Blancmange – Happy Families / Mange Tout / Believe You Me

9 07 2017

Edsel Records are re-releasing the first three Blancmange albums on 4 August 2017, as the limited edition Blanc Tapes boxset and as three individual deluxe editions . The 2017 editions include a remastered version of the original album, plus b-sides, extended versions, remixes, demos, BBC Radio One sessions and three BBC In Concert performances.

Blancmange-Happy-FamiliesHappy Families (1982) was the first Blancmange album. The remastering on all three re-issues is really well done. No brick-wall remastering here – the music has never sounded as good as it does with these Edel re-issues.

From the Talking Heads like funk of album opener I Can’t Explain, through to singles Feel Me, God’s Kitchen and probably Blancmange’s most well-known track Living On The Ceiling, Happy Families is a wonderful early 80s album.

Disc 1 of Happy Families includes the 7″ and original version of Waves, as well as the extended version of Living On The Ceiling, the 12″ mix of God’s Kitchen and the 12″ instrumental of Feel Me.

Disc 2 is a mixture of demos and my favourite extended version from this period, the Feel Me [extended 12″ version], that features some great guitar work from guitarist David Rhodes (Kate Bush / Peter Gabriel). The demos show a glimpse of a much less polished Blancmange – closer to the starker more experimental work of Cabaret Voltaire and early Human League.

Disc 3 is made up of Radio 1 session tracks from February 1982 (John Peel) and June 1982 (David Jensen) and a concert recorded at the BBC’s Paris Theatre in November of 1982. The highlights of this disc are two rare Blancmange songs – the OMD-like I Would and the dark electronica of Running Thin.

Blancmange-Mange-ToutMange Tout (1984) was another commercial success – and contains the singles Don’t Tell Me, Blind Vision (my favourite Blancmange single), and a fine cover of Abba’s The Day Before You Came.

Other stand-out tracks on Mange Tout include Game Above My Head (CD1 includes a wonderful 7 minute version), the frenetic All Things Are Nice and the dark, glitchy Martin Ware (Heaven 17) demo of Blind Vision.

If you look beyond the pure-pop of the singles, there is a real feel of mid-80s experimental dance, along with a David Byrne influence that I did not pick up on at the time.

CD2 highlights the experimental side of Blancmange, with a mixture of demos and extended versions, the highlight being a very different version of All Things Are Nice. CD3 has a 4 song Kid Jensen session and 12 tracks from a Radio 1 In Concert recorded at Hammersmith Palais.

Blancmange-Believe-You-MeThe final 80s Blancmange CD was Believe You Me (1985). The least successful of the original albums, it doesn’t quite have the freshness of the first two albums, but is still a fine album containing some strong songs, including opener Lose Your Love and one of the bands best songs, Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? 

Listening to this album now, especially songs such as M Diver (Alternate Dream) [demo] from the second disc, I think its clear that had the band continued, they could have found a second wind in the late 80s / early 90s amongst the likes of the psychedelic pop / dance of The Beloved and S’Express.

CD2 contains a mixture of interesting demos and extended / single edits, the highlights of which are the wonderful re-invention of Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? as I Can See It [7″ single version] and the lovely, respectful cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle On My MindRiver Of Life [demo] is a bluesy synth workout that points to Neil Arthurs most recent project, the boldly electronic First Light album by Fader.

CD3 is made up of a late 1985 Janice Long session and a BBC In Concert recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in late 1986. The highlight of this show is a superb version of Blind Vision (the final song in the set, but introduced as the first song in the set!). Not sure if that was a Spinal Tap moment or something to do with the CD sequencing, but its an enjoyable live show. Hello Cleveland!

blancmange-2017

The three 2017 remastered deluxe editions will appeal to Blancmange fans, and anyone who loved the electronic music of the 80s. The albums have been lovingly remastered and contain fascinating glimpses into the development of the bands songs.

Blancmange return with a new album Unfurnished Rooms in the Autumn of 2017, sadly without Stephen Luscombe but featuring guitarist David Rhodes.

