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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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Six Of The Best – Stuart Cosgrove

February 9, 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…

 stuart cosgrove 1

Number 20 in a series:

Stuart Cosgrove is, to most folk in Scotland, the owner of that distinctive voice with the Tayside twang barking and cackling its way out of the tranny each Saturday afternoon between 12 and 2. “Ah yes indeed Tam!” could almost be his catchphrase. As co-presenter of BBC Radio Scotland’s Off The Ball, he’s a bringer of much needed humour and mirth to suffering Scottish football fans up and down the land.

The most petty and ill-informed football show on the radio‘ is a must-listen to in my house – it’s the central part of my pre-match warm up before I head off to Rugby Park to watch my team lie down to whoever they’re up against that week. Although primarily a football show, there’s a fair smattering of music references. Sometimes, one of the guests will be of that ilk, other times Tam and Stuart will discuss their musical preferences, with Stuart the black music obsessed yin to Tam Cowan’s cabaret ‘n crooners yang. And there’s always a record to play out with, a thematically-linked song that encapsulates the mood of that week’s big (or petty) talking point. It’s my favourite show on the wireless by some distance.

stuart cosgrove

In the 70s, Stuart was a buttoned-down and baggy-panted Northern Soul fan, a collector of rare 7″s who was fond of hopping on the overnight Perth to London train and disembarking at Wigan just in time for the Casino to open. In the 80s, Stuart indulged his musical passions further by writing for the fanzines before graduating to the NME and The Face. He was an early champion of electronic dance music and his job gained him access to all sorts of musical royalty, from Stevie Wonder and Jimmy Ruffin to Prince and the hallowed halls of Paisley Park. He’s long-since moved onwards and upwards (would you still want to be writing for NME nowadays? What/who could you muster up any enthusiasm to write about?) and is now a high heid yin at Channel 4. Somehow, inbetween the radio work each Saturday, working in London through the week and going to as many St Johnstone games as he can fit in, he’s found the time to write a book.

Here’s the blurb;

Detroit 67, The Year That Changed Soul is the story of the city of Detroit in the most dramatic and creative year in its history. It is the story of Motown, the breakup of The Supremes and the implosion of the most successful African-American record label ever, set against a backdrop of urban riots, escalating war in Vietnam and police corruption. The book weaves through the year as counterculture arrives in Detroit and the city’s other famous group, the proto-punk band MC5 go to war with mainstream America. The year ends in intense legal warfare as the threads that bind Detroit together unravel and leave a chaos that scars the city for decades to come.

 

It’ll be right up my street, and no doubt many of yours too.

Ahead of its publication at the end of March, Stuart somehow found the time to contribute to Plain Or Pan. Keeping with the Detroit theme, Stuart tells us his six favourite Detroit musicians. In what must surely be a serendipitous moment, most of them have graced this blog countless times already.

 

Marvin Gaye
The original black crooner who wanted to be the black Sinatra but ended up fronting the greatest album of all time ‘What’s Going On.’

Marvin GayeInner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

David Ruffin

The bespectacled lead singer of The Temptations was the most complicated character at Motown and at war with himself. He eventually died of a drug overdose.

The TemptationsMessage From A Black Man

Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul came from a famous Detroit family whose father was the city’s most flamboyant preacher.

Aretha FranklinSave Me

Mary Wilson

Often seen as ‘the other Supreme’ caught in a bitter war between Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, but her voice effortlessly floated from jazz, to soul and even opera.

The SupremesAutomatically Sunshine

Ronnie McNeir

An outsider who often won local talent contests in the Motor City but was in his sixties before he joined The Four Tops as a stand in for the legendary Levi Stubbs.

Ronnie McNeirLucky Number


Jonnie Mae Matthews
The godmother of Detroit soul and a pioneer who had a voice rougher than sandpaper and smoother than silk.

