I’ve Been Watching You by The Southside Movement is exactly the sort of record that could have even the most conservative of Sunday drivers pick up the pace to an even 32 mph and cruise the streets while Detroit leaning like a Fedora’d pimp in heat-hazed Harlem. Its mid 70s groove, a head-nodding amalgamation of on-the-one funk bass lines and metronomic kick drums is tailor-made for the job. One look at the band responsible for putting such a groove together should give you an idea of what it’s like, should you be lucky enough to be listening to the track for the first time.
The Southside Movement – I’ve Been Watching You
The mid-paced care-free groove belies that fact that underneath the funk there’s a mildly stalkerish theme going on, essentially the tale of a married man watching unseen as the (married) woman of his desires goes about numerous clandestine affairs. Spy and the Family Stone, if you will.
Its four-to-the-floor funkiness wasn’t at all lost on the Beastie Boys. Where other rap acts take a huge chunk of something groovy and loop it forever in the foreground, I’ve Been Watching You was ‘bitten’ (the band’s term for underhandedly borrowing a desirable part of a record that could be played by the band themselves) and used as the basis for So What’cha Want, one of the Beastie Boys’ greatest tracks.
Starting with the sound of the Southside Movement’s bass drum spinning in full effect on an old Technics turntable, Ad Rock jumped on board, adding extra kicks and snares and building layer upon layer of that huge dunk, kack, da-dunk, kack… rhythm. It’s Trampled Underfoot While The Levee Breaks, the sound of John Bonham playing loudly in a cave. Slightly sloppy but very massive.
Beastie Boys – So What’cha Want
Once the beat was in place, Ad Rock looped it ad infinitum and called his Beastie bandmates in to hear what he’d done with the sample. The vocals came quickly, the trio weaving in and out in trademark fashion, their voices distorted by happy accident through the cheap karaoke mics they were using in place of the more sophisticated microphones normally found in a recording studio. When the track began taking shape, Adam Yauch suggested the band throw away the sample and play the whole thing themselves, which they ultimately did.
So, not quite sampled then (there’s no writing credit at any rate, which wasn’t uncommon in 1991), but if you strip away the layers of noise on top, disregard the whacked-out distorted vocals, dismantle the incessant guitar riff, the squeaky Hammond and the cinematic atmospheric fade-ins, the genesis of the whole record breaks down to that simple kick drum beat. Kick it!, as someone once said.
From the album Check Your Head, So What’cha Want is the product of the band’s relocation to LA, where they built a studio and furnished it with vintage equipment. Such was the era, the studio-based musicians of the day favoured more portable keyboards and digital equipment over bulky, fragile and unreliable vinatge gear from the 70s. The Beasties were eagle-eyed scanners of the classified ads and would be first to react when any listing for Fender Rhodes or Moog synth jumped out at them – a sad irony they said, as the musicians selling the equipment were usually doing so because they’d ‘failed’ to ‘make it’. Here were the Beastie Boys though; forward-thinking, vintage-loving musical magpies.
There’s a terrific Beastie Boys Book out just now, a chronological telling of the band’s history through eye-witness accounts, whacked-out recipes and mix-tape suggestions. Packed full of brilliant candid shots of the band plus associates (and NYC), it goes without saying you should have it on your Christmas list. Expect more Beastie-related stuff in the coming weeks as I work my way through it.
In 2005 the Berlin based Scottish artist Douglas Gordon came up with the idea of creating a film about Zinedine Zidane. Zidane was at the time arguably the finest football player on the planet; an attacking midfielder who played the free-roaming number 10 position while wearing the number 5 shirt for Real Madrid, playing with equal measures of flair, balance, vision and aggression. Zizou could make things happen and had the ability to change games with an ambitious pass or turn of speed or selfish zig-zagging run. His unpredicatable Gallic temper that simmered just below the surface added the extra edge that set him apart from his peers.
Gordon and his film-making partner Philippe Parreno set up 17 cameras in strategic points around the pitch before a league game at the Bernabeu between Real Madrid and Villareal. They were designed to capture every facet of Zidane’s game over the 90 minutes and didn’t disappoint.
