FROM THE SOUTH-WEST CORRESPONDENT…WHAT’S IN YOUR BOX (14)

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Ah Bis. Or so the advert so nearly said. For about five and a half minutes back in 1996, Bis were everywhere, the cover of the NME, first unsigned band on TOTP, Blue Peter, your local branch of Tesco (ok perhaps not that one).

This was largely down to the song ‘Kandy Pop’ from their first proper single ‘the Secret Vampire Soundtrack’. This was a catchy shouty pop song that the Nation, took to its hearts. It remains staple indie disco fodder to this day, although I haven’t been to an indie disco in roughly four years so that might be bollocks (and then I stayed for 27 minutes and left in huff when they played Pearl Jam).

It was official, Bis were ‘The Next Big Thing’. Four months later, they were no longer that fashionable, I think Embrace had turned up by then or the Bluetones or someone. Bis however became superstars in Japan, largely thanks I think to the presence of Manda Rin, the singer who had, people thought, a passing resemblance, perhaps, unfairly, to a Powderpuff Girl, at the time the most popular cartoon in Japan. Bis, also later recorded the exit music to the Powderpuff Girls Cartoon, which I don’t think helped.

Their popularity in the UK had waned a little, not helped by ‘The New Transistor Heroes’ what was described as being a distinctly average debut album, but that may have been helped by the burden of hype and expectation surrounding them.

This is Fake DIY was the follow up single to ‘Kandy Pop’ and is largely following the same progam. A catchy shouty pop song with a fuzzy garage disco feel to it. I rather like it. I always thought Bis should have been the Next Big Thing, and in Manda Rin, there was a likeable person, who seemed comfortable with perhaps being a spokesperson for a geeky generation.

mp3 : Bis – This Is Fake DIY

The last time I read anything Bis and in particular Manda, she was making a comfortable living selling and manufacturing badges. So today for the first time in I don’t how long I googled Bis (I think, ever) and they are unrecognisable from the cartoon 18 year olds that turned up in 1995. They still play live, regularly seen in Glasgow, London and some of the festival circuits. They are releasing new material – which is probably a good thing.

S-WC

Note from JC

Bis were due to play a gig in Glasgow on 4  August 2013 ..and to quote from their own website, it was to feature a VERY pregnant Manda Rin.

That gig never went ahead as Manda went into labour that very same day, and in the early hours of 5 August she gave birth to a two-month premature boy.   But I’m delighted to pass on the news that  her son, who has been named Denny, is doing very well…….

REMEMBERING CURVE

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It took me a long while to write about Curve over at the old blog, and when I did it was as part of an occasional series on cover versions.  It was a post which attracted a fair number of comments and it is fair to say that there’s a few folk out there who remember the band with much fondness and who have never got over their lust for lead singer Toni Halliday.

For the uninitiated,  Curve, comprising said Ms Halliday and multi-instrumentalist Dean Garcia, came together in Manchester in 1991. At a time when the Madchester sound (Happy Mondays/Stone Roses/James etc) was very much in full flow, Curve were something a bit different. The first few releases were EPs. The music press loved them, and they were championed by John Peel.

And yet….they didn’t ever quite turn the critical praise into popular acclaim and really meaningful sales, albeit the debut LP in 1992, Doppelganger, reached Number 11, while the follow-up, Cuckoo, went Top 30.

I love an awful lot about Curve, but especially the sound of Toni Halliday’s voice. In many places it reminds me of Elizabeth Fraser, and there’s no doubt that Shirley Manson of Garbage owes a lot to Toni.

Many fans consider that they never surpassed Blindfold, which was their debut EP:-

mp3 : Curve (feat.  JC001) – Ten Little Girls
mp3 : Curve – I Speak Your Every Word
mp3 : Curve – Blindfold
mp3 : Curve – No Escape From Heaven

It was an astonishing debut in so many ways and while I can understand some folk thinking they never quite hit those heights again I’m willing to stand by a number of their later releases and say that they were equally as good – especially this track:-

mp3 : Curve – Fait Accompli

Going back to the March 2007 posting, here’s the two covers that were featured:-

mp3 : Curve – I Feel Love
mp3 : Curve feat. Ian Dury – What A Waste

The first song originally appeared on the NME album Ruby Trax (which got a mention as part of a recent piece on Inspiral Carpets), and is a quite fantastic cover of the disco classic written by Giorgio Moroder and sung by Donna Summer. Evidence, if any were needed that dance music need not be mindless pap.

