Pop: Holding all the cards but no deal

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci left the indie world behind, made a great album, and got dropped.
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The Independent Culture
On 31 August this year, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci released their fifth album. The record, mischievously entitled Gorky 5, was (and is) an exquisite piece of work: refining the sound of this precocious West Welsh quintet to a remarkable pitch of tenderness and virtuosity.

A customs declaration of the album's contents to accompany Gorky 5's export overseas would need to read as follows: this record contains love songs of sufficient directness and sensitivity to make Carole King sniffle. It showcases three Cardigan Bay sea shanties - "Tidal Wave", "Tsunami", and the sublime "Only The Sea Makes Sense" - which equal and even surpass the lovely trio of Humber Estuary bird songs on Robert Wyatt's Shleep.

Alongside the two standout singles "Sweet Johnny" and "Let's Get Together", other highlights include a crazy Keystone Cops go Cossack number, whose percussion track incorporates the smashing of Poundstretcher wine glasses.

Suffice to say that Gorky's Zygotic Mynci have never been short of ideas. But where previous albums have sometimes suffered a little from the group's determination to cram a thousand years of music on to a single disc, Gorky 5 corralled its multifarious inspirations into their most cohesive recording to date.

A career which began while the group's three founder members Euros Childs, John Lawrence and Richard James were still at school (their debut 1994 Ankst records collection Patio features songs inspired by GCSE history lessons and "classroom taunts") and has already seen them progress from cacophonous, Fall-inspired proto-punk through the acid-crazed madness and pastoral psychedelia of 1994's Tatay and 1995's Bwyd Time to the mediaeval Pet Sounds of 1997's major label debut, Barafundle, now seems set fair for an equally fascinating "mature" phase.

Three weeks ago, tickets for Gorky's' biggest headlining tour to date were selling well, and they had just confirmed European arena dates with fellow Welsh popsters the Manic Street Preachers, when aphone call from their record company informed them that they had been dropped from the roster.

"People are envious of you on Friday," says Childs, "then you meet up with them again for a drink on Monday, and it's all been taken away". With no time to sort out another record deal before their tour began, Gorky's have had to halve the budget, leave their light show at home and sleep on their bus. The Manics trip is impossible without their label's support. Worst of all, the single "Hush the Warmth", due to be released soon, will now not appear.

Small wonder that the band - in Leeds gamely gearing up for the first night of their tour - are far from their usual happy-go-lucky selves. Not so much because they have suffered an outrageous aesthetic slight as because, for them, making music is "more like a vocation than a job". "That's why it's so scary," explains violinist Megan Childs (Euros's sister), "to suddenly realise that someone has to give you money for it to happen, and you don't actually control whether they do that or not."

Gorky's will get another deal soon - they are too unique and important a band not to - and hopefully with a label less reluctant to sully their Celtic innocence with the stain of commercial success. But the trend which lead to their dropping - the spate of record company amalgamations currently homogenising formerly distinctive record labels - is a significant one which needs to be put in its historical context.

In the distant days of the Eighties indie world, any talk of major labels and mainstream chart success was little short of heretical. This came about partly as some kind ofideological hangover from punk (or more properly post-punk, because punk bands never had a problem with the pop charts), and partly as an ideological response to Thatcherism. At some hard to pinpoint moment - maybe it was "Size of a Cow" by The Wonderstuff, maybe the week The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays appeared on the same Top of the Pops - everything turned around. Suddenly not to talk of mainstream chart success was little short of heretical.

Now, change is in the air again. On the Friday afternoon of this year's Reading Festival, new Scottish soul giants (and Gorky's fans) Arab Strap were playing in the Melody Maker tent. "It's strange," observed their taciturn frontman Aidan Moffat, "you can see the main stage from here. I don't know who's on, but they're probably shite." That day the main stage played host to bands - Symposium, Mansun, Ash - whose music is, at best, a poor advertisement for the post Brit-pop production line which produced it.

That mechanism works something like this. Put out a limited edition single on a small label run by a current or former NME journalist. Sign to a major label with indie affectations. Release an album which goes straight into the top 10. Wake up the next day to find your inspiration has run dry and your employers are forced to either put out albums no one wants or find another bunch of one-hit wonders.

It is in this context that a blue chip, long-term proposition like Gorky's starts to look gilt-edged. Not only do they have a place reserved for them in the pop pantheon alongside The Velvet Underground and Nick Drake, but their wildness and originality have untapped appeal. This is best captured on video footage of Euros meeting teenage fans in Japan. He overcomes the language barrier by jumping up and down, they join in, and soon everyone is bouncing.

"The thing about something like this happening," says Euros, "is that it makes you realise that you're actually quite ambitious." A musical era is judged not so much on the quantity of genius produced as the quality of the reception given it, and his band's shabby treatment makes us all look bad. Perhaps prospective employers should ask not what Gorky's can do for them, but what they can do for Gorky's.

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci play Wolverhampton Varsity tonight and will tour till 10 October