My 1988 – The Fall, Peel Sessions and a personal journey of musical discovery

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A musical trip back in time to 1988

We all have our special years in music and Getintothis’ Will Neville turns the clock back thirty years to revisit a year of musical and personal evolution.

1988 was an important year for this writer, both personally and musically. Many of us probably have key years in the development of our musical tastes – turning eighteen probably coincides with many of them.

This year also saw my acquisition of a CD player and loving embrace of the new format, as well as heading off to university in Sheffield, far to the north from home on the outskirts of London. So this is my highly personal look back at 1988.

My first gig of the year (and third ever, according to my pretty good records) was on January 13, when I went to see Fantasy Dogs for the third of eight times. This was the band of my friend Graham’s mates, who played local halls in the heart of Essex.

On this occasion it was a free show, supporting Fat and Frantic, who actually released quite a few records. Also in attendance were my two other main musical explorers of the time, Kris and Stu.

We were all also together a couple of months later, when Fantasy Dogs supported another Essex band, the much rockier The Storm Angels, at another Billericay venue, this time at the princely cost of £1 for a ticket.

This is one of four of their shows that I still have a cassette recording of, as well as The Storm Angels’ set this time around.

Fantasy Dogs tapes

January brought me a compilation of Peel Sessions on tape, presumably from the recently-released 12” singles of classic and more recent sessions. So this cassette includes Joy Division, The Wedding Present, New Order, The Triffids, T. Rex and The Damned, all bands I still retain much fondness for.

Having discovered my diary from the 1987/88 school year, I can see that I was already paying notice to what sessions John Peel was broadcasting – including the double bill of A Witness and Close Lobsters on January 19, though I don’t seem to have recorded either on this occasion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t have all that many tapes left that I first recorded or acquired in 1988 – largely because I went on to buy many of the records on CD, if they were any good. A very quick stocktake leads me to guess that I still have around 450 tapes, gathering dust and gubbins in the garage, but not very many are from 1988.

One I do still have is another Graham-sourced item from that February that backs The Sisters Of Mercy’s Floodland with Babble by That Petrol Emotion. I never really loved the former, with this second album being at the bombastic end of goth. I still have a soft spot for TPE, eventually picking up this sophomore release on CD in 2001, as well as seeing them live twice (firstly later on in 1988).

That same month brought me another tape I still have – The Damned’s The Light At The End Of The Tunnel double compilation album from Stu.

John Peel broadcast two special shows on February 22 and 23, and my tape deck was in overdrive recording a load of ‘world music’ that stretched from Antipodean indie from the likes of The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, The Birthday Party and The Saints to Jamaicans Culture, Eton Crop from Holland and the marvellous Japanese all-girl combo Shonen Knife.

John Peel’s World Music tape

In these pre-internet days, I had to rely on being able to understand what Peel said when announcing the records he played, so my tape of these shows has them listed as Shonen Knock! Another ‘world’ act I was getting into at the time was The Bhundu Boys from Zimbabwe, whom I first heard on the 1987 Festive Fifty.

February saw a failed driving test, but more importantly I got my first CD player for my eighteenth birthday at the end of that month, a huge and (to this date) permanent change in how I bought and listened to music from that point on. My parents also bought me (I think) four CDs, two of which I still own – a pair of The Smiths compilations in Hatful Of Hollow and the American Louder Than Bombs, despite their being an eight-song crossover between the two.

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So, right from the very off, I was happy to pick up imports in order to get the tracks I wanted. Less memorably, I also got Sinéad O’Connor’s debut album The Lion And The Cobra, that had been released in November 1987. I can still recall hearing the first single off that, Mandinka, in the kitchen in my parents’ home in Upminster on the old Roberts radio, and the DJ pronouncing that it was the least impressive track off the long player. Sadly, he was wrong.

The other one I got was Peter Gabriel’s self-titled third solo album (as opposed to his self-titled first, second or fourth albums!), which I somehow sold at some point, for goodness knows what reason, as it’s a classic record, and one I later repurchased.

