A 1974 Two for Tuesday

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Don’t worry, the words Heavy and Metal are unlikely to be used together in this blog ever again. Thinking about it, I’m still at a loss as to why this mid ’70s act should have chosen to call themselves The Heavy Metal Kids. Yeah, I know they got the name from William Burroughs (that man name-checked for the second post running) but if you haven’t heard the Kids before don’t expect any Iron Maiden style bollocks.

Between glam and punk, several new bands emerged who would be touted as potential next big things – Jet, Deaf School, The Doctors of Madness and, of course, The Heavy Metal Kids being prime examples. And just to confuse matters more, the Kids were often called punks back then when that term was used more loosely than it would be just a couple of years later. I’m sure I even remember someone in the music press referring to Rod Stewart as a punk one time.

A quintet of rabble-rousing droogs, The Kids specialised in blasting out songs about birds and bovver like Always Plenty of Women and The Cops Are Coming. Bovver was big news back then and you wouldn’t have to turn too many pages of a paper like Glasgow’s Evening Times before you’d read about truants, football hooligans, glue sniffers, vandals or violent teenage gangs and their local reigns of terror.

The Kids looked to have all the ingredients of a success story, singer Gary Holton possessed a good bluesy voice and shared a similar sense of onstage theatricality as his pal Alex Harvey – Holton, like Alex, was also what might have been called a gallus case in Glasgow (translation: full of swagger).

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The band, and Gary in particular, also demonstrated a knack for publicity, One day Gary would crop up in the Sun (I promise to never mention that paper again too) photographed cavorting with some page 3 girl, the next, the band would be filmed playing The Cops Are Coming live in Fulham for a documentary investigating violence at rock concerts by BBC current affairs series Panorama.

They played everywhere in London from the Marquee to Kensington fashion emporium Biba and also supported Alice Cooper in Britain and America and Kiss in the States before getting kicked off the tour. The band it would have to be admitted were no choirboys.

They could maybe have been a (not so) Small Faces for the seventies but earned only relatively minor success, no real hits but one appearance on Top of the Pops and a spot on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Many future punk bands were fans. Tony James from Generation X first met Mick Jones of The Clash at a Kids’ show and several members of The Damned also rated the band. The Kids themselves observed the rise of The Sex Pistols at close hand – members of both groups drank frequently in King’s Road boozer The Roebuck and Gary began to suspect that Johnny Rotten had nicked some of his street urchin image and act. He let Johnny know his thoughts on the matter too.

By the time that the their third album Kitsch was released in the summer of 1977 as the punk explosion peaked, The Heavy Metal Kids were already looking distinctly like yesterday’s men rather than any next big thing.

Those who had predicted stardom for Gary, though, did get it right. Originally trained as an actor, he appeared very briefly in Quadrophenia but was given a much more important role in Stephen Poliakoff’s TV drama Bloody Kids, first shown in March 1980, before landing the role that he’ll always be best remembered for, cheeky Cockney chappie Wayne from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

From their self titled debut album this does start off sounding like one of those awful power/rock ballads but gets better as it goes along with a chorus not a million miles from a Status Quo style boogie. This is We Gotta Go:


Ian Dury was another artist who suspected that Johnny Rotten had borrowed from his act, feeling that he’d nicked his razor-blade earring and the manner in which he leaned in towards his microphone and sang. In fact, according to James Macleay’s book on Malcolm McLaren, Dury went to his grave annoyed at how ‘McLaren and Lydon had aped his style yet never given him any credit for it.’

Certainly both McLaren and Rotten had seen Kilburn and the High Roads on several occasions and The Sex Pistols had even supported them on the Kilburns’ very last show at the Walthamstow Assembly Hall but  while Johnny might have taken note of Ian – and Gary Holton’s – sense of stagecraft, I doubt the influence of either made any real difference to the success of his Pistols.

