© Fotos & Words by Steve Drury
Optic Nerve are quickly becoming the nation's foremost archivist when it comes to all that's good and alternative. Treating the musical curiosities which they release with the upmost respect, their CD's and vinyl come in lovely packages that pay great attention to detail along with informative liner notes and rare photographs.
Turning their attention towards Barnsley's PARTY DAY, Optic Nerve have collated; all the bands singles, two albums (1985's ‘Glasshouse’ and 86's ‘Simplicity’) along with demo tracks and a song from a proposed third long player which creates the perfect career overview.
Formed in Wombwell in 1979 under the moniker 'Further Experiments', things really started moving when the band changed their name to Party Day. From an age when bands took time to develop and grow Party Day were a band of pleasant contradictions, they sound timeless but of a time. Anyone who came of age in the mid-80's on a council estate that was spawned from an architect's nightmare will recognise the sound contained within ‘Sorted!’.
Party Day's bass-led rhythms captured both the hope and despair of that era and in doing so produced some great music. The first disc opens with four tracks from the band's debut album and it's easy to hear why Party Day were championed by the likes of John Peel and the NME. Theirs was a sound hard to categorise (but think Robert Smith jamming with PIL) with tracks like 'Firehorse' being full of resignation and rage, yet remaining strangely catchy.
Sorted! Reviews (2021)
"The smashed up memory left no trace”
A Compilation bringing together everything released by Barnsley post punk outfit Party day, including their albums ‘Glasshouse’ and ‘Simplicity’, plus single sides and unreleased material. Ian Canty gets the party started . . .
Party Day formed in Barnsley in 1981, with drummer and band mainstay Mick Baker being joined by Carl and Greg Firth on bass and guitar/vocals respectively, plus Martin Steele also playing guitar and singing. They took the darker side of post punk as a starting point i.e. The Cure, The Banshees, Joy Division and perhaps a touch of Killing Joke’s intensity too. From this they quickly developed their own identity, while never entirely deserting the early gothic sound that was just rising to prominence.
By the time of their first release, the ‘Row The Boat Ashore’ single in 1983, they had slimmed down to a three piece with the exit of Greg Firth. This 45 was issued on the band’s own Party Day imprint and became something of a “Peel show favourite”. It was also well-received in the UK music press and the next year furnished us with follow up 7 inch ‘The Spider’. Soon Party Day were a quartet once more with the addition of Dean Peckett on vox and guitar. An EP and album, both titled ‘Glasshouse’, followed in 1985, with the extended play being released by Rouska Records. A while later Martin Steele was the latest Party Day casualty, being replaced by Paul Nash. A second LP ‘Simplicity’ came out in 1986, but by then Carl Firth had opted to leave and though Shaun Crowcroft took his place, no further recordings emerged and the band split for good in 1988.
What we have here is the complete Party Day vinyl output, plus some unreleased tracks. There is a very informative booklet included with period photos and reviews of the band, which only really lacks a full history and a breakdown with recording dates for the tracks to make it definitive. All things considered, it’s a very nicely presented set. On listening, the fiery undertow that the rhythm section imbue their music with put me in mind of what a Goth Ruts might sound like, which was a good first impression to make. There are occasions early on when The Cure influence threatens to overshadow the whole thing, but the firm musical base helps keep things moving along with a certain freshness. The first CD starts with the first three tunes from the ‘Glasshouse’ album. Each helps to give one a fair grasp of Party Day’s modus operandi. ‘Rabbit Pie’ begins with strong bass and drums which are joined by fuzzy swathes of guitar to deliver a convincingly atmospheric and quite bracing effect. Fading in comes ‘Firehorse’, emphasising the “lead bass” method which marked their work, and then the more corrosive ‘Carousel’ rumbles with spiky menace. The ‘Party Day’ song itself verges on standard goth rock, but some lithe drum work gives it zip and the distant sounding backing vocals are actually very effective.
An early version of ‘Glasshouse’ comes from 1982. This tune would be re-cut for the Rouska EP three years later and this appears on disc two here. In this form it comes over as charming psych pop, very agreeable indeed and the synth moves of ‘Opium Gathering’ are pretty neat as well. First single Row The Boat Ashore retains a real sense of adventure and mystery. It is no wonder that the music press lapped up this lively and inventive sound at a time when people were crying out for something new. ‘Spider’, the next single, starts off strange and fizzes with energy and its hypnotic flipside, ‘Flies’, has soaring main voice and muttering backing vocals kicking it along. This first disc ends with what many consider Party Day’s classic ‘Atoms’. An instantly gripping and relentless rhythm is quickly established for synth keys to glide over the top elegantly, while rushes of guitar noise and dramatic voice gives the air of something truly invigorating.
