I AM A MUSIC SNOB….AND I HATE THIS HIT SINGLE

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I’ve said many good things about Aztec Camera over the years.  But I can’t bring myself to be positive about what was the biggest ever hit single (and it’s even more insipid b-side) that reached #3 in April 1988:-

mp3 : Aztec Camera – Somewhere In My Heart
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Everybody Is A Number One (Boston 86 version)

OK, by 1988 Aztec Camera weren’t really a band – more a name under which Roddy Frame recorded and toured. And as much as I had little time for the sound of the hugely over-produced Love LP, and the singles that it spawned, I was secretly pleased that Roddy was at last enjoying some long overdue commercial success and a wee bit of fortune. Oh and it’s not as if one producer was to blame for the sound of Love – there were a multitude of them. The hand on the buttons for this single and this version of the song that made it to the b-side was Michael Jonzun, best known in part for radio-friendly electro-funk stuff and for working with his brother Maurice Starr, who to intent and purposes, invented the boy-band phenomena of the 80s thanks to New Edition and New Kids On The Block (and there’s two acts I bet you never thought would get name checked on T(n)VV).

Incidentally, there’s an ever bigger abomination to be found on the 12″:-

mp3 : Aztec Camera – Somewhere In My Heart (12″ remix)

Stretching out to a tortuous seven minutes, it’s precisely what was wrong with so much music in the late 80s.

It was interesting that having tasted pop stardom, and all that it entailed in terms of promotion (daytime TV, kids shows, miming on Top of The Pops and similar shows across Europe), Roddy seemed to go out of his way to make a follow-up called Stray that was mostly downbeat and lovely, albeit it also had contained a massive hit with the ultra-catchy Good Morning Britain.

Somewhere In My Heart is of course a great crowd-pleaser and Roddy still performs it whenever he takes to the stage.  I do prefer his fresh take on it:-

mp3 : Roddy Frame – Somewhere In My Heart (live in Osaka, 2007)

Enjoy.

 

RODDY, EDWYN, MICK AND NORMAN

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It was October 1990 that Roddy Frame last bothered the compilers of the UK singles chart with his bombastic but catchy duet with Mick Jones.  As I mentioned in my ICA effort last August, compiled just after the Boy Wonder had given a tremendous near-homecoming concert at the Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow, there’s a really lovely piano only version out there, available as a b-side to the 1992 single Dream Sweet Dreams, in which the radio-friendly stomp chart is turned into a thing of beauty.

I had reason recently to dig out the original CD single and I re-discovered that in fact it was a decent release on its own as it contained a slight remix of the album version, two live tracks from a gig at the Barrowlands in August 1990 (one of which on the night was totally unexpected) and a radical remix thanks to Fatboy Slim himself.

mp3 : Aztec Camera and Mick Jones – Good Morning Britain (vocal remix)
mp3 : Roddy Frame and Edwyn Collins – Consolation Prize (live)
mp3 : Aztec Camera and Mick Jones – Good Morning Britain (live)
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Good Morning Britain (remixed by Norman Cook)

The lyric was of course a social commentary on life in the UK under a right-wing Tory government with no prospect of things changing but it was kind of lost in the tune that, with the help of Mick Jones, took Aztec Camera into the charts for that one last time in 1990.  This live version demonstrates just how great a song it is….maybe it is time for it to be dusted down and updated to take account of life under David Cameron…

mp3 : Aztec Camera – Good Morning Britain (live at Ronnie Scott’s)

Enjoy.

NOPE……I STILL DON’T RATE IT HIGHLY

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My recent efforts to come up with the perfect imaginary album for Aztec Camera caused a few folk to comment about the lack of any tracks from the 1984 LP Knife with a number suggesting that it is very much an underrated record. I thought I’d offer up a personal perspective if that’s OK with you guys and gals….

The biggest and most obvious issue facing Knife is that it isn’t High Land Hard Rain MkII. There are always great expectations of any singer or band whose debut LP has taken the world by storm and the pressures more often than not lead to ‘difficult second album syndrome’. Nobody however, anticipated this being an issue for Aztec Camera given just how bloody brilliant the songs had been thus far from the Postcard debuts through to the b-sides of the singles lifted from HLHR. Plus there was the fact that Malcolm Ross who was already a legend in Scottish music circles thanks to his involvement with Josef K and Orange Juice – was now part of the band; it was the very thought of him and Roddy both playing guitar on the new material that whetted many an appetite.

