Red Lorry Yellow Lorry: Albums and Singles 1982-1989

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry: “Albums and Singles 1982-1989”

As a naive youngster in the early ’80s, knowing little of the pop world beyond what got played on Radio 1 and Top of the Pops, the Independent Singles chart at the back of No.1 magazine every week was quite an eye-opener. The indie chart was a whirlwind of bands with exotic and baffling names who you would never hope to hear on the radio, unless they happened to turn up during your occasional clandestine listening to John Peel after lights out. What kind of music did Meat Whiplash play? Why would you call your band Alien Sex Fiend? What was an Einstürzende Neubauten?

As the decade wore on, the fog slowly lifted. Some of these obscurely named bands started to make commercial headway, my Radio 1 listening progressed further into the evening, and an aerial booster finally allowed me to watch The Tube and The Chart Show on a still snowy but just about feasible Channel 4. Previously uncelebrated bands like The Wedding Present and Half Man Half Biscuit went on to become legends. Others, like Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, remained wilfully obscure.

And yet, on taking delivery of this comprehensive box set of the Lorries’ ’80s output, I was startled to discover that I knew the first track on disc one. The title track of the band’s début album Talk About the Weather was never a single, so where I would have heard it is beyond me, but I definitely knew it. I could even sing along to the chorus.

It opens an album whose low-slung basslines combine with the menacing baritone of Chris Reed to conjure up images of what a mid-80s Joy Division album might have sounded like, had Ian Curtis not died and his bandmates not discovered dance music. By the time of its release, however, several early singles had already tarred Red Lorry Yellow Lorry as a Goth act, a label that would never sat easily with the band, although listening to those singles tacked on to the end of disc one it’s not hard to see how it happened.

The following year’s Paint Your Wagon is more coherent, almost jaunty in places, until closing instrumental Blitz derails everything like a Cure B-side played at 33rpm. Again the set is augmented with single A- and B-sides, as well as tracks from the 1987 EP Crawling Mantra, perhaps their best shot at a hit single and released under the easier-to-deal-with moniker “The Lorries”.

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Despite having signed to a major label in the interim, 1988’s Nothing Wrong remains defiantly uncommercial in the face of a more polished production job on the likes of She Said and Pushing On and even a baffling fifty seconds of Booker T & the MGs’ Time is Tight reimagined as a goth anthem. In contrast its successor, 1989’s Blow, is their most mainstream offering and really should have seen them making some commercial headway. It didn’t, of course, because it arrived just as everyone else in the indie charts was buying baggy jeans and welding inappropriate dance beats to their tracks to try and ride the Stone Roses/Happy Mondays bandwagon. The box ends here, omitting 1991’s Blasting Off which Reed recorded with a group of session musicians, bringing RLYL’s career to a rather unsatisfactory end.

Cherry Red’s packaging of this set is, as always, exemplary, with each album in a miniature replica of its original sleeve inside a clamshell box with an informative booklet which includes a new interview with the band’s Dave Wolfenden. While we wait for their mythical new album – apparently recorded since the band’s tentative reunion in 2007 but still awaiting release – this set is a great opportunity to acquaint yourself with one of the decade’s great overlooked bands.

8/10