Alpaca Sports remain one of my very favourite Pop groups of recent years and their new ‘When You Need Me The Most’ EP does little to change that fact. There is even a 10” vinyl version, which is to say my very favourite format. Songs like the string-laden stroll along the beach ‘When I Hold You’ or the bubbling, brilliantine title cut sparkle with fairy dust and are as special as anything oldsters like me might cherish on a single with cherries on the label. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forevermore: Alpaca Sports are April Showers for these times and there are few things that can be said that carry more import.
There’s a ‘but’ lingering here, however, for lead off track ‘Just Like Them’ does manage to frustrate almost as much as it delights me. Musically it is a delicious truffle of a track, all hip-slapping handclaps, bouncing baby-blue drums and crystalline guitar lines. It pauses in just the right ways, flutters its eyelashes and spins off into spirals of bubblegum delirium. Lyrically, however, it leaves me with a furrowed brow. For as much as I attempt to convince myself that in theory it is a song about the abstract nature of age, change and disappointment, I can’t escape those very real lines about shiny hair and fancy cars and can’t help but think… "yeah, you know what, when you’re young the idea of cherishing such things can seem to be so very repellent and such a clear signifier of All That’s Wrong With The World. But really? Really?"
I’ve fallen into the trap myself. Of course I have. If I were to read my fanzines from my younger years I would no doubt wince at my vitriolic diatribes against peers who end up talking about mortgages and cars and whatnot. And whilst talking about those things might still seem terminally dull some thirty years later, I’m no longer foolish enough to think that this makes one The Enemy. Or means that they/I have Sold Out. It just means they/I grew up. And that’s fine. That’s to be expected. Even, perhaps, applauded. There is so much we never know about people, after all.
Besides which, talking about records can be every bit as terminally dull. As I am no doubt proving here.
I’m also acutely aware of the fact that, because Alpaca Sports are still delectably young, it would be a crushing disappointment if they were not to feel like this. And there’s the rub. Pop isn’t meant to be reasonable. Pop isn't meant to be multi-dimensional and immeasurably nuanced. It is meant to drill down to the lowest common denominator and express a simple idea in a straightforward way.
Which just goes to prove how right and wrong both I, and Alpaca Sports can be in the same thrilled and precious breath. It’s what makes Alpaca Sports at least so special. It’s why they remain one of my very favourite Pop groups of recent years. Which is where, I believe, we came in.
