3. TUNE IN, TURN ON, BURN OUT 1985 – 1989
In the winter of 1984, entrenched on a wild gothic road trip with The Cult, I barely noticed the imperialist triumphalism of Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. Over the following six months, the nauseatingly self-righteous Bob Geldof and Live Aid would push aside the punk and post punk past to create a new elite of decadent eighties popster’s, mediocre non-entities, careerist charlatans, a man who would be God, and clapped out seventies has-beens like Queen and Status Quo, none of whom seemed to recognise the irony of reviving their careers off the backs of millions of Africans fucked over by the West. The mutual back slapping caused a tidal wave of self-congratulation while all that survived was homogeneous, smug, bullshit.
The real horror was that Thatcher’s Children clutched at these careerist, pop fuckwits as pillars of truth and meaning when all they made me do was yearn for a new flash of brilliance, a new ‘fuck off’ movement or an epic, foolish gesture like Frankie. Genius or stupidity who cared, anything to smash the normality of it all. Shane MacGowan singing about the spot on his arse was more exciting than Annie Lennox’s greatest passion. She was that shit.
However, the really miserable and depressing thing about the state of music culture wasn’t the mainstream tyranny of nouveau riche pop promoted by the orgiastic spectacle of Live Aid, it was the apathetic state of the independent scene. Post punks energy had long evaporated with every possible trajectory exhausted, independent groups determined to wrap everything in ugly noise or wimpy guitar pop. We all kept hanging in there, clinging onto the scattered, bitty output via a good record here and an OK group there, but we were only too aware that the motion might be going nowhere and meaning less. The heroic phase of the movement was long past and there began to be a semantic shift from independent to indie, from futurism to retro, groups old and new sounding tired, bored and boring with nothing of importance to say either musically or otherwise. Even John Peel that well-known supporter of all things independent and underground admitted ‘I don’t even like the records I like.'
If 1984 was living the dream, 1985 was clinging on for dear life as independent record sales began their steep decline. Whereas once we’d been able to sell 3,000 of pretty much anything, in 1985 we were struggling to sell 500. Aware that we were sliding down the drain, The Membranes went off to McGee and Creation, Ausgang signed with FM Revolver and we became bogged down in a tedious litany of distribution cock ups, cash flow problems and a host of boring business stuff I struggled to get my head around. Matters went from bad to a hell of a lot worse one particularly stressful and fateful day when Pat Smith, our Illuminated facilitator and a man essential to the running of the label, suffered a heart attack. We would never see Pat again, but were left completely dumbfounded a couple of weeks later when Illuminated turfed us out of 452 Fulham Road without any warning, despite owing us over £8,000 they would never pay out.
With the label temporarily on hold, Yaron and I embarked on the first leg of the Sisters Of Mercy’s Tune In, Turn On, Burn Out tour, a cash in hand offer humping gear and selling T-shirt’s that was just too good to turn down. Rather more routine than I’d been expecting, and missing my eighteen month old son Daniel, I dipped out of the European leg and returned home to finalise a new manufacturing and distribution deal with Backs Records of Norwich, the south east arm of the Rough Trade led Cartel. Given our irretrievable relationship with Illuminated, it was certainly the ideal time for change, despite my obvious concern that financially we would be starting from scratch, but it proved to be the final straw for Yaron. After using his time on tour with both The Cult and The Sisters to great effect by mastering the complex art of the mixing desk, he was offered a fulltime job as a sound engineer while I set about rebuilding the label with a new aide de camp, local club promoter and well known quiff about town Ged Athendriou.
Following a couple of back catalogue compilations to balance the books, and stop gap releases by The Orson Family and San Francisco accordion legend Angel Corpus Christi, the second phase of Criminal Damage Records began to form around Mighty Ballistics Hi-Power. Born and bred in Reading, they had scarpered to the Capital just as soon as they were able and developed into a thoroughly modern, heavily politicised, dub crew with touches of rockabilly and vintage blues. Together with our other London based Reading groups; Them Howlin’ Horrors, The Jack Rubies and Rose and Rachel de Freitas Heart Throbs, they returned to play their hometown where they were treated like the prodigal sons and daughters they were. For the first and only time we found ourselves with a core of artists who one way or another were all connected while remaining hugely different in style and content.
To bolster our non-existent recording fund we began to promote showcase gigs at the tiny Paradise Club in London Street where, in a few short steps, you could go from a steamy, sweaty bunch of psychobilly’s chicken dancing stage front to a gaggle of ganja smoking, West Indian OAP’s slapping dominoes down in the bar. As soon as the opportunity arose we moved onto the 1,000 capacity Majestic Ballroom where Reading’s show starved youth turned out in force every Wednesday night for the likes of The Meteors, The Redskins, Fields Of The Nephilim, Voice Of The Beehive, The Primitives, Zodiac Mindwarp and countless more, ably supported by one or two of our own. Every week I would stagger the short distance home to Swansea Road in the early hours, pockets stuffed with a couple of grand in cash to hide under the floorboards. Our most profitable night was one hit wonder Belouis Some, a show packed with a horde of screaming adolescent girls, wetting their pants and scratching each other’s eyes out to get to the front.
