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Indie originals ensure Kernow's in The Hit Parade

By West Briton  |  Posted: June 19, 2014

By Lee Trewhela

  • Julian Henry playing at a Sarah Records event at the Arnolfini, Bristol, last month.

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FOR THOSE of us brought up on copies of the Melody Maker and snatched John Peel show wonderment on school nights, then the name The Hit Parade is synonymous with the birth of "indie pop".

Formed in 1984 by Julian Henry, the band's early singles were lauded by Peely, the NME and the aforementioned Melody Maker, which also published Julian's writing.

In the 1990s the band toured alongside Edwyn Collins, The Milkshakes and Sarah Records' acts, and were signed to Japanese and US labels, releasing a sequence of collectible albums and singles.

This week The Hit Parade release a new album, wholly dedicated to Julian's love of Cornwall.

I'll admit, as a Cornishman, when I scanned the tracklisting (From Paddington To Penzance, Treen Girl, On A Rainy Day In Newlyn) I expected a cringeworthy, twee novelty record.

Completely wrong – Cornish Pop Songs is a glorious collection of melodic, memorable guitar-based tunes which harks back to the sweet sha-la-la of the indie years but packs a 21st century production punch, all topped by Julian's eager schoolboy-like vocals. You'd never guess he's 55.

With lyrical nods to second homes, Market Jew Street, Tate St Ives, seagulls swaying to Pirate FM and even asking Newlyn's fish merchant Mr Stevenson for a job, it's obvious Julian is a dedicated Kernow-phile.

Speaking from his office as head of communications at Simon Fuller's XIX Management in London (yes, he "looks after" the likes of David and Victoria Beckham, Bradley Wiggins and Lewis Hamilton), Julian said: "I've been coming to Cornwall regularly since I was 15.

"My best friend lives in Mousehole, so I visit there and Lamorna about three times a year. My job takes me all over the world, but Cornwall's a place I always come back to; it's got a weird home quality to it."

So what about his day job, which I have to say he's loathe to talk about, citing, not unreasonably, that he doesn't want to sell record off the back of his celebrity clients. Has Posh Spice heard his Cornwall album?

"Some of the people I work with know about my music, but a lot don't. Actually, David and Victoria do, but only because I've known them for so long now – we laugh about it actually.

"I get home at about 9pm and that's when my mind gravitates to the songs and Cornwall. If you visited my flat in London you'd see a lot of Cornish art and photos of my children on beaches in Cornwall.

"I'm sick of people glamorising cities like New York and Paris," added Julian. "Cornwall is as far away from London as it's possible to get, and that's why I love it."

The album, recorded with Saint Etienne engineer Ian Catt, includes the recent single There's Something About Mary (a "bona fide smash" according to the Drowned In Sound website) and Cornish-flavoured songs such as the jaunty Ghost Of The Fishing Fleet and Garage In Drift (a village that even the proudest Cornishman may not have visited).

Highlights include the quite beautiful Zennor Mermaid (a cousin to Blur's To The End) and the Undertones-like power pop of Treen Girl. It's the perfect summer soundtrack and a brilliant, cohesive album with or without the Cornish connection.

Keeping the indie spirit alive, Cath Carroll – previously of press darlings Miaow and a solo career on Factory Records – sings on three tracks.

Entirely self-financed, Julian says of Cornish Pop Songs: "Every month I get digital payments from around the world – one track may get played by someone in Denmark eight times, for example. That gets me a few hundred quid a month if I'm lucky.

"I'll add to that the sale of the album – the main places it will sell are in New York, San Francisco and Tokyo, and independent shops in this country like Rough Trade and Piccadilly.

"I might make £1,000 which I will probably spend £800 of pressing vinyl copies!"

So speaks a doyen of the DIY indie scene.

Julian told me: "I think if you make music solely to make money then it confuses it, dilutes it and kills it."

He may have taken from Cornwall for the album, but Julian's also giving something back – recent singles Queen Of Mousehole and Born In St Ives (hidden tracks on the album) have raised funds for the Fisherman's Mission, Newlyn, and Porthmeor Arts Studios, St Ives.

Julian is hoping to tour the record in small venues and pubs in Cornwall next year with original band members Raymond Watts (who made a musical U-turn as industrial act Pig, working with KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails, Einstürzende Neubauten and Jim "Foetus" Thirlwell) and Matt Moffatt (who has embarked on a successful lighting career in the film industry, working on global hits as The Hurt Locker).

Cornish Pop Songs deserves a huge audience and where better to start than in the county it chronicles? I advise you to buy a copy now.

See www.the-hit-parade.co.uk for more details.

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