This is a continuation of my personal musical story, as actually requested by a couple of people! This look back at the first half of 1989 is a follow-up to my previous similarly self-indulgent articles about the first and second halves of 1988.
You can also go back to read about my even more formative years as a music fan here.
To set the scene, as 1989 began I was partway through my first year at the The University Of Sheffield, and was by now well settled into my poky room in Ranmoor House, complete with midi stack system and burgeoning collection of tapes and CDs.
Although I no longer have the diary I kept in 1989 (probably a good thing as it was full of teenage angst as well as what I got up to), I can piece together a lot of what music I experienced that year from various sources, so although this article will not be comprehensive it should reveal a lot.
Before heading back to Sheffield, I had some time at the parental home in Upminster, Essex at the end of the Christmas holidays.
I was busily recording various Peel sessions, with efforts from The Beatnigs (whom I had seen live in Liverpool in November 1988 supporting Billy Bragg), Kiwi legends The Chills (whom I got to see for the first time in April 1990) and the then-cool (thanks to Morrissey’s seal of approval) Sandie Shaw going onto tape in the first few days of the year.
Another major source for music for me was friends, especially my best mate from school Kris, who is still a great tipster for what to listen out for. In January 1989, he gave me a tape of Siouxsie And The Banshees live at the Royal Albert Hall, backed with a compilation of Peel sessions by The Birthday Party, the first band of Nick Cave. Ninety minutes of solid goth there!
I was back in Sheffield by the middle of the month as I paid my first ever visit to Hillsborough to witness Sheffield Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with the mighty reds, in what was then the Barclays League Division One.
Mark Proctor and Imre Varadi gave the home side a two-goal lead inside a quarter of an hour, but Steve Nicol and substitute John Aldridge scored inside a minute towards the end of the second half, with the result leaving Liverpool in a lowly fifth place.
Thankfully, the team’s return to Hillsborough three months later coincided with the Easter holidays, so I was not able to be there for the FA Cup Semi-final against Nottingham Forest. RIP to the 96 souls who so tragically (and criminally) lost their lives that day.
I also picked up a bootleg tape of one of The Fall’s shows from the previous year when they were performing alongside the Michael Clark dance troupe in I Am Curious, Orange at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. I saw the band for the first time at one of these shows.
Into February, and my first CD purchase of the year. Or to be absolutely precise, the first CD I bought that year that I still own. This is highly likely to be the same thing, but there is a slim chance it may not be!
Anyway, I picked up what I still regard as Billy Bragg’s finest album, Workers Playtime, that had been released the previous September, for just £5.99 from Our Price in Sheffield.
My first gig of the year also came in the middle of February, when I saw My Bloody Valentine at the University’s Lower Refectory in the company of my corridor mate Phil. A bargain £4 also brought the much underrated The Wolfhounds in support.
MBV were promoting the classic Isn’t Anything that had been released three months earlier, while The Wolfhounds put out their Bright And Guilty LP in the same month as this show (which I purchased in January 1990).
I received a tape compilation from Kris a few days later – presumably in the post. The highlight was probably the Live At The Electric Circus compilation that included a couple of very early Fall tracks not later included on their own records.
I was soon back at Our Price to get The Sundays’ debut single Can’t Be Sure on CD. They were really a huge deal amongst the indie kids of the day – partly due to the visual appeal of lead singer Harriet Wheeler, and partly due to their very Smiths-esque sound.
It’s a real shame that they only ever put out three albums, with the most recent (Static & Slience) coming out in September 1997. Although Harriet and partner David Gavurin apparently still record music at home.
The end of the month brought three gigs in the space of four days, with the first of these being the no-idea-really The Leys Of Iona, supported by the equally forgotten Alfred Wallace & Little Crispin at the University’s Maze Bar, for just £1.50. This was a three amigos gig, as I went along with Phil and John.
The three of us were all in attendance the following night at the Lower Refectory to see The Shamen. Remarkably, this only cost £1.70. I became pretty obsessed with the band at around this time, picking up nine of their CDs (including albums, singles, ep’s and foreign compilations) inside two years.
They were promoting the just-released In Gorbachev We Trust second album, probably their finest hour, which I got on CD as a very-slightly-belated birthday present from school-mate Stu a couple of weeks later.
The final element of this gig trilogy was at The Leadmill, a day before my nineteenth birthday, when Phil, John and I were accompanied by John’s mates Lee and Warrick, as well as someone called Alba whom I recall little of now.
