A SPECTACULAR SPECTACLE

This blog started out back in 2006 just as Frightened Rabbit were beginning to get noticed, initially here in Scotland and then, thanks to a combination of some very fine early releases and some equally fine live tours It also helped that lead somgwriter Grant Hutchison was such a sound and decent bloke who, fully understanding and recognising that new media, including blogging, could go a long way to breaking new and emerging talent, was always willing to give of his time to anyone who asked for it.

Back in April 2008, Frightened Rabbit released a monumentally impressive sophomore album. I wrote an awful lot about Midnight Organ Fight over at the Google version of this blog before it was unceremoniously torn down. Like many others, I fell head over heels for its intense and passionate blend of indie-pop/folk across songs that, for the most part, dealt with falling in love like you’ve never done before only for it to all go horrendously and hideously wrong. The lyrics were honest to the point of brutal with absolutely no sugar-coating whatsoever. It also helped that I was at the launch gigs in tiny Glasgow venues, including Mono and King Tuts, at which you could see at close-hand just how difficult and painful it was for the frontman to relive so many real-life episodes through the medium of song.

The album featured in many end of year lists and deservedly so. The band followed it up with The Winter of Mixed Drinks in 2010, their third and final LP for indie-label Fat Cat Records, a record that broadened their appeal enough to attract the attention of Atlantic Records with who the band signed a deal not long after. Maybe it was the music snob in me, somewhat annoyed that this band that I had been lucky enough to see around the toilet circuit were now capable of selling out Barrowlands in a matter of minutes and had an audience that wanted to sing-a-long to everything, thus ruining the subtle parts of the gut-wrenching songs, including the ones that were on the newer records. But I sort of lost interest in Frightened Rabbit, albeit it was genuinely pleasing to see them become a little bit wealthier on the fruits of their labours.

I did, however, see the band back in 2013 when, by complete chance, they happened to be in Berlin when I was celebrating my 50th birthday with a first ever visit to the city in the company of Mrs Villain. We were having a fantastic time enjoying the sights, including out at the Olympic Stadium the day after my birthday when a text flashed up from Aldo telling me he had noticed Frightened Rabbit were playing in what seemed to be a small-medium sized venue in one of the more bohemian parts of the city. We managed to get tickets and along we went – it was a decent gig but nothing more. The songs were largely drawn from what was then their most recent album Pedestrian Verse, a work that I had bought but only listened to once on the basis that it didn’t do anything for me, and the live renditions didn’t really spark much either. Having said that, it was still a great way to have an unexpected night out in Berlin.

Four and a bit year on, I ventured out to see the band again. It was apt that I was in the company of Mrs Villain and Aldo. It was the latter who had spotted that the band were putting on a special show in which they would be accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) inside the very grand Paisley Abbey, a church that dates back in parts to 850 years ago and is still in use today. The show was part of the sixth annual Spree Festival during which the RSNO always team up with a Scottish band or singer and perform inside the Abbey. We were lucky enough to see Twilight Sad and Admiral Fallow with the orchestra back in 2013 and that proved to be a special and enjoyable occasion.

This, however, took the whole collaboration thing to entirely new heights. There’s a depth and emotion to Scott Hutchison’s song-writing that lends itself perfectly to huge arrangements such as were provided on the night. The show opened with three songs that I didn’t know at all thanks to them coming from albums or EPs that had been released in 2016 or 2017 and which I hadn’t picked up; nevertheless, the atmosphere was incredible with a reverential and fully seated audience hanging onto every note, with not even a whisper to be heard during the performance. The band’s playing was perfectly in tune with the orchestra, beautifully understated within a minimum amp so that the entire sound could be enjoyed.

And then something truly magical happened. The band, with the exception of Scott, took their leave. The singer said that he was about to do the scariest thing in his entire life as a performer. And with that he began to strum and play this:-

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Poke

One of the highlights of Midnight Organ Fight and a song that conveys all the sad emotion of how it feels to be broken-hearted while failing to comprehend just why everything went pear-shaped. It’s a song that uses the word ‘cunt’ and Scott didn’t hesitate to utter it, despite knowing he in the middle of what to many people is a very sacred and spiritual location.

