As Heavenly Recordings celebrates its 25th birthday this year, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman takes a look back over some of the iconic label’s finest releases over the last quarter century.
As much of an ethos as a record label, Heavenly Records has, over the past two decades, become synonymous with a very British sense of pop. Their early releases veered from punk rock to house music to baggy, summing up founder Jeff Barrett’s stated aim to have the label’s famous bird logo on as many great records as possible.
Eclectic, hedonistic and never knowingly predictable, it’s hard to know just what the British music landscape over the last 20 years would be like without them. Do you believe in magic?
Ahead of the all-dayer at The Kazimier on Sunday July 5 (preview here), here, in purely chronological order it must be added, is our top ten run down of Heavenly Recordings releases.
10. Saint Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Heavenly’s second ever single release seemed to sum up the label’s aesthetic perfectly with Saint Etienne’s irresistible fusion of swinging-sixties grooviness and post-acid house forming something of a template for the early 90s. Moira Lambert rather than Sarah Cracknell provides the vocals on this wonderful updating of Neil Young’s country waltz standard.
9. Manic Street Preachers – You Love Us
The early Manics were a riot of eyeliner, white jeans and stencilled slogans epitomised by this their second release on Heavenly. Sampling Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima as well as Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life, the video featured Nicky Wire dressed as Marilyn Monroe and references to Betty Blue and Alistair Crowley. For any susceptible teenagers it was an irresistible combination.
8. The Rockingbirds – Gradually Learning
Totally out of kilter with any of the pervading fashions of the time, North London’s Rockingbirds tried valiantly to resurrect the spirit of Gram Parsons in the face of grunge, baggy and shoegazing. Their tribute to Jonathan Richman – ‘Jonathan, Jonathan’ – hinted at greatness but it was the movingly romantic Gradually Learning which should have seen them headline the Grand Ole Opry.
7. Flowered Up – Weekender
London’s answer to the Happy Mondays found their spiritual home on Heavenly Recordings in the early 90s but even the coolest label around struggled to translate their incendiary blend of punk and acid house into chart success. Classic singles like Take It and It’s On saw their angelic barrow boy of a frontman Liam Maher briefly rival Shaun Ryder as a poet of the streets but it was on the 13 minute Weekender where everything coalesced into an era-defining whole. The band’s career had a tragic post-script when Liam died of a heroin overdose in 2009 followed by his brother Joe in 2012.
6. Northern Uproar – Rollercoaster
Too often dismissed as Brit Pop also rans, Stockport’s Northern Uproar injected some teenage vim into Oasis’s slipstream with their debut release Rollercoaster which was produced by the Manics’ James Dean Bradfield.
5. Beth Orton – She Cries Your Name
Beth Orton’s combination of folk and electronica seemed to fit perfectly with a music scene hungry for chilled out tunes which would provide a suitably calming post-clubbing soundtrack. Her 1996 debut album Trailer Park, which was produced by dance god Andy Wetherall, did the trick perfectly and god knows how many spliffs were rolled while listening to She Cries Your Name.
4. Doves – The Cedar Room
Unassuming Mancunians Doves became the first band on Heavenly to score a number one album when they managed to tap into a rich seam of emotionally reflective post-acid house melancholia and become the Coldplay it was OK to like. Hung over and blissed out it seemed to soundtrack the Brit Pop comedown perfectly no more so than on the epically sad but ultimately uplifting Cedar Room.
3. Temples – Shelter Song
While for many the jury is still out on Temples’ tuneful brand of neo-psychedlia, but there’s no denying their studious recreation of Nuggets-era garage rock is both effective and on records like Shelter Song irresistible.
2. Stealing Sheep – Genivive
One of Heavenly’s finest signings of recent years, Liverpool three piece Stealing Sheep’s combination of folk harmonies, Krautrock and Medieval weirdness has proved the label is still capable of unearthing a stunning and original curveball of a band.
1. Hooton Tennis Club – Jasper
A stunning return to Heavenly’s role as curator of a special brand of jangly sixties rock classicism, Merseyside’s Hooton Tennis Club throw in a bit of fuzzy American slack rock with their Teenage Fanclub-esque tunefulness and hit the jack pot with one of the finest guitar pop singles of recent times.
Heavenly Recordings are celebrating 25 years in the business with an all day party/showcase at The Kazimier on July 5, read all about that here.