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Chris Thomas was a big fan of the Kilburns and produced their first single Rough Boys. As he told Ian Dury biographer Richard Balls: ‘The funny thing was, a couple of years later I was approached by Malcolm McLaren about possibly doing the The Sex Pistols, he set up a meeting with Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Glen Matlock, and they wanted me to produce them because they’d liked Rough Kids. I didn’t think anyone had heard it.’

Back in 1974, I don’t think I ever heard the single but I doubt it was ever given any airplay on Radio 1 and I would be amazed if any Clyde DJ had ever given the track a spin. I was also unaware that this footage existed until a few hours ago, here is Rough Kids:


For more on The Heavy Metal Kids, click here, and for more on Ian Dury, here you go.

Best of the Year 2016 (Part Three)

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Of my final ten tracks of the year, one is by Bowie and two by big pals of Bowie.

This might just be construed as sentimentality but really this isn’t remotely to do with the death of the icon. I happily included the track Blackstar in my best of 2015 list and while his final album probably wouldn’t feature in my list of ten favourite Bowie LPs, I reckon it displayed as much creativity as any album released in 2016.

If not more.


I’m sure I don’t need to explain the connections between Bowie and Iggy or Ian Hunter but you might not know that the ex-Mott singer was far from an Iggy fan, once putting the boot in by claiming: ‘I think Iggy’s the most overrated star ever. Iggy has all the attributes of stardom, except that he doesn’t deliver on any level. He’s the all-time ‘should-have-but-didn’t and it’s because he’s just not good enough.’

Well, Mr Hunter got that one spectacularly wrong but hey, Iggy fans were pretty thin on the ground back then.

The first two Stooges albums met with mostly scorn from critics and music lovers – well, the minority of them that had even heard the records, Rolling Stone, for example, branded their debut as ‘loud, boring, tasteless, unimaginative and childish.’

Sandy Robertson, the author and former Sounds journalist, once told me that when import copies of Raw Power first hit Britain, one guy serving behind the counter of a music shop was utterly flabbergasted that he wanted to buy a copy.

This might strike you as strange and I struggle to get my head around it myself having only discovered The Stooges later. James Newell Osterberg, Jr. was obviously out of sync with the pre-punk times and way ahead of the curve. Of course, nowadays he is enshrined as a music legend and just about everybody hailed his Post Pop Depression as a late period masterpiece. Which it might just be.

Incidentally, whether Iggy rates Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople I have no idea but I’m sure that he surely must harbour at least a soft spot for Dandy, Hunter’s tribute to David Bowie from his album Fingers Crossed. ‘This world was black and white, you showed us what it’s like to live inside a rainbow.’

Anyway, back to the man who I guess doesn’t have too many shirts hanging on  the rail of his wardrobe. This is Iggy and Gardenia live at some hall in London:


After their drummer Chris Acland committed suicide in 1996, the idea of the three remaining members of Lush continuing on as a band was too painful to contemplate and although there had been talk of a reunion for some years, it wasn’t until 2015 that they decided that they really should get back together.

A couple of months ago, Lush issued a statement that they would split up again after their Manchester Academy show. ‘It is now time for us to return to our families and homes, and bring our time together as a band to a close.’

So not one of the longer reformations in pop history.

Their time back together, though, wasn’t just an exercise in nostalgia and they recorded four new songs, released together as an EP titled Blind Spot.

From it, this is Out of Control, which resembled their early ethereal phase rather than their rollicking pop days of the mid-1990s:


Radiohead are always a band that put a lot of care into their promos, making sure they pick an imaginative director with a distinct vision. Just think of Michel Gondry’s Knives Out or Jonathan Glazer’s Karma Police for starters.

