Hard-to-find

It’s Just A Simple Metaphor

A week before my 16th birthday, with freshly-minted National Insurance card in my hand, I went into the local supermarket with my pal and left half an hour and one unexpected interview later – “Q. With what method should you lift a heavy box? A. “The mechanical method, of course.” –  with my first job. 4 hours on a Saturday morning and a further 3 on a Monday night would give me enough disposable income to buy a record and pay for a pint if I was lucky enough to be served, with enough left over to allow me to save a fiver for a rainy day. I can barely save a fiver nowadays, but back then the world was my oyster and the possibilities were endless.

That job paid for some of the best records in my collection. Once I’d discovered The Smiths, I’d buy a different 12″ each week until I’d caught up with their latest release. Likewise with New Order. The only other person I knew who liked The Smiths was Steven Cairney, so when he mentioned them in the same sentence as Echo & The Bunnymen and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, those bands were next on my hitlist. A record collection that was thus far populated by the most generic of records – every evenly-numbered ‘Now‘ album for example, but only up until Now 8 (my gran bought me a Now album every Christmas and died after Now 8), a smattering of Adam & the Ants and Madness albums and a couple of Greatest Hits collections from Blondie and Queen – began to take shape, growing in direct corelation to the quiff on my head, previously cultivated in tribute to Love And Money’s James Grant but handily becoming more Morrissey-esque with each subsequent Smiths’ record.

To an extent mirroring what would become my current working environment as the token male teacher in a primary school, I worked as the only ‘man’ alongside a gaggle of slightly older girls, all friends who went to a different school from me. They were all at least a year above me. One or two had actually left school, and were students in Glasgow. When you’re 16, 18 year old girls seem incredibly exotic and so far out of reach. These girls weren’t actually that exotic – they were mostly from the Ayrshire backwaters (which, to some, makes them incredibly exotic) but they were definitely out of reach. All had boyfriends and chittered and chattered about them for every long hour of their shift. One or two of the boyfriends had cars and one, Tony, (I may have changed his name) had a motorbike. They always asked me about my hair, which I knew was a constant source of amusement for them. “Is it sticking up when you wake up in the morning?…….How d’you keep it up?” they’d ask in barely disguised metaphors. “With Brylcreem,” I’d reply obliviously. Giggle Giggle, gaggle gaggle, chitter, chatter, chitter, chatter, hee-hee-hee! For four hours every Saturday and three on a Monday after school.

On one shift, over the click-click-click of an old hand-held pricing gun, one of the girls got chatting to me about music. “D’you like Lloyd Cole?” she enquired. I’d only just bought Rattlesnakes on the back of Steven Cairney’s mentioning of them, so I talked a wee bit about it. In truth, I loved Rattlesnakes, I still do, but I wasn’t going in feet-first with that admission. “D’you like the song ‘Forest Fire’?” she asked. It was my favourite track on the album. “D’you know what Tony wrote to me? He left a note in my bag that said ‘We’re a forest fire, every time we get together.’ Isn’t that the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard?” It was just about the most adult thing I’d ever heard at that point in my life, that was for sure, and I can never hear Forest Fire without the flashback memory, me in my over-sized company work jacket, cuffs turned up out of necessity rather than in tribute to Don Johnson, she in her work-provided gingham dress and grown-up outlook on life. Flash bastard Tony, with his motorbike and his brilliant-looking desert boots and his collapsed-quiff fringe and his just-left-school boy about town swagger has forever killed it for me.

Lloyd Cole & The CommotionsForest Fire

It’s a great track though, and probably the first I heard where I realised a guitar solo didn’t have to mean a lightning-fast blur of fingers on the 24th fret of a jaggy-shaped hideous guitar. Johnny Marr didn’t go in for guitar solos at all and was the very antithesis of what a guitar hero was supposed to be. Will Sergeant peppered Echo & The Bunnymen’s finer moments with effect pedal-heavy shimmer, something I was unable to replicate on the cheap plank of wood I had the cheek to call a guitar. But on Forest Fire, Neil Clark’s slow-burning twang fits the mood perfectly, closing side 1 of the album with a brilliant repetitive refrain. It’s a guitar solo you can sing. It’s even a guitar solo I can play. It was, for many a year, the only solo I ever needed. Even if it’s been ruined by Tony forever.

