THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (10)

A GUEST POSTING by CHAVAL

Cast your minds back a couple of weeks to JC’s celebration of Chinese Bakery, a single which featured a throwaway line about “Bob Dylan on a motorbike”. For Dylan’s 1966 Woodstock crash that released him from the album/tour/voice of his generation treadmill, Haines’s equivalent was that reckless drop off a wall in San Sebastian.

As well as instilling respect for the difference between sand and concrete, Haines’s leg fractures allowed him an interval of reflection. Like some post-Britpop James Stewart in Rear Window, Haines brooded and read, and like Dylan in 1967, unleashed his creativity in several directions, only tangentially connected with the pop marketplace.

By the end of 1995 and drift into 1996, Haines’s career was all over the place. The Auteurs’ best album After Murder Park was in the can but still awaiting release. Baader Meinhof, Haines’s unhinged, brilliant homage to 70s terrorism, was about to baffle critics with its mash-up of crunching retro-funk, dub and lyrics about hijacks. Always ready to muddy the waters, The Auteurs released the Back With The Killer EP, fresh material that took Haines’s lyrical provocations further than ever, albeit expressed very succinctly (the four tracks clock in at a total of just over nine minutes).

mp3: The Auteurs – Unsolved Child Murder is as uncompromising as its title, a dark depiction of an event dragged from the news headlines and given unsettling intimacy, exploring its devastating effect on a suburban family. Haines says it was based on a childhood memory of a local doctor’s family whose child went missing, presumed dead. Haines’s 70s childhood would prove a rich and often disturbing seam of material from this point on.

Haines had covered vaguely similar territory on Daughter Of A Child on Now I’m A Cowboy, but otherwise the only indie-rock point of comparison with regard to subject matter would be The Smiths’ mawkish Suffer Little Children from their first album. Where Morrissey’s lyric is mostly adolescent melodrama, Unsolved Child Murder is a richly detailed and empathetic depiction of tragedy, irrational desperation and a viciously judgmental world, wrapped up in a gorgeously melancholic tune (the EP version is enhanced with a French horn omitted from the album track that appeared later).

Along with the title track of After Murder Park, it showed how far Haines had shifted from the usual lyrical terrain of mid 90s popular music. The band had just finished recording these tracks in Abbey Road when Paul McCartney looked in and amiably asked if he could hear what Luke had been working on. “I politely decline the ex-Beatle’s request,” Haines recalled. “I don’t want him to be the first person to hear these songs; they’re too good for him.”

This startling work merited that kind of pride, but this EP contains another masterpiece:

mp3: The Auteurs – Back With The Killer Again takes the direct route of Lenny Valentino musically, although the atmosphere is distinctly psychotic. In Tim Mitchell’s deranged non-biography of Haines the author suggests the song is about “a man who takes drugs to turn himself into a murderer”, an explanation that may have come directly from Haines. Certainly the lyric offers a disturbing cluster of allusions to nerve gas, bad dope, primed bombs . . .

Those better versed in 70s counter-culture might be able to identify all the references in the line “John got Barrett for the lot, it must have been the Microdot”. All I can offer is that the Microdot happened to be the name of the early 70s gang of underground LSD chemists eventually busted by Operation Julie (as immortalised in the Clash song), who were rumoured to have links with the German terrorists Red Army Faction aka Baader-Meinhof, bringing it all back home to Haines’s reading lists. “A damning, self-mythologising riposte to the current crock that is the UK scene,” is how Haines described the song.

If the other tracks on the EP can’t match the impact of the first two, that’s not to say they are filler.

mp3: The Auteurs – Former Fan continues the murder theme, seemingly from the viewpoint of a Mark Chapman type obsessive whose disenchantment with a former idol turns homicidal. Or it might be a twisted love song, you tell me.

mp3: The Auteurs – Kenneth Anger’s Bad Dream name-checks the underground film-maker (or “pornographer” as Haines somewhat harshly calls him when introducing the song at live shows) and keen disciple of the Satanist Aleister Crowley. Haines’s insatiable cultural curiosity is on display once again, and given a pretty, folk-rock-ish tune.

