SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 128)

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This is a cheat week….I’ve never owned a physical copy of this EP from 2008. It’s one of the regrets in my life that while I got to see Y’All Is Fantasy Island a fair number of times back in the late-noughties that I never splashed out on any physical product at the time.

The generosity of their front man Adam Stafford however, in that he put up all of the band’s back catalogue on-line for free a while back, means I can bring you the four tremendous bits of music that made up With Handclaps.

A bit of background from wiki:-

Y’All Is Fantsy Island were formed in 2001 by singer/songwriter Adam Stafford. After a couple of low-key releases, including 2002’s cassette only Wisconsin Death Trip mini album and 2005’s Skeletal Demos EP, Stafford recruited guitarist/sound engineer Tommy Blair and drummer/clarinettist Jon McCall. The band recruited bassist/keyboardist Robert Lesiuk in 2006 to help fill out their live sound. McCall and Lesiuk left the band in the summer of 2007 with McCall being replaced by Steven Tosh on drums and Jamie Macleod taking over bass duties.

2008 saw the band release their second album, Rescue Weekend, again to critical acclaim. The album was originally written and conceived as a separate project from the band, but when multi-instrumentalist Tosh joined in 2007, the band decided to issue it under the Y’all is banner on their own DIY Label, Wise Blood Industries.

The band subsequently released “With Handclaps EP” on Glasgow punk label Winning Sperm Party in August 2008, “No Ceremony” in November 2008 and “Infanticidal Genuflector: Selected Film Soundtrack Work 06/07” in December, respectively (again on Winning Sperm Party). This notched the amount of releases in 2008 to four: one EP and three LPs. The band continued to play live extensively through the year before the unexpected departure of Blair in October 2009 after which they played just a a handful of shows in 2010 including supporting Warpaint before announcing they were to split.

Their final show was played at Sneaky Pete’s on 11 March 2011 with original member Robbie Lesiuk returning in place of Tommy Blair on guitar.

Adam Stafford continues to work as a solo artist and film maker.

And IMHO, Adam Stafford’s solo output has demonstrated that he is one of the greatest contemporary musical talents here in Scotland. I’m at a loss as to why he is not better-known nor that he’s not enjoyed the wider critical acclaim beyond his homeland that his releases, and in particular his live shows, deserve. But that’s for another time.

In the meantime please enjoy Y’All Is Fantasy Island. As you might be able to work out, this A-Z series is drawing to a close….

mp3 : Y’All Is Fantasy Island – Consider Yourself Swallowed
mp3 : Y’All Is Fantasy Island – Punk Rock Disco
mp3 : Y’All Is Fantasy Island – With Handclaps
mp3 : Y’All Is Fantasy Island – A General Gust

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM #6 – PIXIES

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An enlightening e-mail popped into the inbox recently from an reader who has been known to leave behind some nice comments:-

Hey JC

Somewhat surprisingly (to me!), you’ve never featured Pixies on your blog and to me they are the greatest band there’s ever been, one I’ve seen more than most others and have listened to for over a quarter of a century. So if you don’t mind, here’s an “Imaginary Compilation Album” for your series thats if you actually like them! I’m sure you and your readers are familiar with them or at least their more famous songs, so this is just a collection of my favourites that’s representative of their whole career but misses out the ones that everyone might know. I’ve also tried to include alternate versions ‘rarities’ where possible. Apologies if I ramble in places – it makes me appreciate what you do all the more, it’s not easy writing coherently about your favourite music! And I own everything on vinyl – no cheating!

xxxjim
(JIMDOES)

It was also somewhat surprising to me that, after more than 500 postings on this particular blog that I hadn’t once featured any songs by Pixies when they had been a bit of a staple over at the old place. It’s also great that someone goes to the trouble of putting the imaginary compilation LP together as they are time-consuming pieces, not just in terms of the words for the piece but listening to the back catalogue in some depth to get down to the final selection. Anyway, here’s Jimdoes’ very fine take on the finest band to ever emerge from Boston U.S.A.:-

1. BONE MACHINE

Let’s start at the beginning. The beginning for me, anyway – the first Pixies song I ever heard – the opening track on Surfer Rosa recorded onto a C90 tape with AR Kane’s 69 on the other side. Believe it or not, back in 1988 this really did sound like nothing else – to me anyway – nothing like the indie music that I’d grown to love and nothing that you could hear on the radio. And what a great introduction to a band – each instrument comes in at different times to create a glorious noise with Black Francis barking and howling over the top of it – to this day I’m not really sure what he says or what it all means, but to me that’s part of the joy of this band. And I think it was the song to which I bust my nose stage diving to at The Town and Country Club – but that’s another story.

2. BLUE EYED HEXE

And just to show they’ve still got it – from their recent, underrated LP. It rocks in a way that only the Pixies can. I know it’s ‘Pixies’, not ‘The Pixies’ but sometimes it just sounds funny without the ‘The’. Anyway this is one of my most listened to songs from 2014 – I wasn’t expecting much from the album (and with an embarrassing title like ‘Indie Cindy’, who can blame me) but it goes to show that Deal or No Deal, they can still produce a quite wonderful noise.

3. DOWN TO THE WELL

I got hold of this song as a track on a free EP with Sounds, released just after Surfer Rosa, although this version is from a session they did at Maida Vale. Originally recorded as a demo before Surfer Rosa, I fully expected this to appear on the follow-up, Doolittle but I’m guessing that they had so many great songs recorded that they just held it back till Bossanova. My favourite line is “What matter does it make if there are favourite songs playing in my head” which could well be a mantra for my life! Anyway, it’s about sex and alien abduction – what could be more Pixies than that?

4.  HEY

Pixies were always a great band to jump around, scream and go nuts to – but I love their slow songs as much as their fast noisy ones – loudQUIETloud and all that. This is a live version from the tour they did where they played Doolittle in order plus assorted B-sides. Just listening to the audience in this version really brings home what a loved band they are. I was lucky enough to see them a fair few times before they originally split up and was young then so spent most of the gigs going bananas, as you do. I always looked back fondly on those days and as Pixies influence grew was happy I’d seen them. So when they reformed it was incredible going back and seeing songs live that I’d cherished over the years – there was a feeling of trepidation that they might just ruin things but they were as good as they ever were – and I found there was still a bit of the mosh pit left me.

