VARIOUS ARTISTS The Test of Time: A Turntable Friend Records compilation double CD/triple LP (A Turntable Friend)
A Turntable Friend was one of my favourite labels back in the 1990s, so I was super-excited to discover that the label has returned following an 18 year break! This bumper 40-song compilation acts as a snapshot of the label's first incarnation, with a selection of tracks taken from long since unavailable releases as well as eight tracks that have never before been available on vinyl or CD. The CDs come with an informative 25 page booklet full of memorabilia photos and background info provided by label owner Ulrich Hoffmann, along with thoughts and memories of A Turntable Friend and its bands from guest writer Alistair Fitchett, written in that personal, literary style you'd often find in the mid 80s to early 90s fanzine culture, which Alistair played a part in with zines like The Melody Haunts My Reverie and Fantastique! You will not miss out on the visual and information side of this release if buying the vinyl version, as the same material is, I believe, also included in the triple-gatefold sleeve notes.
Listening to this album has been a real blast from the past for me. It's been great to revisit old favourites that I played all the time back in the day, as well as uncover a handful of tracks that are new to me. BOMB POPS open the compilation with their breezy indiepop number Girl Daredevil. LOVE PARADE contribute the jangly and wistful Out to Sea and Lazy Days, as well as Life which juxtaposes an upbeat tune with a world-weary pessimism. Love Parade evolved into Pure and then EVA LUNA, the latter of whom appear with the superb She Shines, characterised by a fast, loping drum rhythm and swathed within an atmospheric, near-psychedelic swirl. This band were popular in Japan and should quite frankly have been huge over here too. HOPE, formed from the ashes of The Visitors, appear with the jaunty and somewhat angular Funny, a firm fave of mine at the time, and also the previously unreleased Whining and Whining, an urgent, spiky noisepop song.
I always thought it strange that prolific noisemakers BOYRACER frequently ended up on labels whose output was more often centred around indiepop, but unlike many diehard indiepop kids, I was exhilarated rather than appalled by their searing noise onslaughts. No Fuel comes from their first single on A Turntable Friend, which pre-dates their signing to Sarah, and represents Boyracer at their best: tunes, chug, feedback, chainsaw guitars, it's all here. Boyracer's songs have a punk spirit while completely bypassing the 'punk by numbers' approach, making them such a breath of fresh air. My Town, on the other hand, shows a more restrained side to the band - a minimalistic and melancholic slice of DIY pop, pairing acoustic guitar with cardboard box percussion. Boyracer also collaborate with EVEN AS WE SPEAK for another minimalistic pop track, Friend, which brings in some unexpected yet effective use of banjo, giving a folky touch to the piece. HULABOY is a collaboration between Boyracer's Stewart Anderson and Hula Hoop's Eric Stoess. Their song Garden is nicely rattly lo-fi pop with an unexpectedly abrupt ending. HULA HOOP themselves are also here, bridging the gap between raunchy American retro-rock and DIY indiepop in French Kiss '66.
VINEGAR BLOSSOM combine the classic indiepop sound with a slight psychedelic undercurrent. Jangle, bongos, backwards guitar, and vocal harmonies are just a few of the ingredients that make up their brilliant song Perfection Found in Good Health. TEA appear with an unreleased mix of Two Weeks, a superb indiepop song with mega-jangly chiming guitars giving way to a crescendo of more intense guitar work, as well as pounding kettle drums reminding me of St Christopher's Say Yes to Everything. (A Turntable Friend have also recently released Tea's 'lost' album Everybody's Happy Sometimes - more about this in Aquamarine very soon). DECEMBERISTS OF LIVERPOOL were a precursor of Hellfire Sermons. I believe they were called the Decemberists at the time, but added the 'of Liverpool' retrospectively, to avoid confusion with the better-known band of the same name who came along later. They appear here with a previously unreleased track from 1985, the stylish janglepop of Simpler to Say. HELLFIRE SERMONS themselves are also featured here, their early, poppier style represented by Door to My Backyard (which previously appeared on the Bliss compilation tape Turquoise Trees, but has never before made it onto vinyl or CD), while Bill and Sarah is a later recording from the band's more jagged and angular incarnation.
THE CLAIM put a kind of rockabilly spin on indiepop in Waiting for Jesus, whilst Plastic Grip is indiepop with a sharp edge, pairing jangle with harsh clanging guitar to accompany a super-melodic tune - really great stuff. FEVERFEW had links to both Blueboy and The Rileys. They appear here with the stylish, uptempo pop of Bed of Roses, along with the previously unreleased Paint it Blue, which surfaced in another form later on as Blueboy's Chelsea Guitar. THE RILEYS are also featured here with the reflective, sophisticated pop of Time will Pass. SUGAR PLANT combine catchy pop with alt-rock bite. THE GRAVY TRAIN's Make it Better is brilliant tuneful indiepop, another favourite of mine from the early 90s. TREE FORT ANGST was the solo project of Terry Banks (ex-St Christopher and now in Dot Dash). You Should Have Seen the One That Got Away treads a similar sophisticated 60s-tinged pop path as St Christopher, albeit more minimalistically arranged with just two guitars. ANTISEPTIC BEAUTY contribute the sprawling, swirling Illuminate Me, which combines indiepop with psychedelic and shoegaze aspects and features the effective additions of soaring flute and distinctive and inventive use of percussion. THE APPLE MOTHS' Fred Astaire is classy, poetic indiepop with synthesized orchestration.
SECRET SHINE's Unbearable was my joint-first introduction to A Turntable Friend. Released pretty much simultaneously with their debut Sarah EP After Years, this represents Secret Shine before their reinvention as a full-on shoegaze band, though its dreamlike atmosphere offers hints of what was to come later from them. Bookended by synthesized strings, the song sets world-weary lyrics to a hazy, ethereal arrangement. THE DREAMSCAPE had a shared membership with Secret Shine; I bought their Blackflower 7" at the same time as Unbearable due to the Secret Shine connection. The ethereal, reverb-drenched sound links it to dreampop and shoegaze, though it eschews the noise element that often pervades those closely related genres in favour of a more melancholic, delicate approach which is simply beautiful. REMEMBER FUN were supposed to have been the first band on A Turntable Friend, but for some reason their single Train Journeys never came out at the time. 27 years later, the song finally sees the light of day; it juxtaposes a melancholic lyrical sentiment with sparkling, jangly accompaniment in best vintage indiepop style.
I'm really glad this fantastic compilation exists, getting these songs out there again for a new audience. This music really has stood 'The Test of Time' and needs to be heard. It will also be an education to all those ignorant naysayers who reckon indiepop was a solely 1980s phenomenon that was dead and buried before that decade was out. This compilation shows that indiepop was still very much alive throughout the 1990s, and A Turntable Friend was among the best sources for this genre during that era. Many of the bands on A Turntable Friend are a hugely important part of indiepop history but are often overlooked in favour of 1980s bands - a mistake that will hopefully be rectified as this compilation helps to inform more people of their existence. Buying this compilation will also be helping a good cause, as profits are to be donated to the William Wates Memorial Trust, which helps young people stay away from a life of violence and crime and fulfill their potential. Find out more at
BACK TO AQUAMARINE