Various Artists

Heavenly 25

When former Creation Records publicist and one-time interim Mary Chain tour manager Jeff Barrett co-founded Heavenly Records back in 1990, it’s unlikely he’d have envisaged the label still being in existence some twenty-five years later. Their motto "believe in magic", taken from The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Do You Believe In Magic’ certainly encapsulates the essence of Barrett’s unwavering world view, that great music possesses a magical, often life-changing power. Or in the words of a wise Athenian "it gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination."

It would be understandable if Heavenly Recordings chose to mark the occasion of their 25th Anniversary with a greatest hits anthology, but that is not the Heavenly way – instead they have spent much of 2015 celebrating this remarkable landmark by looking to the future. As Barrett himself explained to me recently, the excitement for Heavenly lies in new music, "whether that’s hearing it, seeing it, buying it and most definitely releasing it." As part of their birthday festivities they’ve ferried artists from their current roster to Hebden Bridge Trades Club for an anniversary weekend of gigs, they’ve delivered an epic all-dayer at the Kazimier Club in Liverpool and have recently curated a stage at this year’s End Of The Road festival. Now comes a double CD, Heavenly 25 which shines a light on the diverse range of talent currently signed to the label.

It’s this enthusiasm, this genuine passion about new music that demonstrates exactly why Heavenly Recordings have continued to flourish whilst other labels have come and gone. You’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint exactly what a Heavenly Recordings artist might sound like, as opposed to a label such as 4AD whereby fans (certainly in the early days) expected a certain aesthetic. Heavenly Recordings roster remains as varied and eclectic as ever as evidenced by this rather wonderful 2 CD package which provides ample proof that the label’s future looks decidedly rosy.

CD 1 kicks off with probably my least favourite track on the entire compilation. The willful quirkiness of Drinks’ ‘Hermits On Holiday’ quickly loses its appeal and after repeated listens becomes a little irksome. Drinks is a collaboration between the usually reliable Cate Le Bon and White Fence’s Tim Presley and it certainly sounds like it might have been great fun to make, but is less so to listen to. Rather like a drunk staggering home at last orders it lacks any real direction. Cate Le Bon appears again, this time handling production duties on the excellent H.Hawkline’s ‘Moons In My Mirror’, which whilst slightly off the wall has a coherence and charm that Drinks effort sadly lacks.  

Heavenly 25 also features at least three artists who look certain to be appearing in my own favourite albums of 2015 list. First up there’s Liverpool trio Stealing Sheep with ‘Not Real’, the title track from their second long player, an album which sees the band achieve a real clarity of focus as they step away from off-kilter experimental choral pop to embrace an otherworldly, electronic cosmic groove.  

Kid Wave make an appearance with the deceptively titled ‘Gloom’, from their glorious debut album Wonderlust and are in many ways emblematic of Heavenly’s instinctive "if we love it, we sign it" approach. "I sent Heavenly some garage band demos, and amazingly, they got back to me within the week," says Lea Emmery, who was performing under the Kid Wave moniker before the band arrived in their current form. "They were actually the only label I approached so it really happened in a kind of old school way. I felt quite lucky really, because they must get hundreds of demos a month and I didn’t even have a band at the time, so it wasn’t like they could just come out to a show and check out what I do live."

Ex-Pipette and solo electro Welsh language artist Gwenno makes an appearance with ‘Y Dydd Olaf’. It’s the title track from her highly recommended, critically lauded debut solo album which takes it’s name from Owain Owain’s 1976 dystopian sci-fi novel. The dreamy electronica masks darker themes such as patriarchal society, government-funded media propaganda, cultural control, technology, isolation and the importance of minority languages, not just as a means of cultural identity but also as a weapon of subversion.

Elsewhere there’s the likes of Hooton Tennis Club, who artfully fuse shambolic slacker grunge with melodic sing-along pop with the riotously shouty ‘P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L P.I.E.R.R.E’, from their recently released debut LP Highest Point In Cliff Town. From Australia the hugely prolific (three albums in a year and a half ) King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard contribute ‘The River’ which on this occasion is cut to a meagre three minutes and thirty-three seconds. The original ten-minute epic is the version I’d recommend you listen to as it really gives a flavour of what the band are all about as it meanders through space rock, psychedelia and jazz. But to really appreciate King Gizzard in all their glory they must be seen live.

Other highlights include the majestic driving motorik beats of grunge hero Mark Lanegan’s ‘Sad Lover’, The Wytches feral dystopian doom surf in the shape of ‘Digsaw’ and Fever The Ghost’s ‘1518’, a buoyant slice multi-coloured ‘prog pop,’ replete with shimmering synths  and cartoonish backing vocals which conjure up visions of Sponge Bob Square Pants jamming with The Flaming Lips at Studio 54.

Mystical veteran blues-rocker Duke Garwood’s ‘Heavy Love’ brings a certain poetic gravitas to proceedings, which also features Jenny Beth from Savages on backing vocals and it’s a reflective, deeply moving affair.

Disc 2 draws together all Heavenly’s recent Record Store Day releases, which were only previously available on vinyl and aside from a couple of unnecessary remixes there are some wonderful moments. Mark Lanegan’s, husky cover adds a new layer of authenticity to the Bert Jansch’s classic ‘Needle Of Death’, Kid Wave pop up again and tackle Tom Petty’s ‘Listen To Her Heart’ with some aplomb, whilst Jane Weaver and Toy team up to produce a beautifully atmospheric take on Clay Allison’s majestic ‘Fell From The Sun’.

Listening to Heavenly 25, is akin to being gifted a fabulously eclectic, lovingly curated mixtape from an old friend. It’s proof that the magic is still very much alive and burning as brightly as ever. In fact, you can imagine Barrett enthusiastically telling all and sundry that this is just the beginning. A great compilation from a wonderful label; here’s to the next twenty-five years.

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