Hard-to-find

Sole Music

Who Knows by The La‘s is the track that time forgot. Their one perfectly imperfect album, famously overcooked by a succession of well-intentioned producers, prodders and preservatists, and, despite John Leckie rounding up an actual Abbey Road mixing desk that had channelled yer actual Beatles and a Lennon solo session, devoid of the requisite amount of authentic 60s dust to sate Lee Maver’s unsatisfied and unsatisfiable mind nonetheless contains a dozen short ‘n snappy, frantically scrubbed belters; Way Out, Doledrum, I.O.U, I Can’t Sleep, There She Goes – I really should just list them all – clatter, clang and chime like the best of the band’s undeniable influences.

Mavers, and therefore by default, the band, hated the finished album so much they immediately disowned it. Everyone else though was enthralled by its lo-fi urgency and keening need to drag ‘indie’ music, at the time populated by greasy-fringed posh boys from the Home Counties who played their tunes through banks of overcooked effects pedals, back to a classic songwriting mentality. Too late for the golden era of 60s pop and too early for what would become (gads) Britpop, The La’s ploughed a lone, stubborn furrow for roughly the length of time it took their visionary leader to smoke a six foot spliff to the roach before vanishing in a fragrant puff of smoke.

With each passing year their legend grows. Aborted sessions with young Liverpool musicians too young to have appreciated The La’s first time around, sporadic, erratic live appearances including a short, unpublicised tour 7 or 8 years ago (drums played by the fella who cut Lee’s grass) and a rare spotting of Lee in a Liverpool local banging the bongos at an open-mic acoustic night have all gone a way to helping maintain the myth with a much-resigned and decreasing fanbase.

That sketch above appeared online a couple of weeks ago. Purportedly scribbled by Mavers himself, it’s another reason to hang in there. What else lies in drawers, in cupboards, in studios, long-forgotten?

Will we ever hear new La’s material again? Don’t be daft. Of course not. Thanks to the world wide web, there are a multitude of La’s demos, sessions and alternate versions to gorge yourself upon. Despite this though, two things remain tantalisingly conspicuous by their absence;

1. Lee Mavers has absolutely no online presence at all. He is a 21st century hermit. A recluse happy to live off the not insubstantial royalties that pour monthly through his letter box on the back of There She Goes‘ enduring appeal.

2. You can search and search. You can ask Siri. You might even still be able to Ask Jeeves, but you’ll never find more than one version of Who Knows, The La’s track that time forgot.

The La’sWho Knows

Who Knows is fantastic. Going by its non-appearance on any of the La’s demos or live shows that circulate, it was seemingly recorded once and once only, commited to tape and preserved forever as a one-off recording. Featuring a simple, cyclical acoustic riff and a fragile, voice in the dark vocal, it floats across the ether on a vapour trail of morse-code guitar transmissions, radio static and a heavy reverb that swallows the whole track up at the end. Someone should see that it soundtracks the shipping forecast and it would be the best thing ever.

Who knows what tomorrow knows? Who knows what the future holds? Who knows?

That’s it in a nutshell. Lee. In a room. Playing for no-one but himself. Thank goodness someone (Bob Andrews, since you’re here) magnetised it all to tape. It made its only appearance on the b-side of the original There She Goes single. The cosmic, slightlydelic yin to the shiny, radio-friendly yang. Those in the know should’ve put it on the album at the expense of Liberty Ship. It would’ve made the perfect Side 1 closer. Why didn’t they? Who knows indeed.

Mavers. 2017.

New! Now!

I Know This Much Is True

BBC4 on a Friday night fairly throws up some unintended gems. A Bluebell here. A Dexy there. A pre right wing Morrissey, helicoptering a bunch of gladioli above his towering quiff immediately afterwards. It’s the iPod on shuffle, sublime to the ridiculous nature of it all that makes it so watchable. Don’t like Nik Kershaw? That’s fine. Stick the kettle on, he’ll be off in a tick. Shakatak? Might as well stick a couple of slices of bread in the toaster while you’re there. Be quick though Dad, here comes Bananarama, a right eyeful of bleached hair and bleached denim who’ll just as quickly choreograph themelves off of the stage to make way for Spandau Ballet.

Tony Hadley, in his ridiculously high-waisted, multi-pleated leather trousers and pinky-pointing, skinny mic toting foppish 80s pomp thought he was the real deal. He knows which camera is on him and looks directly at it, head slightly up and flared nostrils to the fore, straining his way through True with all the grace of a wounded buffalo.

