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Six Of The Best – Grahame Skinner

April 22, 2015

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

skin

Number 21 in a series:

Grahame Skinner is best known for being the provider of the deep, rich baritone vocal atop Hipsway‘s mid-late 80s pop/soul output. I loved them. Most folk of a certain age in the West of Scotland did. Just too young to appreciate Orange Juice, they were the next best thing. The teenyboppers had Haircut 100. We had Hipsway. That’s how it went.

At the time, The Smiths were just about my most favourite thing in the world, and most folk assumed that I had modelled my towering quiff on that of Morrissey’s. Not at all! I was always way more into Marr than Morrissey. My quiff, my pride and joy, was a hybrid quiff – an amalgamation of the best of Love & Money’s James Grant and Skin from Hipsway. It was lush, it was thick and it was Brylcreem’d to within an inch of save-the-whale oil slickness. In fact, Black Mama’s Chip Shop at Irvine Cross used to phone me now and again when they’d hit a busy spell and ran out of stuff to fry their chips in.

In 1986/87 you couldn’t escape the music of Hipsway. It was theee trendiest thing to be seen carrying into the common room at school. Forget your Bunnymen and Smiths and Housemartins and Lloyd and his Commotions – Hipsway was where it was at. The eponymously titled LP blasted out of bars and bedrooms everywhere, and even Alex Aitken’s car. He had somehow passed his test when we were still at school and drove everywhere. We threw away his goth pretensions along with his All About Eve cassettes in one fell swoop when he wasn’t looking and replaced them with Hipsway. “Are you broke? Are you broke?! By the broken years!” we’d sing, annoying the hell out of him.

hipswaypromoshotIf you didn’t actually own the LP (although at least half the population must’ve done) you couldn’t escape the music. The Broken Years and Long White Car were played to death on Radio Clyde. They were both misses rather than hits, expensively polished in the top studios by the top producers, but they paved the way. Ask the Lord was the hit that should’ve been, all call-and-response vocals behind a mid-tempo, bass-driven groove.

The Honeythief was the one that hit the target though, it’s economic riff adding just enough Chic to propel it to Number 17 on the actual charts, providing the band with a Top Of The Pops appearance in the process.

If you never listened to Radios Clyde or 1, or watched Top of the Pops, you’d probably still have heard Tinder via an era-defining McEwan’s lager advert that was on constant rotation seemingly for ever. I think it still pops up between the breaks on that STV Glasgow channel that started up recently. Hipsway. You just couldn’t escape them.

Skin is also the teller of the tallest of tales, as a near 30-year wild goose chase at my expense has only just come to an end. I happened to remark that when Hipsway played Ayr Pavilion – the 15th April 1987 (I have the ticket sitting in front of me), he introduced their encore, a cover of the Bee Gee’s Jive Talking, as “the new single,” due for release “any day now”. The next day I hotfooted it to Walker’s at Irvine Cross, only to be told they didn’t have it. They didn’t have it the next day either. Or the day after that. Or the day after that. Or 3 weeks later. Or 6 months later. Or never at all. Since then, with the advent of the internet, I’ve looked in the deepest darkest places in the hope I’ll somehow turn up a copy of Hipsway doing Jive Talking.

It’s never existed,” Skin tells me. “It never did!”

Pffft. And that’s the enda that.

Grahame was more than happy to chat to Plain Or Pan and give us Six of the Best. He starts with the usual disclaimer of “this isn’t by any means a definitive list, and is in no particular order,” so read ahead knowing that, as with the other 20 previous entries, obvious choices will have been missed. Call it a snap-shot of Grahame’s musical tastes, the music that shaped the music he’s known for making himself.

Johnathan Richman & The Modern LoversRoadrunner

“I remember when it came out and how strange it sounded. It evokes the whole idea of driving down a dark road. It has an amazing rhythm that goes on and on for ages. Johnathan Richman really is a terrific songwriter.”

