Dancing Barefoot"

Saturday, September 23, 2017

New Orchids Retrospective Strives for Perfection

How's this for a name drop? I found out about Cherry Red's upcoming release 'Who Needs Tomorrow... A 30 Year Retrospective' from the John Scally, guitarist for Glasgow-based band the Orchids. You never know who is out there reading, do you? This set is split between a 20-song best of on disc one and an impressive odds-and-sods collection of rarities on disc two.

As the title suggests, the songs on the best-of disc are evenly spread across the band's career. The first 13 songs are from the Sarah years, and the disc opens with one song from each of the first three singles. There is little to nitpick about, but choosing "Apologies" over "I've Got a Habit", from Sarah's second-ever release, is the only real head-scratcher. Initially, the same could have been said about using "Defy the Law" rather than "Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink", but there is a reason for that choice that we'll get to in a bit. The rest of the disc is perfection. If you're a fan that uses the 1992 Sarah compilation 'Epicurean - A Soundtrack' as your go-to Orchids long player, you will want this set too. There are only six songs that overlap, and you get the bonus of seven songs from the band's second life. The three albums that came out between 2007 and 2014 are all must haves for fans of the Orchids. If you haven't heard them, however, the songs chosen for this set are just the taster to get you to pick them up.

Disc two is chock full of the demos, alternative versions and radio sessions that are sure to get the completists off the sofa. The real highlight is the first track. "From This Day" comes from the 1987 split flexi the Orchids did with the Sea Urchins for Sha La La, Matt Haynes' fanzine label that came before Sarah. One release that's missing here is "An Ill Wind That Blows", the 7" Bob Stanley put out on his Caff label in 1990, but many of you may already have it as a bonus track on the 'Lyceum' reissue LTM released in 2005. The disc closes with a 2017 re-recording of "Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink". Would you rather have the original, or are you curious about this new version?

'Who Needs Tomorrow... A 30 Year Retrospective' is fully remastered and comes with liner notes by ex-BBC radio DJ John Cavanagh and the uber Sarah producer Ian Carmichael. This one comes out Sept. 29, and there are a limited number of signed copies available at the Cherry Red shop. Preorder now. Here's the complete tracklist from Cherry Red. I have added the relevant original release info for disc one because I'm into that sort of thing.

Disc One: The Best Of...

1. APOLOGIES ("I've Got a Habit" 7", Sarah 2)
2. DEFY THE LAW ("Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink" 7", Sarah 11)
3. WHAT WILL WE DO NEXT? ("What Will We Do Next?" 7", Sarah 23)
4. IT’S ONLY OBVIOUS ('Lyceum' 10" mini album, Sarah 401)
5. CAVEMAN ('Lyceum' 10" mini album, Sarah 401)
6. SOMETHING FOR THE LONGING ("Something for the Longing" 7", Sarah 29)
7. LONG DRAWN SUNDAY NIGHT ('Unholy Soul' LP, Sarah 605)
8. PEACHES ('Unholy Soul' LP, Sarah 605)
9. BEMUSED, CONFUSED AND BEDRAGGLED ("Penetration" 12" EP, Sarah 42)
10. THAUMATURGY ("Thaumaturgy" 7", Sarah 66)
11. OBSESSION N°1 ('Striving For The Lazy Perfection' LP, Sarah 617)
12. A KIND OF EDEN ('Striving For The Lazy Perfection' LP, Sarah 617)
13. STRIVING FOR THE LAZY PERFECTION ('Striving For The Lazy Perfection' LP, Sarah 617)
14. ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT ('Good to Be a Stranger' LP, Siesta, 2007)
15. SHE’S MY GIRL ('The Lost Star; LP, Pebble, 2010)
16. THE GIRL AND THE SOLDIER ('The Lost Star' LP, Pebble, 2010)
17. THE WAY THAT YOU MOVE ('The Lost Star' LP, Pebble, 2010)
18. HEY! SOMETIMES ('Beatitude #9' LP, Acuarela Discos, 2014)
19. SOMETHING’S GOING ON ('Beatitude #9' LP, Acuarela Discos, 2014)
20. WE MADE A MESS ('Beatitude #9' LP, Acuarela Discos, 2014)

Disc Two: Rarities

17. OOH WEE!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Name Game

I spent a good chunk of last night stuck on a name. While listening to a couple of albums by Cats on Fire, I was perusing the liner notes, as we do, and my eyes kept being drawn to a behind-the-scenes guy named Nick Triani. Why did I know that name? Triani had mixed one of the albums, and he was the first person thanked by the band on another. I finally gave up and went to the Web in defeat. It took about 30 seconds to realize I knew Triani from an indie-pop band he was in back in the '80s. I should have known.

