4AD 1983

Here’s 4AD 1983 on Spotity.

1983 is the watershed year for 4AD, when they transition fully from a post-punk label into something much stranger and something that people will still obsess about decades later.

Most important commercially (and musically, for that matter) are the Cocteau Twins releases. The Peppermint Pig single was a major step away from their Garlands sound, and with the Head Over Heels album and the Sunburst and Snowblind EP later that year, everybody started paying attention. Like seriously.

Perhaps symbolically, 4AD releases two five song compilation EPs, saying a final goodbye to Bauhaus and The Birthday Party (and everybody involved with those bands), as well as a five song compilation EP from Modern English, who would leave them the next year.

And look at those covers. Vaughan Oliver/23 Envelope is getting in full swing with those gorgeous typographical covers to the Xmal Deutschland releases, and those vague Cocteau Twins covers, and, erm, the “horses fucking” Colourbox EP, which is, of course, everybody’s favourite.

Most puzzling release of the year: The second version of Breakdown/Tarantula. I wonder what the story behind that was… were Colourbox just really dissatisfied with the first version which was released half a year earlier?

[Edit: I’ve been notified that the first four tracks (by The Birthday Party) aren’t available in some regions. Rights issues? (Some of the tracks on the full version are licensed from Mute Records.) Blocked because of the Swastikas on the cover artwork? I don’t know.]


The Birthday Party — The Bad Seed

Sonnys Burning, Wild World, Fears Of The Gun, Deep In The Woods

Xmal Deutschland — Fetisch

Qual, Geheimnis, Young Man, In Der Nacht, Orient, Hand In Hand, Kaempfen, Danthem, Boomerang, Stummes Kind

Cocteau Twins — Peppermint Pig

Peppermint Pig, Laughlines, Hazel

Colourbox — Breakdown

Breakdown, Tarantula

Xmal Deutschland — Qual

Qual, Zeit, Sehnsucht

Modern English — Gathering Dust

Smiles And Laughter, Mesh & Lace, Gathering Dust, Swans On Glass, Home

The Birthday Party — The Friend Catcher

The Friend Catcher, Release The Bats, Blast Off, Mr. Clarinet, Happy Birthday

The Wolfgang Press — The Burden Of Mules

Lisa (The Passion), Prostitute I, The Burden Of Mules, Compleate And Utter, Prostitute II, Slow As A Child, Journalists, Give It Back, On The Hill

Modern English — Someone’s Calling

Someone’s Calling, Life In The Gladhouse

This Mortal Coil — Sixteen Days – Gathering Dust

Sixteen Days – Gathering Dust, Song to the Siren, Sixteen Days Reprise

Xmal Deutschland — Incubus Succubus II

Incubus Succubus II, Vito

Bauhaus — 4.A.D

Dark Enties, Untitled, Terror Couple Kill Colonel, Scopes, Rosegarden Funeral of Sores

Cocteau Twins — Head over Heels

When Mama Was Moth, Five Ten Fiftyfold, Sugar Hiccup, In Our Angelhood, Glass Candle Grenades, In The Gold Dust Rush, The Tinderbox (Of A Heart), Multifoiled, My Love Parmour, Musette And Drums

Cocteau Twins — Sunburst And Snowblind

Sugar Hiccup, Flagstones, Hitherto, Because Of The Whirl-Jack

Colourbox — Colourbox

Shotgun, Keep On Pushing, Nation, Justice

This post is part of the chronological look at all 4AD releases, year by year.

4AD 1982

The 4AD 1982 playlist on Spotify.

In a shocker, not everything from 1982 is available on Spotify. The Birtday Party/Lydia Lunch split isn’t, but I’ve substituted some other live Birthday Party tracks. The Lunch track isn’t available at all.

And the We Means We Starts single (with a different version of Not To) by Colin Newman is also AWOL.

Tsk, tsk!

If anybody from 4AD is reading this: If you have the rights to these tracks, could you fix it? I mean, you have the rights to the other Birthday Party songs, and it’s the only recording of them doing Loose, I think?

Colin Newman I’m not sure about.

