Get This!

Don’t Matter What I Do

There’s a new Paul Weller album out today. He’s clearly a prolific, unflinching, bloody-minded writer, an English version of someone like Neil Young. You can certainly draw parallels between the length of their hair these days, let alone the length of their careers. Both started out in successful bands, both went solo, both still steadfastly plough their own furrow, their generally considered ‘greatest albums’ far behind them.

It wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that Weller’s output can be grouped into four distinct categories: 1) The Jam, 2) The Style Council, 3) The solo years up until Stanley Road and 4) everything else since. This isn’t intended to be disingenuous. There are plenty of PW fans who will point to The Jam’s progression from angry, besuited punks to the soul-obsessed Beat Surrender that hinted at Weller’s next move, and from that soulful start to their misunderstood house-obsessed finish, The Style Council certainly rode the zeitgeist of musical movements. Plenty too will cite Wake Up The Nation as just as relevant an album as Wild Wood. I’d even agree – and Sonik Kicks too for that matter. But I have to admit to a slackening off in my engagement over the past couple of albums. Partly, that’s been down to the crazy prices he can charge for a deluxe version of the latest album and partly because the lead tracks from those albums kinda passed me by. If I had the money and time to invest in them, I daresay I’d have a different opinion. Maybe I should just steal them online like everybody else and form a considered opinion. The new album – On Sunset– has been trailed with an interesting set of 70s-inspired fonts against bleached-out orange, pink and yellow graphics. It looks like the sort of thing I should investigate, even if his hair these days is part Agnetha from Abba and Brian Connolly from The Sweet.

Weller has always been about moving forward – Start, Dig The New Breed, My Ever Changing Moods, Push It Along – but haud the bus, Paul. Rewind, look over your shoulder, listen again to some of your finest moments. The best bits easily still stand up today. Like Long Hot Summer

The Style CouncilLong Hot Summer

Long Hot Summer has it all. In a lineage that begins with The Young Rascals’ Groovin’ and continues through to Jazzy Jeff’s Summertime, it’s one of the truly great mid-tempo summer tracks. Its awkward shoe-shuffling electronic beat might be difficult to dance to but it’s essential for conjuring up the feel of, well, a long hot summer. It’s the bass synth that carries it. Instantly recognisable – I’ll name that tune in one, Paul! – when he played it quite unexpectedly mid-set at the Hydro a couple of years ago, I was beyond myself with excitement. Fuckin’ Long Hot Summer! I shouted to Fraz. Long Hot Fuckin’ Summer moaned the old punk to his pal on my left at the same time. The placement of the sweary word is important here. Said at the start, it’s generally a positive thing. Placed midway through the sentence, it makes for quite the opposite. So there y’go. Paul Weller, still polarising his audience all these years later.

It’s a great production, Long Hot Summer. Along with that bass line, Weller’s vocal comes across as something that might’ve flown straight off the grooves of What’s Going On. Low and spoken in places, floaty and falsetto in others, it runs the range of what makes soul music soul music. When used to transport the lyrics of loss and longing, well, it makes for quite the thing. There’s a chord structure to match too, right up to the major 7ths in the bridge. Then there are the handclaps, the shiddy-biddy-do-wap-waps and the bubbbling analogue synths. If the Isley Brothers or Chi-Lites made a better record, I’ve yet to hear it. Weller, amazingly, was barely into his 20s when he wrote it.

I’ve been playing The Style Council Á Paris EP a lot this week. Long Hot Summer is the lead track and the needle has gone back and forth across the A-Side a zillion times since I first rediscovered it on Monday. That line – the long hot summer just passed me by – is bothering me though. It’s a sign, a clue, a plea from the writer himself that I really should get to his more recent albums. A visit is in order.

demo, Get This!, Hard-to-find

More Paul

The schools break up today, bereft, perhaps, of much of the frantic downhill-without-the-breaks-on rush to cross the ts and dot the is on the paperwork, but also lacking in the uncontained excitement of hundreds of young minds who’ve already switched off and are planning great adventures in the great beyond for the next few weeks. The sound of excitable kids in a playground on the last day of term is one of life’s greatest sounds – up there with John Lydon’s plegmy rrrrrrightttt now, hurrgh hurgh hurgh! snarl at the start of Anarchy In The UK and those honeyed Beatles Yeeeaaaah! harmonies right at the end of She Loves You.

Teachers in Scotland will return a week earlier than normal this year, and (to our dismay and disappointment) to full classes – our government’s way of bowing to public pressure and addressing the lack of traditional schooling in the previous few months. As a working parent I totally get the need for schools to be back operating as ‘normal’ – children getting only two days a week of teaching in an actual school isn’t nearly enough – and we need to allow the country to get back to work, but it all seems more than a bit rushed. For what it’s worth, I reckon schools – the grubbiest Petri dishes of all – are being squashed back way too early and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if by perhaps October, a second wave of Covid has struck, forcing some (all?) schools to adopt the blended learning model that our profession has worked so hard to put in place. Who knows.

But back to the music. Sometimes you’ll hear a tune or even just part of a song that fits the current state of mind. Y’know, you’ll be driving home from work on an early summer’s evening, happy to be finished for the day, visor down and fake Ray-Bans shielding you from the rare Scottish sun, and Brass In Pocket comes on. As your left hand reaches out to turn up the volume, your right elbow automatically places itself on the window sill (Detroit leaning, dontcha know), just about one hand on the wheel, and you lean back and down into your seat just a touch more than you had been, your head bobbing in time to James Honeyman-Scott’s spacious, chiming riff. Serendipitous moments like this are few and far between, so when they occur you tend to remember them.

The better weather brings the cycling – lockdown’s greatest hit – and cycling up and down the west coast always sounds better when soundtracked by Underworld. The multi-layered rhythms encourage that extra 10% of effort that you never knew you had, the band’s propulsive thunk pushing you outwards and back in again. Occassionally in a quiter moment, the sound of a newly-oiled chain whirring through the sprockets will creep in to enhance the mix and again you think, this is alright!