Jim FordI’m Gonna Make Her Love Me Till The Cows Come Home

Jim Ford was best pals with Sly Stone. Sly called him ‘the baddest white man alive’. In my humble opinion, this record is easily one of the best records ever made. It’s amazing. Funky. Soulful. It’s on an album called ‘Country Funk’, which kinda sums it up.”

David BowieLife On Mars

“I could’ve picked any of 20 or so David Bowie tracks. I have absolutely no hesitation in calling David Bowie a genius. It’s an over-used phrase, but in Bowie’s case it applies. I can remember hearing this song on the radio from before I was a Bowie fan. It resonates. Something about it stuck with the young me. The first Bowie LP I bought was Ziggy Stardust, and I quickly worked backwards from there. Bowie is the touchstone.”

The Rolling StonesJumpin’ Jack Flash

I love everything the Stones have ever done. I won’t ever get tired of this record. Whenever it comes on I break out the old dad/uncle dancing routine. Who disnae?!?

Led ZeppelinBlack Dog

I was 16/17 years old. That really impressionable age when bands matter more than anything. My pal used to tape the John Peel show and we’d listen to it the next day. We were all into punk and new wave, The Stranglers and stuff like that. Led Zeppelin? They were simply NOT ACCEPTABLE! Then I heard Black Dog and it changed the game forever. What. A. Record.

Orange JuiceFalling & Laughing

“Orange Juice and the Fire Engines were like heroes to us. Local bands that could put out singles. If they could do it, anyone could. We could! I love this record. the music is terrific – a driving bassline, interesting chord changes. it’s adventurous, brilliant songwriting.

That’s a great selection – very Plain Or Pan, I’m sure you’d agree.

These days, Grahame still writes and records. He puts out records under his own name as well as that of Cowboy Mouth and Witness. You should probably pop over to his website, where he has music for sale.

Away from the brief glare of the spotlight, he also dips his toe into the live arena. In just a couple of weeks he plays the HAC in Irvine, a terrific little theatre that’s recently seen the likes of Glenn Tilbrook, Nik Kershaw and Model Aeroplanes pack the place out. You can buy a ticket here.

skin

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Dorissey

April 14, 2015

Question: What is this record? Is it groovy jazz funk, a long-forgotten off-cut from a Blaxploitation soundtrack that never was? Is it late 60s wig-out psychedelic rock/pop, a remnant of the days when guitar solos were almost as expansive as the lead singer’s flares? Is it fuzz guitar-led, musique concrète strangeness that coulda come straight outta 1972 West Germany?

Answer: It’s all of the above!

The record in question is You Never Come Closer by Doris, from her Did You Give the World Some Love Today Baby album, released with no fanfare to total indifference in 1970.

doris

Doris Svensson was an insignificant Swedish pop singer in the 60s. Along the way she teamed up with respected Scandinavian big band composer Berndt Egerbladh and, from Aberdeen, a Scottish cellist/jazz guitarist/lyricist called Francis Cowan who’d found himself playing on cruise ships where he met his Swedish wife.

This mis-matched trio of musicians put together Did You Give the World Some Love Today Baby, an eclectic soup of funk, rock, jazz and cutting edge electronica. It’s a staggering listen, uncomfortable in places, yet totally pop. Forward thinking retro-revivalists such as Portishead, St Etienne and Massive Attack likely own original first pressings – some of the tunes are a sampler’s delight, packed full of weird strings, breakbeats and fruggable fuzz bass. You can buy reissued CDs of the album from all the usual places. It’s definitely worth further investigation.

candie payne

 

You Never Come Closer reminds me an awful lot of the long-forgotten post-millennium tracks produced for Candie Payne by Edgar Jones and Simon Dine. Edgar has his fingers in many a musical pie; from the r ‘n b stomp of The Stairs via the be bop-isms of his Soothing Music For Cool Cats album, to playing on stage with Lee Mavers and Johnny Marr – a real non-stop, hard-working musician.

