Tag Archives: Hellfire Sermons

The world will stop and spin ten times faster

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A piece about the Hellfire Sermons, which became the starting point of an article for Tangents, which itself was reworked as sleeve notes for Hymns: ancient and modern, the collection of singles and unreleased recordings issued by Bus Stop in 2002.  It’s a great shame that the Hellfires never recorded an LP either for Esurient or Dishy – but at least Hymns helps fill that absence.

‘Not nailed down’ was the 1990 highpoint of their first phase as a fantastically melodic and incisive guitar pop group.  And in ‘Covered in love’ you hear the precise moment at which singer Colin Pennington apparently comes unhinged, with the group following suit.  It’s a thrilling record, crazed and dangerous but deliciously catchy.  They even managed to pull off the same trick with their next single for Dishy, ‘Sarasine’, which was equally blood-curdling.  In their guise as supreme melodists, they were another fab group from Liverpool to set alongside the Teardrop Explodes, Shack and the La’s.  And as scary dramatists, they out-Pixied the Pixies.

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Let me see you

Alistair has been posting live recordings of the triumvirate of groups who recorded for Kevin Pearce’s Esurient label, along with the handbills produced to advertise the shows.  In the absence of the half-dozen long-players that collectively the trio should have gone on to make, these sets formed part of my staple listening for many years. Subsequently whenever I’ve dug them out of the Pantry vaults, they have had the power to remind me of what I believed then – that on their night each was the best band on the planet.  The tapes may now have become a myriad of bits compacted into a file, but they have lost none of their wow and flutter.  Though very different from each other, what all three groups had in common was the ambition of their song-writing and the attacking edge with which they performed; the same edge and attack that led to the creation of their record label.  You knew in your heart that group and audience were the outermost of outcasts, hanging by a finger from the bottom rung of a ladder each were ambivalent about climbing, but these upstairs rooms above pubs – whether Horse and Groom or King and Queen – were the pitch for some of the most intense musical experiences of my life.  So intense that that for sanity’s sake I had to take a break from attending the Esurient shows.  Not being there was of course worse than the frustration I felt in the ineluctable sense when I watched them that these groups were never going to be allowed to rise above the level they had attained in finding someone who had enough belief in their greatness to stage their shows and put out their records.

They were joyful nights by and large but at its most intense, and when you are at your most susceptible to its intensity, there is as much pain as pleasure in music.  That’s what I still hear when I listen to either of the live versions of Emily’s ‘Stumble’ that Alistair has made available to a world which, I suspect, will be about as interested as it was near on twenty years ago.  But you’ll be pleased to hear I’m over it now.  Honest.