Thursday, 24 January 2008

Honey Bane "Girl On The Run" (from the "You Can Be You" EP, Crass Records, 1980)

Lord only knows why, but I've been listening to some slightly disturbing tunes over the last week or so. It's that little frisson of pleasure that you get, from hearing something which simultaneously excites and somewhat appalls you at the same time. It's the sort of feeling you get when listening to "Hamburger Lady" by TG ......

See what I mean?
Anyway, there's that, there's another song called "Highschool Massacre", which is about Columbine (and is actually quite heartbreaking) and there's this little gem from Honey Bane. It's got that perfect mix of anger and sweetness, a sense of longing and love, underpinned by the breathless chase from evil, the unseen menace that stalks the subject of the song: as she descends further into desperation, the evil gets closer; you can almost feel it's breath on her back. Of course, all of this would probably be nothing without Crass providing the backing
track (it's credited to "Donna & The Kebabs", with delicious irony, for perhaps the most high-profile group of Anarcho-Vegetarians of the punk years). Crass were masters of the sinister, adept in churning out uneasy waltzes of confusion and paranoia: driven by Penny Rimbauds strict drumming, and overlaid with waves of scratchy, twitching, fuzzed-out punk anger.
Yet this single also displays something of a tender side to Crass: at its heart it's a pure pop song: from the "Boredom" riff, with its two-note semaphore, to the clever little guitar chords, floating over the time signature; this is a consummate piece of pop brilliance. But, it was never seen as such, and probably never will be. It still places a chill in my heart though: it's Honey's detachment, her matter-of-fact vocal sneer, it's the vicious treble wash of the guitars, it's that horrific flushing noise at the end of the track, as the song seems to vanish into some sort of vortex of unfeeling savagery, it's still quite the most wonderful mix of sweet and savage.
Honey Bane had an upbringing which added extra gravitas to this single, and seemed to be on the run from pretty much everything when it was released. She had previously voiced the Fatal Microbes single "Violence Grows", and a homage to it, "Porno Grows", appears on the other side of this single. Her talents would be temporarily, and unsuccessfully channeled into trying to be a bona fide pop star after this, as Jimmy Pursey produced a couple of her singles for Regal/Zonophone, which tickled the lower reaches of the charts. However, you always got the feeling Honey was slightly uncomfortable with the whole thing, and she vanished from the sight of the mainstream, to enjoy a lower, but more creatively enriching profile, from that day to this. She's still very much with us, and her myspace can be found here.
And, as a final footnote: how great was it to have "pay no more than..." on the single sleeve? It simultaneoulsy makes a statement of intent, and also freezes that single to a moment in time: remember when singles cost 65p? That's what I payed for this when it came out, and it was worth every single one of those sixty-five pennies. Enjoy.

Honey Bane "Girl On The Run" (mp3)

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Mark Beer "Pretty" (Rough Trade, 1981)

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I was posting on Westway the other day, extolling the virtues of Record Fairs, and declaring my love for old Rough Trade 7"s. Well, here's another one of those Rough Trade singles, and it's one that has never had its moment in the spotlight.

Mark Beer is one of those artists that never quite made it: a handful of singles, what looks like a self-financed album, and that's about it.There is a connection via one of those singles to Thomas Dolby, and another one of his collaborators was Jean-Marc Lederman, who played in Jules et Jim, with Julianne Regan, from All About Eve. Along the way, he seems to have picked up a tiny number of curious fans and he's been rewarded for all his years in the wilderness by having one of his songs: "The Man Man Man", turn up on a compilation of DIY UK post-punk releases. So, there are tantalising links to other bands, to other careers, to other lives. But when you try and find out what happened to Mark himself, there's nothing. No myspace, no CD's on Amazon, no website, nothing. Very odd.

