Sunday, 5 March 2017

Volume 13 Side Two - Catherine Wheel, The Telescopes, Moose, Spiritualized, Midway Still

1. Catherine Wheel - Shallow (Wilde Club)

Their last single before rushing off to cash the banker's cheques offered to them by Fontana, "Shallow" was proof that Catherine Wheel had the pop chops to justify the jump away from the indie sector. While "Shallow" edges dangerously close to Ride sonically, the chorus is pure bliss, and the song itself shows no weaknesses at all, charging full-throttle through numerous elated and masterful guitar riffs on its way. "Heaven Sent An Angel" it isn't, being a pleasing tapestry of ideas which occur so quickly that it's initially impossible to realise quite how much is going on in a mere few minutes.

Following this, their career on Fontana was full of mixed fortunes. While they managed to maintain a small and loyal fanbase in the both the US and the UK, they consistently seemed on the brink of success rather than actually breaking through. Singles were released, all of which only just missed the Top 50, only to quickly disappear again. Their sound moved with the times, becoming much heavier and more rock orientated by the mid-nineties, but by 2000 it was all over. Compared to almost every other act of this era, they had a strange, dogged persistence, never giving up even when the scene around them shifted. Indeed, their lifespan went beyond the duration of the "Indie Top 20" series itself; an impressive achievement, but they seem doomed to remain a footnote in any alternative rock story.

2. The Telescopes - Flying (Creation)

The Telescopes had always had a slightly shoegazey sound to their work, of course, and in many ways could have been regarded as one of the earliest groups (along with Pale Saints) to appreciate that a broader listening public awaited for a dense, hypnotic noise. "Flying", though, really pulls things up a notch or two, feeling truly disorientating (still more so when you watch the impressively suitable video) and whooshing past in a rush of sonic mayhem. The sitar overload also indicates that late sixties psychedelic influences were at play, and the whole thing truly soars - appropriately, given the title.

Despite all this, and despite the fact that they had shunted over to Creation Records where a higher profile should surely have been expected, there was a sense that The Telescopes were beginning to become marginalised at this point, and by the tail end of 1992 they would cease to exist. It's impossible to put your finger on quite what they were doing wrong, and really they should have had a head start over their travelling companions - but rather like The Pale Saints, they felt strangely sidelined by the media.

3. Moose - Suzanne (Hut)

"Suzanne" really continues in a similar stylistic vein to "Jack" on "Volume 12", except rather like The Telescopes, Moose really pull out all the stops here to make the track a psychedelic blur. "She walks all over me/ I can't take it from her!" sings Russell, while the band's tune gets locked in the roar of a sonic wind tunnel. The track rattles and canters along to its inevitable chaotic death.

As a single, this got quite a few critics hot under the collar and caused some to revise their expectations of the band's success. The video got "Chart Show" exposure, they were observed being particularly chummy with Blur, and it was felt that perhaps a corner was being turned. In reality, Moose were far too maudlin and self-indulgent (albeit often in an interesting way) to truly vault into the mainstream, and "Suzanne" was and remains an interesting moment where a rather unlikely group became the subject of speculation. Startlingly, the Virgin subsidiary Hut Records didn't lose complete faith in them until 1992, meaning we'll be hearing more from them.

4. Spiritualized - Run (Dedicated)

Fuelled by a cheeky (and credited) steal from JJ Cale's "Call Me The Breeze", "Run" is actually a very repetitive, primal number by Spiritualized's usual standards - their previous single, a version of Lou Reed and John Cale's "Why Don't You Smile Now", took the rough simplicity of the original and turned it into a grandoise epic, whereas "Run" is a bluesy, foggy jog through rock's back pages, and the psychedelic elements do very little to disguise that.

Still, it's an enjoyable few minutes, and while the group had clearly yet to become the Class A gospel preachers of the indie circuit, it shows that a lot of headway had been made by Jason Pierce since parting company with Spacemen 3. Already, a unique and identifiable sound was starting to lock into place, and broader appreciation was theirs for the taking.

5. Midway Still - I Won't Try (Roughneck)

Midway Still represent the idea of forgotten early nineties indie heroes so well that one person even named a blog after them. "Because Midway Still Aren't Coming Back" was the title of one of the earliest online mp3 blogs dedicated to deleted and largely disregarded British nineties indie, and was obviously a bookmark in my web browser's menu bar.

Oddly though, Midway Still sounded far more like an imported American underground rock act than the low-budget Kent boys they actually were. "I Won't Try" is evidence of this, with its almost Lemonheads styled power-pop chorus, rough and ready guitar work, and drawled vocals. Their debut album "Dial Square" would be produced by Sonic Youth dial twiddler Don Fleming, cementing their transatlantic sound still further.

Looking and sounding as if they'd fallen off the back of a Greyhound bus fresh from Seattle did the group little harm in terms of media coverage initially, and almost certainly boosted their profile far higher than it otherwise would have gone at any other period - but they never quite rose above their underground status, and became a near-permanent fixture on the Camden club and pub scene in the early nineties. In fact, almost all vaguely "grungey"/college rock styled British groups failed to find much appreciation on their own shores, a peculiar cultural anomaly which I still struggle to make sense of. Given the fact that they were able to tour here with greater ease and regularity and were also available for media appointments at the drop of a hat, you'd have thought at least a few British grunge-styled acts would have broken through, but success proved elusive (unless you count the artificial one hit wonders Stiltskin, that is...)


  1. A consistently enjoyable second side. My primary memories of Midway Still are threefold:
    1) Frequently confused with the Milltown Brothers
    2) Plenty of second hand vinyl copies of Dial Square knocking around for years afterwards
    3) Their surprisingly decent cover of You Made Me Realise which ended their set in Dublin March 1992. They were supporting Mega City Four.

  2. Yes, while some nineties indie records on vinyl go for large sums of money these days, you don't have to look for very long in the Music and Video Exchange remaindered section to spot others. I don't think it was all that long ago I last saw a copy of "Dial Square" for buttons.