Various – The Sun Shines HereVarious: The Sun Shines Here – album review
Cherry Red Records
3CD/DL
Released 29th October 2021

To give it its full title, The Sun Shines Here – The Roots Of Indie Pop (1980-1984), this new 3CD set includes tracks by The Teardrop Explodes, The Raincoats, Pulp and The Jesus And Mary Chain among its seventy four offerings. Ian Canty finds a nice place in the shade…

After the C86, C87 etc boxsets of recent years, logic dictated that searching backwards from the middle of the decade when shoulder pads ruled the earth could also bear fruit. So we have The Sun Shines Here, which examines the UK independent scene’s period in the shadows, post-boom. During the four years documented by this set, we were now past the 1977/79 indie high-water mark, and although all over the country people were still applying the DIY principle to their own ends, the mainstream had moved on to punk’s more marketable cousin new romanticism. Gradually though, a pop style was codified through a relatively wide variety of influences present on various independent recordings that emerged post-1980. The tag “indie pop” would be slapped on anything with guitars and a tune come 1986’s free for all. But the roots of this form were always a bit wilder, more interesting and diverse than the quite rigid template that eventually gained precedence. Those very roots are what is delved into here.

The upshot of this is that the first disc of The Sun Shines Here could as easily work as a UK post punk collection as it does a proto-indie pop one. The end of the 1970s saw London and Manchester as the two main centres of activity in UK music after punk, but Liverpool and Scotland began a rise to ascendancy in the first part of the new decade. The sound of Better Scream, Wah! Heat’s debut single, begins The Sun Shines Here. As a preparation for a new age of wonder informed by the punk explosion but not forever tied to to, it can’t really be improved on. With The Teardrop Explodes’ perma-fresh Read It In Books following on, the listener is presented with a stimulating opening gambit.

The goods keep on coming thick and fast as next the psycho-drama and energy of Scars’ ace Love Song is simply stunning. A great piece of work by a gem of a band. Hailing from Leicester, The Disco Zombies had by the time of their final single Here Comes The Buts replaced their drummer with a machine. Despite a slightly leaden beat this brings, its b-side Mary Millington, a paean to the late adult movie star, is witty fun furnished with a neat fuzz guitar growl.

It’s Immaterial hailed from Merseyside and would later score a hit single in a very different musical style. Here they jangle effectively on Young Man (Seeks Interesting Job) in a manner that prefigures The June Brides, and despite some squealing saxophone, Manchester band Manicured Noise are very much in a pop setting on Freetime. While Edinburgh’s Josef K were often a more spicy proposition, their It’s Kinda Funny is pretty much perfect pop music and the edgy, menacing punk/funk of It’s Obvious by The Au Pairs rings out across the years.

The eternally fab Stop That Girl by Vic Godard And The Subway Sect shines as a true mark of a genius, and if Linder Sterling’s amazing Ludus don’t at first seem a natural fit here because of the unique and challenging nature of much of their work, Mutilate bounces along with a zippy rhythm, before slowing to a delightful jazz pop chorus. To me it appeared that Lora Logic’s Essential Logic were kindred spirits to Ludus and the bass-heavy dance beat and dreamy voice of Fanfare In The Garden works a treat.

Leeds’ Girls At Our Best! imploded after a US tour to promote their well-received Pleasure LP. A real shame as they had so much to offer, evidence of which is found on the excellent Go For Gold! single that turns up here. It is a pertinent inclusion, as their mix of precise female vocals and buzzing guitars could be seen as an influence on the likes of The Shop Assistants and The Flatmates later in the ’80s. Ten Don’t For Honeymooners is a typically stylish piece by The Monochrome Set, and Jowe Head’s pivotal role in UK independent music as part of the Swell Maps and TV Personalities is underlined by the very smart Cake Shop Girl. The disc finishes with two bands who very nearly had tunes released by Postcard Records, The Bluebells and The Jazzateers, with the latter’s Don’t Let Your Son Grow Up To Be A Cowboy being a bit of an acoustic-driven marvel complete with a manic country and western coda.

Disc two of this set offers a lighter listening experience, as in 1981 the post punk intensity eased a tad as the independent sector adjusted itself to the new decade. The jazz influence that came into play at the tail end of post punk is further highlighted here. A more overtly pop sound emerged, which informed some of the indie pop to come and Scritti Politi’s The Sweetest Girl single is as good a place to begin as any. They were originally a politically-minded collective that took much of their modus operandi from DIY pioneers like The Desperate Bicycles. But after singer Green spent a time convalescing from illness, he returned with a new attitude and a more commercial perspective and this song was the first fruit from it. Later in the 1980s they would score proper chart hits, but The Sweetest Girl remains the big tune that should have been a smash.

