Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

Melancholic Cowboy Noir

I once blew the chance of an interview with Nancy Sinatra after she took exception to the ‘Phil Spector’ handle under which I wrote.at the time. “Why on earth would I want to be interviewed by Phil Spector?” she asked aghast, failing to realise that it wasn’t yr actual wig-headed murderer that was cold calling and asking for the chance to chat about making records with Morrissey. “He was a strange, strange, man and I want nothing to do with him.” Fair point, Nancy. Fair point. Lesson learned – never use daft pseudonyms on the internet. I should have signed up to her long-gone fan forum under my real name.

Those records Nancy Sinatra made with Lee Hazlewood defy both time and pigeonholing. Often kitsch and sometimes countryish yet nearly always lush and orchestral, their parping brass and earthquaking vocal lines may well have wafted straight offa the grooves of a Tindersticks or a Cat Power record. Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue vamping it up on ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow‘? Pure Lee ‘n Nancy, The entire whispered, gothic ouvre of Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell? Total Lee ‘n Nancy. Their influence, committed to wax over half a century ago, still resonates.

If James Bond had been a lonesome, wandering cowboy, Summer Wine may well have been his theme tune.

Summer WineNancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood

This version of Summer Wine wasn’t the first one Hazlewood had recorded with a female sparring partner – the first version features little-known actress Suzi Jane Hokom – but the better-known take, using the original backing track slowed down to treacle-wading levels of sluggishness, is the one you need.

Road-worn and roughed up, yet clean and pretty, it’s the perfect summation of all things Lee ‘n Nancy. The ping-ponging vocals – she crystal clear and high registered, he singing from the soles of his grit covered cowboy boots – sound like they’ve been recorded in separate studios and miles apart, yet they’re woven together into a time-shifting storyline of mutual seduction with a twist in its tail. Lee is the silver-spurred outlaw, a stranger in town that jingles his way into the consciousness of bored local flirt Nancy. Together, (adopts Hart To Hart voiceover) it wasn’t quite moida, but (spoiler alert!) Lee awakes after a night of metaphorical summer wine to find both Nancy and his boots have gone.

It’s a great record, from the sweeping strings that droop and divebomb in direct proportion to Hazlewood’s handlebar moustache to the honeyed brass section that vamps its way towards John Barry’s signature Bond riff hoping that no-one, least of all Barry’s lawyers, will notice. The assembled musicians, most likely members of the Wrecking Crew although information on that is scant to non-existent, strum, scrape and snap their way through it, laid back and louche, melancholic cowboy noir in a clip-clopping minor key. Stirring stuff.

Summer Wine is practically a standard these days and has been recorded by many.

Lana del Ray and her then-partner, Barrie-James O’Neill (from Scots nearly-weres Kassidy) soundtracked a terrific home video of hazy Californian beaches, Laurel Canyon porches and windswept hair with their take on the track. Adding the audio to the visuals makes the video feel like some bleached-out, drawn-out Hollister advert, but don’t let that discourage you from what is a great version. Lana’s suitably femme fatale-ish vocals; sultry, close-miked and just on the right side of huffy are a good foil for O’Neill’s tobacco-coated Scots’ croon. Extra points for the none-more-Lee moustache.

Cover Versions, Live!

Punch And Judy

D’you know those stop-frame films you see of flowers coming to bloom; papery petals uncurling delicately, jerking their way outwards and skywards, opening fully at the end to reveal their true beauty? That’s exactly like the understated elegance of a Rufus Wainwright melody.

We went to see him for the first time on Saturday night. We knew his music – we’ve long steeped ourselves in those early album career highs, Want 1 and Want 2 and we’d marvelled once again at the classy major 7ths and restrained dynamics of the pocket symphony that is Going To A Town many times over as we got ready to go – so we know how his melodies start simply enough before taking a life of their own to soar upwards beyond the sun and moon, but we weren’t quite prepared for just how powerful it all is in the live setting.

Man! That Rufus can sing! At Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Bandstand it’s just him, his ruby red slippers and his piano, occasionally his guitar, so there’s nothing to hide behind. It’s open aired, the cultured audience is supping on wine and gin and craft beers and the weather is dry. They want to be entertained and Rufus’s voice wafts across the venue, ear therapy for the non-moshers of the world. The voice is the one true star. That and the piano playing. He can play the fuck out of that thing. Triplets on the bass notes, rippling runs from the very top of the scales that cascade down and up and down again, thunderous chords and jarring discordant atonalities – Rufus can do it all.

That’s a bit too Tchaikovksy,” he self-deprecates as he brings one of Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk‘s final verses to a flamboyant false ending, before proceeding to play Satie-inflected freeform jazz to close it out. Genius is an oft-overused word these days. Not so much virtuoso, perhaps, but Rufus is clearly a bit of both.