The Bridge was from the Staines and Egham area, and they only had a couple of singles, but there was an A-side from 1986 that was a real keeper. "Shame is a Girl" was written by bandmate Mark Davies, and one of Triani's songs was relegated to the B-side. At one point, the Bridge was signed to Chrysalis, but this 7" came out on Norwich indie Backs Records. Backs was a record shop, label and distributor, and I can't help but wonder if our pal the Swede knows this lot from his days when he had his own shop. When you listen to this one, you may be transported to the sounds of Prefab Sprout in the band's earliest days. That's what I hear, anyway. If the Bridge grabs you, I highly recommend 'Face Down Everybody Looks The Same', a band compilation Firestation released a few years ago. Getting tough to find these days, but worth the hunt. There is a Triani song on that one called "Problem Child" that is my favorite from him. Sounds like the Wake circa 1985.

In the '90s, Triani was in Supermodel, a band you may know better than the Bridge. He has gone on to make quite a name for himself as a presenter on Radio Helsinki and as a producer and label head (Soliti) in that part of the world. Thus, his connection to the aforementioned Cats on Fire and, it turns out, a number of other bands I plan to dive into in the coming weeks. This turned out to be a pretty fun way to spend an evening. Here's that 7":

"Shame is a Girl"
"The Loveless"

Monday, September 18, 2017

Forster's Intimate Evening in Nottingham

Nottingham correspondent MisterPrime returns with a look at a special night he had on the 5th of September when Robert Forster opened the current leg of his book tour to promote 'Grant & I: Inside and Outside the Go-Betweens' at the Nottingham Rough Trade. I'm full of envy and elation in equal measure. Take it away, MisterPrime...

I'm not really much of an autograph hunter. Above and beyond the uncomfortable level of social interaction necessary to acquire them, I don't generally see the point. I went to the album launch for 'English Tapas', the latest by the Sleaford Mods, at Rough Trade Nottingham earlier in the year, saw a storming pub-sized performance by the band and picked up my copy of the record -- on very fetching red vinyl, I might add -- without feeling its intrinsic worth to me would be very much increased by it having the words "Cheers, Jason", or equivalent, scrawled somewhere on the cover in permanent marker, for example.

I can think of three notable exceptions that I have in my possession, though. One is a copy of Sugar's 'Copper Blue' on cassette, it's inlay card signed by Bob Mould. My wife -- then girlfriend -- got that one for me at a signing at Nottingham's much-missed Selectadisc record shop, presumably in 1992, as I was too nervous to queue up and ask for it myself. I also have a ticket for a Wedding Present gig at the Wherehouse in Derby (also in '92, February, in fact, the helpful Scopitones Web site informs me) that I got David Gedge to sign for my wife -- then girlfriend -- who wasn't able to make it to the gig for some, presumably common-sense, reason. The social interaction aspect was somewhat alleviated on that occasion by the fact that my friend Dave was already having a conversation with Gedge about the possibility of selling some of our fanzines off their merch table. And now I have a lovely signed copy of Robert Forster's book, 'Grant & I: Inside and Outside the Go-Betweens' that I picked up on my way to see the author promoting it with songs and chat -- again at Rough Trade -- and then got Mr. Forster to inscribe afterwards whilst he was enjoying a well-earned latte and a piece of carrot cake.

Now, it just so happens that a combination of factors (I'd inadvertently sat right by the signing table -- actually more of a rough-wood stand-up DJ bar incongruously padded up for the twin-turntables -- Forster was raring to go, signing-wise, and in general the usual crowd at Rough Trade is a little too cool to storm straight to the front) meant that I was just second in the signing queue –- after one very eager couple whose photo I had to take with the Great Man. Had I hung around for a minute or two (gone to the bar or the loo) I'd certainly not have bothered to join the room-length queue that eventually formed to shake the hand and secure the signature. That said, this was one event that certainly seemed worth the commemorating.

The evening had been billed on the Rough Trade Web site as a more compartmentalised event where journalist Pete Paphides would interview Forster before an audience Q&A and a short live set. In fact, it took the looser form of a couple of hours worth of a more 'In Conversation' format. This meant that, after his introduction, Forster strode in with his guitar, sat down just a few feet away from me at the front of the room and opened proceedings with a rendition of "Rock and Roll Friend". It was a magical moment, real hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff. He explained how the woman he was seeing at the time had asked him to write a song about her -- she worked nine to five, he was out nights with the band; he, typically, wrote about himself, but from her perspective. And then, better still, a little later on he played "Karen", something more than I'd have hoped for, and a beautiful rendition, despite a preceding disclaimer that these were "the words of a 20-year-old" and he might very well forget them. (He didn’t!)

