Alternative Version, Get This!, Live!, New! Now!

Sunshine From Leith

Ross Wilson has had a colourful life, growing up in difficult surroundings on a Leith housing estate, opting out of school from a very early age – “abandoning my education, I’m embarrassed to say,” – and finding himself in situations that none of us would wish to be in. Despite (or because of) this, he’s quiet, unassuming and completely humble.

His song ‘Grateful’ that opens Blue Rose Code’s 2016 album ‘And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing’ distils perfectly his life so far.

When I wake in the morning now, I try to be thankful,” he sings, in an effortless East Coast croon. “Did you know that I almost died? I’ll never be cool….I’ll never be good looking….I’ll never be rich, but Lord I am grateful.” It’s a simple song; short, direct and enhanced at the very end by a terrific gospel-tinged choir that competes with the Staple Singers for uplifting joyfulness.

Ross’s audience is grateful too. I watched him perform live over two extraordinary evenings in Irvine’s Harbour Arts Centre last weekend. A super-intimate venue that holds just 100 folk, the HAC is possibly our country’s greatest hidden secret. Audiences and performers alike have really taken to its ‘gig-in-your-living-room’ feel. The front row is a decent arm’s stretch from the headliners’ fretboards, the back row closer to the action than the front of all other ‘intimate’ venues and the performers there really respond to the cosiness of it all.

Blue Rose Code is Ross Wilson. Depending on the gig, he can have 3, 4, 5 or indeed, as when he’s fronting his amazing Caledonian Soul project, dozens of musicians on stage with him. He’s been in the HAC before as a 3 piece. On Friday and Saturday his band appeared as a duo, the sum of the parts a fraction of the greatness on display. Playing two different sets, Ross took us by the collective hand and led us through the whole gamut of human emotions. Accompanied by the fabulous Andy Lucas on keys, the duo whipped up a quiet storm of intensity.

Wilson doesn’t so much play his guitar as attack it; pinged harmonics zing across the room while back of the hand percussive beats provide rudimentary four to the floor rhythm. Listening to him play, it’s as if a tap has been turned on, a slow drip at first before gushing and overflowing, unable to be held back. Melodies cascade and tumble from his fingers, complicated arpeggios formed from open-tuned guitars and a handspan as wide as the Clyde. Jazz chords give way to ancient folk melodies that in turn part their way for minor key melancholy. It’s rhythmic, tuneful and breathtaking.

When he sings, it goes up a whole other level. Anyone can sing, but no-one can sing like Ross Wilson. It’s all in the phrasing, y’see. He stretches words beyond all recognition, he st-st-st-stops suddenly, breaking into spontaneous scatting, he barks, yelps and laughs off-mike and he takes these brilliant long run ups from the back stage to the microphone, using the dynamics of an amped-up voice like no-one I’ve ever seen. Any singers in the room over the weekend must’ve gone home with a few pointers on how to get the best from their voice in the live setting.

Behind him, strapped in for the ride of his life, Andy Lucas riffs behind the guitar on his keys; piano one minute, Fender Rhodes the next, forever on a mission to incorporate a lost blue note or a major 7th flourish. It’s a beautiful sound, incredibly nuanced yet totally spontaneous. On Friday the duo sound-checked with recent new track Red Kites. By the time it appeared in the show, it was twice as long, Andy had added a second vocal and Ross was off on some freeform guitar odyssey. For the entire weekend, Lucas never takes his eyes from Wilson’s fretboard. He knows when to cut in, when to take over and when to play softer, allowing the spotlight to shine on Wilson’s unique talent. It’s incredible stuff.

Blue Rose CodeBluebell

The music on offer is superb. Recorded, it’s quite the thing, the perfect soundtrack for a Saturday night in or a Sunday morning sudoku. In the live setting though, the songs soar, a scorching cross-pollination of Chet Baker’s stoned jazz, the voodoo folk-blues of John Martyn and the meandering twilight ambience of the Blue Nile. You really should investigate if these reference points are your kinda thing. It’s led to Ross being offered tours of Canada, the west coast of America and Australia. With 4 studio albums to his name alongside a handful of live albums and non-album EP releases, Ross Wilson has quietly built a mightily impressive back catalogue. A cottage industry with no financial help from anyone other than his supporters, it deserves a wider audience and greater recognition. He’s easily one of Scotland’s greatest talents, a real hidden gem of a songwriter and a peerless performer.

