The Style Council’s Shout To The Top is the bright ‘n breezy signifier of a summer just around the corner. A groove of loose piano and stabbing guitar, it’s a string swept beauty that endures to this day.
If you’ve caught Paul Weller on any recent tour, there’s a good chance he’ll have slotted it in mid-set, a major 7th audience perker-upper after one new track too many. It still has the ability to raise a smile and just a smidgen of Proustian angst, of being glued to Top Of The Pops in the hope that it might make it to that week’s show. A frothy and enduring number, it reached number 7 and was, serendipitously, single number 7 for The Style Council as well. One of its writer’s very best, for sure.
The Style Council – Shout To The Top
It’s got a stylish video too, all four group members in its spotlight with Weller happy to fade to the back when he feels like it. Weller is understated cool, the gum-chewing singer in carefully chosen penny loafers and well-cut ankle hugging trousers, the missus alongside him in a sleeveless halter neck and hair band, tight fighting capri pants and bee stung lips, looking fantastic and dredging up all sorts of forgotten teenage fantasies. YouTube is your pal, old man, YouTube is your pal.
Weller glides the soles of his loafers across the floor, almost northern soul shuffling, hanging on to that era-defining skinny mic for all its worth, his swept back and centre-parted hair looking distinctly European and modernist.
By the time The Style Council were playing it live, Weller’s fringe had fallen as long as the silly faces on all those old Jam fans who still pined for a clanging Rickenbacker and an angry vocal delivery. Imagine having to pretend you didn’t like Shout To The Top. Life’s too short for that sort of idiocy, man. Embrace the new and, yeah, shout to the top.
There’s a magic, discofied club version out there. Loleatta Holloway takes over from Weller, giving it the full soaring house diva approach, Philly strings, Italo piano and a four-to-the-floor disco beat replacing much of The Style Council’s idiosyncratic nuances, taking it home in a riot gold hot pants and over the topness.
Originally released in 1998 with dance production team Fire Island, the track was reworked into a thumping, filling-loosening club classic by Hifi Sean a year or two ago. Stretched out and funked up, you need it in your life.
Fire Island ft. Loleatta Holloway – Shout To The Top (Hifi Sean mix)
* I know that’s not the line that Weller sings in the bridge, but it’s what I’ve always sung. It’s a funny little thing when it dawns upon ya right enough.
Not the first question I was expecting last week. My 16 year-old and myself were in the car and, in a rare change from discussing the misfortunes of football (both our team – Kilmarnock – and the local U17 team he plays for), the chat turned to music. Future Sound Of London’s Papua New Guinea was playing, all rattling breakbeats, throbbing bass and ghostly samples, but despite my enthusing over it, he remained unconvinced. Nothing new there, to be honest. I can point out a dozen great songs during any car journey and he’ll shrug, unconvinced (unwilling more likely) to admit to liking his dad’s taste in music. The electronic sheen of FSOL’s track endured though, and it clearly set off a synaptic sequence in his brain. And then he came out with it. “Dad, d’you like Aphex Twin?”
He’d already blindsided me a few months ago by unselfconsciously humming I’ll Be Your Mirror as we passed on the stairs. When I stopped, turned and asked if that was The Velvet Underground he was singing, he shrugged nonplussed as though it was the most natural thing in the world. “D’you know it, like?” he threw back, not even stopping for confirmation. Of course I did, and of course he knew I did, and of course he knew that I had a copy (3 actually) of “the banana album that it’s on.”
“How d’you know about the Velvet Underground?” I asked.
“I dunno. I just heard them somewhere and liked them. I like Beginning To See The Light too. And Can’t Stand It. And Pale Blue Eyes…(thinks)…There She Goes Again…’Ah’m waitin’ fawr ma ma-yan’…”
Jeez. Turns out he knows them all and can do a passable Lou Reed into the bargain.
“D’you remember when we were in New York last year, and I stopped to take a picture of the street sign near our hotel and you all laughed at me? Maybe you’ll get the reference now...”
When I was his age, I spent the time properly denying my parents’ record collection. Apart from Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home there was nothing much in there to shout about, although I did investigate it when no-one was looking, retaining some of the more interesting ones in the interests of cross-generational research purposes. He’s denying mine too, I think, but he knows far more of it than I’d ever have imagined. As teenagers, we had to dig deep, swap tales and stories and sometimes actual TDKs to gain access to the good stuff. Rake the record shops, sift through the shelves in the library, maybe occasionally get the loan of an album on promise of death if it was returned in less than the condition it was given to you in. Now, it seems, social media analytics throw all sorts of stuff in your direction. Act on any of its suggestions and a hundred more threads and recommendations will unravel, and all just for your ears only.