Paphides kept things on track, giving the conversation a broadly chronological structure and, as an avowed long-time fan, asking the sort of questions that made a follow-up Q&A redundant. He even refused to bring up a couple of anecdotes from the book for fear of spoiling the audience's eventual enjoyment of it. Forster was as urbane and avuncular as you would hope, not to mention scrupulously frank and honest -- and very entertaining. He used the guitar to make particular points -- about the chords he learned from Roddy Frame, for example, on tour with Aztec Camera and used to take his songwriting in a more popwardly direction. At one point, he illustrated the way that Grant's classic "Cattle and Cane" came together -- playing first the bassline and then the guitar part and then singing the first verse. (I'll swear he even adopted a slightly-more Grant-like vocal tone.) And as for the songs... well, suffice to say he played "People Say", "Part Company", "Head Full Of Steam" and "Darlinghurst Nights" -- taken on their own, a succinct enough little set of classics from the Go-Betweens canon -- and finished off with solo numbers "Learn To Burn" and "I Love Myself (And I Always Have)", though I must (shamefully) admit I'm somewhat less familiar with his more recent work.

It was a thoroughly entertaining -- often spellbinding -- evening. The intimate surroundings of the Rough Trade bar giving the feel of the kind of living-room gig you would not expect to catch an artist of this caliber in. (I must admit I'd almost missed it myself. Thanks, Brian!) Apparently there were, criminally, still a few tickets available at the door; perhaps the Curse of the Go-Betweens lives on....

As for 'Grant & I', it's been a great book so far. The prose is sharp and poetic but always warm and full of life and wit, just as you would expect. I'm only about a third of the way through, but that's because I'm deliberately reading it slowly. I definitely recommend picking up a copy -- autographed or not....


Friday, September 15, 2017

A Welcome Return... Even As We Speak

Nearly a quarter century since the Sydney-based band recorded its last single for Sarah Records, Even As We Speak has made a triumphant return to the new-release racks with a 10" on the always dependable Emotional Response Records. If you're a cynic who thinks, oh boy, another Sarah band cashing in on the wave of goodwill for the once critically abhorred label, then you haven't actually listened to the five-track 'A Black Forest' 10". This is inspired indie pop that will surely be lauded in December as comeback of the year by the same fickle press that was so wrong about Sarah.

For the record, the press was actually far kinder to Even As We Speak than many on Sarah. I'm grouchy because, having mentioned Beth Arzy's first band earlier this week, I thought of this clip I will never be able to shake...

With that off my chest, on to more happy news from the Emotional Response and Even As We Speak camps. You have been able to stream and download 'Yellow Food: The Peel Sessions' for a few years now, but that's not enough for those of us who want to hold the merchandise, is it? John Peel loved Even As We Speak, and the band was one of only a handful of Aussie groups that recorded a session for him. A few others, in case you are interested, were the Birthday Party, the Triffids, the Go-Betweens and Laughing Clowns. Later this month, all four sessions Even As We Speak recorded for the BBC in 1992 and 1993 will be available on CD from Emotional Response. You can give it a listen on the EAWS's bandcamp page:

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New Indie Pop From a Couple of Old Favorites

Whenever there is an announcement pertaining to Pete Astor, that's top of the fold banner headline news in these parts. Astor released the best album I heard in 2016, and he's followed that up with a move to Hamburg-based Tapete Records, home to favorites like Lloyd Cole, Robert Forster and the Monochrome Set, and a 7" set for release in November. Here is a preview of the two-tracks. Like the songs of 2016 album 'Spilt Milk', James Hoare of Ultimate Painting, Proper Ornaments and Veronica Falls remains Astor's confidant on "Water Tower" and "What a World". Preorder here.

When your labor of love is a blog that focuses on indie pop, you're never going too many posts without the name Amelia Fletcher popping up. Lately, it feels like Fletcher is sharing the title of quintessential indie-pop heroine with the great Beth Arzy. If you only know her from previous bands Aberdeen and Trembling Blue Stars, then you haven't been paying much attention the past couple of years.

