THE FESTIVE 50 OF 1989 (1 of 3)

The recent posting on Convenience by BOB made recent reference to it reaching #31 in the Peel Festive 50 of 1989. It was a year in which indie, no matter how loosely you choose to define the genre, gained a stranglehold on the rundown.

The Sundays took the #1 spot with the sublime Can’t Be Sure, but just below them were a bunch of bloke-fronted bands with multiple entries, four of whom – The Wedding Present, Pixies, Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets achieved the fairly rare outcome of having five songs in a single rundown. The other acts with multiple entries were Morrissey (3) and a couple who could deemed to be something of a surprise given the names of those acts who had just one song voted in:-

mp3 : Pale Saints – Sight Of You (#11)
mp3 : Pale Saints – She Rides The Waves (#25)
mp3 : Birdland – Hollow Heart (#28)
mp3 : Birdland – Paradise (#40)

The two Pale Saints songs were from their debut EP, Barging Into The Presence of God, released on 4AD in September 1989. They were a band that I never took that much notice of and anything I own of theirs has come via compilation LPs/CDs, but then again the whole shoegaze thing with which they were lumped in really left me cold at the time and I didn’t see things through with any of them.  But I do like these now that I’ve listened to them.

I think it’s rather obvious from what I’ve said and written about over the years on this blog that I prefer my boys (and girls) with guitars, for the most part, to make noises which were a bit more easy-going on the ear and capable of accommodating the throwing of strange shapes on the dance floor. But given that the Festive 50 of 1989 turned out to be heavily populated with that sort of stuff, it is pleasing that something so abstract and different gathered so many votes, especially as the songs had been released only a relatively short time previously and hadn’t enjoyed much exposure outside of late night radio.

Birdland were another act who you would be hard pushed to hear anywhere on your radio unless you tuned in when most folk were watching telly or trying to get some sleep. I know only of their name and have nothing by them on vinyl or CD, but looking into things I’ve learned that the entries into the Festive 50 were the band’s first two singles. It would also appear that the Manic Street Preachers owe just about everything to Birdland in terms of their initial sound and attitude, albeit they seemed to have slightly more sensible haircuts than the bleached blonde look that the boys from Birmingham relied on.

The interesting thing with both bands is that, having garnered great critical plaudits from the earliest of releases, they both suffered setbacks in 1990 with muted responses to the debut albums, neither of which incorporated the early singles/EPs.

I’m absolutely certain that there will be some of you out there who were hugely enthused by one or both bands when they emerged, perhaps even seeing them as the future of rock’n’roll as they dared to be a tad different from the norm, and I’d be very interested in hearing your views, thoughts and opinions on where and why it all went wrong for them. And if anyone wishes to send over a guest post or posts, then feel very free to drop me a line.

More from the Festive 50 of 1989 tomorrow and again on Wednesday.

JC

A RE-POST TO BUY SOME MORE TIME (14)

ANOTHER THAT PASSED ME BY…..

from 18 March 2009

I’ve mentioned more than a few times that back in the late 80s I gave up on music for a while. It was all to do with big changes in my personal circumstances, but for maybe the best part of 2 years, I was well out of touch with things.

It was a developing friendship with a marginally younger, new colleague at work (you know him best as Jacques the Kipper) that helped get me back on track as he supplied me with all sorts of cassettes with songs from that era to help fill in the gaps. In return, he got some tapes from me with some of the obscure nonsense I had listened to.

The swapping of tapes was something we did about once every two months, but it all came to a halt when my mate settled down with a wife and kids. Not that he stopped listening to great new music, just that he had hardly any time to create musical masterpieces.

A few years later, he handed me a CD with the words…’there’s some stuff on this I know you’ll like.’ And he was right. One of the tracks was this:-

mp3 : Laptop – Gimme The Nite

Released back in 1998, Laptop was the name under which Jesse Hartman recorded for a short while. Now if like me this still means nothing, well maybe all of this, taken from his myspace page will help:-

Hartman is a musician and filmmaker who lives in New York. He made two albums as Sammy and three as Laptop (www.laptopic.com), but now just goes by Jesse Hartman. The press says it best: “Imagine Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” remixed by Devo — Hartman, like Cohen, possesses that rare and treasurable knack of writing genuinely funny songs that are not novelty pop. This is because Hartman has a rarefied understanding of the truth.” -The Independent, London

“Hartman has the semi-detached, cinematic-sociophobic world view of a Woody Allen character, The 1964 Mick Jagger reincarnated as a computer nerd.” -The Guardian