Simon Dine, in his guise as Noonday Underground has taken the weirdest, wonkiest bits of 60s pop music and sampled and looped them into something terrific. His production is all over the last 3 Paul Weller LPs – those electronic rushes and synthesised strings are all his doing. You knew that already though, aye?

Candie PayneI Wish I Could Have Loved You More

Candie PayneAll I Need To Hear

Anyway, my guess is that both Edgar Jones and Simon Dine also have first pressings of Did You Give the World Some Love Today Baby. The feel of that album more than permeates the work they did with Candie Payne. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

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Good Felas

April 2, 2015

What a shitty few weeks. The previous post below will fill you in if you’re an infrequent visitor. Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments. I read them all, even if I couldn’t face replying. Truly, thanks.

Anyway, what better way to get back on track than by digging out some slick Nigerian Afrobeat from 1977?

fela kuti

Fela Kuti is a real musicians’ musician. A multi-instrumentalist, equally at home on sax, keys, trumpet, drums….you name it, between 1960 and his death in 1997 he was responsible for around 60 LP releases. Perhaps only The Fall would appear to be able to top that. Much like The Fall, many of his albums are live affairs. A few are also dubious-looking compilations of indeterminate origin. Amongst the regular studio recordings, there are whole LPs of collaborations with other musicians (‘Stratavarious‘ with Ginger Baker, ‘Music Of Many Colours‘ with Roy Ayers.)  All Fela’s albums are tight and taut, superbly played and full of meandering grooves underneath the politicised lyrics.

In the 70s, Fela changed his middle name. Ransome, he said, was a slave name.  And Fela was nobody’s slave. He was a folk singer. The Nigerian equivalent of Woody Guthrie, singing the songs of the ordinary man.  He took to singing in his own unique pidgin English as a way of ensuring Africans throughout the continent would understand his message – they all spoke in their own native tongue, but they also all understood basic English. He sang of the barbaric Nigerian Government and had a smash hit (‘Zombie‘) on the back of it. This resulted in him barely surviving with his life after a severe beating from government flunkies whilst his studio was burned to the ground. More than just a fly in the ointment, Fela galvanised his fellow countrymen into action, a real anti-establishment hero.

fela kuti 2

Fela’s music is terrific. There’s a real discipline to the playing. Much of it is simple and  repetitive. The musicians could easily break out and rattle off a little lick or two, and sometimes they do. His brass section in particular (sometimes just Fela) are fond of the odd up-the-garden-path solo. But mostly to Fela, the rhythm is King. It’s a bit like Can at their grooviest – hypnotic, shamanistic, designed to subconsciously affect the limbs. Feet will tap. Hips will sway. Heads will bob. Before you know it you’ll be on your feet and wondering how you got there.

1977’s Sorrow, Tears and Blood LP is typical of his work at the time. The title track formed the entire first side, a relentless guitar ‘n sax-led tour de force, all polyrhythms and funk bass, lightly toasted with electric piano.

Fela KutiSorrow, Tears And Blood

Atop the non-stop one chord groove is a lyric worthy of Joe Strummer at his authority-baiting best;

Everybody run….Police they come….Army they come….confusion everywhere…..someone nearly died….Police don’t go away….Army don’t disappear….them leave sorrow, tears and blood….

Fela’s work is absolutely ripe for sampling and reinterpretation. Mr Mendel has done this excellent remix of Sorrow, Tears And Blood:

Fela KutiSorrow, Tears And Blood (Mr Mendel mix)

fe la soul

….and a couple of years ago, someone came up with the brilliant concept of Fe La Soul, where they took the Daisy Agers raps and placed them on top of Fela’s funkiest fills. There are whole albums of the stuff if you look in all the right places. Here‘s one of my favourites;

Fe La SoulItsoweezee

….and no doubt inspired by the relentless, driving grooves of Fela, during the sessions for 1980’s Remain In Light, Talking Heads recorded Fela’s Riff, a terrific piece of instrumental New York, new wave funk. I really need to do a Talking Heads feature at some point…

t heads

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Now That We’ve Grown Up Together

March 11, 2015

My longest and best pal died on Monday.

