AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #265 : THE SIDDELEYS

A GUEST POSTING by STRANGEWAYS

Never the Bride

It feels like The Siddeleys were indiepop’s perpetual bridesmaids. The band was a fixture on that rampant UK scene of the late 80s, but never quite ascended to wider prominence.

It’s an old story, of course, and one that’s in no way exclusive to this group. But it’s an odd thing when set against the quality of the lyrics and music, and the appetite of the scene. Even now, the band feels less celebrated, cited and fondly recalled than contemporaries like say Talulah Gosh, The Flatmates and The Primitives.

Myself, I became aware of The Siddeleys via just a couple of songs: Are you STILL Evil When You’re Sleeping? found me via a John Peel show of the era. I taped it. But didn’t buy it. Then, a bit later on, a jaunty cover of Edison Lighthouse’s Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes), popped up on the compilation LP Alvin Lives (in Leeds). This record’s sales benefitted the Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay Resource Unit, an entity opposing the Thatcher government’s hated Poll Tax (or Community Charge to give it its Sunday name). I loved the Siddeleys’ cover, one of twelve versions of 1970s number-ones by bands including The Wedding Present, The Popguns and Lush. But I didn’t explore further.

Although it’s not totally my fault, around this time, after just two proper singles, a flexi and a couple of Peel sessions, The Siddeleys called it a day. A band that championed the mundane and made it sparkle, was ultimately undone by the mundane: the expense and fatigue of midwinter touring; the small-label collapse; the reliable unicorn-promise of interest from larger outfits (‘As hard to hold’, writes singer Johnny Johnson, ‘as a fistful of mist’).

Soon, The Sundays would appear: a group upheld by what you might call a major indie (Rough Trade), courted by the powerful-at-the-time music press (the monthlies as well as the weeklies) and subsequently feted by the fans.

Why mention The Sundays in relation to The Siddeleys? After all, they don’t much sound like one another. But as a pair of literate, resolutely British (even, zooming in closer, resolutely English) guitar bands they do occupy broadly the same circle in the great indie-pop Venn diagram (a thing existing, thankfully, only in my head). Yet these bands enjoyed wildly different fortunes. The Sundays’ debut single, 1989’s Can’t Be Sure, came to me via a John Peel show of the era. I didn’t tape it. But I did buy it. Perhaps I’d learned my lesson.

Diving into the DeLorean and mucking around with timelines, I recalibrate things so that The Siddeleys and The Sundays are proper contemporaries (in the horrible real world, as the former was fading from view, the latter was being prodded towards the spotlight, and to the New Smiths poisoned chalice). But in this version of events, Rough Trade snaps up The Siddeleys. Both bands embark on a tongue-twisting tour. The melodic support, fronted by someone called Johnny who – surprise – is actually a woman, gathers fans and plaudits. They go on to make great records. In turn, they’re supported on their own tours by some terrific new bands. Everything works out. And, job done, we all go home for tea.

Instead, in reluctant reality, this ICA is predominantly drawn from just one release: Slum Clearance, a compilation that appeared in 2001 on Clarendon Records and Matinée Recordings. Across its sixteen tracks, Slum Clearance gathers pretty much everything The Siddeleys ever recorded –including those two Peel sessions – and released.

It’s a collection that’s accompanied by extensive, and typically prosaic and poetic, sleeve notes from Johnny Johnson. The text is engaging: an alphabet of London postcodes is populated by bedsits and squats, rubbish jobs and rehearsals. Conjured up by Johnson is an almost Dickensian existence: lyrics crafted by candlelight, beetle-strewn floorboards, and meals of porridge bought for 37p/lb. Even the street names she wound up in sound like firms of bailiffs. Crampton & Colville. Longfield & Charlwood. There’s celebration too, of course. The comfort derived from locating kindred spirits. The getting-down-on-tape songs previously located only in notebooks and heads. And the enjoyable, inevitable mayhem that being in a band attracts.

But amid the flexidiscs and fanzine interviews, the well-received gigs and record deals, sits, ultimately, the disappointment of never, albeit commercially, quite making it. Of acknowledging that, actually, you had something pretty good. But it was something that didn’t fly as high or as far as it deserved to. As Johnson sings in You Get What You Deserve

‘I came so close to happiness it makes me cry’.

As we’re all here, for deeper cuts, 2017’s Songs From The Sidings, on Firestation Records, collects twenty-two demos recorded between 1985 and 1987. Like Slum Clearance, generous notes have been provided by Johnny Johnson. These are presented chronologically, each shift headed by those numerous dowdy London addresses the singer occupied at the time the songs on the record were created. It’s a clever device, and one that recalls a restless time and nomadic existence for Johnson, but a time in which the band members, as is often the way of it, against the odds found one another and began making music.

