As a late teen I lived in Peterborough (a railway town situated in the middle of the UK). The passion that ‘my lot’ had for music was easily satiated by the fact that we were 1-2.5 hours away from most of the main gig towns of the country such as London, Leeds, Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester and Liverpool. Most of our Friday and Saturdays were spent travelling to these destinations to jump about to the latest subjects of our affection.
Although we did not know it at the time, because the genre terminology had not really been developed as yet, jangle-pop bands such as The Chesterfields, Thousand Yard Stare, House of Love, Frank and Walters and The Smiths were the primary subjects of much our affection. However there was one band, London based The Corn Dollies, who for a couple of years were deemed the most important live act of the era.
This was apparent to such an extent that I vividly remember my lot trying to swiftly sell tickets to see The Smiths in London as ‘The Dollies’ had announced a hastily arranged gig at some dingy pub basement in Birmingham, only to find that all the fans of The Smiths that I knew in my town were trying to do the same thing ! They truly were these most vibrant live band of the 80’s jangle-pop era and seemed to gig at least 20 times a week ! They seemed to have that indefinable connection with their audience that is not easily explained. You, the band and the remaining audience just felt part of one big secret that you hoped would never be found out, but equally hoped an increasing number of people would organically stumble upon.
It was perhaps the fact that they were so in demand on a live basis and presumably felt that ensuring that they continued to increase there fan base via gigs would be the vehicle to turn their live appeal into eventual commercial success, that eventually prevented them from releasing the volume of studio output that their music deserved. It was essentially a live juggernaut they did not have time to stop.
In fact the sum total of their studio output was confined to the 1989 album Wrecked that was the bands first recorded output after the Medium Cool label disbanded and they moved to Midnight Music and this, their self titled compilation album that predominantly included mostly singles and EP tracks from the previous label.
I am usually not a total fan of compilations (unless I construct them in the”Fake Compilation Series” as obviously these are brilliant!). To me they do not feel organic. In my opinion an album should not just show all the best tracks of an artists discography as there is no sense of the essence of the era in terms of both music in general or in the development of a particular band/genre.
Map of the World
However, in this instance this particular compilation far eclipses the Wrecked album as an overall listening experience for dual reasons. The initial reason is that the band produced several superb singles such as Shake, Forever Steven, Map of the World (see above) and their best ever track (and live favourite) Be Small Again (see below). From a personal perspective these tracks remind me of countless gleeful, sweaty hours in the mosh-pit and a hundred train journeys home, hiding in toilets or using distraction tactics such as fake fights to avoid/distract the ticket inspector.
Be Small Again
Also from a musical perspective and despite the fact that their are a couple of duplicated tracks across both albums, the sheer quality of the tracks on this compilation are mfar better from a holistic perspective than those on Wrecked.
Although there are some superb individual tracks on Wrecked, overall there was a tendency, perhaps inspired by the fact that they had signed for a label that were a traditionally post-punk oriented label in Midnight Music, led them to spontaneously combust into occasional flames of sheer post-punk weirdness to appease label fans (i.e. tracks such as Joyrider and Mary Hopkin Song). Unfortunately this was largely done at the expense of the beautifully vibrant jangle-pop that appears on the compilation.
Perhaps this was the reason why they lost their appeal in the very early 90’s? Or perhaps theirs was a purely organic split/demise after the lack of commercial success of Wrecked? Either way this compilation represents the best of a band, that for a very short period were genuine contenders to The Smiths within gig-goers circles.