He plays Vibrate, its Britney Spears-referencing lyric resonating with the capacity crowd. The voice is crystal clear, fluttering between notes, finding in the spaces new notes that don’t exist in normal singers’ registeries. He fluffs a line in the chorus, mutters ‘fuck it‘ and keeps going. He arrives at the big, showstopping ‘Viiiii….iiii…..iiii….iii….braaa…..aaaaa…..aaaaa…..te‘ line and the audience as one holds its breath for a good 30 seconds until he reaches the end. Get a stopwatch and try it. Then imagine performing it in front of a full house on a Glasgow Saturday night, while playing a grand piano and dressed from the ankles down like Judy Garland. Balls doesn’t begin to describe it. And as for ‘showstopping’…it was third or fourth song in. There was plenty way to go before Rufus would arrive at ‘showstopping’.

The beauty and power and brilliance of the voice is even more obvious whenever Rufus picks up his guitar. He’s a rudimentary player at best, open handedly strumming open chords as if he’s only just been acquanited with six strings. Greek Song‘s clip clopping rhythm, interspersed with a stomp of the red-bowed Dorothy flats at appropriate moments, is a good example. A couple of chords in the verse, the same chords in the chorus, it’s real beginner’s guitar stuff here, yet the voice transends it all. ‘You who were born with the sun above your shoulders,’ he sings to some Greek god, real or imaginary, ‘You turn me on, you turn me on, you have to know.’ The guitar playing is primary school level, but the voice is unteachable. You don’t need to be special on the guitar when the one instrument you’ve been God-given is so divine. How exactly do you squeeze such flyaway melodies from a D chord and an A chord? Exactly where that comes from is anyone’s guess. David Gedge never managed that. I doubt even McCartney could reach some of the melodic heights Rufus reaches.

Rufus WainwrightGoing To A Town

(Pinched from Twitter)

Back for an encore, he slays us with a one-two of Going To A Town and Hallelujah. Going To A Town is stripped back, angry, beautiful and resonant. ‘Do you really think you go to hell for having loved?‘ It’s missing those high female ‘tell mes’ that colour the recorded version, but you barely notice. When he gets to the ‘I may just never see you again‘ line, his voice takes off into orbit, two thousand folk hanging on to its wispy trail. Astonishing stuff.

I can’t be doing with Hallelujah, truth be told. It’s overplayed. TV reality shows have killed that for me. Even Jeff Buckley’s peerless version hasn’t been heard within these four walls for many a year. Yet Rufus nails it, the voice off and out into the West End ether as he takes a theatrical bow and leaves us with a final glimpse of his beautiful hair, backlit in orange and red and blue, the crowd on its feet and ecstatic. I might’ve liked a 14th Street or a Go Or Go Ahead to complete the night, but I ain’t complainin’. Rufus Wainwright understands the old adage of leave ’em wanting more. A proper showman, he more than delivers.

*Bonus Track

From one golden voiced vocalist to another, here’s George Michael‘s faithful reworking of Going To A Town. A master interpreter, he knew a good tune when he heard it. You knew that already though.

George MichaelGoing To A Town

Get This!, Live!

Sound Waves

How do you pronouce certain band names? Hingmy Malmsteen? Sun O))) or just Sun? (It’s Sun, believe it or not, despite the ‘O’ and the trio of parenthesese – that’s the sun, innit?) What about !!!? And what of Lynyrd Skynyrd? Is it Suede to rhyme with Fred or Suede to rhyme with frayed? (It’s Fred, obviously, if you’re Scottish.)

What about Fatherson? Is the emphasis on the ‘Father‘ prefix or the ‘son‘ suffix?

It’s not, as you might think (or say) Fatherson, with the heavy emphasis on the end of the word, turning one word into two. It’s run together as one word – Fatherson – the way you might say Andy Robertson, or perhaps if you’re of a certain vintage, B.A. Robertson.

Liverpool lining up tonight with an unusual back four of Robertson, Richarlison, Gerry Cinnamon and Fatherson. It’ll be interesting to see how they get on against the pacey Kilmarnock wing backs….”

To my shame, I’d pegged Fatherson as Biffy-lite without knowingly listening to so much as a note by them; hairy muscle power pop in Scottish accents, I’d presumed. I’ve eaten at least one slice of humble pie in recent weeks as a result. Firstly, I was involved in the running of a brand new festival, Making Waves, and Fatherson had been booked as late afternoon performers.

Being responsible for the press and what not, and with band interviews being lined up, I dipped a hesitant toe in their back catalogue and was immediately taken by a sound distinguished by loud, anthemic, ringing guitars and proudly parochial vocals sung brilliantly. Where had they been all my ignorant life?! I lost track of time into the wee small hours one night while I found myself falling for the song that coincidentally gave our festival its name.

FathersonMaking Waves

Photo (c) Kerrin Carr. If you steal it she’ll send the boys ’round.

It starts as many Fatherson songs do, with bookish and bearded guitar-playing vocalist Ross Leighton strumming out a kind of audible preface to what follows, just Ross with his plugged-in electric and soft Scottish burr setting the scene. As the intro plays out, there’s a wee brief pause where you just know the band is going to come crashing in, all flailing limbs and howling instruments, and Making Waves doesn’t disappoint. In they lurch, all divebombing, disorientating Valentine wooze and wobble, a wave of silver and mercury effect-heavy instrumentation filling the room then dropping out just as quickly to allow the vocals back in.

