Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Indie Top Video Take Five - Carter USM, Eat, Thee Hypnotics, Shack, KLF

Year of Release: 1990

The next instalment in the Indie Top Video series was downright odd, if you want me to be honest, readers. An unexpected plethora of bonus tracks (four, or five if you count the different version of "What Time Is Love") even though there were plenty of tracks from Indie Top 20 Volume 10 they could have got perfectly respectable videos from.

The most notable omission here is The Farm's "Groovy Train", which was the biggest hit on Volume Ten, closely followed by the bizarre absence of the Inspiral Carpets. The Darkside are also missing, as are The Family Cat... either some rights issues were going on with this particular VHS edition, or all concerned decided to rationalise the track listing a bit.

Quality visuals clearly weren't everyone's prime concern, as some joker obviously thought the slow-motion video for The Pixies "Velouria", arguably one of the worst music promos known to humankind, was worthy of inclusion.

Anyway, let's turn down the lights, pull out some sickly sweet cornershop popcorn and one of those giant tins of Faxe beer we all used to guzzle (or I did, anyway) and ponder the contents.

1. Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine - Rubbish (Big Cat) - bonus video

Jim Bob once quipped (in the liner notes to their Greatest Hits LP "Straw Donkeys") that the only reason they were keen to issue "Rubbish" as a single was to force their fans to enter record stores and ask for their new single, which was rubbish... because it was.

A likely story, I think. "Rubbish" is as catchy as hell, complete with its Game-n-Watch synthetic intro, its sample overload (including John Peel) and its almost skiffle-styled chorus. On this occasion, it's not especially clear what the boys are waffling on about, though. "I'm underage and uninsured/ on the High Road to Domestos/ Chloraflouracarbon Lord/ Asbestos Lead Asbestos" Jim Bob snarls, quoting the ingredients list of detergent bottles and World Domination Enterprises song titles in one breath for no clear reason at all.

It's a piece of bin-kicking, hook-ridden punk rock, though, and while it never caught indieland's imagination as much as "Sheriff Fatman", they clearly weren't going to disappear on us. An "ITV Chart Show" slot opened up for them with this single, and while nobody thought pop stardom beckoned for the band, they surely and steadily reached more people.

2. Eat - Psycho Couch (Non-Fiction) - bonus video

Ange Dolittle, lead singer of Eat, is one of indie's stalwarts. From Eat to Weknowwhereyoulive (consisting largely of ex-Wonder Stuffers) to Big Yoga Muffin, he trod the boards with a number of outfits and led them with an icy assurance. Both the press and fellow musicians seemed to talk about him as if success was assured, but in the end Eat remained a cult concern, and one dogged by inter-band tensions and bad luck.

"Psycho Couch" received single of the week in the NME and got voted a "Miss" on the revamped, Jools Holland hosted "Juke Box Jury" - mixed fortunes, but you can't fault the level of exposure. It's an odd, decidedly psychedelic single, and one which didn't seem to belong in 1990 or indeed any other time. A rock and roll bassline meets an almost gothic atmosphere and rattling drums to sound faintly threatening, slightly eerie, rather unusual and crucially unlikely to break through.

The video was partly animated and while not as luxurious or detailed as Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer", nonetheless showed that a lot of effort was being put into breaking the band. It's not available on YouTube, but you can see it on MTV's site, along with what must surely have been a very reluctant cover of "Summer In The City" (which also did nothing for them).

Eat recently reformed in 2014 and have resumed their careers, even issuing a new single "She Cries Flowers" in 2016.

3. Pixies - Velouria (4AD)

4. The Telescopes - Precious Little (Creation)

5. Spiritualized - Anyway That You Want Me (Dedicated)

6. Thee Hypnotics - Half Man Half Boy (Situation Two) - bonus video

A slow, snaking, bluesy groove dominates "Half Man Half Boy", making Thee Hypnotics sound a tiny bit more commercial than on previous "Indie Top 20" outings - though really, all these things are relative.

Press for Thee Hypnotics was ecstatic at this point, and not just the traditional sniffy scribes at Melody Maker and NME, but also Kerrang as well. The indie kids at IPC towers saw the group as being the modern heirs to The Stooges distorted riff and roll, whereas Kerrang journos just saw them as a furiously dirty and thrilling live rock band. At this point, Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes could also be heard singing their praises.

