AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #309: AMELIA FLETCHER

JC writes……

This is another first for the blog. It’s one I’m particularly excited about for all sorts of reasons that I won’t dwell on just now for fear of giving too much away.

The blog, for the next three days, is being taken over by The Three Masketeers, a trio of allegedly mysterious indie-pop aficionados whose obvious love and affection for the music and the musicians who make said music, will surely help to brighten up your days and perhaps introduce you to some songs you may otherwise not be familiar with.

There will be three separate but interlinked pieces, beginning with an ICA, followed by an exclusive interview, and rounded off on Thursday by a review of a soon-to-be-released album.

So, I’m off on a holiday (of sorts) till Friday, but in the meantime, you can find yourselves in the very capable hands of Don Diego de la Vega, Eustache Duager and Kathy Kane.

AMELIA FLETCHER GOES FORTH: A GUEST ICA by THE THREE MASKETEERS

A number of contributors to this blog have previously claimed that narrowing things down when pulling together an ICA is a near-impossible task. Having spent hours agonising over how to distil the output of Amelia Fletcher into a single, albeit wholly imaginary piece of 12” vinyl, we can confirm this to be the case.

This one contains 12 songs. As you’ll see from the specially created album sleeve, it encompasses a career which started in 1986 and continues still to provide great joy and delight in 2022. It’s not a chronological ICA, but it does start with one of the earliest songs on which Amelia took centre stage, and ends with something from a very unexpected but wonderful album released at the tail end of last year.

SIDE A

1. Talulah Gosh – Talulah Gosh (1987)

The blame for all what follows could, allegedly, be pinned on the fact that The Pastels provided their fans with wonderful badges back in the day. Amelia Fletcher and Elizabeth Price happened to strike up a conversation with one another at a gig in a small venue in Oxford in 1985 thanks to them wearing such badges.

They soon formed Talulah Gosh, a five-piece band and in 1986 signed to the Edinburgh-based 53rd & 3rd Records, finding themselves at the forefront of a scene that was soon labelled as ‘twee’ by the UK music press. The fact that Amelia called herself ‘Marigold’, while Elizabeth went by the name of ‘Pebbles’ and that early songs included Pastels Badge and Beatnik Boy, perhaps gives an idea of the sense of fun and mischief involved.

Elizabeth took leave of the band before the year came to an end, and was replaced by Eithne Farry as co-vocalist and on tambourine, with her first contributions being on this, the band’s third single release in May 1987. It is, quite simply, the greatest mission statement in all of indie-pop history. (Eustache Dauger)

2. Heavenly – She Says (1991)

It was awfully difficult to choose just one Heavenly song for this ICA, and in the end a bit of a personal curveball won the day.

She Says is from 1991, but isn’t on the original Heavenly Vs. Satan LP of that year. In fact, this 7” single came out not on Sarah Records of Bristol at all, but on K of Olympia (capital, no less, of Washington state).

A curveball? Simply because I’ve only recently truly fallen for She Says’ jittering, twitchy charm. It’s a less immediate prospect than other Heavenly singles – debut I Fell In Love Last Night (1990), its follow-up Our Love Is Heavenly (1991) or the likes of the more robust P.U.N.K. Girl and Atta Girl, both from 1993. But She Says’ spine of recurring doo-doo-doos, angel-class harmonies from Amelia and Cathy Rogers, plus a construction that’s almost located in the quiet/loud arena won the day.

Fancy a look at an amusing video of the band gadding around, in the indiepop style? (Kathy Kane)

3. Sportique – How Many Times….? (2002)

To paraphrase Anthony Strutt, “Sportique isn’t really a group. It is an underground indie supergroup…”

Amelia contributed to Sportique from the second LP onwards. Founded by ex-members of The Television Personalities and the Razorcuts, How Many Times…? sounds kitsch, anachronistic and just a wee bit shouty. I love it! With its throbbing bass, stabbing guitar and swirling, psychedelic keyboard charging towards that pleading vocal refrain… “how many times will I ask the same question…”  A gem.  (Don Diego De La Vega)

4. Marine Research – Bad Dreams (Peel Session, 1999)

Taken from Marine Research’s solitary Peel session (broadcast 18 May 1999), Bad Dreams is notable in employing a call-and-response device featuring Amelia and David Gedge – whose own Wedding Present and Cinerama ventures pop up often on this blog.

By lending a vocal Gedge was of course returning a favour, Amelia having guested on the Weddoes’ debut album George Best way back in 1987 (as well as supplying backing vocals and shrills to the band’s 1988 Beatles cover Getting Better).