The audience applause went up a fair few notches at the end of the song. I didn’t think the night could be bettered and would happily have gone home there and then thinking it had all been worth it.

The band came back on and Scott said they were going to perform some songs without the orchestra before ending the night with further collaborations. I was gob-smacked that the next four songs turned out to be energetic and immense versions of tracks on Midnight Organ Fight immediately followed by two of their more pop-orientated songs from some of the later albums.

The night ended with five more songs performed alongside the orchestra. It is worth stating, this was a full orchestra with strings, brass, wind and percussion, with every player being internationally renowned. The band really had to be on top form to cope with it.

The night ended with all sorts of thanks offered prior to the playing of the final number. I was sitting there quietly wishing for a particular song as I reckoned it would make for the perfect ending as it really did offer the greatest potential for an orchestral arrangement. But at the same time, I thought it might just be too much of an ask for the band to pull it off in such distinguished company. If I believed in God, I might even have offered up a silent prayer at the time with an ask….I simply sat there and hoped. I later found our Mrs Villain was hoping for the same thing…and although I never asked him, I’m sure Aldo was also hoping for the same.

And we got it:-

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Keep Yourself Warm

I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved emotionally by one single song performed in the live setting as I was sitting there in Paisley Abbey. As it ended, I, along with just about everyone present, leapt up and roared an approval with a sustained round of applause – just as you do when you’ve enjoyed a classical music performance. I glanced across at Aldo and we simultaneously mouthed the word ‘wow’. There was no need for anything else to be said.

Back in 2013, footage was later released of The Twilight Sad/RSNO efforts and indeed this can still be viewed on-line. If the same thing happened from the other night, I’ll be sure to draw it your attention.

I’m still getting shivers days later thinking about it.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 32)

See all that I said last week, it’s much the same this week. Except…….

……………..I have recently watched This Is Pop, a new documentary film that tells the tale of XTC.

It aired on Sky Arts here in the UK – the satellite station seemingly picked up the option after it had been rejected by the BBC – a big mistake on the part of the national broadcaster.  The film was every bit as different and entertaining as the band were throughout their time together.  It did centre around the often self-deprecating and very funny contributions of Andy Partridge but there was plenty of screen time given to the other band members, particularly Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory.  The vintage footage was priceless and there was a fair bit of honesty about where things had gone wrong over the years.  Some fans will be disappointed that the film largely focussed on the earlier years and the post-English Settlement material didn’t get anything like the same level of attention or detail, although there was a decent segment on the Dukes of Stratosphear project and the issues that arose around Skylarking.

The film does provide a reminder of how many other great groups over the years have grown and evolved to ensure they never got boring or clichéd.  It also was a wonderful reminder of why nobody could ever make the suggestion of XTC being a contender for the ‘Had It. Lost It’ feature in these pages.

And so while the final few singles the band would release aren’t to my personal tastes, I really am wide of the mark by suggesting that while they ‘have their charms, but it really isn’t XTC is it?’  The songs from Apple Venus Volume 1 are very much those of the band – they may be a long way removed from the sounds they made in the late 70s/early 80s but they are unmistakably, undeniably and still uniquely the work of XTC.  It’s my fault for not paying attention back in the day.

Single #2 from Apple Venus Volume 1 was released in June 1999. Just like its predecessor Easter Theatre, it didn’t chart, and it also had a similar style in terms of content:-

mp3 : XTC – I’d Like That
mp3 : XTC – I’d Like That (home demo)
XTC – How I’d Like That Came To Be

The demo actually appears to be two recordings spliced together – a genuine low-fi effort of about a minute in length before it becomes something a bit more sophisticated.  While it might not be my preferred choice of beverage,  JTFL will disagree as he included the song on an ICA in June 2016

I didn’t bother trying to track down the spoken word effort this time. Sorry if you were looking for it.

Next week is the final instalment of this series.  A huge thanks to all of you who have taken the time to drop by and offer your own views, thoughts and opinions.  Even those of you who found it boring.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #97 : FINITRIBE

From wiki:-

Finitribe was a dance band formed in Edinburgh, in 1984 by Chris Connelly, John Vick, Andy McGregor, Philip Pinsky, David Miller and Simon McGlynn. The group is sometimes also referred to as Fini Tribe.

