Indie Top 20 Volume 1 (Band Of Joy, 1987)

Indie 1

Indie 1 r

Let’s go right back to 1981. C81 was a cassette compiled for the NME and released with Rough Trade. The main intention was to mark the first five years of the independent label movement. It was the debut in a series of many cassette releases from the music paper and was compiled by Roy Carr and Christopher Rose. To obtain your copy, you had to collect two coupons from the magazine and send off £1.50. The first printed coupons and advertisement for the cassette were in the issue dated 31 January 1981. For Irish people that meant a trudge to the post office or bank to purchase a postal order or draft in Great Britain pounds and waiting at least 28 days for delivery. The tape contained 25 tracks ranging from electronic beats, post-punk to jazz via poetry and ska. You also got the ‘C81 Owner’s Manual’, a 32-page booklet of lyrics and artwork that was assembled by cutting up and folding a page from the magazine. This consisted of 16 small double sided panels, and was designed to be slipped into the tape box. Sales via this channel >25,000.

C81 went on general release in May 1981, a month in which both Bobby Sands and Bob Marley died. At this point, Chrysalis Records refused to re-licence the tracks by The Specials (Raquel) and Linx (Don’t Get In My Way), so these were replaced by Panther Burns (Bourgeois Blues) and Television Personalities (Magnificent Dreams). And now, a brief golf digression: the Irish Mixed Foursomes is a national competition, a knockout matchplay tournament from the outset, with clubs facing regional opponents in the first number of rounds. The provincial semi finals and final are played at a neutral venue in August each year, with the winners going forward to the national semi finals. In 1981 New Ross Golf Club won the All Ireland Mixed Foursomes and my mother was on the team.

By 1986, I was playing a lot of golf myself. Primarily at holiday time – I’d mix fruit picking in the morning with 18 holes in the afternoon. I’d started to play in junior tournaments the previous year and my form was steadily improving. That summer, the big one was the Junior Matchplay. The week starting 11 August was crucial. On Tuesday 12th I played the highly-fancied Andrew Ronan in the semi-final. He was four holes up with six to play. Then I hit a streak and won the next five to go one up as we strolled to the 18th tee. We halved the last and he stormed off, very unhappy. Two days later, I won the regular singles tournament with a 63 nett. Things were looking up for the Junior Matchplay final which was being held at 7.00am on 15 August. My opponent was Paul Murphy, a guy about three years’ older and a solid operator. He won 3 and 1. The dream was over; after that point, my interest gradually waned over the years. That night, I headed off to Rome on my school tour. My walkman played an NME tape as we boarded the ferry at Rosslare – C86.

A lot has been written about C86. Its legacy endures with Cherry Red reissuing the album as an expanded 3CD set in 2014. Andrew Collins said “It was the most indie thing to have ever existed.” while Bob Stanley quipped that C86 represented “the beginning of indie music… It’s hard to remember how underground guitar music and fanzines were in the mid-’80s; DIY ethics and any residual punk attitudes were in isolated pockets around the country and the C86 comp & gigs brought them together in an explosion of new groups.” It was primarily a cassette release although vinyl copies were also pressed up in limited quantities. In the spring of 1987, the very first Indie Top 20 album emerged – on cassette only – but in two different sleeves, the second with prominent Melody Maker logos.

“Hello, you’re on the air” goes the sample as A Certain Ratio get this party started. Mickey Way (The Candy Bar) is a really unrepresentative beginning. It’s full of elongated riffs and basslines and doesn’t really go anywhere. Of far more interest is track 2, ace favourite of school yard and the Dave Fanning show – Half Man Half Biscuit’s surreal slo-mo synth ‘n’ organ masterpiece Dickie Davies Eyes. Alarmed, the unemployed. And as time goes by so fast, “All the people who you’d romantically like to still believe are alive . . . are dead.” makes me depressed beyond tablets. Next, blink and you’ll miss it – The Soup Dragons’ breakneck jangle fuzz Hang Ten! Over to Dee Raz for words on the video “This comes from the 10 October 1986 edition of The Chart Show’s indie chart, where the Soup Dragons were at #8. After that they played the number 1 song Dickie Davies Eyes from Half Man Half Biscuit. Then they played an indie exclusive from Goodbye Mr Mackenzie called The Rattler, which featured an unknown Shirley Manson, playing the keyboards, who later on became the singer of Garbage !!!!” Just don’t confuse them with The Snapdragons.

