I was lucky enough just last Friday to get myself along to see Roddy Frame play an outdoor solo acoustic set in front of an adoring home audience at the restored bandstand in Kelvingrove Park here in Glasgow. He was on blistering form and relaxed enough to engage in a fair bit of entertaining chat with the audience in between songs. It was only after this set, which extended out to well over 100 minutes, that I fully appreciated just how many great songs he’s written over the years under his own name and of course under the label of Aztec Camera. And that was after a set that didn’t include all four of his Postcard songs!!
So I thought it would be worthwhile giving him the imaginary album treatment.
Track 1: Western Skies (from the 2006 solo album Western Skies)
This wasn’t aired at the recent gig and more’s the pity. It’s the opening track to what was the third LP released under his own name. I rarely like when ballads open up albums but this is such a lovely little understated song with very fine acoustic guitar plucking and a melodoica. And I’m a sucker for that particular instrument…
Track 2: The Boy Wonders (from the 1983 Aztec Camera album High Land Hard Rain)
Notwithstanding that some of the production has dated poorly there can be no question that the first Aztec Camera LP is one of the greatest records in Scottish history. It is a record packed with ridiculously catchy and memorable tunes and some wonderfully observant lyrics. And of course Roddy Frame wrote most of the songs before he had reached his 18th birthday. This song may not have been a single but it is the one that really has endured…a joyous celebration of youthful life with that fearless take on things that you have at that age. And its a great record to dance to.
Track 3: How Men Are (from the 2006 solo CD Live In Osaka)
I have a real love/hate relationship with the third Aztec Camera LP from 1987. Love is over-produced to the point where at times it becomes near unlistenable which is a damn shame as some of Roddy’s best songs can be found among its nine tracks. It is when you hear them played nowadays, almost 30 years later, with just the voice and the acoustic guitar to occupy your thoughts, that you get a full appreciation of their majesty. As with this, the sublime second track on Love but captured live in Osaka, Japan in September 2006.
Track 4: Just Like Gold (Postcard single, 1981)
A 16-year old kid wrote this. Johnny Marr must have been tuning in and been inspired. And Grant McLennan and Robert Forster will have looked on while they made their fleeting visit to Glasgow to record for Postcard and smiled at being in the presence of a genius.
I’ll admit that this wasn’t a song I took an instant shine to. It was, if anything, too clean sounding. I realise now that my musical tastes in 1981 hadn’t quite evolved enough to appreciate it. It’s now probably my favourite Aztec Camera song of them all.
Track 5: Orchid Girl (b-side of the Aztec Camera single Oblivious, 1982)
I somehow haven’t found space on this imaginary offering for the single that first brought the band to the wider attention of the record buying public albeit I think it’s a belter of a 45. But it is the b-side I have always been really fond of….not least as it helped me along the way to reassessing how I felt about Just Like Gold. A short while later I fell for the charms of Billy Bragg and there’s many a time I’ve thought that Orchid Girl is the greatest BB love song that he never wrote…..
Track 6: Bigger Brighter Better (from the 1998 solo CD The North Star)
The North Star was the first album that Roddy hadn’t released as Aztec Camera and yet it is the album which overall is closest to the Aztec Camera debut record than any other in that it was packed with hooks and catchy choruses. There’s an irony in there somewhere….
This track, tucked away in the middle of the CD, was the one that I thought at the time could have taken him back into the charts if the record label, Independiente, had gone for it as a single….but they didn’t. It’s the one where Roddy reflects how maybe he wasn’t quite prepared for everything that was involved with being a pop star on a major label. There would have been a real irony if Bigger Brighter Better had turned out to be his return to the singles charts.
The final irony? In 1999, Independiente oversaw the release of The Man Who by Travis – a record that wasn’t really all that far removed from the sort of songs Roddy had tried to make his comeback with and yet it sold in millions. The record buying public at their fickle best.
Track 7: Killermont Street (from the 2006 solo CD Live In Osaka)
The closing track on the Love album wasn’t one that suffered from too much over production and almost made the cut. But there’s just something a bit special hearing Roddy, with just a guitar for accompaniment, deliver this ode to his roots at a venue thousands of miles away and realising that it’s a song capable of bringing a lump to the throats of an audience who have never set foot in the famed bus station.
Track 8: We Could Send Letters (from the 1983 Aztec Camera album High Land Hard Rain)
Originally released on the b-side of Just Like Gold and I honestly don’t know which of the versions I prefer.
The original is more dependant on the acoustic guitar and in comparison to the album version is almost demo-like in nature but comes with a passion and energy that makes it an essential listen. However, the slicker production and the fact the tempo on the album version is slightly slower allows the song to breathe a bit more. Oh and it’s also nearly a minute or so longer in length with a cracking solo from Roddy thrown in that ensures its place on this imaginary compilation.
Track 9: Good Morning Britain (from the b-side of the 1992 Aztec Camera single Dream Sweet Dreams)
A rare time when Roddy puts the guitar to one side and plays the piano to turn his radio-friendly stomp chart hit into a thing of beauty. The lyric was always a social commentary on life in the UK under a right-wing Tory government with no prospect of things changing but was kind of lost in the bombastic tune that with the help of Mick Jones took Aztec Camera into the charts for one last time in 1990. This live version demonstrates just how great a song it is….maybe it is time for it to be dusted down and updated to take account of life under David Cameron….
Track 10: Down The Dip (bootlegged version from Paisley Abbey, 27 October 2012)
The closing track from High Land Hard Rain has always been a crowd favourite. Nowadays, and this is what he did at Glasgow the other week, Roddy extends it out with a coda of It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) and then shows off his guitar skills. There’s a few versions of this out there but the fact that this was another gig in front of a home crowd who you can sense are going wild in the aisles of the historic old church makes it an ideal closer for this imaginary compilation……
mp3 : Roddy Frame – Western Skies
mp3 : Aztec Camera – The Boy Wonders
mp3 : Roddy Frame – How Men Are (live)
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Just Like Gold
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Orchid Girl
mp3 : Roddy Frame – Bigger Brighter Better
mp3 : Roddy Frame – Killermont Street (live)
mp3 : Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters (LP version)
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Good Morning Britain (live)
mp3 : Roddy Frame – Down The Dip (live)