Published on 21st February 2020
Dreams to Fill the Vacuum – The Sound of Sheffield 1977-1988
There’s a story that says that everyone who saw the Sex Pistols play the Free Trade Hall in Manchester went out the following day, bought guitars and formed punk bands (it may be apocryphal) and the numbers of people who claimed to have attended the gig was at least four times the actual capacity.
So in the ‘punk year zero’ of 1976 (which didn’t have much of an immediate impact), the kids of Manchester were buying guitars and becoming the Buzzcocks, The Fall and, er, Simply Red, but what were their contemporaries on the right side of the Pennines doing?
Well, this expertly curated and comprehensive box spanning 11 years from arguably the best year of the century (1977) right up to 1988 over four discs covers an important period in the febrile Sheffield and South Yorkshire music scene and tells all.
Certainly, when you look at the list of names on here, from The Human League, ABC, Clock DVA, The Thompson Twins, Artery and early Pulp, it seems what most of the kids were doing was buying synthesizers and creating dystopian sci-fi music which, if you know Sheffield from that period, fitted the streets these kids walked.
From the high rise Park Hill Flats (Grade II listed – and featured prominently in the current series of Doctor Who) to the futuristic shopping experience that was the hole in the road, the concrete and steel overpasses of the parkway, the egg box new town hall, not to mention the legendary Roxy nightclub that dominated Arundel Gate, concrete, brutalism and heavy industry in decline was the order of the day in the so-called Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire.
Contrast that with the Peak District less than 20 minutes from the city centre, where you could be a million miles away from the bustle of the town, walking in Castleton, Blue John caves, Mam Tor or Kinder Scout.
This dichotomy of dark and light is something that is woven deep into the DNA of Sheffield music, the contrasts of architecture and landscapes are threaded into the identities of some of these bands.
This period of social history is reflected quite closely in the music that the underground scenes were producing and, with less money and experience, is a lot rawer and more visceral than the chart music from this era, and you get the energy, the dissatisfaction and rage throughout some of the tracks on here, and with its copious notes about every track, plus reminiscences from members of the scene, and of performing venues like the legendary Leadmill (still one of my favourite live music venues), this is an absolute treasure trove of music.
Informed by the industrial past, the heavy beats and stark synthesized sounds from the third wave of electronic pioneers like The Human League, The Thompson Twins before the big hair and TOTP and Heaven 17’s alter ego British Electric Foundation, whilst there is also plenty of space for guitar-driven punk, like They Might Be Russians or Molodoy and pretty much all bases in between, showing how the nascent scene developed and evolved over the 11 years.
There is a lot to be said for art colleges and University towns, and with Sheffield having both Sheffield University and Sheffield Polytechnic (now my old alma mater Sheffield Hallam University), with its art base on Psalter Lane, these students halls of residents and bars and nightclubs were a fertile breeding ground for these bands, and the same conversations huddled round John Peel and drinking cheap wine and smoking were had in this period up and down the land.
Spread across the four discs there’s a hell of a lot of music to digest and some hit the spot immediately, like Don’t Try To Cure Yourself by They Might Be Russians, or Negatives’ Electric Waltz, whilst other tracks like Clock DVA’s 4 Hours is one that grows on you.
This is a set that’s more for dipping in and out of rather than spending the whole day immersed in, and it also caused me to dig out my copy of the late Sheffield music journalist Martin Lilleker’s book Beats Working A Living that covers this entire scene, and which is, rightly so, mentioned in the credits.
This is a box that brings that whole scene to life, and shows the inventive creativity, the playfulness, the sense of Yorkshire humour that runs through some of the tracks as well as really early Pulp track Everybody’s Problem, a full 15 years before they ‘broke through’, and whilst it seems odd that other seminal bands like The Comsat Angels despite being from this era, aren’t featured, that’s only a minor gripe, and of course this isn’t exactly the time or place to even mention the omission of Def Leppard.