It’s happening right now, as I type. I’m listening to Secretly, a softly looping instrumental by The Elevated Presence.

SecretlyThe Elevated Presence

Part Albatross – listen for the whoosh of the gong and the gently thrumming bassline – and part Johnny Marrchestra guitar heaven, Secretly is a lovely textured wash of acoustic and electric guitars, ambient ephemera and pinging, unravelling melodies overlapping and looping into 4 minutes of music that could sit happily between your Durutti Column records and Mogwai’s less-heavier moments.

What you won’t hear as you listen though are the birds outside my window, high in the trees next to the Ayr-Glasgow railway line, warbling and twittering and chattering and whistling as the near-empty 11.05 to Largs rattles past. They say that mankind’s loss with Covid is very much nature’s gain, and with this much going on around me, it’s hard to disagree. All music sounds better with the added ambience of bled-in bird noise. Today it’s The Elevated Presence that’s benefitting.

The Elevated Presence is an on-going side project of sorts from Trashcan Sinatras’ guitarist Paul Livingston. The Trashcans are kinda mainstays around here, their world-weary uplifting melancholia and sparkling tunes never far away, so it’s always great to hear anything from the TCS camp, in any form that may take. The tunes that constitute the catalogue of The Elevated Presence are, I imagine, the ones that don’t quite fit with the Trashcans’ ethos. They’re interesting, introspective, self-indulgent in places….and certainly worth investigating as a result. Listen closely and you’ll hear chord structures, guitar tones and counter melodies that would colour and enhance any Trashcans’ record.

SunchordsThe Elevated Presence

The hazy Sunchords is the perfect example. All ringing arpeggios, slowly spiralling riffs and woozy, wonky whitewashed tremelo, it’s crying out for a heartstring-tugging vocal and tear-soaked crescendo. In its instrumental form it’s filmic, Lynchian even in its quiet assurance, and the most perfect sunbleached music for the songbirds outside my window to harmonise to.

If this is your kinda thing, you could do worse than nip over to The Elevated Presence page on Bandcamp and check out the 5 other tracks that are currently available for next to nothing. Flying Bike‘s Elliott Smith-ish picking that gives way to a frantic Flamenco breakdown, Toska‘s steadily unravelling melody, the atmospheric crackle of The Grasshopper Mouse Howls At The Moon…all contain the DNA that makes Trashcan Sinatras so essential. In their own way, these Elevated Presence tracks are just as required listening.

 

Alternative Version, Get This!

Runners And Ryders

Happy MondaysBummed was something of a slow burner. Released in November ’88, it was arguably a full 12 months before its clattering industrial funk had travelled its own lolloping path from the margins to the mainstream. I picked up on it in the great summer of 1989, my pal and I each buying it from the old Fopp at the top of Renfield Street. Keen to have a proper look at our new records on the train on the way home, we opened up our respective bags, slid the inner sleeve from the pink-faced portrait of Shaun Ryder and very, very quickly returned the pouting, pube-free porno nude back inside again. Who expected that?!? It made for a ton of pink-faced nervous laughing and some strange stares that didn’t stop until long after after Paisley. Even still, by Christmas ’89, with Manchester in the area and an epoch-defining Top of the Pops episode featuring both Stone Roses and Happy Mondays in the bag, it was the follow-up – The Madchester EP, with lead track Hallelujah – that finally elevated the Mondays from cult act to the band that your mum knew. Loads of folk worked backwards from there, Bummed was that Christmas’s most asked-for LP and suddenly, Happy Mondays were everywhere.

Slower coaches who were still to get in on the act did so a few months later when Step On was released, its rinky-dink Italo house intro a call to arms for the loose of limb and slack of jaw in every provincial indie disco in the land. An almost thrown-away track – it was originally recorded as part of a tribute album for Elektra, the band’s American label, and their version of an old, forgotten John Kongos’ track came to define everything about the Happy Mondays of the era. Suddenly, they were no longer the preserve of Factory Records disciples and switched-on fans of left of centre non-chart music. You were as likely to hear your postman whistling Step On‘s intro as you were to see your local fruit ‘n veg assistant hold up a honeydew or a galia and gurn the words that will surely one day appear on Shaun Ryder’s tombstone.

By this point, the band was already well into the recording of their next LP. With a third new producer in as many albums, Pills, Thrills & Bellyaches eschewed the shouty funk of John Cale and the dark embryonic haze of Martin Hannett and, using Step On‘s success as a jumping off point, was buffed to a glossy sheen by dance producers Steve Osborne and Paul Oakenfold. A true marker of where the band now was success-wise, the album was written and recorded at Capitol Studios in L.A. The daily mayhem and freakscene that followed and surrounded the band fed into the music and the lyrics; a lack of E meant the band switched their allegiances to opium; half a dozen or more dealers would be at the studio every day; the lead singer got so into it and so out of it that he took to wearing a ski mask – “it’s the only thing keeping my head together,”- his fried eyes and half-masked hooked nose freaking out the locals in the sizzling Californian heat.

To paraphrase a line in an interview Ryder gave in his Black Grape days, Happy Mondays didn’t get into the music business and discover drugs, they discovered drugs and got into the music business. Being big business in L.A. meant access to better pharmaceuticals and freakier people. The Mondays soaked it all up and spat it back out on a record where influences and subject matter as disparate as Donovan, Bruce Forsyth and intrusive airport searches co-existed within the grooves.

‘I’m here to harass you, I want your pills and your grass you,

You don’t look first class you

Let me look up your ass you

I smell dope, I smell dope, I smell dope, I’m smelling dope.’

