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'Ban the Bomb' and other box set bonanzas from Suzi Quatro, Marc Almond, more

'Ban the Bomb' compilation of no nuke marches, a remembrance of Biff Bang Pow! power, Suzi's poppy '80s catalog, Marc Almond being nothing more than himself, and more..
1

Biff Bang Pow!

A Better Life - Complete Creations 1984-1991

(Cherry Red - 6 CDs)

When Creation Records founder Alan McGhee wasn’t running the label… and even when he was… he was also fronting Biff Bang Pow, probably the best band on the entire roster whom you might not even remember, and purveyor of half a dozen albums that exquisitely depict the state of British indie-pop as the '80s fell out of the hour glass.

The band’s history, for some, might be the draw here — aside from McGhee, Primal Scream’s Andrew Innes was also a member. But both Biff Bang Pow and their predecessors The Laughing Apple led the decade from the psychedelic tinge of its early underground, towards the darker, swirlier elements that exploded out at the end.

Indeed, the final disc in this impressive box serves up the latter’s entire oeuvre, including the still-impressive “Wouldn’t You,” that was tucked away as a flexi disc with Creation’s first ever album, the contrarily un-exciting debut by The Legend.

The entire Biff Bang Pow story is here, the six albums spread across five discs, alongside a wealth of bonus material — singles, demos, out-takes, early versions, a fill 1987 live show and more. A plethora of unreleased material will satisfy the most demanding collector, and the booklet tells a story that a lot of people might never have heard. But they should have.

  

2

Marc Almond

Stranger Things

(Strike Force Entertainment - 3 CDs)

Hot on the heels of the first new Soft Cell album in 20 years, Marc Almond’s ongoing reissue program itself reaches the 21st century, with a very generous expansion of his eleventh album since the duo first sundered.

The follow-up to the occasionally brilliant Open All Night, Stranger Things is effectively a full-blooded collaboration with Icelandic producer Jóhaan Jóhansson — he plays most of the instruments and handled most of the arrangements, to give the album a very different feel to the “typical” Almond outing — although that was scarcely an unfamiliar feeling. More than anyone else surviving from synthi-pop beginnings, Almond has delighted in confounding even the expectation of having your expectations confounded, and Stranger Things pulls no punches.

The original album consumes the first of the three discs in the package; disc two then rounds up a dozen demos and odds, before concluding with four remixes of the non album “Fur.” As is so often the case with these things today, the latter haven’t aged well. But “Fur” itself is a triumph, while Almond’s duets with singer Laska Omnia, opening the disc, are likewise superlative.

Disc three kicks off with the radio edit of the single “Glorious,” before reprising around half the parent album with live recordings from shows in 2000. Further period odds and ends then conclude the package in fine style, all adding up to a deluxe edition that offers a lot more bang-for-your-buck than such expansions ordinarily allow. But there again, it’s Marc Almond. You could probably have guessed as much.

  

3

Jade Warrior

Released

(Esoteric - 1 CD)

Sad but true. Jade Warrior are a lot better regarded for their presence on the Vertigo label during its swirly-label pomp, than for their music. It’s not exactly a fair state of affairs — think Low Spark-era Traffic with a darker, mystic edge, locked in a room with the Third Ear Band, while Jethro Tull jam in an adjoining space — and you’ll be close to the sounds that the Warrior conjure up.

And if that sounds good to you, Released — their second album, following a self-titled debut earlier in 1971 — remains their masterpiece.

Eight tracks long, but bolstered by an alternate “sudden end” version of “Minnamoto’s Dream,” it’s an album of tricky sound effects, odd time signatures and occasionally (“Three Horned Dragon King”) pulsating hard rock, screaming solos and punchy riffs.

Heavy on the bongos, eyes wide for a tribal rhythm, and as prone to jamming as they are to tight melodies (“Barazinbar”), Jade Warrior are one of those bands that simply scream “it’s the early seventies’ into your headphones, and it has to be said — glancing over at the CD spinning away inside the player is not a patch on watching the original vinyl spin around, an eternal tunnel disappearing into the turntable’s spindle.

The fact that it’s still eminently enjoyable, regardless of format, is a sign that the band was worth more than its reputation.

   

4

Suzi Quatro

The Albums 1980-86

(7 T’s - 3 CDs)

Typical. You wait 40-plus years for a monstrous Suzi Quatro box to come along, and then two turn up at once. The Rock Box, covering her output from 1973-1979, is the one that will receive the most attention, for therein lie the hits we remember, the rock we worshipped, the dynamite that was the Quatro band in its full electric glare.

Across the first few albums, anyway. It all got a little moms-and-dads MOR after that, so it’s good to slip away from the last days of the seventies, to an early eighties revival that stuns from the almost-outset. The bonus track to 1980’s Rock Hard finds her covering The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” and if you know the original single, you’ll know what a weird number that was for Quatro to visit. She even drops an F-bomb into the lyric, and that’s an even bigger shocker. Grace Jones covered the same song the same year, but Quatro wipes the windscreen with her.

The remainder of the disc… that is, the full album… is not such an eye-opener, but it catches Suzi reunited with producer Michael Chapman, and so what if “Lipstick” is a dead ringer for “Gloria”? It was one of her best singles in years and, careful listening through the rest of the disc turns up a few more Quatro classics.

Main Attraction, in 1982, was less of a thrill, reverting to the middle of the roady atmospheres of her last seventies albums; but Unreleased Emotion, recorded in 1985 but shelved until 1998, is a fair return to form, its natural qualities only amplified by the bonus tracks that follow it up — a clutch of mid-80s singles that include the well-named “I Go Wild,” and a fabulous duet with Reg Presley for “Wild Thing.” The extended mix is even better.

   

5

Various artists

Ban The Bomb - Music of the Aldermaston Anti-Nuclear Marches

(Él Records - 2 CDs)

Less an album, more a time capsule-slash-audio documentary, Ban The Bomb tells the musical story behind one of the UK’s most significant public protests of the immediate post-World War Two era — the annual anti-nuke marches that took place every easter from the late 1950s into the early 1960s, and dominated the newspaper headlines accordingly.

Marching from London’s Trafalgar Square to the British nuclear research station at Aldermaston, the crowds were vast, noisy, and accompanied every step of the way by both public speakers and musicians. This collection, while not necessarily recorded during the marches themselves, focuses on the vast support the cause received from across the worlds of jazz, folk, skiffle and even comedy. In that respect, it’s very much a companion to the Bear Family label’s Atomic Platters box set, simply illustrating the view from the other side of the pond.

The big hitters here are Ewan MacColl and his wife Peggy Seeger, Chris Barber’s Jazz Band, and sundry combos led by Ken Colyer, George Melly, and Humphrey Lyttleton — their trad sounds dominate disc two, in particular. But there’s space, too, for the London Youth Choir, the Robin Hood Singers, Judy Collins and Margaret McKeown, with the Alberts adding some much-required levity with their “Morse Code Melody,” and Sheila Hancock and Sydney Carter raising a smile with “Coming Down From Aldermaston,” light-heartedly detailing both the marchers’ and authorities’ attitudes towards the protests.

Even more exciting is the inclusion, for the first time on CD, of the 1959 Songs from Aldermaston album, a Topic Records release that turns up very scarcely today in its original state, and is usually scratched to pieces when it does.

The booklet, meanwhile, documents the background to the marches but, more importantly, reminds us just what a powerful force for protest the trad jazz movement of the era was, even when — as is so often the case — there were no words to their music. After all, what really could anyone say?