Various Artists "Commercially Unfriendly" (Gott Discs): June Brides and Phil Wilson "Every Conversation: The Story Of The June Brides and Phil Wilson" (Cherry Red): Jamie Ball / Julian Liberator "4x4x25" (4x4, 12"): Tender Trap "Talking Backwards" (Matinee Recordings): Ant "Squarewave Rebel / Sawtooth's Revenge" (Superconductor, 12"): Ant and Lenny Dee "The Powertool" (Powertools, 12"): Bristol Rovers 2 Barnet 1 (League Two)

There are lots of arguments why 1986 was the best year in the history of the world ever, one to which only 1976, the long hot and violent summer which heralded the emergence of punk, could possibly dream of comparing. Cast your minds back 19 years. Treasured memories, flickering, grainy super-8 images of growing up and, well, what a soundtrack. The nascent sounds of Run DMC and Public Enemy. The joys of Talulah Gosh, Mighty Mighty. The first Slayer album. Those impossibly febrile, deathly romantic Wedding Present radio sessions and singles. The Pastels, and the BMX Bandits, in their kooky but impossibly delicate prime. The young Eric B, Rakim, KRS-One and Scott La Rock. RED SLEEPING BEAUTY. The wondrous South London warblings of the June Brides. The emergence of the Jesus and Mary Chain as a butterfly of drench-feedback haze. Razorcuts' "Big Pink Cake" and "Sorry To Embarrass You". The regal strums of Felt. Those tender early Napalm Death demos of "Enslavement" and "Scum". What about the Brilliant Corners' "Meet Me On Tuesdays" ? "Indie Top 20 Vol. 1", the album which most people thought C86 was. To be young and within a Capitalcard trip up to Rhythm Records in Camden was very heaven.

But. Looking back, perhaps the best thing of all were the "other" bands off the real C86. The ones that weren't the Primals or the Weddoes or the Pastels or even the wonderful Wolfhounds. The ones we didn't love because they didn't have the same mopey dewy-eyed indie pop perfection, but the ones that I'm beginning to treasure more and more as we approach the twentieth anniversary of, well, me being 13. And, as we bask in the revisionism surrounding the first anniversary of John Peel's death, typified by some shockingly dreary and straightforward sub-Britpop tracks on the alleged tribute compilation (as if Peel listened only to Pulp and Blur and never listened to techno, hip-hop, dub, d&b, happy hardcore, grindcore, death metal, world music etc...), it's worth saying that those "other" bands (Bogshed. MacKenzies. A Witness. Big Flame. The Shrubs. You KNOW) were real Peel bands, and that "Commercially Unfriendly" to me is not only a tribute to Peel, but probably the best yet.

So. This compilation album starts with The Fall's "Wings". If you held a gun to my head I'd probably say that it was still my favourite Fall song ever. An insane narrative, a single, repetitive, discordant guitar riff. The narrator dons a pair of wings. "We had some fun with those cheapo / airline / Snobs", pronounces Smith with evident satisfaction before detailing subsequent travels in time and space - hopping back to the American Civil War before an eventual, eventful return to the present day. (In contrast, the video is just Smith in a pub snug, smoking, supping and intermittently miming - the beautiful antithesis of yer average 80s pop promo). The mastering from dodg. vinyl makes the experience all the sweeter.

The Nightingales' "Urban Ospreys" is next. Josef K, the Fire Engines and Gang of Four are all rightly hailed as genii, but yet not the Nightingales, even if on this evidence they could clearly hold their own in such esteemed company, the young Robert Lloyd at the helm before his New Four Seasons days. Only Half Man Half Biscuit could deliver such oddball lyrics as if they really meant it, maan ("I'm worried stupid about the eggs"). Oh, how the Nightingales show up all the haircut bands of today for the foppish chancers they undoubtedly are. This is how Franz Ferdinand would sound, if they could just shake that desire to be loved that brings them down.

Right. Track three. A Witness. It strikes me that this is the fourth posting in a row in which I've mentioned A Witness. But they are a band to truly merit such "acclaim". "I Love You Mr. Disposable Razors" is godlike, obviously, a work of skewed pop genius, full of hooks and glorious observation ("anaglypta on the staircase...") even before the bouncy, sarky middle eight that takes it effortlessly into all-time classic territory as Keith Curtis murmurs "no flat caps here... no miserable Yorkshiremen... I love you, Mr. disposable income"; an ode to that smug, usurping Thatcherite dolt, 80s Gillette-man / car-advert man, still managing with doe-eyed poppiness to wander into Fall territory. It's so galling to have someone like Alex Turner being feted as a lyrical talent (admittedly only by the NME as opposed to more seasoned commentators like pub drunks) when the Arctic Monkeys can't start to compete with the genuinely funny, satirical narrative of a song like this, tied to such taut, rippling, guitar inter-rhythms.