The wee brief, chiming guitar riff that introduces the chorus is totally ripe for soundtracking the goals of the week on a particularly hip football highlights show, maybe even Sky if they had suitably ‘on it’ researchers. I say ‘on it’, but Making Waves is four years old, so what do I know – it may well have soundtracked the entire 2018-19 season on Soccer AM for all I know.

Photo (c) Kerrin Carr. If you steal it she’ll send the boys ’round.

Making Waves is Fatherson in miniature. Riff heavy, melody-rich and hooky, played out with a we mean it, man sturm und drang. There are some great call and response vocals in the chorus, all keening heartache and sincerity, a sign that despite the ability to turn everything up to 10, there’s a compassionate soul beating at the heart of the band.

Cut to the Making Waves festival. Live, Fatherson are terrific. Like, really terrific. They’ve got the band look sorted – orange and grey boiler suits, turned up to ankle dusting levels like some hipster, fashion-conscious, guitar totin’ Beastie Boys collective – and boy, they can talk it like they walk it. They run on stage and they’re straight into it, a downhill without the brakes on riot of hair and frets and space-age chrome ‘n steel pedal boards. Those brief wee pauses the band so-loves are well-timed and slick. Flyaway hair freezes in midair then continues its trajectory as the trio slam back into it. Drums clatter like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The bass guitar sounds like a speeding Paul Simonon in some places, my neighbour’s non-stop nail gun in others. Ross’s enviable collection of vintage guitars take a good heavy-plectrumed scrubbing.

I hang back sidestage and experience the show from a new perspective, watching their loyal audience mouth the words back to the band, watching as the band is spurred further on by the frenzy in the crowd. It’s all thrilling stuff.

Photo (c) Stuart Westwood. If you steal it he’ll send the boys ’round.

*Bonus Track

Just when you’re thinking that Fatherson don’t, or can’t, do acoustic-based music, along comes the loveliest version of Making Waves, floated in from the furthest corners of the internet, intent on worming its way into your primed and ready for it ears. Wonderful stuff all in, it’s the unexpected call-and-response female vocal in the chorus that pushes this version towards greatness. A gently restrained take of one of the band’s best tracks. You just can’t argue with musicality, melody and properly great singing.

FathersonMaking Waves (acoustic)

Photo (c) Kerrin Carr. If you steal it she’ll send the boys ’round.

Fatherson, man, where have you been all my stupidly ignorant musical life?

Get This!

Eye Tunes

In a game of two halves, Trompe le Monde would prove to be Pixies ‘final’ album before their resurrection in more recent times. Frank Black has said that the record was made in fractuous times, the band splintering, Kim being marginalised, with all of Black’s songs making the cut at the expense of everyone else’s. Although credited to ‘Pixies’, the album foreshadowed the singer’s solo career and should probably be classed as his first such record.

It’s a patchy set of songs. It lurches from the punkish rush of Alec Eiffel via a hundred mile an hour cover of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Head On to the ultra sweary U-Mass and half a dozen other weird and wonky rockers that would benefit from a dusting down and reappraisal at some point.

Lead single Planet Of Sound came housed in a sleeve featuring an eyeball dipped in salt, a metaphor, surely, for Pixies’ uncompromising and at times uncomfortable sound. It’s sci-fi AC/DC, a proper screaming throat loosener with blowtorch guitars, chugga-chugga bassline and a neat line in counter vocals buried under the chorus.

PixiesPlanet Of Sound

When Kurt Cobain openly admitted stealing Pixies’ quiet-loud-quiet blueprint, there’s a good chance he had this track as his point of reference. It’s all there; the semi-spoken vocal atop the bassline, the hint of Marshall-stacked guitars straining at the leash, Black singing his way to a chorus where fuzz boxes are stomped on and guitars snap free and twang their giddy way to the outer reaches of space like a hopped-up Duane Eddy auditioning for Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion. Go and listen to the filth and the furore of Nevermind‘s Lithium or In Bloom or even Teen Spirit if you don’t believe me. Total Pixies, man!

By the second verse, the guitars are back under control, just, itching to break free once more against a backdrop of rolling bass and space-referencing lyrics: I got to somewhere unknown, with its canals and colour of red. Joey coaxes wee angry squeals from the six strings under his fingers and lets them loose again on the chorus. Somewhere along the line, the sound of a bottle can be heard dropping, shaken loose from a studio shelf by Pixies’ electric blast of rampant energy. This time the chorus is twice as long, twice as loud, the guitars pushing the vocals to the very limit of Frank Black’s larynx-ripping abilities, the vocals spurring the guitars on to even angrier retorts. I wonder if that flying ‘P’ in Pixies’ logo is a reference to the way the band flies off the grooves of this record…

A fat-free solo pops up, no frills, simple and economic, with just enough requisite bend and strangulation to sate the appetite of any indie guitar hero-loving listeners. No sooner has it flown in than it’s flown off again, and a red-templed Frank is back again to scream his head off through another verse and a chorus that stops just as suddenly as this post.