Anyway anyway! 1982! 4AD! What can I say? Let’s see…

1982 is very much a continuation of what 4AD was doing in 1981: We get more Wire spin-offs (Colin Newman); The Birthday Party’s final album, some spin-offs (Rowland Howard), and a live album; a Bauhaus spin-off (Tones on Tail); general oddity in The Happy Family (later to morph into Momus); and…


Without Cocteau Twins and the cachet they brought, I think it’s doubtful that I would be writing this blog post about 4AD now, and you wouldn’t be reading it. Cocteau Twins were one of the tent poles of British independent music in the 80s, and inspired a gazillion bands. It’s the sound that inspired a whole new genre of music, and it sorta started here.

Only sorta, because Garlands, their first album, is an outlier. It has a much harder, colder sound than what would follow, but it had a certain something, and that certain something was Elizabeth Fraser; a vocalist you can’t help being stunned by upon hearing for the first time.

Ironically, 4AD boss Ivo Watts-Russell signed them based on a demo tape that didn’t feature her vocals, so he must have been pretty awe-struck when he finally visited them in the studio and heard what they’d made. I mean, just imagine: You signed up some pretty good post-punk geezers, and then you realise that you’re about to release an album that’s heart-palpitatingly good. Everything is going to change forever!

Which reminds me… Quite a few bands release one good album and then they futz around for a while, and then they disappear. That’s not the story with the major bands on 4AD, for the most part: Seldom are their first albums their best. It’s true for Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, The Wolfgang Press, Modern English, Lush, Pixies perhaps (well, debatable).

You can either say that this means that Ivo has a tendency to push bands into the studio before they’re ready. Or you can say that Ivo had a marvellous nose for talent. He could sniff out talent and let them work at it until masterpieces rolled out a couple of years later.

Or perhaps a mix of the two.


Colin Newman — Not To

Lorries, Don’t Bring Me Reminders, You Me And Happy, We Meet Under Tables, Safe, Truculent Yet, 5/10, 1, 2, 3, Beep Beep, Not To, Indians!, Remove For Improvement, Blue Jay Way

The Birthday Party / Lydia Lunch — Drunk On The Pope’s Blood / The Agony Is The Ecstacy

Pleasure Heads, King Ink, Zoo-Music Girl, Loose, The Agony Is The Ecstacy

Not included in the playlist.

Daniel Ash & Glenn Campling — Tones On Tail

A Bigger Splash, Copper 45/33 rpm, Means Of Escape, Instrumental

The Happy Family — Puritans

Puritans, Innermost Thoughts, The Mistake

In Camera — Fin

The Fatal Day, Coordinates, Apocalypse

Modern English — After The Snow

Someone’s Calling, Life In The Gladhouse, Face Of Wood, Dawn Chorus, I Melt With You, After The Snow, Carry Me Down, Tables Turning

The Birthday Party — Junkyard

She’s Hit, Dead Joe, The Dim Locator, Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow), Several Sins, Big-Jesus-Trash-Can, Kiss Me Black, 6″ Gold Blade, Kewpie Doll, Junk Yard

Modern English — Life In The Gladhouse

Life In The Gladhouse, The Choicest View

Colin Newman — We Means We Starts

We Means We Starts, Not To

Not included in the playlist.

Rowland S. Howard / Lydia Lunch — Some Velvet Morning

Some Velvet Morning, I Fell In Love With A Ghost

Cocteau Twins — Garlands

Blood Bitch, Wax And Wane, But I’m Not, Blind Dumb Deaf, Shallow Then Hallo, The Hollow Men, Garlands, Grail Overfloweth

Modern English — I Melt With You

I Melt With You, The Prize

Cocteau Twins — Lullabies

Feathers Oar-Blades, Alas Dies Laughing, It’s All But An Ark Lark

The Happy Family — The Man On Your Street

The Salesman, Letter From Hall, The Luckiest Citizen, Revenge!, The Courier, The Man On Your Street, A Night Underground, Two Of A Kind, March In Turin

Colourbox — Breakdown

Breakdown, Tarantula

This post is part of the chronological look at all 4AD releases, year by year.

