Arriving in the shops during the heady spring of 1992, the 14th volume in the Indie Top 20 series undergoes a radical makeover. Now called “Independent 20”, the highlighted bands are Curve, Lush, The Sugarcubes, Revolver, Daisy Chainsaw “and more” while the only reference to the number is in the CD spine. In a rather obnoxious move, vinyl buyers were given an option of buying a pricey edition with a bonus one-sided 12″ containing three unessential tracks – Revolver’s Heaven Sent An Angel (Demo), Moose and Theme From Ace Conroy plus Argonaut by Dr Phibes & The House Of Wax Equations. That limited pressing subsequently disappeared after a short while. In addition, Th’ Faith Healers’ Reptile Smile didn’t make the CD version. And there’s pelicans on the sleeve. Go figure.
The sleeve note comments make a welcome return:
Lush – For Love: “Since their formation in 1988 and the release of the first mini-LP Scar in 1989, Lush have had to develop under the spotlight of the nation’s music media. The For Love EP and the recent Guthrie produced album Spooky have proved beyond a doubt that Lush have been worthy of the attention which has been paid to them over the past three years.”
Moose – Last Night I Fell Again: “Moose shot out of musical obscurity in the early part of ’91 with the release of their Jack EP on the Hut label. Cool Breeze, their second EP, quickly followed and established Moose still further as an important and exciting new band. Last Night I Fell Again is featured on their third EP Reprise which sees Moose in a more melancholic mood. Do keep an eye on Moose as they have the talent to produce something rather remarkable in the future.”
Revolver – Don’t Ever Leave: “Revolver emerged in ’91 as the torch bearers of new order in independent music. They soon signed to Hut and have released two critically acclaimed singles to date. The first, Heaven Sent An Angel, silenced those journalists who claimed the band were just hype. The following Crimson EP which Don’t Ever Leave is taken from, is a collection of tender tracks which prove that Revolver will definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the months and years to come.”
Mercury Rev – Carwash Hair (The Bee’s Chasing Me) Full Pull: “Mercury Rev are a six-piece from Buffalo, New York who took the independent music scene by storm in ’91 with the release of their Yerself Is Steam LP. They have been compared to various bands such as Sonic Youth, Pink Floyd, Jane’s Addiction and Butthole Surfers. Car Wash Hair was their debut single which earned Mercury Rev a Melody Maker single of the week.”
Throwing Muses – Not Too Soon: “Over the past six years Throwing Muses have been one of the most consistent bands to have come out of America. Signed to 4AD in ’86, they have released a total of four EPs, one mini LP and four full length albums. Not Too Soon, taken from ’91’s Real Ramona LP, was written by Tanya Donelly who has since left the group. Both Tanya and the Muses are currently recording LPs for release this autumn.”
Dr Phibes & The House Of Wax Equations – Hazy Lazy Hologram (Edit): “Dr Phibes and The House of Wax Equations are based in Liverpool and signed to 50 Seel Street records. Fronted by Howard King Jr, Dr Phibes will go a long way. Do not be surprised if they soon get scooped up by a major record company and go on to have enormous commercial and critical success.”
The Sugarcubes – Hit: “Hit is The Sugarcubes’ seventh single for One Little Indian and is featured on their third album Stick Around For Joy which is their best collection of tunes since the release of their 1988 million selling debut album Life’s Too Good. The Sugarcubes are one of the most refreshingly innovative bands around at the moment.”
Catwalk – Damascus: “Catwalk is made up of Chris Roberts and a shifting nucleus of contributing musicians. After winning the GLR demo clash for a record number of consecutive weeks, they were signed by Dedicated. Damascus is a pulsating passion play about love, hate, revelation and mermaids, which is featured on Catwalk’s debut 45 which came out in January.”
Wonky Alice – Caterpillars: “Wonky Alice are a four piece who are causing quite a stir in the North West at the moment. Caterpillars is taken from their debut EP for the Pomona label Insects and Astronauts. The band recently recorded a Radio 5 session for Mark Radcliffe and have supported World of Twist. Wonky Alice are definitely a band to watch out for in future.”