I bought a ticket to the wuh-huh-hurld, but now I’ve come back again,”

When the rest of Spandau Ballet drop out and leave his vocals heaving the second part of that line in dead air, you just know they turned to one another in the control room during the first playback on the day of recording it and high-fived one another, banding around ridiculous words like ‘Smokey‘ and ‘Marvin‘ and ‘soul‘ and combinations thereof. Soul for Ford Capri drivers maybe, but not real soul. To coin an ancient phrase, I know that, you know that, but they don’t know that.

Then there’s Curtis Harding. You might be familiar with him already. You might not, but you should make it your business to do so. He’s the real deal, Tony, and no mistake. From the ‘Curtis’ down, it’s a classic soul name. Syllabically it’s even the same as another of those greats; Cur-tis Har-ding/O-tis Re-dding. Alongside fellow forward-thinking retro revivalists such as Benjamin Booker and Leon Bridges, his second album is the latest in a line of brand new soul (not nu soul) records that take their cues from the best of the 60s and 70s recordings that defined the genre.

Harding first learned his trade like all good soul men do by touring the gospel halls with his piano-playing mum. Following a stint cutting his teeth in the backround with Outkast and Cee-Lo Green, he made the decision to step out front and go it alone. What sets Harding apart is his determined approach to push his chosen genre forward.

Curtis finds soul in Atlanta’s punk scene. He finds it at hip hop shows. Bob Dylan records. An old Sam Cooke 78. The phased and whacked out guitar sounds on the Nuggets compilation. Soul is everywhere might well be the Gospel According to Curtis Harding. If his debut Soul Power was a thing of assured beauty, the just-released follow-up Face Your Fear is even more so. This latest collection of songs, produced by Danger Mouse in his old school-friendly, analogue-heavy studio goes a long way to dispelling the myth that classic soul is a thing of the past. Face Your Fear might well be a contender for Album of the Year. I don’t think I’ll tire of playing it anytime before his next offering, it’s that good.

Curtis employs a magpie-like approach to twisting his influences into boxfresh originality. You’ll hear the obvious instruments associated with a soul album; pistol crack snares, filling-loosening basslines, clipped chicken scratch guitar, the occasional wah-wah, honey-coated brass stabs and sky-scraping string passages, not to mention the occassional call-and-response cooing of a sweet soul sister, but it’s the way they’re arranged that steers Curtis away from potentially hokey Lenny Kravitz pastiche territory and into a brave new world of modern soul.

 

Opener Wednesday Morning Atonement, with it’s wonky effects, descending bassline and effect-heavy “Hello children…” lead vocal could’ve come straight off one of those mid 70’s Stevie Wonder masterpieces, fuzz guitar and eerie strings notwithstanding.

Curtis HardingWednesday Morning Atonement

Buy the album!   UK   USA

 

The title track Face Your Fear is Curtis aping his more famous namesake, a falsetto-led minor key mini symphony. All that’s missing is a subtle wockawockawocka bed of gentle wah-wah guitar and you’d have a cut that wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack to Superfly.

Curtis HardingFace Your Fear

Buy the album!   UK   USA

Go As You Are is the track that back in the day you might’ve called the lead single. The more keen-eared amongst you may have heard it ‘spinning’ on BBC 6 Music over the past few days or so.

Curtis HardingGo As You Are

It’s Dr John by way of Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues, atmospheric, paranoid and moody as hell, Harding’s vapour trail vocals tapering off and out into the night.

Buy the album!   UK   USA

There are great albums and there are grrrreat! albums. Curtis Harding‘s Face Your Fear is one of them. Trust me.

 

 

 

 

Cover Versions, Get This!, Live!

Beach Bummer

I’ve kinda lost my way a wee bit with Neil Young. I bought Le Noise, 7? 8? years ago, played it once then filed it on the shelf alongside all the other inessential Neil albums of the time. Chrome Dreams II, for example. Or the live one that came out around 2001 and included a couple of tracks as yet unavailable elsewhere (I think). Without reaching for either of them, I doubt I could tell you a single track on them. Jeez – I can’t even tell you the name of one of them. You buy things out of blind loyalty to an artist and that’s what happens.


