At the end of my back garden there’s a fence. Down a steep slope behind the fence is the Ayr-Glasgow railway line. It’s a busy line, but you get used to the trains going past every 15 minutes. In fact, you rarely hear a train. And when you do, you could set your watch by it. Scotrail. They’re getting there, or to Ayr and Glasgow at least, on time.
Now and again the silence is punctuated by the Hunterston coal train. The power station up the road needs regular feeding by coal and occasionally the train will be held up at the points while another commuter train snakes its way out of the suburbs and on into Glasgow. The Hunterston train doesn’t stop very easily. Weighed down by 35 coal-carrying containers, it starts braking 4 miles up the line in Dalry. By the time it reaches Kilwinning, and my back door, it’s making a cacophony of noise; grinding steel on steel punctuated by the odd hellish rumble, but mainly a horrible metallic screech that jars the nerve endings and sends cats and dogs running for cover. Around 9.30pm last night, it struck me that this is the wonderful sound of The Jesus And Mary Chain.
They were back on (almost) home turf over the weekend, pitched up at the Barrowlands to play the Psychocandy LP, track-by-track. It’s an album that rarely left my turntable when I was in my late teens, but not, I must admit, an album that has stayed with me in the way that other ‘Classic’ albums (insert your own here____________) have. Nonetheless, to hear it in its entirety was too good an opportunity to miss for myself and a couple of thousand other folk of a certain age.
The band began the show not with Just Like Honey and the rest of the album falling after, but with the encore. “We’re contrary fuckers,” explained Jim Reid. So as an aperitif we got April Skies, Head On, a twangin’ prime Velvets take on Some Candy Talking and a couple of tracks that I struggled to recognise on account of the vocals being buried so deep in the mix they were practically being sung from Australia.
At times William’s guitar was so out of tune he was practically playing jazz. Free, experimental jazz, and he knew it. I lost count of the number of times he attempted to tune up between songs. “Stop!” shouted his brother at one point, sounding uncannily like one of those early JAMC bootlegs I had from the days before they knew how to end songs, and the band came to a juddering halt, just like that train at the bottom of my garden. Recovering in time though, best of all was a head-splitting version of Reverence, replete with descending, fuzzed-up I Wanna Be Your Dog guitar riffs that went straight into a white-hot version of Upside Down. Top that, you’re thinking. And they did.
Taking no prisoners, they rattled through Psychocandy. Guitars sounded like sirens of war, or like a hundred bottles being smashed against a greenhouse wall in the middle of a violent storm. They felt like tiny hand grenades of pain on the ears. This was a full-on sonic assault and battery on the senses. Backlit by white light and strobes, at times I almost zoned out as the band, stock still in silhouette, never let up. Fast-cut film of motorbikes and 60s girls and staring eyes and melting things and swirling patterns and kaleidoscopic psychedelia played relentlessly. It was the Exploding Plastic Inevitable turned up to 11. Scratch that, it was turned up to 14 or 15. It was uncomfortably loud, perhaps just as the band intended it to be, but as I type there’s still a background screeeee to everything I hear.
It goes without saying of course that if you get the chance of a ticket when it comes to your town, make sure you grab it.
A coupla tunes from the Psychocandy LP:
Taste The Floor
The Hardest Walk
Just Like Honey demo
Darklands-era b-side Everything’s Alright When You’re Down
Pop music, pure and simple.