The EP reached number 45 (says Wikipedia, Haines’s memory says 48), a commercial disappointment in the hit-crazed climate of Britpop, but undeniably a remarkable achievement considering the artistic reach and lyrical ambition.

chaval

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #183: LE THUG

Fancy a little bit of shoegazing type music from Scotland?

Le Thug, from Glasgow, formed some six years ago but thus far have released just a six-track EP, Place Is, on Song, By Toad Records.

The label was recently would up by owner Matthew Young after ten fairly succesful years which means that Le Thug, are currently without a deal. Indeed, I’m not sure if the band are still in existence, as the last I thing I can find is them playing a gig at King Tut’s in Glasgow in January 2018.

A very positive review, from a Scottish broadsheet, when Place Is was released, back in 2015, will give you a flavour of the band:-

Layers of distorted guitar, a dreamy vocal pushed back in the mix, a minimal drum beat. There’s a fashion for this stuff at the moment, even an attempt to label it nu-gaze, but in most cases it only makes you want to go back and listen to original albums by My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus And Mary Chain instead. Not so with Glasgow-based trio Le Thug. Clio Alexandra MacLellan is one of those rare singers whose hauntingly addictive vocals would have seen her bracketed alongside Elizabeth Fraser back in the day; Michael Gilfedder’s guitars, especially on the monumental Basketball Land, are thick and all-enveloping; and Dann McColgan’s laptop beats and synthesiser pulses, while more mechanically insistent, introduce a musical factor from a different era that may well be the key to why Le Thug rise above the retro fad. The melody lines on this six-track EP have a deceptive simplicity but it’s the slow harmonic changes of direction that will make you swoon – those and the sheer sonic completeness of the studio production.

I was telling a white lie when I said Le Thug had released just a six-track EP; in fact, they contributed to one of what were a handful of spilt 12″ releases issued over the years by Song, By Toad, often to act as an introduction to singers and bands on the label. The song featuring today has been taken from such a spilt 12″.

mp3 : Le Thug – New Balance

And here’s a promo film that was made to accompany what many regarded as the best track on their own subsequent EP:-

JC

THE POWER OF THE PRESS – 1976 STYLE

Relying on the info on wiki to introduce this particular story.

The Saints are an Australian rock band formed in Brisbane in 1973. The band was founded by Chris Bailey (singer-songwriter, later guitarist), Ivor Hay (drummer), and Ed Kuepper (guitarist-songwriter) and began life as Kid Galahad and before taking the name The Saints in 1974. Jeffrey Wegener joined on drums and Hay switched to bass guitar. Wegener had left by 1975, Hay moved to drums and Kym Bradshaw joined on bass guitar.

Contemporaneous with Ramones, the group were employing the fast tempos, raucous vocals and “buzz saw” guitar that characterised early punk rock. Kuepper explained that they played faster and faster as they were nervous in front of audiences. The police would often break up their gigs, and arrests were frequent. Unable to obtain bookings, Bailey and Hay converted the Petrie Terrace house they shared into the 76 Club so they had a venue to play in.

In June 1976, the Saints recorded two tracks, “(I’m) Stranded” and “No Time” with Mark Moffatt producing. Unable to find any interested label, they formed Fatal Records and independently released their debut single in September.Their self-owned Eternal Promotions sent discs to radio stations and magazines both in Australia – with little local interest – and United Kingdom.

In the UK, a small label, Power Exchange, issued the single. Sounds magazine’s reviewer, Jonh Ingham, declared it, “Single of this and every week”.

mp3 : The Saints – (I’m Stranded)
mp3 : The Saints – No Time

It was this review that led to EMI in London contacting EMi in Sydney with instructions that The Saints be signed to a three-album contract. In December 1976, the group recorded their first LP, (I’m) Stranded which was released in February 1977 by which time they had also been give a support slot on an Australian tour undertaken by AC/DC.

Despite this, The Saints continued to be ignored at home. The band moved to the UK in mid-1977 but soon ran into problems with EMI who wanted to promote them as a punk band – complete with ripped clothes and spiky hair – while the group just wanted to be themselves.