When we gravitated across town from The Paradise Club, our regular drinking hole shifted to The White Horse, a Victorian pub built alongside Caversham Road Railway Bridge just 100 yards from the Majestic and directly opposite The Duke of Edinburgh, a cavernous shithole full of falling down piss heads from the hostel next door. The White Horse was a shithole too, pure spit and sawdust, but its licensing hours were as flexible as its spirit measures and it was so permanently empty we were able to call the back bar our own. More importantly the jukebox just happened to be the coolest in town.
With Ged ducking and diving, my closest confidante, drug buddy and permanent fixture at the bar was Denny Mills of Them Howlin’ Horrors. Like John Robb, Denny’s manic enthusiasm was infectious and I loved him for it. A hugely talented songwriter and charismatic force of nature, sadly, like so many others I met along the way, he became just another shoulda, woulda, coulda. Chris Maund of the Mighty Ballistics was another. No less intense but the polar opposite of Denny, there was no such thing as a relaxing, fun, night out with Chris who would spark many a heavy duty debate on subjects ranging from the miner’s strike to the number of rapes in London and throw his heart and soul into every possible cause. Idealistic beyond compare, I often wondered how he would get through the remainder of his life.
Meeting the likes of Denny and Chris certainly expanded my limited musical horizon. Their knowledge gifted me a remarkable education in everything from honky tonk to rhythm and blues and from gospel to ska and rock steady, so much so in fact that for a while it felt like I was living in Joe Strummer’s jukebox. Then, having been educated in the past, along came Karl Bonnie to educate me in the future. Recording as The Jackal before forming Renegade Soundwave, he opened my ears to the revolutionary world of sampling. I guess I had always been unashamedly rockist, driven by notions of subversion and the underground, dissent and disruption. And yet, as young black men and their machines began to make everything else sound irrelevant, those notions could only be found in hip hop, techno and acid house, indie rock and pop having become almost wholly redundant.
Ultimately, my summer of 1986 proved an unforgettable highlight. With Denny, Karl, Rose de Freitas, MB Hi-Power and The Jack Rubies around, Criminal Damage found a new identity far removed from the goth and noise of the past. We were also raking in the plaudits, The Jackal’s ‘Underneath The Arches’ featuring as Sounds single of the week while MB Hi-Power and The Jack Rubies notched up more and more interviews and precious column inches. Even Denny and his Horrors earnt some well-deserved acclaim from a posse of young journalists keen on their trebly, chaotic din. To my great surprise, we suddenly became the indie label of the moment, the label everyone was talking about, and with The Heart Throbs waiting in the wings, the future looked bright. As I pulled together the bits and pieces for the Blast compilation album it really felt like we were on the up. Our fortieth release, the album was set to be the culmination of Criminal Damage part two and a springboard for the next phase when I was sure to finally reap the rewards for my years of dedication and hard work. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Like any business, in the independent record game sales figures would literally take months to filter down from retailers and distributors alike. When eventually ours began to dribble in, it immediately became apparent that the vast amount of publicity we’d managed to attract had failed to translate into sales and income. If anything, sales were decreasing month by miserable month, and at an alarming rate too. MB Hi-Power were even struggling to recoup their minimal recording costs, and when a group as vibrant and revolutionary as them were projected to lose us thousands of pounds, it forced me to question the labels purpose and viability and chances of survival, although ultimately my mind was made up for me.
The Majestic show profits had provided an invaluable safety net to pay for recordings and ease our cash flow worries, but when its availability was curtailed by a new manager, all certainty disappeared. A printer by trade, Ged found a full time job in London just as the Benefits Office began to tighten the noose around my neck, threatening to stop all payments unless I could prove I was actively seeking a job. That game of cat and mouse would continue for another year but with no obvious solution to our lack of funds, in December 1986 I decided to shutdown Criminal Damage for good.
With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to understand how, after four years and forty releases, the label had simply run its course. Like most independents of the mid-eighties, Criminal Damage's role in shaping British music culture was negligible, and we singularly failed to uncover any groups that could be said to have defined the era in any way, shape or form. The nearest we came was John Robb's Membranes and they only made it as far as a short, handwritten note in the margin. Nonetheless, despite our best efforts Criminal Damage was never fashionable, it was never revolutionary and it was definitely never going to win bigtime. And yet there was no shame in that because most indie labels failed to win bigtime. Anyway, as far as I was concerned it had nothing to do with success or failure. Our cast of loveable rogues, misfits and misunderstood mavericks released a few records, revelled in their five minutes of fame if they were lucky before disappearing back to wherever it was they’d come from, so bringing to an end an unrepeatable, brilliantly exciting, great-to-be-alive period of untold adventure.
