Sheffield, Steel City, late 70s, early 80s … and it wasn’t all lopsided haircuts and gold lame jackets round here.
Here’s a chart which tries to encapsulate what was going off on the DIY scene in Sheffield, post Punk. The time frame I’ve chosen roughly corresponds to a period of 2 years, beginning after the initial success of the first wave of Sheffield bands (Human League, Cabaret Voltaire), the startpoint being arbitrarily marked by the Human League signing to Virgin (April 79) and issuing their first non-DIY single (‘I don’t depend on you’ under a pseudonym of ‘The Men’), and ending when the Human League breakaway group – Heaven 17, issued their first single (‘Fascist Groove Thang’) in April 81.
There had been a smattering of DIY singles coming out of Sheffield before this time: The Push ‘Cambridge Stomp’ on the Sticky Label, featuring future film star (as ‘Ringo’) and soap star (Corrie/Emmerdale/Bill) in the form of lead singer Ray Ashcroft (July 78), the Human League’s own ‘Being Boiled’ on Fast (June 78), and 2.3’s ‘All time Low’ (March 78), also on Fast Records.
A good DIY-friendly infrastructure was in place – good fanzines (Gunrubber, from Feb 77, NMX from March 79, Pink Flag, Bath Banker, and many more following); supportive venues: NowSoc at the university, Limit Club, Blitz), willing audiences and a handful of cheap and cheerful studios. By mid 81 the 'scene' had petered out, and the likes of Human League, Cabaret Voltaire and ABC were household names...
Much of those happy days have been documented in a superb book ‘Beats working for a living’, by Martin Lilleker, and, back in the day, by fanzine NMX (whose main man, Martin Lacy, published the aforementioned book). Heavily recommended reads, even if you only have a passing interested in the subject
Anyway, to the vinyl: Mostly 7” singles, exceptions being a couple of tracks taken from a compilation LP issued at the time, of ‘up and coming’ band who had not yet made a record, and a track from a ‘various artists’ 12” EP. The list is in chronological order of release.
The tracks vary from pop, powerpop, mod, post-punk, punk and minimal synth, to experimental, hopefully something for everyone ... anyway .. here they are:
Tracks available to listen to here or download here
Other credits on 45cat.com
1. 04/1979 ComSat Angels – “Red Planet” (7” single, Junta Records JUNTA 1)
In a previous incarnation as ‘Radio Earth’, this band had recorded some demos up for Radar (‘complex pop, strange time signatures’), but that label had gone bust before they could be released. An ‘epiphany’ gig supporting Pere Ubu led them to a re-think, and a change of name, shortly followed by this single, reflecting a more ‘natural’ sound. First 2000 in black vinyl, second 2000 in red vinyl
2. 05/1979 Graph – "Drowning" (taken from the ‘Earcom 1’ 12” EP, Fast Records, FAST9a)
A trio whose first official gig was as support at the legendary Human League/Def Leppard gig at the Limit Club in September 78. Rhythmic, with strong bass lines and much improvisation, they claimed no influences, all having been brought up overseas with no access to pop radio or TV.
3. 06/1979 Artery – "Mother Moon" (7” single Limited Edition Records TAKE1)
Sheffield’s original and best post-punk band, the core of which was a group of lads who’d grown up near each other, in a band called ‘The’. A couple of line-up changes, and they became Artery. This is the band that Jarvis Cocker claims were his inspiration to start Pulp, after witnessing an incendiary gig of theirs. Although the band had been split for many years, Jarvis recently got them to reform to play at his South Bank shows, after which they decided to keep going.
4. 06/1979 They Must Be Russians – "Nagasaki’s Children" (7” EP, private press LYN6714)
Record produced by Cabaret Voltaire. TMBR were a shambolic but loveable group, with an ever-changing line-up. Song subject matter ranged from the after effects of an A-bomb (Nagasaki’s Children) to … ‘Nellie the Elephant’ (also on the EP).
5. 09/1979 Vice Versa – "New girls, Neutrons" (7” EP ‘Music 4’, Neutron NT001)
Synth band who would later add Martin Fry to their line-up and mutate some months later into 80s pop megastars ABC.
6. 10/1979 The Deaf Aids – "Do It Again" (7” single Regional Records REG1)
Named after John Lennon’s ad-lib on ”Let it be” (“… I dig a pygmy, by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids…”), this single was only issued as an afterthought by these power-poppers, in a run of 250 7” vinyl. I found a copy with what looked like a home-made pic sleeve in a Sheffield charity shop a few years ago, turns out it was the actual planned artwork for the original pic sleeve which never made it to production. After seeing the single’s entry on 45cat.com, a New York re-issue label (Sing-Sing) re-issued it. The band released a further single as a 7” & 12”, and had a track on a live comp.
