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Just as there are two Pink Floyds – the Syd-era Pink Floyd and the Syd-less, stadium straddlin’ “Floyd, man”, there are two Fleetwood Macs.
Before their ‘70s metamorphosis into a coke-dusted, partner-swapping omnipresent global phenomenon with Rumours repeatedly rotating across much of the planet on an hourly basis, ‘The Mac’ was a blues-infused single-sex beat combo more used to the claustrophobic stage of the Marquee in London’s West End than the widescreen enormodomes of the American Midwest. Lead by the soulful playing of Peter Green, their inward-looking 12 bar jams are a gazillion miles and a gazillion sales away from what they would become…and in many ways, far more exciting for it.
I’ve always had a thing for the battered and feral Oh Well.
Fleetwood Mac – Oh Well
I know it’s an almost hackneyed and cliched tune nowadays, all blazing Les Pauls and up the frets fireworks, but I love it. Low-slung and slinky, it’s a proper groove of a tune, helped in no small way by the loose and funky acoustic riff, the cowbell punctuation marks and the Bo Diddley-isms of the off-beat maracas.
The electric guitar on top, playing the same riff as the acoustic, with occasional forays into harmonies – Thin Lizzy must’ve loved Oh Well – is, well, electrifying. With fingers as long as his corkscrew hair, Peter Green curls his digits into the six strings, teases lightning rods of hot-wired blooze from the fretboard and lets fly. He would later call the riff ‘throwaway‘. Pffft. Yeah.
This version from 1969’s Monster Music Mash on the BBC is where it’s at.
There’s no hierarchical posing here, no shunting of the drummer to obscurity behind the lead singer. Just four guys, equal status, equally responsible for the sound to be made. The toms are a riot of pre-Pollocked home design and are justly tubthumped into the ground. There are three guitarists, none of whom is playing bass, one of whom ignores the gorgeous tobacco-coloured Strat around his neck in favour of being Brian Jones on the maracas for a couple of minutes, and another who is clearly so into the intricacies of playing The Riff, a blur of fringe and guitar face, he’s lost in the heady racket that his band mates are cooking up.
I bet Lee Mavers used this clip when planning out The La’s particular mode of sonic attack. I bet they’d have done justice to a version of Oh Well too. I doubt we’ll ever find out. Mavers, as Peter Green was, is, as you well-know, one of music’s enigmas.
I was delivering a series of lessons recently on Rosa Parks, the black American who in 1955 refused to give up her seat to a white woman on the bus; an action that began the stirrings of the black community to seek, demand and fight for equal rights. I say ‘community’ as if there were ‘only’ a few thousand affected people here. By the mid 1950s, America had a population of around 150 million people, 15 million of which was black. So, 10% of the population was denied the right to sit where they wanted on the bus, go to their preferred church, drink in a bar, use a public toilet, sit in the doctor’s waiting room and naturally go about their daily lives as they would have liked to.
The learners in my class were switched on and interested in this. Despite being typical west of Scotland young people living in an area with little diversity, they knew the rights and wrongs of it. Someone pointed out the parallels between Rosa’s story and that of the refugees coming into Britain by boat only to be deported to Rwanda, how they were denied their basic rights and were treated differently. This led to a conversation about Ukrainian and Syrian refugees, some of whom are in the local school community. Regardless of the complexities of these issues, the kids recognised one thing – no one should be treated differently because of where they’re from or due to they way they look, act or talk. In my experience, young folk are quick to speak up on unfairness. They’ll quickly recognise when something is unjust and often be very vocal about it. Their stance on racism and tolerance of others was a small beacon of light in a United Kingdom that is becoming hideously right wing and intolerant, (mis)lead and governed by a party that is verging on the fascistic. These young learners might just offer us a way out.
I really wanted to point my learners towards Billie Holiday‘s Strange Fruit, but I had reservations about the song’s subject matter. Usually when your conscience speaks to you as a teacher, you listen to it. Experience has taught me that the last thing you want or need is an angry parent demanding to know why their 10 year old brought up the subject of mass race lynchings over the dinner table. So, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t.
Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
Strange Fruit is a powerful song, grotesque even once you know the subject matter. The lyrics, drawn from a 1937 poem (Bitter Fruit by Abel Meeropol), are a juxtaposition of the natural heaven and the human horrors of the Deep South; the pastoral scenes and bodies swinging in the breeze, the intoxicating smell of magnolia and the bulging eyes and twisted mouths of the lynching victims.