Last year they persuaded Chris Hopewell to produce the video for Burn the Witch and Hopewell certainly provided them with another classic with this tribute to The Wicker Man and Camberwell Green. Here it is:


These are my thirty favourite tracks of the year in no particular order:

David Bowie: I Can’t Give Everything Away
Ian Hunter: Dandy
Iggy Pop: Gardenia
Lush: Out of Control
Radiohead: Burn the Witch
Holy Esque: Tear
White: Private Lives
Dot Dash: Dumb Entertainment
The Eastern Swell: Run Down Country Palace
Ian William Craig: A Single Hope
Gabriella Cohen: Downtown
Steve Mason: Planet Sizes
Anna Meredith: The Vapours
Girl Ray: Trouble
Fat White Family: Breaking into Aldi
Rituals: Black River
The Limanas: Garden of Love
Stoor: Witchfinder General
Cate Le Bon: Wonderful
The Parrots: Too High to Die
Gold Furs: Nobody Knows
Honeyblood: Waiting for the Magic
Pixies: Classic Masher
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Amputation
Those Unfortunates: The Servant
Explosions in the Sky: Logic of a Dream
Chorusgirl: Chorusgirl
Lurkers GLM: Nearly Home
Miracle Glass Company: T.R.O.U.B.L.E
The Strokes: Drag Queen

And here I’ll give a special mention to Dot Dash, an act that have featured in all of my best of the year lists since the first in 2013. Why they aren’t better known I have no idea but they should be.

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As for re-issues, well, last year I tried to cut down on buying too many of those although I was tempted by a couple of Soul Jazz compilations that deserve to be highlighted, namely Venezuela 70, the first-ever album of its kind to concentrate on experimental rock music created in Venezuela during the 1970s and Les Punks: The French Connection, which examines the first wave Of French Punk.

Sharon Signs to Cherry Red is another goodie, a compilation of British female acts from the post-punk era. It maybe isn’t as consistently strong as the two Soul Jazz comps but it was very enjoyable to hear Strawberry Switchblade, The Twinsets and Sunset Gun again.

Also recommended is the 4 CD boxset, Action, Time, Vision (another Cherry Red release, this time of British independent punk releases of the 1970s) which had many a good track on it including our own Subs, Skids and Johnny and the Self Abusers.

I was tempted by the Alex Harvey The Last Of The Teenage Idols 14 CD box-set too and I’ll maybe add it to my collection in 20017, although as I already own so much of the music collected in the boxset I’m finding it hard to justify the cost. Lastly, it was fascinating to finally hear The Gouster on David Bowie’s (that man again!) Who Can I Be Now?

Best of the Year 2016 (Part Two)

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Before I get on to the return of some big hitters, I’ll mention Gold Furs, the solo project of Becca Murray, an up and coming Glaswegian lo-fi singer/songwriter with an intriguing, sometimes Nico-esque voice that also reminds me of Siouxsie at times.

Becca lists her influences as ‘ghosts, magick, rock n roll, time travel, dreams, death, lust, alcohol, sex, anything with soul’ and is a fan of a very wide array of artists from The Cramps through to Ennio Morricone.

Her Dreams EP is out now via Bandcamp and if you’re even more old school than me you might want the limited edition cassette release of this, the cassette casing being flecked with gold glitter which looks fantastic.

From it this is Nobody Knows:

 
Next up is Honeyblood, an act that I have featured twice before and adore. The lead single from second album Babes Never Die, this is Waiting for the Magic, which along with Justine, Misery Queen is my favourite track from a consistently strong album:


And now the return of two big hitters. Firstly, Pixies.

Pixies released their first new album in ages last year – no I don’t count collections of EPs like Indie Cindy as ‘new’ albums.

For a while in the late 1980s, Pixies were one of my two favourite bands in the entire universe along with My Bloody Valentine. Nowadays, sans Kim Deal, they still make fantastic music but we all know they will never be as manically brilliant as they were back then with Black Francis’ ferocious, tonsil-shredding screams and hollered unhinged lyrics, and that amazing barrage of razor sharp guitar, furiously pounded drums and malevolent basslines that left you frazzled whenever you were lucky enough to see them live.

Head Carrier is nowhere near as good as Doolittle or Surfer Rosa. Many critics loathed the album, usually ones that enjoy bores like Kate Tempest whingeing on about whatever easy target she whinges on about.