5.  INTO THE WHITE

Recorded at the time when Pixies really could do no wrong – every song was so amazing that they’d put tracks like this as B-sides. And one of only a couple of songs that features Kim Deal on lead vocals. I can remember buying the 12” of Here Comes Your Man just to get this song which they’d been playing live for a while. Best sleeve for a Pixies record too – I used to have a massive poster of it on my student bedroom wall.

6. VAMOS

Always my favourite song live – for Joey Santiago’s amazing guitar work – the way it just goes nuts in the middle loads of feedback and echo – he plays that bit with a drumstick or whatever else is at hand. But also for the way that Black Francis’ rhythm guitar holds everything together and stops the song descending into chaos. I’ve included an epic version which was their closing song when they played at Brixton Academy on their original comeback tour on June 5 2004 – a gig I was lucky enough to attend. And for some strange reason it features on both Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa although I’ve never been able to notice much difference between the two of them. Vamos a jugar por la playa, indeed.

7. MOTORWAY TO ROSWELL

People often say that the last two Pixies albums aren’t as good as the first two. I think they are just different but equally good. They couldn’t really have made another Doolittle without sounding a little tired. And it’s great when bands evolve – it’s not a complete reinvention. Anyway I think of this album as the shiny album – everything seems to have a sheen to it if that doesn’t sound too weird. Especially the sounds at the beginning of this song – probably the most ‘space’ and ‘sci-fi’ song they recorded.

8. NIMROD’S SON

I can’t think about most Pixies songs without thinking about them being performed live – and that means thousands of people shouting “You are the son of a mother fucker”. An absolute joy.

9. CACTUS

My favourite song off my favourite album – it just about beats Gigantic. Impossible to articulate what it means to me, I’ve loved it for so long.

10. HEAD ON

Pixies made some great cover versions – and this rendition of The Jesus and Mary Chain classic is my favourite. I’m biased but much as I like the original, I think this version is better!

So there’s ten songs – it’s been incredibly hard to choose just ten. I could easily have picked another ten. And I’ve resisted the urge to put them in alphabetical order like they did with their set lists back in the day!

Side A

mp3 : Pixies – Bone Machine
mp3 : Pixies – Blue Eyed Hexe
mp3 : Pixies – Down To The Well (session)
mp3 : Pixies – Hey (live)
mp3 : Pixies – Into The White

Side B

mp3 : Pixies – Vamos (live)
mp3 : Pixies – Motorway To Rosewell
mp3 : Pixies – Nimrod’s Son
mp3 : Pixies – Cactus
mp3 : Pixies – Head On

Hidden Bonus Track

mp3 : Pixies – There Goes My Gun (live)

I’ve put the live version of there goes my gun on this mail as that is the track before HEY and the first ‘hey’ is actually at the end of this track annoyingly… and you can also hear me shouting ‘hey’ just before the song starts…!
anyway, i could talk all day about the pixies…!!!
cheers!
xxxjim

DON’T LOOK BACK IN ANGER

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Back on Sunday September 30th 2002, the old blog celebrated its 6th anniversary with, by almost complete coincidence, the 2000th posting.

Little did I know that TVV wouldn’t see its 7th anniversary and it still hurts that Google removed all the writing on the blog when they unceremoniously ripped it down – not so much for the pish that I wrote but because there were a lot of great things put together by various guest contributors.

The 2000th posting was one which featured a bit of rare(ish) music, that was made available on vinyl, and which managed to link three of my favourite singers/bands/performers. It was a great for the TVV template….

When the single came out, the PR blurb informed the world:-

British rocker Billy Bragg has renamed himself Johnny Clash for the release of a new charity single inspired by late country icon Johnny Cash and legendary punk band The Clash.

All proceeds from Old Clash Fight Song, released on 20 August 2007, will benefit Bragg’s Jail Doors organisation, which takes its name from a 1978 The Clash B-side. The charity aims to reduce re-offending among British prisoners by offering an outlet through taking up music lessons. Bragg has promised to donate £1 from each copy of the seven-inch single, which will be available on his official website.

Speaking about his admiration for The Clash’s late frontman, and renowned activist, Joe Strummer, Bragg says, “Time and time again you find that it’s old Clash fans who are leading the charge. “Although we may have hung up our leather jackets, those of us who were touched by the fire of punk have held onto our anti-fascist ideals. “The death of Joe Strummer in 2002 brought a lot of us together again to celebrate Joe’s life and we were amazed to find that many of us were involved in activism in one way of another – union organisers, environmental campaigners, documentary filmmakers.

Let’s be totally honest here……it’s not the greatest bit of music ever made. But it’s one that takes me back to the early 80s when the Bard of Barking started enteratining us,  and given that I first began a blog mainly to trigger off memories of times past, it seemed appropriate to put these songs up with the landmark post:-

mp3 : Johnny Clash – Old Clash Fan Fight Song
mp3 : Johnny Clash – The Big Lie

Enjoy.

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES…COURTESY OF SID LAW (1)

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It was back at the turn of the year when Sid initially got in touch.  The e-mail was entitled ‘Cheers, Happy New Year’ and it said:-

Still enjoying your blog Mr Villain! Thought I’d be a little presumptuous and send you some Billy in the form of a little-heard version of It’s Over just featuring the orchestra. BEF dragged it out of their vaults a few years back.

Hard to believe that it will be 18 years ago this month since Billy died.

Happy to dredge my vault for anything you might want on the Billy front if you are thinking of a wee post later in the month. I do have an awfie lot.

Orrabest

Sid Law

From there we hatched a plan with the intention of having a whole week’s worth of posts in the run-up to the anniversary but stormy weather and power-cuts in Sid’s neighbourhood led to delays and this change of tack.