My eighteenth birthday fell on a Friday and I ‘celebrated’ it by going to see Southend United and Grimsby Town play out a goalless Third Division draw, as I was a fairly regular visitor to Roots Hall around that time, as I had so far only managed one trip to Anfield, due to distance and finances.

My best friend Kris was among the people to come round on the Saturday (my diary says “my do 7:30-11:30”, which is fairly vague), possibly to see and hear the wonder of a CD player! He brought another welcome birthday gift in Joy Division’s second album Closer, still a doom-laden classic. I didn’t acquire the debut Unknown Pleasures on CD until two years later, but I must have had a copy of it on tape. I would assume that this was because Kris had it on vinyl.

A crucial new release for me was The Fall’s new album The Frenz Experiment which came out on 29th February. I almost certainly bought this (on tape) on the day of release. While far from their greatest ever record, it’s still an excellent Fall album with such killers as Athlete Cured, Bremen Nacht and Guest Informant.

The NME’s charity covers record Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father that featured the likes of Billy Bragg, The Fall, The Triffids and Sonic Youth on it was released in March, combining my burgeoning love of indie with my die-hard passion for The Beatles. The fab four and The Fall were, and still remain, my all-time favourite bands.

I’d probably have sent away for the tape if the only band I’d been interested in on it was The Fall, as I was already obsessed with them, having first experienced them through their The Peel Sessions 12” released in June 1987.

March also brought me a couple of tape recordings from Graham that I still have, in Iggy Pop’s 1986 hit album Blah-Blah-Blah and the excellent singles compilation by The Cure, Standing On A Beach.

Morrissey’s solo debut Viva Hate was released in March. I bought this on cassette shortly thereafter, replacing it with a CD in February 1995. Also out that month was Talking Heads’ eighth studio album Naked, which I also got on tape at around that time, as they were band whose earlier work I loved.

Morrissey – defending the indefensible?

Also about now I got a well-designed, home-made brown-paper-packaged recording of McCarthy’s highly political jangle-fest of a debut album from 1987, I Am A Wallet, from Stu.

My only surviving tape from April 1988 is the Strum + Drum giveaway with the short-lived Underground magazine. This featured The Wedding Present, Miaow and The Housemartins.

Two greater finds on that tape were Alex Chilton, before I ever heard any of his seminal former band Big Star, and the utterly spell-binding Karen by The Go-Betweens.

One final discovery I can pinpoint to April 1988 was King Of The Slums, through a Peel Session that included the classic Venerate Me Utterly.

New Order’s Blue Monday 1988 was released in late April, which I bought at some later date, but certainly enjoyed when it first came out.

A key event in May for me was the very disappointing FA Cup Final, which I watched on TV (as I always did), but the mighty reds were somehow beaten by Wimbledon. For some reason this is remembered as an act of giant-killing, despite it being played between the sides that finished first and seventh in the top flight that season.

I was getting busier in recording radio sessions, firstly with Pixies in May and then The Jesus And Mary Chain, Eton Crop and The Pooh Sticks Peel sessions which all remain in my tape archive from the following month, together with a Danielle Dax one from the Liz Kershaw show.

According to my diary, I watched This Is Spinal Tap when it was broadcast on Channel 4 on 18th May. Shamefully, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it since. Something to be rectified shortly, I think.

Wire’s second comeback album A Bell Is a Cup… Until It Is Struck was issued in May, but I don’t think I got hold of a copy of this until later, though I was already aware of the band.

The House Of Love’s debut album was released on Creation Records in June, but I’m pretty sure I had to wait until later in the year to get a recording of that off Kris.

I took my A-levels that summer, and when school was out in July I took full advantage, going to see Fantasy Dogs four times that month, twice in Southend and twice in Brentwood at a total cost of £3.50.

