AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #319: THE PASTELS

A guest posting by flimflamfan

An Imaginary Compilation Album
The Pastels
Secret Music

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I hate The Pastels! Well, this celebratory ICA is going well, isn’t it?

Let me explain… I had just left school, officially. In reality I had left school at least two years earlier, possibly three, acquiring a Higher Grade (with Honours) in truanting. My wild years continued with late night bouts of taking my beloved dog for a walk around the block – keeping one eye out for the Bar-L (terrible ruffians that resided at the southern side of the Edinburgh Road) and trying to listen to late night, alternative radio shows without my slightly older brother – who I shared the bedroom with – telling me to turn that fucking thing off or he’d kick my cunt in. I didn’t turn off the radio – he knew I wouldn’t. Soon he’d been sleeping (it was often said he could sleep on the edge of a knife) and I’d be tuning into bands that I loved from yesteryear and new exciting Scottish bands – all vying for the attention of my recently acquired dole money. Walking the dog. Listening to radio. I was wild!

On a Tuesday night, the year eludes me, the DJ – I can exclusively reveal to be Billy Sloan – introduced an interview with The Pastels. As far as I can recall there was something about a boat!? Something about one of the band members dad’s paying for the recording? It all sounded terribly middle-class to me, privileged and I wanted nothing to do with it. The die was cast – ill-informed class-wars. I hated The Pastels.

I confess it gets a little muddy from here… I either heard the song at a later time or the interview was spliced with music (I could be wrong – it has been known). The song that caught my attention was I Wonder Why. When the song finished I felt as though I had been molested in my own bed – “what the fuck was that?” and “that has to be one of the worst songs I have ever heard”. Given that I did have it in for The Pastels – based largely on the fact they were enjoying their young lives and I wasn’t – my hyperbole is hardly surprising. To use a colloquial term the band were, “shite”. The song was, “shite”. It was all, “shite”. On this subject I was monosyllabic, but correct. Don’t forget, correct.

And so it was that The Pastels were dead to me. My adoration and dole money would be for other late-night radio suitors. Except…

Hmm hmm hmm hmm. Hmm hmm hmm hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm”.

Days had gone by, weeks maybe, and I was plagued by humming. I couldn’t place the tune at all and it was driving me to distraction. I asked my best pal if he knew the tune – me humming away, musically, of course, not the Glaswegian definition of ‘humming’ I grew up with i.e. smelly/unwashed. My pal had no clue. “Fuck!” The song was doing my nut in. My limited record collection held no clues. Aarrrgh!

Idea! If everyone had gone to bed early (unusual) I would stay up and listen to the radio in the living room – sometimes, with an integrated cassette player. I may have taped (never recorded) the song by accident. This endeavour proved directly fruitless but indirectly allowed me to find The Associates, Boys Keep Swinging. Not a whiff of DJ spoken-drivel to be heard. Thank you, Mr Sloan. You were always entertaining and knew when to let the music breathe. I was delighted to be reacquainted but what of the earworm? Nothing.

Some time later (weeks/months) the earworm was still with me as I occasionally hmm hmm hmm’d. Bang! “I wonder why, I wonder why I wonder why”. Where did that come from? No other lyric. I wrote it down and probably still have the jotter I wrote it down in. But who sang it? That continued to evade. So… off I went to Listen Records (Renfield Street). I had my clues… Group – Glaswegian. Song – possibly, I Wonder Why? Released – fairly recently.

It took a good deal of courage for me to speak with the guy behind the counter at Listen. I had been buying from them for years now, I was aware of the guy, he seemed aware of me but we hadn’t ever really spoken. He wasn’t one of the owners who always looked to me as if they were either a) waiting to go to a Grateful Dead concert or b) had just returned from a Grateful Dead concert. It’s quiet – my favourite time in any record shop. I make my way to the counter and make my request, my expectation low. As quick as you like he replied, “That’s The Pastels”. In my head I’m sure there would have been a sneering voice, snorting “oooooh, The Pastels”. The guy told me where to find the single. I spent a suspicious amount of time looking at the single. I wanted to make the guy feel that his time was valuable and let him see I had found it and… I also wanted to work out a way to leave the shop without buying it. It was shite, after all. I’ve no idea what I said when I left but I can assure you my face would have been beetroot red and my entire body clammy. I hated to leave a record shop without buying something, especially when someone had been so helpful. Still embarrassed, I loaded my shame onto the bus and headed home.