After I’d thanked him for sending me the orchestral mix of It’s Over, Sid quickly sent over another e-mail with an example of the sort of rarities he has.

Another from Billy. His take on Randy Newman’s “Baltimore”.

A version of the track (there are a couple) appeared on the ridiculously limited edition posthumous “Wild Is The Wind EP” on Paul Haig’s ROL label (Paul Haig had nothing to do with the actual recording – it ain’t a MacKenzie/Haig number).

The song never re-appeared on any of the posthumous CD album issues of unreleased material and hasn’t been seen or heard since.

Enjoy.

Sid Law

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie – Baltimore

As our benefactor says, enjoy.

I should mention that Sid very generously supplied high-quality rips of all the songs.  It’s my decision to pare these back to mere CD quality for the blog.  At the end of it all, I’m intending to put the hi-quality versions up for a short period of time.

AM I ALONE IN BEING OUT OF STEP?

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I like my 80s synth-pop and I like bands who pay tribute to it in exciting and innovative ways. I was therefore keen to give Singles by Future Islands a try given most reviews upon its release as well as reviews of music in 2014 raved about it.

The first time I ever heard of Future Islands, despite this release being their fourth studio album, was when they featured in a guest posting from S-WC back in April 2014. He was looking at bands whose name began with the letter F and he wrote this:-

Talking of great records, a few weeks ago Future Islands released Seasons (Waiting on You), which is right now holding firm as the best record I have heard this year. Yup better than Happy by Pharrell Williams.

Just after the release of their fourth album Singles the band were invited on to the Letterman Show and there they played ‘Seasons’ and delivered a performance so staggering, so jaw droppingly fucking magnificent that all of a sudden a big secret had been let out of the bag. Put ‘Future Islands Letterman’ into a search engine and you will understand.

I took SW-Cs advice. There is no argument from me that it is one of the most spellbinding things, from a musical context, that I’ve ever seen as part of a TV programme.

Later on in the year, Aldo caught Future Islands playing live in Glasgow and included Seasons (Waiting On You) as one of the tracks to go with his review-of-the-year piece. And so, I was very happy when in a mainstream record store last week (tracking down a DVD boxset on sale) to spot that Singles could be bought for just £5.

The record open with Seasons. It is a beguiling and interesting opening. As the live clip demonstrates, Samuel T Herring croons, swoops and growls his way above a tune that is very atypical of some of the very best synth-pop bands of the 80s. I really do like Seasons…..it’s a cracking bit of music while the vocal has you dredging your memory banks to come up with a comparator but in the end you conclude that he is unique, although the one name I couldn’t shift out of my head was Cee Lo Green.

The next song to come out of the speakers is Spirit which musically struck me as a cross between Vince Clarke era Depeche Mode and OMD but which vocally annoyed the hell out of me without me really being able to explain why. Come track 4 on the CD and I’d got it…Herring reminded far too often of the vocal gymnastics performed by Mick Hucknall’s MOR pap when the record buying public went crazy for them.

In short…other than the opening track, this record is a real letdown bar one or two snippets of music that were interesting – Light House (track 7) has some nifty guitar work reminiscent of New Order on their early 80s albums. I accept that it would be near impossible to maintain the high expectations from the opener but the sad thing is none of the other nine songs really come remotely close. I just found it really boring and unmemorable. I thought back to A Flock of Seagulls who had one great single and very little to back it up – but we found ourselves more than three decades ago noticing them and talking cos the frontman had a great and strange haircut while today we have noticed and are talking about Future Islands cos the frontman does crazy wee dances and is passionate about his vocal delivery in a live setting.

Maybe my expectations going in were too high but I found the record to be no more exciting than any new record by Coldplay and I am at a loss to understand why so many folk are creaming their underwear over something so lifeless, dull and dreary. When the record ended I just felt it had consisted of one of two constant and repetitive drum and synth beats – either uptempo groove or even worse lumpen slow stuff which would be a great cute for insomnia.

Singles has had folk raving about in throughout 2014 but I reckon come 2016 most folk will look back on their fawning reviews and be embarrassed.

I very rarely use this blog to pen negative stuff – if I’m not a fan I prefer to say nothing at all. There’s plenty of vinyl and CD in the collection that I haven’t ever mentioned this past eight and a bit years for that very reason. But given this is a time when I seem to be so out of sync – you’ll struggle to find anywhere a bad word said about this record – I’m going to make an exception.

As I said at the outset, I really do like my 80s synth-pop and I like bands who pay tribute to it in exciting and innovative ways. Future Islands, on this showing, do no such thing.

Try these instead:-

mp3 : White Lies – To Lose My Life
mp3 : Ladyhawke – Magic
mp3 : Delphic – Doubt

READ IT IN BOOKS : ELVIS COSTELLO

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My love for music extends to the written word. I haven’t counted them up but I do have a substantial number of biographies about musicians and bands….its certainly into the many hundreds and it grows by the year as I have a rule of thumb never to toss away any book, even if I don’t like it.

I got a pleasant surprise from Santa this year, courtesy of Cullen Skink, a friend who was an occasional contributor to the old blog. He gave me a copy of Complicated Shadows : The Life and Times of Elvis Costello, originally published in 2004. The book is the work of Graeme Thomson, one of the most prolific contributors about music and culture to newspapers and magazines here in the UK as well as the author of a number of bios with Johnny Cash, Kate Bush and George Harrison among those he has covered in addition to the man originally named Declan McManus.

It is a cracking read – for once the promo blurb on the cover got it spot on with its description being ‘meticulously researched and fluently told’. It is the work of someone who clearly very much admires and respects the singer but at the same time who pulls no punches in terms of offering a critique of some of the music that EC has released, nor does it shy away from behaviours or incidents showing the singer in a less than flattering light. One review at the time of its issues said “As believable and fair a picture of the man himself as I suspect is actually possible. He’ll not like it though.”

It again brought home just how diverse a career Elvis Costello has enjoyed over such an extended period of time. The reader is left with a clear impression of a man who is determined not to be pigeon-holed in any shape or form and who has such incredible self-confidence that he feels no form of music is beyond him. And for the most part, he’s been proven to be right and time and time again he’s defied those who have written him off with some sort of masterpiece coming on the back of some lesser well-received recordings.

