SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #179 : THE KLF

Bill Drummond was/is part of The KLF. And that’s justifiable enough in my book for this posting.

Edited from wiki:-

The KLF (also known as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The JAMs, the Timelords and other names) were a British electronic band started in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Beginning in 1987, Bill Drummond (alias King Boy D) and Jimmy Cauty (alias Rockman Rock) released hip hop-inspired and sample-heavy records as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, and on one occasion (the British number one hit single “Doctorin’ the Tardis”) as the Timelords. The KLF released a series of international hits on their own KLF Communications record label and became the biggest-selling singles act in the world for 1991

From the outset, they adopted the philosophy espoused by esoteric novel series The Illuminatus! Trilogy, making anarchic situationist manifestations, including the defacement of billboard adverts, the posting of cryptic advertisements in NME magazine and the mainstream press, and unusual performances on Top of the Pops.

On 12 February 1992, the KLF and crust punk group Extreme Noise Terror performed a live version of “3 a.m. Eternal” at the BRIT Awards, the British Phonographic Industry’s annual awards show; a “violently antagonistic performance” in front of “a stunned music-business audience”. Drummond and Cauty had planned to throw buckets of sheep’s blood over the audience, but were prevented from doing so due to opposition from BBC lawyers and Extreme Noise Terror. The performance was instead ended by a limping, kilted, cigar-chomping Drummond firing blanks from an automatic weapon over the heads of the crowd. As the band left the stage, the KLF’s promoter and narrator Scott Piering proclaimed over the PA system that “The KLF have now left the music business”. Later in the evening the band dumped a dead sheep with the message “I died for you – bon appetit” tied around its waist at the entrance to one of the post-ceremony parties.

Scott Piering’s announcement was largely ignored at the time. NME, for example, assured their readers that the tensions and contradictions would continue to “push and spark” the KLF and that more “musical treasure” would be the result.

In the weeks following the BRITs performance, the KLF continued working with Extreme Noise Terror on the album The Black Room,  but it was never finished. On 14 May 1992, the KLF announced their immediate retirement from the music industry and the deletion of their back catalogue:

We have been following a wild and wounded, glum and glorious, shit but shining path these past five years. The last two of which has [sic] led us up onto the commercial high ground — we are at a point where the path is about to take a sharp turn from these sunny uplands down into a netherworld of we know not what. For the foreseeable future there will be no further record releases from The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords, The KLF and any other past, present and future name attached to our activities. As of now all our past releases are deleted …. If we meet further along be prepared … our disguise may be complete.

In a comprehensive examination of the KLF’s announcement and its context, Select called it “the last grand gesture, the most heroic act of public self destruction in the history of pop. And it’s also Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty’s final extravagant howl of self disgust, defiance and contempt for a music world gone foul and corrupt.”

Many of the KLF’s friends and collaborators gave their reactions in the magazine. Movie director Bill Butt said that “Like everything, they’re dealing with it in a very realistic way, a fresh, unbitter way, which is very often not the case. A lot of bands disappear with such a terrible loss of dignity”. Scott Piering said that “They’ve got a huge buzz off this, that’s for sure, because it’s something that’s finally thrilling. It’s scary to have thrown away a fortune which I know they have. Just the idea of starting over is exciting. Starting over on what? Well, they have such great ideas, like buying submarines”. Even Kenny Gates, who as a director of the KLF’s distributors APT stood to lose financially from the move, called it “Conceptually and philosophically … absolutely brilliant”. Mark Stent reported the doubts of many when he said that “I [have] had so many people who I know, heads of record companies, A&R men saying, ‘Come on, It’s a big scam.’ But I firmly believe it’s over”. “For the very last spectacularly insane time”, the magazine concluded, “The KLF have done what was least expected of them”.

There have been numerous suggestions that in 1992 Drummond was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Drummond himself said that he was on the edge of the “abyss”. BRIT Awards organiser Jonathan King had publicly endorsed the KLF’s live performance, a response which Scott Piering cited as “the real low point”. The KLF’s BRITs statuette for “Best British Group” of 1992 was later found buried in a field near Stonehenge.

mp3 : The KLF vs Extreme Noise Terror – 3 A.M. Eternal

Yet another that I’m unlikely to air at the football on a Saturday afternoon or at a Simply Thrilled evening.

