Saturday, 10 September 2016

Indie Top 20 Volume 3 Side 2 - Fields Of The Nephilim, The Shamen, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Happy Mondays, Brilliant Corners

1. Fields Of The Nephilim: Preacher Man (Situation Two)

Fields of the Nephilim emerged out of Stevenage like some post-apocalyptical newtown cowboys, and while such an opening sentence may sound very pretentious, that is largely the image they seemed to want to portray. Covered in dust (or flour, actually) with milky eyes, and a doomy gothic sound combined with some beautiful twangy Morricone inspired riffs, they were frequently dismissed as a daft concept, but on form they could actually create some beguiling sounding records. Elements of "Moonchild", for instance, sound like a lot of the post-rock inspired bands emerging today, with as much Joy Division in the mix as Sisters of Mercy.

Preacher Man was their second single, and while it was a key breakthrough moment for the group, compared to what came later it does sound a little less ambitious and dependent on some rather weighty riffs and repetition of doom-mongering lyrics about "contamination" and "radiation". When acting as the soundtrack to the video, it seems slightly more appealing, which makes me wonder which idea came first.

2. The Shamen: Christopher Mayhew Says (Moksha)

The Shamen may have found success as commercial purveyors of Dance Music, but way back when, they were actually a neo-psychedelic rock band who gradually introduced beatbox loops and samples into their particularly suspicious brand of mushroom soup. However, their debut LP "Drop" was quite straightforward compared to the post-LP release "Christopher Mayhew Says", which incorporates samples of the Labour/ Liberal MP Mayhew taking a mescaline trip while a film crew recorded him (which can be heard in its original form here).

The Syd Barrett inspired interstellar guitar screeching was certainly trad psychedelia, the hammering beatbox and thrashing guitars were not. Listen to this while on LSD, and your trip might not necessarily be a happy one. It's a collision of two worlds, the old and the new, which works in a unique way and acts a signpost to the future.

Of course, it wasn't completely without precendent. Gaye Bykers on Acid's "Nosedive Karma" from the previous year had a similar mix of psychedelia, samples and thrashed guitars. All these tracks signified the rise of left-field rock music melding with the ideas in Hip Hop and Dance music, albeit in a faintly clodhopping way... and The Shamen shifted direction with greater ease than most. Fewer groups could more easily claim "There's always been a dance element to our music" further down the line and genuinely mean it.

"Christopher Mayhew Says" sounded astonishing at the time too, certainly to this young listener. Heard for the first time on "The Chart Show", it sounded like an adrenalin packed cocktail of The Beatles, early Floyd, Grebo, the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, Sonic Youth, and God knows what else. Whether it sounds tamer now or not - and I'd guess that it almost certainly does - in 1987, it felt simultaneously confusing and exhilarating. The psychedelic pop revival was in full swing in London in small clubs in the mid to late eighties, but little of it sounded quite like this.

For his part, Mayhew continually insisted that he had enjoyed long, heavenly experiences outside our standard concepts of time while under the influence of mescaline. He passed away in 1997.

3. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry: Open Up (Situation Two)

More Goths, though they denied it until they were blue in the face, insisting they were more interested in art-punk and garage rock. Still, those growling vocals and incessant pounding rhythms would have made this a natural second track after the Nephilim (which makes me wonder why it wasn't placed there - did a bribe exchange hands?) Unlike that group, though, this is claustrophobic and minimal, locked in a wardrobe in a derelict house rather than wandering around in the American desert looking for mutants to dictate to.

Leeds' Red Lorry Yellow Lorry (briefly known as The Lorries for a time) were cult figures for what seemed like an endless amount of time, emerging in 1981 and continuing for ten years. Whether they saw themselves as Goths or not, they certainly attracted the right crowd, and it saw them through other changing fads and fashions. By the nineties, though, they had been dropped by Beggars Banquet (parent label of Situation Two) and it was all over.

Still, "Open Up" was single of the week in the usually rather goth-phobic NME, showing that certain critics favoured them.

4. Happy Mondays: 24 Hour Party People (Factory)

Now considered something of a classic in the band's catalogue, and loaning itself to the title of the film of the same name, "24 Hour Party People" pushed the Mondays outside of their usual audience in 1987 by appearing on "The Chart Show". Still though, its bow-legged, jagged funk rhythms and Ryder's stream-of-consciousness lyrics felt slightly like a hangover from post-punk at the time. It's easy to point at the track in retrospect and consider it the dawn of a brave new indie era, but back then nobody seriously thought Shaun Ryder was a future tabloid pop star. If anything, the Mondays were more commonly regarded as being a second division version of The Fall.

Still, "24 Hour Party People" is a confident and staggering single, and showed the group moving beyond their likeably ramshackle beginnings and into records with much more mainstream structures.  Ryder later claimed that the only reason the group didn't deal with strong choruses early in their career is "we didn't know how to write them". It certainly shows they'd moved on a long way from that point, if his claims are true. "Party People" is so laden with hooks it's hard to know where to point, though crucially none of them seem like chartbound sounds - certainly not by 1987's standards. The track has far too many sharp points and angles to easily slide into the Top 40, and only a slight sanding down of the group's sound and a gradual easing of tolerance to alternative ideas in the mainstream would begin to generate results.

5. The Brilliant Corners: Delilah Sands (SS20)

The Brilliant Corners actually took a slightly peculiar turn themselves on "Delilah Sands", although only relatively speaking. While most of their singles were chiming, brassy indiepop, "Delilah Sands" utilised surreal and faintly icky imagery ("I'd bite you if I had the teeth") and was altogether less strident.

When this was finally shown on "The Chart Show", my mother was moved to comment: "Who is this? Roxy Music? Whoever it is, I don't like it". A piss-poor guess on her part, really, but even a Radio Two listener of the 80s wouldn't have made the same mistake with "Brian Rix". None of this hurt The Brilliant Corners' "career" any, as "Delilah Sands" reached the Indie Top 10 with ease, but they'd be back to business as usual for future single releases.

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