September Skies - The Apartments from 'No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal' LP. Bandcamp) We Were Meant 2 B - Princess Chelsea (from 'The Great Cybernetic Depression' LP. Bandcamp. YouTube) What You Won't Do For Love - Junior Boys (soundcloud) Gamlestan - The Honeydrips (digital single. Bandcamp) Move On - Totally Mild (from 'Down Time' LP. Bandcamp) Golden (demo) - MERCURY GIRLS (from 'demos'. Bandcamp) Stranger - Hans Pucket (digital single. Bandcamp) John - Thee AHs (from 'Names' LP. Bandcamp) Trouble in Paradise - Tele Novella (digital single. Bandcamp) I don't wanna - Candelaria Varela (from 'Confesiones de un sábado a la noche' EP. Bandcamp) When You Were Mine - The Flatmates (from 7" single. Bandcamp) Sleep Talk - Diet Cig (from 7" single. Bandcamp) As Time Rolls By - Paul Messis (from 7" single. Bandcamp) Another Saturday - Kip McGrath (from 'Kip McGrath' EP. Bandcamp) P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. P.I.E.R.R.E - Hooton Tennis Club (from ' The Highest Point In Cliff Town' LP. soundcloud) Without You - The Wrong Society (from 7" single. Bandcamp) Why - Restless Hearts (from 'Restless Hearts' LP. Bandcamp) Me And The Stars And The Sea - Brideshead (from 'Never Grow Up' LP. Bandcamp) Departures - Owl & Mouse (from 'Departures' LP. Bandcamp. YouTube)) Hounslow Solicitors (Acoustic Mix) - The Bitter Springs (from 'Cuttlefish and Love's Remains' LP)
Fear - The Sun Days (from 'Album' LP. Bandcamp) Rest & Be Thankful - Linden (from 'Rest And be Thankful' LP. YouTube) Get Away From Me Right Now - Flemmings (from 'Shake Well Before Use' EP. Bandcamp) Champion Fullback - Teaser Pony (from 'Teaser Pony' EP. Bandcamp) Kathleen Sat on the Arm of Her Favourite Chair - Hooton Tennis Club (from 7" and digital single) I Can’t Wait - Dean Wareham (from 'Luna Demos 1991'. Bandcamp) Overgrow - Talking Bush (from 'Ordinary Unusual' EP. Shelflife. YouTube) Swallow - A Riot of Colour (from 'Everywhere A Maltby' retrospective. Soundcloud) Wheezer - Tigercats (from 'Indietracks 2015' compilation. Bandcamp) It’s Not Yourself But It’s Future - Hedgehog (from 'Neurons' LP. Bandcamp) Hippies - Drug Train (from 'Free Hippy' EP. Bandcamp) Hey Rusty - Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (from 'Mainstream' LP) Kimberley - Clinic (from 'Clinic' LP YouTube) Memory - Death Masks (from 'Queen's Language' EP. Bandcamp) Weakdays - Gurgles (from 'Gurglefirst' LP. Bandcamp) Atlantic City - Allo Darlin’ (from 'Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool' LP. Bandcamp) Basic Economics - Owl and Mouse (from 'Departures' LP. Bandcamp) Resilience - Two White Cranes (from 'Radisson Blue' LP. Bandcamp) Atlasmuren - Azure Blue (from 'Beneath The Hill I Smell The Sea' LP. Bandcamp) Closing Time at the Punk Rock Hotel - Edwin Collins, Carwyn Ellis, Sebastian Lewsley (from 'The Possibilities Are Endless' soundtrack LP)
Summer is coming on and I feel it <Hope you feel it too by using those words as a download link to the whole mix. Grab it quick before it fades.
Statues And Snowmen - Storm the Palace (from 'In Ruins' EP. Bandcamp. YouTube) Sleeping in the Backseat - Tigercats (7" single and from 'Mysteries' LP. YouTube) Ice Pop - Sacred Paws (from '6 Songs' EP) Jonna - WESTKUST (from 'Last Forever' LP. Bandcamp) Waiting For the Summer - Winter (from 'Supreme Blue Dream' LP. Bandcamp) Caleno - Port Sulphur (digital single. Bandcamp) Blood Capsules - The Mountain Goats (YouTube) The Art of Getting By (Song For Heaven's Gate) - The Go! Team (from 'The Scene Between' LP. YouTube) Under The Sun - Alcatraz Electro & Bentcousin (digital single. Bandcamp) Candy - Knickers (from 'Candy' EP. Bandcamp) Be Kind To My Love - World Of Fox with Amelia Fletcher (from WIAIWYA 7" single. Bandcamp) The Piano Factory - Rotifer (from 'The Piano