Disc two seems to mainly concern itself with the band’s later material, including the ‘Glasshouse’ EP and the ‘Simplicity’ album, with the ebullient groove of Bites And Stabs compilation number ‘Borderline’ getting things underway. Then comes the ‘Glasshouse’ EP in its entirety, with the pure pop appeal of the title track, a slightly garage-tinged strut entitled ‘My Heroine’, ‘Let Us Shines’ flowing and exciting brio and the anthemic ‘Smile’ all impressing. This record definitely marked the start of a more accessible turn in the direction of Party Day, but they managed to do so without really compromising their original values.
The latter part of this disc is more or less thrown over to the tracks that made up the ‘Simplicity’ LP from 1986. Showing a decent amount of development from their roots, here Party Day score immediately with crisp sounding opener ‘Sovereign’, It’s simply a driving tune with a hook that is well accomplished (if a little reminiscent in patches of early U2). There’s plenty more of that ilk to enjoy too, with the lighter approach paying off on both ‘She May Be Blind’ and ‘Stay In My The Heart’, the latter of which to my ears shares something with New Order’s first few records.
Later on the album ‘The Other Side’ oozes good-time pop/rock appeal and sounds a little like a more rock & roll Psychedelic Furs. The thick rhythm of style of ‘Career’ is almost RnB at its heart, but this has the positive side in furnishing the tune with a bouncy brio. The slowly thudding melancholia of the epic ‘Glorious Days’ is a real ace in the pack here, one of this set’s real highlights.
Though there is the occasional ponderous moment on this album when things do drag a little and the band’s enviable energy seems to fail, ‘Simplicity’ still makes for a pleasing and attractive listen in 2021. That it proved to be the final vinyl foray for Party Day means there is inevitably an air of unfulfilled promise hanging over it, but by my reckoning this LP is a pretty satisfying collection and represented a good way for them to go out on with their dignity fully intact. This set is curtailed by the chugging ‘Surge’ which, complete with cheesy sax, does seem to be aimed squarely at the charts. It’s not one of their best, but I suppose does give the listener a fair notion idea of where Party Day were heading if they made it to the late 1980s.
Back in the 1980s Party Day got a lot of positive press, but for some reason their self released records didn’t make a dent on the independent charts. The band’s line up changes probably didn’t help and these things combined so they subsequently didn’t make a great deal of headway. Which was a shame, because on the proof present on Sorted! they had plenty to offer, being a band that managed to pull a few neat wrinkles out of Goth and post punk with imagination, energy and an endearing enthusiasm. An eye-opener if you thought they were another run of the mill bunch of gloom and doom merchants, Sorted! has enough good melodies, tough musicianship and exciting performances to pull Party Day a good distance away from the Goth also-rans.
Ian Canty - Louder Than War 25 September 2021
Not afraid to break with convention ‘Athena' breaks the six-minute mark as the band build a monolithic structure that hangs oppressively over the listener.
Party Day have an emotional heaviness about them, a feeling of claustrophobia that surrounds and makes one feel ill at ease (in the best possible way of course). Like a bad case of formicide, 'Opium Gathering' crawls all over your skin and sits well with the equally angular 'Tin Sky'. 'Row The Boat Ashore' was the '83 debut single and, with shades of Killing Joke, was the perfect calling card. Following a year later their sophomore single 'The Spider' was equally dark but showed a great amount of development.
As to why Party Day never made a bigger imprint on the nation's consciousness shall forever remain a mystery but ‘Sorted!’ is here to remind the record buying public of their folly. It's a timely release to coincide with the anniversary of the band's origins and remains a testament to the band's power. This second disc includes their crowning achievement, the 1986 ‘Simplicity’ opus that was bursting at the seams with classic tunes (and if you want to know from where The Church pulled their chops, I suggest you check out 'Laughter'). ‘Simplicity’ was the sound of a band playing to their strengths and the razor-sharp guitar found on 'Career' ties the listener up in a kind of gordian knot. 'Passing Pain' is bold and brash, kind of like being hit in the back with a sledgehammer, while 'Surge' proved to be the band's swansong, replete with brass section, it ends this disc, and indeed their recorded career on a definite high.
