Blab Happy

TrackSingle / EP / Album
Never No MoreF-Beat XX40
ValentineF-Beat XX40
DownF-Beat XX41T
Whose Driving FreefallBoat
Barbed Wire HeartsF-Beat XX42T
That’s AllSmothered
O Mary LoveSmothered
Sullenly SundayFruits Of Our Labour EP

Blab Happy Boat
Blab Happy (l-r): Jeremy Clay (drums), Mick McCarthy (guitar, vocals), Tony Owen (bass), Jon Dennis (guitar, vocals) – debut album front cover


The Blabs playlist



Contributor: John Hartley

I was never the first to discover a band. The crowning glory within the social circle of awkward teenagers in the late 1980s and early 1990s (in my case anyway) was to be able to discover a band and share them with the gang. I tried with BOB, and everyone loved Convenience but quickly fell away leaving me to go to their gig in Bolton on my own. Mousefolk didn’t even touch a nerve. I couldn’t claim the Trash Can Sinatras as I was introduced to them by my cousin. I couldn’t even claim the Mighty Lemon Drops; even though they were my socially acceptable entry ticket to the crowd, others had heard of them even if not actually owning any of their records. So when, in 1991, the New Musical Express ran a feature on Blab Happy, describing them in the same breath as the La’s and the Beatles and with the sweetener of a free 7″ single if I wrote off to an address, I knew my chance had come.

And what a single it was when it arrived (complete with free promotional postcard to adorn my bedroom door and demonstrate my cool to a Take That-loving sister and my mum and dad for whom any notion of coolness would have disappeared with the first nappy change.) A double A-side single, featuring Never No More and Valentine.

To this day, Never No More would rank in my top 100 songs. Its gently spiky fuzz, wistful lyrics, lilting melody and joyfully unconventional harmonies lend themselves perfectly to someone who wants to pretend they are a music writer.

On the other side, even spikier guitars harmonise with each other over rolling drums and a happily bumbling bass guitar. They underpin a song describing being sick of Valentines. I could relate to this and I reckoned most of my friends would too. Well, those I was still in touch with now I’d left school and gone to polytechnic miles away.

This was a strictly limited edition free 7″ single. The back cover told me so in those exact words. Never No More could also be found on the Mad Surge EP along with three other tracks, available from all good record shops. I found a good record shop and bought it. I bought the follow-up too, Down. There were three tracks on this, but a colour sleeve instead of the black and white one of the debut single of my new favourite best-kept-musical-secret. This sleeve showed the band had either grown their hair slightly but only owned one set of clothes, or had one photo shoot and ruffled their hair and taken a jumper off. Given the album cover I know where my money is lying.

All three songs on the Down single would soon make an appearance on that album, Boat. For now, though, I made do with my single and listened to the band’s words hail down from a bridge by the football ground. I suspected this to be Filbert Street, given the band were described as being of Leicester origin. However, subsequent conversation suggests it could easily have been Watford’s Vicarage Road.

By the autumn of 1991, I had six new housemates to impress with my obscure-but-really-shouldn’t-be choice of listening. I had expected higher education life to be full of NME-reading, indie-band loving young people. It wasn’t. My first flatmate listened to techno. The girls upstairs listened to Beverley Craven at a volume that is not to be recommended. My six new flatmates did not fit my vision either, though we all got on well. Two of them were called Simon. Two were called Richard. Both Richards drove cars and were polar opposites of me: southern, wealthy (relatively), meat eaters and either hated football or supported a decent team (relatively). Richard H drove me to the Metro Centre to buy Boat and we listened to it in the car. He must have liked it because he agreed to join me when Blab Happy played at the University, as it had now become.

It wasn’t quite the huge headlining gig I was expecting. Rather, the band were merely booked to provide the warm-up for the usual Friday night student union club night. Undeterred, Richard and I joined about six other people down at the front to dance away as the band played Boat and indifference washed over the remaining masses. They should have paid attention (the masses, not the band, that is). For here were songs that went beyond the boy-meets-girl stereotypes the masses would later get drunk, kiss and fight to. Whose Driving Freefall might have had a grammatical error in its title but it was a hell of a song, menacingly hinting at death, self-harm, maybe suicide even? Grief, too, with its hillside tears twenty years on, and the recognition of the fragility of life. I maintain to this day I was right and the masses were wrong.

A second single would be released from Boat in the following spring. Three versions of Inside Out, each with increasing amounts of wailing feedback. They were joined by a remixed version of Barbed Wire Hearts which had previously reared its head on Mad Surge. Barbed Wire Hearts is a snapshot of Blab Happy at their peak for me; high energy, chaotically congruous arrangements and full of passion. Perhaps a taste of things to come?

Things went quiet. It often does for bands. It certainly did in the days before social media. Fortunately, I discovered that the free monthly newspaper Making Music, available from musical instrument stores, was running a feature following Blab Happy as they recorded their follow-up album. It was through this that I learned they were due to play a live session on Radio 5’s Hit the North programme with Mark Radcliffe. Direct from the studio, they chatted and performed four songs, all of which were to appear on Smothered. Blinding and That’s All were the two that stood out and the release of Smothered could not come quickly enough for me.

Before that, though, came the Blinding EP which, unfortunately for me, did not actually contain the song of that name. It did contain Tender Hooks and Sean, both of which were to appear on the album, and both of which were to leave me a bit concerned that the band were heading down a path I didn’t like This was especially the case with the former song which gave an angry nod towards the grunge that was gripping the nation. Of course, I didn’t like grunge. Worry not: the album did not disappoint. These two tracks again merely served to show the band’s versatility. This was also demonstrated by the gaelic lilt of O Mary Love, the frustrated guitar-stabbing I Know It’s Not Worth Listening and the perfect pop of closing track Fortune’s Famous Fool.

Things went quiet. Permanently. The first I knew about the demise of Blab Happy was the announcement of Perfume, the Steve Lamacq favourites containing both Mick McCarthy and bassist Tony Owen of Blab Happy. I later discovered Jon Dennis was writing for The Guardian as well as being in the band Loaded Knife. Wikipedia, that fountain of all truth, reveals that drummer Jeremy Clay also found his literary feet, writing for the local press and publishing books.

It’s funny how things turn out. A couple of years ago I realised that, actually, all this nonsense about discovering a band before anyone else was exactly that: a load of nonsense. By the time I had discovered Blab Happy, they’d been around for about four years. The debut single I got free wasn’t their debut single either – it was their third. Generously grant-aided by Leicester City Council, they had formed their own label and released two EPs: It’s Turned Out Nice Again in 1987 and a year later Fruits Of Our Labour. I bought the latter, from which Sullenly Sunday is the pick, for me at any rate. I’ll let you know my thoughts on the former when I get my hands on a copy. I feel I owe it to them for not having enough cool to spread the word as effectively as the band deserved.




Blab Happy at Discogs

Jon Dennis on supporting Radiohead on tour (The Guardian, 2003)

Blab Happy biography (Wikipedia)

John Hartley has written several posts for the Toppermost site. He is the author of “Capturing The Wry”, a memoir of the early stages in his quest to write the perfect pop song. He tweets as @Johny Nocash and the music he creates can be found at Broken Down Records.

TopperPost #1,081


  1. David Lewis
    Oct 29, 2023

    Loved that opening story. Interesting band I had not heard of before reading this. Terrific article.

  2. Alex
    Oct 30, 2023

    A great read! Mad Surge was the first record by The Blabs that I heard, I also really like Never No more. The Fruits EP is a life changer.

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