1. The Honey Smugglers - Listen (Non-Fiction)
"A bad trip burnout, it's an acid splash that justifies the existence of the southeast. Like swimming in treacle."
If I were to lean towards one record which proved that a lot of southern bands simply boarded the baggy express too late, it would probably be this one. It's the first case for the defence, to which there can surely be no justifiable answer. "Listen" is just wonderful - beginning with an ominous, low atmospheric hum, the droning of an organ, a creeping bassline and a shuffling rhythm, it slowly builds into a furious and almost jazzy pean to defiance, possibly against insurmountable pressures. "Listen!" begs lead singer Chris Spence. "It's just the sunset glowing/ doesn't mean your life is fading/ no it's just the day unfolding". Perhaps the liner notes above hit the nail completely on the head by suggesting it may even be about a bad trip burnout. The track pleads desperately, possibly trying to persuade itself as much as anyone else.
Whatever our interpretation of it, it remains one of the finest indie singles of that unique little period. Dynamic sounding, epic, scaling and strangely soulful without once seeming pretentious or preposterous, it deserved to be huge but never broke through. Fiction Records got cold feet, dropped the group, and even when they managed to sign a new deal with Ultimate Records they never quite had the same profile or momentum ever again.
Years later, Dom Joly would give this track a home on the soundtrack of his "Trigger Happy TV" series, possibly one of the most honourable gestures he's ever made. It really didn't deserve to languish in obscurity, and the fact that it has now become one of the main "go-to" obscure nineties indie tracks every blogger says they love (other contender for the title - Bang Bang Machine's "Geek Love") is perhaps some consolation to a group who could achieved a lot more.
2. Cud - Magic (Imaginary)
"Here we find the original recording of 'Magic' from Cud's acclaimed second LP 'Leggy Mambo'. Stockport and Farsley reworkings of this track, care of Messrs. Creffield, Nagle and Nagle are featured on their current 45 release".
Cud became cult indie sensations in 1989 with their eccentric debut LP "When In Rome Kill Me", a concept record about a sly old cad of a murderer, complete with acted interludes between the tracks. "Only (A Prawn In Whitby)" from that LP (apparently about a real-life incident where the vegetarian Morrissey was caught dining on seafood in that town) became popular enough with the indie crowd at the time to score a place in the top twenty of Peel's Festive Fifty. It's an utter corker of a track, actually, with its buzzy folky fiddliness colliding bizarrely with an early Roxy Music feel, like Brian Eno being parachuted into the Oyster Band. It sounded like little else in 1989, and still seems incredibly angular to this day.
By the point of the release of this single, however, Cud had adopted some of the shuffling rhythms of their immediate peers, and "Magic" is probably closer to "Love Is The Drug" than "Virginia Plain" if we wanted to continue the Roxy comparisons (and I don't feel we necessarily should). It's a slick and finely oiled little single which sounds as if it could have been a hit had it been performed by another band with a greater profile in another era. Snaking, subtle and seductive grooves are the order of the day, and for five minutes you too can believe that Ilford's finest indie sensation (after Louise Wener) Carl Puttnam was the nineties greatest loverman.
Cud would go on to ink a major label deal, but in reality the chequebooks came out arguably too soon. Their flamboyant thrift shop style and quirky seventies-inspired grooves would actually have made a lot more sense at the height of Britpop, and while numerous attempts were made in the music press to make them stars - with the feeble invention of the "Lion Pop" genre being perhaps the most memorable - they remained appreciated only by a select crowd, with their most well-known singles achieving only modest low Top 30 places. Their LP "Asquarius" sits on my shelf at home and remains one of the most commented on records I own by friends, however, with many exclamations of "Oh fantastic! You own THAT one!" Their moment for reappraisal may well be overdue.
3. Rig - Moody 'Live' (Sub Rubber) - vinyl and cassette only
"...is taken from Rig's 'Moody' white label, their first single following their debut release 'dig' on the now-demised Cut Deep label. The track was originally recorded by ESG and produced by Martin Hannett in 1980, but don't worry about it".
Well, here we have it. Arguably one of the most obscure tracks ever to find a slot on the "Indie Top 20" series, a record which has fallen so utterly by the wayside that I've had to upload it to YouTube myself just now.