Curve – Die Like A Dog: “To date Curve have released three EPs on Dave Stewart’s Anxious label. The first two, Blindfold and Frozen proved that Curve were without a doubt a very exciting proposition for the future. Die Like A Dog is taken from their third EP Cherry which was released in December ’91 and reached the Gallup Top 40. Their debut album Doppelganger will further establish Curve as one of the most important bands to have emerged out of the British independent scene in the last few years.”
The God Machine – Home: “The God Machine arrived in Camden from California and released their debut EP Purity on Eve Recordings in November 1991. Home is one of three tracks featured on the EP which has been hailed in some quarters as the finest debut of ’91. Now signed to Fiction, The God Machine are an exciting prospect.”
Silverfish – Jimmy: “Silverfish were formed in North London at the end of ’88. Before signing to Creation they had released two singles, both of which received the Single of the Week treatment. In January ’90 the first real Silverfish album Fat Axl came out – ‘The title comes from a particularly scathing NME review’. Their first 45 for Creation was the F***in’ Drivin’ Or What EP which reached the Gallup Top 100. Jimmy is taken from their January ’92 Silverfish With Scrambled Egg EP which is indeed Silverfish at their finest.”
Leatherface – I Want The Moon: “I Want The Moon is the second single to have been released from Leatherface’s titanic Mush album. It earned the band an NME single of the week in November ’91. Look out for their next release which will be a ten inch EP, Compact & Bijou which should be available from May onwards.”
Midway Still – Wish: “Midway Still formed at the tail end of ’90 out of the ashes of a couple of anonymous grunge bands. Signed to the Roughneck Recording Co, their debut EP I Won’t Try received huge critical acclaim. Wish is the title track from their follow up EP which also features an outstanding cover of My Bloody Valentine’s You Made Me Realise. Their Don Fleming produced album is set for an April release.”
Gallon Drunk – Some Fool’s Mess: “Thundering out of London come Gallon Drunk, with this, their fourth single for Clawfist. This sexy little blistering baby ploughed the independent charts for two months and established the band as the slicked-back gentlemen of dynamic tunes. These righteous preachers released their debut LP in February. How can anyone go wrong with Gallon Drunk? After all, they do smoke their own!”
Daisy Chainsaw – Love Your Money: “Daisy Chainsaw are a London foursome whose debut 45 Lovesick Pleasure set the world alight in January of this year. Achieving airplay on daytime radio and crashing into the Top 40, Daisy Chainsaw are definitely going to be the surprise success of ’92.”
Shonen Knife – Space Christmas: “Shonen Knife are three talented Japanese women whose debut 45 in the UK, Space Christmas, reached number one in the independent chart. After touring with Nirvana and Captain America, they are now attracting interest from Japanese, American and European record companies. Shonen Knife’s zany world of animals, sea shells, marshmallows and ice-cream will be entering the lives of a lot more people over the coming months.”
Captain America – Wow!: “The rise of Captain America over the past few months has been quite amazing. Fronted by ex-Vaseline Eugene Kelly, they recently supported Nirvana on their British and European tour as well as releasing their debut EP for Paperhouse. At the moment they are working on their first album which on the strength of Wow! promises to be something else.”
The Pastels – Thru Your Heart: “After a two year absence The Pastels are re-establishing themselves on the independent music scene. A cover of Daniel Johnston’s Speeding Motorcycle was their first proper release since the Sittin’ Pretty album of 1989. Thru’ Your Heart was a Melody Maker single of the week and bodes well for their forthcoming album, A Truckload of Trouble.”
The music contained therein (and to a similar extent on the next volume) remind me of my first days in Dublin – as a resident, rather than an occasional visitor. In those days, vacant flats were advised in one or both of the city’s evening papers – Herald or Press. Both came out around midday and you needed to be quick off the mark. In mid-October, I managed to secure a basement bedsit on Harold’s Cross Road for £35 per week. The bathroom was shared – on the first floor – and the shower took 20p coins. There was a black ESB meter inside my door that needed 50ps to keep the power going. The bars on the windows gave the place a boxed-in vibe and the natural light was never that great. Mobile phones were unheard of in 1991; if I wanted to make a call, I used the payphone in the hall or else went onto the street where you had a choice of a regular payphone or one that took callcards. But it was my own place and once I got back from my job in Tallaght each evening and closed the door, it felt liberating to stick on a record and just relax while considering food options. A tinned cannelloni that needed to be boiled in a saucepan was a favourite.
