“Turtle Soup”

THE MOCK TURTLES – “Turtle Soup” – Expanded 2CD Set (Cherry Red) 2017

Formed in Middleton, north Manchester in 1985, The Mock Turtles evolved out of the band Judge Happiness to become key figures on the local Indie scene before eventually scoring chart success with the hits ‘Can You Dig It?’ and ‘And Then She Smiles’, at the height of the so-called Madchester scene at the dawn of the 1990s.

The band revolved around singer, songwriter and guitarist Martin Coogan (older brother of actor/comedian Steve), who blended his love of 70s glam and art rock (David Bowie, Be Bop Deluxe) with a nod towards the best in 60s music to create The Mock Turtles’ sound.

From 1987 to 1990, the band made five singles (the ‘Pomona’ EP, ‘Wicker Man’, ‘And Then She Smiles’, ‘Lay Me Down’ and ‘Magic Boomerang’) and an album, Turtle Soup, for Manchester’s Imaginary Records, as well as a compilation 87-90. None of these has ever been reissued. Turtle Soup has subsequently been cited as one of the finest Manchester albums of all time.

For this expanded reissue of Turtle Soup, which represents their complete Imaginary catalogue, all of the Mock Turtles’ non-album singles and B-sides are included, together with the many cover versions they recorded for Imaginary’s popular tribute albums (covering The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Syd Barrett, The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and The Kinks).

In addition, Martin Coogan has unearthed no less than fourteen previously unissued Mock Turtles demos from his personal archive! Sleeve-notes are by Mark Hodkinson (The Guardian, etc.), who was the first-ever journalist to review the band back in the mid- 1980s.

The package boasts the original versions of ‘Can You Dig It?’ (which has remained popular via various TV ads) and ‘And Then She Smiles’ (a version of which is the theme tune to the popular TV series Stella).

My Thoughts

I’ve always been aware of The Mock Turtles but they were one of those bands that I never bothered with at the time they were around, ultimately becoming trendy with their hit “Can You Dig It?” One of my friends even had “87-90” on CD and I remember borrowing and playing it a few times in the mid nineties but feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

Would I feel any different two decades on? I knew I always rated their cover version mash-up of the Byrds’ “Time Between” / “Why”, but have my impressions changed over time? Best find out with the Cherry Red 2CD retrospective!

After a couple of listens I’m still not ‘gone’ on their sound. There is jangle on a few numbers and decent drum action (for once – few bands recorded drums properly back then, too much reverb and/or gated) on the uptempo rockers “Kathy Come Home” and “Head Run Wild” but over-all the songs are just not strong enough or memorable for me to bother with repeated plays.

I’m aware that many people rate and openly gush about “Turtle Soup” on their websites. I also acknowledge that The Mock Turtles received positive and respectful press reviews at the time in Sounds, Melody Maker and NME.

Their cover version of “The Willow Song” is fairly decent and in some ways inspired. Special mention for the gentle pastoral folk number “Fionnuala”, which is beautiful and their best self-penned song. The delicate “Calm Before The Storm” is also a worthy treat.

But to be honest with you, by now, I was becoming restless with CD1 and just wanted to play (the real) Turtles 1969 LP “Turtle Soup” instead of this bowl of sounds crafted from the sonic cooking pot.

Some of the bonus material fails drastically such as “Johnny Seven” which goes all gated-drum and rinky-dink synth noise after a pleasant enough opening. I was about to throw the CD out of the window after hearing that train-wreck of a song but then I got waylaid by my cat scratching at my leg cos he wanted to be fed.

CD2 is mostly made up of recordings from 2003 and I believe even more recent than that, but they were mostly previously unreleased. I can honestly say I’ve never been as bored sitting through music before. I’m just not cut out to listening to ‘modern’ day tripe. A lot of these numbers sound like Suede and I fucking can’t stand Suede.

The cover of “Pale Blue Eyes” is atrocious, the drummer sounds like he’s tapping away on some empty bean tins, and that sax break. My ears can’t take any more!

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