Hmm hmm hmm hmm. Hmm hmm hmm hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm”.

Fuck!

As single after single was released, I realised that The Pastels “weren’t that bad” (faint praise, indeed) and I began to buy their records.

It was Crawl Babies that eventually did it. When I first heard it, on a compilation tape that belonged to a friend, I was instantly smitten. It was just gorgeous. It is gorgeous. It melted away my hatred, my ill-informed class-war prejudice. It ignited a fervent interest that lasts to this very day. It could be said that a new love was born. You can be all but certain that if I’m DJing at an indie disco (unlikely, these days) Crawl Babies will be played. Hooked, I regarded myself as a fan, and yes, I now love I Wonder Why.

For various reasons I haven’t seen the group live too often. When I have they have been incredible. I have been fortunate enough to talk with Stephen and Katrina on numerous occasions over the years and all the time while chatting my internal fan-voice screeched “you are in The Pastels”. “YOU. ARE. IN. THE. PASTELS”. I also lived quite close to them for a number of years and when I’d see them coming out of their close or walking down the street (accidentally, I wasn’t stalking them, honest) that fan feeling never left me. As immature as it may seems, I’m glad it didn’t.

My experience of The Pastels as people (I’m talking Stephen and Katrina as I’ve not had much contact with other group members) is one of warmth, generosity, graciousness, unaffectedness, supportiveness and kindness.

As musicians they: inspired so many (aspiring musicians and fans alike), inadvertently spawned ‘scenes’ and developed outstanding collaborations with musicians and other artists while remaining unfettered by music business limitations.

The Pastels are still very much at the beating heart of music in Glasgow and beyond. That’s quite a feat for a group now enjoying its fourth decade. It may have taken me a wee while to fall for the charms of The Pastels but fall for them I did.

I love The Pastels.

For this ICA I have chosen three collaborations and one cover version. I think these inclusions provide a broader picture of the group’s output.

I hope you listen. I hope you enjoy.

I’d urge caution when listening to I Wonder Why…

Hmm hmm hmm hmm. Hmm hmm hmm hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm”.

This Side

1. Baby Honey

2. I Wonder Why

3. A Lonely Song (with Jad Fair)

4. Ditch The Fool

5. Speeding Motorcycle (cover version – Daniel Johnson)

6. Secret Music

7. Dark Side Of Your World

That Side

8. Ride

9. Crawl Babies

10. Check My Heart

11. Nothing To Be Done

12. Worlds Of Possibility

13. Two Sunsets (with Tenniscoats)

14. This Could Be The Night (with Jad Fair)

filmflanfan

7 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #319: THE PASTELS

  1. Hope you went back for that single. Like so many of their early works, I Wonder Why worth a pretty penny these days. Good read, my good man. Happy to see stuff from Slow Summits made your ICA. Criminally underrated album. I think my ten might look quite different which shows just how many great songs have come down the pike from Stephen and pals.

  2. Love the fizzy enthusiasm of this post, and looking
    forward to spinning Secret Music. Crawl Babies is,
    of course, a belter of a song – and made by lovely people
    from what I can gather.

  3. Great post. I loved the Pastels since I bought Up For A Bit when it came out. ‘Get ‘Round Town’ is 2 minutes of lo-fi pop excellence. I love them because of, and not in spite of, how completely amateurish they are. Anyone with an instrument can play their songs. Any lead singer will be at least as tuneful if not much more so. But the Pastels make happy, catchy music and that’s always worthwhile.

  4. As a side note, I’m always amused by UK folks’ “class-war prejudices.” We’re all commoners in the States–the only royalty are celebrities and star athletes.

  5. Great read, made me smile. I recognize the sentiment, not with The Pastels, but in other occasions. I guess growing up and getting wiser (?) is a good thing….

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