With precious little fanfare the film begins as the game kicks off and ends on the referee’s final whistle. It’s relatively low on budget yet high in concept. The excitable Spanish TV commentary tells the story of the game, but really, that takes second place. Zidane is on screen for (almost) the entirety of the match, sometimes without the ball and sometimes with. You get a real feel for the speed of the game as the ball flashes on screen and just as quickly off again, set on its way by the outside of Zidane’s right boot or acutely richocheting as the number 5 clatters meaningfully into an oncoming opponent.
Those 17 cameras miss nothing in Zidane’s game; the awe-inspiring strength and skill, the disgruntled shouts to less tuned-in teammates, the occasional stroppy spit, the dirty looks to the referee, to the temper-flaring fight that leads to a red card and Zidane’s premature end to the match. If the filmmakers had written a script it wouldn’t have been any less perfect.
For the entirety of the film, the Spanish commentator and ambient crowd noise generated by 80,000 fans compete with a superb understated score by Mogwai. Film maker Gordon was a huge fan of the band and to get them on board he showed them a rough cut of the film soundtracked by their remixed Mogwai Fear Satan EP. Blown away by the concept and the clash of football and music, Mogwai agreed to get involved and set about creating an instrumental soundtrack.
The finished result plays underneath the film. It’s slow, quiet and understated, the polar opposite of the film’s subject matter, yet it works brilliantly. Sometimes you’ll forget it’s playing only for a ghostly thrumming guitar or phased out section of white-hot feedback to melt back into earshot. Pick of the bunch for me is the brooding Black Spider where vibrating clean-amped six strings allow ample space for a glockenspiel to pick out a simple melody as a lazy drummer half-heartedly adds percussive splashes in the background. Like its subject matter, it’s a beauty.
There are things I want to do, goes the opening line on Teenage Fanclub‘s evergreen Alcoholiday. But I don’t know if they will be with you…
When, back in April, the greatest band of the last 25 or so years (and I’m up for a fight if you disagree) announced a run of shows to mark the re-release of their Creation Records era, only the quickest off the mark were fortunate to bag the recession-friendly season ticket deal. The rest of us – myself included – had to make do with the scramble for individual tickets, a moderately costly affair when taking into account the surprising but welcome “me too!” from both Mrs POP and daughter. Night 2 was the wallet-buster for me, but as it would turn out, a priceless one also.
What was initially billed as a celebration of the band’s glory years turned into something else entirely when, out of the blue, founding Fanny Gerry Love announced he was leaving the band. Social media was filled with tear-soaked declarations and outpourings of grief. The world briefly stopped spinning on its axis. Candles were lit. Posters torn down. Records (yer original Creation pressings, natch – those re-releases were still in production) were spun. The only thing missing was a digital book of condolence. It seemed that Teenage Fanclub fans were just Take That fans in denim and desert boots. “Gerry! No! How could you?!?” scans just as easily as “Robbie! No! How could you?!?” does it not?
The three shows were marvellous. I say this as a veteran of Teenage Fanclub shows since 1990. They were right up there as some of the best TFC shows I’ve seen; King Tuts dressed in Elvis impersonator gear around Christmas of ’91, the Grand Ole Opry show in ’97 (?) and the Bandwagonesque revisted show from 12 years ago where, as they did this week, they played 2 excellent sets on the same night.
The triptych of shows this week featured Bandwagonesque and Thirteen on Monday night, Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain on Tuesday before Howdy! and a set of rarely-played b-sides brought the proceedings to a clanging close on Wednesday. Five albums played in chronological order plus a set of Fanclub curios. 75 songs all in, as Norman announced before the final song on Wednesday. It’s no wonder that the bulk of the crowd was made up of the same folk each night. This was more one big gig with a few hours sleep between sets than 3 individual shows. In football parlance, Monday night was the first half, Tuesday the second, with extra time on Wednesday.
