Alternative Version, Get This!, Live!

We Are Stoned Immaculate

Much as my alternate weekends are never far from Rugby Park, so too at Plain Or Pan are you never far from a few words on the Trashcan Sinatras. Their rusty yet trusty engine cranked back to life at the end of last week, not only in preparation for a 30 date acoustic tour of the States that, as you read, is a couple of shows to the good, but also with the welcome announcement that a mere 16 years after first releasing it, they’d finally be releasing Weightlifting on vinyl.

Oft-considered the jewel in a particularly sparkly crown, the news of the band’s 4th album’s arrival on the format it truly deserves has Trashcans fans all in a lather. In typically awkward Trashcans’ style, it’s only available at the US gigs or via the band themselves, where postage from America to Scotland will cost almost as much as the record itself and might take as long as November until it lands at your door. Quite which November it can be expected wasn’t specified by the band, but, y’know, very good things come to those who wait. It’s been ordered, of course…

 

Another surprising announcement was the news that a new rarities and outtakes compilation was available. A companion to the long-released (2003) and out of print Zebra Of the Family collection, this new 2nd volume gathers demos and sketches from the Weightlifting and In The Music eras. Generally, a time of chaos and uncertainty in the band’s history, the demos nonetheless reveal the Trashcans’ ability to write majestically in the face of disaster.

The Weightlifting material in particular reveals a band demoing songs that are fully formed and requiring little in the way of tinkering and tweaking come the time to record them properly. Are they superior to the released Weightlifting versions? Of course not, but there’s a raggedy-arsed beauty to tracks viewed in the half light of completeness.

There are a couple of goes at Leave Me Alone, the first featuring slightly altered lyrics and titled, tellingly, Leave Us Alone. Recorded in the middle of bankruptcy claims and enforced studio sales, it’s a well-named, world-weary tune that sighs the collective sighs of a band on the very edge of disintegration.

Yet, somehow, as they always do, the Trashcans pulled through. Finding themselves in Hartford, Massachusetts, they set about writing the bulk of the Weightlifting material. There’s a terrific version of What Women Do To Men, all delicate keyboard stabs and atmospheric up-the-frets bass, where the released version’s slide-into-the-stratosphere six-string trickery is replaced by feral distorted guitar and a bucketful of reverb, the pathos of the lyrics matched by the howling intensity of the band cutting loose behind. God knows exactly what those women did to these men, but it’s a cracker. Magic, even.

Trashcan SinatrasWhat Women Do To Men (Hartford sessions)

Elsewhere, there are spy through the keyhole takes on the wonderfully lush Usually, a track that’ll forever be in most Trashcans fans’ top 5, the plaintive and perfect Country Air and Astronomy, a rarity previously available only as an extra track on the Japanese release of In The Music. A welcome addition, it may well be the first time some long-time fans have heard a studio version of a track that was something of a live favourite back in the day. Sadly, frustratingly, the band has missed a trick here. I’m sure I have on tape a version of the track from many moons ago that featured Frank and not John on vocals. Maybe I’m wrong though. Or, maybe, in typical Trashcans’ fashion, it’s just lost to the ether. A minor quibble, and one that’s instantly forgiven when you hear what’s just around the corner…

Best of all is new track The Dirge.

Normally, you might approach a song with such a title with mild trepidation, expecting funereal, mournful music, a wade through sonic treacle wearing iron boots. This Dirge is anything but.

Trashcan SinatrasThe Dirge (Hartford sessions)

It’s beautiful.

Long, slow and elegant, it creeps up on you with guitarist Paul Livingston’s low key, low register vocals before unravelling into the kind of track you’ve come to expect of Super Furry Animals at their most melodious and Wilson-worshipping best.

There’s chiming electric guitars, tinkling percussion, unexpected chord changes and textures. Wah wahs waft around the chorus while melodies and counter melodies weave their magic. It lifts, it drops, it soars. Is that a brass part playing low in the mix midway through? And a female vocal? It might be. It should be. Normally when bands throw the kitchen sink at songs, the results are a cluttered and unpalatable dog’s dinner. But this? This is stoned immaculate.

