As 'Red Lights' hits its power-pop chorus for the first time, it feels far too familiar to be resident on a collection of 49 tracks released by short-lived and long forgotten New York punk label, Ork Records. The band responsible, Marbles, clearly had more than a passing acquaintance with the work of The Beach Boys and the song itself is a rickety, pasty little thing but remarkably endearing as a result of its earnest endeavour. Much like a great deal of this fascinating compilation's contents, it's no classic, but taken together, it's a heady brew and a beautifully constructed time capsule.
Chicago's Numero Group have been ploughing this archivist furrow for twelve years now, unearthing the greatest tunes that almost nobody bought when released and packaging them up for fresh ears to fall in love anew. Their catalogue is a gloriously diverse alternative history of popular music in the 20th century and, with this latest instalment, they pull together the entire recordings of a label that became a footnote to the New York CBGBs scene of the Seventies. William Terry Collins, known as Terry Ork, managed post-punk figureheads Television in their early days and the band's debut single was also the Ork label's first release. Over the five years that followed, a total of thirteen titles would bear that three letter name, all singles and all largely ignored until now.
Numero's Ken Shipley and Rob Sevier happened upon the label's full back story after a New York record store owner explained that he'd purchased the effects of the short-lived label's president, Charles Ball. The time spent unravelling this web is highlighted in the 120-page hardback book that accompanies the set and charts the fortunes of all of the artists contained within. The level of detail makes the music feel like the soundtrack to quite a story.
Pulling together all of the releases and any additional tracks which had hitherto languished in the archives, 'New York, New York' includes moments from the mercurial Alex Chilton's post-Big Star wilderness years. 'All The Time' clearly shares some of the DNA of that criminally overlooked band, but belies the fact that its creator was not in a good state at the time of its creation. His five-track EP for the label offers a captivating snapshot of a moment in time, if not a treasure trove of noteworthy music.
Far more revelatory are tracks like '(I Thought) You Wanted To Know' by Chris Stamey & The dBs and Prix's 'Girl', the former a chiming, bounding jangle, the latter managing to sound more like Chilton's former band than his own contributions to this set.
As with most of Numero's releases to date, there are moments of gold in amongst plenty of enjoyably period music and it's best consumed in one, immersive and overwhelming sitting, accompanying book to hand. The story is wonderfully told, both on paper and on the discs that capture the entirety of Terry Ork's enthusiastic, passionate and ramshackle contribution to a remarkable scene.
Words: Gareth James
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