Because it’s everything a 45 should be, from the tinted Xerox art-pop cover to the run-out groove (which reads ‘PUNK ROCK’ – scratch that into your mp3). Because it clocks in at under two minutes. Because it burst forth from Peelie’s show one night and left me breathless. Because I bought it via mail order from Small Wonder of Sudbury. Because it’s on the Creation label, and back then Alan McGee understood how seven inch singles had retained their the potency from the days of punk. Because the label which adorned the centre of every Creation label 45 was a ball bouncing into and knocking down a pile of bricks. Because I took it to the one club in town when I was seventeen and the DJ played it in among the standard fare and I and four or five of my friends danced wildly to it among the coloured flashes of light and glitterball silver. Because whenever I hear it, I am seventeen again and in love with two of those friends. Because the song itself is about being young and in love (though not necessarily with two people at once). And because it reminds me that however old we get, we carry our youth inside us.
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.
I seem to have overlooked a cardinal rule of fanzine rhetoric in this excerpt from Pot Plant Pantry: never apologise, never explain. Nevertheless this is the intensity of youth in full flow. God, how he and I would eye each other with suspicion if time travel ever allowed us to meet.
But we would agree at least on one thing – those Jasmine Minks demos, which preceded the Another age album, remain exceptionally beautiful. Done with a drum machine and exuding the fragility of a song writer – Jim Shepherd – trying and succeeding to find his way again after the departure of partner in crime Adam Sanderson, the songs struck a perfect balance between vulnerability and confidence. Unfortunately very little of this is audible in transference from quiet cassette recording to mp3 format, so here instead are a couple of polished-up (or roughed-up) LP versions. Neither ‘Still waiting’ nor ‘Nothing can stop me’ appeared on the 2004 Rev-ola compilation The revenge of the Jasmine Minks; both feature Jim’s singing at its best.
‘I quite honestly don’t care for all these sixties obsessions that have manifest themselves recently, when even more powerful attitudes are being expressed here and now… There is no ‘golden age of pop’, there are just pop portents who come and go.’ I suspect that the irony of placing a picture of Dusty Springfield alongside this opinion was lost on me at the time, but perhaps I was just being bloody-minded or provocative. The phrase ‘pop portents’ still has a kind of ring to it, even if it makes the portentous nature of my writing at the time all too transparently evident.
The latest … your heart out is subtitled The enormity of small things. With the usual emphasis on connections, it intermingles thoughts on soul music made in the UK with memories of nights that Dexys Midnight Runners came to town. I suspect the chapter format intentionally recalls the third Hungry Beat, in which Kevin first wrote about Don’t stand me down and those now mythical Dexys shows of late 1985.
The Jasmine Minks also feature in The enormity of small things, as they did in Hungry Beat #3; in fact Kevin uses the very same photograph of Jim Shepherd, and recalls the day he and Jim met Kevin Rowland at the ‘Doing it for the kids’ Creation all-dayer at the Town and Country Club (as the Forum in Kentish Town was then known). The pre-Oasis bill now reads like a fanzine writer’s dream; in order of appearance, there was Biff Bang Pow!, Pacific, Emily, Jasmine Minks, Jazz Butcher, Felt, House Of Love, and Momus. Four or five of my all-time favourites. I remember seeing Jim and the two Kevins together, and thinking ‘wow!’ But I myself never got close enough to smell Kevin Rowland’s perfume, as Jim did, according to the extensive answers he gives in this undated interview with Caught in the carousel. Mind, you needed to smell sweet that sweltering day in August 1988.
The Caught in the carousel interview also links to an Another age outtake, ‘Running’. Though nothing like the Minks’ best effort, it amply demonstrates the ‘soulful edge’ that the Minks added to their garage punk sound.
Prefab Sprout fans will enjoy ducking out of the way of the rotten fruit thrown – by implication – in their direction during the course of chapter ten of The enormity of small things. Kevin, I can feel a Backed with entry coming on…
The latest Shivers Inside takes as its cue the Jasmine Minks 1985 single, ‘What’s happening’, one of the most attacking, celebratory, anxious slices of vinyl released by Alan McGee. A perfect gem of sixties garage pop meeting punk rock at the grass roots of Creation, I took this record as a seventeen year old to my home town’s one ghastly niteclub on a night when for some forgotten and improbable reason they were letting in the likes of me, and twisted the DJ’s arm. None of my friends had heard the record before, but they all followed me on to the dance floor and orbited the glitter ball like exultant, fiery comets. Suffolk then was a little further away from the centre of things, and I never saw the Jasmines play while Adam Sanderson was in the group, but this remains for me a rarely matched moment of dance floor joy.
John Carney’s tale recreates those very moments of Creation, giving a unique perspective on the ‘riot’ during the Jesus & Mary Chain performance at North London Poly and the recording of what became the Minks’ ‘Cold heart’ twelve inch.
From Alphabet Soup to E-Z Rollers, the sheer range of the Shivers Inside series (and Fifty Thousand Reasons before it) is dazzling. One a week without fail or columnist’s holiday, it’s like it used to be listening to John Peel: you never know what’s coming next. The narrative tone varies from characters who are clearly inhabited to crafted memoir conflated with the vox pop oral history of youth first proposed in the original Generation X. I’d love to see both series in book form, with two front covers, readable both ways – that would be a double A side to match Shena MacKay’s debut Dust falls on Eugene Schlumberger / Toddler on the run. What chance of that, John?