AZTEC CAMERA – “High Land, Hard Rain” (Rough Trade) 1983
COCTEAU TWINS – “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops” (4AD) 1984
JOSEF K – “It’s Kinda Funny” (Postcard) 1980
LYRES – “Someone Who’ll Treat You Right Now” (Ace Of Hearts) 1985
LONG RYDERS – “Looking For Lewis & Clark” (Island) 1985
FUZZTONES – “Creatures That Time Forgot” (Music Maniac) 1989
Here it is, its that time once more for a delve in the boxes of records and shelves upon shelves of black gold, looking to add to my ‘Transmission’ interludes, where I play records from my past. Many of these have never seen my turntable since the mid eighties. But it’s time to return to them with fresh and somewhat older ears and senses. Will I still rate these records?
First off is Aztec Camera‘s album “High Land, Hard Rain” released on Rough Trade during the Spring of 1983. I would have bought this soon after, no doubt about that. I already had one of their Postcard Records singles from the year before and had witnessed the young Roddy and his group sometime in ’82 at the ‘Bier Kellar’ Club, Waterloo Street, in Newcastle. I can’t remember that much about the gig other than I noticed just how young Aztec Camera were and Roddy Frame was wearing the suede jacket he wore in the photo posted opposite. I’m guessing they played their Postcard material and songs from the album, not yet released or perhaps even thought about!
To put things into perspective, Roddy is the same age as me. So in 1983 he would have been no more than eighteen years old, possibly still only seventeen. I’m kinda laughing to myself here because when young Roddy was writing, arranging and recording every song on this album I was still earnestly reading Shoot football magazine and playing Subbuteo with my younger brothers.
I must have played this hundreds of times during 1983/84 period and listening to the music now reminds me of those days when I’d drop the needle onto Side One, read a Shoot, an Oor Wullie annual from Christmas, or simple grab a piece of paper and a pencil and draw the birds I’d see from my bedroom window.
It’s difficult to chose a favourite, they’re all worthy. I believe a couple of the tracks were released as singles but I never got beyond “High Land, Hard Rain,” around the corner for me was the discovery of the Byrds, Love and 60s garage mayhem via “Back From The Grave” compilations.
Anyway, this record is influential and skillfully innovative. Not really my scene anymore but I can appreciate its value. The intricate ‘bright’ guitars, strummed acoustics, youthful exuberance and words weave their patterns. Remember, all created by a teenager.
During some of the numbers I can hear those horrendous electric drums, known as Syndrum drums. This awful percussion takes away huge enjoyment for me nowadays. But I’ve recently read that Roddy Frame liked what producer, John Brand did with his songs, so who am I to argue?
Continuing with the Cocteau Twins and their second single from April 1984, or at least a year since their debut “Peppermint Pig.” It seemed that I couldn’t go anywhere in the mid eighties without hearing one of the local DJ’s playing “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops”.
I didn’t take much notice then, by mid 1984 I’d discovered garage punk, so this goth cum indie cum noise was no longer on my agenda, unless of course there was some jangle. This then, was not on my agenda.
Roll on thirty odd years later and I’m perusing a dealers record stock on Discogs and this was for sale among a batch of others I was going to buy. OK, it was only a couple of quid, so I added it to the ‘basket’ at no extra postage costs.
Playing the disc now I’m hearing that the Cocteau Twins have a certain dream-like quality and could be considered pioneers of what would be described as ‘dream pop’, in that they’re creating very ethereal textures of sound, all very gloomy with dollops of murk and mire. Apart from the vocals, it’s minimalist. They’ve got a full palette of paints but they’re only dipping their brushes into a few colours, and I like that.
What I’m not so keen on though is that synthetic beat. I’m not sure they had a drummer in their band so probably got a studio automaton to press a couple of buttons on a drum machine. The percussion would have sounded superior with the human touch and slight of hand.
Elizabeth Frasers’ vocals are tuneless but original, I can’t recall many other singer like this before or after since, not that I’m that well informed with dream-pop / goth music. Don’t have a clue what her indecipherable warbling means though, can’t make out any words.
More of the same dirge on the other side, much worse with the drum machine programming though, no rhyme nor reason to it. I wanted the side to end so I could throw the record out of the window.
