“If the sun going down can make me cry…”: 20 Years In Showbusiness



Today was the day we were meant to lose our EU citizenship, and our right to live and work in 27 neighbouring countries. As it happens, there’s been a stay of execution: the axe is likely to fall in the coming weeks instead. But it’s miserably clear that it’s going to happen, albeit through the now-familiar prism of incompetence, mendacity and delay. *Sigh*.

Our leaders didn’t fight against this travesty, of course, even as the promises of the referendum campaign collapsed around them. So, in return for leaving the EU, we get… a diminished reputation, a shrunken economy, a barely-functioning public discourse and the ever-apparent emboldenment of xenophobia. It’s a proposition which lacks an obvious upside. And those that voted to leave and those who encouraged it might, at some point, want to take responsibility for the consequences of that decision.

We English are reaching our ‘Jerusalem’ all right, only to realise that it was Mark Stewart’s vision we were heading for, not William Blake’s. It feels like the sun is setting on what was a massively flawed, but still massively preferable United Kingdom: it’s going to be cold for a while.

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By unbecoming coincidence, this week marks 20 years since this very fanzine first went online, initially as a lone geocities page starring some primitive website software, a clutch of reviews and a lyric quiz. It was intended for our mates, but none of our mates were ever really interested. Luckily – ah, the novelty of the internet - a few people we’d never met stumbled across the site, and engaged with us instead. And we quickly made it our mission to use this privilege to evangelise for great but undersung music, which couldn’t easily get its voice heard outside the small handful of D.I.Y. websites that were knocking about at the time. And soon, getting bolder with our IT skills (even boasting a scrolling ‘events bar’!) we migrated to ilwtt.org for our ‘golden era’.

Yes, we relocated to blogspot in 2004 for what were dispiriting reasons at the time, and yes we’ve been ever-sporadic since, and yes halfway through these 20 years we controversially sold out once more by relocating from south to north London (you know, like Woolwich Arsenal, or Fortuna Pop!) but we managed to churn out several thousand reviews, many written in the early hours when we should really have been sleeping, what with work the next day (“oh, how the City gets me down”). But it’s not about a salary, it’s all about reality: our reality was 360-odd posts in the last 14 years, plus God-knows how much blather in the six before that, and this blog is now at around a quarter of a million page views (yes, we know deep down that translates to about 12 real people, but just don’t e-mail to point that out).

Instead, please, just to cheer us up, indulge us as we reflect on the first - oh, and last - twenty years of in love with these times, in spite of these times: not on the writing, of course, for that's just an inelegantly-expressed symptom of something infinitely more important, all-encompassing, which is just how astonishingly good some of the records over that period have been, and of the highs that music has inescapably brought us.

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For a start, it brought us to hundreds of gigs, from crammed and cramped pub backrooms to... well, marginally bigger pub backrooms mainly, but there were a few festivals and concert halls too: even stadia, if you count one, two or three top football-related days out.

Some of our best nights were the old school hip-hop nights, often at the Jazz Café and/or with d’Alma in tow: Ice Cube was incredible, Rakim was formidable, Onyx were irrepressible, Ghostface and Sheek were indefatigable, and Public Enemy duly brought the required noise. Plus KRS-One, and Dead Prez, and the homegrown thrill of Blak Twang’s Dettwork South East re-launch show, and that unforgettable eve when the Wu Tang Clan sprang from the stage at the Hammersmith Apollo….

Our top popshows of the last 20 years? I am afraid to say that this was close to perfection, though you'll never believe us; the Orchids and Extreme Noise Terror both made us cry; Slayer boasted the best stage show, one sweet Halloween at the Hammersmith Apollo; Milky Wimpshake and Zipper and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Pocketbooks and Tullycraft made us dance and laugh and smile; the Manhattan Love Suicides just got it RIGHT, of course they did, with their 15 minute feedback-flecked sets. And thanks to the Fucking Rosehips, we can say with 100% honesty that we've spent one of the best nights of our life in Stoke-on-Trent.