Arzy has been populating my year-end lists as a member of both Lighting in a Twilight Hour and the Luxembourg Signal, and now she adds a third active band to her resume. Jetstream Pony just released its debut 7" on German label Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten, and the following two songs prove Arzy still isn't stretching herself thin. If you're wondering who is playing the fuzzy guitar below, that's indie stalwart Shaun Charman. You know him from being behind the kit in the early years of the Wedding Present, Popguns and, more recently, the Fireworks. You can order the "Like You Less" b/w "Had Enough" single at Discogs.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Gedge Gives 'George Best' Another Go

As the story goes, in early 2008, as the Wedding Present was putting the finishing touches on 'El Rey,' David Gedge suggested to producer Steve Albini they record a "live" version of debut album 'George Best' right there in the studio. Albini wasn't too enthused, but Gedge talked him into it with assurances the exercise would be quick. Gedge was looking for a simple old-school recording sans studio multi-track wizardry... like something for John Peel. The timing was right too. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album, the Wedding Present had spent much of 1987 performing 'George Best' in its entirety, and Gedge would never know these songs again like he did then. Well, at least not until the 30th anniversary. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Nearly a decade later, the Albini-produced 'George Best' is getting an official release. Andrew Scheps, producer of 'El Rey' followup 'Valentina', has mixed 'George Best 30'. The result is an album that is immediately identifiable but, as it says in the press kit, "those ever fast, ever jangly guitars [are] warmer, bigger and more modern, more... Albini!" There might be some die-hard fans out there shaking their heads at a new recording of a classic like 'George Best', and the cynic in me also pondered whether some of the best love songs ever written could or should be delivered in the studio by a mature and grizzled Gedge. Having heard the album tonight, all I can say is, trust him. Nothing wrong with a healthy debate, but there were reasons why Gedge thought these songs might benefit from a new airing.

'George Best 30' will be released Sept. 22 via HHBTM Records, and you can preorder now. For an extra $13, the limited deluxe version includes colored vinyl, a square button, screen-printed insert poster and screen-printed tote bag. Give the 'GB 30' version of "Shatner" a good listen.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


Here are a few dishes I feel like I'm never going to get to unless I do it right now. Hopefully, there is something here you'll want to put on your plate.

Still Hoping to Change the World Through Music
Way back in March, our hero, Paddy Joe, resurfaced with a less-than-polished looking video (maybe recorded on his phone?) for a new song titled "America." We all know about Mr. McAloon's health issues, and he continues to appear quite a bit rougher than the days when he regularly visited the pop charts. All indications would point towards disappointment... until McAloon opens his mouth. Stunning. Like the entire 2013 album 'Crimson/Red', listening to "America" feels like a miracle. McAloon has much to say too. My favorite line: "Liberty welcomes everyone, now she's blushing in the sun." There is no news of an impending album. I think, for now, we should be content with McAloon surprising us with a video like this every once in a while. Be well, Paddy Joe.

More on the New LP From the Granite Shore
As promised, I return with preorder news on 'Suspended Second.' Official release date is still Oct. 13, but copies are expected at Occultation HQ in about a fortnight. With that in mind, preorders are being taken now. Here is the label's description of your vinyl ordering options:

The standard edition is a 180g stereo LP in a laminated gatefold sleeve with full-colour printed lyric inner. The deluxe adds a second mono LP, CD, A3 poster, 12" insert with an essay and two laminated full-scale Tarot cards. It's very limited and available only from us and Fishrider.

Occultation reminds us the rates on the deluxe edition are preorder prices. Expect an increase once stock arrives. Here's more from Occultation:

The events of the last year have hit the label hard. The cost of making records has shot up due to the weak pound; although we press vinyl in the UK, most raw materials are imported. We're offering the Deluxe LP at a discounted price until copies actually arrive, as an incentive to preorder, and you get MP3s immediately. The price will then go up as high quality in small runs is expensive.

In other words, if you want 'Suspended Second' in all of its glory, don't dawdle. Preorder now. Here's another song from the album...

Must Be the Irn-Bru
I have no idea why the best indie-pop has been coming out of Scotland since 1980. Just keep it coming, I say. Here is another in a long line of Glaswegian bands I have been enjoying the past few weeks. I know very little about this trio. It appears Marble Gods have only been around a short while, but this catchy four-song cassette leads me to believe this is one band to track. Hopefully one of my pals from my favorite city on the planet will catch them opening for someone.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A 'Very Most' Excellent Summer

After a two-week visit, Mom has abandoned the music room for the friendly confines of Illinois. In short, I have my records back. Was searching for inspiration a few minutes ago and see that CC is highlighting the work of Idaho's own Josh Ritter today. That has me thinking about my favorite band from the Gem State. The Very Most is an indie-pop outfit out of Boise whose music, according to their bio, "exists in a pretty little spot on the Venn diagram where The Beach Boys, Camera Obscura, New Order, Teenage Fanclub, and The Wedding Present meet." This would be a good time to open and close your hands on each side of your head while making exploding noises with your mouth. Mind blown.