In many ways that same thing applied to me although I wasn’t quite ready to give it all up just yet. Never mind the considerable aggravation and continual state of poverty, I still felt the need to be involved in something, but had to accept that with the birth of my second son Richard and the very real, terrifying prospect of an enforced return to Civvy Street at some point in the near future, I would be unable to commit as much time as I once had.
Funnily enough the answer to my conundrum lay close at hand in Satellite Records, a one off label I’d set up in February 1986 to issue an EP by legendary Memphis swamp rat Tav Falco and Panther Burns that for some inexplicable reason had failed to fit into my very particular aural vision for Criminal Damage. Due to the groups massive cult following, the release of their Warrior Sam EP had resulted in an influx of demos, records, tapes and packages through the Swansea Road letterbox from enthusiastic young outfits from as far afield as the USA, Sweden, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Australia and most bizarrely Egypt. It didn't seem to matter whether they were influenced by Nuggets era garage rock, psyche, freakbeat or the hard edged Stooges and MC5, they were all a part of the worldwide garage punk revival.
It was all retro stuff, totally at odds with the futuristic techno, acid house and hip hop I was getting into, and yet despite everything, my love for energetic, teenage, punk rock action remained undimmed and some of it really was fantastic. For that reason alone I resurrected Satellite as a low profile UK outlet with no extortionate recording costs likely to lose me vast sums of money I could ill afford. And that’s more or less how it worked out, at least for the first year or so. One thing I wasn't expecting was the group’s rabid fanaticism. No matter whether they were from Berlin, Malmo, Phoenix or Adelaide, most made a point of meeting up with me in Reading where many a drunken night was had. I met some great people and built up some long lasting friendships over another great year.
Life was good again until my time on the dole came to an inglorious end when the Benefits Office offered me the choice of accepting a job offer or having all payments stopped, which is how I came to find myself clocking on as a postman at the Royal Mail Sorting Depot just two weeks before the Christmas of 1987. And that’s where I should have left any thought of running a record label behind, mind numbingly tedious twelve hour shifts sorting letters not exactly conducive to doing much else. Instead, with my old enthusiasm restored, I began to dream on a grander scale and fatally allowed myself to be suckered in again, a chance meeting with an old acquaintance leading to a new, ill-fated venture called Beat International.
Since the last time I’d seen him some five years before, Chris Broderick had built up his bog basic, four track studio into a lucrative state of the art 24 track and was looking to start an indie label so he got in touch. While I had plenty of misgivings about his motives and suspected that he wanted to use it as a tax deductible promotional tool, there was no doubting his business acumen. Putting his love for Hall & Oates and lamentable taste in music to one side, what he was offering was the opportunity to run a record label with no upfront recording costs. And as anyone who’s ever run a label would know, that was a bloody big carrot!
Sounding too good to be true, predictably it turned to shit within weeks. While I got busy planning new releases by The Heart Throbs and The Jack Rubies, Chris presented me with the Surfin’ Lungs album The Biggest Wave as our first release. Wondering why he’d never mentioned them before I was speechless and questioned exactly how I was expected to sell a six year old surf group from landlocked Bracknell with no waves, big or otherwise, within sixty miles. They were dreadful but initially I thought I could make it work until it gradually dawned on me that something inside me had changed, the thrill of running a label had gone and it was time to get on with the rest of my life. And so it was with an overwhelming sense of relief in July 1988, after 62 releases by 119 groups, I pulled the plug on my activities and waved goodbye to the music industry once and for all.
The impact of that decision was immediate as overnight my life became infinitely less exciting. For starters I had to get used to the idea of actually working for a living. Initially I’d tried for the same kind of office work I’d done in the past but had ended up as a postman, the one job I didn’t want but one that paid sufficiently well for us to move house to Poole Close on a shabby estate half a mile up the hill from the dreaded Dee Road. Putting in the requisite number of hours as a postie tended to crush the spirit and destroy the soul, the cliquey bigots running the show little more than old fashioned bully boys who would hunt you down in packs if you upset them by sitting at their table in the canteen or were allocated one of the easier jobs for the week. Physically it was a strain too, whether it was back breaking, double deliveries around Hexham Road and Whitley estate or loading and unloading Royal Mail trains on Reading Station all night from 9.30pm until 6am with a bunch of crooks who thought nothing of stealing a fiver from a kid’s birthday card.
I didn’t know it at the time, and probably would have gone crazy if I had, but full time employment signalled the end of an era as my life shifted onto a very different path. Naturally I continued listening to music at every available opportunity, a pair of headphones, a Sony Walkman and a pocketful of mixtapes my constant companions, especially through the long, cold, nights. And yet musically I started to notice a very different feeling sweeping the nation, acid house and its chemical partner ecstasy taking practically everyone by surprise, the loved up, communal 'E' high representing as clean a break as possible with the me, me, me mantra of right wing British politics.
Perhaps I was feeling old, or maybe I was just too busy trying not to burn out on yet another exhausting night shift, but I never found the time or the inclination to take an ‘E’ or go to a rave. Much like disco and early hip hop, my interest in acid house was purely in the radical nature of the records, the extreme sonic experience rather than the physical, raving one. But I was still able to recognise the emphatic sea change in attitude, and that rave culture was almost certainly going to be as innovative as punk and spark similar media fury and parental paranoia!
NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS ‘Tupelo’ (Single A Side July 1985)
The post punk years felt like one endless rush of surprise, excitement and creativity. There was so much going on I struggled to keep up. And yet by 1985 that spirit of futurism had almost completely disappeared before Live Aid delivered the final, killer blow. Scratching around for anything vital, Ol’ Nick reared his head once more with ‘Tupelo’, a song that captured the restless paranoia preceding the hard rain about to fall perfectly. Weaving a breathless yarn from strands of the Old Testament, the 1927 Mississippi flood, the birth of Elvis and his stillborn twin Jesse Garon, it was the first in Cave’s seemingly infinite future of cinematic tales to tell, metaphors to make and black humour to deliver.
THE POGUES ‘The Old Main Drag’ (Rum Sodomy & The Lash LP August 1985)
In 1985 The Pogues were a fucking great whirlwind of rip roaring Irish folk punk action, and London’s only genuinely great group, Rum Sodomy & The Lash mixing centuries of Irish rebellion and London history with eighties rent boys, football thugs, fucked up war vets and teenage runaways puked onto the streets after just a few years of Thatcherism. All on his ownsome, the genius Shane MacGowan reintroduced me to my own Dublin bloodline, but more than that he reintroduced cheerless reality to Thatcher’s brainwashed generation who were in danger of zoning out completely. These days he may be a burnt out wreck of a man, bumming drinks off everyone with a face like a busted concertina, but I reckon he’s more than earned the right to do whatever the fuck he wants for this album alone.
DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS ‘Knowledge Of Beauty’ (Don’t Stand Me Down LP September 1985)
More fervent Irishness to explore and more singular lyrical and vocal genius, but whereas Shane MacGowan looked for beauty in ugliness, Kevin Rowland used the patron saint of Irish rock spiritualism Van Morrison as a jumping off point for locating a purer, more obvious beauty of his own. In any other era the third Dexy’s LP would’ve been a huge success. But in 1985, its insistence on acoustic instrumentation, it's anger at both liberal and conservative England, its savage wit, spoken word interludes and rejection of pop, not to mention the baffling American Ivy League attire on the cover, delivered a killer blow to the man who just three years earlier had made a global hit out of ‘Come On Eileen’.
KATE BUSH ‘Cloudbusting’ (Hounds Of Love LP September 1985)
Punk was a scorched earth policy refuting everything that had gone before; music, dress, hair, speech and self-expression. Kate Bush harked back to those days of yore with more than a whiff of the Floyd and Genesis about her, influences we were supposed to hate, yet she possessed a magical, other worldly aura and a Bronte sisters on acid persona that was damn near impossible to ignore.
An artist with a capital ‘A’, her songs explored the less illuminated, darker corners of life such as lust, menstruation, paedophilic desire, incestuous relationships and a song about the post nuclear apocalypse sung by a foetus. If they’d bothered to listen, trendy, middle class Mummies buying that nice girl Kate’s albums for their young daughters would have found that she wasn’t quite as nice or as innocent as they’d first thought. Hounds Of Love was her masterpiece, containing such scope and vision that its influence still echoes in everything from Bjork to Bright Eyes and from Aphex Twin to Arcade Fire.
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’ (Single A Side October 1985)
One of the last rock groups to really matter, ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’ was Echo & The Bunnymen’s brilliant last gasp, a shimmering, stellar triumph marking the precise moment they went from making vibrant and compelling records to over-produced, slick and empty rock. Naively, I believed they could only get better. Instead I got a horribly blank, cocaine bleached, career suicide LP, dull solo projects and a pointless reformation that made me realise how special they’d been in the first place.
TALK TALK ‘Life’s What You Make It’ (Single A Side January 1986)
Perhaps I should mention that I briefly met Talk Talk creator Mark Hollis when his drug fiend brother Ed produced our Southend Goths Anorexic Dread, but I won’t because I don’t remember anything about him. But no matter because I do remember ‘Life’s What You Make It’. To think that pop music used to sound like this.
THE CRAMPS ‘What’s Inside A Girl?’ (A Date With Elvis LP February 1986)
If 1985 was the worst pop year in living memory, 1986 wasn’t much better so thank God for The Cramps. Over the years I would keep returning to Lux ‘n’ Ivy for the harsh, cleansing action of their primal, quite frankly dumb arse rock’n’roll. On A Date With Elvis they used their eleven songs to find five hundred ways to say vagina, something which strikes me as far more useful than fifty ways to leave your lover.
DEPECHE MODE ‘Fly On The Windscreen’ (Black Celebration LP March 1986)
There was a period between 1982 and 1986 when arty experimentalists Psychic TV, Cabaret Voltaire, Foetus and Fad Gadget threatened to go overground. Signed to major labels, they all had a go at subverting the music industry from within via a strategy of conform to deform. Obviously they all failed miserably, presumably because they didn’t compromise enough, and soon returned to the margins where they continued preaching to the converted for all eternity.
