SEVEN SONGS FEATURING VIV STRACHAN

A DEBUT GUEST POSTING by LEON MacDUFF

I offer you some tracks from two bands with something, or rather someone, in common. One you probably already know, and one you quite possibly don’t.

I’m well aware that Ballboy are an old favourite at T(N)VV, and already the subject of not one but two excellent ICAs, so I don’t propose to go over that ground again, but I thought that fans might be interested to hear some obscure tracks by an early prototype version of the band, at the time still featuring original vocalist Viv Strachan. This version is clearly not the finished article, although the sound isn’t so far off the first official EPs. A couple of years passed before Ballboy as we know them made their “proper” debut, with guitarist Gordon McIntyre stepping up to the microphone. But if you’d like to hear how it started, this is how.

Ballboy – Car Crashes
Ballboy – I Could Eat You Up
Ballboy – Photographers

These tracks, “recorded at teviot row house and 11 east preston street” (the former a famous Edinburgh venue, the latter apparently student digs – but surely both in line for a blue plaque now) appeared on a 1997 compilation album of Edinburgh bands, “It’s a Life Sentence…”.

Strachan bowed out after these recordings, but would turn up a few years later in Fence Collective band Northern Alliance, in which she took the occasional lead vocal but mostly provided backup to chief wordsmith Doug Johnstone. If you recognise that name, it’s probably because he’s now a successful author. He also keeps his musical hand in as drummer with the on-off collective Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, alongside the likes of Christopher Brookmyre, Mark Billingham and Val McDermid. Their tagline of “murdering songs for fun” tells you all you need to know, but you can find their videos on YouTube if you really want!

As for Northern Alliance, between 2003 and 2008 they issued four CDs, more-or-less randomly classified as either full or mini albums, plus a further definitely-mini-album on which they masqueraded as the titular indie rock group from Johnstone’s comic novel The Ossians. Although they split more than a decade ago, their website (www.lowfidelity.com) is still active and features a mildly embarrassing surfeit of enthusiastic press clippings comparing them to American slowcore and dream pop acts like Codeine, Low, Sparklehorse, Mazzy Star and Red House Painters.

But hey, show, don’t tell… and though I kept an eye on the Scottish songs series, N came and went without an appearance, so here are a few tracks for you: three originals and a standard from the Great Scottish Songbook.

Northern Alliance – We Hit the Town Drinking (from The Hand of God, 2008)
Northern Alliance – When the Clocks Go Forward (from Hope in Little Things, 2003)
Northern Alliance – Scaffolding (from For the Grains of Sand, 2006)
Northern Alliance – Ally’s Tartan Army (from Disaster for Scotland, 2004)

Now I think about it, Andy Cameron never turned up in the Scottish songs series either, did he? I feel an ICA coming on…

LEON MACDUFF

2 thoughts on “SEVEN SONGS FEATURING VIV STRACHAN

  1. I know of Ballboy, I didn’t have a clue about Northern Alliance, but I enjoyed both. A great post, Leon, I hope to see more in future!

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