If you’re a fan of Elvis Costello but haven’t got round to reading it then I recommend it highly. Equally, if you’re someone who likes biographies of famous folk, musicians or otherwise, then I can also recommend this as an entertaining and enlightening read.

Four songs today, lifted from a 1989 EP centred around a song lifted from his then new LP Spike and co-written with his then partner Cait O’Riordan, former bassist with The Pogues, but containing three other ballads from various points in his back catalogue:

mp3 : Elvis Costello – Baby Plays Around
mp3 : Elvis Costello – Poisoned Rose
mp3 : Elvis Costello – Almost Blue
mp3 : Elvis Costello – My Funny Valentine

Enjoy

 

NEXT YEAR’S NOSTALGIA FEST (Part 1 of 48)

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1986 was an important year in the history of the genre that has become known as indie-pop, characterised by the release of C86, a 22-song cassette compilation from the NME consisting of what were largely up and coming UK bands who were making guitar-based pop music that was a throwback to the Postcard and early Rough Trade era at the start of the decade.

It was a time when music was being made on the cheap and in a rough and ready fashion which harked back to the punk/new wave era, and it was no real surprise that the biggest music paper in the country focussed on what it hoped would the next new wave of music on the tenth anniversary of the birth of punk.

C86 did not generate any huge amount of commercial success with the vast majority of the bands involved never really getting beyond cult status. But there was something of a timeless quality tabout a number of the songs, and indeed of other contemporary songs which weren’t included on the cassette.

In 2006, CD86 was released to mark the 20th anniversary of C86. It consisted of 48 tracks, compiled by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne, complete with a short essay in which he extolled the virtues of the movement with the statement:-

“It was the beginning of indie music. It’s hard to remember how underground guitar music and fanzines were in the mid-’80s. DIY ethics and any residual punk attitudes were in isolated pockets around the country, and the C86 comp and gigs brought them together”.

While I beg to differ about it being the birth of indie music (what had I spent my late teen and early 20s dancing to if it wasn’t indie?), I won’t disagree that the songs of the era have a certain charm and so, for the new Sunday series now that the Moz singles feature has again come to an end, I’m going to look at all 48 songs on the CD 86 compilation and where possible also feature the b-side if the song had been a 45.

Interestingly enough, the CD86 compilation only featured 3 of the original 22 songs which had been on C86, while seven of the 22 acts were omitted altogether – Stump, Bogshed, A Witness, Miaow. The McKenzies, Fuzzbox and The Shrubs – in his essay Bob Stanley offers the opinion that some groups on the NME compilation were genuinely dire and he specifically mentions The McKenzies, A Witness and Stump.

It is the case that each of C86 and CD86 opened with the same song by the one band that emerged from the movement to really experience worldwide fame and fortune over an extended period….just a pity for the genre that they made their fame and fortune from a totally different style of music!!

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mp3 : Primal Scream – Velocity Girl

Clocking in at some 80 seconds in length, this just about perfectly encapsulates what the C86 movement was all about.  The production was a long way removed from the slick and glossy material that was then dominating the charts, the band sounded as if they had only just got together for a bet or a laugh (or both) and the singer wasn’t blessed with the most natural of voices – but somehow it all came together in a way that was enchanting and entrancing.

Strangely enough, Velocity Girl was the b-side of the second ever Primal Scream single released on Creation Records back in 1986, but thanks to its inclusion on various compilation LPs over the year has become far better known than its a-side:-

mp3 : Primal Scream – Crystal Crescent

Tune in on the next 47 Sundays for the rest of the series…..

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 127)

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X Lion Tamer was the recording name adopted by the Edinburgh-based musician Tony Taylor (he originally called himself Ex Lion Tamer, after the song by Wire but changed it after discovering that an American band had already taken that particular moniker)

He was part of the 17 Seconds label which was the brainchild of Ed Jupp, well-known blogger and all round good guy – Ed was one of those guys who got into music blogging and followed it with something a bit more substantial and meaningful.

Over the course of two years, X Lion Tamer released three download only singles, with two of these coming together on the Neon Hearts EP which came out in September 2009.

mp3 : X Lion Tamer – Neon Hearts
mp3 : X Lion Tamer – Life Support Machine
mp3 : X Lion Tamer – Tugboat
mp3 : X Lion Tamer – I Said Stop

While three of the songs are original compositions, Tugboat is a cover of a track written and recorded originally by Galaxie 500.

The music was described by some as weird and wonky electronic pop heavily influenced by the 80s while others said he sounded like the ending credits of low-budget 80s teen movies – played on your mate’s Amiga.

It’s certainly different.

THE JAMES SINGLES (23)

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In March 1998, all concerned thought it would be a good idea to compile and release The Best of James. It brought together fourteen hit singles from the Mercury/Fontana years together with Hymn From A Village from the Factory Records era plus two brand new songs, both of which were due for release as singles as part of the promotion of the ‘new’ LP.

Destiny Calling was made avilable a couple of weeks before the album and was issued, as had become the norm, in a 3xCD package. It’s a single that’s among the best James released in the mid-late 90s. The tune is more than decent while the lyric pokes fun at how the music industry was beginning to pan out in the run up to the turn of the century with its ever-increasing emphasis on manufacturing and controlling the entire sound, look and feel of musicians. Who really in their right mind would set out to be a famous pop star in these times?

The first of the CDs featured what was claimed to be three exclusive rare tracks all of which however had been available as b-sides to previously released hit singles and therefore probably already owned by most fans.  The second CD went for live material from what had been, to all intents and purposes, a more than decent show at the Reading Festival the previous August, and having come in for justified criticism over the choices made on previous live songs as b-sides it was good that two of them were from Wah Wah and this rather different in the live setting that than the studio.  Just a pity the other track was a lumpen and wearisome number that too often sounded like u2 by numbers.  CD3, which I don’t have, provided a  multimedia section containing the video of She’s A Star together with snippets of videos of other songs you could find on ‘Best Of’.