Ironically, the one outfit to pull it off were babes of the pack Depeche Mode who followed the same process but in reverse. Starting out as gimpoid synth puppets, they gradually became more and more committed, utilising hardcore electro beats, workers power imagery, musique concrete, S&M pervery and air punching misery to become exactly what their more revered peers desired.
SCHOOLY D ‘Put Your Fila’s On’ (Single A Side October 1986)
The eight songs before this prove what a fucked up, stylistic mish-mash the mid-eighties were. Some plundered the past while others were of the moment, but only Schooly D represented the future. Because right here is where the golden age of hip hop really began, the first time we heard such taunting, psychotic tones backed with nothing more than beats, handclaps and a load of echo. Sure Run DMC and LL Cool J had been successful doing their thing, but ‘Put Your Fila’s On’ made them sound like the pop tarts they were. Gangsta rap was on its way, carrying with it a threat of danger and fear that hadn’t been felt since Johnny Rotten opened his diseased gob to sing.
BEASTIE BOYS ‘Rhymin’ And Stealin’ (Licensed To Ill LP November 1986)
As much as Schooly D was the start of a new black revolution, the Beasties were the start of white, frat boy punk, an unlikely union of meathead macho and boho cool that would be an enormous influence on the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eminem to name just a couple. In an era dominated by a lust for the dollar, the Beasties were a bit of light relief in some heavy duty times, unless of course you were fifteen years old in which case they were the last word in revolutionary politics. How anyone took them seriously is beyond me, but somehow they managed to piss off everyone from black rappers to white liberals and were predictably labelled the new Sex Pistols, when in reality they were the new Monkees.
THE THE ‘Heartland’ (Infected LP November 1986)
Matt Johnson was another maverick infiltrating the market place with something more than the standard, glib, pop platitudes, Infected bringing back some nasty memories of a period following the birth of my second son Richard when I finally realised my marriage was a sad, lonely cage I had to escape. Following seven years of Tory rule, Britain’s towns and cities reflected my despair with a mood of hopelessness so overwhelming you could almost touch it. Over thirty years later, while I have long been free of my own cage, in Britain nothing much has changed, and the sentiments of ‘Heartland’ and our ‘country, that's sick, sad, and confused’ still ring true.
MARC ALMOND & THE WILLING SINNERS ‘Mother Fist’ (Mother Fist & Her Five Daughters LP March 1987)
I loved Marc Almond, his earliest LP’s straying so magnificently beyond standard eighties fare that I just couldn’t resist. Mother Fist was the best of the lot, a gothic, cabaret masterpiece, conjuring up colourfully ribald pictures of a sordid, romanticised, European city living under the burden of its own decadent history with glimpses of the lost, the lonely and the bizarre.
PHUTURE ‘Your Only Friend’ (Single B Side March 1987)
In 1987 all I knew about house music were the big chart hits ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ and ‘Jack Your Body’. Along with everyone else I thought they were just novelty disco throwbacks. I didn’t have a clue that house had a much deeper, darker side until I heard ‘Your Only Friend’. Even more eerily brilliant than its lauded but overlong partner ‘Acid Tracks’, it denounced the use of cocaine via a robotic slave voice while trumpeting the arrival of acid house, ironically a movement renowned for its prodigious drug intake and one essentially fusing Dionysian frenzy with post punk futurism.
RHYTHIM IS RHYTHIM ‘Nude Photo’ (Single A Side April 1987)
As if the arrival of hip hop proper and the birth of acid house wasn’t enough, along came Detroit’s Derrick May and Rhythim Is Rhythim to thrill us with yet another new electronic dance genre. This one was called techno, ‘Nude Photo’ an odd mix of euphoria and anxiety, its machine tooled lines and piston percussion forgoing aggression for a haunting sadness that was clearly the sound of a man trying to escape the world without leaving his bedroom.
ULTRAMAGNETIC MC’s ‘Travelling At The Speed Of Thought’ (Single A Side April 1987)
The best rock record of 1987 was by a hip hop group, ‘Travelling At The Speed Of Thought’ sucking me in with a beat that was pure late sixties Stones before the master stroke; a teasing edit from the chorus of the immortal ‘Louie Louie’ making the weird connection between sixties rebel rockers and eighties B-boy’s.
RENEGADE SOUNDWAVE ‘Kray Twins’ (Single A Side May 1987)
Otherwise known as The Jackal, DJ Producer Karl Bonnie released the pioneering ‘Underneath The Arches’ on my own Criminal Damage label over a year before similar DJ records from M/A/R/R/S, Coldcut and Bomb The Bass, but failed to get the recognition and kudos he so rightfully deserved. Forming Renegade Soundwave (originally Deceptikon Soundwave) soon after, we were set to release the ‘Kray Twins’ twelve inch until Mute offshoot Rhythm King stepped in at the last minute with a bagful of cash. During a period when independent groups and labels were floundering around in the past, to say Renegade Soundwave were ahead of the pack is an understatement. Now virtually forgotten, they’re a reminder of how the future once sounded.
