SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #94 : FAKE EYELASHES

Creeping Bent, aka The Creeping Bent Organisation is an independent record label set up by avant provocateur Douglas MacIntyre in 1994, based in Glasgow, Scotland. Creeping Bent was officially launched with a maxi–media event at Glasgow’s Tramway Theatre on 12 December 1994. The event was called A Leap Into The Void (BENT 001), in homage to Yves Klein, and featured film / theatre / pop ….made – up by a variety of artists.

Over the years Creeping Bent has focused on audio & visual stimulation, releasing music by an eclectic array of artists operating across multiple genres. Here is an example of some of the artists who have worked with Creeping Bent over the years; The Nectarine No9, Appendix Out, Found, The Secret Goldfish, Bill Wells & Isobel Campbell, Alan Vega / RCTJ, Adventures in Stereo, Bricolage, Future Pilot AKA, The Sexual Objects, Monica Queen, Fire Engines … There have been several highlights along the way, perhaps the most prestigious was being chosen by John Peel as the featured label when he curated the Meltdown Festival at the Royal Festival Hall… perhaps having Creeping Bent artists record 20 sessions for Peel’s BBC Radio 1 show comes a close second.

(as lifted from http://www.creepingbent.net/contact.htm)

I’ve mentioned Douglas MacIntyre a few times previously at this little corner of the internet, sometimes as the pop label boss but more often as a playing musician in all sorts of capacities and guises.  What I didn’t know until a newspaper feature a few years ago that had nothing at all to do with music, was that his wife is none other than Katy McCullars (aka Katy Lironi) who was part of the semi-legendary Fizzbombs in the C86 era, as featured here back in June 2015.

Katy would later be part of The Secret Goldfish, a band that released a number of intriguing and occasionally brilliant records in the 90s.  Fast forward to 2011, and she is the lead singer with Fake Eyelashes who released what I think was a download only album entitled A Little Bit Of Bread And No Cheers, via Creeping Bent.  There’s a wonderfully worded review to be found on-line from the archives of The List, a Scottish magazine that features all aspects of the performing and visual arts:-

Katy Lironi’s pedigree as a chanteuse dates back to C-86 swoonsters Fizzbombs followed by a stint fronting bubblegum stompers The Secret Goldfish. This latest vehicle for Ms L’s sublime cooing is an infinitely more laidback affair. Think Saint Etienne-style ballads without London-centric reference points but with a melancholy worthy of bedsit-era Tracy Thorn. This solitary, gal-in-exile feel is fleshed out on a still lugubrious ‘If You Made It Easy For Me by a mellowed out band arrangement, while electronic skitters underscore the equally plaintive ‘If I Could Only Cry’ on a late-night affair that sounds in need of a cuddle.I’ve one of the songs on the laptop – courtesy again of Phil Hogarth who I mentioned in the posting in this series last week. It’s one mentioned in the above review.  And it’s rather wonderful to listen to, although the vocal is a bit on the fragile side:-

mp3 : Fake Eyelashes – If You Made It Easy On MeSublime, and reminiscent musically of The Independent Group back in the 90s,

JC

 

AND NOW WE’RE GONNA DANCE TO A DIFFERENT SONG

The Damned, thanks to New Rose on Stiff Records in October 1976, may have released the first punk rock single in the UK but to many they were regarded as a bit of a joke band and never given the same kudos as many of their peers.

If you look back at their history, they do appear to have been a half-decent pop/rock band who were in the right place at the right time to jump on the bandwagon with enough savvy among certain band members to adopt the look and feel of punk, including adopting silly monikers, to get noticed and written about.

I hadn’t fully realised that they had broken up for a bit after their second album had been panned, undergoing various changes in personnel including having Jon Moss, later to find huge pop fame/infamy as part of Culture Club, on drums for a short spell. They were absent for much of 1978 but came back with a bang in 1979 with the occasionally tuneful Machine Gun Etiquette from which this classic 45 was lifted:-

mp3 : The Damned – Smash It Up

It was banned by the BBC on the basis of its title despite it not really being an anarchistic call to arms. Still made #35 in the charts but deserved better.

Here’s your b-side

mp3 : The Damned – Burglar

Comic-book punk rock indeed. The sort of stuff that Kenny Everett parodied in his TV shows of the time

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #142 : SUPERGRASS

One of the many great singles released by Supergrass emerged out of nowhere the other day, courtesy of i-pod random shuffle. It got me thinking that while they are a group I haven’t listened to in much detail for about ten years now, theirs was a career than more than merits a stab at an ICA. I’ll warn you now though, this is one that leans very heavily on singles….they did after all release 26 of them over a fourteen-year period.

SIDE A

1. Caught By The Fuzz (debut single, 1994 and I Should Coco LP, 1995)

This vibrant, catchy and fast-paced ditty, detailing the story of Gaz Coombes’ run in with the law for possession of cannabis at the age of 15, might well have been the debut appearance of Supergrass but two-thirds of the band were already veterans of the local music scene in Oxford.