From first listen to current, I’ve heard it in my head sung only by Gruff Rhys. Nowt wrong with that of course. If you’re going to write slow burning songs of beauty, who better to channel whilst in the middle of the creative process? Quite how The Dirge never made it out of the studio is beyond me. Weightlifting is a perfect album, but it wouldn’t have been out of place on it in the slightest. It pays to stick with the Trashcans if they’re going to throw out wee gems like this once in a while.

Catch the Trashcans on tour right now. And head over to the shop at trashcansinatras.com to order your copies of Weightlifting and Zebra Of The Family 2.

 

Hard-to-find

D’Ye Copy?

A few years after Mick Ronson went down on Bowie on Top Of The Pops and the Bolan Boogie bongoed its way into the nation’s collective consciousness, a new breed of idol was born. Hot on the scuffed heels of post-punk, Adam Ant became the first popstar to enter my orbit and land on my record player. Well! Leapfrog the dog and brush me, daddy-o, if this wasn’t exactly what I was missing in my life! To a thumping double drummer Burundi beat, Adam and his Ants, all lip curl and collapsed Gene Vincent DAs, chanted and charmed their way through Dog Eat Dog, the rubbery electric twang almost too much for my 10 year old mind to take in. I really liked The Specials and Madness and the whole gang mentality that their music spawned in the school playground, but Adam, for me, brought on a whole new level of excitement. It was the pirate costume that swung it. That and the white nose stripe, of course. He looked liked a skeleton on the telly, all cheekbones and hollowed eyes, and while he danced his hoppy, arm swingin’, finger clickin’ jive, he stared down the barrel of the camera, directly into my living room, directly to me.

Adam And The AntsDog Eat Dog

By the Saturday morning I had availed myself of £3.99 worth of smash, splashed it on the counter of Walker’s at Irvine Cross in exchange for Kings Of The Wild Frontier and ran, ran! all the way home, desperate to get the first album I’d own spinning as soon as possible. I can still smell it now, freshly minted black vinyl, as it slid out of the sleeve and was transferred very carefully to the record player. I can still see the orange and yellow CBS logo spinning hypnotically. And when that Burundi beat fades in, I’m straight back to my living room in 1980, cross-legged on the floor, a bowl of Rice Krispies turning soggy while my attention was elsewhere for a couple of minutes. Life-changing stuff.

Kings Of the Wild Frontier was played so often I can still call it down from my brain and hear it whenever I fancy. I rarely need to play the actual music, it’s up there (points, taps head), burned indelibly forever. I know every adlib, every double-tracked chorus, every whistle, every solo…..every bit of it. I think my mum might too, as not long after buying it, my dad returned from work one day with a rare present – a copy of Adam’s previous album Dirk Wears White Sox. He’d bought it in Makro, of all places, on a work-related trip to the cash and carry and I’m sure it was bought partly to vary the soundtrack that my mum was exposed to from the minute I got in from school to the minute I’d gone to bed.

What none of us was prepared for was how different it sounded to Kings… The clues were there on the cover; a blurry black and white shot featuring a woman, back turned to the camera, standing under a streetlight. It looked like something from a 1940’s spy movie that my Gran might’ve enjoyed at the weekend. Within the grooves, there was nary a Burundi beat and a complete lack of pirate-themed potential. It was jerky, awkward and, to these 10 year old ears, a massive disappointment. It was still a record though, I had two albums now, and one that, even at that early age, I knew I’d ‘get’ at some point. I might even have done so too, had Adam not let out the ‘f’ word on one of the tracks and my mum, doing her best Mary Whitehouse impression, instructed me to turn it off and give it to her. With an awkward sense of shame and annoyance, I handed the album back to her, my collection reduced to one album once more. I never saw it again. Years later I found out that she’d made my poor dad take it back to Makro. God knows what he told them.

Zerox is still the killer track from the album I still don’t own. One of the Ants’ earliest singles, it’s held together by a tight ‘n taut see-sawing guitar riff that the 1992 version of Blur (Popscene! Alright!) would’ve given their right arm for.

