Get This!

McCartney 3

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

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

Paul McCartneyEvery Night

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

Paul McCartneyMomma Miss America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative Version

Top Of The Swaps

It’s May 1989 in the Barrowland Ballroom and REM are winding up a marathon Green World Tour show with the second of three encores and an inspired version of a song that reminds me greatly of Jonathan Richman’s Roadrunner. It circles around a repetitive 2 chord riff and as it builds to a groove, drummer Bill Berry gets out the drum stool and without missing a beat takes the guitar offered to him by Peter Buck and takes over guitar duties as Buck gamely assumes the sticks and continues the backbeat to the song’s conclusion with an almost, but not quite, metronomic precision. Only later, after finding a bootleg tape at the Barras market did I learn that the song was Ghost Rider, by a band (Suicide) I’d yet to hear of.

The Buck/Berry swap over was a carefully timed bit of fun, two musicians afforded the time to do their party piece by the other half of the band as the end of a fantastic, career-encompassing show drew to a close. For all I knew, REM did the same schtick every night, but that encore in Glasgow seemed spontaneous and instant and as in the moment as live shows get. I can still see the two musicians now, Buck stage left, arms outstretched offering the sacrificial axe, Berry banging away at the bass pedal as he straps on the Les Paul (or maybe it was a Rickenbacker…it was 30 years ago, after all) while Mike Mills gamely keeps the whole thing together.

Bands swapping instruments on stage is nothing new. Adam and Edge used to swap bass and guitar whenever U2 played ’40’ and The Band would routinely do likewise mid set, mid song, whenever. Fleetwood Mac used to do similar at their height in the mid 70s. Of course, they went the whole hog and swapped wives, girlfriends and partners too, but it’s when the band takes it into the recording studio that the fun really begins.

When it was time for Bob Dylan to record Rainy Day Women #12 &35, he wanted to capture the sound of controlled chaos, a wonky ‘n warped Salvation Army band under the influence of, good god!, whatever. Copious amounts of alcohol and marijuana were taken, the mood was lightened and, the piece de resistance, the musicians were ordered to swap instruments.

Bob DylanRainy Day Women #12 &35 (Take 1)

Bass player Charlie McCoy was given the forlorn task of finding a horn section in the middle of the night – “Go an’ git me a Salvation Army band!” – before too being given a trumpet as the tapes started rolling. Guitarist Wayne Moss switched to bass and Henry Strzelecki jumped from guitar to Al Kooper’s organ. Kooper plays the tambourine that rattles enthusiastically from start to finish, counting every beat, the glue that barely keeps it all together. Only Kenny Buttrey on drums maintained his usual instrument, but even then he dismantled his kit and played just the snare and the bass drum.

The recording captures the daftness of the occasion. Hoops and hollers and yee-haws and yeahs fill the gaps between the sloppily-played 12 bar blues. Dylan is on fine form. In the middle of an imperious stretch of writing and recording – the same session would yield accepted stone-cold Dylan classic I Want You – he lets his guard down, giggling and cackling his way through the numerous verses. Listening to it, you can practically see the ear-to-ear grin he sports. The whole thing is dangerously close to falling apart, which is of course Dylan’s modus operandi and the intended appeal of the finished version. A daft song with a daft refrain – ‘Everybody must git stoned!‘ – it’s the perfect product of its environment.

Talking Heads‘ 5th album Speaking In Tongues closes with the fantastic This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody). The bracketed part of the song title comes from the fact that the guitar and bass play exactly the same 3 chord melody throughout. Real musicians, ratlionalised David Byrne, would never opt to play the same thing.

Talking HeadsThis Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)

That naïve melody is a product of Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison moving from their comfort zones. Weymouth relinquishes bass duties on the track and swaps 4 strings for 6. Harrison, relieved of his guitar plays the bassline on a Prophet synthesiser.

Accomplished as they are, the two musicians lend the track a slight edgy don’t look down! feel, and the track precariously wobbles on a tightrope of new wave funk. On their previous couple of albums, Talking Heads had flirted with the polyrhythms of Fela Kuti-infused Afrobeat. That This Must Be The Place never wanders makes it all the better. As Mark E Smith was wont to quote, repetition is discipline.