Gaz, together with drummer Danny Coffey had been part of The Jennifers who had been signed by Nude Records in 1992. Only one single was released before the band fell out with the label and split-up. Gaz and Danny hooked up with bassist Mick Quinn to form Supergrass in February 1993 at which point in time Gaz was one month shy of his 17th birthday, Danny was 19 and Mick was positively ancient at 22.

The debut came out on local label Backbeat Records; one of its early champions was John Peel and the song was a hit with his listeners who voted it in at #5 in the Festive Fifty rundown of 1994. The attention that it, and follow-up single Manzsize Rooster, brought on the band led to them being courted by a number of major labels with them deciding to sign to Parlophone Records with who they would go on to record for the next fourteen years.

This was the song that popped up on the i-phone and I thought immediately that it should be part of the debut singles series that I’ve just got going, but as I said, further thoughts led to this ICA.

2. Alright (I Should Coco LP; single, 1995)

This, along with Common People by Pulp, is the song I most associate with the rise of Britpop.

It’s a song that really could only have been written by a young, carefree and happy songwriter, celebrating the fact that he is young, carefree and happy. It’s actually quite hard to imagine that it lay ‘unrecognised’ on the album for so long – it was the fifth and final single to be lifted from I Should Coco, but then again I suppose timing was everything. It came out in July 1995 and such a rousing and anthemic number was tailor-made for the summer. There will be millions of folk out there in this world whose holiday memories of that particular year will include a drunken sing-a-long at some location or other.

It’s often the case that over-exposure to a tune can make a listener grow sick and tired of it. Alright hung around the charts gaining airplay for months on end, as well as having a brilliant, funny and memorable video that was on heavy rotation, but somehow avoided every becoming annoying. Still great to listen to all these years later, albeit I can’t imagine its one that Gaz is comfortable playing these days now he’d middle-aged.

3. Grace (single; Life On Other Planets LP 2002)

One of things that gives Alright such a memorable hook is the piano part which was played by Rob Coombes, older brother of the band’s frontman. Indeed, Rob’s contributions in the studio and on-stage were always an essential part of the band’s sound but it wasn’t until the release of the time of the release of Life On Other Planets, their fourth album in 2002, that he officially became the fourth member.

It was long-overdue recognition but it did run the risk of perhaps turning the band into just another plodding four-piece going through the motions, especially given that their LP, released in 1999, had been a bit of a let-down to many, (despite harvesting a couple of excellent 45s). Nothing had been heard of the band for the best part of three years until a deliberately low-key and very limited edition 7” single, Never Done Anything Like That Before, was issued in July 2002 that came and went before most folk knew the band were back. As such, Grace was the comeback songs in advance of the new LP. It proved to be a superb return to form, allaying any fears of them becoming as dull, plodding and irrelevant as so many of their peers from the Britpop era.

4. Jesus Came From Outta Space (from Supergrass LP 1999)

It’s not that Supergrass was a poor album but it did have the unenviable task of following up two of the best received LPs released that decade. I’m a huge fan of the single Pumping On Your Stereo and it was a candidate to open up Side 2 of this ICA, but in the end it didn’t even make the cut. Certain things just had to give to accommodate other memorable pieces of music, not least this album track that is a wonderful blend of Blur, Violent Femmes and Super Furry Animals and yet is still recognisably 100% Gaz & co. A lyric that can be interpreted in a number of ways, I don’t see it as an attack on religion as such but it does such suggest that nobody should listen to fundamentalists or zealots. Would have made for a great single but would have likely suffered from a lack of airplay as cautious/conservative radio bosses would fear a backlash.

5. Low C (Road to Rouen LP; single, 2005)

The music on Road to Rouen is a very long way removed from the carefree attitude of the band’s origins and it does have the feel of the work of middle-aged musicians which is strange as Supergrass consisted of men who were in their late 20s or early 30s and still of a an age where fun was there to be had and recovery times from having such fun should be short.

It was a few years later, in the promotional activities around the next album, that Mick Quinn revealed the introspective nature of Road to Rouen was related to the death of Gaz and Rob’s mum, as well as the tensions in the band around Danny Goffey recovering after an extended period in which his life had somewhat spiralled out of control, thanks to him being part of a socially hedonistic London-based scene that revolved around people who were of huge interest to the UK tabloid newspapers – model Kate Moss and singer Liam Gallacher being prime examples. The music, and the lyrics, were inevitable given the sombre and serious place everyone found themselves in. It’s an album of just nine songs, none of which were obvious singles and yet it contains some of their finest work. There’s more to come on Side B…..

SIDE B

1. Richard III (single; In It For The Money LP, 1997)

The momentum from the debut album was maintained in early 1996 by the release of the single Going Out, a song that was, without any question, a sideways swipe at Danny Goffey who was just beginning to show signs of enjoying life a bit too much and not wanting to contribute to the band.

It took a year before anything else was released, but it was well worth it thanks to this near hard-rock production that I’m sure had a big influence on Matt Bellamy as he tried to work out where to position his band, Muse. It’s an absolute belter of a pop/rock hybrid in which the drummer was given his place to show how important he was to them. Worth mentioning that the name of the song comes from its working title in which all the new tunes were given people’s names. This just happened to be the third song called Richard and has nothing to do with the real-life kings and the famous play by Shakespeare.

