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Most people will know of the Mock Turtles from the Vodafone advertising campaign in 2003 which used one of their songs 'Can You Dig It?' Maybe fewer people might know them as the band fronted by comedian Steve Coogan's older brother Martin Coogan but very few people nowadays remember the Mock Turtles as one of the most talented and musically refreshing bands of the 1990's.
The band was originally formed in 1985 in Middleton Greater Manchester and soon was part of 'Madchester' music scene that developed towards the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. The music that emerged was categorised as alternative rock with strong influences of psychedelia and dance music. Other artists associated with the scene included The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, New Order, Inspiral Carpets, and The Charlatans. The Mock Turtles never had the success of some of the other bands only breaching the charts with three singles and recording only a handful of albums two studio albums 'Turtle Soup' and 'Two Sides' and two other compilations. I think for a time they were one of the best of the Manchester bands and certainly musically and lyrically they could stand good comparison musical soul mates 'The Stone Roses'.
The Mock Turtles are-
Martin Coogan: Vocals and Guitars
Martin Glynn Murray: Guitars
Andrew Stewardson: Bass
Steve Cowen: Drums
Joanne Gent: Keyboards
After initial success in the early 1990's the band was dropped by their label Siren records and largely faded from people's memories. Only with the re-release and re mixing by Fatboy Slim of their single 'Can you dig it?' on the back of the Vodafone advert were they again to make the charts peaking at no.19 in the UK in 2003. On the back of this success this CD collection was released by Virgin Records in 2003.
The first thing that has to be said is that the title 'Can You Dig It - The Best Of The Mock Turtles' is in my opinion a little misleading since some of the best songs the band recorded do not feature on this release and some of the material included such as the very rocky 'One Eyed Jack' do not fully represent the majority or the best of the bands output. Taking this into account let's take a close look at this compilation.
1. Can You Dig It?
2. And Then She Smiles
3. Lay Me Down
4. Wicker Man
5. Strings and Flowers
6. Why Must I Share This Air With Foolish Men?
7. Deep Down
8. Up Here In Heaven
9. One Eyed Jack
10. Turn On
11. Casting Pearls
12. See Saw
13. King For A Day
15. Johnny Seven (Demo)
16. Can You Dig It? (Fatboy Slim & Simon Thornton 2003 Remix)
Well the producers of this compilation don't pull their punches including the bands three most famous singles as the first three songs of the compilation. I suppose give the people what they want right from the start makes sense at least you can draw the listener in to the rest of the CD right from the off.
Certainly 'Can you dig it' with its catchy chorus and indie guitar back beat is the perfect opener. Martin Coogan's lyrics purposefully allude to 1960's slang to match the songs retro trippy beat blending psychedelic flower pop with indie Brit pop in the same way that the Stone Roses did so effectively on their eponymous first studio album. The first half of this compilation take tracks (not necessarily the best) from the two studio albums the band produced. The superb 'Can You Dig It?' is followed by the even better 'And Then She Smiles' in which once again the Madchester retro psychedelic element is clearly heard. Follow this up with the incredibly catchy shuffling rhythms of 'Lay Me Down' and you've entered indie pop heaven. The next track is a little more leftfield and owes more to Syd Barrett inspired sensibilities than to any 90's Brit pop but once again Coogan's lyrics and vocals make the song work. The rest of the album drawing tracks from their second studio album 'Two Sides' and a number of individual tracks is lees representative of the bands early output but has some interesting moments.
'Turn On' and 'Sew Saw' could quite easily be mistaken for a couple of tracks off a 'Suede Best Of'. The influences here are more David Bowie than Beatles and Martin Coogan does a great impression of Bret Anderson on the vocals or maybe it should be the other way around since The Mock Turtles predate Suede by a few years! Once again especially on 'Turn On' this is Indie pop of the highest order, less hippy trippy more heavy guitar sound than the previous tracks this is probably one of the highlights of the CD. Another highlight is 'Deep Down' where swirling ethereal electric guitars meet softly spoken vocals to produce a dreamy quality to the song.
In fact what struck me on hearing this album for the first time not having known all the tracks was the variety of sound that the band produces. True their best moments lie in the psychedelic pastoral pop of the early tracks but they prove they can also rock (at least indie rock) with the best of them. 'King For a Day' for instance starts off with a punching drum and guitar rhythm that the Foo Fighters would be proud of. The remaining tracks are all upbeat and in their own terms good pop compositions. The tracks are in rough chronological order and if anything you can hear the bands growing musical confidence and prowess. By the time you get to 'Casting Pearls' the band are straying into Grunge territory and doing it justice.
The last track on the album is the remixed version of 'Can You Dig It? That was released when the advert came out in 2003. The mix is different including the Fatboy Slim treatment adding some more modern dance rhythm to the striding beat of the original but all in all I prefer the original although it's nice to have both.
However good the tracks list in on this album there are unfortunately some glaring omissions from what is supposed to be a 'Best Of' compilation mostly off their first album 'Turtle Soup'. Where is the wonderful gentle love lament of 'The Willow Song', or the thumping beats of 'Kathy Come Home' and 'Another Jesus Walks on Water'.
Whatever the song choices and despite some great material that is left out this CD shows what a hugely underrated band 'The Mock Turtles' are. Musically and lyrically better than 'The Stone Roses' or the 'Happy Mondays' I'm not sure how they managed to fade away so quickly from a music scene that was crying out for talent of this calibre.
So where are they now? Martin Coogan has now gone into broadcasting and can be heard on Tameside Radio a local community radio in Manchester which specialises in 60's music. Having looked the band up on the web that they are still listed as currently together, I wonder if they're touring anytime soon? I'll be there!
Overall I would recommend this compilation it is a very good mix (with possibly only one weak song 'One Eyed Jack') of early and late material spanning a short but nonetheless fulfilling musical career. I would also urge you to get hold of 'Turtle Soup' which I believe is an even better advert from a band that unfortunately faded far earlier than they should've in the early 90's.
'Can You Dig It: the Best of the Mock Turtles' can be bought from Amazon.co.uk for £7.93 and free delivery in the UK at the time this review was written.
© Mauri 2011
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Can You Dig It?
2 And Then She Smiles
3 Lay Me Down
4 Wicker Man
5 Strings And Flowers
6 Why Must I Share This Air With Foolish Men?
7 Deep Down
8 Up Here In Heaven
9 One Eyed Jack
10 Turn On
11 Casting Pearls
12 See Saw
13 King For A Day
15 Johnny Seven (Demo)
16 Can You Dig It? (Fatboy Slim & Simon Thornton 2003 Remix)