He was a day short of his 46th birthday.

It’s hit me hard. Sledgehammer hard. Far harder than I ever could have imagined. I’ve had grand parents die when I was 9, 10, something like that. But never a friend of the same age. I am in pieces.

The fact that he died abroad on holiday makes it extra difficult. For a man from the West of Scotland, he had been in reasonably decent health.  There were no clues. He complained of feeling unwell at dinner time on Sunday, went to his bed and didn’t wake up. Just like that.

His poor kids were at home with their grandparents. His poor wife has had to fly home alone, the authorities not yet giving permission for his body to be repatriated. It could be another week, they say. Tragic.

We’d been friends since age 4. Gone through primary and secondary school together. Bought records, played sport, fashioned our hair into popstars together – he favoured the Bono mullet whilst I teased my hair into a James Grant quiff. We had our first pints together. Did daft, drunk, teenage boy stuff together; Clambered legless out of lofts. Played heady tennis with an unopened can of Tennents until Lager Lovely Sheena was buried 4 inches underneath the Bono do. Unsuccessfully chased a pair of beautiful-looking German girls around Ibiza for a week. Occasionally we’d fall out. One time there was a bloody nose (mine, not his) outside a kebab shop at 2 in the morning. But we remained friends. Best of friends.

I saw him more regularly than I see my own brother and sister.

For the past umpteen years we’ve shared a car and taken our sons to Kilmarnock games near and far, the odd trip to Hampden being the icing on a lopsided and inconsistent cake. Since the club redeveloped Rugby Park in 1995, we’ve sat together in the East Stand in the same seats for almost 20 years. Not always season ticket holders, but always the same seats. When our boys started going, his first, mine a few years later, we budged along a bit, proud that they were adopting the noble tradition of their fathers by supporting their local team and not one of the ugly sisters from the city just up the M77.

This Saturday we’d have had a quick phone call – “I don’t know if I can stand any more of this,” he’d always say. “We’ll do well to get any kind of draw today.” And then I’d pick him up at the same time and drive to the game, talking the same rubbish as the last time, listening to Richard Gordon give out the team news on Sportsound and park in the same space near Rugby Park before walking to the ground, buying my boy’s programme from the same seller and following our familiar pre-match ritual of a pre-match pee before going up and into our seats.

This weekend he won’t be there. “Where’s your brother the day?” the man next to me will ask. For years, he’s always thought we were brothers. “Is the big yin no’ coming?” the woman behind us will say. Her and her husband have a laugh every week at his expense when he shouts out badly-pronounced versions of the names of the players on show. English was never his strong point at school. And I’ll have to tell them that he’s not coming today. Or next week. Or ever again.

At 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon his seat will remain empty.

Here’s True Faith, his favourite record.

We both bought the 12″ of this on holiday on the Isle of Man. He bought the more straightforward (and better) version, whilst I bought the remix version; the one in the white sleeve with lots of falling leaves on the cover.

When we got home from our holiday, we played the records non-stop. In his room we put all the versions of True Faith onto one side of a C45. I still have it somewhere. The next time I’m in my loft I’m gonna have to try and dig it out.

 

 

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Step Brothers

March 1, 2015

In the latest Mojo, the one with the big piece on Physical Graffiti, Jimmy Page throws away a comment about The Beatles stealing an old r’n’b riff and fashioning it into their own I Feel Fine. Pots ‘n kettles, Jimmy! Pots ‘n kettles!

