Formed in Swansea in 1987, The Pooh Sticks were not your average indie pop band. For a start, of their five original members, Hugh Williams, (AKA Hugh Pooh), Alison, Trudi Tangerine, Stephanie and Paul, only Hugh is actually real, the others being fictitious.
After debuting in February 1988 with John Peel favourite ‘On Tape’, the second Pooh Sticks release was a rather ambitious box set of five 7″ singles. Each one was a one-sided affair, with an etched B-side. 31 years later, the set goes for more than £200, so it has been reimagined for the 21st Century, complete with five proper contemporaneous B-sides, of which four have never been available before and the other one appeared only on flexi-disc. As if this wasn’t enough, the singles in the new set are a very attractive range of vinyl colours too.
So, to the actual music. Single number one, ‘1-2-3 Red Light’ sets the tone perfectly, charming indie-pop cover of the 1910 Fruitgum Company song with an endearingly slightly off-key delivery and an actual deliberate key change towards the end. It also gives fair warning of the brevity of your typical Pooh Sticks single, clocking in at a trim 1 minute 50 seconds. The first previously unreleased song comes next, ‘Double Shot’, a possibly porta-studio recorded acoustic track which powers along on the typically deadpan lyrics (sample: “It wasn’t wine I’d had too much of / It was a double shot of my baby’s love”).
‘Heroes and Villains’ turns out to be a Pooh Sticks original rather than a Beach Boys cover, and is a fine one at that, with Moe Tucker-style drums and female backing vocals, (is that you, Trudi?), while its B-side pretty much invents Art Brut‘s Eddie Argos 15 years early on ‘Life’s A Gas’, such is the similarity of the vocal delivery.
‘Heartbreak’ is even shorter, providing 1 minute and 15 seconds of scuzz pop delight, while it’s attendant ‘new’ B-side, ‘Sex Head’ repeats its title so much that its hard to forget; its accompanying music is reminiscent of early Wedding Present. Probably the most famous Pooh Sticks song comes on single number four: ‘I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well’ is like a who’s who of late 80s indie, with its mention of Blast First, Rough Trade and of course, Creation and its boss, Alan McGee.
‘Hard To Love’ has only been available on that most unsturdy of formats, the flexi-disc, until now and is well worth having too, while single number five, ‘Indiepop Ain’t Noise Pollution’ perhaps borrows a vocal melody for its verse from their mates The Sea Urchins‘ ‘Pristine Christine’. A frenetic cover of Dawn‘s 70s hit ‘Knock Three Times’ finishes off a set which will be as desirable to indie collectors as it is entertaining.
“Now that The Smiths have split / I’ve heard he thinks we’re going to be it” goes the reference to Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis in the ‘…Alan McGee’ song. The Pooh Sticks didn’t quite scale those heights but they carried on to release some great records in their 8 year lifetime, which included a $1.2m U.S. deal with BMG as well as presumably less lucrative deals with Fierce, 53rd & 3rd and Cheree (amongst others) along the way.
An always interesting proposition, The Pooh Sticks 7″ Box Set is well worth half an hour of your time. And that’s factoring in a generous 10 minutes for swapping over the records!
The Pooh Sticks 7″ Box Set is released by Optic Nerve Recordings on 22nd November 2019.