All photographs courtesy of Chris Colvin

Alternative Version, demo, Hard-to-find

In Search Of The La’s

In 2003, MW Macefield wrote a book called ‘In Search Of The La’s‘. Subtitled A Secret Liverpool, the author donned his best Inspector Clouseau raincoat, popped an oversized magnifying glass into the top pocket and hopped on the train to Lime Street in the hope of tracking down Lee Mavers, the wayward genius responsible for steering the good ship La’s aground. Despite reforming for a short, badly-received tour a couple of years after the book hit the shelves, and an even less successful venture a few years after that, I’ve now come to accept that The La’s are back residing in the ‘where are they now?’ category.

A good La’s detective will tell you that this promo pic of the band does not relate to the line-up that played on the tunes below.

Mavers’ legend continues to grow by the day and in the smallest corners of the internet he’s regarded as our generation’s version of Syd Barrett or Peter Green; the band leader with (way) out there ideas that were too far gone for even the most open and creative of minds in his band.

Lee tuned his guitars to the hum of his fridge.

In order to baptise his recordings with the relevant credentials, he demanded the Abbey Road desks he’d procured remain covered in their original 60s dust.

Despite at least a dozen goes of recording an album, he said nothing came close to the demo they’d recorded themselves of non-album b-side Over. Over, as you may well know, was recorded live. To 4 track. In a stable. There’s a Jesus pun to be had here, but Mavers is not the messiah, he’s just a very haughty boy.

The small but (im)perfect body of work he’s given us rattles and rolls and chimes and chirps with effervescent Scouse enthusiasm and a scrubbed, scuffed, skirl. Alongside the actual album, you’ll find all manner of demos and outtakes if you look hard enough. The La’s album was given the Deluxe treatment about a decade ago and the inclusion of the extra tracks shone a light on just how many producers they worked with in their vain search to nail the perfect version. The 4 CD box set that appeared afterwards only goes to confirm this. Dig deep and you’ll uncover new things in old tracks. My sister a few weeks ago gave me a copy of the BBC Sessions album. Playing the record is much more La’s than sticking on a CD as you go about your business, and I’ve been re-listening with open ears and open mouth. Some of these session tracks knock the released album versions for six.

One of the oldest La’s songs, the version of Doledrum from the band’s 1987 Janice Long session is the perfect example;

The La’sDoledrum (Janice Long session, 2.9.87)

Those percussive Magic Bus off-beats are magic! Maver’s vocal is strong, his rhythm playing an excellent counterpoint to the skifflish back-beat. Paul Hemmings sprightly solo in the middle is mightily whistleable. but it’s John Power’s high falsetto backing vocal that’s the song’s secret weapon, carrying the whole thing to the perfect multi-vocalled end. Like so much of The La’s material, there’s so much going on in such a simple song. Listen to it. Listen again. And again. I guarantee you’ll spot something new each time.

Possibly even more upbeat is the long-shelved version recorded with John Leckie;

The La’sDoledrum (John Leckie version)

Faster and with less emphasis on the percussive off-beats, the Leckie version features elongated Mavers’ harmonies and a lovely, subtle Power aah-aah-aah sigh where the solo should be. Mavers would probably tell you that this version is unfinished, or is lacking the requisite magic or doesn’t have enough 60s dust sprinkled atop. For what it’s worth, it would have been a worthy addition to that one and only album. The version that made the final cut is positively lethargic by comparison. Indeed, visit the forum on thelas.org and you’ll find plenty of discussion around the tracklist of the perfect La’s album; the Leckie mix here, the Bob Harris mix there, the Mike Hedges mix for this, the John Porter take for that. It’s a happy minefield when you get going.

I’m off to Liverpool this coming week with an itinerary packed full of Beatle-ish activities, Tate visits and a trip to Anfield. While I’ll forever be in search of The La’s, or at least Mavers, I’ll most definitely not find the proud Evertonian anywhere near the home of Liverpool FC, and I can’t imagine he’ll be propping up the bar in the darkest corner of The Cavern Club, but, y’know, y’never know. I like to think that I’ll pass him on Matthew Street, that he’ll recognise me (we were holiday pals for a week in 1993) and he’ll punch me playfully on the arm before we step into the nearest pub for a chinwag and a gin pomade, “kiddo.”