The re-released albums have seen much reappraisal for the old stuff. Thirteen in particular has gained real favour amongst the band’s faithful. Originally considered a mis-fire between the long-haired riffing on Bandwagonesque and the classicism of Grand Prix, it’s now seen as the equal of those early albums, the second one in in a 4 album run the equal of Bowie, The Beatles and all the very best. Played hot on the heels of a fizzing Bandwagonesque – highlights undoubtedly being a trippy Star Sign, the world-weary heavy sigh of Alcoholiday and a crystaline Guiding Star that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Velvet Underground And Nico – the tracks from Thirteen fired and fizzed, little napalm bombs of amped-up pop. Back on drums for the night, band jester Brendan O’Hare mimicked a heart attack as he worked his way into the count for the frantic knee tremble of Radio. Escher and Fear Of Flying ramped up mid-set proceedings, 1800 sillhouted heads bobbing in time to the steady throb coming from the stage. It’s the set closer though that sends everyone home on a high. Gene Clark has steadily become the hidden gem in the Fanclub’s stellar back catalogue; a chugging, riffing Neil Young workout named after The Byrds erstwhile maverick with Raymond McGinley pulling sounds from his guitar that J Mascis would willingly give his strumming hand for. To paraphrase Nigel Tuffnell, it’s all about the sustain, man.
Night two was more of the same. If early TFC is the sound of a band skirting around its influences in an attempt to nail a definitive sound then Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain are the Rubber Soul and Revolver of the band’s ouvre; essential, defining and destined to still be spinning centuries from now. Everything; the playing, the singing, the writing stepped up a gear. “It’s the album where we started using capos, for fuck’s sake!” relays Norman as the band ease their way in to Don’t Look Back, a song that has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning. Don’t Look Back manages to be both melancholic and uplifting, Gerry’s lamenting vocals giving way to terrific three part harmonies from Blake, McGinley and a moonlighting Francis MacDonald who’s given the drum stool to Paul Quinn for the night while he augments the swell of sound from the stage with all manner of keys and stringed instruments. Is there any finer sight in music than when the principal members of Teenage Fanclub step up to their respective microphones and let forth their honeyed tones? Clearly, that’s a rhetorical question. A massive, riffing Neil Jung and a killer Going Places are the pick of a particularly bountiful first set.
When they return twenty minutes later – on paper this would appear quite a short break but the Fanclub demographic – more Middleaged Manclub – is such that the queues for the gents’ is longer than the solo on the aforementioned Neil Jung and mild panic sets in until needs are met – the band launches into what is arguably their finest sety of songs. Start Again. Ain’t That Enough. I Don’t Want Control Of You. Planets. Take The Long Way Round. Speed Of Light. It’s an obscenely rich set of songs, expertly played as faithfully as the recorded versions. By the end of night two I’m emotionally drained. My ankles are also the size of average-sized Ayrshire smallholdings, again another side effect of the Middleaged Manclub and given that I’ll be back for the next night, a self-inflicted by-product of attending three shows in a row.
Howdy! has also benefited from positive reappraisal. It signals the band’s autumnal years, where pace slowed, hair regressed and the comfort of a trouser was more important than the cut of the trouser. Love’s songs (again) may well be the pick of the bunch. I Need Direction with its spiralling riff and Hammond-heavy break. Near You‘s electric frug. The Town And The City, all woo-whoos and 60s sunshine pop. A groovy Cul De Sac that points the way towards Gerry’s Lightships project. Every one a crucial component in making the set as enjoyable as the previous two nights, something I might’ve considered impossible had I not been there.
It’s the second set that has the Fanclub fanclub all in a tizzy. It’s the only set of the shows that remains a mystery, so when they emerge and ease into Norman’s misty-eyed Did I Say, expectations are high for a set of rarities, curios and lesser-played gems from years gone by. No-one is disappointed. Long-forgotten b-sides Thaw Me, The Shadows, Some People Try To Fuck With You and a terrific The Count (where, in classic Fanclub style, the band members struggle to end it together) all pop up, totally unexpected and greeted like returning heroes. He’d Be A Diamond flies past, a sugar-coated rush of pop harmonies and ringing guitars. Then we get Broken. Stuck on the b-side of Ain’t That Enough, Broken was a track that waited patiently for the world to catch up. It’s a simple song. Wistful guitar plays out the melody. The band yawn and stretch and feel their way into it. Norman repeats the same line over and over and over and over again until the band fade out to silence. The Barrowlands crowd continue singing softly until Norman smiles and we stop. It’s now a folk song, our song, the unofficial anthem on the night when Gerry played his last Glasgow show. Brendan is in tears. His heart has been broken again. We get one more song – the 75th – and Gerry leads the band through a ragged rousing take on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Older Guys, Norman providing enthusiastic woo-hoo-hoos above Raymond’s effortless Fender bending.
