This post is dedicated to Sexy Loser
I thought it was time I tackled another difficult ICA, featuring another wonderfully entertaining and talented Scottish combo, one of the finest bands to ever emerge out of Scotland’s capital but second city.
Ballboy emerged in the mid-to-late 90s, with the various members gigging and recording around the commitments of holding down full-time careers. A few members came and went and finally things settled down in 1999 with a four-piece line-up consisting of Gordon McIntyre (vocals and guitar), Nick Reynolds (bass), Gary Morgan (drums) and Katie Griffiths (keyboards) signing to SL Records. The band would record a number of EPs/singles which were later compiled as the wonderfully named Club Anthems in 2001 before the release of a debut LP, A Guide For Daylight Hours was released in late 2002. Two more albums – The Sash My Father Wore and Other Stories (2003) and The Royal Theatre (2004) very quickly followed as the band consolidated on their ever-increasing fan base, one of whom was John Peel.
By this point in time, Alexa Morrison had replaced Katie Griffiths. There was also something of a loss of momentum with the latest LP not being as well received as previous efforts and there was something of a fall-out with the label. It wasn’t until 2008 that the next album – I Worked On The Ships – was released and it was on the band’s own imprint of Pony Proof Records. There’s not actually been all that much released since then outside of a digital Christmas mini-album in 2013, but the band have been reasonably active on the live front here in Scotland, albeit rarely nowadays as a full four-piece.
There’s plenty of songs which could have made this ICA, and what follows is not necessarily my favourite 10 tracks; but taken collectively they make for what I think would be two rather splendid sides of vinyl. It also builds on this previous posting on the band from two years back.
1. Avant Garde Music (from A Guide for the Daylight Hours, 2002)
Every one of the band’s EPs and albums opens with a truly memorable number and it was a tough choice selecting the track with which to introduce the ICA. In the end, I’ve plumped for Avant Garde Music partly on the basis it is from the debut LP but mainly as it captures perfectly what it is that makes Ballboy such an appealing listen. It is self-deprecating, humorous, catchy and with has the most wonderful put-down line of ‘I don’t give a fuck what she says or thinks about me’. Indie attitude at its very best!
2. All The Records On The Radio Are Shite (EP, 2002)
More indie attitude at its very best. Gordon’s tongue may be slightly in his cheek when he sings that, with the exception of his own material all the music coming out of the transistor just aren’t very good, but there’s no arguing the sentiments, especially these days when an awful lot of indie music seems to be by numbers. But then again, the hipsters and youngsters probably think the stuff I like is trad and dull…..
3. Songs For Kylie (from I Worked On The Ships, 2008)
There are singer/songwriters out there who have made millions upon millions, selling out arenas and stadia the world over thanks to them having the talent to match a tear-inducing lyric with a tune that somehow can tunnel its way into every brain and stay there no matter how hard you want or try to forget it. There are even, and always have been, songwriters for hire to do the very same for those singers whose voice is the only thing creative about them. I listen to some of the ballads that Ballboy have recorded over the years and cannot but feel that Gordon McIntyre missed his true calling.
4. Something’s Going To Happen Soon (from A Guide for the Daylight Hours, 2002)
And the cellos kick in……..
Boom. Pow. Whack. You’re In Love.
5. I Don’t Have Time To Stand Here With You Fighting About The Size Of My Dick (from The Royal Theatre, 2004)
As said previously, probably the first thing that jumps out when you look Ballboy song is the finest set of song titles since The Smiths were at the height of their fame, fame fatal fame. The titles inevitably involve a wry look at life and love – successes and failures alike – but the great thing is that the tunes are more than a match, especially on the debut album. There was a wee bit of a backlash when The Royal Theatre was released in that the production and sound had removed some of what had made the band such an essential listen over the previous five years but it is impossible not to smile at the title of this song.
There’s a real complexity about the lyric – the laugh out loud title acts as its opening line and isn’t ever repeated. The closing two lines offer up a beautiful and moving image of a loving memory. In between? Well, let’s just say it’s from the perspective of a hardened, violent criminal who just never imagined things ever going wrong….just listen and then applaud.
1. Donald In The Bushes With A Bag of Glue (from Club Anthems, 2001)
This was actually the lead track on the band’s first ever EP, Silver Suits For Astronauts, in 1999.
2. Kiss Me, Hold Me and Eat Me
3. The Sash My Father Wore (both from The Sash My Father Wore and Other Stories (2003)
The sophomore album was a bit if a surprise in that it was quite acoustic in nature, offering up many songs in which it was just the singer and his guitar and the occasional use of a cello.. It’s a tremendously enjoyable piece of work, brave in many ways partly from it being such a bold step away from the sounds that had brought the band some indie-pop fame but also from the fact that the lyrics didn’t hold back on the sort of things that angered him, not least the title track.
Kiss Me, Hold Me and Eat Me must be the only love song about cannibalism. It muses on what cannibals who fall in love would do to one another given their all-consuming desire to consume flesh. Is there a happy ending? There’s only one way to find out…….
Type in “The Sash My Father Wore” into any search engine and you’ll be greeted with a toe-tapping tune of religious triumphalism and intolerance. Sectarianism is Scotland’s shame. It is somewhat on the wane compared to a generation ago but those Protestants who can’t tolerate Roman Catholics (and vice-versa) while less in numbers seem to be more bitter about things, angry that a certain way of life is ebbing away. It is, sadly, at its worst in Glasgow but there are also many small working-class villages and towns which have an historical association with dirty, grimy and dangerous industries, especially coal mining, where the marching season across June, July and August brings out the worst in folk.
Ballboy’s take on it all? A gentle ballad with a biting lyric which pulls no punches. Billy Bragg has rarely, if ever, been this courageous……
4. I Wonder If You’re Drunk Enough To Sleep With Me Tonight (from A Guide for the Daylight Hours, 2002)
The title sounds creepy and the sort of thought that goes through the head of a social inadequate on a night out in the company of someone they fancy, or indeed lust over. And yet and the upbeat, jaunty nature of the song opens it to other interpretations, primarily that it is really about a hopeless romantic who, while he says he won’t be put off by a fear of failure is in fact so terrified of it that he is incapable of behaving or thinking in any sort of rational way.
I’ve always thought this would make for a marvellous duet. Singer #1 would take it through to the end of the first chorus at which point singer #2 comes in and takes it through to the end of the second chorus. Then they would stare into one another’s eyes and both sing the closing section, pleading with one another to kiss them like they mean it this time……and it won’t matter if they are sober or drunk.
5. Meet Me At The Shooting Range (from A Guide for the Daylight Hours, 2002)
One of the most hauntingly, beautiful tunes of my lifetime. I’ve wept while listening to this alone while very drunk……and it’s just a perfect way to bring ICA 175 to its conclusion