On tracks like Might as Well Be Gone, Tenement Song and All I Think About Now the quartet do still shine, although I preferred the latter song when it was called Where Is My Mind? Only joking. I think.

Directed by bassist Paz Lenchantin (who is a very good Kim Deal tribute act it would have to be said) this is Classic Masher:


Finally, the Jesus and Mary Chain are back.

Produced by Youth, who also provides bass on the record, their first new album in umpteen years, Damage And Joy, will be released on March 24th 2017.

According to Paste: ‘It’s a far cry from their early shoegaze sound, and develops the cleaner, distinct layers they opted for later in their career, though their iconic distortion isn’t totally absent and the music still feels raw.’

Despite having always thought of myself being a Mary Chain fan since their early days I seem to have missed their ‘early shoegaze sound’ but anyway, this was the first taster from the upcoming album, this is Amputation:


And here’s six more of my top 30 songs of 2016:

Those Unfortunates: The Servant
Explosions in the Sky: Logic of a Dream
Chorusgirl: Chorusgirl
Lurkers GLM: Nearly Home
Miracle Glass Company: T.R.O.U.B.L.E
& The Strokes: Drag Queen

For more on Gold Furs: https://www.facebook.com/goldfurs/

For more on Honeyblood: http://honeyblood.co.uk/

For more on more on Pixies: http://www.pixiesmusic.com/

& for The Jesus and Mary Chain: http://thejesusandmarychain.uk.com/

Best of the Year 2016 (Part One)

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Thirty tracks, ten films and five books, so a festive 45 of sorts. Not a vintage year for music (sadly I seem to say that every year nowadays) but as ever there has been plenty of excellent new singles and albums, in fact, I could easily have compiled a top one hundred.

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This 50-something’s favourites include music by a man in his 70s, a man pushing 70 and a man who died aged 69, namely Ian Hunter, Iggy Pop and, of course, David Bowie but I’m going to kick off with some new talent in the shape of Australian singer/songwriter Gabriella Cohen.

Former front woman of The Furrs, Gabriella has been lazily compared to Courtney Barnett; well, both are female, Melbourne based and get filed under indie but they don’t really have that much in common musically apart from a flair for making instantly enjoyable music.

Cohen’s debut album, Full Closure and No Details, is a self-produced collection of ten tracks brimming with an assurance and vitality that suggest she is definitely one to watch. Here’s my favourite cut from it, Downtown:



I did think Steve Mason deserved to win this year’s SAY Award with Meet the Humans but instead the judges voted that Scotland’s Album of the Year was Varmints by Anna Meredith, which would have been my number two.

One of the things I like about Anna is that in an age where every second Scottish act sometimes seem to be playing almost identikit folk inflected indie, she does her own classical/electronic/art pop/experimental thang with a perky playfulness that proves to be sonically intriguing, sometimes even provocative.

In the past this former Composer-in-Residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has been commissioned to make music utilising MRI scanners and performed ‘body percussion pieces’ which I haven’t seen/heard but which sound more innovative and ambitious than some sensitive indie guy singing songs of yearning on his acoustic guitar.

I’m gonna have to warn you that this video contains strobing/flashing lights throughout. This is Anna Meredith with The Vapours:


And now for some of Anna’s Moshi Moshi labelmates.

A big favourite of Unthought of, though, somehow, where I first came across them, Girl Ray (no relation to Man Ray or even poor old Johnnie Ray) recently recorded a session for Marc Riley and have supported the likes of Ezra Furman and Hooton Tennis Club in the past coupla months. Hopefully we get to hear a lot more of them in 2017.

Here they are with Trouble:


Here’s six more favourites to make up the first third of my musical selections:

Fat White Family: Breaking into Aldi
Rituals: Black River
The Limanas: Garden of Love
Stoor: Witchfinder General
Cate LeBon: Wonderful
&
The Parrots: Too High to Die

For more on Gabriella Cohen:
https://www.facebook.com/gabriellacohenmusic/

Steve Mason:
https://www.facebook.com/Steve-Mason-197724901872/?fref=ts

Anna Meredith:
http://www.annameredith.com/

Girl Ray:
https://www.facebook.com/girlraylondon/

Vashti, Françoise & Dennis: Three Festive Tunes for Friday

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A post that includes some Christmassy tracks that I haven’t seen featured elsewhere this year. A Christmas post was something I hadn’t imagined doing although as Half Man Half Biscuit once sang, ‘It’s Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas’.

