MOTOR VEHICLES OF A CERTAIN COLOUR IN CENTRAL EUROPE

This 45 from 1981 was, unsurprisingly, included in my stab at an Associates ICA. I don’t think I can better my words from that occasion.

A moody, majestic and magical few minutes to open things up, it demonstrates just how important both Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie were to the sound and feel of this band. My first exposure to the Associates, and one that was suggested by someone thanks to my love of Magazine – the eerie horror-movie soundtrack keyboards are akin to those of Dave Formula and the seemingly nonsensical lyrics would be the stuff Howard Devoto would have been proud of. Name-checking Aberdeen, Dusseldorf, Zurich and Munich in the opening few lines and giving us the wonderful rhyming couplet of “Anonymous as bathrooms, Androgynous as Dachshunds”. All albums, ICAs or not, should open with something as memorable as this.

I’ve plucked out White Car In Germany to commemorate the fact that, in the company of Rachel, I’m off to Munich for a few days – it was our Christmas present to one another. I’ll be going back to a city that I haven’t visited since 1995 when Raith Rovers played the mighty Bayern Munich on the UEFA Cup while Rachel gets to cross somewhere she has long wanted to go.

There’s actually a football element being incorporated into the trip with us taking in a game on Saturday. Not for us the glamour of the Bundesliga, with Bayern having an away game. Nor are we going to seek out any other teams in the immediate vicinity of Munich. We will be making our way to Ingolstadat to watch a third-tier game, which just happens to be against the second-string of Bayern. The link comes from the town of Ingolstadt being twinned with the town of Kirkcaldy in Scotland, and Kirkcaldy being the town in which Raith Rovers play. There are long-standing connections between the Ingolstadt and Rovers fans and we are meeting up with a big group of locals and spending the day with them. Ingolstadt, on the banks of the Danube, looks lovely judging by the pictures – the team is currently battling for a spot at the top of their league for promotion to the second tier of German football, in the same way the Rovers are here in Scotland. I’m so looking forward to it.

I’m also very hopeful that this won’t be my only visit to Germany in 2020. All being well, I’m soon to take my leave of work, leaving me with a considerable amount of free time in which to enjoy myself. I haven’t forgotten the efforts made by Dirk, Walter and Brian to come to Glasgow for a Blogger’s get-together a few years back and I’m determined to make my way to their parts of the world in the not too distant future. The UK-based bloggers can also expect to hear from me soon enough – life is too short to put off the things you’ve always really wanted to do.

White Car in Germany is a great example of how only Billy Mackenzie was truly capable of singing his lyrics without sounding like a total prat:-

Aberdeen’s an old place
Dusseldorf’s a cold place
Cold as spies can be

Lisp your way through Zurich
Walk on eggs in Munich
Rub salt in its knee

I’m not one for surgery
Premature senility
White car in Germany

Anonymous as bathrooms
Androgynous as Dachshunds
Try them out and see

If some brat annoys you
Do what’s felt impromptu
Kick them in their own

Is this your infirmary
On the road to recovery
White car in Germany

White car
White car
White car in Germany

mp3 : Associates – White Car In Germany

Here’s your b-side of what was a flop single.

mp3 : Associates – The Associate

Oh, and while I’m here:-

mp3 : Editors – Munich

See you all when I get back – in the meantime, there’ll be a few postings to keep you amused.

JC

FANTASTICALLY UNLIKELY…AND IT WOULDN’T HAPPEN NOWADAYS

I think it’s fair to say that debut albums tend to be the ones that turn out the best and most memorable. This is often down to them being filled with the songs and tunes that brought the band/singer to the notice of the A&R folk in the first instance and having benefitted from being finessed in the live setting before any feet and other body parts ever entered a studio.

I think it’s equally fair to say that in the case of Associates, things are a wee bit different….but then again Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie refused to follow any of the norms when it came to making a career in the music industry. The duo had the audacity and genius to independently release an unauthorised cover of a current David Bowie hit single as their debut 45, knowing it would draw attention to what they were up to. The move worked and, at the start of the decade in which electronica would rule the roost for the most part, certainly here in the UK, Associates got themselves a record deal.

The early material as found on debut album The Affectionate Punch (1980) and the compilation effort Fourth Drawer Down (1981) is now considered to be ground-breaking and innovative, eschewing the poppy side of the genre for a harder-edged sound that took much of its inspiration from continental Europe. At the time, however, it was seen by many, including many critics in the weekly music papers, as a bit clunky and cumbersome – it was music to which you stroked your chin rather than shook your ass. It was a painful situation for Billy Mackenzie who had huge ambitions to be a fully-fledged pop star and really believed he could be so on his own terms.