NEW ORDER ‘True Faith’ (Single A Side July 1987)
I have never understood the uncritical, holy adoration New Order enjoyed off the back of Joy Division, particularly as I can only think of them as the three nobodies Ian Curtis left behind. As they became increasingly tedious and repetitive, even ‘Blue Monday failed to move me. Then came ‘True Faith’ and it suddenly dawned on me that it didn’t matter about the dumbarse lyrics or Bernard Sumner’s trademark ‘that’ll do’ vocal because New Order’s indie dance was the best proof there was that music could be anything you wanted it to be, even when you were the remnants of a white, resolutely Northern, post punk group with no obvious dancefloor pedigree.
M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up The Volume’ (Single A Side August 1987)
Following hard on the heels of Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s seismic number one ‘Jack Your Body’, ‘Pump Up The Volume’ was another step towards club cultures takeover of UK pop yet infinitely more striking if only because it came from a bunch of defiantly independent British artists, Colourbox and A.R. Kane, and their defiantly independent label, 4AD. The DJ strain of club music M/A/R/R/S gave birth to burnt out fairly quickly, largely because of its limited supply of sample sources, but for me, whatever its place in the wider story of UK rave and dance culture, it presented the exact moment when the reconditioning of rockist minds really began in earnest, it’s nihilistic rejection of traditional song structure, instrumentation and melody causing outrage and upset amongst the miserabilist indie kids holed up in their bedrooms mourning the death of The Smiths.
COLDCUT ‘Beats + Pieces’ (Single A Side August 1987)
Influenced by the Art of Noise and Mantronix, DJ crews began playing around with their own breakbeat driven collages. Of course, critics focused on the death of traditional musicianship, paying dues and all that stuff while pointing out that the resulting records were essentially stolen as the sonic adventurers underlined samplings subversive nature, the joyful abuse of copyright and their punky attitude to music making by laughing in their faces. The twelve inch sleeve of ‘Beats + Pieces’ said it all, countering the luddites with the classic sleeve slogan ‘Sorry, but this just isn’t music.’
THE SUGARCUBES ‘Birthday’ (Single A Side August 1987)
Still sounding extraordinary, ‘Birthday’ is the record that introduced Björk Guðmundsdóttir and in many ways introduced the rest of the world to Iceland. Released to counteract the often stringent seriousness of the ‘alternative’ eighties, The Sugarcubes odd, esoteric pop offered a colourful and imaginative substitute, ‘Birthday’ sounding just as wide eyed and inspired now as it did then, its weird, melodic brilliance and depiction of childhood abandonment evoking a strange kind of whimsical nostalgia while Björk’s piercing, defiant shrieks and cryptic lyricism signposted her solo future.
THE FALL ‘Hit The North Part One’ (Single A Side October 1987)
Ten years and ten albums into his inimitable career, The Fall’s unpredictable ringmaster Mark E. Smith suddenly made an unexpected lurch towards the dancefloor on ‘Hit The North’. A rousing masterpiece of electro pop complete with blaring saxophones and a shout along chorus, it crept into the charts at number 57 and had even the most jaded Fall critic tapping their tootsies.
ERIC B. & RAKIM ‘Paid In Full’ [Seven Minutes Of Madness] (Single A Side October 1987)
I have always felt an equally powerful attraction to indie rock, pop and hip hop. Certainly, that's how it felt in the mid to late eighties when I was unwilling to choose between The Cramps and Schooly D or Erik B. and the Sisters Of Mercy. Of course I didn’t have to choose but its remarkable how many did. Some white fans invested all their belief and passion in hip hop, seeing it as the vanguard, the sole bastion of culturally dissident energy, and as a result had to grapple with the complex issues related to being a white acolyte of a music largely made by and for blacks.
There were no such issues when white, middle-class, DJ's Coldcut reconstructed Eric B and Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full’ and turned a low key, thoughtful, album cut into an extended blast through found voices, Brit humour and Ofra Haza’s exotic ‘Im Nin’ Alu’. An extraordinary record, it furthered hip hops British cause immeasurably despite Eric B. and Rakim refusing their approval until they saw the size of the royalty cheque.
SISTERS OF MERCY ‘This Corrosion’ (Floodland LP November 1987)
In the early days of the Sisters, Andrew Eldrich’s songs were nothing more than a cheap drum machine and the singer’s gloomy drone. And yet it didn’t matter a bit because the theory behind them was far more important and far more attractive than the actual music. In a declared war on pop Eldrich alluded to classic rock’n’roll imagery that was most enticing, in particular the Stones of Altamont and ‘Gimme Shelter’ when the hippy dream finally turned sour on a tide of mistrust and disillusionment. It would take a further five years and the influence of big name producer Jim Steinman’s heavenly choirs and thunder for Eldrich’s records to catch up with the theory and finally match his vision, none more so than on the truly breathtaking ‘This Corrosion’.
