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Staton The Bleedin’ Obvious, Mate!

September 21, 2016

  candi-staton-2

For folk of a certain age, Candi Staton is best-known for the horn-driven, string-swept ‘Young Hearts Run Free‘, the disco track that burned up the charts in the boiling hot summer of 1976. It’s such a golden oldie standard these days that it’s easy to forget just how brilliant it is.

Candi StatonYoung Hearts Run Free

For folk of a different certain age though, she will be best known (maybe even only known) for ‘You Got The Love‘. A track initially released 10 years after her only other hit single, it finally came to prominence 5 years later when The Source transformed the original version into a slowed-down, hands-in-the-air rave generation anthem. With its sparse bassline and E-friendly lyric, it captured the mood of the times perfectly.

The Source feat. Candi StatonYou Got The Love

What many folk might not realise is that Candi Staton is as far removed from the notion of one (or two) hit wonder as is possible. Starting out in the mid 50s as a gospel singer (of course – where else can you develop a voice as powerful, as raw, as sky-scrapingly soulful as hers?) she did the rounds of the secular circuit, regularly crossing paths with a young Aretha Franklin and her preacher dad as they likewise found the feet and voices that would stand them in such good stead in the future.

candi-staton-fame-studios

Growing out of the gospel scene, she signed to Fame Studios in Alabama’s Muscle Shoals and re-branded herself as a Southern Soul belter, a big-voiced, big-haired ‘story’ singer. Her versions of Stand By Your Man and In The Ghetto were nominated for Grammys.

Candi StatonIn the Ghetto

Backed by a countryish, harmonica-led clip-clopping rhythm and see-sawing strings, the production places great emphasis on her voice; rich and soulful, skirting across the top of the original with comfortable ease. Just a thought, but had Brian Wilson visited the wide open vistas of the south instead of playing in his sandpit, he might’ve made records like this.

Fast becoming the go-to act for A&R men who you fancied taking a standard (Nights On Broadway, Suspicious Minds) and turning it into a soulified smash hit single, Candi’s albums at the time were criminally neglected, yet they’re packed full of terrific, rarely-heard Southern Soul smashes; story songs that build and peak and turn you inside out with guilt and pain, yet can keep you dancing all night long.

I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’) is classic Candi. The Staples-esque trembling, wobbly guitar intro and loose Fender Rhodes groove, underpinned by an impressive fret-hopping bass guitar allows her vocals to fly.  It’s a cracker…

Candi StatonI’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’)

There’s real grit in her voice, the kind of grit that surely only comes from being a God-fearin’, six-times married Southern woman. Perhaps she took the words of her own Another Man’s Woman, Another Woman’s Man a little too literally, given that it’s a classic cheatin’ song, a waltz-time tale of infidelity and indiscretion sung from the heart.

Candi StatonAnother Man’s Woman, Another Woman’s Man

And here’s The Thanks I Get For Lovin’ You, another loose ‘n funky track that calls to mind Aretha in her late 60s peak. A confession song in the same lyrical vein as the one above, you’d think she’d have learned her lesson by now.

Candi StatonThe Thanks I Get For Lovin’ You

A few years ago, Damon Albarn’s Honest Jon’s Records released a brilliant Candi compilation that gathered together much of the best material from this era. Heartache and heartbreak just never sounded so good. I would tell you to buy the album, but as mock Cockney Damon Albarn might say, that’d be Staton the bleedin’ obvious mate. Bad puns aside, you really should investigate it.

 

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What’s So Amazing? What Keeps Us Stargazing?