Suddenly it’s over. House lights go up slightly. The crowd cheers for more. The stage crew appears. Lights go down. The crew hang back. Whispers of Everything Flows and God Knows It’s True find their way between the bootstomps and cat whistles. Guitar George cuts across the stage carrying Gerry’s bass. He stops stage centre and shrugs apologetically. The crew come on and start dismantling equipment. The lights go up. There are more than a few boos, directed at whoever decided there’d be no encore, be that the management, the promoter or the band themselves. A slight tarnish on what was an extraordinary set of shows. To use football parlance again, everything but the penalty shoot out but a brilliant home win.
There have been many instances of musicians appearing on records without credit or fanfare; Eric Clapton noodling across the top of While My Guitar Gently Weeps on The Beatles’ sprawling White Album. Lennon and McCartney themselves singing backing vocals on the Stones’ version of their own I Wanna Be Your Man. Mick Jagger somewhat ironically providing backing vocals on Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain. Lennon trading vocals with Bowie on the latter’s Fame, itself a track cribbed from James Brown (or perhaps it was the other way around). David Bowie surfing low under the radar on Arcade Fire’s disco stomping Reflektor…….. these examples are the tip of a very deep and very incestuous iceberg.
Whether it be for contractual reasons, record label conflicts or just plain mischieviousness, it’s likely your favourite musicians pop up on many more records than they’d like to let on.
One of the first examples of musical skullduggery though must surely be the case of James Brown and the recording of (Do The) Mashed Potatoes. In 1959, Brown was coming to the fore as a sweat-soaked, soul-wracked, heart-bleeding bawler of gospel-tinged r’n’b. The darling of King Records, it seemed Brown and his Famous Flames band could do no wrong, until that was when Brown tried to cash in on the dance craze that was currently sweeping his neck of the woods. Despite his burgeoning fame it was apparent that no-one wanted to hear his stomping 12 bar instrumental espousing the joys of the doing the Doodle Bee. When the trend moved on to a new dance, James went to his label boss and suggested they cash in by recording (Do The) Mashed Potatoes.
Once bitten, twice shy, King Records refused to put it out so Brown took his idea to the rival Dade Records. They agree, on the condition that it was recorded under an assumed name (Dade boss Henry Stone was terrified of King Record’s Syd Nathan, the Peter Grant of the deep south soul scene), which is why along with seeing the track credited to James Brown and the Famous Flames you’ll also find it credited to Nat Kendrick & The Swans. The same band, the same line-up, the same record.
Nat Kendrick & The Swans – (Do The) Mashed Potatoes
(Do The) Mashed Potato is nothing you’ve never heard before; a standard 12 bar r’n’b instrumental, it’s a 3-button mohair suit kinda record, punctuated now and again by whoops and hollers and ridiculous potato-themed war cries;
Mash’ Pa-Tay-Das, yeah!
Hash Brown Pa-Tay-Das, yeah!
French-Fried Pa-Tay-Das, yeah!
I’ve no idea what they shout in the last part, but they sure sound excited.
It is, of course, thrillingly terrific. A primal slice of tribal us v them floorshakin’ soul. You’re either with us or against us is Brown’s underlying message and by the end of Part 1, I, you, us and them are definitely with him, one nation under a groove. Frustratingly I don’t have a version of Part 2 but I can imagine exactly how it goes.
Of course, when the record proved a success, the steely Syd Nathan insisted on future copies being issued on his label. He also bowed to Brown’s superior knowledge of fads and fashions by allowing him and his Famous Flames to record such future ‘classics’ as Wobble Wobble and The Dish Rag. Good throwaway pop records, it should be said, but neither as thrilling nor as plain daft as (Do The) Mashed Potato.
The duo of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel have been making music as Air since 1995. Like Brian Wilson, but with access to all manner of analogue synths and samplers rather then the Wrecking Crew and the cream of the L.A. studio set, they’ve created a unique and focused sound, part space-pop, part ambient electronica, that is instantly recognisable.
The ubiquitous Moon Safari album might’ve brought them to the mainstream – you can find discussions on its merits in places as disparate as MumsNet and the Steve Hoffman music forum – but before it and since you’ll find some of their best work. Top of the pile is Playground Love, the track they recorded for Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides.
