I’m very happy today.
Philophobia, the second studio album by Arab Strap is now 21 years old.
It’s an impressively ambitious and sprawling record, coming in at 66 minutes, It has thirteen songs, all of which could pass as short stories or poems set to music. It’s never a comfortable listen but it always manages to hold your attention throughout. It’s a brutally candid record, with the protagonist in each song seemingly all too often putting his mouth in motion before properly engaging his brain. It does occasionally seem to sail very close to the wind in terms of misogyny but if the songs are given a concentrated listen, and the lyrics are read closely in the wider context, it won’t take long to come to the realisation that in spitting out such venom, our singer is lashing out as a way to excuse or explain his many physical and social inadequacies.
The lyrics throughout are incredible. Most reviews over the years have homed in on the opening five lines, and rightly so:-
It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen
But you’ve no idea where that cock has been
You said you were careful – you never were with me
I heard you did it four times
But johnnies come in packs of three
If there has ever been a more shocking and heart-wrenchingly opening five lines to any album, then please enlighten me. It’s a song that takes your breath away from the offset and has such a powerful lyric that you are understandably distracted from the wonderfully understated guitar work going on in the background before the final emotional punch in the guts over the final minute and as the melancholic cello kicks in.
mp3 : Arab Strap – Packs Of Three
My own favourite moments come a short time later. The scenario is a lover’s tiff at the end of a night out, probably after both sides have had too much to drink, and most certainly over something completely trivial but right now of such significance that the relationship seems doomed:-
mp3 : Arab Strap – Here We Go
I defy anyone to listen and deny that they’ve never been in a similar situation. It was there and then that I made my mind up that Aidan Moffat was the greatest Scottish lyricist of my generation, a view I have never wavered from these past two decades.
Philophobia also made my mind up that Malcolm Middleton was the most talented Scottish musician and arranger of my generation. It takes a special sort of skill to come up with music to complement perfectly angst, pain and fear without it being maudlin, downbeat or depressing. The guitar parts are perfectly executed but there is also great use made of keyboards, drum machines, strings and the backing/co-vocals from Adele Bethel, especially on the song which paints a much more realistic post-sex picture than lighting up a cigarette and letting out a contended sigh.
mp3 : Arab Strap – Afterwards
I’ve read that some critics don’t like the one-dimensional pace of Philophobia, with the opinion that an upbeat number or two, along the lines of First Big Weekend of The Summer would have livened things up for the better.
As you may have guessed by now, it’s not a view that I subscribe to. Arab Strap would in later years write and record some truly astonishing and memorable albums but nothing ever quite came together as majestically as Philophobia.
The sound of being insecure, nervous, scared, frustrated, flawed, bewildered, confused and far from OK has never been bettered.
mp3 : Arab Strap – I Would Have Liked Me A Lot Last Night
PS : The reason I didn’t illustrate the posting with original artwork is that the nudity would have been flagged up by one of social media links for Simply Thrilled and gotten us into trouble!
It is the second appearance by Arab Strap in this series. It won’t be the last.
Oh and there’s a reason why this had to be posted today. But you’ll need to come back tomorrow to find the reason why.
It must have been at least three years ago. I had a crush on this girl I didn’t know. I thought it was a good idea at the time but I was pissed. I tried to find her by sending an ad into ‘The List’. It was free ’cause they’d just started this brand new section. First I passed it on to my old friend Denise for her inspection. It said: “I saw you twice and both times you were wearing orange. And she told you I fancied you in the toilets at The Garage.” There was never a reply, perhaps it didn’t astound her. That’s assuming she ever saw it but I think I’ve found her. I thought it could’ve been her in a club on Saturday night. She was a couple of tables away and I thought it might be. But I was far too drunk, so an approach was out of the question. But this guy Stuart had sent us tickets to see his band Belle & Sebastian. We went along thoroughly drunk, stopped for a post-gig “Hello.” And I think the girl I was looking for is friends with the girl who plays the cello. I think she’s coming to see us when we play. And every time we meet I’ve got nothing to say. She probably thinks I’m cute, she maybe thinks I’m gay. She’s probably got a boyfriend anyway. I remember the first time that I saw her, I was completely in awe. I thought, well that’s the kind of girl that I would like to be my squaw. And if I could ever be the kind of brave that she would choose, we’d travel plains with our little baby turned in its little papoose. She sat beside me in a public bar, my bird was in the bog. When she returned she said that she would like to give that girl a snog. And two weeks later we split up and a new lover I was seeking. And when I see that girl again I’m just never up for speaking. I think she’s coming to see us when we play. And every time we meet I’ve got nothing to say. She probably thinks I’m cute, she maybe thinks I’m gay. She’s probably got a boyfriend anyway.
mp3 : Arab Strap – I Saw You (Peel Session)
This was regularly aired in early livs shows but it was never pit out on an album or single. It was, however, recorded for a Peel Session in March 1997 and finally made available to the public on the Ten Years Of Tears! compilation released in 2006.
This might develop into an occasional series or I might just do this one and move on.
