Sunday, December 6, 2020

From Duncan's Parcel of Pop (Part 7)

Although not all of these are on the beloved label, a little deeper dig into my special delivery from New Zealand brings me to a bunch of bands that spent at least a little time on the Subway Organization. A couple of these records have been covered here before, but they are certainly worth a repeat. Let's start with Subway's most successful alum. Duncan's feelings on the Soup Dragons mirror my own. Take it away, Duncan...

As a 15/16 year old, was there a more fun band to listen to and go see in 1986 than the Soup Dragons (well, okay, Talulah Gosh, but they came along a bit later)? The Soup Dragons were the second group I saw live: The Garage club, October 1986. They were explosive! A week later I saw the Smiths and it was a long, tedious yawn...

So what did we care if the older and wiser heads, and the cynics in the music press, responded with a world weary sneer of "duh, Buzzcocks"? Wasn't it grand to discover a band who (along with the Bodines) were almost as young as we were, and who definitely DID NOT reminisce about seeing the White Riot tour in their interviews?

I know the precise time and place I first heard the Soup Dragons: 22 April 1986 on John Peel's show, when I taped their first radio session. And then through that summer I collected tapes of their excellent "You Have Some Too" demo, their "lost e.p.", a Janice Long session and a brilliant live tape at Dingwalls club. I loved that first set of songs they had: "Too Shy To Say"! "Aha, Experience"! "Same Old Story"! "Spilt Milk"! "The Label Said Not"! "Lindy's Realised"! "Make My Day"! "Learning to Fall"! "Quite Content"! I loved the unorthodox song structures, the witty words and the sheer bravado and energy of the music.

It's difficult now not to feel cynical and dismissive of the Soup Dragons. Has there been a more egregious example of careerism and shameless bandwagon jumping? But they left us with a brace of classic singles before things started going horribly wrong, and for that we should be very grateful.

Here's the title track from the "Hang-Ten" EP, as well as one from slightly earlier Duncan mentioned really digging. We'll take a pass on "I'm Free."

"Quite Content"

This review above was also planted in the parcel, and it makes for a nice segue to our next band. The night in question is Feb. 15, 1986, at Brixton Old White Horse, and the triple bill of Shop Assistants, 1000 Violins and the Soup Dragons, the latter making their London debut. As it is penned by the legendary Adrian Thrills, the piece is well worth your time. He has a tangent about John Peel's use of the label "shambolic" while calling Shop Assistants "the best band in Scotland." Yep, this one will take you back. Click and read. I'll wait. After some online digging, I found the show poster too. Thrills says this was not the best night to see the Shoppies, but I still wish I could have been there for this trio of bands.

"I Don't Wanna Be Friends With You" was the walk-up single to the band's lone LP. "Looking Back," the non-album B-side, wasn't widely available on anything but this single until 'Shop Assistants' was reissued on CD in 1997 on Overground and Cherry Red in 2008. You won't spend a better minute and 45 seconds today. Many believe the album, released on Chrysalis' Blue Guitar label, didn't really hold up to the classic 7" releases that preceded it. If there was a drop off, it was a slight one.

I Don't Wanna Be Friends With You
Looking Back

Through my exchanges with Duncan, it has become clear Martin Whitehead is one of his heroes. Here's Duncan discussing his brushes with the prince of indie-pop.

I owe a huge personal debt of gratitude to Martin Whitehead, the Subway Organisation owner. Not only did he release some mighty fine records (including the "Shopping Parade" EP and "Sorry To Embarrass You" 12" -- two of the greatest singles ever released), he was also generous enough with his time to write me some brilliant letters and send me some much treasured tapes that introduced me to the likes of Josef K, Fire Engines, Modern Lovers and Swell Maps. I was lucky enough to see one of his Subway showcase gigs in 1987 at the Nottingham Old Vic: Razorcuts, Chesterf!elds, Flatmates, and that is a brilliant memory. But before all that, he also wrote a great fanzine called 'The Underground', which just happens to be the first fanzine I ever read. Just take a look at this 'Underground Hit List' to see what great taste Martin had.

