ALBUM REVIEW: Heavenly – ‘A Bout De Heavenly’: seminal sevens compiled in time for Santa

NOW that’s the kinda Christmas present every proper indiekid needs.

Damaged Goods have announced a 2xLP and CD reissue of their classic round-up of Talulah Gosh’s entire recorded output, Was It Just A Dream? – and as if that wasn’t enough to make December already a far more welcoming prospect, they’ve also, in the absolute and inarguable kindness of their hearts, decided to put together a compilation of Heavenly’s singles – A Bout De Heavenly – both hitting the racks of your local record store on December 11th.

In case you need an introduction to the world of Amelia Fletcher and two very fine bands: Oxford’s Talulah Gosh were a leading light of the twee pop movement, who took their name from the headline of an NME interview with Altered Images’ Clare Grogan.

They supposedly formed when Amelia Fletcher and Elizabeth Price, both wearing Pastels badges, met at a club in Oxford in 1986. They called it a day in late 1988; after a time to regroup Amelia, Matthew and Peter reappeared as Heavenly, also having abdicated Scottish indie imprint 53rd & 3rd for the cult and ultra-geek-cool Sarah Records.

They debuted with the 7″s “I Fell in Love Last Night” and “Our Love Is Heavenly” – being Sarah 7″s, both now set you back a pretty penny in their own right. Debut album Heavenly vs. Satan followed in 1991.

By the time of second album Le Jardin de Heavenly, Cathy Rogers has joined on keyboards and back-up vocals, fleshing out their sound; two non-album 7″s, “P.U.N.K. Girl” and “Atta Girl'” brought a darker, punkier development before the lush arrangements of ’94’s The Decline and Fall of Heavenly.

The group’s last album was Operation Heavenly, in 1996, containing such fine singles as “Space Manatee” and “Trophy Girlfriend”. The tragic loss of Amelia’s brother Matthew, drummer right through the two bands, saw the band announce an end to Heavenly proceedings.

A Bout De Heavenly is 17 tracks of very fine indie pop goodness: make no mistake about that. It opens with those first two Sarah salvos, “I Fell In Love Last Night” taking the sweet romance ‘n’ guitars of the Talulah Gosh imprint and running with it over a veritable odyssey of nearly five and a half minutes of pretty harmonies, thrashy, heads-down chords, spiralling guitar breaks. I remember buying this from my local Chain With No Name retailer and being so, so pleased to have Amelia back. Flip “Over And Over” was and still is a monkey boots straight to the dancefloor bounce-along of raw pop fun with one of those brilliantly fun, weirdly Beefheartian guitar breaks of that era, that actually totally deserve a revival as a thing.

“Our Love Is Heavenly”, single the second, also sits in the world of cute and lovely, being very close relation to the forerunning band’s “My Best Friend” in sheer melodic sun, chords chopping and tremulous with a little judicious whammy bar. It’s got big grins that sound like such a nicer world scrying through the gloomy tankard bottom of 2020. “Wrap My Arms Around Him” is another stomper of just pure mainline indie pop fun, all crowned with the sentiment of “And I know that / If I saw him / I’d beg him to stay,” sliding into that northern soul/The Fall double-time trick that really gets it surging.

Heavenly’s third slice of 7″ nourishment was a one-off on Olympia, Washington’s K imprint, run by Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson (who licensed Heavenly Stateside). “She Says”, the ‘A’, was the first slight step away from halcyon pure pop, with an undertow of the faintest bluesy drone, a little bit of phasing on the guitars; Amelia’s opening do-do-dos scented with a Stateside folksiness, but still absolutely a top-drawer indie cracker. It came with the none-more-British subject matter of the flip, “Escort Crash On Marston Street” – long a cult fans’ fave, in which Amelia revisits the seductive, enunciative coyness of “Bringing Up Baby”.

