BILLY MACKENZIE : 27 MARCH 1957 – 22 JANUARY 1997

Billy with his whippetts

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

 

McIntosh Patrick - Sidlaw Vista

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)

 

 

10 thoughts on “BILLY MACKENZIE : 27 MARCH 1957 – 22 JANUARY 1997

  1. Thanks for the great post, Sid. Billy was everything you say here; one of those multi-talented, wonderful people the world just can’t handle. As for Logan, I’ve always read this as a reference to the film “Logan’s Run”, where people were killed off at the age of 30 to stop overpopulation – hence a kind of living on borrowed time as life was short!

  2. The Uno track show just how much a song benefited from Billy’s magic! Wonderful post! Looking forward to what comes next!!

  3. I’m almost at a loss as to how I found out about Billy’s death. It must have been on the web somewhere. I was very late to the game and only ever became a fan after “Popera” came out and I saw it in the used bins. I had been reading about Associates for a decade by then, but had not seen the records for sale. Not everything got imported to the American Southeast where I lived! When I saw “Popera” I popped the disc in the player, put the headphones on and played “White Car In Germany.” What was amazing that not only did the song live up to such a title, but it effortlessly surpassed all of my expectations. That experience changed me. In 1991 I was less than thrilled by the directions that modern music had been taking [and would continue to take] and upon playing that material, I realized that there could be more music that I had missed the first time around, and it was then that the seeds for the Post-Punk Monk were sowed. I kept up with Billy’s career and eagerly snapped up “Outernational” and its singles. “Opal Krusch” remains one of the most sumptuous house tracks I’ve ever heard, and I was by then beyond sick of house mixes! I was ready for more, but sadly, any more only came posthumously. But the CD portion of my Billy collection had grown mightily in the wake of his death. The multitude of projects that finally saw release was incredible. The last new track, as far as I know was the “Teturn To Love” 7″ that came out five years ago, but no! I still need the “Do I Scare You” single that is (gulp) three figures.

  4. The problem with Billy was that he failed to capitilise on the one time he was in a position of strength within the music industry. In 1982 the buzz for him was incredible, he was on a major and in the charts, local radio here in Scotland was right behind him and he had a high profile tour stretching ahead which should have consolidated the Associates in the popular consciousness. With Alan Rankine as co-conspirator, he had a degree of artistic freedom (Sulk !!! how did they get away with that?) that was inspirational.

    Unfortunately he felt he could not go through with the tour for whatever reason and lost an awful lot of fans/potential fans in the process. He squandered his opportunity. He never really explained himself or did anything to make it up to them and, speaking as a massve fan myself, I found him very frustrating from that point onwards.

    Other artists with record company problems would go out and tour and work hard at building & maintaining a grass roots fan base that would help maintain their profile & from which they could build a career when their record company issues were resolved.

    Billy never did this, he lost the confidence of his record company, his artistic freedom and his way and I wonder if he ever looked back with regrets.

    However, on a brighter note, while it lasted in 1982, it was brilliant. I just think the Associates should have been a bigger deal, a cult band, yes, bit one along the lines of the Cure or Siouxsie or even the Smiths.

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