4AD 1981

Here’s the link: 4AD 1981 on Spotify.

Working with the 4AD data set brings back memories…

In the early days of the WWW, before Mozilla came on the scene, I had written a 4AD database (called “eyesore”, written in C++) where you could mark what releases you owned, and it would spit out a list of what you needed to buy to get all the songs. The main browser those days was NCSA Mosaic, although I tested a lot with lynx as well.

The main user interface problem was in how you entered the releases you owned. I had a form per release, and there was a pulldown menu where you could say that you owned the 12″ version, for instance. And then a submit button to store the data.

But the problem was then you were then faced with a new page, and had to use the back button or re-navigate to where you were. That’s a pain in the ass.

So I asked on the www newsgroup at the university, “is there a way to just send the data to the server without reloading the web page itself?”, and after explaining what I wanted a few times because this all seemed to outlandish to even consider, a professor chimed in and explained to me something like “no, that would totally break the entire concept of the WWW, because then a URI would no longer be a resource to identify a resource”.

That’s what taught me to never take anything a professor says seriously.

(I wonder, though, whether what I wanted was possible at that time… This was slightly before Mozilla came on the scene with Javascript and other goodies. Like BLINK.)


1981 continues in the vein of the previous year: Still pretty much in the post-punk vein, and with a bunch of singles from bands that 4AD didn’t have an extensive relationship with (Sort Sol, Past Seven Days, My Captains)…

The involvement with members of Wire bears fruit with Colin Newman’s very striking solo album, but the group that really points the way to future greatness is really Dif Juz, with two EPs that represent something quite new and different.

But perhaps the most important development this year are the covers of the Modern English releases: They are the first ones designed by Vaughan Oliver/23 Envelope. For better or worse (I think better, definitely), his visual identity would come to make 4AD a thing in people’s minds over the coming years. It’s a very modest start, though: Those covers don’t really stand out much here.


Sort Sol — Marble Station

Marble Station, Misguided

The Past 7 Days — Raindance

Raindance, So Many Others

My Captains — Four Track EP

Fall, Converse, History, Nothing

The Birthday Party — Prayers On Fire

Zoo-Music Girl, Cry, Capers, Nick The Stripper, Ho-Ho, Figure Of Fun, King Ink, A Dead Song, Yard, Dull Day, Just You And Me

Modern English — Mesh & Lace

Sixteen Days, Just a Thought, Move in Light, Grief, The Token Man, A Viable Commercial, Black Houses, Dance of Devotion (A Love Song)

B. C. Gilbert / G. Lewis — Ends With The Sea

Ends With The Sea, Hung Up To Dry Whilst Building An Arch

Mass — Labour Of Love

Mass, Why, Ill, Why, Isn’t Life Nice, Elephant Talk, F.A.H.T.C.F., Cross Purposes, Innocence

Colin Newman — Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish

Fish One, Fish Two, Fish Three, Fish Four, Fish Five, Fish Six, Fish Seven, Fish Eight, Fish Nine, Fish Ten, Fish Eleven, Fish Twelve, Reprise

Dif Juz — Huremics

Hu, Re, Mi, Cs

Modern English — Smiles And Laughter

Smiles And Laughter, Mesh & Lace

The Birthday Party — Release The Bats

Release The Bats, Blast Off

Rene Halkett / David Jay — Nothing

Nothing, Armour

Matt Johnson — Burning Blue Soul

Red Cinders In The Sand, Song Without An Ending, Time (Again) For The Golden Sunset, Iceing Up, (Like A) Sun Rising Through My Garden, Out Of Control, Bugle Boy, Delirious, The River Flows East In Spring, Another Boy Drowning

The Birthday Party — Mr. Clarinet

Mr. Clarinet, Happy Birthday

Dance Chapter — Chapter II

Backwards Across Thresholds, Demolished Sanctuary, Attitudes, She

Dif Juz — Vibrating Air

Gunet, Heset, Diselt, Soarn

Various — Natures Mortes – Still Lives

Mr. Clarinet, Let’s Have A Party, Feedback Song, Die Laughing, Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores, You And I, Like This For Ages, Gathering Dust, Marble Station, Controversial Subject, Raindance, Re

This post is part of the chronological look at all 4AD releases, year by year.