Inca Babies have a seriously annoying vocalist. He sounds like Billy Graham. That may be half the point, but it don't make for unarguably wondrous stuff of the ilk of the first 3 tracks.

Oh well. Luckily track five is bIG*fLAME. I wouldn't slavishly punctuate just any band (I spare exclamation marks only for such big hitters as Bubblegum Splash!, Action Painting!, Slab! and of course the Chesterf!elds), but Big Flame are without any question whatsoever one of the most stupendous combos of our solar system's long history, and I've said before that only the Smiths' "Singles" and the highlights of "Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way ?" can claim to come anywhere close to the indisputable essential-ness of their "Rigour!" compilation CD on Drag City. "Debra" is not their best tune, but on any catwalk of 80s melodees it would be entitled to strut its stuff to nothing less than massive admiration - the tight drumming, the madly funky bass, the incendiary guitar. God I commend you to listen to "Breath Of A Nation", "Man Of Few Syllables" and other pearls of theirs. It will take yer roof off and put a slinky spring in your step. I promise.

Pigbros are a band I haven't heard enough of. Their track on "Ideal Guest House" was blinding. They play "War Food" here and it's not quite as good. Still, yes, they too have been listening to lots of Josef K and the Nightingales. Not a lot wrong with that.

The Membranes. You want jangle ? You want treble ? You get it here. Of all the bands herein, possibly the closest to that first wave of punk. "Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder" still has a fair bit of that indefatigable bass sound that united all the Ron Johnson bands, but is thrashier and less forgiving than much here. Strange to think how John Robb has becoming a talking head now, a rent-a-quote on Channels Four and Five. He ought really to be better known as part of something else.

I know the Noseflutes are deities, because I most serependit(i)ously stumbled across their "Several Young Men Ignite Hardboard Stump" LP in a Record & Tape Exchange. That may be just as well, on the basis that "Give Me The Keys" is disappointingly okayish, a mid-pace, drilled collision of Jsf K and Joy Division and a little drab compared to the inspired office observation of "Holidaytime", the danceable urgency of "The Harmony of Dogs" or the unacknowledged brilliance of the great "Perfect Cockney Hard-On".

Track 9, mothers. When I was young and fey, I erroneously thought that the Shrubs' "Bullfighter's Bones" was one of the weaker tunes on C86. But in fact, only their Ron Johnson labelmates truly trumped them. The Shrubs here are in relatively mellow mode, "Blackmailer's Heartache" another of their pantheistic, paranoid tales, guitars weaving intricately and indelicately around each other, like a Zimbabwean folk band fallen on hard times and doomed to spend every other chord change discordantly searching for escape. It's certainly morose - balladry, really, though thankfully not as we know it.

And now things get amazing again. Dog Faced Hermans. I'll be honest, I don't recall them being all that. But "Incineration" is staggering. It sounds like Donkey, or a drunken Big Flame (with or without punctuation). Her voice is not unirritating, but when she shrieks it's difficult not to think of the Slits, and what can be bad about that ? Really, the amount of otherwise respectable people I've heard slagging off this band who could never frankly hold a candle to this sort of thing. I mean, Belle and Sebastian and bands like that aren't bad at all, are they. But can they compete with this ? They can have as many top 40 hits as they want, but can they hell.

"Cold In Summer" by the Great Leap Forward, the new band of ex-Big Flame star Alan Brown, was later reprised on their unbelievably sat-on album, "Don't Be Afraid Of Change", which was a tour de force of intelligent, danceable, sad and knowing, deeply political pop. Brown has a feel for how young, idealistic people tick: "Records are sacred when you're 17..." and must know that so many of us felt that about some of his bands when we were that age. "Cold In Summer" manages to be scratchy and lo-fi at the same time as aspiring to be something so much bigger, and the choruses when they come just swallow up and choke you. Dreamy.

Next, the Ex, with "Let's Rob the Spermbank". They manage to make their pursuit of the perfect child sound romantic rather than a nightmare recipe of eugenics. Like the other track of theirs I've heard, it's a treat: dark, brooding, straggly, insistent, broken English.