So heartbreakingly piquant are his lyrics and so tragicomically true his world-view, you wonder how he can be an American. Mischievous, snarling New York synth-pop genius Jesse Hartman, is one of the few artists that the whole Time Out music section can agree on. We’re mad about the boy.” -Time Out London

“Bitter, bitchy and as witty as a younger computer-literate Woody Allen, a ‘Users Guide’ to your 20’s…Quietly brilliant.” -Q Magazine;

“Hartman is heartless, but he’s also hilarious. – New York Newsday;

“Heavenly pop.” -Time Out New York

Clearly he was a hit with certain music journalists. The record buying public seemed to say differently as his music sold in very small numbers.

Oh and here’s the two other tracks on the single:-

mp3 : Laptop – Blow Baby Blow
mp3 : Laptop – A Little Guilt

JC

 

THE ICA WORLD CUP FINAL OF 2018

Yup…..The Jam pulled off an almighty shock last week and knocked out The Clash by 22-18. Here’s the roads that the two finalists have gone down in this tourney.

BILLY BRAGG

Round 1 – St Swithin’s Day : 33-10 v The Faces
Round 2 – Tank Park Salute : 23-12 v The Pixies
Round 3 – Greetings To The New Brunette : 26-15 v Prefab Sprout
Round 4 – Love Gets Dangerous : 25-12 v Half Man Half Biscuit
Round 5 – Levi Stubbs’ Tears : 26-12 v The Smiths
Semi Final – Between The Wars : 18-16 v Pulp

THE JAM

Round 1 – Happy Together : 34-10 v T.Rex
Round 2 – Billy Hunt : 37-6 v The Detroit Cobras
Round 3 – Thick As Thieves : 35-6 v Daft Punk
Round 4 – Saturday’s Kids : 23-4 v The Jesus and Mary Chain
Round 5 – Man In The Corner Shop : 23-11 v Lloyd Cole & The Commotions
Semi Final – To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have A Nice Time) : 22-18 v The Clash

Every tie thus far has seen the songs matched in randomly thanks to a combination of tossing a coin and rolling a dice. The advantage is very much with Billy as he had two ICAs (#36 and #37) and still has 14 tracks for selection: Northern Industrial Town; World Turned Upside Down; Deportees; Take Down The Union Jack; A New England; Cold and Bitter Tears; Walk Away Renee; Which Side Are You On?; The Space Race Is Over; The Saturday Boy; The Short Answer; Everywhere; Brickbat; Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

The Jam had one ICA (#52) and therefore have much fewer options: Art School; Little Boy Soldiers; Boy About Town; The Gift, none of which really stand a chance if certain of Billy’s come through……

Please have a listen and cast your votes for one of the following songs:-

Brickbat v Little Boy Soldiers

Intriguing and fascinating, with Billy being represented by one of his love songs from the LP William Bloke, inspired by the changes in his life in settling down and becoming a dad while The Jam have the new-wave equivalent of Bohemian Rhapsody around which Paul Weller planned but didn’t quite pull off the idea of Setting Sons being an anti-war concept album.

Feel free to take your time on this one…..The closing date for voting is midnight on Sunday 22 July with the result being announced the following morning – the reason being that next weekend sees me on my annual pilgrimage to Westport in Ireland and I’m not taking the laptop with me.

JC

 

IT REALLY WASN’T A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE

It’s Friday. It’s the 13th of the month. I’ve been running a Scottish theme all week here. It’s the eve of an all-English ICA World Cup final. I feel it is appropriate to sabotage the blog.

Today’s offering is the debut 45 by the rather spendid and usually tuneful Idlewild.

Queen of The Troubled Teens was released on Human Condition Records, an Edinburgh-based indie label, but such was the small extent of the distribution that few copies got outside of the city, and as such it is highly sought after by fans (and no, I don’t have a copy; I used villainous methods to get a hold of the songs for today).

Idlewild had played their first shows in early 1996, as teenagers, and they soon earned a reputation for loud, chaotic but energetic shows. It wasn’t until February 1997 that their debut single was released by which time their bass player, Phil Scanlon, had quit to concentrate on his studies and so these three songs are his sole contribution to a band which has now released seven studio albums, three compilations and twenty-three singles in a largely stellar career.