In due course, they would enjoy minor chart success with the This Perfect Day hitting the Top 40 in July 1977 but the relationship with EMI soured beyond repair when the second album was full of tunes leaning heavily towards RnB and the third under the contract was more or less a jazz/blue effort. In due course, the band would disintegrate and by 1979, just Chris Bailey remained from the original members.

mp3 : The Saints – This Perfect Day

I don’t think anyone would have imagined, 40 years on, that The Saints would still be rockin’n’rollin; but sure enough they continue to tour and record, having ammassed thirteen studio albums, seventeen singles, six EPs, two live albums and ten compilation albums.  And just about every Australian musician of note has lsted them as being a key influence for one reason or another

JC

CHANGED PARTICLES (V3) : Issue #1

GREETINGS TO THE NEW REDHEAD

While jetsetting around Spain with the Villains I asked JC about getting the Charged Particles series going again. I proposed to get the ball rolling with a bit about Shirley Manson, whose name I’d casually dropped in a recent TVV post. It’s not much of a story, but it fits in nicely with another Charged Particles entry about my gym buddy Chris, who turned out to be a Foo Fighter. So, here you go:

THE SHIRLEY MANSON STORY

My wife, the beautiful Goldie the Friendly Therapist (GTFP), has a childhood friend named Lisa, whose boyfriend was a nice guy named Dan. “You’ll like Dan,” Goldie told me, “he’s a bassist in some band.” The band turned out to be Garbage. Dan wasn’t one of the four principal band members but he had recorded and toured with them. When Lisa and Dan got married I was hoping the band would be there because I was really interested in talking to Butch Vig. I didn’t listen to Garbage; nothing against them but just not my thing. But Butch Vig! With the possible exception of OK Computer I don’t think there was a more important rock record in the 90’s than Nevermind, and Vig was the guy that produced it for Nirvana!

The wedding took place on a classic Hollywood summer night at a 1920’s hilltop mansion. Probably because of Goldie’s long friendship with the bride, we were put at the band table. The Garbage table, as it were. Before I could position myself next to Butch Vig, Shirley Manson sat herself down at the corner on my left, gave me a big smile, reached out her hand and said, “Hi! I’m Shirley.” “I know who you are,” I smiled back. Then we chatted for the next 3 hours. I can say from personal experience that she is an absolute sweetheart. She has what can be called a charming laugh, and she laughed a lot that night. No airs or pretensions whatsoever; no need to call any attention to herself. Never having heard her interviewed, I was surprised at her thick Scottish accent. For some reason we got to talking about David Beckham, who I think had just been sold to Real Madrid. “Ach, e’s pew say wept!” said Shirley. It took me a moment to understand she was saying that Beckham was pussy-whipped by Posh. Then she did a pretty funny imitation of their appearance on Da Ali G. Show.

I don’t really remember what else we talked about. I just recall that she was super friendly, asked loads of questions, laughed quite a bit, didn’t talk about herself, and was a lot of fun. Later in the evening a few of the band left the table and went off to smoke cigars on a veranda looking down the hillside. I like a cigar and was regretting I hadn’t thought to bring one of my own. Shirley must have noticed my envious look because she turned to me and said, “Oh! Would you like a cigar?” and popped off somewhere before I could answer. She returned and presented one for me. So I nicked off to the smokers and had a cigar. With Butch Vig.

Goldie has a theory that I’m constantly running into famous folks because I am the least starstruck person there is. There are thousands of celebrities in Los Angeles, but very few are celebrated for doing something intelligent, or for being kind souls, so I’m just not interested. I used to work at a firm that did a lot of industry work which involved meeting loads of famous people, and there are very few I’d like to meet again. And I figure that people just want to be left alone anyway.

At the end of the night Shirley gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek and said, “Lovely talking with you, sweetie!” I’d love to tell you that rock stars and international sex symbols naturally gravitate to me, but it was just happenstance. She might remember the night, because it was a very beautiful wedding of one of her close friends, but I sincerely doubt that Shirley Manson would have the faintest idea of who I am or was. It was a good cigar, though.

Garbage – Medication

JTFL

JC adds – in case anyone wasn’t aware, all charged particle songs must end with the letters -ion.

