My Sheffield Album
Three of Exposed’s long-standing music writers take on the arduous task of picking their favourite native record…
The Human League – Dare
“These are the things / These are the things that dreams are made of”
Some people will try and tell you that the quintessential Sheffield album is Cole’s Corner or Whatever You Say I Am. ‘Look! It references the city!’ they cry; or ‘Went to Notre Dame! Has a song title with the word ‘Mardy’ in it!’ These people are fine people who I’ll happily have a pint with, but they’re talking bollocks. They’re fine albums, don’t get me wrong. Landmarks. But the truly great Sheffield album surely has to be tied to the city, yet transcend it. It must be of its time, and timeless.
Step forward The Human League and Dare. When this was recorded, Sheffield was a very different place from the hipster-friendly student-retaining hub it is now. The steel was gone or going, and it was grim oop north. Born as the original band blew apart (with Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh buggering off to form Heaven 17) it was that rarest of things: a critically-acclaimed global smash, marrying cutting-edge synth-pop to genuinely classic songwriting. ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ has entered the culture – a 40s film noir set to a futuristic soundtrack – but there’s gold on each side. It has style, soul, sophistication, humour, melodies to burn, and warm humanity among the machines. Sheffield, then. Case closed.
Richard Hawley – Coles Corner
“I’m going downtown where there’s music / Going where voices fill the air”
Mum would listen to Richard Hawley. On a Friday evening it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear the swirling orchestration of this album intermittently seeping from the kitchen as family slinked in and out, picking at whatever was being plated up. My young musical palette wasn’t sufficiently developed to appreciate his depth of emotional range back then; those themes of loneliness, romance and nostalgia didn’t really resonate for a good few years.
As often is the case with records that mean something to us, they become anchored to significant life experiences, and to appreciate this album it certainly helps if you’ve loved and lost. These two states of contrast are repeatedly explored and laid bare with the aid of flawless production (shoutout to Colin Elliot of Yellow Arch Studios) and effortless delivery. Forgive the admission of sheer mawkishness here, but it took a dejected walk past the old Coles Corner with its namesake single playing to cement this as my one of my all-time greats. It speaks to you whether your heart is broken or soaring, whether you want to sing to the skies or retire to a darkened room; it’s just a simply mesmerising piece of music.
The only twinge of regret is that I wasn’t converted sooner. I never really spoke to Mum about this record, and I often wish that following my Hawley enlightenment we could have listened to it together. But that’s another wonderful thing about music: it can create new connections to continue cherishing – whether that’s with the people you love, once loved, or the city streets walked each day.
Screaming Maldini – Screaming Maldini
“One day I’ll be part of something / And part of someone / Given half a chance”
From the first time I saw them in 2009, Screaming Maldini were never anything less than phenomenal. Their gigs were a riotous infusion of glorious, anthemic music, faultless musicianship and inspired song writing. Sadly they called it a day in 2014, but at least we have this marvellous album as a testament to what might have been.
In the way of any album you might stumble upon and end up calling your favourite, it has light and shade, highs and lows, but most of all it has a shifting feeling about which is the best track. The incredible opening trio of songs – ‘Awakening’, ‘Life In Glorious Stereo’ and ‘Summer, Somewhere’ – on a lesser album, would be distributed strategically throughout the album, but there’s no need here, as there are no filler tracks. This is not run-of-the mill, Sheffield indie-pop, it is infectious, classic pop music, the like of which Sheffield has not seen since the days of Human League or Floy Joy, all topped off with complex arrangements, and perfect vocal harmonies. Nick Cox, and the incomparable Gina Walters handle the vocals between them, with the whole band contributing to the song-writing. I’m listening as I write to my white vinyl copy, bought at the launch party in the Harley (3D glasses included!), and it is a pure joy.
Whilst not wishing to commit to a favourite track, I’d suggest new listeners should start with ‘Summer, Somewhere’. This track alone should be enough to draw you into the rest of album, and you can join me in celebrating my favourite Sheffield band, while shedding a wistful tear that they never made it bigger than they did.
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