Sunday, 30 October 2016

Indie Top Video featuring New Order, Darling Buds, Birdland, McCarthy, They Might Be Giants, Oyster Band

Format: VHS
Year of Release: 1989

Hot on the tails of the CD88 compilation - indie music on a digital format, whoever would have thought it? - came "Indie Top Video", which brought together sights as well as sounds from Volumes 1-6 of the series.

Though this again was something of a lie. Not only did no videos whatsoever feature from volume one or two of the series, there were also five non-canon "bonus tracks" nestled amongst the fifteen vids, and one track which wouldn't emerge until Volume Seven of the CD/vinyl/cassette format.

Not that it really mattered, and not that I ran to Our Price demanding my money back. "Indie Top Video" was fantastic viewing for those of us who wanted to see videos of some our favourite tracks in full, especially those "The Chart Show" had rudely skated past during the Indie Chart rundowns. And "The Chart Show" clearly had an enormous influence on this tape as well, as prior to each song commencing a flashing "Play" logo emerged. Fortunately, they didn't trouble us with any "Stop" and "Rewind" nonsense, though.

Beechwood didn't handle this release themselves, and looked towards the mighty powerhouse of EMI to take on the manufacturing and distribution. Their Picture Music International arm handled it, meaning that when you started the tape you were introduced to the same charming and whimsical animated logo and music that greeted you whenever you pressed play on a "Now That's What I Call Music" VHS compilation. It was hard to know what to make of that, really.

While this Indie Top Video sold enough copies to climb into the national Music Video Top 20 - which seems like an astonishing achievement given the relative obscurity of a lot of the contents - subsequent tapes sold less and less well, and the series failed to get beyond six editions. We'll take a look at each in order when they occur on our timeline and discuss the tracks that don't appear elsewhere, providing a link back to the others that do.

1. New Order - Fine Time (Factory) - Bonus Track

Straight off the bat, here's our first bonus track, and it doesn't get much better than this. "Fine Time" caused a flurry of both panic and speculation at the point of its release. Being the first track off New Order's "Technique" LP, its frantic Acid House rhythms and full-on collision of dancefloor ideas made some think that the band were going to return with a fully fledged House LP. Of course, they didn't - and in fact, while "Technique" may be a wonderful album, it's actually much more subdued and moody in places than it's widely given credit for.

Still, "Fine Time" constantly ricochets around in such a manner that you do have to wonder what the band were on when they came up with it. The central keyboard riff is never far away, but across only a few minutes we're also treated to Peter Hook's bad Barry White impersonations, stammering vocals and guitar lines, loud, dominant whooshing effects, acid house squelches and a fantastically simple and pretty melodic guitar line at the end. It's supremely hyperactive, and you get the sense that once the group had built the basic foundations of the track and nailed the hook, they went wild taking every popular Ibiza idea they'd heard and throwing it in the blender alongside it. The result is something so impatiently itchy sounding that you want to be dragged along with it. You're never entirely sure where it's going or what the point is, but it throws everything it's got in your direction. It is unbelievably huge fun.

The video is no "True Faith", but is an absurd festive promo about the surreal and faintly disturbing adventures of one boy and his aggressive looking Jack Russell terrier. I didn't know what to make of it at the time, and I'm afraid I still don't now. Even when the track climbed to Number One on the Chart Show indie chart, they failed to play it, for reasons I've always found hard to understand (druggy imagery? Dated Christmas imagery? Just plain "being faintly disturbing"? Who knows?)

2. The Shamen - Jesus Loves Amerika (Moksha)

3. Pop Will Eat Itself - Def Con One (Chapter 22)

4. A Guy Called Gerald - Voodoo Ray (Rham)

5. The Darling Buds - It's All Up To You (Native)  - Bonus Track

I always felt that his was probably The Darling Buds' strongest moment. Released prior to them signing to a major label and becoming steadily smoothed over, "It's All Up To You" still has a hard, abrasive edge beneath Andrea's double-tracked choirgirl vocals. It also contains a killer rumbling bassline and lovely Ramones styled guitar solo from Harley Farr, and like some of the finest Indiepop feels like Phil Spector's girl group ideas meeting with the best punky sounds.

"It's All Up To You" did make some of the hype feel justified, and it was impossible not to wish the best for the band - but the Epic years delivered very little success, and by the early nineties I bore witness to them in a very Spinal Tap situation, sitting in a corner of Southend's HMV waiting for people to come up to get copies of Darling Buds records signed. I thought about buying one just for the sake of saying hello to the group and getting some of their inkwork on a copy of their record, but I was short of money that day and badly wanted to buy a copy of something else, so I didn't. To be fair, it's unlikely that my life would have been wildly changed by such an event. And anyway, I probably would have nervously stammered a lot in front of Andrea Lewis.

6. Wedding Present - Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? (Reception)

7. Birdland - Hollow Heart (Lazy) - Bonus Track

Within a few singles, Birdland went from being the saviours of British music to a standing joke, leading the Manic Street Preachers to nervously protest "We're not the next Birdland!" to any journalist who would listen. In fact, that was one of the last things Richey Manic said to Steve Lamacq before carving "4 Real" into his forearm. Imagine that - you feel so strongly that you might be going down the same career path as another group that you're driven to such a violent act (this, I realise, glosses over Richey's problems perhaps inexcusably for the sake of a semi-joky aside, but there is nonetheless a grain of truth to it).