Some songs, as the title of the posting indicates, are great short stories. Such lyrics are always crystal-clear and open to only one interpretation. This, which can be found on the debut LP by Arab Strap, is one of my all-time favourites of the genre:-
mp3 : Arab Strap – I Work In A Saloon
I work in a saloon, pulling shit pints for shit wages
It’s a busy night tonight
And the bar is full of all the girls I’ve ever shagged, or tampered with, or kissed, or even just fancied
A pub full of conquests, knockbacks
Between the laughter I can hear my name
And then, through the gap between the swing doors and the floor, I see your feet
You push open the doors and walk in
And as always all heads turn
And the room becomes silent, except for the sound of your DMs scuffing on the floor
You stroll through the jealous gaze straight to the bar, smile, and ask me for some exotic cocktail
But I don’t know how to make it
So you just shrug, smile again, turnaround and leave
And I pull another pint
Here’s a souped-up version, as played by the full band at their first ever gig at King Tut’s in Glasgow on 15 October 1996 and as captured by a BBC outside broadcast and made available as part of the Scenes Of A Sexual Nature box set:-
mp3 : Arab Strap – I Work In A Saloon (live)
Aidan Moffat. The 20th/21st century national bard of Scotland.
As much as I have loved the solo output from Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, I have hugely missed Arab Strap.
This however, is the week they are playing a short tour of gigs in London, Manchester and Glasgow. My ticket is for tomorrow night for the Barrowlands, my favourite venue in the world. I’ll do my best to avoid looking at the setlists from the gigs in England so that I get the full element of surprise. But given how excited so many folk have been about this reunion then I’m sure it’ll be all over social media and near impossible to ignore.
In celebration of what will be a highlight of my year, I’m posting a single from back in 1998. It’s a different version of the song Soaps that appears on their peerless 1998 LP Philophobia. I’ve also pulled together the various b-sides from the 7″ and 12″ versions
mp3 : Arab Strap – (Afternoon) Soaps
mp3 : Arab Strap – Phone Me Tomorrow
mp3 : Arab Strap – Toy Fights
mp3 : Arab Strap – Forest Hills
I’ve also decided to post the video as it is unusual in a number of ways.
Firstly, it is the extremely rare sight of a clean-shaven Aidan. Secondly, Malcolm appears in the video for a short time – and from what I remember it’s the only time he ever does in any of the Arab Strap promos that were made.
I’ve a feeling the video inspired this great promo six years later:-
Just as I thought my weekend couldn’t get any better, I’m off tonight to an unusual gig in an unusual venue.
The Citizens Theatre in Glasgow is the venue. This weekend sees the The Citz Sessions, a short series of specially-curated gigs hosted in what is a magnificent and intimate Victorian auditorium. Guest curators have brought together some of their favourite artists to present an intimate, stripped-back, acoustic performance in the iconic surroundings of the theatre.
Tonight is an all-female line up from the worlds of jazz, classical and pop – the latter being represented by the new in the shape of Teen Canteen and the established via Frances McKee (Vaselines) and Clare Grogan. Can’t really ask for much more can i?
I went on Facebook last night and posted something. It’s not normally something that I do…I tend to use the place as a way of throwing out pithy one-liners in response to what others have said; indeed, I only joined up in the first place as it was the way to keep on top of certain announcements around events and ticket availability. But such was the magnitude of the happening that I felt I had to share my thoughts with my cybernet mates:-
They say good things tend to come in threes. Here’s some evidence….
I recently had the good fortune to catch incredible live performances, at small intimate venues, from two of my all-time favourites in the shape of Robert Forster and Belle & Sebastian.
Not too many things could top that. But the announcement that Aidan and Malcolm are reforming for three live shows this coming October does exactly that.
2016 started off real shit for music fans with far too many sad and untimely deaths. The summer has so far been an awful lot better…..
A wee bit of explanation.
Robert Forster is a total legend. But his visits to these parts are, naturally, few and far between and so the fact he was coming to Glasgow and playing, of all places, the wonderful space that is King Tut’s made it a ‘must see’. However, I was nagged by the fact that someone as talented and revered as him wasn’t playing a larger venue given the legacy of his time as a Go-Between and not forgetting last year’s Songs To Play was such a wonderful listen. I was concerned too that I’d go along and end up annoyed with folk who were only there for the old stuff and would show a lack of respect by talking their way through the material they either didn’t know or were less fond of. And in a venue with a 300 capacity, all it would take is a handful of such idiots to ruin the occasion.
My fears came to nothing as this was one of the best audiences I’ve ever had the privilege of being part of. Robert and his band got a rousing reception and the cheers for his solo material were every bit as loud as those for the songs by his old band. He was on stage for the best part of two hours, struggling a bit with his voice as he had a dreadful cold, but where many would have been tempted to use that as an excuse to hold back in a performance he seemed to use it to push himself that bit harder. He played around 20 songs with half coming from the Go-Betweens back catalogue…and he had such a talented group of musicians with him that it felt as if the clock really had been rolled back more than 30 years. It was bliss. I didn’t think I’d enjoy myself so much at a gig in 2016.