First up some Vashti Bunyan, an artist not universally loved by bloggers but someone I adore.

Whatever your thoughts on her music, it would be hard to deny that Vashti has an interesting backstory. Emerging as a singer in the swinging ’60s, she signed to stable of smitten Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham and released a couple of pop nuggets, Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind (penned by Mick and Keef) and Train Song, which she co-wrote.

As Oldham put it in the second volume of his memoirs, 2Stoned: ‘Alas, Vashti was viewed as an auburn Marianne Faithfull spin-off, which more than dented the trail I had hoped to blaze for her.’

A new set of songs were written as she made her way very slowly by horse and cart from her home in London to a commune in Skye and these tracks were later recorded by Joe Boyd just before he worked his magic on Nick Drake’s Bryter Later. Like the previous singles, nobody paid much attention to Just Another Diamond Day, although the LP did very slowly earn cult status, eventually being re-issued in 2000, when it rightly received plaudits across the board from critics.

I first saw Vashti play at Belle and Sebastian’s Tramway Day in 2005, by which time she had made her return to making music, releasing a brilliant second album, Lookaftering, thirty five years after her first. Bit of a gap on the CV you might say but Vashti has never been one to follow a predictable path.

On the day I was told that this was her first ever Scottish show, even though she had been living here for decades – until her artistic rebirth, she hadn’t even picked up a guitar since the commercial failure of Just Another Diamond Day years except to teach her oldest son to play.

Vashti, it would have to be admitted, is not one of the most naturally self confident performers I have ever clapped my eyes on and she cut a rather vulnerable presence throughout the show – If I had known her, I’d have invited her to join me in Heraghty’s for a snifter beforehand to help quell the nerves.

Those nerves and the fragility of her voice – Maggie Bell she ain’t – made her performance all the more compelling and her set was one of the most delightful shows I have seen so far this century.

This is Twice As Much & Vashti with The Coldest Night Of The Year:


In 2Stoned, Andrew Loog Oldham also compared Vashti to Françoise Hardy, an artist I have to admit I knew little about until she sang on a version of To the End on one of Blur’s Country House CD releases – which was far superior to Country House and, come to think of it, Roll With It too, meaning that of all the tracks released during the so-called Battle of Britpop, the best was sung partly by a French woman.

Since then I have learned more about Françoise, mostly from the Blow Up Doll website that specialises in groovy yé-yé gals. If you’re interested in that kind of thing just google Blow Up Doll and hope for the best, or alternatively, click here.

From her 1970 album, Alone, this is Song of Winter:


The Dennis Wilson of 1977 was a very different one to the Dennis Wilson of Little Saint Nick and The Man With All the Toys. Famously Dennis was the only Beach Boy that actually surfed and by the mid 1960s he’d become the poster boy for Californian sun, sea and excessive sex.

What followed though included a quickly regretted association with Charles Manson, divorce, increasingly reckless behaviour and way too much booze and drugs.

With hindsight, Dennis’s scorching rasp here seems to reflect the many regrets in his life and maybe even some self-loathing and desperation too. If you’d heard him singing this on Christmas morning, you’d dread to think how he might be feeling by night-time.

Recorded at the tail end of November 1977 at The Beach Boys’ Brother studios although the track never saw the light of day till many years later, this is The Beach Boys with Dennis on vocal duties with his song Morning Christmas:

 
If you don’t already know Dennis Wilson’s magnificent solo album Pacific Ocean Blue then I’d advise you to seek it out. I’ll write about it in more detail in 2017.

