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!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

An Album Once More From the Granite Shore

If you're a regular, you no doubt remember me fawning over 'Once More From the Top' by the Granite Shore. It was my top album of 2015. If you factor in all of the love and care that went into the packaging, it's my favorite album of the decade. As our friends at Occultation Recordings wrote to this blog at the time, "[o]f course, from a 'business' point of view this is ludicrous. The album was recorded quickly so fairly cheaply and actually we spent more on the sleeve than on anything else. Then we added a 32-page booklet (that cost almost as much as recording) at no extra cost to purchasers. Hmm. Never quite got the hang of capitalism, did we?"

I have no idea what label founder and Granite Shore frontman Nick Halliwell has up his sleeve in terms of packaging for the band's forthcoming LP, 'Suspended Second,' but in terms of the music, I'm certainly drawn to this latest video. Phil Wilson of the June Brides, also a member of the Granite Shore, put together the clip for "Where Does the Sadness Come From?"

Halliwell decided to leave the narrative found on 'Once More From the Top' this time around. Occultation has described 'Suspended Second' as an angry pop record, and news of the day did much to shape its content. As writing began in spring 2016, Halliwell says, "Suddenly, we were overtaken by what felt like a national self-harming anxiety episode, which then went global." In other words, all of those hooks may get your toes tapping but will do little to hide the state of affairs. What more can you hope for from a pop album?

'Suspended Second' is expected to be officially released on or about Oct. 13, but the label says test pressings have already been approved and that the plant may be able to turn the album around quite quickly. Occultation is hopeful they may be able to begin selling 'Suspended Second' on their own site by the end of the month or early September. News of a deluxe edition should be announced soon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Wife's Not Away, But Scritti Politti Will Play!

I got a surprise gift in the post yesterday from one of our swell blogging pals. Can you guess which one? There is a very big hint in the photo above. Thanks for hanging on to that poster for 35 years, mystery blogger. Love it! It's going up in the music room, tout de suite. Now, for another opinion, I hand things over to Mrs. LTL. Spoiler alert: You are about to find out who sent the package...

Dear Mr. The Swede,
While I am touched by your thoughtfulness and generosity in sending my betrothed a vintage poster, I am equally revolted and repelled by the idea of resurrecting the Scritti Politti rotation in our household. For the love of Green, don't encourage Brian! Next he'll be bringing out his paisley collared shirts, buttoning them up to the top and digging through my fashion archives for garish brooches. I just CAN'T go back there! Of course, I am just having some fun with you. It is a lovely gesture, and I have a "perfect way" to honor the poster – it will be framed and proudly displayed... but only in HIS music room.
Mrs. LTL

Swede, your timing is impeccable. While on vacation a couple of weeks ago, a reader named Andrew left a comment on an old post about Scritti Politti. He asked if I had the 7-inch version of 'Songs to Remember'-era song "Jacques Derrida." I can help him with all three takes. It's a big favorite around here. By "around here," I guess I mean it's a big favorite of mine. Obviously, I'm not speaking for Mrs. LTL on this subject. Thanks again, Swede!

"Jacques Derrida" (7")
"Jacques Derrida" (12")
"Jacques Derrida" (Album)