Buy The Blanc Tapes Box set, Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Happy Families (Deluxe Edition) on CD

Buy Mange Tout Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Believe You Me Deluxe Edition on CD





Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley

8 07 2017

Every ValleyEvery Valley is the third album from Public Service Broadcasting, and the follow up to 2015’s acclaimed The Race for Space.

The first thing that strikes you about the album is the musical palette – for the most-part, the heavy electronics are less obvious, so the result is a much more guitar-driven album than its predecessor.

Recorded in southern Wales (Ebbw Vale), Every Valley is centered around the Welsh mining industry, particularly coal mining. The album subtly touches on the obvious politics (on the track All Out) – so it does not detract from the story of massive economic and social change. Yes, I know these changes were mainly a result of politics, but honing in on the miners strike and the huge upheaval instigated by the Conservative Government in the mid-80s would have made this a less personal album, and taken away from the very real emotion in the words and music.

The buzzing of strings usher in the opening title track, and what a beautiful way to start the album. A sampled reading from the deep, warm tones of Richard Burton sit atop a wonderful drum pattern, softly evolving guitar lines and delicious strings. The production on this album is a massive step up from The Race for Space.

The Pit has Fleetwood Mac Tusk meets Running Up That Hill inspired dry drums. A bubbling synth runs alongside blasts of solo orchestral instrumentation and beautifully chorused guitar. Its a richly rewarding piece of music.

An old 70s coal-board advert prefaces People Will Always Need Coal, the most electronic track on the album. I love the 1980 Talking Heads-like groove on this song.

“There’s more to mining than dust and dirt”

Progress features Tracyanne Campbell from Camera Obscura on lead vocals, and whilst it is a rare positive lyric, it also acts as a way of making the forthcoming songs of decay and destruction feel even more sombre.

All Out is the section of the album that directly deals with the miners strike. Angry crowds underpin the brutal guitars, as the samples tell the story of men and women who just wanted to go to work, to do their jobs, to support their families. Its at this point that you realise that this album is more than a document about a time, and a place, and an industry that is long since destroyed. Its an album about the disconnect and the simmering discontent of the world we live in now. History is repeating itself.

James Dean Bradfield from Manic Street Preachers lends his vocals to Turn No More. Its a strong performance, and I like the fact that the music is quite restrained at times, which makes the message so much more powerful.

Every Valley is a chronicle of the men and women of the mining community. They Gave Me A Lamp is a beautiful piece, from the perspective of the women in the communities, and features members of the Derbyshire trio Haiku Salut.

You + Me is a departure on the album. A jazzy, live sounding performance that features a Welsh / English duet between Lisa Jen Brown and PSB’s J Willgoose Esq. The aching strings of the end section are one of the album’s highlights.

The drum pattern is almost an exact copy of David Bowie’s Five Years, so I hope I am forgiven for being confused when Soul Love is not the next song on the album.

Mother Of The Village brings the story towards its bitter conclusion, and reminds me a little of the wonderful Mogwai soundtrack to Les Revenants (The Returned).

“And you begin to realise what you mean by the death of a village”

As the album drawws to an end, the desperate state of the communities is now apparent, with empty pubs and disappearing shops. The Beaufort Male Choir close the album, with the moving Take Me Home.

“Take me home.. let me sing again..”

Every Valley is shaping up to be a much more satisfying album than The Race for Space, which I loved at the time, but don’t find myself returning to as much. This album has a deep emotional core that will keep drawing you back to the stories and the songs that live in Every Valley.

Every Valley (CD)

Every Valley (vinyl)





Date Stamp – the 80s (part1)

30 06 2017

Date Stamp – the 80s is the first in a series of blog posts attached to Spotify playlists I will be putting together, alongside my regular reviews of new releases.

sign o the times

The playlists will be a mixture of the familiar and lesser known songs, that I hope will shine the light on artists that you might not be familiar with. I would love to read your comments about the tracks I have chosen – please feel free to follow my playlists and share them.

I hope you enjoy listening to part 1 of my 80s Spotify playlist.

My Date Stamp – the 80s (part 1) playlist opens up with Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer, from the Rio album. The synth lines alone lead to its inclusion in this playlist. Save A Prayer was released in August 1982.