Adam And The AntsZerox

Epoch-defining – ask a teenager today what a zerox machine is and see what sort of response that elicits – Zerox is punk manifesto set to music. We’ll copy your riffs, it says. “I’m never bored, I’ll steal your chords.” Unlike yer actual zerox machine, Zerox the song is timeless, an undeniable influence on all those angular guitar bands from a few years back.

Shortly after discovering Adam, I should say, my inner-self experienced a whole new thang when Debbie Harry popped up quite unexpectedly on Top Of The Pops with Blondie doing The Tide Is High. It was, I’d shortly discover, the worst single in the Blondie catalogue, as another sprint to Walker’s and back saw me add The Best Of Blondie to my thin collection, free Debbie Harry poster ‘n all. Suddenly Adam was relegated to second-best. To my dad’s relief, the Adam in full-on Prince Charming teapot pose poster was replaced by Debbie, pouting from the wall with tousled hair and an ‘Andy Warhol’s Bad’ t-shirt. Andy Warhol? Who’s that, I wondered…

Dylanish, New! Now!

Appetite For Destruction

A few months ago I found myself driving Alan McGee – yer actual, Creation Records, King Of Indie Alan McGee – back to his hotel. With the car radio pre-set to Radio Scotland, it was the Billy Sloan show that sound-tracked our short 5 minute drive. As I drove and Alan held court I realised Billy was playing a new track by King Of Birds. My initial reaction was to interrupt my esteemed passenger’s non-stop flow of conversation to say, “Hey! I know these guys!” but a voice in my head suggested that King Of Birds might not be Alan’s kinda thing, so I stopped short of butting in and listened instead, my driver’s-side ear struggling to make out the rich music on the radio as the other battled with McGee’s non-stop enthusiastic monologue about the two seismic Oasis shows that had taken place on Irvine Beach 24 years previously, “just over that hill there, Alan.” As we reached the hotel, the song on the radio was ending and in the half gap that followed while McGee scrambled around the footwell in my car for his bag, I managed to squeeze in a quick but proud, “King Of Birds! I know these guys!” McGee nodded and cocked an ear to the radio, just, would you believe it, as the Pavlovian rush of Oasis’ Rock ‘n Roll Star barged in. “And I know these guys,” nodded McGee in the general direction of my car’s dashboard. And with that, he was out and off.

Had I been brave enough to stop the flow of rich one-way conversation, Alan would’ve heard I Hope We Don’t Fall In Love, the then current single by one of our country’s brightest talents. King Of Birds have been on the go for a wee while now. I first saw them maybe 4 years ago and was instantly taken with their knack for a good melody, a strong harmony and a seemingly never-ending run of songs that flowed as freely as water from a tap. “The McEverly Brothers,” I dubbed them at the time, a tag that sits well with the band’s principal writers. Sometimes a duo, sometimes a full piece band, King Of Birds is essentially Charlie and Stirling Gorman, two brothers with a long-standing relationship with the Scottish music scene. In recent years there have been right turns and wrong, a none-more Gallagher fall-out that threatened to derail all their good work included, but it’s from this frictious tête-à-tête that the seeds of a very fine album were sown.

Eve Of Destruction is the result, a dozen tracks of what you might call Americana. With nods to the twin towers of Michael – R.E.M.’s Stipe and The Waterboys’ Scott, main vocalist Charlie carries the songs with a gravel-throated world weariness. Brother Stirling is the perfect foil. A Peter Buck-obsessed R.E.M. fanatic (the band’s name should be clue enough), he’s never far from a waistcoat and a ringing Rickenbacker, his six and twelve string symphonies colouring the music with the requisite amount of jangle.

Like origami in reverse, the songs take time to unravel, exposing classic melodies from the simplest of chord structures. Built on a bed of dextrously-plucked nylon acoustics, the tunes tumble as jaw-droppingly effortless as the acrobats at the Cirque du Soleil. It’s all in the carefully considered arrangements; tinkling piano, weeping pedal steel, an occasional Springsteen-esque yearning harmonica, dust-blown sweeping strings in every other coda…….it’s ‘proper’ music, played expertly.

