Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A Story Untold for Years: One Year in the Life of the Jasmine Minks

As excitement builds around two impending releases, our pal from New Zealand returns to give us a lesson on one of his favorite bands from the golden age of indie pop. The floor is yours, Duncan...

Following Brian's recent post on Precious Recordings of London, I was inspired to write something about two further forthcoming releases on the label. These are EPs of two radio sessions from either end of 1986 by a group that is very close to my heart: the Jasmine Minks.

Firstly, a bit of history. Of the batch of new groups emerging in and around Alan McGee's Living Room club in 1983/4, there were three that really stood out: the Loft, the June Brides and the Jasmine Minks. Over the next couple of years they released between them some truly exceptional singles: "Up the Hill And Down The Slope", "Every Conversation", "Where The Traffic Goes". But by the beginning of 1986, the Loft had disintegrated, and the other two groups faced what would prove to be a pivotal year. And while the June Brides didn't survive, the Minks came out of it stronger than ever.

After the rush and the roar of their first two singles and LP, the Minks had gone to ground in early 1985 to regroup and reassess. They emerged with a whole new set of songs, and a tougher and more focused attitude and direction. I have a couple of live tapes from the spring of 1985, and the level of anger, energy and intensity on display is almost scary. This was a band clearly on a mission.

Around this time, they decided to release a statement 7" EP: four brand new songs recorded quickly and unleashed on the world in the style of "Spiral Scratch". This would be a document of the time, and provide a stepping-off point for the next stage in their development. It would also be a self-referential and deliberately perverse two fingers up and goodbye to the scene they had helped kick-start:

"Do you remember how we used to take the piss out of every shitty sound that sounds just like this?"

Sadly, Alan McGee was to step in and fuck it all up (not for the first or last time in the Minks' career), and what emerged was a watered down facsimile of the original vision, released months too late. I still hope that someday one of the more discerning labels like Optic Nerve will release this 7" EP as it was always intended: "Forces Network", "What's Happening", "Black and Blue", "World's No Place".

Meanwhile the Minks had moved on, refining and developing their new set of songs, a process that was supercharged by the arrival of school friend and self taught trumpet player, Derek Christie. So, as McGee released old Minks material under the guise of the new (the excellent "Cold Heart" had been recorded two years earlier for their debut LP), the new five-piece incarnation of the band recorded a session for John Peel show in February 1986 which is featured on the first of the upcoming Precious EPs.

Their new sound came as a shock. The songs were soulful, introspective and sophisticated. The trumpet and the ensemble playing provided a new depth and subtlety. These aren't songs that grab you by the throat like "Think!" or "What's Happening" -- they take time to reveal their manifold delights. The four tracks on the EP include two real gems; Adam's :Ballad of Johnny Eye" and Jim's "Cry For A Man". These are songs that exude a great deal of sadness and melancholy, but which are offset by genuine passion and fire. You really need to hear them!

"The rain falls down the windowpane, trickling like tears
Her secret eyes, a silent sob, a story untold for years."

Later in the year, the new LP came out. Once again, McGee had interfered, and what should have been a classic release was compromised and reduced. The intended title track, Jim's gloriously soulful "We All Have to Grow Up Sometime" was shamefully omitted. Other crucial tracks ("Got Me Wrong" and an exhilarating trumpet-driven new version of "Forces Network") were consigned to the "Cold Heart" 12" and replaced with songs recorded years earlier. But despite this, the LP still contains tracks of great beauty and power: "Choice", "Painting/Arguing", "Like You", "Ballad of Johnny Eye" and "Cry For A Man" are all simply stunning and should be part of any self-respecting record collection.

