13. THE WOODENTOPS – LIVE HYPNOBEAT LIVE (1987)

Indie / Alternative, Post-Punk

Sandwiched between their two studio albums, Live Hypnobeat Live is The Woodentops in peak form, recorded live at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles. Drawn mostly from their first album and a couple of early singles, here the band take them at break-neck speed, one song blurring into another over a relentless groove. Stripped of the marimba, accordian, trumpet, strings etc that filled in the spaces on debut LP Giant, this is how these songs were meant to sound. But rather than pulverise you, it is a sound that just makes you want to move. Everything revolves around the highly caffeinated bass playing of Frank De Frietas which barely lets up from beginning to end. With the bass carrying the rhythm, this allows drummer Benny Staples to play rather than just hit the drums.

Well Well Well kicks things off with mainman Rolo McGintys frantically scrubbed acoustic guitar, the band builds the song through a series of crescendos punctuated by feedbacking electric guitar. Then we’re straight into Love Train, guitarist Simon Mawby tearing it up like Cliff Gallup on the early Gene Vincent records. Both Mawby and keyboard player Alice Thompson are great throughout, leaving space if necessary, every contribution elevating the sound. As Travelling Man turns into Get It On Rolo announces “Yeah were off now”. There’s no turning back now. Like James Browns first Live at The Apollo LP it is clear there is going to be no let up.

Good Thing (one of the most perfect pop singles of the eighties) provides something of a breather, until it too builds to an incredible climax, Rolo preaching now “Rave ON, Rave ON!” complete with heavenly na-na-nahs and a surging key change. Everything Breaks and Move Me bring this breathless album to a close too quickly, and the only option is to play it just one more time.

The Woodentops were a band that should have thrived during the Indie-Dance years that were just around the corner (Why had been an early Ibiza club hit). Unfortunately they were unable to take advantage of the shift in musical tastes that should have embraced them as much as the Happy Mondays. (TT)

12. THE DISTRACTIONS – NOBODY’S PERFECT (1980)

Post-Punk
The thrill of the chase is something that’s  been irretrievably lost in the you-want-it-we-got-it internet. My curiosity, fuelled by Paul Morley’s characteristically evangelical assertion that “their music will move you” and its number one position in an NME Manchester top 10 (yus, above NewJoyFallBuzzSmithMagColumn) drove a lengthy hunt for the Distractions’ 1979 single Time Goes By So Slow. It ended at the magnificent Realistic Records, near Glasgow’s Partick Cross, for the price of a packet of dry roasted peanuts and what emerged was a brisk yet serene, sprightly yet weary, sunny yet crushed tale of an inability to let go that topples into delusion.
It’s a recurring theme on Nobody’s Perfect – which I acquired a few months later and on which TGBSS doesn’t feature – as Leave You To Dream sees her oblivious to his attention on the warmest summer evening of the year and Stuck in A Fantasy evokes another vanished detail while describing profound obsession familiar from age to age: “On my TV when the station closes down/Your ghostly face appears to me, laughing like a clown”.
Most hauntingly and unforgettably, Looking For A Ghost is the sound of the guy who missed his chance slipping into her wedding and sitting in the back row – then staying silent as he accepts that the impediment he knows of is not reasonable but, on the contrary, completely irrational, as he’s yet again imagining she’s still with him, while Wilson and Spector conduct the choir in harmonies so dense no laser could pierce them.
If this extraordinary song ever found its way on to a film soundtrack, ubiquity would swiftly follow – though considering this would inevitably entail karaoke pummellings, tone-deaf whistled renditions and weak jokes about gaps in the lyric’s logic
(“One minute he’s saying she’s floating by my side, the next she’s encased inside my head. Eh? Make up y’mind hehehe”) I hope it never, ever happens.
Driven to Distraction was Mike Finney as he sang of heads ransacked by Cupid, in a voice which told of Saturday nights at the Wigan Casino spent trying to forget Friday nights on Deansgate. By this time there’d have been plenty of those – drummer Alec Sidebottom had late ’60s form with the Purple Gang, who gave us the recklessly twee Granny Takes A Trip, while another highlight of Nobody’s Perfect is their version of Eden Kane’s Boys Cry, where the “someone who says goodbye” in the knock-kneed period piece of the 1964 original is transformed from a soon-forgotten tryst into something bordering on bereavement.
Yet there’s real wit amid the desolation, on each side’s closer. Paracetamol Paralysis is pell-mell cautionary punk with sound medical advice on drinking while trying to fend off the flu – and it really is as innocent as that; when they say paracetamol, they mean paracetamol. That pair from Burnage might have managed to come up with this if only they’d kept trying after 1996. Then it’s all rounded off not with the desperate comfort of the penultimate Looking For A Ghost but the sub-two minute sprint of Valerie, where a palm court piano is caddishly shoved aside by a marauding tune fleeing from Pete Shelley as he tries to grab back the greatest song he never wrote. Even here there’s defeat as Finney faces up to the most pulverising blow a heart can take – “I love Valerie but Valerie loves YOU!!”
They ended up as the band that Manchester forgot and were blighted by lousy luck, signing for Factory at almost exactly the same time as Joy Division and Island at almost exactly the same time as U2. Adulation and legendary status would never be theirs but they’re back, having issued a beguiling album (End Of The Pier) and with a compilation (Parabolically Yours) poised to emerge. Maybe it’ll include their final EP, And Then There’s… which I also saw at Realistic but rashly decided to forego until I’d pounced  on Time Goes By So Slow. By then it had vanished  never to return, and it remains a stranger to YouTube to this day. Maybe  the thrill of the chase isn’t gone after all. (PG)
Girls At Our Best - Pleasure