The band’s undeniable influences are all over it, from One Horse Town‘s opening Simon & Garfunkel flourish on the nylons and lightning-fast ascending riff last heard flying off the grooves on Bob Dylan’s I Want You, to the keening, Don and Phil-influenced “tell me if you see-eeee her,” from the track of the same name. Rod Stewart could do worse than involve himself in a cover of the crashing When We Were Kings. 12 string Rickenbackers tease out a widescreen Caledonian epic that manages to be both anthemic and reflective. There’s even a drop-out in the middle where ol’ Rod can do that leaning back with the microphone pose he’s been perfecting since The Faces. It’d be the perfect song for getting him back to what he was once good at.

In an era where bands don’t really release singles in the traditional sense, tracks such as Hard Times For A Good Man and I Hope We Don’t Fall In Love were the obvious promotional tracks to release to influential radio folks, but dig deeper and you’ll find the likes of Here And Gone or Peace Of Mind, with its banjo-led hillbilly hoedown by Travis vibe the track most likely to break out the social dancing round these parts.

My favourite track is buried deep on side two. Hang Me Out To Dry, the penultimate track, has a pretty, cascading guitar riff the equal of anything Paul McCartney recorded in his first post-Beatles years. Little shattered jewels of crystalline melody float on a sea of harpsichord and woozy, wonked-out synth. The whole thing reminds me very much of Elliott Smith, and that’s no bad thing at all. It’s so unlike the rest of the album I fear it’ll be forever overlooked by those seeking potential radio-friendly hits – of which, as you now know, there are at least half a dozen. Hang Me Out To Dry though is the diamond in a field of gold.

The whole record has a terrific ambience. It’s airy and spacious and in places brings to mind Neil Young’s last great masterpiece, Harvest Moon. Much of the credit for this must go to mastering engineer Frank Arkwright. Based at Abbey Road, he’s the man Johnny Marr trusted with the task of remastering The Smiths back catalogue a few years ago. Arkwright’s magic touch is all over Coldplay’s The Scientist, Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible and a whole host of respected records. He’s an inspired choice, no doubt costly, but the results are outstanding.

Packaged lovingly in gatefold vinyl, the finished record is a thing of beauty. The brothers, you feel, have put everything into this release. From the detail on the labels themselves, to the sepia-tinted artwork, to the carefully placed picture (of their parents?) that sits atop the piano on the front cover, everything has been carefully considered. Make no mistake, this is proper heart and soul music. It may be King Of Birds’ one shot at releasing a record (I sincerely hope not), but man!, they’ve gone all out to ensure that, should this be the case, they’ve made their mark with a masterful piece of work.

Don’t take my word for it though. Get yourself along to Stereo in Glasgow this coming Thursday (26th September) where King Of Birds will launch the album in full band mode. I’ll be there. So too, no doubt, will Billy Sloan. McGee hasn’t got back to me yet, the silly man. There are far worse places he could choose to be instead.

 

Get This!, Kraut-y

Electra Glide In Blue

Back in the mid 70s I was kept awake by the sound of the machinery that was thumping and bumping together the bypass that, 40 years later, continues to act as an artery between north and south Ayrshire. Despite my shut windows and curtains, I could hear the rumbles of heavy plant, as loud as it might have been had they been digging up our front garden and, if I lifted my head from the pillow, I could see between the gaps and swirls in the curtains a faint orange glow from half a mile in the distance, on the other side of the River Annick, beyond the field where the helicopter would land in a couple of years time in its vain search for the still-missing Sandy Davidson. They were building something  – a new road, my Dad had told me – and it was keeping me awake. The work seemed to last forever and, given the pace of work wherever roadworks and the likes are concerned, it probably did, but I can also remember hearing the distant whoosh of traffic afterwards, when the road was complete and commuters went about their business in a faster and straighter fashion than before. We lived on the outskirts of the town. The sound of speeding traffic was a new thing, but you got used to it fairly quickly.

At the same time, somewhere beyond Ayrshire, far beyond the musical and literal backwaters of the UK, a brave new world was opening up. In West Germany’s Dusseldorf, Kraftwerk was barely 4 years old yet they were pioneering the sort of music that would influence a whole raft of acts in the way The Beatles had a decade previously. Embracing the future with Minimoogs, ARP synths and home-made electronic drums, they set about reconstructing their sound. Their fourth album, 1974’s Autobahn, album was the result. A five track LP that featured the 22 minute title track on the entirety of the first side, it was quite unlike anything that had come before it. Listening to it currently, you can hear where Bowie nicked ideas for the second side of Low. You can ‘feel’ the embryonic glow of Joy Division’s glacial isolation. And you can begin to appreciate the unique importance of it.

