Saturday, January 06, 2007

UK Early-80s Indie Pop - part 2

Next up in this short survey of early 1980s UK indie-pop is from the glory that was Geoff Travis's Rough Trade record label. Founded in 1978, and originalyl linked to the excellent independent record shop off the Portobello Road in London, the record label closed in 1991 but was then reborn in 2000 and remains today at the cutting edge of indie-pop.

Back in the early 1980s Rough Trade was a reliable source of everything that was great in post-punk and independent music. Never predictable, it seemed like it would release almost anything - but it would always be great. The two choice tracks today are good examples of the radical diversity of the early RT label.

Scritti Politti's the Sweetest Girl is a fantastic record. The classic anarcho-squat band but with better songs, the Scritts released a couple of obscure singles on their own St Pancras records in 1979.

Sweetest Girl was originally released as the opening track on the NME's C81 cassette at the end of January 1981. This compilation cassette, available for £1.50 to readers of the New Musical Express (NME), was an era-defining presentation of post-post-punk indie tastes - 24 diverse tracks which well defined the emerging scene at that time. the song was immensely popular and was picked up as a Rough Trade single (RT091, Nov 1981) coupled with the equally brilliant Lions after Slumber and (incredibly for those days) made the bottom end of the charts (No. 64). Both songs can be found on the album Songs to Remember.

Green Garside has recently reformed Scritti Politti, released an acclaimed album "White Bread Black Beer" and taken his band on tour.

Robert Wyatt was a founding member and drummer with the Soft Machine, a classic late-60s prog-jazz-psych band. Wyatt left to form Matching Mole but in 1973 fell from a window during a party and was paralysed from the waist down. Since then he has concentrated on producing a series of extraordinary solo-albums, usually a mix of covers and originals.

At Last I Am Free is a beautiful reworking of a Chic song, available on the album Nothing Can Stop Us, which also included covers of the World War two gospel classic "Stalin Wasn't Stalling", an Ivor Cutler poem "Grass" and an Indian Trade union song, amongst others. The album was released in 1982 and comprised the terrific series of singles Wyatt released on the Rough Trade label over the preceding year.

I do not understand why the CD reissue doesn't include Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding, written specifically for Wyatt and released around the same time as a commentary on the Falklands War. However, both that song and At Last I am Free are available on the excellent compilation His Greatest Misses.

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