Then there were Sportique, several times the wonderful Sportique (often in the company of their tremendous Matinée labelmates), then the times we found ourselves in too-small crowds for the Windmills and Northern Portrait, both in Highbury & Islington, and then there were Bolt Thrower… and Lock-Up, Nails, Repulsion and the late great Nasum, of course Obituary and Napalm (both many times over), and the Weddoes and Half Man Half Biscuit nearly as many times. And nostalgia gifted us Echo on a revival tip, the JAMC and Pastels re-warming our cynical hearts, the Fall playing "The Classical", Morrissey (before he put himself well and truly beyond the pale) playing “Hand in Glove”, New Order playing "Ceremony" and, recently, a delicious 21st century novelty: a Sarah night. Or legends from our youth, revitalised (Wolfhounds, the Flatmates, Close Lobsters, Loop, A Witness, even Des!gn’s glorious Chesterf!elds revival set…) All interspersed with true eclectic joy at festivals, going way back: Killing Joke, Mis-Teeq, Jamelia, Fallacy and/or Fusion, that man Blak Twang again.

And - these all tinged with sadnesses now - there was seeing Bo Diddley before he died, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros at V - including a tiptop "London's Burning" - not long before his sad demise, an evening with the mighty CHAS & DAVE at the 100 Club, the Fall on countless occasions, including four consecutive nights wthout us regretting a single second, and Motorhead at the Royal Festival Hall who were once-in-a-lifetime fine, defying a review, and remain the loudest band we have *ever* heard... and perhaps most preciously of all, forsaking the Denmark v Czech Republic quarter-final in Euro 2004 to see the Go-Betweens in all their pomp at the Barbican, while the great GW McLennan was still with us (there are songs from that show on the extra CD that came with "Oceans Apart").

Indeed, the times oversaw the sad loss of so many stalwarts of our record collection, some better known than others but all much-loved by us: Keith GirdlerMark E. Smith, Dale Griffin, Pete Shelley, Jesse Pintadothe Guru, Prodigy, Anthony Price (Rosehips), half of the mighty Bogshed...

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And so to a list that makes us draw breath - almost cry - given the years of loyal service given by some of them: our favourite singles, on balance, of those 20 years. It's been desperately hard to limit, but we reckon the very best must include Harper Lee's "Train Not Stopping" and "Dry Land" (as our review concluded: "Brighter are back, with swearing. Memo to all other bands: give up now"), Comet Gain's "You Can Hide Your Love Forever", the Wild Swans' "English Electric Lightning", Forest Giants' "Postcards" (so good it made our top ten two years in succession), the absurdly lowkey pair of On Fell singles from 2011, the wrongly neglected brace of Hit Parade singles from 2018, Close Lobsters’ “Now Time” and “Under London Skies”, and Math & Physics Club’s most recent stunner, and Hate Week’s life-affirming 7”, the Windmills' "Walking Around The World", Ed209 and Imam T.H.U.G's "Karma 360", Pocketbooks' "Cross The Line", our darling Hood (both new-school and old), the Declining Winter's "Haunt The Upper Hallways", Halkyn's simply beautiful, broken and understated "Winterhill", Durrty Goodz' incredible "Axiom" EP, several visceral, acidic singles by Ant ("Midnight Black", "Surge", "Homemade Discord" etc etc), Styly and Scorz's "Want What's Yours" 7", Simpatico's "Postal Museum" and "Club Life" extended plays and Manatee's sparkling "Indecision".

And a searing sequence of excellent 45s from Ryuji Takeuchi, not to mention the late-2010s triumvirate of minimal techno 12”s - Michael Schwarz’s “She Doesn’t Ask For”, Jeff Rushin’s “Decline Into” and Relham’s “Kalte Menschen” - which ruled our school… Nicole Rosie’s Benelux belter “Foxboy”, the Butterflies Of Love's "Orbit Around You", the utterly serene Rakim comeback single “Holy Are You”, Hoodz Underground's angry yet upbeat-inspirational "How Do You Feel?", Northern Portrait's marvellous 2008 breakout EPs on Matinée (here and here), More Fire Crew's "Oi!" (we thought that was just the start of its ilk, but perhaps it was never really bettered: Sov's "Check 1,2", Kano's "Ps &Qs" etc all hinted at similarly brilliant, yet undelivered promise too), a fair percentage of the peerless Cappo's singles output, the beautiful trio of restrained, rain-stained singles from Alto 45, Jasmine Minks and Avocadoclub in 2003, Beatnik Filmstars' "Curious Role Model" for sheer unblinking *resilience* and perhaps a special prize for the TVPs' "All The Young Children On Crack": there are still days when we're convinced this was the single of the century even amongst such fierce competition. And yes, gosh, there were more, so many more fine singles, everything from "Tracyanne" to “Your Doubting Heart” to "Homage For Satan" to "Are You Listening Now?" to Jaydan's drum & bass diamond "What U Want" to ambient seductorama “Love Song” to Iberian grindcore beast "La Caceria" to the tumultuous, unrelenting "Unrelenting", all fearlessly reflecting different moods, different styles… oh, and such genuinely fond memories of Wiley’s triumphant run of 8 singles in 8 weeks, which even by his prolific standards was something of a thrill…