Autobahn, the title track, is terrific; futuristic and ground-breaking and happy and sad all at once. Opening with the clunk of a closing door, a revving engine and a parping keyboard, its modus operandi is to replicate the monotony of a long car journey on the motorway.

KraftwerkAutobahn (single eversion)

Elastic bass vies with vocodered vocal. Fahren, Fahren, Fahren auf der Autobahn, it goes, in a knowing, sarcastic nod to the sun, sun , sun, fun, fun, fun Beach Boys. Drive, drive, drive on the autobahn. There’s nothing fun about driving in a straight line for hours on end though, and Kraftwerk knows it. Propulsive, linear and never-ending, the entire 22 minutes (or 3 and a bit above) is driven purposefully by a pulsing electro bass and the same steam-powered drums that Stephen Morris would go on to replicate to great effect a few short years later on Unknown PleasuresShe’s Lost Control. Stop for a moment and consider just how influential Stephen Morris’s band was. Without Kraftwerk, it’s arguable whether Joy Division would’ve sounded quite as they did. No Kraftwerk, no JD, no post-punk discipline as we know it. Autobahn is, then, an important record.

That chiming keyboard motif, melodic yet melancholic, synthesised yet soulful is the tune that quietly worms its way into your head. Driving Kraftwerk forward into a new future where they’d eventually be considered kings, Autobahn endures to this day. Those unexpected airy whooshes – motorcars by Moog – that punctuate the repetitiveness transport me straight back to that bedroom in the mid 70s, the unforgiving sounds of Vauxhall Victors and Ford Cortinas keeping me half awake for hours at a time.

Get This!, Live!

Sun Electric, Outta Sight

It’s common consensus that R.E.M. post Bill Berry were poor, three quarters of the important band they had once been but far less than the sum of those parts on record. After his on-stage collapse from a brain aneurysm, you can’t blame the drummer for wanting to slow things down and call it quits (he’s now a hay farmer in Athens, Georgia), and nor can you blame the other 3 for deciding to continue.

Left-field enough to maintain credibility yet popular enough to sell out stadiums the world over, it would have taken a brave Buck (or Mills or Stipe) to suggest winding things up, but their recorded output from albums 11-15 demonstrates a band limping along like a dog on three legs, one of them cocked and ready to piss their entire legacy up the wall. If you’ve the time and inclination, you could definitely put together a decent compilation of hidden gems from a run of albums that have garnered less plays collectively in this house than Maxinquaye (has anyone listened to Tricky since 1995?) Airport Man from Up, for example, would feature. As would Daysleeper from the same album and perhaps (off the top of my head) Imitation Of Life, Leaving New York, The Lifting, The Great Beyond, Summer Turns To High, Suspicion…. There’s been a few then, but none of those tracks, none of them, would’ve made the cut for 1996’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi, the final R.E.M. album featuring Bill Berry’s essential contributions, the album that has quietly wormed its way into the Top 3 of the band’s back catalogue.

Yer man in the street may well point to the twin globe-straddlers Out Of Time and Automatic For the People, but the more switched on have other ideas. In a three-way tie with Murmur and Life’s Rich Pageant, New Adventures In Hi-Fi jostles with these ears for pole position. Michael “It’s R.E.M. at its peak” Stipe and Mike Mills are of a similar opinion.

It usually takes a good few years for me to decide where an album stands in the pantheon of recorded work we’ve done. This one may be third behind Murmur and Automatic for the People,” said Mills to Mojo at the time of release. He knew. As Oasis et al went about their boorish business of climbing up the charts and dumbing down the nation, R.E.M. were quietly writing and recording the best album of the era, on the hoof and totally as they went.

Wrapped in a fold-out sleeve that features blurry, arty black and white shots of landscapes, lakes and long-lost diners taken by Stipe from the tour bus as they whizz past on the way to the next show on the Monster tour, it’s a terrific collection, a proper ‘road’ album.