JC

WHY ARE PEOPLE GRUDGEFUL?

April 1993 saw the release of the 31st single by The Fall. The only previous chart success enjoyed by the band had come via cover versions. There’s A Ghost In My House (as made famous by R. Dean Taylor) had gone Top 30 in 1987 and the following year Victoria (originally by The Kinks) had reached #35.

This time round, Mark E Smith took some drastic action by merging two cover songs into one, and creating a sound that bore little resemblance to the originals. The best and simplest explanation is offered up on a fan site devoted to the band:-

“Why Are People Grudgeful? is a cover version, or to be more accurate, a cover version of two different but related songs. The story behind the original versions is as follows:

“Born in the rural Jamaican village of St. Mary’s in 1936, Lee Perry began his surrealistic musical odyssey in the late ’50s, working with ska man Prince Buster selling records for Clement “Coxsone” Dodd‘s Downbeat Sound System. Called “Little” Perry because of his diminutive stature (Perry stands 4’11”), he was soon producing and recording for Dodd at the centre of the Jamaican music industry, Studio One. After a falling out with Dodd (throughout his career, Perry has a tendency to burn his bridges after he stopped working with someone), Perry went to work at Wirl Records with Joe Gibbs. Perry and Gibbs never really saw eye to eye on anything, and in 1968, Perry left to form his own label, called Upsetter.

Not surprisingly, Perry’s first release on Upsetter was a single entitled People Funny Boy, which was a direct attack upon Gibbs. What is important about the record is that, along with selling extremely well in Jamaica, it was the first Jamaican pop record to use the loping, lazy, bass-driven beat that would soon become identified as the reggae “riddim” and signal the shift from the hyperkinetically upbeat ska to the pulsing, throbbing languor of “roots” reggae.

Joe Gibbs released a reply (using the moniker Sir Gibbs) in a song using the same rhythm called People Grudgeful. MES amalgamated the two songs to help create The Fall’s cover version.”

The reviews were mostly favourable with the UK-based paper Melody Maker going as far as saying it was the most engaging thing Smith had done for a couple of years. As ever, there was no day time airing on the BBC or commercial radio but there were enough sales to see it reach #43. It was also voted in at #11 in the John Peel Festive Fifty of 1993.

mp3 : The Fall – Why Are People Grudgeful?

mp3 : Lee Perry – People Funny Boy
mp3 : Sir Gibbs – People Grudgeful

The 12” version of the single was deleted very soon after release and is one of the harder-to-find and more expensive bits of vinyl across the entire back catalogue. It contained three tracks on the b-side:-

mp3 : The Fall – Glam-Racket
mp3 : The Fall – The Re-Mixer
mp3 : The Fall – Lost In Music

Yup……the latter is a cover of the disco classic as made famous by Sister Sledge. Bonkers and brilliant in equal measures.

JC

NO POP, NO STYLE

This is a sidebar to the current Sunday series that is looking at the singular life of Luke Haines. I did promise that I wouldn’t feature any of the Black Box Recorder singles on the basis that he was part of a collective within that group rather than the main focus of attention….however, re-reading Post-Modern, his second volume of memoirs which covers the period in which BBR were to the fore, reminded me of a great tale that has to be shared, if nothing else to show up how messed-up the music industry was at the tail end of the last century.

The Auteurs had, to all intent and purposes broken up, albeit not quite as a final album would later emerge (something which will be covered in the Sunday series). Luke Haines was at a loose end and bored, and when that happens, he gets himself into mischief. This time round he found two partners in crime in the shape of John Moore (a one-time member of the Jesus and Mary Chain whose current speciality was playing a saw in a 20-strong indie-folk band) and Sarah Nixey, a sultry backing vocalist with the same band for whom Haines would occasionally play glockenspiel. The trio decided to form Black Box Recorder whose debut album, which eventually came out on Chyrsalis Records, was made thanks to five different record labels providing them with sums of £1,000-£1,500 to record demos.

England Made Me, was released in July 1998. It’s lead-off single is Child Psychology but receives no radio play thanks to it having a chorus of ‘Life is Unfair….Kill Yourself or Get Over It’. The follow-up single is the title track of the album, but it too fails to come close to the charts.