The second song was recorded with Ian Dury himself, as part of a project called Peace Together that raised money for young people in Northern Ireland.

Enjoy!!

CULT CLASSICS – BIG TEARS by CONCRETE BULLETPROOF INVISIBLE

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(Submitted by Phil, from the non-musical blog ‘The Corn Poppy’)

Is there an implication that a bunch of people actually liked a bona fide cult classic? I’m not sure anyone else ever heard this. But here’s a disc that in that parallel universe would have been a smash – Big Tears by Concrete Bulletproof Invisible. CBI were actually Doll by Doll with Glen Matlock on bass. Wikipedia says:

Doll by Doll were a London based rock band formed by Jackie Leven in 1975. They came to prominence during the New Wave period but were largely ignored by the music press of the time – their emotional, psychedelic-tinged music was judged out of step with other bands of the time.

The original line up was Jackie Leven – vocals and guitar, Jo Shaw – vocals and guitar, Robin Spreafico – vocals and bass, and David Macintosh – vocals and percussion.  This line up only recorded one studio album Remember before Spreafico was replaced by Tony Waite (1958–2003). In this configuration they released the albums Gypsy Blood (produced by John Sinclair) and the eponymous third album, Doll By Doll, before the band split up.

At the time of final LP Grand Passion, only Leven was left of the original line-up, joined by Helen Turner (vocals and keyboards) and Tom Norden (vocals, guitar and bass) with a number of guest musicians, including David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Mark Fletcher (bass) and Chris Clarke (drums) played with the group live. Doll By Doll finally fell apart in 1983, though Leven, Shaw and Macintosh plus ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, released a single Big Tears under the name “Concrete Bulletproof Invisible” in 1988. Leven became a prolific solo artist, releasing a series of albums featuring more folk orientated material.

In 1983 Jackie (from the Kingdom of Fife) had been mugged and half strangled leading to him losing his voice for a time and giving up singing all together. There were no more Doll by Doll albums and nothing else from Jackie until the mid 1990s when he started to release a string of albums which gave him a genuine cult following. But this one single did sneak out.

Big Tears was a Matlock song, on the b-side was Braid on my Shoulder, written by Leven. These are a cracking pair of songs with all the punch of Matlock’s best powerpunk swagger and Jackie’s still powerful voice. There was a UK 12″ version which added Good Thing and a US 12″ with Love Kills. this was Concrete Bulletproof Invisible’s only record but the name was used as the title of a John Foxx instrumental (the song is credited to Foxx/Leven).

Jackie Leven had a chequered career often on the verge of greater success, never quite grasping it. Sometimes it seemed like deliberate sabotage on his part. In 2000 or thereabouts he settled in the Hampshire village of Botley, just opposite the pub, often popping out for a pint (usually with a vodka in it) or to tour Germany or Norway. A friendship with crime author Ian Rankin led to Rankin naming his last two novels after Leven lyrics. He died in November 2011 six weeks after releasing one of his best albums (Wayside Shrines). One day a song of his will be used in a car advert and suddenly everyone will love him.

mp3 : Concrete Bulletpoof Invisible – Big Tears
mp3 : Concrete Bulletpoof Invisible – Braid On My Soulder
mp3 : Concrete Bulletpoof Invisible – Good Thing
mp3 : Concrete Bulletpoof Invisible – Love Kills

Note from JC

Jackie Leven was very much a cult artist with many fans from around these parts. I can’t confess to knowing all that much about him, but many other bloggers whose work I have admired have written about him in glowing terms, and I thought it might be worth drawing your attention to the piece from April 2010, on the now defunct Helpless Dancer blog:-

http://thehelplessdancer.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/new-music-jackie-leven/

Enjoy.

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 73)

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As the series is alphabetical, it should come as no surprise following his appearance last week that Mr Cole is back, this time with the backing band that first brought him to the attention of the public.

From wiki:-

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions were a British pop band that formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1982. Between 1984 and 1989, the band scored four Top 20 albums and five Top 40 singles in the UK. After breaking up in 1989, Cole embarked on a solo career but the band reformed briefly in 2004 to perform a 20th anniversary mini-tour of the UK and Ireland.

The band were formed whilst Cole (who was born in Derbyshire, England) was studying at the University of Glasgow. They signed to Polydor Records; their debut single “Perfect Skin” reaching number 26 in the UK charts in Spring 1984, while the second single “Forest Fire” reached 41. The first album, Rattlesnakes, was released in October 1984. Produced by Paul Hardiman and featuring string arrangements by Anne Dudley, the album peaked at No. 13 in the UK and was certified Gold for sales over 100,000 copies. NME included in its Top 100 Albums of All-Time list, and the title track was later covered by the American singer Tori Amos. The Welsh band Manic Street Preachers included the album amongst their top ten list.

