Sunday, March 02, 2008

Serve Tea, Then Murder / Parcels In Her Arms



So we might just have mentioned Hardnoise's "Untitled", their self-produced debut single from 1989, before. And that it then got a re-release on Music of Life a year later. And did we mention how much we love the sleeve ?

"HARDNOISE. START THE PANIC"

Anyway. As you'll recall, Hardnoise followed "Untitled" in '91 with a new 12", "Serve Tea, Then Murder" / "Mice In The Presence of the Lion (Part 1)". And we'd been looking for it for bloody ages, until we finally closed the deal at Record and Tape Exchange by handing over £12 for a secondhand copy (about the same as you'd pay for the "Summershine" flexi in the same emporium). Hard as it is to imagine that any previous owner could have voluntarily parted with it, we're glad they did. In the world of early-UKHH, there's no equivalent to "The Sound of Leamington Spa" allowing heads to get hold more easily of spiderweb-encrusted gems like these: you just have to trawl the racks of London until you got lucky. (An original of "Untitled" would set you back a lot more than twelve quid - a 'fair' copy of the Music of Life re-release is currently going in the R&TE for £28. But, to paraphrase the Fire Engines, we'd rather buy a great fucking single for £28 than a triple album of fucking shit for £1.99 (they were talking about 'Sandinista'). And, even better, you can thankfully get hold of the Suspect Packages 2006 reissue of "Untitled", like we did, for rather less.)

As the title suggests, "Serve Tea" is uniquely British hip-hop which, much like their contemporaries (and Music of Life labelmates) Hijack, is busy, frantic, happily reliant on scratching, and utterly unafraid to eschew American accents, however in debt they may still have been to Public Enemy in other respects. Electric with nervous energy, it presents an utterly apocalyptic year 2000 vision: "Thousands upon thousands / Will burn". It's instructive to see how far hip-hop had travelled in the UK in the few years since Three Wize Men really got us started, although it's probably fair to say that the influence of the Bomb Squad over the water also had much to do with it. Then "Mice", which follows, continues the magic formula of cuts, scratches, colossal "Untitled"-like drums and teamed vocals before it ends all too quickly, with the P.E.-inspired sign-off "This is where I exit" echoing, for a full half-minute, to fade.

And with that, Hardnoise were over and out. Perhaps they already knew, deep down, that this two-piece suite of rap history was basically so impeccable, so untoppable, that their only choice was to decline or disband. They chose the latter, meaning that we never even got a "Mice In The Presence of the Lion (Part 2)": the kind of artistic integrity never shown by all those lesser bands that should never have formed in the first place. Honour can be a cruel thing. The plus side, the only plus side, is that we at least can be smug enough to boast that we've now got the entire recorded output of DJ Son, Nyce 'D' (who, still a teenager, sadly died from sickle cell anaemia before "Serve Tea" was released), T.L.P.1, DJ AJ, Gemini and DJ Mada.

Hardnoise may not have quite reached the heights that Hijack did - not least because, as we've pointed out before, Hijack were arguably responsible for the greatest single of all-time, as well as a number of candidates for the medal positions - but their records have very easily withstood the test, so far, of 17 years. And Hijack were the first to acknowledge that it was other British acts of the time, Hardnoise amongst them, whose very existence was constantly pushing them to keep raising their game, to stay ahead of the pack.

Ultimately, even if you count the B-sides of the two singles - the instrumental and acappella of "Untitled", and instrumentals of "Serve Tea" and "Mice" - Hardnoise's entire recorded output consists of less songs than Bubblegum Splash!. But their legacy is no less important.

Right. About the time we were bigging up Hardnoise, we were bigging up Sportique. And, having not indulged in nearly enough public Webster-worship recently, the only way we can take our mind off the apparent demise of the beautiful Sportique is by bathing in the delights of our all-time favourite Gregory tunes. So while, of course, the list changes every day, here's what very nearly fitted on half a C90 today:

Spring 2008: "Parcels In Her Arms"

1. Gregory Webster "Untidy Towns"

GW covering the fine album opener that gave labelmates the Lucksmiths' "Happy Secret" its name. This is the moment - well, the series of moments - that once made a member of our crew fall off his chair in open-eyed delight and sheer, unbridled happiness.

2. Sportique "If You Ever Change Your Mind"

Ah, what a run of singles Sportique had, before they concentrated instead on those equally excellent staccato, punky, knowingly retro mini-albums. From the bassline in, this is shambling, ramshackle indie-pop at its knowing best. And self-deprecatingly funny, too: "And when I ask you out / You reply, "you're not my generation"".

