AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #112 : FRIENDS AGAIN

With apologies to readers of old as today’s posting features an element of cut’n’paste from a piece in the 45 45s at 45 series.

It would have been 1983 when I first heard Friends Again, catching them live at the Students Union at Strathclyde University. As it turned out, this was the first of many times that I would be lucky enough to be at their gigs, venturing down on one occasion to London on the day of the show and then back up immediately on the overnight bus. There was so much to like about how this band looked and sounded with guitarist James Grant and keyboardist Paul McGeechan sounding fbeing far more accomplished than many of their peers while the stylish and ultra-cool frontman Chris Thompson had a vocal style that was a cross between Motherwell and Memphis. And like all great bands, they had a deceptively brilliant rhythm section with Stuart Kerr on drums and Neil Cunningham on bass.

It is baffling that they would endure a career of such poor record sales and never getting beyond headlining the student circuit in the UK ( the London gig I went to was at the London School of Economics where they shared top billing with Fad Gadget). But theirs is an all-too familiar story of a label interfering and seeking to control the artistic and performance side of things, with bosses insisting on certain production values that diluted rather than strengthened how the band’s sound came across on record.

In short, they were stifled at every turn, including for a rare and important live TV appearance where somebody came up with idea of adding two female vocalists despite the band never having worked with any backing singers at any point in their career in the studio or on stage.  Utter madness.  And when success didn’t come with the first LP and the record label asked questions the band did the sensible thing and broke up, leaving the individual members to go off and do their own thing.

Friends Again were highly talented. On stage, they delivered sets that meshed the best of the Postcard bands with all sorts of folk, soul, blues and pop undertones depending on the rhythm and tempo of a song. I’ve come to realise that in some ways they were a bit ahead of their time in that a few years later there was a bit of a craze for rock/pop bands to demonstrate the strength of their songs and their playing abilities through ‘unplugged’ performances. Friends Again would have blown folk away if they had been given such a stage.

Their first three singles were largely self-produced but hadn’t yielded the results that Phonogram Records had hoped for. Big name producers were brought in as hired guns, particularly Bob Sargeant who had delivered chart success to the likes of The Beat and Haircut 100, but also Tom Verlaine, best known as part of legendary US art-rockers Television. The fact that two such diverse individuals with different approaches to production and indeed differing production values surely is all the evidence you need to realise that the label didn’t know what to do with the band.

In due course a debut LP, Trapped and Unwrapped, did eventually emerge after many painful and difficult sessions in the studio. Twelve songs that required the input of four different producers behind the desk although three-quarters of the album is credited alone to Sargeant. Worth mentioning that whatever work was done with Verlaine was obviously deemed unsatisfactory as only one track from those sessions made the cut.

Three of the songs on the LP were also re-recordings of earlier singles or b-sides and in each case were vastly inferior. A band who, on stage, were such an exciting and vibrant presence had recorded an album that was bitterly disappointing with the best moments being the acoustic numbers that hadn’t allowed themselves to be subject to the kitchen sink approach from the production desk.

More than 30 years on and I have calmed down a lot. I listen to the record and sort of enjoy it but still think of it as a missed opportunity. So maybe I can rectify it by offering up a Friends Again ICA as an alternative LP to that which was released, compiled from the album and the songs that appeared on the six singles released during their all-too-brief career.

SIDE A

1) Honey At The Core (original version and the debut single)
2) Sunkissed (12″) (original version and the second single)
3) Swallows In The Rain (album track and only one produced by Tom Verlaine)
4) Lullaby No. 2  (lead track on the EP/ fifth single, also on album)
5) Tomboy (album track)
6) Dealing In Silver (b-side of Sunkissed single)

SIDE B

1) Lucky Star (original version and b-side of Honey at The Core)
2) State of Art (12″) (third single and later remixed for album and EP)
3) Vaguely Yours (album track)
4) South Of Love (fourth single and album track)
5) Thank You For Being An Angel (b-side to Lullaby No.2)
6) Moon 3 (closing track on album)

And here’s the two sides of the ICA in LP sized chunks :-

Side A
Side B

JC

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (10)

All of the Top 10 singles had appeared on the blog before.  I was tempted just to post links back to those postings but having come this far with another look at the 2008 rundown, I thought I’d stick with it.