Continuing a theme started by previous support act Radiohead, who recorded many of the backing tracks for The Bends in soundchecks and downtime, R.E.M. set about recording everything as they toured. It was a pre-determined move, the band keen to capture spontaneity with the thrill of capturing a one-take beauty fuelling their focus. From dressing room writing sessions in Philly to soundcheck workouts in Phoenix, the whole lot was committed to tape and analysed while the band’s tour bus zig-zagged its way across America. A lot of the lyrics and a few of the song titles – Departure, Leave, Low Desert – reflect the notion of travel and the end result was the longest-running R.E.M. album to date, a road-worn pick ‘n’ mix of Monster-era rock, pastoral pop and cameos from Patti Smith.

The understated opener, the slowly creeping and crawling How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us is a cracker and unlike anything the band had released to date. The 5 note piano refrain and the spy theme guitars carry it, but peer underneath and you’ll spot the shoots of electronica that came into full bloom on the next album, Up.

R.E.M.How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us

Departure carries on spectacularly where Monster left off, grooving on a turned-up-to-11 Les Paul riff reminiscent of Green‘s Pop Song ’89. Mike Mills’ harmonies soar like they haven’t since Out Of Time‘s Belong while Stipe fires off a rapid, alliterative opening line about just arriving in Singapore, San Sebastian, Spain and Salt Lake City’s salt flats after a 26-hour trip. Travel again.

R.E.M.Departure

Elsewhere, Stipe crowbars in obscure references to fuck-ups, fighters, and motorcycle riders and, man!, I could listen to him sing the words ‘motorcycle rider’ all day long. Departure is almost R.E.M. by numbers, but more importantly, it’s one of the last truly fantastic rock tracks the band would release.

The last words should go to the closing track. Electrolite may well be the jewel in the album’s crown. The product of a Phoenix soundcheck, wonky start ‘n all, it’s classic R.E.M., the track to turn to when you need to remind yourself what a great band they once were. Michael Stipe’s lyric, a reflection of his life in L.A. and the people watching he did on Mulholland Drive, sat untouched for two years until the right tune came along. It duly did in Phoenix, with Mike Mills offering up the piano-led track that provided the scaffolding for the finished article.

R.E.M.Electrolite

Stipe’s Martin Sheen, Steve McQueen, Jimmy Dean refrain is the clincher, a lyric harking back to the glory days of Hollywood, an unintentional metaphor as it would turn out, for his own band’s golden era.

Gone but not forgotten

Music, eh? Bloody Hell.

There you are on the commute home, not really aware that you’ve somehow arrived at Kilwinning town centre…..red light, clutch in, brake, drop the gears, stop….when True Faith pops up on the radio and you find yourself in tears, a trickle at first then quickly a torrent, willing the pedestrians to not look in your direction as they busy themselves across the zebra crossing. It’s the bang and crash of the intro, where the mind’s eye replays those two clowns who slap one another silly in the video that triggers it. I feel so extraordinary, sings Barney. I feel overwhelmed. I drive home in a daze. Music is a powerful thing.

I had Power, Corruption and Lies playing earlier, New Order‘s essential second album, and such is the way it’s wrapped up in epoch and emotion, I listened to the entirety of it whilst thinking about two pals who are no longer here. From different social circles, Mark and Derek‘s paths crossed on the odd occasion, and while they’d have a pint and a catch up if we somehow found ourselves part of the same group in the pub, they weren’t friends in the real sense of the word. I’d grown up with Mark from the age of 3 or 4 and in later years we’d sit together watching the football at Kilmarnock. He moved with his work to London around the time I started mastering the plank of wood I had the cheek to call an electric guitar, and by the time I’d started playing in bands, I’d met Derek. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, my football world has never really collided with my music world.

New OrderAge Of Consent

I remember Mark buying the album on cassette from John Menzies on the strength of the fact it was the parent album to Blue Monday, a record that was on perma-spin on every record player in our world. He was a bit put out because the band, not for the last time, had left the big hit off of the album.