 

 

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #230 : THE LYRES

A GUEST POSTING by HYBRID SOC PROF,
our Michigan Correspondent

So, if I have a clear memory from 1992 (and I guess I still have a few…), it is the first time I pulled the Mexican R’n’B record from its sleeve, put in on the turntable and dropped a needle on it… pure, unadulterated sonic joy. I was bouncing all around Studio B at KZSC. I’d really liked the Bevis Frond’s psychedelic noodling and pretty much everything from the gloriously low-fi world of Billy Childish, but, jeez, The Stairs, they satisfied my 1967 jones, they hit the sweet spot of my retro-60s fanboy affections… and not taking themselves at all seriously made it SO much better.

I’d been well-primed for The Stairs by a raft of bands – mostly from New England and many with some kind of tie to the Boston scene in the early 80s. The Chesterfield Kings, The Fleshtones, The Fuzztones and The Real Kids come to mind… but, for me, the cream of the crop was The Lyres. The Fleshtones played at my college and blew the roof off the old library we used as an indie venue, but I had to go into Philadelphia to see The Lyres.

I have no idea where I saw them, just that it was arctic outside and hellish inside that night. The opening bands were local and terrible – much like the “metal” bands my now-wife and I saw open for Pere Ubu in San Francisco a decade later – but the Lyres started off on fyre and never let up. Dancing wasn’t like a mosh pit but it had that energy and sweat, a lot of sweat. The songs came fast and furious until we were just about broken… and they’d save us with a ballad, maybe two, before testing our stamina with another blitz of ever-accelerating songs. My clothes almost froze on the way back to school – leaning back into the rear seat was like propping myself up on ice – but, before my knees went bad and my wife had two kids and I put on weight, I’d have done it again in a heartbeat.

Their albums have a ton of energy but their shows were radiated garage band boy-dom. We knew it was stripped down, we knew it was kinda dumb, but my friends and I were 19 or 20 and it was about girls – those we desired, those who’d dumped us, those we desired because they’d dumped us, the ones we’d dumped but desired to have desire us and every other permutation and combination of those things imaginable. It was rock… and there were young women about.

The Lyres definitely had a peak period there in the early 80s, though they held on for quite a while and reformed once or twice but, lord, what a peak. There’s something about the world of the Nuggets, Pebbles, Boulders and other collections of independent “garage” music from the 60s – whether distilled into Los Angeles power pop variants, exploding into a Detroit-driven fury, or looking back romantically to a small set, a bass, and guitar and a singer out front – optimally one who can play organ/keyboards – that never dies, periodically flourishes and is a boatload of fun.

If you still need a frame of reference, think of The Sonics, whether their original 1960s or more recent 21st century work. Here’s to the Lyres and the world of post-punk that sought pre-punk garage punk joy.

Because they were primarily about live gigs, their records couldn’t contain everything they played, whether originals or covers and so this selection is from a smaller number of albums than usual. It happens…

The Lyres – You’ll Never Do It Baby – from Lyres Lyres (1986)
The Lyres – I Love Her Still – from Lyres Lyres (1986)
The Lyres – You Won’t be Sad Anymore – from Lyres Lyres (1986)
The Lyres – Not Like the Other One – from On Fyre (1984)
The Lyres – Love Me Till the Sun Shines – from On Fyre (1984)
The Lyres – Getting’ Plenty Lovin’ – from Shitkickers (1995)
The Lyres – Soapy – from On Fyre (1984)
The Lyres – Help You Ann – from On Fyre (1984)
The Lyres – She Pays the Rent – from the collection, Lyres (1981)
The Lyres – Knock My Socks Off – from A Promise is a Promise (1988)

HSP

THE BARELY REMEMBERED SOPHOMORE SINGLE

A previous instalment of the cracking debut singles series enabled the spotlight to be put on Magazine and the quite majestic Shot By Both Sides, released in January 1978.

It would be a further five months before the debut album, Real Life, hit the shops, comprising just nine tracks, one of which was a re-recording of Shot…., but noticeably absent was the single the band had released in the intervening period.

mp3 : Magazine – Touch and Go

It’s very much a song of its era, relying heavily throughout on the new wave guitar work of John McGeogh while Barry Adamson on bass and Martin Jackson on drums provide ample support as the rhythm section. And of course, there’s the unmistakable whining vocal delivery of Howard Devoto, seemingly almost breathless at trying to keep up with the relentless pace of the playing. It’s almost as if Dave Formula’s dainty keyboard solo, which comes in at exactly halfway through the song, is there to enable the vocalist to get a second wind.