Alternative Version

Spending Warm Summer Days Outdoors

I see the golf’s on. The one and only time I’ve had the brass neck enough to go busking was in 1989 when the Open was in Troon, a decent couple of drives (and maybe a sand wedge) from where I’m typing. My folks were on holiday, so naturally my house became the go-to place beyond last orders on the Saturday night. ‘The band’ rose from couches and corners in the mid Sunday morning sunshine and someone had the bright idea of suggesting we grab a couple of acoustics, a tambourine and a whole load of nerve and go and busk at the final round.

Crammed onto the train to take the two stops from Irvine to Troon, we stuck out like an amateur’s hooked tee shot in a field of scratch golfers. Smiths quiffs that had only just started to collapse as I Wanna Be Adored‘s bassline had rumbled its way into our collective conscience stood side by side with those haircuts that only famous record producers and weekend yachtsmen and the comfortably-off seem to sport – foppish, demi-wave on top, greying at the temples, fluffy over the ears, longish at the back without being a mullet…you know the sort. Their pastels, their stiff crisp collars and their perfect creases made our battered desert boots and slept-in 501s look even scruffier than normal. We quite liked being the odd ones out though, our guitars and hangovers attracting puzzled glances, especially when we got off at Troon with everyone else.

We set up pitch far, far away from a bagpiper and his cyclical repertoire of tourist-trapping tartan tunes. We found a good spot next to a hedge, along a major walkway that connected two parts of the course and sat down to consider our plan. It was mobbed. The occasional thwack of a player’s club rattling the ball far into the Ayrshire sun drew oohs and aahs and ripples of echoing applause from the throng as we quietly emptied our combined loose change into one of the guitar cases – a busker’s trick, apparently, that showed your audience that you were a bona fide attraction – and then self-consciously began tuning up.

Then we sat and looked at one another.

Passing golf fans eyed us suspiciously.

It was Grant who started.

This isAsk’,” he said to a passing female golf fan who was doing her best to pretend we weren’t there. “It was written by The Smiths and sounded nothing like this.”

No set list had been discussed or considered, but suddenly we were off, the two acoustics scrubbing out a skiffly rhythm, Grant clattering his tambourine off his elbow as he sang. No-one stopped. No-one looked. No-one dropped any change into the guitar case.

Ask came to its rattling, jangling conclusion and we looked around at one another. A Chuck Berry riff flew out of my hands and onto the fretboard and suddenly we were busking Johnny B Goode.

No-one stopped. No-one looked. No-one dropped any change into the guitar case.

Tough crowd. I Wanna Be Adored wasn’t going to change things, but we played it anyway. It might just about get a nod of recognition around St Andrews this afternoon, but freshly minted and still underground in the summer of ’89, I Wanna Be Adored was unknown to the Calloway-clad squares of Royal Troon.

No-one stopped. No-one looked. No-one dropped any change into the guitar case.

We were midway through our second go at Ask when a wee boy shuffled up and dropped 20p into the guitar case. The four of us stopped and surrounded him with “Yes, wee man!“-handshakes and a ruffle of his wonky fringe. He ran off terrified. We played on like legends.

A woman stopped and listened. Like, actually listened. She came closer, between Grant and myself and cocked an ear to what he was singing. When we finished, she sat down cross-legged amongst us and told us it was a beautiful song.

Who wrote it?” she wondered.

It was The Smiths,” said Grant apologetically. “Not us.”

It’s lovely. Will you play it again?

For the third time we ran through Ask, getting quite good at it by this point. “Ask me, ask me, ask me!” sang Grant as we scuffed the G to C chord change with lip-curling gallusness. “If its not love then it’s the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb! The bomb that will bring us together.

Our new fan pulled an actual fiver from her purse and with a wee smile dropped it into the case. Twenty minutes in and we were suddenly making serious money. By the time the leader’s heading up the 18th fairway, Grant man, we’ll be millionaires!!

Excuse me, lads,” shouted an old fella from the other side of the hedge. He had a combover and was wearing an R&A blazer. Offical looking. “Excuse me, lads. But you’re going to have to move on…we can damn-well hear you on the greens!” He waited for a reply that wasn’t forthcoming. “I mean it, boys. You must stop now. You’re disturbing play and it’s just not on.” The bagpiper up the road was still strangling The Rowan Tree from his pipes but he was clearly exempt from it all. “Pack up now, please.”

It’s not very anti-establishment, but pack up is exactly what we did. We’d made just over £6 in our short busking career and we’d later drink our proceeds in the Crown. For now though, we cut through the hedge and found ourselves amongst the final round crowds.

Unbelievably – but entirely true – the American golfer Tom Watson appeared in front of me, surveying the landscape and eyeing up a shot up the fairway.

Can you get a toon outta that gee-tar?” he asked with a wry smile.

Aye!” I said.

Watson nodded and went back to the task in hand. Thwack! went his club against the ball as he marched his way to a very decent 4th place (I had to Google that). Ooh and aah went the crowd. “Let’s get out of here,” said us.

The SmithsAsk (June ’86 run-through)

Mike Joyce’s scattergun Moonisms on this were sadly missing in the final take. Johnny’s sparkling guitar was gratefully added. An interesting Smiths curio, if nothing else.

 

demo, Get This!, Live!, Sampled

Twin Reverb

Check…check…check!

A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo!

