I could take or leave the BBC4 documentary Do it yourself: the story of Rough Trade last night (UK only, available for seven days after broadcast). The account – topped and tailed by the dismal Duffy – was largely of the inevitably jaded and drawn-out financial end of an undertaking begun with earnest idealism, and when Geoff Travis smiled after another quiet admission that his recollection of events was dim, he resembled nothing so much as a hairless John Major.
But the hour of archive performance, Rough Trade at the BBC, was a dream. Finally forced by the subject to show all the bits of The Old Grey Whistle Test and the like that are typically dropped from retrospective compilations, we had the pleasure of seeing in action Young Marble Giants, the Raincoats, Delta 5, Weekend, Robert Wyatt, Microdisney – Cathal Coughlan magnificent in ill-fitting trousers and a green jacket borrowed from the US Masters – Violent Femmes, James performing ‘Sit down’ on Wogan, and even Camper Van Beethoven doing – you guessed it – ‘Take the skinheads bowling’. These may be more or less available via YouTube but here it was all nicely packaged into as pleasurable an hour of music television as I ever remember seeing.
I can’t claim to have summoned this out of the ether with my last post, but coincidentally it transpires that a Microdisney anthology is about to appear, making their music more widely available than it has been for some time. It includes six-tenths of The clock comes down the stairs, on which Cathal and Sean O’Hagan achieved a perfect blend of devastating couplets and melodies which trod the right side of the fine line between timeless and syrupy. Let’s hope the anthology – a double CD which spans the group’s lifetime – generates sufficient interest to put the whole of that album (at least) back in circulation.
The Fatima Mansions are simultaneously getting similar treatment. I confess I’m not familiar with any of Cathal’s solo work, having come to feel that neither he nor Sean ever quite matched apart what they did together. But even so, as spiritual and intellectual kin to Jacques Brel and Tom Waits, Cathal’s status should be much closer to those two anti-legends than to the gutter of underratedness in which he currently seems to reside.
There was a time when I would have point-blank refused to let pages from my fanzines see the light of day for a second time, as looking back on my efforts has routinely induced a muscle-wearying degree of wincing embarrassment. But it’s the distant past now and I offer what will be an ongoing selection in the spirit of cultural archivism and with lately-found affectionate amusement at my eighteen year old self.
So this was the cover of my first fanzine, published in the autumn of 1986. Bear in mind it was printed on a shade of yellow considerably brighter than the curd of the titular pie.
An Ivor Cutler song supplied the line ‘I’m happy and I’ll punch the man who says I’m not!’ John Peel would have been playing lots of Ivor around that time and I would have been listening most evenings to John.
That’s Cathal Coughlan of Microdisney in the top-right hand corner, showing that already there was a battle for my soul going on between the forces of throwaway pop and the serious, literate, built to last stuff.