(Happy Mondays Holiday)

Despite the distractions, Ryder remained totally focussed during the sessions. The band had rented an apartment in one of L.A.’s more notorious neighbourhoods, sharing ammenities with petty criminals, porn stars and, bizarrely, Mick Hucknall. Mondays’ drummer Gaz Whelan played tennis with his fellow corkscrew-haired Mancunian everyday while the others sat around the pool eyeing up their neighbours and feeding the experience back into song. Ryder kept a notebook close by, scribbling lyrics whenever they came to him, writing and re-writing with an unchracteristic determination and drive. He’d take rough cuts home from the studio and work the lyrics into finished songs while the others partied.

The end result was an album that, from the sleeve on in was day-glo and bright, a beacon of off-it’s-head light in a landscape of floppy fringes, Fenders and fuzzboxes. Scratch a little below the surface though and you’ll soon dig up the dark matter. It’s maybe not my favourite Happy Mondays record, but it’s one of the most interesting.

All compass points lead to the big tracks – Step On, the asthmatic wheeze of God’s Cop, Kinky Afro‘s Labelle-lifting confessional, but let’s shine a light on Loose Fit.

Happy MondaysLoose Fit

The runt of the litter, Loose Fit was the final single from the album, limping its way to number 17 almost a year after the album was released. By this point in time, Happy Mondays’ stock had fallen to an all-time low. They’d been quoted as saying some unforgiveable homophobic rubbish in the NME, they were happy to pose in a jacuzzi with Penthouse girls for The Sun and were in the middle of unleashing unhappy hell on an unsuspecting Jamaican island where they’d decamped to record what would be their final album. To all intents and purposes, their horse (and Ryder) had bolted.

Out of time and context though, Loose Fit has proven itself to be the ace up Shaun Ryder’s Gio-Goi sleeve. Wafting in on a riff that’s as airy and wide as the 25″ flares it celebrates, its mid-paced groove still delivers. Don’t need no skintights in my wardrobe today, fold them all up and put them all away. As far as songs about fashion go, only ‘she wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo‘ is better. You knew that already though.

Notice that slow exhale of breathe at the beginning as Ryder wakes up from his opiate slumber and stretches himself yawning into the verse; voice whispered, eyes hooded, goofy stoned immaculate. Backed by the ever-present Rowetta, they make for an unlikely double act, yet it works.

Happy MondaysLoose Fix

It turns out that exhale of breathe was something else entirely. The less than subtly-titled Loose Fix version tells you all you need to know. Light up, lean in, far out. There’s a guitar line that predates Flowered Up’s Weekender by a good year, some processed beats that Gillespie and co would cop for their own experiment in dance a few months later and a production that keeps the whole thing riding the zeitgeist of turn-of-the-decade indie dance.

Sounds good to me, as someone once sang.

demo, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Fraser Chorus

Grangemouth is a wee industrial town on the eastern side of Scotland, famous for the oil refinery and its belching chimneys and gas flares that rise strangely beautiful and plentiful into the skies above the Firth of Forth. You might spot its post-apocalyptic Mad Maxian skyline as you look for (and miss) the bypass turn-off that takes you to the Kelpies (just us?)

Even in these times of renewable energy and eco awareness, not to mention more accessible further and higher education, the refinery is still the town’s largest employer. The route for many of Grangemouth’s young people is seemingly mapped out from the day they are born: leave school, start work at the refinery, retire, die. If you do these things in that order, you’ve won at life.

It was against this backdrop that Cocteau Twins were born. With a desire to never set foot inside the refinery, their shared love of The Birthday Party, Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux saw them land a record deal with 4AD, find favour with John Peel and subsequently burrow deep into the ears of fans of leftfield music the length and breadth of Peel’s reach. You knew that already though.

Against the occasional industrial clatter of drum machines, it was the basslines (Will Heggie initially, Simon Raymonde not long after); bending, bulging, melodic and Hook-ish that carried the music forward.

This rhythm section gave freedom for Robin Guthrie to splash all manner of dazzling, sparkling guitar sounds across the top; crystalline and glass-shattering one minute, fuzzed-out then gossamer-thin the next. Echoing, chiming, phased and flanged, Guthrie took the sonic bravery of The Banshees’ (etc) John McGeoch and developed a style of his own that would help define the Cocteau Twins’ sound. Vocal-free, the tracks alone are very much music to lose yourself in – other-worldly, pretty and lilting, melancholic yet uplifting – the best sort of music.

The Cocteaus’ secret weapon was, undeinably, vocalist and focal point Elizabeth Fraser. When you add her vocals to the heady mix, the tracks take flight as high and far and wide as her vocal chords. She didn’t so much sing as soar, and she did so without the use of words that you might find easily in the pages of a Collin’s Dictionary. Fraser swirled and swooped largely nonsensical gobbledegook and it sounded fantastic.

Occasionally, recognisable words might jump out at you. That ‘burn this whole madhouse down‘ line on Iceblink Luck, for example, is so memorable precisely because it’s one of the few Cocteaus’ lines sung in plain English. Indeed, much of the song appears to be, unusually for them, in the mother tongue. It takes a fair bit of sonic squinting to work them out, right enough.

Cocteau TwinsIceblink Luck

Most of the time, the vocals are heady and hippy, a mythical strangetalk language all of their own. Sung with an unparalleled style and phrasing, it’s Fraser’s vocals that are the true trademark of the Cocteau Twins.

Now and again, Fraser’s vocals will grace other records, Massive Attack’s Teardrop, for example, or more recently Sam Lee’s Old Wow album. When Felt recorded their Ignite The Seven Cannons album with Robin Guthrie in 1985, it was inevitable that the producer would call for his partner to add her celestial quavers at some point. The recording sessions were fraught with ego and anguish – Felt’s Lawrence, a stickler for detail and band aesthetics was encouraged to sign a contract that would forbid him from being present at the mixing.