Jonnie Mae MatthewsThe Headshrinker

 

Stuart Cosgrove is the author of Detroit 67. You can read more about the book and its author on the Detroit 67 Facebook page. Afterwards, you’d best get on the good foot and pre-order your copy from here (or your usual online book retailer.) I’ll see you at the front of the virtual queue.
detroit 67
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It’s Bjerk, To Rhyme With ‘Twerk’, Not ‘Fork’.

February 1, 2015

Huv ye goat that record by thone wee Chinese lassie Byoing, the ‘shh-shh’ song?”

Any guesses?

Music retail could prove to be a real winner some days. The customer was looking for Bjork‘s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet‘, but you knew that already.

Since the last time I looked, Bjork has released about a gazillion albums. Some as apps. Some as super-limited thingies. And some as good old-fashioned, fully-fledged proper physical releases. She’s just rush-released her latest, Vulnicura, after, quelle surprise, it found itself all over the internet ahead of its release date. Something really should be done about that, but stone me if I know the answer.

 bjork2

I kinda lost my way with Bjork a wee bit round about her Vespertine LP in 2001 (gulp!) By then I was immersed in the world of portable digital media (a mini disc player – still brilliant, if y’ask me) and with the immediacy of it all, I suppose my attention span started to wander. No longer could I focus on subtleties and slow-burning things of beauty – I wanted melody and instant catchiness and I wanted it NOW! This is a common theme for the digital generation. Don’t like the song? Skip it. Don’t even download it. Don’t own it. Ever. Can’t play that tricky riff on Sweet Home Alabama? Pop over to ultimateguitar.com or YouTube, where someone better than you will show you how it’s done. Having trouble getting past those pesky guards in the latest Sonic the Hedgehog platform pleaser (they still have Sonic the Hedgehog, aye?) A quick Google will sort you out with a ‘cheat’. That’s why the current vogue for vinyl is pleasing – it might help slow things down a bit. Let folk take time to appreciate what they have, not what they’ve not.

Anyway, where was I?

sugarcubes live

Oh aye. Bjork. I loved The Sugarcubes. Saw them live a couple of times early on and bought all the records. Life’s Too Good is still an insanely brilliant listen, one that has easily stood the test of time. The Sugarcubes were bonkers, but in a good way. Formed out of an Icelandic arts collective, they were a kinda prog version of punk, too far away from the epicentre of pop culture to be totally influenced by fads or fashions. The band could’ve been any mid-late 80s band. Plenty of chiming guitars, polyrhythmic drums and tasteful keyboards. But there, any similarities ended. On vocals there was Bjork, a one-off singer whose vocals surfed the stratosphere somewhere between Kate Bush and Liz Fraser. On alternative vocals, when he wasn’t blasting his trumpet in any key but the right one, was Einar, a shouty, scary, skinhead of a man.

One time after a Barrowlands show we were all at Level 8, Strathclyde Uni’s indie disco. In walked most of The Sugarcubes. No Bjork though. Fuelled on cheap drink and the daft idea that the band had time for their fans, I went up to Einar and offered him my hand. “Great show!” I said. I meant it too. Einar stared me down for a good, ooh, 15 to 20 awkward seconds, my hand still out to greet him but unshaken. Looking me straight in the eye he sung to me. “We will! We will! ROCK YOU!” Eyes ablaze, he spun round and onto the dancefloor where he pogoed to Rise by PIL before disappearing out a side door, never to be seen again. I remained shaken. And stirred.

bjork

That debut album is full of weird ‘n wonky prog/punk. Anytime I found myself with a bass guitar in my hand (not very often, if truth be told), Blue Eyed Pop was my riff of choice. I love the way Bjork soars over the top of the melody towards the end – “Something wonderful’s about to happen,” she sings. Magic.

SugarcubesBlue Eyed Pop

Better still was Coldsweat, the band’s second single. ‘Hot! Meat! Metallic! Blood!’ goes Einar. What he meant was anyone’s guess, but enough folk bought it to take it to Number 1 on the indie chart, if such a thing is a barometer of hip opinion.