As it played for the first time, the two of us listened and reacted with differing views. Despite the opening rush of Age Of Consent, all signature Hook bassline, keyboard swells and asthmatic lead guitar, Mark found it an underwhelming listen.

Listening earlier on today I was thinking about this, remembering him perched on the edge of his bed, his autograph of Killie’s John Bourke stuck to the headboard but curled at the corners where the Sellotape had stopped, me on an ancient Star Wars bean bag, both of us with eyes to the floor in studied concentration as Age Of Consent rattled out of the speakers that were attached to his midi hi-fi. By the second verse I was converted. Mark less so.

You’re hard to please,” I told him. “This is magic!” I distinctly remember the screwed-up ‘but it’s not Blue Monday‘ face he offered by way of reply. He liked second track We All Stand even less. “Barney can’t sing,” he pointed out, stating the obvious. “If this was a record I’d have lifted the needle by now.”

As the tape made its way to the end of the first side, Mark began flicking through his records with a face only someone who thinks they’ve wasted their last £3.99 can make. Alighting on his chosen mood lightener, You’ve Got The Power by Win signalled the end of our New Order listening session. Had he flipped the tape over there and then I like to think he’d have been stopped in his tracks by the beauty of Your Silent Face but it wasn’t to be.

New OrderYour Silent Face

 

I’m not sure he ever got to the second side, to be honest. He loved New Order though, did Mark, but he was always more of a True Faith kinda guy.

Derek, on the other hand, loved Age Of Consent. It was, as he was quick to offer, should you bring it up, the first track from the first New Order album where they broke free of the straightjacket they’d cul-de-sac’d themselves into for Movement, the first truly great New Order record, the album where New Order discovered who they really were and unwittingly invented what would come to be termed (ugh) indie dance.

When Age Of Consent was playing earlier, my first thought wasn’t of Mark’s bedroom in 1986 but of Kilmarnock’s Shabby Road rehearsal rooms in 1991. Our band rehearsed there and on the odd occasion when we were waiting for everyone to arrive, Derek would jump on the drums and offer up the only thing he could just about play, a stiff-limbed and stilted grinned thrashing beat, coloured by 100 mile an hour hi-hat action, denim jackets and wild, untamed shoulder-length hair.

As it dawned quite spectacularly on me for the first time today, he was (almost) playing the frantic hi-hat ‘n snare combination from Age Of Consent. He’d get 25 seconds or so in before he’d start losing time or drop a stick (or both), but how I’ve never noticed it until now, I’ll never know. It’s playing as I write, and I’m suddenly right back there in that room, peeking out from under my collapsed quiff/beginnings of a bowl cut (this was, after all, post-Smiths and peak-Roses) grappling with my shitty guitar tuner, getting ready for the only night of the week that truly mattered. Honestly, Del, we might’ve taken the piss, but you weren’t that bad at it after all.

As for Your Silent Face, that was played recently at Derek’s funeral. Melancholic, uplifting, stately and imperial, it’ll never be bettered. It’s such a powerful record and I’m not ashamed to say my chest caves in and I collapse a little whenever I hear it. I love that music as powerful and meaningful as this can catch you unexpectedly as you shift through the gears on the bike or wrestle with a burst bin bag or search in vain for Lazy Garlic in Morrison’s, but when it gets you, it’s got you. To paraphrase Alex Ferguson, music, eh? Bloody hell.

Cover Versions

Prophet vs Profit

Paul Weller gives nary a thought to what others think of him and his music. Splitting The Jam at the height of their success for the political, pastel posturing of the Style Council ruffled more than a few feathercuts. Time and hindsight has been far kinder on his second band than you’d have believed back in 1985 though, and you can’t argue with the stellar run of singles they released during their 5 albums in 5 years lifespan. Indeed, if all he’d been known for was the music he recorded with the Style Council, Weller would these days be something of a cult hero. For every bizarre collaboration with Lenny Henry there’s a Gil Evans Blue Note arrangement to sate yourself with, and despite the Parisian pretentions, Marriott moustaches and C&A catalogue poses, there’s a strong body of work to be (re)discovered.

