Sunday, 15 February 2015
My wife is a bit older than me, and her claim to fame is that she used to live with various stars of the indie world from the 80s. She has flexi discs of bands where she used to know the bass player or something, and because I am younger, they are from before my time - I have never heard of any of them.
There is a possibility you may be thinking the same thing here - either you have stumbled onto this page and are thinking, “who?”, or perhaps you are genuinely here because you like Echobelly. But it’s been nearly 20 years - yes, really - since they were regular chart botherers and Top Of The Pops guests, and so for the current crop of indie kids, this is probably totally over your heads. But it’s not just me who is showing interest in this band at the moment. Their first two albums were both reissued in expanded form last year, suggesting that there is a fan base still around who are interested in such things.
Like Sleeper, Echobelly emerged as part of the “scene that wasn’t a scene”, where the music papers lumped all of the female fronted bands emerging in the UK in the early nineties into one big pot. But Echobelly were slightly different. In singer Sonya Aurora Madan, they had one of the few popstars who had an ethnic background, as she had been born in Delhi before moving to the UK as a child. Even without trying, it gave Echobelly something of a USP that other guitar bands simply didn’t have. Madan would reference her “immigrant” status on several occasions in her lyrics, as well as being photographed for a magazine article in a customized T-shirt which read “England - My Home Too”. She formed the band with a Swedish guitarist she had met in 1990 called Glenn Johansson, and between them, they would remain the nucleus of the band for their entire career.
The first line up of the group was a five piece which included ex-Curve guitarist, Debbie Smith. In 1993, they signed a one-single deal with indie label Pandemonium, and released an EP called “Bellyache”. The title track was later re-recorded for the band’s debut album (indeed, re-recorded songs of everything else on the EP later surfaced across various releases) and the interest surrounding the EP led to the band signing a deal with Rhythm King, an indie label of sorts but one who were bankrolled by Epic Records. The band‘s music was due to come out on the Fauve label, an imprint which seemed to have been set up exclusively to release the band‘s material.
The first single release on Rhythm King/Fauve was the “Insomniac” single, accompanied by a promo video in which Madan wore another customized t-shirt as an anti racist statement (a white shirt with a big union jack on the front, with the scribbled “my country too” legend across the middle). Musically, it slotted in with the better ranks of the upcoming Britpop crowd, nice bouncy guitar pop, but in Madan, they had a singer with a smooth-as-honey voice, which automatically gave them an advantage that, say, Marion didn’t have. Many critics noted that the vibe of the single recalled The Smiths and Morrissey - both he and the band were mutual admirers of each other.
The single got some late night MTV rotation, and only just failed to hit the top 40. It raised the band’s profile just enough to create interest in the group, and the follow up single, the gloriously catchy - and tongue in cheek - “I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me” became their first top 40 hit. Helped, possibly, by different formats coming in different sleeves, it again showed that the band were not just second rate Britpop - the intro is a simple drum beat, that suddenly speeds up and breaks into some high energy guitar pop, whilst the middle eight has an almost Sgt Pepper-esque brass driven interlude. In these days of Professor Green and Ed Sheeran, it actually sounds even more left field and better now than it did in 1994.
Debut album “Everyone’s Got One” (initials, “EGO” - very clever) may not have reinvented the indie wheel, but it’s a glorious blast of guitar pop, that more than stands up alongside it’s rivals, and did actually pre-date the likes of Sleeper’s “Smart” and Pulp‘s “Different Class“. It was much loved by the press, being listed in “albums of the year” polls in the NME, Melody Maker and the much missed Select. It created a wave of interest that went way beyond the UK, with the likes of Madonna and REM expressing their adoration for the band. The album went top 10, although another single designed to plug the album, “Close”, stalled outside the top 40 when issued at the tail end of the year.
By the following summer, Echobelly were ready to return with their second album, “On”. The joyously upbeat romp that was “Great Things” was issued as lead single from the album, and was promoted by a now (in)famous TOTP appearance, where Sonya dressed up as a saucy schoolgirl - which I seem to recall incurred the rath of the feminist brigade, whilst simultaneously delighting the indie boys (and perhaps, some of the indie girls). Nobody was holding a gun to her head, and the Melody Maker were obviously not that fussed, even using an image of Sonya in said get-up on a free poster some time later (I think she may have reused this outfit on tour, and the picture was actually from a period gig). In a blatant attempt to push the single into the upper reaches of the charts, it was issued on two different CD editions, each laden with bonus tracks, including two which referenced the forthcoming long-player (“On Turn Off” and “On Turn On”). It worked - the single dented the top 20, and to date, remains the band’s highest charting single.