(Pause)

Trrrr-rat-at-a-tat a-tee-tee

Trrrr-rat-at-a-tat a-tee-tee

Bass. How low can you go? Actually, not that low for now. A tight ‘n taut bass guitar plays high up the frets, its woody thunk foreshadowing what will follow:

dur der-der-duh-der

dur der-der-duh-der

Nagging, inistent. Immediately earwormish. It moves through the gears a semitone and the drummer falls in with a loping, skipping, skittering beat that’s been rescued after falling from the back of a lorry last seen leaving Manchester in 1989.

A brief dropout from the bass brings another burst of rat-a-tat percussion, immediately followed by two short and teasing electric guitar riffs – bendy, wobbly, hypnotic – and then, on a surge of nagging, asthmatic guitar, the band is here. The second guitar player makes themselves known by triggering their distortion pedal and a viral squiggle of feedback bleeds from the speakers for a bar or two before plectrum meets nickle. It’s a cheap, punky trick and you love it. 

Spitting in a wishing well. Blown to hell. Crash. I’m the last splash.

As far as song intros go, Cannonball by The Breeders is so familiar, so engrained that even 29 years later, Pavlovian rushes make their way to the soles of the Doc Martens without you realising.

The BreedersCannonball

It might be the riff that moves the feet – a nagging, twanging, guitar player’s sore finger of a lick jigsawed to a monster, see-sawing tidal wave of fuzzed-out barre chords, but it’s the vocal that moves the mind.

Kim Deal, moonlighting from a by then fragmented Pixies, has the unequalled ability of sounding as if she’s constantly grinning as she sings. Not in a Marti Pellow, I-can’t-believe-I’m-getting-away-with-this dimple buster of a grin, but a proper mile-wide smile as expansive and welcoming as the Ohio of her birthplace. In the golden age of Hollywood, Kim and her cheekbones would’ve been filmed swinging carefreely around lamposts. “I’m in love…I’m in love with singing, and I want the wurld t’know!” Check the video below for proof.

Freed from the pressures of Pixies, Kim takes centrestage and ropes in her twin sister Kelley (replacing Tanya Donnelly who’d by now left and formed Belly) alongside English bass player Josephine Wiggs and Slint’s Britt Walford on drums; an alternative rock supergroup of sorts that occasionally – especially on Cannonball – surpasses much of what made them so revered in their respective day jobs.

Kim and Kelley mesh and meld and harmonise across the verses, an electrified Mamas and Papas (or should that be Mamas and Mamas?), surfing the wave where two voices become one yet sound like three. Clever stuff, you’d need to agree. A metallic clatter of muted six-strings amplified to dangerously exciting levels heralds the noisy bit and suddenly you can see why The Breeders were one of Nirvana’s tour supports of choice. Melody and mayhem – always key ingredients in a proper guitar band’s arsenal.

Cannonball rocks. From the static bursts of fuzz mic, to the spontaneous “Heys!” that appear with satisfying regularity, to the underlying breathy a-woo-oos that you’ll spot if you scratch below the surface, it’s a real beauty of a guitar track, punky yet, eh, funky too. Do they really sing, ‘I’ll be your whatever you want…the bong in this reggae song‘? Yes. Yes, they do.

*Bonus Tracks!

Here’s the demo of Cannonball, working title Grunggae. Very much a work in progress, you can hear the seeds being sown; that shuffling beat, the twin vocals, the a-woo-oos, the metallic k.o. and rattling clatter before the noisy bit. The DNA is all in place, even if the arrangement isn’t.

The Breeders  – Cannonball (demo)

Fantastically lo-fi live version here:

The Breeders  – Cannonball (Live in Stockholm, 1994)

Magpie DJs Radio Soulwax have oft incorporated Cannonball into their sets, mashed up occasionally (as was the parlance of the time) with Skee-Lo’s I Wish, intelligent rap and indie rock cross-pollinating into something wholly different.

Radio Soulwax part 0

 

Listen from 3 min 20, or download the whole thing and marvel at the psychedelic jigsawing of it all; Beastie Boys, Maceo & The Macks, EMF, God Only Knows, Elastica, Jack And Diane, Eye of the Tiger, Mr Oizo, Erik B & Rakim, What Have You Done For Me Lately?, Basement Jaxx, Funky Cold Medina, No Diggity…..all fed into the Radio Soulwax super-blender and served up as something brand new…. even 20+ years later. The soundtrack to every one of my barbecues for the past two decades, I can never get enough of 2 Many DJs mixes.

 

 

 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Cramp Yr Style

What’s Inside A Girl? by The Cramps is a riot of primitive rock ‘n roll riffage and neanderthal tub thumping hooked to semi-pervy lyrics delivered in reverb-rich vocals; in short, the perfect introduction to one of The Great Bands. If you’ve never heard What’s Inside A Girl? or its parent album, A Date With Elvis, you ain’t nuthin’ but an incomplete music fan.

The Cramps – What’s Inside A Girl?

It’s Ivy’s guitar that’ll hook you first. Six strings of electroshock therapy, feral and fried and white lightning-bright, the true sound of a hollow-bodied Gretsch plugged in to an impatient amp and turned up loud, her electrified strings alive and buzzing and looking for any excuse to sneak a bit of howling feedback into the proceedings.