And then it was revealed that the choice of producer was to be Mark Knopfler who at the time was flying very high with Dire Straits but whose songs and style was very much at odds with the Glasgow indie cognoscenti. Some immediately anticipated disaster while others, and I was among them, thought it was an inspired choice that would surely bring out the best in the Roddy and Malcolm as far as guitar playing went.

Some of the new songs were aired in the live setting with one such occasion being a free early evening gig at Glasgow Barrowlands in August 1984 that was broadcast as part of a continuous 15 hour music show on BBC2 (The Cure would also perform from the same venue later in the evening, again as free gig). The crowd response to the new material was fairly muted, partly out of a lack of familiarity with the material but partly as they just didn’t seem to be as strong as the older songs.

A few days later, All I Need Is Everything was released as the advance single. It was a shock to the system. Not as much for the a-side which was decent enough if a tad blander and less catchy than most of us would have liked but for the fact that the b-side being a cover of Jump by Van Halen. Maybe it was meant to be ironic but I hated the original with a passion and just couldn’t bring myself to endure Roddy’s take on it.  The other thing that was worrying about the a-side was the fact, just like the remix of Walk Out To Winter when it was released as a 45, there was a fair bit of reliance on a synthesiser on the record which didn’t sit too easy with a number of fans who saw Aztec Camera as being very much a guitar band akin to The Smiths and Everything But The Girl.

The single didn’t quite bomb but three weeks floating around in the mid-30s on the charts was not the outcome the folk at WEA had been anticipating…and the critical backlash to the release of the album just a few weeks later did nothing to help.

More than 30 years on, I’m still of the view that Knife is a stinker of a record albeit it does have the occasional decent moment. Let’s get the truly awful out-of-the-way first………….and that is the fact that the title track would not have sounded out-of-place on a Dire Straits record. It is nine minutes long; it is more akin to noodling or jamming than a proper song; it was unlistenable then and it remains that way today. The one saving grace is that it was the closing track on side 2 and so you could race over to the turntable and lift the needle out of the groove before it started.

Knife also disappointed in other ways. Having only eight songs meant fans felt a bit short-changed. The extended version of All I Need Is Everything on the album was a total waste of time as all we got was two minutes of bland elevator synth muzak tagged on at the end. There wasn’t much evidence of the indie-pop guitar sound many of us had been hoping albeit album opener Still On Fire just about fits bill but is let down again by a reliance on synths in the instrumental break.

I suppose if I hadn’t known anything about Aztec Camera before the release of Knife then I’d have been impressed with Just Like The USA and The Birth of the True but they felt at the time, and still do, as poor relations to tracks on HLHR. Such were the standards on which they were being judged.

The remaining three tracks don’t do anything for me. I was particularly disappointed with Back Door To Heaven, the ballad that closes side one of the album which has an awful production complete with Roddy struggling with a vocal style that was completely alien to him.

So there you have it. A highly personal view that Knife doesn’t cut it. It’s no shock that it cost the band a fair chunk of its initial fanbase., that it also sold poorly and led to a major rethink from all concerned. It would take three years before the next Aztec Camera album would be released by which time only Roddy Frame was left from those who had been involved in the first two records…..

mp3 : Aztec Camera – Still On Fire
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Just Like The USA
mp3 : Aztec Camera – The Birth Of The True

and NOT from the album:-

mp3 : Aztec Camera – All I Need Is Everything (single version)

Enjoy

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #30: RODDY FRAME

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I was lucky enough just last Friday to get myself along to see Roddy Frame play an outdoor solo acoustic set in front of an adoring home audience at the restored bandstand in Kelvingrove Park here in Glasgow.  He was on blistering form and relaxed enough to engage in a fair bit of entertaining chat with the audience in between songs.  It was only after this set, which extended out to well over 100 minutes, that I fully appreciated just how many great songs he’s written over the years under his own name and of course under the label of Aztec Camera. And that was after a set that didn’t include all four of his Postcard songs!!