DAVID SYLVIAN ‘Orpheus’ (Secrets Of The Beehive LP November 1987)
In my mid-twenties I was curiously attracted to acquiring records of melancholic misery and then ignoring them. David Sylvian, a man known to the dedicated few as ‘The Genius in the Shadows’, was the most haunted of the lot, his world weary voice never failing to lament a seemingly dismal life. Quite who’s life he was referring to remained uncertain, but like me, letting the happiness in was clearly something he struggled with. No matter though because Secrets Of The Beehive was a work of such unique quality, and in ‘Orpheus’ contained a song of such beauty, that the overbearing sadness became strangely bearable.
MORRISSEY ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ (Viva Hate LP March 1988)
‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ is the quintessential Morrissey song, retaining a sad beauty that reminds me of a time when Sunday was a melancholy day of Sunday school, roast dinners, Songs Of Praise, mind numbing boredom and nothingness. In effect it is Morrissey’s last goodbye to an obsolete working class tradition, our hero visiting a windswept, tatty, seaside town to hymn the memories and decry the desolation; a resigned response to the devastated land the Tory Reich would leave behind.
THE VASELINES ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam (Single B Side March 1988)
I picked up on The Vaselines for the sole reason that one of my good friends used to rib me about my childhood Sunday school days, constantly humming ‘Jesus wants you for a sunbeam’. This simple song was my handy riposte; ‘Jesus don't want me for a sunbeam / Cause sunbeams are not made like me.’
HOUSE OF LOVE ‘Christine’ (Single A Side April 1988)
The House Of Love were a throwback to rock classicism and the last of a dying breed. With its post psychedelic guitar and soaring chorus, ‘Christine’ was a hymn to an idyllic vision of love, one of those timeless records that sent tingles down my spine and for a couple of minutes made me believe in the power and brilliance of rock’n’roll once more.
SMITH & MIGHTY ‘Anyone’ (Single A Side May 1988)
Another record that was unclassifiable and at least five years ahead of its time, together with their friends Massive Attack and Nellee Hooper of The Wild Bunch, Rob Smith and Ray Mighty ruled a multi-cultural sound system scene based in the St Paul’s area of Bristol. Revolving surreally around a cover version of Bacharach and David’s sixties classic ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ and informed by reggae sound systems, hip hop breaks and punk’s giant leap into the unknown, in just under five minutes they invented just about every British dance record that has ever tried to meld dub, ambient and hip hop together.
MC LYTE ‘10% Dis’ (Single A Side May 1988)
I've never been that interested in the sociological, socio political, academic aspect of hip hop and its place in popular culture. I liked hip hop because it was different, because of its sonic delivery and because it’s fuck you attitude ran just about as deep as you could get. Therefore, as with so many other records, I have no idea intellectually why I liked MC Lyte’s fearsome ‘10% Dis’, I just did!
PRINCE ‘Alphabet St’ (Lovesexy LP May 1988)
Prince pretty much passed me by until Sign O’ The Times, but then I couldn’t get enough. Throughout the eighties, he was the only one giving R&B and contemporary pop credibility, taking it to the conceptual high ground before hip hop dismantled it completely. In an era of faceless corporate soul and MTV brainwashing, he was the only artist capable of synthesising his influences into an original vision.
More importantly, Prince was the only black performer to address the hopelessness and spiritual desolation of the Reagan years. No-one else could touch him. Lovesexy was his eighth album in a decade and some would say the exact point where his immaculate powers began to wane. Thankfully, with my limited knowledge of his past I was clueless, but one thing I did know was that while ‘Alphabet Street’ wasn’t one of his more prophetic songs, like the man himself, it was as funky as fuck.
ARMANDO ‘151’ (Acid House Compilation LP May 1988)
1988 was the start of the Second Summer Of Love when acid house, one of the weirdest and most influential trends to zap mainstream pop, hit like a sledgehammer and a bevy of cash in compilations filled the UK record racks. Acid House is the only one that hasn’t dated significantly and remains as a fitting testament to the disco apocalypse they called acid. Deliciously nuts, it was music that may have been minimalistic and repetitive, but it also managed to unite black, white, gay, straight, male and female on the dancefloor by neatly matching the pulse of electro disco with the aggression and tastelessness of punk. In the 21st century it continues to sound like its being beamed in from another planet!
ORANGE LEMON ‘Dreams Of Santa Anna’ (Single A Side June 1988)
One unexpected bonus of my withdrawal from the music industry was that I regained the freedom to listen to whatever I wanted. For far too many years listening to music had been a part of the job, albeit a brilliantly exciting, once in a lifetime job. No matter how much I tried not to, I had always listened with one ear on the prize, predicting future trends, sussing out new production techniques, comparing rival groups and labels blah blah blah. Listening for pure pleasure had been a rare thing but without it I would never have found a record like Todd Terry’s ‘Dreams Of Santa Anna’.