She shifts between rhythm and lead, her big, twangin’ countrifed chords dissolving into a creeping and snaking, Eastern-tinged wander up the frets – the very sound of anticipation and danger that The Cramps seem to project within the first bar of any of their records.

Nick Knox, eh, knocks seven shades o’ shit from his rudimentary drum kit – tom/kick, tom/snare…tom/kick, tom/snare…tom/kick, tom/snare…tom/kick, tom/snare – the jungle drums that signalled to anyone looking for a decent alternative to what passed for music in 1986 to look no further.

Straight of back and dark of shade, Knox is the tribal heartbeat of The Cramps, a drummer so skilled in repetition, metronomic swing and discpline that that guy from Rush should be laughed out of the room to a chorus of Can Your Pussy Do The Dog? It takes skill to be flashy and polyrhythmic on a drum kit as large as a theme park ride, but it takes real skill to keep it dumb and simple on a couple of upturned dustbins. Flash or trash? You decide.

Then there’s Lux. Mr Ivy. Stick-thin, wolfish eyes, hair that can be Frankenstein fringe-severe one record then Little Richard stacked and pompadoured the next, often in high heels and perhaps not much else, the length of the microphone disappearing down his throat mid-verse as he country hick hiccups his way across the vocals, a hillbilly that would be run clean outta town by every other hillbilly within eyesight and make no mistake.

A vocalist rather than a singer – and you’ll know that that’s important – on What’s Inside A Girl? he runs the gamut of his schtick; breathless and gulping, subversive and suggestive, stealing old rock ‘n roll lyrics when he thinks no-one is paying close attention. The little alliterative run he goes on in the second verse – boots, buckles, belts outside…whatcha got in there tryin’ ta hide? – tells you all y’need to know. Magic stuff, it has to be said.

Our friends Scott and Gill were married yesterday. With DJ services provided by Rockin’ Rik under his Songs Ya Bass guise (Songs Ya Bass is an occassional club night in Glasgow with a catholic music policy and friendly crowd – it’s billed as ‘the club for people who don’t go to clubs any more’ and finishes in time for the last train home) it was always going to be a wedding reception unlike most weddings north of the border. Rik’s choice of music did not disappoint and his eclectic mix of hip hop, punk, ska, soul, pop, The Clash (always The Clash) ensured the dancefloor stayed busy until the very end.

It was wonderful to see the groom, his best man and his pal twisting and contorting unselfconsciously to What’s Inside A Girl? as Lux and co twanged and banged their way across the room at a decent volume.

Pausing only to shout the occasional lyric in the faces of his friends, Scott looked like the happiest man on the planet right there and then. A wop bop a loobalop, a lop boom bam, as they say.

Not Gill & Scott, not yesterday.

Get This!, New! Now!

Finn de siècle

I’d lost my way with Crowded House sometime ago. That wee imperial run they went on, from Temple Of Low Men via Woodface and Together Alone to their Greatest Hits compilation, would have been enough to sate the keenest of appetites for most things Finn. Add in the eponymously-titled album(s?) released by Neil and Tim in the late ’90s plus Neil’s solo material and the Seven Worlds Collide project in the noughties and suddenly you’d be knee deep in wafting, rolling melodies and jetstream harmonies wrapped around gently scuffed acoustic guitars and chiming, jangling electric six strings sent down from the musical gods above. There’s never ever enough time in the day to get through it all and so these ears wandered off in search of new bands and new sounds when they hadn’t fully soaked in the Finn brothers’ stuff that was already right in front of me. Which was, in hindsight, a bit daft. They’ll never be hip, but where the Finn name is attached, there’s usually something happening.

I took a chance last week on Crowded House’s latest album, Dreamers Are Waiting. I say ‘latest’, but it’s been out a year already. Not for nothing do I have ‘Outdated Music For Outdated People’ at the top of this blog. So, I’m slow to catch up, but for just £6 via the devil’s online supermarket (next day delivery, a mountain of packaging) I couldn’t pass it up, no matter how many independent shops it may close or rainforests it may fell or zero hours contracts it took to get it to me. Yeah. When it comes to the price of music, I have pretty lousy double standards.

Crowded House is a real family affair these days. There’s no Tim Finn, but ever-present bass player Nick Seymour is still involved, alongside Neil and his two sons Liam and Elroy, augmented now and again by Neil’s wife Sharon and the well-travelled Mitchell Froom. The songs on Dreamers Are Waiting are well crafted and carefully considered, the production rich and vivid. It’s a good album.

The opening track is a real beauty, a real scene-setter of what promises to follow. It’s not a wham-bam opener, over and out in a breathless rush of flailing cymbals and crashing feedback. Crowded House don’t go for that. What they do go for though is control and restraint. Bad Times Good is a quietly confident, gently unravelling masterpiece.

Crowded HouseBad Times Good

With breathy Californian harmonies wafted in from Neil Finn’s stint in Fleetwood Mac and a heavy borrowing of Don’t Fear The Reaper’s multi-tracked, multi-stacked backing vocals, the album opener has all the hallmarks of soft rock greatness. It’s absolutely vintage Crowded House; from the understated acoustic opening and muted percussion to its gently tumbling piano/guitar arpeggios and close-miked vocals – and it has you hooked from the off.

