Scottish Melancholy : The Lives and Times of The Hardy Boys
A guest posting by flimflanfan
(L to R: Ian, John, David, Derek, Kate and Michael)
Isn’t it funny how you can connect with a band but few, if any, or your friends can? You think you’ve found the second coming but all you receive in return from those friends is a collective shrug of the shoulders? That descriptor epitomises my initial relationship with The Hardy Boys. It’s a relationship that has proven considerably stronger than most of those other relationships and one that I am immensely thankful for.
The first time I saw The Hardy Boys live was supporting The Sandkings, at Rico’s, Greenock (1989). I was quite The Sandkings fan; however, my relationship with them was short-lived. The Sandkings, as I recall, were superb (worth the travel and sleeping on a friend’s floor) but The Hardy Boys were a revelation. I won’t do this description justice but … it was like watching The Smiths in a feisty punch-up with The Wedding Present.
The set that night was a thing of beauty – raw, rough, gnarly – but beautiful nonetheless. After the gig ended, I was introduced to the band by my friend who knew them well. I can only imagine how fawning I would have been. Jeez!
To end what was a superb night my friend gave me a copy of the Safe Houses (the previous incarnation of the band) flexi If I Should Die (it remains a firm favourite). I can’t for the life of me recall if I owned Wonderful Lie (Stella 5, 1989) prior to the gig or bought it immediately after – the latter seems more likely.
Copies of the Stella 5 version of Wonderful Lie can reach eye watering prices but I wouldn’t part with mine. It was an e.p. I would constantly play to those I thought may be seduced by its charms and while there could be the odd appreciative nod, I never did get that ‘wow’ response I thought the e.p. deserved.
When the band split (1990) the proposed second single Let the World Smother You (Egg Records*) was shelved and didn’t see the light of day till 2005! However, songs from that single did appear on a cassette compilation of The Hardy Boys songs, Five Years of Boring Pop Songs (Elefant Records, 1992) and subsequently a download only reissue (Talent, 2010) with 4 less songs than the Elefant edition.
The involvement of Elefant brought with it a whole new swathe of indie pop fans; one of whom would actually be asked to sing on what is, for now, the first and final studio l.p.
The collective interest I had wanted for the band in 1989 was, it would seem, a tad delayed but no less enthusiastic; over 20 years later, online indie and indie pop fanzines and forums were abuzz. The release of another compilation cd Songs from the Lenin and McCarthy Song Book (Zzzing Recording Company, 2010) consisted of songs from previous compilations and capitalized on this new found interest. It was a shrewd move by a band who had previously fallen foul to bouts of bad timing.
Although new Hardy Boys music was all but non-existent band members had been consistently pursuing other interests. The band reformed as Flame Up in 1991 splitting up in 1994 after releasing one 7” single, Mr God / Need I Say More (Talent, 1992). In 1995 Flame Up was somewhat resurrected with the release of a cdr entitled Nova Scotia. I can find no reference to this l.p. or another cdr the band refer to as Crank It but Discogs does list Studio Sessions 1991-1997 and Right Nelson Toronty!!! (both from John’s VivaGenius imprint). Michael, now living in Canada, continued his involvement with The Hardy Boys mastering and remastering releases.
John and David were both members of Mouse Eat Mouse – John leaving soon after David joined. They both played in Spy Movie and John went on to play bass with Wake the President.
John and I bumped into each other at a Spy Movie gig (13th Note, Glasgow I believe). He had no idea who I was (why would he?). As he uttered his first backing vocal, I knew immediately who he was. I remained mesmerised for the rest of the gig. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Spy Movie but that voice – I’d know it anywhere. I did speak with him re: our previous meeting – all those years ago – and the flame I continued to carry for The Hardy Boys. He was entirely aware of a resurgence in interest in the band and it was clear it was something he wished to explore.