Factory' single. Bandcamp) Through A Keyhole - The Left Outsides (from 'The Shape Of Things To Come' LP. Bandcamp) Shadow And Shape - Death and Vanilla (from 'To Where The Wild Things Are' LP. Bandcamp) Dear ____ - Death And The Maiden (from 'Death And The Maiden' LP. Bandcamp) Wake Up With Bruises - Instant Fantasy (from 'The Wet' EP. Bandcamp) Yawn - The Orchids (available on 'Lyceum + Singles' LP) The Pattern Room - Lightning In A Twilight Hour (from 'Fragments of a Former Moon' LP. Bandcamp) Let Me Drown - The Death of Pop (from 'Runts' LP. Bandcamp) I Am A Rock - Skytone (YouTube) Girl At The Bus Stop - The Yellow Melodies (from 'The Yellow Melodies Tribute To The BMX Bandits' EP. Bandcamp) Rosemary Ledingham - BMX Bandits (from 'Censorship Sucks' LP. YouTube)
You know how it goes...<use the download link and sing along
Junior Champion - Tigercats (from 'Mysteries' LP) They Look At Us - The Honeydrips (from 'In The City' LP. Bandcamp) That's So Good - North Highlands (from 'North Highlands' LP. Bandcamp) Hit The Ground Running - Gill Sandell & Chris T-T (from 'Walk Away, Walk Away' LP. Bandcamp) Tourism Fiction - FEATURE (from 'Tourists' EP. Bandcamp) Two Birds - Belle & Sebastian (from 'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance' deluxe LP) Clubs In Europe Forever - The Ropes (from 'Do We Get A Soundcheck? No? Good' LP. Bandcamp) Homeless Club Kids Vs Future Bible Heroes - My Favorite (from 'The Happiest Days Of Our Lives' LP. YouTube) Melancholia - Embedded Figures (from '(fig 1)' LP. Bandcamp) Sputnik - Public Service Broadcasting (from 'The Race For Space' LP) Dogs in the Sky - Testbild! (from 'Belka and Strelka' LP. Bandcamp) Up A Tree Again - Looper (from 'Up a Tree;' LP. YouTube) Talking to Anthony - Snails (7" single. Bandcamp) Backstage at the Ballroom - The Granite Shore (from the forthcoming 'Once More From The Top' LP. YouTube) Charlie - Emma Kupa (from 'Home Cinema' 10". Bandcamp) Joe Hill - Phil Ochs (available on 'An Introduction To Phil Ochs' LP. Live version on YouTube) the Message of the March Wind - Darren Hayman (from 'Chants For Socialists' LP. Bandcamp) Gulls Hovering - Ralegh Long (from 'Hoverance' LP. Bandcamp)
Brogues rightly picked up on Le Thug just before the Christmas break. For some reason it slipped right past me at the time of posting and I am glad that he nudged my elbow about it last weekend. The gorgeous ‘Paints’ is every bit as special as Brogues suggests and certainly marks a step up in gear from what has gone before. For whilst the debut ‘Ripping’ EP was in places really rather lovely (the opening ‘Tenerife’ and the closing ‘Of Europe (Arc 1993)’ were my particular favourites) it was nevertheless inescapably derivative of My Bloody Valentine circa ‘Glider’ and into ‘Loveless’. Nothing wrong with that of course, and as far as facsimiles go then ‘Ripping’ is right up there. But ‘Paints’ shows Le Thug stepping up, up and away from those blueprints and into the kind of territory that groups like Seefeel, Laika or Mouse On Mars escaped to in the ‘90s. Heady atmospheres indeed.
As Brogues also mentions, ‘Paints’ is no longer available to stream on their Bandcamp page, but should see the light of day very soon on a new EP for Song By Toad records. ‘Basketball Land’ from the same EP is available on the free ‘Magic Beanz’ label sampler now.