A promo CD, entitled “4 Track Sampler From The Forthcoming LP”, was released in industry circles, which included the band’s next two singles - the equally euphoric guitar pop of “King Of The Kerb” and the almost psychedelically trippy “Dark Therapy”. For the latter, the band logo which had been in situ from “EGO” onwards was abandoned, and it became the first single from the LP which was not issued on two CD editions, the band obviously having run out of what it considered to be suitable B-sides. As for “On”, it garnered the same positive reviews that the debut record had, but that didn’t stop bass player Alex Keyser from leaving the group once the promo campaign was over.
After a UK tour in Feb 1996, and a trawl around the festival circuit that summer, the band went relatively quiet due to “various issues”. Rhythm King changed their label association to join up with Arista, but the band were unhappy with the decision, and so moved “sideways” onto Epic. With a new bass player in the form of James Harris, the group’s next album was 1997’s “Lustra”, previewed by two singles, “The World Is Flat” and “Here Comes The Big Rush”, the latter the subject of a radio edit mix that remained commercially unreleased, and also the subject of much remixing for the CD2 edition of the single.
All variant pressings of the singles, and the album, came in similar packaging - the band name and record title printed on a piece of card being held up to the camera, with various background images just visible behind the card depending on what release it was. The band’s profile, having been raised through their Britpop links, saw them getting TV slots on mainstream shows like “The Jack Docherty Show”, but maintaining the interest of all the media outlets was getting hard. “Here Comes The Big Rush” failed to make the top 40, despite being “new” material, as the new album was released a week or two later, and the band seemed to grind to a halt. After the release of “Lustra”, Smith left the group and the band were dropped by Epic after the album also failed to get into the top 40.
The band initially disappeared into the void that is the “where are they now” pile. But come 2001, and the group returned with a new EP, “Digit”, on their own Fry Up record label. Three of the four songs were later included on the band’s fourth LP, “People Are Expensive”, which spawned two further single releases, “Tell Me Why” and a remixed “Kali Yuga“. The latter release included re-recorded versions of two of the songs that had appeared on the band’s debut EP, which sort of brought the story full circle. The band lineup continued to shuffle about, James Harris leaving and being replaced by new bassist Ruth Owen before the release of a fifth LP, 2004’s now hard to find “Gravity Pulls”.
Since then, it has mostly gone even more quiet. The band seemed to just disintegrate, no “official” announcement was ever made about their demise (or not), and Sonya and Glenn formed a new band, Calm Of Zero, that seemed to struggle to get off the ground. In recent years, they have performed informally under the Echobelly banner, one would guess that’s quite a good way to sell more tickets, but the future seemed slightly uncertain as to which group was going to continue. But in mid January, news filtered through that the band were one of a number of groups appearing at the 90s-indie-centric “Gigantic” festival. Totally retro perhaps, but anything to rescue us from the horror of Bruno Mars has to be applauded.
Anybody starting afresh with Echobelly, or for the completists amongst you, will be well advised - for the first two albums - to go for the expanded reissues on Cherry Red. Each come with a bonus disc of B-sides and radio session material, but contrary to popular belief, the session material is NOT all previously unreleased. The expanded “EGO” (2xCD, Cherry Red 3RANGE 24) includes material that had in fact appeared on music paper freebies in the first half of the 90’s, with “Father Ruler King Computer” having previously appeared on “Select Tracks 2” (Cassette, no cat no) and “Give Her A Gun” on “Hold On” (CD, MM/BBC CD 97-99). Still, that does leave two tracks exclusive to this reissue, so indulge yourself.
The amount of bonus material generated by “On” means that the reissue of that one adds bonus tracks to disc 1, alongside the second disc of rarities (2xCD, Cherry Red 3RANGE 25). Disc 2 includes material from the band’s gig in New York on 9th September 1995, which includes everything from the CD2 edition of the “King Of The Kerb” single, plus more. As nice as this all is, it still doesn’t tick all the boxes, as more material from freebie music paper releases are not included - such as the Mark Lamarr session version of “Car Fiction” which was included on two different “Vox” magazine freebies, and the demo of “Pantyhose And Roses” included on the Melody Maker’s “Basement Tapes” in late 1996.