Guthrie used the opportunity to Cocteau-fy much of the music with sea-deep reverb and an ambient swirl. He also finalised an 11-track album that the ‘Perfect 10’-loving Lawrence couldn’t cope with. “We’d have been better doing an EP with Guthrie instead,” he moaned to Uncut a few years ago. “A standalone 12″ like Joy Divison’s Atmosphere or Wild Swans’ Revolutionary Spirit.”

FeltPrimitive Painters

The lead single from the album proved be one of Felt’s most enduring tracks. Over time it’s become, like the reference points above (and no doubt to Lawrence’s delight), a classic 12″ single of the era. Featuring a freeform Fraser who’d been handed the lyrics minutes beforehand, Primitive Painters is a waltzing, loping, cyclical groove, chiming with 12 string intent and mooching ennui. It’s not a tune that particularly goes anywhere, until Fraser enters on the chorus. From then on in, the whole thing lifts off spectacularly for a good 6 minutes before crashing triumphantly to a long, slow fade-out.

Playing now, it evokes those days when the Chart Show would show you a run-down of the indie top 10, most of the records playing behind a picture of the record sleeve or a promo shot of the band in lieu of an actual video.

Fast forward a decade and the Cocteau Twins, not quite history, will limp on for one more LP. Fraser and Guthrie have separated and she is now in a relationship with Jeff Buckley, someone else who knows his way around the outer octaves of a vocal chord. Fiercely private people, their relationship proved fairly creative.

Jeff Buckley & Elizabeth FraserAll Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun

It’s a slightly uneasy, voyeuristic listen, this song. Not because it’s difficult to listen to – it’s not – it’s fantastic – but because it’s evidently very personal. A metaphor for their developing relationship maybe, All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun should be listened to through a filter of a conscience. Basically, you’re eavesdropping on a private moment between two people – Fraser’s unselfconscious giggle at the start makes that startlingly clear.

Since the track leaked, she’s said how disappointed she is that it’s out there, unfinished and raw. Yet out there it is, so listen we must. Their duet – a studio off-cut remember – stands up with the best of both artists’ work.

They’d have made beautiful babies, Buckley and Fraser, and this song is the sonic equivalent. Imagine how it might’ve sounded with Buckley’s shining, liquid mercury Telecaster singing across the top of it, Fraser’s vocals double-tracked and harmonising new melodies, a rhythm section with meandering bass, cymbal splashes and restrained bombast. We can only imagine.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Charity Records

L McCarron. Avril Campbell. Graham. Hugo. T Heywood. RP Baker. Brenda Clack. Anne Jefferis. We’ll get to these people shortly. But first, a story that is also a life lesson.

It’s early 1985. The plans for Live Aid haven’t yet been hatched but Band Aid is still very much in the collective conscience of a nation which has rallied round to raise actual millions for ‘the starving children in Africa’ ((c) everyone’s mum, dad, gran and auntie at the time.) Doing their bit, the 2nd Irvine BBs are having a ‘Bring and Buy’ sale and, doing my bit, I hand over a pile of 7″ singles (“I no longer listen to them,” I rationalise, with alarming short-sightedness. “If I can help raise some money, I’m being a good citizen.”) Yes, maybe, but a foolish idiot to boot. Even as I give them away – Baggy Trousers, Stand & Deliver, Ally’s Tartan Army, Ghost Town, amongst half a dozen others – an internal voice is telling me not to be so bold, but before I can start a proper argument with myself, a smiling Mr Davey has taken them from me and placed them next to the pile of Topical Times football annuals, Commando books and Warlord and Victor comics. I have donated a little part of my life and I will never see them again.

I wonder what happened to them? It’s a thought that, believe it or not, creeps into my mind at least once a week. The world is collapsing around us in all sorts of unthinkable ways but what concerns me most is whether or not some happy-go-lucky browser at the bring ‘n buy stall still has my records. I’m assuming with hope that they were all bought at premium, African children-saving prices rather than binned at the end of the Bring and Buy sale, and that whoever bought them bought the entire lot rather than cherry-pick the good stuff. It was all good stuff! Surely the lucky buyer recognised that?

I wonder too, do they ever wonder who the initials ‘CMcA’ belong to? My early teenage mark was penned carefully on the lip of all my 7″ sleeves, on the back at the top, just where the record slides in, just as I’d noticed my dad’s were. Whenever I browse through old records in a charity shop (and it’s been a wee while) I half expect to turn up a copy of one or more of my errant singles. The chest thumping that accompanies the uncovering of an Ant Music or a dog-eared Dog Eat Dog is louder than the Burundi drums that first brought those records galloping into my life, but, so far, no luck. It’s becoming a nagging obsession, truth be told.

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The long register of names that appear cursive and carefully printed on the labels and liners and back covers and bottom corners on many of the records in my own collection are a mystery. Who are they? Or who, perhaps, were they? Where did T. Heywood, with his one-time love of obscure Singaporian beat groups live? When did Graham choose to give all his Kinks 7″ singles to charity? Why did Brenda Clack choose to give her well-played mono copy of Help! to the British Heart Foundation shop? How did RP Baker’s mono Sgt Peppers sleeve (yes!!) end up with a stereo copy (och!) of the record inside it?

I suppose one person’s old clutter is another person’s golden treasure. And treasure hunters like us live for those moments when you happen to be in the right Cancer Research shop at the right time, when a back-breaking flick through the endless James Last and Super Stereo Sound Samplers returns an unexpected John Martyn record (aye!), or Talking Heads (aye, aye!!), or even a sleeveless Faces album. £1? Don’t mind if I do, thanks.

What journey did those records have before ending up with me? Were they, like those Two Tone and Adam & the Ants records of my own, bought with pocket money and brought home as fast as the purchasers’ legs could carry them? Were they played over and over until someone – a parent or an elder sibling, perhaps – demanded they be turned down or, “better still, off”? Did they soundtrack getting ready on a Saturday night? Did they blast at teenage parties? Or were they played once then filed embarrassingly away, unliked and unloved, before facing the indignity of being given to the charity shop along with all the other useless ephemera of life? We’ll never ever know. Well-worn, in some cases, hardly-played in others, these slices of black plastic – ‘pre-loved’, to use current parlance – are once again enjoying a new lease of life in my own record collection.