From the Velvets, he discovered The Strokes. Most teenagers love The Strokes, it turns out. Any aspiring local guitar stranglers look to them in the same way that we looked to the music of 20 years previously when we first started out. Watch out for the big Strokes renaissance when a wee local band breaks out and rides the crest of a scuzzy New York wave. It’s just around the corner.
Aphex Twin though. He’s so low profile, so uncompromising, so esoteric in a way that The Strokes and (nowadays) the Velvet Underground just aren’t. “How on earth did you find out about him?” I ask. “Tik Tok? Spotify? A video game? Somewhere else?”
“I dunno. He’s great music to study to. It’s longform and in the background and doesn’t distract you from what you’re trying to learn. It’s a bit like Minecraft music, just better. All the songs have strange titles…just numbers sometimes. I don’t know the names of the tracks I like. But I like what I’ve heard.”
Aphex Twin – Xtal
If it helps with the studying, no parent is going to complain about that, which is why, on Thursday night, our house was filled for an hour with the DIY ambience and womblike pulses of Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1, the pair of us headnodding around the living room, me the uncool dad playing him this new music that he thought was ‘his’, he the teenager, mortified at the thought of liking the same music as his dad.
Next week – “Dad, which Throbbing Gristle album should I buy first?”
(Answer: I dunno. He’ll probably be able to tell me.)
The unexpected news of the death of Andy Rourke from cancer flooded my social timelines this morning. From his old pal Johnny’s numb statement onwards, the outpouring was long and plenty. Lauren Laverne was playing William… as I pulled into the car park at work and despite having heard its 2 min 12 seconds of pathos and sparkle a million times, I stayed put until it had played out, paying particular attention to Andy’s trebly, melodic bass runs because, well, that’s what everyone tuned to 6 Music at that point was doing. After work, catching up with the minutiae of life on my phone, the roll call of people paying tribute – fellow musicians, pals, strangers – was never ending. No one had a bad word to say, not even Morrissey, whose well-worded tribute seemed genuine and sincere and a million miles from the sneering auld grump he’s become.
It’s quite amazing that someone who was only a quarter part of a group who burned brightly but briefly for roughly just 6 years should leave such an indelible mark, but that’s the power of the formative years for you.
The Smiths meant the world to many, me included, and were a lighthouse on the rocky shores of mid ‘80s music. I wasn’t disenfranchised or marginalised or trying to find myself or any of those clichés. I just needed a break from bad hair and bad productions and jaggy guitars and what was being sold to me and my peers as essential listening. The Smiths, with their pint-sized and elfin guitar wizard and singer with funny – that’s funny, not depressing – lyrics came along at the right time. They jangled, yeah, and they wailed, but there was far more to them than that, as you well know. There was a proper toughness to their sound, driving and thuggish and tough as nails – see Handsome Devil and Hand In Glove as evidence, but there was a proper tenderness too. A real musicality. Listen to This Night Has Opened My Eyes or later tracks such as I Won’t Share You for proof. Much of this is down to Johnny’s mercurial way with an augmented chord and a hellbent mission to overdub everything with tracks and tracks of smirry, smartarsed guitar, but the bedrock for Johnny’s free form colouring comes from Andy’s solid and steady playing, a duo playing in simpatico as only old pals can. A band ain’t nuthin’ without their rhythm section and The Smiths were blessed to have Andy pinning it all to the floor.
Many today have spotlit Andy’s magnificently trampolining workout on Barbarism Begins At Home, an early Smiths track so packed with Chicisms and the funk, so out of step with their material that it took until album two before they’d release a recording of it, as proof of Andy’s greatness. And they’d be correct. But look, there’s not a bassline on any Smiths track that isn’t considered, clever, unique and so obviously Andy. Whether he was dripping in elasticated funk or slapping out rockabilly or meandering like McCartney around the melody, he left a mark as distinguishable as the haircut he kept for all those years. Johnny today pointed to Andy’s contribution to The Queen Is Dead’s title track, saying that as Andy recorded it, he knew it was a moment he’d remember forever. Rock solid, reliable, dead centre, a bass player who could play in the background yet step out as lead instrument when required.
Check out the Motown-by-way-of-Moss Side twang of his isolated bass runs on This Charming Man. Rubber bandy Andy.
This Charming Man – Andy’s Isolated Bass
When the news of any pop star’s passing is announced, it’s perfectly natural to feel something, especially if you’re a fan of their work. When Andy’s news gatecrashed my newsfeed this morning, a little bit of me, a little bit of every fan of The Smiths, died too. Memories of times soundtracked by The Smiths came blazing straight into sharp focus, along with the sudden realisation that while the memories remain, the principal player in creating those memories is gone. 59. No age at all, as they say.
God only knows what it’ll feel like when Johnny himself or, brace yourself, McCartney goes.