Independent Scotland #8

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SHOP ASSISTANTS: SAFETY NET (53rd & 3rd) 1986

This week a group whose evolution began in 1981 in Newtonmore, a town in Inverness-shire better known for its shinty team than for its independent bands.

This was a relatively short-lived version of the band that later gained some success as Shop Assistants, but who, according to the fanzine Groovy Black Shades, played live for the first time under the name – wait for it – The Crispy Crunchies.

Now there’s a show I would likely have avoided like a Coldplay convention.

Mercifully, the music was far superior to the moniker.

Fast forward a few years and main songwriter and guitarist David Keegan sent a demo tape of the band (which again according to GBS was now known as Only the Worst) to Stephen Pastel in exchange for a Pastels tape. Stephen was mightily impressed by the songs on the tape and so started a long musical alliance between the two bands.

As Buba and The Shop Assistants, they recorded only one single, Something To Do, with David, Aggi (Annabel Wright from Juniper Beri Beri fanzine), Moray and John supplying the music together with a guest appearance from Stephen Pastel, who also produced the record and designed the sleeve.

The single may have been a pretty limited release but it displayed plenty of promise and was championed by Peter Easton on his Radio Scotland show Beat Patrol and also played by John Peel.

Buba and the Shop Assistants are an experience akin to, no I don’t know, being trussed up naked and thrashed with barbed wire by Clare Grogan. You want sex? Violence? This band have got it all. And beauty.  As well as chainsaw classics they have some really nice ballad type songs about things like people “Somewhere in China”.

The Buba and the Shop Assistants Story. The Underground #3 (A Subway Organisation fanzine)

Not long after the release of that debut single in the summer of 1984, Aggi left the now Edinburgh based band to join The Pastels – replaced on vocal duties by Alex Taylor, Alex and David forming a new nucleus of the band, ditching the Buba part of the name and losing their rhythm section.

That autumn Sarah Neale joined their ranks as bassist and the following spring a pair of drummers came onboard, Laura McPhail and Ann Donald.

August 1985 saw the Shopping Parade EP featuring All Day Long released by the Subway Organisation. Neil Taylor, reviewing the single for NME, praised the band as ‘easily the most original post-Mary Chain pop group’ and the Shoppies’ profile was boosted greatly when indie king Morrissey named All Day Long as the best single of the year (again in NME).

‘Not only are they the best, most important, and loveable independent band in Britain today but they double up as the most likely lad and lasses too.’

Lawrence Watson. NME. March 1986

Significantly John Peel’s support for the band grew and grew – they were given two Peel sessions and featured four times in his Festive Fifty, Safety Net being voted #8 in 1986.

This was their sole release on 53rd & 3rd, a label set up early in 1986 by David and Stephen Pastel with help from Sandy McLean. Named after the Ramones classic, the imprint proved highly influential across the globe with releases including singles by BMX Bandits, The Vaselines and Beat Happening. This is Safety Net:

 
Shop Assistants quickly moved again, this time signing to Blue Guitar – a subsidiary of Chrysalis with an A&R input from Geoff Travis and Mayo Thompson of Texan cult band The Red Crayola – where they issued their sole album before falling apart, although, with a changed line-up they did re-emerge for a while, signing this time to another Scottish independent, Avalanche – with David Keegan afterwards going on to perform a stint with The Pastels.

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This is the frenetic version of All Day Long (although I prefer the slower version myself):

 
Nowadays, Shop Assistants usually get lumped under the C86 category, a (sub)genre description I’ve never been that comfortable with, albeit it beats terms like shambling, cutie or anorak.

And, no, I never scored very highly on any tweeometer, so no oversize cardies, anoraks or duffle coats for me let alone a bowl haircut – and no real nostalgia either for that innocence of childhood thing beloved by many of the independent acts of the time, although in the age of Thatcher, Reagan and AIDS, I suppose it’s easy to understand the impulse behind some musicians and fans wanting to retreat back into a more innocent world.

Neither was I ever someone guaranteed to get excited by that many so-called ‘C86’ acts.

