Monday, September 28, 2020

Label Alert

Just ordered three 7" singles that have come out this year on Spinout Nuggets. The UK label has been around for a couple of years, but I have been a little slow to Spinout's charms because it sometimes co-releases albums with Shelflife Records on this side of the pond. The self-titled debut of Jetstream Pony and the impending release from the Luxembourg Signal are prime examples of these co-releases I got through Shelflife, but Spinout has exclusives by a few of my favorites I couldn't possibly resist.

Medway scenesters the Claim share a double-A-side single with Jim Riley's Blues Foundation. Despite the melancholy title, "Spring Turns To Winter" is a head bobbing piece of pop full of drum rolls and jangle.

Order here.

I got in early on the Treasures of Mexico, and the ex-members of fellow Medway band the Dentists made my list of fave albums in 2018. Indie-pop legend Beth Arzy joins in on "Heart Shaped Clock," making this their best song yet. Stunning sleeve work too.

Order here.

You'll feel "If Not Now, When?" right in the gut. Turn it up, man, but beware. That bass is a window rattler. The flip is a cover of 20/20's "Yellow Pills" that's been available digitally since New Year's Day, but I'm sure you would rather have it on wax, right?

Order here. As I said, keep an eye on Spinout, and save your shekels because this indie is on quite a roll.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Pandemic Improved My RSD Experience

I'm a hypocrite. I have criticized the entire Record Store Day model on these pages, from the atmosphere straight out of Lord of the Flies to the inflated secondary-market prices when it's all over... and just about everything in-between. I stayed away for many years, but just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in a couple of years ago. You can read about that here.

Like everything in 2020, RSD has been a different experience this year. The usual April event was delayed and delayed again. Finally, it was decided there would be three Saturdays for RSD, one in August, September and October, to spread things out a bit and, hopefully, benefit the shops. I decided to attend the first outing. First and foremost, I wanted to support a store that was hurting even more than usual, but I also felt this overwhelming desire to be the part of the record-buying community. That's not like me at all, but I had not been in a record store since the pandemic began. Participating stores made up their own rules on how to handle customers during these unprecedented times, but I commend the way it worked out at the shop I visited. In previous years, I would not know whether the store received the records I wanted. This time, since the records had been produced and dispatched so far ahead of time, the shop was able to list on their Web site what they had received. This proved to be vital because this particular store is part of a three-store chain, and the one closest to me did not get everything I wanted. I could move my business to another location and avoid disappointment.

I arrived at 8AM. There was quite a line, perhaps 60 people, and that surprised me a little. I would not say they were practicing social distancing very well, and I wondered why they were lined up at all because the plan was to pass out a hard-copy list of their RSD inventory to each customer. The sheets of paper would have a handwritten number in the upper right-hand corner. That was your number to enter the store. No need for a line at all. You put a checkmark next to the records you wanted and pick up to 15 titles. I could see the papers had already been passed out to those in line. I went to the door and received my inventory list. My number was 68. The maximum number of customers let in the store at once was three. They had just let in the first three. With time to kill, I went to my car, opened up the hatchback and ate breakfast. Then I moved on to my book. After a while, I struck up a conversation with another would-be customer sitting in a lawn chair about 20 feet away. We talked about our lists and our thoughts about whether we would get what we wanted.

Time flew by. When it got close to my number, I locked up the car, put on my mask and got closer to the door. When my number was called, I entered and gave my list to a worker. I just stood there while he thumbed through a couple of boxes behind a counter. I took a look around and realized the store was nearly empty. Usually, on RSD, it would be pandemonium as a mass of humanity pushed their way to those boxes. "Here you go," he said with a smile. I was directed to the cash register, That was it. I was in the store for about two minutes. That was my experience, but I realize it didn't work that way for everyone there. The guy who came in a few seconds after me went home empty-handed. My wants are usually off the beaten path, and that makes me luckier than some. Here's what I picked up. That's a live show by Pretenders from 1980 I have wanted for years. It came out originally as a promo on 'The Warner Bros. Music Show,' a series you may know from decades ago. The reissue of 'Longshot For Your Love' by the Pale Fountains is a collection of radio sessions and early releases. If you already have an original copy, keep it. The packaging of this reissue is superior, but the quality of the vinyl has been a huge letdown.