4AD 1980

Some years back, I read the excellent Facing the Other Way book by Martin Aston. It’s about the British independent record company 4AD, which I used to be an er somewhat obsessive fan up in my teens, which resulted in absurdities like this.

I decided to listen to everything 4AD had released, chronologically, while reading the book because you know. I found it a kinda interesting experience. I’d been listening to some of the artists excessively, but not really in context.

The other week I started wondering whether anybody had done something similar as a Spotify playlist, and yes, at least one person has created a playlist that’s supposed to be all 4AD tracks in sequence… but it’s missing tracks here and there! The outrage!

So I started puttering around and looking at whether it’s possible to do a complete 4AD listening experience on Spotify, and it looks promising. 4AD has always been wonderful at making their music available (for instance, in the 80s when CDs became a thing, they scrupulously included rare early singles with the albums they re-released), and they’re still at it on Spotify: I couldn’t find single track, no matter how obscure, that’s missing when putting together the 1980 playlist.

So here’s the Spotify playlist link, and below is a list of the releases and tracks included in the playlist.

I’ll be aiming for a new year (and a new playlist) once a week.

1980… It’s not the most memorable year in 4AD’s history. The label was started by Ivo Watts-Russell with a couple of partners, and they didn’t really have that much of a vision musically (or artistically) as 4AD would get a few years later. The first four singles, released under the Axis name (Ivo changed the name, fortunately) were already in the pipeline, but Ivo took over the release.

And there’s things like Hunk Of A Punk included on the Presage(s) compilation that Ivo didn’t want there at all, but… it’s kinda fun? Right? RIGHT!?!?

Of note are future major successes Bauhaus, The Birthday Party and Modern English. The first two with their sound already pretty much developed, while Modern English sounds nothing like what they would when they got their hit(s) later.

Oh, and The The, with a very early single.

What’s striking with these later successes were that they left 4AD, some of them very soon indeed (Bauhaus and The The) and some after getting at least some sales going. It can’t have been fun seeing them wander off to other pastures.

And then there’s Rema-Rema: In a way 4AD’s longest association… well, until the mid-90s. They merged with In Camera, sort of, and turned into Mass, and then finally into The Wolfgang Press and got pretty good after a few years.


The Fast Set — Junction One

Junction One, Children Of The Revolution

Bearz — She’s My Girl

She’s My Girl, Girls Will Do

Bauhaus — Dark Entries

Dark Entries, Untitled

Shox — No Turning Back

No Turning Back, Lying Here

Rema-Rema — Wheel In The Roses

Feedback Song, Rema Rema, Instrumental, Fond Affections

Modern English — Swans On Glass

Swans On Glass, Incident

Bauhaus — Terror Couple Kill Colonel

Terror Couple Kill Colonel, Scopes, Terror Couple Kill Colonel

In Camera — Final Achievement

Die Laughing, Final Achievement

Cupol — Like This For Ages

Like This For Ages, Kluba Cupol

The The — Black And White

Controversial Subject, Black And White

Various — Presage(s)

Sargaso Sea, Let’s Have A Party, Security Idiots, Home, Malignant Love, Hit The Dead, Hunk Of A Punk

The Birthday Party — The Friend Catcher

The Friend Catcher, Waving My Arms, Catman

Bauhaus — In The Flat Field

Double Dare, In The Flat Field, God In An Alcove, Dive, Spy In The Car, Small Talk Stinks, St. Vitus Dance, Stigmata Martyr, Nerves

Mass — You And I

You And I, Cabbage

Modern English — Gathering Dust

Gathering Dust, Tranquility Of A Summer Movement (Vice Versa)

B. C. Gilbert / G. Lewis — 3R4

Barge Calm, 3, 4…, Barge Calm, R

Bauhaus — Telegram Sam

Telegram Sam, Crowds, Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores

Dance Chapter — Anonymity

Anonymity, New Dance

In Camera — IV Songs

The Conversation, The Attic, Fragments of Fear, Legion

4AD Bootleg Tapes

During the 90s, I was involved with a lot of tape swapping related to the British record company 4AD. These tapes have since languished in a box in the basement, but this autumn I went on a I Must Tidy Things! jag and carried the box up to the apt. and digitised all the tapes.