What Jimmy omitted to reveal is how the same riff more than informed Led Zep’s own Moby Dick.

bobby parker

The track in question is Bobby Parker‘s smokin’ hot 1961 r’nb stomper, Watch Your Step;

Bobby Parker’s story is the classic struggling musician versus the world tale of rip-offs, bad management and lack of recognition. Mention his name ’round these parts and folk like my father-in-law will wax lyrical about the Rangers and Everton player with the same name. The Bobby Parker we’re concerned with earned his chops tackling the music business and playing alongside Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. He toured extensively, sharing stages with rock ‘n roll’s founding fathers – Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly to name but a few. We’re all well aware of those names, but Bobby Parker? He remains niche, known only by contemporary musicians and musos, waiting to be discovered and elevated to his rightful place amongst the greats. An early b-side of his, You Got What It Takes, was recorded by Marv Johnson as one of the first singles for Motown, but upon release, to Parker’s dismay his name had been wiped from the credits and replaced, not for the last time, by that of the ever-canny Berry Gordy.

Stung by this, (“What was I to do? Fight Motown?!?“) Bobby Parker wrote what has since become his signature tune, Watch Your Step. Unlike the movers and shakers over at Hitsville USA, Parker was quick to acknowledge his references – the 12 bar blues, the similar riff and structure of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say;

and also to Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca, a skronking, relentlessly driving riff-laden jazz instrumental;

When asked about this a few years ago, he was admirable in his honesty.

I started playing Gillespie’s riff on my guitar and decided to make a blues out of it. What came out was ‘Watch Your Step.’

john lennon ukelele

Also admirably honest was John Lennon.

“‘Watch Your Step’ is one of my favourite records. The Beatles have used the lick in various forms.”

Most noticeably, as Jimmy Page was quick to point out, Watch Your Step‘s taut, snappy riff and structure lends itself quite well to I Feel Fine.

I was flattered,” said Parker later on. “I thought it was a cool idea. But I still had, in the back of my mind, the idea that I should have gotten a little more recognition for that.”

Sound familiar?

Listen closely and you’ll hear little flashes of what could be Day Tripper too;

led zep

The big baddies in the whole thing though are Led Zeppelin. For the record, I love Led Zeppelin. For the rocking, the rolling and the riff-riff-riffing there was no-one better, but they have nowhere to hide when it comes to this sort of thing. They’re certainly no strangers to the rape and pillage of the blues. Jimmy brazenly ‘borrows’ little riffs, indeed whole songs from blues’ back catalogue. I’ve written about this before, but much of the Zep’s entire recorded career was based on long-forgotten blues standards, arriving fully formed but twisted and turned into fantastically sounding ear-crunching slabs of heavy blooze rock. But nicked all the same. If they’d been more honest in their sticky fingerdness they might have been given more leeway, but it’s the deception and the credits to Page/Plant that rankle. Anyway, there are entire books and websites dedicated to uncovering such things, but this isn’t one of them.

When Jimmy was pointing out the similarities between Watch Your Step and I Feel Fine, he might, after all these years, have admitted to basing his own riff for Moby Dick on Bobby Parker’s single.

But he didn’t. Perhaps the pangs of guilt were such that at the start of the 70s Parker was offered a paltry $2000 to record a demo for the nascent Swan Song label, but nothing came to pass of this. If Jimmy truly felt guilty, he’d have given Parker a credit on Moby Dick.

Not for the first time, Jimmy got away with it. And not for the first time, Parker missed out on the credit.

Trivial post-script!

Have you ever heard the dogs barking during the fade out of I Feel Fine? The smart money is on Paul doing the yelping, but you never know…

You can hear tons of this sort of stuff over at What Goes On – The Beatles Anomalies List. It’s great!

