Where once I might have chosen Paul Handyside’s ‘Hip hip’ as my favourite Hurrah! 45, now it’s his ‘Gloria’ which has greater emotional sway. ‘Hip hip’ is necessarily celebratory, excitable and exciting, the adrenaline rush of poetic youth, but it’s also tinged with nostalgia and melancholy, for the many memories it conjures, for the distance which has opened up within me between the man I am now and the boy I was then. Perhaps inevitably at this distance, the lyrics read as and sound somewhat adolescent. And that’s fine, because if ever songs caught the rush of feeling that being young involves, the confusion and exaltation and cloud nine highs and dismal pressure drop lows, the happiness shot through with sadness and the sadness shot through with a refusal to be beaten, then it was the early songs of Handyside and Taffy Hughes, the Geordie Lennon and McCartney.
‘Gloria’, with its Cyrano de Bergerac gallantry and transposition of a serenading or star-crossed lovers balcony scene to twentieth century Newcastle, is perhaps no exception, but it seems tempered by both a feeling of duende and a dreamlike quality; the dream that starts when you want it to. While the yearning edge of Handyside’s voice filled so many of his songs with a sense of melancholy and things not quite working out as he might have hoped and planned, here he manages to convey a sense of certainty and destiny that pervades waking and sleeping, night and day.
It doesn’t hurt that musically, it’s a classic-sounding song which in my mind twines about Procol Harum’s ‘A whiter shade of pale’ like ivy or wisteria, the Hammond organ line of which was itself famously lifted from Bach. ‘A whiter shade of pale’ in turn makes me think of the Clientele’s ‘Isn’t life strange?’, and how’s that for a trio of timeless songs?
‘Trust in me, things I tell you…’ Hurrah! were a group of infinite importance to a small, select number of people; folk took the trouble to testify to this when I wrote about the group over at Backed with. Implored to do so by the collective persuasion of both Hungry beat and Are you scared to get happy? fanzines (the latter named after the rousing challenge in the chorus of ‘Hip hip’), I bought a copy of Boxed: long-shot pomes from broke players, which collected together Hurrah!’s early singles for Kitchenware, including ‘Gloria’. The title was borrowed from Charles Bukowski, whose novel Factotum I would have read around the same time, following up every suggested lead. Back then I never saw the delightfully silly and presumably somewhat satirical video for ‘Gloria’ featuring a dippy New Romantic-looking girl dancing (surely not the Gloria in question?) and bass player David Porthouse cross-dressing (now, if he were the Gloria in question, that would certainly give the lyrics some swing); all of which doesn’t quite undermine Handyside’s earnestness nor the enduringly affecting nature of the song.
Image of Longshot pomes for broke players via bukowski.net.
When I say new releases, I do of course mean that recordings are seeing the light of day many years after they might have. The Jasmines’ Poppy White EP dates from 1992, and sees them trying to pull together a new line-up and salvage the good ship three years after their last, in my opinion underrated LP Scratch the surface. That record has a surprising Americana-esque looseness to it that predates the alt-country explosion of the nineties (there’s even what looks suspiciously like a white clapboard church on its cover), and something of that feel remains in the Poppy White songs, together with the burning feeling ignited by Strummer and Jones with which we more commonly associate the Minks. The stand-out song is ‘Rain’ and you can watch it over at Oatcake, where you can also buy the EP. All proceeds go to Macmillan Cancer Support.
Hurrah!’s nine song ‘Lost album’ was recorded in 1991. This being Cherry Red, the package leaves something to be desired. Particularly the sleeve notes, written as they are in the school of PR style. Sleeve notes are supposed to serve a different purpose – we’ve already bought the disc, after all. Paul Weller’s latest also falls victim to this, inclining listeners to take against the album when – without a sleeve note that reads ‘The result is this fourteen track blast of tungsten-tough rock’n’roll, already described by one insider as ‘Stockhausen meets the Small Faces’’ – they would have been happier to reach their own conclusions about it. So it is also with the notes for Hurrah!’s Rebirth of the cool, with its talk of ‘capturing the zeitgeist’ and turning ‘alchemy into hard cash’.
It’s a bittersweet listen. In almost all respects the sound is a vast improvement on The beautiful, but the songs are by and large that record’s inferior (The beautiful is after all the LP that kicks off with ‘Big sky’ and includes ‘Wisdom waits’ and ‘Velveteen’). So I’m not finding it hard to be unsentimental on hearing them, after all these years. I like what I hear, the melodies and the rediscovered Rickenbacker drive of the pre-Arista Hurrah!; but I can still see a better record underneath it all, not that it matters, now. Highlights are Paul Handyside’s ‘Book of love’, and Taffy Hughes’ ‘Bring the curtain down’, which does just that in a fittingly romantic and yearning fashion. Well, okay, I’ll admit there’s the odd tear in my eye as I listen to that one.
September is turning out to be a quite a month for reissues of significance to the Pantry boy – and, I would wager, a fair few other folk.
Domino (and Bar/None in the US) do the honours in re-presenting the Feelies, with both The good earth and the 1980 debut LP for Stiff Crazy rhythms now back in circulation. I know and love every twitch and twang of the latter, having bought the vinyl for peanuts on a visit to Sidmouth in what I recall was a shop that majored in goods other than records. I’m not sure about other retailers, but buy the CDs direct from Domino and you get codes for bonus downloads.
Although you could argue that vinyl scratches and crackles only add extra detail and percussive effect to the Crazy rhythms experience, it’s great to hear the album in all its virgin glory; for the Feelies it ‘was the culmination of four years of fantasizing about how they were going to record those songs’. They executed the dream so meticulously that, as well as being a fantastic journey, the LP has a high count of fabulous pop moments. After patiently crafted build-ups, the points at which both ‘Loveless love’ and ‘Forces at work’ take off are top ten contenders in that hotly disputed category.
Meanwhile Cherry Red offer what appears on first sight to be a slightly puzzling expanded edition of Hurrah!’s Tell God I’m here, adding a second disc of earlier singles and later cuts from subsequent LP The beautiful – which is itself reissued in October – but not the B sides of singles drawn from the Tell God album itself.
Those still searching for the Holy Grail of perfect guitar pop may find themselves more excited by the appearance of download editions of The sound of Philadelphia (collecting pre-Tell God singles and demos) and Way ahead, the live LP originally issued by Esurient more or less in protest at the version of Hurrah! presented on Tell god I’m here. Read up on the full-ish story of those recordings over at Backed with, complete in the comments with testimony from fans and the thoughts of the Very Reverend Paul Handyside.