And then, just two weeks later I find myself at the Debating Chamber of Glasgow University Union (capacity 500 – 250 standing and same again seated upstairs). I’ve been in this space quite a few times but never for a gig….and by my reckoning it will be about the 75th different Glasgow venue that I’ve paid to see live music performed (must do a posting o that sometime). Belle & Sebastian are due on stage for what will be the first of three nights to celebrate their own 20th Anniversary and the 21st Birthday of the West End Festival, a highly popular event held every summer in the most bohemian quarter of my home city. I’m not sure what to expect as my expectations of the band have been gradually diminishing in recent years with recent albums leaving me disappointed and then there was a farce of a gig at the Hydro (capacity 13,000) in which they failed dismally in their efforts to put on a show in keeping with that size of venue. It was full of gimmicks, stage-managed to the point of ridiculous and just not in keeping with the band so many of us had fallen head over heels with.
Another show just under two hours long, with most of the material drawn from the very early albums and EPs , and almost all the songs being aired in the live setting for the first time since I didn’t have any X’s in front of the L in the label of my indie-kid t-shirts. And it was joyous and a celebration of everything that not only makes the band special but brings out the best in folk from my home city who know instinctively when they are seeing and hearing something special and react accordingly. There was no talking in between songs, no attempts to sing-a-long and drown out the band, and there was hand-clapping when the band sought a bit of accompaniment at the right times. I smiled at the opening note of the first song and I was still grinning as myself and Aldo made our way home in time for the last train thanks to the venue being in an area where there is an early curfew – this would normally be a bone of contention but not on a Monday night when there’s a long week at work ahead!
Two days later though, all of that gets topped.
Arab Strap were together for ten years from 1996. Since then, Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton have carved out successful and critically acclaimed solo careers which has played a part in how revered their original band had become since they walked off stage for the last time in December 2006. They jokingly (or so it seemed) said at the time said they might reform in another ten years.
The internet stirred last weekend when the band’s website suddenly carried the teasing message ‘HELLO AGAIN’ imposed on top of a very early promo photo. A countdown to Monday lunchtime led to a message to listen in to Steve Lamacq’s show on BBC Radio 6 on Wednesday afternoon. That was where it was confirmed they were getting together for three shows in October in London, Manchester and Glasgow. Furthermore, a download single was being available – a Miaoux Miaoux remix of The First Big Weekend – which would be released 20 years to the day when the actual weekend in question took place. Which just happens to be today.
I’ve purchased and downloaded the song and it is fucking amazing. A musical highlight not just of 2016 but of the 21st Century.
A year that was threatening to be the worst ever has suddenly, and very unexpectedly, taken a huge turn for the better.
mp3 : Robert Forster – Rock’n’Roll Friend
mp3 : Belle & Sebastian -If You’re Feeling Sinister
mp3 : Arab Strap – I Saw You
I’ve been lucky enough to live almost all of my life in a reasonable sized city – 40 years in Glasgow and 5 years in Edinburgh (updated now to 48 years in Glasgow!). Both are well-renowned in the visual and performing arts, with proud-roll calls of musicians, painters, novelists, entertainers and raconteurs. You wouldn’t expect anything different given both have more than 500,000 residents.
There is a town called Falkirk that is situated almost exactly halfway between Scotland’s two main cities. It is home to around 33,000 people which makes it the 20th largest settlement in Scotland (you would be surprised to find just how small in global terms our towns and cities are).
It is a fairly typical Central Scotland town in that it was formerly heavily dependant on heavy industry and engineering, much of which has disappeared in the last three or four decades. Nowadays, many of the local population take the commuter train west to Glasgow or east to Edinburgh for employment.
I think it’s not unfair to say that Falkirk is the sort of town where folk grow up and usually look to move elsewhere when they can.
And yet it is a place that has produced some incredibly talented folk over the past two decades in particular. A couple of my favourite authors Gordon Legge and Alan Bissett hail from the town – both fill their books with ordinary and recognisable characters who are often besotted with music, football, cars, drugs and alcohol. (Sadly, Gordon Legge last wrote a novel in 1998, but Alan Bissett is still going strong and his website is here)
(NB : Since 2008, I can add Adam Stafford as someone connected with Falkirk to the distinguished list. He was born in Sunderland but moved to Falkirk at a very young age….)
One of my favourite bands (now sadly no more), consisting of Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, hail from Falkirk. They were of course Arab Strap, a pair who filled their songs with recognisable characters who are often besotted with….well if the truth be told, sex and drugs.
The odds of a town such as Falkirk producing so many great artists in such a short timescale must be pretty high. There’s nothing about it that immediately grabs you as being inspirational – it’s a very ordinary, almost dull place. And yet each of these writers and musicians have taken their surroundings and produced narratives that grab your attention from the outset and keep hold of it until the last sentence on the last page or last note is struck on the single or album.
Arab Strap have often been accused of having been latent miserablists. Aidan Moffat as the principal songwriter has, by some folk, been labelled as misogynist. The evidence seems to be a lot of the songs are about failed relationships and that the protagonist often blames his other half for what happens rather than look at his own faults. He’s no misogynist, just a hopeless sad romantic….there’s no other explanation for song titles like The Girl I Loved Before I Fucked and Meanwhile, At The Bar, A Drunkard Muses. And have a listen to Where We Left Our Love if you still have doubts.