In 1990s flatland, visiting friends was very important. You could really become isolated when living alone so it was important to get out at least a couple of times each week. One of my closest friends was repeating his Leaving Cert in Leeson Street and rented a flat (nicer than mine) on Lower Rathmines Road – about a 13 or 14 minute walk away. The guy living in the flat beside him was called Ernie, was fond of watching horse-racing and used to play 4AD albums loudly – Pale Saints, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance. There was a strange, overly friendly and somewhat creepy guy living downstairs. Hey ladies! Back then, women would typically share two bedroom flats in groups of four. The key female friend hangouts for us were at Grove Park and Leinster Road, both in Rathmines. The Grove Park flat was closest to mine, a mere seven minute stroll away. Getting to Leinster Road meant a brisk walk through the lonely backstreets of Grosvenor Lane where dark shadows always bounced off the plywood (there was always some form of construction going on).
Over the years I attended many house parties. The craziest of them all was the one at 128 Leinster Road, held on a Friday night during late November 1991. Your hosts: four student nurses. We all met in Curtin’s pub which was located – as far as I remember – at 196 Lower Rathmines Road. Painted green. It subsequently became Toast. We headed back to the flat after a couple of pints; it seemed like more than 100 of us. A most memorable night; soundtracked by an interminably buried compilation tape I made. Bits of Trompe Le Monde, Nevermind, Screamadelica, Loveless, Bandwagonesque, Foxbase Alpha. Plus the Pet Shop Boys’ Discography. Mayhem, pile-ons, punches, moshing, mushrooms, stolen cans & the inevitable return of the gatecrashers. Of course the neighbours complained and we piled out on the quiet residential street around 2.30am. It was very close to a public phone box and who could forget the red door. Naturally an eviction notice followed the next day and the student nurses were out on their ear. No mercy from the landlord. They did find another flat on the same road shortly afterwards so the regular visits continued.
Gala was compiled by Lush’s record label, 4AD, as an introduction to the United States and Japanese markets. The album features the band’s debut mini LP Scar along with the Mad Love and Sweetness and Light EPs in reverse chronological order. A trick that they’d repeat for their 2001 Ciao! Best Of Lush compilation. A cover version of ABBA’s 1975 song Hey Hey Helen which had been recorded for an abandoned anti-poll tax compilation was also included, as well as a rerecording of Scar’s Scarlet that had been previously released in March 1990 on the Melody Maker compilation Gigantic! 2. All CD copies of Gigantic! 2 now suffer from disc rot, the CDs sadly manufactured at PDO Blackburn. Despite owning all of their collected output, I bought Gala anyway; its packaging the real draw, consisting of an outer sleeve and two inner sleeves. DTK Records, around December 1990. Lunch in Burger King, Grafton Street – the same place I snacked when I had bought Scar some 12 months earlier. 1991 was relatively quiet for the band as they recorded their debut album Spooky. The silence was broken by the Black Spring EP towards the end of the year. The sweeping Nothing Natural was the killer; released in a edited 7″ mix that’s simply perfect.
New Year’s Eve 1991 was spent on a lengthy pub crawl in Leeson Street that culminated in drinking a take out of a warm six pack of Harp Lager. The night ended in vomit; crashing in someone else’s
car flat. I remember the painful walk back to Harold’s Cross. The cold and the lack of open shops. And a deeply sinister repeat of Wanderly Wagon on television. To cheer myself up, I took out the new Lush 12″ that I had picked up on the Monday. For Love was beautifully melodic and came with a fabulous cover of Wire’s Outdoor Miner. Anticipation was rising for Spooky and I barely made it into town on the 49 bus from Tallaght on 27 January 1992. It came in a double 10″ pressing and plays like a quartet of wistful, dreamy movements. Paula Mejia states “Its brilliant intricacies remain best appreciated alone, through headphones, and preferably in a room where long shadows creep onto the walls.” I played it all week – until Friday 31st when Lush came to The Rock Garden. A belated birthday bash. Mick & I made the trip and we moshed our heads off.