The other release of the time to compare was the June Brides' similarly excellent "This Town" EP. Both shared a newfound level of confidence and song writing depth. Sadly, they also shared a fate of poor sales and a criminal lack of interest and support from the music press. So while newer, lesser bands found fame via the 'C86' cassette, The June Brides and the Jasmine Minks were sidelined. It must have been heartbreaking to see your greatest work being ignored like this. Unsurprisingly, the June Brides called it a day, and the Minks fell apart, with both Adam and Derek leaving the group. It was hard to imagine the band continuing without singer, songwriter and founder Adam Sanderson.

It took another old-school friend to travel down to Somer's Town to once again reignite and refocus the Minks; this time in the shape of guitarist Walter Duncan. Suitably fired-up, Jim Shepherd quickly penned a whole new revolutionary set of songs. The second of the Precious EPs is a Janice Long session from November '86, showcasing three of these new songs for the first time, along with a spirited run through of the perennial Minks' standard "Where The Traffic Goes". The session includes an early version of perhaps the Minks' most famous and most loved song, "Cut Me Deep". If any single song sums up the spirit and attitude of the band, it is this one. Written by Jim in response to Adam leaving the group, it is a loving and generous tribute, all wrapped up in the most gorgeous of tunes:

"You made me see so clear
I learned so much from you immediately
A radiance flowed from you affecting me
The knife you cut so deep in me will stay 'til the day I die."

The following year saw the Jasmine Minks finally release the great LP they'd always promised ('Another Age'). Later that same year I saw them play an incendiary set in support of Primal Scream in Nottingham; one of my greatest memories.

And so you see, some stories do have a happy ending.

These two Precious releases are beautifully packaged and lovingly put together. You really need to order them! Many thanks to Nick G of Precious Recordings of London for making these two radio sessions available after all these years.

February 2021


Anonymous said...

Hi Duncan, great article and insight into the Minks middle period. I was a bit late to them but they remain one of my favourites of the many bands from that time you introduced me to. 'Grow Up' was a classic, hard to believe it didn’t get released until years later! Notwithstanding McGee's interventions (and his other interests) I wonder if they would ever have got that much of a bigger audience, perhaps they were too honest and unfashionable, always on the outside and maybe that’s part of the appeal?
Anyway hoping my copy arrives next week; unless you a got an advance copy I suspect you'll have to wait a bit longer?

Dan Destiny’s Silver Dawn said...

Kia Ora, Mark

You’re right of course. I was far too critical of McGee. Without his belief, backing and support we wouldn’t have all those brilliant Minks records to cherish. But it’s so annoying that he kept overruling their wishes when they were right and he was wrong!!!

Anyway, I’ll always love McGee for the beautiful, passionate and exhilarating music he made with Biff! Bang! Pow! I always think this is the true soul of McGee you hear on those records. The ghost of a young man, indeed. ‘The Beat Hotel’ remains one of my favourite LPs, and deserves much greater recognition.

And don’t forget, McGee had the good taste to include a photo of Kevin Pearce’s Hungry Beat fanzine on the front cover of the first BBP! LP, so he must be some kind of visionary genius!!!

Keep safe!

Creation Rabble said...

Just got to this post via the Jasmine Minks Facebook page.  Good article. I never understood why Creation never released forces network as an A side.  Not heard that other version on the Cold Heart 12" though.  I always liked that line about "the Army wives are all tied to NATO sinks" - sums up the UK's subservience to the US military complex.Have you seen Jim Shepherd's solo recording of cry for a man on the Facebook page?  It's well worth a look.  - Marty 

Dan Destiny’s Silver Dawn said...

Thanks for the feedback, Marty. I could never work out that line, so thanks for clarifying. You’re right, it’s great. There are quotable lyrics across all four of those songs. A favourite of mine is “I hope you care in your own special way - cynicism ain’t a virtue but it suits you” from Black and Blue.

And thanks for recommending the clip. I was very interested to read that ‘Cry For A Man’ was written in response to Neil Kinnock’s shifting to the right of the Labour Party in the eighties, and his attempt to expunge the militant tendency. Makes sense: “your manner is becoming smug, I see it in your eyes”.