Aidan Moffat is probably the most unique songwriter to come out of Scotland in my lifetime. The characters in his songs are more often than not angst-ridden, lacking in self-belief, riddled with doubts and always in fear of failure. Almost all of his songs could be filmed as a short story. And when you dig a little bit below the surface, you will often find some fantastic examples of humour in his writing.
What makes the band so special however is that Malcolm Middleton was able to take these brilliant bits of narrative and set them to music that was equally as ground-breaking and imaginative.
(And before anyone pulls me up about how I’ve suggested the labour in the band was divided, I’m well aware that sometimes Aidan wrote music as well, and that Malcolm did contribute some lyrics.)
It’s true that Arab Strap are a bit of an acquired taste. But I think they were fantastic over the ten years they were together, and their break-up was a sad day for Scottish music. But at least we have the consolation of them both performing as solo artists now.
This single was released on the Glasgow-based label Chemikal Underground in 1998. It can also be found on the truly astonishing and jaw-dropping LP Philophobia, whose cover features drawings of a nude Aidan Moffat and his then girlfriend.
mp3 : Arab Strap – Here We Go
mp3 : Arab Strap – Trippy
Warning : Trippy is more than 12 minutes in length. It’s a short story about drug-taking that has got all sorts of sounds set to it. It’s quite unique.
Here’s the lyric:-
Ailidh phoned me at work at about half four. It’s funny I don’t even speak to her any more, she’s a fucking wee cow. Better than everybody, ken? Doesn’t speak to her mates or anything like that. Anyway, we got in at the time and she phones me up and asked me what I’m doing tonight. I was only going to sit in and watch the telly as usual, wondering where everybody else was. So she said, come round to Rab’s house and that, get some trips, ken? So I said I’d go round about six. I was about an hour late and I was knocking on the door and that, and nobody answered. And I thought, oh fucking brilliant they’re away out without me and that, they’ll be away up the town having a laugh. So I walk back round the road, ’cause I thought they were away out, and I phoned. Turns out they had still been there. They were that out of it, they couldn’t even get to the door.
So I went back round. Everybody was fleeing as usual and I got handed my half. And I thought I’d just take it, ken? I’m working the next day, I better not go too far. But two hours later, nothing was happening. so I thought , fuck it. And I took the rest, which I’d been warned about already. Everyone was jumping about the front room as usual, and we were sitting giggling, having a laugh and then Cheg came and took us to the pub in his car. We told Cheg he should be our anchor, that was a fucking laugh. He kept telling us to calm down, as though he was our mum and dad and that, ’cause we were acting like weans and giggling and looking at the table and dropping our drinks all over the place.
We made it back to his car, jumped in, and he took us back round to the house. Then he decided to pack it in and go home. So Malcolm and I get back in the house and suddenly someone’s going on about Rab and how he’s he’s no fucking there , and how he’s away outside and he looks like he’s in pain or something like that. He had to go and pick up some more stuff ’cause they’d used all this stuff for Glastonbury the next week. And somebody said he apparently took something when he was there, so he’s writhing about in pain outside. So Malcolm and I walked out and he’s was walking along the edge of road on the grass and that with his fucking stomach held in his hands and he’s screaming and that. And then we lost him. He disappeared into the park and we didn’t know where he was. So Malc and I were walking about and then we found him. But we decided we should stay back a bit, ken? In case he got a fright. So we followed him up into this park, as though that wasn’t going to scare him anyway!! And when we did find him, he was there doubled up in pain, fucking screaming his eyes out, going on about how his stomach was knotted and he shouldn’t have taken it, and it was a stupid thing to do. So he’s sitting there on the hill and that with Malc and I on either side and all we can do is sit and giggle and look at the grass and take the piss out of him.
So we get him up on his feet and we start walking him about and he says he’s alright. And we walk up to the garage and he’s going on about his stomach. Then he starts shouting about how we should get away from him and that, in case something happens, in case he fucking dies or something. So he says he thought it was that bad, that’s what was going to happen and he didn’t want us to be involved. He always looked out for everyone else, ken? So we take him to the garage and he wants a bottle of Irn Bru and he’s fuckin’ downing this bottle of Irn Bru, talking about his fucking stomach and everything and how he’s taken this thing and he has to get it out of his system and talking about how it’s all in his bile, and he’s desperately trying to make himself sick and he’s screaming all the fucking time as well. And Malc and I are still laughing – we don’t know what he’s up to. He could have taken anything, I wouldn’t know.
Nobody’s sure yet about what he took. Fuckin’, he could have injected something, he could have swallowed something, nobody knows. But he just stood there with this dirty fucking face, it’s all black and dirty and brown, ken? He’s halfway down his bottle of Irn Bru and he’s being sick all over the fucking place. And a car went by, slowing down the road but he’s just screaming all the time about how it was all in his fucking bile and how he wants to be sick. He keeps fucking screaming… then he threw up.
(LONG INSTRUMENTAL BREAK!!!!)
