We could argue the toss all day about what Punk did or didn't bequeath us, but we can surely agree that the period 1976 to 1981 threw up some blinding label compilations. This financially-beleaguered young music fan can attest to this personally, having spent many a happy hour absorbing any number of them, from Stiff's 'If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a Fuck' to Virgin's 'Cash Cows' or Polydor's 'Twenty of the Best'.
West of the M32, Bristol's music scene was going supernova from 1977 to 1980. The city's first independent label Heartbeat Records had been formed early on by Simon Edwards and a combination of his enthusiasm and the sheer diversity of talent at his disposal resulted in a series of influential 7” singles, followed by a compilation LP featuring 15 local Bristol bands. That resulting album, 'Avon Calling' would soon be hailed by no less than the great John Peel as “truly superb, the compilation that all others should be judged by.” High praise indeed, but entirely justified.
The downside of this accolade was that Simon Edwards was inundated by demos from a load more great local hopefuls, though he hadn't a hope of keeping pace with them all. As a result, he could do little but shelve many of them, hoping one day to finally get around to a sequel. Three decades on, enter Mike Darby's magnificent Bristol Archive label and at long last we have 'Avon Calling 2', the sequel that almost never was.
The great news is that Simon Edwards was, of course, right all along. Virtually all the 20 tracks here (pretty much entirely culled from 1979/1980) are more than worthy of their belated places in the sun. Some of the bands (Social Security, Private Dicks, the X-Certs) have already scuffed their shoes on Rock's footnotes with tracks on BA'S previous 'Bristol: The Punk Explosion' compilation, but all the tracks submitted for inclusion here are of the 'previously unreleased' variety.
The album is subtitled 'forgotten gems and unknown curios', though to these ears the emphasis is firmly on the former. Things get off to a rip-roaring start with SOCIAL SECURITY'S hedonistic classic 'Self-Confession', full of itchy chords and weedy Buzzcocks-y guitars, before PRIVATE DICKS weigh in with the unassailable Power Pop energy of 'You Got It' and X-CERTS' 'People of Today' makes like boredom and alienation are actually a whole lot of fun.
As it turns out, these bands are only the tip of a very substantial creative iceberg. Several outfits also offer variations on ye olde wholesome Power Pop, though always with individual twists such as the proto-Morrissey vocal mannerisms of THE EUROPEANS' 'The Only One' or the well-crafted intelligence of JOE PUBLIC'S 'Letters In My Desk' ( a harder edged Any Trouble, anyone?). 48 HOURS, meanwhile, could have nicked their moniker from The Clash's song of the same name, but the nagging cool of their 'Train To Brighton' is a lot closer to Penetration or Subway Sect.
This being Bristol, the spirit of sonic exploration is as strong as ever. SNEAK PREVIEW'S brilliant, organ-laced 'Mr. Magoo' could almost be the product of a less pissed-off Attractions, while their second tune 'I Can't Get Out' is a dub-tinged cross-dressing scenario. APARTMENT dole out lashings of Magazine-style intensity on their epic 'Broken Glass' and the quirky, yet spot-on DIRECTORS could easily have given XTC a run for their money. Hell, even the disposable 'forgoten curios' - like SEAN RYAN'S cork-popping classic 'Suicide Man' - are worth their weight in gold.
It's been thirty years in the making, but now 'Avon Calling 2' is finally in our midst it really should be cherished. The only sadness comes with the realisation that Peely won't be able to lend an approving ear this time round.
Bristol Archive Records online