For people of a certain age, the mention of Pop music and Liverpool immediately brings thoughts of Merseybeat and The Cavern. For many of my own generation however, it’s a different set of names and sounds altogether. It’s all about The Teardrop Explodes, The Mighty WAH!, Echo and The Bunnymen and Erics. Balfe and Drummond weaving their magic in the Zoo. Big In Japan, and the shores of Lake Placcid. Pete Burns. A multitude of Scouse myths and legends.
For so many of that generation too, there is one record they will point to as the pinnacle of those heady times. ‘The Revolutionary Spirit’. Wild Swans. So aptly named.
Wild Swans are rightly one of those most treasured of groups. For ‘The Revolutionary Spirit’ of course, but also for so much more. If you are in any doubt, check the Incandescent and Magnitude collections. Peerless. Magnitude in particular has thrilled me in recent times. For some reason I had been flippantly dismissive of their Bringing Home The Ashes set of 1988. Compared to so much of what I was listening to at that time it seemed full of bluster and shiny production values. I was deaf to the beauty of the record. Such shortsighted madness. These days, I am pleased to say I play Bringing Home The Ashes and am utterly seduced. I wonder how on earth it could been different.
Of course exploring the past is all very well, but what about now? When I was still doing my Unpopular label a few years ago there was some vague talk of doing a solo Paul Simpson 7”. I wish we had pursued that idea. It would have been amazing. ‘Decomposing’ was a song we were looking at. Listening to it again this morning it still thrills and chills me in equal measures.
Thankfully others have stepped up to the plate for some Wild Swans output. Specifically the very fine people at the Occultation label, who are soon to ship a very limited edition 10” with two brand new Wild Swans recordings. Both songs of course are essential listening. ‘The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years’ is seven and a half minutes of beauty, with Paul Simpson reading a poignant memoir of his time sharing a flat with the equally prodigiously talented Pete De Freitas. For a glimpse into the reality of living in early ‘80s Britain under Thatcher’s thumb, it’s a perfect, priceless and bittersweet Polaroid. ‘English Electric Lightning’ meanwhile is a glorious requiem for a ‘lost’ England; a list song full of such evocative references both positive and negative. In many ways it’s doing the same as Ray Davies once did in painting an image of a mediated and illusory England, and although it’s coming in an opposite tangent, it’s like some strange brethren to ‘Village Green Preservation Society’. It says all the things that Davies leaves unmentioned in his song: the Sun reporters and pools of vomit; the thousand burning Ford Sierras. I’ve been playing the song for some weeks now, and it’s already etched deep in my mind.
Of course it’s not all just about Paul Simpson. For on this new record the Wild Swans line-up is a classic one, thanks in no small part to the return of Ged Quinn. Also playing on the record are Ricky Maymi from the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Mike Mooney (Cope/Spiritualized/etc.) and drummer Steve Beswick. They do make a ravishing sound. You may of course know that Quinn is these days much better known as a painter, and he also provides the artwork for the record. I’ve yet to actually hold a copy in my clammy hands, but it looks beautiful in the photograph. And 10” is perhaps my favourite format ever.
Occultation is not just about Wild Swans, however, and a second 10” is being released at the same time by The Granite Shore. Again, the cover detail is by Ged Quinn, so it looks as beautiful as it sounds. And yes, it does sound beautiful. ‘Tomorrow Morning, 3 a.m.’ is a six plus minute masterpiece that reminds me somewhat of early to mid period Gravenhurst, or of Animals That Swim at their downbeat stripped back finest. Paul Simpson once said of Wild Swans that “if we sounded like doomed romantics, that’s because we were”. There’s something of that in The Granite Shore too, although like Wild Swans, it’s a doomed romance that swells with a brittle strength and quiet pride.
And indeed, the more I listen to ‘Tomorrow Morning, 3 a.m.’ the more convinced I am by its breathtaking scope and ambition. If this, and ‘English Electric Lightning’ are not in my end of year list of ‘songs of 2009’ then you have my permission to call me an ignorant old sod with the memory of a flea.
The Wild Swans 10” is a limited edition of 900 signed copies. The Granite Shore 10” is in an edition of 700. Both are available to pre-order now at the Occultation shop. You can buy both records for twelve quid, which seems to me to be the bargain of the year. Act fast though, because they are sure to sell out very quickly indeed.