If you want even more repetition, look no further than the extended version…

Talking HeadsThis Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody) 12″ version

 

Gone but not forgotten

Everything Flows

It was supposed to be the ultimate in vanity projects, the 50th birthday present to top all others; our band’s demos cut onto vinyl and pressed in just 5 copies, the cost split between 4 of us for vocalist Grant’s birthday present. Sunday Drivers was our band. A 5-piece that sat somewhere between Buzzcocks’ arched-brow punkish charm and the arrogant self-belief of a still-to-hatch Oasis, we had two types of songs; fast ones and faster ones. Never quite skilled enough to match the heights of our heroes – Smiths, Clash, Beatles, Pixies, REM etc etc – we were best-experienced in the live setting where the ramalama of the backline was offset by Grant’s audience baiting and occasional forays into Duglas T Stewart twee territory. We coulda been, shoulda been contenders, but like all the great bands – and we were spectacularly great – tensions bubbled just under the surface.

You’ve got the ending of that one all wrong, John!

Try coming in on 4, Derek!

That new tune of yours sounds exactly like The Cure!” (I’m still ticked off about that particular slight.)

Grant wants to play the whit?!? The guitar?!?

And so, after burning brightly but briefly, we fizzled out. Memories linger though, and, as it turns out, that’s really important.

Sunday Drivers (l to r) Derek, John O’C, Craig, Grant, John T

Derek had a sore knee at the end of November. At Christmas he suffered a series of seizures. As 2018 rolled into 2019, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The outlook was not good.

Our vanity project suddenly, immediately, took on a whole new meaning. Until now, we’d been considering pressing the ultimate in pop-art statements, a 7” single, and the talk had been about which tracks would make the cut and which would be left off, which song would be the a-side and which would be the b-side…. the important stuff, y’know?

Fuck the money,” instructed Derek. “Let’s dae it right.”

And so, our wee 7” single became a 6-track 33 rpm LP, with actual labels, a proper colour-printed outer sleeve and, the icing on the cake, a full-colour pull-out poster featuring a montage of the band in its prime at various gigs, rehearsals and the 1993 Shabby Road recording session from where the 6 tracks were taken. It was a real labour of love and it’s a beautiful work of art.

Sunday DriversYour Cosmonuat Friend

When it was completed, we had a night at Derek and Elaine’s to present the finished record in all its 180 grams glory to Grant ahead of his birthday party. He was overwhelmed by it, the effort and expense instantly justified, and I think – I know – that Derek was the proudest of all of us to see and hear the finished results.

Sunday DriversStaying Power

Sunday DriversMy Bud’s None The Wiser

 

I also gave Derek a second record – this time a 4-track EP of the music we’d made as Fonda. After Sunday Drivers, Derek and myself kept playing and our regular sessions led to tunes which led to songs which led to a new band with Richeal Reader on vocals. The Sunday Drivers stuff was mainly all 100 mile an hour bluster, loud and fast and in your face. Fonda, by contrast, was more carefully considered, certainly more melodic and pretty good.

Quite quickly we played shows. One national tabloid ran a feature on us. “The most important band to come out of Scotland since Travis!” they trumpeted. It was on page 11, the main news feature after 10 pages on Bill Clinton’s dalliance with a dress in the White House. Yes, we were that important! That particular red top is not known for its subtlety nor accuracy though, and not for the first time, they were proved wrong. It wasn’t just them that had us ear-marked for the top – I’ve got a flyer somewhere from a show we played in Glasgow: ‘Live Thursdays headlined by tomorrow’s stars. Biffy Clyro. Muse. Fonda.’ I suppose two out three is fairly good speculation.

