Imaginary Compilation Album #17 was posted in June 2015.
It featured my take on Butcher Boy, a band whose roots are in Irvine, a new town built in the 60s in Ayrshire some 30 miles south-west of Glasgow, and whose residents were primarily families from my home city who had moved as a result of their tenement houses being demolished and/or the main bread winner (usually the man in those days) moving to where work could be found. Two other such new towns were built a bit nearer Glasgow at the same time – Cumbernauld and East Kilbride – with the latter becoming very well-known in music circles thanks to the emergence of Aztec Camera and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Butcher Boy came together in the middle part of the 2000s, when lead singer, guitarist and songwriter John Hunt gathered some like-minded souls to initially record an EP and album for London-based How Does It Feel To Be Loved. I mentioned in the ICA piece that I picked up the debut album, Profit In Your Poetry, at the end of 2007 on my return from a spell living and working in Toronto having read all sorts of good things about the band and that their influences very much seemed to tick all my boxes with The Smiths, Tindersticks, Felt, Belle & Sebastian, R.E.M. and Go-Betweens all mentioned.
Having then given the album a rave review on the old blog, a member of the band got in touch to invite me along to a live show and to let me know a second album, React or Die (2009) was on the way. Cutting a long story short, all this led to me becoming something of a devotee of Butcher Boy but also being in the very lucky position of being able to become good friends with various band members and others who helped out behind the scenes, to the extent that I ended up putting on a gig in 2011 to help with the promotion of their third album, Helping Hands, which was issued that year by Damaged Goods Records.
It was inevitable that Butcher Boy would feature early on once the ICA concept for this blog had been established. The ten tracks I picked out were all taken from the three studio albums, and it was compiled at a time when there was no clear indication of the band writing and recording any further material. All the musicians had busy and important careers beyond Butcher Boy, and trying to get all eight of them together, including a cellist, violinist and violist in addition to the usual guitars, drums, bass and keyboards, was proving to be an ever increasingly complex challenge.
As it turned out, the EP Bad Things Happen When It’s Quiet, again on Damaged Goods, was issued to coincide with Record Store Day 2017, with all three songs, in this fan’s opinion, taking them to new heights thanks to a guest co-vocalist and a choir involved in the sessions.
The outcome of chats with some band members between that release and across the period of the next couple of years had me convinced that Butcher Boy were unlikely to get back together again, but I consoled myself with the fact that they had left behind an exceptional body of work. And then, to my delight and surprise, I was told that the writer Pete Paphides had been in touch with a serious suggestion.
Pete had fallen heavily for the music of Butcher Boy and, having got his label Needle Mythology up and running, said that he would like to release a Butcher Boy compilation on vinyl, especially given that all three studio albums were only issued on CD. Suitably stirred, the band got back together in 2020 to return, in stages, to the studio and record three new songs, two of which were originals and the other a cover of a track written by Keith Martin, a doyen of the Irvine post-punk music scene, and a friend of many in Butcher Boy. Keith had very sadly passed away in 2018, at the age of 51. He was the subject of this wonderful tribute by Craig McAllister, over at Plain or Pan.
The whole COVID thing, as well as the BREXIT nonsense causing issues with pressing plants in Europe, has led to delays in the issuing of the planned compilation, but it finally hit the shops last week. It is a thing of real beauty, both in terms of the 180gm vinyl and the achingly gorgeous sleeve notes, penned by award-winning author John Niven, another who was central to that Irvine scene.
You Had A Kind Face consists of twelve songs, with a bonus 7″ single containing the three tracks recorded in 2020. The CD version has all fifteen tracks included.
Here’s the thing, and why I opened up with a reference to ICA#17; ten songs from the three studio albums have been chosen for the compilation, and it turns out seven of those ten had been picked out by myself back in 2015 for that old ICA. Even more remarkable is that the first three songs I had picked out to open the ICA turned out to be the same three, and in the exact same order, as selected to open You Had A Kind Face. When I pointed this out in a text message to John Hunt, he sent a reply, complete with a bunch of appropriate emojis, that maybe he should have given me a call early in the process, given that he, the band members, and Pete Paphides, had all deliberated for weeks on end as to what should be included and indeed what the best running order would be.
Given all this, it can’t be any surprise that I am really loving the new compilation, to the extent that not much else is being played on the Villain Towers turntable just now. The original songs have been given the remastering treatment, at Abbey Road studios no less, to wonderful effect, while the new songs on the bonus 7″ are a real joy, especially as I had long ago given up on hearing anything fresh after the 2017 EP.
Butcher Boy have always made music that is a cut above the ordinary, and You Had A Kind Face is a fitting and deserved release which will hopefully bring more of the attention and fulsome praise that should have been getting heaped on them from the outset.
This is one of the three album tracks that you’ll find on the new compilation that I didn’t manage to squeeze onto the ICA back in 2015. Looking back, I have no idea how that state of affairs came about, but then again, I don’t know which of the other songs it could have replaced.
It was originally included on React or Die, which is probably the band’s true masterpiece and which no serious record collection should be without. What am I saying? No serious record collection should be without any of the three studio albums, nor the new compilation.