Next up is the only 12″ mix in the playlist. A brilliant Laurie Latham production, and one of my favourite extended versions from the 80s. Released in March 1983, Come Back and Stay can be found on the No Parlez album, and contains one of Pino Palladino’s most memorable bass-lines.

N_networkIt was difficult to choose just one Prince song for this playlist, and I know future playlists will include other songs from the Purple maestro, but I kept coming back to the Sign O The Times album, and particularly the power-pop of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, included here in its full album length.

The video for this track was a mainstay on Night Network, the late night weekend ITV show that preceded 24 hour TV.  I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man was released as a single in November 1987.

Mothers Talk was the first single from the second Tears For Fears album Songs From The Big Chair. The single was released in August 1984, with the album following in February 1985. Fairlight stabs, heavy sequenced synths and 80s nuclear paranoia drive this powerful song. The Roland Orzabal guitar riff on Mothers Talk is one of his best. The song may be synth and sampler heavy, but the guitar work (and the delayed and distorted bass and percussion in the outro) make this a standout track on the album.

If you are feeling flush, a deluxe edition of the album was released in 2014. You can read my review here.

wilderTiny Children from the second Teardrop Explodes album Wilder (1981) is one of the bands most commercial pieces.

Released as a single in June 1982, it sat comfortably with the other pop songs released that year, but as with all great pop music, scratch a little deeper below the surface and you will find much to savour.

“Oh no, I’m not sure
Not anymore”

A Secret Wish was the debut album by German band Propaganda. The album was released by ZTT Records in 1985, and was produced by Stephen Lipson with Trevor Horn. p:Machinery is my favourite track on the album, and one of the finest mid-80s singles. I love the percussion and crisp synths, and lead vocalist Claudia Brücken is still releasing new music.

Fade To Grey by Visage is one of the oldest tracks in this playlist. The single (the bands second) was released in 1980. The song was promoted by one of  Kevin Godley and Lol Creme’s earliest videos.

lexicon of loveThe title song of this playlist is Date Stamp by ABC, from their debut album, Lexicon of Love. I’ve gone for one of the less-well known ABC songs, but its my favourite track from the album. It hits all the marks for me – great backing vocals, a stunning bass-line and some of Martin Fry’s finest lyrics.

“Looking for the girl who meets
supply with demand”

Lexicon of Love was released in June 1982.

Another lesser-known track is up next. Here Comes a Raincloud is from the second China Crisis album, Working with Fire and Steel. A fine ballad with a wonderful arrangement and beautiful production (from Mike Howlett).  The (real not synthesised) strings on this track still sound beautiful. A piece of pop magic from the Liverpudlians.

I’ve included the 10″ version of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s Messages in my playlist. Another mighty Mike Howlett production. I love the hard sequences and the ever evolving bassline in this single from 1980.

I’m sure other Thomas Dolby tracks will feature in subsequent playlists, but I chose Airwaves as I think its a song that’s often overlooked. That chorus!

Airwaves features on the 1982 The Golden Age of Wireless album – I can recommend the excellent collectors edition.

I never tire of hearing Absolute by Scritti Politti. The mixture of sugar-sweet vocals and hard-beats hits the spot for me, even to this day. This Arif Mardin produced single from the bands period working in New York arrived smack bang in the middle of the 80s, and can be found on the album Cupid & Psyche 85.

A little journey back into the less-familiar for the next track on my playlist. Unless is from the debut Pale Fountains album Pacific Street, which was released in 1984. The slow-building percussion and reverb-laden synth mix with some heart-wrenching strings and an unexpected sequenced synth line towards the end of the song.

The band turned up the guitars for their final studio album, …From Across the Kitchen Table in 1986, before splitting, with vocalist Mick Head forming the band Shack, who have existed in various incarnations from 1987 to date.

44426-cafe-bleuI loved the early to mid-period Style Council singles and I’ve included the single edit of one of my favourites in this playlist. As with the previous track, some wonderfully detailed 80s percussion underpins My Ever Changing Moods. The song includes a typically great Paul Weller lyric and one of his best guitar performances from this era.