Due to the insistence of their label[citation needed], the follow-up album, Easy Pieces, was produced by Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley (who had previously produced Madness, The Teardrop Explodes and Elvis Costello and the Attractions). Released in November 1985, the album was a much quicker commercial success than its predecessor (entering the UK album chart at No. 5 and certified gold within a month). The singles “Brand New Friend” and “Lost Weekend” were the band’s first and only UK Top 20 hits (reaching No. 19 and No. 17 respectively).

Two years later, the band released their third and final album, Mainstream. Produced by Ian Stanley (former writer and keyboard-player of Tears for Fears), the album peaked at No. 9 in the UK and was also certified gold, but contained only one UK Top 40 single, “Jennifer She Said” (No. 31).
In 1989, the band decided to split up and released a “best of” compilation, 1984-1989, which was their fourth Top 20 album (UK No. 14) and fourth Gold certification. Following this, Cole embarked on a solo career with the release of his self-titled album in 1990.

On the first two Commotions albums, Cole was the band’s main songwriter (though he co-wrote several songs with various bandmembers). The third album is credited to the band as a whole, though Cole remained the sole lyricist. Particularly notable were Cole’s knowingly pretentious lyrics (he was studying philosophy at the University of Glasgow when the band started) and namedropping the likes of Norman Mailer, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Lee, Grace Kelly, Truman Capote, Simone de Beauvoir, Nancy Sinatra, and Eva Marie Saint as well as referring to Sean Penn (somewhat sympathetically) as “Mr. Madonna”.

Post-breakup careers

Cole moved to New York City and later to New England to pursue a solo career with Polydor/Capitol Records and later appeared on Rykodisc, before establishing self-published entities in the United States. His solo career has found him collaborating with the late Robert Quine, Fred Maher, Dave Derby and Jill Sobule.

Clark continued working with Cole on almost all of his solo releases and full band tours. He was also a member of the short-lived group Bloomsday, with Irvine (of the Commotions) and Chris Thomson of The Bathers.

Cowan collaborated with Cole and his new backing band in New York on Cole’s first two solo albums. He played with Del Amitri, Paul Quinn and the Independent Group, the Kevin McDermott Orchestra and Texas but is today an IT-specialist at British Telecom.

Donegan is a journalist and an author – he is a golf journalist and Scotland correspondent for The Guardian and published several non-fiction titles, including No News at Throat Lake and Four Iron in the Soul.

Irvine joined former bandmate Clark in Bloomsday and, as a session musician, worked with Del Amitri, Etienne Daho and Sarah Cracknell. He is also managing artists and bands.

Don’t know about the rest of you, but the fact that Lost Weekend was their biggest hit was a surprise to me. It was one of the few songs that bassist Lawrence Donegan gained a writing credit, and in one of his excellent books he acknowledges that the the tune has more than a passing resemblance to The Passenger by Iggy Pop.

I’ve a few Lloyd Cole & The Commotions singles in the collection and have decided to go with the biggest hit….mainly becuase it has one of the strangest intros of any record (it sounds as if it is playing at the wrong speed!) and also for proof that more doesn’t necessarily mean best as the compact 7″ version is by far superior:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Lost Weekend (Extended Version)
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Big World
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Nevers End
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Lost Weekend (7″ version)

Enjoy!!

SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE – EVEN MORE OF A TURN-ON THAN I’D EVER IMAGINED

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With apologies to those of you who don’t like Arab Strap and those of you who can recall the TVV piece from back in May 2010 which forms the basis of today’s posting.

Up until a the spring of 2010 I had never spent £70 on a single bit of music. Indeed, it had never crossed my mind that I’d even ever consider spending such an amount of money on a single bit of music until the day that I read Chemikal Underground were putting together a box-set of Arab Strap material.

My original plan has been to place an order directly through the excellent website of the record label but then came news that the release date had been brought forward to support Record Store Day 2010 (which was Saturday 17 April) and so I changed tack and decided to buy it over the counter.

The thing is, I’ve never been a fan of Record Store Day and prefer to go back to the shops a few days after to pick up things if they happen to be left over rather than try to deal with the mania of dealers who swamp the stores buying things they believe they can make a killing on in later times, thus in one fell swoop defeating what should be the main purpose of the day.

