If the received wisdom about indie music is that it was (and is) as unwelcoming a place for women as the rest of the industry, this new 2CD set showcases the female artists prepared to run the gauntlet in the post-punk era. And if the truth is more complex than simple histories allow – punk at least gave female artists a platform (if not always a great deal of respect) – there were opportunities that continued into the post-punk and indie years that followed, especially with the flourishing of a DIY scene that truly did allow anyone to have a go.
Sharon Signs To Cherry Red, a tongue-in-cheek jibe at the early 80s bedsitter music scene by The Kamikaze Pilots, serves as fun starting point around which these disparate artists circle, and it’s that variety that offers the biggest thrill. Many acts took a lead from sympathetic outfits from times past (girl-group sounding names like Helen & The Horns, The Twinsets) and mined similar lovelorn material; others drank in the anything-goes spirit of the age with wine bar funk (Paul Weller collaborator Tracie‘s ‘The Boy Hairdresser’, Sunset Gun) or primitive DIY punk (The Petticoats, Amy & The Angels). A few acts (Strawberry Switchblade, Mari Wilson) would go on to greater things – there’s even a chance to hear TV/radio presenter Liz Kershaw run through ‘Teenage Kicks’ with a real Undertone in tow – but mostly this is all about the acts who made a couple of singles and maybe secured a John Peel session along the way.
With nothing to link the acts other than biology, the tracklist for Sharon … might seem haphazard, yet there’s a freshness and lack of pretension that’s less evident in the contemporary, more studied scene. The weight of history that hangs heavy around much of today’s indie pop, often content to keep re-cycling genre tropes (‘Can you make it sound like something Phil Spector would do?’) instead of just having fun or daring to go off-track, leaves this archive release as a primer for the curious and musically adventurous. It ends as it begins, with The Kamikaze Pilots updating us on Sharon’s fate (‘Deflowered and Defoliated’) and inventing Helen Love’s drum-machine driven bubblegum pop along the way.
A tremendous effort that reclaims a heap of great music from the dustier corners of Discogs.