AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #306: DAVY HENDERSON

For the most basic of background info, here’s the opening para of the wiki entry:-

David Alexander “Davy” Henderson (born c.1962) is a Scottish singer and guitarist whose career began in the 1970s. He is best known for his work with The Fire Engines, Win, The Nectarine No. 9, and more recently The Sexual Objects and Port Sulphur.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve lived almost all my life in Glasgow that I tend to look upon the musicians from the west coast of Scotland as always being the pioneers of all that’s been great about the local/national indie scene that I sort of overlook the impact of Davy Henderson over the past 40 years.  All the bands mentioned in that wiki entry have featured on this blog over the years, and you can use the index or search facility to go and read more if you’re so inclined.  In the meantime, here’s an ICA which tries to do justice to his career.  It’s not necessarily the very best or most innovative of his music, but I think it works well as an introduction to those of you perhaps unfamiliar with much of his music.

SIDE A

1. Candyskin – The Fire Engines (1981)

It was back in December 2015 when I used the phrase ‘a magical and wondrous moment in pop music history’ to describe the nineteenth second of this song. It’s when the strings so unexpectedly kick in.

Candyskin was the second single to be released by The Fire Engines. It came out on the Edinburgh-based Pop Aural Records, which was a subsidiary of Fast Product, the label to which the likes of Postcard and Factory owe a big debt.

2. Don’t Worry Babe You’re Not The Only One Awake – The Nectarine No.9 (1994)

Originally released on the 1992 debut album A Sea with Three Stars (or C*** going by the artwork on the sleeve), this version is taken from the CD Guitar Thieves, which brings together two sessions recorded for the BBC along with some incidental pieces of music in between each of the songs.

3. The Lane – Port Sulphur (2018)

Port Sulphur is the name given to a collective pulled together by Douglas MacIntyre of Creeping Bent Records. All told, almost thirty musicians have this far contributed to the work of the collective, including some who are no longer with us such as Alan Vega and Jock Scot. The music has been recorded periodically and thus far released through a ten-song vinyl-only album, Paranoic Critical in 2018, followed by Compendium, a CD and digital release in 2020 which offered up all the songs from the previous album along with an additional ten pieces of music.

The Lane is a song co-written by Douglas and Davy, along with the legendary Vic Godard, and there’s a shared vocal for your enjoyment.

4. Saint Jack – The Nectarine No.9 (1995)

The title track and opening song from the second studio album, originally released on CD by Postcard Records in 1995 and given a vinyl reissue by Forever Heavenly twenty years later. It’s a strange and ambitious recording, with songs interspersed with poetry and samples of dialogue taken from TV shows and films. The extensive notes provided with the 2015 re-release explain that much of the album was influenced, or more accurately inspired, by Davy’s love of the characters in Saint Jack, a 1979 film starring Ben Gazzara, which itself was an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by Paul Theroux.

The author Irvine Welsh has said that Davy Henderson is a genius, and Saint Jack is him at his very best. It is certainly an album quite different from most, one which I thoroughly enjoy listening to from start to end, even those bits which I initially found to grind on my nerves but would later realise had a role to play in getting from the beginning to the end.

5. Super Popoid Groove – Win (1987)

The late 80s saw Davy Henderson almost become a bona-fide pop star. Alan Horne had signed Win, the band formed in the aftermath of the break-up of The Fire Engines, to his new label Swamplands, an indie bankrolled by London Records. Pop music with an indie-twist (of sorts) and a dance-beat (of sorts). Like so much music from the era, it’s dated a bit. The strange thing about Win, and in particular the debut album, it is a time when I didn’t really keep up much with what was happening in music, but living, working and partying in Edinburgh meant you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing this or the other near hit singles as the city really believed it was going to become home to the next big breakthrough act. I still have a real love for it all.

SIDE B

1. Exploding Clockwork – Port Sulphur (2020)

The concept of Port Sulphur was explained earlier. This wonderful piece of pop music is co-written by Davy and James Kirk….yup, the singer/guitarist who was part of Orange Juice way back at the beginning and who has drifted in and out of music over the succeeding years, preferring to concentrate on his career as a chiropodist.

Aside from Davy and James, the other musicians on this one could easily form a Scottish indie/pop supergroup from the past three decades – Andy Alston (keyboards), Katy Lironi (vocals), Douglas MacIntyre (guitars/vocals) and Campbell Owens (bass).

