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Reissue CDs Weekly: The Raincoats | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Raincoats

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Raincoats

Still-vital debut album reaches its 40th anniversary

Raincoats founders Gina Birch (left) and Ana da Silva on stage in 1978Maria Helena da Silva

Rough Trade’s first album was Stiff Little Fingers’s Inflammable Material.

The label followed up its February 1979 release with Swell Maps’s A Trip to Marineville, The Raincoats’s eponymous debut, Cabaret Voltaire’s Mix-Up and Essential Logic’s Beat Rhythm News Waddle Ya Play? Inflammable Material was avowedly punk but though they could not have emerged without the punk upheaval, the others inhabited their own musical continua. There was a further difference: Inflammable Material charted – on the proper charts – while SLF's idiosyncratic labelmates could never have done so.

Rough Trade’s significance as independent and independent minded was recognised in May 1979 when the South Bank Show dedicated a fascinating programme to the label and its world. Bands featured included Essential Logic, The Raincoats, Stiff Little Fingers and the Thomas Leer/Robert Rental duo.

The RaincoatsA month before the documentary was aired, Rough Trade issued The Raincoats’s debut EP. In NME, a smitten Paul Morley said of it “Only Ludus and Essential Logic can beat The Raincoats to being my favourite new group of the year.” Record Mirror declared it “atrocious. The sound is terrible, the drums sound like Mars Bars boxes, the guitars sound strangulated, the bass isn’t really there and the tune isn’t either.” The recording session was seen on the South Bank Show and the studio’s engineer is heard saying “see how much out of tune we can risk.” No matter, The Raincoats released their debut album in November 1979.

Forty years on, The Raincoats is reissued in an edition of 1000 on marbled, see-through gold vinyl. Included in the package are prints of new artwork by the band’s founders Gina Birch and Ana da Silva (pictured below left, da Silva's print). As per previous reissues, “Fairytale in the Supermarket” from the EP is appended to the album as Track One, Side One. The Raincoats carries the weight of the band later becoming the subject of Kurt Cobain’s adulation.

Indeed, the album is an all-time great: spikey, packed with wonky tunes and lyrics examining the personal in the context of peer-group and societal norms. Most of all, it remains accessible and continues sounding timeless. A version of The Kink’s “Lola”, foregrounding the song’s account of gender blur, was complemented by “No Looking”, a setting of the Jacques Prévert poem Déjeuner du Matin which explored dissociation.

The Raincoats_ana da silva printElsewhere, "Adventures Close to Home” was a song ported over to The Raincoats from drummer Paloma Romero’s previous band The Slits, who also recorded it. She and The Clash’s Joe Strummer had been in a relationship and, it’s been argued by the author Marcus Gray, The Raincoats were at the time immediately influential on The Clash as the Strummer-written, Mick Jones-sung “Lost in the Supermarket” from their London Calling album was a response to “Fairytale in the Supermarket”. London Calling was issued a month after The Raincoats.

How The Raincoats related to punk is about more than their former Slit, being a potential influence on The Clash and sharing a label with Stiff Little Fingers. In November 1975, Birch was scoping out art colleges and while visiting St Martin’s School of Art experienced the Sex Pistols first show. She ended up at Hornsey College of Art where she met da Silva, who had seen Patti Smith’s UK debut at The Roundhouse in May 1976 (The Slits’s Viv Albertine had also attended Hornsey, as did The Kinks’s Ray Davies). da Silva was subsequently floored by an early Slits show.

So inspired, Birch and da Silva began playing as The Raincoats in October 1977. Those passing through the band before the album line-up coalesced included original Slits guitarist Kate Korus (with The Mo-dettes, she also ended up on Rough Trade), future Barracudas drummer Nick Turner, drummer Richard Dudanski (from Strummer’s pre-Clash band The 101ers; Birch lived next door to Dudanski and Romero was his sister-in-law) and guitarists Jeremie Frank and Ross Crighton (the album's “Life on the Line" dates from his period in the band; he worked for Rough Trade). In January 1979 the band settled as Birch, da Silva, Romero and violinist Vicky Aspinall, who had been in the feminist band Jam Today. Romero left after the album’s November 1979 release.

Aside from its inherent wonderfulness, The Raincoats's first album is a snapshot of a vital period when increasingly entrenched new orthodoxies were being trashed. Like Public Image Ltd – Dudanski passed through them too – whose Metal Box was also issued in November 1979, they were band a born from punk but not punk in a conventional sense. As the new reissue reiterates, the punk mentality didn’t have to be about barking, block chords and terrace-chant choruses.

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