One of the perverse joys of watching the weekly indie chart countdown was seeing the heavy hitters do really well. That means Depeche Mode, Erasure and later on, the PWL stable of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. Sometimes, Vince & Andy’s breakthrough, is track 4. In its wake, the less fondly remembered One Thousand Violins – Please Don’t Sandblast My House, a tune with a catchy psychedelic feel. You’ll find it on Cherry Red’s C87. Moving on, there’s a psychobilly invader in the form of Guana Batz’s obnoxiously tuneless Loan Shack. That really was a genre that I generally avoided when rummaging through Freebird’s basement. The trashy feel continues with the early incarnation of Pop Will Eat Itself, a buzzing noise known as Oh Grebo I Think I Love You. Not a bad effort and an funny comment on the scene itself, but they’d get so much better.

“After school, a friendship walking home
We fled across the fields, until we were alone
To a bridge, that stood close by the sea
The day that we spent there, is ours eternally”

Discogs states that the Band Of Joy label was affiliated with Strange Fruit Records, who released umpteen BBC session recordings from the 1960s onwards. The truly excellent Indie Top 20 blog confirms that Clive Selwood owned the latter. Selwood was father of the compilers Chet and Bee. That explains three of next four tracks. First is The Wedding Present’s You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends, a double A-Side – their third single – with This Boy Can Wait. The Peel Session take dating from 11 February 1986 was way better and is included here and preserved on the tinny Tommy. Joy Division’s Transmission: out of time but was the leading track on their recently-released Peel Session 12″. Naturally New Order are next (you’ll need to turn the tape over) with a marvelous cover of Turn The Heater On, a Keith Hudson tune and Ian Curtis favourite. A shivery exercise in ghostly synthesised dub and a welcome antidote to the blandness of Movement. Penny Anderson would not approve of this story: I bought the 12″ Peel Sessions with it on a trip to the Young Scientist Exhibition in Dublin’s RDS. A few of us left the exhibition as soon as possible, gave the teachers the slip, and got a bus into Dublin’s city centre where a brand new Virgin Megastore had recently opened. In those days Virgin had vinyl sections for everywhere (Happy Flowers, Butthole Surfers, Wire etc) so I was in heaven.

The Blue Aeroplanes would briefly swagger in baggier times with . . . And Stones but early effort Lover & Confidante is unremarkable. This was the John Stapleton era, a man whose compilations and mixes are amazing. Check out 2009’s Full Circle for Very Good Plus. We move into a goth phase with both Ghost Dance and Rose Of Avalanche. The former’s Grip Of Love is just ok while Velveteen plods along like a broody rock epic. Which came first, Sweet Child O’ Mine or it? The quality improves with Sonic Youth’s alter-ego Ciccone Youth and Into The Groovy, deconstructed Madonna which they’d fully explore on 1988’s Whitey Album. With the benefit of 30 years’ hindsight, were they being ironic and was this a piss-take? A quick glance at any indie message board will throw up plenty of pop-hating Sonic Youth fans. And then back to bland with the unexciting quirks of The Chesterfields.

The last quarter of this rather uneven Volume 1 starts with The Razorcuts’ thoughtful and melodic jangler Sorry To Embarrass You which fell through the cracks until its inclusion on Rough Trade’s Indiepop 1 double CD in 2004. On the same label – Subway – came The Flatmates and the fizzed-up I Could Be In Heaven. They’d also improve as would Talulah Gosh, whose debut 45 Beatnik Boy lands next. While Amelia Fletcher’s vocal is clear and strong, the track has a rather limp atmospheric. I saw Heavenly play in Barnstormers, Dublin sometime during August 1991 and it was electric, a drunken hour. In the same vein are Mighty Mighty whose Throwaway is exactly like the title suggests. Sadly, any hopes of an killer closing song are dashed as soon as the twee tones of the BMX Bandits at their worst. The Day Before Tomorrow is appalling stuff, a shambling charmless amateur dirge.