So we walked him back to the house after made us swear we wouldn’t tell anybody. So he goes back to the house and he fucking tells everybody. He locked himself in his room and started eating a bag of sugar or something like that, while everyone else was talking about what a dick he was. I ended up at the park that night. Sitting eating Pringles with Paula and watching the wildlife. And the next day when I went to work I was still out of my face. I was pacing about on the stairs talking to myself and writing things and he walked in and stressed the point about making sure that no one would find out.
I said more than enough yesterday.
mp3 : Arab Strap – Gilded (live at King Tut’s, Glasgow on 16 October 1996)
Wish I’d been there.
Originally recorded for the b-side of the debut single. As you’ll hear from the introduction, this was the very first gig the band played but already there were folk who knew all the words!!
The boys have since admitted they were far from sober when they took to the stage. But at least their nerves had been steadied…
I know this effort will not get anything like the same attention as #11 in the series for the simple fact that there are far more fans out there with a knowledge of and an opinion on The Clash than there are when it comes to Arab Strap. But for me, this narrowing down to just ten tracks was every bit as impossible a task and one that I will complete and immediately look at it and feel I want to make a change.
The reason for turning to this particular band today is quite simply down to the fact that they are due to feature in tomorrow’s Saturday series and I was stumped as to which song and from which era to plump for. So I decided it would be best to have a go at the imaginary compilation LP and then add something else in for the Saturday series.
Arab Strap are probably my favourite Scottish band of all time, although The Twilight Sad are vying for that top spot. It’s probably only the fact that Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton continue to produce so much in the way of outstanding post-Strap material that keeps their former band at the top of that particular chart.
They released six albums between 1996 and 2005 along with a dozen or so 45s/EPs, one live album, a number of limited edition pressings and finally an end of career compilation followed by a box set. Of all of these, only the live album (as so often with many bands) proved to be a bit of a letdown coming nowhere close to capturing how good they could be on stage.
Their material offers much from a musical point of view. There were nods to indie, dance and techno in much of the material as well as Middleton displaying an incredible talent for all forms of guitar playing from melancholy acoustic string-plucking right through to axework worthy of the rock gods he grew up worshipping. Lyrically there was and still hasn’t been anything quite like them with Moffat using his distinctive Central Scotland brogue to half-speak and half-sing what seemed like highly personal tales of a drug and drink fueled existence that all too often ended in pain, misery and regret. And there was never any thought given to cleaning up the langage….this was music set to discussions you would have with your mates in a pub or at the football….it was authentically working class and it was more authentically Scottish than anything I had ever heard before.
And so, without further delay, here’s what I’ve come up with for today’s imaginary compilation LP:-
1. Packs Of Three (from the album Philophobia, released in May 1998)
“It was the biggest cock you’ve ever seen
But you’ve no idea where that cock has been
You said you were careful – you never were with me
I heard you did it four times
But johnnies come in packs of three”
Has there ever been such a shocking and heart-wrenchingly opening few lines to any song as to this opening number to the band’s second LP? If so, please enlighten me….
The lyric is so powerful that it initially distracts you from the wonderfully understated guitar work going on in the background and then, for that final emotional punch in the guts for the final minute and a half the melancholic cello kicks in……
2. The Shy Retirer (from the album Monday at The Hug & Pint, released in April 2003)
The opening track from the band’s fifth album set to a tune that is worthy of being classified as an indie-disco classic – it’s the sort of thing you could imagine appearing on a Belle & Sebastian or indeed a Go-Betweens record although while Stuart Murdoch/Robert Forster/Grant McLennan (RIP) have written many a fine and poetic song about the pain of unrequited love they never quite got to the nitty-gritty in the way that Aidan Moffat does in this instance.
Everyone involved knew that this song deserved a much wider audience than one of its lines with its stark lyric would have allowed and so a radio edit was put together and issued as the lead track on an EP but it didn’t chart.
3. The First Big Weekend (single, released in September 1996)
This is the song with which Arab Strap announced themselves and is, in effect, a true short story of what a group of close friends got up to over the course of a long weekend from a Thursday afternoon through to a Monday afternoon, set to a tune driven by an acoustic guitar and a drum machine.
I can actually pinpoint the weekend in question – Thursday 13 to Monday 17 June 1996 – with the big clue being the reference to this big international football match on the Saturday afternoon. I can vouch that the weekend in question was ridiculously hot and sunny and I spent it in St Andrews with a group of mates getting drunk and playing golf and of course watching that very football match.
As much as I enjoyed myself that big weekend, there’s no doubt the packed few days of canteen quizzes, Glasgow night clubs, chatting up girls, getting high and drunk, coming down and starting all over again with an interlude of watching an episodes of The Simpsons was much more fun. But then again, on the eve of my 33rd birthday my crazy days were over…
It actually turns out that the debut LP, The Week Never Starts Round Here, was already finished but Chemikal Underground suggested a single to precede it would be a useful tool. It was written over a morning and recorded the same afternoon. It was very quickly picked up by John Peel and Steve Lamacq on BBC Radio 1 and indeed would go onto be voted as #2 in the 1996 Festive Fifty.