Can you imagine hearing it for the first time, those lines about the bulging eyes and burning flesh jumping out of the grooves and smacking you square on the cheek? Fruit for the crows to pluck? For the sun to rot? Oh! So she’s not singing about normal fruit? Jeez. There’s no way I could’ve played this to primary school children, no matter how mature and switched on they may have been.
Holiday’s eerie and otherworldly voice squeezes its way through the smoky ether of muted trumpet and vampish piano, a night club voice bereft of its usual sass or swing. Her delivery, unsurprisingly, is stately and precise yet understated and ghostly, full of restrained rage at the world in which she lives. Nowadays, it sounds like an ancient artefact beamed in from history, from the time of monochrome and gramophone, of prohibition and inhibition. That hollow-bodied jazz guitar that makes itself known right at the end adds perfect period definition to create a powerful piece of American art.
Holiday was scared to sing it initially. Afraid of what might happen when it was performed, she drew power from the death of her own father (he died of mustard gas poisoning at the end of the first World War, refused treatment due to being black). ‘I have to keep singing it,’ she wrote in her autobiography. ‘Not only because people ask for it, but because twenty years after Pop died the things that killed him are still happening in the South.’
The power of the song was such that during live performances, waiter service was halted at the tables and the room was set in darkness, save one solitary spotlight on Holiday as she sang. It was always her last song of the night. Sometimes the end of the song was met with rapturous applause. At other times, Holiday would be verbally abused for daring to sing it. Some audience members would walk out in protest mid song. What did they have to protest about? Holiday holding a mirror up to society? Promoters asked her not to sing it. Billie’s contract stated that she had the final say on that. Her label, Columbia, wouldn’t handle it. They deemed the song too controversial to release. Unperturbed, Holiday’s manager took it to a small independent label, Commodore, who pressed it and released the song. It garnered little to no airplay, ending up on the blacklist. Blacklisted. There’s some sort of irony there, yet here we are, 84 years later, still discussing its power.
Strange Fruit has lost none of its weight or ability to shock. It’s arguably the first in a rich lineage of protest songs that runs from the pre-rock ‘n roll jazz era to the dust bowl socialism of Woody Guthrie, past Bob Dylan in the ’60s and Stevie Wonder’s socio-political discourse of the ’70s and through Public Enemy to contemporary groups like Sault who are equally as angry about the world in which they live. Always vocal, never silent, calling out unfairness when it arises. Just like those young kids at school.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
It’s required listening, at least once a year, to submerge yourself in all things Nuggets. The Lenny Kaye-curated double album that became a box set and a franchise (and ended up an ever-decreasing dilution of the original) should be mandatory in every record collection. Kaye’s crate digging (to coin a now-cliched phrase) ensured the low hits and no hits of the day were immortalised alongside their rattlin’, rollin’, fuzz-friendly peers forever.
Without Nuggets, most of us would never have heard the giddy rush of The Knickerbockers‘ totally Beatles Lies or Mouse & The Traps thin wild Dylanisms, or fallen off their chairs at the sheer cheek of David Bowie nicking the Shadows Of Knight‘s Oh Yeah for the glam slam of ‘his own’ Jean Genie. Nuggets is jam packed full of, eh, nuggets; enough riffs and beats and organ motifs to keep most garage-influenced bands in material for the entirety of their career.
The Premiers – Farmer John
Farmer John by The Premiers is classic Nuggets. It’s built around a simple lyric and three stomping chords that fall somewhere between Louie Louie and Wayne Fontana’s Game Of Love; a ramalama of clanging guitars, tub thumping drums and double-time handclaps. The live-in-the-studio feel, with its ad-libbed count-in and hoots ‘n hollers ‘n screams ‘n shouts between the lines has the whole thing sounding like some sorority house frat boy party.
“Has anybody seen Kosher Pickle Harry?” asks the host. “Tell him that Herbert is looking for him.” And the band fall in and hit their stride. You can imagine them in matching cardigans and side sheds, Mighty White mile-wide smiles, instruments all held up at the same 30 degree angle, a crowd of bobbysoxers in front of them jerking and jiving to the head-bobbing teenbeat being played out.
‘Farmer John,’ they sing. ‘I’m in love with your daughter.’
‘Woah-woh,’ goes the backing, as innocent and wholesome and American as apple pie.
