What makes three record companies from around Europe get together to release rare tracks from obscure groups of the 1980s?
The three record companies involved in these releases - Clarendon Records, Firestation Records and Bilberry Records - all had the same idea for the compilation series independently. As they started talking to each other they realised that if the individuals from these companies wanted to see these recordings made available once more, it made sense that there was a large listening public of like minds. Some of the groups are obscure, others are better known, but it was deliberate policy not to release the more familiar artists of the time. After all, even though these are old recordings, it was still felt important to be offering something new, something that would give the listener that thrill of hearing something unexpected and delicious for the first time. Even the most knowledgeable and devoted 80s indie-pop fan will make new discoveries in uncharted territories here.
The Sound of Leamington Spa is a series of CDs and LPs that give people the chance to get re-acquainted with, or discover anew, a back catalogue of British pop gems that had been banished to an airwave graveyard. Like the legendary Pebbles albums that showcased the hidden wonders of 1960s garage so eloquently, the Leamington Spa series provides a valuable public service to the hungry independent pop music explorer, who wanders through the past as well as the present in search of unmapped landmarks.
A response of feverish delight to The Sound of Leamington Spa Volume 1 came largely from two sectors. Firstly, those who had listened and loved during the eighties, but had failed to get hold of copies of records owing to limited releases and distribution. Their taped John Peel sessions long since worn out, discovering the re-releases on Leamington Spa was like finding a long lost and very dear friend in an out of the way airport lounge. The second sector has been made up of people around the world discovering these groups for the first time - several thousand new fans have been registering their affection at the Clarendon Records website from the US, Japan, Philippines, continental Europe and elsewhere.
Does anything connect the groups showcased here? Well, they are all British, with the exception of occasional Irish contribution, and the sound is a very British one. The voices have a resonance quite different from the vocals that could be heard from the US at that time; there is a lyrical quality to the timbre of singing that is unlike the typical vocal sound of UK singers today. That apart, it is hard to define the common factor, except, perhaps in terms of an energy and honesty that still resonates over ten years later.
There are at least fifty more groups listed for future Leamington Spa compilations. Future releases may cover more international acts, most of whom have never been near the recording studio in the regency town of the CD title where so many of those featured on the first release recorded. As one aficionado commented: "It's an appropriate title - most English people have heard of Leamington Spa but know nothing about it." Perhaps it's time to visit.