Tuesday 28 November 2017

C86 and all that by Neil Taylor

History is written by the victors and ebay vendors. So C86 has come to mean something the tape's compilers and contributors weren't aware of, because it didn't exist: a scene based around bands who played jangly guitars and were in thrall to the Buzzcocks, The Byrds, Orange Juice and the Velvet Underground's Loaded.

Neil Taylor's thorough study of the UK's underground guitar scene after post-punk - or C81 as it wasn't called - digs deep into the world of fanzines and micro scenes in small towns. It looks under the surface, in some cases several miles underground, to reveal what was going on when goth was happening overground.

The early 80s indie scenes were a punk rematch inasmuch as the acts had noted, as Taylor points out with reference to The Nightingales, "there was a credibility gap between what punk was meant to represent and what it actually was". Or, later, that The June Brides were "music that was punk rock but sought to speak to people rather than shout at them".

These scenes, though, weren't simply a correction to punk. Many acts were reacting to the mid-80s overtly glossy MTV pop. It was a fight they could never win, but the point was that it was worth fighting.

What Taylor does very well is introduce all the building blocks that created the scenes and then the scenes themselves. Taylor introduces links, but offers no overarching connection between the disparate scenes. The reader is invited to connect fanzines and labels and bands - some people were involved in all three creative outlets - and realise how the underground created its support networks of fans, club nights and gigs.

The reaction to C86 was swift in part, Taylor explains, because the NME's rival paper Melody Maker, attacked most of the bands on there and reduced the jangly ones to a simplistic, unpolitical, asexual mass.

A more astute observer would have noticed that 5 of the acts came from one label, Ron Johnson, so maybe angular, edgy, anti-pop was the real C86 sound. Or that there was no C86 sound, as The Servants' David Westlake explains:

"I was conscious of there being a scene centred on a number of disparate bands. There are precedents for different people on a scene or in a putative genre having a productive contrariety or antipathy to each other...That went to the heart of C86."

C86, then, was the last hurrah of indie's founding years before major labels signed up and spat out the most promising contenders, and Britain's youth decided that they'd much rather take ecstasy in a field than stand in the back room of a pub with a pint of snakebite and black.

What was that June Brides lyric? "We'll learn how to walk then to tumble/To swagger is worse than to stumble". What those Melody Maker critics missed was the anti-macho, anti-rockist, inclusive ideology of Britain's guitar underground.

Britain's indie scenes in the early to mid-80s could be adventurous and thrilling and open, but they could never rightly be pigeonholed.

Friday 24 November 2017

Felt: the first five albums

Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty
The official Felt story is 10 albums, 10 singles, 10 years. The real Felt story starts in 1979 when Lawrence hastily recorded Index on a £15 Tandy (US viewers - that’s Radio Shack) tape recorder.

The official story sweeps Felt’s DIY punk past under the carpet so we start with Lawrence and Maurice Deebank trying to create a new kind of music that no one had heard before. This album isn’t far off that ambition, although it shares an atmospheric ideal with The Durutti Column. And confirms that Felt were named after Television’s use of “felt” (the past tense of feel) in Venus.

So it doesn’t quite exist on its own, but it still, today, has a unique destitute desolation.

The Splendour Of Fear
“The softest touch, the gentlest word.” God knows why the Cocteau Twins got all the, er, garlands. Another 6-song album, half of which had already been out on singles, but take this as an organised pattern of a unified whole.

The Optimist and the Poet is a solo Lawrence composition, suggesting if Deebank ever left he’d be okay composing 8-minute instrumentals on his own.

The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories
“You know those songs like Crystal Ball, Dismantled King? You know I love them all.” With you on that one, Lawrence. Felt had made many pop songs before - come on, Evergreen Dazed is a banger - but here are 10 in a row. Belle and Sebastian and The Clientele forged their early careers on this one record.