Most of the tapes were rarities (tracks from limited edition 7″ records and stuff like that), and all that stuff is available already for anybody interested. But there was also a small stack of live bootleg recordings that nobody seems to have bothered to upload to Youtube yet, so I did it.

Enjoy. Most of these are pretty horribly-sounding recordings from the middle of the audience, so you get a lot of “whoo hoo” and not so much music, but I think some of these are pretty exciting anyway. Especially the Throwing Muses live at Anaconda tape, which is just so raw-sounding and intense. Wish I were there.

Of Interest to 4AD Fans of Olden Times

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, I was a huge 4AD fan and did many fannish things, like running VHS tape chains of 4AD-related video clips and the like.

It’s a bit difficult to remember at this remove just what was so important about watching video clips and interviews with these bands now, but this obsession led me to, among many other things, to record quite a bit of stuff from MTV onto VHS.

And then I rediscovered a cardboard box full of VHS tapes this autumn.

There were about 30 of them, and I thought that this was surely the time to get organisised, digitise them and upload the interesting snips (FSVO) to Youtube.

So I got started.

It turned out that there was about fifteen minutes worth of stuff of interest on each tape. Uploading music videos isn’t necessary, since they’re already all there, in better quality and from official sources. So that leaves only live footage and interviews.

I did upload some music videos if those made sense in the flow of an interview. If they’re saying “and let’s look at that video now”, it would be kinda awkward to cut it out, so I left them in and wondered what the Youtube copyright system would do: Give me copyright infringement warnings, block the account, or what?

It turns out that it’s less dramatic than that: For the vast majority of the snippets, Youtube notified me that the videos are copyrighted, and that I can’t monetise my uploads because of that. Which is fine, because I wouldn’t do that anyway.

The only problem was videos owned by Warner Music Group: They would block anything that contained “their” videos. So I had to re-edit a handful of interviews, but a couple I basically gave up on and just put on my own server:

Hey! I was there in London at that festival!

It’s taken some time to get all the tapes processes. Not because it’s a lot of work; it’s not: I just push play on the VHS and then four hours later (i.e., when I get back from work) there’s a .mov file that I can then cut snippets out of with Lightworks, and doing the editing takes, like, five minutes or so per tape.

But I forget to start the recording process, so things drag out…

Anyway, here’s the list of snippets I’ve uploaded. If you’re a 4AD fan, there might be some amusement to be found here… And there’s also some other non-4AD odds and ends sprinkled between. And there’s some duplicates, I’m sure, since MTV tended to do re-runs.


I Am The Product Chooser

I was too poor at the time (1993, I think?)  to buy the limited-edition version of This Rimy River by Vaughan Oliver, but reading the 4AD biography reminded me that I had to buy it.

The regular version is very pretty, and has an overview of Oliver’s design career.  The limited edition is weirder.

The slipcase is, er, traditional enough.  It comes in a velvet-ey slipcase with a bucket on the front.

DSC00755The book itself comes has a plexiglas cover.

DSC00756 DSC00757

So luxurious.


Which brings us to the interiors.  Oliver had his poor interns chop copies of the regular version apart, and then screen-print the hell out of the pages.  They mainly applied two layers — one black (obscuring the original stuff on the pages) and one in copper (one word per page from a poem Oliver’s wife wrote).

So compare: Limited edition version regular.

DSC00760 DSC00761

Limited edition to the left.  The page on the right completely obliterates the original page, while the black print on the left page is somewhat more subtle.

DSC00762 DSC00763

Again, limited edition on the light.  On these two pages the black additional printing is less overwhelming.

Oliver has a great sense of humour.  It’s both a “fuck you” to people who has money to buy these kinds of things (since you need the regular version to actually read it), and it’s also a beautiful object in itself.  <slow clap>