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Aztec Camera – High Land, Hard Rain (Sire, 1983)

Aztec Camera – High Land, Hard Rain
Released April 1983
Genre Indie pop, New Wave
Length 45:25
Label Sire Records
Producer John Brand, Bernie Clarke

A stunning debut album from Roddy Frame and company!

High Land, Hard Rain was the debut album by Scots indie pop band Aztec Camera, released in 1983.

The band’s first UK 7″ single had been released by Glasgow-based indie label Postcard Records in March 1981, and contained the songs “Just Like Gold” and “We Could Send Letters”. An acoustic version of the latter song appeared on the influential C81 compilation cassette, released by NME in early 1981.

A second single, “Mattress Of Wire”, was also the last Postcard Records release before the group signed for fellow independent record label, Rough Trade. US releases were on Sire Records.

Aztec Camera’s debut album, High Land, Hard Rain, was released in April 1983. The album was successful, gathering significant critical acclaim for its well-crafted, multi-layered pop.

Three tracks from the album had originally appeared on the Oblivious EP which reached number 18 on the UK Singles Chart in November 1983.

The album itself reached number 22 on the UK Albums Chart.

The band went on to release a total of six albums, although most of these were essentially written and played by Frame. The albums included Knife (1984), Love (1987), Stray (1990), Dreamland (1993) and Frestonia (1995).

Some performers never make a bigger splash than with their first record, a situation which the Ramones and De La Soul know all too well. If that’s the case, though, said musicians had better make sure that debut is a doozy. Aztec Camera, or more specifically, Roddy Frame, falls squarely into this scenario, because while he has doggedly plugged away ever since with a series of what are, at times, not bad releases, High Land, Hard Rain remains the lovely touchstone of Frame’s career.

Very much the contemporaries of such well-scrubbed Scottish guitar-pop confectionaries as Orange Juice, but with the best gumption and star quality of them all, Aztec Camera led off the album with “Oblivious,” a mini-masterpiece of acoustic guitar hooks, lightly funky rhythms, and swooning backing vocals.

If nothing tops that on High Land, Hard Rain, most of the remaining songs come very close, while they also carefully avoid coming across like a series of general soundalikes. Frame’s wry way around words of love (as well as his slightly nasal singing) drew comparisons to Elvis Costello, but Frame sounds far less burdened by expectations and more freely fun. References from Keats to Joe Strummer crop up (not to mention an inspired steal from Iggy’s “Lust for Life” on “Queen’s Tattoos”), but never overwhelm Frame’s ruminations on romance, which are both sweet and sour. Musically, his capable band backs him with gusto, from the solo-into-full-band showstopper “The Bugle Sounds Again” to the heartstopping guitar work on “Lost Outside the Tunnel.” Whether listeners want to investigate further from here is up to them, but High Land, Hard Rain itself is a flat-out must-have.

[From allmusic]


1. “Oblivious”
2. “The Boy Wonders”
3. “Walk Out to Winter”
4. “The Bugle Sounds Again”
5. “We Could Send Letters”
6. “Pillar to Post”
7. “Release”
8. “Lost Outside the Tunnel”
9. “Back on Board”
10. “Down the Dip”
11. “Haywire”
12. “Orchid Girl”
13. “Queen’s Tattoos”


* Roddy Frame – vocals, guitar, harmonica
* Bernie Clark – piano, organ
* Campbell Owens – bass
* Dave Ruffy – drums, percussion

Here she be:

Aztec Camera – High Land, Hard Rain (1983)

Big thanks to takethepills

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October 1, 2008 Posted by | Aztec Camera, Music_Alternative, Music_Pop, Music_PostPunk, Roddy Frame, _MUSIC | Leave a comment

Various Artists – C81 Tape

Various Artists – C81 Tape (1981)
Alternative / Indie
Mp3 @ 269kbps

Less famous than the C86 tape, from Brit music mag, New Musical Express together with seminal Indie label Rough Trade, this is a fascinating look at what the Indie Music world in UK – and further afield – looked like at the dawn of the eighties!

C81 was a cassette that was obtained through the British magazine New Musical Express in 1981 (hence (C)assette 81) and released in conjunction with the record label Rough Trade. Intended to mark the first 5 years of the independent label movement in the UK record industry and Rough Trade itself, it was the first in a series of many cassette releases from the paper. Probably the best known (and derided) was the C86 compilation.