Or, There’s Always Been A Jazz Influence To My Writing. Not in the true ‘Beat’ sense, you understand. Not like Kerouac or Ginsberg or Burroughs who lived in it, lived through it, wrote from the eye of the howling storm and emerged many hundreds of pages later, daddio, with hardened personality traits and track marks and publishable manuscripts to show for it. Nah, that’s not me. In the months and years since lockdown, I’ve taken to soundtracking any and all working from home sessions with jazz; piano-led and in the background or with ear-splitting horns in the foreground, vocal-free and meditative or with a heavy bossa nova boogaloo breakdown, it doesn’t matter. I’ll never know the thrill of being waited upon in the smoky and claustrophobic environs of a late ’50s/early ’60s Village Vanguard or Birdland but I just might get to imagine it through the music that sustains. I’ve plenty of jazz records and CDs to pick from, and pick from I do.
I’ve a soft spot for the accepted classics – A Love Supreme (uh-huh) and Getz/Gilberto (obvs) and Mingus Ah Um (of course) and Kind Of Blue (Come away in! – What took you so long?!) – but I’ve a growing appreciation of other artists and albums, many of which would very probably feature on a ‘Seriously?! 20 Obvious Jazz Albums‘ kinda list; Wayne Shorter’s meandering and highly sampleable Speak No Evil is a great ‘get your act’ together record. By the end of the first side, you should find yourself engrossed and focused on the task at hand. Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else is the ideal ‘take me to lunch’ but finish this bit off before we get there record. Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ works best as a post-lunch kick-starter, all high brass and big band grooves – a proper afternoon slump destroyer. And if you find yourself against a tight deadline with tea time fast approaching and no-one to rustle it up but yourself, stick on Money Jungle, Duke Ellington’s bruising one take riffathon where tracks are played/improvised and recorded in the one go.
The story goes that the trio – Ellington, double bassist Charles Mingus and multi-limbed drummer Max Roach – were given freedom to play in whichever way they saw fit, so side one begins slowly as the trio eke out a style and pattern of play, then fall into a groove somewhere before the end of that side, continue in the same wildly original fashion on side two before eventually ending in an inevitable all out sonic assault – atonal notes, dissonant chords, drum fills that sound like the Eastenders’ theme being pushed off a cliff, basslines that sound like the annoying guy at the back of maths who’s twanging his ruler off the end of his desk while the teacher tries to explain a particularly challenging strain of calculus – because by this point in the session the three players had worked out that they didn’t particularly like one another and were communicating exactly that through their instruments. See yr Troggs tapes? Zilch in comparison.
If, like me you’re a sleevenotes ‘n credits reader, you’ll notice the same musicians cropping up on one another’s recordings all the time. John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley add their blues-flecked signatures to Miles’ Kind Of Blue. Across his ouvre, Miles himself gives piano roles to Wayne Shorter, Gil Evans and Herbie Hancock. Cannonball’s Somethin’ Else allows Miles and drummer Art Blakey to step out of the shadows and stamp their not insignificant presence across the grooves.
You play on my album and I’ll play on yours would appear to be the mandate of jazz. When it works, like on Kind Of Blue, great. When it don’t, (Money Jungle, maybe) eurgh. In rock music terms, it’s a bit like having Alex Turner guest on a Bobby Gillespie album where St Vincent and Johnny Marr swap guitar riffs while Zak Starkey and Viv Albertine pin down the groove, their respective management thrashing out the publishing rights with the various labels involved. Art v’s publishing? It’s exactly why, unless you’re the Style Council, this sort of stuff doesn’t really happen in ‘rock’ very often. Weller, man, he really was influenced by the jazzers in more ways than you realise.
Someone who wishes he was influenced in the same way is the aforementioned Bobby Gillespie. A walkin’, talkin’, stick-thin cliché, you’re never far away from an achingly hip point of reference when his mouth starts spouting the same StonesWhoPistolsClashDubFunkPunkSkunk jive that he’s whiffled on about since 1990. Just what is it that you want to do, Bob? Smash the system? Or sell-out to the M&S advert makers? It’s your call, clearly. The kids’ school fees must be due. Loaded, indeed.
At the Ayr Pavilion in 1994, Gillespie was mid duet with Denise (it may have been during Give Out But Don’t Give Up) and, as the band took it down – “Take it down, Throb, take it down!” – see?, the cliché kills – he starts to scat: ‘A love supreme, a love supreme, a love supreme…‘ over and over, leading the band higher and faster and louder to the song’s conclusion. The guy next to me turns to his pal and says earnestly, “Davie! He’s daein a Will Dowling cover!” (Google it if you need to). Very funny. An appalled Bobby would’ve split his skanky leather breeks if he’d heard them.