It was back home to Bristol’s Sarah for single the fourth, the more introspective yearn of “So Little Deserve”, a subtle flame of a song with an autumnal feel, looking back as much as forward before pulling out the stops for a honeyed chorus. “I’m Not Scared Of You” embodies a bolder lyrical empowerment, all wrapped in finest jangle.

That first rush of sevens through 1990 and ’91 drew the first stage of Heavenly to a close; they returned in ’93, with a new graphic aesthetic for their sleeves and a bolder, more snarly guitar angle in the production for two non-album singles. The first of these, “Atta Girl” is a doozy: opening in thrashy guitars and an almost Joey Santiago note-bending riff, it gave up none up of its devotion to pop melody while being bigger, brasher, cockier as Amelia and recent recruit Cathy Johnson fire back and forth at each other about some clingy boy: “Can’t you concentrate on something other than me? Cos I’m not yours, and never will be now.” Just as the title says: atta girl!

“Atta Girl” was the first Heavenly seven to come with a brace of Bs: “Dig Your Own Grave” and “So?”. The former is almost campfire intimate, just voice and guitar,regaling some friend’s ex in two-part harmony with wise warning: “You say you’ve changed / Well, so has she.” “So?” is an a capella riposte laying down the law about supposed character inconsistencies, angry, and all of 69 seconds.

“P.U.N.K. Girl” followed up with a proper one-two belt of powerful pop, all double-snare beats for your indiepop hips, guitars dropping out to reveal all the better that hook: “I don’t care, if they can’t see / Just how great, a girl can be.” “Hearts And Crosses” on the flip seemingly just keeps the dancefloor groove coming, with a cute-as organ riff and a spoken word break revealing the dark, date-rape truth underlying all that bright bopping. It’s a complex song.

It would be another three years before Amelia, Cathy and the boys returned to the world of the single, sharing a split with Bis and bringing the punky party of “Trophy Girlfriend” to that party. By this point, all of Amelia’s C86 cohorts had pretty much disappeared from discourse; the staying power of Heavenly meaning they were still around to see their influence percolating through bands like their collaborators on this shared release, Bis; Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear and the other knife-between-their-teeth, empowered punk melodious riot grrl acts.

Heavenly’s very last single, “Space Manatee” was actually on the imprint that gave us the brilliant rush of Huggy Bear’s “Her Jazz”, Wiija. It probably veers as close to a chart-pop aesthetic of the time as Heavenly ever had, all clicky bass, lyrics speaking about the moon, rocket ships and being giddy, soaring backing vocals and a satisfyingly crunchy chorus. Think, if you will, the Lush of that period if they hadn’t sold their entire soul for the Britpop shilling; had maintained a neat, quirky edge. The flip sides were the cute “You Tore Me Down” and, reeling back the stylistic years even further, a cracking, spunky thrill ride through The Jam’s “Art School”.

Thassit, that’s your lot. Seventeen tracks; and rolling down through Heavenly’s career through the prism of the single, you can see what a great band they were at that seemingly most humble, but powerful and demotic of formats, the single proper (don’t @ me about the supposed 21st-century incarnation, a lone track on SoundCloud or a YouTube link – we’re talking a proper, haptic, three-dimensional wax missive clocking in at oooh, eight minutes or less) – and also how they carried the torch of C86 pop forward, and let’s not forget, there was always more of a manifesto to it.

They gradually morphed it into something more challenging as other female-fronted compatriots such as the Shop Assistants and The Primitives fell by the wayside, in one way or another; influenced and birthed a whole new movement of empowered female guitar bands. All with what’s essentially, damn pretty pop. All collected herein for you, saving you considerable bucks on those eight singles individually over at Discogs. Win-win.

Heavenly’s A Bout De Heavenly is up for pre-order now from Damaged Goods, and is available on CD and blue vinyl from the label itself, here. There’ll be a pink vinyl version in the shops: Rough Trade have that up for pre-order, here.

Alternatively, write a nice letter to Santa. Mine’s winging its way to Lapland already.

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