Listening back to my bootleg tape of their set highlights that they played Cottonmouth early on in the set, which didn’t see release until it appeared on the Counting Backwards CD single in January 1991. Then-freshly released single Dizzy got a great reception.
I had completely forgotten that my tape (which cost me £4, so £1.50 more than the gig itself!) also has The Sundays’ set on it, a rare case of a good deal from a bootlegger. This reveals that all seven of the songs they played came from debut album Reading, Writing And Arithmetic, that was only released in January 1990, so we’d have only known two songs off the first single at that point.
There was one more musical event in February, as I received another tape off Kris, this time a C90 full of radio broadcasts by The Cure.
The beginning of March brought two gigs in the Lower Refectory on consecutive nights – firstly with Phil and John to see Happy Mondays for the first of two times, for just £1.70. I wasn’t a big fan of theirs, and that hasn’t changed.
I saw them again at the end of the year, as I was willing to give them a second chance. I have subsequently bought their first two albums, but neither of them have become favourites in any way.
The second in this gig-brace was a very rare solo trip for me at this time, when I went along to see hardcore’s finest Napalm Death. That is the hardcore that is somewhere between grunge and speed metal, not ‘appy ‘ardcore.
They were supported by the forgotten Dross for a £3 fee, and I recall there being a very sparse audience for this one. Despite this, there were some hardy stage-divers, whose number I did not join. I did, however, purchase a t-shirt at this gig, though I now longer own it as it would certainly not fit any more!
I attended my first gig with new friend Adrian (who lived in the room directly beneath mine) on the same day I bought New Order’s new single Fine Time on CD from Record Collector in Broomhill, just down the road from where I was living. This was the precursor to their Technique album, possibly still my favourite of theirs.
Record Collector first opened in 1978 and is apparently still going strong. Fine Time is the oldest purchase I have from there.
The gig was at another student hall, Halifax Hall, and was a band called Eat Don’t Hula from Sheffield, about whom I remember nothing at all.
I got hold of a few tapes of new (to me) music around this time, including a compilation of Ravi Shankar & Alla Rakha from Tony who lived in the room next door to me (5K4), and a recording of Joy Division from the Paradiso in Amsterdam in January 1980 from Kris.
I was back in Upminster towards the end of the month for the Easter holidays, so was able to tape a couple more Peel sessions, by Sonic Youth and The Sundays, while I must have also met up with Stu as I got a second birthday present off him in the form of Half Man Half Biscuit’s ACD compilation CD that includes at least two classics in Dickie Davies Eyes and The Bastard Son Of Dean Friedman.
The same day I was given ACD, I also bough New Order’s third album Low-life on CD from Vinyl Experience in Camden for £7.99. I still love this album, especially opener Love Vigilantes.
The next day I was back in London, with Kris and Stu, as well as Jer, who Kris had met at a Fall show the year before, as we went to see Sonic Youth at the Kilburn National – Phil was also there with some of his mates.
Support came first from The Sperm Wails and then the much better known Mudhoney, who had yet to release their debut album, but whom I was familiar with thanks to John Peel.
Easter Sunday brought a CD from an unusual source as my sister gave me a copy of Jesus Jones’ big indie hit Info Freako, presumably a request.
I went record shopping in Romford at the very end of the month, picking up three excellent CDs for £7.95 each from Downtown Records. These were The Fall’s 1986 album Bend Sinister and a brace from The Jesus And Mary Chain – Darklands and the Barbed Wire Kisses (B-Sides And More) compilation.
I was still in Upminster for the first half of April, and I took full advantage of the local library to borrow some albums I’d never have otherwise heard at this point. I can’t remember what format I borrowed them in, but I recorded them onto cassette.
I made copies of four different Miles Davis albums in 1986’s Tutu, Sorcerer from 1967, 1985’s You’re Under Arrest and a compilation called The Collection, as well as the much-more-beloved-by-me Autobahn by Kraftwerk from 1974.
My tape collection blossomed with a few more albums from Kris this month, including a brace from The Creepers, the band formed by Marc Riley after he left The Fall. Gross Out was originally released in 1984, and was backed by the following year’s Fancy Meeting God.
He also got me a tape of Nico’s final studio album Camera Obscura from 1985, when she was backed by Manchester band The Faction, and produced again by John Cale. Not her best work, but then most of her solo career was very patchy, and often quite hard work!