A most welcome postscript: my son’s joint project entitled “How efficient is algae as a fuel compared to other fuels?” is chosen for the 2019 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition. Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences category. The RDS is still the location for the event. The results are announced on 11 January: Junior Group – 1st place. No slipping off for me this time – I am extremely proud of him, a wonderful achievement.

Favourite tracks
Half Man Half Biscuit – Dickie Davies Eyes

The Soup Dragons – Hang Ten!

Razorcuts – Sorry To Embarrass You

Lest we forget
New Order – Turn The Heater On

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Greenpeace (Towerbell / EMI, 1985)


Greenpeace r

I remember when I first saw the Greenpeace LP. I had just finished year one in secondary school and was eagerly looking forward to the extended summer break – which started at the beginning of June, rather than at the end of the month as was the case in primary school. Its sleeve was prominent in the rack opposite the door of Ross Records. The UK branch of Greenpeace organised the release while the front cover containing a photograph of a ship. A bittersweet image seeing as the organisation’s Rainbow Warrior was sunk by the French on 10 July causing the death of Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira.

Some words: “By purchasing this album, you will be helping to ensure that Greenpeace can continue its campaigns to protect the natural world.” The project was initially low key but snowballed as more and more artists donated songs, the majority of which were previously released. Exceptions included Hazel O’Connor & Chris Thompson – Push And Shove, recorded specially. George Harrison – Save The World, originally released in 1981 but remixed with a new vocal and lyrics. The Pretenders – Show Me, a live version. The album was digitally mastered at Eel Pie Soho and Abbey Road Studios. A VHS tie-in was released just before Christmas 1985 and was called Non-Toxic Video Hits. The CD inlay has cut-out membership application forms for West Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

The CD begins with Peter Gabriel’s oblique Shock The Monkey, a version that runs for 5:44 which is almost 20 seconds longer than the PG4 album take. The 7″ was 3:58. This song is about love and jealousy and how the latter can release our basic primal instincts. Not about an actual monkey, but a metaphoric one. The tone immediately becomes darker with the second tune, Queen’s sombre Is This The World We Created…?, closing track on The Works and also used as the B-side to It’s A Hard Life. It was written in Munich after Freddie Mercury and Brian May watched the news of poverty in Africa. It’s also the forgotten song of Queen’s Live Aid performance: everyone remembers their six number main set which catapulted them to fame, fame, fatal fame but it’s easy to forget that Mercury and May came out later into the evening to perform this beautiful song as a duo.

By May 1984, Kajagoogoo and Limahl and gone their separate ways. Turn Your Back On Me is taken from their second LP, Islands, and its catchy chorus found many fans in the US. Next is Thomas Dolby’s eerie and austere Wind Power, all mind-blowing electronics creating groove, mood and atmosphere. Switch off as Tears For Fears most darko classic Mad World drops, perfectly placed. In 1985, Songs From The Big Chair was everywhere so hearing this was like stepping back to another time. Continuing this effective sequencing is Kate Bush’s Breathing, a story of a worried foetus, frightened by nuclear fallout. The lyrics also refer to the unborn baby absorbing nicotine from the mother’s smoking. Bush later described the song as her “little symphony”, adding that the information within the song mostly came from a documentary she had seen about the effects of nuclear war, while the tone of the song was inspired by Pink Floyd’s The Wall. On Greenpeace, we are treated to the single mix which is otherwise unavailable on CD despite the recent reissue campaign.

In 1985, the nuclear threat was still fresh. The Day After and Threads had recent showings on both RTE and BBC while Chernenko (star of the Two Tribes video) had only recently passed away. Therefore the inclusion of Heaven 17’s Let’s All Make A Bomb is very apt and heightens the tension. Its parent album, Penthouse And Pavement, remains one of my favourites of the decade. “Our future’s looking black.” The mood slightly lifts with the angelic voice of Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders’ song about softness, Show Me (Live). Next is the new track which was used to promote the album, a heartfelt number Push And Shove, from Hazel O’Connor and Chris Thompson. In its wake, Howard Jones’ relentless and synth-heavy Equality, lifted from the underrated second side of Human’s Lib – the introduction sounds like it could be used as a dramatic montage in a Cold War film.