If you listen really carefully while they spin in thunderous mono and crackling stereo, their grooves breathe little sighs of joy.

Anne Jefferis may have chosen to biro a love heart around one of the pictures of Paul McCartney on the gatefold sleeve of Beatles For Sale, but then, she also enhanced the inner sleeve with stapled and sellotaped cut-out images of the Fab Four from Teen Beat or Beatles Monthly or whichever pop magazine of the era was her preferred reading material. Yellowing, crackling and flaky, the tape still holds in place most of the cut outs that were stuck there 56 years ago.

The BeatlesRock And Roll Music

Whenever I play the record, as I was doing earlier this morning, I like to think of Anne, wrapped up in McCartney (and, clearly, a wee bit of Ringo too), obsessing over the harmonies and chords and total fabness of the songs that fly off the the record with total giddy joy.

Did Anne Jefferis simply tire of The Beatles? Surely not! John Lennon’s sandpapered ‘n leathered larynx on that downhill-without-the-brakes-on gambol through Chuck Berry is enough to keep The Beatles close to anyone’s heart for evermore. Did Anne perhaps pass away, her well-loved records thrown out with the other unwanted remnants of her life? (What other records did she have?!?) We’ll very likely never know.

The music…and the people who first owned them – Anne, RP, Brenda, Hugo and the many others…all live on with every subsequent play. I hope those records of mine are still spinning somewhere too. They bloody well better be.

 

Alternative Version, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

The Untied State Of America

The revolution will not be televised
solely on ABC and BBC and CBS and CNN 
via twenty-four hour news channels repeating graphic images 
Repeating graphic images
Repeating graphic images
The revolution will be reported by bloggers and vloggers and looters and muggers
Twitters, Tweeters, fast-food eaters
hashtaggers and carpetbaggers, 
The good, the bad and the ugly
all giving their own perspective on the state of America as, overseen by a bully, a rapist, a racist, a disgrace, 
it swallows itself whole, 
a blinkered and bloated, unantidoted nation, where institutionalised hatred of non-whites is at its scraggy, entitled core and the police are given free reign to murder whoever they choose, live on camera. 


The revolution will not be finger lickin’ good
The revolution will be the real thing
Relying on the appliance of science
To get you all the news that’s fit to print
Because you’re worth it.

Tony L. Clark holds a photo of George Floyd outside the Cup Food convenience store, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died Monday in police custody near the convenience story.(Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)

The roots of racism run deep and long, particularly in American history and while there’s a general pretence that we’ve all moved on somewhat, that we’re nowadays more progressive, more liberal and tolerant, it’s not hard to debunk that particular myth. They say you’re never more than 6 feet from a rat, and in the same way, you’re never more than 6 seconds away from finding a racist on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes it’s out and out Tommy Robinson-style hideousness, sometimes it comes wrapped in that old ‘don’t white lives matter too?’ blanket, but it’s all there. Racists walk among us; the man on the street. The cop in Minneapolis – the Minnea Polis, you might say. Even (especially) the inflammatory Twitterer hiding out in the White House. Society’s cancer that refuses to die.

The George Floyd story is, depressingly, nothing new. The reaction has been seen before too. But not like this. Perhaps it’s the pent up release of a country in lockdown, hiding from one epidemic while another rages at its own door, brought to a head by a President who’ll use the situation to rally around the WASPish right as he clings to a job he’s not fit for doing. I don’t know. I’ll never properly ‘know‘. That matters neither here nor there though – I do know right from wrong. We are not all equal, but we should be. That’s obvious, right?

Gil Scott-Heron’s most-famous track, from whence that attempt at politico-prose at the top was inspired was recorded in 1970, just Gil and his firm, quietly assured voice, accompanied by some groovy percussion. The very definition of beat poetry.

Gil Scott-HeronThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Small Talk At 125th & Lenox)

It’s an ‘answer track’ to The Last PoetsWhen The Revolution Comes, street-tough, proto-rap that leaves its cards face-up on the table – “When the revolution comes, guns and rifles will be taking the place of poems and essays.” It was written more than half a century ago, yet seems perfectly prescient for addressing America’s white elephant, so to speak, that refuses to leave the room.

The Last Poets‘ – When The Revolution Comes

A few years after recording his response, Scott-Heron re-recorded The Revolution Will Not Be Televised with added funk and jazz musicians. Its roll-call of cultural reference points and underlying message of activism over pacifism now a relaxed, meandering soundtrack, no less hard hitting but presented in soft-focus polaroid as opposed to stark monochrome. It’s a great soundtrack by which to get political. Agitate, educate, organise.

Gil Scott-HeronThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Get This!, New! Now!

2020 Vision

Trashcan Sinatras fans are used to playing the patient game, so when a few weeks ago their I’ve Seen Everything album featured on one of Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties, the group found themselves back at the forefront of the collective conscience of a fanbase who remain fiercely loyal and proud. That same fanbase went into something of a restrained lockdown meltdown when, a couple of weeks later, close-cropped, half-chopped words atop pixelated dots began appearing across the group’s social media feeds. What does it all mean? everyone speculated. Some eagle-eyed fans pointed out the relationship between some of the jumbled letters that captioned an image with one of the lines on an eye test chart and before you knew it, the rumour was that I’ve Seen Everything was set for imminent and long-overdue release on vinyl. An original version will easily relieve you of a three-figure sum, should you be fortunate enough to uncover one in the first place, so, what with the Trashcans themselves selecting the album for the spotlight-shining Tim’s Listening Party and everything, it made for perfectly logical reasoning that this was what was coming our way.