Touch and Go isn’t a bad song. It’s big problem is that it is a very long way removed from the brilliance of the debut 45 and it didn’t have enough going for it to make it stand out among the other post-punk singles that were being released in 1978. It’s also quite unlike the other songs that Magazine were beginning to write and record – compare for instance with the opening track on said debut album:-

mp3 : Magazine – Definitive Gaze

I recently came across a review of Definitive Gaze that described it perfectly – ‘it switches between a sci-fi love theme and the score for a chase scene’ (Andy Kellman, allmusic). Touch and Go feels lumpen and unimaginative in comparison, and while there was ample space for it to be included on the debut album, it was a wise decision to cast it aside.

The b-side to the 7” was a real hoot:-

mp3 : Magazine – Goldfinger

Yup…..a cover of the theme tune to the James Bond movie as penned by John Barry and sung by Shirley Bassey. It’s almost as if Howie & co are auditioning for the right to compose and perform the next again Bond movie. The thing is, they would have certainly done a better job than what was used in the 1979 movie in the series – can anyone, without looking it up, recall what Moonraker sounded like?

Fun fact pop-pickers.

Despite being one of the most instantly recognisable of the Bond theme songs, Goldfinger only got as high as #21 in the UK singles charts in 1964, albeit it performed better in the USA by hitting the Top 10.

In fact, only one James Bond theme song has ever reached #1 in the UK. And very surprisingly, that accolade belongs to Sam Smith and his rendition of Writing’s On The Wall, which was written for Spectre in 2015.

Every day is a school day round here…………

JC

A HANDFUL OF SELFISH MOMENTS

It was more than five years ago, in April 2014 that I featured The Other Two on the blog as part of a piece looking at the spin-off bands from New Order.

I made the observation that, of all the records the band members released in other guises, there was one almost flawless piece of electronic pop that should have been snapped up by all New Order fans:-

mp3 : The Other Two – Tasty Fish (12”)

Much to my delight, there was a very positive response to the posting with a number of my long-standing and most trusted contributors, including postpunkmonk, the robster and Echorich all adding their own appreciative comments on Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert’s debut single.

I was thinking just the other day as to why nothing more seemed to happen in the wake of the release of Tasty Fish, which in reaching #41 had come within a whisker of possibly providing the duo with a Top of the Pops appearance – something that would have been interesting as I can’t imagine Gillian would have wanted to sing live while Stephen would likely have been desperate to avoid miming.

Tasty Fish was released in October 1991 as FAC 329. The Factory catalogue has the self-titled debut album as FAC 330. Crucially, it indicates it is a test pressing with perhaps 5-10 copies in existence. In short, the album got held up as the label began to implode, with the last throw of the dice being to try and get Happy Mondays product completed and into the shops. In the end, an album that had been finished in the studio in mid-1991 did not see light of day until November 1993 when London Records provided a belated release, having preferred, understandably, to concentrate on promoting Republic, the latest album by New Order.

Gillian and Stephen must have been disappointed with the way things turned out as The Other Two and You , despite being a fine and enjoyable piece of work, wasn’t getting much love from the company bosses. It would have been quite different if Tony Wilson et al had still been in charge.

A single was lifted to help the promotional efforts:-

mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish

As was the case with so many of the New Order singles of the time, there were no new songs made available on the b-sides of the 7”, 12” and CD versions, but there were a number of remixes:-

mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish (That Pop Mix)
mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish (Junior Style Dub)
mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish (The East Village Vocal)
mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish (The East Village Dub)

The opening of That Pop Mix is reminiscent (to my ears) of Vanishing Point, one of the outstanding tracks on the 1989 album Technique.

The Junior Dub is more than nine minutes in length and was surely played in the clubs of Ibiza and the likes back in the day.

Selfish did very well, in the circumstances, to reach #46 in the singles chart.

The album failed to chart.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (9)

This is where things start to get just a bit messy when it comes to getting these releases in the right order in terms of chronology…I’m going by the info contained in one of my go-to-books, namely ‘The Great Indie Discography’, written by Martin Strong, published in 2003, and consisting of more than 1,000 pages. It’s slightly at variance with how Luke Haines lays things out in Bad Vibes, but that may well be down to him keeping the narrative flowing in terms of music rather than jumping back and forth.

