For the Record: 6 Underrated Sheffield Albums
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.
Penthouse and Pavements.
Coles Chuffin’ Corner.
OK… we get it.
Yes, there have been some notable and celebrated albums recorded here in Sheff. No doubt about it. And while much-lauded efforts from your Turners, Cockers, Hawleys, Oakeys and co. deservedly receive plenty of plaudits, becoming somewhat synonymous with the city’s musical culture as a result, there are plenty of fantastic albums out there, made here, which you could stick firmly in the ‘criminally underrated’ folder.
To shed a bit more light on a mere handful of these oft-overlooked gems, we asked our esteemed music writer, Mark Perkins, whose been going to gigs here since Joe Cocker was a gas fitter, to devote some column inches to showing some love to some records that all too often slip under the radar.
Tony Christie: Made In Sheffield
The obvious contender for albums that were made in Sheffield, but somewhat neglected, must be this one. Tony Christie and Richard Hawley installed themselves at Yellow Arch Studio to record a selection of songs that they decided had to be written by Sheffield songwriters. Projects like this can sometimes miss the mark, but this one hit the bullseye. From the opening track, ‘The Only Ones Who Know’, written by Alex Turner, to Hawley’s own ‘Coles Corner’, this was a brilliant return to form, and was one of the best albums Tony Christie had made in years. In between those tracks, he covered Pulp and The Human League, along with contributions from lesser-known local songwriters such as Martin Bragger, Sara Jay and Mark Sheridan. It surprised the music press, who fell over themselves to heap praise on it, and will make you realise there’s far more to Tony Christie than ‘Amarillo’ and ‘Avenues and Alleyways’.
This is a sad choice for myself and fellow fans of Animat, as Michael Harding, one half of the group, died recently and very unexpectedly. Earplay from 2008 was their first album release, and in all honesty I could have picked any one of their releases as an unsung Shefield classic. Their low-key, ambient dubstep sound has been a constant in my musical life ever since I first saw them perform, when Michael and Mark Daly were performing their soundtrack to David Lynch’s film ‘The Straight Story’. Earplay is a perfect title for the album: it plays with your expectations as it twists and evolves, sometimes with vocals, but more often without, into a completely absorbing album of music which I never tire of listening to. The last time I saw them live, performed their music live to Robert Redford’s epic film ‘All Is Lost’ at Regather. They are sorely missed, but we have their music to listen to as Michael’s legacy.
Stoney: The Scene and The Unseen
This is possibly the least remembered of the albums I’ve chosen, but when it came out it was hailed as one of the best to come out of Sheffield in years from a major new talent. I’ve just had a look at some reviews of the album, and it gathers universal praise from anyone who has heard it. He was from Croydon, but we won’t hold that against him, as he escaped to the Steel City to record this in his basement in 2003. It is just full of perfect pop tunes; I’m even more astonished listening now that it has been forgotten. I went to the launch gig at the Boardwalk, and I wasn’t the only one thinking we were in at the start of something big, and that we’d hear so much more of Stoney. Sadly, as happens so often in such stories, the initial hype came to very little, but we still have this near perfect album to console ourselves with. I’ve played this to friends from out of town who cannot believe such a talent has been forgotten, but at least they’ve all gone on to spread the word about Stoney. If you haven’t already, give it a listen on your preferred platform and spread the word, too.
I Monster: Neveroddoreven
It was only when I interviewed Dean Honer and Jarrod Gosling, over a pint upstairs in the Fat Cat, that I realised how much of their music I’d heard without realising it was by I Monster. Their stuff was everywhere it seemed: film soundtracks, TV commercials, the charts. Neveroddoreven was their second album, recorded in Dean’s Bowling Green studios, overlooking, perhaps not surprisingly, one of Sheffield’s bowling greens. It was released in 2003, but completists will have welcomed the 2012 albums, Rare and Remixed, which contained everything there wasn’t room for on the original release. Listening now, it seems to distil all that was perfect about early Noughties pop, when there was as much fun and enjoyment to be had in the charts, as there was on albums such as this, where the familiar sits side by side with the less well known. ‘Daydream In Blue’ will be recognised by just about anyone, and the track ‘The Blue Wrath’ is much better known by its unofficial title as ‘Theme Tune To Shaun Of The Dead’. For a short while I Monster were even a touring band, but they have mainly been a studio creation for most of their long and impressive career.
In The Nursery: A Page Of Madness
In a similar way to how I feel about Animat’s output, I find it almost impossible to choose a favourite album by In The Nursery. Often it’s simply the last one I listened to, but I’ve chosen this, 2004’s A Page Of Madness, as I think it’s the one I’ve listened to the most. From opening track ‘Susanoo’ to the appropriately titled ‘Final Page’, this is a masterpiece: I can still listen to it and hear something I’ve not heard before. It is an instrumental soundscape of textures and moods, with depth and subtlety that always fascinates. They have been making music with varying line-ups since 1981, but the core of the band is Klive and Nigel Humberstone. In Sheffield, they walk the streets largely unrecognised; when they play festivals around the world, airport baggage handlers rush over for autographs. I heard this album performed in the Showroom Cinema, as it forms their soundtrack to the film of the same name, and have been a big fan ever since. It features some of their most haunting melodies, which worked perfectly with the film, but they work equally well as standalone tracks in their own right. They are an example of how Sheffield, once the birth place of electronic pop, has continued to produce outstanding and pioneering electronic music.
Monkey Swallows The Universe. The Bright Carvings
In the days when Alan Smyth ran his 2Fly studio in Stag Works and Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation record label was the go-to for local talent, Monkey Swallows The Universe issued their first album. It was the product of a friendship between Nat Johnson and Kevin Gori, when they met at Sheffield University in 2003. By 2006 they were no longer an acoustic duo, having recruited some local musicians, and had recorded the first of their two albums. Alan captured perfectly the timeless magic of their sound at that time. It opens with ‘The Sheffield Shanty’, imagining a sea journey around the seven hills of Sheffield, somehow flooded, with the peaks standing proud, which had become a standard of their live shows, as had fellow standout track ‘Jimmy Down The Well’. Along with other fans, my fellow MSTU obsessive Chris and I crowded into a Division Street bar on launch night, which was so packed the band hardly had room to play. Ah! the memories…