Things changed dramatically in 1982 when two of the finest ever singles to come out of Scotland took them into the singles charts. Party Fears Two, with its ridiculously catchy tune and its impenetrable lyric, was released February 1982. It was something of a slow burner, taking six weeks to hit its peak of #9. The moment it dropped out of the charts, the band’s label, WEA, fired out the high-tempo and infectious Club Country, a song that left must have caused some panic in all the other electronica-pop bands who had absolutely no chance of sounding as brilliant as this.

A week or so later, the band’s second album Sulk was released. It comprised ten tracks, and outside of the two hits singles, it wasn’t a million miles removed from the earlier flop material, except this time around the critics lapped it up.

Sulk challenged its listeners in a way that very little else did in the early 80s. The hits were tucked away towards the end of the B-side of the record, meaning that there was a lot to get through before any familiarity kicked in. The whole of the A-side is brilliant and bonkers in equal measures. Everyone was saying it was the Mackenzie voice that made the band so unique and distinct, so it was perverse of them to open with an instrumental. The first actual song with a lyric is funeral in pace and is full of disturbing imagery about tearing out your hair, biting your nails and cutting yourself shaving while wrapping your arms in a strip torn from a dress:-

mp3 : Associates – No

And that’s not even the most bizarre moment of the A-side – that’s reserved for the closing track that Alan Rankine would later say was about an acid trip that Billy had had when he was fifteen or sixteen and during which some kitchen utensils were copulating:-

mp3 : Associates – Nude Spoons

Turning the vinyl over and putting the needle into the groove brings up what I will always consider my favourite track on the album. Skipping has Billy going through his entire vocal range from bass/baritone (with hints of a Sean Connery impression) to near falsetto as he lets tip at the end over what is a haunting melody that many have tried in vain to capture and replicate over the ensuing decades:-

mp3 : Associates – Skipping

The remainder of the B-side is the most accessible and commercial side of any record that either Alan or Billy would ever involve themselves, with the four tracks comprising a new version of the Party Fears Two b-side, the two hit singles and a closing two-minute long instrumental that would be extended, benefitting also from the addition of a lyric, and turned into a third and final hit 45:-

mp3 : Associates – nothinginsomethingparticular

Sulk is a masterpiece. It’s possible that without the two hit singles that WEA would have deemed it unworthy of release and it’s certainly the case that they didn’t want any of the gothic masterpieces that made up the album to get anywhere near daytime BBC Radio 1. The sad thing is that the LP marked the end of Alan and Billy’s partnership as the former quit the band just a few months later, frustrated by what he felt was an increasingly diva-type behaviour from the singer in the rehearsals that were due to lead to a series of cancelled live shows in the UK at major venues, not to mention an impending, and again cancelled, tour of the USA.

I’ve based my reminisces on the original vinyl release in 1982 as that was the one I wore out quickly from repeated playings. The USA version of the album, issued after Alan had departed, had a very different running order and indeed three of the tracks on the UK album, including Nude Spoons, were left off altogether and replaced by the later 18 Carat Love Affair/Love Hangover double-A single and two tracks the earlier material. This was obviously the album that WEA had really wanted as the USA version was used for the initial CD release of Sulk in 1988, with things only rectified in 2000 when it was finally reissued again on CD, in its original running order, after many years being out of print. Just a pity that it had taken the sad death of Billy Mackenzie a few years earlier to enable this state of affairs.

I’ll just about leave the last word to Paul Morley – here’s part of his review of the album in the NME:-

“Sulk deals with everything, in its hectic, drifting way … There is an uninterruptible mix-up of cheap mystery, vague menace, solemn farce, serious struggle, arrogant ingenuity, deep anxiety, brash irregularity, smooth endeavour … Sometimes Sulk is simply enormous: and then again it is fantastically unlikely.”

Fantastically unlikely is the perfect description. It certainly wouldn’t happen these days.

JC

OCD EPs : #7 : ASSOCIATES

A GUEST POSTING by MARTIN ELLIOT

I believe I rather well qualify as an obsessed collector of material by The Associates and the late Billy MacKenzie. Sid Law has earlier provided some excellent rare songs here at TVV, but you can’t have too many – can you?

This OCD EP is made up of tracks recorded using the Associates moniker, with side A having tracks where Alan was still in – at least when the tracks where originally written/recorded – while side B are demos Billy recorded later. I’m not sure any longer where I got the side A session recordings from, I have a couple of more. Could potentially be for a TV or radio show, but that’s only a guess. There is no audience on the recordings but on one track, not included here, Billy thanks for the session.

