Radio Stars: ‘Thinking Inside The Box’ 4CD set reviewed

❉ Andy Ellison’s punks still sound great and the results are here to enjoy.

The punk explosion of 1977 resulted in many bands being accused of bandwagon-jumping. Who could blame them, though? It was an exciting time and many people were inspired by the whole scene, and not just the teenagers. In this instance, a band featuring former members of Sparks, Jet and John’s Children cut their hair and punked up their image, and the results are all here to enjoy.

The path to punk (or at least new-wave powerpop) from such unlikely origins may seem tenuous, but the core members of Radio Stars had already had a spell in underachieving but underrated glam rock group Jet from 1974-76, which actually wasn’t too far removed from what came later on. The majors sniffed around Radio Stars, but ultimately mid-level label Chiswick Records (Motorhead/Johnny Moped/The Damned) were able to secure their services.

“The standard of songwriting and performance throughout is impressive. These guys were seasoned veterans of the harsh and cruel music biz.”

What we have here is a fully comprehensive release of everything the band ever did. Both albums, all the singles and B-sides, and various rarities, Peel sessions, and even some live recordings. You couldn’t really ask for more than this, and there’s undoubtedly some great material here. Their sole UK Top 40 chart hit Nervous Wreck is probably the song their best known song, but the likes of Good Personality, No Russians in Russia, and Dirty Pictures are all top notch too. Never a massively prolific band recording-wise, the quality of the work here is surprisingly strong. This is the lighter, more commercial face of punk, but it still sounds great some 40 years on.

The standard of songwriting and performance throughout is impressive. These guys were seasoned veterans of the harsh and cruel music biz, and perhaps that counted against them to some extent. But so what if they were a good ten years older than their peers? So were certain members of The Vibrators, The U.K Subs, and many other bands of this era. The songs are catchy and fun. There’s nothing groundbreaking on display here, but it’s also not pedestrian.

The live tracks are of a particularly high quality and give an indication of how great this band would have been live. I was fortunate enough to see them live during brief reunions in 2008 and 2010, and I was lucky enough to witness Andy Ellison, wearing kneepads and elbow pads, climbing up a pillar into the balcony at Kentish Town Forum mid-gig. No mean feat! If he could do this in his sixties, I can only imagine what levels of showmanship he was capable of in his thirties.

“Disc two features Graham Chapman, as well as Paul Jones on harmonica, so they clearly had no trouble persuading guests to join in with the fun. And that’s what this band was all about – fun.”

Would I recommend this release to someone not familiar with Radio Stars? Well, probably not. It’s certainly not an entry level release. A Best Of album as a taster would be more appropriate. However, if you’re a fan of the band then this is a lovely thing to own. A nice box with four individual discs each in its own cardboard sleeve, along with a booklet telling you everything you need to know about the band, and lots of interesting facts and anecdotes. There are different versions of the same tracks on the album, so completists will appreciate this, even if the more casual fans might not.

For those Python-lovers among you, disc two’s (I’ve Got Dem Old) Sex in Chains Blues (Again Mama) Part 1 features Graham Chapman in a neat little spoken-word cameo, as well as Paul Jones on harmonica, so they clearly had no trouble persuading guests to join in with the fun. And that’s what this band was all about – fun.

This year was meant to see the band playing their final ever gig at the 100 Club in London, but this has now been cancelled due to reasons unknown, and that’s a shame, because Radio Stars were a great band with great songs who can entertain a crowd. That’s not always a given when you hand over your cash these days.


❉ Radio Stars: ‘Thinking Inside The Box: 4CD Box Set’ is released by Cherry Red Records, 31 March 2017, RRP £19.99. 

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