 

Live!

Youth Club

Teenage Fanclub played at Kelvingrove Bandstand last week. It was notable for being their first ‘homecoming’ show since the departure of founding member Gerry Love. Not only was Gerry a fluid bass player and an essential cog in a three-part harmony, he was also the writer of one third of the band’s material. From early highlights such as December and Star Sign, to Radio, Sparky’s Dream and Going Places, Ain’t That Enough and Take The Long Way Round, I Need Direction, Near You and Born Under A Good Sign, as well as Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything right through to Thin Air on most-recent album Here, Gerry’s songs are kingpins in any Teenage Fanclub set.

Arguably, of the band’s three writers, he’s the best. The band’s set on Tuesday was notable for a very large Gerry-sized hole in it and although they’ve chosen to staunchly move forward with the welcome addition of Euros Childs on keys and backing vocals and long-time collaborator Dave McGowan on bass duties, it remains to be seen how things pan out.

Normally I’m flying for a week after a Teenage Fanclub show. I’ve seen them enough times to know a good show when I’ve seen it – the Grand Ole Opry show in 93/94, any number of those early King Tuts shows, the Motherwell show when they started with a new one then threw away the evergreen Everything Flows by playing it second song in, the three Barrowlands gigs late last year – and at will I can replay the best of the set in my mind’s eye. Right now I’m replaying Norman doing the Barry Norman ‘Film…’ theme on the piano at the side of the Ole Opry’s stage while Raymond fiddles in vain with an effect pedal. Since last Tuesday’s Bandstand show though, I’ve felt….nothing. Indeed, I woke up on Wednesday and my first thought wasn’t about the gig the previous night. Until now, that’s never happened and I’m afraid it might be a sign of what’s to come.

If they release a killer album, all will be forgotten. If they rely too much on Raymond’s material, it may well signal the decline of one of our best and most-loved bands.

It’ll also be interesting to see how things go with Gerry. Quietly writing and recording at his own tectonic pace, we may well yet get to hear some of those great old Love songs at one of his shows, where they’d sit perfectly between the choicest of cuts from his Lightships project from a few years back. Imagine the scenario of the Loveless Fanclub going on tour at the same time as a solo Gerry, like splintered factions of an indie Drifters. ‘Norman Blake’s Teenage Fanclub‘ versus ‘Gerry Love Plays Your Favourite Fanclub Tracks‘. It doesn’t bare thinking about.

Pre-Kelvingrove, we were showered with full-force, biblical rain. Real 40 days and 40 nights stuff, it threatened to ruin the gig before we’d even left our shelter under one of the big old oak trees that line the walkway up to the Bandstand. When it lessened to a torrent, we made for the venue where we caught almost all of Nile Marr’s set (very good) and pointed out the superstars of Glasgow’s music scene that littered the audience like a hip double page in a Where’s Wally book while we grooved moistly to the DJ’s tunes that blasted from the PA. I hadn’t heard Sonic Youth‘s Teenage Riot in ages – perhaps last at a TFC show from a few years back, now that I think about it, and in the moment it sounded terrific.

Sonic YouthTeenage Riot

Teenage Riot has that thing where the beginning is all detuned metallic ambience, liquid mercury that’s longer than Thurston’s ubiquitous fringe and with more holes in the backbeat than on the knees of Lee’s vintage 501s. Played loud it really kicks, Kim’s whisper vying for attention with the occasional click of Steve’s sticks. When it eventually gives way to the ragged chuggalugga signature riff it really gets going. Thurston drawls on about Marshall stacks and needing a teenage riot to get him out of bed, like, now, and those twin Fenders clatter away with wonky chorded cool, arch, knowing and slightly smug but ultimately rockin’. It was the perfect tune to play before the ‘Fanclub hit the stage – a Teenage Riot indeed.