Coming at things from the opposite direction were Robert Lloyd’s very durable and completely marvellous Nightingales. The former Prefect is heard in good voice with his new band here and this flipside of the Use Your Loaf single Inside Out ensues with, of all things, an out of tune trumpet. A hypnotic, ringing majesty emerges and the lyrics as always are worth your time, charting the progress of “another soul-sick drone”. YMG spin-off Weekend proffer the hazy beauty The View From Her Room, and Martin Bramah’s Blue Orchids weave their magic on The Greatest Hit album track Wait, a psych-tinged groove.

I make no apologies for being a huge fan of The Times and here they team up with female vocalist Joni Dee for a joyous Here Come The Holidays. If perhaps The Farmers Boys, from Norwich a decade before Alan Partridge made it fashionable, sound in 2021 a bit of their time, Whatever Is He Like? is a decent tune and the gentle winding of Just A Girl by The Pale Fountains is lovely to hear. Rough Trade mainstays The Raincoats do a great job of modernising Sly Stone’s Running Away, and the upbeat Crashing Down by The Gift is definitely proto-C86, being set down on tape four years before the term was coined.

The bright and unusual sound of Microdisney’s Hello Rascals never fails. But after this there is a bit of a dip in quality. Nothing is actually that bad, with Alan McGhee’s Laughing Apple providing a nicely snappy Wouldn’t You?. But also nothing much stands out, until the mysterious Five Or Six with an eerie pulsebeat called Chalk Circle and The Gymslips’ very catchy Big Sister. The latter bordered on Oi! earlier in their career, but this is a pure 1960s-style pop pearl. There’s the busy acoustic rush of Ben Watt’s On Box Hill and his partner Tracey Thorn, who crops up in three guises on this set, features as part of The Marine Girls on That Fink Jazz-Me-Blues Boy. This second disc doesn’t quite live up to the consistently excellent first, but has a good amount of listenable tunes.

By the time of the final disc of this box, we’ve reached the point in time when the Creation label started to rise to prominence and many of the bands one would associate with the C86 LP were beginning to make their mark. There’s also a sprinkling of bona fide pop stars. Early on this disc we have Pulp with the ethereal fairground ride of There Was…, which sound-wise only shares a bare sliver with the band’s later work, and Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera are caught mid-commercial breakthrough with their version of Van Halen’s Jump.

There’s still room though for a deviation or two from the fringe and jangle path. Like the remarkable Jane And Barton, who yield a woodwind-led I Want To Be You and Yeah Yeah Noh, steeped in the early independent ethos, gives us the very definition of a Peel favourite in the fantastically deadpan Bias Binding. The Jetset’s lovingly pseudo Monkee capers were a joy to behold and they also had melodies to match up with anyone at the time. Exhibit A in this argument is their track here Judy’s Toy Box, full of 1960s beat goodness. It is a shame that The Higsons are represented here past their prime on a cover of Andy Williams’ Music To Watch Girls By. They put out a couple of really good punk funk singles a few years earlier on their own imprint Waap, which perhaps would have made better choices.

Though The Page Boys’ You’re My Kind Of Girl is hamstrung by another drum machine, it’s still a real charmer, and The June Brides’ In The Rain is something of a landmark recording and shows the band at their energetic and tuneful best. The haunting psychedelic weird-out In The Afternoon by Andrew Innes’ The Revolving Paint Dream has worn rather well and a rockabilly-tinged Tangled Up In Blue by Bristol’s Brilliant Corners offers a welcome change of pace. The Jasmine Minks were an important band in Creation’s development and Ghost Of A Young Man backs the claim that they were one of the more imaginative groups on the scene, using some subtle keyboards and backing vocals very creatively.

There a few mediocre efforts on this disc that makes it sag near the middle, but happily things finish on an up. The Pastels are a shoe-in for this kind of thing, with Million Tears finding them in good form indeed and St Christopher’s none-more-breezy Crystal Clear thrills. This compilation had to end with the exciting mayhem of Upside Down by The Jesus And May Chain. This was the point when things all changed really – on the plus side, after JAMC these kind of groups could reasonably hope to have hits on the pop charts, but looking at it negatively it was perhaps also the end of the line for old style independent thinking.

As in all things The Sun Shines Here it isn’t quite perfect and there are a few key acts missing. The biggest gap for me is Orange Juice – if Edywn Collins’ crew didn’t have a true claim as being one of the main building blocks of indie pop, I don’t know who has. Also, even though they arrived relatively late in the period documented by this set, it would be foolish to ignore The Smiths’ contribution to the more melodic end of C86. But apart from those omissions, there is a great deal to enjoy.

I know we live in an age where received wisdom says that everything is available at one’s fingertips. But it helps this set that the period of UK independent music between 1980 and 1984 hasn’t quite been compiled to death yet, while every other era has more of less been exhaustively reissued. The result of this is a good deal of what is included on The Sun Shines Here remains relatively fresh and some of the acts’ mystique is still intact. To be honest the concept of seeking the genesis of indie pop is of secondary importance to me. It’s the wealth of great material, especially early on, which makes The Sun Shines Here truly worthwhile.

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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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