I’m also out of touch with where his Archive series is up to. Are we still just on Volume 1 of the sprawling, all-encompassing Blu-Ray only release? Like many here, I suspect, I’m quite happy to admit I liberated the best of that release via one of the many Torrent sites that clutter up the darker corners of the internet. Some of the stuff probably ended up featured in posts on Plain Or Pan too. And those first couple of live shows he released on his more budget-friendly Neil Young Archives Series – the Massey Hall and Filmore shows – are essential for any and all fans of raggedly-plucked acoustic rock and ragged and raucous sprawling rock music. A quick trip to Wiki tells me there are around a further half dozen such releases, no doubt all good, but I just don’t seem to have the time to invest in them. Sorry Neil, although I’ll probably get around to Hitchiker at some point soon. It does float my boat in all the best ways; vintage mid 70s material scrubbed up for these days? Sounds great.

                                  V Festival

Why though would you want to seek out a ropey live recording featuring Neil and his International Harvesters when you could be diving headfirst instead into his self-proclaimed ‘Doom Trilogy’? Neil, never one to conform to expectations was at an all-time career high with 1972’s Harvest album. Building on the themes and musical styles of its predecessor After The Goldrush, Harvest spawned an actual hit single, with the lilting cowboy balladry of Heart Of Gold seemingly assuring Young his place at the top table of FM-friendly pop alongside other chart-bothering acoustic balladeers such as Paul Simon and Don McLean. Instead, Young yanked hard on the steering wheel and, in his own words veered into the ditch.

“ ‘Heart Of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road. Travelling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.”

Interesting right enough. Friends ravaged by drugs. Failed relationships. Death. Despair. The end of the 60s ideal. Recommending Reprise Records sign this hippyish new singer by the name of Charles Manson…..


Young took the path less travelled, wrote the songs he wasn’t expected to write and ended up with a trilogy of fantastic albums. Much of this music achieved mythical, cult status as the years grew, due in no small part to  Young willfully deleting the key albums and, in the advent of the CD era, refusing to have them released on the shiny new format. Citing the poor sonic quality of the format (according to Neil, compared with vinyl only about 5% of the recorded music makes it from the CD and out of your speakers. The other 95% is a flattened, compressed version of the real thing), Neil Young hates CD with a passion. He’s analogue all the way, which is why if you can track down original vinyl copies of On The Beach, Time Fades Away and Tonight’s The Night you should buy them forthwith and revel in the tunes in the grooves.


On The Beach is easily one of my favourite albums of all time. Hardly a ringing endorsment from a barometer of hip opinion such as myself, but it truly is a terrific LP. Years ago my sister went a trip to New York and when she asked if I’d like her to bring me anything back, I replied that I’d hate to think she’d find a copy of On The Beach and not buy it. She only went and did. A first issue, Reprise Records release, with the famous psychedelic printing on the reverse of the cover too. An astonishing present.

Hardly a rollicking good time, On the Beach is the sound of depression, paranoia and nervous breakdown. But if it’s self-indulgent, self-obsessed music you’re after, look no further. Charles Manson, the young hopeful he’d suggested to Reprise had by now commited his heinous murders. Young sings about it in the scratchy, jittering Revolution Blues, assisted by The Band’s Rick Danko and Levom Helm on bass and drums and David Crosby on rattly and erratic rhythm guitar.

Neil YoungRevolution Blues

It’s the sound of anti-commercialism in every way. Downbeat, downplayed and downtrodden, Vampire Blues is an eco anthem before such things were considered, Young bemoaning the way the oil industry bore into US soil with scant regard for people or place. “I’m a vampire, baby, sucking blood from the earth,” he sings, a million miles away from Heart Of Gold and the Hot 100.

Neil YoungVampire Blues

Side 2 is even bleaker. Opening with the album’s title track, it starts in slow motion and, as the side progresses, gets slower still. To call it moody and introspective would be too kind. Dylan is moody and introspective. The Smiths are moody and introspective. Even Eurythmics can be moody and introspective. ‘Here comes the rain again’ and all that jazz. But side 2 of ‘On The Beach‘? Listen to it late at night with the lights dimmed low and a fine malt in your hand and you may just never make it upstairs to bed.