Publishing a tape was also an acknowledgment of the flourishing self published cassette culture of the time that the NME had been supporting in its short lived Garageland column.

C81 was compiled by NME journalist Roy Carr, and Christopher Rose, who worked in public relations for Rough Trade. To get a copy, NME readers had to collect two coupons from the newspaper and send off £1.50. The 15,000 orders were sold out within a month.

The tape contained a set of 24 diverse tracks ranging from jazz (James Blood Ulmer), poetry (John Cooper Clarke), ska (The Beat), and the folksy ‘Canterbury Scene’ (Robert Wyatt).

British music writer Simon Reynolds called it “post punk’s swan song”, noting the appearance of three acts from Scottish independent label Postcard Records, and the emerging new pop tendency of bands such as Linx and Scritti Politti.

This is actually much better than C86 in terms of the quality of the acts. Many great bands. Some amazing music.

It’s even got Dublin punk cabaret act The Virgin Prunes, led by one Gavin Friday (professional friend of Boner, sorry Bono!)

A great piece on the C81 Tape below from Stylus;

nME’s C86 cassette was promoted with a week-long series of gigs at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, spawned a genre of the same name, and is feted on a regular basis by blogs such as Indie MP3 – Keeping C86 Alive! Twenty years later, the compilation remains firmly entrenched in the indie pop enthusiast’s consciousness.

But C86’s predecessor has never reaped such rewards—quite an injustice too, since NME’s less-heralded, oft-forgotten C81 compilation is more catholic in reach and gleaned from a coterie of far more influential artists.

Like an ancient amphora unearthed during an excavation, the 24-song cassette brilliantly captures the aesthetics of its bygone era: the unfettered boldness, the challenging complexity, and the earnest self-consciousness of post-punk. The comp’s provenance is fairly basic: it was borne out of a conversation between an NME journalist, Roy Carr, and a promotions department employee from Rough Trade Records, Christopher Rose. At the time, Rose was working at Rough Trade with, as he put it, “one of the best-ever PR teams”: one-time Smiths manager Scott Piering and former Slash patriarch Claude Bessy.

“On one of my regular trips to the NME, I was talking with Roy, and during the convo came up with the idea. Obviously I loved it—it was my idea!—and he did too, so we spoke to our respective people and everybody liked it.”

The decision to release the compilation on cassette was Rough Trade and NME’s way of acknowledging the then-prosperous cassette culture. (American and U.K. artists were avidly selling or exchanging music on cassette through a loose network of other artists, as well as fanzine readers.) The compilation was also expected to build on the relative momentum generated by Elvis Costello’s Ten Bloody Marys and Ten How’s Your Fathers (released Nov. 6, 1980) and Bow Wow Wow’s Your Cassette Pet (released one week later)—the U.K.’s first cassette-only releases.

“Cassette culture was very important then,” said Rose, who now runs a vacation villa in Spain. “People had been taping stuff for years, first on reel-to-reel and then on cassettes. I’ve still got loads of tapes of the John Peel show and other stuff. Scott and I—mostly Scott—used to tape loads of gigs by bands we worked with. This was for our own pleasure; I seem to recall some of the recordings were even released. Obviously this trend lives on in the whole bootleg, pirate CD, file-sharing culture of today.”

It’s also important to note C81’s influence upon pop music’s great egress in the late 70s/early 80s. Twenty-five years ago, personal music portability was an unknown concept. However, thanks to releases like C81 and a revolutionary piece of technology introduced in 1979 known as the Sony Walkman (previously dubbed the Stowaway, the Soundabout, and the Freestyle), pop music began to leave the bedroom. It became more disposable, an accessory: “Something that your Pakistani tobacconist will be able to sell under the counter,” as Malcolm McLaren once said.

Just as importantly, C81 also lionized the nascent independent movement, showcasing acts from fledgling labels that had sprouted up in the previous five years: Postcard, 2 Tone, Industrial, and New Hormones.

“It was just another phenomenon that weakened the control of the music industry by the six major labels that existed then,” Rose explained. “We used to say that before the arrival of independent labels and, crucially, independent distributors, six people actually controlled whether you could be in the music industry or not. The independent labels and distributors completely broke that control, although it’s obviously regressed somewhat since then.”