DISC ONE: 1977-1981
01. DANCEVISION – The Human League
02. DON’T TRY TO CURE YOURSELF – They Must Be Russians
03. DREAMS TO FILL THE VACUUM – I’m So Hollow
04. MODERN MEN – The Prams
05. ALL TIME LOW – 2.3
06. METAL BOYS – Hobbies Of Today
07. TRACK NO. 5 – Mein Glas Fabrik
08. HELP ME – Red Zoo
09. AVOID THE SURGERY (DEMO) – I Scream Brothers
10. JUNIOR – B. Troop
11. SHE’S IN LOVE WITH MYSTERY – Thompson Twins
12. SAY AND DO – Repulsive Alien
13. TORCH – Veiled Threat
14. QUESTIONS OF GENDER – De Tian
15. UNKNOWN – Molodoy
16. SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY – TV Product
17. ELECTRIC WALTZ – Negatives
18. END OF ACT ONE – Y?
19. THE MAZE – The Toy Shop
20. A GIRLFRIEND IS… – Vena Cava
21. DROWNING – Graph
22. MEN IN THE MIRRORSHADES – Rapid Eye Movements
23. LLAMAS (LIVE AT THE WIMPY BAR) – A Major European Group
24. RAINDANCE – The Past Seven Days
25. LIVING IN CONFUSION – Pagan Bo
DISC TWO: 1981-1982
01. (WE DON’T NEED THIS) FASCIST GROOVE THANG (12″ MIX) – Heaven 17
02. LUCIFER’S FRIEND – Vision
03. THE CLOWN – Artery
04. TWIST – New Model Soldier
05. TRAIN – Surface Mutants
06. 4 HOURS (REMIXED SINGLE VERSION) – Clock DVA
07. A BABY CALLED BILLY – British Electronic Foundation
08. WAR GAMES – Flying Alphonso Brothers
09. ENGLISH INDUSTRIAL ESTATE – Shy Tots
10. HEAVY MEN – Disease
11. DEITY’S LAMENT – Stunt Kites
12. SECRET SOCIETY – Mau Maus
13. MARCELLA BALL – The Naughtiest Girl Was A Monitor
14. CORPSE CREEPER – Quite Unnerving
15. PARKING BOYS – Acrobats Of Desire
16. MAN WITH A LUMINOUS HEAD (DEMO) – The Blimp
17. SCRAMBLE FOR STYLE – The Mirror Crack’d
18. REAL LIFE – Vital
19. PSYCHOKILLER – Heroes Of The Beach
20. ALPHABET SOUP – ABC
DISC THREE: 1982-1984
01. EVERYBODY’S PROBLEM – Pulp
02. INTRUDER IN THE DUST – Bass Tone Trap
03. JUST A GAME – U.V. Pøp
04. DANSE/MOVE – The Danse Society
05. ISKRA – In The Nursery
06. DYING MAN, FAITHFUL PRIEST – Dachau Choir
07. TEX MIRROR H – Out Of Reach
08. NO ONE LEAVES THE) FEVER CAR – Hula
09. QUIET TYPE – Time In Motion
10. OVER – SIIIII
11. MANNEQUIN – Ipso Facto
12. WORLDS APART – Fatales
13. BILLINGHAM’S ISLAND (DEMO) – Tsi Tsi
14. FISH AND BREADCAKE – Fish And Breadcake
15. LATE NIGHTS (DEMO) – Harriet
16. OUT OF THE FLESH (MIX 1) – Chakk
17. THE DISTANCE FROM KOLN – Native Europe
18. SILICON CHIP – Defective Turtles
19. PERSUASION – Vendino Pact
20. IN MY EYES (DEMO)* – Typhoon Saturday
DISC FOUR: 1984-1988
01. KITCHENETTE – Peter Hope And The Jonathan S. Podmore Method
02. WINDS OF CHANGE – Scala Timpani
03. YOU UNGRATEFUL BASTARD (FLEXI VERSION) – One Thousand Violins
04. CRAYOLA – A.C. Temple
05. UP THE HILL – Sedition
06. MESSAGE FROM A DEAD MAN – The Flight Commander
07. ZULU – The Anti Group
08. CHAINS – Chain
09. FIX THE KITCHEN – Dig Vis Drill
10. CHILDREN – Kilgore Trout
11. BOTTLE BREAST – Fishwives
12. TREEHOUSE – Mr Morality
13. SKIN SCRAPED BACK – Workforce
14. LIKE A FOOL – Treebound Story
15. WONDERFUL LIFE – Nick Fish & The Seahorses
16. CROW BAR – The Box
17. COLORADO DEAD MAN – The Midnight Choir
18. THE WORLD DOESN’T TURN – The Junk
19. LAWNMOWER WOMAN (LIVE) – The Wacky Gardeners
Lots and Lots 😉
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Date of Release: 6th December 2019
Cherry Red Records – Info on this release