Retrospective Musical Naval Gazing – #1 (1991)

The recent rundown of the best tracks of the year has sent me into some sort of musical nostalgic revelry.  I have for the past month or so been compiling list of playlist of my favourite tracks from every year since 1991.  These may or may not turn into some sort of series over the coming months but until then, over the next few weeks I will present five or six tracks one from each year 1991 to 2021 of the songs that made my end of year top tens.

Let’s start with music that is now well over thirty years old, and if that doesn’t make at least one of you feel utterly ancient then I’m going to give up and go and live out my days in a comfy home and watch daytime telly.

1991 was a landmark year for me, for a start it was the year that I became a proper music aficionado.  It was the year I started going to gigs with mates and the year that I kind of threw off the shackles of childhood and starting investigating girls, cigarettes, alcohol and staying out later that ten pm. It saw, according to last three pages of my old CDT text book, brilliant life changing music releases from Nirvana, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, Leatherface, The Wonderstuff and the KLF but the track that topped my singles of the year list was this: –

Pearl – Chapterhouse (1991, Dedicated Records, Taken from ‘Whirlpool’)

Which is still sounds brilliant today.  The drum sample, the whispered vocals, the feedback laden guitars, everything.  In the summer of 1991, shoegaze sounded fresher and more exciting than pretty much anything that I had listened to before.  That was of course until the Reading Festival when Nirvana arrived on a Friday afternoon played before Chapterhouse and killed the scene dead.

Nirvana featured in the Top Ten as well, with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ being placed quite low at Number Seven.

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana  (1991, Geffen Records, Taken from ‘Nevermind’)

At number two in my rundown that year was this:-

The Concept – Teenage Fanclub (1991, Creation Records, Taken from ‘Bandwagonesque’)

It was the brilliant run of singles lifted from ‘Bandwagonesque’ that made me start to enforce the One Song per Band rule, because below ‘The Concept’ at Number five was ‘Starsign’ such was the draw of ‘Bandwagonesque’ at the time.

Elsewhere in the Top Ten at Number Three and Nine respectively were these two blasts of indie pop marvellousness.

Size of A Cow – The Wonderstuff (1991, Polydor Records, Taken from ‘Never Loved Elvis’) – I listened to ‘Never Loved Elvis’ again the other day and I’d forgotten just how must reliance there was on fiddles and mandolins running through it.

After the Watershed – Carter USM (1991, Rough Trade Records, Single) – Of course, Carter USM would be catapulted into musical history a few weeks later when live on TV at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party, Fruitbat would suddenly fly through the air and rugby tackle a clearly baffled Philip Schofield to the floor.

League Two Music – #6 – Walsall

Welcome to the Cheap Seats – The Wonderstuff (1991, Polydor Records, Taken from ‘Never Loved Elvis’)

The cover of the 7 inch version of ‘Welcome to the Cheap Seats’ by the Wonderstuff (who were actually from nearby Stourbridge) features a crowd at the opening gig of their ‘Sharing the Love’ tour. In the bottom right hand side of that picture, you can just about see a 16 year old me straining my neck to see the band on the stage.  That picture was taken at the Bescot Stadium, the home ground of Walsall football club. 

The stadium was not quite a year old at the time (having been opened by a 75 year old Stanley Matthews around 10 months earlier), Walsall moved into the purpose built ground in 1990, with their chairman promising at the time that the new stadium would lead to the club to more success.  Walsall were in the old fourth division at the time, but the optimism was catching and as the near series rolled around Walsall were amongst the favourites.  For fans the optimism was also high, until roughly two minutes into their first competitive game at the stadium, when their defender Matt Bryant spectacularly sliced the ball into his own net.

Walsall have spent most of the last twenty years as something of a yoyo team, flipping from the championship to league one.  However in 2019, they dropped back into footballs basement and that is where they remain.  Last season the club flirted dangerously with the relegation places but seemed to have stabilised this season under the managerial prowess of Michael Flynn.

In 1989 I saw Walsall play out a fantastic 3 all draw with Gillingham.  Walsall were 3 – 1 up at half time and the Gills were booed off.  In the second half Gillingham rallied and with about four minutes to go a defender called Tim O’Shea volleyed an equaliser from around 30 yards into the top corner.  It remains the greatest goal I have ever seen scored at Priestfield stadium (and judging by the way they are playing at the moment, it will stay that way for about 40 years) and one of only two he scored for the club.

Musically, the drum n bass pioneer Goldie was born in Walsall, in 1995, he released his groundbreakingly excellent track ‘Inner city Life’. The album version rocks in at over twenty minutes, so be content with the single version.

Inner City Life – Goldie (1995, FFRR Records, Taken from ‘Timeless’)

 Elsewhere, Walsall most famous son is Noddy Holder from Slade and seeing as we are a gnats crotchet away from Christmas, we’d better have a bit of this

Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade (1980, Polydor Records, Taken from ‘Slade Smashes’)

Also from Walsall is Jorja Smith, who wasn’t even born when the Wonderstuff played at the Bescot stadium, she announced her arrival on the pop world in 2016 with ‘Blue Lights’

Blue Lights – Jorja Smith (2016, FAMM Records, Taken from ‘Lost & Found’)

All of which screaming and top hat foolery leads to this weeks previously unheard of band who are The Assists, a band who according to their press have been around since 2014 but only released their debut album ‘Council Pop’ earlier this year.  The lead single from that was ‘Irrational Movements’.