The fourth issue of 'The Underground' came with a free flexi containing my favourite tracks by two of the Subway bands: "Home Again" by Shop Assistants, and a simply superb early version of "Nose Out of Joint" by the Chesterf!elds. This version is much slower than the one that appears on the 'Kettle' LP, and the lead guitar is beautifully distorted and overamped (think "Blueboy"). The solo that plays out the song is one of my all-time favourites. I loved these two songs so much that I even designed my own sleeve for the flexi disc!
I know Brian is the world's biggest Subway fan, so I'll leave him to talk about the other records in the pop parcel. I'll just sign off with a big thank you to Martin Whitehead -- you are a legend!

Well, if I'm such a big fan, why don't I have this flexi? Duncan's description of this version of "Nose Out of Joint" has me scouring Discogs. Gotta have it. If you are a regular reader, you may remember during my Summer of Subway series last year I mentioned how although I'm set with Subway releases from the Groove Farm I only had a smattering of music they released on the band's own Raving Pop Blast! Records. I have been trying to rectify that, particulalry during the era when the Groove Farm was on both labels simultaneously. Duncan has done his part by including the "Only The Most Ignorant Gutless Sheep-Brained Poltroon Can Deny Them Now" EP from 1987. What a racket! These are four of the loudest tracks in my collection. Don't believe me? Give this one a listen...

In the Summertime

Let's close with one from my favorite Subway band. I have already played "Shimmer" a time or two through the years. Here is the B-side of the 7" instead. Okay, you got me. I played this one in 2017. When you have been doing this for more than 11 years, you are bound to repeat yourself. I want to thank Duncan again for the records and for throwing in his two cents on the music. He is putting down the pen, but believe it or not, there are at least a few more treasures in the box worthy of a mention. I'll post them from time to time and gush about how lucky I am to have a pal in New Zealand.

On My Mind


drew said...

Have to disagree with Duncan regarding the Soup Dragons and bandwagon jumping, you may not like the direction they went in but bands do change direction. It wasn't bandwagon jumping as have said elsewhere numerous times Mother Earth came out a full 6 months prior to Loaded and there wasn't really an indie/dance thing prior to that. Sean Dickson now makes quality house tunes and has done for quite some time.

A long time ago I had a few pints and talked pish about music with Jim McCulloch when Willie McArdle who played sometimes with the BMX bandits brought him into our local. Good guy from what I remember.

Brian said...

Hey, Drew. Well, the calendar doesn't lie, does it? You make a good point, but there are some of us who can't get over the change in musical direction that occurred around '89/'90 for many of our favorite indie-pop bands from just a couple of years earlier. There are some fans that evolved with them and even more, as sales attest, that enjoyed these bands for the first time. As for me, the era we are discussing here was like bein exiled to the desert. I disliked most of the new sounds. Stuck in my ways, I guess. Even now, much of the new music I listen to sounds like 1986.

Will drop you a line later this week. Have some exciting news.

drew said...

er, that should be Mother Universe, as you know anyway

Duncan said...

Kia ora, Drew. Thanks for the feedback. I'll guess we'll never agree on this one!!! It was actually the long-haired rock direction they embraced in '88 that I was referring to, more than their subsequent Madchester shift. I never forgave Primal Scream for the same reasons either ...

But as Brian points out, this is all personal prejudice and unfiltered opinion formed when I was a teenager...



Duncan said...


A very big thank you for affording me this opportunity to share some of my very personal recollections of my teenage years; I've enjoyed writing these pieces immensely. It's been great connecting with some like minded individuals scattered across the globe. But the most rewarding aspect has been in digging out press cuttings, letters, tapes and records for the first time in 20-30 years, and rediscovering so much gold. Like when I put in a tape with the Chesterfield's Kettle LP on it and just being blown away by how great a song like 'Shame About The Rain' is. And of course, being inspired to buy the St Christopher 'Forevermore' double CD collection, which I am loving to death.

So glad you've enjoyed the items I sent through, and I look forward to future posts ...

Keep up the great work!


Duncan said...

Oh, yeah, one more thing. 'On My Mind' is definitely my favourite Flatmates track. Great choice.

Brian said...

Sorry, Duncan. I tried to put up a defense and didn't even correctly reference the time period. Sheesh. At any rate, I'm not much of a fan of This Is Our Art or Lovegod era Soup Dragons, let alone the stuff that came after it. Will never get enough of the earlier singles and EPs though. There is a Soup Dragons for nearly everyone. Nothing wrong with that. If they made some cash, good on Sean and the lads. Talk to you soon.