“The hush before the silence,
the winds after the blast”

My Ever Changing Moods was released in 1984 and can be found on Greatest Hits (this single version) or on their debut studio album Cafe Bleu.

Prefab Sprout’s Goodbye Lucille #1 (known as Johnny Johnny when released as a single) is a highlight of the bands second album Steve McQueen, which was released in 1985. The production by Thomas Dolby results in a timeless sounding album. Just listen to the intro – such wonderful separation between the layers of guitars.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions released their debut album Rattlesnakes in 1984, and its release was preceded by the single Forest Fire in August 1984. The album was recorded in John Foxx’s The Garden studios in East London. I’ve always loved the simple but very emotive guitar solo that pushes the song to its conclusion.

Lloyd Cole has always been known as a great wordsmith, and Forest Fire and its lyrics of wild love and lust are an absolute joy.

“I believe in love, I’ll believe in anything”

I’ve included the title track from Deacon Blue’s debut album, Raintown, in this playlist. A fine production from Jon Kelly (who also worked with Chris Rea, Kate Bush and Prefab Sprout). Raintown is a strong late 80s albums, and its worth tracking down the 2012 Edsel reissue.

Primarily known for his signature song Wonderful Life, the late Colin Vearncombe’s Black have left us with a rich catalogue of  songs. My favourite track from the debut album Wonderful Life is the torch-song Paradise. The album was re-issued as a two disc deluxe edition in 2013. Which I didn’t know about until writing this blog – so over to Amazon I go.

“Life should never feel small”

I’ve included one of Thomas Lang’s less well-known songs in this playlist. Thomas delivers a heartfelt version of Jacques Brel’s powerful anti-war (and song of loss) Sons of.  The song was often a highlight of Lang’s live shows in the late 80s, early 90s. Sons of is available on Scallywag Jaz and More – the Best of…

“Sons of the great or sons unknown
All were children like your own”

age of plasticMy playlist ends with Elstree by The Buggles. Taken from their first album The Age of Plastic from 1980,  the haunting Elstree features some lovely piano and a convincing minimoog oboe emulation from Geoff Downes.

The Buggles only released one further album, Adventures in Modern Recording in 1981. The past few years have seen rumours of new Buggles music, which would please me greatly, as I am a big fan of most of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes work.

Ok, Elstree ends with the words “Cut”, and so does this playlist. I hope you enjoyed listening to all of the songs, and maybe you’ve discovered some music you were not aware of. Feel free to leave a comment below, and I hope to return to the 80s for another serving of the familiar and the unknown in the next few months.

The next playlists will be two collections of Alternative Jewels – one of older songs and one made up of some of my more recent favourites. Follow the Music Shack on Twitter to find out when they will be available.

To be informed of new posts, along with music tweets, please follow the Music Shack on Twitter @MkMusicshack.





Fader – First Light

22 06 2017

FaderFader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin). They have released their debut album, First Light, on Blanc Check Records.

First Light is a dark, simmering electronic album. The music sits somewhere between Cabaret Voltaire and early (pre-The Garden) John Foxx. And that’s a good place to be.

3D Carpets is driven by analogue synths and minimalist percussion, with a chorus that soaks into your brain. I don’t have a clue what Neil Arthur’s lyrics are about on a lot of the songs – but I love the images they conjure up,  they paint a picture that is open to personal interpretation. Its good to use your 21st century imagination.

Check The Power has a tense, paranoid vocal delivery from Arthur, and some fine, deep bass synth lines from Benge.

“You better go back”

I love the way the synths sound so dirty,  not like VST / emulations, the duo clearly use authentic machines.

There is a real depth to these meaty sounds. Way Out is a case in point – the sweeping synths shift from deep low to brighter high notes. At times I struggle to believe that this album was recorded in 2017, not 1979.

“Caught in the moment of doubt”

The title track continues the edgy feel, with Arthur shouting about “Catholic converters” and “Resume the search at break of day”. The track First Light reminds me a lot of John Foxx, have a listen below.

