Really Hard

Yesterday’s post showed both the limitations and advantages of blogging as a medium for writing. I wrote yesterday’s piece about the rush of great guitar music in the 1988/89 years in response to a comment on Facebook from a friend. I’d thought about it a bit in advance- on the way to and from work mainly- and came home and wrote it in the evening, an hour’s work probably. I proof read it and re-read it, did a bit of tinkering and then published it yesterday morning.

The limitations of blogging are that it’s usually just one person, writing a fairly quick response. I didn’t bounce it off anyone or discuss it. I didn’t really research it, talk to others for their point of view, haven’t got an editor to to make suggestions or propose alternatives. A more widely considered piece with the opinions and perspectives of others would be better, more reliable maybe, more thought through and joined up.

The advantages of blogging are that it gets some instant responses by people, in some cases hundreds of miles away and in different countries, who can throw in their perspectives straight away, in the comment box on the blog and by commenting on social media. It becomes a conversation (and therefore the original post is in some ways just the first draft. Kerouac said first thought is always best- he’d have loved social media wouldn’t he, Tweeting his way back and forth across America). Going back and inserting new sections into the original post didn’t seem like a good idea but adding a follow up post did so that’s what is here today, the perspectives of others who chipped in to answer the question Aditya posed on Facebook on Tuesday- why was 1988/89 such a fruitful time? (I hope this isn’t just a case of Blog Will Eat Itself).

My post is here but in summary I said that guitar bands flourished by the late 80s because of the gains made by punk and the ensuing construction of the independent scene (labels, distribution, outlook); John Peel; the weekly music press; post punk’s spirit of experimentalism; cheap technology; the dole and full grants for higher education; a gap left by the split of The Smiths; the polarised and oppositional nature of culture and politics in the 1980s which led to a defiantly non- mainstream mindset.

Martin left a comment about the split of The Smiths and the vacuum they left behind in the music press and the way that for ages they, the NME especially, used to constantly label bands ‘The new Smiths’ (they did the same with the Sex Pistols too). James and Raymonde both got that particular kiss of death, and I’ve got a feeling it was associated with The House Of Love and The Wedding Present too. Being branded The new Smiths didn’t do James any favours- it raised expectations they couldn’t meet, they sounded nothing like The Smiths anyway and by 1988 they were without a deal, had left two record companies and had to persuade their bank manager to loan them the money to release a live album. One Man Clapping was recorded at Moles in Bath over two nights in November 1988 and came out on their own label. The bank manager agreed to lend them the money after attending a gig in Manchester and being blown away by both band and crowd.

Really Hard (Live)

For a Smiths related extra the photograph at the top is one of mine, taken recently at Stretford Mall (formerly Stretford Arndale), a shopping centre Morrissey must have spent some hours in. There’s a second hand record stall called Reel Around The Fountain.

Mark Ratcliff left a long comment on Facebook in reply which adds masses to my original post-

‘The dole in the 80s was like art school in the 60s and 70s…it enabled you to pursue an interest whilst still being able to put a roof over your head and food in your belly. But i think there was another factor at work, too. The early to mid 80s were a dour time and youth culture was quite dogmatic. The music press at that time was very powerful and dictated what the hipper end of mainstream youth culture was allowed to like…God forbid you own up to having a Zeppelin lp in your collection of agit prop, post punk and proper soul. I left the UK to go to uni in the States at the time of the miners strike and everything in the culture felt either shrill and dictatorial, or incredibly earnest, obsessed with authenticity. Plus politics was horrible – there was no light at the end of the tunnel. A trip to a London club in 1984 or 1985 was terrifying if you didn’t look the part. I remember coming back from New Orleans for a summer break and going to clubs with my sister, where everyone felt hyper conscious about what they looked like, or what kind of music they were allowed to enthuse over. But by the end of 86 and early 87, when i came back, i felt a change in the air – i think people felt that Thatcher was no longer quite as omnipotent and there was a loosening up of all those stifling musical strictures that had made it very hard to be completely honest about what you liked. The music press lost some of its authority around that time. People had got bored with being serious and po- faced. I remember going to Wendy May’s Locomotion club at the Town and Country in late 86 and very early 87 and the sense of fun in the club was liberating. There was no E around, very few people had even heard about it and there was no house music being played but the mix of northern soul, a bit of Motown, some hip hop and the occasional dance inflected indie anthem from a band like That Petrol Emotion (Big Decision!) felt liberating after all the mid 80’s London club bullshit. When E and acid house hit town in early 88 all the faces i used to see at The Locomotion pitched up at Land Of Oz and Spectrum – they were ready for it because they were chomping at the bit for something different, having had a taste of it already. In effect they had been primed for it. I also have some theories about why guitar music had a resurgence then, too but this is already the longest fb post i have ever written and is in danger of becoming a rant. ‘