This is the closest to a promise I can make< It's not much, but at least you can click the words and download the mix
Skullface - The Wolfhounds (from 'Middle Aged Freaks' LP. pre-order on Bandcamp. YouTube) We Had Museums - No Museums (from 'I Was A Worker and Now I'm Old'. Bandcamp) lost thoughts - cre•scen•do (digital single. Bandcamp) 30 Year Old Teenager - Tyrannosaurus Dead (from 'Flying Ant Day' LP. Pre-order on Bandcamp) A Pleasant Evening - lispector (from ‘Libérations Sentimentales' Split EP. Bandcamp)) Release From the Centre of Your Heart - Laetitia Sadier (from 'Something Shines' LP. YouTube) Monsters - Chaos Chaos (from 'Committed To The Crime' EP. Bandcamp) Like you - School (digital single. Bandcamp) everyday - two white cranes (from 'twowhitecranes' LP. Bandcamp) The Myth Of The North-South Divide - McCarthy (slow version from 'Lie To Me' compilation) Just A Working Girl - Moonshake (from 'The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow' LP. YouTube) Ilka Moor - John MOuse (digital single. Bandcamp) Hold Your Hand Out To The Sun - Slow Motion Rider (from 'Slow Motion Rider' LP. YouTube) Death and Weirdness in the Surfing Zone - Snapper (from 'Snapper' EP. YouTube) Can't Stop Thinking About You - Slushy (from 'Nuggish' LP. No longer available...) The Lonely LP - The Vaselines from 'V For Vaselines' LP) Art Imitating Life - Sea Pinks (from 'Dreaming Tracks' LP. Bandcamp) Second Empire - My Favorite (from 7" picture disc. Bandcamp) The Thrill Of The New - St Christopher (from 'Forevermore Starts Here - The Anthology 1984-2010') Fall - Souvenir Stand (from 'Surprise' 7". Bandcamp) Stumble - J Mascis (from 'Tied To A Star' LP. YouTube) Come Back To Me - Big Country (from 'Steeltown' LP.) So Silly Now - Rotifer (from 'The Cavalry Never Showed Up' LP. YouTube)
The beautiful 'Invisible Box' edition of the reissued 'Pauline Murray And The Invisble Girls' album arrived today. It looks every bit as wonderful as it sounds (and I couldn't resist adding my own original copy to the photo...). It reminds me that it is almost exactly six years since I wrote about the record for my 'Don't Forget To Dance' fanzine so it seemed an opportune moment to publish those words here. You can download a PDF of the whole fanzine here if you are so inclined, whilst you can order the Pauline Murray record here.
Searching For Heaven (from 'Don't Forget To Dance' fanzine.2008)
When I was fifteen my friend Scott and I used to ride our bikes the seven and a half miles into Ayr every Saturday morning. We’d lock our bikes up behind Alan McGibbon’s cycle shop, pop our heads in to say hello and drool over the Campag gear, then head up Sandgate. We had a route. The usual stops. I barely remember them now. Halfords to laugh at the crappy bikes. A bakery for a pie. John Menzies to play on the ZX Spectrums and to idly flick through the records.
I did not really have a clue about music when I was fifteen. I liked The Jam, but so did a lot of people. I remember my brother sitting in our dad’s armchair by the stereo, headphones plugged in and listening to ‘Setting Sons’ and ‘Sound Affects’ over and over. The few records we had were secret treasures, obsessed over for weeks. Months.
I did not listen to Peel. If I listened to the radio at all it was to Kid Jenson, or Mike Read on the evening show. Mark Goodier or Billy Sloan on Radio Clyde. Or was that BBC Radio Scotland? The disco show on Radio 1 sometimes too. The punks would have sneered, but what did I care? Chic and Sister Sledge sounded better than 999.
Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls. That was a name I knew, oddly enough. I did not know about Penetration then though. Nor did I know that Pauline Murray was from Birmingham. The only group I knew from Birmingham was The Photos. One of my first loves. Again, people would sneer, but I loved The Photos. Wendy Wu. Who didn’t love Wendy Wu? And actually the only reason I knew that The Photos were from Birmingham was that they sang about Barbarellas and Maxine with her panda eyes looking sublime. Anarchy in Birmingham doing fine. And The Photos album was the first proper album I bought. Malcolm Garrett with a hand in the sleeve. The Blackmail Tapes as a limited edition bonus disc. So much fun it was obscene.
I loved Pauline Murray too. Every week I would pick up the Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls album and gaze at that sleeve. Now I was not really aware of the Factory thing at the time but I knew I loved that album cover. Trevor Key and Peter Saville. But the only song I had heard by Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls was not listed on that record, which is one reason I did not buy it for several months. That and the fact that all my pocket money was going on bike stuff.