The marching percussion and thick synths on Wonderland conjure up memories of early OMD and very early Human League / Heaven 17. Over the first few album listening sessions, I grew to appreciate the stream of consciousness, quite dystopian lyrics. There is also a lot of humour on display here.

Liverpool Brick is a wonderful, beatless song. The sparse but melodic instrumentation works really well with the lo-fi recording of the vocals. Liverpool Brick also contains my favourite lyrics on the album. Like the track, the lyrics are very direct (in stark contrast to the rest of the album).

A Trip To The Coast delivers one of the most memorable songs on the album. A real mood of melancholy and lost, fading memories permeate throughout my favourite track, which will surely appeal to the Stranger Things generation. I hope A Trip To The Coast is used to promote First Light, as I think it will be a favourite with a lot of people. Put this song on your SoundCloud, Fader!

The album closes with another album highlight, Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks” (a print of which sits on my home studio wall, fact-fiends). Such a moving piece, with a metronomic delayed vocal delivered over a dark, simple synth-scape, and a throbbing low hum.

“In silence and silver, Ikea blue bag.
Washing away the stain, on our rags”

Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper

First Light is a fine debut release from Fader, and a must-buy for fans of late 70s, early 80s electronic music. I hope its the first of many releases from the electronic duo, as there are clearly lots of places left for Arthur and Benge to explore.

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Buy First Light by Fader (CD) on Amazon

Buy the album on Vinyl

or buy the album on mp3

Visit Fader on Facebook or follow the duo on Twitter





Anathema – The Optimist

11 06 2017

The OptimistThe Optimist is the eleventh album from Liverpool’s Anathema, and a continuation of the story told in 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit album.

I hear shades of current bands such as Archive in The Optimist, and from early on its quite clear that this is a much more electronic offering than recent Anathema albums. The 5.1 mix (by Bruce Soord with Vincent Cavanagh) is enthralling – the electronic beats of Leaving it Behind scatter around the speakers – and the audio narrative that is so important to this album feels much clearer in the 5.1 version.

Endless Ways is a beautiful track – I love the Pink Floyd-esque guitar riff, and the emotive, reverb heavy vocal from Lee Douglas sits really well in the mix.

‘The dream I’m creating’

The albums title track is a standout song. Although the band have made the theme of the album clear, the lyrics on the album are open to interpretation – and suggest a story of someone running away and looking for direction, or maybe salvation. The track The Optimist builds with layers of guitar over strings and piano, and the end section is very moving.

My favourite track on the album is the instrumental San Francisco. The Run like Hell inspired guitar riff runs as a counter-play to the piano arpeggio – and when the hard sequencer riff hits, I’m simply in electronica heaven. Giorgio Moroder would be proud of you Anathema! This track has to be heard through headphones or a 5.1 setup to be really appreciated. There is joy in repetition.

The next stop on the journey is Springfield. The guitar and piano lines (with a sweet separation in the mix) evolve until the wall of guitars hit you so hard it hurts.

‘How did I get here
I don’t belong here’

Ghosts has a wonderful Massive Attack (Teardrops) beat and a lovely string arrangement.

Anathema press session © Scarlet Page

Can’t let go is the most uptempo song on the album, and sounds like a hybrid of Radiohead and Tears for Fears – that’s a good thing by the way. The lead and rhythm guitars are stunning on Can’t let go.

The simple and direct lyrics of Close your eyes match it’s atmospheric and disturbing music, as it mutates into an almost Twin Peaks like jazz arrangement. The album artwork maybe displays another David Lynch (Lost Highway) influence.

‘Close your eyes, just dream on’

Close your eyes flows directly into Wildfires, with its heavily treated vocals and percussion, as the track moves towards its powerful climax. The child’s music-box keyboard and guitar underpin the sad ‘too late’ refrain.

‘Who am I?’

The Optimist closes with a solo voice and guitar performance that comes into focus as the full band kicks in on Back to the start. The most psychedelic track on the album, with Beatles like guitar / strings and uplifting harmonies.

“They don’t understand, cos they don’t talk for me”

The Optimist is a powerful and moving album, that really resonates in these uncertain and troubling times. It is also one of Anathema’s finest albums to date.