Wings Of A Dove was yet another standalone single from Madness. It features steel drums by Creighton Steel Sounds and a gospel choir – The Inspirational Choir of the Pentecostal First Born Church of the Living God. In the video they all bail out of an airplane in a white transit van. Nik Kershaw’s thoughtful Human Racing works well in the context of this album, “a paper world with paper faces.” Elsewhere George Harrison urges us to Save The World while Roger Taylor (Queen not Duran Duran) serves up the harrowing Killing Time, lifted from his 1984 album Strange Frontier. Freddie on backing vocals, cocaine in sound form. It’s followed by what Neil Tennant described as “a routine slab of gloom in which God is given a severe ticking-off” – Depeche Mode’s Blasphemous Rumours. I got The Singles 81-85 for Christmas that year and marveled at the sardonic reviews. A bleak ending: Eurythmics’ amazing No Fear, No Hate, No Pain (No Broken Hearts). Shoot it up.

Favourite tracks
Kate Bush – Breathing

Depeche Mode – Blasphemous Rumours

Lest we forget
Roger Taylor – Killing Time

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Reflections (CBS, 1982)


Reflections r

“Who long for rest, who look for pleasure
Away from counter, court or school
O where live well your lease of leisure,
But here, here at Penmaen Pool”

(Gerard Manley Hopkins, Penmaen Pool, 1875)

The Good Room. In 1970s and 1980s Ireland, many middle class homes had one. A sacred space where access was limited and only open for visitors and special occasions such as Christmas. Ours had a patterned carpet, a large fancy coffee table and a three piece green suite with orange cushions. The coal box was the colour of gold and there was a large painting of a lady in a fancy ballgown. Artist unknown. There was also a small selection of suitable photographs. In 1983 we had wooden cabinets fitted, perfect for displaying the numerous pieces of Waterford Crystal that my parents had won over the years. If you looked out the window you could see the river Barrow and the ruined Red Bridge. A sight that’s dear to my heart but a cold landscape, matched only by the temperature of the room.

This old rail bridge which spans the river Barrow is located upriver from New Ross town. The area is dangerous. The slope to get up to the tracks is steep and has loose stones. The track continued east from there where it joined with the Dublin to Wexford line near Enniscorthy. Services ceased in 1963, but the link onwards to Waterford continued for a while longer. I remember annual excursions to Waterford, returning via the Galley – a cruising restaurant. The goods trains ran until 1995. The last one went on fire. To the right of the bridge is the Mile Tunnel, an unlit and damp spot. If you got to the end, you came out at the entrance to Rosemount Stud. Walking through the tunnel and across the Red Bridge were rites of passage for teenagers in New Ross. One particularly memorable trip was on the night we finished our Inter Cert. Cans and flaming torches aided our passage.

“I waited until my mid twenties to leave what I considered a stifling quiet in New Ross; at certain times of any day you could let an empty bottle roll down North Street and watch it tumble all the way to the middle of either South or Mary Street depending on whether some loitering skinhead kicked it at The Tholsel.” (Frank Sheehan)
One thing that stays with me from those days is calling into the shop owned by Frank’s family (Moran Brothers). I spent ages there reading a Beano summer special. But I didn’t have enough cash – it was out of my price range (30p+) and I only had 10p. He generously gave it to me plus a sherbet dip and said the 10p would do. This must have been 1981 or so.