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON TUESDAY 3 JUNE 2008

(and again on 28 October 2013)

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I spent four years of my life at University at the start of the 80s. I suppose I did what I was supposed to do in that I ended up with a degree that got me into meaningful employment, but I also was able, to use the ad man’s phrase, live life to the max and broaden my horizons in many aspects of life. Including music.

The band that I most associate with those happy days are in the chart at #10.

Friends Again weren’t around for all that long, forming in 1982 and breaking-up in 1984, having released just a handful of singles and one LP, and never making the breakthrough that so many fans and indeed their major record label expected.

I first came across the band when they played a gig at the Students Union at Strathclyde University. I was immediately grabbed by the sound of the band, and in particular the guitar playing of James Grant and the talents of Paul McGeechan on keyboards. And then there was front-man and vocalist Chris Thompson – cool as fuck was the phrase that came to mind, with a vocal style that was a cross between Motherwell and Memphis. Stuart Kerr on drums and Neil Cunningham on bass were a more than half-decent rhythm section too.

Before long, I was tracking down their singles, as indeed seemed to be just about everyone else I socialised with. Their initial single, Honey At The Core, was released on a local label, and sold in more than enough quantities to entice Phonogram Records to offer the band a deal.

Those of us who had seen the band a few times were delighted with the song chosen for the second single, Sunkissed, as it was always the highlight of the live set. It surely wouldn’t be too long before the boys were regulars on Top of The Pops….

But it flopped. As did a third single called State of Art.

All three singles had been more or less produced by the band themselves, and Phonogram decided that it needed to bring in someone who had a track record in the production stakes. So the boys were teamed up with Bob Sargeant who had worked with the likes of The Beat and Haircut 100, and went to work on the debut LP. The label also brought in Tom Verlaine ex-main man of legendary US art-rockers Television to work with the boys, while also allowing them to produce some stuff themselves. It was all a bit of a recipe for disaster as it turns out…

The early singles and the live performances showed Friends Again as a band who could throw in all sorts of music into the mix and sound fresh. There was some jingly-jangly stuff so reminiscent of the Postcard bands, there was a bit of funk/soul, there were more than a fair amount of country/folk songs with acoustic guitars, and of course there was a bunch of hugely dynamic and catch pop-songs that had so enticed the record label.

Sadly, the LP that emerged blinking into the bright sunlight – Trapped and Unwrapped – spectacularly failed to capture all of this. In this case, it is very easy enough to put the blame on the record label. Three of the twelve songs on the LP were vastly inferior re-recordings – Honey At The Core and Sunkissed, as well as Lucky Star (originally the b-side to Honey At The Core). Many of the other songs, loved and adored in the live setting, seemed stripped of their vitality. The acoustic songs were the only ones that escaped unscathed – proof that this was a record that was quite literally, over-produced. There was even a horn section deployed on some of the songs…

There is no doubt the band were bitterly upset at what was foisted on the record-buying public. Two further singles taken directly from the LP also flopped (the highest chart position reached was a very lowly #60), so the label, in desperation, re-released a remixed version of one of the earlier singles. It also flopped.

The band were very obviously despondent about the ways things had turned out – live shows became less dynamic and they seemed to be going through the motions. The buzz surrounding them had also gone, and where venues had once been packed, they were now half-empty.

I was at the last gig that Friends Again played, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was at a very small students’ union at Bell College in Hamilton, a town some 12 miles south-east of Glasgow, and not that far from where the band members had grown up. It was another lacklustre affair, not helped by a lack of chemistry on stage. Here was a band seriously pissed off with life and seemingly with one another. It might even have been the following day that Friends Again broke up…

James Grant and Paul McGeechan quickly went on to form pop/soul act Love and Money , while Stuart Kerr was soon on TOTP as the stickman in the first version of Texas with their massive hit I Don’t Want A Lover. Neil Cunningham went into artiste management.