2. Moving (single, Supergrass LP, 1999)

This was the 45 released on the eve of the third album. The glam-rock influenced and slightly silly but hugely enjoyable Pumping On Your Stereo had already been a hit earlier in the summer and most folk were probably expecting something similar as the follow-up. Once again, Supergrass did the unexpected with a mid-tempo, sad sounding number that is a commentary on how tedious, dull and repetitive life as musician out on the road could be. It was hardly an original topic for a songwriter to turn their attention to, but it’s done here in such a clever way, with the melancholy verses always giving way to a foot-stomping and catchy chorus that in a sense, is a guarantee of future success and further condemning the band to more time out there belting it out from stages the world over.

3. Diamond Hoo Ha Man (single, Diamond Hoo Ha LP, 2008)

The final Supergrass songs came and went without much fanfare in 2008. This was initially as much to do with the band releasing the first single via just a limited edition 7” vinyl single and latterly from the record label not wanting to spend too much in promotion. It was a sad and bitter end to what had been a long and successful involvement with Parlophone Records – it wasn’t actually supposed to be the band’s final album as come 2010 they were set to get going again, with indie label Cooking Vinyl announced as their new home. This single, the first new music since the downbeat and melancholy material found on Road to Rouen, was a very welcome return to the dynamic sounds of yesteryear. The pity is that much of the rest of the subsequent album didn’t match it.

4. Mansize Rooster (single, 1994 and I Should Coco LP, 1995)

And so the ICA goes from near the very end all the way back to the near beginning. It’s a great indication of what was to follow and listening again, more than two decades on, it’s no real surprise given the quality of this, the band’s second single, and their debut (as featured at outset of this ICA), that so many labels wanted to sign them and so many music lovers were quick to pledge their allegiance. Just don’t ask me to try to offer any logical explanation as to what Mansize Rooster is all about. Just enjoy the tune. And just enjoy how brilliant Supergrass were. All that’s left to say is this…………

5. Fin (Road to Rouen LP; single, 2005)

Sigh.

JC

HAD IT. LOST IT. (Part 7)

The debut pioneering single, as featured yesterday, was August 1972. Ten years later, Roxy Music released the utterly unlistenable AOR album Avalon. It’s another great demonstration of having it and losing it, but depending on your viewpoint, the band had perhaps long passed their sell-by date sometime previously.

For all that there was a run of classic singles in the early-mid 70s, Roxy Music were always judged on the contents of their albums. The self-titled debut was followed quickly by two albums in 1973 – For Your Pleasure and Stranded, and Country Life (1974) and Siren (1975). It really is astonishing to look back and see that five full studio albums were issued in a period of just forty months, all of which went Top 10 in the UK. The other thing to factor into this achievement is that, as a consequence of him being unhappy with the media focus seemingly all being on the frontman, Brian Eno left the band shortly after the release of the sophomore album. Any concerns that Eno’s departure would see Roxy Music’s popularity plummet were soon put to be bed; indeed Stranded, the first post-Eno LP became the band’s first ever #1 LP.

It wasn’t as if the band were wedded to the studio as each release was accompanied by live tours. A little bit of research reveals that Roxy Music played the major Glasgow venue (Green’s Playhouse/Apollo) in April 1973, November 1973, October 1974 (three nights) and October 1975 (three nights) which indicates this was a band that worked incredibly hard at all aspects of their trade.

They broke up in 1976, essentially as Bryan Ferry wanted to pursue a solo career. I was only 12/13 years old at that time and to be honest, was aware of the band less from their music (outside of their singles) and more from their evocative record sleeves in which you got to look at beautiful and scantily clad women in full colour at a time when such images were found only on top-shelf magazines. But this coincided with a time when I made new friends at secondary school, one of whom, Tam, was a huge Roxy Music fan as a result of his older twin sisters liking the band and playing their music non-stop, and through visits to his house I got to know the songs beyond the hit singles.

Fast forward to 1979. It’s Tam’s last year at school as he has already decided he’s going determined to leave as early as possible to get a job while I was set on staying on to University. We hear that Roxy Music have reformed and we both rush out and buy the comeback single Trash and later on the comeback LP Manifesto. We like what we hear but are shocked at the vitriol poured on the records by his older sisters. It’s the first time I can ever recall anyone who was such a huge and devoted fan of someone really being savage about their music – at that stage I’m in my musical development I was sure that once you were a fan, that was you for life.

Maybe what myself and Tam liked most about this era Roxy Music was that the new singles were being remixed and re-recorded for the disco markets and we were weekly regulars at a few church halls where you would turn up to receive your weekly humiliation at the hands of more confident, street-wise and sassy members of the opposite sex at the end of the night when the slow songs came on. But prior to that, you spent time in their company, not necessarily talking to them, but making awkward an unusual shapes with your body to the likes of Angel Eyes and Dance Away.

To those who were in their 20s and older, Roxy Music had already lost it. To us teens, they still had it in spades and more so in 1980 when Flesh + Blood spawned not only more dance singles but allowed Tam and myself to go see them at the Glasgow Apollo in July 1980 – the tickets given to us by his twin sisters for whom the latest LP was a step too far.