So….Chinese Bakery had stalled at #42 in April 1994 while the album Now I’m A Cowboy released the following month, reached #27, which was higher than had been achieved by New Wave but was a sore one for Luke Haines given the success being enjoyed by many other acts whom he regarded as second-rate.

Last week focussed on one of his responses, in the shape of the The Auteurs vs. μ-Ziq EP. The release of that EP coincided with a period in which he was incapacitated – both ankles badly broken and the right heel smashed to smithereens, sustained after he jumped down off a 15-foot wall onto concrete after a gig in San Sebastian in northern Spain. His defence was that he had gone slighly crazy mid-tour and had decided to make the jump on the basis that if he landed unscathed, the tour, which was still to go Italy, France and Japan, would continue…and that he thought he would landing on soft sand.

It was April 1995 before he was in any sort of shape to return to the studio, where he took the songs he had been writing while recuperating and teamed up with Steve Albini, the producer best known from his work with Nirvana, It took just 13 days to finish work on the new album, which was given the title After Murder Park, and it was presented to the record label in May 1995. For one reason after another, its release is consistently delayed and it doesn’t see light of day until 1 March 1996. But that’s a story for another day.

Not long after finishing work with Albini, The Auteurs return to the studio and begin work on some new songs that would, as it turns out, see the light of day as an EP before the next album is released. But that too is another story for another day….(and I’m delighted to say that chaval will be the one to tell that story)

The next physical release to feature Luke Haines proves to be a 7″ single in which neither his nor his band’s name actually features. It came about because Luke Haines and his great mate Phil Vinall, who had produced the first two albums by The Auteurs, were bored and restless, and over a weekend they went into a studio to have a bit of fun, trying to match music to a lyric or two that Haines had pulled together about his latest fascination, a left-wing terrorist gang that had become famous/infamous in the 1970s.

The results were presented to his manager, who dismissed it as being uncommercial. They went next to David Boyd, the boss of Hut Records who had long regarded Haines as a maverick genius. His response on hearing it was to give the green light for a 7″ single release, just a few weeks in advance of the new EP by The Auteurs, and at the same time signal his support for the concept to be worked up into a full album.

Luke Haines is ecstatic:-

mp3 : Baader Meinhoff – Baader Meinhoff
mp3 : Baader Meinhoff – Meet Me At The Airport

To nobody’s surprise, the single doesn’t do anything much in the way of sales, but the unusual marketing campaign, which consisted of sending journalists a copy of the single along with a photocopy of a page from a booklet that described in detail how best to construct a nail bomb, did get column inches….the music press knew exactly who was behind the stunt…

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #182 : THE LAUGHING APPLE

From all music:-

The Laughing Apple was centered around a couple of youthful Scots who relocated to London in June of 1980 prior to forming a new band. Bassist Alan McGee and guitarist Andrew Innes had played in a couple of outfits while still in Scotland, including H20 and Newspeak. In their new confines as Laughing Apple, they self-released the three-song Ha Ha Hee Hee single in March of 1981 on Autonomy. Their second single, Participate, was issued a couple months later. They broke up in short time, with most of the members going on to bigger and better things. McGee eventually joined Biff Bang Pow! and began the fledgling Creation label until it struck paydirt in the ’90s. Drummer Ken Popple and second guitarist Dick Green also joined McGee in the band, with the latter of the two also becoming McGee’s right hand man with Creation. Innes went on to record for Creation with Revolving Paint Dream and Primal Scream.

A glance at Discogs will reveal that The Laughing Apple released three singles during their short existence, along with flexi-disc on which they shared time and space with The Pastels. This is the second of the singles. It’s better than you would imagine……

mp3 : The Laughing Apple – Participate!

The sleeve for this single was designed by none other than Bobby Gillespie.

JC

DIVINE THING

The dig into the memory bank for yesterday’s posting also got me thinking about some of the gigs that I saw at Level 8 of the Strathclyde Students Union in the early 80s. Just about all of the Scottish jangly pop bands would have graced the stage at some point or other, while it was also a stopping point for many new or emerging acts, often on the cusp of mainstream success. The venue was only ever used for live gigs on Friday and Saturday nights, putting it at a disadvantage to the Queen Margaret Union which was attached to Glasgow University, which meant that very few genuinely jaw-dropping names came through the doors, unlike the period just before I went to uni when the likes of The Jam, The Ramones, Talking Heads and The Cramps all graced the stage.