Unfortunately, far from being a crossover band uniting both the floppy-fringed and the greasy-haired, they really remained a cult concern.

7. The Charlatans - The Only One I Know (Situation Two)

8. Mock Turtles - Lay Me Down (Imaginary)

9. Shack - I Know You Well (Ghetto) - bonus video

Liverpool's Shack are often talked about as being the group that slipped through the net - the band who should have been absolutely massive in the early nineties but barely had a sniff of success. Certainly, they were firm favourites among critics, who gushed forth endless superlatives about their classic tunesmithery.

They were certainly dogged by bad luck, like an enormous amount of bands featured on "Indie Top 20". The master tapes for their finest work of this period, the LP "Waterpistol", were destroyed in a recording studio fire. Their producer left behind a DAT recording of it in a hire car, which took weeks to track down and recover, only for their label Ghetto - which had been largely coasting on the minor success of The Lightning Seeds for some time - to go bust.

"I Know You Well" was a standalone single which didn't end up on that LP, but is a mellow, shimmering piece of sixties inspired pop with a marginal amount of wonkiness on its side as well. That rushing, distorted merry-go-round sound which occurs at the beginning of the track and halfway through feels like the gentle slide into the darkest recesses of your couch after one joint too many, while the main melody spins around your head. And indeed, a spliffy fog did often hang around Shack's music - nothing at all wrong with that, and they were far from being the only offenders, but the contemplative introspection of their work would actually be better suited to the tail-end of the decade. Perhaps it's not too surprising that they had their biggest critical and commercial success in 1999 with "HMS Fable", then, way outside the timelines of this blog.

10. Sp!n - Scratches In The Sand (Foundation)

11. Paris Angels - Perfume (Sheer Joy)

12. Flowered Up - It's On (Heavenly)

13. Saint Etienne - Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Heavenly)

14. The Shamen - Make It Mine (One Little Indian)

15. KLF - What Time Is Love (Live At Trancentral) (KLF Communications) - bonus video

Or the KLF's big breakthrough moment. "Doctorin' The Tardis" had been broadly (and incorrectly) dismissed as a novelty single by many, and at the time you would have been forgiven for believing that they were destined to never be much more than situationist pranksters.

That would be foolish of you, though. While their debut LP "1987 What The Fuck Is Going On" is messy and more of a statement than a coherent piece of work, the follow up "Who Killed The Jams" showed that they understood how to create pop music as well (and perhaps the key pointer towards a more overground future was their largely forgotten 1987 Christmas single "Downtown", which I've written about on my other blog).

The Pure Trance original of "What Time Is Love" was a minimal piece of work which, while highly regarded at free parties, was never going to be a hit by itself. This Stadium House version (though nobody was was really calling it that at this point) was something else. Building on the foundations laid by Bomb The Bass, Coldcut and S-Express in mixing pop music with House music, it then scales new heights. The original central riff for "What Time Is Love" was a delicate affair, but for the "Live at Trancentral" version it sounds like it's being blasted through a hundred tannoys at once. It becomes a clarion call to dance, combining with Acid House squelches, a confident if slightly Daisy Age-ish rap from MC Bello, and pounding rhythms... even from a present-day viewpoint, it still sounds staggering.

There were DJs and fellow journeymen at the time who accused the KLF of "selling out" after hearing this, feeling that they'd spoiled the original Pure Trance vision they'd created and written a monstrous pop song with the main riff. Utter piffle, I'd say. I owned the "What Time Is Love Story" compilation before this version saw the light of day, and while the original is powerful, outside of the context of a club or a party it loses a lot of impact. The "Live At Trancentral" version takes the main riff, turns it into a chorus, and creates something incredibly muscular and hi-fi friendly in the spaces available. Even the audience roars are a magical element, making you feel as if the rave has suddenly arrived in your bedroom, while the ambient astronaut samples keep you floating long after the song has finished. In short - it's majestic. Very few songs manage to translate the magic of a hedonistic night out to the stereo at home, but this does it with unbelievable assurance.


  1. That Shack tune is lovely; was eventually compiled on Perfect Motion a little while ago -

  2. Excellent! I might have to check that compilation out.