The Jingle Jangle Morning

Originally published July 2007

“Boy, it began to rain like a bastard. In buckets, I swear to God. All the parents and mothers and everybody went over and stood right under the roof of the carousel, so they wouldn’t get soaked to the skin or anything, but I stuck around on the bench for quite a while. I got pretty soaking wet, especially my neck and my pants. My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way, but I got soaked anyway. I didn’t care though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going round and round. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going round and round, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could’ve been there.”
J. D. Salinger
The Catcher In The Rye (1951)

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read The Catcher In The Rye (I still have my old Penguin Modern Classics copy which cost 30p) but I was the type who identified with Holden Caulfield and still am a little. He was the clever, sarcastic kid who wasn’t very good at games and was prematurely cynical about the world, but had a sentimental streak a mile wide. Holden was a teen rebel but not in any wild, living-on-the-edge, rock and roll sort of way. His awkwardness and love of childish innocence made him more of an indie-pop sort of rebel, the patron saint of quiet boys who start fanzines in their bedrooms, make mixtapes for pretty girls, or form indie bands.

Orange Juice made his influence apparent when they put out records on a label called “Holden Caulfield Universal”, but if they were to make a movie of the novel I’d nominate The Pale Fountains to supply the soundtrack. Edwyn Collins had Holden’s sardonic humour, but Fountains’ lead singer Michael Head captured his wistful yearning and fragile sensibility.

Download: Just A Girl – The Pale Fountains (mp3)

In my movie version of Catcher In The Rye I can imagine The Fountains’ lovely second single “Thank You” bursting out like fireworks over the climactic scene with Holden’s little sister spinning around on the carousel while he breaks down in tears at the transcendent beauty of it all. With it’s soaring crescendos of strings there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.

Download: Thank You – The Pale Fountains (mp3)

By the time their debut album Pacific Street finally emerged in 1984 they had competition from new bands like the even more bookish and precious Prefab Sprout (who wrote songs based on Graham Greene novels). Flop though it was, the album did produce their best ever moment in the majestic single “(Don’t Let Your Love) Start A War” which was called “You’ll Start A War” on the album but was made even more swoon-worthy on this extended 12″ version. God I wish you could’ve been there.

Download: (Don’t Let Your Love) Start A War (12″ version) – The Pale Fountains (mp3)


Indie Chic

Originally published November 2013

We all know what Mods, Skins, and Punks dress like, but what is Indie style? This is a question the new book A Scene In Between: Tripping Through the Fashions of UK Indie Music 1980-1988 attempts to answer with a collection of photos from the years between Post-Punk and Acid House.

The word “Indie” has long since ceased to simply mean a band on an independent label – I wouldn’t really call New Order Indie – but instead came to describe a certain lo-fi scruffy amateurism, jangly guitars, and singers with fey voices who probably got beaten up a lot at school. The basic template was sketched out early on by Orange Juice and The Marine Girls, then coloured in (with crayons) by the bands on the NME’s C86 cassette.

The fresh-faced charm of the music was reflected in a charity shop-bought style that seemed raided from the band’s childhood wardrobes: anoraks, duffel coats, cardigans, v-neck jumpers, floral dresses, stripey t-shirts, sandals, and plimsolls. At the noisier end of the Indie spectrum where bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain lived the look was slightly more Velvet Underground, but generally the aesthetic was more Ladybird Books than CBGB’s, with a lot of Jean Seberg in Breathless thrown in for the girls.

I was never a full-blown Indie Kid myself, but in the early 80s I did have an anorak and wore those blue deck shoes from Millet’s that were all the rage for a while. At the time I was going out with a girl who dressed exactly like the one in the photo above (except her hair was a peroxide flat-top) whose best mate Eithne was even more Indie-stylish and later made the step from fan to starlet when she joined Twee popsters Talulah Gosh (she’s playing the tambourine in this video). We went to see her play live with them one night and backstage after the show I was amused to see Eithne and Amelia Fletcher surrounded by earnestly shy boys who obviously had major crushes on them. First time I’ve ever seen groupies wearing anoraks, though they were probably offering them mixtapes, not sex and drugs.

Though it’s easy to mock the music and the fashion as “Twee” – and a lot of it was a bit too wet and mopey for me — the Indie scene of the 80s was carrying on the DIY philosophy of Punk at a time when most pop music (and its accompanying fashions and videos) was very polished and materialistic, so in a way they were being quietly radical. Very quietly — while wearing anoraks.

Download: Velocity Girl – Primal Scream (mp3)
Download: Beatnik Boy – Talulah Gosh (mp3)

New Monday

Amber Arcades is the musical handle of Dutch singer-songwriter Annelotte de Graaf who, in a previous life, was an aide at a United Nations war crimes tribunal. Her second album European Heartbreak is a concept album of sorts about the current situation in Europe – Brexit, far-Right politicians, immigration etc. If that all sounds deathly dull it’s not, instead it’s a warm, beautiful (if sad) record full of lovely and lush indiepop that reminds me of Camera Obscura and Saint Etienne. Highly recommended.

Something for the Weekend

On the surface “It’s A Fine Day” seems like twee English whimsy but there’s a sad subtext to it which the beautiful video makes more apparent. This has all the yearning heartbreak of a Brief Encounter condensed into three minutes.

The song was written by poet/musician Edward Barton and, sung by his girlfriend Jane, became a hit on the indie charts in 1983. A Rave-y dance version by Opus III was a much bigger hit in 1992.

New Monday

So nice to have The Clientele back after a seven year break since their last album. What’s even nicer is their new album Music For The Age of Miracles is one of their best and reminds me a lot of the woozy fogginess of their earlier records.

Given the rainy-day-in-London nature of their records I was always surprised that they seemed better known in America than back home. But since they’ve been away their tiny cult seems to have grown. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Punk It Up and Start Again

Orange Juice always claimed they wanted to be pop stars — one of the reasons they moved from Postcard to Polydor — but they were too spiky and independent to turn into Haircut 100. One of the times I saw them live Edwyn Collins jokingly introduced “Rip It Up” as “Our one-hit wonder”. Another time he announced it as the next number, the crowd cheered loudly, and they proceeded to play another song instead. So I’m guessing he was ambivalent about it, though I’m sure the money was nice.

So it seems typically perverse for them to put out a 12″ edition of their big hit that didn’t play up the more commercial, dancey aspects of the song (like the Chic-inspired beat) or wasn’t even the extended version from the album. Instead they offered up the “Punk Club Version” which is rougher than the original and a little like how it might sound if they were still on Postcard records. Those bloody Bolshie Glaswegians.

Download: Rip It Up (Punk Club Version) – Orange Juice (mp3)

She’s So Modern

Posting the Sheena Easton video on Friday reminded me that Scottish indie-poppers Camera Obscura did a wonderful cover of “Modern Girl” in 2006.

When trendy indie bands do covers of uncool pop songs like this they usually stink of smug irony, but this one sounds genuinely loving and the song doesn’t seem out of place done in this style.

Download: Modern Girl – Camera Obscura (mp3)