Here’s what Roddy Woomble, lead singer and main songwriter with the band has said this about the debut:-

The thing is that it’s rubbish. I mean, for what it is – when I look back, like I do with fondness at copies of a favourite book or something – musically it’s just a bunch of 19-year-olds. Of course it’s part of the band’s history, but I think things have moved on.

He’s not wrong you know….

mp3 : Idlewild – Queen of The Troubled Teens
mp3 : Idlewild – Faster
mp3 : Idlewild – Self Healer

I can safely predict that these are unlikely to be aired at Simply Thrilled.

JC

SON OF A GUN

The Vaselines are one of the best examples you can find of a band becoming more famous and influential long after they had called it a day.

Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee were romantically entwined when they formed the band in 1986. As they have said on a number of occasions, they knew they weren’t terrifically competent from a technical point of view, but they set out with the intention of the sort of music they enjoyed listening to, heavily influenced by the 60s duets of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, and the likes of The Velvet Underground, Orange Juice and The Jesus and Mary Chain who had all used grit and determination to get things going rather than worry about how perfect their sound was.

They released two EPs on a Glasgow-based independent label which was run and managed by a number of their friends, including Stephen Pastel, as well as recording an album which initially had to be shelved as the label had gone bust, albeit it was later picked up and released on Rough Trade. By the time the album was released in 1989, the band was no more – thoroughly disillusioned by the experience of crap venues, no money, no solid fan base and no media support for what they were doing. Little did they, or indeed anyone know, that their songs had come to the attention of a singer/songwriter from the north-west corner of the States who was determined that the band he fronted would pay homage by covering them when they played live.

Kurt Cobain’s love for The Vaselines brought them to a whole new audience, and more importantly, had critics reassessing things to the extent that a number of them in the UK would claim to have championed them from the outset. Eugene and Frances had become hip names to drop into any conversation….

The EPs and album had sold in such small numbers that they were tough to track down and so Sub Pop chose to reissue their entire 19-song back catalogue in 1992 on a compilation entitled The Way of The Vaselines at the same time as a Edinburgh based indie label issued something similar in the shape of All The Stuff and More, which is the piece of vinyl that I have in the collection.

The three songs that made up the debut EP encapsulate everything that made the band so different from their late 80s peers while also demonstrating how it was difficult for anyone to find a single reference point with which to compare them:-

mp3 : The Vaselines – Son of A Gun
mp3 : The Vaselines – Rory Ride Me Raw
mp3 : The Vaselines – You Think You’re A Man

The irony, of course, is that the lead track has aged magnificently, sounding really fresh and invigorating more than 30 years on, one which has no problem in filling the floor of your average indie/alt disco with even the young ones appreciating its charms.

The other original track is hilarious and shambolic in equal measures….it could be argued that it’s about someone looking forward to climbing aboard a fine looking horse and galloping around some freshly mown fields first thing in the morning…..but that argument holds no truck in Villain Towers. I really don’t know how these real life lovers were to keep straight faces when they sang this one in concert……

The final track demonstrates that the making indie music doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your wicked sense of humour and fun at the door of the studio. Where Orange Juice had often paid tribute to the late 70s/early 80s disco sound, so their descendants tipped their hats to Hi-NRG with a bizarre take on a hit single by the drag queen Divine (which, incidentally , was the first ever success for the production team of Stock, Aitken and Waterman).

The a-side of these may well be aired at some point during Simply Thrilled….if not the inaugural night, then I’m certainly going to have it on a playlist in next time around.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #175 : BALLBOY

This post is dedicated to Sexy Loser

I thought it was time I tackled another difficult ICA, featuring another wonderfully entertaining and talented Scottish combo, one of the finest bands to ever emerge out of Scotland’s capital but second city.

Ballboy emerged in the mid-to-late 90s, with the various members gigging and recording around the commitments of holding down full-time careers. A few members came and went and finally things settled down in 1999 with a four-piece line-up consisting of Gordon McIntyre (vocals and guitar), Nick Reynolds (bass), Gary Morgan (drums) and Katie Griffiths (keyboards) signing to SL Records. The band would record a number of EPs/singles which were later compiled as the wonderfully named Club Anthems in 2001 before the release of a debut LP, A Guide For Daylight Hours was released in late 2002. Two more albums – The Sash My Father Wore and Other Stories (2003) and The Royal Theatre (2004) very quickly followed as the band consolidated on their ever-increasing fan base, one of whom was John Peel.