My goal was to be home by 10AM because that's when part two of my RSD would begin. In all other years, record stores are not allowed to sell new RSD merchandise online for one week. In another move to help the shops, these records could be sold on store Web sites at 6PM that day. Well, 10AM where I live is 6PM in the UK and, as always, the RSD listings across the pond are more catered to my tastes. I immediately logged on and ordered these two. They arrived in the post a week later. That one from Kirsty MacColl is a B-sides collection from the four singles during the 'Kite' era. The album from BMX Bandits needs no introduction, and I got it to replace a lousy CD issue I got in 2011.
RSD is still rife with the same problems it has had for years, but in some respects, I think it was a little better this year. If you didn't get what you wanted, at least you could try again online later that day and get your wants from actual shops and not resellers out to make big profits. At the shop I visited, there was no need to line up, and there was no pushing and fighting as the mob devoured a few boxes of stock. Tomorrow is the second installment of RSD 2020. I won't be participating this time because I don't need anything on the list, but there are a few things worthy of attention, including 40th anniversay editions of 2 Tone favorites and a bevy of reissues from the early days of the Jazz Butcher. Check out the full UK and U.S.A. lists, and make each day Record Store Day.

Monday, September 21, 2020

From Duncan's Parcel of Pop (Part 3)

Among the many treasures Duncan sent me was this four-song EP from the Claim that's sometimes referred to as the "Mrs. Shepherd" 7" (shown above). It's an unusual release for a few reasons. First, it came out in 1993, the year after the lads called it quits. Second, all four songs were released five years earlier on their much celebrated album 'Boomy Tella,' via Esurient Communications. Third, and perhaps most bizarre on first glance, this small retrospective of sorts was the brainchild of one Brian Kirk, founder of the Bus Stop Label in Iowa City, Iowa, USA. I say on first glance because Kirk had a passion for this kind of indie pop coming out of the UK, and he helped Americans like me hear acts like the Mayfields and St. Christopher during this same time period. I want to get to Duncan's words about the Claim straightaway. This is one of his most beloved bands, and his passion can be felt all over the page. I think you'll agree today's scribe has a future in this business. Take it away, Duncan...

"Just now, a lot of people seem to be giving up on pop (as in the real stuff, the pure!), or giving time to people who have given in, but I stick by my dreams and ideals." -- Kevin Pearce, 1989

In the autumn of 1988 I left home and moved south to study in Birmingham. In many ways, the timing could not have been worse, for this was the beginning of a long fallow period for the UK underground music scene. The previous 12 months had witnessed a whole golden generation of Manchester bands (Laugh!, Bodines, James, Stockholm Monsters, Happy Mondays, A Certain Ratio, Big Flame...) falling apart, losing their way or blowing it big style. A similar malaise had struck many of the bands to emerge from the Living Room/Creation inspired explosion of two years previously. The newer independent pop combos seemed hellbent on conservatism, insularity and compromise. More worryingly was the return of a most unwelcome strain of rockism, infecting and disfiguring some of the brightest lights of the '80s (Hurrah!, Primal Scream, REM, Julian Cope), and running rampant amongst the highly touted new bands like House of Love and MBV. Other heroes (Kevin Rowland, Vic Godard, Martin Bramah) had simply disappeared from view.

True, there remained enough of those fiercely independent. wildhearted outsiders out there to keep things alive and interesting. But the vital and visionary sounds of McCarthy, Wolfhounds, Last Party, Felt, Benny Profane, Shack et al were being marginalised and ignored. I was an 18 year old desperately in need of a new soul vision.

And then, in early 1989, something very special arrived in the post to reignite my dreams; a shiny 7" EP ("Wait and See") by a band called the Claim. Accompanying it was a typically fiery and impassioned letter from label supremo Kevin Pearce. For the next two years, the Claim and the other Esurient bands became my new obsessions.

I searched out the Claim's earlier releases. Very soon the 'Boomy Tella' LP became the record of choice for me and my flatmate Mark. It's the record that became the soundtrack of our time at university. It's a record I still listen to and love to this day. These words Kevin Pearce penned at the time say it much better than I could:

"Few LPs ever seem as though they are meant to be. They tend to be gawky, uneven, unnatural, insufficient. 'Boomy Tella' is an exception. There's nothing there to taint, or detract from its unique beauty. I love it! I love the way it's finely balanced. The way it's sinewy and substantial but understated and light on its feet. The way there's something to get your teeth into but something you can't quite put your finger on. The way it's so English like Ray Davies, Vic Godard but altogether strange somehow. The way I keep coming back to it like a tongue comes back to a loose tooth. Most of all I love the way 'Not So Simple Sharon Says' starts as much as I love the way 'Waterloo Sunset' starts."