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme, Pt. 1 (Acknowledgment)
John Coltrane‘s A Love Supreme record is, cliché klaxon alert, meditative (honk!) and spiritual (Honk!) and contemplative (HONK!) and religious (HONKETY-HONK!), and it’s wonderful for it. Built around a core of four notes – dum, dum, dah-dum, and four syllables – A-Love-Su-Preme – Coltrane and the rest of his quartet fly far and wide, to Marrakesh, to Tangiers at times, Elvin Jones thrashing the hell out of his kit, McCoy Tyner hammering the ivories one moment, feather dusting them the next, Jimmy Garrison’s double bass walking the long road home at every opportunity. Coltrane and his tenor sax plays it all; hard boppin’, slow burnin’, furious riffin’, ee-long-gay-ted mood swings.
The quartet always comes back to the core though. Whether it’s Tyner on the keys or Garrison’s bass, or even Jones’ cymbal splashes, they always come back to the four note core. It’s premier league jazz, A Love Supreme, Haaland and Rashford and Trent and Billy Gilmour in a special meeting of minds when their four distinct personalities create something even greater than the sum of their parts, a record as essential as any other record you might care to offer up.
There’s a great writer you may already be aware of and read and enjoy. If not, you must remedy that forthwith. Adam Turner blogs regularly at Bagging Area, a blog that’s been an internet sensation almost as long as Plain Or Pan. While the world twitches impatiently and slowly loses the ability to focus on something for longer than 3 seconds at a time, us elder statesmen and women of blogging (and there are a few of us scattered out there) fly the flag for words and a more genteel pace of online engagement. Adam’s blog contains the odd bit of crossover with the music that features here, but mainly Bagging Area is steeped in electronic music, new releases and remixes and things that bang and beat. There’s rarely a week goes by when I don’t find myself investigating further an artist that I’d previously been unaware of. Pay his blog a visit. Even if the music is not for you, I think you’d like it.
In the past 18 months, Adam has taken the brave – and clearly cathartic – decision to write about his son Isaac. In November 2021, Isaac lost his life due to complications brought on by Covid and Adam writes clearly and honestly about a life now steeped in grief; the anger, the rage, the black hole of helplessness, the sudden unexpected triggers of a Facebook memory or unanticipated postal delivery that brings it all to the fore again. Isaac’s death is an all-consuming thing, an ever-present in he and his family’s life – of course it is – and when Adam writes about his son, his words are nothing less than spectacular. Anyone who’s a parent will feel every nuance in the turns of phrase and dignity with which Adam writes, words that I’m not sure Adam would’ve thought himself capable of conjuring up a couple of years ago while writing enthusiastically about an Andrew Weatherall remix or another ACR Manchester show. I mean that as a compliment. Writing about frivolous stuff is one thing. Emoting plainly and matter-of-factly over the big stuff is quite another. Adam’s writing is unmissable.
I’ve written not long ago about musical triggers; songs or lyrics or riffs that set off immediate Proustian rushes and have me scampering back to a time, place and people that made me who I am today. True Faith and Mark, Baker Street and my dad, Age of Consent and Derek. Not long after I’d read Adam’s latest blog, I was foutering about the house, REM‘s Reckoning album playing just that bit too loudly as I busied myself with the bins and the washing and what have ye. Don’t Go Back To Rockville started playing and, man, stone me if another one of those memories didn’t gatecrash my evening. As Peter Buck leans into his Rickenbacker, it’s suddenly and quite unexpectedly 1991 and Derek Reid and myself are in Grant’s dad’s living room. We’re in the process of putting together what will be the definitive line-up of Sunday Drivers, the greatest band that never was, and Derek and myself are sussing one another out, aiming for common ground and a base upon which to build our (cough) twin axe attack. He’s showing me the chords to Rockville and as we fall into it together, Grant stands disgusted behind Derek’s Jazz Chorus amp and scowls at us. He says nothing though, not even when Derek pulls off the flashy riff after the chorus – and as it plays tonight, I’m seeing Derek – goofy grin, Marti Pellow hair, ‘what d’ye think a that?‘ look on his face as it flies from his lovely yellowing Telecaster. It’s one of the songs that was played as the room filled up for his funeral and I saw him then too.
REM – Don’t Go Back to Rockville
“Right,” says Grant as we run out of steam. “Jist tae be clear – ah’m no’ singin’ in a fuckin’ country-rockin’ jingly jangly band, right? Yous can stop that pish right noo.”
We stopped that pish right there and then, found our fuzz pedals and the rest was(n’t) history.
I don’t go looking for musical triggers, but when they creep up on you and slap you clean on the face, it’s strangely comforting and somewhat brilliant.
Those first two Ride EPs are, I’d imagine, a well-played pair of favourites amongst much of this readership. The red rosed and yellow daffodiled covers conceal the thrilling sounds of a band at egg-hatching stage, fresh outta the rehearsal room, their fringes and long-sleeved t-shirts just as studied as the music they are aiming for – a sound forged, so the legend goes, when Andy Bell’s mum began hoovering the living room while he listened to The Beatles. It’s fantastically evocative of time and place; loud, uncontrollable, thrashed and bashed, but with the whiff of a melody bubbling under the Panzer attack of effect-heavy twin Rickenbackers and careering, pummelling backline.