Interestingly, the artwork for the single harked back to the baggy era with the use of the daisy logo that had adorned so many t-shirts.

The single entered the charts at #17 and dropped down the week after just as the album began its ascent to the #1 spot.

James were now arguably,  more popular and better-known in the UK than at any other point in their career, thanks to this compilation drawing attention to the consistency and quality of the singles.  Those of us who has been looking on for over a decade could only sigh and think of all the great tracks that would have made it a genuine ‘Best Of’ rather than a chart-fodder effort.

The tracks on CD 1 (Assassin, Goalie’s Ball and The Lake) have all featured earlier in this series so here’s the tracks from CD2:-

mp3 : James – Destiny Calling
mp3 : James – Jam J (live)
mp3 : James – Honest Joe (live)
mp3 : James – Sound (live)

Enjoy

BILLY MACKENZIE : 27 MARCH 1957 – 22 JANUARY 1997

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From Sid Law:-

I don’t know what Billy Mackenzie might make of the music scene in Scotland today. Maybe Billy would have got his performance thing back and could have sung publicly again. I remember seeing Roland Gift about fifteen years back at the Speigeltent in Edinburgh one Festival and thinking “Billy should be here doing this…”.

I think the abiding thing I got from Billy and his music in the early 80’s was his playfulness and fun. Every TV appearance was hilarious (ever seen him do Amazing Grace with Paul Haig at Hogmanay?). He was dead cool, wrote some marvellous songs, had a voice to rival anyone and made it all seem like falling off a log. His death was due to Chronic Depression (the prescription drug mechanism is unimportant). When you look at how he was treated during his last ten years by the Music Business you can see how a soul like Billy could be damaged. Yet he really soared in his later work in the more free, more independent atmosphere of the mid 90’s. The shackles were off and he seemed to have such confidence in his abilities and a real command of his voice and… and then he was gone. At the top of his game.  And that is what I hope some of the upcoming postings over the next few weeks will demonstrate.

Billy recorded four albums with Alan Rankine (well two albums and one compilation and one remix album) all of which are great but then there were only another four albums afterwards (including Billy’s solo one and the then unreleased ‘Glamour Chase’) before he died.  What is often forgotten is just how many collaborations there were, partly because when  Billy had label problems (and he always did) he just looked around and did something else. Again, some of the upcoming postings will hopefully demonstrate that such collaborations, many of which were completed shortly before his death, have a quality of performance that are simply breathtaking.

One of the periods when Billy found himself in the frustrating position of having a record company that didn’t want to put out his records was in the late 80’s . Thankfully his pals like Yello and Uno (Philip Erb and Blair Booth) were happy to have Billy sing on their records. The track Cinemas Of The World appeared as a 12″ extended version and a 7″ mix. It didn’t sell. Nor did the subsequent Uno album “Uno” which also featured Jimmy Sommerville. So here is Billy in the hard-to-get-anything-released days of 1987.

mp3 : Uno (featuring Billy Mackenzie) – Cinemas of The World

 

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Going back further in time, the first Associates album “The Affectionate Punch” is always worth a listen.

Released in 1980, it is a stunning debut and a strange mixture of Bowie, Roxy and breathless gallivanting bravado and still an exhilarating listen. The title track is a total blast and “A Matter Of Gender” is a surge of a song to hear at any time. But one song which connected with me back then and still finds its way onto my car-cassette is “Logan Time”.

I don’t know what the song is about, but at Liff (just down the hill from Auchterhouse) there is a road called “The Logan” and the Loganberry was developed in the berryfields around Dundee. Maybe it is about that time of year, maybe it is about something else entirely. Probably. But the song is a career highlight vocal performance from Billy and shows a maturity and musical scope and range which was the mark of Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine’s work together.

The image above is a view of the Sidlaw Hills by MacKintosh Patrick. Billy spent a lot of his time here at Scotstoun Cottage. He would walk his dogs over the fields and up around Auchterhouse Hill.

mp3 : Associates -Logan Time

39 Lyon StreetBilly in The Crypt

Billy was forever creating new Associates (whoever he was recording with was an Associate). His entire career is one long list of collaborations from Strange News, Skids, Orbidoig, Annie Lennox, 39 Lyon Street, Yello, Uno, Loom, Apollo 440, Barry Adamson etc. The list is a very long one.

This version of Simon Dupree and The Big Sound’s “Kites” was an early contract- challenging release where Billy was allowed to record a single for another label but was forbidden to sing lead vocal on the A-side of any such single. Christine Beveridge found herself breathlessly whispering a nervous lead vocal while Billy belted out the choruses lying on his back on the studio floor.

I love the arrangement on this 12″ version. It grooves along with fellow Associate Alan Rankine covering the instruments. It was released in May 1981 and didn’t trouble the charts. I think it is a total gem and typical of Billy and Alan’s rapid working methods during 1981-82 when a prolific period saw no less than eleven singles recorded and released.

mp3 : 39 Lyon Street – Kites (12″ version)

 

 

BILLY MACKENZIE : A SMALL APPRECIATION

dp-the-associates-billy-mackenzie-by-gilbert-blecken-1994-1

Most people with even just a passing acquaintance with early 80s UK pop music will be vaguely aware of Billy Mackenzie thanks to the run of three chart singles – Party Fears Two, Club Country and 18 Carat Love Affair – enjoyed by his band Associates back in 1982. If those three classic 45s had been all that he had ever lent his distinctive and unique vocal talents to, then Billy Mackenzie would still be worthy of having a place at the top table of pop geniuses for they are unlike any other hit songs of that era that more than three decades on still have the ability to impress and astonish with every single listening.

It will be 18 years ago tomorrow since Billy took an overdose to end his life just two months short of his 40th birthday – and there will be a special guest posting coming your way from one of his biggest and long-standing fans  – Sid Law – who for a number of years kept the flame alive in a tremendously informative and quite unique fan site called Whippet At The Wheel (click here).

