It’s that time of year when all those best of lists come abounding, pressing you to buy product in time for Christmas, but it’s also a way of tipping your hat, cocking your snook etc to albums that you absolutely love, and spreading the love to those people who truly make your musical year, so hell yeah Velvet Sheep want in on the action. Obvs we’ve been around since the 90s in zine form (noughties as a club night), but in this digital blog incarnation it’s been since 2015 and in that time we’ve had albums of the year from The Nightingales (twice), The Wedding Present, Band of Holy Joy, Big Stick and Cornershop.
This year it’s been super hard to pick – on the back of all of that pesky Covidium there’s been an absolute explosion of angst and yearning, and on that basis I’ve had to go for the hedge-betting spread of a twin choice between Band of Holy Joy’s “Dreams Take Flight” (Tiny Global Productions) for their second top spot to date and this gang of indie reprobates, sneaking in with a late December release but nonetheless blowing most of the previous 11 months out of the water with their absolute blast through of tuuunes, hummable to the last, ear worms on a Tremors/Dune scale (drum roll please) it’s Swansea Sound with “Live At The Rum Puncheon” (Skep Wax)!!!
Consisting of Hue Williams (The Pooh Sticks), Amelia Fletcher & Rob Pursey (Heavenly, Talulah Gosh etc – who also put out a fantastic album as The Catenary Wires this year) and Ian Button (Wreckless Eric) – Swansea Sound are named after a radio station that re-branded/sold out and the album is neither live nor at the former Swansea drinking establishment venue The Rum Puncheon (it shut down). It is however awesome.
Take cover. Here’s the album opener…
I asked Amelia & Rob to pick their fav songs of this year, but first this is what I wrote about my joint fav album in a previous VS post – here for posterity:
“Rock N Roll Void” – a high-speed statement of intent, Hue intoning seeing the Ramones at thirteen, hearing the Kinks when he was three and starting a band when he was sixteen “that was the best he had ever been” but I beg to differ, time may have moved onto the point where he barely recognises his young self, and can’t decide if those R&R heroes made him or if it was always in him, but Hue and his merry band are playing into the form of their lives, which is no mean feat given the hugely compelling back cat they collectively have.
“I Sold My Soul On E-Bay” – another case of all killer no filler, it’s a snotty punk blast with a great call-and-response between Hue and Amelia, a nose well and truly thumbed at Daniel Elk and his ilk. Throwing poo(h) at the streams and streamers, but with no need for Feargal Sharkey’s intervention.
“I’m Ok When You’re Around” features another neat call and response only this time where Hue asks Steph from Portland’s The Crystal Furs if once she’s kicked American fascists arses (or I should say asses) whether she could pop over here and sort ours out. Yes please. Rob Pursey picked a Crystal Furs song for a Lucky 7 on this page and it’s nice that the band’s support for other punks on indies of the worlds (see later) manifests on records. There’s definite “Leader of the Pack” vibes in the music too which is never a bad thing.
“The Poohsticks” is as meta as it gets. A tongue in cheek song about Hue’s old charges being basically the best of all indie bands to play the Reading Festival (“they played hot licks”). No word of a lie. And with a brilliantly funny reprise of the aforementioned “know someone that knows someone” except this time about Hue (and sung by him). It’s so meta that it could bring the whole universe to a crashing end and put us out of our miseries.
“Let It Happen” – I love a melancholy indie anthem, and this has the touch of Amelia and Rob’s recent Catenary Wires mournful moments. Those keys just hit me right there like an adrenaline shot to a sharpie marked heart.
“Je Ne Sais Quoi” – not Kylie but another Undertones meets Talulah Gosh blast of dreamy yet sharp tune-age that’s exotic right? can’t quite put my finger on why it’s so brilliant but that’s the point eh.
“Pasadena” – like when David Gedge talks about the Santa Ana winds, a seemingly anachronistic subject matter but given that this whole Swansea Sound project was born of lockdown and isolation, it’s a dream of further flung fields. Of meeting up and playing live again. Raising a glass if not your glasses.
“Indies Of The World” – there’s no mistaking that this lot are making their contribution, not least by hooking up with labels across the oceans to make sure it’s easier for fans to get their physical stuff – in the best tradition of tape swapping, and compilations of kindred spirits. A call to arms to get DIY and organize – it’s easier than ever if you try. And to make the point this is a band that’s resolutely putting their output on cassette and are no strangers to getting a pencil out to wind the spool up. Includes the call to “Gimme Danger” that’s more indie pop than Iggy Pop but is one of many many easter egg style lyrics in this Faberge of an album.