The twin vocal duties are steeped in heady Byrdsian/Beach Boys ambitions and sometimes even, like on Like A Daydream, they almost get there. Mainly though, Mark and Andy are guitar players…and don’t they know it. Heavy on the fuzz, generous with the compression and wholly feral with their whiplashed approach to the wah-wah, their tunes are scorched and scarred, dragged backwards through the edge and laid to rest on vinyl forever.
Live, Ride was an even more thrilling prospect. The rhythm section was suddenly fantastic. I mean, who knew?! Laurence the drummer played a fairly standard kit, but his cymbal splashes, his star-of-the-show scattergunning Moonisms and Bonham-ish thumps and thuds fairly shook loose the fillings. Steve – one of two Our Price alumni to play bass in a successful indie rock act – (a prize will be in the post for the first person to suggest the other) – was locked into the groove, eyes focused on his pedal board, huge slabs of thunk emanating forth.
Somewhere at the back of the room in the Glasgow Mayfair was Alan McGee, giving off full-on McLaren/Warhol vibes, his arms folded, admiring his charges, appreciating the huge Glasgow audience that had shown up so early in his band’s career, his ginger Dylan whitefro and Raybans setting off the biker jacket ‘n stripy tee-shirt combo perfectly. My abiding memory of the gig was just how rammed it was and that I had to watch most of the show by standing on one of the in-built velvet wall seats, seeing the stage and band reflected back to front, like a trippy pop promo, in one of the Mayfair’s many mirrors. Mark Gardener was playing his Rickenbacker and coaxing all manner of wild distortion and chiming echoes through a bog standard Peavey practice amp. There was hope for us all.
Despite the froth and Proustian rushes triggered by those first two EPs, it’s the band’s fourth EP that I’ve returned to over the years. Today Forever bridged the gap between the band’s first two albums and distils perfectly all that was great about the band at this time. If you were being generous, you might even consider this less of a single (or an EP) and more of a mini album. Less noisy (in places), certainly more refined and considered, it flirts with proggy undertones (their next single, Leave Them All Behind, was an all-out prog assault, but that’s for another time) and benefits from the band’s unshakeable confidence that everything they approached would be spectacularly great. Each track is unique in its own way. Each track is as essential as the last.
Ride – Unfamiliar
The lead track Unfamiliar fades in on a wave of controlled guitar and is carried along by one of their best basslines, underpinning heavily-treated guitars and more of Laurence’s unpredictable drums. There’s a great bit, just before the vocals come in, when the beat drops to half tempo and the guitars, whacked out and dubby, suddenly conjure up images of Lee Perry and Black Ark. And, just as that notion hits you, here comes the vocal, submerged in sadness and melancholy, two voices singing about who knows what – that’s not important, it’s how it sounds that matters – and man, this sounds great! Smart arses point to Chelsea Girl and Leave Them All Behind as the high points in the group’s back catalogue. Smarter arses known it to be Unfamiliar. Every time.
Ride – Sennen
Just as you’re catching your breath from Unfamiliar‘s bruising and relentless yet ear-friendly assault, along comes Sennen. Named after Sennen Cove in Cornwall (and where the song’s video was filmed, I think) it’s built upon a lovely mesh of clean-chiming Cocteaus’ 12 strings and fuzzed-out riffage, topped off with more of those white boy indie rock vocals that make Home Counties girls called Emily and Rachel go weak at their stripy-tighted knees.
Sennen incorporates a lovely, subtle keyboard line that provides texture to the overload of overdubbed guitars. Since first hearing it, and on every play since, I’ve thought The Charlatans would do a great, Hammond-led version of this. There’s still time, Tim, there’s still time.
I heartily recommend pulling this record from your filing and giving it a fresh spin to what will be appreciative ears. It’s been playing an awful lot round here recently and so far no one has complained. In our house, that’s the mark of a good record, a very good record indeed.
As we hurtle downhill without the brakes on towards a weekend of jingoistic flag waving…and making Britain Great again…and wall-to-wall TV coverage…and stupid folk camping out, Blitz spirit style, to secure a spot on The Mall…and the same stupid folk participating in a mass swearing of allegiance to our newly minted monarch, my social media timelines have become increasingly filled with anti-Royal rhetoric. Much of it is eloquently put. Most of it is blunt in its dislike – hatred, even – of our Royal Family.
Privileged rich guy wearing a crown of stolen jewels parades through the austerity-hit streets in a golden carriage to wave at the less fortunate seems to be the cut of the anti-monarchists’ jib. And it’s a fair point.