Initially a post-punk guitar outfit, the band released a debut E.P. Curling and Stretching on their own Finiflex label in the summer of 1984, graduating to their first John Peel Session in 1985 before rethinking their whole approach in the mid 80s.

Tired of the conventional drums, bass and guitar set up, they acquired a sampler and began experimenting with electronic music. The result was Let The Tribe Grow, an EP released on the Glasgow label Cathexis and featuring ‘De Testimony’, a seminal dance floor anthem for the original Balearic/Acid House generation. Subsequently, signing to Chicago label Wax Trax the band released two singles, “I Want More” (a cover of the Can song) and “Make it Internal”, raising their profile in the States and resulting in extensive radio and club success.

A long and arduous “toilet” tour of the UK in 1988 led to the departure of three members – including Connelly who relocated to the States and joined the Revolting Cocks and Ministry – and a parting of the ways with Wax Trax Records.

This in turn resulted in a resurrection of the Finiflex label and a distribution deal with Fast Forward for a long-awaited debut album, Noise Lust and Fun. The band was now made up of Pinsky, Vick and Miller along with various contributions from Little Annie, Rosanne Erskine and Wilf Plum. A series of remix EP’s proved their electronic and dance floor credentials and brought indie chart success.

The band met and signed a long-term publishing deal with Andy Heath (director of Beggars Banquet and Momentum Publishing), allowing the band to grow and develop without the constant need for advances from record companies.

After signing a new deal with One Little Indian the band with encouragement from label boss Derek Birkett ran into controversy almost immediately with the ‘Animal Farm’ EP. Subverting the nursery rhyme “Old MacDonald” for the purposes of berating the similarly titled hamburger outlet, Finitribe (as they were now known) offered up a flavour of the anti-consumerist stance prevalent on new album Grossing 10k (1989). The subsequent threat of legal action was not exactly helped by a “Fuck off McDonald’s” poster and T-shirt campaign.

The band continued to develop stronger links with the electronic music world for their next single and album. Andrew Weatherall produced and remixed the single “101” (1991) along with Graham Massey from 808 State. Justin Robertson then worked with the band to remix and produce the singles “Ace Love Deuce” and “Forevergreen” (1992). These singles all featured on the band’s most critically and commercially successful album, An Unexpected Groovy Treat (1992), the last album they were to record for One Little Indian.

The success of this album allowed the band to re launch their ‘finiflex’ label and the in-house production team recorded and released many singles including those by Justin Robertson, State of Flux, Ege Bam Yasi and Sparks. A Finiflex Compilation album And Away They Go was released to critical acclaim in 1993. The band was redeveloping their studio complex in Leith during this period and coordinated all management, recording, press and merchandise from there.

After leaving One Little Indian the band further developed their studio complex and looked for a new recording deal. With the assistance of Tom Watkins (Pet Shop Boys, East 17) the band negotiated a deal with Pete Tong at London/FFRR. This deal allowed for the completion of the state of the art recording studio in Leith and facilitated complete independence for the recording of their next album.

For the writing and pre-production of the band’s fourth album they relocated to a small crofting settlement called Sheigra. near Kinlochbervie in the north west of Scotland. In 1994 the band released the single “Brand New” and although a minor hit the relationship with London/FFRR was cooling. A further single “Love Above” and the album Sheigra were released in 1995. The band followed this with a tour with Sparks and then their own headlining tour of the UK.

By early 1996 David Miller and Philip Pinsky split from John Vick, the former continuing with Finitribe and John Vick successfully continuing with the studio complex Finiflex.

The slimmed down Finitribe, now operating from house built on the side of a volcano, started a new label U.G.T and released an LP by Acid House maverick Ege Bam Yasi. While looking for a new label and a new singer Finitribe went to Essex to work with former Prodigy collaborator Jason Byrne. The result was the EP Squelch and the meeting up with future producer Witchman (John Roome).

For a short while the band hooked up with Chas Smash (Madness) as manager, this indirectly led to a meeting with Korda Marshall and a deal was struck with Infectious/ Mushroom Records (home of Garbage and Ash). Philip and David recruited a band and picked up some guitars and drums.