September 7, 2016

The perennially-evergreen Teenage Fanclub are currently burning up small venues the length and breadth of the country in a short tour to promote their new album ‘Here‘ which will be, eh, here this coming Friday. The reviews are rave-like in their generosity for the band, perhaps as much an indicator of how much Teenage Fanclub still mean to folk after all these years as much as the gigs are great. Certainly the set-lists have been mouthwatering; a cherry picking of all the best parts of their 26 year history with select new tracks sandwiched in-between where they fit best.

tfc-2016

I used to take great pride in telling folk I’d seen Teenage Fanclub live at least once (and often half a dozen times) a year since 1990 (true, by the way), but since Norman decamped to Canada a few years ago, appearances have been more sporadic. Still, I have a ticket for the big homecoming show at the Barrowlands in December, which, after reading the reviews from Edinburgh last night, I’m impatiently excited about. Like most folk nowadays I’ve had a few listens to the new stuff via an illicit download, something I was keen not to do, preferring to wait for the LP to drop through my door (or more likely a Post office postcard telling me my parcel was at the depot as I’d been out when they delivered) but a link was practically thrust into my hand and, well, what’re you gonna do? It’s terrific stuff, of course, perhaps even ‘Album Of The Year‘ material, but I’m in self-imposed listening exile, waiting until I can stick the record on at full bung in the living room. Only then will I decide on my favourite tracks.

trashcans-kzap

Another band who could easily slip into that ‘Album Of The Year‘ list are the Trashcan Sinatras, but, if you’ve been a regular on here, you’ll be well aware of that by now. The Trashcans and Teenage Fanclub are for me inextricably linked; both from the west of Scotland, of similar age to myself, purveyors of melody-led songs (Songs! Remember them?), long innings with a relaxed approach to releasing new material and both on the edge of cultdom. TFC may be slightly more well-known and, dare I say it, cooler – well, as cool as 5 guys who look like the school prom band made up of moonlighting musicians from the Geography Department can look – but the Trashcans, with their melancholy-tinged pocket symphonies never let me down.

frank-reader-tcs

A few Christmases ago, they made available a free download of The Rainbow Connection, a song that first appeared in 1979 in The Muppets Movie, sung by Kermit the Frog. If you don’t know the Trashcans, this is a very Trashcans thing to do. The song itself is lushly orchestrated, offset by Kermit’s comical croak and creaky front porch banjo.

The original version may have been Oscar-nominated, but the Trashcans make it soar. There’s not much to it really, just a close-miked, crooning Frank accompanied by a couple of guitars, one rich acoustic and one electric, seemingly still playing those bluesy bends that made such a great thing of the band’s Syd Barrett tribute ‘Oranges & Apples’. There’s some synthesised orchestration for good measure and a girl’s voice appears now and again in the chorus in perfect harmony. By the end, the whole things swings and waltzes like a soft shoe shuffle as the ‘oooh-oohs’ fade into the distance.  It’s perfect.

Trashcan SinatrasThe Rainbow Connection

It’s a track that wouldn’t be out of place on current LP ‘Wild Pendulum‘. With it’s rich sonic decoration and loose themes of celestial dreaming it could sit right there at the end of Side 1, the perfect closer for a perfect side of music. Wish they’d thought of that…

I doubt the band would have a problem with you having your own version of their track, so feel free to download it here.

Now go and buy Wild Pendulum from here or here or here. Go! Go! Go!

willie-nelson

Everybody’s favourite pot-smokin’ pig-tailed-sportin’ outlaw cowboy Willie Nelson opened his 2001 Rainbow Connection album with unique arrangement of the title track. Opening with birdsong, mountain streams, a clip-clopping rhythm and a down-home harmonica ‘n sax duet, it’s great. Not Trashcans’ great, but close enough.

Willie NelsonThe Rainbow Connection

*Bonus Track!

Here’s that Muppets version…

The MuppetsThe Rainbow Connection

kermit

 

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The Great British Take-Off

September 1, 2016

Augustus Pablo is perhaps to the melodica what Les Paul was to the electric guitar. Until Augustus, reggae was all about the boom of the bass and the pistol crack of the snare. Pablo took his melodica and made it central to the dub reggae records he played on, fighting for ear space amongst the booms and the pistol cracks, the bringer of other-worldly melody in an already expansive soundscape. Dub reggae is proper long-form music. It’s widescreen, epic and simply massive to listen to. But you knew that already.


When Augustus Pablo teamed up with dub pioneer King Tubby, the results were dynamite. Their ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’ takes the easy flowing lovers’ rock of Jacob Miller‘s ‘Baby I Love You So‘…..

