In the days when British television had decent music coverage on the box, there was a one-off series that stood out because it relied purely on emerging acts.
Its title I have long forgotten but thanks to Mr Google I have discovered that it was called the Yamaha Band Explosion and was filmed at the Marquee Club in London. The BBC recorded all the shows, which had the children’s TV-style presenter Gary Crowley, interviewing the acts before they took to the stage.
Everything else I recall – the shoegazing bands who looked aloof and self-conscious in comparison to the electric Manic Street Preachers and an act that sadly has disappeared completely off the historical radar, 5:30, who were also known as Five Thirty.
The details might be hazy but the vision is still clear in my mind: both the Manics are 5:30 were at their electrifying, snotty magnificence, but had to share the same stage as bands who stared at their feet, had minimalist lyrics and immersed themselves in wah-wah effects. (see clip at the end of this article)
5:30 were in a sticky situation, both in terms of the show and in music in general. If they’d arrived a few years later they would have been among the vanguards of Britpop, though that may, in itself, be a disservice to their talents.
Remember, that Ocean Colour Scene were among the shining lights of the mid-90s, but they were a far, far better band in 1990-91 when they were also deprived of adulation.
Timing was cruel to 5:30. In 1991, the world had a choice between the Madchester/ indie-dance bands, shoegazers, techno geeks and the grunge noiseniks from the other side of the Atlantic. It was impossible to market a band decked in shirts from Carnaby Street, and a sound that fitted none of those scenes. They even addressed this injustice on an album track, Hate Male: “This song ain’t exactly what we’d call money, but we don’t care.”
Their sole album, Bed, which was released a week before Nevermind, is a classic of the era, and I was delighted when Scouse Neil burned a copy for Porky, as my own vinyl platter is residing in an attic in Scotland. How I’ve longed to hear those tunes once again.
Supernova was the burning pop single with heavy tremolo-effected guitars that should have gone as high as No.9 in the charts; 13th Disciple was tuneful, sexy and owed a debt (slight as it was) to the Stone Roses. Junk Male used some clever guitar techniques with an alerting opening stanza: “If God were to ever come my way, I’d spit into his face. Then calmly walk away. ”
Songs and Paintings was about how creativity couldn’t change the world: “Songs and paintings never brought a regime down. It cannot be fair.”
It was surprisingly diverse, ranging from funkier numbers, to ballads and guitar-driven numbers, although the edge and velocity of the two 1990 singles was largely missing.
Check this blog for more details of the records
While their recording history is brief, the band was in existence for seven years, forming in 1985 while Tara Milton and Paul Bassett were still at school. Despite their youth, they released a cracking EP (as 5:30!) that same year headed by Catcher in The Rye, that was both brimming with youthful cockiness and the headstrong maturity of a much older band.
What happened thereafter is largely unknown but they reappeared in 1989, without the exclamation mark, and had beefed out into a three-piece with Phil Hopper joining on drums. Soon after they signed to East West, in the days when real talent could get you noticed by big to middling labels.
The following year the second single, Abstain, was unleashed, sounding like late-period Jam and Clash rolled into one. Later, in the year of Fools Gold, Step On, Then and Sit Down, came Air-Conditioned Nightmare. Not quite as good, perhaps, but pretty damn close and ahead of much of what many other, more successful, but more limited British bands were doing.
These singles set them up for a big 1991, and they ticked all the boxes: 13th Disciple was released in May, Super Nova in July, Bed in September, and the You EP, in November. The singles reached No.67, 75, and 72 respectively. Naturally, Bed never stood a chance. The radio DJs, the sycophantic music journalists and the TV producers were nowhere to be seen when they were needed most. Other than those records, they’re only other release was a version of My Sweet Lord for the anti-Poll Tax compilation, Alvin Lives (In Leeds) in 1990.
The almost vilified (even among their fans) Northside had more success. But they were from the Greater Manchester area and gave the impression they’d been the Happy Mondays roadies, while taking all the appropriate substances. Make of that what you will.
5:30 split up in 1992. Hindsight might proffer that, had they been more aware of how the tide surges and subsides, they could’ve been contenders. But you can understand why they packed it in. Pop music is a fickle industry indeed. Milton formed The Nubiles, Bassett was part of an equally obscure act, Orange Deluxe, while Hopper left the music industry altogether.
My vinyl copy of Bed is much played, and the CD-R is getting its turn when the time allows. I only wish millions more could say this same thing, rather than press play for Morning Glory, or the vastly overrated Bandwagonesque.