Fonda I Forget Again

Since then, we’ve had other nights where the focus has been on Indian food and the talk has been of old music, new music and days gone by as Sunday Drivers. The past few months, Derek has become increasingly nostalgic. He’d found an old film of the band playing in The Attic, Irvine’s version of CBGBs or Eric’s or the Hacienda and watched it on repeat. He made us all DVDs of it and implored us to watch it. I told a wee white lie, that I’d watched a bit of it before turning it off. In truth, I hadn’t watched it at all. I didn’t fancy watching an old gig with wonky intros, shonky backing vocals and in-jokes shouted down the microphone. I could tell Derek was a bit put out by my vague dismissal though – he’d spent the time between chemo sessions transferring the VHS to DVD and made us each a copy – so, a couple of weeks ago I stuck it on while no-one else was around. It was a hoot.

Amongst the sturm und drang of the on-stage goings on, there was film of us setting up for the gig; Derek lugging PA speakers from his old Ford Escort (EGB 666X) and up the back stairs, some of us larking around in the DJ box, assorted pals and hangers-on, keen for a hold of a guitar case and the right to free entry as an important part of our stage crew. As I watched, kicking myself for not having watched it before now, I texted Derek. He replied with a simple thumbs up, his more recent form of communication when he’d been too tired or unwell to muster anything wordier.

This time last week we were texting one another, making plans for Teenage Fanclub’s Kelvingrove show at the end of July. I thought this rather optimistic. By now, Derek was unable to walk and was extremely tired most of the time, but he was determined he’d be going. Courtesy of good friends in high places, disabled parking passes, a space for his wheelchair and some unofficial VIP treatment had also been arranged. It was shaping up to be a good night out.

The next day, Derek took a turn for the worse. He lost his speech. Despite his best protests, he ended up being ambulanced to hospital. He never returned home.

Derek Reid died on Sunday. Elaine and Harris, his family and wide circle of friends are shattered.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Glenn Tilbrook

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

Number 31 in a series:

Glenn Tilbrook is one half of the song-writing duo that’s provided Squeeze with the tuneage and melody required to bother both the charts and comfortably-sized theatres with pleasing regularity for the past 4 decades. Alongside Chris Difford, the Lennon to his McCartney, Glenn is responsible for writing some of the greatest literate, socially-aware, and slightly saucy kitchen sink dramas this side of Ray Davis. At their peak they were untouchable; Slap And Tickle, Annie Get Your Gun, Cool For Cats, Take Me, I’m Yours, Pulling Mussels From the Shell, Tempted….. Tilbrook is responsible for a back catalogue of songs that many of his peers would kill for.

Amongst those many masterpieces, Up The Junction must surely rank as the greatest of them all. Married to a melody that McCartney himself might be prepared to do serious time for, it outlines the ups and downs of a doomed relationship, handily drawing parallels with the late 60s film of the same name.

Up The Junction is carried by a signature riff that whenever heard nowadays, clatters me between the lugs with such Proustian force that I’m instantly transported back in time to a Thursday night in May, 1979, sat watching on the carpet with a bowl of Rice Krispies as the band play it on Top Of The Pops. What struck me most at the time was not the number of words in the song (unusual in an era of short, sharp new wave belters) nor the instantly hummable tune, but the fact that the drummer was out front and centre stage. Watching recently on one of those BBC4 repeats that brighten up Friday night telly, it was apparent that the band had swapped instruments for their big appearance. Jools Holland manhandles the bass while Difford does his best Gary Numan impression behind the keyboard. And out front is indeed our Glenn, pretending he’s the drummer. At 9 years old, I had no idea. Nor why should I?

Recently, Tillbrook has hooked up with the Trussell Trust, the organisation responsible for helping to stock food banks the length and breadth of the UK. On his current solo tour, Glenn is selling unique merchandise (an EP, t-shirt, mug) and donating all profits to the Trust. He also has food drop-off points at his shows where socially-conscious fans can leave a donation that’ll find its way back into the local community.

It is shameful that in the 21st century there are people that can’t afford to put food on the table. Anyone, from any walk of life, can fall upon dire times, and I hope that by doing this tour it will remind people that there is a very real need. Most of us can do something to help – be it giving some food or a little money – and I hope people coming to the shows are inspired to donate.”