That month also brought a couple of cracking albums on tape thanks to Kris, The Fall’s Perverted By Language and Miserable Sinners by The Creepers, fronted by Marc Riley, one of the many Fall-en. PBL remains in my Top five Fall albums, with opening track Eat Y’self Fitter amongst my Top three Fall numbers, and no doubt Top 20 tracks of all time – it’s also my mobile phone ringtone.

I spent some of my summer working at McDonald’s in Upminster, which had only recently opened. It’s strange to think now that the arrival of the golden arches was such a big deal at the time.

I’m not sure what else I did that summer, but my commitment to music was shown by my willingness to spend the huge sum of £15.95 that August to get The Sugarcubes’ debut album Life’s Too Good on CD from Downtown Records in Romford. Not any CD though, but the US import, as it had six extra tracks on it.

August brought yet more Fall-related product, again courtesy of Kris, as my tape collection was boosted by The Creepers’ live Warts ‘N’ All and the Cog Sinister compilation The Disparate Cogscienti.

Those tapes also featured another couple of great albums in BuzzcocksAnother Music In A Different Kitchen and The Colorblind James Experience’s eponymous debut album (both of whom I got to see in Sheffield in the next couple of years). In total contrast, I also bought Kylie Minogue’s debut album on cassette from a shop in Upminster.

I think that I also bought The Wedding Present’s Tommy compilation of singles and sessions that was released that July, on cassette, replacing it with the CD in March 1990. I’m not sure exactly when but I picked up their The Radio 1 Sessions – The Evening Show EP on CD this year, as well as the Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm and Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? singles on CD, that both featured excellent b-sides.

September was a momentous month for me – personally as I went off to university, and musically as I attended my first ever paid-for professional gigs.

First up were The Triffids at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road, supported by fellow Aussies Hunters & Collectors, who were stodgy but got Kris, Stu and me ready for the main act.

This was when The Triffids were touring the previous year’s Calenture album. The gig cost me £6.50, and I bought a bootleg tape of their set soon afterwards, which I still have. Their set was dominated by Calenture, as they played five numbers off this.

1988 bootleg tapes

The end of the show was dominated by covers, including a rousing version of The Velvet Underground’s What Goes On and a lovely cover of Can’t Help Falling In Love, made famous by Elvis Presley. They also played Madonna’s Into The Groove, the pop song it was OK for indie kids to like of the time…

Later that month I bought Colin Newman of Wire’s solo album A-Z on CD, for £6.99 from Our Price in Basildon. I had clearly already got the early Wire albums by this point, and I was beginning to snap up records by their off-shoots such as Dome, although I no longer own them all.

My gig-going reached a double peak towards the end of September, when I saw The Fall and Siouxsie And The Banshees on consecutive nights.

The Fall were performing alongside the Michael Clark dance troupe in I Am Curious, Orange at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, which I went to with Kris. A worthwhile £7.70 spent as I got to see MES and co. for the first time, complete with Brix atop a giant burger.

I later managed to pick up a bootleg cassette from the show two days later, as I continued to collect tapes of all the gigs I’d been to that I could!

I then paid my first visit to the Royal Albert Hall for the Banshees, again alongside Kris, but this time also with Graham. They were supported by a band called D.F.D., about whom memory and the internet reveals nothing at all.

This time, the gig cost £8.50, quite a sum at the time, but I saved on buying the bootleg as I was able to get a copy of Graham’s later. This was when the band were touring their Peepshow album, which was only released a couple of weeks before the show.

This was their finest album for several years, including the innovative Peek-A-Boo, and the band played much of it at the show.

I was busily taping Peel sessions, adding ones by Stump, The House Of Love and Billy Bragg to my tape collection this month, as well as one by Michelle Shocked broadcast on the Andy Kershaw show. I went on to see all of these acts live, mostly later in 1988.

I also got some other tapes off Kris this month – the Banshees’ very patchy, gloomy second album Join Hands from 1979, Public Image Ltd’s 1980 live album Paris Au Printemps and a Peel session by The Nightingales from the same year.