So I thought it would be worthwhile giving him the imaginary album treatment.

Side A

Track 1: Western Skies (from the 2006 solo album Western Skies)

This wasn’t aired at the recent gig and more’s the pity.  It’s the opening track to what was the third LP released under his own name.  I rarely like when ballads open up albums but this is such a lovely little understated song with very fine acoustic guitar plucking and a melodoica.  And I’m a sucker for that particular instrument…

Track 2: The Boy Wonders (from the 1983 Aztec Camera album High Land Hard Rain)

Notwithstanding that some of the production has dated poorly there can be no question that the first Aztec Camera LP is one of the greatest records in Scottish history.  It is a record packed with ridiculously catchy and memorable tunes and some wonderfully observant lyrics.  And of course Roddy Frame wrote most of the songs before he had reached his 18th birthday.  This song may not have been a single but it is the one that really has endured…a joyous celebration of youthful life with that fearless take on things that you have at that age.  And its a great record to dance to.

Track 3: How Men Are (from the 2006 solo CD Live In Osaka)

I have a real love/hate relationship with the third Aztec Camera LP from 1987.  Love is over-produced to the point where at times it becomes near unlistenable which is a damn shame as some of Roddy’s best songs can be found among its nine tracks.  It is when you hear them played nowadays, almost 30 years later, with just the voice and the acoustic guitar to occupy your thoughts, that you get a full appreciation of their majesty.  As with this, the sublime second track on Love but captured live in Osaka, Japan in September 2006.

Track 4: Just Like Gold (Postcard single, 1981)

A 16-year old kid wrote this.  Johnny Marr must have been tuning in and been inspired.  And Grant McLennan and Robert Forster will have looked on while they made their fleeting visit to Glasgow to record for Postcard and smiled at being in the presence of a genius.

I’ll admit that this wasn’t a song I took an instant shine to.  It was, if anything, too clean sounding.  I realise now that my musical tastes in 1981 hadn’t quite evolved enough to appreciate it.  It’s now probably my favourite Aztec Camera song of them all.

Track 5: Orchid Girl (b-side of the Aztec Camera single Oblivious, 1982)

I somehow haven’t found space on this imaginary offering for the single that first brought the band to the wider attention of the record buying public albeit I think it’s a belter of a 45.  But it is the b-side I have always been really fond of….not least as it helped me along the way to reassessing how I felt about Just Like Gold.  A short while later I fell for the charms of Billy Bragg and there’s many a time I’ve thought that Orchid Girl is the greatest BB love song that he never wrote…..

Side B

Track 6: Bigger Brighter Better (from the 1998 solo CD The North Star)

The North Star was the first album that Roddy hadn’t released as Aztec Camera and yet it is the album which overall is closest to the Aztec Camera debut record than any other in that it was packed with hooks and catchy choruses.  There’s an irony in there somewhere….

This track, tucked away in the middle of the CD, was the one that I thought at the time could have taken him back into the charts if the record label, Independiente, had gone for it as a single….but they didn’t.  It’s the one where Roddy reflects how maybe he wasn’t quite prepared for everything that was involved with being a pop star on a major label.  There would have been a real irony if Bigger Brighter Better had turned out to be his return to the singles charts.

The final irony?  In 1999, Independiente oversaw the release of The Man Who by Travis – a record that wasn’t really all that far removed from the sort of songs Roddy had tried to make his comeback with and yet it sold in millions.  The record buying public at their fickle best.

Track 7: Killermont Street (from the 2006 solo CD Live In Osaka)

The closing track on the Love album wasn’t one that suffered from too much over production and almost made the cut.  But there’s just something a bit special hearing Roddy, with just a guitar for accompaniment, deliver this ode to his roots at a venue thousands of miles away and realising that it’s a song capable of bringing a lump to the throats of an audience who have never set foot in the famed bus station.

Track 8: We Could Send Letters (from the 1983 Aztec Camera album High Land Hard Rain)

Originally released on the b-side of Just Like Gold and I honestly don’t know which of the versions I prefer.

The original is more dependant on the acoustic guitar and in comparison to the album version is almost demo-like in nature but comes with a passion and energy that makes it an essential listen.  However, the slicker production and the fact the tempo on the album version is slightly slower allows the song to breathe a bit more.  Oh and it’s also nearly a minute or so longer in length with a cracking solo from Roddy thrown in that ensures its place on this imaginary compilation.