Neil Finn is a tease though. He has unlimited melody the way some of us listeners might have limited patience, but still, he doesn’t give it all up at once. We’ll discuss the music in a second, but first we must acknowledge one of the finest voices in popular music. There’s an unexplainable tone to his voice that gets me right there. Very few vocalists have this impact on me – most of my favourites don’t – but Neil Finn is one of them. An undeniably brilliant vocalist. And melodicist. And writer.

The music that carries Bad Times Good threatens to fly off on a couple of well-placed chiming chords midway through the first verse –  ‘Make a good time last/Before we choose a path, let’s spend the night at Los Campaneros please,’ – but Finn pulls it back – ‘through the doorways of the past‘ – you’re not ready for it yet, he thinks, and the tune settles in again. Those chiming, not-quite-expected chords, sometimes the harbingers of deadly night, other times the chink of light in a door half ajar are, it dawns, something of a Finn trademark. Not The Girl You Think You AreNails In My FeetInto Temptation...Distant Sun (great performance from the Tonight Show here) all benefit through the principal songwriter’s way with a well-chosen chord that provides the stepping stone to melodies to die for.

Hey! Everybody wants to make a bad time good.’

Something is nagging at me by the second verse. It’s the vocals! They’re wonderful! And wonderfully close to Gerry Love’s more pastoral deliveries on those late-era Teenage Fanclub albums. No bad thing, obviously, and when married to those hazy, lazy Blue Oyster Cult heeeeyyys gives us a track that anyone with an addiction to ’60s-influenced sunshine pop and an unravelling melody should enjoy playing multiple times in a row and never tire from. Trust me on that.

As the second verse winds its way to an end, and the bass player begins a frugging run up the frets, the reins come off and we’re suddenly soaring. ‘It’s a challenge for the impresario,’ sings Neil, and the band behind him climbs upwards and outwards on a beautiful chord progression, led by understated and underscored strings – where did they come from?!? – subtle and keening, leading us to the key moment that opens the song into technicolour.

When they hit the sunshine chord – ‘Whether sunlight or shadow falls on me‘ – and the tune opens as wide as the Clyde- ‘You won’t come out….’ – aw man! It doesn’t get better than this! Neil Finn’s vocals are now flirting with that falsetto that he can do – the one you’ve tried and failed at since first hearing Weather With You – and a song that once showed real promise now really delivers and then some.

There’s an acoustic drop out, before perfectly executed ‘Heeeeyyy!‘ AOR vocals breathe their way back in, blowing the track to its slow-winding, meandering end. The rest of the album has a lot to live up to. It doesn’t quite get there, to be honest, but as far as opening tracks go, you’ll not hear a better one this year.

Get This!, Live!

(Mc)Nabbed In The Act

Hifff y’wanna have hhhittt zhingelzzz ‘n sell a tonna rekids,” Keith Richards once said to me, “you need’t’add a chick’s name to the song title. Th’chicksss go mad f’rit and their owld fellazzz have t’buy them…hur hur hur!

Ian McNabb does more than a passable Keef impression. He’s midway through his second set at Irvine’s small but perfect Harbour Arts Centre and introducing Understanding Jane, the breakneck bar room thrash that first pricked these ears to the scorched beauty of The Icicle Works when I was a Tesco part-timer with £9 a week to blow on music.

Of course,” says McNabb self deprecatingly. “Evangeline…Jane…Melanie…It never worked for me.”

The solo acoustic version of Understanding Jane that follows is a rootsy, 12 string country romp that would sit neatly between your Gram Parsons and Waterboys records, McNabb’s guitar sounding full fat and thrumming, his wheezy harmonica stirring up the dusty ghosts of yore as his scuffed boot heels (actually, make that comfy Sketchers) stomp the beat.

Ian McNabb, soundcheck, Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine 18.6.22

I’m worried this one sounds a bit too much like Neil Young,” he’d winked at me at the soundcheck earlier, before embarking on a very Neil-ish harmonica-enhanced and fingerpicked downhome beauty. For good effect, and to test this listener I suspect, he throws in the odd line that keen and eagle-eared Young watchers the world over will spot from those old bootlegs now being dusted down and released with regular, wallet-emptying frequency as part of his Archives series. “I’m happy that y’all came down!” he says with a mile-wide toothy grin.

I’m happy that McNabb came down too – he’s on fine form in our wee Arts Centre and, with a vast back catalogue to draw from, he’s chosen to forego any support act in favour of playing two full-length sets the likes of which Broooce and ol’ whiny Neil himself might baulk at the length of. Indeed, a Springsteen show might appear as short and sharp as a mid ’70s Ramones run-through by comparison. McNabb has set his stall out with a selection of variously-tuned guitars and a keyboard that’s set to stun and it’s clear from the off that we’re here for the long run.

Much of the material in the first half draws from recent album Our Future In Space and the lockdown-recorded Utopian. Highlight for me was the misty-eyed Makin’ Silver Sing, played at the keyboard with lovely elongated synth pulses and hanging-in-the-air majesty.

