Random Order

October 20, 2016

New Order. One of the truly great bands of the last 35 (!) years. That’s undisputed fact, but you know that already. Theirs is a history you’ll be well familiar with; the untimely death of a key member forcing their metamorphosis from the finest industrial grey post-punk act to a technicolour pop explosion, albeit with a heavy hint of the shading of yore.


If you can ignore the sad pantomime of claims and accusations that’s become synonymous with their brand over the past few years, and put up with some of the sub-par material they’ve put their name to in that time – due to the availability of illegal downloads, Waiting For The Siren’s Call was the first New Order album I didn’t buy on the day of release. It was a right clunker before it was even in the shops to buy and it’s still a right clunker now. Their most recent, last year’s Music Complete was a fine return to the heady rush of Technique and a sun-kissed late 80s Ibiza, so, y’know, you take the good with the not so good. Every band who’s been at it for this long are allowed the odd dip in form, are they not? Despite this, I’d wager that New Order are probably one of your favourite bands.

New Order, NYC 1981

Hidden at the back of their sparkling discography is 1981’s second single Procession. It popped up via the lottery of the iPod shuffle on the commute to work the other day, and it’s subsequently become my latest musical obsession. My play counts (I know, I know) currently show I’ve listened to it 14 times since Tuesday. It’s playing as I type and it’s likely to cross the 20 plays threshold before this piece is published. I’m still not fed up of it.

Ask a casual New Order fan to list their favourite tracks and it’s unlikely Procession would be one that makes the list, yet it’s beautiful and otherworldly, strange and obscure, soulful and hypnotic, arty, pretentious and in short, everything that makes New Order so unique.

New OrderProcession


It‘s the record that sees the band peek through the outer shell of the Joy Divsion cocoon, almost but not quite ready to fly as New Order. Bernard still has the Curtis-apeing vocals (and image – see above), all character-free one liners (in itself character) which he tries his best to sing from somewhere below his knees, but the band soars. Driven by Hook’s instantly-recognisable trademark bassline, it’s awash with synths, electronically-enhanced drums and a wheezing, clattering guitar that verges on the point of being in tune. The magic touch though is Gillian Gilbert’s call-and-response vocals in the ‘chorus’, the sweet yin to Bernard’s morose yang. It works a treat – one of New Order’s finest compositions.

Taken from the excellent Factory Records – Complete Graphic Album

In true band style, Procession never made it onto any New Order album at the time, such was the high standard bands like this set for themselves in those days. Procession was released in a multitude of sleeves (9 differently-coloured ones – collect ’em all, Factory fetishists) featuring some beautiful Italian Futurist artwork on the cover. New Order and Futurism, the perfect partners.





By George!

October 13, 2016

George Harrison, the youngest Beatle, bullied by John and Paul into 2nd tier status in the band, was essentially the runt of the litter yet wrote some of their most enduring songs. When writing sessions were underway ahead of a new Beatles’ recording, poor George had to bide his time while the other two writers hogged the limelight with their latest offerings. Only after they had been given careful consideration would George be allowed to show off what he’d been working on. In any other band, he’d have been the principal writer and held in higher esteem, but in The Beatles he was lucky to get more than one of his tracks onto each album.


By 1968’s ‘White Album’, George had a handful of future classics under his belt. Writing sessions in Rishikesh in northern India proved particularly fruitful. The Beatles plus associated wives/girlfriends along with a raggle-taggle mismatch of musicians and actors (Donovan, Mike Love, Mia Farrow and her sister ‘Dear’ Prudence) gathered at the feet of the Maharishi to find out the ways of tanscendental mediatation.


The trip was not without incident;  Ringo visited a doctor due to a reaction to the inoculation he’d taken before going, John complained that the food was lousy (Paul and Jane Asher loved it) and the Maharishi, as peace-loving and spiritual as he may have been, turned out to be a randy old man, intent on bedding as many of the female guests as he could.

George was particularly taken with meditation, leading John to quip, “The way George is going, he’ll be flying a magic carpet by the time he’s forty!

Against this backdrop, John, Paul and George wrote many songs that would appear on the new Beatles’ album at the end of the year. Donovan turned John onto a new style of fingerpicking that he’d picked up from the folk clubs and Lennon put it to good use on Dear Prudence. George might’ve been equally inspired, as the descending bass run that characterises Dear Prudence makes it into a couple of his own songs on the White Album.


While My Guitar Gently Weeps began life as a downbeat campfire singalong; folk in a minor key, with the ubiquitous descending bass line offest by an uplifting bridge. It’s understated and simple, nothing like the album version.

George HarrisonWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps (demo)

George had to wait an agonising 8 weeks from the start of the album sessions before being given the chance to showcase it. Quite how he kept his mouth shut as John ran through days and days of tape loops creating the arty (but tuneless, let’s be clear) Revolution 9 while Paul completed dozens of takes of the reggae-lite Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and even Ringo had his moment in the spotlight with his honky tonkin’ Don’t Pass Me By is very impressive, but when given his moment (“I always had to do about ten of Paul and John’s before they’d give me the break,”) he rose to the occassion.


The demo of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was used as the blueprint and added to with layer upon layer of guitar and vocals through the use of an 8-track recording machine (the first Beatles’ track to do so) until it was the super-heavy version that appears on the album. An uncredited Eric Clapton was asked by George to play guitar on it. George had been bemoaning the fact that he’d spent hours aimlessly trying to recreate a weeping sound for the track and asked his pal instead to play the solo, which he did with majestic, understated aplomb.

The BeatlesWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps

It’s a perenial favourite, never bettered than when Prince put the other ‘stars’  – heavyweights Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood – firmly in their place with his outrageously brilliant cameo at the 2004 Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame. Two questions, the first rhetorical. How overjoyed does Dhani Harrison look when the wee man steps up and takes the song to a whole new level?

Secondly, what happens to Prince’s guitar at the end? Watch….


Big Brown Bag

October 4, 2016

The mid 60s was an extremely fertile period for James Brown. By then he’d moved away from the tear-soaked, down-on-his-knees gospel/soul that defined much of his early career. Relatively straightforward 12 bar song structures were replaced instead by jerky, jagged one-chord grooves. Brass stabs emphasised the first beat – “On the one!” as he’d instruct his musicians, and the tracks would tick along with well-timed metronomic precision. No-one knew it at the time, but the Godfather of Soul was inventing funk.

To be in James’ band then must’ve been terrifically exciting, yet extremely stressful. Here you were, creating this new form of dance music, all the while unable to enjoy playing for playing’s sake, lest you miss the beat and risk a fine from the boss. James Brown records are littered with phlegmily barked instructions; “Horns! (Bap! Bap!) Maceo! (Toot! Toot!) Pee-ann-er! (rinky dink dink dink) – every musician hitting his part with laser precision. Miss the beat and you’d find your pay packet a wee bit lighter come the end of the week.

When you strip the records down into their component parts, they’re extremely simple affairs. Take 1965’s Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. Individually, there’s fairly little going on; a rickety-tick drum beat played by Melvin (brother of Maceo) Parker, a repetitive, a see-sawing, octave-hopping bass line, a simple horn section, blasting ‘on the one’, a chicken scratching guitar, stuck forever on a Major 9th chord (I think it’s Db, though the released recording was sped up half a tone to make it faster and more energetic, so this, muso minds, would in effect make it an E major 9th) and James’ gravel-throated lyric about an old guy who’s discovered he likes the new dance all the kids are doing.


James Brown’s Star Time box set – one of THE essential additions to any serious music collection features the complete, unedited take of Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. When the track was originally released as a single, it was edited so that ‘Part 1’ became the a-side, and the extended funk workout that followed was renamed ‘Part 2’ and featured on the b-side.

James BrownPapa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Parts 1, 2 and 3)

The box set includes James Brown’s declaration that, “This is a hit!” before a note is even played, and for the next 7 or so minutes, the band follows their leader with an unnerving mechanical rhythm. The whole recording sounds tight and taut, lean and mean, stripped of unnecessary excess and flab. It fair packs a punch.

A favourite dancefloor filler in this part of the world, it can make my pal Greg move in ways a white man from the west of Scotland has no real right to. Soul of a black man, feet of a rhythmically-challenged Glaswegian. Right on.

You know this already, of course, but James Brown’s influence goes far and wide. Early 80s DIY punk/funk collective Pigbag named their signature instrumental Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag in clear homage. An instantly catchy 8 note riff, it failed to chart initially.

PigbagPapa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag


Nowadays, Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag is ubiquitous with over-zealous, celebratory football chants and montage soundtrackers who think they’re still making yoof programmes for the TV, thanks in no small part to Paul Oakenfold’s ‘monsta!’ souped-up makeover around 20 years ago, but Pigbag’s original version took 2 or 3 goes before it went chart-bound. The Jam, in particular their keen-eared, sticky-fingered bass player Bruce Foxton, must’ve been blushing slightly when it eventually started gaining airplay.


By this time their own Precious, out as a double a-side with A Town Called Malice was starting to get played on the radio and you couldn’t help but notice the (cough) similarity between the two tunes.

The JamPrecious (12″ version)

The Jam even went as far as naming their posthumous live album Dig The New Breed, a line from the James Brown tune that kicks off this post. Which just goes to show, what goes around comes around.



Staton The Bleedin’ Obvious, Mate!

September 21, 2016


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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!


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




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.


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)


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


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