Track 9: Good Morning Britain (from the b-side of the 1992 Aztec Camera single Dream Sweet Dreams)

A rare time when Roddy puts the guitar to one side and plays the piano to turn his radio-friendly stomp chart hit into a thing of beauty.  The lyric was always a social commentary on life in the UK under a right-wing Tory government with no prospect of things changing but was kind of lost in the bombastic tune that with the help of Mick Jones took Aztec Camera into the charts for one last time in 1990.  This live version demonstrates just how great a song it is….maybe it is time for it to be dusted down and updated to take account of life under David Cameron….

Track 10: Down The Dip (bootlegged version from Paisley Abbey, 27 October 2012)

The closing track from High Land Hard Rain has always been a crowd favourite.  Nowadays, and this is what he did at Glasgow the other week, Roddy extends it out with a coda of It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) and then shows off his guitar skills.  There’s a few versions of this out there but the fact that this was another gig in front of a home crowd who you can sense are going wild in the aisles of the historic old church makes it an ideal closer for this imaginary compilation……

mp3 : Roddy Frame – Western Skies
mp3 : Aztec Camera – The Boy Wonders
mp3 : Roddy Frame – How Men Are (live)
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Just Like Gold
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Orchid Girl
mp3 : Roddy Frame – Bigger Brighter Better
mp3 : Roddy Frame – Killermont Street (live)
mp3 : Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters (LP version)
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Good Morning Britain (live)
mp3 : Roddy Frame – Down The Dip (live)

Enjoy!

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #16 : AZTEC CAMERA

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Here’s an absolutely outstanding song from an otherwise underwhelming album:-

mp3 : Aztec Camera – Killermont Street

The closing track on Love, the record that spawned Somewhere In My Heart the band’s biggest and best known hit.

Killermont Street was the location of one of the bus stations that served Glasgow in the 60s and early 70s and in due course would be the street on which the new Buchanan Bus Station would be built in 1977. This is where a young Roddy Frame would need to make his way to head home of an evening and back to East Kilbride a journey that I’m sure saw him sitting on the top deck of the bright red bus dreaming of future days when his talents would take him all over the world.

And when that came to pass, it seems so fitting that he would see fit to pen this wonderful tribute to his adopted home city and to link it to the actual nearby town where he grew up, both of which by the late 80s were suffering as a consequence of the policies of an unsympathetic right-wing government content to see a dismantling of the traditions that had built Glasgow and its surroundings.

This one is dedicated to Drew who resides Across The Kitchen Table.  We must be due a pint again soon amigo…..

Enjoy.

MY FRIENDS ELECTRIC (4)

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Most bloggers are blokes…..its an undeniable fact. But some of the best and most enthusiastic bloggers are from the fairer sex as perfectly demonstrated by today’s Friend Electric.

Last week’s posting from Matthew highlighted that some bloggers had subsequently been able, through their talents, to carve out some sort of career in mainstream journalism and the talents and brains behind Last Year’s Girl is a fine example of this.

It’s probably easier just to cut’n’paste from the ‘About’ section of what should more accurately be described as a website rather than a blog:-

According to Wikipedia, that first port of call for general knowledge and pub quiz answers in the information age, the term “blog” was first coined in 1999. Curiously that’s when I began blogging myself, although I’d never have given those early teen-angst fuelled online diaries so lofty a title. My blogging is as old as blogging! That’s actually pretty neat.

I’m 31 and still can’t walk in heels. Apparently, this is actually due to being born with flat feet and not, as I previously suspected, because I’m not graceful. I live in Glasgow, in the west of Scotland; with a boy I met on Myspace, two rambunctious kittens called Scooter and The Big Man and our monkey companion Moriarty. We got married in 2010, which was hilarious.

I describe myself as a journalist by profession because every time I’ve considered doing something else I’ve realised that I’d still have to blog about it when I got home. At the moment I’m using my Masters in the subject alongside my law degree, writing content for the online news resource of a top UK law firm. After hours I write for all sorts – generally on music – such as national arts site The Arts Desk, The Herald and Is This Music?