Irrational Movements – The Assist (2022, Self Released)

A Short Series About Shapes – #2 – Square

Mekrev Bass – Squarepusher (2020, Warp Records, Taken from ‘Be Up A Hello’)

At roughly 5pm on August 20th 2022, I had a mild middle aged episode.   Thankfully I don’t think anyone noticed.  It happened inside a huge tent in East London and I was surrounded by about 5000 people.  There I was happily swaying in the throng to the excellent freestyle jazz techno that was frankly mutilating my ears courtesy of Squarepusher, I had a pint of beer in one hand (beer incidentally made from leftover bread), a free baseball cap from the lovely people at Firestone plonked awkwardly on my head and I was perfectly happy.  

The Coathanger – Squarepusher (2008, Warp Records, Taken from ‘Just A Souvenir’)

Then it happened, the music got a bit intense (well ok it got very intense), the beat got faster, the noise more pulsating, the strobe got quicker and pretty relentless, and it was no longer comfortable.  My ears had given up listening and were now going in to shut down mode.  They were just trying to stay functioning, my legs had stopped tapping the ground in time to the music because, well they can’t tap that fast.  The show was fast becoming the music equivalent of standing next to a jet engine whilst someone revved the throttle to an annoying level.  I looked around, crowds of young and beautiful people were having fun and I suddenly felt very old.  It might have been the way the lights were flashing or the way that one of the keyboards had been constantly beeping or the way that Squarepusher’s drum machine sounded like not only was it broken but someone was hammering it with a spanner whilst in was still switched on and turned up to full volume so that it clanged and clunked like an exhaust hanging off an old Cortina. 

Right then three things dawned on me – firstly I am way too old for raves (incidentally Tom Jenkinson, who is Squarepusher, is five months older than me),  secondly even if I was younger than I am, mid afternoon inside a massive tent on one of the hottest Saturdays in decades is no place to watch Squarepusher literally break the capabilities of a drum machine on stage (that would be 2am inside a club that has been set up in an old warehouse) – and thirdly, I am really hungry and that Indonesian Curry Shack around the corner looks really inviting all of a sudden. 

There is a tap on my shoulder, my mate who is standing next me – a mate who just for the record is much younger than me – shows me his phone – he has typed a message because it is way too loud to even consider speaking “This is too much, shall we go and get a pint”.  I manage a nod, relieved that I wasn’t the only one that was thinking this.

Although for entirely different reasons, Squarepusher, join an elite club of acts whose gigs I have left early.  The others were all because the bands were dogshite.  At the Reading Festival in 1996, I left the Stone Roses headline show four songs in.  Aziz Ibrahim’s request that we all “Put Our Hands In the Air” being the last straw of what was an awful spectacle of terribleness.   A few months earlier, I walked out of a gig by the cod reggae act Emperor Sly at the Students Union in Surrey University.  I lasted two songs, and despite being told to attend and review said gig it was awful beyond comparison and my (unpublished) review just read “I walked out after two songs because it was shite”.

The last gig I walked out of was in 2014 at the Plymouth Pavilions, the band were Palma Violets and they were supporting The Vaccines.  I walked out when they unveiled their Christmas single, which not only ruined Christmas for me a full ten days before Christmas actually begun, but several future Christmases as well.  I retreated to the bar and sat in a comfy bucket seat drinking watered down Pepsi and read an interview with Peter Andre in a free magazine, which despite being blander than a shopping spree in Debenhams was still more entertaining than the Christmas single by the Palma Violets.

Here are two songs which have the word ‘Square’ in the title.

Square 1 – Lxury featuring Deptford Goth (2015, Greco-Roman Records, Taken from ‘Into the Everywhere’)

And a track that segues us nicely into next week’s (probably final) instalment of this short series,

Circlesquare – The Wonderstuff (1989, Far Out Recordings, Taken from ‘Hup 21st Anniversary Edition’).

The Sunday Shuffle #22

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes (2011, Sub Pop Records)

For today’s randomly shuffled track I took myself and the iPod into the garden. I decided that the herb patch at the back of the garden needed tidying up. It had become a massive jumble of weeds, young stinging nettles, old mint plants and deep underneath all that some fresh strawberry plants which need air free space to prosper. I looked at my old gardening gloves, they were not going to protect me from the stinging nettles – so for laughs I decided that the song playing at the time that I received my first nettle sting would be todays randomly chosen track.

The gloves did rather well as it happens, it was eight songs in, when I uttered a word more suitable for tomorrow’s series followed by a more refined exclaim of ‘bastard’. The song that was playing was the title track from the second album from Seattle alt country indie folksters Fleet Foxes. Its a record that I know very little about and additionally its a record that I have barely played in the ten or so years that I have owned it. It sounds a lot like in parts the works of Crosby, Stills and Nash according to the reviews. The NME hated it and called it ‘Canoe Music’, which is actually rather witty for the NME. The BBC on the other hand loved it, calling it a thing of beauty. So there we go.

Oh two tracks that survived the stinging nettle test

Welcome to the Cheap Seats – The Wonderstuff (1991, Polydor Records)

Compute – Soulwax (2004, PIAS Records)