Many of the bands that come through our venue feature jobbing musicians; the guitar player from band x also plays in band y and happens to play in a ceilidh band at the weekend when he’s not laying down the groove to I’ve got a feelin’ that tonight’s gonna be a good night in the bill-paying wedding band that keeps him in petrol and plectrums. We once had a support act turn up after driving 5 hours from the very north of Scotland, play a half hour set to a disinterested and half-empty room and turn back around again to make the long drive straight home because both the singer and drummer were starting the early shift in the local tourist trap hotel at half six the next morning.

That notion, folks, of four guys against the world went out the window long before U2 started depositing their rubbish records on your iPhones while you slept. On Makin’ Silver Sing, Ian McNabb captures it perfectly. It’s a brilliant and underheard beauty, with the bonus of a great video. Do the right thing and listen…maybe even buy it. It’ll keep the songwriter in petrol and plectrums – he favours Roger Waters-branded picks as it so happens.

The second set is jam-packed with the big ones – Birds Fly, Hollow Horse, When It All Comes Down – before finishing, of course, on a raucous and well-received Love Is A Wonderful Colour. McNabb is very funny throughout, singling out individual audience members for a dose of rapier Scouse wit, breaking into spontaneous snippets of Live And Let Die (“‘appy Birthday, Sir Paul!“) and the Neil Young aping Horse With No Name whenever it occurs to him to do so. Take your eyes and ears off him and you’ll miss something funny, I tell you.

As much as the big hits are pleasing on the ears, it is though, another keyboard-led track that further blows me away. New track Harry Dean Stanton is jaw-dropping in execution; a swirl of room-filling electric piano and enough reverb and echo on the crystal clear vocal-ocal-ocals to drown a (Crazy) horse. Wonderful stuff.

Ian McNabb plays Leaf in Liverpool this coming weekend. You know what to do.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Rock Goes To Collage

This song is a beauty. It begins with a four to the floor bass drum ‘n boot-heeled stomp; urgent and glam, exactly the sort of beat that would reduce lesser frontmen to demand the audience showed him their hands in above-the-head crass communion.

BuzzcocksFiction Romance

Not Pete Shelley though. A guitar line follows, waspish and chugging, two notes playing in unison with the kick drum. Zhung-zhung-zhung-zhung-zhung zha-zhung, zhung-zhung-zhung-zhung-zhung zha-zhung. A second guitar falls into line. Same riff, different effect. Chorus? Flange? Both? It’s as shiny and metallic as the record sleeve that houses the album upon which it can be found and it’s full of the promise of what might follow. The drum roll that clatters in exactly where you expect it to wakes the bass payer from his slumber and the band, Buzzcocks, now playing as one, is a fraction faster, a fraction keener.

Shelley is straight into the vocal. A fiction romance, I love this love story, he goes, and you’re lured into a false sense of what the song is about. The chords shift from F to A – an unusual change from a band who made a bit of a trademark of playing unexpected chord changes – and, just as the guitar playing suggests trouble ahead, the vocal turns sour. That never seems to happen in my life. Ah. So it’s another unlucky in love love song from a band who made a bit of a trademark of writing and playing unlucky in love love songs. Not just any old unlucky in love love songs, though. Buzzcocks played them with a whip-smart ferocity while Shelley delivered them with a knowing coquettishness. Unpretentious and everyman, Buzzcocks were and are remain entirely peerless. You knew that already though.

Here comes the chorus? Bridge? Refrain? I dunno, but it’s perfect. Those F-shapes are slid up the frets and back down again, changing the gears, dropping the speed until we’re back to The Riff and Buzzcocks are off and galloping once more. By the time we’ve breathlessly pogoed our way to the outro, the band is locked in as one to the flow of the music – headnodding Stooges sludge played by effete Boltonians. Fiction roma-aaance! Fiction roma-aaance! they repeat and repeat, underlining once and for all that this love thing is a work of fiction entirely, then, just when you least expect it, they switch gear into another riff for the entirety of the last whole minute, ending on a vocal-less Beatles For Sale aping I don’t get you-ooh. A band that references itself! How arch! It’s outrageous and groovy and one that most bands would happily swap their vintage Les Paul jnrs for.

There’s a swirl to the music, a floaty air of proggish punk/punkish prog wrapped in stomped-on effect pedals and Martin Rushent’s complementary production. Not for Buzzcocks the glam tourettes of Sex Pistols nor the biscuit tin production of the first Clash album. They knew what they were after from the off and captured it perfectly. They sound timeless…which they are. If y’don’t like Buzzcocks, y’don’t like life.

Buzzcocks’ debut album Another Music In A Different Kitchen was so-titled after the band borrowed and butchered a line used by Howard Devoto to describe one of Linder Sterling’s collages. As essential to punk as the artwork of Jamie Reid, Linder’s collages largely featured pin-ups and topless models torn from top shelf magazines and relocated to domestic subservience. Their heads and faces were usually replaced by steaming kettles or hissing irons and they’d be placed on top of a sideboard, perhaps, or maybe a kitchen worktop. Chaotic art that allows for discourse and social commentary. Subversive and smart. Like the band wot embraced it.