Bad Dreams pits Gedge’s dialled-down delivery against Amelia’s zappier replies. The effect, and the lyrical content – fixated on the somewhat lost under-achieving male and the smart, successful female – magics up a picture of an indie odd couple: a contrasting pair of soulmates kind of doomed to be life partners despite it all.

Amelia has often advanced less-travelled takes on relationships, sometimes skewering male excess and manipulation, as well as traditional gender roles and assumptions. Continuing that theme – one demonstrated by previous band Heavenly in songs including Hearts And Crosses, Itchy Chin and Sperm Meets Egg, So What? – Bad Dreams casts the female as the empowered, positive breadwinner.

The file offered here is taken directly from the Peel broadcast. It’s topped and tailed with the DJ’s comments, including an endearingly unnecessary grammatical correction. (Kathy Kane)

5. Catenary Wires – Face On The Rail Line (2021)

Although Catenary Wires formed in 2014. It was 2016 before I became acquainted. Stripped down at this early stage to a duo, with long time musical, and life partner, Rob Pursey, Intravenous wafted like a wonderful breath of the freshest air. It is gorgeous.

I’m sure that some of you will appreciate that when someone asks you to name your favourite song by a particular band your answer may not be a straightforward as the questioner hoped. I zigged. I zagged. I hummed. I hawed and eventually decided upon Face On The Rail Line, recorded with a full band, and reminds me, in some ways, of Take Me Home, Country Roads which then diverges and soars leaving me to hit repeat. Hit repeat! Hit repeat!!  (Don Diego De La Vega)

6. The Pooh Sticks – Who Loves You (1991)

Following a big, confident, swaggering intro, Who Loves You (its title devoid of question-mark) swiftly switches to matters indiepop via a shift in pace and Amelia Fletcher’s brightly-delivered opening lines. Head Pooh Stick Hue Williams takes on the bulk of the rest of the song, prior to a closing – this time duetting- reprise of the intro. This bouncing 1991 single is from the Pooh Sticks’ excellent Great White Wonder LP on the Cheree label and is loads of fun.

A bit of personal indulgence if that’s OK: this song, and the LP it’s from, is forever connected with what will be coyly referred to as the Amelia Fletcher Converse Vandalism Incident – an infraction that, allegedly, took place in Edinburgh in July of 1991. (Kathy Kane)

SIDE B

1. Heavenly – I Fell In Love Last Night (1990)

Talulah Gosh called it a day in 1988. Three-fifths of its members when that day was called went on to form Heavenly, whose membership was augmented by Rob Pursey, an original member of Talulah Gosh but who had left very early on. Yup, the same Rob Pursey mentioned by my dear friend Don Diego at Track 5 on Side A of this ICA.

Heavenly signed to Sarah Records, and over the course of seven years would release four albums and seven singles (eight, if you count a split 7” released with bis in 1996).

I Fell In Love Last Night was the debut. A melodic and upbeat number about the break-up of a relationship, with more than a passing nod to the harmonies of 60s girl groups. It has featured previously on this blog, in a guest post written by the imperious Comrade Colin. He put it far better than I’m capable of doing:-

“Heavenly…..were the perfect Sarah band, and not just because of their history as Talulah Gosh or the fact they clearly hearted The Pastels. They just seem to capture the essence of what Sarah was all about; the guitars, the lyrics, the look and the love for, well, love. And, yes, in the beginning, the Heavenly view of love was a wide-eyed and hopeful vision of love, for sure, but what’s wrong with that, exactly? Oh, also worth mentioning is the fact that the ‘A’ side is relatively epic for a Sarah single – over 5 minutes long – but it holds together brilliantly and has a great run-out in the closing few minutes, building and building into a crashing finale. Lovely stuff.” (Eustache Dauger)

2. Catenary Wires – Mirrorball (2021)

It somehow feels natural that a song about falling out of love should be followed immediately with something from the other side of the coin.

The setting is a seemingly appalling, 80s-theme night in which the music is dominated, for the most part, by chart fodder. The wishes of those with, shall we snootily say a more refined taste, are very much along the lines of hanging the DJ. And yet, amidst the noise, chaos, drunkenness and bedlam, something quite magical happens.

A lovely wee video was made for this one. You’re a heartless bastard if this doesn’t put a smile on your face.

Oh, and coming up next, something which shows that even back in the day, the indie-kids loved their disco dancing. (Eustache Dauger)

3. Amelia Fletcher – Wrap My Arms Around Him (1991)

Wrap My Arms Around Him appears on the 1991 single/ep Can You Keep A Secret? The first time I played the EP I genuinely felt a parting of the ways. This wasn’t Talulah Gosh. This wasn’t Heavenly. What was it exactly? Initially, the opening track Can You Keep A Secret? was just too close to PWL for my liking, with those upfront keyboard ‘stabs’. Then came Wrap My Arms Around Him… still a sense of unease. However, on each track I did enjoy the vocals.