A few days ago, Glenn’s tour stopped off in my hometown of Irvine and I blagged myself a quick pre-show interview. In my head I’d an idea that I’d ask him some typical ‘Six of the Best‘ fayre – the first records that resonated with the young Glenn, the song he wishes he’d written, a track that everyone should have in their collection….(if you’re a regular reader you’ll know how these (very popular) articles pan out)… and I’d go home and whip up a pretty groovy article referencing the aforementioned Lennon & McCartney, Ray Davis and perhaps Django Reinhardt or other such left-field must-hears. In reality though, our conversation never quite made it that far.

Lounging in his early 00s Airbus, parallel-parked at Irvine harbour with the windows trained on the Isle of Arran just across the water and with joss sticks gently smouldering in the corner, it certainly set a scene. A pile of charity shop vinyl lay propped against a wood panelled wall unit, on top of which sat a turntable, buried underneath LP sleeves and random tour ephemera. Greeting me with a hearty hello and a friendly handshake, I was initially disarmed by how much Glenn unfortunately looked and sounded a bit like Piers Morgan’s younger brother. We’d met 5 years ago, but the ubiquitous Morgan wasn’t quite as omnipresent back then. Not sure how you address that, Glenn, but surely that’s another reason for ridding the world of Morgan? There’s room for just the one matey bloke with short-cropped curls and a Thames Estuary accent, and Glenn’s politics are far more acceptable also.

Anyway.

 

There was always music in our house,” begins Glenn. “My parents were jazz fans; Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra, Lena Horne. Their records sound-tracked my earliest memories. My  brother was 7 years older than me and he introduced me to stuff like The Beatles, The Who and The Yardbirds, all the beat groups. I listened intently to the pirate radio stations, Radios Caroline and London, mainly. When I was 6 I learnt to play the piano and a year later I’d picked up the guitar. Most kids go through the tennis racquet stage but me, I went straight to the real thing. Music was my thing. I knew from a very early age that this was something I wanted to do all the time.

The first band I was obsessed with was The Monkees. Micky Dolenz has one of the great rock and roll voices, truly, but he never, ever got the recognition. My brother would say, “Oh, they’re just a made-up band, they’re not ‘real'” but to me, they were the most important band in my life. Listen to Last Train To Clarksville and tell me that’s not a brilliant pop record.

The MonkeesLast Train To Clarksville

It’s interesting , y’know, how I discovered certain music through my brother and how, now, my own children are discovering that same music through me. Not only that, though, I’m discovering brilliant music through them. This generation of kids, with their access to streaming and downloading have the whole world at their fingertips. They aren’t bound by barrier or genre. A good tune’s a good tune, y’know?

Have you heard Question Time by Dave? It’s a beautifully judged, extremely well-written modern protest song. My son Leon turned me onto it.”

 

Unsurprisingly for a writer obsessed with wordplay and stories, Tillbrook is a big fan of Kate Tempest. “‘Everybody Down’, her debut album, floored me on first listen. Floored me! It’s terrific. She’s smart with words, the way she plays with poetry. She’s definitely a big influence on how I write my own songs.”

I listen to a lot of Radio 3 when I’m traveling between shows. And Spotify playlists, although the analytics that put together the recommended tracks, they’re usually way off the mark. Let me see…. (grabs iPad, opens it up…)… yes, an eclectic bunch; I love Bjork. her debut album is still astonishing. Destiny’s Child. Villagers. The Emotions. Lots of soul, actually.” A sneak peak confirms Betty Wright, James Brown and Stevie Wonder.

Returning to my parents’ music, I still love jazz. Listen to this…”

I saw Les Paul once. He played a residency in a little club in Greenwich Village. I was in New York that often that I got to know about it and one night, I made it down, and there he was.”

Glenn’s voice tails off with misty-eyed reflection as the skipping rhythm and scratchy twang fills the space. By now his tour manager has signalled that my time is up. I leave as the last, long and languid notes from Paul and Atkins fade away, not quite armed with the subject matter I’d come hoping for, but all the richer for it. Later, in the tiny but perfect 100-seater Harbour Arts Centre, Glenn runs through Squeeze’s greatest hits and more, sometimes on acoustic but always electric.