You can hear what the original fuss was about here, though (and I've also met more than one person who has insisted that Birdland were staggeringly good live). "Hollow Heart" is hyperactively brilliant, with everything taken at a breakneck speed. The cymbals hiss and crash constantly (I've seldom heard this much white noise coming from a drummer) the guitar lines are riddled with dumb, simple hooks, the vocals seep attitude - it's just fantastic in a primitive, slack-jawed way. This is garage punk at its very best, the only question it begged at the time was whether the band had the creativity or imagination to deliver more greatness across an LP or even whole career. The eventual answer was "no".

Still, just as we didn't ask The Kingsmen for another "Louie Louie", there's no reason at all (beyond record company expectations) that we should have demanded Birdland create another hundred or so "Hollow Hearts". This is the distinct sound of a group shooting out their finest moment from the barrel first, and rather than condemning them for that, we should still acknowledge that it was a pretty spectacular moment.

8. Cardiacs - Is This The Life (Alphabet Business Concern)

9. Danielle Dax - White Knuckle Ride (Awesome)

(A bit confusing, this - "White Knuckle Ride" wouldn't appear on the Indie Top 20 series until Volume 7. So as not to mess around with the structure of these entries too much, we'll be discussing it  when we come to talk about that LP).

10. Fields of the Nephilim - Preacher Man (Situation Two)

11. Loop - Collision (Chapter 22)

12. Christian Death - Church Of No Return (Jungle)

13. McCarthy - Keep An Open Mind Or Else! (Midnight Music) - Bonus Track

Prior to entering a Krautrock inspired Moogy wonderland with Stereolab, Tim Gane fronted left-wing indiepop firebrands (TM) McCarthy. Their approach to political polemic was unorthodox and challenging, presenting all their lyrics in prose format with Tim squeezing them to fit around the simple pop melodies. Often too, they would adopt the style of someone else's tedious right-wing diatribes and set them to a chirpy melody to expose their arrogance, contradictory nature and stupidity - "The Home Secretary Briefs The Forces of Law and Order" is a good example of this. ("We don't believe in violence! Those who use guns to kill in cold blood, they deserve all they get, they deserve all they ask for. So when you catch them pump them all full of lead, tear them limb from limb. It will be okay! For the law will be on your side!")

"Keep An Open Mind Or Else!" follows a similar tack, sung from the perspective of a person who believes themselves to be reasonable and right-thinking, but who simply cannot or will not engage with political arguments coherently and pushes away any facts they're presented with. To be frank, it hasn't dated one jot and actually probably feels even more applicable now in these social media times. It begins as an order to calm, rational debate being sung in a reasonable tone ("You should always try and see another person's point of view. You should never think that you know everything!") before descending into impatient, aggressive verbal carnage ("I don't believe in facts! No, I just believe in me. Argue, I don't care! Would you like your face smashed in?") And that, my friends, is just another Sunday night on Twitter, and even an eerie precursor to the Stewart Lee line "You can prove anything with FACTS". Times may change, but the patterns of conversation never really do.

"Keep an Open Mind" is backed with a truly sumptuous melody as well, like a trashy, harsher take on The Byrds, delicate backing vocals and fantastic hooks permeating the track. It probably is McCarthy's best moment, and is an unexpectedly pretty and melodic musing on pointless political discourse. Further proof (if it were needed) that political songs don't all have to sound like Crass or The Clash.

14. They Might Be Giants - They'll Need A Crane (One Little Indian) - Bonus Track

I've never much cared for They Might Be Giants. A few tracks aside, their material has always sounded far too much like the work of people who enjoy their own jokes too much. I made the mistake of buying the LP "Flood" back in my youth, and became desperately angered and annoyed with it within three listens. This was back in the days where buying an album probably meant one less night out for me that week, and it wasn't just that I hated much of the LP, it was also that I couldn't remove it from my brain afterwards either. Everything felt like a Sesame Street educational jingle sung by a New Wave Bert and Ernie. In fact, please don't make me dissect that LP again when there's no need. The songs! They're coming back to me!

"They'll Need A Crane" is proof that the band did have a sensitive and considered side, though, as the track takes a very considered look at a collapsing relationship. This verse alone is both witty and familiar: "Don't call me at work, no no/ the boss still hates me/ and I'm just tired/ and I don't love you anymore/ and there's a restaurant we should check out where/ the other nightmare people like to go/ I meant nice people, baby wait/ I didn't mean to say nightmare..."

Other than that, "Crane" is a simple and catchy shuffle through one relationship's wasteland. It's a shame they couldn't be this thoughtful and personal more often.

15. Oyster Band - New York Girls (Cooking Vinyl)

The Oyster Band went through a period of being both music press favourites and Radio Two "Folk On Two" stalwarts for a confusing point in the late eighties, and that's even more bizarre when you consider the fact that they were initially just Fiddler's Dram (of "Daytrip to Bangor" fame) recording and performing under another name. The original purpose of the alternate name was for the Oysters to act as a dance band for specific live shows and events, before eventually the Fiddler's Dram moniker was jettisoned entirely.

Given the success of The Pogues around this time, there was no reason why another folk group couldn't have broken through, and indeed The Oyster Band were probably one the finest examples of the genre at that point. "New York Girls" has just enough of a rough edge to set them apart from the competition, and it's impossible to sit still while this rattles along. The fiddle player alone deserves a gold medal for speed.


  1. Fantastic! I wasn't expecting the video releases to be reviewed! Gareth

    1. I did wonder whether I'd actually bother to do this in any detail or not, but it allows us to explore some nooks and crannies of late eightes and early nineties indie that the regular series doesn't. For instance, The Stone Roses feature more on the videos than the rest of the series, as do New Order...

      Later videos (after volume 2) have less bonus, non-canon tracks though, thank God!