Neil YoungOn The Beach

The title track is a gorgeous, chiming ode to despair. “I went to the radio interview….I ended up alone at the microphone.” sighs Neil. “I think I’ll get out of town.” This is the same optimist who, only a few months earlier, had been singing  “I want to live, I want to love, I’ll be  a miner for a heart of gold.” Not now daddy-o. By the time you reach ‘Ambulance Blues‘, the album closer, Neil’ll be informing you that we’re all just wasting our time, “pissing in the wind“. Apparently, side 2 was originally to be side 1 and only at the last minute was Neil convinced to switch it around, something he immedialtely regretted. It means though that the album opens with the jaunty Walk On, a curveball as it turns out, before the mood of the album takes hold. If the album had been released as Young had intended, how many folk would’ve made it all the way to side 2?

*Bonus tracks!

Here’s Mercury Rev’s faithful reworking of Vampire Blues. I remember reading at the time that the band had planned to record the entire On The Beach album and add a track at a time to the b-side of future singles. Did they ever complete this? Seemingly I’ve lost my way with Mercury Rev too.

Mercury RevVampire Blues

Here’s Nina Persson of The Cardigans in her A Camp guise doing a terrific version of On The Beach at the Hutsfred Festival a few years ago. I’m sure this has appeared on Plain Or Pan before, but if you missed it first time ’round…

A CampOn The Beach

Hard-to-find

Just Like That


Last Tuesday morning I went to my parents’ house. 

In the early hours of Wednesday morning I left my parent’s house. 

A week ago tonight my dad passed away. We were all expecting it. Four years fighting cancer doesn’t come without paying the ultimate price, but it was still a terrible shock when it happened. You think you’re mentally prepared for these events, but it turns out you’re not. I described it to someone as like being suddenly smacked across the face with a rusty shovel. A sharp and shocking ‘take that!’ from someone who doesn’t give two hoots for your feelings. 

Is it worse to experience a sudden, unexpected death or is it worse to sit and watch someone fade in front of you? The grief is overwhelming no matter how it happens. I can confirm that. I’ve experienced both. We were all there at the end last week, surrounding him with love and barely-contained fear. Maybe the fear part was just me, but I don’t think so. Stay strong for dad was the unspoken motto, but no matter how strong we were, we couldn’t help him when he needed us most. The afterwards though was in many ways even worse. 

One call to the funeral director unravelled a whole sequence of never-before considered events. 

An on-call doctor confirmed the death. My dad’s GP will have the death certificate ready in the morning, she tells me, just like that. She’s quiet and respectful but very matter of fact. Formal. Efficient. She has living people she must attend to after she leaves. 

The next day I picked up the death certificate made out in my dad’s name from over the counter of the GP practice. “Sorry for your loss,” mumbled the girl awkwardly. We know one another, but not that well, so it was uncomfortable for the both of us. She went back to her typing and filing. I went back to the car and stared at the certificate for a good 10 minutes, focusing on my dad’s name at the top, unable to drive for tears. 

The following day we go to register his death, armed with a handful of yellowing paperwork; birth certificates, marriage certificates, pension info, all manner of documentation that triggers a wave of bureauocratic activity. As I type, admin assistants in offices around the country will also be typing, updating their records. 

Deceased. Dead. Delete. 

Just like that. 

For the past year or so my dad held a blue badge, allowing him to park in disabled spaces. The woman opposite tosses it to the side. Just like that. The full death certificate prints and I’m handed a fountain pen with which to sign it. I’ve just registered my dad’s death. Just like that. 

It’s numbing. Shocking. Final. 

There have been upbeat moments though. The day after he passed we were in the kitchen sharing stories. I told a good one about the time we went to see Scotland v Spain a few years ago. It was another of our football team’s failed attempts at qualifying for a big tournament (the Euros, I think). My dad was so busy watching the Spanish substitutes warm up at half time that he failed to notice the girl sitting right next to me turn round and bare her breasts for all to see. “Did you see that?!?” he enquired excitedly. “The way that pass bent across the pitch…fantastic!” He had no idea what he’d really missed though. 

As we’re laughing and relaxed, momentarily forgetting dad is in the past and not the present, the doorbell rings again. It’s the umpteenth time already that day. An old neighbour pops in to say he’d heard the sad news. Every one of us in the room, the ones who’d been laughing and joking moments before revert to downbeat, sad stereotypes. We must be sad at this time. We are all sad at this time. It’s quite funny if you stop to ponder it. 

I put together the Order Of Service for his funeral last night. He’d planned it all himself. Dictated his wishes while we’d written it all down. It wasn’t hard to put together but it was hard keeping it together. Typing in my dad’s birth and death dates was another of those shocking, final moments. The big final moment is this Friday, after which everyone who’s been through this tells you it starts to get better. I’m sure it does. You’ll be able to tell, as the music posts will begin again in earnest. 