If you're already familiar with Party Day, you'll know how good this collection is and if ‘Sorted!’ is your first acquaintance then you're in for a treat.
Either way it's a Party Day!
Dom Daly - RPM Online 26 August 2021
“. . . Early 80s post-punk rediscovered . . .” (7/10)
Lee Cotterell - Vive le Rock Nº. 85 2021
“. . .In retrospect, the band have been inaccurately placed into the ‘goth’ genre, but don’t let this put you off because what they were doing was much more in line with what is now called ‘post-punk’. Admittedly, some elements of what they were doing musically were later adopted by bands that were too awful to be mentioned here, but you shouldn’t blame the real innovators for the dross that may have come along after them.
Party Day wrote and performed songs that were powerful, catchy and atmospheric, rock music that really didn’t want to sound like anyone else. As a result, you can listen to it now, more than 35 years later, and it still sounds fresh. I must admit, I was actually surprised just how good this album sounds. Do yourself a favour – get a copy, listen to it, and prepare to be impressed . . . “
Andy Pearson - Fear and Loathing Jul-Dec 2021
“Tracks like ‘Rabbit Pie’ and ‘Row The Boat Ashore’ have that glorious chiming guitar and precise drum and bass sound that is so 80s with more than a Wish era, Robert Smith in the vocals.The sound is energetic, skin tight and full with vocals atmospherically down in the mix. Drummer Mick Baker can be sharp and on the beat, or on the wonderfully dark, ‘Athena’ and ‘Poison’ a ferocious centre stage presence all around the hypnotic guitar. ... 1986s ‘Precious One’ with its opening triumphant guitar chords and confident vocals could almost be an outtake from a South Yorkshire Roses, suggesting there was life still in Party Day and it was a classic case of right band, wrong time."
Marc Higgins - FATEA Oct 2021
“. . . The Spider is somewhere in the hinterland between Dub Sex and The Inca Babies but trying to re-work The Cure's ‘A Forest’ into something a bit more twisted, although of course this came first so maybe Robert Smith ripped them off. . . .” (8/10)
Simonovitchl - Whisperinandhollerin September 2021
Born in the golden year of ’66, I grew up musically in the early 1980s and took on many guises, with the fads of that time coming thick and fast. One genre of music, however, was a persistent love of mine. Bands such as Joy Division/ New Order, Killing Joke, A Certain Ratio and Section 25. Anything synth-like and anything new wave/indie. That brought me into brief contact with Barnsley post-punk band Party Day.
They fleetingly made the charts with their debut single 'Row the Boat Ashore', but it was the follow up ‘The Spider’ and their debut album ‘Glasshouse’ that piqued my interest. If only I had collected more trollies at Tesco in my weekend job, as I
might have been able to afford what is now quite a rarity on the second hand market. I totally missed their second album ‘Simplicity’ as I got older and completely forgot them.
Imagine my curious delight when this new offering appeared on the review list here at Penny Black. What a delight it has turned out to be. Packaged as a double CD and housing a lavishly informative and picturesque 20-page inner booklet, Party Day’s debut album has been remastered and released on CD for the first time, along with ‘Simplicity’ and a selection of singles and EP tracks. But that’s not all if you are into your vinyl the debut will be re-released on purple vinyl and the follow up on gold (in a gatefold sleeve with printed inners and download code to boot) – if you can stick it out until the New Year.
‘The Spider’ appears towards the end of the first CD, which also contains wonderful offerings including the infectious ‘Rabbit Pie’ and equally addictive ‘Firehorse’. It also includes the original ’82 demo version of ‘Glasshouse’, which is just sublime. The eerie-sounding ‘Boredom’ ends what for me has to be one of the best albums of the eighties. The second album is somewhat of a natural progression, sometimes a tad more raw and raucous. ‘Simplicity’ also houses the celebration of everything Party Day: ‘Stay in my Heart’.
The inner sleeve is adorned with original photography by Steve Drury, taken between ’81 and ’84. The art direction by the band themselves and Mick Baker make this an absolute treasure.
Dave Goodman - Black Penny Music 16 November 2021
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|Artwork - Singles|
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