When Neil Young got a hold of the song, he ground its gears until it was slow and slothlike, a sludgefest played by old men with heavy guitars and heavier worldly problems. The antithesis of The Premiers’ version, Neil Young’s plays up somewhat to his alliteratively descriptive Godfather Of Grunge moniker and sucks all the joy from it in the process. In fact, Neil’s version is mildly threatening.
“I love the way she wiggles when she walks,” smirks old Shakey, done up in his best clean dungarees, his crosseyed gang of knuckle-trailing village idiots lurking goofily behind him. Uh-hur-hur-hur.
If I was Farmer John and Neil and his plaid-bedecked backing band showed up telling me that they were in love with my daughter, I’d be reaching for the ol’ double barrel and my best ‘You best git goin’ mister, we don’t want no trouble ’round here‘ line. At least The Premiers, for all their inferred frat boy up-to-no-goodness had the good grace to look Mr Farmer in the eye and give him the impression that she’d be in safe hands.
It’s no concidence that you could chop an axe in time to that slow ‘n steady Crazy Horse rhythm. You might be chopping logs. Or firewood. Or Farmer John’s daughter’s head, her champagne eyes finally giving up their sparkle just as the turned up to ten Les Pauls give up their howling feedback to the night.
If there was an exclusive school for the kids who were too cool for school, James Murphy would be too cool for even that. A drop-out and waster then doer and wooer on Brooklyn’s creative early 00s scene, he was a label boss, punk guitarist, engineer to David Holmes and DJ before striking gold with LCD Soundsystem. With his radar firmly fixed on the esoteric, Murphy’s band employed an amalgam of the scratchy funk of Talking Heads and the burnished chrome of New Order, close-up yet widescreen, with just enough cavity in the cadence to let his Mark E Smith-ish vocals through-uh.
LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge
Their first single, 2002’s Losing My Edge, is a magically arch and knowing nodding wink to an underground DIY scene that Murphy himself helped create. The music is great; a huge, jolting, on-the-one bassline and twitchy rhythm that sounds simultaneously Casiotone retro and man-machine futuristic, a No Wave elbow jerker from 1981 perhaps, (or a facsimile of Killing Joke’s Change – check it out), or the latest drop by the hottest new group this side of the L Train platform in Williamsburg.
I was there in 1968, I was there at the first Can show in Cologne.
I was there in 1974, at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City. I was working on the organ sounds.
I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band. I told him, ‘Don’t do it that way, you’ll never make a dime.’
I was the first guy to play Daft Punk to the rock kidzzz. I played it at CBGBs. Everybody thought I was crazy.
We all know I was there.
Murphy’s attention-grabbing half-spoken vocal is both rapt and rapped, reeling off a list of achingly hip groups and musical reference points, an exhausting display of one-upmanship, delivered deadpan and with at least half a tongue in cheek, a ‘completed it, mate!’ brag for men of a certain age.
I’ve never been wrong. I used to work in a record store. I got everything before anyone.
I was there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan.
I was there in Jamaica at the great sound clashes.
I woke up naked on the beach in Ibiza in 1988.
(Didn’t we all, James. Didn’t we all?)
Every line a small story in its own right.
Losing My Edge was written during a spell of unshakeable paranoia, when Murphy lived in constant fear of being ousted from his position as DJ and taste maker numero uno in New York’s most fashionable underground spots. He’d be playing Can and ESG and the B-52s and watch on as other DJs, seeing people’s reactions to these hot ‘new’ sounds began playing the same records in their own pop-up clubs. ‘His’ records were now ‘their’ records and Murphy was no longer the cool, edgy guy on the scene. At least, that’s what his paranoia told him.
I’m losing my edge to the kids from France and from London.
I’m losing my edge to the kids whose footsteps I hear when they get on the decks.
I’m losing my edge to the to the internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978.
I’m losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.
But I was there!
Perhaps you – yeah, even you! – record collectors, musical kleptomaniacs, scene hoppers, vinyl fetishists and snobs, are the butt of a twenty year old in-joke. Perhaps not. But, perhaps yes.
I heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody.
I heard you have a vinyl of every Niagara record on German import.
I heard that you have a white label of every seminal Detroit techno hit – 1985, ’86, ’87.
I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables. I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars.
I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know.
New! Now! is Fontaines DC‘s fantastically idiosyncratic take on Nick Drake’s wispy and ethereal ‘Cello Song. The Dubliners (DC = Dublin City, see?) grab Nick Drake’s original by its sullen, woollen coattails and pour a bucketful of distortion over a pounding, punishing backbeat and reimagine the song as a shit-kicking gutterpunk bruiser of a tune. It’s quite fantastic; unique, original and exactly how every band should approach attempting to cover the uncoverable.