In 2009, the Very Most released an EP for each season of the year. All of these were eventually collected as one album, 'A Year With the Very Most.' It works very well as one piece, and there isn't a duff note to be found. With summer quickly coming to a close, here are a couple from 'Summer EP.' For those of us from the Pacific Northwest, "A Mid-80s Lower-Middle Class Family Summer Road Trip" is a geographic goldmine. There are references to Spokane, Lake Coeur d'Alene and a couple of forgettable rural Washington towns...

We're all playing the game
where you call out letters from the signs.
M in motel
N in Wenatchee
O in Pasco
P in "Please kill me!"

With the feel-good "You're in Love With the Sun," we learn your secret, but you have to share because "your summer love he's loved by everyone." If you fall for the charms of the Very Most, and I'm confident you will, check out their bandcamp page. These singles, EPs and albums may be tough to find in your local mom-and-pop shop, but just about their entire discography can be found at your fingertips.

"A Mid-80s Lower-Middle Class Family Summer Road Trip"
"You're in Love With the Sun"

Monday, August 28, 2017

Finally Found a Way to Get Forster's 'Grant & I'

Last summer, I couldn't wait to read Robert Forster's book 'Grant & I: Inside and Outside The Go-Betweens'. One year after its release, I still don't have the book. It has been a most difficult find for those of us on this side of the world, and I have had to get creative. Nine days from now, Forster will embark on a book tour through the UK. 'Grant & I' evenings will include a reading from the book, a conversation and live performance. With stops like Nottingham, London, Glasgow, Dublin and Manchester on the itinerary, I know many of my friends will be there. I hope one of my blogging pals takes the time to tell us all about the special night in their town.

OK, most of the rest of this post is for the benefit of my fellow Yanks who have been desperate to get a hold of 'Grant & I'. There must be a few of you out there, right? I am on Monorail's email list, and a few days ago the Glasgow record shop sent a pre-order note for the book. These will be copies signed by Mr. Forster when he visits the shop for the 'Grant & I' evening on Sept. 7. For those planning to be there for the big night, customers can select "collect in store" on the pre-order page and pick up the book before the event and get the book signed in person. For the rest of us, Forster will sign the book, and Monorail will mail it out on Sept. 8. Having already ordered mine, I can tell you how much this will set you back. A signed copy with postage to America will set you back £24.49. As I'm typing this, that's $31.57. After a yearlong wait, money well spent in my book.

Here are all of the dates for the upcoming 'Grant & I' evenings, and let's listen to the last joint composition by Forster and Grant McLennan. The song was released on Forster's melancholy 2008 album 'The Evangelist'. At the time of the release, two years after McLennan's death, Forster told the Independent that McLennan had the melody, song structure and the first five lines of the lyric. Forster finished it. I'm not sure there is another song I have listened to more the last decade.

5th September 2017: Nottingham, Rough Trade Shop
6th September 2017: London, Rough Trade Shop
7th September 2017: Glasgow, Mono
8th September 2017: Dublin, The Gutter Bookshop
12th September 2017: Liverpool, Leaf
13th September 2017: Manchester, Anthony Burgess Foundation
25th September 2017: London, The Shaw Theatre
5th November 2017: Hamburg, Nachtasyl
6th November 2017: Berlin, Maschinenhaus in der Kulturbrauerei
7th November 2017: Frankfurt Am Main, Brotfabrik
9th November 2017: Regensburg, Buchhandlung Dombrowsky
10th November 2017: Köln, King Georg
11th November 2017: Reutlingen, Vitamin
12th November 2017: Manchester, Louder Than War Festival
28th November 2017: Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Capitol Bild & Bühne

"Demon Days"

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

'Strange Fruit' at the Produce Stand

It has been an interesting couple of days. Here in the Pacific Northwest, eclipse fever had become an epidemic. Basically, everyone in the Puget Sound area headed south to catch the eclipse in totality. Something like one million visitors descended on the Oregon Coast alone. Mrs. LTL really wanted to go. I didn't want to go at all. We compromised with a quick trip east and a bit south through Snoqualmie Pass and into central Washington. We left on Sunday morning and were rafting down the Yakima River by lunchtime. Sure beat all of that traffic going down I-5. The family, including my mother visiting from Illinois, went ahead and stayed overnight on the east side of the Cascade Mountains.

