In the days before the internet, file sharing, websites, and MySpace the only ways that you could get to hear about a band that you read about in the 'NME', 'Sounds' or 'Melody Maker' (Hands up those of you who remember the other two music papers than the 'NME'. There was a time when these musical papers jostled for your attention on the newsagent shelves.) was by listening to John Peel and hoping that he would play something that you had read about, or alternatively hanging out in the coolest record shop in town and hoping that they would play something different from what was in the charts. It really was a hot and miss affair.

Cherry Red Records were one of the many small independent record labels that sprung up in the wake of post punk era. Other labels that were doing the same thing but independently were Factory, Rough Trade and later on Mute. Cherry Red often released records with a pressing of just 2,000 and hoped it would sell out. If a band was very fortunate, John Peel would play it on his radio show ensuring that it would sell out within a month. I can not stress enough how difficult it was to hear many of the post punk bands, despite the many labels that sprung up from 1978 onwards. As a result of the limited number of records issued in many cases, no band was ever going to get played on 'Top of the Pops' and virtually all radio shows would not play these new bands as their audiences were considered too small to cater for.

Realistically the only way you were ever definitely going to hear these bands was to buy your own records. The dilemma here was to decide which records you were going to buy as often you could only afford a couple of singles or an album per week. It was essential that you found a friend with similar tastes to yourself so that you could listen to each other’s records.

With this in mind Cherry Red hit upon the idea of putting as many of its artists on to one long player as possible and offering it for just 99 pence, which at the time was a price of a single. The only way this was going to work was to ask the bands and their distributors, Pinnacle, also to drop their royalties . Bizarrely the only people to make any money out of this was the record shops and the pressing company. The outcome was that 'Pillow and Prayers', issued on Christmas Day 1982 with an initial issue for 10,000, remained in the independent charts for most of the next year and went on to sell a total of 120,000 copies. The benefits to Cherry Red was that many more people were aware of their artists and record sales increased for the bands that appeared on 'Pillow and Prayers'.

Cherry Red have issued a box set of 'Pillow and Prayers' and this box set comes with not only the original record but also a Japanese version of 'Pillow and Prayers', which features many of the same bands but with different songs. A third CD is a collection of rarities from the same era 1981 – 1983. The last offering is a DVD of early videos by the bands. Many of the videos are already on the CDs, but there are a few new songs that do not appear on any of the other CDs. The whole box set provides a comprehensive collection of 'Pillow and Prayers', one of the greatest compilations of the early 80’s and its spin offs.

The first CD contains the original 'Pillow and Prayers', which appears in the same running order as the original vinyl. From the first three or four tracks you instantly get the flavour of the Cherry Red artists, a sort of then modern version of folk music that was laid back and mellow and who, often experimenting with early synth sounds, sang about everyday things like relationships.

The Monochrome Set were so hip in their time that it almost hurt to say their name. Time has sadly forgotten their contribution to the early indie sounds, but listen to their songs on here and tell me that the Smiths were not influenced by them. Eyeless in Gaza, another major contribution to the fledgling indie sound, showed that to have an original idea was far more important than to be musically competent or to have a strong singing voice. In many ways this summed up lots of indie bands at the time and in many ways still does. Being unique and not falling into rock and roll cliché was crucial to these bands if you wanted to maintain you street cred.

One of the few bands that many will recognise on here is Everything But The Girl. Their songs here are slow and thoughtful affairs. With just an acoustic guitar on ‘On My Mind', they sound sincere and meaningful if a little naive. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt who are the nucleus of Everything But the Girl also have solo songs here and unsurprisingly sound pretty much like they sound with their regular band.

While these three bands were the backbone of Cherry Red, there are also contributions from the Misunderstood, Joe Crow whose ‘Compulsion’ sounds like a slow version of Depeche Mode, the Nightingales, Five or Six, and Thomas Leer whose ‘All About You’ surprisingly sounds like a track from the late 80’s. These artists give 'Pillows and Prayers' much of it variation. Some of the other highlights for me come from Kevin Coyne with ‘Love In Your Heart’ and Felt's ‘My Face Is on Fire’, and the Passage with the oddly-titled 'XOYO'.