Way back around 1990 Teenage Fanclub supported Sonic Youth at the Barrowlands. I remember little of Sonic Youth’s show other than I blame it for the onset of tinnitus I now have, but I remember it fondly for TFC playing an octane-hopped version of God Knows It’s True, a maelstrom of wild guitars and wild hair, wild drummers and mild-mannered men in control. The version they played last week though – second song in, funnily enough – I’ve forgotten already.

Get This!, New! Now!

Berry Good

Known to his mum as Alex Stephens, Strawberry Guy is one quarter of The Orielles and one wholly great artist in his own right.

Part of a thriving scene that until now I’d been totally oblivious to, his first demo release last year – demo, note – has clocked almost 2 million hits on YouTube to date.

Now signed to the excellent Melodic Records, home of the pulsating WH Lung and the soon-to-be ubiquitous Working Men’s Club, Strawberry Guy has taken his passion for analogue synths and melodies blown in on a summer breeze and created one of the stand-out tracks of the year.

Mrs Magic is one of 6 tracks on his debut release, the mini LP? maxi EP? Taking My Time To Be. If the released-to-stream track above is anything to go by, it looks like being an essential purchase. Bringing to mind another side project with endless possibilities, it sounds not unlike something from Super Furry Animals’ Cian Ciaran’s long-lost Outside In album. There, keys and soft rock vocals make space for late-era Beach Boys harmonies and gossamer-thin melodies.

Floating along on a woozy bed of 21st century psychedelia, Mrs Magic continues on a similar path. Cocooned in cotton wool and sung in an effortless amalgamation of Nilsson and Mac DeMarco, its minor key piano and liquid mercury airy synths would find it sitting happily alongside your Air and Beach House and Tame Impala and Lightships records. It’s that good. And remarkably, recorded in his bedroom and self-produced, it hints at even greater things to come.

Here’s that YouTube video that’s whipped up quite the quiet storm amongst the streamers and playlisters in the underground.

Strawberry Guy‘s Taking My Time To Be can be pre-ordered direct from Melodic Records, here. Look out for tour dates in the future….and the inevitable clash when he and his parent band The Orielles clash over headline rights at next year’s summer festivals.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Winging It

Like many folk in this part of the world, I made it along to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum to see the Linda McCartney photography exhibition.

It’s an interesting curation loosely split into three sections; family, music and nature. It’s the music related shots that brought me there and they did not disappoint. Alongside the numerous Beatles and McCartney images – there’s enough previously unseen stuff to sate the mind of the most anal of Beatles bores – there are fantastic portraits of Hendrix, Jim Morrison, The Yardbirds, the Stones…. all the main players of the era.

A strict ‘No Photography’ notice meant that my own shots were taken on the hoof, with one eye over my shoulder, sweaty fingers trying to shoot silently and swiftly. Like a real action snapper, I suppose.

A combination of being well-connected and being in the right place at the right time, Linda shot much of the counterculture in the States, landing the role of in-house photographer at the Fillmore East in New York before blagging a job in London to photograph the Sgt Pepper’s press launch. Famously self-taught, she aligned herself to the greats of 60s music – Lennon, McCartney and Dylan, “none of whom could read music….it’s the innocence that’s important to them,” by saying that her lack of training, her lack of knowledge on what was ‘right’, helped her capture the perfect shot.

Her photographs are generally fantastic. One such shot was of Beatles fans taken from the passenger side of the car as it sped out of Abbey Road. There’s another, possibly from the same day, of Paul reflected in the rear view mirror, a London bus coming in the opposite direction. Much of it is rapid fire, in the moment stuff and as a result, far more interesting than a carefully-planned photo session.

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If ever the phrase ‘winging it’ applied to anyone, it was to Linda McCartney. And once ensconced in Paul’s band, she took it to a whole new level. Paul wasn’t about to take heed of what anyone thought though. He trusted Linda with keyboard duties and occasional vocals and she gamely met the challenge. After heavy criticism of his first two albums, Paul assembled a band that he could write with and take on the road – get back to where he once belonged, ‘n all that. The result was Wings and Wild Life, an odd album in many ways, but one which has enough McCartney magic that it deserves reappraisal.

You’ll need to wait until side 2 before hitting the good stuff, mind you. There’s a theory that the running order for Wild Life album is quite deliberate, that it reflects the ebbing and flowing of a just put-together band getting to grips with one another’s quirks and foibles, seeing what one another is capable of before knuckling down to the serious stuff on the second side.