Bizarrely, the band stuck a twangin’ countryfied version of Coldsweat as the last track on their patchy second LP, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! More Rawhide than skewed alt/pop, make of it what you will.

SugarcubesHot Meat

My favourite Bjork solo track? That’s easy. All Is Full Of Love. Slow, sweeping and graceful, as cool as the land from where it was conceived. The track itself suffered from a multitude of twitchy, glitchy, contemporaneous remixes, but the straight-forward album version is the way to go.

I still say Bjork, as in ‘fork’. The same as I still rhyme Brett ‘n Bernard’s old band with ‘bread’ rather than ‘played’. It’s a Scottish thing.

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Readers And Writers

January 24, 2015

It’s the 25th January. If you’re an Ayrshire man or woman, that date is indelibly stamped on you subconscious. It’s a date that’s as easily remembered as Guy Fawkes Day, Christmas Day and your own birthday. The 25th January. Robert Burns’ birthday.

burns

If Rabbie was alive today he’d be 256 years young. His poems and songs are read and recited at Burns Suppers the world over. This weekend alone, an estimated 150,000 Burns Suppers will take place in countries as far afield as Russia, Japan, India and the United States. You might even be attending one yourself.

Not everyone attending those suppers will know exactly what’s taking place – weird rituals involving knives and haggis. The bagpipes, fiddles and occasional kilts – not something worn in Burns’ time, but now seemingly the de-rigueur dress code for the event. People talking in a strange language. People singing while holding hands in an unusual manner – by the way, it’s Auld Land Syne, as in ‘sign‘, not ‘zine‘. Only English folk, Americans in movies and Brian Wilson pronounce it with a zed.

A Burns Supper is a very Scottish thing, yet the content of Burns’ work is universal – he was a nationalist yet is loved internationally. He could paint a picture with the words he wrote. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Moscow, Russia or Moscow, Ayrshire, we all understand the thoughts and feelings in the words he writes; whether it’s the feeling of love for someone dear or the feeling of despair at man’s attack on nature or simply complaining about a bad dose of the toothache. Burns was both a romantic and a realist, something that even the most hardened of Calvinist Scots are at some times in their lives.

His songs can be a strange breed. In the best traditions of folk music, the tunes were passed down from his mother, and once learned, he added his own poetic twists and melodic turns to them. Organic and ever changing, he’d probably be horrified at the more traditional readings of his songs. Burns Suppers can be awfy stuffy affairs. Don’t sing the song in the ‘right’ way, and a thousand sniffy noses turn upwards in disgust.

Two folk who’ve kept the tradition alive while remaining true to themselves are Michael Marra and Eddi Reader.

michael marra

As is often the way, Michael Marra is probably now more appreciated in death than he was when he was with us. That’s certainly the case in my house. I am ashamed at how little attention I paid to him when he was a jobbing, gigging musician. I now think of him as the Scottish Tom Waits – uncompromising, totally unique and each song a little rough diamond packed full of soul. Why was I wasting my time with the latest Primal Scream album when I coulda been discovering Michael Marra? He’d often turn up to play Irvine Folk Club with an old ironing board taking the place of his keyboard stand. The sparse audience would be warmly welcomed into his Dundonian world sung in that coarse voice of his. Like Burns, Michael Marra could be romantic one minute, unbelievably sad the next and ridiculously funny when you least expected it.

Michael MarraHamish

His song Hamish, named after Dundee United’s goalie Hamish McAlpine and written about the time Princess Grace of Monaco turned up to watch a European game at Tannadice between United and Monaco is typical of his work.