Of course, C81’s status as a landmark release was solidified by its tracklist, which was unparalleled in scope. The cassette cut a wide swath across the post-punk landscape—from industrial and free jazz, to The Sound of Young Scotland and conceptual pop, to DIYers and pre-post-punk luminaries such as Pere Ubu and The Red Krayola.

Compilations with such grandiose ambitions typically spur derision in some listeners, but any Icarusian tendencies on C81’s part are bridled by the inclusion of tracks like the barmy “The Day My Pad Went Mad” by mad Manc John Cooper Clarke, as well as cookie-cutter (but catchy, nonetheless) pop fare from Essential Logic and Linx.

Simply put, the collection delivers highlight after highlight: the volcanic opening crescendo to Orange Juice’s “Blue Boy,” and its lyrics detailing a lad stricken with lovesick schoolboy disease; the saccharine-y pop bliss of Scritti Politti’s “The ‘Sweetest Girl’”; “Kebab Traume Live” by D.A.F. and its garrote-around-the-throat sound; the tribal rhythms, gypsy violins, and plucky guitars in “Shouting Out Loud” by The Raincoats; “The Milkmaid” by The Red Krayola, and its siren-like vocals, lulling the listener into a trance; the humorous vitriol in the lyrics of The Specials’ “Raquel”; Josef K’s “Endless Soul” and its sharp, clean riffing; the chest-constricting tension of Cabaret Voltaire’s “Raising The Count”; and the compilation’s closer—the epic, breathless “Parallel Lines” by Subway Sect.

According to Rose, accumulating such a pop bonanza wasn’t particularly difficult. “Rough Trade was also a distributor of other labels, so we had a huge amount of contacts,” he said. “Getting material really wasn’t a problem; everybody was keen to be involved. I’m pretty sure that there was way more material than space available.”

Upon its release, C81 did have its naysayers, particularly those who felt the compilation was about profit, and was not a true crystallization of cassette culture and the independent label movement. However, such negativity was atypical, as C81 ended up being a massive hit for Rough Trade and NME; thousands of readers ordered the cassette (complete with its dowdy colors and a campy illustration) by doing the necessary busywork: clipping two coupons from the magazine and mailing in £1.50.

“If memory serves,” Rose said, “the C81 compilation sold over 15,000 copies, giving a response rate of way over 10 percent. Normal response rates are typically around the one to four percent range, so this was a big commercial success, as well as a great slice of culture.”

That success led to subsequent compilations offered by NME: the follow-ups, Jive Wire and Mighty Reel, which were released in 1982; Mad Mix II (1983); Raging Spool (1984); Tapeworm and Department of Enjoyment (both in 1985). And, of course, C86.

And what were Rose’s thoughts regarding that particular comp?

C81 was way better than C86, which was much more about the NME trying to shape and control indie music, and keep itself relevant. It failed!”


Side A

Scritti Politti – The Sweetest Girl
The Beat – Twist and Crawl Dub
Pere Ubu – Misery Goats
Wah! Heat – 7,000 Names of Wah!
Orange juice – Blue Boy
Cabaret Voltaire – Raising the Count
D.A.F. – Kebab Traume
Furious Pig – Bare Pork
The Specials – Raquel
Buzzcocks – I Look Alone
Essential Logic – Fanfare in the Garden
Robert Wyatt – Born Again Cretin

Side B

The Raincoats – Shouting Out Loud
Josef F – Endless Soul
The Blue Orchids – Low Profile
Virgin Prunes – Red Nettle
Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters
Red Crayola – Milkmaid
Linx – Don’t Get in My Way
The Massed Carnaby St John Cooper Clarkes – The Day My Pad Went Mad
James Blood Ulmer – Jazz Is the Teacher, Funk Is the Preacher
Ian Dury – Close to Home
Gist – Greener Grass
Subway Sect – Parallel Lines
John Cooper Clarke – 81 Minutes

Here she be:


thanks to

September 3, 2008 Posted by | Aztec Camera, Music_Alternative, Music_PostPunk, Music_Punk, Various Artists, _MUSIC | 1 Comment