The record label bosses feel that the band’s cover of the reggae track Uptown Top Ranking, a huge hit for Althea & Donna in 1977, should be the next single as a further push to improve sales of the album.

mp3 : Althea & Donna – Up Town Top Ranking

Somehow, Luke Haines and his manager persuade the label to cough-up a further £1,000 as a ‘reggae reserach budget’ in advance of the album version being re-recorded for release as a single, a budget which is spent partly on buying reggae singles and albums but mostly on sustaining a rock’n’roll lifestyle.

The fact that the record label thought the cover was worthy of release as a single was just insane. Here’s Luke Haines to explain:-

‘Uptown Top Ranking’ is, in its original form, a thing of true joy as any child of the 70s will attest to. By the time BBR finish with the song it sounds like it’s been fucked with elephant tranquilliser. Any notion of dreadlocks has been replaced by dread.

The cover version started off as an afterthought during the England Made Me sessions; whilst producer Phil Vinall is mixing an album track, we go off and commandeer a little eight-track recorder. The entire song is constructed in the studio vocal booth. John Moore has brought in a sample of an old recording by rum 70s suave man actor Peter Wyngarde. The Wyngarde sample is from a song called ‘Rape’ (a rakish comedy skit on sexual assault). The Wyngarde monstrosity goes into the sampler and we slow it way, way down until we hit negative equity.

Next up is ‘The Turn’. Sarah Nixey doesn’t know Althea and Donna’s original which is perfect; she is also magnificently hungover. Again, perfect. We write out the lyrics – mainly Jamaican patois which we cannot make out – phonetically, and she reads them out into the microphone in one take, with the enthusiasm of a cash and carry shelf stacker. If schoolgirls won’t sing along with our songs on the top deck of the bus, then we will make records that sound as if they’ve been made by a schoolgirl on the bus – a schoolgirl from The Village of The Damned of course. Bung on a bit of bass – lemme wind out me waist – press record, and catch a few incongruous whoops from Moore, and the track is finished in an hour or so.

mp3 : Black Box Recorder – Up Town Top Ranking

Six months later and the trio find themselves in On-U Sound to do the remix. In Haines’s words, a studio where you could record a brass band from Grimsby and it would come out sounding like Augustus Pablo. After a few hours of mucking around, they have something which to Haines’s ears sounds pretty much the same as it did when they first recorded it,  and they hand it over to the record company:-

mp3 : Black Box Recorder – Up Town Top Ranking (remix)

A few days later word comes back that Chrysalis will not be releasing a third BBR single nor will they be contracting a second BBR album. But, as a way of saying sorry for this turn of events, the label offers some more money for further demos so that BBR can try to find a new home at an alternative label. In due course they do, and the second album and one of its singles turn out to be hits.

As I said, the music industry was particularly messed up at the time….bloated with cash from the short-lived boom in CD sales as many abandoned vinyl and bought replacements via the shiny silver discs.  There will be many more similar but untold stories out there……

JC

NO TEARS, PARTY TIME IS HERE AGAIN

I try hard not to get too overtly political on this blog. But the attitudes and behaviours of Johnson and Trump are beyond belief.

Can’t get this song out of my head:-

mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – President Gas

The opening track on the 1982 LP, Forever Now. And while the lines ‘He comes in from the left sometimes, He comes in from the right’ would suggest it is a wider attack on politicians in general rather than anyone specific, it’s worth remembering that the President at the time was Reagan and there were many of us who believed he would have no qualms about pressing the button to fire off some nuclear weapons.

I genuinely am not as scared of Trump as I was of Reagan, but I do think the current PoTUS is a far more dangerous character in that, as a serial liar and absolute egotist, he is unfit to hold any sort of public office far less sit in the White House. Boris the Bampot over here is no different.

While I’m on, here’s the two sides of a fabulous single by The Psychedelic Furs from a year or so earlier:-

mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – Dumb Waiters
mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – Dash

The 7” version is about 90 seconds shorter than the album version. The b-side is an instrumental number and the way the piano and guitars link in the middle of the song always makes me think of a fast version of New Year’s Day by U2.

I had a recollection, which was confirmed by looking it up, that the Dumb Waiters single came with a gimmick, namely that the sleeve could be played as it was in effect a flexidisc which had was an advert for the album, Talk Talk Talk.