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Romantic And Square Is Hip And Aware

February 23, 2015

William It Was Really Nothing is the sound of The Smiths in miniature. A breathless rush of brilliantly ringing descending arpeggios, bright as brass buttons, topped off with a vocal that distills everything about Morrissey’s much-loved kitchen sink dramas into a handful of lines worthy of Alan Bennett;

The rain falls hard on a humdrum town, this town has dragged you down……Everybody’s got to live their life, and God knows I’ve got to live mine……….How can you stay with a fat girl who says, “Would you like to marry me? And if you like, you can buy the ring”……

williamitwasreallynothing

Johnny’s playing is at its most stellar, riff upon riff upon riff of layered guitars nattering and chattering away like Elsie Tanner spreading ghastly gossip about goodness-knows-who over the garden gate. He was in a rich vein of form when he wrote this, was Johnny. He worked the chords out in the back of The Smiths’ van on the M1 somewhere between Manchester and London. Arriving at his flat in Earls Court, he committed his frantically scrubbed faux flamenco  pièce de résistance to tape, where it would sit alongside his other new compositions for that weekend, vying for the attention of producer John Porter come Monday morning. That the other 2 new tracks he’d recorded were How Soon Is Now? and Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want (the tracks that would turn up on the b-side of the single itself) just goes to show how prolific a tunesmith (tune-smith! See what I did there?) the barely 21 year-old Johnny was. Frightening, if you stop to think about it.

smiths autographs

William It Was Really Nothing – Peel Session (August 1984)

The Smiths clearly loved William It Was Really Nothing – they played it in concert before recording it (first for Peel, above) and continued to play it throughout the tours of 1984 and 1985. It still had its place in the ’86 setlists when the briefly 5-piece band were at their most rockist and was the second-last song The Smiths ever played live.

When John Porter got ’round to working on it from Johnny’s demo (and who knows how he chose what track to tackle first) he sprinkled a magical dusting of fade-ins and fade-outs, backwards bits and bursts of guitar that are the aural equivalent of one of those time-lapse videos of a flower blooming you see on nature documentaries. It’s just perfect, and even after 30 (gulp!) years, every listen reveals new things.

William It Was Really Nothing – Single Version

William It Was Really Nothing is over and out in little over 2 lean, mean and meat-free minutes, which, if I’ve timed it right, is just about as long as you needed to read this piece. Beat that!tumblr_mqyut7hT4l1sdytq1o1_500

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Yé-yé-yé!

February 15, 2015

Sept Heures du Matin is a track originally released in 1967 by French singer Jacqueline Taieb. I’m not too up on how to categorise my French Chanteusses, but I’m pretty certain Sept Heures… is a fine example of what is known as Yé-Yé music, a genre put together by pervy old men looking to exploit the naivety of the young girls in tight-fitting turtlenecks who were singing their double entendre-packed songs. And if all that sounds a bit too Serge Gainsbourg for comfort, well, any experts can correct me if I’m wrong.

jacqueline taieb 2

Sept Heures… reminds me a lot of a tamer version of Dave Berry‘s Don’t Give Me No Lip Child,

Dave BerryDon’t Give Me No Lip Child

but where Dave’s track is a stroppy adolescent huff of a record, Sept Heures… is more feminine. It swings as carefreely as the shining bob atop Jacqueline’s head and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if you told me that Bob Stanley owned all the 7″ copies of this in existence. It‘s literally a stompin’, snarlin’, finger snappin’ love letter to pop music, nothing you’ve never heard before; a trashy, garagey, walking backbeat underpinning three chords and a midly freaked-out fuzz guitar, but it’s essential listening.

Jacqueline TaiebSept Heures du Matin

Lyrical references to the pill-popping stutter of My G-G-Generation and Elvis’s take on Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti compete with nonsensical lines about looking for her toothbrush and fantasising about Paul McCartney – roughly translated the singer bemoans the fact that it’s 7am, she has an English homework assignment due in that day and (“Mmmmmm! Paul McCartnee! Pour m’aider!“) how she wishes the Beatles bassist were here to help her.

It’s a belter and I’m sure you’ll like it.

jacqueline taieb

à la prochaine….

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