This single itself is a bright little piece of pop, though in its rush for acceptance, its message seems to become somewhat muddled. Mark sings about how being pretty is his salvation, the "antidote to my despair". Yet later in the song, he's musing that being pretty is merely "a type of superficial grace". He seems to have a love/hate relationship with the process of self-examination and evaluation, and this sense of confusion and fragility really comes across in the track: the song is always on the edge of becoming over-wrought and merely theatrical, a heartbeat away from losing its integrity to base vanity. It also has the delicious prospect of a "dub" on the b-side, though in truth it was just a chance to give the echo box a workout.

Despite it's lo-fi sound, and, at times, simplistic production, Rough Trade obviously had high hopes for the single. My copy came with a plugging sticker on the back, which means that it was sent off to compete with all the pop heavyweights of the day, when in truth, it probably never had a chance. And in that one moment of pure hope, is the reason why I really loved Rough Trade: they never let common sense get in the way of their dreams. They were adamant that their records deserved a chance, no mater how slight that chance was. The sheer optimism and pride of record labels in that first flush of the Indie boom has been somewhat forgotten, and this single serves as a timely reminder of just how important it is for a label to believe in their artistes, and to follow that belief through, all the way.

Mark Beer "Pretty" (mp3)

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Boys Wonder "Goodbye Jimmy Dean" (Boys Wonder Records, 1988)

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So, here's that other Boys Wonder single I was on about in the post below, which, for me, is the highpoint of their career. Everything about this single is just perfect, from the opening salvo of guitar riffs, to the proggy little burbles of synths which move the melody from verse to chorus, from the soaring middle eight to the key change, right down to the tongue-in-cheek kiss-off of the ending; it's just a textbook example of how to write, structure and perform the ultimate pop song.

This single followed on from the relative disappointment of their years at Sire Records, where hopes had been high, budgets had obviously been bigger, and that lack of success could have easily resulted in a rather jaded outlook on life and the music business. Instead, Boys Wonder focused their attention on rather different targets: the eighties obsession with out-of-date idols. Every home seemed to have a poster of James Dean in his "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" pose, the stars of a bygone era were supposed to be touchstones for the youth of a forward-thinking and technologically exciting age. the charts were full of Motown reissues and Stax covers, old soul sold to us via Levi's ads, and Rock'n'Roll condensed into short bursts of Jive Bunny mediocrity: something was very, very wrong. Boys Wonder lined all of these sacred cows up in a line, and shot them all down, one by one.

As it turned out, sadly, no-one was really listening. This single sold even less well than their previous releases. Something had to give, and Boys Wonder began, slowly but surely, to reassess their situation. The end of the eighties saw the rise in power of dance music in the UK, and there were few bands who weren't changed by it, or who would openly flirt with the medium. Boys Wonder continued for a while after this release, putting out a couple of white-label dance 12"s, and another single, the Balearic break-funk of "Eat Me, Drink Me", with its Steve Proctor remix. After that, as mentioned below, Corduroy beckoned. But this single will always remind me of what could have been, and will stay with me as a consummate example of the Majesty of a simple, cocky pop song. Enjoy.

Boys Wonder "Goodbye Jimmy Dean" (mp3)

Friday, 11 January 2008

Buba And the Shop Assistants "Something To Do" (Villa 21 Records, 1984)

Due to a last minute holiday, just before Christmas, and the ensuing chaos and ennui of the holiday period, it seems I let my fileden account lapse, and a few unlucky souls missed out on downloading some of the songs on my site, specifically it seems, the Shop Assistants rough mix and live stuff (they should all be working now). By way of an apology, I thought I should offer you this: the legendary first Shoppies single.
"Something To Do" came out in 1984, a year before they really arrived with what most people thought was their debut EP "All Day Long". Well, this single was actually their debut, and it's interesting for a number of reasons. First off, it's actually recorded by most of the Shoppies (David, Sarah, Laura and Ann) but Aggi And Stephen from the Pastels are on there as well (it's Aggi who provides the vocals). The song remains, intriguingly, the sound of what the two groups would be like if they were melded together: there's the twee, coy charm of the Pastels, draped across two minutes of fuzzed-out Ramones pop-punk crash'n'burn. To these ears, it sounds perfect, but it obviously wasn't going to work: Aggi and Stephen went back to just being The Pastels, and The Shoppies added another drummer and turned up those guitars even louder.
It's also interesting for its sheer rarity. Copies go on eBay for anything up to about £125, which is quite unbelievable. It's truly one of the "Holy Grail" singles for C86-era collectors. This rip isn't the greatest quality, but the quality of the song still shines through, loud and clear. Once heard, never forgotten. Enjoy.