Buy The Optimist on CD

Buy The Optimist Vinyl

Buy the Optimist Blu-ray (includes mp3 download)





Big Big Train – Grimspound

22 04 2017

Grimspound-album-cover-art-blogThree times Progressive Music Awards winners Big Big Train return with Grimspound, the follow up to last years Folklore album.

Album opener Brave Captain is the story of First World War English fighter pilot Albert Ball, from the viewpoint of Big Big Train vocalist David Longdon who stumbled across a memorial to Captain Ball as a child in the early 70s. This mixture of history and personal reminiscence runs deep in many of the bands songs, and makes them stand out from the crowd.

Grimspound‘s detailed album notes, as well as giving background and context to the lyrics, also explain the inspiration behind the songs instrumental passages.

Brave Captain is a powerful song, and heralds a subtle change in direction for this album. The songs on Grimspound seem to have added a hint of the 70s classic rock sound to the progressive mix. An addictive guitar line with synth / organ swirls push the song to its end section, reminding me a little of the sublime Private Investigations by Dire Straits. The powerful ending also feels like a cross between the twin guitar lines of classic Thin Lizzy mixed with the end of Bat Out Of Hell. You took the words right out of my mouth, I told you I can feel a classic rock influence!

On The Racing Line is an adventurous instrumental track, and a continuation of the story behind the song Brooklands on the Folklore album.

Experimental Gentlemen is an album highlight, book-ended by a beautiful intro and lengthy outro, with some mesmerising performances by the whole band. Watch a video of part two of the song below.

Meadowland returns to one of the characters from the two English Electric albums, and in the sleeve-notes, the band dedicate the track to the late John Wetton.

“Here with science and art
and beauty and music
and friendship and love,
you will find us”

This short nod to the band’s more pastoral past works really well at this stage in the album.

The albums title track reflects on what we leave behind, the mark we make on our world, in this increasingly digital age. The lovely shuffling drums pick up the pace as the song progresses through a lengthy instrumental section.

And then we have The Ivy Gate, my favourite track on the album. With a banjo intro that reminds me of the theme to the wonderful Deadwood TV series, the song features former Fairport Convention vocalist Judy Dyble alongside David Longdon.

A sad tale of war, loss and suicide, the evolving arrangement adds to the songs charm, and the track contains some wonderful bass work from Greg Spawton.

There is a moment of pure beauty when The Ivy Gate drops back to just the lead vocal as the main event in the song occurs, and sparse guitar, piano and vocals hang heavy in the air. Its one of the most moving performances I’ve heard in a long while.

Photo by Simon Hogg

The penultimate track is the albums longest piece. A Mead Hall in Winter delivers all the twists and turns, evolving time signatures and beautiful harmonies that characterise the best in classic and modern progressive rock.

“Meet me at the mead hall in winter,
set the world to right
with songs, science and stories
hold back the fading light”

The middle section of A Mead Hall in Winter finds the band heading off into a jazzy, almost Steely Dan territory at times. The interplay and the solos are razor-sharp, with none of the riffs or phrases outstaying their welcome by a single second. The tight rhythm guitar and multiple synth lines are a joy to listen to as the layers drop off to reveal a Yes / ELP inspired end section.

As the Crow Flies is a touching end to the album, with lyrics about letting go – of your children as they grow old, of your loved ones as they age. The song starts as it ends – “All here is good, still and quiet”. Songs like this remind you that your final destination is not important, its what you do on your journey that matters.

“Hope not to fall
or drift away”

I was a big fan of last years Folklore, but Grimspound turns it up a notch, and is a much more complete album, with strong performances from all the band members. The songs reveal new moments of wonder at different points, and the music deserves to be heard in one piece, with your full attention and played loud through good speakers or headphones.

I hope you enjoy Grimspound.

