SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #170 : THE JUST JOANS

From the website of Fika Recordings on which today’s featured band, in 2017, released their first new album in a decade:-

Formed in 2005, The Just Joans have evolved from a shambling two-piece to an accomplished sextet that embrace rivalry and relationship in the vocals of siblings David and Katie Pope.

Once described as ‘the missing link between The Magnetic Fields and The Proclaimers’, the band have used self-awareness and self-deprecation to explore themes of angst, heartbreak and detachment.

From their 2006 debut album Last Tango in Motherwell through a series of successful EPs, to 2012’s compilation Buckfast Bottles In The Rain, the acerbic wit in David Pope’s observational lyrics have helped make the band a firm favourite of the indie-pop scene. Their rise has seen them play a plethora of international festivals, such as Wales Goes Pop, Indiefjords, NYC Popfest, and of course the Indietracks festival, of which they have been long-standing cult favourites since their first appearance in 2008.

The Just Joans are David Pope (vocals and guitar), Katie Pope (vocals), Chris Elkin (lead guitar), Fraser Ford (bass guitar), Doog Cameron (keyboards) and Jason Sweeney (drums).

Doog Cameron (pictured on the right edge of the above photo) actually works in the same office as me.  He’s had to, as a result of him becoming a dad to two young kids in the past few years, take time away from the band. His place has been taken by multi-instrumentalist, Arion Xenos who contributed to this 45 that was released in 2018 and whose work will be heard on an album that is due for release later this year:-

mp3 : The Just Joans – Has Anybody Seen My Boy?

David Pope described the 45 as an attempt at writing a lost 60’s girl group track…if that girl group been from Motherwell.

The b-side, he said, was a direct message to the friends who swanned off to art school and came back 3 months later with dyed hair, a Polaroid camera and a snooty attitude.

mp3 : The Just Joans – Who Does Susan Think She Is?

Two tracks that perfectly sum up what The Just Joans are all about.

JC

GETTING OLD JUST AIN’T NO FUN

The Just Joans will be appearing on the Saturday run through of Scottish singers/bands in the not too distant future, but a dig through some vinyl singles that had been bought in 2017/18 but left unkempt in a plastic bag for over a year, unearthed a gem of a 45 which just has to be shared.

They formed in 2005 and were, as the main protagonists have always admitted, an initial shambling effort of a band who rarely, if ever, took themselves that seriously. As time went on, and they began to attract an increasing fan base from well beyond their natural habitat of Glasgow and its neighbouring south-easterly towns in Lanarkshire, they took things up a few notches and began to release singles and albums that went beyond rudimentary.

The band has always centred around the siblings David and Katie Pope. Indeed, for much of the past near 15 years, the duo have taken to the stage as The Just Joans but there has been an increasing use of other musicians to flesh out their sound, both on record and in the live setting. David is a very talented and observant writer, penning witty and wry lyrics that are more often than not from the perspective of one of life’s eternal losers, albeit someone who never loses optimism or hope. He’s the first to admit that he’s not blessed with the most classic of singing voices but his delivery, always in the most direct of local dialects, fits perfectly with the subject matters in hand.

Katie’s role in the band has grown immensely in recent years. She’s well known in Glasgow as a visual artist, with her works often selling for substantial sums of money to collectors and fans alike. She’s painted many of the sleeves for band’s singles and albums, bringing to mind the work of Jenny Saville for Manic Street Preachers – an ugly side of reality but with the brightness of colour. Katie has taken on more vocal duties in recent years, either on lead or performing duets with her brother, providing not only a very fine contrast but enabling many of the songs to be seen through the prism of an unlucky and sad but optimistic female.

The band’s most recent album was You Might Be Smiling Now, released on Fika Recordings in late 2017. It was their third after Last Tango In Motherwell (2006) and Buckfast Bottles In The Rain (2012). Their preference has been the EP with seven of them released between 2007 and 2013.

You Might Be Smiling Now is a fabulous record from start to finish. There might just be too many local references and in-jokes to have it make perfect sense further afield, but at long last the previously used description of them being ‘the missing link between The Magnetic Fields and The Proclaimers’ made sense. They were now a six-piece, featuring Chris Elkin (lead guitar), Fraser Ford (bass guitar), Doog Cameron (keyboards) and Jason Sweeney (drums) – and yes, it’s the same Fraser Ford who performs with Butcher Boy – and while the song themes were still, for the most part self-deprecating, the playing made for a great listen, regardless of whether or not a listener understood the cultural or geographical references.

There was one single lifted from the album. It’s the most ambitious piece of music The Just Joans have tackled, with cellos, horns and female backing vocals added in for good measure.

Katie’s wistful delivery of the tale of someone coming to the realisation that they are no longer of an age to dance the night away, and indeed the horror that their preferred look is now that of a middle-aged aunt rather than a stylish teen, is one to make everyone of a certain age, regardless of gender, smile in recognition. The fact that it is delivered to a tune that just makes you want to get up and dance, with its chorus in particular making a passing nod to 60s Motown, only adds to the joy:-

mp3 : The Just Joans – No Longer Young Enough

And the 7” came with a gloriously evocative painting by Katie.

