Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #29

Our penultimate volunteer putting their head in the lion's mouth of musical tract can be read all over the place where there's interest in British popular culture, most immediately in our blogging spehere of reference The Memorex Years, TJ Worthington:

35 Summers - Really Down

1991 was not a good time to be in a British indie band. With the music press turning on the 'indie-dance' sound as Last Year's Thing and realigning their attentions towards the more unwashed and less interesting sounds drifting over from across the Atlantic, it was hard enough for the likes of Happy Mondays and The Charlatans to get by, let alone such second division acts as Airhead, The Dylans, The Milltown Brothers and Paris Angels, who generally found themselves either ridiculed or ignored by the NME and Melody Maker and ultimately by the general indie-orientated record-buying public. Candyland, Candy Flip, The Candyskins and any other bands with 'candy' in their name were not going to be ascending to megastardom, no matter how hard their record companies may have pushed them. Needless to say it was the snobby and elitist fashion-conscious music 'fans' who were missing out on this occasion, something that is reflected by the dizzying second-hand prices such bands command nowadays.

35 Summers were even more unfortunate than most, as they were one of a small group of bands who had the misfortune to be saddled with the ungainly monicker 'Scallydelic'. All of the bands that found this label slapped upon them - which included the The Real People, Rain, Top, The Tambourines, Pele, The Stairs and River City People - had only three vague factors in common; a closer geographical proximity to Liverpool than to Manchester, a mild passing interest in a certain sport involving two teams of eleven players, and a tendency towards dance-tinged jangly guitar pop that fell somewhere between the brilliance of The La's and the uneven-ness of The Farm.

Judging from their meagre recorded output, 35 Summers - vocalist Dave Pichilingi, guitarists Ian Greenwood and Duncan Lomax, bassist Robby Fay, keyboard player Jamie Southern and drummer Alan Curry - were definitely leaning towards the La's end of the scale, and although nobody deserves to be bundled in with such a shabby, ill-concieved and non-existent (not to mention ridiculously named) pretend genre as 'Scallydelic', at the end of the day they really only had themselves to blame by making their footballing craziness explicit with a top-selling t-shirt bearing the image of famed Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly. In an age when many indie bands were reputed to be shifting more t-shirts than actual records, this highly popular item of long-sleeved fashionwear did much to build 35 Summers' profile, but also ended up slightly obscuring the fact that they also made rather good music. All the same, this particular t-shirt had the unsual distinction of being inadvertently captured for posterity on film on two seperate occasions - Peter Hooton is seen wearing one in the Harry Cross Out Of Brookside-equipped video for The Farm's Groovy Train, while from a slightly more enduringly watchable perspective, John Peel also sports the accidentally iconic garment while lurking backstage at the 1991 Reading Festival during Blur's fascinating tour film Starshaped.

35 Summers' first release, on a small independent label, was a suitably spaced-out reworking of The Beatles' Come Together (think along the same lines as The Soupdragons' I'm Free, The Farm's (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone and Candy Flip's Strawberry Fields Forever, along with any of the several hundred other sixties covers done by any of several hundred other indie-dance bands, and you're probably halfway there already), bolstered by spoken word samples from the bizarre but self-explanatory long-player Shankly Speaks. On the strength of this they managed to secure a deal with RCA, for whom they would record and release two singles in 1991 - I Won't Try and Really Down.

Unveiled as part of a Peel session in August 1991, Really Down begins with the singer stating that "self-indulgence, it's a favourite past-time of mine". If it really honestly genuinely was, then you wouldn't know it from this song as the lyrics are an economical, heartfelt and utterly non-self-indulgent evocation of, well, feeling a little bit down in the dumps for no obvious reason, with the chorus complaining - with a possible hint of exaggeration - that "I must be the most unhappy man in the world". There's also a spot of rumination on inarticulacy, or to be more accurate the inarticulacy of others, complaining of how "no-one else seems to take the time to write the lines to express how I really feel". It's a bit of a puzzling complaint given that the lyrics seem to achieve this aim perfectly well by themselves, but not as puzzling as the fact that this lyrical theme seemed to be so common to so many indie-dance bands, and to The Mock Turtles in particular. Did they all think that someone else should be writing their lyrics for them?!?

Musically, Really Down is anything but down in the dumps. Dominated by a bright chord progression, ringing guitars, sparkling harmonies and what sounds like an accordian hiding away in the background somewhere, it's a catchy and upbeat pop song and its only flaw is that the sturdy rhythm section isn't really pushed to the fore, only really coming into its own in a section where the arrangement momentarily strips down to vocals and drums. The standard single edit of the song was joined on its various formats by an 'Extended Version', surely one of the last relics of the days when a 12" Mix simply meant doubling the length of the instrumental bits, and a 'Club Remix' by long-forgotten DJ team The Sound Foundation. The latter should theoretically have put right the minor problems of the original mix, but unfortunately it ends up suffering from exactly the opposite problems - while the remixers make the most of the rhythm section, they also jettison much of the structure and charm of the song itself.

Really Down had all the makings of a summery pop hit, particularly in the indie-friendly summer of 1991, but like all of 35 Summers' releases it didn't make much of an impression on the charts. Not even a reasonable amount of radio support and tours with the fairly highly profiled Northside and the extremely highly profiled EMF seemed to be enough to propel their releases into the lower reaches of the top forty, although the failure of Really Down is perhaps slightly more comprehensible than that of I Won't Try; the song's title is hardly prominent in the lyrics, which almost always seems to impede chart progress for some reason, and whereas the earlier singles had boasted a vaguely pyschedelic pastel-stroke-citrus hued design, the sleeve bears a semi-religious, semi-militaristic and wholly pretentious 'weeping statue' image that hardly suggests that catchy upbeat pop music might be lurking inside.

Sadly, both the lyrics and the off-puttingly maudlin sleeve of Really Down proved to be depressingly propetic for 35 Summers. To accompany the release of the single, they had attempted to replicate the success of the earlier Shankly t-shirts by producing a similar one featuring Leonard Rossiter in full-on Rigsby from Rising Damp mode. Yorkshire Television objected to what was essentially unauthorised use of their copyrighted image for commercial purposes, and the usual legal sabre-rattling resulted in a settlement that, perhaps predictably, was hardly exactly in the band's favour. Following this, their relationship with RCA worsened, and after their lone album Sketch was shelved, 35 Summers called it a day. Needless to say, the original single is now worth a relative absolute fortune, but unless you're particularly desperate to own the Club Mix and Extended Version, Really Down can be easily obtained on a belated Japanese issue of Sketch, and on the fourth volume of www.twee.net's (cough) 'semi-official' compilation series The Sound Of Leamington Spa.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

There was no settlement with Yorkshire TV re: The Rigsby T-Shirt. YTV's lawyers decided to "wait and see", and as the band sunk without trace, saved their money.

Anonymous said...

The first single on RCA was called 'I Didn't Try', not 'I Won't Try' and the title features very prominently in the chorus so not sure what Simon is on about.
Otherwise a pretty accurate acount though! Duncan (35 Summers)

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