A HAPPY SOUNDING SONG, BUT TINGED WITH TRAGEDY

Heavenly emerged, in 1989, from the rubble of the disintegration of Talulah Gosh, a band that has very much come to represent all that folk love/loath about the genre referred to as twee-pop. To begin with, there wasn’t much to distinguish between Heavenly and Talulah Gosh, which is no great surprise given that four of the musicians were common to both line-ups and there was less than a year between the last single from one band and the first single from the other.

There was a gradual, if slight, shift in the music made by Heavenly during the first half of the 90s. The tunes remained very upbeat and perfect for much airing at the indie-disco, but the subject matters were less innocent or far from flimsy. The band members were aging gracefully and their growing confidence, both on stage and inside the recording studio, looked like putting them on the ladder to a wider commercial success, especially as the UK music press was in the middle of its Britpop frenzy period and were talking up all sorts of bands, many of whose collective charms and talents were minuscule in comparison. The fourth studio album was in the can and there were a number of songs that had ‘likely hit’ stamped all over them.

Tragically, the group’s drummer Matthew Fletcher took his own life in June 1996 shortly after the recording of the album was complete. It was devastating for all concerned, none more so than his sister, Amelia, the lead vocalist and in the eyes of many, the main focus of the band. The album, Operation: Heavenly, was released in October 1996. It was an absolute classic of its kind, cutting the ties almost entirely with twee and packed with tunes that were tailor-made for the daytime radio of the times. Understandably, the band members didn’t/couldn’t do much to promote it and it faded away into obscurity, other than having one 45 issued to help things along:-

mp3: Heavenly – Space Manatee

It took a while to get over the loss but the remaining came back together some 18 months later as Marine Research, by which time the Britpop era was over and very few executives were interested in four-piece bands who relied on catchy pop tunes.

I’ve long had a copy of the final album on CD but I recently picked up a copy of that final single and was delighted to discover that its two b-sides were both cover versions:-

mp3: Heavenly – You Tore Me Down
mp3: Heavenly – Art School

The former was originally by The Flamin’ Groovies and is from their 1976 album, Shake Some Action. The latter is a homage to The Jam with a fairly faithful musical interpretation, short and sharp at under two minutes, of a track from In The City (1977).

JC

6 thoughts on “A HAPPY SOUNDING SONG, BUT TINGED WITH TRAGEDY

  1. Aaaaah! Magic.

    3 of my all-time favourite bands in one article. All 3 criminally under-rated. As are the incarnations to follow: Tender Trap and The Catenary Wires.

    Whether indie-pop or twee-pop (I don’t mind which) it was the 1st major punk-inspired movement to take place since the early 80s with DIY as it’s calling card.

    This is a movement that had women to the fore well before Riot Grrrl and one that actively challenged negative stereotypes of gender and sexuality. At the time it was much derided for its childish nostalgia – fast forward and we now don’t bat an eye at an adult in an anorak, on a skateboard, BMX bike or collecting nostalgic items from their childhood/youth.

    Indie-pop/twee-pop …significantly more influential that it gets credit for.

    Thanks, JC. I start the day with the widest smile.

  2. This is why I love this blog. I have listened to and experienced so much music by so many bands and artists and I’m still discovering new (to me) music. I had heard of Heavenly and Talulah Gosh but I don’t think I’d actually heard anything by them… or Marine Research, Tender Trap and The Catenary Wires, for that matter. Thanks so much for opening my eyes and ears, JC and FFF, I will be rectifying this gross oversight now!

  3. Mentioned this before I’m sure, but We Can Get Together by The Hold Steady is a partial tribute to Heavenly and Matthew Fletcher. Includes the line:
    “He wasn’t just the drummer, he was someone’s little brother
    I still spin that single, but it don’t sound that simple anymore”

  4. Wow. A Talullah Gosh fan from the early 90s who had no idea of Heavenly before now! As Discogs didn’t exist yet, it was tough getting information even in the early days of the web.

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