I have listed below the original album releases, for those of you who are interested - of course, three of these are still the only versions available. As for the 45’s, I have listed all formats that will be of interest to anybody owning/wishing to own the Cherry Red releases, if not, you will see it was usually the 12”/CD editions that originally included most of the rarities, with only a handful of 7” releases being excitable pressings at the time. There have also been a few best of sets, “I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me” and the obviously titled “The Best Of”.
Everyone’s Got One (LP, Fauve FAUV 3 LP, some copies with poster [FAUV 3 LPS])
Everyone’s Got One (Cassette, Fauve FAUV 3 C)
Everyone’s Got One (CD, Fauve FAUV 3 CD)
On (LP + 7”, Fauve FAUV 6 LX, 7“ includes selected b-sides from “Great Things“ single, later copies omit the freebie [FAUV 6 LP])
On (Cassette, Fauve FAUV 6 C)
On (CD, Fauve FAUV 6 CD)
Lustra (Cassette, Epic 488967 4)
Lustra (CD, Epic 488967 2)
People Are Expensive (CD, Fry Up FRYUPCD 003)
Gravity Pulls (CD, Fry Up/Takeout TRCD 1003-2)
Bellyache EP: Bellyache/Sleeping Hitler/Give Her A Gun/I Don’t Belong Here (12“, Pandemonium PANN 3)
Bellyache EP: Bellyache/Sleeping Hitler/Give Her A Gun/I Don’t Belong Here (CD, Pandemonium PANN CD 3)
Insomniac/Talent (7”, Fauve FAUV 1)
Insomniac/Centipede/Talent (12“, Fauve FAUV 1-T)
Insomniac/Centipede/Talent (CD, Fauve FAUV 1 CD)
I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me/Venus Wheel (7”, Fauve FAUV 2)
I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me/Sober/Venus Wheel (12”, Fauve FAUV 2-T, unique p/s)
I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me/Sober/Venus Wheel (CD, Fauve FAUV 2 CD, unique p/s)
Close...But/So La Di Da (7”, Fauve FAUV 4)
Close...But/So La Di Da (Cassette, Fauve FAUV 4 C)
Close...But/So La Di Da/I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me (Evening Session Version)/Cold Feet Warm Heart (Evening Session Version) (12“, Fauve FAUV 4-T, initial copies in sealed “mailer envelope“ pack with poster, badge and sticker)
Close...But/So La Di Da/I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me (Evening Session Version)/Cold Feet Warm Heart (Evening Session Version) (CD, Fauve FAUV 4 CD)
Great Things/Here Comes The Scene (Cassette, Fauve FAUV 5 C, red sleeve)
Great Things/Here Comes The Scene/God’s Guest List/On Turn Off (CD1, Fauve FAUV 5 CD)
Great Things/On Turn On/Bunty/One After 5am (CD2, Fauve FAUV 5 CDX, different p/s)
King Of The Kerb/Car Fiction (French Version)/On Turn On (Acoustic Version)/Natural Animal (Acoustic Version) (CD1, Fauve FAUV 7 CD)
King Of The Kerb (Live NYC Wetlands)/I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me (Live NYC Wetlands)/Insomniac (Live NYC Wetlands)/Great Things (Live NYC Wetlands) (CD2, Fauve FAUV 7 CDX, unique p/s)
Dark Therapy (Single Version)/We Know Better (Blue Vinyl 7”, Fauve FAUV 8, sleeve lists extra b-sides by accident)
Dark Therapy (Single Version)/We Know Better/Atom/Aloha Lolita (CD, Fauve FAUV 8 CD)
The World Is Flat/Holding The Wire/The World Is Flat (Remix) (CD1, Epic 664815 2)
The World Is Flat/Drive Myself Distracted/Falling Flame (CD2, Epic 664815 5, different p/s)
Here Comes The Big Rush/Tesh/Mouth Almighty (CD1, Epic 665245 2)
Here Comes The Big Rush (LP Version)/(Dave Angel Vocal Mix)/(Dave Angel Instrumental)/(Midfield General Vocal Remix)/(Midfield General Dub) (CD2, Epic 665245 5, different p/s)
Digit EP: Kali Yuga/Digit/Kathmandu/A Map Is Not The Territory (CD, Fry Up FRYUPCD 001)
Tell Me Why/I Am Awake/When I See Red (CD, Fry Up FRYUPCD 002)
Kali Yuga (Remix)/Sleeping Hitler (New Version)/I Don’t Belong Here (New Version) (CD, Fry Up FRYUPCD 004)