Sparks did something similar with a hidden track at the end of the 12” pic disc of Beat The Clock, utilising the vocal talents of the comedian Peter Cook:-

mp3 : Sparks – Ad for #1 In Heaven

JC

INSPIRED BY YESTERDAY’S HUMAN LEAGUE ICA

Another from the Big Gold Dreams boxset:-

SHAKE – Culture Shock : (Sire SIR 4016 7/79)

When The Rezillos split in 1978, while Eugene Reynolds, Fay Fife and Hi-Fi Harris formed the similarly trashy Revillos, song-writer Jo Callis, bassist Simon Templar and drummer Angel Paterson, plus future Teardrop Explodes guitarist Troy Tate, became Shake.

Released as the lead number on a 10” EP, their exuberant debut highlighted a Callis-penned song that had originally been part of The Rezillos live set, and can be heard on Callis’ former band’s Mission Accomplished…But The Beat Goes On live swansong recorded at Glasgow Apollo. A second single, Invasion of The Gamma Men, followed, before Callis embarked on a pop voyage that would ultimately lead to global domination with The Human League.

mp3 : Shake – Culture Shock

Here’s the other three tracks from the EP:-

mp3 : Shake – (But) Not Mine
mp3 : Shake – Glasshouse
mp3 : Shake – Dream On

It’s a long way removed from Love Action.….

JC

 

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #228 : THE HUMAN LEAGUE

The positive response to the recent musings on Don’t You Want Me, and in particular the unbridled enthusiasm of Post Punk Monk, has led to this very quick cash-in.

It’s awfully easy to forget that much of the new wave/electronica music and the sound of the underground here in the UK in the late 70s/early 80s was unable to travel very far, unless it either crawled into the mainstream or the singer/band in question was on a label that had the ability to have product issued on overseas subsidiaries or affiliates; even then, a would-be-listener, especially in North America, usually had to dig deep to find things in smaller record stores having, in all likelihood, heard the music on an obscure or college radio station.

PPM mentioned that his first Human League purchase was The Sound of The Crowd EP, released by Virgin Canada in 1981 which very handily contained some tracks from the back catalogue, thus giving him a great insight as to how the band’s sound developed.

This ICA is quite narrow in its outlook. There aren’t necessarily the best ten tracks that the band ever recorded and everything is lifted from a short period in time, with nothing after 1983. There’s also no Don’t You Want Me or Seconds on it, on the basis that both songs featured a short time ago (both tracks would ordinarily have been shoo-ins).

Side A

1. The Things That Dreams Are Made Of

Even if had turned out that Dare wasn’t packed with unforgetable hit singles, the very existence of this, the album’s opening track, would have made it an essential purchase. It’s the perfect blend of art-house synth and pure pop in which Phil Oakey gets to go all Mary Poppins and sing all about a small number of his favourite things.

2. Being Boiled (John Peel Session)

It’s still amazing to think that this track has such a strong Scottish connection, originally being released (in mono) on Fast Product, an Edinburgh-based independent label which was run by Bob Last. The music for this one was composed by Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, both of whom would leave The Human League in 1980 and going on to form the equally successful Heaven 17.

It was released at different times in different forms to differing acclaim and sales, I thought for something different that it would be worth featuring the Peel session version that was broadcast in August 1978.

3. The Sound of The Crowd (complete)

The breakthrough hit that catapulted the band into the Top 20 for the first time, here it is in its full 12″ vinyl glory.

It was a real bolt out of the blue as just two month previously, they had released a single called Boys and Girls which was a real disappointment, offering little of merit and suggesting they had next-to-nochance of surviving the departure of Ware and Marsh. The decision to feature female vocals and to ask a more pop-orientated producer to get on board proved to be a masterstroke. It also got invited onto Top of the Pops on 30 April 1981, and would, over the ensuing weeks and months, lead to many a joke about a particular haircut.

4. Rock’n’Roll/Nightclubbing

As featured on the Holiday 80 EP, which was released in the period between debut album Reproduction and its follow-up, Travelogue, and came from a period when the band had been working with John Leckie, who was also very heavily involved at the time with Simple Minds and Magazine.