And a more than half decent b-side:-

mp3 : The Just Joans – Breakfast For Our Tea

It’s indie pop at its most indie and its most pop. What more could you ask for?

I’ll be back with more of this lot in a few weeks.

JC

2017 : SOME HIGHLIGHTS : THE JUST JOANS

A wee change of plan…..originally I had intended to go with a full week of guest postings reflecting on 2017, but I’m going to intersperse those that I’ve received with posts of my own as well as other guest contributions that aren’t necessarily about this past 12 months.

All of my own contributions will have one thing in common, namely that they will feature a singer or band from around these parts that I feel have provided something special in 2017.

The Just Joans are well-known to many aficionados of indie-pop; I’ve only featured them once previously within these pages, back in January 2016, when I posted a review of a live gig. As I said at the time, they have long been a very firm favourite of my dear mate and gig-going companion Aldo who fell for their charms at one of the Indietracks festivals at which the band first played as far back as 2008. I described them in my review as ‘shindie’ with the first two letters being short for shambling…..but I wasn’t using the word in any derogatory way as every one of the six members of The Just Joans is a talented musician in their own rights.

Between 2007 and 2016, they released a bunch of EPs and one album packed with knowing songs that reflect on everyday life, evoking ancient and recent memories on what makes us all laugh, cry or shake our heads in bewilderment. They are fronted vocally by the brother/sister combo of David and Katie Pope, with he being the main songwriter. They are a band who pride themselves on singing in their local dialect with many of the songs namechecking and referencing local landmarks; but somehow, while everywhere else in the world celebrates pop performers who sing in strong, local dialects, here in Scotland it is often the case that they are labelled as having  some sort of lack of talent or ability, which is something that has been thrown every now and then at the Just Joans. I’ve always thought it ridiculous that lazy journalists and writers proclaim them as a novelty band, refusing point-blank to consider them as not worthy as the likes of Altered Images, BMX Bandits, Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Pulp and The Vaselines with whom some of the most obvious musical and lyrical comparisons can be drawn.

One thing, however, that I’ve always felt about the band is that they haven’t quite ever put out something that you can point to as being a definitive example of what they are all about. Every EP, and the debut album, have songs that are memorable classics in one form or other but they also all contain material that I’ve felt would have been better left behind at the demo stage rather than making it all the way onto a physical release…but their philosophy, and it is an admirable one, is that the songs, once worked into some sort of shape deserve to be shared with the public at large.

In short, they are the classic definition of a cult group who aren’t that bothered about fame and fortune, happy enough to be appreciated by a discerning but loyal fan base.

This year saw the release of their sophomore album, You Might Be Smiling Now; I was lucky enough to be handed an advance copy of the songs and so gave them a few listens while I was away on holiday last month in Lanzarote which allowed me to be more familiar with them in advance of the gig to mark the album launch back in Glasgow on 2nd December. And while I found myself thinking a couple of the songs seemed sort of unfinished, the overall impression was that this was, by far, their most mature, ambitious and worthy release thanks to a more expansive sound encompassing extensive keyboards and what sounded like the occasional use of strings and horns, while the lyrics went deeper and further into some new areas that I hadn’t previously thought they were capable of.

In short, this turned out to be the most surprising release of 2017 that has catapulted The Just Joans way up the list of enjoyable and must listen to acts to have come out of Scotland in my lifetime.

Oh, and it’s also worth saying that the album launch gig, promoted in a typically understated and low-key fashion in the upstairs part of an old-fashioned pub on the south side of Glasgow with a capacity of probably now more than 60, was an absolute stormer of an event, with the set drawing on the best of the new and older material. It also provided a huge treat with the main support act turning out to be the aforementioned BMX Bandits, albeit they had to draft in a temporary backing acoustic guitarist to help them on the night….someone by the name of Norman Blake….he showed a fair bit of talent  and so I’m suggesting you keep an eye out for him in the future….

The new album is available from here.

This is one of my favourite songs from it:-

mp3 : The Just Joans – No Longer Young Enough

Tune in again on Thursday for another 2017 recommendation from myself, but before then, there’s a great guest offering coming along tomorrow.

JC

SWEET SOUL MUSIC

gig poster
2016 has, without any question, been a terrible year so far and events have cast something of a collective black cloud above the heads of the blogging cognoscenti.  The thing is, I don’t think any of those who are being mourned would want us to spend all of our time sitting in our homes recalling musical memories when there are things happening out there in sweaty clubs and venues that are worthy of our attention and which have the ability to make us feel good and happy again.

Last Friday night, I went to a gig where three bands were on the bill in what was (unfairly and very tongue-in-cheek) described on the night as a fleapit of a venue.  None of the bands were exactly brand new – indeed they have been going for a number of years and all have a reasonably faithful if small fanbase – but what they were doing was coming together on one bill on the basis of all having initially begun life in the same town some 15 miles south-east of Glasgow and to support the launch of a 6-track EP, on cassette, with two songs from each band.  They each played for around 45 minutes and with the exception of maybe five or six songs from the middle band whom I had caught live twice before, the music was all new to me.