Not long after, Roxy Music enjoyed their biggest selling hit in the UK when their cover of Jealous Guy, released in the wake of the murder of John Lennon, went to #1. I didn’t like the single – I thought it bland, dull and unlistenable. In April 1982, Roxy Music released More Than This, another Top 10 hit single that I thought was appalling. By now, I cared little for the band and could finally understand why Tam’s sisters had disowned them three years previous when they too had left their teenage years.

So, I won’t argue that you can date Roxy Music losing it to when they reformed in 1979 as I was a huge fan for a while thereafter. But what I will say is, that if I was to piece together an ICA all these years later, it would almost certainly be made up of music that was recorded and released in the period 72-75.

I think we can all agree these demonstrate they had it:-

mp3 : Roxy Music – Pyjamarama
mp3 : Roxy Music – Out Of The Blue

These will satisfy fans of a certain age:-

mp3 : Roxy Music – Dance Away (12” version)
mp3 : Roxy Music – Over You

These, however, are shockers:-

JC

IT WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (6)

I’d have been just nine years old when today’s featured debut 45 stormed into the UK charts all the way up to #4. I do vaguely recall hearing it on the radio at the time but then again that might be my memory playing tricks on me and in fact I only became hugely familiar with it in the ensuing years.

By any account, this is a remarkable debut single. For one, it wasn’t the song that introduced Roxy Music to the general public as the debut album had already been in the shops for two months, an indication that the band and their record label were content to concentrate on that market and not worry about appearances on Top of the Pops.

For two, it’s a single that broke so many rules, particularly back in 1972. There’s a fade-in and gradual intro that would have confused DJs and there’s a dead-stop ending that would catch so many of them out. But most noticeably, there’s no chorus. Oh and the title of the song is only uttered once – and that’s with its closing two words.

mp3 : Roxy Music – Virginia Plain

Phil Manzanera provided a fascinating explanation in an interview many years later in that the debut album, which had sold I more than decent numbers, was full of songs that had no chorus and rarely referenced their titles, so when it was suggested that Roxy Music should cut a new song as a single nobody in the band knew how to write or record any differently.

The song developed from what was essentially a series of jamming sessions after Bryan Ferry had played three simple chords on the piano. The fact that the band were prepared to go a bit bonkers and throw in a studio effect of a motorbike revving as well as ask Andy McKay to go with an oboe solo rather than a sax solo merely made what would become Virginia Plain all the more unique and memorable.

It was also helped by a memorable and seemingly oblique opening verse:-

Make me a deal, and make it straight, all signed and sealed, I’ll take it
To Robert E. Lee I’ll show it, I hope and pray he don’t blow it ’cos
We’ve been around a long time
Tryin’, just tryin’, just tryin’, to make the big time!’

Why did the band namecheck the (in)famous Confederate general from the American Civil War? Turns out they didn’t….this particular Robert E Lee was the name of the band’s lawyer, so the lyric was in fact very literal.

One final thing worth mentioning. Virginia Plain was not some glamourous or alluring female with who the band had a connection. It was simply the title of a pop-art painting that Bryan Ferry had produced a few years earlier when he was an art student; Virginia Plain was a cigarette packet……….

But is it Roxy’s finest ever 45? There will be some who will say Oh Yeah to that question (but only to confirm Virginia Plain and not to make a case for a 1980 single); I’d personally have to toss a coin between Do The Strand and Love Is The Drug.

The b-side was an instrumental in which Eno and McKay feature prominently:-

mp3 : Roxy Music – The Numberer

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 28)

The 90s dawned on us and the demand for idiosyncratic, guitar-led music was at it an all-time low since rock’n’roll had been ‘invented’ It was no real surprise that XTC battoned-down the hatches a bit and waited till February 1992 before emerging, blinking, into the daylight.

mp3 : XTC – The Disappointed

It’s unmistakably Andy Partridge on lead vocal and it’s a clever enough lyric, but the tune is a huge let down. Dull to the point of being a Tears For Fears mid-80s reject. But it did have its fans, reaching #33 in the UK singles charts and paving the way for the parent album Nonsuch to go Top 30 on its release a few months later.

The b-side of the 7″ was a Colin Moulding effort:-

mp3 : XTC – The Smartest Monkeys

I’ll hold my hands up and say that my first exposure to this was very recently as I had to go and find a lot of b-sides to complete the series.  If I had owned a copy of Nonsuch, I’d have been familar with it as it would later appear on the album.  I think it’s way superior to the a-side , but I’m afraid that’s damning it with faint praise as it’s not a patch on so much of the 70s and 80s output. They are both songs that would, I reckon, have had a live audience shuffling around the venue with boredom while waiting with anticipating for something more typical….so just as well then that the band didn’t tour!

The single also came out on 10″ format and on CD; it’s the latter I grabbed off Discogs a while back and here’s the other tracks:-

mp3 : XTC – Humble Daisy
mp3 : XTC – The Smartest Monkeys (demo)

Humble Daisy would also be on Nonsuch, and compared to the plethora a of otherwise unavailable b-sides in years gone by, this is also something of a letdown.