The site was only up and running for a short period of time and there were only ever 32 postings….but what made it so very special was that Sid was posting songs and music that otherwise had never been made commercially available at any time…and he’s kindly doing the same tomorrow as well as allowing me to put up a piece of music today. I’m really thrilled and honoured.

At the time of Billy Mackenzie’s his death, he had been largely forgotten by most music fans and considered an irrelevance by all but the most loyal of his fanbase. As is so often the case, it took death for a more honest and meaningful reappraisal of his career to happen and if anything he is better known today than he was even at the height of his fame.

A lot of this has to do with the initial 1998 publication of The Glamour Chase by Tom Doyle, in which Billy’s life-story is told with huge affection and honesty. The book led to a 40-minute long television documentary here in Scotland (currently available to view on YouTube – just click this link), and then in 2009 a play was written and performed in his home city of Dundee and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Two years later, Tom Doyle revised and updated the biography, leaning on much of what had been said and written in the first decade of this century, a period in which a poll of many hundreds of Scottish music bloggers had voted Party Fears Two as the greatest ever Scottish single and in which many famous musicians the world over had cited Billy Mackenzie as being as big an influence on them as anyone else.

As with any well-written and well-researched biography, the book filled in a lot of gaps in knowledge in terms of the personal and fleshed out much in terms of the musical. It shed light on the complex nature of Billy’s love for his home city; as a teenager he couldn’t wait to escape its confines in a period when it was in very steep decline – physically, economically and culturally – but it was also his place of refuge when things weren’t going so well for him. It highlights just how hard he and others worked to make his band a success – it wasn’t until the release of their 10th single and 3rd LP that Associates finally had a hit – and tries to make sense of the accompanying madness and chaos that led to the band, in its most commercially successful guise, imploding almost immediately.

In a pre-internet age, when all we could rely on were carefully crafted press releases or interviews in music papers/magazines, fans could only look on and wonder why Billy always seemed to be at loggerheads with his record companies and why his material, when it was released (if it was released!!) seemed to veer violently between the brilliant and the banal with very little in-between.

We now know with hindsight that Billy struggled with the constant commercial failures and was bemused by the success of many others who were making music in the late 80s and early 90s. He put himself under huge pressures to turn his career around but all he succeeded in doing was to make himself more and more ill as time passed – not that he let on to anyone as his public appearances still saw that cheeky, mischievous grin and glint in the eye, albeit he never went anywhere without a beret as he hated the idea of going bald (there’s a great clip in the STV documentary of a performance in which Billy provides evidence that no matter how handsome a devil you are, it is impossible to look good while wearing a wig).

But his death, even to those of us who were long-time fans, came as the most huge shock. Billy had been somewhat out of the limelight for a few years, and it was almost impossible to find any Associates records as they had been long-deleted by record companies. But we had been reading that he was on his way back having just signed a contract with a new label and was busy in the studio.

It’s since become apparent that a series of events, not least the death of his mother, triggered-off a bout of very serious depression for Billy, but it was an illness that he hid even from those who were closest to him as is quite clear from the documentary with his father and a sister making very brave and heartbreaking contributions.

Billy’s death was sad and tragic. But I think, having read The Glamour Chase, that it was an ending that was in some ways inevitable.

His legacy is a volume of work that has highs and lows, and one that is dominated by that 1982/83 era of Sulk. Even as I mentioned earlier, even if it had just been the three singles from that era that he had left behind then Billy would still be a legend in pop music.

He possessed, without any doubt, a unique singing voice. He had attitude and a fierce streak of independence.  And while he had the support of some in the music industry who stood up for him at all times, it was still a requirement that sales had to be healthy, failing which you had better be willing to bow-down before the powerful moguls and do what you’re told.  He failed in the former and he wouldn’t ever dream of doing the latter.

It’s impossible to guess what the past 18 years would have been like if Billy was still alive. He might have found the magic touch for another hit out of the blue (a la Edwyn Collins and A Girl Like You). Most likely however, is that he would still be recording albums to be bought by just the hard-core of fans, for it took his death to rekindle interest in his work and the re-release of most of his material. But as I say, we just don’t know.

I’m just someone who appreciates the music he left behind, whether as a band member, solo singer or as a collaborator with countless others.  When I first penned a tribute to him over at the old place, marking the 10th anniversary of his death, one of the songs I went with was a cover of a Roy Orbison number that he had recorded for Music of Quality & Distinction Volume One, a 1981 project from the British Electric Foundation.  Knowing my love for that particular cover, Sid sent me something a little bit special that I’m now sharing with you:-

mp3 : B.E.F. featuring Billy Mackenzie – It’s Over (Orchestra Mix)

R.I.P Billy.   You were a sublime talent and you are much missed.

PS

Such has been the amount of stuff that Sid has been sending over to me that I will be keeping some of it back for other posts in the coming days.  It really is the most incredible set of emails to ever fall into my Inbox since the discovery of ‘lost’ Paul Quinn songs and videos.

FROM THE SOUTH-WEST CORRESPONDENT

merchandise

His last posting was back on 12 August 2014 when he let us know that he was heading off to work in Guyana. Well he’s back….and he’s got some scandal for us………

Three Songs by…….

So I’m back in the UK. Its cold, really cold and surprisingly its wet. I could sit here and regale you all with show off tales of the jungle, but I’m not going to. I will say if you get the chance to visit Guyana, you should probably go. Don’t go if you don’t like pineapple, humidity and rum.

Right, what’s been happening out there?

Anyone got any gossip? No?

Well listen to this then, apparently since I have been away, the man at Number 32 is now the man from Number 36, and the man from Number 36 is awaiting trial for threatening the man from number 32 with a massive plank of wood. The woman from number 32 apparently sits indoors slowly rocking and staring out of the window, slowing crocheting small lifelike dollies, which she then stabs with a hairpin. I may have made that last bit up.

In other news, the person babysitting our house has managed to

a) drink all my Bermudian Gold Rum,
b) break three mugs, and
c) totally bugger the tumble drier.

He told me about the tumble drier, so that wasn’t as much as a shock as the rum and the mugs.