A frenetic and fuzzboxy, Buzzcocks meets The Velvets rudimentary sound like Shop Assistants, then fuck yeah!

But a bunch of wilfully amateurish wimps with trebly guitars who saw it as an achievement to remain underachievers, nah, no thanks, although, saying that, nine times out of ten, I would still take that over the big and bombastic, super slick post-Live Aid commercialism of the era.

More Shop Assistants in 2017, folks.

Trivia: The catalogue numbering system employed by 53rd & 3rd, AGARR, was a nice touch in the 1980s independent world often accused of lacking any real ambition and where chutzpah from anybody outside Morrissey or the Mary Chain was often frowned upon, AGARR standing for ‘As Good As Ramones Records’.

It was Easy, it was Cheap, Go and Do It!

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Desperate Bicycles: Smokescreen (Refill Records)

And now for one of the most influential ever British independent singles.

What is independent or indie?

The question was asked in last year’s BBC4 documentary Music for Misfits. ‘Is it a genre of music, generally accepted to involve noisy guitars?’ presenter Mark Radcliffe suggested. ‘Is it a business model, small companies not beholden to major corporations? Is it a state of mind?’

My answers being ‘No. Not necessarily and not necessarily.’

Almost forty years after buying my first independent single I still can’t give you a definitive answer to the question but what I can say is the that some records described as indie or independent are more independent than others. Early on Stiff set up a distribution deal in Britain with EMI and one with Epic for their American releases, while Jerry Dammers arranged a deal with Chrysalis to fund 2 Tone. Independent?

When the Guardian addressed the question last year to coincide with the first showing of Music for Misfits, Jude Rogers stated: ‘Some facts remain unshakeable. At the beginning were Buzzcocks, with their made-for-£500 Spiral Scratch EP.’

Okay, to try and shake the unshakeable, I’ll mention just one of many examples that I could. During the long hot summer of 1976, just as Buzzcocks were setting up a show in Manchester for The Sex Pistols, Abercrombie Fraser – a pseudonym of Kevin Westlake, who’d played guitar in Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance – released a version of Marie’s Wedding on Pinnacle, a British independent label label – yes, they did already exist – and distribution company that had some success around this time with the highly irritating boyband Flintlock.

Some facts do though actually remain unshakeable, one of them being The Desperate Bicycles were pretty much as independent as it was possible to be in the late 1970s, no distribution deals with majors and certainly not a penny in funding from them either.

The Desperates were one of those bands like Wire and Subway Sect that made records in 1977 which now sound more post-punk than punk. They formed with the simple ambition to record a single, cheaply and without record label involvement and this before they had even rehearsed as a band, let alone played a live show.

When asked about this by fanzine New Wave, bassist Roger Stephens, explained: ‘I think the only way we could get five people to actually get interested in playing together was to say, well we’re going to cut a record straight away. The whole novelty of it was enough to make sure people turned up. It sounds crazy but that’s a part of it.’

On their own Refill label, this is that debut single, Smokecreen, yes, the very first independent single I ever bought:


Call me lazy but if you want to know about the band and the basic details of how they made their first two 45s, then here’s what they said themselves on the back cover of their second DIY release The Medium was Tedium:

‘The Desperate Bicycles were formed in March 1977 specifically for the purpose of recording and releasing a single on their own label. They booked a studio in Dalston for three hours and with a lot of courage and a little rehearsal they recorded ‘Smokescreen’ and ‘Handlebars’. It subsequently leapt at the throat. Three months later The Desperate Bicycles were back in the studio to record their second single and this is the result. “No more time for spectating” they sing and who knows? They may be right. They’d really like to know why you haven’t made your single yet. “It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it” (the complete cost of “Smokescreen” was 153 pounds). The medium may very well have been tedium but it’s changing fast. So if you can understand, go and join a band. Now it’s your turn…………….’

And if you’re wondering what 153 quid would be in today’s money, then adjusting for inflation that would be the inflation adjusted equivalent to is £664.63. According to Moneysorter.co.uk anyway.