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Another live album that was issued that month was The SmithsRank, recorded two years earlier, which I snapped up on (brown!) cassette fairly shortly after its release.

Towards the end of September, I started my first year at The University Of Sheffield, meeting a regular future gigmate John on my first night at Ranmoor House, and another in Phil during my first week, who lived a couple of doors down my corridor from me. They both remain good friends of mine.

I saw someone called the Frank White Rhythm & Blues Band at Ranmoor during my first week – I’ve just discovered that Frank is Richard Hawley’s uncle!

I also saw soul band Rufus Stone in my opening week at Ranmoor, in the company of Phil and John, as well as (apparently!) my neighbour Tony, who was a firm classical loyalist, so that surprises me.

October brought me five more gigs in Sheffield, accompanied by Phil and John on four occasions, although only twice was it all three of us. First up was local band Boy On A Dolphin at The Limit, a free gig, with the even more obscure (and forgotten) Big Wide World in support, with the three amigos in attendance.

Next came a great, if somewhat incongruous, double bill as Hugo Largo played before That Petrol Emotion at the university’s Lower Refectory.

Hugo Largo had the unique line-up of two basses, violin and vocals, with their 1987 debut Drum EP produced by Michael Stipe. TPE’s third album End Of The Millennium Psychosis Blues had been released the previous month, which I picked up on cassette. As well as Phil, I was joined at this one by one of John’s course-mates, the oddly-named and slightly older Warrick.

I was back at the same venue five days later, to see Scots The Big Dish, again with Phil and John. I have no idea now why we went to this, but as it was only £1.70 it can’t have been that big a decision, even as a poor student.

I’d booked tickets for three gigs before arriving at Sheffield, trusting to fate that I would find people to go with, as I didn’t feel ready for solo gigging at that stage. I ended up with gig-mates for all three, going with John to see The Wonder Stuff back at the Lower Refectory for the princely sum of £4.50, supported by The Hollow Men from Leeds.

The Stuffies were touring their debut The Eight Legged Groove Machine record, released the previous August, which I had bought on cassette and was packed full of indie pop classics of the time.

My final October gig brought the three amigos to the university’s Octagon Centre for my first of seven times to date seeing The Wedding Present, supported by The Heart Throbs, for just £4.50.

This was a year before the Weddoes’ second album Bizarro, so the set was chock full of their early, perhaps greatest, tunes, while The Heart Throbs were a welcome second string.

October saw the release of The Peel Sessions EP by The Smiths, which I bought on CD soon thereafter. Also, Sonic Youth’s classic Daydream Nation came out, which I initially had on a tape from Phil.

I was starting to get into punk and hardcore this year, as evidenced this month by my taping a Nomeansno Peel Session from May that Phil had a copy of. The last day of the month brought another highlight, in the twelfth Peel Session by The Fall featuring both Dead Beat Descendant and Cab It Up!.

The three amigos returned to the Lower Refectory for another £1.70 Thursday gig at the start of November, this time for the Morrissey-rated Bradford.

However, the highlight of the month was an adventure as I took a solo trip to visit my sister in Liverpool for the weekend. The Saturday involved my second ever stint on The Kop as Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw by Millwall, followed by a trip to the Royal Court in town for a killer triple bill of live music. All for just £6.

Topping the bill was Billy Bragg, who was then promoting Workers Playtime, still probably my favourite album of his. Support came from Michelle Shocked and The Beatnigs, who had at least one classic number in Television. Inevitably, I have both the Bragg and Shocked sets as bootleg cassettes.

There’s very little Shocked on either Spotify or YouTube, which is a shame as I still have a soft spot for her. I wonder how much of that is to do with her controversial remarks about homosexuality since becoming a born-again Christian, while still seemingly being a lesbian.

A couple of interesting moments in Bragg’s set were a lounge jazz version of Life With The Lions, with the encores ending with reworked version of a Prince song as Acid Rain.