Fontaines DC – ‘Cello Song
A lone cello creeps in, sounding like a ghost ship’s foghorn out in some woebegone ocean or other, clattering percussion rustles and rattles its way into an unforgiving hucklebuck beat, a caterwauling string section drags its heels across the soundscape and haunting/haunted aah-ah-ah vocals entwine themselves around the call and response guitar riffs to magic up an unholy and thrilling racket. Nick Drake does this bit too, but whereas his is otherworldly and mysterious, Fontaines DC give off seriously heavy don’t-look-’em-in-the-eyes vibes. Truly terrifying.
The vocals proper arrive, Grian’s Irish brogue undiluted and unforgiving and all the more powerful for it. The guitars, sounding like up-the-dial radio static turned up to 10, whip up a frenzy of controlled feedback and electric twang, menacing and panther-like, somewhere between the electrified slink of Hendrix’s Third Stone From The Sun and gentle sleep of Kevin Shields at his woozy, somnambulistic best; head music and just as effective as a mood-altering stimulant. Throughout it all, the titular cello. Those jarring, jagged strings scratch and scrape at scabrous skin, John Cale in the Velvets, if the Velvets had been born in Dublin 30 years later to Nick Drake-loving parents.
Taken from The Endless Coloured Ways, a forthcoming reimagining of Nick Drake’s back catalogue by all manner of contemporary artists (Philip Selway, Craig Armstrong & Self Esteem, Karine Polwart & Kris Drever) Fontaines DC’s thrilling cover has set the mark by which all other cover versions – Drake’s or otherwise – will now be measured.
‘Ignore the original recording of Nick’s, and reinvent the song in your own unique style,’ the bands were briefed. Fontaines DC have passed the test with flying colours. Turn the volume up and stick it on repeat.
Here’s Nick Drake’s original. Kinda meh now, isn’t it?!
Aw man. Neil Young sang that. It’s the sighing opening line to Pocahontas, one of his best, yet perhaps little-known songs. You though. You knew that already.
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to see the Aurora Borealis. You hear of folk booking Scandinavian get-aways at eye-watering prices, with the promise of seeing the Northern Lights up close and personal, only to return home with empty camera rolls and emptier wallets. There’s half a chance you’ll see them in Scotland, they say, especially the further north you go. It’s not unheard of though to see them on a clear late winter’s night as far south as Dumfries and Galloway.
Being on Ayrshire’s west coast, I’ve always lived in the faint hope that one night I’ll twitch the curtains and see the sky dancing above the neighbour’s house in a multicoloured hue of natural wonder. It’s a far-flung hope that, in the absence of Scandinavian Aurora Tours suddenly reducing their prices to recession-friendly 2023 numbers, I keenly hold onto. You can, then, imagine my flabbergasted seething jealousy and uncontrollable pissed-offness on waking yesterday morning to see my timeline flooded with wobbly amateur shots of yer actual Northern Lights dancing merrily in the skies above Irvine and Saltcoats and Millport and Arran and, y’know, half a dozen other places that are at most a ten minute drive from the room where I am writing this. No. Way. No fucking way. How did I miss it?!
There was Arran, silhouetted in black, the skies above ablaze in Coca-Cola reds and iridescent yellows and neon greens. Irvine Beach lit from above with raspberries and oranges and dancing limes. Ardrossan! Bloody Ardrossan, its skies painted in coppery crimsons and burnt umbers and glowing sage green, like a Farrow & Ball colour chart on heavy psychedelics, the colours of my dreams, red, gold and green, red, gold and green, to quote an old pal of this very blog. Every other photo on my timeline yesterday morning, from the expertly crafted time-lapsed professional shot to the shonkiest but smuggest of one-handed efforts showed a brilliant display of multicoloured, swirling, swaying dancing Aurora-lit Ayrshire skies. And I had slept through it all.
By the time I’d eaten my Cornflakes I’d downloaded an Aurora Watch app. There was a chance they’d return that evening, it said…a slim chance based on cloud cover, or the lack of, but a chance that had to be grasped.
We set out last night around 8 o’clock and headed for Ardrossan’s North Beach. It’s outside the town on the way to Seamill and West Kilbirde, and, now a sudden expert in light pollution, I was sure it would give us the best local chance of seeing them. As an added bonus, the Isle of Arran is just across the water. My mind was already replaying the sort of photos that this shonky amateur photographer would be smuggly sharing come the morning. Yes, the dark silhouette of Arran would provide the ideal contrast to the Holy light show that would part the clouds and have us all gasping, and I would have brilliant pictures to prove it.