The EP had a new version of Being Boiled on it, but the highlight for many was this six-minute effort that was a medley consisting of a cover of tracks by Gary Glitter and Iggy Pop, neither of which seemed obvious choice for the electronica treatment.

In what was a very unusual move, the producers of Top of The Pops invited the band to perform on the show in May 1980, even though the EP wasn’t in the Top 40. It proved to be the only time the original line-up would appear on the show:-

Ah…. the haircut was in place all that time before…..but when you don’t have hits, nobody pays attention!

5. Hard Times

Such was the depth and quality of material available during the sessions for Dare that this, largely instrumental number was only made available as the b-side to Love Action (I Believe In Love). The 12″ version of the single came with a 10-minute effort in which the b-side segued seamlessly into the a-side….but that’s for another occasion.

Side B

1. Black Hit of Space

A song that should provide a stonewall defence should anyone accuse early-era The Human League as being po-faced and without humour. The opening track on Travelogue in which a shit-faced Phil Oakey gets home after a night on the piss and proceeds to play a futuristic looking and sounding record that proves to be so big and popular that it takes over everything. Some said at the time that he was looking enviously at Gary Numan……

2. Mirror Man

The first new song to emerge after the success of Dare, almost a full year after Don’t You Want Me had been the world-wide smash. It’s reminiscent of the Motown sound, having the same sort of beat as so many of the big hits of the 60s; worth noting too that the the female members of the band, while being very integral to the song, don’t actually have any lyrics beyond ooh-ing and ahh-ing to great effect.

3. (Keep Feeling) Fascination

There are days when I think this could very well be my favourite of all the hit singles. It was the follow-up to Mirror Man and it felt as if the band were throwing the kitchen sink at it. From it’s jarring and nearly out-of-tune opening synth notes to the fact that all three main vocalists get a solo turn (as indeed does the mostly unheralded Jo Callis), it was the signal that, from now on, The Human League were going down the pop route and to hell with anyone who pined for the days of the Being Boiled/Reproduction era.

OK….there wasn’t all that much that I loved afterwards as the sound degenerated largely into the sort for which the 80s became loathed, with the synths bordering on soft-rock at times (exhibit #1 being the album Crash which was released in 1986), but that spell from April 81- April 83, which was bookended by Sound of the Crowd and Fasination was triumphant.

4. Empire State Human

My first exposure to the band and one of the first electronica singles that I ever bought, back in June 1980 when it was given a re-release by Virgin Records some nine months after first flopping. I wasn’t the tallest of teenagers and I was envious (a bit) of the lads who could hold their own at centre-half in the football team. It was easy to sing-along to this one.

5. WXJL Tonight

The closing track on Travelogue and a sort of sci-fi fable in which radio DJs have become a thing of the past and music is played on an automated basis. Might have seemed a tad far-fetched in 1980, but with Spotify and its ilk becoming the choice of millions the world over………………..

JC

 

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (5)


I finished last week’s post with mention of Luke Haines incredulous reaction to him and James Banbury, on cello, selling out a gig in Paris in February 1993.  One of the tracks from the show, Staying Power, has been included as a b-side of the 10″ version of How Could I Be Wrong, but such was the quality of the performance that Hut Records tried to drum up more interest in The Auteurs with the pressing of a 7″ single, consisting of live renditions of four more songs, all of which had appeared on New Wave.

The Live Acoustic EP wasn’t put out for general sale via shops, but instead seems to have been available, on request, by return mail. I’m not sure if it the release was widely publicised – I certainly don’t have a physical copy despite being an obvious member of the target audience. Having said that, the fact it is available for as little as £3 on Discogs would indicate a fair number were sent out and that it’s not too rare an artefact.

mp3 : The Auteurs – Housebreaker (live, 1993)
mp3 : The Auteurs – Junk Shop Clothes (live, 1993)
mp3 : The Auteurs – Star Struck (live, 1993)
mp3 : The Auteurs – Home Again (live, 1993)

All these years later, you’ll find that the Luke Haines of 2019 plays shows in which it is just him and an acoustic guitar, and on the odd occasion you might get to hear one or more of the above tracks.

Worth mentioning that the venue was the Passage Du Nord Ouest, one of the most famous and historic music halls in the city which actually closed down in 1996, but re-opened as a theatre in 2008.

Tune in next Sunday for a guest contribution as part of this series.

JC