Jacob MillerBaby I Love You So

…..and sends it into outer space with a heady treatment of clatters, bangs, melodi-ka-ka-ka-echos and all manner of sonic enhancements…..

Augustus Pablo/King TubbyKing Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown

It‘s a very influential record. If you know your musical onions, you’ll spot traces of the production in all manner of records, from Massive Attack and St Etienne to New Order and Primal Scream. Would New Order’s ‘In A Lonely Place’ be the record it was if Martin Hannett hadn’t turned to his inner King Tubby for inspiration; Other-worldly? Yep. Claustrophobic and menacing? Yep. Liberal sprinklings of melodica? Yep, yep and yep. It’s dub, man! A rainy, grey, 80s Mancunian, British take on dub, but dub nonetheless.

New Order In A Lonely Place


Primal Scream currently have a very good (and very limited) 12″ on release featuring a dark ‘n dubby remixed take on their own 100% Or Nothing which stretches towards the 10 minute mark, cramming in as many booms, bleeps, skank-filled echoing guitars and, yes, melodica as possible. Somewhere between New Order’s In A Lonely Place and King Tubby’s dub-in-a-cave production, with half-inched vocal refrains from Funkadelic’s One Nation Under A Groove, it’s very good. Echo Dek part II, even. Forever with his finger on the pulse of what’s hot and what’s not, Adam over at the ever-wonderful Bagging Area featured it last week.


In the early-mid 90s, Paul Weller was fond of adding tripped-out, elongated versions of the a-side or even his lesser-known album tracks to his singles. Remixed and re-tweaked almost exclusively by Brendan Lynch, they could usually be relied upon to be the best thing on the single. The Lynch Mob version of debut album track Kosmos is fantastic. Clearly influenced by King Tubby, Lee Perry and all those other progressive-thinking sonic architects, it’s waaaay out there. We have lift off!, to borrow the sample at the start.

Paul WellerKosmos (Lynch Mob Bonus Beats version)

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but it’s best listened to whilst you drive on the M8 on a hazy summer’s evening, just as the sun is setting and an aeroplane is taking off from Glasgow Airport, vapour trails shimmering in the mid-July heat, a stroke of luck that befell me once after dropping folk off at the airport.

le-mod-ica

Anyway, back to Baby I Love You So. Back in 1986, when alternative acts were trying to keep up with the rockist jangle of The Smiths or creating their own heavy, heavy monster sound of goth, 4AD act Colourbox released a very good version.

ColourboxBaby I Love You So

Replacing the melodica with electric guitars may have ‘indied’ it up a bit, but it loses none of its heavy dub or pulsing groove as a result. It’s a genuinely faithful version, replete with sonic wizardry and skanking galore. It’s also a tricky one to track down online, but here‘s the 7″ version, above, and the extended 12″ version below.

ColourboxBaby I Love You So (12″ version)


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Maker’s Marc

August 24, 2016

Like most of you who visit here (my demographic stats tell no lies), I was the perfect age for 80’s pop. At the time I kinda took it for granted that the charts would always be filled with million-selling hit singles with shelf lives longer than the queue for a fake ‘Frankie Says…’ t-shirt at Saltcoats Market.

I spent the decade convincing myself that the era was rubbish for music – with the odd obvious exception, a million-selling single was no guarantee that it was any good. Living in the 80s just wasn’t fair.  My parents watched wide-eyed as the 60s unfolded right in front of them (unbelievably, much of it unfolded while they were in a pub stubbornly listening to or playing folk music. Yeah, yeah, yeah), and cool folk from school with groovy uncles or elder brothers and sisters had a gateway into the eclecticism of the 70s, but what did I have that was exclusively mine? Spandau Ballet? Amazulu? The Art Company? Living in the eye of the norm, it was all bland rubbish really, but when you cast a misty-eyed look backwards nowadays, it’s plain to see the 80’s might not have been half as bad as we convinced ourselves they were. Granted, the music soundtracked a depressing time in which to be a teenager; Thatcher’s self-prophesising comment that ‘there’s no such thing as society anymore’ was splitting the country into haves and have nots, and with mass unemployment, little prospect for school leavers and inner city unrest (thankfully, this never made it to the mean streets of Irvine) for the millions of have nots, it was truly a shite time to be alive. But the circumstances led to some of the greatest ever music – ‘our’ generation’s music; The Specials, The Smiths, you know them all….

