Secret Meeting score: 81
by Philip Moss
Blackburn, Lancashire. A town known most famously – in musical terms – for having ‘four thousand holes’ thanks to its reference in the John Lennon-penned Beatles’ track, A Day In The Life. Less well known are the small number of Blackburn based acts to make ripples on the British music scene over the years, and none more so than the 1980’s indie/pop group, Bradford.
Led by their enigmatic frontman Ian H, Bradford released their sole album, Shouting Quietly, in 1990. Unfortunately they split soon after, but their story is engrained in the town’s folklore.
After releasing a number of singles (and a French mini album) through local, independent label, Village Records, Bradford’s biggest claim to fame was that they were the first group to release a debut single on CD. However, by the end of April 1988, things completely changed. In an interview with Manchester’s City Life magazine after the untimely demise of The Smiths, Morrissey was quoted – ‘All I can do now is mourn the death of Brookside, ring Charles Hawtrey (actor), applaud Bradford (group) and enjoy City Life as the Open Air credits roll’.
Everything changed. By the end of 1988, the group had supported Morrissey at his debut solo show in Wolverhampton (where Ian H would meet Moz in person for the first time and begin an intense four-year friendship), and had been earmarked by The Smiths’ producer/Morrissey co-writer, Stephen Street, as the perfect project for his newly formed label, Foundation Records.
Bradford began work on their debut single In Liverpool and soon began planning their debut album, Shouting Quietly, which was recorded with Street – Britain’s hottest producer at the time – in three intense weeks at Loco Studios, Wales, before releasing the record in March 1990.
Exploding into life with Ewan Butler’s chiming guitars and Dexy’s inspired brass, the ironically titled Greed and Peasant Land (a play on William Blake’s Green and Pleasant Land) instantly references Ian H’s frustrations at being trapped on the dole as a young musician in a Northern town that had been savaged by the Thatcher-led Tory government – ‘I drag my butt across the town, past empty mills and sad fashion clowns/Hospitals and homes fall like dominos’. Before questioning,despite the political unrest, where has all the love gone –‘When all the wealth in the world today can’t buy a heart or a shining soul?’
Isolation is a theme that is emphasised even further on a Gang Of One – Ian H’s tale of ‘some serious under-age thinking’ and justified lonerism – ‘I wanted them to like me, but I couldn’t change my head’. His proud socialist roots displaying that his head rules his heart, and that sticking to his misfit beliefs far outweigh the opportunities to sell out and move in populist circles.
Lust Roulette’s youth-filled imagery evokes scenes from Quadrophenia as Ian H ‘hits the mirror and shampoo’, before ‘tripping into dismal discos’ in search of someone to ‘release’ him. An anecdotal account almost all melancholic adolescents can relate to. While Radio Edna – which is heavily layered with Stephen Street’s harpsichord – is named after Ian H’s local corner shop and, as it tracks the idle ‘gossip’ of the old dears on his street, plays out like Blackburn’s version of Coronation Street.
Perhaps the most famous song in the Bradford canon is Skin Storm – helped no end by Morrissey covering the track and selecting it for inclusion as a B-Side on his 1991 single, Pregnant For The Last Time. A song of immense beauty, Skin Storm chronicles the unparalleled rushes of physical love through Ian H’s emotional croon, minus the bravado through which the subject is often tackled in contemporary song – ‘There’s such a rush of pleasure motion, when I’m dancing on our skin’. It is no exaggeration and the biggest complement I could pay to ‘Hodgson’ (as he was so affectionately known by Moz), that the song’s playful lyrics are of such poetic beauty that they could have come from the pen of Steven himself.
As well as the remastered album, the re-release also features 19 additional bonus tracks, which include various b-sides, alternative recordings and unreleased demos, some of which were recorded at Stockport’s iconic Strawberry Studios. Other bonuses include the original, self-financed version of Skin Storm, the beautiful b-side The Loss, and Tattered, Tangled And Torn (which was originally intended to be an a-side single before finding its home on Adrift Again ). However, the pick of the extras is the aforementioned single, In Liverpool. Strangely, the track was left off the original album after much debate between the band and Street. But it’s as fine a piece of technicolored, guitar pop as you would have found at any time in the 1980s, and is completed with just enough falsetto to suggest it is the perfect karaoke classic that never was.
Unfortunately, despite the high profile support slots with Morrissey, Joe Strummer and The La’s, Rough Trade’s distribution arm was suffering financial difficulties and the breakthrough of a new scene just 25 miles away – spearheaded by The Stone Roses – led to Bradford’s demise. The band’s Smithsian, deep-rooted 80’s sound was considered too romantically whimsical and sadly outdated for the rave inspired Madchester crowds.
Bradford aren’t the only example of an act being in the right place at the wrong time – Rodriguez, Nick Drake and Elliott Smith are all examples of artists that only really took off in later eras. So despite the lack of commercial success at the time, Bradford’s tiny dent on the music world has been immortalised through this reissue. Stephen Street described the record as ‘a lost English classic’ and I would be inclined to agree. Plus, if nothing else, it’s absolute proof that there’s more to Blackburn’s musical heritage than being known for a throwaway line in a song by some bloke from Liverpool.
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