A week later was some kind of major event at Ranmoor, as an 80p ticket enabled me to see eight pretty unknown bands. In order they were Hey Scott Groover, The Visitors, Minor Prophets, Disco Reptiles, Phil Murray & The Boys From Bury, The Happening Men, Fos and finally Haze.

I taped a Peel session by The Colorblind James Experience in November, as well as getting a tape off Kris that featured the not-great goth album God’s Own Medicine by The Mission, backed with a load of Fall rarities, including b-sides, bootleg tracks and Peel recordings.

My Bloody Valentine’s classic Isn’t Anything album came out in November, which I got a tape of fairly swiftly, either from Kris or Phil, not picking it up on CD until September 1989.

December kicked off with another £1.70 Thursday night trip to the Lower Refectory, this time to see the mighty Stump, quirking out as only they could. The next night was another major event at Ranmoor, this time being some kind of official Christmas party, with tickets costing £9 each.

The Happening Men were back, while also on the bill were The Rhythm Sisters, Premier Jazz, The Wood Children and Empty Bed Blues.

I then had my first ever three gig nights in a row, as it was back to the Lower Refectory for the then-fairly-hot Voice Of The Beehive (hence the £5 fee), with Big Bam Boo also on the bill.

I was back in Upminster at the end of term (having to take down my carefully-constructed montage of pictures and posters from my room’s walls for the holidays) in time to pack in five London gigs before Christmas, plus one out in the wilds of Essex, all in the space of ten days.

This included my first two trips to the Brixton Academy, sandwiching my first visit to the National Ballroom in Kilburn. First up was The Jesus And Mary Chain, whose Psychocandy album I got on CD that Christmas from my parents.

Also on that bill was the intense Pussy Galore and Velvet Underground-esque The Perfect Disaster, who featured Josephine Wiggs, later of The Breeders. I went along to this with Kris, Graham and his future wife Vida, and someone called Rob.

The gig in Kilburn was with my other gig-mates Phil and John (who had yet to meet Kris, but a combination of the three of them subsequently accompanied me to many a gig over the years).

First on the bill was Kitchens Of Distinction, a perhaps underrated band who got rather buried in the shoegaze scene that was about to emerge. I have no recollection of the other support act (The Giant Lizards), but the night was topped in style by The Sugarcubes, and I of course still have a bootleg tape of their set.

Listening back to it reveals Einar Örn dominating proceedings a little. Also, although about half the set was from Life’s Too Good, another half were to be released the following September on sophomore record Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! Disappointingly, they didn’t play their best-known song, Birthday, which had topped the Festive Fifty in 1987.

I returned to the Brixton Academy with Kris to see Siouxsie And The Banshees again, this time supported by the challenging Suicide, who antagonised a large chunk of the crowd, but greatly appealed to my love of the unusual.

Kris and I joined schoolmate Stu as well as Graham and Vida at the Mayflower Hall in Billericay to see Fine, whom Fantasy Dogs had mutated into, alongside Horseflesh and headliners The Twentieth Century Rabbit Band.

Kris and I returned to north London for two consecutive nights of The Fall at the Town & Country Club (now The Forum), with Jer also in attendance, whom Kris had met at a previous Fall gig. Two lots of £7 were well spent, with a further outlay of £4 required for a tape of the first night’s show.

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Apparently, that second show was Brix’s last gig with The Fall until 1994. Scouse popsters Benny Profane supported on both nights, while we also caught Philip Shoenfelt at the first show.

One of these gigs brought one of my oddest acts as a music fan, as I took along an apple which I proceeded to roll towards Brix at some point in the set, who gave me a very quizzical look. I think I had planned on taking a (slightly more relevant) orange, but there wasn’t one in my parents’ fruit bowl, so for some strange reason I plumped for the apple! I feel pretty sure this act was unconnected to her imminent departure from the band…

Christmas brought the usual treats, including John Peel’s Festive Fifty, where I probably first heard the likes of The Four Brothers, Inspiral Carpets, Dinosaur Jr., Zambians Shalawambe, The Butthole Surfers and Dub Sex when he played his favourite sessions of the year.