One gig that came back to me, for the first time in many many years, was from when the stage was occupied by the American singer, Harris Glenn Milstead…..or as he was better known, Divine.

Yup, the actor and drag queen once performed a show to an audience of students in Glasgow in 1984.

Divine had made a name for himself as an actor in the late 60s and throughout the 70s, primarily through notorious appearances, usually always as a female impersonator, in films directed by John Waters. The problem was that these films tended to be of the cult variety and Divine was never able to make much of a living from them. By the time the 80s came around, Divine was 35 years old and at something of a crossroads. He began to eke out something of a living from a stage show of his own devising in which he would perform as a drag queen and incorporating covers of well-known disco songs. It was in 1982 that he hooked up with a songwriter named Bobby Orlando was who beginning to make a name as a composer of hi-NRG music, a newish development in disco. A number of singles in 82/83 were hits in Germany and Holland where the more liberal attitudes to gay life and culture meant it wasn’t seen as being extreme or at the edges, with the music crossing over into some of the clubs here in the UK.

Divine and Orlando had a huge falling out over money, with the singer feeling he wasn’t getting his fair share of the proceeds from the sales. It all ended up in court and the contract with O-Records, the company established by the composer, was declared null and void. Waiting in the wings was a newly emerging British production team of Stock Aitken and Waterman (SAW) who got talking to Divine and persuade him to record a version of a song by Geoff Deane, a UK songwriter who had previously been part of The Leyton Buzzards, a punk parody band in the 70s, and later as frontman of Modern Romance, a cabaret/dance act who were mainstays of the UK singles charts in the early 80s.

mp3 : Divine – You Think You’re A Man

This was the first ever record in which SAW had worked and it proved to be a smash, eventually going top 20 in the UK and in turn exposing Divine to a wider audience thanks to what proved to a hugely complained about performance on Top of The Pops.

The promotional efforts around the single also saw Divine tour clubs and venues across the UK which is why he came to find himself on the Level 8 stage. As he was a chart act, the ticket prices were marginally higher than usual, maybe £1 or £2 higher, but given that the usual gigs cost £2-£3, it was regarded as a big mark-up.

The gig was something of a catastrophe. It was a packed venue and it became clear beforehand that a fair number were there to heckle and goad Divine. There was a highly toxic homophobic atmosphere and I do clearly recall a number of blokes justifying their behaviour by saying that it wasn’t real or live music given that it would just be singing over backing tapes. It didn’t make sense then and it just seems bonkers now all these years later. Divine took to the stage to mixture of cheers and boos, with the latter, shamefully, being louder. It all came to what seemed to be an abrupt end after no more than four songs which only led to the crowd getting angrier and edgier. The lights went up and the DJ went straight into disco mode from his booth at the back of Level 8 and within a few minutes, the venue was largely cleared.

It turned out that this was a typical Divine show/appearance with the gigs, if they could be described as such, lasting no more than 20-25 minutes, consisting of a small number of songs and provocative/confrontational dialogue from the stage. But nobody was seemingly aware of this in advance.

It was certainly one of the strangest things I’d ever been at. It was certainly the first time that I’d seen a drag act in the flesh, but, as a veteran of New Order gigs it was far from the first time I’d seen a huge use of backing tapes.

Divine’s emergence as a hi-NRG performer led to a greater interest in his previous career and he returned to acting, eventually reuniting with Waters in 1987 for the film Hairspray, which would go onto be a mainstream success, popular with critics and audiences alike. Sadly, this all came too late for Divine as he died in his sleep, from heart problems, on 7 March 1998, a mere three weeks after Hairspray had been released.

By this time, I was aware of a cover version of the big hit from a couple of years earlier, one that had been recorded by a Glasgow duo. I’m thinking they may well have been in the audience at Strathclyde University the same night as I was…..and no doubt, equally appalled by all that happened.

mp3 : The Vaselines – You Think You’re A Man

JC