While in Upminster, I went along to Roots Hall for the first time that year, to see Southend United beat Blackpool 2-1 in a Third Division encounter, no doubt in the company of Ian. The Shrimpers were relegated at the end of that season, having been promoted only two years earlier.
I was back CD shopping in the middle of April, with two stone cold classics hitting my growing shelves. I bought Pixies’ fabulous second full-lengther Doolittle for £9.49 from Our Price in Romford on the very day it was released, and Magazine’s 1978 debut Real Life the following day for £8.99 from Virgin on Oxford Street.
I was back in Sheffield towards the end of April, isolated in student land from any of the impact of the Hillsborough disaster. I don’t recall it ever even being a topic of conversation, but my memory may of course be failing me.
I bought the excellent New Order double CD compilation Substance from the HMV in town for £14.99. This has all of their 12” A- and B-sides to date on, including the fantastic Blue Monday, Sub-culture and True Faith.
I also expanded my minimalism tape collection with a couple of 1985 albums courtesy of Adrian in Michael Nyman’s A Zed & Two Noughts soundtrack and Songs From Liquid Days by Philip Glass. The latter features music by Glass with lyrics by the likes of Suzanne Vega and David Byrne.
One of the finest gigs I’ve ever been to came at the University’s Octagon Centre, with Phil, John and I all enjoying Pixies, ably supported (for just a fiver) by The Wolfgang Press. Having recently revisited the bootleg tape of the headline set, I can confirm that their show was indeed excellent. I returned to my room as sweat-drenched as I have ever been at a gig.
They played all bar four songs from Doolittle (curiously failing to trot out Here Comes Your Man, due to be released as the second single from the album the following month), as well as much of Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa, as they performed for well over an hour. Especially noteworthy was a blistering version of Vamos, amongst the encores.
The three of us were at another really excellent gig three days later, with Phil giving up a ticket he had for the very zeitgeist-y The Stone Roses (who very much passed me by at the time, and whom I still have only limited interest in) to attend The Four Brothers at The Leadmill, a Zimbabwean band we’d all first encountered via (of course) John Peel.
We were also joined at this gig by Lee and someone called Simon, of whom I have no memory. I distinctly recall going either to or from this gig on the bus, and the fact that the audience was fairly sparse, despite the £2.50 fee. I also remember the floor being full of dancers of all ages.
I made a tape this month that I entitled The Real Sounds Of Africa, bringing together a number of African recordings from various John Peel shows.
I picked up a few CDs in May, including the latest two albums by The Cure, 1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me for just £2.99 from L.C.C. in Crookes and the brand new Disintegration from the trusty Record Collector for £9.99
Casual aside. How curious it is that new release CDs can easily be obtained for the same price I was paying thirty years ago. No inflation in the CD market!
I also got Billy Bragg’s excellent Back To Basics compilation of his first two albums and an ep from Our Price for £7.99.
My fourth CD purchase in four days was rather more expensive, as I forked out £14.95 for a Danielle Dax compilation called Dark Adapted Eye, which I bought mail order from the long defunct Casey’s Compact Discs. I think I was led to her through its opening cut Cat-House. A record I’ve not listened to in many years, but having recently revisited it, it’s as gothy as I recall, but I had forgotten the Arabic/Indian influences.
I also recorded a couple more minimalist albums tape-to-tape from my neighbour Tony this month – Michael Nyman’s The Kiss And Other Movements and Mishima by Philip Glass.
The month ended with another CD purchase (with four of the five coming from different shops in Sheffield, something that would be hard to achieve these days), when I bought The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s classic debut Are You Experienced from HMV for just £5.99.
June brought university exams, so there’s less to report on the musical front. I recorded live concerts by The Triffids and Pixies from Radio 1, as well as Peel Sessions by The Four Brothers and Pixies, with the latter including the fabulous Into The White.
A purchase this month, I think, was the Pop Song 3” CD single by David Sylvian that was released in June.
I added one more CD to my collection in June in the form of Siouxsie And The Banshees’ third album Kaleidoscope from 1980, for £7.99 from Record Collector. Perhaps still my favourite record of theirs, it includes Happy House and Christine, the latter which of course featured in my Christine Songs article.
Below is a playlist of some of the songs and artists referenced in this article, both great and so-so.