One of my more idiosyncratic musical interests is exploring the countless faceless indie pop hordes that littered late ’80s British alternative rock. Largely forgotten except by specialist bloggers and people who dig into musty record stacks to pull out import singles that haven’t been played in 20 years (i.e. me), these sorts of mid- to lower-tier British alt-rock bands were quite common on the UK Indie Charts at the time, in addition to taking up residence in the late night environs of famed BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel’s underground-friendly program. The average sound of these groups was jangly/distorted ’60s-infused guitar pop, performed with a ramshackle amateurishness that betrayed their lack of technique. To be blunt, there was no mistaking these guys and gals for ’80s Brit alt-rock guitar icons Johnny Marr or John Squire, much less any more conventional axe heroes. Sure, the majority of these bands weren’t even close to filling the paisley and anoraks of top-flight contemporaries like the Stone Roses and the Wedding Present, but for me, their charm comes from their simple, almost instinctive melodicism and song structures — simple pop hewn out of rough bits and unassuming bobs. Oh, and I always get a kick out of their affinity for bowl-fringe haircuts and leather jackets.
So: the Popguns. Hailing from Brighton, England, the Popguns featured among its membership former Wedding Present drummer Shaun Carmen and jazzy-voiced singer Wendy Morgan. From an instrumental standpoint, they weren’t terribly distinctive: ringing chords, guitar fuzz, and a rhythm section fond of throwing in numerous fills in order to liven up otherwise straightforward grooves. Excuse me while I dig for this exact same thing in the Creation, 53 & 3rd, and Sarah Records back catalogues (hey, I like this sound, but it was certainly ubiquitous to the point of being cookie-cutter).
What really makes the group special is Wendy Morgan’s keening voice, which infuses each track with a wistful sepia-toned longing that nevertheless sounds filled with hopeful possibilities. Coupled with the music, you get a very plausible sonic template for American East Coast indie Anglophiles Velocity Girl. Beginning with their 1988 debut single “Where Do You Go?”, the Popguns put out ten singles and four albums on a slew of indie labels, including Medium Cool, Midnight Music, and Third Stone, over the course of a decade. They seem to have dropped off the face of the earth after the release of A Plus de Cent in 1996, which is a shame considering indie-inclined music critics have a soft spot these days for noise pop bands like Vivian Girls, whom I’m certain have been listening to the exact same British indie records I have been for the last few years.
How about a taste of the band’s output? Here’s a video for the Popguns’ second single, “Landslide”:
Next up is what is possibly the band’s best song, “Waiting for the Winter”. I first heard this on the Rough Trade Shops: Indiepop 1 compilation, and it kills me every time with its urgent hooks and energy.
And from the group’s second album Smog (1991), here’s the single “Still a World Away”: