53rd & 3rd Records, named after a Ramones song, was founded by David Keegan of the Shop Assistants and Stephen McRobbie of the Pastels, along with Sandy McLean who was working for Fast Forward, the Edinburgh-arm of The Cartel which was a record distribution set up by a number of small independent UK record labels to ensure product made its way into record shops.
The label was very active for less than three years, although there would be a small number of albums and compilation efforts a bit later on. The best known bands were The Shop Assistants (although there was just one single for the label), BMX Bandits, Talulah Gosh and The Vaselines, all of whom have made telling contributions to the indie music scene. Here’s a wee ICA for you to enjoy or endure, depending on your taste:-
1. The Shop Assistants – Safety Net
Where it all began, in February 1986, with the 7″ pressing of AGARR 1. It was the Shop Assistants‘ third single and their third different label, and the one which really brought them to the attention of major label Chrysalis, for whom they later signed to the Blue Guitar imprint, which itself was a short-lived effort that didn’t make it to the 90s.
AGARR stands for ‘As Good As Ramones Records’ which must just about be the coolest way any label has ever come up with to give its releases a catalogue number.
Fun fact – Safety Net was #8 in the 1986 Peel Festive Fifty, outvoted only by four Smiths songs, and one each from The Fall, Primal Scream and Age of Chance.
2. The Groovy Little Numbers – Happy Like Yesterday
Straight into the other end with AGARR 21 and what proved to be the final 45 released by the label in August 1988. As I mentioned in March 2018 when it was their turn to be featured in the Saturday’s Scottish Song series, Groovy Little Numbers were from Bellshill and consisted of
Joe McAlinden, who was (and still is) a multi-instrumentalist, Catherine Steven (vocals) and Gerard Love (bass, vocals), along with a brass section from the Motherwell Youth Orchestra comprising Colette Walsh (tenor saxophone), John McRorie (alto sax), Kevin McCarthy (baritone sax), Mairi Cameron (trumpet), and James Wood (trumpet).
Happy Like Yesterday is a great track – very upbeat and catchy. And danceable.
3. Talulah Gosh – Talulah Gosh
I’ll refer to the wonderful words of strangeways, from his impeccable ICA on Talulah Gosh back in January 2018
A group who pinched their name from a Clare Grogan NME interview (if the internet is to be believed, it seems Clare played a game of combining a favourite actor’s name – Tallulah (despite the double-l) Bankhead? – and a favourite word).
Slow verses. Quick choruses. Talulah’s self-referencing anthem is a corker and, as alluded to already, paints a picture of an elusive, unsolvable character. Just who is the phantom Talulah Gosh? A minor myth insists it’s a thank-you to the band-naming Clare Grogan herself. Let’s hope, though, that the mystery endures – like an indiepop yeti or Loch Ness Monster.
This was released in May 1987 and is AGARR 8.
4. The Beat Poets – Killer Bee Honey
See…..it’s not all twee on 53rd & 3rd. The Beat Poets specialised in making instrumental music and were very heavily influenced by surf and rockabilly. I’m told that on stage they looked the part too, wearing tartan teddy-boy jackets as they did their thing.
The Beat Poets released an EP, Glasgow Howard, Missouri, in May 1987 and a single, Rebel Surf, in July 1988. Following the demise of the label, the band enjoyed a short deal with Imaginary Records, based in Heywood, Lancashire (and home of Cud, The Chameleons and The Mock Turtles, among others) with an album Totally Radio being issued in 1990.
Killer Bee Honey is the lead track on the May 87 EP and is AGARR 9.
5. BMX Bandits – Sad?
OK, I take it back, as this is as twee as it gets. This is from July 1986 and is AGARR 3 (and about as far removed from The Ramones as you can get).
It’s one half of the double-A debut single by the BMX Bandits – the reverse is E102. Worth mentioning that those involved at the time would now constitute something of a supergroup as Duglas T Stewart had the aforementioned Joe McAlinden involved, as well as the soon-to-be-famous Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), together with Sean Dickson and Jim McCulloch of The Soup Dragons.
1. The Vaselines – Teenage Superstars
It could be argued that The Vaselines are the most famous act ever to be part of 53rd & 3rd, but it could equally be argued that their fame came long after their own and the label’s demise.
Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, the co-vocalists and guitarists, are the duo who make up The Vaselines, but augmented by other musicians on bass and drums. There were two singles, in 87 and 88, and eventually an album in 1990, two years after the label had released that final single by The Groovy Little Numbers. The band broke up just a few weeks after the album hit the shops.
