It was pure luck really. I was browsing in my local record and cd emporium, The Left Legged Pineapple in Loughborough (R.I.P) and as I delved through the 12” I saw it. There was nothing remarkable about it, an old man on a one colour (like weak magnolia) sleeve, but I kept coming back to it at the expense of various other indie fare around at the time, and eventually I spend my £2.99 on it.
The record was Bradford’s Skin Storm. I played it as soon as I got home (remember that excitement) and at once I was transfixed by the emotion in the singers voice, the song itself 3 minutes of soulful, melancholy indie. It immediately became the record that went on the turntable whenever friends came around, was always on my compilation tapes, always (at that time, anyway) on my mind.
Bradford were not actually from Bradford, but Blackburn. The line-up was vocalist and songwriter Ian H(odgson), with John Baulcombe on keys, Ewan Butler on guitar, Jos Murphy on Bass and Mark McVitie on Drums. Turns out Skin Storm was their debut release and (fact fans) the first independent release ever to appear on cd (remember them, cd’s? this was 1988 after all).
And so began my slight obsession with Bradford, which led me to buy basically everything they ever did in the (oh so) short ‘career’, and a couple of exploratory trips to firstly Futurama 6 in (funnily enough) Bradford, and then the Hacienda to see them in action.
I wasn’t the only person enamored with Bradford either. A certain Stephen Patrick Morrissey waxed lyrical in various publications about how they were the natural successors to the Smiths, had them as support at his first post-smiths gig (Wolverhampton) and eventually covered Skin Storm as a b-side to the Pregnant for the last time.
Eventually an album appeared, released through Sire, and Stephen Street’s Foundation Label. Called ‘Shouting Quietly’, I bought it on the day it came out, and to me it was 11 little vignettes of everyday life, love, people and situations, all wrapped in these glorious little indie –soul gems. It sank without trace.A single ‘In Liverpool’ not included on the album, (inexplicably) also went the same way.
Listening to the album now I still think there are 11 little gems, but 1990 was the kicking off of all things Manchester and Britpop and Suede and everything else. Five young lads with cropped hair, not wearing the right clothes and from a provincial little town, doing their own thing just didn’t cut it in those days. The pity was it pretty much signalled the end of the band. Dropped by sire, they faded into the history books.
The album opens with Greed and pleasant land, heralding this Indie sound that was out of step (not out of touch, though) with what was going on at the time (what, not indie dance beat/psychedelic influence?). It’s title also signals Ian H’s clever wordplay. It’ s upbeat, funny yet melancholic, but classic songwriting
To have and to hurt brings the breakdown of a relationship ‘tango, and we dance with broken legs / my words, leave ugly bruises on your confidence / I hate myself sometimes’ sings Ian H with a brutal honesty, while the band does indeed tango, changing to three time at points in this, one of the standout tracks on the record.
Gang of One sets out initially like a Smiths offcut, typical Morrissey outsider lyrical fare (I was in a gang of one) although the track, maybe due to the vocal retains this sort of soul about it. Following that comes Always Torn has the sort of ethereal burst like the start of a 4ad track at the beginning, before settling into this straight up indie track. It’s more optimistic, happy even, despite the lyrics about, well, indecision. The song bursts with ambition, Ian H chasing the lyrics up and down with these gloriously attractive high notes that
Lust roulette highlights the Friday nights out for young lads in this dreamy, hazy song. Again Ian H scores high with his clever couplets, ‘I join the peacock ritual / in this cattle market disco’ and maybe it’s the slightly depressed(ing) area the band came from, but there’s a sort of charming sadness about this, and indeed the whole record.
Adrift Again steps up a notch in pace and is slightly thicker in texture than some of the previous tracks. It’s delightfully a playful, uplifting track, the sort you’ve got half of in your head, joining in with it’s chorus on a first listen, type of song. Radio Edna bemoans the presence of the local busybody, sticking her nose into everybodies business, all wrapped up in a quasi-beatles harmony-laden sound.
Everything at once also bears its indie teeth a little more than most of the tracks but the melodies all the way through are so joyous it’s impossible to be even remotely scared by this band, before social commentary in the form of the person that everyone bullies, and possibly the albums weakest song, Gary’s going down.
And so to Skin Storm. For me the superior version, purely on the vocal performance and the mix is the single version, but to this day it’s a jewel, both in the albums crown, but in Indie musics crown. A cautiously hopeful expression of love. A wounding finishes the album, the love affair now apparently over, and the production is so close its stifling, lonely, genuinely sad. ‘Are you ready for / do you want to feel a wounding’ warns Ian H. The real hurtful thing is this was just about the last thing we heard from the band
Turns out Bradford shouted so quietly about their only album that no-one heard. And that’s the real shame of it.