English Weather, compiled by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. Out now via Ace Records.
A double album, reviewed by Cally Callomon
Labelling the disparate late ‘70s DIY hooligan spasm as ‘Punk’ was an easy catechism for our nation’s press, but they would have stumbled when it came to the collection found here on English Weather. Certainly there is every bit as strong a theme, musically and lyrically, but not one that sells newspapers, and not one that sold many records either, come to that.
I was born in ’56, too young for Merseybeat, highly impressionable in psychedelia and a devout record buyer by the time the sixties swung into the sounds of the seventies. Records could only be taken seriously as Albums, by then, and any hit single on an album rendered that ‘band’ ‘too commercial’.
Few older brothers managed a trip to San Francisco, our scene was primarily London, and the UK was bedecked in fanciful mis-appropriated Edwardian imagery, in clothes, typefaces, design and in music. America didn’t have The Kinks, The Zombies and The Beatles, nor did it have bomb-sites, Wonderwall, Adam Adamant, or The Bonzos. England was a place locked firmly in the past until the world turned grey and music got serious. Before it did, the sun shone and England swung, two years later it tipped down, the bomb-sites became NCP car-parks, peace became protest, the drugs got harder and the weeks two days shorter. You can see all of that in the two photos by Peter Mitchell that dress this set: ‘Bring back the sunshine’ screams the Evening Post poster on the newsagent’s wall.
Come the early 1970s, the big stuffy labels (still big and stuffy today) managed to lure in ambitious hipsters to run their own sub-labels; Harvest, Vertigo, Nepentha and the saddest of the lot: Decca who started Deram Nova. Deram made great albums and hadn’t a clue how to sell them, having not hired in the likes of Pete Jenner, John Peel, Joe Boyd to advise and steer. The albums came and went, most of astounding quality and almost all unheard until recently.
Certainly a great deal of the music found on this lovingly-sleeved much-needed compilation was made outside of London, often by nice middle-class boys (few women here) all who could be found in Chalk Farm’s Roundhouse of a Sunday afternoon or squatting in Regency mansions in Notting Hill. Many managed just one album, changed their name, adopted a bit of glam and headed for Top Of The Pops whatever the cost; either that or they were to leave music behind altogether and become media magnates and studio producers. This fleeting wave of whimsy held hope, ambition, disregard for the norm, and adventure intact, a veritable nursery slope of transition that became the Prog monster- before it too was superseded, reviled, many escaping to Californian FM adult-orientated airwaves.
Even Jethro Tull and Family had to have pop hit singles. Caravan (who go first on this set) nearly scraped one past the post, but it was all lah-de-dah flutes and whimsy after that, helped along by time signature and key changes that betrayed an unhealthy leaning towards the Classics, to Accomplishment and all the other sworn enemies of the so-called punk bully who declared a new year-zero just 4 years after most of the music on this double-album had been released.
Oh yes, did I say a ‘double-album’? Bands that made ‘double albums’ were serious, even if they struggled to fill four sides, and labels cottoned onto this by issuing sampler albums in the same format. I bought the CBS Rockbuster double (19/11d) and ended up owning every album that donated a track to the sampler. Through this I discovered music I’d never get to hear on any radio and I sincerely hope this English Weather (double) compilation may do the same. You’ll be hard-pushed, – not to mention stoney-broke – to buy the original albums from where these tracks came, but many brave tiny labels have re-issued much of this material lovingly on vinyl and CD. It may be nearly Spring, but inside here it rains like hell.
It will be a brave record shop that creates its own English Weather rack-divider, but into it will go this Nuggets-like clarion-call beside original albums by Skin Alley, BB Blunder, Skid Row, Magic Muscle, Sam Apple Pie, Global Village Trucking Co. as well as most of the 19 artists St. Etienne and Ace Records have courageously assembled in this package. Volume Two please, and make mine a triple.
Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs will appear in-store at Rough Trade East to discuss English Weather on Tuesday 28 February. More info here.