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Except, as you, I and everyone else affiliated to the hardest working band in slow business will atest, the words ‘logical’ and ‘Trashcan Sinatras’ rarely appear in the same sentence. What we got was not the reissue of an album that surely deserves just that, but instead a brand! new! track!, recorded, as is the group’s way these days, by pinging electronic files back and forth across the Atlantic until steady patience cooks the mix and it rises to perfection. D’you know how Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder recorded the metaphorical and groovy Ebony & Ivory without ever being in the same room? Well, that.

Trashcan Sinatras The Closer You Move Away From Me (Buy it here)

Beginning with a gentle electronic keyboard buzz that springs to mind an effect-treated take on that feedbacking, AC30-conduited open A string that introduces The Beatles’ I Feel Fine, The Closer You Move Away From Me is a slow-burning, knowing and yearning mini masterpiece.

Like the keyboard swell that carries the melody, it comes to you in waves. It’s not instant in the way Obscurity Knocks gatecrashed itself into your hippocampus 30 years ago. Nor does it have that sheen of undeniable hit hit hit! quality (if only) of a Hayfever or a Twisted & Bent or an All The Dark Horses.

It’s one of those records that requires one or two slightly apprehensive, fingers-crossed listens before, by the third rotation you begin to notice the slightly trippy guitars, lifted straight offa the grooves of Bette Davis’ Eyes…the lyric, a rumination on the big ideas of life and living…the spoken word section (has there ever been a bad record with a spoken word section?) …the perfect marriage of melancholy and melody…and by the time you’re tangled in the backwards guitars that weave their way through the fading outro you finally come to the acceptance that, yes!, this is one of the Trashcans’ finest moments indeed. It’s well worth your time.

The video that’s currently being shared by the more discerning social media surfer in your friends list is the perfect accompaniment. Here are the five principal members – the classic line-up, they herald in the publicity material – stuck in five living rooms somewhere between the west coasts of America and Scotland, backdropped by bay windows and bodacious bookshelves. It’s so goddam NOW!, the perfect summation of life in the first half of 2020. There’ll be artists that follow of course, and probably with greater impact, but read this here and now – out of circumstance rather than concept, the Trashcans did it first.

As I watched it for the first time, a sudden face-slapping realisation smacked me right across these lockdown-fattened jowls –  with lines such as ‘the more intricate the build, the deeper the foundations‘ and ‘the harder the realisation, the deeper the love that stays‘ playing out over wistful monochrome images of five life-long friends playing together yet apart, The Closer You Move Away From Me is principally the group’s own love song to one another.

It’s there in the way they peer hopefully out of their windows, hoping perhaps that a fellow Trashcan will come skipping up the street at any moment, new tune in hand in need of a melody to unfold. It’s there too in the watery pictures of yore that float up to the surface, punctuating the monochrome with faded coloured memories of the past; pictures of the TCS in a different era, when the group looked to the future with excited hope rather than looking back with the melancholic regret of a life in music that should’ve gained them far more kudos and success. I don’t for a minute think the Trashcans regret anything – that’s just not them, but the visuals of a young group floating between the crows feet and worry lines and grey hair and nae hair that define the group currently make for a good yin-yang of the Trashcan Sinatras.

For a group that has survived everything thrown at it by an eventually-disinterested record label, studio-seizers in grey suits, serious ill health and the impracticalities of being a band whilst recording transatlantic-style, it’s hard to deny them the luxury of a song where they themselves may be the subject matter (see also Weightlifting‘s It’s A Miracle).

That The Closer You Move Away From Me exists at all in both song and video is fairly incredible if you stop to consider it. It may be some time until an album creeps out – I’m told that, such are the high standards set by themselves, half an album was thrown out with the bathwater at the start of the year – but I know, you know, those in the know know that whenever that may be, it’ll be well-worth waiting for.

You can buy The Closer You Move Away From Me here.

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative Version, Get This!, Live!

This Ain’t No Foolin’ Around

Notwithstanding a title that could easily apply to the mess the UK government is currently making of things, Life During Wartime is the greatest-ever Talking Heads track, and here’s why.

Their first two albums – ‘77‘ and ‘More Songs About Buildings And Food‘, good as they are, were mere amuse-bouches for what would follow. On those albums, Talking Heads developed an out of step sound far removed from the shouty three chord ramalama of the bands of the day. They flirted with wired, claustrophobic paranoia, the vocals delivered with one-eye-over-the-shoulder nervous energy, the music transmitted via guitar strings as tight and tense as a head-to-head on Hart To Hart. Hints of the funk bubbled underneath, suppressed perhaps, or maybe subdued due to a lack of confidence. By 1979’s Fear Of Music though – that’s three albums in three years, Radiohead! – they’d hit their stride.

Fear Of Music was a conscious decision by the band to make an album that ran deeper than the standard two or three singles plus filler model that was prevalent at the time. With an eye for Duchamp and an ear for disco, they set up in a New York loft, transmitted their sonic ideas via extra-long cables out of the windows and into a mobile studio parked outside, and went about creating a record that was equal parts cerebral and celebratory.

With Eno again at the controls and a supporting cast including The Slits’ Ari Up and some wild guitar Frippery from the former King Crimson soundscaper, the band stretched out to great effect. Polyrhythmic African beats and twin chattering desert guitars carry I Zimbra to the fringes marked ‘far out’. Police sirens, scratchy no-wave guitars and body-popping bass propel Cities to great, new uncharted territories. The breathy relief of ‘Air’, all bing-bonging keys and guitar riffs and tones that surely made the young Johnny Marr reach for his six string and crib some notes is as wired and weirdly funky as Funkadelic, and deliberately so, you’d have to think.

It’s the penultimate track on side 1 that hits the sweet spot between art and dance. Just two chords from beginning to end (Am and E, should you fancy riffing along with it) Life During Wartime begins on a funky gutteral groove, a combination of on-the-one grinding guitar, bass, keys and drums. No countdown, just Bam! and we’re into it. It’s magic.

