A GUEST POSTING by STRANGEWAYS
Talulah Gosh, featuring the mighty Amelia Fletcher, tend to polarise.
Easily distinguishable from say Motörhead or GG Allin, the band’s output was, and is, often dismissed and marginalised as cute, shambling and, most especially, that reliable kiss-of-death: ‘twee’.
For some, then, huge silly grins are the instant reaction to a TG number. For others, the response is to feel a bit queasy. Not bad going for a band with only 25 songs to their name – and even that number is bolstered by John Peel and Janice Long sessions, and some pretty demo-sounding demos. (At this point it’s worth mentioning that you can scoff the lot on the 2013 Was It Just A Dream? compilation – on Damaged Goods.)
To be fair, the twee accolade/accusation is not so astonishing. This is, after all, 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).
This is a band, also, who titled an early number The Day She Lost Her Pastels Badge, as well as using aliases like ‘Pebbles’ – for Elizabeth Price – and ‘Marigold’ – for Amelia Fletcher – (both vocals and guitar). And you can add to all this a passion for the kind of zooming, chiming guitars, helium vocals and sha-la-la-ing harmonies that make some listeners scream and scream and scream until they’re sick.
The words? They often allude to a world of the group’s own making – a secret land of rainbow hunts, escalators on hills and, in the eponymous single, the mysterious, dreaming Talulah Gosh herself: variously a film and pop star, a top celebrity, but ultimately a figure doomed and blessed to always be herself.
Given all that, it’s no surprise that Talulah Gosh have never been everyone’s beaker of Creamola Foam. Negative reactions are maybe similar to those that greeted the fanzine-led band scene the group helped establish in the later 80s (and the Riot Grrrl genre they went on to influence in the 90s). But even if they’re not your thing at all, TG’s songs – of strawberry hair and spearmint heads, beatnik boys and bringing up babies – annoy the musically macho, and there’s always worth in that.
As a postscript, rising, like a felt-tip phoenix from the day-glo ashes of Talulah Gosh, Heavenly – still-enchanted but more worldly-wise – would emerge in 1990. That band’s records – a terrific line-up of seven singles and four LPs – saw Amelia and pals hop from one spiritual home (53rd & 3rd) to another (Sarah Records). But that’s all maybe for the threat of another ICA. (ed’s note – yes, please!!!)
Purely because it’s quite unusual: what did Marigold and Pebbles do next? The keen will know that Amelia continued in music, post-Heavenly, via Marine Research and Tender Trap – and that in 2014 she wound up with an OBE for services to Competition and Consumer Economics (and indiepop). Pebbles? Only the winner of the Turner Prize in 2012.
For now though, our story whizzes back to 1986, and to the undecorated Marigold and Pebbles of that era, alongside their bandmates Eithne Farry; Mathew Fletcher; Peter Momtchiloff; Rob Pursey and Chris Scott.
But you can call them all Talulah.
Talulah Gosh At Large: a (New) Vinyl Villain imaginary compilation album.
1. Talulah Gosh (single A-side, 1987)
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.
A tamer, whispery session version of this song isn’t as engaging, but it’s still well worth a listen.
2. Testcard Girl (7” single A-side, 1987)
Sounding for all the world like a riot in Hamleys, Testcard Girl muses on boredom and loneliness, and it knows only one speed. But scream (the band certainly do) if you want to go even faster. Interested in the story of the real Test Card (two words) Girl? Just whack the name Carole Hersee into Wikipedia.
3. My Boy Says (Rock Legends: Volume 69 track, 1987)
Talulah Gosh at their most in-love? My Boy Says is giddy and giggly and all those kinds of things that characterise the smitten. A bit like someone who can’t be late for a very important date, the song walks-then-jogs, walks-then-jogs.
4. I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (Thank God) (Where’s the Cougar, Matey? EP track, 1987)
A cynical, somewhat fed-up lyric of the type that perhaps helped characterise Heavenly’s output, I Can’t Get No… sneaks salt into the sugar shaker. Then points and laughs.
5. The Girl With the Strawberry Hair (B-side of ‘Bringing Up Baby’ 7” single, 1987)
Another thundering pace. Carried by Mathew Fletcher’s relentless, driving drums, this is the closing song on Rock Legends: Volume 69 – the band’s original 1988 muddle of singles and B-sides. Rock Legends… would be augmented and superseded by two collections: Backwash (K Records, 1996) and the presumably definitive Was It Just A Dream? (Damaged Goods, 2013). But for a good while …Strawberry Hair is where the needle providing your Talulah fix would, with a slick little lick of goodbye guitar, hit the buffers.
6. Don’t Go Away (B-side of ‘Talulah Gosh’ 7” single, 1987)
What’s so wrong with carrying on? This lyric from the frantic Don’t Go Away could easily have titled this ICA. Bands don’t really have mission statements. That’s a good thing. But if they did, this would probably be the best one ever.
7. Be Your Baby (John Peel session, 11 January 1988)
Like Testcard Girl, here’s another express-train ride. This time the lyrical topic takes a pot-shot at the kind of restricting other-halves who seek to subtly Frankenstein their way to a perfect partner. Discernible amid the tumult are lines about having clothes bought for you, and your haircut and record collection decided by another. Six years later the issue of manipulation would resurface, this time via Heavenly’s ace LP track Itchy Chin.
8. Spearmint Head (John Peel session, 11 January 1988)
The best Talulah Gosh song in the world ever? For that honour, for me, it’d need to go toe-to-toe with Bringing Up Baby and Escalator Over The Hill. This session gem is a real shape-shifter though, and it whips up and down the gears with abandon.
9. Bringing Up Baby (7” single A-side, 1987)
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.
10. Escalator Over The Hill (B-side of ‘Talulah Gosh’ 12” single, 1987)
The curiouser and curiouser Escalator Over The Hill is daydreamy and quite otherworldly – one for all you sleepwalkers out there. From its abrupt opening, wig-out centre and soulful, haunting outro, the overall feeling is one of regret and sadness, helped along by lyrics that glue together the poetic and the mundane:
If age or time should weary you
What would you find to remind you
Of trains we caught
And buses we missed
Tickets we bought, taking us through
The barrier to
The escalator over the hill
I think those are powerful and unusual words and they contribute to my view that Escalator… is unlike any other Talulah Gosh song out there – an authentic indiepop lullaby.
Bit of trivia: Another, unrelated, piece of music of the same name predates this song by at least 15 years. Here’s Wiki’s introduction:
Escalator Over the Hill (or EOTH) is mostly referred to as a jazz opera, but it was released as a “chronotransduction” with “words by Paul Haines, adaptation and music by Carla Bley, production and coordination by Michael Mantler”, performed by the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra.
So now all you fans of chronotransductions can feel well and truly acknowledged. And to any Haines/Bley/Mantler afficionados who’ve landed here by accident: welcome aboard.
I’m surely not alone in wishing that this had arrived in advance of the launch of the ICA World Cup, as there’s every chance that this wonderful collection of songs could have taken on and defeated a number of the teams who will advance to its latter stages. Reference was made to the tamer, whispery session version of a song, and here it is:-
Nor was there room on the ICa for this gem, so consider it your bonus track:-