A few years back, Apiento returned from a DJ trip to Glasgow with a copy of this record. It turns out he'd been given it by Adam, who is a close family friend to one of the members of Pop Wallpaper, a Scottish post-punk/new wave outfit that released a handful of records in the mid-eighties. When I checked the song out, I couldn't believe my ears. The evergreen weirdo classic 'Strawberry Letter 23' had been pulled in a completely different direction - angularly funky and just on the right side of discordant. Pretty crazy that such a deviant dancer had flown under the radar for so long. I immediately snaffled a copy on Discogs and played it on a Beats in Space show. The track struck a chord, and pretty soon, all the copies had disappeared from Discogs. I contacted Adam to ask about dead stock (gotta try, right?) and to see if the track could be licensed. I was told that plans were already afoot for a reissue, including previously unreleased versions. So cut to 2023, and here it is, a tidy-looking package on Glasgow's Seated Records.
Pop Wallpaper was born out of the fertile Scottish post-punk scene, forming in Stirling in 1981 with an initial line-up of Evan Henderson on guitar & vocals, David Evans on guitar, Stephen Hunter on bass, and Les Cook on drums. In 1982 they relocated to Edinburgh and introduced Audrey Redpath on vocals, Myles Raymond on bass, and John McVay on saxophone and keyboards. The band played gigs throughout Scotland in the early 80s alongside Fini Tribe, Ege Bam Yasi, and Screaming Nobodies. In addition, they picked up some high-profile and unusual support gigs, including Billy Bragg, Afrika Bambaata and Lloyd Cole and The Commotions. Raymond and Cook played on several of The Wild Indians, records which also came out on Rosebud. John McVay also played in another local post-punk band, Visitors.
So what have we here? In the first instance, we get the original version featured on the 1986 Rosebud release. And it sounds as good as ever. Next up is a demo take, and it's a doozy - stripped back with a stronger emphasis on the rhythm section. It also omits the vocals, remaining wholly instrumental—a bonus for those who might have found them somewhat marmite (not I). The spacious vibe highlights the rickety groove just so. A super-playable joint for all left-leaning DJs, no doubt. In addition, we get laced with two sick contemporary re-rubs from Pigeon Steve - deep chug - and Useful Tom (Myles Raymond's son) - spartan cosmic funk. A sterling release (sorry) and a great musical start to 2023!
'Strawberry Letter 23' is out on the 3rd of February on Seated Records.