My friend Tyler once described me as having “Clarkson Syndrome: she hates everything.” He meant it as a compliment, which is fine because I took it as one. I think that tells you everything you need to know about my personality.

I adopted Last Year’s Girl as an online handle in 2003, when Jesse Malin sang it at me from the stage in King Tut’s (it’s a lyric from his song “TKO”). I’ve blogged here on my own domain since 2005: mostly about music, media law and overpriced make-up. Big hugs to my Web Hedgehog for tech support and things.

Oh, and you can call me Lis, and email me ; lisamarie@pixlet.net.

Last Year’s Girl is actually a bit like a quality on-line newspaper – you click on the home page and you are immediately given the option of visiting a load of sections as well as the chance to listen to Last Year’s Girl Radio. It’s not simply about music either….the current headings as I look at the page include What’s On Glasgow, Feminism, Fashion and #team14; the latter is primarily about the cultural programme which is supporting the staging of the 2014 Commonwealth Games here in Glasgow (an event which my day job is very heavily linked to and why July is such a busy month).

There’s also a section where Lis highlights gigs she has either been to or is looking forward to – one visit there and you will soon see that we have a habit of bumping into one another at music venues on a regular basis.

Last Year’s Girl comes very highly recommended and is written by one of the nicest and most affectionate people on the planet and who in recent weeks has even gotten herself on a new locally, based television studio as a reviewer. Maybe it won’t be too long till she’s famous to a wider audience – she deserves it.

These tunes are for you Lis:-

mp3 : Heavenly – Atta Girl
mp3 : Camera Obscura – Modern Girl
mp3 : BMX Bandits – The Next Girl
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Orchid Girl

 

SIMPLY THRILLED : THE PREPOSTEROUS STORY OF POSTCARD RECORDS by SIMON GODDARD

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All three previous books on pop music written by Simon Goddard have been a delight to read and so I was bursting with excitement and anticipation approaching the release of his endeavours to tell the story of Postcard Records .
As someone who is old-fashioned enough to still want to walk into a shop to buy things rather than go on-line, I set out on a tour of book stores across Glasgow on the supposed day of publication only to find none had been delivered, although very helpfully I was informed some book and record shops were expecting copies in time for Record Store Day on Saturday 19 April.

Sadly, this didn’t prove to be the case.  I could have gone to a personal appearance by the author the following day and picked up a copy but couldn’t reschedule pre-arranged plans.  On Easter Monday the shops were closed, and come Tuesday and Wednesday I was too busy with work to find time to get into the city centre shops.  Thankfully, the late night openings on Thursday allowed me to take care of things. All that pent-up energy waiting to see what was behind the wonderfully designed cover led me to read the first few pages on the train home rather than do the usual thing of getting lost in music.

It was a strange introduction in that a short but informative prologue told the tragic story of Louis Wain, the Victorian and Edwardian era artist whose drumming cat became the symbol adopted by Postcard.  It’s only a short journey from the city centre to my home…just enough time to read the seven-page prologue and whet my appetite for what was to follow.

Over the course of the next two nights, interspersed by a particularly tiring and troublesome day at the office, I devoured the remaining 240 pages of the book.  And I woke up on Saturday morning feeling a bit iffy and sick as if I’d eaten something that was a bit off.

It pains me to say it but Simply Thrilled : The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records was a bit of a let-down. I’m not saying it’s a badly written or boring book – far from it – but the sense of excitement and anticipation of the chase of getting my hands on a copy was far greater than what I felt as I turned its pages.

The fault lies with the way the author has gone about the task.  The publicity material churned out by the publishers says:-

“This is the preposterous true story of Postcard Records, the renegade label which, with its mad DIY ethic, kickstarted the 1980s’ indie music revolution. From its riotous punk origins to the intertwining sagas of Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and cult heroes Josef K, this is how they took on and triumphed over the London ‘music biz’ big boys, against all odds. Acclaimed music writer Simon Goddard has interviewed everyone involved in the making of the legend of Postcard Records. The result is a giddy farce involving backstabbing, ‘Arthur Atrocious’, gluttony, heartbreak, ‘Disco Harry’, cheap speed, ‘Janice Fuck’, disillusion, Victorian lunatics and knickerbocker glories. But it’s also the story of creating something beautiful from nothing, against all the odds.”