Side A.

1. Even Dogs In The Wild (studio session) – A favourite song of mine, which has surfaced in many different versions. This session recording has a jazzy feel to it. Not too far away from the Irrationale cassette version.

2. Gloomy Sunday (studio session) – Here is also a slightly jazzy feel. Haunting vocals.

3. Message Oblique Speech (studio session) – bring in the band, and go full throttle. Great version.

Side B.

1. Take Me To The Girl (demo)

2. The Glamour Chase (demo)

3. Fever (demo)

All having a slightly rougher, or at least less polished, edge than the released versions. These give a good picture of the road from demo to completed, commercial, release. Still, that voice!

A lot has been said, and can still be said, about what could have been had Billy still been among us. We will never know, I’m convinced in today’s digital world he would be able to find better platforms for his artistic outlet than traditional record companies. Useless speculations, at times I need to listen to the demo of “Outerpol” to remind me he could also occasionally do stuff I find unlistenable…

I hope he found peace wherever he is now.

MARTIN

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #141 : ASSOCIATES

I’ve long striven for an Associates ICA but it’s another one of those tasks that just seems beyond me, especially when more great previously unknown songs come my way courtesy of Sid Law via the various postings he’s offered over the years. I know that this 12-track selection (which in itself breaks my 10-song rule of thumb) has more omissions than inclusions, particularly for the diehard fans, and is sure to attract a bit of criticism. I’ve concentrated on the more commercial stuff as they, by nature, tend to be a bit more accessible than many others but there are a couple of deeper and darker tunes included as they fit in just perfectly to the running order. Oh and the justification for the 12 songs is that they include two covers.

SIDE A

1. White Car In Germany (single, 1981)

A moody, majestic and magical few minutes to open things up, it demonstrates just how important both Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie were to the sound and feel of this band. My first exposure to the band, and one that was suggested thanks to my love of Magazine, the eerie horror-movie soundtrack keyboards are akin to those of Dave Formula and the seemingly nonsensical lyrics would be the stuff Howard Devoto would have been proud of. Name-checking Aberdeen, Dusseldorf, Zurich and Munich in the opening few lines and giving us the wonderful rhyming couplet of “Anonymous as bathrooms, Androgynous as Dachshunds”. All albums, ICA or not, should open with something as memorable as this.

2. Boys Keep Swinging (single, 1979)

My admission that White Car In Germany was my first exposure to the band reveals that I missed out totally on this debut single, the cheeky and somewhat irreverent cover version of what was then a relatively then new song by David Bowie. No copyright permission was sought with the boys fully aware that the ensuing furore and legal threats would provide them with the oxygen of publicity. I probably would have hated this cover version back in 1979 but today it feels somewhat charming and almost innocent.

3. 18 Carat Love Affair (single, 1982)

Released as a stand-alone 45 on the back of the chart success of two earlier singles and the LP Sulk, this proved to be the last time Associates or indeed Billy Mackenzie troubled the higher end of the pop charts. It’s the instrumental track nothinginsomethingparticular with additional lyrics. Unashamedly 80s in sound and style, it still has the ability all these years to put a huge grin on my face as I recall the promotional efforts on Top of The Pops as Billy flirted outrageously with Martha Ladly while Alan initially played a chocolate guitar before breaking it up and handing it members of the audience to eat. Performance art at its most absurd.

4. Tell Me Easter’s On Friday (single 1981)

The band was really proficient in the early days – there were seven singles released in 1981 – all of which with the benefit of hindsight seemed to digging deep into the different genres of their musical influences without any meaningful effort to impact on the charts. Some of these early songs may appear to have been self-indulgent but it strikes me that the record label bosses wanted to have a serious rather than pop band on their books, one that would get talked about at great length within the pages of the four weekly music papers that were published in the UK at the time. The boys were being matched with producers and engineers who were keen to explore the extent to which the synthesiser could be deployed in the studio and who looked upon that amazing voice simply as another ‘instrument’ to throw into the mix. To be fair, Alan and Billy were themselves happy to go down this route in the early days, but before too long, the latter really wanted just to get on Top of the Pops and into the pages of Smash Hits.

5. Party Fears Two (single, 1982)

The 45 that delivered on Billy’s dreams and ambitions. Their best known few minutes and among their finest. Enough has been written before about, both on this blog and elsewhere. Just enjoy the full majesty of the 12” version with its fabulous drawn-out ending which leads nicely into….

