Talulah Gosh: Was It Just a Dream? – album review

Talulah Gosh – Was it Just a Dream? (Damaged Goods)
CD/LP/DL
Available now
7/10

The quintessential twee pop group’s catalogue repacked much to the delight of middle-aged fanzine kid Glenn Airey.

Think of a genre. I bet there’s a band that defines it. A quintessential act that captures everything about it: the sound, the look, the attitude. Punk rock, it’s often argued, began and ended with the Sex Pistols. Iron Maiden cornered the market in looking and sounding like a heavy metal band, and have the record sales to prove it. And though many have tried, nobody has ever outcramped The Cramps. You get the idea.

Back in 1986 (of course!) there emerged, fully formed from Oxford, the absolutely quintessential twee pop group. They weren’t the first, they weren’t necessarily the best, but nobody nailed that cutie scene like Talulah Gosh nailed it. They came out of the fledgling indie-pop fanzine culture and were immediately absorbed back into it as stars of the scene. A quick scan of their photos and flyers will tell you why. Shy looking youngsters peering out from behind spectacular fringes and outsize glasses, they had  the outsider smarts to run with the punky accoutrements of founding indie fathers like the Television Personalities and The Pastels. Just with more polka dots.

Talulah Gosh were ready made to be adored by the fanzine kids but ready made to be savaged for exactly the same reasons by those who found that scene self-regarding, sexless and infantile. Hell, I was a fanzine kid myself, and even we used Talulah Gosh as shorthand for some imaginary stereotype of a lisping, puddle jumping virgin who never got picked for the football team.

 

At least I assume it was an imaginary stereotype. It certainly didn’t fit Talulah Gosh themselves, who I later discovered to be as likeable and entertaining as their records would suggest. Thanks to Damaged Goods, we can now have all these records together in one place, along with a selection of demos and session tracks. This might sound like the seventh circle of Hell to you, I don’t know. I can understand if your preconceptions put you off giving this album a spin, although you probably wouldn’t have bothered reading this far if you were a militant Gosh denier, so I’ll press on regardless.

The Gosh took their name, I seem to remember, from an interview with the sainted Clare Grogan (crosses self) in which she explained the rules of the Popstar Name Game: take the first name of your favourite actor or actress and simply combine it with your favourite word as a surname. Hours of fun to be had, I’m sure. Pretty much any Clare connection, however, makes you as cool as ice in my book and so it’s gratifying to hear how good these songs still sound.

 

As with many compilations like this, where there’s too much decent stuff for a single album but probably not quite enough for a double, there’s a bit of a tailing off qualitywise once we get into demo and alternate version country, but you’ll be the judge of how keen you are to hear those. There are certainly more than enough delights during the first three quarters of this release to justify a slice of the month’s music budget. Terrific early singles like Beatnik Boy and Steaming Train scurry past in a celebratory blur of ringing guitars and sunshine vocal harmonies. The Buzzcocks are a key reference point in terms of melody and song construction, although Talulah approach their material from a diametrically opposite, anti-rock direction. Yes, the lyrics tend to be about girls meeting boys and falling in and out of love, against a backdrop of ba-ba-ba and sha-la-la, but the way some critics talked, you’d think this was a crime rather than the essential staple of pop music.

Now considering we’re only talking about a handful of singles in the space of a year or two, later tracks like Bringing Up Baby demonstrate an impressively accelerated maturing in songwriting terms. A favourite track of mine is the eponymous Talulah Gosh itself, possibly because I’ve always imagined it to be about Clare (crosses self again), what with the line about being ‘a film star for a day’. Plus, it was written by skatepunk-loving drummer Mathew Fletcher, who very sadly took his own life in 1996 and to whose memory the album is fittingly dedicated.

The copious and entertaining sleeve notes almost constitute a fanzine in themselves, appropriately enough as they’re provided by The Legend!, one of the pillars of the 1980s zine-scene before he progressed into more formal journalism as Everett True. He re-enacts a 1986 interview with the band that’s a nostalgic feast for anyone who was a fan the first time around, but also provides some refreshing perspective onto a little moment of happiness in British pop that’s perhaps not celebrated enough. Was it just a dream? No it wasn’t, and here’s the evidence.

~

There’s a great Talulah fansite here but they didn’t have Facebook or Twitter in 1986.

All words by Glenn Airey. You can find more of Glenn’s writing for Louder Than War here or follow him on Twitter as @GlennAirey

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