singles by choice
(albums when it's necessary)
20 January 2022
(listening with headphones)Avid Acutus
Funk F·XRII
Benz Micro LP-S
Linn Kilmax DS (Renew)
TEAD Mastergroove Mk 2
TEAD Vibe Phoenix / Pulse 2
Luxman P-1u
Sennheiser HD800

Back in, oh, must have been 1994, I listened to the radio a lot, and I managed to tape off it in, oh, must have been the back end of the first week of May, a session by Heavenly, who were pretty much my favourite band at the time. cal says it was a Saturday, so I probably stayed in just to listen to it. That’s what you had to do in those days, after walking home from school in the snow, in bare feet, then doing a 14-hour shift down t’ pit. You heard stuff once, or not at all, unless of course you taped it. Being the taping kind, I had a fancy setup that could record off a timer, and use two autoreversing tapes. That could get you three hours, allowing for the inevitability of the tape reversing right in the middle of the thing you wanted. So it’s quite possible I recorded the whole show while I was out playing snooker, and copied the songs out later.

Aaaaaaaaaanyway.

Those four songs, all missing an end, a beginning, or both, got copied onto another tape, then on to another, and eventually got ripped to MP3. They’ve been favourites ever since. Forever on my iPod, compilation CDs, car USB stick, everything. They sound terrible. Thick and heavy, with dropouts from tape wear, some bad flutter, and a little phasing from the original radio transmission. More unique than any vinyl copy.

Now, twenty-eight years later, I have them on vinyl. One song per pristine side. They sound light, bright and precise, as beautifully captured as those BBC sessions always are. And, of course, they’re nowhere near as good as my awful nth generation copies.

All four songs are, of course, brilliant, and all turned up later, albeit with some different words and some different titles, on the pretty-much-perfect The Decline and Fall Of…. Sperm Meets Egg, So What? doesn’t yet have that brilliant “I’m just / a kid / myself” backing vocal, but does have “I don’t want to get fat / at least, not for that”. The ’90s, apparently, were much more enlightened about female reproductive rights.

Though I am absolutely not a fan of the gatefold 7”, these are pretty nice things. Sleeve notes from Amelia, Cathy, Peter and Rob, postcards of photos including a request for an SY22. (All the SYs are underrated. I’d still like a 99, but where on earth would I keep it?)

Matthew Fletcher was a terrific drummer. I shall never forget seeing him, round about the time this was recorded, play a song (flawlessly) whilst eating a pork pie and smoking a fag. What a band.

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Not only that, but also this. I haven’t heard these recordings before, because I was not aware of Heavenly in 1991. I wasn’t aware of much, really. You don’t know shit when you’re 18. There’s some quote to the effect of: “When I was 18 I was astonished at how little my father understood about anything. When I was 30 I was equally surprised to realise how much the old boy had learned”. That’s bang-on, that is.

I sometimes forget “Catherine of Arrogance” wasn’t always in Heavenly, but this recording pre-dates her. Heavenly changed when Cathy joined. They didn’t get any better or any worse, but perhaps traded a little melancholy for a confident wink. They’re in the original melancholy mode here, especially with So Little Deserve. It’s one of my favourite Heavenly songs, and a perfect example of why I love them so much. No one did a punch in the gut so subtly.

There’s a quote on the sleeve referring to “teenager-in-love lyrics”, and I can’t agree with that. Heavenly’s lyrics were cutting, wise, witty, sometimes deeply weary, uncomfortable, and cynical. That’s one extraordinarily insightful and self-aware teenager in love.

The liner notes explain that the band dropped the fourth song of the session, because it was rubbish, and rather than etching side four or something, the record is padded out with an alternate verson of She Says, and a cover of It Won’t Be Long off a Beatles tribute album, which I’ve got, probably because Frank Sidebottom’s on it. It Won’t Be Long is definitely the worst song of the nine on these two records. But it would be, wouldn’t it, because Heavenly were much, much better than The Beatles.

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Today I read that two-thirds of music consumed today is “old”. To prove it, following two old records, here’s a new one. Kind of, because it’s a new release of a new-ish recording of an old song. La Isla Bonita. Yeah, that one. “Young girl with eyes like potatoes”. You know it.

I wouldn’t normally go for a Black Sabbath pastiche novelty cover version, but it was on Ghost Box, so I felt obliged. It’s okay, but it goes on a bit. I don’t know why the heck it’s on Ghost Box, but once you’ve hosted Paul Weller, I suppose you’ve lost your exclusive faux-retro electronica purity. The sleeve, of course, justifies the purchase, even at the utterly ridiculous cost of a 7” today.

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