soft cell 2

Soft Cell‘s 1981 take on Tainted Love remains just one reminder of how decent the 80s actually were for music. At the time, Tainted Love was nothing more than a non-political catchy single, something that Bruno Brookes played between Swords Of A Thousand Men and Kim Wilde’s Cambodia, something that Steve Wright played before Mr Angry, something that Kid Jensen played immediately after the latest Teardrop Explodes session. You might want to cross-reference artists and release dates here, but I’m sure you catch my drift. Tainted Love was everywhere. Minimalist electro-lite and bouncy, with mysterious gassy hisses every now and again, it was infectious and catchy and even now as I type, it was clearly instantly memorable. Did I as an 11 year old spot the mild whiff of submissive, dangerous, homo-erotic je ne sais quoi emanating from Marc Almond. Of course not! Marc Almond was a pop star. It was his job to dress funny, jaunty leather joy-boy cap or not. Just ask Adam Ant, a man who’s make-up-caked face plastered my bedroom wall, much to my dad’s unease. I doubt he’d ever heard those Marc Almond stomach-pumping rumours, given the enthusiasm by which he cheerily battered the dashboard of our Ford Cortina – “Sometimes I feel I’ve got to (thump thump!!) run away!” – whenever Tainted Love parped it’s way out of the tinny AM radio.

Here‘s the super-extended 12″ version, where Tainted Love breaks down into the band’s skeletal yet soulful take on The Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go?

Soft CellTainted Love (12″ version)

soft cell

I suspect I wasn’t alone in thinking Soft Cell’s version of Tainted Love was the original. It would be a few years later before I discovered the truth (mid 60’s brass-led stirring soul stomper, Gloria Jones, Marc Bolan, etc etc) and when I did, wow!, a whole new world opened up for me. Why couldn’t my mum and dad have been listening to this instead of Hamish Imlach in 1964? Eh? EH?!?

gloria jones

Gloria JonesTainted Love

Here‘s Inspiral Carpets‘ version. Unfairly relegated to 2nd Division Madchester also-rans, early Inspirals were a riot of bowl cuts, bass players called Bungle and badly-rhymed beat-driven garage punk. Easily identifiable by Clint Boon’s skirling Farfisa, many of those early tunes still endure to this day, in my house at least. A proper Plain Or Pan piece must surely be in the offing (I was supposed to be interviewing Tom Hingley recently, but that’s a whole story in itself), but until then, here’s their menacing attempt on Tainted Love, recorded to celebrate 40 years of the NME, a mag (free nowadays) that’s somehow in its 64th year. That’s a pension and a gold watch in old money is it not?

Inspiral CarpetsTainted Love

inspirals

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Rimbaud 3

August 17, 2016

There’s a clip that’s been doing the rounds recently of The Waterboys in session for Chris Evans on Radio 2. They’re tearing their way through a terrific version of Purple Rain, Mike Scott competing for centre stage with an electric violin that thankfully sounds more Hendrix than Nigel Kennedy. If you’ve not seen it you should head off to the usual places forthwith. You can thank me later.


Mike Scott is quite a complex character. From Ayr in south-west Scotland, just down the road from Plain Or Pan Towers, he’s done well to maintain the image of the scruffy-heided beatnik poet hippy who’s the androgynous offspring of Mick Jones and Patti Smith, both in look and musical/poetic vision.


In reality, he’s quite a switched-on guy; arguably more Rambo than Rimbaud. Stories abound that he’s  a sound engineer’s nightmare (“A little less reverb on the snare, thanks, more flange on the subwoofer and can we keep the room temperature to a steady 18 degrees?“) and a promoter’s worst headache (only the very best hotels, with a room as far away as possible in all directions – up and down and either side – from select members of whoever constitute The Waterboys on that particular tour, a strict macrobioticveganwheatfreeglutenfreewhatever diet and a propensity to change the goalposts at the last notice). A perfectionist, then. Or difficult to deal with, you might say.

