Giant Steps For MankindMarch 8, 2016
Riding a bike at top speed and slightly out of control was the greatest thrill as a youngster, the first truly independent feeling you could experience. In 1977, the Sillars Meadow speedway was where you’d mostly find me, gripping the handlebars of my Puch Mini Sprint with white knuckles, hayfevered eyes focused on the snaking path ahead, tearing into the blind corners with carefree abandon, hoping to avoid Mrs Robertson, her Thatcher do and her yappy dog on the tightest part where the path narrowed into one ‘lane’ – a particularly tricky bit. There was always a bit of a competition to see who could get round the speedway the fastest. Three things helped; Mrs Robertson not being there, having absolutely no fear and sticking half a fag packet into the spokes. Ratta-ratta-ratta! it went, adding at least 0.5 mph to the top speed of your bike. That ratta-ratta-ratta sound was something that would make a continual, welcome and comforting appearance throughout my life.
This June (16th, to be exact) sees the 30th (30th!!!) anniversary of The Queen Is Dead. There will no doubt be many reappraisals and celebrations for TQID nearer the time. I for one will no doubt change my Facebook profile pic to that of the LP cover signed by Johnny Marr. Did I ever tell you I met Johnny? I’m sure I mentioned it in passing somewhere. Hovering over the Salford Lads Club picture with my sharpie he tutted and said, “I never liked myself in that picture…I look better now than I did then…“, flipped the cover shut and signed across the iconic image of the horizontal Alain Delon. It looks as beautiful as the album sounds.
Anyway, on that very same day (16th June 1986) another landmark LP was released. It’s likely little fanfare will be blasted in its honour, but in my house at least, a wee portion of the day will be given over to it.
The Woodentops‘ Giant was, and still is, a terrific-sounding album. Played expertly with loose limbs and rubber wrists, it’s a giddy 100mph rush from start to finish, a downhill-without-the-brakes-on blur of ferociously-scrubbed acoustic guitars, proto dance rhythms and hypnotic, skittering drums. Ratta-ratta-ratta they go. Except for on the really fast ones, when they sound like someone’s dropped a box of steel marbles across a kitchen floor. These days I cycle to the metronomic rhythms of Underworld and their ilk, soundtracking my journeys as I pedal along the highways and byways of the west of Scotland’s cycle paths, but had the technology been available in the 1970’s, I’d have been soundtracking and breaking world records on the Sillars Meadow speedway to the frantic clatter of The Woodentops.
The Woodentops – Get It On
The Woodentops – Shout
The Woodentops – Everything Breaks
Loved by Morrissey, and ergo by the indie crowd, their tunes were later adopted by the Ibiza faithful, where DJs with eclectic taste would seamlessly mix them into their playlists with carefree abandon. A few short years later, every band within half a mile of a wah-wah pedal and a 2nd hand copy of James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer‘ were claiming they’d always had a dance element to their music, but for The pioneering Woodentops, there was no pretence.
Their music is marvellous stuff and none of it has aged in the slightest. Giant is an album I always come back to. Maybe not that regularly any more, but at least once a year it’ll come out and get stuck on. And while it plays I do that rarest of things. I sit and listen. I don’t get the iron out or watch a soundless telly. I don’t flick through Mojo with half an ear on the music and half an eye on the crossword. I sit in the stripey chair and listen. It’s an extremely hard thing to do.
Half All the tracks are super-percussive, highly danceable and totally singalongable. If you’ve never had the pleasure of the album, or any of the rest of the band’s stellar back catalogue, it’s never too late to get on board. You can find most of it in all the usual places, I’m sure.
The Woodentops are playing a few celebratory gigs around the date to mark the occasion. Having never seen the band perform, I’m keen to get to one. If they’re near you, I urge you to go too. You can check here.