Side 1 kicks off with a throwaway one-two, a leather lunged McCartney shouting “Take it Tony!” before leading his new bandmates through Mumbo (as in mumbo jumbo no doubt, on account of the nonsense words and sounds McCartney screams with feeling throughout); four minutes of bad boy boogie; groovy rockin’ guitar, occasional “oooh!” backing vocals and Hammond interludes, all underpinned by pounding piano and McCartney’s driving bass. It’s immediately followed by the shuffling Bip Bop, another mainly instrumental track where the band lay down a groove and take it as far is can go. Which isn’t all that far at all. McCartney was embarrassed by the finished results, claiming it to be the worst song he’d ever written. The groove continues though with a quirky cover of Mickey & Sylvia’s Love Is Strange. Reimagined as skifflish tropical lite-reggae, Paul duets with Linda, mirroring the Everly Brothers’ version that he would have been familiar with.

Warm-up out the way, the band begin to knuckle down to the good stuff. The title track closes side 1, a lilting, waltzing, slow-burner of a song, all descending chords and ahead of their time eco-friendly lyrics. McCartney slides effortlessly into that Little Richard impression he’d worked on on all those early Beatles records as Linda and Denny Laine provide the harmonies in the chorus. Signs of promise then for the rest of the album.

Side 2 opener Some People Never Know may well be my favourite solo McCartney track.

WingsSome People Never Know

It’s got all the essential McCartney ingredients; great chord progression, compressed drums, loose and funky acoustic guitar playing – those subtle string bends are what sets him apart – and a melody that apparently tumbled from the gods. A love song to Linda, it’s a critic-bashing fuck you to the haters who still can’t get over the fact Paul split The Beatles and chose instead to make records with his wife.

No one else will ever see 

How much faith you have in me

Only fools would disagree that it’s so

Some people never know

It’s simple stuff. Enhanced by piano, occasional sleigh-bell and percussive handclaps it’s the sort of track that would’ve slotted effortlessly onto one of those late era Beatles albums. There’s even a weeping slide guitar part that George could’ve played beautifully straight off of the fretboard and out into the ether. Those handclaps and sleigh-bells towards the end bring to mind a busker’s version of Hello Goodbye‘s “He-llo, hey hello-ah!” outro. McCartney’s current touring band could do a really great version of it, although I’m not sure if Paul’s voice could handle the highs and lows of the scales he goes through. If you discover one McCartney back catalogue gem this week, make it Some People Never Know. I guarantee you’ll play it to death.

If Paul McCartney had a signature move during those solo years it was that he’d revisit a track towards the end of the album (Ram/Ram On etc) and on Wild Life, a short mid side reprise of Bip Bop, this time played as a downhome White Album 12 string acoustic instrumental gives way to Tomorrow, another cracker packed full of Beatlish harmonies, unexpected chord changes and the sort of sparkling guitar that last turned up on Abbey Road. Indeed, it wouldn’t sound out of place on that album at all.

The side concludes with the downbeat but beautiful Dear Friend, a piano ballad that addresses his relationship with John Lennon. On Ram, Too Many People hinted at Yoko’s unwanted involvement in all things Beatles. Lennon replied with the biting How Do You Sleep (‘the only thing you done was yesterday, and since you’re gone you’re just another day‘) and the pair tittle-tattled back and forth. Dear Friend was written during the Ram sessions and had he chose to include it on that album, it may have had a different effect on the acerbic Lennon. As it was, by the time of Wild Life, enough public sparring had gone on for McCartney to release the heartfelt tribute to his old pal and former band mate. It’s stark, skeletal and carried by a sympathetic string section as far removed from Spector’s disastrous Long And Winding Road score as possible. A fine closer to a fine album. Get on that there Spotify or whatever and pleasantly surprise yourself. And then get yourself along to Kelvingrove at some point if you can. The exhibition runs until the middle of January next year. No excuses, really.

Get This!, Kraut-y

Travel Agents

I met Charlie Burchill once. Tiny and comically round, he looked like a pantomime pirate who was missing his beard; the tight black jeans, pointy boots and dazzling white blousy shirt that probably cost more than my monthly mortgage repayment brought to mind Captain Pugwash on shore leave. While my 5ft 8″ towered over him I was instantly enlightened as to why that white Gretsch Falcon he was fond of playing in those Simple Minds videos always looked ridiculously over-sized on him.