Gus Foy pointed to the side of the goal and said

‘There’s Grace Kelly by ‘Taylor Brothers’ Coal’

Michael MarraGreen Grow The Rashes

Green Grow The Rashes is almost standard fare at a Burns Supper. One of Burns’ most popular songs, it’s been sung by many people in many ways. Michael’s version comes from the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow a few years back. Pin-drop quiet, he hammers out the tune on a grand piano and sings it superbly. Not an ironing board in sight. The thunderous applause at the end tells you all you need to know.

One singer one song? Not quite…

eddi and john

Oor ain Eddi Reader, Ayrshire by way of Glasgow, does a terrific version of Green Grow The Rashes.

 Eddi ReaderGreen Grow The Rashes

Fronting an assembled stellar cast of folkies that includes John McCusker, Phil Cunningham, Heidi Talbot and Mr Eddi Reader, John ‘Trashcans’ Douglas, this live version of Green Grow The Rashes fairly skips along, the band playing the sort of arrangement that wouldn’t sound out of place on Led Zep III while Eddi’s voice floats above the melody like a bird on a breeze.

A bit like haggis, I know she can be a bit of an acquired taste for some, but give this a listen. Then go and catch yourself one of our wee furry friends and have your own Burns Supper to yourself.

haggis

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Beta Blockers

January 14, 2015

Please the press in Belgium“, once sang Morrissey at his most withering, in such a way as to suggest the Flemish outpost was the last place on Earth you’d want to be trying to please the staff of Snoecks Magazine. Belgium isn’t a country high on the cool-o-meter when it comes to pop. It’s given the world Poirot and a seriously strong lager that induces the propensity to batter one’s spouse, neither of which are much to do with music at all. Plastique Bertrand would appear to be the jewel in their flimsy crown.  “Ca plane pour moi, moi, moi, moi, moi!” Instant cool points ‘n all that, but then, that’s about it. Almost…

wallace collection

Wallace Collection were a late 60s/early 70s smooth vocal group, seemingly formed in order that the words ‘easy‘ and ‘listening‘ could be glued together with a dollop of saccharine-sweet syrupy gloop to create a brand new genre. By comparison, they make The Carpenters sound like Motorhead. Look at them – you might never have heard them, but you know how they sound. Wallace Collection’s musical arrangements featured lots of strings, lots of flutes and lots of whispered, half-spoken vocals.

Their track Daydream is their best known track.

Gently descending (and owing a large debt to Isaac Hayes’ Ike’s Mood), with a chanting choral refrain, it proved to be ripe for samplers. Hip hop acts such as The Pharcyde stole the bassline and turned it inside out and back to front on their own records. If you’ve been playing it as you read, no doubt you’ll recognise it.

Somewhat freakishly, two acts sampled the track and released respective records built upon it almost on the same day.

i monster

I MonsterDaydream In Blue

In June 2001, Sheffield’s I Monster put out Daydream In Blue, a record that jigsawed the vocal refrain and descending strings from the original onto a contemporary vocodered piece of what the style press had probably stopped calling trip-hop by that point in time. Mid paced and slightly plodding, you can’t have escaped hearing this record at the time. It was everywhere. I have a memory of hearing it wafting out of Iain Beale’s cafe on the Eastenders omnibus one hungover Sunday afternoon. It’s held the test of time quite well, although I much prefer The Beta Band’s ‘version’.

beta band

The Beta BandSquares

Initially named Daydream (I have a promo single so named) it was to be the lead single and first track on the band’s follow up to their first LP proper, but as the band were pressing Hot Shots II, I Monster’s track was on its way to the shops and onto the radio. By the time the first versions of Hot Shots II had been boxed and ready to go, The Beta Band were coming to the realisation that the hottest new track on the radio was a track featuring the self-same obscure sample that they were about to unleash on the world. More than a wee bit ticked off, the initial copies of the LP were withdrawn, plans to release the single were shelved and the album came out with the first track re-named Squares. The track was released as a single after I Monster’s track had disappeared off the radar, but the potential ‘hit’ impact for The Beta Band’s single was no more.