PUBLIC ENEMY ‘Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos’ (It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back LP July 1988)
One of popular music’s true masterpieces, A Nation Of Millions was urban noise, black rage, punk revolution, revenge fantasy, community activism, intellectual rigour and organised chaos mashed into one magnificent roar. With a sound swarming in feedback, James Brown horn riffs as air raid sirens, shards of thrash metal guitar and the strangest funk ever recorded, no group had ever matched words and music as perfectly as Public Enemy.
PET SHOP BOYS ‘Left To My Own Devices’ (Introspective LP October 1988)
In 1988 post punk’s energy had long since evaporated but I was still far from convinced that dance music was my or anybody else’s future. The brilliance of the Pet Shop Boys singles helped, although I still wasn’t in the least bit prepared for a disco pop behemoth like Introspective. Of course now it's common knowledge how Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe knew instinctively that within a year or two house would be everywhere, not only as the basis for all great dance music but as the basis of great pop too. And yet, more than that, as the title suggested, Introspective was really about being alone and finding a place as far away as possible from the madness of this world.
There was something in Neil Tennant’s twist on the single life and childhood memories that stirred a feeling deep within. You see, I believe that most of us would just love to be left alone, to find a place where the world can’t find you to tap you on the shoulder and remind you how many years of work and piles of money you owe, just for the privilege of being alive. Maybe that’s just me but somehow I don’t think it is. No-one ever told us it would be this tiring and that so many cunts would have a say in our daily lives. ‘Left To My Own Devices’ found a way of expressing exactly that without rubbing our noses in it.
EPMD ‘Strictly Business’ (Strictly Business LP November 1988)
2 LIVE CREW ‘Me So Horny’ (As Nasty As They Wanna Be LP March 1989)
There are some folk who have never embraced hip hop because they think it consists of someone complaining or ranting over a sample of someone else’s record. There are just as many who pretend to like it and some like me who really do. And it’s because of records like these. Like the best roots reggae, EPMD’s slurred, stoned malevolence was swathed in dope fumes, their breaks coming from the strangest of sources, like the title tracks use of Clapton’s ‘I Shot The Sheriff’. As for 2 Live Crew, they proved that not all hip hop had to be filled with radical diatribes, new beats or big mouth boasting. Some of it was just hilariously filthy and ‘Me So Horny’ was just about as filthy as it could get.
NIRVANA ‘Love Buzz’ (Bleach LP June 1989)
So while all the radical stuff was going on within hip hop, house and the ecstasy generation, what the fuck was going on in rock’n’roll? After far too many years of rubbish indie shite, in his new role as a journalist The Membranes John Robb became the first to discover Nirvana and Seattle. I got hold of Bleach to find out what all the fuss was about and found that while it was undoubtedly a cracking record – a screaming blast of disaffected punk – to me it sounded like a cultural cul-de-sac, it’s on the surface wildness masking a tame predictability. I’d already been down the same route six years before with outfits like The Nomads from Sweden and The Scientists from Australia, so in my infinite wisdom decided that the next rock revolution was most definitely not going to be coming out of the rain soaked Pacific Northwest. Oops!
HAPPY MONDAYS ‘W.F.L.’ (Single A Side September 1989)
The Happy Mondays and the skanky testimonies of poet laureate Shaun Ryder were a litany of junkie psychobabble and weirdness. Veterans of two LP’s of surreal magic they were already being bigged up as yet another new Sex Pistols when they decided to go for broke with a Vince Clarke remix of their flop ‘Wrote For Luck’. Reworked as ‘W.F.L.’, for the first time Ryder’s voice came over loud and clear, spewing out his contempt for every thieving, two faced, drug fuck there ever was while slyly letting us know that he was no better. The mash up of snappy electro and glam stomp was a perfect lifeline for those indie kids still stuck in their bedrooms with the curtains shut waiting for the end of the world while everyone else was getting loaded. ‘W.F.L.’ was their ticket to fly.
THE BELOVED ‘Sun Rising (Single A Side October 1989)
Dance and drug holidays to Ibiza caught on quickly amongst the more committed acid heads. Through the non-stop nights of raving, the aim was to build to a frenzied peak around three in the morning before gradually coming down until the sun rise when a glorious, ‘Meaning of Life’ glow would kick in. Unfortunately, with two young sons I was too involved in fatherly duties and far too poor to enjoy any escapades in Ibiza, but I don’t think there’s ever been a more perfect Balearic record than ‘Sun Rising’, a lovely, timely few minutes that could transport you to a sandy, Mediterranean beach even when you were sitting on the pebbly, British version in the rain.
STONE ROSES ‘Fools Gold’ (Single A Side November 1989)
After the so called Summers Of Love, the most ridiculously overrated group of all time heralded the birth of laddism, all things knuckle dragging, the cretinous Gallagher brothers and play it safe rock conservatism. Yes folks, it all started here. Odd then that ‘Fools Gold’ is quite possibly the greatest funk record made by a British group of any colour ever!