I’m being a wee bit cruel though; Charlie was very smiley, extremely chatty and, in the same way that he and Jim Kerr had moments earlier been gushing over the Roxy and Bowie 7″s that filled the Wurlitzer we happened to be leaning against, he listened enthusiastically to my stories of how Simple Minds had played a major part in my formative years.

I came to Simple Minds around the time of Glittering Prize and Promised You A Miracle – the New Gold Dream album is an incredibly-produced LP – stick it on at some point and lose yourself in the textures – and while it was Don’t You Forget About Me that brought them to the attention of my mum and the rest of the world, it was I Travel that melted my mind to the possibilities of music.

By the time I’d first heard I Travel, the band had just played Live Aid and were chronologically closer to Belfast Child, Mandela Day, Biko and the posturing, political pap that disenfranchised an entire generation of fans who’d been by the band’s side since the days of the Mars Bar in Glasgow, the knowing Chelsea Girl single and the Empires And Dance album. The New Gold Dream album though had me scampering backwards to see what else the band had done, and it was on a scratched copy of Empires And Dance from Irvine library that I first encountered I Travel. Listening to it as I type, I’m still waiting on a skip that doesn’t happen. Europe has a lang….oblem. It’s funny how music lodges in your head like that, eh?

I Travel was the first track on that album and signalled a brave new direction for the band. Its clattering, steam-powered industrial funk is propulsive, futuristic (still) and highly infectious. It’s the sound of industrial Victorian Glasgow breaking free of its chains, the sound of the shipyard welders’ blow torches set to scorch, the sound of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love as played by art punks from the south side of Glasgow.

Simple Minds I Travel (extended)

I have two copies of I Travel. There’s the original, 12″ version, bought on a rare outing to the Virgin Megastore on Union Street, back in the days when folk still smoked behind the counter and you darenae go up the stairs to the second floor on account of all the scary-looking punks and their brothel creepers blocking the way. I also have a reissued 7″ found whilst rummaging through a box of Gene Pitney and Sonia 7″s in a Lake District charity shop. I was scared to leave it there, unsure of what fate would befall it should I put it back. The 12″ is a well-played piece of vinyl. It was often the soundtrack to drunken teenage stupidity, stuck on at filling-loosening volume as soon as someone’s parents had reversed out the drive for a week in Wales. It’s a great record.

How did they write it? It’s not a guitar tune in the traditional sense. You won’t find the chords on your favourite tab site. Wee Charlie adds occasional textures here and there, and there’s a fantastic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Nile Rodgers-esque flourish midway through, but the song’s genesis must lie somewhere between Derek Forbes’ groovy never-ending bass, the sequenced synths and that head-nodding, rattling rhythm. Imagine being there while the band jammed it, working all its nuances out?! Played live, it’s a cracker;

With the benefit of acquired musical knowledge, it’s clear that Simple Minds had been listening to the right sort of European records. Kerr’s baritone echoes the more esoteric moments from Bowie’s Berlin phase and he sings of culture; decadence and pleasure towns, tragedies, luxuries, statues, parks, galleries. He might even be singing of Glasgow – the lyric certainly ticks all of that subject matter.

Strip everything else away – the 8 note keyboard motif, Burchill’s splashes of colour and Jim Kerr’s vocal and you have a record that sounds like its made by machines with soul. A bit like Kraftwerk, I suppose. In fact, if it popped up vocal-free on 6 Music tomorrow, you could be forgiven for assuming its retro-futurism was the latest Underworld release.

Expertly glued together by John Leckie, I Travel hints at a group of musicians growing into themselves. Hindsight shows that Simple Minds went on something of an imperial run around this time. Imagine if I’d never looked back and instead fell for the stadium shows and the hey hey hey heys. There’s an axis-turning thought.

Get This!

McCartney 3

As the 70s confined the 60s to history, Paul McCartney was public enemy number one. Looking for a scapegoat to blame for the break-up of The Beatles, all fingers pointed in his direction. Just 7 days after the band’s lawyers made the rumours official, he released his debut self-titled solo album, stealing the march on The Beatles Let It Be album, still a month away from hitting the shops.