‘Searching For Heaven’ had been on the radio and I loved it to bits. It sounded like it ought to. Don’t all the best songs? It was only years later that I tracked down a copy. I think I paid 50p. What a find. It appeared on a CD reissue of the Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls album many years after that, but that CD is as ludicrously rare as the original record now. You will pay upwards of twenty quid for a copy of the reissue on Amazon.
I am not sure how much I paid for the album in 1981. It probably was not a great deal more than a pound or two. One of the best investments I ever made. I would never sell it though. No collector would want it anyway because it is bent and battered, the way well loved records should be.
‘Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls’ was a great record. It was ahead of its time. Several people have said that of it recent years, and it is true. But then Martin Hannett was always a strange maverick out there in his own universe. It is part of the mythology of Manchester now, isn’t it? The Martin Hannett story. The Joy Division and Factory films, with Hannett appearing as some crazed, troubled genius. Whatever.
Hannett was a key part of The Invisible Girls, along with Steve Hopkins. When they backed John Cooper Clarke on his early albums The Invisible Girls would include luminaries like Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks and Bill Nelson of Be-Bop Deluxe fame. On the Pauline Murray records Hannett and Hopkins were joined by the likes of Robert Blamire, John Maher and Vini Reilly. I did not know those names at the time, but just listing them now has my mouth hanging open. What a collection. The links to Buzzcocks, Penetration, Durutti Column, Scars. The links are there to be followed. So many stories to be told. Blamire in Pentration with Murray, and the producer behind Scars seminal Pop masterpiece ‘Author! Author!’ Maher as drummer in Buzzcocks, as vital a part of their punk fuzz buzz as any. Reilly, as well, Vini Reilly. What else?
There is a story to be told too about the guitarist on ‘Searching For Heaven’. One Wayne Hussey, later of Goth unpleasantness The Mission. But it’s certainly a story to conveniently forget.
‘Searching For Heaven’ may not have been on the album, but from the off there were other songs on there that cut me just as beautifully. Songs that cascaded through my mind and that soundtracked so many evenings spent window gazing, dreaming of escapes. Electrical rhythms counting out sheep as I waited for another morning and the walk with the purple tide over the golf courses to school. Somebody wake me before I go to sleep. Songs that slipped into my consciousness and accompanied me on rides to Dalry or Largs or The Nick’O’Balloch or wherever. Nowhere and anywhere. Time slipping. Time sliding. A sound that was metallic, like the click of the chain through the derailleur. Spooked warmth. Cold steel cacophony underpinned by a hint of red light. Ghosts of somewhere. Light slicing in the darkness, like the beams across Pauline on the fractured sleeve. Was this post-punk? Probably. But then the fools in the playground told you Punk wasn’t dead. They painted that on the bridge by the council flats. Twenty-five years later you could just about still read it. But what did they know anyway?
And twenty-eight years later, Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls still sounds like a glorious record, much further ahead than many of others of the time. Then or now. And you know, even though I have not played it for several years, I know every little nuance of every song. Every rhythm. Every guitar shimmer. Every luscious tremble and strain in Pauline’s voice. There are too few recent records I could say the same thing about. Perhaps that first Brakes album or Gravenhurst. Playwrights possibly. The Clientele certainly. And yet…
It’s not the same. Something in me says it should not be. Could not be. And nothing wrong with that. Nothing to do with how great something is, or its place in the strange strand of history except the place it holds in one’s own personal timeline.
Of course I am no longer fifteen. Am so glad not to be so. Remember what Richard Hell said about all the bullshit of adolescence, after all. But I hope the fundamental essence of being fifteen is the same as it ever was and that the same spirit of obsession remains, regardless of the enormous wealth of possibilities and ease of access that exists these days. I do hope that somewhere some fifteen year old may be blissfully unaware of Pauline Murray but is immersed completely and utterly in whoever they have just discovered. I hope someone is spending hours in whatever is today’s equivalent of sitting in dad’s armchair plugged into the only record player; is hitting ‘repeat’ on the CD player or iTunes playlist, oblivious to all else. The way it should be.