By this point in time, Alexa Morrison had replaced Katie Griffiths. There was also something of a loss of momentum with the latest LP not being as well received as previous efforts and there was something of a fall-out with the label. It wasn’t until 2008 that the next album – I Worked On The Ships – was released and it was on the band’s own imprint of Pony Proof Records. There’s not actually been all that much released since then outside of a digital Christmas mini-album in 2013, but the band have been reasonably active on the live front here in Scotland, albeit rarely nowadays as a full four-piece.

There’s plenty of songs which could have made this ICA, and what follows is not necessarily my favourite 10 tracks; but taken collectively they make for what I think would be two rather splendid sides of vinyl. It also builds on this previous posting on the band from two years back.

SIDE A

1. Avant Garde Music (from A Guide for the Daylight Hours, 2002)

Every one of the band’s EPs and albums opens with a truly memorable number and it was a tough choice selecting the track with which to introduce the ICA. In the end, I’ve plumped for Avant Garde Music partly on the basis it is from the debut LP but mainly as it captures perfectly what it is that makes Ballboy such an appealing listen. It is self-deprecating, humorous, catchy and with has the most wonderful put-down line of ‘I don’t give a fuck what she says or thinks about me’. Indie attitude at its very best!

2. All The Records On The Radio Are Shite (EP, 2002)

More indie attitude at its very best. Gordon’s tongue may be slightly in his cheek when he sings that, with the exception of his own material all the music coming out of the transistor just aren’t very good, but there’s no arguing the sentiments, especially these days when an awful lot of indie music seems to be by numbers. But then again, the hipsters and youngsters probably think the stuff I like is trad and dull…..

3. Songs For Kylie (from I Worked On The Ships, 2008)

There are singer/songwriters out there who have made millions upon millions, selling out arenas and stadia the world over thanks to them having the talent to match a tear-inducing lyric with a tune that somehow can tunnel its way into every brain and stay there no matter how hard you want or try to forget it. There are even, and always have been, songwriters for hire to do the very same for those singers whose voice is the only thing creative about them. I listen to some of the ballads that Ballboy have recorded over the years and cannot but feel that Gordon McIntyre missed his true calling.

4. Something’s Going To Happen Soon (from A Guide for the Daylight Hours, 2002)

And the cellos kick in……..

Boom. Pow. Whack.  You’re In Love.

5. I Don’t Have Time To Stand Here With You Fighting About The Size Of My Dick (from The Royal Theatre, 2004)

As said previously, probably the first thing that jumps out when you look Ballboy song is the finest set of song titles since The Smiths were at the height of their fame, fame fatal fame. The titles inevitably involve a wry look at life and love – successes and failures alike – but the great thing is that the tunes are more than a match, especially on the debut album. There was a wee bit of a backlash when The Royal Theatre was released in that the production and sound had removed some of what had made the band such an essential listen over the previous five years but it is impossible not to smile at the title of this song.

There’s a real complexity about the lyric – the laugh out loud title acts as its opening line and isn’t ever repeated. The closing two lines offer up a beautiful and moving image of a loving memory. In between? Well, let’s just say it’s from the perspective of a hardened, violent criminal who just never imagined things ever going wrong….just listen and then applaud.

SIDE B

1. Donald In The Bushes With A Bag of Glue (from Club Anthems, 2001)

This was actually the lead track on the band’s first ever EP, Silver Suits For Astronauts, in 1999.

2. Kiss Me, Hold Me and Eat Me

3. The Sash My Father Wore (both from The Sash My Father Wore and Other Stories (2003)

The sophomore album was a bit if a surprise in that it was quite acoustic in nature, offering up many songs in which it was just the singer and his guitar and the occasional use of a cello.. It’s a tremendously enjoyable piece of work, brave in many ways partly from it being such a bold step away from the sounds that had brought the band some indie-pop fame but also from the fact that the lyrics didn’t hold back on the sort of things that angered him, not least the title track.

Kiss Me, Hold Me and Eat Me must be the only love song about cannibalism. It muses on what cannibals who fall in love would do to one another given their all-consuming desire to consume flesh. Is there a happy ending? There’s only one way to find out…….

Type in “The Sash My Father Wore” into any search engine and you’ll be greeted with a toe-tapping tune of religious triumphalism and intolerance. Sectarianism is Scotland’s shame. It is somewhat on the wane compared to a generation ago but those Protestants who can’t tolerate Roman Catholics (and vice-versa) while less in numbers seem to be more bitter about things, angry that a certain way of life is ebbing away. It is, sadly, at its worst in Glasgow but there are also many small working-class villages and towns which have an historical association with dirty, grimy and dangerous industries, especially coal mining, where the marching season across June, July and August brings out the worst in folk.