In 2010 The Hardy Boys released their 2nd single (e.p. for the purists) Under the Piccadilly Clock (Bubblegum Records, 2010). I was utterly delighted with this pop tour de force. Yet another stunning piece of pop music and those vocals. Oh, those vocals. I was fortunate enough to hear a demo version (just John and guitar) of Dear Seamus Heaney; the hairs on the back on my neck stood to attention. Just wonderful.
To think that British Melancholy is the band’s first and last studio l.p. is remarkable. Like Wonderful Lie before it, I had hoped for so much more for the band.
In 2011 the band played live in Glasgow. The last time I saw them live. While I have seen the band on a number of occasions this particular performance was just mind-blowing. There was what seemed like friction between David and John before the performance (which was later confirmed) and to be able to perform as well as they did – as astoundingly well as they did – in the circumstances speaks to their skill as musicians. Fans like me, those who had travelled from France, Spain and Germany just gushed. Rightly so. I was truly honoured to be in the audience.
A follow-up to British Melancholy was discussed. Sadly, Scottish Melancholy never materialised.
David had slated an l.p release ‘On the Road with the Enemy of God’ (Caroline True Records, 2013) under the moniker The Dark Mile. As far as I’m aware the l.p. was never released.
The Hardy Boys continued to simmer releasing a 12” vinyl copy of Wonderful Lie (Firestation Records, 2015).
Late in 2019 the original drummer, Ian McLachlan, died. Ian played drums with the band for three years between 1988 – 1990. He played on the ‘Wonderful Lie’ e.p., ‘Let the World Smother You’ and the majority of ‘The Hardy Boys Play the Lenin and McCarthy Songbook’. The band arranged a gig in memory for Ian in March 2020. For reasons we are all too familiar with the gig had to be postponed but will hopefully be rescheduled.
My reason for writing this piece about The Hardy Boys was borne from me citing (within this very blog) John White as my second favourite, Scottish, male singer after Billy MacKenzie. A statement I stand by. I have absolutely no understanding as to why a certain singer, songwriter, guitarist etc. can make such a significant, emotional, impact on individuals and I don’t feel I need to understand it. I just need to enjoy what is a highly personalised experience.
What I think is essential to say is that Misters David McArthur and John White are two of the most incredible songwriters that it has been my absolute pleasure to have stumbled upon. Lyrically, musically there’s few that come close.
The band always seemed so cohesive – a gang – a brood of brothers and sisters.
With Derek Mullen (bassist) consistently onboard they really made live performances seem such fun. There was always a sense of camaraderie, and I don’t doubt animosity, but as cliched as it sounds, they were very much a family with all the good and bad that that entails.
If the notion of hearing The Smiths in a feisty punch-up with The Wedding Present sounds intriguing then this is the band for you.
David McArthur guitars/vocals/bass
John White vocals/guitars
Ian McLachlan drums
Alan Bannister guitar/vocals
Michael Bonini keyboards
Derek Mullen bass
Kate Baker violin
Fiona Knowles cello
Paul McArthur drums/guitars/vocals
Karlyn King vocals
* Interestingly, the man who was behind Egg Records, Jim Kavanagh, was also the man behind the Glasgow based fanzine Simply Thrilled (’86 – ‘89), which was also resurrected as an online fanzine, in 2003, a year after he reprised Egg Records.
An informative interview (Penny Black Music, 2006) with Jim can be found here.
The Hardy Boys passed me completely by back in the day. My first time hearing them would have been at one of the Little League nights that are always so much fun – I wouldn’t have known them while the song was being played (this being the pre-Shazam app era), but John would post his full playlists a few days later.
It was my dear friend Carlo, my sidekick at the Simply Thrilled club nights, who aired Wonderful Lie a few years ago after which I went out and obtained a copy of the Firestation Records reissue from 2015. In recent times, I have been gifted copies of the releases on Bubbblegum Pop to my great delight. The Hardy Boys were on the radar for an extensive posting during 2021, but given flimflanfan‘s extensive knowledge, it made sense to ask him to do the honours. I really hope that, for those of you who are unfamiliar, The Hardy Boys are your ‘new’ favourite band from olden days.