The dig into the memory bank for yesterday’s posting also got me thinking about some of the gigs that I saw at Level 8 of the Strathclyde Students Union in the early 80s. Just about all of the Scottish jangly pop bands would have graced the stage at some point or other, while it was also a stopping point for many new or emerging acts, often on the cusp of mainstream success. The venue was only ever used for live gigs on Friday and Saturday nights, putting it at a disadvantage to the Queen Margaret Union which was attached to Glasgow University, which meant that very few genuinely jaw-dropping names came through the doors, unlike the period just before I went to uni when the likes of The Jam, The Ramones, Talking Heads and The Cramps all graced the stage.

One gig that came back to me, for the first time in many many years, was from when the stage was occupied by the American singer, Harris Glenn Milstead…..or as he was better known, Divine.

Yup, the actor and drag queen once performed a show to an audience of students in Glasgow in 1984.

Divine had made a name for himself as an actor in the late 60s and throughout the 70s, primarily through notorious appearances, usually always as a female impersonator, in films directed by John Waters. The problem was that these films tended to be of the cult variety and Divine was never able to make much of a living from them. By the time the 80s came around, Divine was 35 years old and at something of a crossroads. He began to eke out something of a living from a stage show of his own devising in which he would perform as a drag queen and incorporating covers of well-known disco songs. It was in 1982 that he hooked up with a songwriter named Bobby Orlando was who beginning to make a name as a composer of hi-NRG music, a newish development in disco. A number of singles in 82/83 were hits in Germany and Holland where the more liberal attitudes to gay life and culture meant it wasn’t seen as being extreme or at the edges, with the music crossing over into some of the clubs here in the UK.

Divine and Orlando had a huge falling out over money, with the singer feeling he wasn’t getting his fair share of the proceeds from the sales. It all ended up in court and the contract with O-Records, the company established by the composer, was declared null and void. Waiting in the wings was a newly emerging British production team of Stock Aitken and Waterman (SAW) who got talking to Divine and persuade him to record a version of a song by Geoff Deane, a UK songwriter who had previously been part of The Leyton Buzzards, a punk parody band in the 70s, and later as frontman of Modern Romance, a cabaret/dance act who were mainstays of the UK singles charts in the early 80s.

mp3 : Divine – You Think You’re A Man

This was the first ever record in which SAW had worked and it proved to be a smash, eventually going top 20 in the UK and in turn exposing Divine to a wider audience thanks to what proved to a hugely complained about performance on Top of The Pops.

The promotional efforts around the single also saw Divine tour clubs and venues across the UK which is why he came to find himself on the Level 8 stage. As he was a chart act, the ticket prices were marginally higher than usual, maybe £1 or £2 higher, but given that the usual gigs cost £2-£3, it was regarded as a big mark-up.

The gig was something of a catastrophe. It was a packed venue and it became clear beforehand that a fair number were there to heckle and goad Divine. There was a highly toxic homophobic atmosphere and I do clearly recall a number of blokes justifying their behaviour by saying that it wasn’t real or live music given that it would just be singing over backing tapes. It didn’t make sense then and it just seems bonkers now all these years later. Divine took to the stage to mixture of cheers and boos, with the latter, shamefully, being louder. It all came to what seemed to be an abrupt end after no more than four songs which only led to the crowd getting angrier and edgier. The lights went up and the DJ went straight into disco mode from his booth at the back of Level 8 and within a few minutes, the venue was largely cleared.

It turned out that this was a typical Divine show/appearance with the gigs, if they could be described as such, lasting no more than 20-25 minutes, consisting of a small number of songs and provocative/confrontational dialogue from the stage. But nobody was seemingly aware of this in advance.

It was certainly one of the strangest things I’d ever been at. It was certainly the first time that I’d seen a drag act in the flesh, but, as a veteran of New Order gigs it was far from the first time I’d seen a huge use of backing tapes.

Divine’s emergence as a hi-NRG performer led to a greater interest in his previous career and he returned to acting, eventually reuniting with Waters in 1987 for the film Hairspray, which would go onto be a mainstream success, popular with critics and audiences alike. Sadly, this all came too late for Divine as he died in his sleep, from heart problems, on 7 March 1998, a mere three weeks after Hairspray had been released.

By this time, I was aware of a cover version of the big hit from a couple of years earlier, one that had been recorded by a Glasgow duo. I’m thinking they may well have been in the audience at Strathclyde University the same night as I was…..and no doubt, equally appalled by all that happened.

mp3 : The Vaselines – You Think You’re A Man



The Vaselines are one of the best examples you can find of a band becoming more famous and influential long after they had called it a day.

Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee were romantically entwined when they formed the band in 1986. As they have said on a number of occasions, they knew they weren’t terrifically competent from a technical point of view, but they set out with the intention of the sort of music they enjoyed listening to, heavily influenced by the 60s duets of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, and the likes of The Velvet Underground, Orange Juice and The Jesus and Mary Chain who had all used grit and determination to get things going rather than worry about how perfect their sound was.

