Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Indie Top Video Take Two - Stone Roses, Lightning Seeds, Kitchens of Distinction, James, Bradford, Parachute Men, Fuzztones, Wolfgang Press

Year of Release: 1989

After the success of Indie Top Video Take One - which managed something none of the vinyl and CD editions of Indie Top 20 had delivered so far, which was to get into the official charts (or official national video charts, at least) - the arrival of "Take Two" was inevitable.

As with the preceding volume, though, it was a weird mix with lots of material which had never had any previous relationship with the "Indie Top 20" series. This time tracks which had recently appeared on "Volume 7" got the lion's share of space, but plenty of others were unrelated. This creates the same interesting situation as before, giving us a brace of non-canon tracks (or, more accurately, videos) which we might not otherwise get a chance to discuss.

"Take Two" would be the last VHS cassette to really go overboard on the bonus items. By the time of "Take Three" in a few months, a relatively normal service kicks in with each video focussing predominantly on tracks from the preceding Indie Top 20 album.

1. Stone Roses - She Bangs The Drums (Silvertone) - Bonus Video

This is a staggering opening song combined with a truly abysmal video. The original release of "She Bangs The Drums" was issued with a promotional film from the school of "Why did anyone ever bother when a still photo would have done the job just as well?". Around about this time, the jovial consumer affairs programme "That's Life" began stalking a Manchester film director who was accused of making dreadful promo films for local bands, but as The Stone Roses managed to produce this themselves, in the process creating something of an even lower quality, clearly there were worse options around. The promo features bleached out, blurry clips of the band arseing around the studio while slices of lemons occasionally appear on screen. It's actually just a few seconds of home video footage slowed down and plastered with vaguely arty effects. Anyone who pulled out the VHS tape from the player at this point, threw it across the room and returned to HMV to demand their money back could probably have been forgiven.

Still, never no mind, because as tracks go this is undoubtedly one of The Stone Roses' finest. What's interesting about "She Bangs The Drums" is that the indie scene had been predominantly filled with mournful, reflective minor key musings on life, love and everything for many years. It would be fair to counter that argument by mentioning that many of the indiepop tracks which burst on to the scene in 1986 had a jangly, celebratory edge to them, even if the lyrics weren't always sunny side up (The Housemartins "Happy Hour" would probably be the commercial zenith of this) but almost all of them sounded slightly uncertain in tone, and "She Bangs The Drums" is both euphoric and robust. This doesn't sound like a cheery, cheeky melody to get you through the day, it sounds invincible, fit to shield you from the worst things in life for months. It's about finding a soulmate so suitable and perfect, that the relationship feels like a halo encircling your whole life - and if you couldn't do that (and of course, I couldn't - I was a meek and defensive little 15 year old when this came out) then the song could act like a rubber ring around your waist, keeping you afloat. Or, to put it another way, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" this isn't. The first time I heard "She Bangs The Drums" I literally leapt for joy. I didn't know it, but I needed this in my life.

The guitar solo frequently backed football match highlights on the television, an unthinkable situation for an indie track a mere year or two before. While it's a simple and highly effective piece of work from Squire, the violent trucker's gear change of the key that follows it - unforgivable in most circumstances - actually works well, giving the song a powerful lift which feels almost impossible.

Of course, the central chorus, and in particular the line "There are no words to describe the way I feel" could have been cunningly striking a chord for numerous ecstacy users, but also harked back to the adrenalin soaked speediness of sixties mod culture articulated in The Who's "I Can't Explain". Not entirely inappropriate, as Pete Townshend had already tried to poach The Stone Roses drummer Reni when the group supported him at a gig in London.

In short, "She Bangs The Drums" is perfection, and stands up as well today as it did in 1989. It's become almost fashionable to deny that the band's first album is actually any good, but that's a ridiculous stance. It's a masterpiece, and this single is one of the highlights.

2. The Lightning Seeds - Pure (Ghetto) - Bonus Track

Way before Ian Broudie was mostly known for being the unofficial songwriter for the England World Cup Squad, his project (never really a proper band) The Lightning Seeds released chiming, reflective and shiny indie tunes which were actually brilliantly crafted. Purchased by both nerdy indie kids and their chunkier cousins who were more interested in having something nice to listen to in the car on the way to football practice, Broudie meshed the worlds of classic indie harmonies with eighties FM pop incredibly successfully.

