Sunday, October 05, 2014

Song of the day

"Wivenhoe Bells II", by The Cleaners From Venus.

I never claimed (well, I might have pretended) to know everything about everything. But, given my cloistered youth, spent with one ear glued to 2JJ and one eye glued to the NME, I thought I could reasonably claim to have a solid enough working knowledge of the staunchly independent, I-did-it-my-way corner of the United Kingdom music scene from the end of the seventies (and beyond), nowadays collectively labelled as "DIY".

And then along comes Jon Dale (hey, Jon, can you do the corresponding Melbourne scene next?) with a survey of 131 key exponents of the "DIY" genre, and on a quick count I can give name recognition to roughly one in four of the entities involved, with an even smaller number of boxes ticked for individual songs. (But a hale and hearty "YES!" to ... And The Native Hipsters, Fatal Microbes, and The Prats.) Jon's is at once a heroic achievement, and more than slightly humbling. (Also exciting, at the thought of all those stones yet unturned.) I highly recommend that you spend some quality time with it.

Also, it gives me an excuse to plug, once again, The Cleaners From Venus, down whose rabbit-hole I have been crawling for the last few months, sparked by Captured Tracks' admirable and impressive reissue programme. The Cleaners From Venus, The Brotherhood of Lizards, The Stray Trolleys: it's a rabbit-hole with many branches, but all of them lead back to Martin Newell, creator of a spectacular number of classical English pop songs, many of which could have been propelled to the upper region of the charts under the guiding hand of someone other than Newell, who was content to send his music out into the world by way of cassette tapes housed in hand-coloured covers. Jon's piece serves as a reminder that he wasn't alone, at that time, in operating in this way. Was there an entire generation of musicians fiercely intent on "sticking it to The Man"? Or was this the only way they could get their music heard?

Anyway, "Wivenhoe Bells": Jon opts for the second iteration of this song (Newell clearly knew a good thing when he heard it; some of his best songs were recorded more than once: see also "Marilyn on a Train"). I fell in love with the song via the original recording, from 1980's "Blow Away Your Troubles" cassette. It has taken me a while to come to terms with the (relative) slickness of the 1982 edition, but ultimately the quality of the song itself wins out, whichever version you listen to. And, you know, I'm starting to think that Jon's choice might be right.