Rig were one of the many bands of the era to be touted by the inky music press who went on to sell very few records indeed. After "Moody" was put out as a limited pressing white label, the group moved on to the Charlatans-affiliated Dead Dead Good label, where they managed two other singles ("Big Head" and "Spank") which also failed to attract much interest.
As for "Moody", it's a slow, minimal and dark piece of funk complete with wah wah guitars and metronomic, thudding rhythms. It's about as uncommercial as indie-dance ever got, not due to the presence of any wild experimentation, but because of the absolute minimalism of the idea. It's rich in atmosphere, but ultimately low on hooks or even energy, being just one big thudding, groovy grey sulk committed to 12" single.
If that's your kind of thing, you might love this. I, on the other hand, have to admit that it leaves me rather cold, moving neither my feet, heart or mind. It feels like it needs to be sped up.
The original, on the other hand, is (like a lot of ESG's work) brilliantly urgent sounding, and well worth your time.
4. Upholstered Edlorados - I Wanna Talk Like Iggy Pop (Box 52) - vinyl and cassette only
"Vocals Helen Shaw (lead vocalist on last summer's "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Powerjam). Keyboards by Andy Stennet (formerly founder member of Freeeze who had top 10 hits with "Southern Freez" and "IOU"). Produced and mixed by Andy Stennett and Barry Durdant-Hollamby who have had 30 releases in the last 18 months under various different pseudonyms including Hard Times, Sound Of The Underground, Elle, Bam, Colours, Powerjam, etc."
This is the one and only time Iggy Pop features on the "Indie Top 20" series, and the reasons are thoroughly absurd. Absolutely all the lead vocals for this track were culled from an edition of Radio One's Roundtable where he was a guest reviewer of the latest singles releases, and the lyrics are simply found snippets of conversation where Pop frequently bemoans the state of pop. Possibly my favourite moment in the whole song is when Helen Shaw tries to "sing along" to his studio chatter, to fantastic comedic effect.
This was something of a cult club hit at the time, and obviously a one-off for all concerned - Iggy loved the track and gave it his blessing, but obviously didn't work with the individuals behind it in any other capacity, and they in turn presumably moved on to whatever their next DJ/ studio project was. Musically, it's a bit of a treat too - its early nineties, baggy-ish groove ensured that it worked on the dancefloors of some of the more open-minded "proper" clubs as well as out there in the sticky cider-stained floors of indieville.
While copies of this seem relatively easy to come by these days, and it clearly sold moderately well, it's become one of those long-forgotten novelty dance records which most people have forgotten about. But I think we'd all do very well to remember....
5. Moonflowers - Get Higher (Heavenly)
"We dig your earth".
Amidst the ecstacy based revelry of the early nineties, the spectre of the Festival/ Free Party Band promptly rose up again out of nowhere, as if the biggest hippy excesses of the late sixties and early seventies had been reactivated by an evil scientist. Endless amounts of groups toured the country in transit vans, pulling into the next official or unofficial festival or free party to play to the latest gang of travellers and hairies, as well as pulling up outside small Camden gig venues and squats to treat the rest of the public to their noise.
Some of these bands were rustic and folk influenced (The Levellers), some were naive, shouty, shambolic and actually fucking unbearable despite their best intentions (Back To The Planet), others performed strangely psychedelic techno-inspired noises, and others, like The Moonflowers, seemed to be an amalgamation of anything they'd accidentally hoovered through their ears on their travels through life. It has to be said, while some of the music emerging from the crusty movement was more agitated and faintly depressing than energising, The Moonflowers had both a jazzy and funky edge to a lot of their work. There's a sense of playfulness about it which was somewhat absent from a lot of the music of this period. You suspect that the main thing they were interested in was getting an audience to have a ridiculous and memorable time, rather than rise to the level of legends or magazine cover stars.
"Get Higher" is sweet and relatively simple, and sounds alarmingly Madchester at times, and also pulls on the traditions of seventies funk very effectively. Here, they almost sound like a particularly stoned, backwater English hippy version of Sly and the Family Stone.