4. Don’t Ask Me To Dance (from the album The Last Romance, released in October 2005)
From the first of the band’s songs to one of the last and it perfectly demonstrates just how much their sound evolved, developed and matured over the decade they were together. It’s an album that has far more of a rock element than any of their others and the closing minute and a half enables Malcolm Middleton to demonstrate his guitar god credentials.
Nobody knew at the time that the band had decided to call it a day on the back of their sixth album and certainly none of their fans would have anticipated that both would go on and have successful solo careers, but the hints of what the seemingly lesser-appreciated/valued member of the duo was going to be capable of in the coming years can be heard on this and many other songs on what is a hugely underrated record.
5. I Saw You (Peel Session, recorded in March 1997)
I find it astonishing that the boys never released this until they had called it a day. It’s a song that was part of many of their early live shows but given its fast tempo and rocking tune it didn’t fit in all that well with the material that would eventually find its way onto Philophobia in 1998. And so the Peel Session was the only time it was ever recorded and it eventually saw the light of day on the Ten Years of Tears! compilation released in 2006.
Arab Strap had a great relationship with John Peel. As mentioned earlier, the debut single featured highly in the Festive Fifty and it was no surprise that early the following year they had a debut Peel session. One of the other tracks they recorded was a re-worked version of The First Big Weekend with the lyrics re-written to document the trip to London to do the session. on which Stuart Murdoch and Chris Geddes of Belle & Sebastian also performed.
1. Love Detective (single, released in January 2001)
The band also used a fair bit of piano and keyboards to great effect on many of their songs, particularly in the second half of their career and this #66 hit single (and subsequent track on the LP The Red Thread) is a very fine example. It’s also another frighteningly imaginative lyric in which Aidan recounts to a friend almost breathlessly over the telephone how his world has crashed around him after he broke into the box where his girlfriend keeps some secret things including a personal diary.
2. Here We Go (single, released in March 1998)
I didn’t pick up on Arab Strap until well after the debut LP had caught on and so this was the first thing of theirs I ever bought on its release and which I helped get to #48 in the singles chart (the highest position any of the singles ever reached). This is a song that I listed at #17 in my 45 45s at 45 rundown back in 2008 and if I was to repeat the exercise today it would still feature so highly in any rundown. I’m sure we’ve all been in this place at some point in our lives – sitting or standing looking at the other half of your relationship and wondering just what it is that has led to the two of you temporarily hating the sight of one another…..
3. I Would’ve Liked Me A Lot Last Night (from the album Philophobia, released in May 1998)
The second successive track lifted from Philophobia, one of the most brutally warts’n’all albums ever recorded with equally brutal warts’n’all artwork with a painting of a naked woman (Aidan Moffat’s girlfriend) on the front sleeve and a painting of a naked man (Aidan Moffat) on the back of the sleeve.
The word philophobia is defined as “the abnormal, persistent and unwarranted fear of falling in love or emotional attachment; the risk is usually when a person has confronted any emotional turmoil relating to love in the past but can also be chronic phobia”
I’m guessing that those who suffer from philophobia will also have a huge degree of self-loathing. If so, they would instantly relate to this incredibly sad and moving tale.
While it true that the 66 minutes that make up the record is never a comfortable listen it is also a work that manages to hold your attention all the way throughout. It is the sort of record that really could only be made by people in their mid-20s as the subsequent decades of experiences would make them far better equipped to deal with the situations they are facing and the lyrics wouldn’t flow so easily. But take yourself back to your teenage years and the decade that follows and I’m sure, having listened to Philophobia, that you will ne recalling all sorts of sordid and embarrassing memories and episodes. It’s way cheaper than a psychiatrist.
4. Cherubs (single, released in August 1999)
Having enjoyed a load of critical success in the wake of Philophobia the band were the subject of a few offers to tempt them away from Chemikal Underground, one of which was accepted.
Go! Beat Records was the dance offshoot of Go! Discs one of the great indie labels of the 80s although by the time Arab Strap signed for them it was just another arm of the Universal Music Group. Arab Strap had a thoroughly miserable time of it at the new label and within 18 months, after one album and one EP, they were knocking on the door at Chemikal who had no hesitation in taking them back with no hard feelings whatsoever.
If there was one good thing to come out of the time at Go! Beat it was this, the lead track on the EP the video of which I recall seeing on nationwide terrestrial television which would I reckon have been the first and possibly one time that happened in the band’s history. It’s a fine blend of a punchy upbeat drum machine, fine strumming and a rinky-dinky keyboard behind a minimalist and faintly optimistic lyric. Yes, that’s right an optimistic lyric….of sorts.
5. There Is No Ending (from the album The Last Romance, released in October 2005)
The closing track on the closing album. After dozens of songs that dealt with teenage and 20-something angst here’s one that celebrates love lasting forever until you grow old.
For a band that had to face up to so many accusations of being latent miserablists this is an extraordinary way to sign off and it captures Aidan Moffat for what I think he is – romantic at heart. For the most part in the Arab Strap canon he’s been a sad and depressed romantic all too often seeking solace in the comfort of the bottle or from the drugs cabinet but now at last he’s happy and looking forward to the future and he wants the world to know it.