6. Those First Impressions (single, 1984)

….a song with a fabulous drawn-out intro. A case can be made that The Associates weren’t ever the same after Alan left in 1982 and that what followed was really Billy’s solo output with a host of backing musicians and sundry helpers in the studio. Be that as it may, there were still as many studio albums released without Alan’s involvement as there had been at the outset (albeit they took an inordinate amount of time to record without his steady hand at the controls), and this, the first shimmering and poptastic first single post-Rankine gave us all hope that great things were still to come. It stalled at #43 , again proving that the record buying public just couldn’t be trusted.

SIDE B

7. Transport To Central (from The Affectionate Punch (Remix), 1982)

My plan for the b-side of this ICA was for it to follow the template on the a-side which is why I’m starting things off with another gloomy and dour masterpiece. You only need to look at events surrounding the initial release and later subsequent remix of the debut LP to see just how the band wanted to be, and were, different. It came out on Fiction Records in 1980 and was as deep, dark and dense as anything that Joy Division or their contemporaries were delivering. Indeed, JD uber-fan Paul Morley included the word ‘masterpiece’ in his review of the album. Come 1982, and with the band now on Warner Brothers and basking in the success of Sulk, the bosses ordered that the debut be dusted down and given the remix treatment, including a more contemporary sound with some of the lyrics being re-recorded. It was also given a completely different running order. The subsequent results satisfied very few but the take on Transport To Central was one that, for me, worked as it made sound more complete and less of a demo.

8. God Bless The Child (live from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, 1984)

Some of the finest versions of Associates songs can be found on two hard-to-find CDs that brought together various BBC Radio 1 Sessions recorded between 1981 and 1985 for a multitude of shows including John Peel, Janice Long, David ‘Kid’ Jensen and Richard Skinner. Billy was also more than happy to throw in some cover versions into the sessions and one of them included a take on the Billie Holliday classic from the 1940s. But I was able to track down a reasonably decent quality of his performing the song at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London in December 1984 that was later broadcast on BBC TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test.  I’ve included it as the  intro shows how gently spoken Billy was as well as the extent of his Dundonian accent;  but above else, it gives an indication of how great his voice was…this is as is with just a piano for accompaniment in front of a hushed audience.

9. Skipping (from Sulk, 1982)

Sulk is rightly considered to be the band’s masterpiece and as much as I love the singles, the track that opens the second side of the vinyl is my go to track on it. Billy goes through his entire vocal range from bass/baritone (with hints of a Sean Connery impression) to near falsetto as he lets rip towards the end all over a haunting melody. This was always going to be on this ICA, it was just a question of where it fitted best and what should follow it,

10. Breakfast (single, 1985)

Perhaps, the LP released in 1985, sold poorly. It was also giving a bit of a critical bashing. It was an era when guitar-pop was a bit in the ascendency and any synth music had to have the big hooks and sing-a-long choruses to stand any chance of airplay. Billy was, to quote Elvis Costello, a man out of time. No more so than on this beautiful piece of singing and performing, with a piano part that EC’s sidekick Steve Nieve would have been proud of.

11. Club Country (single, 1982)

Once again, I’ve turned to the 12″ version. At a few seconds under seven minutes in length its way longer than the versions that appeared on Sulk (I use the plural as the version on the CD release is about a minute shorter than the original vinyl release). It’s a bit tricked up in places but for the most part it works well – and thankfully the sudden ending was kept in situ rather than a long and drawn out fade into silence.

12. A Girl Named Property (single, 1981)

This was one of the seven singles from that particular year but it came out on a different label than they were signed to. It was also one half of a double single with the other side entitled Kites by a band called 39 Lyon Street…who were in fact Associates under another name; 39 Lyon Street was the address of the flat in Dundee where they lived, and where myself and Jacques the Kipper went out of our way to visit a few months ago while in the city for a football match. Worth mentioning that A Girl Named Property was an updated and punchier version of Mona Property Girl which had been the b-side to Boys Keep Swinging, and as such the first original Associates song to see light of day.

BONUS EP

I was trying to make this ICA as commercial sounding as possible which is why none of the tracks from the debut LP The Affectionate Punch, originally released in August 1980, have been included. It’s a fantastic record of its own accord but it’s a long way removed from the stuff that most folk associate (pun intended) with the band. They moved a long way in a short time as can be illustrated with these four songs from the debut.