Talking HeadsLife During Wartime

There’s hardly time for the band to develop the theme before Byrne announces himself on vocals. His flaky, jittery performance is less singing, more acting, the way Christopher Walken, say, might deliver the plot-defining lines of a particularly tense thriller, Mad Max as scripted by Stephen King.

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go

Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town
This ain’t no party! This ain’t no disco!
This ain’t no fooling around!
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now!

Talking HeadsLife During Wartime (alternative version)

The alternate version that was considered then rejected for the album is worth hearing too. There’s more emphasis on the guitar, with little staccato morsecode signals that are quickly drowned out by a freeform, freeflowing freakout that may well be the work of Fripp himself. Whoever is playing it is certainly going hell for leather with a guitar line that wouldn’t be out of place on Bowie’s Lodger album or Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets, even if the player does run out of steam roughly three quarters of the way through the track. As interesting as it is, the released version remains definitive; urgent, insistent, incessant and never anything less than vital when it comes on.

While Byrne’s lyrics suggest an uneasy tension, part Baader-Meinhof reportage and part first-hand experience of NYC’s Alphabet City, the band compenasate with the groove. The subject matter might be uncomfortable, they say, but you’ll feel better after shuffling that skinny white boy ass of yours across whichever sticky dancefloor is nearest. It ain’t the Mudd Club or CBGB’s, it’s not even the Attic anymore, but as far as advice goes, it sure works.

Talking HeadsLife During Wartime (live Central Park, NYC 1980)

In the live setting, the track morphed even further into the funk. You’ll find it of course, in perhaps definitive form, on the ubiquitous and well-played Stop Making Sense, but it also appears (as above) on the second record of the double The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads, arguably a more accurate representation of the band at two points in time.

On the second record, the extended ten-piece version of Talking Heads, including soul singers and multiple multi-instrumentalists and living and breathing actual funk merchants in the shape of Bernie Worrell delivered a sped-up version of Life During Wartime that positively grooves with a cross-pollination of punk’s edge and funk’s sheen. No concept, no arty angle, just a band playing their stuff on stage. Close your eyes though and you can see those ten musicians moving as one to the infectious stew they themselves are cooking up. It is a party, and it is a disco. They’re definitely not fooling around though.

 

 

 

 

Cover Versions, Get This!, New! Now!

Chant Number 1

I don’t need this pressure on indeed. Isolation remains very much a part of Scottish life. Johnson was wittering on at some point over the past week – I can’t remember exactly when as it’s been a wee while since anyone’s seen him, and when he is there, we tend to tune out until he veers sharply and unexpectedly from that rigid scrolling script to venture dangerously off-piste. Usually then he’s worth listening to, if only for the made up rubbish he upchucks then contradicts before anyone’s had a chance to tell him. Here he was, having a go at oor ain Nicola Sturgeon for daring to defy his relaxed approach to the Great British Lockdown, saying that Scotland was out of step with the rest of the UK. It was quickly pointed out that with Wales and Northern Ireland still to fully embrace this brave new world of the Prime Minister’s, it was in fact his own country that was out of step with everyone else. Telt, as they say.

Leaving political point scoring aside and eschewing BawJaw’s bumbling, stuttering, fuckwittery in continually putting profit over people, our own leader has made it clear; isolation continues for as long as it needs to be in place, and if that means another few weeks without an overpriced coffee or a long queue at the recycle centre, then so be it.

It’s good that we have the music. During these locked down and locked in, working from home times, I’ve been getting to grips with new albums I might never fully have invested the time in. Much of this new music has come courtesy of Last Night From Glasgow, the co-operative, not-for-profit label that aims to give the artists as great a share of the takings as possible whilst still investing in new bands and new projects. The music is a catch-all eclectica of scuffed at the knees indie, leftfield electronica, beat groups, studio projects and just about everything else you can think of. If you’re a member you’ll receive new releases well in advance of the launch date and in the years B.C. (before Corona) you’d get to attend the album launch party too.

Their forthcoming Isolation Sessions project may well go on to be the jewel in a particularly sparkling crown. Pre-sales have already led to thousands of pounds being pumped back into struggling local venues and it’s on course to be quite the release of 2020. Conceived, written and recorded between March and April, it sees all the acts on the label tackle a song by one of their labelmates. Recently, I raved about Close Lobsters’ fantastic version of Cloth’s Curiosity Door, fragile etherea reimagined as a propulsive head nodder straight outta 1970s West Germany. In the time since, more and more tracks have appeared; recorded, wrapped and ready for imminent release.

In conjunction with the record, esteemed photo journalist Friar Brian Sweeney, coincidentally the label’s creative director, has rather beautifully documented these strange times. Closely observing social distancing rules, the photographer has zig-zagged his way up and down the country to take candid shots of the movers and shakers and members that combine to make one of the very best record labels around. Reproduced in silvery black and white, the images perfectly capture the uncertainty and new-found relaxed approach to personal appearance that this period in time has allowed. Right down to the untied shoes (who cares?) and four days-old shorts (who cares?) and a hairdo that’s long overdue a visit from some scissors (I mean, who cares?), he’s bottled my three chins (compresion, I’m assured) and me, ladies, for eternity.

Jowly author/Plain Or Pan by Friar Brian Sweeney

The visuals are terrific, the perfect atmospheric accompaniment to what’ll be going on and in the grooves. Broken Chanter, the nom de plume of Kid Canaveral’s David MacGregor released his self-titled debut album via Olive Grove towards the end of last year. Melodic, ambitious, grand (in every sense of the adjective) and (in a very good way) weird enough to maintain interest to this very day, it includes Don’t Move To Denmark, a cry of loss and longing that implores a recent love to not move abroad but not to stick around on his behalf either.