Air – Playground Love
Built around a beautiful chord progression, it starts off with four clicks of the drumsticks before slowly morphing into a stoned and luscious groove. A sleepwalking Fender bass pads softly down the frets. Real drums lollop with all the energy of a fat-tongued dog in front of a Christmas fire. Vibraphones tip toe around the edge of your consciousness, flowing hypnotically like the oil in that old Castrol GTX ad from the 70s. The vocals (provided by Phoenix’s Thomas Mars) are breathy, close-miked and forever on the edge of asleep. Out of the blue, with an extreme burst of lethargy a lazy saxophone meanders in and out of the words and music, sprinkling the track with the same sort of magic dust that was first found on Pink Floyd’s Us And Them.
Playground Love wouldn’t at all sound out of place on Dark Side Of The Moon. Its slow-motioned timelessness is just right for these Autumnal days and dark nights we’ve suddenly found ourselves in, an aural blanket for lost souls and late-night listening sessions. Listen carefully and you can just about see the blue curl of Gauloises snake around the melody of those understated cooing backing vocals like the crumpled ghost of Serge Gainsbourg on heat. It’s terrific stuff.
I’ve been in Italy this week. What’s struck me most is not the plethora of churches, bad driving and graffiti that are on every strada corner but the stylish way in which the Italians go about their daily business.
Whether it’s in Napoli and Sorrento in the south or roaming’ further north through Rome and Pisa, I’ve been goggle-eyed at the sheer amount of Vespas on the roads. They’re the great levellers, those wee scooters. Whether you’re a pizza delivery guy or a teenage girl with your boyfriend riding pillion or a businessman in a 3-button suit, open-necked shirt, scarf, loafers and no socks, the best way around town is on one of them.
You’ll hear them everywhere you go, zipping above the noise of impatient klaxons and whistle-happy Polizia, zig-zagging their way to the front of the traffic, edging forward before the lights have instructed them to go and weaving their way around goofy tourists who have one eye trained firmly on the tour guide way up ahead and the other on their bag over their shoulder. That’s been us the past few days.
The tour guides are great. For the most part funny, engaging and knowledgeable they’ll point out various buildings and suchlike in a version of English that far outweighs my knowledge of Italian. Until this week I knew just two Italian words; bella and bella. (That there is a reference to the greatest film ever made.) My vocabulary has now extended to include “Ciao!” which, much to my kids’ embarrassment I’ll say with great enthusiasm to any shop keeper, waiter and bus driver who’ll listen.
Yesterday in Rome our guide pointed out all the sights. “Behind the small cheeerch to the right is the larger Basilica. Right next to that is another cheeerch, famous for being one of the oldest cheeerches in this district of Rome.” To qualify – I love Roman history. And it’s a terrific city, where every corner turned gives you another breathtaking building to take in.
Built on the foundations of faith and fighting you have to expect what you’ll be shown as you march around the city’s high points. But as we followed our guide I couldn’t help noticing the side streets.
We might’ve been walking the tourist route but what was happening just behind the main event was where real Roman life was going on; ridiculously fashionable men; tanned, healthy, great hair and sock-less, always sock-less, smoking roll-ups while shaking on business deals. Beautiful women in beautiful heels walking beautiful dogs. Snooty teenagers, Armanie’d up like paninaro with significant disposable income hug and air kiss like the beautiful people they are.
The flower delivery van, burping black exhaust smoke in sharp contrast to the multicolours it was transporting stopped suddenly and the driver emerged to shout at 161km/h (that’s about 100mph) to the aproned shopkeeper who was standing nonplussed in the doorway of his store.
An old man, glimpsed through a door ajar onto an alleyway was dressed in a white coat, slowly and patiently sanding wood. Around him were stacked dozens of picture frames and mirrors, a master craftsman at work using the tools and skills of previous generations.