Nobody knew back then that this would be the final time XTC would ever have a hit single in the UK.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #93 : THE FABULOUS ARTISANS

I’ve been very fortunate in the near eleven years that this and the predecessor blog have been functioning to have been on the receiving end of a number of wonderful pieces of correspondence, most often by email but occasionally by post.

An example of the latter was when reader Phil Hogarth sent me over 3 x CDs, containing a total of 55 songs, that he thought I’d find entertaining. The songs were, for the most part, from Scottish singers and bands, some of whom I’d heard of but the majority of which were new to me. Those CDs arrived in 2009 or 2010 and I recall thinking to myself at the time that I must get round to posting a bundle of the better songs. But for one reason or another, I never got round to it….so what I’m going to do is fish out individual songs for inclusion in this series as and when the singer or band’s turn comes up.

This is what I was able to dig out on today’s duo, lifted from the bio on their record label:-

Founded in 2007 and named after the iconic Orange Juice track, The Fabulous Artisans is a collaboration between Glasgow based Oscar and BAFTA award winning actor, former stand-up comic, lyricist and singer Neil Crossan (formerly of Joe Lacy’s Human Absract) and Edinburgh based songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jeremy Thoms (also of The Cathode Ray and Stereogram label boss). “With a sound fed from Bacharach to Barry, Brel to Bowie, Cave to Collins, Magazine to Morricone and Wilson to Walker, this is timeless music for or from any era…”

The song Phil included on one of his CDs was released as a single in September 2008:-

mp3 : The Fabulous Artisans – Sycamore Square

One reviewer at the time said of the band and the song:-

It is timeless, intelligent pop music, with Crossan full-throated and fully in control as guitars swirl around his strong melodic vocal that enunciates perfectly, though occasionally with a slightly irritating mid-Atlantic twang. Sycamore Square is a breezy, up-tempo portrait of urban life as told by through regretful recollection. Crossan, comes in on the first beat, barely takes a breath and gives a performance worth of early Scott Walker.

All of which does seem fair comment.

If you do ever happen to read this Phil, a belated and huge thank you.

JC

DID THIS REALLY MISS OUT ON THE AMERICAN CHARTS BACK IN THE DAY?

It was a few months ago that Echorich supplied this blog with a very classy ICA on Talking Heads; it was one that concentrated on the band’s first four albums from the debut in 1977 through to Remain In Light in 1980. It was hard to argue with his selections but what was noticeable is that he omitted the single that really brought the band to attention here in the UK thanks to it reaching #14 in the charts in March 1981, some six months after the album had been released.

mp3 : Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime

It’s a great and memorable pop song but there’s no doubt its sales were boosted by the promo video – one that back in 1981 seemed so clever, stylish and futuristic as well as containing a quirky but memorable performance from David Byrne.

I had always assumed that the 45 had been massive in America but was astonished to learn that it didn’t dent the Top 100. A short time later it might have been different in that MTV launched in August 1981 and the promo for Once In A Lifetime was on very heavy rotation; but by then the single wasn’t available in the shops albeit it did help the sales of the parent LP. It also set the band up nicely for mainstream success in their home country by the time the follow-up Speaking In Tongues was released in 1983.

To show how unprepared the band and Sire Records were for a hit single in the UK, it was only made available in the 7″ format (with an edited version that was tailor-made for radio) with its b-side also lifted from Remain In Light and thus not really providing an incentive for fans who already owned the album to shell out for the 45:-

mp3 : Talking Heads – Seen And Not Seen

Both sides still sound pretty sensational, modern and vibrant 37 years after they were recorded.

JC

OCD EPs : #7 : ASSOCIATES

A GUEST POSTING by MARTIN ELLIOT

I believe I rather well qualify as an obsessed collector of material by The Associates and the late Billy MacKenzie. Sid Law has earlier provided some excellent rare songs here at TVV, but you can’t have too many – can you?

This OCD EP is made up of tracks recorded using the Associates moniker, with side A having tracks where Alan was still in – at least when the tracks where originally written/recorded – while side B are demos Billy recorded later. I’m not sure any longer where I got the side A session recordings from, I have a couple of more. Could potentially be for a TV or radio show, but that’s only a guess. There is no audience on the recordings but on one track, not included here, Billy thanks for the session.

Side A.

1. Even Dogs In The Wild (studio session) – A favourite song of mine, which has surfaced in many different versions. This session recording has a jazzy feel to it. Not too far away from the Irrationale cassette version.

2. Gloomy Sunday (studio session) – Here is also a slightly jazzy feel. Haunting vocals.

3. Message Oblique Speech (studio session) – bring in the band, and go full throttle. Great version.

Side B.

1. Take Me To The Girl (demo)

2. The Glamour Chase (demo)

3. Fever (demo)

All having a slightly rougher, or at least less polished, edge than the released versions. These give a good picture of the road from demo to completed, commercial, release. Still, that voice!