1985’s This Is The Sea is the real deal though, and any and all of his quirks and imperfections can just about be excused because of it. Full of literal references to the Great God Pan, the healing powers of spiritualism, a kinship with socialism and liberally sprinkled with poetic references alongside the odd Beatles line, it comes bolted onto a steel girders-massive production that Scott himself tagged ‘The Big Sound’. The album is truly epic on a widescreen scale; a heady mix of acoustic and electric guitars, keys, strings and a liberal dollop of Celtic Clarens Clemons-ish saxophone.

waterboys 85

The big hit from the album was of course The Whole Of The Moon, but, essential as The Hit is, there’s far more to the album than that.

Be My Enemy fairly rattles along in double-quick cow punk time, a skifflish, raggle-taffle distant cousin of Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm and most of The Clash’s early back catalogue.

The WaterboysBe My Enemy

Scott is on scorching form, smoothing his ‘rs‘ as he spits as angrily as a posh boy from South Ayrshire can about mainframes shaking, cellars full of snakes and nazis on his telephone. The whole thing kicks like a particularly angry mule and is essential listening. Terrific stuff.

Medicine Bow is a howling storm-warning for some near-future apocalyptic event or other, electric guitars clashing with discordant violins and an out of control piano player.

On the album, it faded to a whisper, but a few years ago a warts ‘n all version of This Is The Sea was released, with the rage in excelsis, full-length version of Medicine Bow included.
The WaterboysMedicine Bow (Full-Length Version)

 

waterboys studio 85

…and here’s The Pan Within. Over 6 minutes of cosmic folk/rock spiritualism. Come with me on a journey beneath the skin, indeed.

The WaterboysThe Pan Within

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A Religious Experience

August 8, 2016

1985. 15 years old. Too young for pubs (I looked about 12) and too old for weans’ stuff like skating and swimming at the Magnum, it was the worst of times. My pals and I started going to a youth club every Sunday night at the church. There was table tennis and pool and a cheap tuck shop. Nice-looking girls went and everything. Now and again you’d have a hormone-filled and hormone-fueled shaky game of pool with a lassie you had absolutely no chance of getting anywhere with, but it certainly brightened the times.

There was one stipulation to attending Youth Fellowship: once a year you had to represent the church in the area Bible quiz. For 50 weeks of the year you got cheap Cola and stilted access to fanciable girls as long as you agreed to mug up on the finer points of the Good Book and answer questions in front of an audience. My one and only participation in this was a truly enlightening moment, though probably not for the reasons the church would have liked.

 

The Pogues with Shane MacGowan, Jem Finer, Darryl Hunt, Spider, James Fearnley, James McNally.

The quiz always took place in one of the ante-rooms or small halls upstairs above the Grand Hall in Kilmarnock. This particular year, the quiz took place the same night as The Pogues were playing downstairs. I had never heard of The Pogues, didn’t know they were playing until we arrived in the church mini bus, but when I saw the queue snaking round the corner, I knew where I’d rather be going. All manner of youth tribes were there; pasty-faced, back-combed goths (I recognised one girl from school who looked nothing like she did on an ordinary day. The guy she was with looked at least 17 years old and she pretended not to see me. Pfffft), old punks with daft-looking triple-pronged mohicans and bondage trousers, a couple of teddy boys and a whole army of Docs ‘n leather and denim jackets, interspersed with the odd Celtic top. I had no idea why folk would wear a football top to a gig, but it wouldn’t be long until I made the connection between the green and white hoops with MacGowan and co.

Anyway, we shambled upstairs into the stuffy confines of the small hall where we’d be quizzing that night. After a few formal introductions from a tweedy man who looked as old as the Bible itself, we got underway. It was all fairly straightforward to begin with; “Who cut Samson’s hair and deprived him of strength?“, “Which Sea did Moses part?“, “What occupation did St Andrew have?“, all that sort of stuff. Then, as the wheat began to separate from the chaff and the questions got tougher, The Pogues took the stage.