In the fashion district – until we’d been told by our guide that we were now in the fashion district, I’d assumed that the whole of the city was one big fashion district, the side streets offered up furtive-looking Africans selling Michael Kors, Luis Vuitton and Armani bags, belts and bumf, laid out on pieces of rug, ready to be rolled up and ran-off with should any of Rome’s finest happen to wander by. Round the corner the shops were closed-door affairs, opened by appointment only by 7 foot-tall security guards. I’m not much of a fashionista but I did manage to get myself not one but two pairs of Ray-Bans. The second pair the seller did the haggling for me and he gave me them for €5 without me actually saying a word to him. My wife’s convinced they’re just those 3D ones you pick up at the Odeon, with a cheap Ray-Bans transfer on the leg. She may be right but when I’m wearing them, I am Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, so I’m not bothered.
Talking of which, our tour guide pointed out a poster for the film with Peck and Audrey Hepburn sitting on the Spanish Steps eating ice cream and looking every inch the consummate 50s mods they were aiming to portray. Only half an hour earlier we’d stopped for a gelato by those same Spanish Steps, where my ice cream ran the length of my arm and onto my trousers. Daughter moaned about her salted caramel being too salty. Wife complained about the macaroon they’d stuck in hers. And son had an over-priced can of Coke as he’s allergic to egg and can’t normally go near ice cream. That was our Roman Holiday for you.
Without a word of a lie, I’ve yet to find an ice cream that can stand toe to toe with the one you’ll get in Varani Brothers’ Forum Cafe in Kilmarnock. Maybe tomorrow will prove me wrong.
I write a weekly column for the Irvine Herald and felt it was appropriate to publish a slightly longer version of this week’s piece here. I must begin by stating that there are many others far more qualified than me to write this, John Niven in the Daily Record for one, not to mention the numerous emotional and heartfelt tributes from his pals online, but if you’ve ever encountered Keith he’ll have doubtlessly left his indelible mark on your soul. Not for nothing was his occupation listed as ‘Pyrotechnics’ on Facebook. Once met, never forgotten. Keith, 1983. Photo by Gordon Hay
We begin this week with the sad news that one of our musical brothers has passed away. Keith Martin was a well-known Irvine face respected for his love of music, his strong political beliefs and his uncompromising attitude.
As a teenager, legally still too young to drink, I’d see Keith and his pals every Friday night in the old snug in The Turf, a studied riot of biker jackets, loud opinions and carefully considered hair, exuding the sort of attitude that can’t be faked. I didn’t yet know anyone in bands, but it was clear that Keith and his gang was exactly that. As it turned out, Keith was the focal point of the band, called the Big Gun. Not only that, but John Peel had played their single, Heard About Love, and, making it his Record of the Week, enthused over its infectious, fresh out the box melody.
Big Gun – Heard About Love
Big Gun by Gordon Hay
Over the years, through his circle of pals I got to know Keith a wee bit better and whenever I found myself in his company he would always hold court, his sense of humour as infectious as his willfully argumentative stance on just about anything that was being discussed.
Keith by Basil Pieroni
To paraphrase That Petrol Emotion, Keith was an agitator, an educator, an organiser. An English teacher in Glasgow by day, by night Keith would organise club nights in the city.
For several years he ran the Spitfire Club where the walls shook to Keith’s eclectic taste in music. Agit-punk rubbed shoulders with scratchy post punk, filling-loosening dub reggae and the hardest of hip-hop, a necessary oasis in an era of super clubs and superstar DJs.
If there wasn’t a gig to be had for whichever band he had formed, Keith would create an event to enable them to play. His band Hard Left played a heady hybrid of the swill of sounds laid down by the music policy at the Spitfire Club. If Weatherall had had his name attached to Omerta, I reckon it’d be a considered classic by now.
Hard Left – Omerta
Hard Left by Gordon Hay
In recent years Keith had been the drummer in Dead Hope, a critics’ favourite who’d released an excellent self-funded album from which they gained exposure and airplay on BBC6 Music. I believe too, that discussions are still underway between the band and a prominent indie label to have the album re-released on a larger scale. You’d love it.
Dead Hope – Landslide
Dead Hope played the tiny but perfect Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine back in April this year and stunned their audience into submission with a brutal sonic assault of caustic barbed wire guitars and gravel-throated vocals. The band would play just a couple more times, the last in Glasgow in August, before the cancer that Keith had been battling with began to get the better of him.
Keith passed away last weekend at the age of 51. He will be dearly missed by his wife Allison, his family and his tight-knit circle of pals.