The 99 pence indie classic gets a rather inappropriate box set treatment.
Daryl Easlea 2007
Of all the post-punk indie labels, Cherry Red was so fey, it made Rough Trade look like a Pit Bull. One of the greatest indie marketing scams of all-time, the 99p album Pillows and Prayers, gets the box set treatment (alongside its Japanese only follow-up, a rarities disc and DVD), which is kind of rum: At the time it was the very antithesis of artists who would be boxed.
Cherry Red's owners simply wanted to share 16 tracks of their favourite music with an audience not swayed by new romanticism. It worked, as the album stayed atop the indie charts for a whole 19 weeks. If you've lived this far and still wonder what early Eyeless In Gaza sound like (two-bob Bowie over a Bontempi – I'm sure in the last minute there is no enunciation whatsoever, just one long croon), then you must dip in.
Elsewhere, the Passage were spry, crisp and extremely dry; Dick Witts was head and shoulders above most of the lyricists at the label. "XOYO" is one of the best songs, over one of the worst backings. Felt and the Nightingales, are here, too; clever grown-ups who found a home in the indie slipstream. Attila The Stockbroker does his turn when his turn was new with presciently ASBO-predicting "A Bang And A Wimpy", and Quentin Crisp delivers a wry monologue. With the label's latent hippy credentials, it's small wonder that someone like Kevin Coyne pitched up as well.
Of the new acts, because Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn actually had an original idea (although it was called bossa nova) and used words like 'cochineal', they were clearly above the rest, and really the only ones to enjoy a long-term commercial career. You can hear now just how influenced Paul Weller was by them at this point.
By the second compilation, things had got a tad more professional. Although it was largely more of the same, Felt guitarist Maurice Deebank brought instrumental prog (complete with fretless bass, the enemy of taste) and In Embrace produced that stately, machine-backed dreamy pop so prevalent circa 1984. Jane's "It’s A Fine Day", is quite remarkable, sounding forever like a mother absent-mindedly making up a nursery rhyme.
A disc of rarities and a DVD of fey young fellows with at least a chipper attempt at a storyline, are here, too, to complete the experience. From Morgan Fisher's Casiotone on his muddy reading of "Une Homme et Une Femme", to all the various one-string guitar solos, it's like digging up an indie Blue Peter time capsule from very, very many moons ago.