Twee hypnobeat jangle poppers the Woodentops made some of the “Best New Sounds of 1986″

By on April 4, 2019

On January 23, 1987, Night Flight took a look back at the “Best New Sounds of 1986” — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — to remember some of the previous year’s top break-out bands, like the twee hypnobeat jangle-poppers the Woodentops, who announcer Pat Prescott tells us were named “Best Band of ’86 by England’s prestigious Melody Maker.

Have a look at their video for the intense hit “It Will Come,” and read more about the proverbial “next big thing” band who never quite managed to break through to the mainstream below.

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The London-based band the Woodentops — led by the amiable elfin singer and chief songwriter Richard “Rolo” McGinty — were considered indie-rock pioneers of the so-called “Balearic Beat,” which was popularized in the Balearic Islands, off eastern Spain, specifically on the isle of Ibiza.

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That’s where a deejay at a popular nightclub called Amnesia — DJ Alfredo Fiorito, who was originally from Argentina — created uniquely eclectic and quite danceable sound providing the Eurotrash nouveaux riche island-hoppers with the perfect “I don’t give a shit, I’m on holiday” feeling of decadent nonchalance.

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The Woodentops’ upbeat, sunny jangly pop was the kind of hypno-groove sound you can only make if, just like the people dancing in the crowd, you’ve also been spending your summers partying under the hot Mediterranean sun.

By 1987, this sound was being replicated back in England, too, where club kids appropriately dressed in tacky holiday summerwear: brightly-colored bandanas, shirts and shorts, often adorned with the smiley-face logo.

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In addition to Rolo, the Woodentops — who hailed from from Northampton, England — were Alice Thompson (keyboards), Simon Mawby (guitar), Frank de Freitas (bass) and Benny Staples (drums).

On their first full-length album, 1986’s critically-acclaimed debut Giant, they were derided in some circles for experimenting with sequencers and samplers and for supplementing their frenetic pop with marimbas, accordion, trumpet, double bass and strings.

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The band’s video for “It Will Come” was filmed in and around their rehearsal room, located in artist Panni Bharti’s warehouse in Battersea, a district of south west London, located on the south bank of the River Thames within the London borough of Wandsworth.

It was directed by Derek Burbidge and features artwork overlays by Bharti (a.k.a. Panni Charrington), who also did the cover art for their Rough Trade 12″ and 7″ singles and album sleeves.

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Rough Trade remained their label in the UK during the 1980s, but the band’s singles and albums were distributed in the U.S. via majors, e.g. the Warner Bros.-back Zoo (founded by Bill Drummond of the KLF) and, later, by Columbia Records.

“It Will Come” was produced by British producer John Leckie, who was already by then known as Swami Anand Nagara.

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Read more about the Woodentops below.

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At a time when a lot of mid-’80s British acts were opting for serious, gloomy-sounding monikers, the Woodentops were practicing in a room made entirely of wood, which reminded them of a 1950s British children’s television show called “The Woodentops,” which featured the antics of a family of wooden clothespins.

The name — also a slang term for an acoustic guitar — seemed like the perfect way to remind the listener of their own fun childhoods.

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In 1985, Rolo admitted he’d come up with the rather “twee” sounding name after hallucinating (he was likely also on drugs at the time, or maybe just suffering from sunstroke), telling Zigzag music magazine’s readers in their May 1985 issue:

“We liked the idea of having a lighthearted name, because that meant we could be as naïve as we actually are, and could possibly wish to be, without being confined in some serious trap.”

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Rolo also liked the fact that their name had the word “tops” in it, too.

As it turned out, the Woodentops was the perfect name for a frenetic ’80s beat band with lots of hand-clapping and spunky things going on.

“With the name the Woodentops,” Rolo further explained in Zigzag, “people could handle us being nervous, our knees knocking onstage.”

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The Woodentops soon developed a reputation for being a rather erratic and unpredictable live band, meaning they might be quite good one night, and then quite dreadful the next.

They released their first single, the offbeat “Plenty,” on the fledgling Food Records label in 1984, before signing with Geoff Travis’ Rough Trade imprint.

Their signing led to more record releases — they dominated the British independent charts with four #1 singles — and were sent out on assorted tours, supporting the Smiths, Everything But the Girl, and Julian Cope.

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The band never took themselves too seriously, at least not in the mid-Eighties, which is probably what led to Rolo thinking he could pull a silly practical joke on the famously grumpy Morrissey whilst touring with the Smiths, which led to them getting kicked off the tour.

One of the more remarkable feats the Woodentops accomplished as a band was their surprising 1987 album Live Hypnobeat Live, culled from drastically-revitalized live versions of songs they’d originally recorded for Giant.

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1988’s electronica-tinged Wooden Foot Cops On The Highway — with Anne Stephenson from the Communards replacing Alice Thompson on keyboards — was to be their last album during their original run as a band, though they reformed decades later.

This episode also features videos by Big Audio Dynamite, UB40, Fine Young Cannibals, Klymaxx, the Communards, Golden Palominos, Love & Rockets, Timbuk3, Beastie Boys, New Model Army, and the Georgia Satellites.

Watch “Best New Sounds of 1986” on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.