The second CD is in effect the Japanese version of 'Pillow and Prayers' that came out a year later in early 1984. This record is in many ways very different from the original compilation as the artists differ and even those artists that did appear on the first record are here with different songs. The whole feel of the record is the same as the original 'Pillows and Prayers'. It has the same tempo, the same ethos and aims as before, to showcase original artists who were known in Japan but who needed a little more publicity.

The song that stands out for me is Jane with ‘It’s A Fine Day’, an acapella song that is sung in pure innocence. You can just see those watercolour landscapes as Jane sings, "It’s a fine day/People open windows/People leave their houses just for a short while/People Look at the grass/People look at the sky."

Red Box add some much needed tempo to the record but once again it obvious which bands give this record much of its backbone - Eyeless In Gaza and the Monochrome Set. It was always going to be a tough order to get this second record to sound different from the first rather than being a clone copy of the original but Cherry Red have achieved this with a varied degree of success. For me it doesn’t work as well, simply because many of the new bands that appear on the Japanese compilation such as In Embrace, Grab Grab, the Haddock and Morgan Fisher are instantly forgettable.

The rarities CD, the third offering of four is simply a collection of songs from bands that appear on the two versions of 'Pillows and Prayers'. There are two ways in which you might see this CD, as extra songs that are gems in their own right or as padding with sub-standard songs that failed to make it first time around. In truth it sits somewhere between the two. There are some dire examples, but also some great songs here. The Reflections stand out simply for the pace of their material, and Ben Watts' acoustic solos are also much welcomed. Much of the other material on here is hit and miss, but both the Nightingales and Five or Six also provide consistently good songs.

The DVD on offer here is of a video that originally acme out in 1985, a year after the Japanese 'Pillow and Prayers', and which was shot by Chris Collins. It centres around a woman, who is dressed in 1950’s style clothing watching TV and the videos of the bands. Between the videos there are adverts and public information films from the same era, which are of some interest, and certainly add to the charm.

Many of the videos were filmed before it was compulsory for bands to have promo videos, so in some ways were ahead of their time, but the videos also have a very DIY feel to them and look very amateurish in every way. You can’t but help feel that the bands had a direct input into the videos which is something you don’t experience these days as most band videos nowadays are like polished Hollywood films and take a small production crew to create and produce them. Making videos in the early days was always like this. It wasn’t until the likes of Duran Duran with 'Wild Boys' that videos got to be such elaborate affairs. The videos on here were never meant to be pompous affairs but were made on a shoe string budget. They have an uncomplicated innocence and charm which makes them often compelling viewing.

There is additional material on the DVD including an interview with Iain McNay and Mike Alway who compiled 'Pillow and Prayers'. This interview is interesting up to a point, but after reading the booklet that comes with the box set it seems in many ways unnecessary. Maybe it’s a filler but given a choice I would rather have a few more music videos from the same era or even later offerings from this label.

As a late teenager when 'Pillow and Prayers' came out, I can remember having the album and playing it on my record player. I remember thinking that it wasn’t that great and listening to it again I still have the same opinion. A lot of the songs here haven’t aged well ; they sound dated and the production sounds very lame and paper-thin at times. This is as a result because of both the Cherry Red sound and also partly down to the production of the time. To judge this record in this way is not really doing it justice. It is a document of its time, a testimony of how early indie music sounded and its influences on today's music.

I never thought I would hear this record again but I am glad I have. It reminds me of a time when indie music and labels and artists were inseparable, and a time when bands were signed because the record owner liked the band and their sound, something which almost never happens today. It’s easy for me to get nostalgic though, as the past is a place in which we sanitise the good and forget about the bad so things seem better than they really were.

Why should you listen to this record ? For the same reason that you should buy early rock ‘n’ roll records, and because they were the first to do what they did and they shaped music as we know it today. Without the likes of Cherry Red Records, indie music today would be a very different affair and, despite its failings, there are many gems in this box set that you just can not find anywhere else.








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