Early the next morning, we headed a bit further south in search of a nice spot to see the eclipse. We ended up at Manastash Ridge, a mountain with a beautiful viewpoint of the valley at about 2,700 feet. We didn't get a total solar eclipse where we were, but the sun was 95 percent covered and well worth the trip. You'll have to take my word for it. My camera didn't care for the eclipse.

By now you might be asking, what does this have to do with music? I'm getting to that. On the way home, after lunch at a roadside diner worth the trip alone, I was told to pull over at a produce stand that can only be described as in the middle of nowhere. The town was called Thorp, population 240, and Thorp's commerce boiled down to the structure pictured below and a gas station next door. As Mom and Mrs. LTL shopped away, I more or less stood in the corner, hands in pockets, staring at my shoes. After about 15 minutes, I noticed some stairs to a second floor that looked like might be full of antiques. I decided to head up. Among the A&W root-beer mugs, vintage dishes, clothes and toys, I did see a stack of old albums, but I didn't even go straight for them. I wasn't in the mood to look through worn copies of REO Speedwagon and Leo Sayer. From upstairs, I could see my party was about to wrap things up down there. I went to the albums for a quick peek. Wow, this was not your usual '70s schlock.

Gasps turned into giddy laughter as I spotted one tremendous record after another: The Wedding Present on Peel, a Lush EP from 1989, the only SST-era fIREHOSE album I didn't have on vinyl, singles by Kevin Rowland, Propaganda and the Teardrop Explodes. How could this be? How could I get back those 15 wasted minutes downstairs? Before I could get through the rack, it was time to go. Just as well. I didn't have a lot of cash in my pocket anyway. As I descended the stairs in triumph, my mind was racing. Whose records were these? How did an album on Peel's Strange Fruit label get to a fruit stand in the sticks? The person in front of me in line was buying zucchini. Now I'm putting a ZTT 7" on the counter. A surreal moment, to be sure. Great albums don't grow on trees, but maybe they do in Thorp, Washington.

Mom is in the music room for another week. So, no turntable access, but I do have that Peel Session from the Wedding Present on the deluxe edition of 'Tommy' as well. Let's give that a listen. Recorded Feb. 11, 1986 and broadcast 15 days later, this was the first of nine sessions Gedge did for John Peel's show. Listeners would learn early the band knew how to pick a cover. Yep, that's Orange Juice's "Felicity."

The Wedding Present - "Felicity" (Peel Session)
The Wedding Present - "What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted?" (Peel Session)
The Wedding Present - "You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends" (Peel Session)
The Wedding Present - "This Boy Can Wait" (Peel Session)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Top 10 Releases From Firestation Records

If you didn't get the chance, please catch my interview with Firestation boss Uwe Weigmann from earlier this week. To continue the celebration of three new releases (the Siddeleys, Elephant Noise and the English McCoy) out this weekend from the influential label, I thought it would be fun to compile my 10 favorites from Firestation. In order to make it easier on myself, I decided against including all various-artist compilations. Otherwise, almost every spot would be from 'the Sound of Leamington Spa' series, and that wouldn't be a very interesting read, would it? Also, I more or less resisted including 2017 releases. Those need more time to percolate. Apologies to Yeah Jazz, the Sullivans, the Bridge and scores of others. I'm sure a top 20 would have been a breeze. I believe all but one of these 10 are still in print. So, indie fans, get out there and support one of the best labels out there!

LTL Presents: Top 10 Releases From Firestation Records

1. Andy Pawlak - 'In the Kitchen' (2016)
Six songs recorded in his kitchen way back in '85... a whopping four years before the masterpiece 'A Shoebox Full Of Secrets.' Firestation said this one was for fans of Aztec Camera, Friends Again, Prefab Sprout, the Pale Fountains and early Everything But The Girl. Can't get any more in my wheelhouse than that!

2. The Hardy Boys - "Wonderful Lie" (2015)
I had been searching for this tough-to-find 12" single practically since Stella Five released it in 1989. Then one day, poof, Firestation reissues it with so much care you would swear it was the original.

3. The Bodines - 'Shrinkwrap' (2007 and 2017)
Seemingly out of nowhere, Firestation unearths three strong tracks from 1988. This will not be the last band from NME's 'C86' cassette to make this list. My one beef... I bought this one when it was available only on CD. Earlier this year, a 12" became available. Do I buy it again? Probably. It's a sickness.

4. The Big Gun - "Heard About Love" (2016)
The 7" from 1986 was blown out to a 12" for those of us obsessed with obscure Scottish indie pop. You know who you are. The two songs from the original are joined by a wonderful old split-single flexi -- to my knowledge, the band's only other official release -- and three previously unreleased demos.