Come Monday morning, I dropped into my favourite wee indie shop in Glasgow to be met with the news that it had sold out of its copies of  Scenes of A Sexual Nature but with Chemikal Underground being located just a short distance away, more stuck was due to be delivered. I returned 48 hours later and so ensured that Wednesday 21st April 2010 would go down in history as the day I handed over more money than I ever dreamed I would for a single bit of music.

Actually, I didn’t hand over money. I paid with a bit of plastic. And actually, it wasn’t for one piece of music when you look through the contents of the boxset.

OK, I already owned copies of the LPs The Week Never Starts Around Here and Philophobia. And I had a copy of the various singles etc released between 1997 and 1998 which were available on a specially compiled CD. But what I didn’t have previously were:-

– a copy of the first ever Arab Strap gig at King Tut’s in Glasgow in October 1996;
– a copy of the gig at T In The Park (aka Nedstock) in July 1998:
– ten demo songs, some of which never saw the light of day in the recording career; and
– seventeen other bits of music, made up of rare recordings, John Peel Sessions and an old unreleased track specially recorded in late 2009 for inclusion in the box set.

And on top of that, there were sleeve notes from Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton that were royally informative, enlightening, entertaining and very fucking funny (c’mon, its Arab Strap I’m writing about here….I can use an expletive).

Was it value for money?

Well, I reckon so.  I’ve often scoffed at people who bought all sorts of box sets and limited edition material released by well established musicians on major labels on the basis of them being fools for further lining the pockets of moguls. This purchase felt different…and still does all these years later.

Chemikal Underground is a label that has put a lot more back into the music scene in Glasgow than they have ever taken out.  Nobody has got obscenely rich via Chemikal Underground and indeed throughout its existence the label has tried prices as low as possible with one way being to keep profit margins very tight.  I was more than happy to pay £70 in this instance for what, when I counted them up were 43 new, live or different versions of songs that I hadn’t previously been in the collection.

As it turns out, the limited nature of the boxset (there were just 1,000 made available) and the demand for it worldwide has led to all sorts of silly money being demanded for copies – just looking on ebay as I type this reveals that two are on sale with bidding starting at either £250 or £360.

I’d hope that one day, Chemikal Underground might counteract such behaviour by making the limited edition material available to buy on digital form on an individual basis.   OK, as Brian from Linear Track Lives said in a comment the other day, even when he/she has copies of certain tracks in their collection, most music fans will still obsess over owning a physical copy and so there will always be somebody likely to pay well over the odds for things like the Arab Strap boxset.

When I first put up a posting about Scenes of A Sexual Nature, I did make two of the ‘new’ tracks available and make no apologies for doing so again.

The first is a different version of the band’s famous debut single that was re-recorded for a John Peel Session. To quote from Aidan’s sleevenotes:-

…..a new version of our debut single in which the lyrics were rewritten to document the most recent weekend and the trip down to London to do the session. Unfortunately, these new lyrics are shit. Also, for some reason – probably legal – they omit the highlight of the trip, an incident at our horrible hotel involving the cheapest cider we could find mixed with even cheaper cherryade, Malcolm’s head, a charity shop oil painting and some gaffer tape.

mp3 : Arab Strap – The First Big Peel Thing

And from a different Peel Session, an incredible version of one of the most amazing songs to open any album.

mp3 : Arab Strap – Packs Of Three

Yes, it is a slightly sanitized version so that it could go out on the radio, but again to quote Aidan’s notes:-

…we were a much more focused and sophisticated group – the difference between this Peel Session and the last is quite dramatic. I can’t imagine a better document of the 1998 four-piece Arab Strap sound than the tracks from this session and, if you may permit me a modicum of gentle hubris, I think they sound quite brilliant.

There was just one thing that disappointed  me about the box-set and that was Aidan’s closing words after describing how well he and Malcolm had got on when they had turned an old instrumental into a new song in the Autumn of 2009 – he simply says ‘There are no plans to reform properly, in case you’re wondering.’

I said at the time that I harboured hopes they would get together for at least one more gig.  Well, didn’t they just do that in November 2011 to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the opening of Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, one of Glasgow’s most celebrated concert venues…..and the tragedy was that I didn’t get myself along.   Sigh.

I really can’t recommend this boxset highly enough. I know it was an awful lot of money to splash out, but at £70 it was still an awful lot cheaper than most of the hundreds of pairs of shoes and handbags that Mrs Villain stows away in various cupboards.  And while I’m here, I may as well add a third track:-

mp3 : Arab Strap – Daughters of Darkness

This was the instrumental turned into a full song for the box set and to the best of my knowledge, remains the only place it was ever released.