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Refusing to advertise, the band only played live sporadically. Word of mouth was their main means of spreading the word until John Peel began repeatedly playing Smokescreen, before inviting them in to record a session for his show in the summer of 1977, which kicked off with a version of Smokescreen that surpassed the single.

The Desperates punted their record to independent music shops like Small Wonder and Rough Trade. Happily the initial Smokescreen pressing of 500 sold out with the band putting the profits into a second pressing of 1000 which again sold out allowing them to put the further profits into a second single. That pressing soon also sold out and this time they used the profits to press up 2500 more copies of each of the two singles and to buy some new equipment.

In his book Rip It Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds described the Desperate Bicycles as ‘DIY’s most fervent evangelists’. Buzzcocks might have got in there before them and significantly the Manchester group used the back cover of their EP to help demystify the process of making a record by listing the number of takes and guitar overdubs on each track. This would be an obvious inspiration to the Desperates but as Buzzcocks were lured relatively quickly from New Hormones to United Artists you could easily argue that it was The Desperate Bicycles who were more influential to many new DIY bands emerging around this time.

Here’s Simon Reynolds again in the same book quoting Nikki Sudden of Swell Maps: ‘It wasn’t until Desperate Bicycles did their first single that we realised you could actually book a studio and make a record. We thought only major labels could hire them. Which seems ridiculous now!’

Scritti Politti, a bunch of puritanical Camden squat dwellers who spent their days scrutinizing far-left samizdats and post-structuralist theory while plotting the best way how to bring about the immediate downfall of capitalism – and likely existing on a diet on brown rice as they did so – also undoubtedly took encouragement from the example of the Buzzcocks and Desperates, listing not only the cost of making their debut single on the sleeve but also breaking down precisely each of the costs they’d incurred as well as giving out contact details for each of the companies they had used.

The Television Personalties are another band that found inspiration in records like Smokescreen and, in turn, they influenced the next generation like Alan McGee, who had by the mid-80s (when this type of music would be regularly termed ‘alternative’ rather than ‘indie’) established a reputation for signing some of the most exciting independent acts in the country like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream to his label Creation – and, of course, later McGee went on to sell around half of Creation to Sony Music in the early 1990s.

Here’s a question, a hypothetical one.

Would The Desperates have been tempted if – unlikely I know – a major had taken a serious interest in tempting them to sign on the dotted line with a hefty advance?

As far as I can tell, they seem to have refused the opportunity to ever license any of their material for a re-release on CD or as a download, although they have spoken of doing this themselves.

So, the band do still strike me as genuine outsiders.

But hey, you never know.

By the time The Desperates had petered out in the early 1980s, Scritti were becoming frustrated by the limitations of being on an independent (in their case Rough Trade). As the decade progressed, singer Green Gartside took the not very democratic decision to elect himself leader of Scritti, eventually using the band to all extents and purposes as a solo vehicle.

Bob Last was appointed manager. I’m guessing because Green approved of how he’d handled the mega-success of The Human League. When offered the chance Scritti moved from egalitarian Rough Trade to hippy capitalist Richard Branson’s Virgin, something that Green would surely have laughed at back in the days when he would rail against everything from the usual capitalist suspects through to the experimental London Musicians’ Collective (castigated as ‘bourgeois imperialist improvisers’) and fellow leftist acts such as The Pop Group.

Duran Duran became fans and Green found himself in the pages of Smash Hits as regularly as NME, where he would be as likely to praise Tiffany as Marcel Duchamp. In all probability far more yuppies bought his records than squatters.

He took to wearing glossy lipstick and employed Arif Mardin to make his sound even glossier.

Worst of all, though, he somehow started to believe that it was a good idea to wear a shellsuit. Made by Nike.

Uploaded by Hell From The Eighties, sorry, Hello From The Eighties, this is Absolute:


More Scritti to come shortly as, believe it or not, I am actually a fan and should maybe say before I finish that Green/Scritti signed again to the reactivated Rough Trade imprint around a decade ago.

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