The Wee Cherubs: The Merry Makers (Optic Nerve Recordings)

Intriguing musical time capsule sees unknown 80s’ Glasgow indie-poppers get increasingly moody... and it suits them

Released Sep 3rd, 2020 via Optic Nerve Recordings / By Ben Wood
The Wee Cherubs: The Merry Makers (Optic Nerve Recordings) There’s always a certain fascination when one stumbles across recordings from a previously ‘lost’ artist or band. It’s hard not to get your hopes up - maybe this lot will join the likes of William Onyeabor and Shuggie Otis, in the ranks of (once) mysteriously ignored geniuses?

The Wee Cherubs do have an ace name - in its rather twee way, it’s perfect for the early '80s Glasgow indie-pop scene they sprung from. The band released just one single during their lifetime - 1984’s Dreaming - but this collection collects an album’s worth of tracks recorded between ‘82 and ‘85. It’s no lost classic but as it progresses and the band’s chops grow, it gets pleasingly funky, abstract and expansive.

With punk a distant memory, many independent bands of the era had spent the intervening years learning how to play their instruments and widening their musical horizons. Jangly, 60s-inspired guitar pop and a slightly bashful, white-boy take on funk were the orders of the day in that quarter of indieland that wasn’t obsessed with being noisy. Sure enough, this is the territory covered on The Merry Makers, although it ends with a pretty but incongruous version of ultimate indie icons the Velvet Underground’s smack anthem Waiting For My Man.

The early tracks are slightly jangle-by-numbers, reminiscent of the early work of the Smiths, Housemartins et al, although without their knack for a killer melody. The lyrical perspective is bashful and diffident, as befits the era’s prevailing ethos. The production is a definite strength, warm and inviting, with a pulsing rhythm section to the fore. The vocals are somewhat colourless, however - though they develop a certain sing-song ‘Barney-from-New-Order’-ness as the years pass.

Waiting has an intriguingly queasy, speedy fairground quality, but it’s the more spacious tracks that stand out, as the instruments are given room to breathe. Two Things at a Time’s moody sections impress; Flame is rather gothier; Poor Little Lost Soul sways and mooches with echoes of Happy Mondays in the guitar lines; Painless makes listlessness seem quite appealing; Goodbye shows you can never have too much cowbell; and Theme stretches out in an intriguing ambient direction, before the aforementioned Waiting For My Man makes heroin addiction sound positively charming.

Full of spaciousness and nice production touches, the best bits of this collection are surprisingly musical and sophisticated… good music to wallow in. Well worth reviving. 7/10