Happy Listening.

THESE SURE BEAT BAND-AID, MARIAH, SHAKEY & SLADE (and the rest of them)

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Back in 2009, an Edinburgh-based record shop persuaded many of Scotland’s finest underground/indie acts to record and donate songs for a charity CD with the proceeds going to good causes at home (Sick Kids Hospital, Edinburgh) and overseas (Street Invest – Helping Street Children in Africa).

It really is an excellent compilation, and I really can’t argue with this review from The Skinny back in the day:-

Compilations like Avalanche Records Alternative Christmas are vitally important. Their necessity will be emphasised repeatedly over the next few days: they will provide solstice-solace when even mordant irony can’t get you through looped Wizard and their dreams of eternal festivities; they’ll help salve the post-colonial guilt bruises caused by constant celeb-slapping; and they’ll sooth those caught idly humming Another Rock n’ Roll Christmas then anxiously fretting about the Glitterism.

Alternatives are essential. Nothing from this collection will supplant Noddy and co from next year’s Christmas adverts, of course; fewer still will wind up sound-tracking office parties (though X-Lion Tamer’s Little Drum Machine Boy might sneak in at the end of a more liberal shindig). But they’re sure to find a place in many a heart, even post-yule when the tree stands naked and detinseled and the Quality Streets are reduced to wrappers.

In fact, the only real disappointment is that so many have ignored Half Man Half Biscuit’s sage advice (It’s Clichéd to Be Cynical At Christmas), choosing gloom over joy. But they sure do blue well: Frightened Rabbit donate 2007’s (and 2008’s) It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop, a majestic plea for goodwill that ends defeated with the cry “next day life goes back to its past self”; The Savings & Loan’s Christmastime In the Mountains’ maudlin moroseness is presumably not a tale of skiing in Aspen; Withered Hand’s It’s A Wonderful Lie (as in, “this used to be a holy day but now…”) turns its glum pun into a typically witty but self-deprecating waltz; while Meursault’s playful retitling of Phil Ochs’ No Christmas in Kentucky (rechristened Christmas in Kirkcaldy) is no less serious for its east coast relocation. Ballboy, Eagleowl and Broken Records, meanwhile, recycle existing material (some with a fairly tenuous tie to the holidays, truth be told), but when the tracks are as good as Shallow Footprints In The Snow, Sleep The Winter and All So Tired, frugal redistribution is nothing to fret over.

And it’s not all coal-in-stocking/turkey-dinner-for-one depression either: There Will Be Fireworks open with a characteristically panoramic swell which just manages to stay dry skating over the thin ice of Snow Patrol, while Zoey Van Goey’s spoken word In Scotland It Never Snowed, In Canada It Did engrosses with its simple tale of childhood rebellion. And at £5 with proceeds going to charity, it sure beats block-buying Rage Against the Machine.

All I want to add (simply because the reviewer didn’t mention it) that the track by Money Can’t Buy Music is another which is well worth three minutes of your time.

Alternative Christmas is a seasonal release like no other.   And nowadays it is damn near impossible to get a hold of.  So I thought I’d make it available in its full form….with a request that if you download some or all of the songs that you make some sort of donation to the charity or good cause of your choice.

mp3 : There Will Be Fireworks – In Excelsis Deo
mp3 : The Savings & Loan – Christmastime in the Mountains
mp3 : Rob St John – December & Whisky
mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop
mp3 : Pictish Trail – But Once a Year
mp3 : Eagleowl – Sleep the Winter
mp3 : Withered Hand – It’s a Wonderful Lie
mp3 : Meursault – Christmas in Kirkcaldy
mp3 : Emily Scott – Holy
mp3 : Money Can’t Buy Music – Atoms
mp3 : Saint Jude’s Infirmary – Xmas in New York
mp3 : Broken Records – All So Tired
mp3 : Ballboy -Shallow Footprints in the Snow
mp3 : X-Lion Tamer – Little Drum Machine Boy
mp3 : Zoey Van Goey -In Scotland it Never Snowed, In Canada it Did

Thank You.

MERRY CHRISTMAS DEAR READERS

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This was the traditional posting on the old blog on 25 December.  I don’t see any reason to change things:-

mp3 : Sultans of Ping – Xmas Bubblegum Machine

It was one of the b-sides on the 12″ picture disc of this most enjoyable single:-

mp3 : Sultans of Ping – Michiko

Keep tuning in over the festive period for some more tidings of comfort and joy.