Buy Grimspound on CD from Amazon

Buy Folklore on from Amazon


Buy English Electric (1 & 2) CD on Amazon





Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s By Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence

25 03 2017

OK, lets start with a confession. The 70s is my favourite decade. Its a decade that I lived through as a young ‘un (I was 10 in 1970) and saw me through to my first years as a young adult. It was the decade that provided some of the music that has seeped into my very soul, especially the mid 70s classic rock and the punk / post punk music from 77-79 that shook the establishment. So Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s was always going to scream out READ ME, READ ME NOW. Oh and prepare to open your wallet – as you will probably find yourselves heading over to Amazon to buy lots of the DVDs and blurays of programmes you loved when you were young, or to eBay to pick up comics (old copies of Look-in) or other 70s memorabilia.

Scarred for Life Volume one: The 1970s

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s is a printed publication (740 black and white pages printed, with a free colour eBook version) that covers the decades weird and wonderful television (including favourites of mine such as The Tomorrow People, Sky, Survivors and A Ghost Story For Christmas), as well as a look at the changing face of UK TV culture. And that’s not all – the publication looks at board games – such as Top Trumps and Escape From Colditz, plus films and comics (including the mighty Action from 1976) as well as 70s fads and food (I had forgotten all about Horror Bags Fangs Crisps!). Oh and the array of 70s ice-lollies – no wonder I’ve spent so much money at the dentists over the years.

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s opens with an excellent scene-setting introduction by horror writer / historian Johnny Mains. Scarred by Television is the books first section. If you lived through the 70s, the memories are instantly sparked by the description of TV in that decade – no remote controls, tiny screens and few channels, compared to todays HD and hundreds of channels beamed into our homes through satellite / cable and on demand net based programming. On demand was not an option in the 1970s – in fact recording of programmes to watch later didn’t feature in most households until the 1980s. So TV watching was a much more communal event – everyone watched the programmes at the same time and discussed last nights viewing at school or work the next day. And if you missed the programme, or if it clashed with something else your family was watching on the homes ONE TV, that was it – no pausing, rewinding or catch-up TV. You simply missed it.

Programmes discussed in depth in the first few chapters include The Owl ServiceThe Ghosts of Motley Hall and one of my favourites, The Tomorrow People (which has a Bowie reference, fact fiends). Name that tune! The Blue And The Green Tomorrow People story has stuck with me all these years.

SkyOne of the most enjoyable parts of Scarred for Life is the coverage of the HTV series Sky. I remember watching and enjoying early episodes of this programme, but for some long forgotten reason, I never got to watch the whole of the seven part series. But I never forgot those terrifying black eyes…..

There is also a lengthy and informative section on Play For Today – including the haunting Blue Remembered Hills, which can be found on the Essential Dennis Potter boxset.

The sci-fi section of Scarred for Life includes the BBC post-plague drama Survivors. Much grittier than the (sadly cut-short after two series) more recent version starring Max Beesley, the original series lasted three seasons and went straight into my Amazon basket after reading about it in this book.

My favourite TV related section of Scarred for Life is the Gothic TV section – especially  the section on A Ghost Story For Christmas. I occasionally saw episodes during the 70s but bought the BFI DVD collection a couple of years ago due to the 2010 remake of the M. R. James story Whistle and I’ll Come to You, and dipping into this collection has become a Christmas tradition. The Scarred for Life piece goes into great detail, even mentioning the 1860s M. R. James origin of the Christmas Ghost stories that led to this wonderful BBC festive regular. I know its not Christmas as I write this review, but I think I’ll dip into the collection again this weekend. Charles Dickens is not just for Christmas, after all.

The How we used to live section discusses the way that some mainstream 70s TV dealt with race (the impact of ‘light entertainment’ shows such as The Black and White Minstrel Show and Love Thy Neighbour) and particularly the awful, lazy stereotyping in Mind Your Language. The section also discusses the “something for the Dads” casual sexism that was prevalent in Seaside Special / Top of the Pops and various sitcoms such as Doctor In The House and On The Buses. To their credit, the Scarred for Life writers don’t choose the easy “weren’t the 70s wacky” route in their discussions about these issues.

Scarred for Life takes an interesting approach to its lengthy Doctor Who section. Instead of focusing on the show and the stories, they take a fresh approach discussing what it was like being a fan of the show – writing about the Doctor Who Exhibitions and the eras Doctor Who annuals and magazines.