A joyous and wonderful anthem to finish things off.
mp3 : Arab Strap – Packs Of Three
mp3 : Arab Strap – The Shy Retirer
mp3 : Arab Strap – The First Big Weekend
mp3 : Arab Strap – Don’t Ask Me To Dance
mp3 : Arab Strap – I Saw You
mp3 : Arab Strap – Love Detective
mp3 : Arab Strap – Here We Go
mp3 : Arab Strap – I Would’ve Liked Me A Lot Last Night
mp3 : Arab Strap – Cherubs
mp3 : Arab Strap – There Is No Ending (7″single version)
That’s almost twelve hours since I typed the first word of this piece. I’m away for a lie-down.
and in particular:-
mp3 : Arab Strap – The First Big Peel Thing (Peel Session)
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Lover’s Town (Peel Session)
mp3 : Cinerama – Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) (Peel Session)
mp3 : The Delgados – No Danger (Peel Session)
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Mr Cave’s A Window Cleaner Now (Peel Session)
mp3 : Madness _ Bed & Breakfast Man (Peel Session)
mp3 : The Smiths – Rusholme Ruffians (Peel Session)
mp3 : T.Rex – Ride A White Swan (Peel Session)
mp3 : Urusei Yatsura – Hello Tiger (Peel Session)
mp3 : Wire – I Am The Fly (Peel Session)
With apologies to those of you who don’t like Arab Strap and those of you who can recall the TVV piece from back in May 2010 which forms the basis of today’s posting.
Up until a the spring of 2010 I had never spent £70 on a single bit of music. Indeed, it had never crossed my mind that I’d even ever consider spending such an amount of money on a single bit of music until the day that I read Chemikal Underground were putting together a box-set of Arab Strap material.
My original plan has been to place an order directly through the excellent website of the record label but then came news that the release date had been brought forward to support Record Store Day 2010 (which was Saturday 17 April) and so I changed tack and decided to buy it over the counter.
The thing is, I’ve never been a fan of Record Store Day and prefer to go back to the shops a few days after to pick up things if they happen to be left over rather than try to deal with the mania of dealers who swamp the stores buying things they believe they can make a killing on in later times, thus in one fell swoop defeating what should be the main purpose of the day.
Come Monday morning, I dropped into my favourite wee indie shop in Glasgow to be met with the news that it had sold out of its copies of Scenes of A Sexual Nature but with Chemikal Underground being located just a short distance away, more stuck was due to be delivered. I returned 48 hours later and so ensured that Wednesday 21st April 2010 would go down in history as the day I handed over more money than I ever dreamed I would for a single bit of music.
Actually, I didn’t hand over money. I paid with a bit of plastic. And actually, it wasn’t for one piece of music when you look through the contents of the boxset.
OK, I already owned copies of the LPs The Week Never Starts Around Here and Philophobia. And I had a copy of the various singles etc released between 1997 and 1998 which were available on a specially compiled CD. But what I didn’t have previously were:-
– a copy of the first ever Arab Strap gig at King Tut’s in Glasgow in October 1996;
– a copy of the gig at T In The Park (aka Nedstock) in July 1998:
– ten demo songs, some of which never saw the light of day in the recording career; and
– seventeen other bits of music, made up of rare recordings, John Peel Sessions and an old unreleased track specially recorded in late 2009 for inclusion in the box set.
And on top of that, there were sleeve notes from Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton that were royally informative, enlightening, entertaining and very fucking funny (c’mon, its Arab Strap I’m writing about here….I can use an expletive).
Was it value for money?
Well, I reckon so. I’ve often scoffed at people who bought all sorts of box sets and limited edition material released by well established musicians on major labels on the basis of them being fools for further lining the pockets of moguls. This purchase felt different…and still does all these years later.
Chemikal Underground is a label that has put a lot more back into the music scene in Glasgow than they have ever taken out. Nobody has got obscenely rich via Chemikal Underground and indeed throughout its existence the label has tried prices as low as possible with one way being to keep profit margins very tight. I was more than happy to pay £70 in this instance for what, when I counted them up were 43 new, live or different versions of songs that I hadn’t previously been in the collection.
As it turns out, the limited nature of the boxset (there were just 1,000 made available) and the demand for it worldwide has led to all sorts of silly money being demanded for copies – just looking on ebay as I type this reveals that two are on sale with bidding starting at either £250 or £360.
I’d hope that one day, Chemikal Underground might counteract such behaviour by making the limited edition material available to buy on digital form on an individual basis. OK, as Brian from Linear Track Lives said in a comment the other day, even when he/she has copies of certain tracks in their collection, most music fans will still obsess over owning a physical copy and so there will always be somebody likely to pay well over the odds for things like the Arab Strap boxset.
When I first put up a posting about Scenes of A Sexual Nature, I did make two of the ‘new’ tracks available and make no apologies for doing so again.