2. Here Come The Rubber Cops – The Sexual Objects (2008)

Whether it was a sense of dissatisfaction after the Win experience, but Davy Henderson has seemed quite content these past 30 years to make music under his own terms without any concerns for commercial success. The Sexual Objects have been around just as long as any of his other bands ever managed to stay together, but there’s not been too much in the way of singles or albums. One of their best songs dates back to 2008, courtesy of a 7″ inch single, limited to just 300 copies, on a label based out of Hamburg in Germany. I’ve long wanted to own a copy, but apart from being near impossible to find, the asking price is a tad on the steep side.

3. Constellations of A Vanity – The Nectarine No.9 (2001)

The Nectarine No.9 switched labels on a regular basis, and by the early 21st Century had been taken on by Beggars Banquet, for whom they would record three albums, none of which were remotely commercial. I suppose, similarly to The Fall, some record label execs liked the idea of having mavericks on the roster, perhaps hoping that the constant championing by folk like John Peel might somehow lead to some sort of progression beyond cult status. It’s hard to imagine any sort of similar act getting a deal these days, although I suppose the modern way, for the most part, is to go down the self-releasing route.

In among many strange songs on Received Transgressed & Transmitted, the first album for Beggars, there hides a most tremendous, upbeat and damn catchy song, one which extends to the best part of six minutes.

4. Big Gold Dream – The Fire Engines (1981)

The follow-up to Candyskin. There was enough of a buzz about this at the time of its release that it led to The Fire Engines making an appearance on Riverside, a BBC 2 youth programme that was broadcast in the early 80s. It’s out there on YouTube if you fancy.

5. Marshmallow – The Sexual Objects (2017)

I’ll recap the story of the release of the album Marshmallow.

Completed in 2014 and made ready for release in January 2015. Davy Henderson, frustrated at the conventions of record releases, decided to play a high risk strategy with the master copy by putting it up for auction, the idea of the auction was that whoever was the highest bidder would win the rights to the recordings, and it would become their decision to release as many or as few copies of the album as they chose.

In an interview at the time, Henderson said he was thinking of the record as being like a painting with just the one owner, but that owner then having the freedom to do anything they liked, even if the decision was to keep it to themselves with no further public consumption. The auction was won by folk who decided to allow 300 copies to be issued on vinyl….alas, I don’t have a copy, but I did pick up a digital copy when it was temporarily made available via Bandcamp.

It’s a great album, as upbeat and straightforward a recording as he’s ever issued, but yet there’s still a curveball across its nine tracks thanks to a sixteen-minutes instrumental guitar epic which takes up around one-third of the playing time.

So there you have it. Ten works spanning a period of almost 40 years from the fertile imagination of one of Scotland’s lesser-known but hugely valued musical treasures.

JC

 

6 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #306: DAVY HENDERSON

  1. Drifted in and out of engagement with the man’s career over the years but really connected with the Nectarines (particularly the Postcard album). I’m not normally one for muso adoration but love that kind of meandering, noodling, trebly guitar work.

  2. I listened regularly to Marc Riley’s 6Music show for many years and he’s a great supporter of Davy Henderson’s music. I’m most familiar with the early Fire Engines singles and the late period Sexual Objects tunes, though not so much all the stuff in the middle! I’m only halfway through this particular ICA as I type, but enjoying it tremendously. Thanks JC.

  3. What a great ICA. I must admit I only know the Fire Engines songs. But listening to the other tracks gives the impression that every Scottish band that came after owes a debt to Henderson. Nice one, JC, this is really eye (ear?) opening.

  4. A great selection – that second side is a cracker and Candy Skin still sounds as fresh as it did when I first heard it so many moons ago.

  5. I found myself driving through a snowy wasteland between Moniaive and Casphairn last week. Out of nowhere on my MP3 player came “Constellations of a Vanity” then “St Jack” and then the wondrous “Going Off Somebody”. I realised I had to put together a full & decent compilation of Davy Henderson for my MP3 player. You have began that task for me… now I need to start digging out those CDEPs, Peel Sessions (did you ever hear Davy’s version of Jackson Brown’s “These Days”? Wow!), the collaborations with Jock Scot. The Nectarine No 9’s “St Jack” is sublime and their CD singles and compilations were fertile territory! The Sexual Objects did a stonking set at the Jock Scot Memorial Night at Charlotte Square on Friday 25 August 2017. I saw Davy and the band outside before the gig… but I was too utterly whelmed to see him to speak. They blew the roof off the Book Festival Tent that night. This ICA is a great start.

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