Somewhere in the Spanish foothills of the Pyrenees, whole villages dance to these songs at every festivity. I like to think Maurice Deebank is playing there, but apparently he’s moved back from Spain to live in a Birmingham monastery.

Ignite the Seven Cannons
The year before (1984) Felt demo’d Dismantled King Is Off The Throne and Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow for Blanco Y Negro. They got turned down. Felt record Primitive Painters with Elizabeth Fraser and it becomes the biggest selling indie single of 1985 (according to Lawrence, who never let the truth get in the way of a good story). That single and this album was revenge, then.

Lawrence’s only regret about Felt’s catalogue is that Ignite the Seven Cannons is asymmetrical, 6 songs on one side, 5 on the other. That’s not this album’s biggest problem, though.

Aiming for big sales might have encouraged Lawrence to get the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie in as producer. It doesn’t really work. Or at least the feeling that these songs, fantastic though they are, are a bit murkier than they otherwise might be.

Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death
The first Felt album without Deebank. Lawrence chooses not to write 8-minute Spanish guitar opuses, but lets Martin Duffy’s keyboards take the lead.

This is the first album to come with a guarantee of authenticity: “any similarity to songs already written is purely coincidental”. Maybe Lawrence was worried people would spot that Sapphire Mansions is pretty close to the Marine Girls’ Don’t Come Back (feel free to write in and tell me both songs rip off some old jazz number).

This album is being reissued as The Seventeenth Century. The current title lacks the poetry and mystique we’ve become used to.

Lawrence told Sounds in 1989: “I don’t like my name. It’s too long. I think my life would’ve been different if I’d been called Joe. I really believe that.” I don’t really believe changing this album’s title makes it much different or better.

The first 5 Felt albums are reissued on vinyl and CD by Cherry Red on 23 February 2018.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

The Flying Stars Of Brooklyn NY - My God Has A Telephone

In which Aaron Frazer steps up to the microphone and sings for his fucking life. My God Has A Telephone is as intense as soul gets - devotional gospel, faltering vocals, the sense of dramatic tragedy looming - set to a stealthy rhythm and skinny guitar.

If you keep watch on the soul revival you'll have devoured Durand Jones & the Indications' album last year. It's hard to pick a favourite from that modern deep soul classic - I can't separate Giving Up, Can't Keep My Cool and Is It Any Wonder?

Aaron's day job is in the Indications. He sings lead on Is It Any Wonder? You need that desperate pleading, too:

Sunday 5 November 2017

The Jonathan Richman story

People were asking: is this guy a genius or a madman?

"Jonathan wandered in with all these people who had acted in Warhol movies. He had the new Velvet Undergound album, Loaded, which I had not heard, and he was really excited by it."
Jerry Harrison

"I called up hospitals because I wanted to do something. I entertained these retarded 'children' - they were aged eight to sixty - and I realised they understood me far better than the so-called unretarded people. If they liked you, you knew they liked you. And I realised that I wanted to get away from the direction that my music was headed."

Edwyn Collins was also a fan, and adapted the title of Orange Juice's debut LP, You Can't Hide Your Love Forever, from on a line in Hi Dear on Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers."

"Live At The Longbranch Saloon...proves that the Modern Lovers were light years ahead of their US punk compatriots."

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Rips by Rips (RIP Faux Discx)

Faux Discx (2006 - 2017) is shutting up shop. Apparently there's only so many years a man can take of losing money and living among cardboard boxes of unsold stock.

That stock is on sale now. Really low prices for some truly great records. The last great record I bought from that label is the debut by Rips.

Rips sound like The Strokes - verse hook melodies - and Parquet Courts - fidgety post-punk and excessively lively songs. Austin Brown of Parquet Courts produced the album so that makes sense. I don't know why this album didn't turn on lights around the world. It must be tough putting out records this good and they don't sell out within a week.

There are other great records on Faux Disc going cheap (£3 to £5) that are looking for a home. Buy them. And buy the ones on labels that are still going because otherwise we'll lose those labels as well.