Being back is weird, people I had completely forgotten even existed have spoken to me, and I am always amazed at how little life changes in a village on the outskirts of a city. The old lady with the wonky eye still has a wonky eye, the lamppost opposite the bus stop still doesn’t work, the hilarious graffiti penis is still on the side of the children’s slide, the newsagent up the road still insists on calling me Nick, despite the fact that a) its not my name, and b) I’ve told him my actual name about twelve times. So as I revert back to normality and get used to opening my door and not finding a parrot in the tree outside, or a cockroach in the bath, or a toad being eaten alive by ants, or actual bonafide aliens in the warehouse down the road (I may have made one of these up), I find myself catching up with music.

The house sitter left me a whole load of stuff on a ten GB memory stick. It’s full – a thank you for 6 months of rent free living. So instead of saving the money he blew it on rock and roll. Nice work. I blow my wages on sink cleaners, nappies and banana flavoured biscuits, I digress.

So to mark my return, here are three songs from what is so far the best thing on the memory stick, I’m only about a third of the way through though – but ladies and gents, the utterly wonderful Merchandise.

mp3 : Merchandise – Little Killer
mp3 : Merchandise – Green Lady
mp3 : Merchandise – Who Are You?

S-WC

—————————————

It’s good to have him back. Amazing how he just turns up as the Moz series draws to a close. It’s almost as if he timed it deliberately.

 

THE MOZ ALBUMS…IN PREFERENCE ORDER

mozz

One of the oldest acquaintences of the blog – Friend of Rachel Worth – mentioned the other week that he’d be interested in hearing how I would rank the order of each of the ten studio albums released by Morrissey over the course of his now 27 year solo career. I’m never one to resist a challenge, and so here in, descending order:-

10. Southpaw Grammar (1995)

I have tried really hard but there is very little that I can bring myself to love on this album. I never imagined Morrissey recording and releasing songs that were in excess of ten minutes in length nor did I ever imagine that large parts of the songs would comprise instrumental solos from his band members. Oh and the two singles lifted from the album were really poor efforts.

There is no doubt that the release of this album challenged Morrissey fans to broaden their horizons and there were some critics who thought it a brave, bold and ambitious move. Not me.

9. Kill Uncle (1991)

This suffers from being released on the back of an outstanding debut album and a whole range of mostly tremendous non-LP singles which very few of the Kill Uncle songs come close to matching. Quirky is a great word to describe the record but sadly, the dull parts far far outweigh the really good parts. And the best songs were the two singles…

8. Years Of Refusal (2009)

There are some really good moments on this record with some cracking lyrics but overall I find this just a bit too bombastic for my tastes. It’s a record that provided Moz with some of the most positive reviews of his entire career but I can’t help feeling that such critics, younger than myself for the most part, will have taken satisfaction from a record which sounded like something they had grown up with in the 90s as opposed to us sad old gits who yearned for lighter sounding material

7. Maladjusted (1997)

This could have been one of the greatest albums of his career as there are a number of outstanding songs on it, but it is very badly letdown by some of the worst things he has ever recorded – those of you who have followed the singles rundown will know where I’m coming from. The title track remains a live tour de force.

There was of course a very interesting re-release in 2009 with two of the weakest tracks being taken off and six additional songs (many of them very good b-sides plus the held-back scathing attack on Mike Joyce) – if this had been the original release of the LP then it would certainly have been in the Top 5.

6. World Peace Is None Of Your Business (2014)

In a few years time this might rise up the chart as it is growing on me a fair bit. There’s a lot of great music on this album which is let down by some of the most cringe-worthy lyrics that Moz has penned as he seeks to ram many of his personal views and beliefs down the throats of listeners. I find some of it quite distressing.

Like Malajusted, this could have been a tremendous LP if some of the songs on the bonus disc/record had been included within the main release at the expense of what I feel are some of the weaker and most cringe-worthy songs. It would have been fascinating to hear the songs played live as I’d be very interested to see if his band, with all their rock-edges and constant abilities to butcher some of the great Smiths singles, can capture the lovely moments that this record provides – there is a chance to do so in Glasgow on 21 March but I have decided to give the gig a bodyswerve.  Tickets ranged between £50-£72 plus booking fee and handling charges and I can’t bring myself to pay that for an arena that holds 12,000 fans – especially when just a mile or so up the road there’s this even more attractive gig.

5. Viva Hate (1988)

The solo debut which suffered at the time from being a record without the talents of Johnny Marr. It was tough getting over the break-up of The Smiths but the release of the single Suedehead provided great hope for all fans. Sadly, very few of the tracks on Viva Hate matched its brilliance but on the other hand a couple of songs surpassed even the majesty of the debut single. For that alone, it holds a high place on my rundown although there are some songs I just don;t listen to all that often nowadays.

4. You Are The Quarry (2004)

The comeback album after a seven-year absence which proved he hadn’t lost it. For a while I thought this was my favourite solo album, largely on the basis of the cracking singles that were lifted from it but also because it was so exciting to hear new material after such a long time. However, as time has marched on there’s a few songs which I feel haven’t aged all that well – even in such a short period of time – and so it has slowly slipped down the list.

3. Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)

The proof that the comeback was going to be sustainable. Soundwise, this was every bit as unexpected and surprising as Southpaw Grammar had been but this time in a good way. There were all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds spread across the album from all-out rock numbers to material that lended itself to being recorded and performed by a full orchestra. An unexpected joy at the time made all the better by the fact that it was toured initially through gigs at some very small and intimate venues normally off the beaten track which made the songs all the more memorable. I don’t expect to hear him record anything like this again.

2. Your Arsenal (1992)

Kill Uncle had seen many folk write off Morrissey – I was one of them if truth be told. I didn’t see how he could possibly make me feel excited about music again when there was so much great stuff to listen to out there and when my musical tastes were broadening considerably to take in, for instance, grunge and rap along with a new-found appreciation for country. But I hadn’t counted on the biff bang pow factor of this record albeit I was uncomfortable trying make sense of some of the lyrics which initially made me feel Moz was sympathetic to right-wing Nazis and football hooligans. A record that still sound fresh all these years on.

