Friday, 23 September 2011

Seminal Compilation LP's Part 1 - Fast Product - The First Year Plan

Growing up during the heyday of post punk and new wave I'd inadvertently heard of FAST Records a while before I became aware of, and bought the 'First Year Plan' Compilation in 1980.

I'd picked up a rather ragged ex-jukebox copy of Sheffield futurists 'The Human League' single 'Being Boiled' in newsagent John Menzies for pennies after hearing it on John Peel and wigging out to it's super futurist soundscapes. This stripped down proto electro pop left me reeling, with it's references to sericulture and Buddhists, these were things my tiny 15 year old brain had not heard mentioned in contemporary music. 
The creepy B-side 'Circus of Death', with it's Steve McGarrett, Hawaii 5-0 intro and comedic Dark Star movie dialogue outro (question..."Do you think there's really any intelligent life out there?..... answer.....Who Cares!) was a stark vision of the future, a distopian electronic nightmare unlike the shiny technology rich  future being peddled by the likes of Kraftwerk.

Front Cover

I stumbled on the 'Fast Records - First Year Plan' compilation downstairs in a tiny Virgin Records store in Birmingham. Other than the Human League tracks, I'd never heard of the other bands, though I'm sure they had cropped up in various John Peel radio shows of the time, but had flown under my radar, musically speaking. The album, essentially a catalogue of the first year of vinyl 7" releases from Fast, was a budget priced cheap fix licenced for distribution through EMI for those of us with limited pocket money, and questionable and often balked at tastes in music. Reveling in the sticky tape and xerox low fi approach, label entrepreneur Bob Last showed us how great music could be made available on a shoe string budget and a wing and a prayer. 

Fast as a label didn't last much longer than this release and few more EP's. The much collectable EarCom (Ear Comic) releases which were to release some of the earliest Joy Division records and influence the burgeoning Manchester label Factory. Tony Wilson often cited Bob Lasts Fast Product as a perfect way to run a label and adapted many of his ideas into the Factory model (giving everything a number being but one).

Back Cover

The Mekons were a revelation, four Leeds art punks who couldn't really play, but came up with a scratchy,  witty and sassy adjunct to The Clash' bravado of 'White Riot' in the track 'Never Been in A Riot'.
The B-side '32 Weeks' was a clever reference to how long certain items would take to buy, judged in minutes hours and weeks on a minimum wage (examples being, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of whiskey to drown your sorrows) .

Insert Front

Another bunch of Leeds art punks were Gang of Four, who became better known, it seems to me, in the last post punk revival of the early 00's for their stripped down, angular and spartan brand of white punk funk. They had three almost demo quality tracks that were later re-recorded for their debut classic 'Entertainment'.
The band were, to me, seemingly obsessed with the dehumanizing effect of the corporate work ethic and desexualisation of the workplace and wider society. 
'Damaged Goods', a paean to the burnt out worker, bemoans the plight of  a person become unit who 'can't achieve' (lyric excerpt ..."Damaged goods....send me back....I can't work, I can't achieve.....send me back") and is a haunting reminder of the feelings of many individuals during unemployment and recession.
'Armalite Rifle' is a sarcastic ode to the British Army's weapon of choice used in Northern Ireland troubles of the 60's and 70's.

Insert Back
Hailing from Scotland,  Scars debuted with the sinister and scratchy post punk of 'Adult/Ery' sounding not unlike Wire on their debut Pink Flag. The singer even has his Colin Newman inflection down pat. 'Horrorshow' has a great two tone guitar riff and sinewy/wire like bass with more than a passing reference in sound to Swell Maps.

The only weak tracks as far as I'm concerned are by the band '2.3'. 'The tracks All Time Low' and 'Where To Now'' bear more than a passing resemblance to early XTC (no bad thing), but they don't quite pull it off melody wise.

If you think this forward thinking release may be for you, have a listen Here

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