Kinks, Vic Godard. These were the common reference points for the Claim. But for me, the 'Boomy Tella' sound was a natural successor to the June Brides. Not in any obvious "spiky guitars and violas" kind of way. Rather, think of how the slightly unusual rhythms on songs like 'Down By the Chimney' or 'On My Way' can unsettle and knock you off balance. Or how there is something strange going on just beneath the surface of the seemingly humdrum everyday worlds of Not So Simple Sharon or Mrs Shepherd. Something going on that's not quite right. And then go and listen to the June Brides' 'Cold', 'Comfort' or 'Heard You Call'. THAT'S what I mean. There's an attention to detail and a stubborn individuality on display that sets these two bands firmly apart.

Mark and I started taking every opportunity to travel down to London to attend a series of Esurient showcase events. Small upstairs rooms in pubs dotted around the West End. Maybe 50 or 60 like minded souls for company. Three button jackets, button-down shirts, black levis, Dr Marten shoes, short back and sides. Two bands playing 30-minute sets of revolutionary, intense expressions of the deepest soul. And then a mad rush back across to the city to King's Cross for the 11:35PM coach home to Birmingham.

I saw the Claim five times between 1989 and 1992, playing alongside fellow travellers Emily, Hellfire Sermons, Jasmine Minks, Jactars, Last Party. I would rate at least three of these as being amongst the best 10 live shows I have ever witnessed.

By 1992 it was all over. Esurient released its last salvo of explosive singles, A Turntable Friend put out one final Claim 7" and then they were gone.

But a year later, this EP appeared on the US Bus Stop label. Four tracks taken from the then five years old 'Boomy Tella' LP. I've never really understood why, but it's a lovely item to own. A particular delight are the sleeve notes on the back. Four short pen pictures of the band members. An answer to the question of why David Arnold "holds his guitar like a machine gun". A chance to ponder whether David Read is "mean and moody poet or happy-go-lucky playboy". The chance to discover that bassist John was once a member of the "Devon Contingent"; a "notorious gang of Claim fans famed for their dedication and support". I saw the first show John played with the Claim -- I recall it was also the night they premiered "Sporting Life," one of my favourite Claim songs. I also seem to remember Kevin telling me John was once a member of the Visitors, or am I imagining all this?

Hopefully everyone who reads this article already has the reissue of 'Boomy Tella'. If not, get on to it right now. And for anyone interested in the Claim's story, I highly recommend Dan William's excellent 'A Jumped-Up Pantry Boy' blog. Finally a big thank you to Mr Mark Stratford Baker for the use of his Claim photos taken at the King and Queen, Foley Street, W1 in the summer of 1990, and to Kevin Pearce for introducing me in the first place to the wonderful world of the Claim.

What I tell 'ya? Good stuff, eh? The big news on the Claim is they are back. As Duncan mentioned, 'Boomy Tella' was reissued last year, amd there was a new album in 2019 as well. Of course, you already knew this as both of these were rated hightly on my favorite albums and reissues lists back in December. The Claim has popped up on these pages a few times through the years, but this post is the one I like the most. Oh, and Duncan, I have a collection of songs by the Visitors called 'Miss' that lists a "Jon Cleary" as a memeber on the liner notes. Same guy? Was the first name misspelled? Is anyone out there who can shed some more light? Here are two songs that appeared on the 1993 four-song EP...

Mrs. Shepherd
Down By the Chimney

Friday, September 18, 2020

When Catenary Wires Away, Amelia and Rob Play

While many of us have have had our heads resting in our hands during the pandemic, indie-pop royals Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey have made lemonade out of lemons by adding two more names to their impressive and ever-growing list of bands you need to hear. I think it's fair to say when you're talented, adored and have lots of like-minded musical pals, opportunity will continue to knock. First up is European Sun, fronted by singer-songwriter Steve Miles of the Short Stories. Behind the kind of pleasant understated jangle we love in these parts lies important points to ponder in this mixed-up world. These messages are delivered by Miles and Fletcher, and the way their voices sound together is, ahem, heavenly. The band's self-titled debut, out last week on the always dependable WIAIWYA label, is essential listening. Let's hope European Sun is much more than a one-off respite.