Buba And The Shop Assistants "Something To Do" (mp3)

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Boys Wonder "Shine On me" (Expanded Second Movement) (Sire Records 12", 1987)

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Cast your mind back, gentle reader, to when you first heard about Oasis. Remember what we were promised? Well, we were promised the "Sex Beatles"(It's in there somewhere). That was the phrase that Creation's PR department had managed to get the press to use; the "Sex Beatles". Let's face it, which self-respecting journalist wouldn't have jumped on the phrase? It promised the best of two of our most iconic acts: the swagger, punky attitude and insouciance of The Sex Pistols, and the wonderful pop melodies of The Beatles- perfection!

But what did we get? Well, we certainly didn't get The Sex Beatles. In fact, after we'd got about halfway through "Definately Maybe", there were a great many people who'd realised we'd actually been sold The Eater Clark Five. Damn.

What fools we all were then, not to notice that the "Sex Beatles" had actually happened a few years before. They'd emerged, in a flash of brio and hype, in a swirl of flashy clothes and oik accents, with manifestos, tunes, Les Pauls blazing, and harmonies ringing in our ears.They had the swagger of the Pistols, the pure pop knowledge of the Beatles: they had it all, and weren't afraid to shout it from the rooftops: trouble was, not enough people were prepared to listen. In another time and another place, Liam and Noel would be running a pound shop in Burnage, and Boys Wonder would have played to several ecstatic sold out crowds in Knebworth's sumptuous grounds. But it wasn't to be. But why? Honestly, I haven't got a clue.

The heart of the band was the Addison twins, Ben and Scott. I had the pleasure of meeting them when I worked at the Rough Trade shop, and they came in to do a gig. You couldn't hope to meet two more committed and passionate pop fans. I remember we spent a good half hour rhapsodising about the healing power of the seven inch single, with Ben reserving particular space in his heart for all his Small Faces EP's, and all of us arguing about the best Label designs ever. They were sharply dressed, but had sharper pop minds, their enthusiasm and energy sparking out of them as they sat behind the shop's tiny counter. We met a number of times in the next couple of years, when my band was taking off, and they always had the time of day for me, were always incredibly polite and interested in how I was doing, never jealous that I had appeared to fluke some sort of success whilst Boys Wonder never really took off. I had a lot of time for them then, and have followed their careers with interest ever since.

This particular single, their second, is as perfect a snapshot of both their style and their substance as you will find. The guitar riff bursts in like The Clash on "Jail Guitar Doors", but ten times bigger. The snotty vocals talk of a pride in our country, without ever sinking into stereotyping, or worse, racial slurs. The song is a celebration of our diversity, a flag-waving, chest-beating fist in the sky about how great it is to live here, with all the other races and peoples who've made this such a unique place in the world. Many have tried to do it, but this is (along with "Waterloo Sunset", which is WAY more parochial) probably the most perfect summation of national pride I've ever heard. This particular version is the 12", for that EXTRA dose of swagger: the Clanger/Winstanley production is an absolute "Kitchen Sink" job: just when you think it probably couldn't get any louder; it gets louder.

To see them doing the song live, check this out, but try not to punch your screen when Ben Elton introduces them......

And, the crazy thing is, it's not even their finest moment. That belongs to a later single "Goodbye Jimmy Dean" (which I'll post soon). But for now, if you're not acquainted with Boys Wonder, this is a great place to start.

And what became of them? Well, Ben And Scott went on to be lynch-pins of the arch, but wonderful Acid Jazz outfit Corduroy, who reformed last year. More info on them can be found here and a good place to start with their albums would be to check this out.

Boys Wonder "Shine On Me" (Expanded Second Movement) (mp3)