Glenn Tilbrook will tour as part of Squeeze in the Autumn. I dare say I’ll see you in Glasgow.

Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Live!

Fly Moves And Resurrected Grooves

No-one other than the main protagonist himself will know exactly what sounds John Squire was listening to on the day the music for I Am The Resurrection tumbled forth from his fingertips, liquid mercury floating atop a bedrock carved from the groovier elements of prime-time Hendrix, but even the most lenient of high court judges would be hard-pushed not to blurt out “Take him down!” whilst pushing forward a battered copy of Tim Buckley‘s Happy Sad LP as Exhibit A in the case against the Stone Roses’ super-flash riff meister.

Buzzin’ Fly, the second song on side 1 tumbles in on a riff that ‘Roses fans should recognise instantly. Indeed, if, by the 3rd second in, flares don’t start flappin’ in time to lolloping limbs, I’ll eat my well-worn Pollocked bucket hat and give up this blogging lark forever.

Tim Buckley Buzzin’ Fly

It’s the 18 carat gold signature riff to I Am the Resurrection, innit?! The missing link between Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Tim Buckley’s ethereal 12 string carries the tune whilst Lee Underwood’s mercurial, fluid electric lead meanders happily hither and thither, yet it’s undeniably the riff wot elevated Stone Roses from mere 60s-influenced day trippers to full-on, arrogant true believers (with messiah desires thrown in for good measure).

If you were being particularly scrutinous, you might also point out the similarities between its laid-back, free-spirited guitar interplay and the shuffling backing on Stone Roses’ Bye Bye Badman and Shoot you Down. Indeed, there’s maybe even a case for considering the guitar playing on Buzzin’ Fly to be the very genesis of that entire Stone Roses album. It’s clearly an influence, any cloth-eared fool can hear that.

Back in 1989, I had no idea at all that such a tune could tumble from the fingers of anyone but the expertly-coiffed Squire. Many an hour was spent mangling my fingers into shapes previously uncharted in the forlorn hope that I might replicate even 10 seconds of the heaven-sent instrumental passage that closed Stone Roses’ debut album. From street-suss rock riffing to full-on Starsky & Hutch funk, this was a new kinda guitar hero, from roughly the same area as Johnny Marr too, but a million miles way from his crystalline jangle. Nowadays, muscle memory has enabled me to jam along faithfully to I Am The Resurrection and my ham-fisted attempts might even border on being nearly right, but back then, continual stomping on my cheap fuzz box was the only answer I had when fingers were suddenly required to travel further up the fretboard than ever before.

(Dennis Morris, Glasgow Green)

No such worries for the guitarist in the spotlight, though. Here he is carrying the tune for upwards of 10 groovetastic minutes at the original Glasgow Green show in June 1990, 29 years ago yesterday, as coincidence would have it. With the sweat dripping from the ceiling of the massive circus tent and the anonymous rave music blaring like a beacon to the demented before the band appeared and then the punch full in the face from the wee random ned as I Wanna Be Adored rumbled through its opening gears, I remember it as if it were yesterday.

Stone Roses – Elizabeth My Dear/I Am The Resurrection (live, Glasgow Green, 9th June 1990, bootleg)

Lee Underwood – remember him?! – it would appear, went no further than the 9 albums he recorded as Tim Buckley’s right hand man, but what an important element to Buckley’s sound he turned out to be. Worth investigating, is Buckley Snr.

(Photo by Kevin Cummins/Getty Images)

Worth reinvestigating also is that Stone Roses album.

I remember reading a Gruff Rhys interview where he said that he’d played the works of The Velvet Underground so much in his youth that the music was now embedded in the virtual mp3 player in his brain, just waiting to be called down wherever and whenever it took his fancy.