I recorded the sessions and the chart itself across four tapes, but missed the first night as I was at the first Fall gig. As I was also at The Fall for the second night, I must have got my dad to tape the show for me!

Festive Fifty 1988 tapes

As part of my research for writing this article, I recently dug out these tapes to listen to them again. It’s odd listening to radio shows from thirty years ago, especially when they’re interrupted by news broadcasts. Even more so on the second night of the Festive Fifty, as Peel has to make several traffic announcements relating to the Lockerbie bombing, as emergency services were rushing to the scene of what was ‘only’ seen as an air crash at the same time as his show was going out.

Other contemporary events mentioned include Peel passing a kidney stone (!), and his relief at Liverpool’s 1-0 Boxing Day win at Derby County that moved the reds up three places to third in the table, after a run of four League games without victory.

The Festive Fifty was at peak white-boy indie kids with guitars phase (leading Peel to label it “very conservative” as it came to a close), with only a few notable exceptions. Public Enemy’s Night Of The Living Baseheads was the only entry from their classic It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back LP at #50, Shalawambe’s Samora Machel from their session featured at #37 and 14 Days In May by Brit hip hop pioneer Overlord X came in at 28.

The Fall featured a remarkable six times in the Festive Fifty, the most in this year’s chart, but far from their record, which was a stunning ten in 1993. The Wedding Present appeared five times, with Pixies and Morrissey each having four entries, meaning practically half of the chart was taken up by just four acts.

Bands I probably heard properly for the first time in the Festive Fifty itself included James, Cocteau Twins and Robert Lloyd & The New Four Seasons, led by The Nightingales’ former singer.

My third tape of the Festive Fifty is probably the pick of the bunch, featuring the likes of Sonic Youth’s Silver Rocket at #29, and Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More by Mudhoney (or Mud Honey as I wrote on my tape box as that must have been the first time I’d come across them) at #31.

I also recorded a repeat of the October E. Smith Youth session in December, in which Sonic Youth covered four Fall songs.

In addition to Psychocandy, I got at least one more CD off my parents for Christmas, Half Man Half Biscuit’s CD combining Back In The D.H.S.S. and The Trumpton Riots e.p. I bought the Hardcore Holocaust (87-88 Sessions) – The Peel Sessions compilation CD from HMV on Oxford Street (that no longer exists) a few days after Christmas, which included the likes of Electro Hippies, Extreme Noise Terror and Napalm Death. I saw the last of these in Sheffield in March 1989.

Another crucial acquisition in December was the NME’s Indie City double cassette compilation, which probably introduced me to bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Josef K, The Normal and The Mekons, although some of them may have been on my radar already.

Possibly the best find on the tapes though was …And The Native HipstersThere Goes Concorde Again.

A sadder event that month was the death of Roy Orbison, whose Roy Orbison And Friends: A Black And White Night I think I’d seen on TV earlier that year, featuring the likes of the rather-uncool-to-me-at-the-time Bruce Springsteen and the more interesting Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. I had had a 7” single of The Big O’s Ooby Dooby for some time, but didn’t buy an album for a while.

1988 probably brought my first experiences with the likes of Another Sunny Day and The Field Mice from Sarah Records, the twee-est of indie labels, and the modern, more minimalist end of classical music in Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, the latter two through Adrian, who lived in the room directly below mine.

1988 ended for me with only my third visit to Roots Hall to see Southend United this year (compared with thirteen times in 1987) on New Year’s Eve, all of which no doubt in the company of school-friend and Shrimpers’ fan Ian. This was a 2-1 Third Division defeat by Bristol City, and was the third time I’d seen them lose in 1988 (including a trip to Craven Cottage), with the other match ending in a draw.

What a momentous musical year 1988 was for me, as I attended 28 gigs in total (a healthy number, but far off my peak, which was 42 in both 2003 and 2004), discovered loads of great new and old bands I still love to this day, and made tentative steps towards maybe growing up one day!

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