Switching gears, in the late '80s and early '90s, Fletcher popped up on many works of the Pooh Sticks, including albums 'Orgasm,' 'The Great White Wonder' and 'Million Seller,' to name a few. Must have been some unfinished business there because she has reunited with Hue Williams to form Swansea Sound, along with mates Pursey (on guitars) and Ian Button (drums) from the Catenary Wires. Like with European Sun, the band has a message or two, and the "oppressive dead hand of the corporate music sector," as their press release states, will surely have you nodding in agreement.

Everything about Swansea Sound rails against the machine, and that goes from debut single, "Corporate Indie Band"/"Angry Girl," down to the format used for release. This one comes out, ahem, on tape (sorry, again!) Oct. 17 as part of Cassette Week. This one is via obscure format label Lavender Sweep (from Swansea, of course), and future songs will come out on handpicked indies with similar ideals. If cassette is not your thing, you will be able to download from Bandcamp. Spotify, Apple Music or other corporate providers? Forget about it. That's right. Stick it to the man!

Fletcher and Pursey are the couple that keeps on giving. There is another impending release I'm excited about, but we'll save that for a little later.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

First the Wee Cherubs, Now the Bachelor Pad

After years left untended, there is a branch of the indie-pop tree bearing fruit again. For me, the first signs of growth occurred in 2006 when Glaswegian band (Strathbungo, to be exact) the Bachelor Pad appeared on a compilation when Jim Kavanaugh resurrected his legendary Egg Records for a brief reissue campaign. These songs were not the usual jangle I was expecting. This was louder and more psychedelic. More in line with, say, Hangman's Beautiful Daughters. Fast forward to the past decade and the band started showing up all over Cherry Red comps like 'Scared to Get Happy,' 'C87,' 'C88' and 'Big Gold Dreams.' I quickly came to realize the Bachelor Pad wasn't a band so easy to label. One minute there was a garage bent to them and the next they had you bobbing your head to pure pop. One thing for sure, there were a lot of '60s records in their collections. It has been said the Bachelor Pad are equal parts Buzzcocks and Syd Barrett. How can you resist that description?

Everywhere I turned the Bachelor Pad seemed to pop up. When I became obsessed with the Sha La La flexis, there they were sharing a split single with an equally fantastic Scottish band, Baby Lemonade. Then I heard "Dreaming" by the Wee Cherubs on a compilation and thought it was just about the the most beautiful piece of pop I had ever heard. What? This was the band Martin Cotter and Graham Adam were in before the Bachelor Pad? Then, of course, in the last year Optic Nerve reissued the "Dreaming" single and upped the ante by cobbling together an album's worth of "lost" songs on 'The Merry Makers.' Well, surely, if the Wee Cherubs can be anthologized, the better known Bachelor Pad can have a collection too, right?

On Oct. 6, Emotional Response is coming to the rescue with 'All Hash and Cock: The Very Best of the Bachelor Pad.' The 12 songs touch on the Warholasound, Imaginary and Egg eras. Even with the compilations I mentioned, there is still plenty here you need in your collection. Plus, you get a poster and sleeve notes by the Guardian's Alexis Petridis... all housed in a gatefold sleeve to keep your yellow vinyl pristine. Pre-order now!.

Here are a couple of songs to whet your appetite. This should illustrate the Bachelor Pad's spectrum of sound. "Country Pancake" appeared on the band's lone album, the teriffic 'Tales of Hofmann.' "Meet the Lovely Jenny Brown" came near the end for the band when Cotter had already flown the coop. Those songs for Egg like this one and "Smoothie" turned out to be my favorites. Both of the songs found below will appear on 'All Hash and Cock: The Very Best of the Bachelor Pad.'

