The Studio 68!


On the face of it, there wasn't much to shout about in mid-eighties Britain.  The economy was in dire straits, the national football team had given up winning and the charts were full of uninspiring dross.  Sound familar?  There was, of course, another side.  If you dug a little deeper, as the clued up always do, you would find a healthy underground scene.  There were bands like The Moment, Makin' Time and Prisoners, who had their own vision of how life could be.  Those bands should have been huge.  And in a world that valued quality, they would have been huge.

There is another name to add to that list.  The Studio 68! were equally one of the torch bearers, lighting up the musical and sartorial skies in Camden and beyond in the years around 87-88.  Led by soon-to-be-Britpop-chronicler, Paul Moody (and inspired by the events in Paris in May 1968 - hence the name) they were purveyors of full-on rhythm and soul, delivered with nonchalance, panache and a social eye that took few prisoners.  Tunes such as Closer Than Close and The Next Time ("where will you, where will you be?") observed life as it was lived, with the sharpness and reality of kitchen sink drama put to the hammered chords of a Rickenbacker and the soulful vibe of a Hammond.

I remember a particular show they played at an underground club in Brussels in November 1987.  They blew the night away.  Paris Mods, Brussels Mods, London Mods alike.  It was a true trans-Europe party. A roller-coaster to a cross-cultural melting pot of Tamla beats, sta-prest strides and dancefloor-friendly loafers.  A true vision of how the world could be if it was looking - and moving - in the same direction.

Then the inevitable happened.  The band moved on.  Retaining the dynamic partnership of originals Moody and drummer Simon Castell, they revised, regrouped and re-wrote.  The old songs left the playlist.  New ones were added.  And then, in 1992, they recorded their debut album.

The fact that it has taken over two decades for Portabellohello to be released, says a lot about populist priorities.  Like their contemporaries, the band should have been massive and this album should have been on every stereo in Britain.

But its with us at last and for that we have thank the Paisley Archive imprint of Detour Records.  First impressions are of an assured debut, one that brought together all the influences of their formative years and blended them in a way that anticipated the mood that was, in a couple of short years, to be known as Britpop.  You could say they invented Britpop, in fact, if you wanted to.

There are nods towards psychedelia here, with inspirational guitar patterns (Windfall), punk rock anger (Pop Star's Mansion), and socially-observant pop (Afternoon Sun/Portabellohello/Doubledeckerbus).  Then there is the issue of identity and the yearning for independence (The Other Me/Get Out Of My Hair), the bittersweet relationship (Goodbye Baby And Amen), and the intriguingly androgynous title (He's My Sister).  And their ability to deliver a perfect cover should not go unmentioned - in their early days, they played a full-on rendition of The Spencer Davies Group's Gimme Some Lovin', here the choice of Python Lee Jackson's In A Broken Dream is equally inspired.  It is all delivered amongst a maelstrom of Hammond-soaked beauty, which interplays with hard-edged guitar, no more so than on the closing tune, How To Succeed In The Music Business.

Portabellohello is a fusion of youth, anger and belief, combined with an innate understanding of the importance of the pop record and how it can reflect contemporary life.  Ray Davies meets Holland-Dozier-Holland, after a pint with Pete Meaden, perhaps.  And then there is the urgency.  The fact that it was recorded in just two short weeks adds to the potency and the power of the album.

This is a modern classic - and an essential purchase. The Studio 68! invented Britpop, after all.

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