“Corporate Indie Band” – the line to launch a thousand t-shirts. As true now as when these players first made music in the 80s/90s. “All the time we’ve got to write more songs, I’m not sure we’ll keep it up for long” is kind of ironic given how prolific that Fletcher and Pursey are in particular. It’s a killer couplet though delivered with aplomb by Williams and his irresistibly cheeky charm.
“Freedom of Speech” – It’s a song that singles out Morrissey and John Lydon for their needy and reprehensible bigotry under the dodgy auspice of yep “Freedom of Speech”, that vanguard of the racist and the right wing. The fact that The Crystal Furs, the aforementioned group of trans women punks are on the BVs adds an delicious extra notch of narkiness to be applauded.
“Angry Girl” – features the phrase “Noise Annoys” and there’s defo a touch of the Buzzcocks all over this awesome album that’s pretty much a “Singles Going Steady” greatest hits collection of a first record.
“Swansea Sound” – as sung in English and in Welsh (the latter by Catrin Saran James). One day Swansea Sound will be in that same museum that features in the tune “Poohsticks” and Hue can have the freedom of Velvet Sheep right now if he wants it too.
And as promised here’s the fav songs of 2021 as picked by Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey of Swansea Sound…impeccable as always.
1. Bad Bad Hats – Detroit Basketball
A perfect popsong. Super-catchy and great lyrics. Imagine if Wet Leg had listened to Allo Darlin instead of hanging out in fields on the Isle of Wight. Bad Bad Hats are a decade-old trio – indie royalty in their home town of Minneapolis.
2. Corvair – Green (Mean Time)
This song would be good anyway, but those “Naked” bits just totally make it. Like Swansea Sound, Corvair were created in lockdown, but this time in Portland Oregan. Like Swansea Sound, they are only now trying to figure out how to play live!
3. Papernut Cambridge and friends – J’ai Mis Un Tigre Dans Ma Guitarre
This one is a bit of cheat since we appear on it, but I really love it. It was recorded for one of our friend Kevin’s lockdown open mic nights. The theme was animals and Papernut Cambridge chose this Jacques Dutronc song. Enjoy!
4. M(h)aol – Gender Studies
I first heard this on Peter Chapman’s Turtle’s Head punk rock radio show (BCB Radio 106.6FM). The song is simple and raw – and it’s over so quickly! I had to hear it again, so went and bought it on Bandcamp. It has deadpan talking vocals like a lot of other records released this year, but it’s not arch. It’s angry and wry and addictive. It reminded me of the first time I heard ‘Armalite Rifle’ by the Gang of Four or ‘It’s Obvious’ by The Au Pairs. These comparisons age me, but they don’t age M(h)aol.
5. Arrest! Charlie Tipper – Trust in Me
I think this might be the best protest song of the year. It takes its time, and scores its points just once, then gives you time to think. The singer is Tim Rippington, and he was my best friend when we were at school. Our band together (The Five Year Plan) stopped a long time ago, but this song reminds me of who we were then and makes me glad that we still see eye to eye.
6. Nervous Twitch – Alright Lads
I heard this right at the start of the year – I’m not sure if it was released late 2020, but I like it a lot so I am going to stick with it. It takes me back to the start of this year. I think I must have been feeling pessimistic about everything, and I guess there was plenty to feel pessimistic about. But then I heard this, and thought things might be OK. It’s really funny, it’s got a great chorus and make you want to be at a Nervous Twitch gig instead of moping about like a miserable old git.
And since this is in the Lucky 7th format, I’ve picked the last one – one of my absolute favs from “Live At The Rum Puncheon” – the super arch/metacritical but uber entertaining “I Sold My Soul on EBay”
THANKS SO MUCH TO SWANSEA SOUND AND IN PARTICULAR AMELIA & ROB
You can (and I recommend you do) buy “Live At Rum Puncheon” here:
(ps. as you’d expect if you listen to “I Sold My Soul on EBay” the album is resolutely not available on Spotify)
And there’s some gigs soon too
Album Launch: ROUGH TRADE EAST, LONDON Dec 10.
BRISTOL Feb 4
NEWPORT Le Pub Feb 5
ST LEONARDS The Piper Feb 18
LONDON Hope and Anchor Feb 19th
MANCHESTER Talleyrand 4th Marc