The band’s fifth album ‘Sleazy Listening’ was recorded in Edinburgh with John Roome (Witchman) producing. It featured Paul Haig, Little Annie, Niroshini Thambar, Chris Ross, John Roome and Katie Morrison. The album mixed electronica and live instrumentation and received critical acclaim. Melody Maker stating that, ” If Finitribe had lived and worked in Bristol they would have won the Mercury Music prize by now”.

The album was launched with a sell out gig at The Shooting Gallery, Edinburgh with Davy Henderson’s Nectarine No. 9. The band toured the UK with their most successful gigs for several years, headlining the ICA in London. They recorded the first ever John Peel live session and released three further singles for Infectious.

This was the band’s last album and tour. Their last gig was at a sell out Bath Moles Club in the summer of 1998.

Other interests and priorities meant that Philip and David put Finitribe to one side . One more single was released ‘Bored’ (2000).

mp3 : Finitribe – 101 (Sonic Shuffle Mix by Andrew Weatherall)

Finitribe completely passed me by.  It was only through the contributions from  across the blogging community this past decade that I have learned of them and come t0 appreciate them.

Thank you my dear friends.  You know who you are and I’m forever in your debt.

JC

RELUCTANTLY CROUCHED AT THE STARTING LINE

I just love that opening line to this #22 hit single from the autumn of 1996.

My first exposure to it was on Channel 4 which, at the time, occasionally aired music videos inbetween programmes. I’m almost certain this was shown immediately in advance of the main news show which has always been broadcast at 7pm.

Cake, as wiki informs us, are an alternative rock band from Sacramento, California. Consisting of singer John McCrea, trumpeter Vince DiFiore, guitarist Xan McCurdy, bassist Gabe Nelson and drummer Paulo Baldi, the band has been noted for McCrea’s sarcastic lyrics and monotone vocals, DiFiore’s trumpet parts, and their wide-ranging musical influences, including country music, Mariachi, rock, funk, Iranian folk music and hip hop.

They have enjoyed sporadic success in their home nation, including a #1 album as recently as 2011 but over here in the UK they have been very much an underground act and The Distance remains their highest charting 45 while the LP it was lifted from, Fashion Nugget, is the only one that has made it inside the Top 75.

I do like this single – the deadpan vocals and the trumpet solo help lift it above the norm.

mp3 : Cake – The Distance

The CD single had three other tracks on offer:-

mp3 : Cake – Multiply The Heartaches
mp3 : Cake – Jolene (live)
mp3 : Cake – It’s Coming Down

The first is very influenced by country music; bits of it remind me of Squeeze tacking the genre on Labelled With Love. There’s also a feeling of sounding, vocally, like Mark E Everett.

The second is NOT a cover of the song made famous by Dolly Parton and later recorded by Glasgow’s very own Strawberry Switchblade. It’s one of their own compositions and could be something out of the canon of Violent Femmes with added trumpet. Warning. It goes on for over 8 minutes and involves audience participation. I’m guessing it’s lifted from a radio show as the occasional swear word is bleeped out.

The final track is very much a b-side effort; it’s a bit laboured and repetitive. Not one that I’ll listen to again willingly – one for the ‘next’ button function on your listening device.

JC

HAD IT. LOST IT. (Part 10)

I do feel as if this latest instalment has been covered somewhat in previous postings; I also feel it’s like shooting into an open goal as there is near unanimity that Simple Minds were a band who really lost it (although I do accept that some folk out there – and I’m looking directly at you Jacques the Kipper – feel they never had it in the first place).

For those who don’t know the back story, Simple Minds began life as a straightforward punk band called Johnny & The Self-Abusers, hailing from Toryglen which, despite its name, is a solidly working-class community on the south side of Glasgow. This particular band played the pub circuit in Glasgow throughout 1977, a unique outfit amidst what was predominantly a hard-rocking, long-haired and blues orientated set of bands. They were thought of enough by London-based Chiswick Records to cut a single, Saints and Sinners, in November 1977 but in keeping with the spirit of the times the band split immediately, some going on to form a power-pop outfit called Cuban Heels and others establishing Simple Minds who were more focussed on the glam side of things with an increasing focus on electronica.