Social media is full today of tributes to Tom Petty. It’s always terrible when a favourite musician dies. A tiny piece of your own fabric dies with them; the memory of buying a record or going to a gig, entwined with the times in which you first experienced their music. It’s a powerful thing when they go. But it’s nothing compared to losing your dad. Nothing. There’s a pun just begging to be written here about Petty/petty but I’ll leave that to someone else. 

Hard-to-find

Clocks

My parents’ house has two front rooms. The smaller one is currently doubling up as a bedroom/sick ward for my terminally ill father. There’s never a clutter of collected tea cups or half-eaten biscuits as my mum busies herself tidying around us, an always-on-the-go highly strung mother hen, just about keeping it together for the good of her brood. The telly is often on, its volume muted, subtitles jerkily appearing out of sync. Now and again one of my dad’s favourite folk CDs will be playing softly in the background. When left alone, my mum sits beside my dad, maybe singing, always holding his hand.

The larger of the two rooms has always been known as ‘the good room’. We are only really ever in there at Christmas and New Year or maybe for someone’s birthday. It would need to be a special birthday though. Compared to the other front room, where the cream carpet has been turned a grubby shade of grey due to non-stop foot traffic over the past two weeks, this room is indeed ‘the good room’. If the nurse or the doctor or the carers turn up, we tend to decamp to the good room while they do their stuff. A couple of days ago my wife and I sat in silence, half listening to the muffled voices coming from the other room, but mainly being distracted by the tick-tick-ticking of an old clock above the fireplace.

I hate that clock,” I muttered to my wife. “It reminds me of being bored at my gran’s.” I’d be waiting for the telly to start, 70’s TV being characterised by the epoch-defining girl playing knots and crosses with the clown – a screensaver before they’d coined such a term – listening to the ticking of the clock working against the clickety clack of my gran’s knitting needles and the smackety snap of her substitute for Silk Cut chewing gum, willing time to speed up and for something, anything to happen.

Now I’m desperate to slow time down. Turn it back even.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Tick tock.

Outside, traffic flashes past on its way to wherever, busy people leading busy lives. And time goes on.

In the supermarket I meet my dad’s pal, a big, proper man’s man, and we burst into tears at the sight of one another. No one seems to notice.

The Chinese takeaway asks if I want a bag. Well, who wouldn’t want a bag for their piping hot, metal-cartoned food?

The woman in the petrol station asks if I have a Nectar card and do I want cash back and would I like a receipt with that? Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock. No thanks.

Driving to my parents’ house I’m stuck behind a literal Sunday driver and I overtake him where I shouldn’t, pushing my old car to the extremes so that I can get to my dad before the nurse does. She has medication in her bag and the big news of the day is that he’s been ‘talking’ to my mum and my sister. ‘Talking’ has been put in inverted commas as he’s more communicating through a series of painful moans and heavy-armed points in the rough direction of his mouth, but still, the prospect of him being awake enough to be aware of who’s in the room is enough to make me press my foot further to the floor. Now I’m the traffic flashing past, a busy person leading a busy life.

I get to my parents’ house.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

This is hellish.

Get This!, Kraut-y

High Times

Wings! The band The Beatles could’ve been!” That’s a line from Alan Partridge. It’s perhaps even his best line. But you knew that already. A-ha.

Between the messy dissolution of The Beatles and the start of the 80s, Paul McCartney kept himself active by touring the world with Wings. Global sellers in their own right, had he only ever created music with Wings, we’d still be talking glowingly about McCartney’s fine musical legacy. As it is, Wings is but a small part in his extensive, sprawling and much undiscovered back catalogue. There’s nuggets in them thar records, just waiting to be unearthed. Many folk know this, but I’d wager that many more don’t.

Even before The Beatles had truly and legally split, McCartney had released his eponymously-titled debut, an interesting collection of snippets and songs recorded at home, some written on the spot, some unwanted leftovers from Beatles’ sessions. Any album that includes Maybe I’m Amazed, Junk and Every Night deserves to be heard.