Chris Thompson to all intent and purposes became a solo act under the name The Bathers, and ploughed a lone furrow akin to the softer side of Friends Again to much critical acclaim but little commercial success. Interestingly enough, when Love and Money also failed to really hit the big-time, James Grant embarked on a solo-career that was based on acoustic folk/country songs…

There are many hundreds if not thousands of bands with a story that is similar to that of Friends Again. They quickly get a local following that is hyped a little, they soon sign a deal with the devil and then are discarded when success isn’t immediate.

For years, the recordings by Friends Again were very difficult to get – it was mostly just vinyl as Trapped and Unwrapped initially had a limited CD release. And if it was available, it tended to be second-hand, or on import and expensive. But back in 2007 it was given a budget re-release, with the bonus that it contained the original recordings of Honey At The Core and Sunkissed instead of the re-recorded versions which means it’s bit easier to get a hold of the song that is #10 in the rundown:-

mp3 : Friends Again – Sunkissed

And for a bit of fun, here’s the b-side and the 12” extended version as well:-

mp3 : Friends Again – Dealing In Silver
mp3 : Friends Again – Sunkissed (12″)

Turns out, that having been more widely available in 2008 when I first put the chart together, the album is once again a bit on the rare side as it is out of print.  Second-hand market is the best way….

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Parts 51-55)

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 or more at a time from the archives..

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(51) Friends Again – Honey At The Core b/w Lucky Star : Moonboot Records 7″ single (1983)

Read more about Friends Again here

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(52) Frightened Rabbit  – Fast Blood b/w Soon Go  : Fast Cat Records : 7″ single (2008)

Read more about Frightened Rabbit here 

NB : Part 52 was actually Be Less Rude/Sing The Greys but I featured this on T(n)VV a few weeks back.

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(53) Geneva – No One Speaks b/w Closer To The Stars b/w Keep The Light On :  Nude Records CD single (1996)

Read more about Geneva here

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(54) The Gentle Waves – Falling From Grace b/w Going Home b/w October’s Sky b/w Hold Back A Thousand Hours : Jeepster Records CD single (2000)

The first solo recordings released by Isobel Campbell who at the time was still part of Belle & Sebastian. Also worth mentioning that Falling From Grace has been one of the most downloaded tracks I’ve ever made available….

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(55) Glasvegas – Geraldine b/w The Prettiest Thing On Saltcoats Beach b/w Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime : Mercury Records 2 x & 7″ singles (2008)

Read more about Glasvegas here

Parts  61 -65 next Saturday…..

MY ALL TIME TOP 10 SINGLES : SUNKISSED by FRIENDS AGAIN

With apologies to readers of old….

Back in 2008 over at the old place I put together something called 45 45s at 45 in which I listed, in some detail, my all time favourite singles culminating in the #1 being revealed on the day of my 45th birthday. The only rules were that I had to have bought the single on its release and that each act was restricted to a sole appearance in the rundown

I recently went back and had a look at the series and decided that, five and bit years on, the Top 10 hasn’t changed at all. There have been some great 45s released in recent years but they’ve said nothing to me about my life and so haven’t cracked the higher echelons of my personal chart. And so, for the next 2 weeks, partly to allow me to put up a bundle of advance postings while I’m really really busy at work and getting home so late that I’m unable to do much with the blog, I’m re-posting the Top 10 in its entirety.

Which means I must also offer a huge apology to fans of the South-West correspondent as his series goes on hold for 2 weeks….but believe me, his comeback post is an absolute belter.

Anyways as I was saying:-

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I spent four years of my life at University at the start of the 80s. I suppose I did what I was supposed to do in that I ended up with a degree that got me into meaningful employment, but I also was able, to use the ad man’s phrase, live life to the max and broaden my horizons in many aspects of life. Including music.

The band that I most associate with those happy days are in the chart at #10.

Friends Again weren’t around for all that long, forming in 1982 and breaking-up in 1984, having released just a handful of singles and one LP, and never making the breakthrough that so many fans and indeed their major record label expected.

I first came across the band when they played a gig at the Students Union at Strathclyde University. I was immediately grabbed by the sound of the band, and in particular the guitar playing of James Grant and the talents of Paul McGeechan on keyboards. And then there was front-man and vocalist Chris Thompson – cool as fuck was the phrase that came to mind, with a vocal style that was a cross between Motherwell and Memphis. Stuart Kerr on drums and Neil Cunningham on bass were a more than half-decent rhythm section too.