3. Razorcuts "Big Pink Cake"

Stone-cold, nailed-on classic. However um, naif the lyric might be. And despite the title, it's hard to see what is really that timid, or even that twee, about the music - the guitars veritably pile along, just as much as they do on "If You Ever Change Your Mind". Plus, the insert has a great pic of the young Razors, alongside which is daubed, presumably with youthful irony, the word "commercial!" Adorable.

4. Saturn V "Fireball"

And again. You see, if rock was good, it would sound like this. Gregory is making a point: "the happy face of a vacant nation", he snarls, no doubt with one eye on the Horror of Party Beach - and the guitars spin around him in sympathy. This is from their lone LP, "Skyfall".

5. Sportique "Modern Museums"

One of the most addictive songs of the last decade, this was the title track to an album that allegedly lost them a few fans, although it gained them far more. And as for us, it actually dragged us from an initial "not sure" about the new songs they'd been previewing live to "actually, we were idiots, this is amazing".

6. Forever People "Sometimes"

Sarah 54 should never be overlooked: not least given the then-rather less fashionable eco-sentiment involved. "Invisible" was p'raps a little too coy, musically, but "Sometimes" kicks it. Dig it out again, for a treat.

7. Razorcuts "Sorry To Embarrass You"

Our cassette player probably played "Indie Top 20 Volume 1" about a thousand times, frequently rewound to this, before we eventually found it on 12". "Across the space that separates / Your social world from mine...", sings Gregory, and gosh how the memories flood back. The production and ambition take a few steps on from "Big Pink Cake", but lose only a glimmer of the band's rare charm. This is, still, ANTHEM.

8. Sportique "Don't Believe A Word"

At a time when other bands might have run out of creative steam, Sportique were still incessantly churning out amazing 7"s, many of which are in this list. ("Love & Remains" should be too, come to think: we just forgot). May have been their first single with Amelia on board, although they were technically a supergroup already.

9. The Carousel "Locks And Bolts"

We once saw the Carousel album for £3 in the Record & Tape in Camden, but by the time we'd got back with the right coins the copy had gone (the same cruel fate awaited us around the corner once, when we tried to buy Tramway's "Queen of Filton Bridge" from that place on Inverness Street). Luckily, this tune at least later turned up on one of them Vinyl Japan comps.

10. Saturn V "Machine Gun Head"

By way of severe contrast. Rock music, but not as scenester dullards would know it. And neither the v. unsubtle chorus lyric nor the "I can't see past your underwear" line were things we'd have thought likely when the Razorcuts were in their Creation pomp... Think the mix of this on the "Everything tends towards chaos" 12" is slightly different from the one that turned up on "Skyfall".

11. Sportique "The Edgeware Kickback"

In order not to add another dozen songs to the tape, we rather evilly included only one from "Modern Museums" and only one (it just happened to be this one from "Communique No.9"). But you'll know if you're reading this that both albums are absolutely, 100%, guaranteed, cast-iron *RIGHTEOUS* and should frequently be listened to in full.

12. Razorcuts "Sad Kaleidoscope"

Flexi genius, featuring some particularly fine drumming, we think. If you get the great "R is for Razorcuts" comp on Matinee, what's best of all is that you get exactly the same crackle and fuzz that helped make the song so damnedest good for us on first hearing.

13. Sportique "Goldmining"

First off, it's a great tune, a cover of that amazing Visitors song. Secondly, just the way that Gregory intones "VERSION!" as they skank it up a bit makes us want to perform cartwheels all the way down Upper Street.

14. Saturn V "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend"

More of S5's irreplaceable indie-noise fabulousness, again with that slight American-alt rock influence. Ooh, and the J Mascis impersonation is brilliant.

15. Sportique "The Kids Are Solid Gold"

We've run out of superlatives for Sportique's A-sides, but this would deserve any that you might care to lob at it. It even sneaked the Festive 50, you know. "The Kids Are Solid Gold" never failed to make us beam and spring with simply unallayed optimism, even as we listened to it while walking home amongst the estates of Stockwell. When Gregory sang "Tell her how you feel tonight", Stockwell didn't matter.

16. Gregory Webster "Forever England"

Opener on "My Wicked Wicked Ways", this is a kind of halfway house between the Razors' "Goodnight England" and the Jam's "English Rose", but without the workaday clunkage of the latter. It is also one of those songs that continues to grow on us every year: by our dotage it may well be the only thing we ever listen to.

OK. This is where we exit.