The first LP, "Cloudcuckooland", emerged on the indie label Ghetto (unlike their other major label releases later) and "Pure" was the only hit single on it. This feels unjust. Besides "Pure", the LP contained "All I Want", later a minor solo hit for Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles, and "Joy", either of which would have been at least small Top 40 hits in a sane world. Given the fact that Broudie later enjoyed success with other singles of a similar calibre on major labels, it's tempting to blame the label, or their distribution, or both.

As for "Pure", Bill Drummond - who was once a member of Big In Japan with Broudie - accurately described it as a modernised "Windmills Of Your Mind". Backed with an effective but minimal parping trumpet riff, a whimsical backing occasionally worthy of Art Garfunkel, and Broudie's delicate vocals, it seems soft and overly fey on the surface, but later lines like "And now you're crying in your sleep/ I wish you'd never learned to weep" tell a different story. The line "feelings not reasons can make you decide" also feels uncertain to me - is this about the heart ruling the head and turning an otherwise orderly life upside down? At the time, Broudie wouldn't be drawn.

"Pure" was an easy top twenty hit, which from the moment it was Radio One playlisted sounded destined to be.

3. Inspiral Carpets - Joe (Cow)

(Already covered a few entries back if you follow the link, of course, but I just wanted to get another bitchy comment in about the low quality of music videos from Manchester groups at this point, and question why Beechwood and PMI felt so tempted to put these videos so high up the tracklisting. "Joe" is just more arsing about with camcorders so far as I can see).

4. The Men They Couldn't Hang - Rain, Steam Speed (Silvertone)

5. Wire - Eardrum Buzz (Mute)

6. Kitchens of Distinction - The Third Time We Opened The Capsule (One Little Indian) - Bonus Track

Tooting's Kitchens of Distinction never quite managed to climb beyond cult status. Emerging not long after the equally cultish The Chameleons had split, the two bands were completely unrelated in terms of personnel but sounded similar enough to raise eyebrows at the time.

"The Third Time We Opened The Capsule" isn't one of the group's strongest singles, but nails their sound very precisely to the mast. Effects-laden guitars swirl, Patrick Fitzgerald's vocals holler commandingly, and it's a giddy, disorientating affair which bears little relation to a lot of the other music being released at the time. In the long run, this would doom the group to a marginalised status, but they remain an invigorating band to return to.

7. The Man From Delmonte - My Love Is Like A Gift You Can't Return (Bop Cassettes)

8. James - Sit Down (Rough Trade) - Bonus Track

No, not that version of "Sit Down", which was one of the biggest selling singles of 1991. This original Rough Trade version of the track was a small, contemplative affair on one man's inability to fit in. While the hit version sounds like the supporters of Manchester United screaming from some coach windows while piling down a motorway, the original is Tim Booth lost in the corner of a scruffy bar, quietly considering his role in the world.

It's brilliant, in fact. The song itself manages to sound both frail and anthemic, with a constant push and pull between the gentle and doubtful vocals and ponderous piano lines and the confident, euphoric guitar playing. It's a song that wants to pull itself from despair and into daylight, and towards the end it even sounds like Booth is desperately trying to convince himself. In that halfway house state, it feels more human, more real, less barnstorming and militaristic. It's clearly the superior version of the song, which it makes it all the more stunning that it's presently unavailable to buy (and has been for many years).

The video, directed by Manchester artist, poet and eccentric Edward Barton, is simple and touching as well, featuring a ragbag of lost and lonely looking individuals and scruffy yet cheery dogs shuffling about a studio. Unusually, it wasn't screened on British television due to a Musician's Union ban caused by the drummer whacking a log with drumsticks, which broke some official rule about musicians miming on misleading instruments. That didn't seem to prevent the clip from being commercially released in this form, though, giving many people the first ever chance to see it in full.

Both James and Rough Trade were apparently disappointed when this single only managed to climb as high as number 77, but it wouldn't be long before the group were back on a major label and making a much bigger and more commercial racket.