In which Book of the Bible….”

S’calledstreamsofwhiskeyanditgoeslikethis…

…did Daniel….

“Kscscscscshhh..thump thump thump….”

(Raising his voice a little) “…meet the Lion?

“stampstompstamp…YOU BASTARD!

(cue nervous giggling and shuffling of feet).

pogues bw

This Pogues lot sounded like just the thing I’d been looking for. The rest of the quiz was punctuated by a whole host of punky, rootsy, rebel shouting, banshee wailing and liberal swearing coming from the floor below, slightly dulled and muffled, but clear enough for all of an offended nature to hear. It was this event that led me to believe in the power of live music. So, thank you Youth Fellowship, for making sure I never missed out.

A year or so later I found myself browsing in Walker’s Record Shop at Irvine Cross. It was the best wee record shop bar none. The two elderly ladies who worked there had an extensive knowledge of music and knew exactly where to find what you were looking for. Years later, when I worked at Our Price and had a good understanding of the mechanics of ordering and returning stock, I realised that Walker’s was so good because they never returned any un-sold stock, so over time the shop had become an Aladdin’s Cave of waiting-to-be-discovered classics. Flicking through the racks one day I chanced upon The Pogues ‘Poguetry In Motion‘ EP. With memories of the previous year’s Bible quiz/Pogues swear fest still fresh in my mind I bought it. My first Pogues record, but certainly not my last.

pogues poguetry promo press

It’s a tremendous EP, a Pogues in miniature for the short-of-attention.

Side 1 kicks off with London Girl, the ‘poppy’ one, all skirling accordion and battered snare, a chicken dance for those folk in Docs ‘n denim I’d seen in the queue the year before, MacGowan growling his way through the London A-Z with youthful abandon.

The PoguesLondon Girl

This is swiftly followed by A Rainy Night In Soho, another London-referencing song, one I didn’t immediately take to (it was too slow for this hopped-up teenager) but in time I’ve come to accept it as the classic it now is.

The PoguesA Rainy Night In Soho

A romantic, (aye, romantic! That drunk ‘singer’ could fair write a love song, eh?) lilting, waltzing gem of a song, it’s the equal of anything Tom Waits might have written had he been an Irish immigrant in London rather than a Californian who lived on the Mexican border. It always annoyed me how MacGowan sings the “now this song is nearly over” line twice, once mid-way and one when it is in fact nearly over, but I like to think his lyrics on the recorded version were a work in progress that he never quite got around to changing. We’ll maybe never know.

shane teeth

Flip the record over and it starts with a thrilling rush of double-speed playing, penny whistles competing with a snarl of shouting and swearing and a tumble of military drums. There’s a great story in the lyrics and the juvenile in me regresses to that night at the Bible quiz every time I hear it. Who knows if it was played that night in the Grand Hall, but I’d bet it was. For its sheer ramshackle stomp, The Body Of An American remains my favourite ever Pogues track.

The PoguesThe Body Of An American

The last track on it is an instrumental two-fingered salute to the Irish traditional musician Noel Hill. He famously called The Pogues music ‘a terrible abortion to Irish music’. ‘Planxty’ is an old Irish pub shout, said the way we say ‘Cheers!’ nowadays. So, the band were saying Cheers! Noel Hill, ironic, like, before launching into a breakneck instrumental with wheezing accordions and marching band drums punctuated by the occasional war cry. Wake up, garandad, they (literally) say. This is where Irish music is at nowadays!

The PoguesPlanxty Noel Hill

It might surprise you to know that the first version of Fairytale Of New York was recorded at these sessions. Producer Elvis Costello had clearly caught The Pogues in a rich vein of form. You may also be surprised to know that Costello and MacGowan had a long-running argument over the arrangement of A Rainy Night In Soho. Shane eventually won, with his choice of flugelhorn solo taking precedence over Costello’s favoured oboe solo. Spinal Tap, eh? Pogues completists amongst you will also be aware that the Costello mix of A Rainy Night In Soho went on the American version instead.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though in all of this is that, in a year where our greatest living musical heroes are no longer actually living, Shane still walks among us, an advert for a debauched way of life that even Keith Richards would balk at.