1. Vauxhall And I (1994)

Opening with what I feel is the finest solo song of his career (and I still will never fathom why it wasn’t a single….I can imagine it still today being lauded by millions and given the awful cover-version treatment on ‘talent’ shows) and closing with a track that many fans rate as one of the best things he and his band ever do on the live setting. This is as flawless a studio LP that he has ever released and one of my favourite albums, by anyone, of all time.

So there you have it folks.

mp3 : Morrissey – I Will See You In Far Off Places
mp3 : Morrissey – Seasick, Yet Still Docked
mp3 : Morrissey – Speedway

THE MOZ SINGLES (48)

morrissey-all-you-need-is-m-434474mp3 : Morrissey – All You Need Is Me

Not quite true, but an ideal way to end this long-running series which has looked, in what I hope has been an objective way, at all of the singles Morrissey has released during his solo career.

I’ve kept this till last, partly as I thought it was a great title to round things off, but also because of something bizarre that happened about two-thirds of the way through the series when I originally featured it about five years ago on the old blog.

When I started out, I wasn’t sure if I was in fact going to cover every single, mainly as I didn’t have all of them in the collection either on vinyl or CD. As time went on I realised with a little bit of wheeling and dealing on ebay and discogs that I could get a hold of everything and so I went about sorting things out.

I hadn’t bought all three version of All You Need Is Me on its original release in June 2008, going instead for just the CD as it was on offer in the indie record shop. Then maybe two or so months back , I noticed someone was selling both 7″ singles. So I went into make a bid….and discovered that the seller was none other than Rol, who, as well as being a regular reader of The Vinyl Villain, had his own blog called Sunset over Slawit. (sadly now defunct, be Rol is still entertaining us thanks to My Top Ten)

I sent Rol an email asking if, instead of a bidding war on ebay, he perhaps had a price in mind over which we might be able to come to an arrangement. To my delight he said yes. And to my delight and astonishment he said I could have them for free and that he would even pay for the postage.

As I said at the time it’s those sort of gestures and acts of kindness that make all this blogging malarkey so worthwhile.

Rol said that he was happy to do all this as a thank you for all the postings I had done over the years and for giving him the chance to listen to some songs he had either long forgotten about or which were new and enjoyable. I still would have been happy to pay the going rate for the singles…..

So what are the three final b-sides brought forward for your aural pleasure? Well, one is a quite rare live cover version that the great man only ever performed on about seven occasions while the other two are songs that would have improved his last LP if they had been kept back for that:-

mp3 : Morrissey – Drive-In Saturday (live)
mp3 : Morrissey – My Dearest Love
mp3 : Morrissey – Children In Pieces

The more than passable cover of the David Bowie single dates from May 2007 and was part of the encore of the gig held at the Orpheum Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska. It was preceded by Everyday Is Like Sunday and followed up with the last song of the evening, You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side.

My Dearest Love is a fabulous song, one that is heavily dominated by the piano and as such a real welcome move away from the brash guitars that have been such a prominent part of most tunes since Jesse Tobias joined the backing band and got involved in writing material.

Children In Pieces may well have been inspired by the 2002 movie The Magdalene Sisters which was written and directed by the superbly talented Peter Mullan, a resident of Glasgow (and with whom I once got drunk at an awards ceremony!!). Morrissey’s song deals with similar themes covered in the movie, and while the lyrics are direct and unflinching, it doesn’t quite work as they are sung over an upbeat and plodding tune that is completely out of sync with the sentiments. Maybe one day Morrissey will return to the lyric and re-record it with a more appropriate tune…but I doubt it.

Both of the two new b-sides were produced by Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolla, who is best known for his score for Brokeback Mountain.

All You Need Is me only reached #24 in the UK charts when it deserved so much better. But as this series has shown, an awful lot of the singles suffered a similar fate.

Morrissey? We’re gonna miss him when he’s gone…….

Next Sunday will see the start of a new weekly series…which coincidentally is also going to have 48 parts.

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 126)

R-3618706-1366278019-4572.jpeg

Win featured on the blog last August thanks to me having a look at the 1987 single Super Popoid Groove which came in a 2-record gate fold sleeve featuring a copy of You’ve Got The Power, a previous and totally unjustified flop single dating back to June 1985.

Having reached Win in the alphabetical run through of Scottish singers/bands who have at least one single sitting in the cupboards or shelves here in Villain Towers, I thought I’d go back to the 1985 flop and the 12″ version of it.

It was after the break-up of The Fire Engines that Davy Henderson formed Win with Ian Stoddart (Bass), ex-Fire Engine Russell Burn (Drums/Keyboards), Emmanuel “Mani” Shoniwa (Guitar/Bass), Simon Smeeton (Guitar/Bass) and Willie Perry (Keyboards). This was a real effort to make more accessible pop music than his previous band and it remains a real mystery as to why their popularity never really extended much beyond the confines of Scotland, despite a handful of great singles and two albums which, while having dated largely because of their reliance on the 80s production trends, still have a smattering of excellent and catchy tunes.

My copy of You’ve Got The Power came with the bonus of a copy of the 12″ single Unamerican Broadcasting which had sold in miniscule numbers just a few months previously, and so here’s the full package of five songs in their full glory ripped straight from the vinyl:-

mp3 : Win – You’ve Got The Power (U.S. Dance Mix)
mp3 : Win – In Heaven (Lady In The Radiator Song)
mp3 : Win – Unamerican Broadcasting (7″ edit)
mp3 : Win – Unamerican Broadcasting (12″ Part 1)
mp3 : Win – Unamerican Broadcasting (12″ Part 2)

In Heaven is a cover of a song co-written by David Lynch and which featured in his 1977 horror classic Eraserhead.  Many of you will probably be more familiar with the version by The Pixies.

Oh and finally, for anyone interested, there is a tremendous fan site about Win, put together between 2006 and 2010. It’s well worth a few minutes of you time. Click here.