Not many folk in my social circles, it seems, will be sitting down to view Saturday’s proceedings, and if they are, they’re keeping schtum about it.
There are over 6000 streets in Glasgow and not one has applied for a street party licence. Quite the turnaround from 1977 when the entire Scottish landscape was littered in wilting Union Jack bunting, brittle novelty crowns and broken pasting tables for months afterwards. It appears that the Royals, from the echo chamber of my Scottish social media feed at least, are antiquated and irrelevant, a relic from a bygone era that might only make some sort of sense on the pages of a history book.
I’m not a Royal hater as such – I’m a lover, not a fighter, as someone once said – but while I might sneak a peak at the plastic pomp and daft ceremony of it all (as I did when the Queen’s funeral was televised. History, innit?) I can’t really be doing with a figurehead who represents a family steeped in theft, crime, racism and bigotry, hush-ups, cover-ups, adultery and paedophilia, by both association and the inference suggested via multi-million pound pay-offs and the keeping of a low profile. That’s yr best of British, right there, ma’am. Imagine being born into all of that, and condoning it – benefitting from it, even – through a closing of Royal ranks and mouths.
I believe they do some good, somewhere (and so they should for the bulging purses and estates they receive for their pleasure) and by all accounts, Charles is a thoroughly decent bloke, ya, when it comes to small talk and pleasantries, but what use are they? Maybe Johnny Rotten was right when he pointed out that they need saving because, well, tourrrists are mu-neee. That would seem to be it.
Spare a thought for auld Charles though. That crown, rich in Empire-pilfered bijouterie is heavier than your last energy bill. Just as well he has the jug ears to keep it from slipping.
Here’s McCarthy with their shambling, jangling, rattling and rolling anti-Royal ranting Charles Windsor. I doubt Radio 2 have included this on their Coronation Celebration playlist. Or maybe they have, on account of its title alone. Some poor researcher might end up at the guillotine…
McCarthy – Charles Windsor
And here’s Manic Street Preachers spitting punkish vitriol and bile in their (far superior) version. To tha guillo-tine! Chop chop chop off your head indeed.
In the UK, we meekly accept whatever our masters think is best for us. Rising cost of living? Fair enuff, guv. Can’t heat your house? I’ll just nip down to the local Warm Space, shall I? Dragged out of Europe? That’s democracy, mate. We’ll just need to get on wiv it. The French though – they know the score. Any time they feel hard done by, any time their world appears unjust, boom!, out come the Molotovs. Over a million French citizens took to les rues recently to protest the government’s planned raising of the pension age from 62 to 64. Pffft. Work-shy slacquers. It’s 66 in England, mate. 66! Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles, Sir Geoffrey ‘Urst. Anyway, where woz I?
Decided without a vote and pushed through by the will of a persistent Macron, it was firmly decided. The workers were suitably enraged. In Paris, fireworks were thrown indiscriminately at hastily drawn police lines. In Bordeaux, the town hall was set ablaze. Tear gas was fired, hundreds were arrested, everyone lost their Gallic cool. The pension age would still be raised, but not without Macron and his ministers knowing exactly what their citizens thought of them. The one plus point to come from the dissenters’ actions was that the city of Paris would not now play host to the first state visit by the new King George, whose aides quickly kyboshed the idea. Parisienne republicans sniffed the air and shrugged with typical je ne sais quoi.
55 years ago, in May 1968, rioting in Paris became so severe there was a real threat of civil war. The city’s student population, liberal and left-leaning by definition, occupied the universities in protest at fellow students’ arrests following an anti Vietnam demonstration. The authorities were quick to react and a heavy-handed police operation resulted in skirmishes, baton-wielding beatings and more mass arrests. The conflict between the Parisienne students and police intensified. Barricades were put up and knocked down. Civil order descended into disorder. Police used batons. Students threw torn-up paving stones and Molotov cocktails. Two nights of stand-off on the Left Bank ended after police set fire to cars and they themselves used Molotovs to disperse crowds.
The trade unions, no fans of President de Gaulle or his policies, were moved to declare sympathy action. At the height of this action, most of France ground to a halt as 11 million French workers (almost a quarter of the working population) went on general strike. Despite talks between both sides, the strikes and the riots continued. The President ran off to Germany, worried that rioters would attack him in Elysee Palace. He would return at the end of the month, bolstered by a notion to dissolve his cabinet and reform his government in a way that would appease the strikers. But anyway…
In the early days of the Stone Roses, Ian Brown had hitch-hiked his way around Europe. On his travels, he’d met someone who’d been in Paris in 1968 and this man’s tale became the lyric to Bye Bye Badman. He told the story of how, during the riots, the activists learned to combat the effects of the tear gas being used to control their movements by sucking on lemons.