I found this quote from bass player, Simon Raymonde: “We said no to a lot of things and people don’t like the word no. We should have done ‘Top Of The Pops’ when “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops” was a hit. We were offered it but we said no. It was too scary. We didn’t talk about the fear, but the bravado side of it was “this is bollocks – people dancing with balloons” – We just weren’t comfortable in that world.”
Next up are my new find, Josef K. Both sides of the single were recorded at Castle Sound Studio during October 1980. “Final Request” is way better in my opinion than the A-Side “It’s Kinda Funny”, there’s an alliance of urgently spiky guitar, military drum racket, bass with darting notes and discordant vocals – all very anti-pop in approach and style. No way day-time radio friendly, a bonus of course.
“It’s Kinda Funny” is slower, restrained and drags along, even the band sound bored. It’s all very Joy Division and the misery is boundless. Nothing really stirred me into action that’s for sure, and the electric drum ‘pow’, pow’ didn’t do anything for me at all. This was a mistake in retrospect. I believe there is another version without this annoyance.
The lyrics are good though:
“You may be dumb, but the passage of time can change anything,
like the feelings we find, so I’ll disappear through the crack in the wall
and the memories I leave will be nothing at all.
It’s kinda funny.”
The Lyres have been around for years, led by “Mono Man” or in some minds ‘thee irritable curmudgeon’. Here they are presented on my turntable with a rather pedestrian garage rock number called “Someone Who’ll Treat You Right Now” from 1985. This one hasn’t been out of the box for decades, more vibrancy on the parrot’s feathers than in between the grooves on this disc. Am I missing something?
At least they’re incorporating real drums, although they’re mixed too loud, turn up the guitar, turn up the organ and I want to hear your tambourine clattering away like a thousand milk bottles crashing from a great height. The Kinks inspired riff doesn’t really get off the ground, hardly in the Ray / Dave Davies class, but then not many of the ’60s beat merchants were.
I know many wired Lyres numbers but this isn’t one of them, may take me a few listens to fully appreciate this single, its not immediately rattling my cranium and that’s what I demand from mid ’80s garage punk.
The other side, “You’ve Been Wrong” is slightly better, more melody and the vocals are not so strained. Drums too loud again, organ has plenty of space but the guitar and bass are barely audible.
“Mono Man” is active on Facebook in a variety of guises, he keeps changing his profile, its difficult to keep up if you can be arsed. I once hooked up with him on that platform years ago but this was only a fleeting alliance, before he culled me from his friend’s list during one of his regular meltdowns. For no reason, its just what he does.
The Long Ryders hit my deck last time out with “I Had A Dream”, this time around it’s “Looking For Lewis & Clark” from 1985. I bought this when it came out and I believe all copies came with the addition of a bonus single matching “Southside Of The Story” with “If I Were A Bramble And You Were A Rose.”
“Looking For Lewis & Clark” is a solid country turned punker with a steady beat for hillbillies to get all excited about while they get pissed on their bottles of moonshine. Then, possibly after an evening of line-dancing go back home to their shack to fertilize their cousins. So, it’s a good rocker with a good harmonica break, which to be honest was a rarity in the mid eighties.
The other songs on offer are country rock and not my scene and probably the main reason why I never ventured beyond “Native Sons.” But if rescuing your fiddles out of the garage and havin’ a hoedown is your bag, you’ll dig them all I’m sure. I just wanted the record to end so I could play Josef K once again!
The Fuzztones had an impact on me during the mid to late to eighties, not necessarily just with their music, which I loved, but also their way-out dress sense. Mixing as they did leather, denim, hideous outsider hairstyles, necks draped with a silver talisman and boots so pointed and heeled high that their appearance looked terrifying. Remember, this was the eighties. No one was meant to look like this.
Although this album was released outside my strict 1977 – 1985 period, all of the tracks are demo versions, radio appearances and long-lost alternate takes of garage punk lullabies recorded during the early eighties.
Let’s tango through the Time Tunnel, back to September 19th, 1980. The “Mind Expanding” Fuzztones are making their debut at Club 57, a seedy little underground dive in NYC. Day-glo lights are flashing, go-go girls are frugging with wild abandon, and the World’s Wickedest Voodoo Slingers take the stage. With leather and paisley abounding, human bone necklaces flying and black Beatleesque hair gone amok, the Fuzztones launch full throttle into a raunchy explosion of psycho-punk bursting with enough passion to make it seem vital all over again.