The Sounds of Sheffield 1978-1988
published: 8 /
Proud Sheffielder Fiona Hutchings checks out the latest curated collection from Cherry Red Records promising plenty of punk and post punk gems, including twelve previously unreleased tracks.
George Orwell might have been unnervingly accurate with 1984, but his dismissal of Sheffield as "the ugliest town in the Old World" was just rude. Sheffield was brutal, not only in its architecture but because it as a city systematically stripped of its industries and pride in the late 70's and 80's. However, where once the forge hammers gave the town its heartbeat, drums and futuristic synth started to take up the slack – that's where its beauty lay.
After turning their microscope on Manchester 1977-1993, Liverpool 1976 -1988 and Independent Scottish Music 1977-1988, Cherry Red Records has finally got round to the steeliest of cities, Sheffield. It takes this kind of box set curation seriously.
The first disco included in the set span 1977-81, opening proceedings with early Human League with 'Dancevision' and including a demo version of 'Avoid The Surgery' by I Scream Brothers. 'Dancevision' is a hypnotic instrumental that paints a multitude of weird images on the inside of my eyelids. I Scream Brothers deploy a repetitive tone blaring out over their simple combination of guitar, drums and studied disinterest. It's right on the edge of what your brain can tolerate. It's precisely the type of song you'd play loudly to piss off and confuse your parents.
Disc two spans 1981-1982. It opens with a 12-inch mix of Heaven 17's '(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang', a song that never gets old in both the best and worst of ways.
Closing out this disc via Vision and Stunt Kites is another well-known band, ABC. 'Alphabet Soup' opens with Fry and Co in a cocky mood: "The pen is mightier than the sword/ you're going to hear my vocal cords". This particular concoction is a funky and sarcastic blend of trumpets and disco. Seriously, I could pretty much quote the entire song the lyrics are that good. If you've never played the B side, 'Tears Are Not Enough', then rectify this grievous mistake immediately.
Disc three takes us from 1982 -84. Another familiar name open this particular selection box: Pulp. 'Everybody's Problem' is lyrically as wry as you'd expect, but the jangly guitars lend an almost Belle and Sebastian vibe. A previously unreleased demo of 'Billingham's Island' by Tsi Tsi is polished, the sort of song that could have been released in the 60's or last week. Another demo is 'Late Nights' by Harriet. Sounds like the sort of rocky, pop, new wave number that should have walked straight in the top 20 and stayed there. Maybe the combination of synth and guitar wails was too complicated for the time – pick a lane and all that. It's gorgeous, though.
Disc four brings us home; 1984-88. 'Kitchenette' is a great song by the equally well-named The Jonathan. S Podmore Method. It sounds like it's played entirely on pots and pans which is fitting. 'You Ungrateful Bastard (flexi version)' by One Thousand Violins is a favourite of mine for both its downbeat jangly guitars and its very Sheffield pronunciation of the word bastard. It's a thing of beauty.
This box set, released on December 6th, comes with a hardback book featuring over 20,000 words of sleevenotes, essays and memories. Each track has release dates (where they were released) pictures of single sleeves, live performances and moody photos in decrepit empty buildings abound. Martin X Russian of They Must Be Russians, Artery, Used Toys and NMX provides the introduction and more. Graham Wrench (Ipso Facto and Sedation) reminisces about moving to Sheffield from London, noting that "they don't do things quickly in this city". No - but we do 'em proper.
There are many stories and facts – and sometimes ill-advised fashion choices – to be enjoyed here. Ticket stubs and flyers litter pages. If anything surprises me, it's probably the lack of Cabaret Voltaire, not least because they are name-checked by others more than once. Still, with so much to read and listen to here, it doesn't feel like an oversight. There is just so much to choose from and celebrate about the Sheffield music scene, and this collection shows off so much more than Park Hill Flats concrete walls and the fact it was a bit grim oop North quite a lot back then. It showcases ambition, creative courage, our sense of humour and ability to tell it like it is without sacrificing the hook.