After such a fragile beginning, nothing quite matches the mood again. Moose are second out with Last Night I Fell Again – all raw and melancholy before Revolver’s no note thud of Don’t Ever Leave. A flashback to The Square, Tallaght – I’d often go there at lunchtime, anxious to get away from office politics. There was an Our Price Records, not quite as good as the one in Henry Street but had some interesting singles, often reduced to 50p. After an unsatisfying McDonalds lunch, I had some loose change in my pocket and checked out the 7″s. One came in a plain back sleeve with Jaguar Coventry written on it. A vague & hazy recollection from the NME – Mercury Rev’s Car Wash Hair. And what a punt – a glorious psychedelic trip of noise that was standalone from their debut LP Yerself Is Steam. Again, The Rock Garden was the place to be when Mercury Rev played a six song set, supported by Rollerskate Skinny. NB – it’s the full length 12″ mix that appears here – twice the time.
For me, the Throwing Muses peaked on The Real Ramona, a most delightful song cycle. Each song a treasure trove. Counting Backwards was the lead single, a spiky gazing-in-the-distance anthem that’s preserved on Indie Top 20 Volume 12. A Lower Rathmines Road bedsit jam – Mick bought the LP first, then me. Here we get Not Too Soon – a wonderful single, a sort of manic pop thrill driven along by the brilliant drumming of David Narcizo. Hooks galore and enhanced by the alluring Tanya Donelly in the video. Inevitably, after such front-loaded highs, things settle down into a rather samey vibe thereafter. Dr Phibes and his mob are anodyne; Hazy Lazy Hologram sounds just as uninspired as you would imagine. Thankfully The Sugarcubes return after a two year absence with the toe-tapping gorgeousness of Hit complete with Einar rap. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
The patron saints of mediocrity next – both Catwalk and Wonky Alice showcase a pair of truly unremarkable tunes in Damascus and Caterpillars, the later being as pug ugly and angular as anticipated. Thankfully we’re saved by an EP track, Curve’s relentless Die Like A Dog – lifted from their third 12″ selection, Cherry. Another killer four tracks; sadly the momentum could not be maintained and March 1992’s debut LP Doppleganger was a slight disappointment – the expectancy was huge after the ’91 releases. “Peace in a world free from religion.” While Die… remains a fan favourite, I’d have been equally happy to have seen the 7″ edit of Clipped. Check out the Pubic Fruit compilation and marvel at what might have been – a bit like The Beta Band’s 3 EPs. Back to noise and it’s not beautiful – The God Machine’s charmless Home – before the snarling Silverfish and their likeable Jimmy. I was the proud owner of two Silverfish t-shirts: Hips, Tits, Lips, Power and the red Fat As Fuck one. Saw all dates of their Irish tour in ’93 as local band Brawl supported.
I keep confusing Frankie Stubbs with Levi Stubbs. Leatherface were a bit popular with the hardcore lads and I Want The Moon still packs a punch; great when you’re 21 in a mosh pit. Next are Midway Still and the rather downbeat (for them) sound of Wish before the most overrated Gallon Drunk ply their ugly trade in Some Fools Mess. Back then we’d go out every Thursday and Saturday night to McGonagles on South Anne Street. Panic and Sonic Boom. Daisy Chainsaw’s riotous Love Your Money was briefly bright; the new Transvision Vamp with an album named Eleventeen. It’s still memorable to re-visit every once in while, particularly when surrounded by the rather absurd Space Christmas by Shonen Knife and brutish Wow! from Captain America. Which brings us to the closing track; along with Curve, one of the highlights of sides 2, 3 & 4: The Pastels in fine fey form with the joyful clumsy shimmer of Thru Your Heart. A neat way to close a chaotic chapter of youthful freedom. Dedicated to Photo Jenny C, of Dublin 13 – unlucky for some.
Lush – For Love
Throwing Muses – Not Too Soon
Lest we forget
Mercury Rev – Car Wash Hair (The Bee’s Chasing Me) Full Pull