A Historical Appreciation
Once upon a time, there was no indiepop...In the dark days of 1980, after Punk Rock had collapsed into the sad stumblings of Sid Vicious and the major-label money-grubbing of the very bands that had once declared their independence, came Mr. Alan Horne of Glasgow, Scotland, with a simple dream of recapturing the pop perfection of the great singles of yore.
Taking his cue from the melancholic side of the Velvet Underground, the ideals of punk, and his own maverick Caledonian stubbornness, he managed in two short years to release a handful of masterpieces that continue to inspire pop people everywhere. Without Postcard, there might well have been no Pastels, no C86, no Sarah, no Flying Nun, no Smiths, no indiepop revival at all. For while people all over the world respond to ringing guitars, charming vocals, and joyful pop melodies, it took Mr. Horne to show us how it could be done.
He was of course fortunate to see the potential in an inept band of teenage Scots who called themselves "Nu-Sonics", led by a fresh-faced young lad with amazing lips named Edwyn Collins. By the time they released the first Postcard single, "Falling and Laughing", they had changed their name to Orange Juice and perfected their magical blend of jangly guitars and winsome, sensitive-schoolboy vocals.
No one had ever heard anything like them; the song was magnificently pop-rollicking, and perfectly expressed the heartfelt joy and terror of a coy lad in love. Edwyn Collins crooned like a teenage Bing Crosby with soul, and while the band may not have always been in perfect tune, their shambling enthusiasm carried it off beautifully. Lyrically, Edwyn masterfully transformed the clever cliche into gold with his naive charm and artful delivery. The closest antecedent would probably be the best singles by the Buzzcocks, with a lighter, happier touch, and a more engaging affability inspired by Jonathan Richman.
They received great critical acclaim (and an NME cover for Edwyn, with fellow Scot Clare Grogan of Altered Images), but like all their records it was ignored by the record-buying public, except for a tiny cult that cherished them. That cult broadened with each successive seven-inch masterpiece, until the pressures of making their first album, You Can't Hide Your Love Forever, for the major label Polydor, broke up the band. They reformed with a new drummer and second guitarist, and had a major hit in the UK in 1983 with "Rip It Up", and two-and-a-half more albums before going under completely (Edwyn now has a moderately successful career as a solo artist). But it's that first single that made Orange Juice and Postcard, and redefined pop music. Copies now change hands for up to 100 pounds (~$150).
Orange Juice's labelmates were no slouches, either. Josef K made brooding, gloomy pop that hearkens to early Joy Division (though not so grandiose), and had some influence on so-called Northern Soul. A 16-year-old Glaswegan named Roddy Frame made some remarkably lush, strummy pop records under the name Aztec Camera; and a young band from Australia called the Go-Betweens released on Postcard their first single outside of their native land. Aztec Camera later had a huge worldwide hit with the magnificent "Oblivious", and the Go-Betweens turned out to be one of the most incandescent pop bands ever over the next decade.
These original Postcard artists not only made some of the most exciting music themselves in that era, fighting the conservative onslaught of post-punk New Romantic silliness, but they also had a huge impact on the nascent pop sensibilities of thousands of as-yet unheard bands and followers. Fellow Scots The Pastels, who started playing about the time Orange Juice finally gave it up, sound very like their predecessors, with a little less jangle and a little more drone. The C86 sound that was the first full flowering of today's pure indiepop, owes itself almost entirely to Orange Juice -- listen to "Velocity Girl" by Primal Scream, or "Therese" by The Bodines, or the Chesterf!elds and see.
Lately, these isolated Orange Juice fans have been coming out of the closet all over the world; witness the Wedding Present (who have been called 'Orange Juice with a distortion pedal') covering "Felicity" (and the Go-Betweens), or the new American band Ivy, who cover "Guess I'm Just A Little Too Sensitive" from OJ's last album.
Postcard called it quits after 1981, after Orange Juice and Aztec Camera had departed for major labels (and the charts). Alan Horne released a few records on his new label Swamplands, but he never achieved success commensurate with his influence. In 1992, he and Postcard reappeared with a compilation album of OJ's Postcard singles, making these pop landmarks available for a reasonable price for the first time. Since then, the new Postcard has released records by old Horne/Collins crony Paul Quinn, Edwyn, Vic Godard (late of Subway Sect), and Davey Henderson of 80s Scottish band Fire Engines' new band Nectarine No. 9.
Edwyn has made several solo albums, none of them released in America; his first and only appearance on a US release of any kind was with old pal Roddy Frame, singing the delightful Orange Juice song "Consolation Prize" on the cd-single of "Good Morning Britain" by Aztec Camera. He still plays live around London fairly often, sometimes with Ian McCullough (former Bunnyman).
The Go-Betweens broke up in 1990 after several dozen of the greatest pop songs ever written; Main songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster have established solo careers. Aztec Camera continue to make records, of course. Josef K leader Paul Haig made some obscure dancey records before disappearing; Malcom Ross joined the second Orange Juice, and later played on a few Aztec Camera records, and recently resurfaced with OJ drummer Stephen Daly and Go-Betweens bassist Robert Vickers on a new single on The Bus Stop Label.
written by Steve Thornton in 1995 for TweeNet[Tracey Duncan MacDonald adds in 2000 that: "the real story is that James Kirk & Stephen Daly were formerly in a group called the Machetes, but left to join Edwyn Collins' & Alan Duncan's group, the Nu-Sonics. They played venues such as the Silver Thread in Paisley, and Satellite City in Glasgow (above the Apollo) as a foursome under the name of Nu-Sonics before they changed it to Orange Juice."]