Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Long Live Helen Love

Was just scanning through this article on the supposed best 50 records ever by Welsh artists and was shocked to discover no mention of Young Marble Giants, Datblygu or the fabulous Helen Love from Swansea. I was a lot less surprised to learn that they’ve included a cover version of MacArthur Park by Only Men Aloud. To compensate for these oversights here’s the video for Helen Love’s brilliant handbag dance on the grave of Britpop, Long Live the UK Music Scene (1998). Rejoice as they gleefully rip the piss out of Chris Evans, Shed Seven, the Bluetones, Ocean Colour Scene and other shite bands from that era. And here's some over-enthusiastic but sincere verbiage I once wrote about the band that still holds true for me today (despite the whole world and its chartered accountant now owning a Ramones tee-shirt):

Helen Love dwell in a world of perpetual summer, a teen Eden habituated by bubblegum chewing pop kids forever tuned to the MC5 on brightly coloured plastic radios. Their moral code is simple: "love; kiss; run; sing; shout; jump!" Bestriding this innocent paradise like a Levi-clad Colossus is benevolent god Joey Ramone - a deity worshipped with fan club zeal. One day, in the distant future, archaeologists seeking evidence of this lost world will comb a beach somewhere in the vicinity of Swansea Bay searching for its artefacts: huggy bear tee-shirts, laser guns and, if they're really lucky, a scratched copy of Does your Heart go Boom.

You don't have to be any kind of intellectual to work out the Helen Love philosophy. A cursory glance at their record sleeves - DayGlo collages of 70s Top of the Pops albums, Jamie Reid style cut-up headlines and Roy Lichtenstein pop art messages - reveals a preference for lo-fidelity musical values and a DIY punk/pop aesthetic. Helen Love exult in the very notion of being pop stars, after all it is the apotheosis of their universe. Evidently thrilled at being questioned by one radio station in New York, they sample the resulting interview on record. You see Helen Love are more than happy to wear their gaucheness on their sleeves. They believe in pop with the same innocent perfervidity that some people believe soap opera characters are real. We Love You they proclaim, a sentiment as far removed from the cynicism of Manic Street Preachers' You Love Us, as you could get. And they mean it too, for them being a fan is as important a part of the pop equation as being a performer.

Cartoon innocents they may be but these popsters are not without political or critical bite. Their very first vinyl utterance on Formula One Racing Girls (long before the lamentable Spice Girls turned the term into a vacuous catch-phrase) was: "Girl power, girl power". A later single Long Live the UK Music Scene was a heavily ironic attack on the moribund state of the British record industry and mainstream radio in particular. Woe betide anyone that fails to live up to their pop ideal - Chris Evans, Kula Shaker, Longpigs, Bush and The Bluetones have all been comically 'dissed' on record.

Which brings us to their enduring love affair with The Ramones, emperors of three chord melodic punk and Helen Love's entire raison d'etre. It was Joey himself (now sadly deceased) who invited the band over to play in New York, reputedly their first ever gig. Radio Hits, their debut (compilation) album, even bears his written endorsement. Frankly it was the least he could do as almost every song on the record contains some paean to his work. The mutual appreciation was cemented when Joey and Helen duetted on Punk Boy the highlight of the band's brilliant Love and Glitter, Hot Days and Music album. What a genuine delight it is to hear the gangly punk rocker actually singing: "From Swansea Bay to the USA/ You're a million stars in the sky today - hey punk boy!" Genius. Here's hoping Helen Love continue making records of pure distilled sunshine and, when required, bee-stinging wit.