And there are so many goosepimplingly good singles already in 2019, but it’s not our job to tell you about those any more… ☹

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The past two decades spawned some stunning albums, too. Again, this is almost just a lucky dip, but ones that have weathered particularly well must include Hood's "Outside Closer", the last, divine and impossibly sad Harper Lee album "All Things Can Be Mended", Sportique's "Modern Museums" and "Communiqué No.9", P Brothers' "The Gas", Cappo’s late-flowering “Dramatic Change Of Fortune” meisterwerk, the downbeat "Music From The Corner" series from Taskforce of N5, the gripping nihilism of Fret’s “Over Depth”, the sheer and consistent splendour of such pretty, yet mournful records as Simpatico's "The Difference Between Alone and Lonely", the Bluebear's "Food Fight At The Last Chance Saloon" and Picture Center's "Our True Intent Is All For Your Delight", not forgetting caustic rumbustious post-punk rock n'roll fabulousness courtesy of the Fall's "Heads Roll" and "Country On The Click". All still actively reward repeat plays.

We tend the softest of soft spots, too, for cracking works from Boyracer (especially "Absence Makes The Heart Grow Harder", "Flickering B+W" and their official goodbye, "Sunlight Is The Best Antiseptic"), the Beatniks (especially "The Purple Fez 72 Club Social"), Life?, Sven Wittekind ("Broken Mirrors", jam-packed full of hits - don't forget his fabulous Sick Weird Rough roster too), the Would-be-Goods, JK Flesh, Trembling Blue Stars & Wiley (sadly not a joint release), Forest Giants and the Wu-Tang's "Iron Flag". Or, in the last few years, the likes of the Fireworks, the Popguns, the Steinbecks, or our longtime heroes the Wake.

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We’d like to mention some personal favourites from the pieces we wrote: a tribute to the music-maker in our family tree; the treatise on our local village team; the best and maddest remix album ever made; an ode to the finest pirate radio station of all eternity; a Public Enemy vs Tender Trap face-off; words on p’raps the most important British band of our lifetime; '8 great ways' to kick off a mixtape; our paean to the time the Olympics came to our town; didactic, yet cathartic observations on twee; and epic pieces on Matinée’s 10-year anniversary and on the equally-cherished Cloudberry and Earache. And reviewing "CSI: Ambleside" live from Ambleside. And we laboured hard and late over our Sugargliders retrospective, as we really wanted to pay that record the tribute we felt it deserved. (Retrospectives also provided a neat opportunity to show overdue love to legends like 14 Iced Bears, Amayengethe Hit Parade, Secret Shine, Emily and Action Painting!)

We also *very* much enjoyed doing the comeback albums showdown that pitched Carcass against Chas & Dave: gratifyingly (if surprisingly), our most viewed article ever. And we penned a few words on East River Pipe’s so-perfect, surely more-than-seminal “Miracleland” (though typically, we can’t find our original review of it, so you’ll have to settle for the Spanish version as kindly translated by Juan de Ribera Berenguer). But in many ways the proverbial biscuit was taken by Insect Warfare's highly commendable attempt to produce an epitaph for *all* music. It had our vote.

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But that’s more than enough about us. Here’s the important bit at last.

Thanks first of all to our numerous in-house and guest contributors, back in the days when we covered indie-pop via everything from pub reviews to recipes to 4th Division matchday reports: Jamie (aka “amy”, whose pic of his local the Grave Maurice became our site banner), Howie, Bill Preest (RIP), Alex Scott, Andrés Moreno, Michael Press, the mysterious Sara and of course our inconstant talisman, d’Alma.