They released two EPs on a Glasgow-based independent label which was run and managed by a number of their friends, including Stephen Pastel, as well as recording an album which initially had to be shelved as the label had gone bust, albeit it was later picked up and released on Rough Trade. By the time the album was released in 1989, the band was no more – thoroughly disillusioned by the experience of crap venues, no money, no solid fan base and no media support for what they were doing. Little did they, or indeed anyone know, that their songs had come to the attention of a singer/songwriter from the north-west corner of the States who was determined that the band he fronted would pay homage by covering them when they played live.

Kurt Cobain’s love for The Vaselines brought them to a whole new audience, and more importantly, had critics reassessing things to the extent that a number of them in the UK would claim to have championed them from the outset. Eugene and Frances had become hip names to drop into any conversation….

The EPs and album had sold in such small numbers that they were tough to track down and so Sub Pop chose to reissue their entire 19-song back catalogue in 1992 on a compilation entitled The Way of The Vaselines at the same time as a Edinburgh based indie label issued something similar in the shape of All The Stuff and More, which is the piece of vinyl that I have in the collection.

The three songs that made up the debut EP encapsulate everything that made the band so different from their late 80s peers while also demonstrating how it was difficult for anyone to find a single reference point with which to compare them:-

mp3 : The Vaselines – Son of A Gun
mp3 : The Vaselines – Rory Ride Me Raw
mp3 : The Vaselines – You Think You’re A Man

The irony, of course, is that the lead track has aged magnificently, sounding really fresh and invigorating more than 30 years on, one which has no problem in filling the floor of your average indie/alt disco with even the young ones appreciating its charms.

The other original track is hilarious and shambolic in equal measures….it could be argued that it’s about someone looking forward to climbing aboard a fine looking horse and galloping around some freshly mown fields first thing in the morning…..but that argument holds no truck in Villain Towers. I really don’t know how these real life lovers were to keep straight faces when they sang this one in concert……

The final track demonstrates that the making indie music doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your wicked sense of humour and fun at the door of the studio. Where Orange Juice had often paid tribute to the late 70s/early 80s disco sound, so their descendants tipped their hats to Hi-NRG with a bizarre take on a hit single by the drag queen Divine (which, incidentally , was the first ever success for the production team of Stock, Aitken and Waterman).

The a-side of these may well be aired at some point during Simply Thrilled….if not the inaugural night, then I’m certainly going to have it on a playlist in next time around.




Cheating a bit this week. I don’t actually own a copy of this single, but I used to. I loaned it to someone many many years ago and through one thing and another we lost touch and I never got it back.

What I do have in the collection is a vinyl LP which brings together all the early release by The Vaselines, who, just in case you are wondering:-

The Vaselines are an alternative rock band from Glasgow, Scotland. Formed in Glasgow in 1986, the band was originally a duo between its songwriters Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, but later added James Seenan and Eugene’s brother Charlie Kelly on bass and drums respectively from the band Secession. McKee had formerly been a member of a band named The Pretty Flowers with Duglas T. Stewart, Norman Blake, Janice McBride and Sean Dickson. Eugene Kelly had formerly played in The Famous Monsters.

The band formed in 1986, and released two short EPs, Son of a Gun, which featured a cover of Divine’s “You Think You’re a Man” on its B-side, and Dying for It, which featured the songs “Molly’s Lips” and “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” both of which Nirvana would later cover. In 1989 they released their first album, Dum-Dum, on 53rd and 3rd Records. The band broke up shortly after its release. They briefly reformed in 1990 to open for Nirvana when they played in Edinburgh.

Kelly went on to found the band Captain America (later renamed Eugenius after legal threats from Marvel Comics), supporting Nirvana on their UK tour. Following solo performances Kelly released the album Man Alive in 2004. McKee founded the band Suckle and released her first solo album, Sunny Moon, in 2006.

In the summer of 2006, McKee and Kelly took to the stage together for the first time since 1990 to perform a set of Vaselines songs, as part of a joint tour to promote their individual solo albums.

The Vaselines reformed (minus the old rhythm section) on 24 April 2008 for a charity show for the Malawi Orphan Support group at Glasgow’s MONO venue. Invitation was by word-of-mouth with no press announcements and the band played to a packed, enthusiastic audience. Over the next few months they played a number of other gigs in Scotland and the USA and in March 2009 they played their first London date in 20 years.

The Vaselines second studio album, Sex With an X, was released in September 2010 and earlier this year, their third studio album, V for Vaselines, was released.

But this was the second of the initial EPs from 1988:-

mp3 : The Vaselines – Dying For It
mp3 : The Vaselines – Molly’s Lips
mp3 : The Vaselines – Teenage Superstars
mp3 : The Vaselines – Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam

Those are the song titles as they appeared on the back of the 12″ single (see photo above).  The compilation LP I own (on a sort of red/pink coloured vinyl no less!!) renames the last two as Teenage Jesus Superstars and Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam which, once you listen to the songs, would appear to be the correct titles… it’s certainly the latter which is used on the Unplugged LP by Nirvana.

I still look back and marvel at the lyrics of ‘Sunbeam’.  I was someone who rejected religion in my teenage years (something which got me into a wee bit of bother at my Roman Catholic school) and I was full of the utmost admiration at the way Eugene had managed to write such a beautiful sounding yet bitter and angry song.  This was punk rock at its finest.