Simon Goddard has interviewed everyone and has seemingly taken everything they said at face value and published it.  He himself knows such an approach is risky – in the foreword to the book he says what follows is a fairy-tale and not a documentary. He admits that many people’s recollections contradicted one another while others were distorted for what could be any of a number of reasons.

So what we get is a book which feels too much of an in-joke in which the main protagonists tell the story as they want it to be remembered and which, understandably, puts them in the best possible light.  This book isn’t really the story of Postcard Records – it’s more the like one of those projects in which people are asked to give their memories of a time and a place – in this instance Glasgow in the late 70s and early 80s – for a talented writer to record for posterity. I do admire the tenacity of the author in getting the notoriously reclusive Alan Horne, the brains behind the whole Postcard venture, to speak to him in such depth.

It’s quite clear that Simon and Alan spent countless hours together and there can be no argument that the mogul has a treasure-chest of wonderful anecdotes, many of which are embellished throughout the book.  But such is the size of the shadow cast by Alan Horne that I can’t help but feel that the story would have been better told as an authorized biography of his life and times rather than having others come in and say completely contradictory things and so confuse matters.

In terms of the music, the main focus is on Orange Juice and Josef K which is fair enough given that between them they accounted for around three-quarters of the material released on the label.  And while the chapter on the Go-Betweens is one of the most enjoyable in the book  – Glasgow must have seemed like a strange and alien planet to Grant McLennan and Robert Foster – the dearth of material on Aztec Camera is a bitter disappointment.  They don’t feature until well into the book and there’s not actually all that much said about them.

It’s almost as if this version of the story of Postcard comes to a crashing halt at the time Orange Juice decamped to a major label and Josef K called it quits in the aftermath of one disastrous gig too many in a Glasgow discotheque in August 1981. It certainly reads to me that Roddy Frame was signed to the label only because it allowed it to boast of having a 16-year old wunderkid on the books rather than the label owner actually liking his music.  As such, it is no real surprise that Alan Horne makes no real effort to make a star out of Roddy.

Simon Goddard admits he has written a preposterous tale which means he hasn’t been able to come up with the definitive story of Postcard Records. And therein lies my disappointment in his latest book. In saying all of this, I am glad I bought Simply Thrilled.   It has a number of  very funny and outrageous tales although whether they are true or not is another matter.

It is also a reminder that the Glasgow of the late 70s and early 80s was not the greatest place in the world if you dared to be different and a bit of a dreamer.  It was a conservative city in its outlook and its attitudes and all too often those traits made it a dangerous and frightening place for flamboyant and confrontational characters like Alan Horne and Edwyn Collins.

The book ends at the point in time when Alan Horne  gets the opportunity to set up Swamplands as part of the London Records empire.  How that came about is one of the best and loveliest stories in the entire book….but to say anything more would be to spoil things.

I think I can however, get away with quoting, in full, the afterword:- “So when is your book ending? Just with Postcard? Those were sort of my normal years compared to what came after.  Seriously, the real nuttiness was when I went down to London.  That’s a whole different soap opera of insanity there. Another story. God! That’s a whole other book…”   – ALAN HORNE Here’s hoping.

It’s not that long since I posted all of the Postcard singles on the blog, so today I’ll link in a few alternative takes, all inspired by the book:-

mp3 : Orange Juice – Felicity (flexi version)

(recorded April 1979 at an Edinburgh concert on a low-fi cassette by Malcolm Ross; made available on flexidisc with copies of Falling & Laughing as well as various fanzines)

mp3 : Josef K – Heaven Sent

(recorded for a Peel session in June 1981; given a posthumous release as a single in 1987 by which time Paul Haig had re-recorded it in a completely different style at the outset of his solo career. Oh and the tune is also near-identical to that of Turn Away as appears on the Orange Juice LP Rip It Up)

mp3 : Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters (NME Version)

(different mix from the Postcard b-side; made available on C81, a mail order cassette from the NME)

mp3 : Go-Betweens – Your Turn, My Turn

(a song Grant and Robert offered to Postcard for release as a second single on the label but which was turned down flat by Alan Horne)

Enjoy.