And finally, Jackdaw With Crowbar. Again, I know, even in the sure knowledge that time can play so many tricks, that I heard much from them back in my teens that was much much better than the chaotic new-country stomp of "Fuck America". And yet, there hasn't been a various artists compilation made that wouldn't benefit from the inclusion of JWC. They are mentalists, in the best way possible (remember "The Night Albania Fell On Alabama ?") and musical innovators par excellence.

Oh I wish this CD was longer: I want to hear more of all of these, plus Bogshed, Twang, Eton Crop, Stump, Rote Kapelle, Dawson, a thousand others, not least to remind me that at least Thatcher being around gave us something to escape and, almost as cherishably, something to hate while music spun our little heads around.

In this context, the latest June Brides comp, "Every Conversation", all 40 tracks of it, is the icing on the cake. But having picked up the Overground CD "For Better Or Worse" a few years back, I'm lucky enough to have renewed my more more youthful acquaintance with the JBs already. The new interest in this release is the inclusion of Wilson's solo back catalogue at last - and in the John Peel / Janice Long session tracks that make up most of CD2. And so I trip across da Cheggers' sister's session version o' "Small Town". As much as any song that I've come within a whisker of never having heard, it is great. A lovely viola (I think) intro, then a feisty, folky jangle (not a million miles away from X-Tal), then pulsing, eager verses and a terrific chorus with female backing vocals. Apparently Phil managed to get himself backed by the Triffids, you know. And reading the sleeve notes, I have so much more sympathy now with the way that his solo stuff broke with the "Junies'" tradition. You'll never find me battening down the barricades to defend C&W, but his take on that tradition has real elegance and vulnerability. And oh of course there's other fine, previously unheard stuff in here: from the Janice Long sessions, the blisteringly fast "In The Rain" is utterly enjoyable, replacing the shouted VU songtitles of the single with a Testcard Girl-style cacophony, while the version of "No Place Called Home" really brings out its McCarthy-style brooding, sensitive musicality. And "I Fall", whilst not reproducing the sugar high of the album version where somehow the "we can make the sun shine for us..." lines pluck heart strings like harp strings, is instead extended, taking on new life and vigour. And, again, I think about how I was 13 and how easy this all was, really: how this stuff was all around me: I think the June Brides on the cover of NME passed me by, but perhaps only by a matter of months: I remember how when I finally got round to hearing them, it was an impulse purchase courtesy of Basildon Our Price. I just knew, as with the Wedding Present, that I kind of wanted to like this band, and I was pretty sure that I probably would.

Luckily, modern music can be spinetingling too. And with Jamie Ball and Julian Lib's new EP the series of 4 track EPs on 4x4 reaches its quarter-century of 'funky' vs 'deep' vs 'hard' vs 'clanking' dance-offs... 'funky' in this case being nicely fractured Warp-esque clattering, 'deep' being spiky drum'n drum, 'hard' the sound of Squarepusher feverishly backfiring a car through an electro-industrial wall and 'clanking' a sweetly pulsing nintendo disco soundtrack sabotaged by a host of playful shrieks and crashes that reminds me so much of the lost invention of 555. It is "Funky" and "Clanking", together, two contrasting but equally scintillating ear-joggers, which enable JB and JM to stroll up the red carpet straight into my musical heart. Tender Trap, meanwhile have taken a step back from recent electro-pop outings to deliver up a delightfully jangly and harmonic single that reminds me more of the early Heavenly 45s on Sarah than anything Amelia or Rob have done since. "Talking Backwards" is a grower, lyrically all about being tongue-tied and head over heels, musically impossible not to fall for as a discreet hommage to. 60s girl groups and delicate psychedelia. Day each more, it love I.

What next ? Oh, Mr Wilson! You spoil us! Well, an icy riff over a temperate sequencer throb, a sprinkling of chattery transistor bleeps and you have just under 500 compelling instrumental seconds of somewhat eerie techno on the A side of Ant's lone outing for Superconductor, "Squarewave Rebel". By contrast, "Sawtooth's Revenge" is shaped almost entirely around a gravelly, grimy, grinding keyboard undertow that buzzes, fizzes and flits from ear to ear with the ankle-biting insistence of Derek Payne in his Watford prime. A faintly dark, mesmerising double-header. More traditional, less challenging but without doubt horrifically danceable is Ant and Lenny Dee's "The Powertool", on the former's in-house label of virtually the same name, a huge choon built around a mantra of "Frequency Response" and much slicing and dicing of alien sounding swirls - a revolving lazy susan of toetapping frenzy likely to induce something akin to seasickness, or at least the feeling that someone's been spiking your lager tops (see also the dizzy whirlpool bursts of Ant and Chris Liberator's new "Bandsaw" single).