It’s no concidence at all that the artwork on Stone Roses’ debut album cover features an unobtrusive, brush-daubed tricolour and a couple of lemons (albeit added after John Squire had ‘completed’ his painting)… a piece of art he called Bye Bye Badman.
Smoke me, choke the air. In this citrus-sucking sunshine I don’t care.
Here he comes, got no question, got no love
I’m throwing stones at you, I want you black and blue
I’m gonna make you bleed, gonna bring you down to your knees…
It’s all in there.
Stone Roses – Bye Bye Badman
It’s a tune that belies it’s appearance. Lightweight and breezy, with skiffly, shuffling drums and a rich tapestry of interwoven guitars, it could well have floated off the grooves of a Mamas and Papas or 5th Dimension record.
The guitar runs throughout though, they mark it as something a bit special, a bit unique; the phased and chugging electric backing that allows the sun-dappled acoustic splashes to shimmer, the cleanly picked counter-riffs, the fluid and chattering fret runs at the end that bring to mind Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, all of it underpinned by expansive and expressive bass playing. It’s no real surprise that Stone Roses became the touchstone for enthusiastic amateur guitarists and wannabe hit bands everywhere.
And the melody. It’s sing-song and nursery rhyme-like…until you begin to decode the lyric. The title itself is seemingly a veiled reference to President de Gaulle and, as the song unfurls line by line, it’s apparent that this seemingly insignificant track (song 4, side 1) is in fact a pop art statement of political intent, revolution disguised as art. That it’s done so with lovely doubletracked Ian Brown vocals makes it all the sweeter. In the live arena, Brown can’t sing for toffee. Thank goodness John Leckie had the golden touch when it came to coaxing a tune from his vocal chords.
Here’s the demo that Stone Roses presented to Leckie. As you’ll hear, never underestimate the role of the producer in helping a group to realise their ambitions.
Stone Roses – Bye Bye Badman demo
I listened to Stone Roses’ debut album the other day and it still causes as many little rushes of uncontainable excitement as it did on first hearing it 34 years ago. Let it sink in that more time has passed since the day I bought it from Walker’s at Irvine Cross than the time between the riots in Paris ’68 and the Stone Roses writing a song about it.
Ian Brown famously pumped an arm aloft and bellowed, “This is ‘ist’ry!” from the Alexandra Palace stage in November 1989. No, Ian, your band, their album, THIS is history. D’you feel old yet?
I like the name cuz it’s ear-a-tating. It’s a stupid name.
That’s Kim Deal, interviewed on Snub TV back in 1989, discussing her group just as their second album proper, Doolittle, was on the cusp of release.
I like it cuz it’s Pixies. “Like, oh wow, really rock n roll.” It’s better than, like, Lords Of Destruction or something.
They were a weird wee band, Pixies. Four disparate characters that on appearance gave no indication at all about the sort of noise they’d create. Indiscriminately square. Dressed normally. Not a flamboyant haircut or intangible edge to any of them. Kim looked like an office secretary. David and Joey the groovy geography teachers who might play in a covers band at the weekend. Frank Black/Black Francis, out front in his lumberjack shirt and an equally-balanced love of The Beatles and Peter, Paul and Mary gave off no vibes at all about how his band might sound.
As an entity, Pixies were the very force of nature. Scrubbed to the knuckle, sandpapered acoustic guitars played in mind-melting triple chord sequences rubbed up against white-lightning guitar squalls, lung-shredding vocals and quiet/loud passages, often all within the first half minute of the song.
And the songs. You are the son of a muthur-fuckur. Losin’ my penis to a whore with disease. We’ll have our sons, they’ll be well hung. He bought me a soda and he tried to molest me in the parking lot. There was this boy who had two children with his sisters who were his daughters who were his favourite lovers. I mean, come on! Stop and listen. Really listen. It’s uncomfortable and uncompromising in equal measure. Thrilling too, though – as much as it seems wrong to say so.
So the songs are all sex and death and random swearing mainly, much of it a Hispanic mystery but, man, they totally, like, rock. They were exciting, Pixies. It didn’t matter that the song you were currently listening to wasn’t really your favourite because by the time you’d decided that, it was a short guitar twang and feedbacking space rocking blow-out away from the end.
It’s the early records that tend to be the first ones I’ll grab – Come On Pilgrim and, especially, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle – as good a one-two as any band before, then or since – but the next time you’re inclined to binge on Pixies, go straight to the albums that followed in their aftermath.
Bossanova‘s sci-fi surf still thrills. A well balanced mix of shouters and shufflers, its hard slamming riffs still rattle the brain, its weird lyrical content still surprises. With sudden endings and sudden beginnings, the tracks begin to blend as one, something Pixies did on the early records and continued to do. It can be disconcerting at times, wondering if you’re still listening to the same track you were a minute ago, but it makes for a thrilling listen. By the end of side 2 you’ll want to flip straight back over and jump in again…and it’s arguably Pixies’ weakest record in that initial run.