1. The Albums of Jack
2. Country Pancake
3. Girl of Your Dreams
4. Abu Nidals Bus
5. I Feel Sick
6. Jack and Julian
7. Tumble and Fall
8. Do It For Fun
9. The Coroners Wife
10. Garbagehead
11. Meet the Lovely Jenny Brown
12. I Want to Hold Your Head

Sept. 16 Update:
There will be an exciting accompaniment to 'All Hash and Cock: The Very Best of the Bachelor Pad.' The band's last single, "Meet the Lovely Jenny Brown," will be re-released as a five-song 10" on white vinyl that includes a previously unreleased stripped-down piano mix of the song and a whopping 8-minute version of "Do It For Fun." Emotional Repsonse rules! I'll add the pre-order link when it becomes available. Save your shillings.

Dec. 6 Update: The "Meet the Lovely Jenny Brown" 10" is now available in very limited quantities. Better act fast. I found a copy overseas and snatched it. If I had any patience at all, I could have saved some moolah.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

From Duncan's Parcel of Pop (Part 2)

Let's dig a little deeper into the treasure chest from my pal in New Zealand. I didn't become aware of Bristol band the Driscolls until I became obsessed with Woosh and the flexis that came with the fanzines. That would be years after the band called it quits. You can catch up with part of my journey to the label, fanzine and the Driscolls here and here. Duncan, on the other hand, goes way back with the Driscolls. Here was how he discovered the band. Duncan, the floor is yours....
I first became aware of the Driscolls courtesy of a flexi included with the second Woosh fanzine, along with an interview with the band (this would've been 1988). There were three things that immediately attracted me to them:

1. The name:

"The name comes from Julie Driscoll... known as much for her looks as her voice. I'd always had a bit of a crush on her...." - Mike Eagle (singer/guitarist). Although it wasn't a very fashionable thing to admit to in 1988, I also loved Julie Driscoll. One of the great sixties girl singers: "Season of the Witch", "Save Me", "Indian Rope Man"...

2. The new single:

According to the interview, they had a new single out called "Julie Christie". At the time I was obsessed with the film 'Billy Liar', and particularly with Julie Christie's character in the film.

3. The cover version:

The previous year, my best mate H had sent me a tape of sixties mod, psych, freakbeat tracks, mainly culled from Bam Caruso compilation LPs: Creation, Eyes, Attack, Syn, Action, Birds, etc. One of the standout tracks was "Father's Name Is Dad" by Fire, which is the song the Driscolls covered on the flexi.

So, this was obviously a band with seriously cool taste. I immediately sent off for for their two singles (two pounds inc P&P) direct from the band. Some great songs, particularly "Julie Christie" and "Groovy Little Town". And the sleeve of the "Julie Christie" 7" is to die for; a gorgeous still of her from David Lean's 'Dr Zhivago'.

I got to see the Driscolls the following year in Birmingham, supporting fellow Bristolians the Brilliant Corners (what was it about Bristol and guitar bands in the 80s?). It was a brilliant show and they ended their set with a fiery version of "My Father's Name Was Dad". Great memories.

The Driscolls opening for the Brilliant Corners! My jealousy knows no bounds, Duncan. At this point you must be asking, alright, already, what was in the box? The "Julie Christie" and "Girl I Want You Back" singles, but that's not all. He threw in a promo poster for one of the singles. This will be framed and put up in my music room. A close inspection of the poster shows thumb tack marks in the corners which brings a smile knowing Duncan probably had this up in his room decades before.

Two interesting tidbits about these A-sides. I mentioned in a previous post John Peel was attracted to "Girl I Want You Back" because of the line "stacking shelves in Gateway" in the middle eight. I always sing along right there. One of the B-sides, "Andrew," has Superstore in the lyrics. What is it about these grocery stores? Turns out Eagle's flat was across the street from a Safeway. As for "Julie Christie," Eagle had a great photo of her he knew belonged on a sleeve. That was all the inspiration he needed to write the song. In the end, the photo that inspired him wasn't used because bassist John Foster found this one from 'Dr. Zhivago.' Eagle relented, but I can't help but wonder what photo of Christie was used as Eagle's muse...

Let's close with the two A-sides and a giant plug for my pal Chris at Jigsaw Records. In 2014, Jigsaw put out a single-disc Woosh collection that includes "Father's Name Is Dad," and it's still in print. If you are an indie-pop aficionado and don't have the flexis, you need this one. That same year, Jigsaw released a 35-track two-disc set of the Driscolls' complete recrdings. This one is sold out in physical form, but you can stream and download here.

Girl I Want You Back
Julie Christie