A lot has been said, and can still be said, about what could have been had Billy still been among us. We will never know, I’m convinced in today’s digital world he would be able to find better platforms for his artistic outlet than traditional record companies. Useless speculations, at times I need to listen to the demo of “Outerpol” to remind me he could also occasionally do stuff I find unlistenable…

I hope he found peace wherever he is now.

MARTIN

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #141 : ASSOCIATES

I’ve long striven for an Associates ICA but it’s another one of those tasks that just seems beyond me, especially when more great previously unknown songs come my way courtesy of Sid Law via the various postings he’s offered over the years. I know that this 12-track selection (which in itself breaks my 10-song rule of thumb) has more omissions than inclusions, particularly for the diehard fans, and is sure to attract a bit of criticism. I’ve concentrated on the more commercial stuff as they, by nature, tend to be a bit more accessible than many others but there are a couple of deeper and darker tunes included as they fit in just perfectly to the running order. Oh and the justification for the 12 songs is that they include two covers.

SIDE A

1. White Car In Germany (single, 1981)

A moody, majestic and magical few minutes to open things up, it demonstrates just how important both Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie were to the sound and feel of this band. My first exposure to the band, and one that was suggested thanks to my love of Magazine, the eerie horror-movie soundtrack keyboards are akin to those of Dave Formula and the seemingly nonsensical lyrics would be the stuff Howard Devoto would have been proud of. Name-checking Aberdeen, Dusseldorf, Zurich and Munich in the opening few lines and giving us the wonderful rhyming couplet of “Anonymous as bathrooms, Androgynous as Dachshunds”. All albums, ICA or not, should open with something as memorable as this.

2. Boys Keep Swinging (single, 1979)

My admission that White Car In Germany was my first exposure to the band reveals that I missed out totally on this debut single, the cheeky and somewhat irreverent cover version of what was then a relatively then new song by David Bowie. No copyright permission was sought with the boys fully aware that the ensuing furore and legal threats would provide them with the oxygen of publicity. I probably would have hated this cover version back in 1979 but today it feels somewhat charming and almost innocent.

3. 18 Carat Love Affair (single, 1982)

Released as a stand-alone 45 on the back of the chart success of two earlier singles and the LP Sulk, this proved to be the last time Associates or indeed Billy Mackenzie troubled the higher end of the pop charts. It’s the instrumental track nothinginsomethingparticular with additional lyrics. Unashamedly 80s in sound and style, it still has the ability all these years to put a huge grin on my face as I recall the promotional efforts on Top of The Pops as Billy flirted outrageously with Martha Ladly while Alan initially played a chocolate guitar before breaking it up and handing it members of the audience to eat. Performance art at its most absurd.

4. Tell Me Easter’s On Friday (single 1981)

The band was really proficient in the early days – there were seven singles released in 1981 – all of which with the benefit of hindsight seemed to digging deep into the different genres of their musical influences without any meaningful effort to impact on the charts. Some of these early songs may appear to have been self-indulgent but it strikes me that the record label bosses wanted to have a serious rather than pop band on their books, one that would get talked about at great length within the pages of the four weekly music papers that were published in the UK at the time. The boys were being matched with producers and engineers who were keen to explore the extent to which the synthesiser could be deployed in the studio and who looked upon that amazing voice simply as another ‘instrument’ to throw into the mix. To be fair, Alan and Billy were themselves happy to go down this route in the early days, but before too long, the latter really wanted just to get on Top of the Pops and into the pages of Smash Hits.

5. Party Fears Two (single, 1982)

The 45 that delivered on Billy’s dreams and ambitions. Their best known few minutes and among their finest. Enough has been written before about, both on this blog and elsewhere. Just enjoy the full majesty of the 12” version with its fabulous drawn-out ending which leads nicely into….

6. Those First Impressions (single, 1984)

….a song with a fabulous drawn-out intro. A case can be made that The Associates weren’t ever the same after Alan left in 1982 and that what followed was really Billy’s solo output with a host of backing musicians and sundry helpers in the studio. Be that as it may, there were still as many studio albums released without Alan’s involvement as there had been at the outset (albeit they took an inordinate amount of time to record without his steady hand at the controls), and this, the first shimmering and poptastic first single post-Rankine gave us all hope that great things were still to come. It stalled at #43 , again proving that the record buying public just couldn’t be trusted.

SIDE B

7. Transport To Central (from The Affectionate Punch (Remix), 1982)

My plan for the b-side of this ICA was for it to follow the template on the a-side which is why I’m starting things off with another gloomy and dour masterpiece. You only need to look at events surrounding the initial release and later subsequent remix of the debut LP to see just how the band wanted to be, and were, different. It came out on Fiction Records in 1980 and was as deep, dark and dense as anything that Joy Division or their contemporaries were delivering. Indeed, JD uber-fan Paul Morley included the word ‘masterpiece’ in his review of the album. Come 1982, and with the band now on Warner Brothers and basking in the success of Sulk, the bosses ordered that the debut be dusted down and given the remix treatment, including a more contemporary sound with some of the lyrics being re-recorded. It was also given a completely different running order. The subsequent results satisfied very few but the take on Transport To Central was one that, for me, worked as it made sound more complete and less of a demo.