5. Close Lobsters - "Steel Love" 7" (2012)
It was a big year for Close Lobsters. The band reunited to play Madrid Popfest, their first live show since 1989. A few other popfests would soon follow, and the fellas have remained fairly active ever since. Only 200 hand-numbered copies of "Steel Love" were made, and they were first sold at Popfest Berlin that year. The A-side was a demo recorded in 1990. The B-side was a live recording of "Head Above Water," captured in 1989. It was a tough one to track down, I can tell you.

6. Hipflasks - 'A Lovely Scar' (2016)
I trusted Firestation and bought this one without ever hearing a note. Sure glad I did. The CD contains just about everything the short-lived Newcastle upon Tyne band did between 1986 and 1988. You're bound to hear the Love Parade and Orange Juice all over this one.

7. The Love Parade - 'All We Could Have Been' (2015)
Both of the band's classic singles from the A Turntable Friend label are here, along with just about everything else they did in 1989 and 1990. Essential listening, indie-pop fans!

8. Nivens - 'From a northumbrian mining village comes the sound of summer' (2006 and 2016)
My obsession with the Woosh label is what initially brought me to these lads, but when Firestation released this comp on CD in 2006, I foolishly passed on it because I thought I had all I needed. I was wrong. Unlike the Bodines debacle (see above), it all paid off in the end because the album was rereleased last year... on vinyl, this time. Woo-hoo! "Yesterday" is just about the best bit of jangle you'll ever hear.

9. The Bloody Marys - 'Sixteen Hail Marys' (2005)
Was this the fifth-best band in Hull? I only knew the 1986 "Paris"/"Party Hour" ‎single, but I loved that 7" so much that there was no way I could pass this one up. Still think that's their best, but there are plenty of other nuggets from 1985-2004 on this compilation.

10. Emily - 'A Retrospective' (2016)
I bought this one for all the tracks on the ultra-rare Esurient Communications single "Stumble," but most of the compilation contains unreleased gems. The acoustic version of the Creation-era song "The Old Stone Bridge" is sublime. The wallet was a little light on the day I purchased it. So, I went for the double CD instead of the double vinyl. Now I'm full of regret.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Q&A With Uwe Weigmann of Firestation Records

You need only look as far as my annual list of the best reissues to know nobody mines the UK indie-pop archives better than Berlin-based Firestation Records. They are the rare label that can get me to buy an album without ever hearing a note. I know it's been vetted by the best. By the best, I'm referring to Founder/Label Manager Uwe Weigmann. So far this year, Weigmann and his team has had me spinning the likes of the Apple Moths, Keen, Asia Fields and the Pressure Group. It's an exciting time right now as Firestation has a trio of releases hitting the shelves this Friday. Let's catch up with Weigmann to hear about new albums by the Siddeleys, Elephant Noise and the English McCoy, as well as some big news on 'the Sound of Leamington Spa' series.

Linear Tracking Lives: The original releases from the Siddeleys are rare, highly coveted and extremely expensive. Since the late '80s, there have been few reissues. In 2001, Matinée Recordings put together a terrific compilation featuring their singles and Peel Sessions. In 2015, Firestation did a very nice job with the "Sunshine Thuggery" 12". How will your upcoming release, 'Songs From the Sidings,' differ from these previous reissues?

Uwe Weigmann: 'Songs From The Sidings' partly contains demos which Johnny Johnson recorded with Torquil MacLeod of Reserve between 1985-1986. Apart from it you will find demo versions of classic tracks such as "What Went Wrong This Time?" or "Falling Off Of My Feet Again," which the band recorded as four piece in early 1986. The CD version contains liner notes by Johnny along with some rare band photos.

LTL: 'Songs From the Sidings' is not the only release you have coming out on Aug. 18, but the Siddeleys are certainly the best known. Can you tell us about the bands Elephant Noise and the English McCoy and the impending reissues that feature them?

Uwe: Both the English McCoy and Elephant Noise are faves of mine since the early '90s when I bought their records from the secondhand record shops in London. Their releases became ultra rare soon after. We already worked with Elephant Noise some years ago when we included one of their songs on the seventh part of 'the Sound Of Leamington Spa' series. It took years to locate the members of the English McCoy. I nearly gave up on it until the last year when members of the band get in touch with us via e-mail. I already had a tracklist in mind for the album but did some changes on it when I found out that there are even more recordings by them which were unknown to me before. There are still some cool songs by them which didn't made it onto the album.

LTL: What Firestation releases do you listen to with the most pride? Why?