You can read the Slum Clearance sleeve notes at https://www.siddeleys.com/history.html

Members, variously:

Andrew Brown, bass
David Clynch, drums 1987-1989
Phil Goodman, drums 1986-1987
Johnny Johnson, singing, guitar, piano
Allan Kingdom, guitar
Dean Leggett, drums 1987

Never the Bride : A Siddeleys ICA for The (new) Vinyl Villain

Whittling sixteen tracks down to ten was harder than that task might sound. Any, really, of the Slum Clearance songs could have featured on this ICA.

Honourable mentions go to: You Get What You Deserve Because of the lyric ‘Sometimes I think I’d rather be beneath the train’.

My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon Because it’s the ultimate Siddeleys song and, for me, an authentic indie milestone full-stop. Beneath a kitchen-sinky title, it juxtaposes powerful, cosmos-shifting love with a down-at-heel seaside town and a smoke-pumping biscuit factory. It’s an anti-epic, and a chiming, elegant corker of a pop song. Remarkably, this was originally a b-side but, tellingly, a later version was chosen for Cherry Red’s sprawling Scared To Get Happy indiepop compilation. In 2018 the song popped up again, as one of two flips to 1987 debut single What Went Wrong THIS Time?, via Optic Nerve’s Optic Sevens reissue series.

Falling Off Of My Feet Again (demo): A pacier take than the version on Slum Clearance. And the faster and more brilliantly ragged of the two run-throughs on Songs From The Sidings. And, OK, maybe also because it does recall Talulah Gosh (see below).

Bedlam On The Mezzanine: Because its title sounds rather too much like the kind of event Paddington Bear might cause.

Wherever You Go Weirdly: It seems that back in the day The Siddeleys were dogged/blessed by comparisons with Talulah Gosh. Whilst, round these parts, this is pretty much the ultimate in accolades, it’s not really that accurate. This track could be the culprit. It does actually sound like Talulah. It’s a blast. But it’s not representative of the wider Siddeleys sound.

And I Wish I Was Good:  Some songs have a finality about them: something in their construction that makes them the perfect LP or compilation-closer. I Wish I Was Good is such a song. Quite relentless, robust and knockabout, it shuts the door (as it does on Slum Clearance) on this ICA. Somewhat ironically though, it seems it kind of started the Siddeleys story: written by Johnson in the very early 1980s.

With thanks to JC for the opportunity and space to share this.

Side one

Sunshine Thuggery
You Get What You Deserve
My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon
Every Day Of Every Week
Are You STILL Evil When You’re Sleeping?

Side two

What Went Wrong THIS Time?
Falling Off Of My Feet Again (demo)
Bedlam On The Mezzanine
Wherever You Go
I Wish I Was Good

Still with us? Wow. Your reward? A bonus 7″, consisting of the cover mentioned a few paras back, together with the original b-side version of the ultimate Siddeleys song

Bonus 7″

Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)
My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon

strangeways

ONE FOR AFICIONADOS OF THE C86 GENRE

Actually….it’s not one, it’s four. And they’re for fans of witty, intelligent and catchy pop music no matter the genre.

I featured The Siddeleys back in 2015 during the year-long look at acts which had been on CD86: 48 Tracks from the Birth of Indie Pop. I said at the time they were are one of those bands that sometimes cropped up in conversation but of whom I knew nothing until I did some research on them for that series.

Debut single What Went Wrong This Time? is one of the real highlights on the CD86 compilation and as such begs the question as to what went wrong for The Siddeleys as they never enjoyed any real success. After all, the NME had described the debut, in July 1987, as a “gentle teasing lament with cool female vocals and a lilting backing which trickles around the back of the nervous system with deceptive charm”.

The main issue was that it took a full year for the follow-up to appear by which time the band were on a third drummer. They had also switched labels to Sombrero Records and in August 1988 a 12″ single was released :-

mp3 : The Siddeleys – Sunshine Thuggery
mp3 : The Siddeleys – Are You STILL Evil When You’re Sleeping?
mp3 : The Siddeleys – Falling Off My Feet Again
mp3 : The Siddeleys – Bribes and Bruises

The lead-track combines the best of Close Lobsters, June Brides and Orange Juice. High praise I know….but in this case it is merited.

The other three tracks are also great slabs of music that deserve to be much better known than they are.

As I mentioned last time out, the band recorded two Peel Sessions in late 88/early 89 but plans for a third single were dashed when the record label ran out of money and when no other offers emerged they soon called it a day.

Incidentally, anyone who has a vinyl copy of this 12″ is sitting on something of value. The only one for sale on Discogs just now has an asking price of £60. So I’ll mention that these mp3s are not ripped from any vinyl!