It would be a mere 9 years – the Wings years – before he’d get around  to releasing the titular follow-up,  McCartney II. Have you ever heard it? It’s nuts. There’s always some wag at work or in the pub who, when you mention The Beatles will tell you they don’t like them. Bollocks! The Beatles have a song for everyone, whether it’s Yellow Submarine or Revolution 9 or anything inbetween. Such a  rich and varied back catalogue reaches out in all directions. But for anyone who tells you they don’t like The Beatles, do two things; 1. Bash them over the head with a heavy frying pan and, 2. After the following history lesson, point them in the direction of McCartney II.

In the run-up to its release, Wings had travelled the world. Well, almost the world. Back in his Beatles days, around their 1966 Budokan dates, McCartney had been caught with marijuana by the Japanese authorities and was immediately banned from the country. The ban stood for over a decade, but the Japanese relented at the tail end of the 70s.

In January 1980, ahead of what would’ve been Wings’ first Japanese tour, McCartney was once again busted for marijuana possession, this time at Tokyo airport and, after 9 days in jail, was ungraciously ejected from the country, an insult and an embarrassment to the Japanese authorities who’d relented on his ban in the first place. Quite what conversations took place ahead of this year’s solo Japanese tour is anyone’s guess, but seemingly Sir Paul McCartney MBE is now as welcome in Tokyo as a delivery of steaks for the sumos in Sapporo.

Where were we?

Oh aye.

In the days following his jail sentence, McCartney found himself back at his farm on the Mull of Kintyre, without a tour, without direction and possibly without a band. So he did what he did best; he dug out his instruments and wrote some songs. Crucially, his usual set up of drums/bass/guitar/keys was augmented by the first phase of samplers and drum machines and McCartney set about creating a new sound.

It’s something of an urban myth these days to suggest that Paul was the ‘soppy, safe’ Beatle and John the ‘edgy, arty’ one. While Lennon was still perfecting his best Dylan sneer on You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, McCartney was heading out (there) to Karlheinz Stockhausen performances and dabbling in musique concrète. It’s a theme that carries to this day, with his ambient and dubby Fireman releases filling up the esoteric corners of his back catalogue alongside his Liverpool Oratorio and sundry other classical pieces. But in 1980, when McCartney II hit the shelves, it proved too much for many.

Even an artist as bulletproof, as guaranteed to sell as McCartney found the going tough; proto techno, blues, chart ballads (Waterfalls), abstract snippets of tunes, it’s a good advert for how (cough) creative you can get when you have an ongoing relationship with soft recreational drugs. No doubt during studio playbacks, McCartney listened through a fug of whatever, judgement quite literally clouded, but listening nowadays, it’s a good album. Not a great album, not perhaps an album that even the writer would point you in the direction of, but it’s certainly not as bad as its sales might suggest. In time it’s grown to be something of a cult album.

It opens with Coming Up, a track that, with its wet funk and chattering guitar interplay screams “Talking Heads!!!” so loudly I can’t begin to wonder how David Byrne must’ve felt when he first heard it. Thrilled on the one hand. Dialling a good copyright lawyer with the other, no doubt. To be fair, McCartney freely admitted he was clearly in awe of Talking Heads and David Byrne’s ‘anti-commercialism’ at the time. And, not that it makes it right, but he’s been on the wrong end of dozens, hundreds, thousands of copy-cat records. Gamekeeper turns poacher, and all that.

Paul McCartneyComing Up

Elsewhere, you’ll find the catch-your-breath, that’s not Paul! Temporary Secretary, all bleeps and bloops and synthetic Kraftwerk rhythms, speeded up vocals spinning ad nauseum.

Paul McCartneyTemporary Secretary

Play it to someone who’s never heard it before and they’ll never believe it’s the same person who plucked Yesterday out of thin air and into homes the world over.

… or the wonky instrumental Frozen Jap (really Paul?!?) with its pseudo Eastern scales and stoned to the bone rudimentary drum machine.

Paul McCartneyFrozen Jap

… or Check My Machine, b-side to the album’s chart hit Waterfalls, with its nagging keyboard riff and Tweety Pie and Sylvester samples. The dull thudding sound you can hear in the background is the sound of the Super Furry Animals and De La Soul fighting it out over the right to sample it first.

Paul McCartneyCheck My Machine

McCartney has better albums; Ram, McCartney and Wild Life for starters, much of Wings’ back catalogue (Band On The Run? Of course. Venus & Mars? Very likely) as confirmation, but if it’s truly out-there stuff you’re looking for from the popstar who, on the face of it, never veers far from the middle of the road McCartney II might just knock yer socks off. Play it for the anti-Beatles person in your life and see what they think.