It took a few personnel changes and a number of stop-start efforts at finding a defining sound, but by early 1979 the band were on Arista Records and in the studio recording their debut single and album, Life In a Day. It received something of a mixed reaction but the album did make the Top 30 and the single spent two weeks in the chart, peaking at #62. There was some concern, however, that the much-anticipated follow-up 45, Chelsea Girl, was a monumental flop. Jim Kerr has subsequently acknowledged that there was too much of a reliance on mimicking the pop elements of Roxy Music and that the band were ignorant of much of what has happening elsewhere at the time, not least the emergence of Joy Division.

Determined to take a stride forward, the band were back in the studio within a matter of months and able to release a second album before 1979 was out. Real to Real Cacophony was very different from the debut being more dark and experimental sounding in nature with barely a hint of a catchy pop song. It’s an album that had a lot in common with the afore-mentioned Joy Division as well as Magazine, PiL and Gang of Four as groups looked to create something that combined the best elements of post-punk and the often derided prog-rock. It was music you had to sort of work hard at to fully enjoy and appreciate with very little in the way of instant gratification.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Changeling

This was proof that Simple Minds definitely ‘had it’ albeit they were regarded at this point in time as an albums band who were worth catching when they played live. Their music wasn’t considered radio-friendly not helped by the fact that 1979/80 was a time when most DJs and stations were suspicious of electronic music thinking it was a fad that would soon fade. Nobody at Arista was therefore ready for what the band presented to them in late 1980:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – I Travel

A booming, catchy, commercial and incredibly danceable piece of music that was surely tailor-made for the charts was a monumental flop as the label weren’t geared at all to promote Simple Minds to the pop market. The crime was made worse when an equally wonderful follow-up, Celebrate, was an even bigger flop and the label failing to print enough copies of the parent album Empires and Dance to meet the demand that was being created from favourable reviews across much of the UK music press.

The band took their leave of Arista and headed into the welcoming bosom of Virgin Records for whom they soon hit payola. It was a bit of a slow burner with two albums, Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, released at the same time in 1981. Both were produced by Steve Hillage whose fame and career had been built entirely on prog rock but any worries or concerns that Simple Minds would become unfashionable and unlistenable were soon allayed. These were confident sounding records being a blend of synth-pop , rock and dance that seemed bold, innovative and which were more than capable of grabbing and holding the attention of even the most causal of listeners. There were 15 tracks across the two albums including what should have been three smash hit singles but the band still suffered from the perception that they were one solely for album buyers.

Everything changed with the next album exactly one year later. The band had been helped by radio stations belatedly picking up on the flop singles and giving them occasional air time, while Arista Records had cashed in on their higher profile by issuing a decent compilation of the early material as well as making a push with a re-released I Travel. Virgin Records geared up for an assault on the pop market, encouraged no doubt by the fact that ever-increasing numbers of synth-based bands were becoming successes. There was an early indication that 1982 was going to be the breakthrough year with new single Promised You A Miracle crashing into the Top 20 that April, triggering off a run of what turned out to be 21 hit singles in a row over the next sixteen years.

New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84) turned out to be a shimmering and very listenable forty-five minutes of music across nine slabs of pop-orientated pieces of music that were of huge appeal to the masses. It was an album very much of its time, sitting comfortable alongside critically acclaimed and best-selling efforts from the likes of ABC, Yazoo, Associates, Soft Cell and Heaven 17 among others.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Glittering Prize

Nobody embraced Simple Minds quite like the city of Glasgow. There was a huge pride that the local boys had come real good and in response the band would write and record an anthem that was clearly about a city that was on the cusp of a cultural renaissance as part of its efforts to recover from the collapse of its traditional industries and way of life. Waterfront was big, booming, powerful and a portent of what was coming down the road.

The promo video also incorporated a live performance that had been filmed at the Barrowlands Ballroom in the rundown east end of the city, a move that took many by surprise as the venue was not associated with rock/pop music with everyone preferring to appear at the Apollo in the city centre.

The thing was, the Apollo had recently closed its doors for the last time and it seemed that the only place open to touring bands was the newly opened and wholly soulless Scottish Exhibition Centre, which ironically was part of a redeveloped waterfront. Simple Minds had, almost single-handedly, shown what the Barrowlands was capable of delivering in terms of sound and atmosphere and it wasn’t too long before it became an established and popular venue that remains in use to this very day almost unchanged nearly 35 years on. If nothing else, I’ll always have Simple Minds close to my heart for being such pioneers.