Uwe: Of course, I have some personal faves. Without a doubt the most important release for me will always be FST 001, Bazooka Cain – Viele Grüsse. I have so many great memories of this release. Maybe it was the best time of my life when it came out in 1998. "Annahmeschluß" is one of the greatest songs ever written. I was also very proud to release records by some of my favourite bands or artists, such as Sensation, Andy Pawlak and the Bodines.

In recent years, the album by Skint & Demoralised was very important to me for various reasons. It was the last current indie-pop band I was in love with. Also, I will never stop raving about this record. I deeply regret now that we haven't released the bands third and also last album when it came out some years ago. I am also proud to have put together FST 100 - 'Still Mad At Me? 15 Years Firestation Records 1998-2013'. It took me a year or so to organise everything for it, put together the tracklist, write the liner notes, locate photos and so on. It was great fun! Another big fave of mine is "Listen" by SouLutions, a 7“ single we released three years ago together with our friends from Sundae Soul Recordings. The record was sold out within a day.

LTL: Many of the volumes in the the popular 'Sound of Leamington Spa; series are no longer available. Any chance we could see more editions? Could the previous volumes be brought back in print? On vinyl?

Uwe: Yes, unfortunately nearly all of them are no longer available. We just sold out FST 100 which included the seventh part of the series, so we only have copies left of volumes 1 and 6. We will not print the previous volumes again. Some years ago I wrote that I will not continue the series, but I changed my mind a while ago. There should be news on it by the end of the year.

LTL: 'The Sound Leamington Spa' series must have been so much work but a real labor of love, I'm sure. Just how hard was it to track down all of those obscure bands and songs? Do you have a particularly tough or unusual tale about any of your chases?

Uwe: Yeah, partially it was hard to track down some bands. It was relatively easy to put together part one. I wrote a fanzine back then and was in contact with some of the bands already before we compiled the first part. After the success of part one, it was obvious that we had to continue the series, so to track down more bands I wrote a lot of letters to old addresses which I found on the records or in fanzines from the past. I think I sent out more than 100. Some returned with the note "addressee unknown," but many bands got in touch after they received my letters. It was amazing! I tracked down the members of A Strange Desire after I found out that one of them wrote a reader's letter in Record Collector magazine. I wrote to the magazine, and they helped me to get in contact with the band. That was great!

Classic UK indie-pop from the 1980s and early 1990s was my biggest love back then. It was the greatest fun to compile the series. I became a bit tired about it when other labels tried to copy the series. That was one of the reasons why I stopped the series temporarily.

LTL: What '80s indie-pop band would you love to see become a part of the Firestation family? What is the one band you were most disappointed to see get away?

Uwe: Metro Trinity is the band whose back catalogue I always wanted to put out. They released my favourite indie-pop 12" single of all time. We're already worked with Jonny Male a couple of times when we released the first volume of 'the Sound Of Leamington Spa' and later the second album by Sensation. Unfortunately, most of the their recordings seems to be lost. We can't locate them. I already got in touch with a lot of people about it, but so far, no one could help on it. I will not give up on it. Someone out there must have those songs. I would love to reissue the "Episode Four" 12" single or put out the unreleased recordings by all-time faves such as the Painted Word, Fruits Of Passion or the Friday Club. Also, to release the "lost" second album by Del Amitri or a retrospective by Hello Sunset would be a dream come true.

There will be a lot of retrospective releases from us in the near future. Recently, I found out about a band from Liverpool which I never heard of before. Their songs are so amazing that I still can't believe that they never released any records when they were around in the 1980s. Hopefully, we can put out a compilation by them before the end of the year. Everyone who is in love with bands such as Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, Friends Again or the Bridge will love them. I am sure!

"Everyone who is in love with bands such as Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, Friends Again or the Bridge will love them." I don't know about you, but that warms the cockles of my heart. Can't wait for that one. Many thanks to Mr. Weigmann for taking the time to do this... and during such a busy week too. As my back and forth with Uwe wound down, I couldn't help but ask him about his mention of the Friday Club. Although I do have the 7", as some of you may recall, the 12" extended version of "Window Shopping" has been my most sought after piece of vinyl for as many years as I can remember. I told Uwe if he could find a way to reissue that one he would be my hero for life. Sounds like that could be a tall order. So, the search for my white whale continues...

To celebrate Firestation's imminent reissues, next time on these pages I will countdown my top 10 all-time favorite releases from the label. Stay tuned. In the meantime, don't forget to preorder your copies of the new albums from the Siddeleys, Elephant Noise and the English McCoy!