9. Bradford - In Liverpool (Foundation) - Bonus Track

Perhaps aided by a boost in funds and production expertise by joining Stephen Street's Foundation label, "In Liverpool" is a much more fleshed out version of Bradford's early vision. Plucked orchestral strings join Ian Hodgson's powerful vocals to create a ballad to both a woman and a city that sounds majestic. It's still the usual mix of soul and faintly maudlin indie introspection which spiced all their other singles, and while it's not strong enough to be a key breakthrough single, it perhaps could have gained more recognition than it did at the time.

The video is simple, but presents two key things which date it immediately - an unmodernised Liverpool (they're really over-emphasising the derelict and abandoned aspects, actually) and a none-more-eighties female star with frizzy bleached blonde hair, a bright red dress and lipstick. It makes me feel sorely nostalgic, while at the same time questioning what exactly for. Episodes of "Watching", probably.

10. The Parachute Men - Leeds Station (Fire) - Bonus Track

"Leeds Station" became a legendary single in indie circles for one key reason in 1989 - Fire Records began a minor but rather daring skirmish with BBC Radio One over their refusal to put it on the daytime playlist. The central accusation seemed to be that the song was as strong as other guitar-pop records the station had playlisted over the preceding six months, and it was only being locked out of mainstream exposure due to the fact that it was on a minor record label.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, no headway was made, and "Leeds Station" remained unheard unless you were a nighttime listener to Wonderful Radio One. I'm now going to court controversy and suggest that this actually probably wasn't the harshest decision the station has ever made. When you consider that it was difficult to hear bands as mighty as The Stone Roses, James, and even Depeche Mode on daytime radio during the incredibly conservative late eighties, it seems a little rich to assume that "Leeds Station" cuts the mustard above all those. It's a catchy ditty to the band's hometown, but it's far from their strongest track, and has a chorus that seems to be trying a tad too hard to sound anthemic without reaching anything like the same heights as (for example) "Sit Down".

Nonetheless, it was an interesting battle, and it's not impossible that it did cause the station's controllers to briefly reflect on the fairly unvaried diet listeners were getting. During 1989, Radio One had already had potshots taken at them as a dated, aged station through The Reynolds Girls "I'd Rather Jack", and possibly didn't need to be shielding themselves from bullets in the indie sector as well. While I highly doubt "Leeds Station" hastened the arrival of the Matthew Bannister era, it's another piece of evidence that Radio One's time as Fab FM was beginning to look limited. All everyone had to do was keep the arguments going, and eventually cracks would appear.

Strange confession time - partly inspired by the "Leeds Station" war, I wrote a letter to the powers-that-be at Radio One asking them to put considerably more effort into their playlists, including a wider range of music. I did also suggest that perhaps they could introduce a phone poll programme where listeners could suggest their favourite current tracks and give an indication of what they wanted to hear most. Pure coincidence I'm sure, but not long afterwards such a show did launch on the station, albeit for a brief period.

11. The Fuzztones - Nine Months Later (Situation Two) - Bonus Track

The Fuzztones are a New York garage revival act, clearly among the many such bands "Indie Top 20" was having a very short-lived love affair with. When you stop to consider the fact that The Inspiral Carpets were beginning to make very serious headway with what sounded like psych-garage revival noises, and other such acts were generating serious IPC press, you have to wonder if some people were hedging their bets not on "Indie-Dance" but a full-blown fuzzed up R&B throwback sound.

Whatever the motivation behind including this, "Nine Months Later" has a fairly mean, almost Animals styled chorus and some neat spiralling guitar and organ work throughout, but is hardly the cream of the revival crop. It's a self-consciously swaggering single, really, and lead singer Rudi Protrudi pulls some very Colin-Gregson-out-Bad-News pouts and poses in the video as if to remind us of the fact.

12. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Mercy Seat (Mute)

13. Wolfgang Press - Raintime (4AD) - Bonus Track

More mean, deep basslines, honking goose-like horns, rattling rhythms and rambling, beatnik vocals -"Raintime" is quite simply Wolfgang Press being themselves very effectively, without smudging or expanding on their existing template.

The group would continue into 1995 enjoying cult success in both the UK and USA, before accepting they had run their course and splintering in different directions.

14. The Sugarcubes - Regina (One Little Indian)

....and once again... this track actually features on the next volume of "Indie Top 20", volume 8. We'll deal with it when we get to that point. 

No comments:

Post a Comment