I daresay the Stone Roses debut is similarly lodged in my cerebellum, but nothing beats getting out the real thing once or twice a year, placing it on the turntable and waiting (im)patiently for the low creeping bass that introduces the band one by one; bass then drums then guitar then vocals – the perfect intro. By the end of side 2, I’ve usually picked up the ol’ Fender and, capo on the 2nd fret (important that – those whippersnapper YouTubers seem to dispose of such essentials) teleported myself back to May ’89 when anything beyond the 5th fret was like a foreign language. It still is, I suppose, but I can speak a wee bit of it nowadays.

Stone RosesI Am The Resurrection

Cover Versions

It Is Indeed Over

If someone had told you back in 1985 that it would’ve been Elton John, or at a push Freddie Mercury who’d be the hip name to drop 30+ years in the future, while yer man of the moment Morrissey had slowly and painfully morphed into a paunchy, shitty-quiffed racist in bad jeans, you’d have struggled to believe them. As Elton’s position at the top table of pop is affirmatively reassessed via the Rocket Man movie and the resultant positive press, so too is old Stephen Patrick’s. The nadir, for this week at least, is Morrissey’s (at best) misguided and (at worst) dangerous decision to sport a For Britain badge on his lapel. To put this into context, even Nigel Farage considers the politics of For Britain a bit too extreme and right wing for his liking. It’s there in the paparazzi photos as he steps out of the car at the studio for an appearance on the Fallon TV show. It’s still there when he performs. And it’s still there a few days later when he’s snapped on some random Beverly Hills sidewalk or other. For all you know, it’s probably still there right now, a defiant and misguided symbol of knuckleheaded nationalism.

It’s a statement that’s led to Billy Bragg questioning the motives of the one-time king of the marginalised, disenfranchised and waifs and strays, referring to him as the Oswald Moseley of pop. As a result, we’ve also seen adverts for Morrissey’s brand new California Son album being ceremoniously ripped from the walls of Merseyrail train stations. The resultant fall out might’ve caused a lesser deity to back down somewhat and offer a hastily cobbled-together press release aimed at clearing up a ‘misunderstanding’, but, no. Seemingly, from his high horse in his house high in the Hollywood Hills, Morrissey has decided that For Britain is the political party for him and he wants everyone to know it.

Had he not had a new album to promote, it’s arguable whether we’d even be talking about the growing insignificance of Morrissey, although his continual shift to the far right will forever gurantee him a public profile somewhere in the corner of the internet marked ‘racist uncle’, so you could argue that the singer has played the press at their own game and won; new album released + controversial statement = increased profile + greater sales.

I’ve not properly listened to a Morrissey album since You Are The Quarry, these days considered a high point of his solo career (although back then I’d have placed it closer to the bottom of that particular list – it’s no Vauxhall And I, that’s for sure. And it’s certainly no Your Arsenal either) and I had no real inclination to hear his present-day take on a variety of off-the-beaten-track cover versions, even with the added ‘bonus’ of having one of Green Day duet with him on some old track or other.

An interview with Morrissey published last week – I still like to read what he has to say – had him reveal that his vocal delivery on his version of Roy Orbison’s It’s Over was “absolutely, hands down the best vocal delivery I have ever done.” Wow. Let that sink in. The man who’s very essence was etched into the grooves of some of the most heart-breaking records to escape the soul – Well I Wonder and I Know It’s Over, to name but two, considers his performance on It’s Over to be the very pinnacle of his singing career. Now, given that on those two Smiths’ tracks and many others (Vauxhall And I‘s Now My Heart Is Full, for example), Morrissey laid his life on the line, his very raison d’etre, like his beautiful, towering quiff, forever on the verge of collapse, I had to hear it.

It’s certainly dramatic. Harking back to the days of Ann Coats on Bigmouth Strikes Again, it begins with a comical sped-up Morrissey vocal. There’s nothing funny about the subject matter though. “Your baby doesn’t love you any-more,” he goes, as the band march out a funereal ra-ta-tat-tat. Strings sweep, bells toll, guitars crash. It rises, falls and rises again, a great wave of melodramatic emotion – “When she says to you, there’s somebody new, we’re through, we’re through!….it’s over!” As it reaches its climax, dogs for miles around begin to howl as the high-pitched warbling vocal in the background (Moz again, with the help from studio trickery?) threatens to take over. We’re at peak crescendo now, and then, suddenly, silence.