JC

NEXT YEAR’S NOSTALGIA FEST (Part 33 of 48)

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The Siddeleys are one of those bands that have cropped up in conversation with fellow indie-geeks a fair few times but I always have to shrug my shoulders and admit I know nothing. Their inclusion on CD86 and place in this series has led me to do a wee bit of research and listen to most of the very few songs released while they were together and I’ve liked what I’ve heard.

They initially comprised of Johnny Johnson (vocals), Andrew Brown (bass), Allan Kingdom (guitar), and Phil Goodman (drums) and debut single What Went Wrong This Time came out on the Medium Cool label in July 1987 and a very positive review in the NME described it as “A gentle teasing lament with cool female vocals and a lilting backing which trickles around the back of the nervous system with deceptive charm”.

It was a year before any follow-up was released by which time the drummer and his replacement had both left perhaps indicating not everything in the garden was rosy.  The second release was a four-track EP on Sombrero Records after which they recorded two Peel Sessions, the second of which was in May 1989, but plans for a third single were dashed when the record label ran out of money and no other offers emerged.  The Siddeleys called it a day soon afterwards.

They are regarded as one of the great lost bands of the era and such has been the level of interest over the years that it came as no surprise when a compilation of the two singles and the Peel Sessions were brought together on a new CD entitled Slum Clearance in 2001.

The track on CD 86 was the debut single:-

mp3 : The Siddeleys – What Went Wrong This Time?

There were two tracks on the b-side, the latter of which is really quite splendid:-

mp3 : The Siddeleys – No Names….
mp3 : The Siddeleys – My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon

Enjoy

ALVIN LIVES (IN LEEDS)

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This is one of my own….but it was inspired by an idea and contribution from a reader.

Just the other week I featured the cover of Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) by The Wedding Present.  A comment from The Robster informed me that this was the band’s second take on that particular song as it had first been aired on an LP called Alvin Lives (In Leeds) : Anti Poll Tax Trax which, as the title suggests, was aimed at raising funds to help those campaigning against a particularly unpopular piece of government legislation.

Released in 1990, it consists of 12 indie acts doing cover versions.  As is often the case with a record like this, the output it is a bit hit and miss but what is quite astonishing is the sheer cheesiness of some of the choices:-

Tracklist 

Lush – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep
Five Thirty – My Sweet Lord
Cud – Bohemian Rhapsody
The Popguns – Bye Bye Baby
Crocodile Ride – I Feel Love
Robyn Hitchcock – Kung Fu Fighting
Corn Dollies – Le Freak
The Wedding Present – Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)
The Close Lobsters – Float On
14 Iced Bears – Summer Nights
The Siddeleys – Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)
The Perfect Disaster – Wanderin’ Star

It’s a bunch of huge hits from the 70s and  I kind of got the feeling that having been asked to be part of what was a worthy cause and then told they had to come up with a cover of a well-known record from the 70s, most of them then tried to think what could be the most ridiculous departure from the norm.

Special mention must be made of Cud.  They’ve taken one of the sacred cows of pomp rock and ripped the total pish out of it.  All the words and a semblance of the tune do appear to be in place but they bash the whole thing out in a little under three minutes:-

mp3 : Cud – Bohemian Rhapsody

Anyone can see (and hear), nothing really matters to them.

Elsewhere, the song taken on by Lush is more akin to a nursery rhyme but yet somehow in their hands it works as indie-pop with meaningless lyrics while Robyn Hitchock and his mates become human beatboxes on a crazy take of a novelty song:-:-

mp3 : Lush – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep
mp3 : Robyn Hitchcock – Kung Fu Fighting

As you’d expect, the Weddoes do their usual fine job (and it is marginally different than the version recorded with Steve Albini and made available on the 3 Songs EP) while  I was also quite taken by some parts of Le Freak in which The Corn Dollies occasionally do a fine tribute to Gang Of Four:-

mp3 : The Corn Dollies – Le Freak

There were a few disappointments, none more so than The Close Lobsters whose take on what I’ve thought was always an appalling song somehow made me long for the original although the biggest waste of vinyl has to go to Five Thirty for what is a pointless re-tread of the George Harrison hit.

When this LP was mentioned in the comments, my dear mate Dirk from Sexy Loser professed his love for this track:-

mp3 : The Siddeleys – Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)

It’s one that didn’t jump out on first hearing but I’ve persisted and now fallen for its charms.

In summary, Alvin Lives (In Leeds) is, like so many other projects of this nature, a mixed-bag, but I was delighted to have been given the opportunity to learn about it after all these years.  Hope those of you who aren’t familiar with the versions featured today will appreciate them.

Thanks Robster.