Ballboy’s take on it all? A gentle ballad with a biting lyric which pulls no punches. Billy Bragg has rarely, if ever, been this courageous……

4. I Wonder If You’re Drunk Enough To Sleep With Me Tonight (from A Guide for the Daylight Hours, 2002)

The title sounds creepy and the sort of thought that goes through the head of a social inadequate on a night out in the company of someone they fancy, or indeed lust over. And yet and the upbeat, jaunty nature of the song opens it to other interpretations, primarily that it is really about a hopeless romantic who, while he says he won’t be put off by a fear of failure is in fact so terrified of it that he is incapable of behaving or thinking in any sort of rational way.

I’ve always thought this would make for a marvellous duet. Singer #1 would take it through to the end of the first chorus at which point singer #2 comes in and takes it through to the end of the second chorus. Then they would stare into one another’s eyes and both sing the closing section, pleading with one another to kiss them like they mean it this time……and it won’t matter if they are sober or drunk.

5. Meet Me At The Shooting Range (from A Guide for the Daylight Hours, 2002)

One of the most hauntingly, beautiful tunes of my lifetime.  I’ve wept while listening to this alone while very drunk……and it’s just a perfect way to bring ICA 175 to its conclusion

JC

CITIZEN(S) KANE

Here’s a single which is kind of like a skeleton in my closet in that I don’t admit to many folk that I like it; indeed it is one I rarely play given nowadays given that I’ve never transferred it or anything else by the band onto the i-pod or i-phone.

Just as I’m finding it really hard to listen to anything involving Morrissey, so it has been for some 30 years with Hue and Cry. For those of you who perhaps aren’t familiar with the group, (which I imagine will be the case with almost all the non-UK readers), it is basically a duo, formed by brother Pat Kane (vocals) and Greg Kane (everything else!) in the mid-80s.

After a debut single in 1986 on a small Glasgow-based independent label, they came to the attention of Virgin Records who signed them to a subsidiary label Circa for whom there was immediate success which was sustained for a few years with a number of chart singles and two albums which went Top 20. They were incredibly popular in Scotland, emerging at a time when a number of others acts across the country were embracing that late 80s big-sounding production with big vocals and big social statements to match, selling out much bigger venues up here than anywhere else.

It soon became apparent that Pat Kane was never going to be content with being a mere pop star.

He made use of his fame to promote himself as something of an intellectual, penning newspaper columns and appearing on television programmes in which he never shied away from airing what he considered to be left-wing credentials. He was also a very strong advocate for independence for Scotland and, to be fair, his arguments and viewpoints did make for interesting reading, gaining more than enough traction to ensure his success when he stood in an election in 1990 for the post of Rector at Glasgow University, which in effect is the highest office that can be held by a non-academic person at that particular seat of learning.

There was seemingly nothing on which Pat Kane didn’t have an opinion, and there was seemingly nothing on which his opinion was wrong. I don’t think I was alone in growing very bored of him very quickly, switching the telly over any time he appeared and completely by-passing any articles I came across in any newspapers. There was an arrogance about him that jarred and, looking back, it is clear to see that he was one of the first ‘champagne socialists’ who would rise to power in later years, albeit at the UK level of politics rather than in Scotland.

All of this made it tough to enjoy his music anymore, but to compound things, he and Greg announced that having enjoyed the rewards from two hit albums they were now going to embrace their lifelong love of jazz, which was my cue to bail out entirely.

Hue and Cry are still on the go today and Pat Kane still has something of a profile as a journalist and political activist but I continue to pay no attention.

But….and this came from looking deep for stuff that might go down well at the Simply Thrilled night(s)….there’s no denying that the duo did write and record an absolute belter of a radio-friendly tune back in 1987:-

mp3 : Hue and Cry – Labour of Love

This was the second single lifted from the debut album and it climbed all the way to #6 in the UK charts. It’s big, bold and brassy with a defiant message. Yes, it could be interpreted as a break-up song with someone telling their other half that the love they had endured for seven years was now over; but let’s not kid ourselves – this was very much an open letter to a right-wing government which was causing havoc to so many communities, including many in and around where the Kane brothers had been brought up. If Billy Bragg had penned this lyric, we’d be still celebrating it as genuine classic.

Here’s yer ballad found on the b-side:-

mp3 : Hue and Cry – Widescreen

JC