The second of the singles had four tracks on the 12″ release, two of which were covered by Nirvana, with Kurt Cobain declaring his love and admiration for Eugene and Frances. The endorsement had folk chasing round trying to get hold of the few copies of the singles and albums which were still kicking around, and so the label revived itself in 1992, and in conjunction with Edinburgh-based indie-store Avalanche Records, compiled All The Stuff and More.. bringing together everything the Vaselines had recorded, nineteen tracks all told.
Fast forward to the summer of 2006. Eugene and Frances take to the stage together for the first time since 1990 to perform a set of Vaselines songs, as part of a joint tour to promote their individual solo albums. This would eventually lead to a formal reformation, with a second album Sex With an X being issued by Sub Pop in 2010 and then V for Vaselines, on the band’s own Rosary Music, in 2014.
Teenage Superstars is an absolute belter of a tune, a fabulous throw-back to the post-punk/new wave era of the late 70s. It is taken from Dying For It, AGARR 17, released in March 1988.
2. The Boy Hairdressers – Golden Shower
Released in late 1987, the single with the catalogue number AGARR 12 is one of the most sought-after 45s. The Boy Hairdressers were a short-lived combo, and indeed the 12″ single is their sole recording, and the interest all boils down to the fact that most of its musicians would become Teenage Fanclub and the fact that all three of the songs on this recording were composed by Norman Blake.
Personally, I think it’s a bit of a dud, but it does have historical significance.
3. Talulah Gosh – Bringing Up Baby
Here’s strangeways again……
Congratulations Mr and Mrs Gosh: it’s a bouncing baby single. A really splendid song with an opening ten or so seconds that will rot your teeth at twenty yards. Maybe ‘Baby’, with its la-la-la-ing chorus and fizzy, bounding tune is the ultimate Talulah number.
This one was released in January 1988 and took the number AGARR 14
4. Chin Chin – Stop! Your Crying
It was only when realising how much, over the years, that I had enjoyed many of the bands on 53rd & 3rd, did I go and do a bit more digging.
I found that Chin Chin hadn’t ever released a single but that there had been an mini-LP with eight songs in August 1988, just as the label was preparing to call it a day. I had never heard of Chin Chin, and couldn’t ever recall seeing their name in any of the reference books I have lining various shelves in Villain Towers. Thank goodness for t’internet….and for a detailed bio on the website of Slumberland Records of which these are the relevant parts:-
Chin Chin, an all-female group consisting of Karin (guitar/vocals), Esther (bass/vocals) and Marie-Anne (drums/vocals), was formed in 1982 in Biel, Switzerland. Musically the band had many influences: The Clash, The Ramones, X-Ray Spex, Blondie, Generation X, Siouxsie & The Banshees, David Bowie, Motown, 1960s girl groups and glam rock bands like T-Rex and Slade.
In 1985, Chin Chin’s album Sound Of The Westway was released on Farmer Records, containing 12 original compositions recorded and mixed in just 7 days. Sound Of The Westway caught the attention of NME journalist The Legend!, who published the first UK interview with the band. On the heels of this great press, Chin Chin were approached by the management of Scottish band The Shop Assistants with an offer to support them on their German tour. The tour was hugely successful, leading to the release of the “Stop Your Crying” EP on Scotland’s legendary 53rd and 3rd label…
All of this, and more, was written to support that Sound of The Westway was given a re-release by Slumerland Records back in 2010.
Stop! Your Crying was the lead track on their sole release for 53rd and 3rd. The LP/EP had the catalogue number of AGAS 001.
5. The Shop Assistants – Somewhere In China
Just as I did with Kirsty MacColl and the Steve Lillywhite ICA last time out, I make no apologies for closing with a second track from the opening act of this ICA.
I managed to track down a mint copy of Safety Net on discogs during this recent lockdown period, delighted to find someone who wasn’t wanting really stupid money for it. It’s an important single for all sorts of reasons, not least being the first on 53rd & 3rd, but it took on added poignancy last year with the sad news emerging just that lead singer Alex Taylor had passed away as far back as 2005. The news only emerged from the efforts associated with trying to track her down to celebrate the release of Scarlet, the shelved album from her later band, The Motorcycle Boy.
I love Alex’s voice and in particular the way she sounded on the haunting and lovely Somewhere In China, and I felt I really needed to get my hands on a vinyl copy.
I know this ICA is a bit of a niche, but then again, aren’t they all?
I think that’s what has helped make it one of the longest-running of the series I’ve introduced over the years….and, as ever, if anyone ever wants to submit an ICA of their own, even if it is by a singer or band previously featured, then I can guarantee it will appear.
Well, almost guarantee…..Morrissey is still barred!
JC (and strangeways)