Waterfront had heralded a new heavier sound for the band, one that was built on substantially with the release of Sparkle In The Rain in early 1984.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Up On The Catwalk

Although it has undergone something of a critical evaluation since, it musn’t be forgotten that just about all the music papers and magazines embraced the record, welcoming Simple Minds to the roster of popular anthemic bands such as Big Country and U2 whose appeal was based on a Celtic sound rock music that could, at its worst, veer into stadium rock.

The album also made the band very popular in countries well beyond the UK, including Canada, Australia and the USA. It put them on the radar of many high-ranking folk in the music industry and it was no real surprise that an approach came to record songs that were perfect for film soundtracks. Which takes us to the atrocity of Don’t You Forget About Me – written specifically by two composers who specialised in such material for the closing credits of the John Hughes directed teen-flick The Breakfast Club – and turned down by Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry before being accepted by Simple Minds. A #1 hit the world-over in 1985 but miles removed from the sounds that had made the band an essential listen less than five years previous.

But maybe this was just a temporary loss of form and the band’s next album of original material would salvage things…..

I’ll end it there as you know the rest.

JC

A BOOK REVIEW…..AND A POINTER TO A NEW OCCASIONAL SERIES

A short time ago, I went along to a cultural gathering in my home city.

Robert Forster was appearing at Mono, a location that is part music-venue, part vegetarian cafe and part record-store that is owned and run by Stephen Pastel.  Robert was going to take part in an interview to promote his recently issued book Grant & I : Inside and Outside The Go-Betweens and in the process sing a few songs.  It was an event that I’d have more than willingly paid a fair bit of money to get to and yet the tickets were free.

It was, as you’d expect, packed full of folk who had been Go-Betweens devotees at one time or another. I knew a lot of people in the room,many of who have become close friends in the near eleven years since I began this blog.  It was always going to be a special and emotional evening, not least as the Australian band were indirectly responsible for me getting my finger out and launching TVV and I’ve still never quite gotten used to the fact that Grant McLennan is no longer with us.

It turned out to be everything I could have wished for and more, thanks to the opportunity to meet Robert at the end of the night, have a photo taken with him and have him sign a copy of the book, with the dedication to The Vinyl Villain.  I’ve only one other book with such a dedication and it came from Grace Maxwell and Edwyn Collins;  I tend to shy away from having my records and books ‘defaced’ with signatures.

The following day I started reading the book and soon found it all-consuming.  Robert is an extremely talented and entertaining writer and of course the story he gets to tell is rather extraordinary.  The blurb on the back nails it perfectly:-

Beautifully written – like lyrics, like prose – Grant & I is a rock memoir akin to no other, Part ‘making of’, part music industry expose, part buddy-book, this is a delicate and perceptive celebration of creative endeavour. With wit and candour, Robert Forster pays tribute to a band who found huge success in the margins, having friendship at its heart.

It’s easy to forget that this was a band who never enjoyed the success in the 80s that their collective talents and output deserved.  The albums were well received but their singles all flopped despite most of subsequently proving to be timeless classics (unlike many others from the same decade).  They recorded for numerous labels, finding themselves dropped all sorts of strange and unrelated reasons looking on as so many of their contemporaries hit payola. But not once does the author feel the need to settle any old scores or cast aspersions on those who did get rich and famous – indeed I think there was just one swear word within its 330 pages and the profanity was followed by an immediate apology in brackets!

Instead, it is a celebration of the fact the band had a lengthy career, initially from 1977 -1989 and then again when they reformed in 2000 through to Grant’s sudden death from heart failure in May 2006.  The book has a strong supporting cast including long-standing band members Lindy Morrison, Robert Vickers and Amanda Brown, various friends, family and band associates. There’s also many wonderful cameo appearances dotted throughout from other leading Australian musicians, the Postcard Records cognoscenti and all sorts of producers and artists.

Much of the book is set in Australia, and at different times paints wonderfully evocative pictures of the cities of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, It certainly made me want to get on a plane and go see these places for myself.  It is rich in its description of life in London in the 80s, getting across the bizarre notion of musicians who were hugely respected and appreciated by just about everyone in the industry and yet rarely had more than £50 a week per person to live on.  There is a lot of self-deprecating wit on display throughout, punctured occasionally by a sentence or two that is genuinely shocking with revelations about personal circumstances that a sharp reminder that rock stars are human beings and suffer from the same type of frailties that impinge on the rest of us mere mortals.