Track 1 : The Affectionate Punch
Track 4 : Paper House
Track 6 : A Matter of Gender
Track 9 : Deeply Concerned

See….it was impossible to keep it to ten songs.

JC

PS : Tune in tomorrow for a companion piece from a guest contributor.

REMEMBERING BILLY MACKENZIE (Day 5 of 5)

Words and the PS are from Sid. I went for the songs.

What can anyone say about the 60th birthday of a guy who didn’t make 40? I think if Billy was still around he would still be making music. He’d love the Internet and how quickly he could produce and distribute music without the obstructive, stifling interference of Record Companies which had crushed his career and his soul so. He would do some wee cabaret slots at the Edinburgh Festival mibbe. He’d be happy with his dogs mibbe. He’d probably still be up in the Sidlaws. Maybe somewhere in an alternate universe he still is, but in this one his music stopped over twenty years ago. It is nearly thirty five years since his last hit single.

Billy and his Associates didn’t have many hit singles either – about two and a half at the last count. So Billy Mackenzie’s work isn’t about hits… it is mostly about misses. But those misses make for some spectacular listening. His list of recording associates is astonishing – he recorded with Barry Adamson, BEF, Apollo Four Forty, Yello, Skids, Shirley Bassey, Steven Emmer, Shakespeare’s Sister, Peach, Paul Haig, Alan Rankine, Michael Dempsey, Steve Aungle, Loom, Pascal Gabriel, Thomas Fehlmann, Blair Booth, Philip Erb, Moritz Von Oswald, Ralf Hertwig, Dei Zwei

Billy should be a stylish, slightly tweedy, Scottish eccentric gentleman living out his years in a cottage in the hills to the North-West of Dundee. A sight to behold as he sets a polished brogue on some rugged granite outcroppings on the short heathery flanks of Auchterhouse Hill with a loyal whippet or two at his side. Happy Birthday Billy.

Sid Law

PS. Remember when New Year Shows were like this?

 

mp3 : Associates – Boys Keep Swinging
mp3 : Associates – Tell Me Easter’s On Friday (12″ version)
mp3 : Associates – Breakfast (Peel Sessions)
mp3 : Billy MacKenzie – Pastime Paradise
mp3 : Haig/Mackenzie – Thunderstorm

JC writes…….a huge thanks again to Sid for the fantastic contributions these past few days.  And thanks to all of you have dropped in and been part of these extended birthday celebrations of a unique and sadly-missed talent.

REMEMBERING BILLY MACKENZIE (Day 4 of 5)

Some mid-period Associates and Billy MacKenzie.

Just Can’t Say Goodbye was the Associates last single released in January 1991. However the song had slid out in tiny quantities as a very different version as the B-Side to the aborted “Country Boy” single back in 1988.

“The Best Of You” was a track on the 1985 “Perhaps” album. On the released album it was Eddi Reader who sang the duet with Billy MacKenzie. Here are the two versions recorded with A Lennox and Gina X. Yes… that A Lennox. I prefer the Gina X version myself.

Gina X version
A Lennox version

Cinemas Of The World 7” – Warners were keeping Billy from releasing records between 1985 and 1989. But Billy kept recording with other “associates”. This was Uno who released an album and this track was actually a single. There is a lengthier 12” version but I think the 7” mix is better.

Sid Law

REMEMBERING BILLY MACKENZIE (Day 3 of 5)

The Radio One Sessions CDs were very limited and sell for stupid money now.

So a few Radio One Sessions!

A combination of tracks recorded for the Saturday Live session in January 1985 and a Janice Long Session in September 1985.

A Severe Bout of Career Insecurity – MacKenzie song. No full studio recording exists only this Radio One Session.

Kites – A cover of the Simon Dupree and The Big Sound song. Billy had already recorded a stonking version with Alan Rankine as 39 Lyon Street and a version on the flipside of the 12” of “Breakfast”.

The Crying Game – Dave Berry’s 1964 hit given the Associates 1984 treatment. Performed first as part of an acoustic, pared-down set at Ronnie Scott’s.

The Girl That Took Me – A slowed down version of their flop single “Take Me To The Girl”. A wonderful camp, tongue in cheek dedication to Janice Long as well.

This Flame – Another MacKenzie song with no full studio recording and only exists on this Radio One Session.

Sid Law

REMEMBERING BILLY MACKENZIE (Day 2 of 5)

A lovely picture of Billy with everyone’s favourite Muffin – Martha Ladly

Baltimore – Billy’s take on Randy Newman’s song.

Free – BEF dragged Billy back for Music of Quality and Distinction Volume Two. This was his contribution.