2. GIRLS AT OUR BEST – PLEASURE (1981)

Post-Punk, Punk Rock
Pleasure- Girls At Our Best!
Considering the Jupiter-sized egos usually involved, it’s inevitable that there’s always been plenty of room for self-mythology in music. For two decades and more, it’s been an article of faith in hip-hop but can be traced at least as far back as Bo Diddley, who pulled off the remarkable trick of repeatedly deploying the third person without ever appearing deluded. The Beatles dabbled briefly but memorably in it on Glass Onion and practically every Clash album contained at least one ode to their own legend but what all these had in common was that their mythology either already existed or proved to be self-fulfilling.
This was somewhat less the case with Girls At Our Best!, whose approach appeared to be that if they didn’t mythologise themselves  nobody else would – but was more likely a satire on self-proclaimed legends who were often within their rights to bluster as they did  but could come over a bit daft at the same time.
It all began on Warm Girls, one half of their debut double A-side from 1980.  Discordant and tuneful in equal measure, and  a grotesque caricature of beauty pageants (no one would now even consider writing a line like “I love mental  children”, owing to a combination of  understandably but over-zealously heightened sensibilities and the utterly devalued, bankrupt currency of irony), it ended with a repeated refrain of the band’s  name, followed in the fade-out by a tantalising preview of the song’s sequel (and, with poignant symmetry, GAOB’s final single) Fast Boyfriends.
The other side,  Getting Nowhere Fast, is their best remembered song,  at least partly because of the Wedding Present’s cover from their single-a-month camapign of 1992, but it’s actually fairly untypical, being rawer and scruffier than the rest of their repertoire, while singer Judy Evans pretty much chants the lyric without going anywhere near the stratospheric registers which would become her trademark.
Fast Boyfriends wouldn’t emerge for another year  and a half, when Pleasure was launched to a public who would have been ungrateful if they weren’t so oblivious. Neither song from the debut single appeared on the album – but they were on the lyric sheet, along with  the equally absent and equally magnificent follow-ups Politics!/It’s  Fashion and Go For Gold. It’s as if GAOB knew their tiny-but -massive output – which would amount to just 18 songs, including a cover and a medley – had to be seen as a whole, not an immaculately sculpted oeuvre but every facet of a sparky, at times infuriating  but ultimately downright lovable personality.
With a profoundly English perspective on Blondie’s Manhattan scuzz, GAOB were ultimately left at the gates by Altered Images in the race to take sweet but skewed pop to the  masses but it really didn’t matter as GAOB were a cult in the truest sense – comparatively few people knew about them but just about everyone who did loved them fervently and embraced the shockingly compulsive da-da-da chorus of She’s Flipped,  the aural bouncy castle (a compliment, trust me) of Waterbed Babies and that self-mythology again in the Ants-pulsed sales pitch of £600,000.
This song, combined with the free, more innocuous than it sounds Pleasure Bag (a paper bag with postcards and stencils containing a photo of the band) and the CB radio celebration of Fun City Teenagers, as well as the Stars On 45 medley they did for a Peel Session, lock Pleasure, and GAOB as  a whole, as firmly into 1981 as an episode of Not The Nine O’Clock News. Mercifully, they left the song about the Rubik cube to the Barron Knights but ceased to exist some time in ’82, vanishing like a neighbour on a moonlight flit.
Their lack of success means that there’s no place for them on the sorrowful parade of ’80s nostalgia tours, where the notion that there’s something inherently amusing about the music of that benighted decade is pandered to in an ever downward spiral, but it also means they can be remembered, discovered and cherished unblemished and intact. One day they’ll get caught… (PG)