If, like me, you are of a certain age – the phrase “clunk click every trip” will mean you watched the multitude of public information films that ran through the decade, and they are discussed in loving detail in Scarred for Life. To this day, I’m still petrified of dumped fridges and ponds.

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The section covers with Charley Says, The Green Cross Code and the downright terrifying Joe & Petunia (the coastguard animation still haunts me). Coo-ee!

I spent many happy hours playing Escape From Colditz as a kid in the early 70s. The board game was inspired by the popular TV series, starring Robert Wagner and David McCallum, that ran for two series between 1972 and 1974. It made a change from the endless magic sets and compendium of games that I received each Christmas. So I really enjoyed the children’s games section in this publication, that also covers Top Trumps, a card based game (I recall having lots of military and vehicle based sets – mainly tanks, jets and motorbikes).

The savage cinema section is well researched. Covering films such as Soldier Blue, Straw Dogs, Dirty Harry and the Death Wish series, the writers put these films in the context of the post-Vietnam, permissive society fighting Mary Whitehouse era. Classic films such as Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver and Deliverance are also covered.

The writers also delve briefly into the “When Animals Attack” late 70s film genre, mentioning Grizzly, but sadly no mention of one of my  (corny) favourites from the era – Day of the Animals. I saw Day of the Animals as a double-bill (what a great concept, bring it back!) at the cinema in 1977 with a great film called The Car, with James Brolin being pursued through the desert by a seemingly driverless Lincoln Continental (The Car is mentioned further on in Scarred for Life).

Another well-written section of the book are chapters given over to covering some of the satanic / possession films of the 70s. Covering less obvious choices, such as Dennis Potters Brimstone and Treacle (not to be confused with the later film version starring Sting) as well as the sort of films you would expect, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and The Exorcist, the writing is often focused on the public’s perception of the films rather than plot synopses, which is a fresh take on these much-discussed classic horror films.

I also found the folk-horror section interesting – as its a sub-genre I know little about, so feel inclined to explore further.

The Pop Movie Turns Dark covers the trio of pop films That’ll Be The Day, Stardust and Slade in Flame. I’ve never seen the Slade film but love the two David Essex films. I didn’t realise that That’ll Be The Day is based on Harry Nilsson’s song 1941, so thanks for that pop-quiz nugget, Scarred for Life.

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The sections on 70s books and comics is the section I was looking forward to the most, and it did not disappoint. I bought several pre-ban issues of Action – I wish I’d kept them, as it was a ground-breaking comic that is covered in depth in this publication. And I had forgotten all about the Pan Book of Horror Stories – that turned me onto the work of Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker among others. I was also a big fan of the early James Herbert books – The Rats is discussed in Scarred for Life, but my favourite was The Fog. I’ve still got my original copy and it still scares me to death. Its a shame there is not more coverage of James Herbert – he may not be regarded as being a writer in the same class as Stephen King in horror writing circles, but his books were extremely popular in the 70s and 80s for the very good reason that they were terrifying.

Scarred by… food. Horror themed ice-lollies (Lyons Maid Red Devils & Haunted House), Smiths Horror Bags crisps (I can taste them now!) and Golden Wonder Kung Fueys (bacon and mushroom corn balls mnnnn) are all on the menu in Scarred for Life. Oh how I miss the 70s.

There is an interesting chapter on UFO imagery used in 70s music, including Boston, ELO, The Stranglers and a fair bit about David Bowie‘s apparent fascination with aliens. The sections ends with the top 10 UFO songs of the 70s. I won’t give it away – buy Scarred for Life and see for yourself.

Scarred for Life is a great read for anyone who lived through the decade, or for anyone in love with the music, TV and films that poured out of this amazing period. The TV series Life on Mars gave a great flavour of the 70s, so if you loved that show, Scarred for Life will paint an even fuller picture of the decade. I am really looking forward to the next volume, that will cover the 80s. I can’t wait to read about the nuclear paranoia of that decade, especially the mighty Threads.

You can buy Scarred for Life Volume one – the 70s now as a 740 page perfect-bound paperback (the printed version comes with details of how to obtain the colour e-book version as part of your purchase).








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