And I came away firmly believing that it was a gig that will not be surpassed in terms of sheer enjoyment again this year.

The three bands on the bill, in order of appearance, were GUMS!, The Just Joans and The Hector Collectors and they have the town of Motherwell in common (maybe I should mention that Motherwell is the next stop on the train line after Bellshill which, in this previous posting, I mentioned had a good call on being the epicentre of indie-pop in Scotland.  The thing is Motherwell is by far the bigger of the two towns).

The bandcamp page for GUMS! reveals they have been making music since 2012 but all of the band members have been in previous groups that achieved a fair degree of cult status in and around Glasgow over a previous fair few years.  They were a four-piece on the night (although at full strength they have six members) with Martin Smith on acoustic guitar, Jack Taylor on bass, Nora Noonan on drums and Joe Greatorex on bass – with lead vocal duties shared by Martin, Jack and Nora.  They delivered a set which musically reminded me of my teenage love for the sorts of fast and energetic post-punk/new wave pop that came from the likes of Buzzcocks and The Undertones but that lyrically was as amusing and enthralling as the great Aidan Moffat at his most playful and wistful best. It was the perfect start to the evening as their infectious energy and enthusiasm was picked up immediately by the 100 or so strong audience.

It was the presence of The Just Joans that had caused me to go along on the night.  They have, for many years, been a very firm favourite of my dear mate and gig-going companion Aldo and he was dismayed to discover that this gig was to coincide with a long-planned weekend break he was taking in Madrid.  I said that I would go along and make sure I got him a copy of the 6-track EP…oh and I suppose I should confess for the record that, in one of those crazy small world coincidences that occasionally happen, one of the band members works in the same office as me.

They have been around for the best part of a decade and indeed played at the Indietracks festival as far back as 2008.  They have had a number of personnel changes over the years and are currently a six-piece with David Pope on acoustic guitar and vocals, Katie Pope on vocals, Chris Elkin on guitar, Fraser Ford on bass, Doog Cameron on keyboards, and Jason Sweeney on drums, the last-named of who was playing his first gig with the band.  I describe this lot as ‘shindie’ with the first two letters being short for shambling…..but I don’t use the word in any derogatory way.

Every one of them is a talented musician in their own rights and where the GUMS have their musical roots in the late 70s, the JJs are firmly ensconced in the indie sound of the 80s and in particular C86.  David is the main songwriter and his subject matters are very reflective and observant of where he and his bandmates live, play and work.  His unique vocal style and delivery will never get him past the audition stage of any TV talent show – let’s just say you will never mistake him for being from anywhere other than his home town – but it is absolutely perfect for this sort of music. You only need to glance at some of the song titles  – Some Boys Are Bigger Than Others, I Won’t Survive, Hey Boy…You’re Oh So Sensitive, If You Don’t Pull and I Love Me, Who Do You Love? – to realise that gentle, self-deprecating and whimsical humour are at the heart of the Just Joans.  They have garnered a cult following that is well-earned and their set made everyone’s grins all the wider.

Finally, there was The Hector Collectors, a band I knew of only by reputation as having formed initially about 15 years ago only to break-up with band members going on to form other groups before deciding to reform (of sorts) and then in the past few months have become a bit more active with them being the prime driving force in putting on the gig and recording the EP.  Like the others on the bill, they have had band members come and go and in the studio can have as many as seven members; but the four musicians who played last Friday were Adam Smith (vocals), Ian Smith (guitar), Joe Greatorex (bass) and Gavin Dunbar (drums).  They were utterly brilliant from start to finish with a set that came across as a mix of The Fall, Half Man Half Biscuit, BMX Bandits, Arab Strap and well let’s be frank, GUMS! and The Just Joans.

All of which got me thinking.

As I said at the outset, it’s been a lousy start to 2016 in terms of a number of musical icons dying or ending up in a hospital in Ireland very unlikely to recover.  But we really shouldn’t be wallowing in self-pity for those who are no more, albeit it is right that we keep carrying a torch in their memory.  Last Friday demonstrated just how uplifting music can be and how musicians, singers and bands have an uncanny ability to surprise, delight, enthrall and above all else entertain.  No matter where you live – New York, London, Paris or Munich;  Seattle, Sydney, Singapore, Stockholm or Stenhousemuir;  Tampa, Tasmania, Tallin, Tupelo or Torquay;  just get yourself out there and be part of an audience.  You won’t regret it (unless you happen to be catching Nickelback)

I won’t post any of the songs from the new EP (my cassette is #14/100) as they are available to purchase from here.

Instead here’s some stuff from the back catalogues:-

mp3 : GUMS! – The Willow Cafe
mp3 : The Just Joans – If You Don’t Pull
mp3 : The Hector Collectors – Opposites

Enjoy.