Before long, I was tracking down their singles, as indeed seemed to be just about everyone else I socialised with. Their initial single, Honey At The Core, was released on a local label, and sold in more than enough quantities to entice Phonogram Records to offer the band a deal.

Those of us who had seen the band a few times were delighted with the song chosen for the second single, Sunkissed, as it was always the highlight of the live set. It surely wouldn’t be too long before the boys were regulars on Top of The Pops….

But it flopped. As did a third single called State of Art.

All three singles had been more or less produced by the band themselves, and Phonogram decided that it needed to bring in someone who had a track record in the production stakes. So the boys were teamed up with Bob Sargeant who had worked with the likes of The Beat and Haircut 100, and went to work on the debut LP. The label also brought in Tom Verlaine ex- main man of legendary US art-rockers Television to work with the boys, while also allowing them to produce some stuff themselves. It was all a bit of a recipe for disaster as it turns out…

The early singles and the live performances showed Friends Again as a band who could throw in all sorts of music into the mix and sound fresh. There was some jingly-jangly stuff so reminiscent of the Postcard bands, there was a bit of funk/soul, there were more than a fair amount of country/folk songs with acoustic guitars, and of course there was a bunch of hugely dynamic and catch pop-songs that had so enticed the record label.

Sadly, the LP which emerged blinking into the bright sunlight – Trapped and Unwrapped – spectacularly failed to capture all of this. In this case, it is very easy enough to put the blame on the record label. Three of the twelve songs on the LP were vastly inferior re-recordings – Honey At The Core and Sunkissed, as well as Lucky Star (originally the b-side to Honey At The Core). Many of the other songs, loved and adored in the live setting, seemed stripped of their vitality. The acoustic songs were the only ones that escaped unscathed – proof that this was a record that was quite literally, over-produced. There was even a horn section deployed on some of the songs…

There is no doubt the band were bitterly upset at what was foisted on the record-buying public. Two further singles taken directly from the LP also flopped (the highest chart position reached was a very lowly #60), so the label, in desperation, re-released a remixed version of one of the earlier singles. It also flopped.

The band was very obviously despondent about the ways things had turned out – live shows became less dynamic and they seemed to be going through the motions. The buzz surrounding them had also gone, and where venues had once been packed, they were now half-empty.

I was at the last gig that Friends Again played, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was at a very small students’ union at Bell College in Hamilton, a town some 12 miles south-east of Glasgow, and not that far from where the band members had grown up. It was another lacklustre affair, not helped by a lack of chemistry on stage. Here was a band seriously pissed off with life and seemingly with one another. It might even have been the following day that Friends Again broke up…

James Grant and Paul McGeechan quickly went on to form pop/soul act Love and Money , while Stuart Kerr was soon on TOTP as the stickman in the first version of Texas with their massive hit I Don’t Want A Lover. Neil Cunningham went into artiste management.

Chris Thompson to all intent and purposes became a solo act under the name The Bathers, and ploughed a lone furrow akin to the softer side of Friends Again to much critical acclaim but little commercial success. Interestingly enough, when Love and Money also failed to really hit the big-time, James Grant embarked on a solo-career that was based on acoustic folk/country songs…

There are many hundreds if not thousands of bands with a story that is similar to that of Friends Again. They quickly get a local following that is hyped a little, they soon sign a deal with the devil and then are discarded when success isn’t immediate.

For years, the recordings by Friends Again were very difficult to get – it was mostly just vinyl as Trapped and Unwrapped initially had a limited CD release. And if it was available, it tended to be second-hand, or on import and expensive. But back in 2007 it was given a budget re-release, with the bonus that it contained the original recordings of Honey At The Core and Sunkissed instead of the re-recorded versions which means it’s bit easier to get a hold of the song that is #10 in the rundown:-

mp3 : Friends Again – Sunkissed

And for a bit of fun, here’s the b-side and the 12” extended version as well:-

mp3 : Friends Again – Dealing In Silver
mp3 : Friends Again – Sunkissed (12″)