Bristol has generated enough seismic music to resonate for several lifetimes still to come. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking of the quick body blow it landed thanks to The Cortinas during the Punk era, or the way it turned Art-Pop inside out with crazed Marxist militants The Pop Group, or inveigled its' way into the charts with Pigbag. And, on a bigger scale, the way it defined the Trip-Hop genre thanks to the combined efforts of Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky.
As with all such fascinating scenes, though, it's often when you move away from the headline-makers and into the smaller print that the most intriguing characters begin to surface. I've no idea whether Fried Egg's mysterious head honcho Andy Leighton (who has allegedly disappeared since inheriting a Caribbean island) would care to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Factory's Tony Wilson or Rough Trade's Geoff Travis, but the 11 tunes (plus a further clutch of magical additional tracks) can only make this reviewer wonder how on earth Fried Egg's coterie of wonderfully individualistic releases never came to bother the scorers on a wider scale.
Possibly it was Leighton's diversity that sank him. Three decades on, of course, words like 'eclectic' are welcomed in like long lost friends, but back in 1979 his ability to cherry pick the best of whatever floated his boat may have confused a lot of people. However, 'The Best of Fried Egg Records' proves he was right all along. It's a glorious selection of single-minded talents doing their thang with scant regard for career or fortune and most of it sounds fantastic today.
If (like me) you're long enough in the tooth, you might remember a few of Fried Egg's movers and shakers. SHOES FOR INDUSTRY and Gerard Langley's pre-Blue Aeroplanes outfit ART OBJECTS I recall from many an hour in the company of John Peel's show, while the long-lost (and brilliant) ELECTRIC GUITARS almost cracked it with the serrated genius of their single 'Work (included here in fully-furnished demo mode), but it turns out a whole load more great gear was lurking within Fried Egg's long-dormant archive all the time.
Like Manchester, Bristol has always appreciated the importance of the dance floor. This is a tenet both SHOES FOR INDUSTRY and PETE BRANDT'S METHOD clearly understood. SFI weigh in with one of the album's major stand-outs courtesy of 'Jerusalem.' It may be influenced by William Blake's hymn of the same name, but SFI'S 'Jerusalem' is a pock-marked state of the nation address ("your goose is cooked, your coffin booked/ no detail has been overlooked") which may relate to the early days of the Thatcher regime, but sounds equally relevant today. It's not quite as out-there as The Pop Group or as taut as the Gang of Four, but it's no less memorable for that. PETE BRANDT'S METHOD follow up with 'Positive Thinking' is another one whose spine is the bassline, though its' Roxy Music-style cool is a seduction of a more sophisticated kind.
Elsewhere, Leighton clearly had an ear for cool New Wave pop. To this end, witness THE WILD BEASTS (not to be confused with Leeds' theatrical Glamsters) whose charming 'Minimum Maximum' reminds me of the equally long-lost Freshies. Arguably even better are both THE FANS, whose fine Stalker anthem 'Following You' has bags of tuneful charisma and THE VARIOUS ARTISTS, whose 'Original Mixed Up Kid' certainly should have gone Top 20 in a world which took The Jags' 'Back of my Hand' to its' heart. That it didn't is truly mystifying.
Elsewhere, I assume Gerard Langley may well be referring to his own ART OBJECTS project when he mentions "a performance poet backed by college rockers who were also Bristol's premier pop band", and certainly their track 'Hard Objects' is blissfully off-kilter and swings gloriously into the bargain. THE STINGRAYS, meanwhile, treat us to their genius, low-watt Eddy Cochrane and heroic courtesy of 'Exceptions' (love it!); THE UNTOUCHABLES strut their Dr. Feelgood-meets-Stones R'n'B raunch on 'Keep on Walking' and the immortally-named EXPLODING SEAGULLS deconstruct Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' and concoct itchy suburban Pop of the first water with the madcap 'Johnny Runs for Paregoric.' Squawk!
Whether Fried Egg could have survived in a world ruled by the mainstream and hard-headed business decisions is doubtful, especially if Gerard Langley's informed press release is to be taken at face value. However, their fearless eclecticism and devil may care attitude is gloriously represented with this 'Best of' collection and suggests Andy Leighton's singular vision has been neglected for far too long.