It’s Over – A wee orchestral arrangement of one of Billy’s contributions to Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One.

The Mountains That You Climb – Billy MacKenzie and Steve Aungle.

Anacostia Bay (at the edge of the world) – Loom featuring Billy MacKenzie. The last record Billy released in his lifetime. Full-length 12min 42sec original mix.

Eurocentric – Billy MacKenzie and Steve Aungle (unreleased demo)

Give Me Time – Electro version. Billy MacKenzie and Paul Haig (unreleased demo)

Sid Law

HE WOULD HAVE BEEN 60 YEARS OLD TODAY

A couple of months back, many blogs and indeed paid-for publications, paid tribute on the 20th Anniversary of the very sad passing of the great Billy Mackenzie.

I’ve never hidden my affection for Billy in terms of his musical legacy and the incredibly complex individual he proved to be. Myself and Jacques the Kipper happened to be in Dundee for a football match shortly after said anniverary and we took a short detour on our walk up to the ground so that we could pass by 39 Lyon Street and the tenement block from where Billy’s career was launched.

It was a deliberate decision not to mark the anniversary on the blog as it fell so close to today and what would have been his 60th birthday. Regular readers will know, thanks to the many amazing pieces he has contributed over the years to this blog, that Sid Law can be counted as one of the biggest and most knowledgable fans out there. We had a little e-mail exchange back in January and as he said:-

“It was a dark, grim January day twenty years ago – why mark it anymore? I think it is a much more positive and cool thing to celebrate Billy’s birthday.”

And Sid, being such a fine and generous individual has provided some great gifts to be handed out on such a special occasion to which I’ll also add something.

Those First Impressions should have been a big hit back in the summer of 1984 but it stalled just outside the charts. A shimmering poptastic 12″ extended version was released at the time which has never appeared digitally or on any of the re-issues. Unique and a lovely thing. So straight from my vinyl copy:-

mp3 : Associates – Those First Impressions (extended version)

A shorter version with a drum intro (different from the single version) appeared on the Heart of Glass CD EP a few years later and never made available anywhere else. So courtesy of Sid:-

mp3 : Associates – Those First Impressions (drum intro)

But here’s something really unique from Sid. Billy’s original demo for the track. Never released of course.

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie – Those First Impressions (demo version)

Finally for today. Here’s Sid to explain:-

This little beauty attached I’d had on a cassette of a wavering studio monitor mix with fluctuating levels, then about five or six years back Steve Aungle dropped this marvellous cleaned up and properly finished-off version out on his blog – for free. An incredible gesture. Nobody has really heard this song.

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie – The Mountains That You Climb

Happy birthday Billy.  Your legacy is more greatly appreciated more these days than when you were with us. But I guess you always reckoned that would be the case.

Indeed, such is the significance of said legacy that the blog, for the rest of this week, will be devoted to his music (with an occasional bonus posting for other things).

JC and Sid Law

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (9)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 2008
(and again on 29 October 2013)

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Dave and The Cat, the two bright lads behind the Jock’n’Roll website came up with the brilliant concept a couple of years back to try to find out what was the best ever Scottish single by asking folk to send in their Top 10s by e-mail.

The idea proved incredibly popular as sad blokes like me sent in lists that made the case for long-forgotten tracks by equally long-forgotten acts. The rules were pretty easy and straightforward – the songs in question had to have been a single and the act had to have been Scottish.

This didn’t stop your humble scribe falling foul of the rules – I was certain that Musette and Drums by The Cocteau Twins had been a single or at the very least part of an EP, and so put it forward within my particular 10. I was completely wrong – it was only ever an LP track, and so I was invited to re-submit.

As for whether an act was Scottish or not, this was entirely down to Dave and The Cat. For instance, Lloyd Cole (born in Derby) was allowed in on the basis that the remainder of the Commotions were Scottish. Rod Stewart (born London) was not allowed in despite most Americans believing he was the most famous Scottish singer on the planet.

Before long, some newspapers and radio stations picked up on what was happening and the boys began to began to be interviewed about things. What seemed to most get the attention of the media was the fact that the song destined to be #1 was wholly unexpected.

I’m not sure if the majority of those who voted in the Jock’n’Roll poll actually chose Party Fears Two as their all time #1 Scottish single. However, I would place a very large wager that maybe as many as 75-80% of voters will have found a spot for it somewhere in their Top 10 thus giving it more than enough votes overall to take the top position.

