The Broadway Recording Sessions take us back to the early 80s and immediate post-punk times, presenting newly-unearthed recordings from The Direct Hits. A South London trio, with a foot in both the mod revival and neo-psychedelia, clearly and definitely inspired by the sounds of the mid-60s but a good cut above any suggestion of pastiche or copy. The songs here, a shuddering four decades on, certainly remain fresh and vivid.
They’d formed around the duo of Colin Swan and Geno Buckmaster, previously of The Exits who’d had a single on Lightning in ‘77 and cut an album’s worth of demos, adding drummer Brian Grover. Noticed by Television Personality Dan Treacy their ‘Modesty Blaise’ single appeared on his Whamm! imprint in early 1982 to some acclaim, and the weeklies declared them practitioners of Battersea Beat.
Then followed a two year gap before their Blow Up album appeared, and neither this nor its follow-up House Of Secrets achieved much more than cult interest. They’ve been anthologised a couple of times since; by Tangerine Records in 1994 (The Magic Attic) and Cherry Red in 2014 ( Here There Or Anywhere); while Colin Swan continues to oversee their legacy through the informative Direct Hits website and Blaamm! Records.
This new Optic Nerve release now brings us a full album of songs recorded – on the band’s own dollar – in the wake of ‘Modesty Blaise’ and then apparently discarded. All done in one day – plus an afternoon of overdubs – in 1982 at Broadway Studios in Tooting. It shows a clearly well-rehearsed ensemble with stage-honed material and a focussed vision; far more than a sweeping up of discarded demos, while there’s the odd bit of tidying up it might have benefitted from, this is essentially a complete album.
A delightful melange of inventiveness and variety; these are intelligent, crafted songs each with their own identity. The lyrics are smart; the names conjured – Miranda Berkley, Mark Deans, (and Aleister Crowley) – all striking. The stories told fascinate, while their playing, invariably vibrant and energetic, equally captivates.
They kick off with a full-on, near-five minutes of freakbeat in ‘Ride My Bicycle’; a rare bike song that doesn’t appear to invoke Albert Hofmann. ‘Miranda Berkley’ tells all too briefly the tale of a supergirl with crisp jangle, and just a touch of titillation as to the singer’s definite unease she “poses for the local art school”. Both ‘Leander By The River’ and ’What Killed Aleister Crowley’ lean towards an occult-tinged pop-sike, while the Who-shadings of ‘Naughty Little Boy’ bring genuine excitement.
The airy brightness of ‘Sunny Honey Girl’ actually spun off into an imaginary movie complete with soundtrack, while ‘I’d Rather Stay Than Go’ seems like a lovely, lost early Beatles tune. There’s more hints of Merseybeat in ‘Start Living’ with a great bonus in its magical percussion. Meanwhile ‘I Feel The Earth Move’ carries more than enough of a West Coast feel to invoke thoughts of the Paisley Underground.
That more than half of these songs didn’t make it onto Blow Up indicates the creative roll they were plainly on at the time, and makes you curse you didn’t get to see them in their prime. The only alleviation is to pick up the record; available in blue or black vinyl, and on CD, from this coming Friday (26th Feb 2021).