Pixies – Rock Music
Second track in is Rock Music, a self-explanatory stall-setter that rides in on a squiggle of wiggling feedback, air raid siren guitars and rat-a-tat drums, the tension before the release of Frank’s lung ripper of a nonsensical vocal, doing well to keep itself above the racket of gear-changing electric guitars and just about hanging in there. Suh-lag! is what he screeches for a full stop at the end, if y’didn’t know. Those folk who’ve complained today about not hearing that government-endorsed emergency warning test alert on their phones? They’ve been listening to this at 3pm, obviously.
The unassuming best track on the record may well go to the acrostic Ana. It’s a slow burning two minutes of reverb, shimmer and twang that brilliantly surfs the effect pedal-rich zeitgeist of the times, slo-mo and self-assured, the brushed drums softening Pixies normally bruising approach. The lyrics, when laid out, show that the initial letter of each line spells out the word ‘SURFER’. Simple but smart-arsed. Not enough bands do this.
Pixies – Ana
I’ll tell you what. Lana Del Rey, with her bleached-out ’50s heartbreak and sulky torch song vibe would totally kill this track. Think about it as it plays. Her A&R person should see to it that it happens.
If ever there was a short-lived group with an ego overload as wide as the Mersey, it’d be The Crucial Three. Birthed in Liverpool, the not ironically-named at all trio was the fertile product of Julian Cope, Ian McCulloch and Pete Wylie, students in the city and punk rock foot soldiers with the battle scars from Eric’s and Probe Records to prove it. Destined to meet and create and disband in a whirl of uncontainable ideas, The Crucial Three lasted no longer than six weeks, burnt out on a combined love of New York punk and the inevitability that each group member couldn’t be boxed and compromised within its confines.
In his book Head On – essential reading, if y’didn’t know – Cope is both catty and complimentary towards McCulloch. He’s already been nicknamed Duke after Bowie’s Thin White persona by the time they meet, and the nickname provides Cope with much bitchy ammunition, but St Julian has nothing but praise for McCulloch once he dares to peek beyond the fringe and start to sing. Cope bands about McCulloch’s name in the same breath as Lou ‘n Iggy and he genuinely means it.
Amongst the nonsensical jams and Velvets rip-offs that constituted The Crucial Three’s flimsy ouvre – one song about zits and one about drugs that was a great Cope-y title in need of an actual song (I’m Bloody Sure You’re On Dope), Cope and McCulloch (or ‘Duke McCool‘, as Julian has now christened him after mishearing the shortened McCull) dragged out an actual, bona fide post-punk classic.
Read It In Books surfs along on a cyclical riff very reminiscent of Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot, the product of one of the trio’s living room sessions where someone would stumble on a set of chords and the others would fall in and see if something stuck. If you’ve ever played in a shambling and under-rehearsed band, you’ll recognise this scenario immediately. In this instance something did indeed stick. Cope claims McCulloch was playing the chords to The Fall’s Stepping Out (it also has, in the main, two chords and is a bit shouty, but these ears can’t really find the similarity – which is good, I suppose), but by the time the band had reconvened for their next session, McCulloch had a set of lyrics to go with it – including a cheap steal from The Impressions – and before they knew it, The Crucial Three had a song of their own. People get ready, there’s a train a-comin’… and it’s a beauty.
Read It In Books was credited as a Cope/McCulloch co-write, and both artists would go on to record versions with the bands with whom they found success.
Echo & The Bunnymen‘s version appeared as the b-side to their debut single The Pictures On My Wall (credited to McCulloch, Cope, of course).
Echo & The Bunnymen – Read It In Books
Cope’s Teardrop Explodes would record it for the b-side of their third single Treason.
You don’t need to dig too deep below the surface of the internet to find multiple versions of the song but, for me, the best version of all of them is the Bunnymen’s imperial take that they recorded for the John Peel show in 1979, watery guitar solos, incessant drum machine rhythm, McCulloch’s restrained croon ‘n all. Within a few years their sound would evolve, with skyscraping, effect-rich guitars and a towering symphonic backing adding gravitas and state to the McCulloch vocal, but that early Bunnymen sound – man, I’ll never tire of this.
Echo & The Bunnymen – Read It In Books (Peel Session 15th August 1979)
The Teardrops’ version is fairly similar, acknowledging that both writers created the structure and arrangement. Guitars clang, drums are pummelled, a stabbing organ shimmers in and out like the ghost of Ray Manzarek moonlighting in The Seeds and the whole thing rattles its way to garage band heaven. Add some sleigh bells to its nagging piano background and it could almost be The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog. Perhaps an obvious, leather-trousered step too far for the Iggy-headed Julian.
Teardrop Explodes – Read It In Books
This one is credited, naturally, to Cope, McCulloch.