Heartfelt thanks to the particularly faithful support and encouragement from Sam (tasty / a layer of chips), Roy Thirlwall, Pete Bowers, Jimmy Tassos, Tim Rippington (the only popstar ever to sleep on our sofa), Joseph Kyle and every single one of our tiny but surely impeccably well-informed phalanx of followers.

Thanks to those who let us interview them: the Rosehips, Keris, Alex Sharkey, Rhodri Marsden, Marc Elston, JT, Rob (Trilemma) and Stephen (Kosmonaut, This Almighty Pop!)

Thanks to those that even let us write for them: Keris and Matinée, Dennis (Candy Twist Records), Roque and Horowitz, the Spiral Scratch crew, Rockpile magazine and Nathan Lee.

Thanks to everyone else who lent us supportive or friendly words between 1999 and now, however tacitly or fleetingly (several of you may not even remember doing so, but I promise you did): especially Marianthi, Ian, Pete Green, Ed209, Gregory Webster, Caesar, Mark (Hi-Life Companion), Mark (Picture Center), Rachel Stevenson, various Beatnik Filmstars, Terry Banks, Crayola, keith/keyth (ilxor), the Steinbecks, Laura (Saint Mary Mead), Jen & Stew (we’re not giving up, just moving forward, but remain forever 555), Sev Dah, Sean @ Fortuna Pop!, Jessica Griffin, John Brenton, Ellie @ Teleskopik Records, Pale Sunday, Wayne Gooderham, Slumberland Records, Jean Bach, John @ WIAIWYA, Matt @ Shinkansen (“I’m not entirely sure who I’m writing to…”), erstwhile indie-mp3 kingpin Tom B (who kindly took over hosting our Bubblegum Splash! microsite as a public service), Vince (A Witness), the Declining Winter, Close Lobsters, Even As We Speak, Craig from Catchpenny Records, Yvonne Ng, Chubby Alcoholic MC, Llwybr Llaethog, JD Brown, Robert Lloyd, Phil Wilson, Brogues, Dimitra Daisy, Happy Capitalist, The Boy Least Likely To, Laz Bubblegum, Sukhdev Sandhu, Bunny Nightlight and many, many others we have wrongly forgotten this precise second… but without your shoves to keep us going, we’d have been reduced to spending far too much of the last twenty years in the fresh air, or being wildly sociable, or climbing the career ladder to corporate success.

Thanks to every band, artist and label who graced our turntable, cassette deck, minidisc, i-pod or laptop, and especially the many, many labels and artists who proactively got in touch to send us promos and demos, back in pre-mp3 days: we know that was a cost for small labels, and always appreciated that, and made sure that in return we gave the courtesy of detailed listening, and considered reviews, whenever we could.

Thanks to the other valiant websites and blogs that risked tarnishing their brand by linking to us, not least brilldream, Stolen Kisses, All That Ever Mattered and stereo*cute.

Thanks to all the lively sometime denizens of our ever-febrile, now long-gone, possibly lamented message board.

Thanks to John Peel, who fearlessly played us shamblers, janglers, angular noiseniks, hip-hop, techno, reggae, Zimbabwean pop, hardcore, drum & bass, grime and the rest long before we realised how all those genres were capable of being completely life-changing.

And thanks most of all to Paul, who introduced us to reading and writing fanzines when we were still at school together. We couldn’t be more grateful for having experienced the world that opened up.

Sunset. This is where we exit.

Comments

AinsleyBlue said…
That is beautiful, brother. Deeply touched by the final para shout-out, surely Peel warrants that over one's bad self. Read to a soundtrack of Bogshed, fittingly, moving onto Hood's Outside Closer, belters all.

We should hold a Pop of the Form '89 listening party this year, no? ['there's always next year...']

Gorgeous piece on yr Grandpa linked to from this one, had no idea your lineage were also musical geniuses! Loved yr review of the final Chas & Dave too

Huge respect for your whopping catalogue of stellar writing and recommending of top tunes 'cross genres. Came across Tony Rotten through yr writings and remain bemused by the unwarranted obscurity of Kik Off.

On the wider context... Up with revocation! Balls to the Bulldog Breed!

Paul x

J D Brown said…
And thank you most of all to you, you'll be missed.

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