Broken ChanterDon’t Move To Denmark

David MacGregor/Broken Chanter by Friar Brian Sweeney

Autobiographical? Quite possibly. MacGregor certainly means every word he sings. Mixing trad with tech, scratchy acoustic guitars and plucked ‘n sawed strings are carried along by ricocheting percussion and a welcome hint of underlying laptop electronica. One of the album’s finest moments, it’s a good introduction to his rich musical world. If it’s piqued your interest you could do worse than get a hold of his album via the link in the third paragraph above.

Lesley McLaren/Lola In Slacks by Friar Brian Sweeney

On the Isolation Sessions, Glasgow’s Lola In Slacks, newcomers to the label but not to the local music scene, transform Broken Chanter’s already wonderful original into a shimmering cinematic beauty, a skyscraping track of restrained majesty that recalls the understated yet uplifting sound of Natalie Merchant and Stevie Nicks having a go at recreating the soundtrack to Twin Peaks at 45rpm. Somewhere in a parallel universe, this version spins eternally.

Lola In SlacksDon’t Move To Denmark

Brushed drums shuffle the groove, twanging and reverberating hollow-bodied electric guitars lift the whole thing up and out into the clouds where it floats forever… it’s casually fantastic and currently playing for the 95th time since the weekend, another triumph on an album that seems certain to be packed full of them .

Don’t move to Denmark or stay on my behalf, it goes. The brass on my neck made you laugh. Why, that’s almost Johnson-esque in its prescience. Given the Scandinavian country’s tight handle on Covid, and education, society, lifestyle and just about everything else, why wouldn’t you want to move there just now?

Isolation Sessions can be bought at the LNFG shop here. Get down on it.

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Howson Is Now

Around 10 years ago, as part of a class topic on the human body, I introduced an unsuspecting class of 9 year-olds to the work of Peter Howson. Howson’s characters, all exaggerated muscles and bulging veins, hard-grafting hands and tortured eyes that told a thousand stories and asked as many questions were ripe for stimulus and so, over the course of a couple of art lessons, we used Howson’s paintings for reference and had a go at doing our own versions of them.

When The World Changed, Peter Howson 2020

As they drew, I told the kids what I knew of the artist. At their age, I told them, he’d lived in another Ayrshire mining community just up the road from here, so there was an instant connection with that. Many of his paintings feature masculine, working class men, buckled and bent but never beaten by the forge or factory. There was still, at the time, a working forge in the town, not far from the school, where some of the children’s fathers worked.

Look at one of his pictures for long enough, I suggested, and you begin to hear the clang and clatter of their continual industry leaping forth from the thick, swirling oils. Not only that, but the pictures worked on different levels too. Howson had grown up in a religious family and lots of his paintings were full of hidden religious symbolism. Look at how many of his pictures, I pointed out, had flashes of brilliant light in the corner. The light from the forge, perhaps, or the moonlight, or the daylight poking out from underneath a bridge…or perhaps the light from God the saviour? The artist made no secret of his beliefs and the kids instantly understood the multi-layered meanings in the paintings we were studying, marvelling that painters could be so clever and devious and secretive.

Slowly but surely they all got drawn into Howson’s world, pastelling and painting their own versions as they listened to what I could tell them. As a teacher, it’s the greatest feeling in the world when the young people in front of you just get it and run with an idea as their own. I told them more, that he’d been the official war artist in Bosnia, seeing first-hand then painting the horrors of a war that never quite made it onto the front pages of our newspapers. He’d gone through difficult periods in his life but had made it through, scarred but intact. His work, the ‘real’ versions of the pictures we were using as stimulus sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds – (gasp!) – and, d’you know that singer David Bowie that I sometimes go on about? – well, he owns some of them.

By the end of the week, I had 25 or so fantastic pieces of art of a truly excellent and age-defying standard. I decided after school to seek out Howson online to tell him how his work had inspired this wee class of working class kids from the Ayrshire backwaters, reasoning that by including ‘Ayrshire’, it might pique his interest. It turned out that Howson was a bit of an internet recluse, but after a fair bit of searching – and this was Friday night with a good hour’s commute ahead of me – I did find a gallery in Glasgow that had his name attached to it, so I sent off a speculative email – “I wonder if you could perhaps let Mr Howson know,” etc etc and fired it off, unsure if I’d ever get a reply. On the Monday morning an email was waiting for me. It was from Howson’s PA.

Peter is delighted that his work has insipired the children. He’d love to see what they’ve done. If at all possible, can you send him their work?

So, a selection of the children’s work was sent to the man who’d inspired me/them. A week or so later a reply came with a picture attached. It showed Peter Howson kneeling in his studio, a massive orangey-red work-in-progress behind him. Laid out in a semi-circle in front of him was the children’s artwork. Howson had a huge smile on his face and his hands open wide, as if to say, “Would you look at that?!” It was marvellous. A total thrill for the teacher and an even greater thrill for the kids.

Those same children will now be 19/20 years old, maybe working in the forge if it’s still there, maybe perhaps with issues and problems and religious beliefs of their own. They’ll now be more able, more mature to cope with the difficult nature of much of Howson’s work. His current work, inspired by Covid-19 is spectacular; coming thick and fast, it’s undeniably Howson – it’s in the eyes, and in the tangled Hieronymous Boschisms of the descent-into-hell scene. Bodies meld into one another, limbs and lines becoming blurred. To these eyes (I might be wrong though, I’m no Brian Sewell) there’s no clear religious symbolism this time around: where there were forges and streetlights in every corner there are now unmistakable Corona splodges, spreading ever-inwards to the people at the centre.

The series of paintings called, topically, Thursday At Eight is political, questioning, horrifying… all the things that great art needs to be. I’d love a couple of sessions in a classroom with those kids again – adults now – and we could really get to grips with the imagery, symbolism and messages (collapsing European Union stars, battered, tattered and torn Union Jacks, ‘Me Too’ slogans) that are embedded in these important works of art. Stirring stuff, eh?

Here’s The PoguesTurkish Song of the Damned.

Listen while you process the art.