Recorded on the hop between Beatles’ sessions, sometimes booking into Abbey Road under an assumed name, McCartney was written, played and produced entirely by the man himself. Despite the inclusion of Junk and Maybe I’m Amazed (and the autobiographical Every Night) – two three bona fide McCartney classics, the critics hated it/him. They blamed him for the Beatles split, they thought him cynical for having an album ready to go so quickly and they poked holes in what they considered half-finished songs and ideas.

Paul McCartneyEvery Night

Hindsight of course brings fresh ears and perspective to the album. Recorded just half a year on from McCartney’s kitchen sink ‘n all Abbey Road medley, the yin to the solo album’s lo-fi yang, its close-miked and down-home recording offers an honest insight into McCartney’s state of mind at the time. Contentment sits side by side with piano balladry, scrubbed acoustics and interesting instrumentals.

Paul McCartneyMomma Miss America

Momma Miss America runs the gamut of McCartney’s talents; groovy keyboard, compressed drums, funky bass played like a lead guitar and a stinging solo straight offa Abbey Road‘s The End. It’s one of the album’s most enjoyable tracks. Remember that Kia Ora advert from years ago – “It’s too orangey for crows…“? They shoulda used this to soundtrack it.

While McCartney isn’t an 18 carat gold 10 out of 10 debut, it’s a great portent of what was just around the corner.

Ram is McCartney’s first great ‘solo’ LP. The only album to be credited as ‘…by Paul and Linda McCartney‘, it came just 13 months after McCartney. Stop and consider McCartney’s output at this time; September ’69 saw the release of Abbey Road. April ’70 saw his debut released, just a few weeks before The Beatles’ Let It Be album, and in May ’71, Ram made itself known. That’s an astonishing run of releases. Most musicians would happily retire on the strength of those records in such a short space of time.

Ram was recorded in New York featuring session musicians including future Wings stickman Denny Seiwell. A direct answer to the critics’ accusations of McCartney‘s lo-fi, low budget, low quality material, McCartney went all-out for an album that could match anything he’d done in The Beatles. Recording began in October 1970 (just six months on from that debut release, remember, and bang in the middle of a court case surrounding the dissolution of The Beatles) with McCartney very much in control (and in love). When he’s not singing of married life – Eat At Home and The Back Sea Of My Car painted a picture of domestic bliss – he’s airing his dirty laundry in public. Too Many People was a thinly-veiled dig at John and Yoko and collectively, the remaining Threetles considered 3 Legs very much an attack on them. Again, the critics hated it. Lennon too. They thought it smug, inconsequential and irrelevant. Given the backdrop of music at the time – The Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Who’s Next, Led Zeppelin IV, Sabbath’s Master Of Reality – you could say that McCartney was well out of step with the fads and fashions of the era. Which, of course, makes Ram all the more incredible.

I’ve been somewhat obsessed the past week or so with Heart Of The Country. Leading off side 2, it’s a simple countryish strumalong, a rootsy and rustic distant cousin of Mother Nature’s Son, played by McCartney on a down-tuned guitar, loose and light and airy. Reflecting domestic life on High Park Farm on the Mull Of Kintyre, I want a horse, got a sheep, he sings, wanna get me a good night’s sleep….looking for a home in the heart of the country, it’s easy to see why McCartney could easily get up the noses of critics and ex Beatles. The accompanying video only hammered the point home.

The best bit about the song, of course, is when McCartney breaks into that free-form scat section. Pitched somewhere between his own Rocky Raccoon and Stevie Wonder’s future Sir Duke (I wonder if sly ol’ Stevie was taking notes?) it’s further proof that McCartney did not give two hoots what anyone thought of him. On first listen it sounds throwaway, nonsensical and off-the-hoof, but listen back…the scat mirrors exactly what he’s doing on the fretboard…..and what he’s playing is hard to master. My fingers have tied themselves in knots this week attempting its ridiculous rapid-fire jazz.

No sooner had McCartney released Ram than he was back in the studio. By the end of the year, just 7 months later, the first Wings album would be released. That album, an underplayed and undervalued minor classic, deserves a whole post of its own sometime soon…