There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the careers of Neil Young and Paul Weller. Both left successful bands twice before going it alone. Both have defied the critics to release solo albums that are the equal of and better than the material in their supposed golden years. Both stubbornly plough their own musical furrow and fans follow on or fall by the wayside as a result. And both have fallen foul of their record company when they’ve taken an unexpected turn in the road and delivered an album like none before it. Neil Young has done this more than once. On the Kratftwerk-inspired Trans he adopted analogue synths over guitars, a concept album of sorts that highlighted the day to day issues experienced by his disabled son. When Young presented David Geffen with the limp rockabilly of Everybody’s Rockin’ just 12 months later (how’s that for a change in direction?!), his label boss famously sued him for offering up an album that was “deliberately uncommercial and unrepresentative of Neil Young.”

Weller’s seeming faux pas was to offer up in 1989 a 6th Style Council album that was unlike anything he’d recorded previously. Synths replaced Hammonds. Machines replaced drummers. Blissed-out love replaced anger and fury. You could forget the guitars too – there was nary a jazz chord or fuzzed-up Isley Brothers cop off within earshot. This was Deep House music; clean and linear yet soulful and emotive. With the Stone Roses on the verge of indie guitar ubiquity, Weller had seemingly pulled a dud. “We don’t have to take this crap,” thought Polydor. The album – the presciently-titled Modernism: A New Decade – was shelved.

Had the record company been more switched on they’d have been aware of the house scene that had been bubbling nicely underground for a couple of years. Weller was drawn to house music for the same reasons he liked the mod scene. Here were groups of people getting off on soulful American records and, much in the way he’d paid homage to the first wave of US soul by recording versions of Heatwave and Big Bird, he set about recording his own faithful version of one of the era’s anthems, Joe Smooth‘s Promised Land.

Style CouncilPromised Land (Full Length Version)

Promised Land grooves on a bed of rattling drum machines and rolling, tumbling piano, bluesy and upbeat. Setting yer actual house ablaze, electro bleeps and keyboard stabs herald in a whole new chapter in Weller’s career. Flutes flutter in and out of the mix, a keyboard motif joins it all together and Weller duets with DC Lee in a series of gospel-tinged “oh yeahs” before the pair of them hit the verse. It’s great.

Brothers, Sisters
One day we’ll all be free
From fighting, violence, people crying in the streets
When the angels from above
Fall down and spread their wings like doves
We’ll walk hand and hand,
Sisters, Brothers
We’ll make it to the promised land

A spiritual anthem for unity and hope (and the consumption of MDMA), it resonated with those for whom the house scene was everything. Me? I wasn’t at all into house music but I did really like the new Style Council single. I had no idea it was cover. I came to it via the radio and, with no long-standing relationship with Weller (I had Funeral Pyre on 7″ but I was barely out of short trousers when The Jam were number one) I could listen to it without the appreciation of what came before. That’s the reason I still rate Bowie’s Tonight album far higher than I’ve any right to (I bought it aged 14 on the strength of Blue Jean and played the album to death), but unless you’ve grown up with the artist, you’ll find a fondness for your point of entry that perhaps doesn’t match the accepted version of what’s hot and what is not. As I think about it, the Style Council’s version of Promised Land (alongside the Stone Roses pre-gig playlists) was the reason I looked at house music from a different perspective. Maybe it wasn’t all generic rubbish after all.

Joe SmoothPromised Land

Despite the relatively decent placing of Promised Land (number 27), Polydor got cold feet and decided against releasing Modernism. Ever obtuse, Weller had kept it off the album at any rate. Modernism eventually found its way onto the Style Council’s all-encompassing ‘Adventures Of....’ box set and in more recent times has benefited from a vinyl reissue – haven’t they all – and it remains an interesting product of its times.

A couple of years later, Weller would re-use the album’s That Spiritual Feeling for the b-side of his Into Tomorrow single, the track that truly kickstarted the next phase of his career. “Guitar music is on the way out,” a Decca executive famously told The Beatles at the start of the 60s. I wonder if Polydor regret being so dismissive of Paul Weller as he told them the same in 1989? If only they’d stuck by him. Re-strapping his guitar certainly paid dividends for the ever-restless Weller. What record company wouldn’t want a slice of those profits?