7. 10/1979 Prams – "Modern Men" &
8. 10/1979 TV Product – "Nowhere’s Safe" (7” split single, Limited Edition Records TAKE2/TAKE4)
A four –track split single, 2 tracks per side by each of Prams and TV Product, on local impresario Marcus Featherby’s label. Prams are the archetypal post-punk group (check out those angular guitars and furious drumming). TV Product were a Wire/Mekons-influence band, going through a few line-up changes before recording the tracks on this EP. Keyboard player Simon Hinkler left shortly thereafter to join Artery, and thence to The Mission.
9. 11/1979 Hobbies of Today – "Metal Boys" (7” single Waxworks H.O.T WAX01)
From nearby Mexborough, the band started out as a punk outfit and 77, but by 79 had added synthesiser, and braved Numan/Human League comparisons to produce this single. Leader Kevin Hobbi produced an LP of acoustic arrangements of the band’s set, each in a handmade sleeve. I never managed to acquire one of these at the time, anyone seen any spares knocking about?
10. 01/1980 The Negatives – "Money Talk" (7” single Aardvark STEAL1)
Modernism comes to Sheffield! This record made ‘Single of the week’ in one of the national music papers. The band would cunningly be their own support band at gigs, using such stunts as performing in disguise (in full ski outfits, as ‘The Ski Jumps’), or by merely anagramising their own name (‘The Viga Teens’).
11. 02/1980 Clock DVA – "Brigade "
12. 02/1980 I’m So Hollow – "I don’t know" (both from 7” EP 1980 the first 15 minutes Neutron NT003)
An important record for post Punk Sheffield, containing a track from each of the City’s best bands at that time: Vice Versa, Stunt Kites, Clock DVA and I’m So Hollow. This was the vinyl debut for the last three bands, although Clock DVA had much material circulating on cassette prior to this time. An insert with the Ep advertised a forthcoming EP entitled ‘Space Race’ by Robotnik – although I’ve never seen this.
13. 03/1980 Fraebbblarnir - "True Death" (7” single Limited Edition records TAKE3)
Here’s a strange one: the debut release by an Icelandic punk band, on a Sheffield label? Rumour is that label boss Marcus had ligged onto a Stranglers tour which stopped off in Iceland, and eager to get acts for the new label, had signed these guys up. White vinyl, and an … erm … interesting picture sleeve. One of the tracks is a cover version of the ‘Grease’ song ‘Summer Nights’.
14. 04/80 de tian – "Question of Gender" (7” EP ‘Two Spires Split’ Oblique Sound 1)
de tian were Paul Shaft's band after he left 2.3, formed with the intent of making avant-garde music that could be played in pubs and clubs, adding films, slides and an onstage magician to shows. de tian released this EP and one compilation track before a name change to the much jazzier Bass Tone Trap.
15. 08/1980 Vendino Pact – "Secret Thinking" and
16. 08/1980 Musical Janeens - "Glen Miller and his contemporary intimacies meets the Musical Janeens uptown with a packet of jellies and a Caribbean monolith" (both from LP Bouquet of Steel Aardvark Records STEAL2)
Two tracks from a compilation of unsigned (at the time) local bands on a Sheffield-based label. The Musical Janeens were formerly Graph (see 2 above)
17. 11/1980 The Naughtiest Girl was a Monitor – "All the naked heroes" (7” single Aardvark STEEL4)
Minimal synth band whose main claim to fame is that a gig of theirs at Rotherham’s Arts Centre gave Pulp their debut gig…
18. 01/1981 I’m So Hollow – "Dreams to fill the vacuum" (7” single Hollogram records ISH001/ISH002)
Clear vinyl single, with separately numbered A and B sides. No apologies for having 2 ISH tracks in this chart, they were my favourite local band of this era
19. 03/1981 Past Seven Days – "Raindance" (7” single 4AD AD102)
OK, not strictly DIY, but only the second release on 4AD! This band were the evolution of a more rock oriented band called Xero, and like UB40, named after the legend on a benefits form. This single made single of the week in the Melody Maker, and tours with John Cale & Clock DVA followed.
20. 04/1981 Disease – "I Know How" (7" single Disease Discs DD1)
‘Poppy and tuneful’ songs, belying the band’s political and intense live shows (sample early songs: Parasites, Young Thug and Crazy Gang)