Equally disconcerting was the latest performance by perma-flatterers to deceive Bristol Rovers against arrivistes Barnet on the fledgling "League Two" imprint, formerly known as Division Four. Eschewing the sage advice of wizened prison veteran and Orient fan Norman Stanley Fletcher in "Porridge - the Movie" ("whatever you do, don't let them panic you into playing football"), rookie coach Paul Trollope allowed his charges to attempt creative, free-flowing football, even as the rain skidded from the turf. Abetted by a little fortune, the quarters raced into a 2-0 interval advantage. Luckily for my diehard mindset and no doubt in the interests of an even contest, the remaining 45 mins saw Rovers revert effortlessly to type with a laboured, guileless non-performance, being first penned in, and then frankly murdered, by a pretty inept opposition. The last 20 minutes took place entirely in our penalty area at the edge of my field of vision, as the incessant pinball in and around the Rovers goalmouth somehow failed to result in an away win, let alone point.

By the end I kind of wanted Barnet to equalise, not so much because they blatantly deserved to but because of the fucking idiots behind us who kept calling Anthony Charles a "monkey" and observed when Louis Soares came off that Barnet were replacing him with "yet another coloured". The most absurd thing being that there is no shortage of regulars on the club's internet forum who will tell you that they've never witnessed any racism at Rovers or indeed ever anywhere (oh, except of course for "anti-white racism" as practised by the legion 'politically correct')... The most tragic thing of all, in all seriousness, being that I genuinely don't think that either of those lads realised that what they were saying could be considered offensive.

Finally, I hope that I'm not the only one thoroughly amused to see that you can now get Napalm Death's "You Suffer" on iTunes, still, incidentally, a service which offers an unbelievably lame selection of music you actually want (as opposed to music that will do). Anyway, for yer 79p that works out at just under 20p per second, and that's including the fade...

Listening to:

Mr 45 "Black Diamondz": About time we heard from 45 again. Am trying to track down the album of which this is the title tune to report back...
Kano "Reload It" (from "Home Sweet Home" LP on 679): The album is too slow! Too eager to please! Too many love songs! Kano is good-looking and spits well. But this would be better as an a cappella - with more or less all the beats speeded up and made 100x as grimey. But this is one of the higher points, at least aside from the tunes we already knew: a l'il humour and references to both Wiley and Lethal.
Lethal Bizzle "Fuck You!" (from "Against All Oddz" CD on V2): Overall, the best of the disappointing grime albums dripfed from the majors this year, the year that grime grew up - even more proof that More Fire Crew's "C.V." was absurdly under-rated, then and now. Still, this is razor sharp stuff - apart from the singles, the other highlights are the title track - oddly dark and understated - and "The Truth", an update on "Backwards"' furious dis-meme against Wiley and co, with the funniest lines reserved for B's seeming nemesis Riko ("There is plenty of 9 to 5s out there... what about Tesco's ?"). But at least, overall, "Against All Oddz" has some energy ("Uh Oh", "No", "The Best", "Hitman"), even if desperately little originality... it's a sign o' the times that I'm quite content with the former...
The Snowbirds "Love Will Come My Way" (Waaaah!) single: I am enjoying discovering the Snowbirds immensely at present. This one of several jangly bubblegum buzzsaw reasons why.
Public Enemy "Bring That Beat Back" (from "New Whirl Odor" LP): Rather alarmingly, the best PE-related tune I've recently heard is Flav's "I'm Hot!" which despite that deeply unpromising title boasts a constant, buzzing hook of noise that could have come straight from PE's 1986/7 prime - sadly the album "New Whirl Odor" (agh stop with the puns now) shows only really that the mind is willing, but the musical flesh is weak. Luckily tho'. "Bring That Beat" is actually kinda funky, and compared to the corporate drivel still emanating from NYC, damn near necessary. Honest.

Right. That'll do.

Comments

Daren said…
Hi useless,

This is Daren Garratt, co-compiler of Commercially Unfriendly. Thanks ever so much for your fantastic review. It was a real labour of love and I'm chuffed you enjoyed it.
I've forwarded a link to your blog to Vince (A Witness) and Rob Lloyd cos I'm sure they'll be as touched as I am.
Cheers
D
useless said…
Daren

The compilation is brilliant (and frankly the sleevenotes to it reflect its genius more than I could ever hope to do).

But I am massive touched that at least you can know how much the bands are appreciated.

Cheers!

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