Our Philips 3-in-1 stereo was kept in The Good Room. On Sunday afternoons, my mother would usually go in there and read the newspapers. We got the Sunday Press and Sunday Independent. A record would go on the turntable; during 1982 and 1983, Reflections was a popular choice. “Original instrumental hits” with a special mention for Brideshead Revisited, The Deer Hunter Theme (Cavantina), Annie’s Song, Midnight Express Theme plus Chariots Of Fire. Sometimes I would just sit in there and do homework while the music played. Geoffrey Burgon’s Brideshead Revisited is an inspiring start – as Peter Barnes eloquently put it: “When my parents watched this, I would cease my studies and come out just to listen to the theme. Then, back to the books. Newly inspired.”

Chariots Of Fire is redone by library maestro Alan Hawkshaw under the moniker of Hawk & Co. Purists were very unhappy at the time but I was none the wiser. In the mid 1990s I started to buy KPM LPs and marveled at the talent of the Hawk, Brian Bennett, Keith Mansfield, John Cameron. Then there’s a brief interlude from Blood, Sweat & Tears, the 1st Movement of Trois Gymnopedies, a piano composition by Erik Satie. This links into track 4, Bob James’ plaintive Shepherd Song and then the stirring Flame Trees Of Thika theme by the enigmatic Video Symphonic. A single release from 1981 and directed by Zack Laurence. And then, maestro of the panpipes, Gheorge Zamfir and an edited version of The Light Of Experience Theme. BBC2. It’s quickly followed by Vangelis’ angelic Cosmos, the signature tune for Carl Sagan’s unforgettable series. “Who speaks for Earth?”

Friday 11 June 1982.
Larry Holmes v Gerry Cooney.
One of the most eagerly anticipated boxing matches ever. As it wasn’t starting until 3.00 or 4.00am (can’t remember which), RTE 1 decided to screen The Deer Hunter once the Late News had aired. In those days, closedown normally took place around midnight so this was a rare treat to watch TV through the night. Quite a few schoolboys stayed up and most of us in two channel land watched The Deer Hunter. Unfortunately the movie broke down half way through and RTE re-screened it the following night. The fight wasn’t bad either.

“This album accompanied us on a camper van holiday through France and it really set the atmosphere so it instantly brings back lovely memories . Magical.” (Vogue Singer)

The mixing is hot and each track follows quickly. After John Williams’ bleak Cavantina, in drop Fleetwood Mac and the feather oar blades of Albatross. The ubiquitous Theme From The Life And Times Of David Lloyd George or Chi Mai – one of the most common BBC 45s – bleeds into Francis Lai’s austere Main Theme From Bilitis. Close your eyes and let the past flash through your mind. Unfortunately the sound of clapping interrupts as we’re treated to a live version of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, as performed by The Shadows.

Belfast man, James Galway, drops the impressive Annie’s Song – a true 1970s staple – while Giorgio Moroder’s stupendous Love Theme From Midnight Express simply shines, soundtrack to a cult movie for us teenagers during the latter part of the decade. The sultry sound of Santana stands out, the expertly-played Samba Pa Ti. As we move to a mournful climax, it’s Acker Bilk’s Aria wringing out the tears, Andreas Vollenweider’s emotional Hands And Clouds and finally’s ABBA’s heavenly Arrival. And I am back in my bedroom, thumbing through a 1976 issue of Woman & Home – there were loads of them plus sewing magazines all dumped in the wardrobe. “I want this to be played at my funeral, while my ashes being scattered in the wind. It isn’t the end. It’s my ‘Arrival’.” (Marrs 101)

Reflections eventually came out on CD in 1990. A sequel to the original album emerged in 1983, titled Imaginations (Further Reflections) but this has never had a digital release. I still remember a promo 7″ featuring excerpts while record shops were given a poster that said “TV advertising plus you playing this single in the store will ensure massive sales.” They weren’t wrong, as hundreds of second hand copies lie in discount bins and charity shops all over the world. Meanwhile The Good Room still stands; it’s now used as the main living space. For many years, my parents seemed frozen at the same age but now, time has caught up with them. They have not become old all at once, in fact it has been happening slowly over a span of many years. It just took me a while to notice.

Favourite tracks
Vangelis – Theme From The Cosmos (Heaven & Hell)

ABBA – Arrival

Lest we forget
Francis Lai – Main Theme From Bilitis

Posted in Pop UK | 4 Comments