Click here for the full rundown

There’s just something about Associates and Billy MacKenzie that makes people get all nostalgic and proud that they and he came from Scotland. When the band seemingly burst onto the scene out of nowhere in 1982, it was with songs that were genuinely unlike anything else you had ever heard. Even all these years later, the stuff still sounds incredibly vibrant, fresh and unique, and very difficult to categorise. It’s just so much easier to have a listen to the breakthrough single and its b-side (which is a different version from that on the LP Sulk) :-

mp3 : Associates – Party Fears Two
mp3 : Associates – It’s Better This Way

Billy had a mischievous wit and charm that endeared him to his fans. He always seemed to have a twinkle in his eye whenever he was on TV. This was a band that seemingly wanted to put fun back into pop music without diluting its quality. The appearances on Top Of The Pops soon became must see affairs, culminating in one time where Alan Rankine turned up with a chocolate guitar (£2,000 from Harrods) and broke it up into pieces to give to the audience while Billy and the others mimed away trying to avoid getting a fit of the giggles.

And although the band were based out of necessity in London, Billy in particular seemed to love just taking the piss out the capital and talked lovingly of his home country, and in particular his home city of Dundee.

You couldn’t help but like Alan and Billy as people – the fact that they were making incredible music was an amazing bonus.

Having discovered them via the hit singles, it was easy to see by delving into the back catalogue that the poppy stuff wasn’t typical of the band. Where they went from here was always going to be interesting. Sadly, 1982 with its hit singles and the consequent masterpiece LP was the last Associates work that the duo produced.

Alan chose to leave the band but Billy carried on, drafting in other musicians to work alongside.

It’s all too evident more than 25 years later to realise just how integral Alan was to the sound and look of Associates. There was also a particular chemistry between him and Billy that was never ever recaptured in full, despite an awful lot of the post-Sulk recordings being tremendous pieces of work with some amazing vocals from Billy.

January 2007 was the 10th anniversary of the death of Billy Mackenzie, and I paid a long tribute to the man in the pages of this blog. At the time, I said his legacy is a volume of work that has highs and lows, albeit one that is dominated by that 1982/83 era of Sulk. Even if that had been the only LP he had ever made, Billy would still be a legend in pop music. I stand by that statement……

(That posting, incredibly, was one that I was able to retrieve from the limited archive acess I had at the old blog. I re-posted it in August 2013.  If you would like to read the full tribute, you can click here).

(I later did an equally lengthy piece on Alan but alas it is lost forever thanks to bastard google acting on dmca notices.)

 

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES….COURTESY OF SID LAW (7)

noise1a

A very welcome one-off summer special…….

Happy Summer Holidays Mr Vinyl Villain! I’ve been enjoying the Altered Images series and the Devoto “Rainy Season” was good to hear again. I remember being in the front row of an Edinburgh Fringe Show with Claire a few years back (and I still have a lovely signed risque poster). It was called “Lady MacBeth Firmed My Buttocks” and was a delight… however I digress.

I attach a completely unreleased track by The Associates featuring Billy and Alan. It is a cover of Paul Ryan’s song which was a big hit for brother Barry Ryan. Billy loved those kinda “Cabaret” Bacharach style, full-blown songs. On “Eloise” we can hear a young Billy (probably 1979) crooning his way through Rankine’s punky, guitar driven arrangement. Probably recorded at Craighall Studios in Trinity Edinburgh in 1979 with the same unnamed “Cabaret Musicians” responsible for the demos which were released as “Double Hipness” by Virgin in 2000.

Enjoy

Sid

mp3 : Associates – Eloise

JC adds…………It’s a long long way from the sounds that became the hits.  As Sid says it is very punky and having been lucky enough to see the Big Gold Dream documentary the other week it is very clear that the boys fitted in perfectly to the scene that was building up in and around the capital city in the late 70s.

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES…COURTESY OF SID LAW (5)

Billy tay bridge with Wild and Lonely

After being dropped by Warners in 1988, Billy quickly put some demos together with Blair Booth and Philip Erb (who he had recorded “Cinemas Of the World” with) and secured a deal with Virgin subsidiary Circa. The result was 1990’s “Wild And Lonely” a record much maligned by many Associates and MacKenzie fans. There are a number of reasons for this but the main one is that while the rest of the UK had romped through the 2nd Summer of Love in 1988 and two years later Acid House, House, Hip-Hop and sample-tastic dance music was filling the charts, “Wild And Lonely” had been produced by Julian Mendelsohn and it sounded slick and well – a bit like 1986. “Wild” and “Lonely” were two of Billy’s Whippets by the way…

