Illustrator: James D'ecosse.
Photographer: Daisy Davidson.
Sharon Signs to Cherry Red: Independent Women 1979-1985 is a landmark compilation that captures a wide range of female-led bands that popped up in the wake of punk rock. Definitely following the lead of trailblazers the Slits and the Raincoats, the bands here range from slick dance-pop to rhythmically complex funk, with plenty of jangling guitar pop in between. The selection of bands and songs doesn't follow any pattern or stick to any particular format. Ian Dury-style pub disco from Ingrid nestles up against a slick girl group pastiche from the G.T.'s, Mari Wilson's big-voiced Dusty Springfield-style pop sits comfortably next to the Candees' candy-flavored psych pop, and Vivien Goldman's shuddering dub ballad "Launderette" follows A Craze's sweet jazz-pop tune "Wearing Your Jumper." The set isn't out to nail down a specific sound or make a case that there even was a sound; instead, they wanted to document the anything-goes nature of the era when a group of girls could get together, knock out a couple songs, and have them released by a label, sometimes even Cherry Red. There are a few names here that the dedicated fan of post-punk and pop should know, like the Marine Girls, Dolly Mixture, the Modettes, and Strawberry Switchblade, whose "Seaside (Go Away)" is taken from an early demo from when they were a guitar band. The inclusion of these bands is key to understanding the era, but the true pleasure of the collection is discovering the bands who made even less splash. Trixie's Big Red Motor Bike's "A Splash of Red" is a lo-fi punk-funk charmer, Rexy's "(Don't) Turn Me Away" is a chilly slice of electropop balladry, the Avocados' bustling guitar pop track "I Never Knew" sounds like a template for Talulah Gosh, and Jaqui and Jeanette's "194 Radio City" is a smile-inducing, rootsy pop-reggae song that should have found a home on 2 Tone. There are loads more obscure delights to be found on each disc (the Petticoats' "Normal" and April and the Fools' "You Do," to name a couple), with only a few duff moments here and there. The sound quality is perfect, the liner notes are witty and informative, and the whole thing is long overdue. Sharon Signs to Cherry Red is a vital document for those looking to learn more about the U.K. post-punk scene, especially anyone with an interest in the important, usually overlooked role that women played throughout. ~ Tim Sendra