But here’s the thing.  Having devoured the first 80-90% of the book in a matter of days, it took me weeks to pick it up again and finish it. It was all down to knowing that the hero dies in the end and I just didn’t want to face up to that. I had to be in the right frame of mind for finishing it off…but despite my best efforts I did find myself upset and crying.

I am delighted that Robert Forster has produced a masterpiece, as fine a music memoir as I’ve ever read, and given I have about 200 such books lying around the house I’m in a reasonable position to make such a judgement.  Even if you know little or nothing about the band, there is much to enjoy from the writing and the telling of what is a wonderfully played out story of two soul mates who perfectly complemented one another.

The book has given me an idea for a new, occasional (at best monthly) series and that is to look at the music and offer up some of Robert’s words as an accompaniment.  Staring right back with the debut single, released originally in 1978 on the Australian indie Able Label and restricted to just 700 copies.  If you want one nowadays, be prepared to shell out almost £1,500.

mp3 : The Go-Betweens – Lee Remick
mp3 : The Go-Betweens – Karen

The latter was just about the first song the university student Robert Forster wrote. By this time, one of his best friends was fellow student Grant McLennan; Robert had been rebuffed by Grant in an effort to form a band as Grant was far more interested in and occupied by cinema.

Robert had instead formed a three piece called The Godots who were down to play in a Battle of the Bands competition in Brisbane. The set had to comprise one cover and four originals, one of which would be Karen, receiving its first ever public airing.

“My songwriting had also improved, taking a lion-sized leap with the completion of a simple, predominantly two-chorded number, a paean to the female librarians at the university – helpful, distant women I idealised – that swelled and built over three choruses to end in a shouted climax of the song’s title”

“An attentive silence came over the room as we began the song, brought on by the hypnotic beat of the long introduction; I was sensing a power I’d never known as I stepped up to the microphone to deliver the opening lines.”

Grant McLennan was in the audience watching his friend perform, perhaps sorry that he had declined to be in the band. They didn’t win the competition – in fact they weren’t even billed as The Godots, a misunderstanding with the organisers leading to the band being introduced as the less pretentious sounding The Go-Dots. By the end of the year, that band were no more and Grant, having been aware that Robert was writing other songs, including one that was all about Hollywood actress Lee Remick, said that he was willing to take away a cassette copy to listen to back home during the Xmas/New Year break of 1977/78. The rest, as they say is history.

Worth mentioning too that Lee Remick herself, many many years later, did meet Robert Forster and accept the gift of one of the singles that bore her name. She revealed that she was aware of its existence and was charmed by it. Robert, in the book declares the meeting as one of the highlights of his entire life.

JC

 

A WONDERFULLY DESCRIPTIVE OPENING TWO LINES

We drank from cups on standard issue sofas under scaffolding
Informed sources said we were seen by observers, it`s a meeting

Howard Devoto has always had a fine way with words. But the thing is, his band always had a fine way with music.

I was very tempted to have Magazine take up the slot on Sundays when the XTC series comes to its conclusion, especially as I’d previously put Buzzcocks under the spotlight, but I’m going elsewhere with it.

This would have been #8 in a series, released in July 1980 on the back of great acclaim for its parent album The Correct Use Of Soap:-

mp3 : Magazine – Sweetheart Contract

The b-side of this 7″ piece of plastic was recorded at the The Russell Club, Manchester on 3rd May 1980. It’s a version that is far removed from the original and shows just how good the band were live back in their prime with Barry Adamson‘s bass and John Doyle‘s drums driving the song on at a frantic pace while John McGeogh (RIP) and Dave Formula batter away at lead guitar and keyboards respectively to create a sonic thunderstorm which will have caused bleeding ears for the sweaty audience in the confinement of such a small venue.

mp3 : Magazine – Feed The Enemy (live)

Compare and contrast with the epic recording of the original, with one of the most sneering vocals ever delivered in history of mankind:-

mp3 : Magazine – Feed The Enemy

JC