My favourite track from this era is a B-side track from the single “Fire To Ice” called “The Glamour Chase” – an Abba-like paean to lost hope, shattered dreams and dented pride. The song refers to the ditched Warners album, Billy’s stalled career and the cost of the quest for fame (“Quality knows what is insincere/ All is not what it seems to appear/ Searching for what in this emptiness/ Why all this sudden need to impress/ Why must we always think we know best/ Knowing you’re wanting a part of me/ Only protects that same part of me”).

mp3 : Associates – The Glamour Chase

Billy insisted the track was included on the UK version of the “Wild And Lonely” CD and it was the only track on the album which Julian Mendelsohn didn’t produce. Billy produced it.

Sid Law

JC adds (in August 2015)….

The marvellous illustration above is the work of Stuart Murray, but I only discovered this many months later via the comments section.

It was done by Stuart me for a book called The Great Scots Musicography in 2003 (a tome from which I draw much of the info that subsequently appears in postings), and Stuart says it was one of his favourites for the book. You can check out more recent work of his at http://www.thefolkyebumpintae.wordpress.com

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 131)

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Notwithstanding that the ‘A’ side of this single featured very recently in Sid Law’s wonderful mini-series, as I have a copy of the 12″ single it merits a slot within the Saturday Single.

39 Lyon Street was a one-off single project created by Associates. The group used an alternative name to exercise a clause in their contract with WEA that stated they could record for any label they desired, so long as the A-side was not credited to Associates.

I’ve pinched this from a now defunct blog called Retro Dundee:-

lyon street mid 80s - Copy

This is how Lyon Street looked back in the 1980’s. A typical Dundee street that you would pass going into the city centre. In the early 80’s, however, something was brewing at number 39. A wee social gathering of creative musicians were busy producing acts who would go on to record some classy alternative pop music.

This is where Billy Mackenzie & Alan Rankine of The Associates were living, along with others. In amongst the others were Christine Beveridge & Steve Reid who went on to record as Orbidoig, releasing a couple of singles. A cross-pollination of The Associates & Orbidoig created a 3rd act called…39 Lyon Street. They also released a single, called “Kites”, which was a cover of the Simon Dupree hit from the psychedelic 60’s.

And here we are:-

mp3 : 39 Lyon Street – Kites
mp3 : Associates – A Girl Named Property

And that dear readers, brings to an end this alphabetical and numerical run through some of the 45s that I have in the cupboard of vinyl or shelves of CD from Scottish acts.

Next week, I’m going to start all over again but this time looking at albums as well as singles or indeed featuring songs that I only have via compilations.

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES…COURTESY OF SID LAW (3)

TheAudienceThatFellToEarth

Okay it is 1988. It has been nearly three years since The Associates last LP “Perhaps”. The slightly techno friendly cover of Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” has not set the charts alight despite a slew of formats (three 12″ versions, CD single, 7″ single, a 3D printed sleeve with some special glasses inside the sleeve etc). Billy has an album sitting in the can, Shirley Bassey has just covered one of his songs with Yello. In a quick series of moves Warners dropped Billy from their label and stopped the release of the already completed album “The Glamour Chase” dead in its tracks.

Three years of work on “The Glamour Chase” album and a decade of writing, recording and gigging. Now labell-less, deal-less and all his material in the can in a Warners basement and staying there. It is hard to comprehend that kind of blow. But a mighty blow it certainly was. After being dropped from the label over lunch in a Mayfair restaurant, Billy asked the record company executive given the task of dining and dropping him for a cab home on the record company account. The exec readily agreed and in a legendary move Billy took a cab home – all the way from London to Dundee.

“The Glamour Chase” did not surface in a proper release until 2002 when it was thrown in as a non-ironic freebie with the first CD release of 1985’s “Perhaps”. Some of it is fairly pedestrian lightweight, late 80’s funky standard pop stuff but there are some tremendous songs on it (particularly the Boris Blank produced Because You Love, Snowball, The Rhythm Divine and In Windows All) but perhaps the real standout track was a song Billy had been playing live for a few years called “Empires Of Your Heart” and everyone should hear it. Listen to this… can you believe a record company dropped this guy and left this kind of material in the can?

mp3 : Associates – Empires Of Your Heart

I also attach a track from a bootleg called “The Audience That Fell To Earth”. Billy MacKenzie with Paul Haig and some others performing “Empires Of Your Heart” at Wilkie House on 14 September 1986.

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie/Paul Haig – Empires Of Your Heart (live)

Cheers
Sid Law