Pogues completists will also be aware of this….Shane MacGowan having his own religious experience, just in front of Mick Jones as The Clash rage on stage:

macgowan clash

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You Scratch My Back Catalogue, I’ll Scratch Yours

August 1, 2016

In the early 90s, there was no finer sight in music than when the three frontmen from Teenage Fanclub stepped up to the mic as one and filled the room with honey-coated harmonies that surfed across the top of their ramshackle fuzz. Lest we forget, in the year that saw both REM’s Out Of Time and Nirvana’s Nevermind released and racking up gazillions of sales, Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque sat proudly at the top of Spin Magazine’s ‘Albums Of The Year‘ list. And rightly so. Bandwagonesque is classic Fanclub; a welding together of God-sent melodies with a clanging calamity of sweet-sounding guitars. To achieve the overdriven sound that defines much of the album, the band had the amps turned up as loud as they would go, put behind a closed cupboard door and close mic’d up. The effect is a cobweb-dusting thing of beauty, but you knew that already.

tfc 90s

On account of their ability to conjure a slightly wobbly three-part harmony out of thin air, fans of the band renamed them The Bellshill Beach Boys. Lazy writers at the time were less generous, waxing lyrical about the band’s obvious debt to the three Bs – The Beatles, The Byrds and Big Star.

This was the first time I (and I suspect many others) had ever encountered the names ‘Big Star‘ or ‘Alex Chilton‘ and the hastily re-released #1 Record/Radio City twofer that followed on the heels of Bandwagonesque confirmed that Teenage Fanclub had indeed tipped their hat in the particular direction of their 70s idols. Other bands are guilty as charged when it comes to blatant sticky-fingered plagiarism, but Teenage Fanclub were clever enough not to steal whole songs, lock, stock and barrel from Big Star. The overall mood though of Bandwagonesque, from the mid-paced strumming and guitar sound to the uplifting melancholy that sticks itself to many of the tracks (The Concept is essentially a sad song, but it’s sky-scrapingly magnificent. Likewise, December and Guiding Star) is very Big Star. Nowt wrong with that of course.

bandwagonesque reviewPatronising idiot.

Bandwagonesque remains an early high point in a discography embarrassingly rich in high points. Will the new album ‘Here‘, released in just over a month, have the same impact? Going on the strength of the lead single I’m In Love, with its trademark harmonies, fancy chords and Thin Lizzy-ish guitar solo, the early indications are good, but let’s remember that Bandwagonesque was released a quarter of a century ago. That Teenage Fanclub are still releasing records to an always-appreciative audience is fine in its own right.

Alex Chilton and Teenage Fanclub would play a few shows together. They also released a limited single via the NME, where Alex was backed by TFC on one side, and TFC were backed by Alex (kinda) on the other. At some point or other, (I’d like to imagine it was during the sessions for the NME single, though we’ll maybe never really know), Alex and TFC ran through a gloriously ragged live take of Bandwagonesque‘s Alcoholiday.

alex chilton bwAlex ChiltonAlcoholiday

The track is credited purely to Chilton, but if you listen carefully between the clanging chords and underneath Alex’s world-weary, 30-a-day Marlboro-coated voice, you’ll be able to make out Norman Blake’s ooing and aahing backing vocals. It’s a beautiful thing. Perhaps even more beautiful than the original….

Teenage FanclubAlcoholiday

tfc and alex c

Teenage Fanclub have also dipped more than a toe into the extensive Chilton back catalogue. An early US-only single from around the time of Bandwagonesque saw them zip through a brilliant version of Free Again, replete with a kazoo solo, a key change and seemingly, the kitchen sink.

Teenage FanclubFree Again

Free Again is a post Box Tops Chilton three chord boogie that would first see the light of day on 1977’s The Singer Not The Song EP, from a period in time when no-one seemingly gave a damn about Alex. Given the shambolic mess that made up the EP, this was also a period in Chilton’s life when he seemingly didn’t give a damn about folk either, but that’s another article for another day.

Alex ChiltonFree Again

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