The first is a different version of the band’s famous debut single that was re-recorded for a John Peel Session. To quote from Aidan’s sleevenotes:-
…..a new version of our debut single in which the lyrics were rewritten to document the most recent weekend and the trip down to London to do the session. Unfortunately, these new lyrics are shit. Also, for some reason – probably legal – they omit the highlight of the trip, an incident at our horrible hotel involving the cheapest cider we could find mixed with even cheaper cherryade, Malcolm’s head, a charity shop oil painting and some gaffer tape.
mp3 : Arab Strap – The First Big Peel Thing
And from a different Peel Session, an incredible version of one of the most amazing songs to open any album.
mp3 : Arab Strap – Packs Of Three
Yes, it is a slightly sanitized version so that it could go out on the radio, but again to quote Aidan’s notes:-
…we were a much more focused and sophisticated group – the difference between this Peel Session and the last is quite dramatic. I can’t imagine a better document of the 1998 four-piece Arab Strap sound than the tracks from this session and, if you may permit me a modicum of gentle hubris, I think they sound quite brilliant.
There was just one thing that disappointed me about the box-set and that was Aidan’s closing words after describing how well he and Malcolm had got on when they had turned an old instrumental into a new song in the Autumn of 2009 – he simply says ‘There are no plans to reform properly, in case you’re wondering.’
I said at the time that I harboured hopes they would get together for at least one more gig. Well, didn’t they just do that in November 2011 to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the opening of Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, one of Glasgow’s most celebrated concert venues…..and the tragedy was that I didn’t get myself along. Sigh.
I really can’t recommend this boxset highly enough. I know it was an awful lot of money to splash out, but at £70 it was still an awful lot cheaper than most of the hundreds of pairs of shoes and handbags that Mrs Villain stows away in various cupboards. And while I’m here, I may as well add a third track:-
mp3 : Arab Strap – Daughters of Darkness
This was the instrumental turned into a full song for the box set and to the best of my knowledge, remains the only place it was ever released.
Back on 8 October 2011, I started a series called ‘Saturday’s Scottish Single’. The aim was to feature one 45 or CD single by a Scottish singer or band with the proviso that the 45 or CD single was in the collection. I had got to Part 60-something and as far as Kid Canaveral when the rug was pulled out from under TVV.
I’ll catch up soon enough by featuring 5 at a time from the archives..
(6) Altered Images : I Could Be Happy b/w Insects : Epic 7″ (1981)
Read more about Altered Images here
(7) The Apple Scruffs – Danielle b/w Car Thief b/w Lit The Candle At Both Ends : Vaults Recordings CD Single (2006)
The Apple Scruffs were four best friends from Glasgow that got together and began writing songs about their everyday lives and surroundings. After four months of hard work and practice the Scruffs played their first gig in Nice N Sleazy supporting the Ronelles at the end of May 2005.
From then on the band built up an amazing reputation in Glasgow supporting well known bands such as Dogs and The Ludes. They then landed a single deal with Hijacked Records. the scruffs released their debut single Danielle on Vaults Recordings on November 2006.
The scruffs were tireless on the Glasgow gig scene and played almost all of Glasgow’s famous venues. Giving a final shot at breaking through the blinkered music industry they tailored a new single to a more commercial sound in Big Hearts launching this in the Apple store in Glasgow however it wasn’t to be and Johnny and the boys broke up to go seperate ways in 2010.
(8) April Showers – Abandon Ship b/w Abandon Ship (instrumental) b/w Every Time We Say Goodbye : Chrysalis Records 12″ (1984)
April Showers were a short-lived Glaswegian pop duo comprised of Jonathan Bernstein and Beatrice Colin.
Releasing their only known single “Abandon Ship” on Big Star, a subsidiary of Chrysalis, in 1984 it quickly gained a cult following due to it’s sparkling production from Anne Dudley (Art of Noise) and string-heavy arrangements. This quality was echoed on B-side “Everytime We Say Goodbye” with the 12-inch featuring an instrumental of Abandon Ship “Abandon Ship Sing-A-Long-A-Wonder Mix”. Both records are now highly collectible. (£50 and upwards nowadays for the 12″!!!)
Plans to release a second single on the label Operation Twilight, and the inclusion of Abandon Ship on the compilation album “10 Years Of Marina Records” seems to be a footnote to the woefully brief story of April Showers, the perfect example of a band that has disappeared into, and whose status grows with, history.
Now here’s where I cheat. I don’t own this single…..it’s one that’s near the top of those I dearly would love to get my hands on but won’t pay the money demanded by the sellers…… I’ve the compilation LP mentioned above, and thanks to modern technology (and the generosity of folk who make the recordings available), I’ve picked up the other two tracks It really is one of the great lost pop-songs of the 80s
(9) Arab Strap : Cherubs b/w Motown Answer b/w An Eventful Day b/w Pulled: Go Beat CD Single (1999)
Read more about Arab Strap here
(10) The Armoury Show – We Can Be Brave Again b/w A Feeling : Parlophone 7″ (1984)
Read more about The Armoury Show here
Again, I’ve tried not to go for the obvious ones from the back catalogues of the better-known acts and indeed in the case of Arab Strap have gone for a release from the short time they were on a label other than Chemikal Underground. Oh and check out the Altered Images b-side if you don’t already know it….much darker sounding than you’d come t expect from them….real Banshees/Magazine influence on the track.