To quell my unease, I convinced myself that Wrap My Arms Around Him sounded rather like the much-vaunted new kid on the block St. Etienne, particularly Kiss And Make Up (Sarah Cracknell version), which is perhaps unsurprising as it’s a ‘re-imagining’ of Let’s Kiss And Make Up, a song by Amelia’s Sarah Records label mates, The Field Mice.

It took no time at all for me to love this uplifting ep.  While there has been a bit of an internal bun-fight in choosing a favourite, regular plays put my choice of Wrap My Arms Around him in little doubt.

Of the EP Amelia has said “…I wanted to be a disco diva, in the Yazz or Lisa Stansfield mould.” (Don Diego De La Vega)

4. Marine Research – Hopefulness To Hopelessness (1999)

Marine Research was a short-lived vehicle for Amelia, lasting depending on who you believe, between eighteen months and two years (1997 – 1999). It’s my own personal view that the band members were more driven during this period as they played live (even making trips to the USA), recorded radio sessions – some of which were filmed – and played live radio sessions, within what is a short timescale. The opening lyrical salvo suggests Amelia wasn’t quite done with her diva inclinations…

“I still want to have a chart hit
Go to pop parties
I still want to go to Paris in the spring
I still want to get my hair cut
Just like Jean Seberg”

Hopefulness To Hopelessness. A song about hope and defiance driven by a pulsing bass. (Don Diego De La Vega)

5. Tender Trap – Do You Want A Boyfriend? (2010)

So sweet that even the top-brand toothpastes struggle, prepare for rhymed references to Walking In The Rain and the Jesus And Mary Chain as Amelia and co. – ‘co.’ being fellow Trappers Katrina Dixon, Elizabeth Morris, John Stanley and, of course, Rob Pursey (whose presence decorates all of this ICA) ponder the track’s title query.

The song’s as out-and-out joyous as the likes of Talulah Gosh’s Bringing Up Baby or Over And Over by Heavenly, and that’s a tone assisted by a fun video of the band playfully interpreting the single’s theme. That said, a perhaps-darker response to its query is hinted at via the lines:-

“I bought new clothes and played guitars
I even changed my hair
But I don’t really see what I’m doing for me”  (Kathy Kane)

6. Swansea Sound – Corporate Indie Band (2021)

A new band full of familiar old faces and one of those rare positive things to emerge from the lockdown situations associated with the efforts to suppress the COVID outbreak.

Rob Pursey has just written a new song that he feels is just too fast and frantic for Catenary Wires. He decides to fire it off to head Pooh Stick Hue Williams.

Hue declares that he loves it. He re-records the vocal, from a cupboard in his house in Wales, returning it to Rob who is with Amelia in their home in Kent. Before long, work gets underway on a second song, using a similar process where the musicians don’t actually meet up in person.

The decision is taken to release the two songs as a mail-order limited edition cassette single. They get played on BBC Radio 6 Music and the cassette sells out quickly, and, almost by accident rather than design, Swansea Sound comes into being as a fully-fledged and active band.

With the addition of Ian Button on drums, and some guest vocals from The Crystal Furs, an indie-trio from Portland, Oregon, an album’s worth of material emerges, and is issued at the end of 2021 by Skep Wax Records, earning a recommendation as an ideal Christmas gift by this blog’s esteemed and urbane host, JC. (Eustache Dauger)

JC adds……

I know I said I was going to shut up for a few days, but just like the Four Tops, Gene, and Edwyn Collins….I Can’t Help Myself.

A huge thanks to The Three Masketeers for a delightful edition to the ICA canon. As mentioned at the outset, they will remain in charge of TVV for the next couple of days, and there’s more treats on the way in the shape of an interview with someone involved with Sarah Records back in the day, followed by an album review.

Hopefully, you’ll all tune in for those.

9 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #309: AMELIA FLETCHER

  1. In the end she did get her hair cut like Jean Seberg, so that’s one thing ticked off the list.

  2. I suspect that Brian isn’t one of the Three Masketeers but I know that he will love this

  3. I don’t think any discussion of Amelia Fletcher OBE is complete with pointing out her day job is as an economics Professor!
    Which is about as surprising as Lesley Wood of the Au Pairs being an immigration lawyer.

  4. I wish I was called Eustache Duager. A new entry at the top of brilliant names chart

    Excellent from start to end. Thank you.

  5. Today a friend pointed me to two other interesting collaborations by Amelia Fletcher:

    Hefner – The Greedy Ugly People (Too Pure 2000)
    Nick Heyward – Believe in me (Epic 1995)

    The first song made it straight into my April mix tape (which means it will be with me throughout April).

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