Feel free to drop those theories you refer to at the end off whenever you’re ready Mark.

Michael agreed with Mark about That Petrol Emotion, a band who embraced new technology (sampling) and the sense of possibilities that was in the air as well as guitars plus a large dose of politics. Big Decision was a massive song at the indie disco/alternative night.

Big Decision

Michael sees ’88/89 as ‘an incredibly liminal period where barriers between music started to drop… people became less precious or scared about shouting their influences, people rifling through their parent’s record collections for great tracks or sounds for samples’. The barriers dropping definitely seems to be important in the Manchester guitar bands. The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays with one foot in the 60s and one at a club and the music they made being two different sweet spots in between.

The barriers were coming down all over in ’88/89- not least physical barriers in Berlin- and the pick ‘n’ mix approach to making records resulted in several great singles that broke new ground and sold in vast quantities- Pump Up The Volume, Beat Dis and Theme From S’ Express for three. Maybe liminal, transitional periods are much more interesting than periods where things are finished and fixed. That seems to be as a good a theory as any.

Beat Dis (Extended Dis)

I Cut My Teeth On A Bed Of Wire

No April Fool’s stuff here. Since posting Big Decision the other week I’ve spent a bit of time re-listening to That Petrol Emotion. I’ve enjoyed two different parts- the mid 80s, clanging guitars TPE of Manic Pop Thrill and Babble and the remixed TPE of 1990-91. V2 was a single in 1985. The sleeve detailed the abuses of female prisoners in Northern Ireland’s prisons. The record is angry and clamorous, squally guitars and drums almost drowning out Steve Mack’s vocals. There are screams and fury building up to an abrupt ending.


Around the time the 80s became the 90s they underwent some line up changes and started working with producer Scott Litt, known for producing R.E.M. Probably not coincidentally they started getting the acoustic guitars out, slowed things down and sounded a little like R.E.M. Their records from this time are redeemed by the remixes, including Andrew Weatherall and Terry Farley’s work on Abandon (Boys Own Mix) retaining the anger and energy of the mid 80s and adding the 90s club.

Abandon (Boys Own Mix)

I remember there was a Weatherall interview where he said a band (and I’m sure he was referring to TPE) had been suspicious of the whole remixing lark and left a guitarist sitting in the studio while Weatherall did the remix, to ensure he didn’t completely get rid of the guitars.

You’d Rather Sail The Ocean

The Swede posted Weatherall and Farley’s remix of That Petrol Emotion’s Abandon yesterday. Apart from the odd remix they’d completely dropped off my radar. Big Decision was a hit (of sorts, number 42) in 1987, and massively popular in indie discos/alternative nights. They sort of prefigured the Madchester/indie-dance sound, big guitar chords and drumbeats that you could dance (or lope around) to. With a nod to rap as well. Annoyingly the video here cuts out just before the end.

Live at teatime on a Friday up in Newcastle for The Tube (Big Decision and Swamp) and sounding really good. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you biographical stuff about The Undertones and all that.