Camberwell Now — The Ghost Trade (1986, Ink; reissue 2016 MCR)
If space aliens came asking for an artifact of the UK indie scene in the mid-1980s, just as post punk’s final wisps of smoke cleared and the saccharine claws of neoliberalism and new wave begun to sink in, you’d do well to find a better document to place in their hands than Camberwell Now’s sole long playing record, The Ghost Trade. No, this is no survey record. This is human achievement pressed to wax. This is a group with the ability to look into the future and out run any other band in the decade while doing it. Birthed from the ruins of the highly adventurous This Heat, Camberwell Now build on Heat’s politically woke, avant-rock. Shoegaze, techno, math rock, and at least half a dozen more styles that would be elevated to popular music mainstays are foreshadowed on this piece of wax, and hell, it’s only 6 tracks long. Side A begins with the technically blistering proletariat ballad “Working Nights.” Penned in the This Heat days and appearing on a number of T.H. bootlegs, the track has time changes, tempo shifts, and a rhythm section that’s not yer average bear. The second tune, “Sitcom,” laments the nascent Thatcherism of the period. Just as Gang of Four professed to see “the dirt behind the daydream,” the song’s protagonist notices that beyond the material comforts afforded by late capitalism, all is not well (“Wait a minute, something’s wrong, This key won’t unlock the door”). “Wheat Futures” rings out with symphonic grandiosity, but sounds culled straight from the nuclear winter that never came. Think Eno a là Tiger Mountain meets Music for Airports Eno. “Speculative Fiction” makes liberal use of tape splices and crafts surreal albeit feel-good pop cum bizarro–disco number reminiscent of compatriots the Flying Lizards. The final two tracks “Green Lantern” and “Ghost Trade” could easily be lost This Heat tracks but with some Marc Bolan swagger injected. Here at Marginal HQ, the 1980s will long be remembered as an unequivocally bad decade for popular music(s); the end times started to really sink in, you might say. Alas, this might be among the decade’s few saving graces.