8. God Bless The Child (live from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, 1984)

Some of the finest versions of Associates songs can be found on two hard-to-find CDs that brought together various BBC Radio 1 Sessions recorded between 1981 and 1985 for a multitude of shows including John Peel, Janice Long, David ‘Kid’ Jensen and Richard Skinner. Billy was also more than happy to throw in some cover versions into the sessions and one of them included a take on the Billie Holliday classic from the 1940s. But I was able to track down a reasonably decent quality of his performing the song at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London in December 1984 that was later broadcast on BBC TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test.  I’ve included it as the  intro shows how gently spoken Billy was as well as the extent of his Dundonian accent;  but above else, it gives an indication of how great his voice was…this is as is with just a piano for accompaniment in front of a hushed audience.

9. Skipping (from Sulk, 1982)

Sulk is rightly considered to be the band’s masterpiece and as much as I love the singles, the track that opens the second side of the vinyl is my go to track on it. Billy goes through his entire vocal range from bass/baritone (with hints of a Sean Connery impression) to near falsetto as he lets rip towards the end all over a haunting melody. This was always going to be on this ICA, it was just a question of where it fitted best and what should follow it,

10. Breakfast (single, 1985)

Perhaps, the LP released in 1985, sold poorly. It was also giving a bit of a critical bashing. It was an era when guitar-pop was a bit in the ascendency and any synth music had to have the big hooks and sing-a-long choruses to stand any chance of airplay. Billy was, to quote Elvis Costello, a man out of time. No more so than on this beautiful piece of singing and performing, with a piano part that EC’s sidekick Steve Nieve would have been proud of.

11. Club Country (single, 1982)

Once again, I’ve turned to the 12″ version. At a few seconds under seven minutes in length its way longer than the versions that appeared on Sulk (I use the plural as the version on the CD release is about a minute shorter than the original vinyl release). It’s a bit tricked up in places but for the most part it works well – and thankfully the sudden ending was kept in situ rather than a long and drawn out fade into silence.

12. A Girl Named Property (single, 1981)

This was one of the seven singles from that particular year but it came out on a different label than they were signed to. It was also one half of a double single with the other side entitled Kites by a band called 39 Lyon Street…who were in fact Associates under another name; 39 Lyon Street was the address of the flat in Dundee where they lived, and where myself and Jacques the Kipper went out of our way to visit a few months ago while in the city for a football match. Worth mentioning that A Girl Named Property was an updated and punchier version of Mona Property Girl which had been the b-side to Boys Keep Swinging, and as such the first original Associates song to see light of day.

BONUS EP

I was trying to make this ICA as commercial sounding as possible which is why none of the tracks from the debut LP The Affectionate Punch, originally released in August 1980, have been included. It’s a fantastic record of its own accord but it’s a long way removed from the stuff that most folk associate (pun intended) with the band. They moved a long way in a short time as can be illustrated with these four songs from the debut.

Track 1 : The Affectionate Punch
Track 4 : Paper House
Track 6 : A Matter of Gender
Track 9 : Deeply Concerned

See….it was impossible to keep it to ten songs.

JC

PS : Tune in tomorrow for a companion piece from a guest contributor.

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #140 : GENE LOVES JEZEBEL (2)

A GUEST POSTING by MARTIN ELLIOT

Relapse – a collection of b-sides.

Just as the album track ICA I’ll have the A-side for tracks on the Situation Two label, and the B-side for tracks on the Beggars Banquet label.

1 No Voodoo Dollies (Screaming (For Emmalene), SIT20T)

An early recording, short and rough but distinctively all that made up GLJ.

2 Brando (Bruises) (Bruises, SIT24T)

One of several different versions of Bruises from the Promise album. There will be more coming your way.

3 Thin Things (Shame, SIT35T)

Slow, hypnotic and operatic. Another great b-side, together with the even more theatrical Gorgeous on the flip of Shame (who sings about their toes nowadays?).

4 One Someone (The Cow, SIT 36T)

Some nice guitar work on here, together with the ever prominent drums and the typical vocal style.

5 Infuenza (Relapse) (Influenza (Relapse), SIT 31T)

So I cheat a bit, as this is an album track – but when the already fantastic instrumental track now got treated with lyrics, it just became magic. Couldn’t in any way keep it out of this collection, so it closes the Situation Two side, leaving you just wanting more. Which is exactly the purpose with the last track on side A.

Side B. The Beggars tracks.

1 Heartache II (Heartache, BEG161T)

With Jay doing the vocals here, while Michael did on the album (and 12” A-side) version. I’ll leave it up to you to compare the versions, they are identical twin brothers…

2 Deli Babies (Heartache, BEG161T)

After this release they took the name Deli Babies for some production credits on their own work. A waste hiding as the second track on a b-side.

3 Sapphire Scavanger (Desire (Come And Get It), BEG173T)

A thumping rhythm, some great guitar work going on in the background. Impossible not to nod along to.

4 A Fresh Slice (The Motion Of Love 2×12”, BEG192TD)

If there was a genre called stadium pop, this could well be the anthem. A simple, fresh and bouncy melody, a great sing-a-long little gem. Pity they never made it to become stadium pop stars.