There’s a promo-only version of Squares that features *Don ‘Magic’ Juan, a former pimp, preacher and hip-hop personality. It‘s kinda bizarre…

The Beta BandSquares (Bloah Remix)

I must do a proper Beta Band piece one day – one of the great under-appreciated bands.

*I think. There are quite a few Don Juans in the world of underground rap.

 

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Under The Influence

January 4, 2015

It’s 1987 in San Francisco. Or maybe L.A. Bono, atop a building, perhaps a hotel, it doesn’t really matter, his arms outstretched in messianic fashion, has just informed the crowd of unwitting gatherers below that “Rock ‘n roll stops the traffic!” If I was on my morning commute, I’d be mightily pissed off at this uncalled-for inconvenience. The traffic is indeed stopped. Lights change from red to green and back again, but the procession of buses, cabs and sedans is gridlocked. A huge crowd swells, folk in suits and ties, briefcase-carrying urban professionals, crane their necks and squint in the morning sunshine at the spectacle above them. “OK Hedge, play the blues!”

u2 roof

The Hedge, so-named because of that thick thatch of collar-baiting pony-tailed hair, thinning rapidly on top but hidden underneath a carefully perched cowboy hat rattles off one of his trademark ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka guitar riffs, and the most unbluesy guitar solo ever echoes out across California. “All you need is three chords and the truth!” spouts Bono, who by this time is halfway up a water tower and totally unaware of the long arm of the mirror-shaded law lurking behind Larry Mullen Jnr’s drum kit. It’s U2’s Saville Row moment, just one more example of them (literally) elevating themselves into rock’s lofty position as premier league players. The nitwits that they had just become.

I don’t know about the truth, but all you need is indeed just three chords. You don’t need me to tell you that. The foundations of rock ‘n roll were formed on such base ideals. Silly old Bono dressed the fact up in grandiose, wankery fashion. Punk bible, Sniffin’ Glue said it best;

sniffin glue chordsMany a band was formed with the guitarist having an arsenal of two chords, with that tricky third still in production.

eddie cochraneKing of the Swingers

Eddie Cochran was there at rock ‘n roll’s birth. If Ike Turner was pushing and grunting for all he was worth, Eddie was there at the end of the bed, holding the towels and hot water. Or more likely, he was fighting off Little Richard for mirror space as he greased his hair into that spectacular D.A. of his.

Eddie only knew three chords. “There are three steps to heaven,” he sang.

Step 1, you play a C. Step 2, you play that tricky F. Step 3, you play a G. And that sure sounds like heaven to me.

Eddie CochranThree Steps To Heaven

Actually, Eddie knew far more than just three chords. A quick listen to a couple of his records will tell you that. But he was an economical guitar player, never frilly, never flashy. He played what his songs demanded. A minor chord here perhaps, a 7th there, all rhythmically skirling toe-tappers. And his songs sound more honest, more soulful than the entire output of Bono and his rooftop singers.

bowie beeb

When David Bowie ditched the theatrics, the miming and the long, long hair on the road to Ziggy‘s straight-ahead guitar boogie, the spirit of Eddie Cochran loomed large.

David BowieQueen Bitch

Queen Bitch from Hunky Dory is Three Steps To Heaven in a funky jump suit with added sneer and a good dollop of Les Paul courtesy of Mick Ronson. Listen carefully. The moaning and groaning you hear in the background is the sound of Ziggy being conceived.

Broncho“We’ve played some right toilets in our time…”

New (wave) kids on the block Broncho know a thing or two about the simplicity of the three chord song. Their own What sounds like a glammed-up mix of Queen Bitch and Lou Reed’s Vicious, as sung by Marc Bolan. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that;

BronchoWhat

Taken from their Just Enough Hip To Be A Woman LP, it’s an album that escaped my attention earlier last year, but one that could do with further investigation.

Rock ‘n roll – it’s dead easy, isn’t it?

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