It’s Over.

It’s OK, I s’pose, a decent enough sign-off on a singing career that, for me, is now well and truly finished.

Now, off you run, Morrissey. And take your stupid political notions with you. We’ll always have Meat Is Murder, I guess.

It’s not a patch on the original, of course. For reverb ‘n twang and melodrama bathed in pathos and regret, Roy Orbison‘s tremulous voice cannot, will not, ever be matched. The end.

Roy Orbsion – It’s Over

 

Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y, Peel Sessions

Kurious-ah and Kurious-ah

Dead Beat Descendant by The Fall was the first track of theirs that really piqued my interest. Until then, I’d pegged Mark E Smith’s rattling racket as irritating and annoying, the atonal sound of Regal-stained fingers slowly scraping their way down a blackboard. When it popped up in the middle of an episode of Snub TV, Dead Beat Descendant had me hooked.

It wasn’t just the stinging garage band guitar riff, played on a Rickenbacker by a sulky, peroxide shock-wigged Brix that pulled me in, or the gnarly, relentless and repetitive Stray Cats meets Stooges bass, or the occasional daft parp of a one-fingered keyboard, or the metronomic tribal tub thumping that held the whole thing in place that got me – it was the group’s leader that grabbed me by the short ‘n curlies and demanded my attention. That, and the ballet dancer. I’d heard The Fall, but I’d never seen The Fall. And that was apparently important.

Lead singer Mark E Smith of English post-punk band The Fall photographed with Scottish dancer and choreographer Michael Clark during their “I Am Curious, Orange” collaboration, 1988.

Smith is hunched over his microphone and ready to spring, the German army-issued leather greatcoat he’s wearing letting all present know who’s in charge. “Come back here!” he demands with barely under the surface menace. The omnipresent smouldering fag, more ash than cigarette, is lodged at a downwards 30 degree angle between his fingers as he delivers the vocal, a lip-curled sneer the equal of a Mancunian Gene Vincent. Between lines he delivers terrific little off-beat Supreme handclaps and chews on an invisible glob of gum whilst staring his musicians down, lest they consider veering from his well-chosen path. Maybe that’s where the “Come back here!” line comes from. The band, as slick as the gears in a Victorian workhouse, are in tune with their leader and dutifully do what’s demanded of them.

Well, stone me! It turns out there was no German army greatcoat after all. Or a shock-wigged Brix. Or long-burning Regal King-Sized ‘tween the digits. It’s funny how your 30 year-old version of events turns fiction into reality. And it’s funny how, as it turns out, it’s the music that endures rather than the vision. Those hand claps, though… And the told-you-so smug grin on Mark’s face at the end. They were real.

It’s a great clip mind you. The ballet dancer (the awkward piece of the Mark/Brix split jigsaw, if you believe what you read online) pirouettes obliviously around the studio in the middle of the racket, in practise for her stint on stage with The Fall as they prepare to provide the musical backdrop to Michael Clark’s I Am Curious, Orange ballet at the Edinburgh Festival.

American guitarist Brix Smith, of rock group The Fall, poses on a giant hamburger from the set of the ballet ‘I Am Kurious Oranj’, performed by Michael Clark and Company, with music by The Fall at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 20th August 1988. (Photo by Kevin Cummins/Getty Images)

A weird pairing, it’s certainly something that’d have been worth seeing, with Brix sitting cross-legged atop a giant hamburger while Mark prowls betwixt and between the ballet dancers, spitting venom about King Billy and barking out Cab It Up and Wrong Place, Right Time amongst others. I Am Kurious Oranj isn’t the top of the list of critics’ favourite Fall albums, but it’s right up there alongside Extricate on mine.

Here’s 2 contemporary Peel Sessions versions of future Kurious Oranj tracks.

The FallDead Beat Descendant (Peel Session, 31.10.88)

The FallKurious Oranj (Peel Session 31.10.88)