5 Bugg’s Bruises (The Motion Of Love 2×12”, BEG192TD)

Yet another version of Bruises, another stomper that does exactly what the last track on side B is supposed to do – making you flip the record and start all over again!

It took me ages to listen through all my GLJ records and choosing the tracks for these 2 ICA’s, but I had a great time doing so. I hope you enjoyed the show too!

MARTIN

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (5)

I make no apologies for this re-hash of an old posting for inclusion in this particular series for as debut 45s go, this is about as good as it gets:-

mp3 : The Sundays – Can’t Be Sure

The release of this single capped a meteoric rise, even by indie-band standards. Harriet Wheeler and David Gavurin had met and fallen in love while studying at Bristol University but it was only after they graduated in the late 80s did they contemplate doing anything musically. They worked on a few songs which led to them forming a band with two other friends from university – Paul Brindley and Patrick Hannan – and they scraped together some money for a demo tape that was sent round a few indie labels. There was a fair bit of interest which intensified after the band, all of whom by now were living in London, played a few live gigs. In August 1988, they signed to Rough Trade and just five months later Can’t Be Sure was released to huge acclaim.

It was an era of female-fronted bands, but from the outset there was something different about The Sundays. The debut single was enchanting, melodic and dreamlike in nature, with the vocal style being reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser albeit the words were much more easily picked out and understood. The music seemed to draw on a huge number of influences from the previous 30 years or so but there were very clear comparisons to be made with The Smiths, particularly on one of the b-side tracks.

The Rough Trade connection also cemented the views of many that at long last there was a group truly worthy of inheriting the fey crown at a time when so many pretenders to the throne were moving towards the dance floor.

Here’s your b-sides:-

mp3 : The Sundays – I Kicked A Boy
mp3 : The Sundays – Don’t Tell Your Mother

The band would be together until 1997 but they were never that prolific, with just three albums and six singles to show for the best part of a decade in the music business. There’s no doubt that they were badly affected by the collapse of Rough Trade in the early 90s that sort of brought a halt to things before they really began while the onset of parenthood for Harriet and David put things on the back-burner in the mid 90s.

I don’t think there’s many would argue that they ever bettered the debut single, although there are gloriously warm and sunny days when I will argue the merits of Summertime, their biggest hit in the UK in 1997.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 27)

You’ll have spotted that I’ve been fond of the first two singles that were taken from Oranges and Lemons….and I’m happy to say that I give the thumbs-up to next 45:-

mp3 : XTC – The Loving

It wasn’t always this way. I didn’t take immediately to The Loving, but it’s one of those songs that I’ve grown increasingly fond of over the years. I was initially put off by its anthemic qualities and thinking it wasn’t distinct or quirky enough but as pop anthems go, it’s pretty decent. Another example of my tastes expanding as I get older.

It was released on 7″, 12″ and CD format. For once, there were no home demo songs. The common b-side to all three was also lifted from the album:-

mp3 : XTC – Cynical Days

Arguably, an even better song than the a-side, but far too complicated musically to stand any chance of getting radio play. Having said that, the fact that The Loving completely bombed means nothing would have been lost if this had been the band’s final single of the decade. It would have been an apt title.

The 12″ and CD contained a previously unreleased song:-

mp3 : XTC – The World Is Full Of Angry Young Men

It’s quite unexpected. But it has a sound I’m not that fond of…albeit I can see why some folk will think it’s a hidden gem.

It would more the best part of three years before XTC released their next batch of songs….but you don’t need to wait that long as I’ll be here next week as usual.

JC

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #92 : THE EXPLOITED

Adapted from one of my reference books :-

The Exploited formed in East Kilbride in 1979 by Big John Duncan (guitar), Wattie Buchan (vocals), Gary McCormick (bass) and Dru Stix (drums). Subsequently moving to Edinburgh, they issued three independently released maxi-singles in 1980, all a barrage of 100 mph punk/oi anthems with Buchan spitting out anti-establishment diatribes (Maggie Thatcher was a favourite lyrical punchbag).

In 1981, after a minor hit Dogs of War on Secret Records, they unleashed a whole album’s worth of two-minute wonders, Punk’s Not Dead which went into the Top 20, quickly pursued by Dead Cities, which reached #31 in the singles chart in November 1981.

Big John Duncan left at the end of 1982 to form The Blood Uncles before joining Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. Almost a decade later he would find world fame when he played with Nirvana for a short time.

The 80s saw a few other changes, with Willie Buchan, brother of Wattie, moving behind the drumkit and Gary McCormick leaving. The band went through a waft of bassists and guitarists, with the Buchan brothers being the only settled members for the most part. Throughout that decade, and indeed the 90s and since the dawn of the 21st century, The Exploited have soldiered on, gaining and maintaining a reputation as a loud, anarchic and uncompromising hardcore punk band with attitude. Their gigs are not for the faint-hearted. And many of their records are an acquired taste.

Here’s their first minor hit….

mp3 : The Exploited – Dogs Of War

JC

PS : Click here to read more about Jacques the Kipper being on first name terms with Wattie Buchan.