Ardrossan North Beach was packed. Like, summer’s day back. Cars were parked randomly and, in the dark, dangerously on grass verges, left abandoned as their occupants scrambled onto the beach for the best possible vantage point. Truth is, anywhere in this part of the world is the ideal vantage point, but it didn’t stop this army of suddenly-expert skygazers to pitch up and stake their spot. There were campfires on the beach, a couple of tents, people out on the rocks, aiming for both solitude and spirituality, to be at one with God whenever he chose to start the show.
Nothing happened. The sky was thick with white cloud. The wind would occasionally blow the Cumulonimbus and Altostratus apart slightly and the crescent moon would poke its way through, teasing us with the promise of a none-more-black sky behind the cloud. No clear sky, no Aurora, they say. And we had no clear sky and definitely no Aurora. It didn’t stop some of our more challenged fellow watchers turning south to take pictures of the glowing sky above Saltcoats, the town’s light pollution (see, expert!) reflecting on the white cloud base to create a glow that, I’m certain, folk will be passing off as yer actual Aurora across social media today.
It’s the fear of being there and yet missing it, isn’t it? Have you ever seen that footage from one of those video bloopers shows, where the camera is trained on the space shuttle and, as the countdown gets to “lift off!” the camera operator swears loudly and quickly turns to their left, only to see a cloud of smoke and fire where the now-launched actual shuttle sat only seconds before? I was convinced that’d be us, looking where we thought was north, oblivious to the sky erupting behind us.
A quick scroll though Twitter confirmed that the light show had started its merry dance in other parts of the world. Gourock, 20 miles up the road had it good. Oban. Arisaig. Ullapool. The Hebrides. The more rural and further north, the better. But still the clouds above us kept their firmly knitted pattern tightly shut. My Aurora app fluctuated between a 6% and 7% chance of seeing any action, but still we, and about a hundred other hopefuls around us, persevered.
It was not to be.
We left around half past ten. Two and a half hours of willing clouds to part and laughing at strangers taking pictures of what was definitely not the Northern Lights and scrolling enviously through Twitter drew to a conclusion and we admitted defeat. We weren’t the first to leave, but we were definitely not the last. I drove home, one eye on the road, the other in my rear view mirror, lest the Lights sneaked out at our expense. I don’t think they ever did.
Super Furry Animals – Northern Lites
Super Furry Animals wrote Northern Lites after being convinced they’d witnessed the phenomena of the Aurora Borealis. One of our best-ever bands, the group’s eclectic, catch-all ethos is put to good use on a track that bursts with steel drums, frothy mariachi trumpet blasts and overlapping Beach Boys harmonies. A scraping guiro provides its Beck-like percussive rhythm, its fuzz guitar and Caribbean rhythmic groove swaying hips to the very end. If only I’d thought to play this last night in Ardrossan, it might’ve summoned up the Aurora to make a fleeting appearance.
“So I was playing at a party in Rod Stewart’s house and Rod is up singing with us. The band is doing a rockin’ version of Ooh La La...Kenney Jones on drums…the whole shebang…the place is going crazy. We’re in this massive living area…it’s more like a ballroom, really…all these folk are there…Gordon Strachan is playing tambourine…and suddenly these doors at the back of the room burst open and this mass of crow-black hair runs the length of the room, leaps onto stage, jumps on Rod’s back…and it’s Ronnie Wood! Fashionably late as ever. He starts to join in, so pecking order dictates I hand him my white Telecaster and he begins to play along. Problem is, Rod sings Ooh La La in the key of B, but Ronnie assumes it’s being played in the usual key of D…and my guitar is blaring, right…and Ronnie is shouting above the din, “Wot fackin’ key is this in?!?” He keeps playing…and because my Tele is the lead instrument, it’s full on red hot, right, so no-one can hear Ronnie, but he keeps on shouting, “The key! Wot fackin’ key are we playing in?!?” What a mess! I’ve got a video of it and it’s very funny. Eventually, I step back onto the stage and casually press my tuner pedal while Ronnie is distracted, and I mute my – his – guitar – and Ronnie. He doesn’t seem to notice though, he’s pulling shapes and jumping around and having the time of his life playing this song silently in the wrong key. Wee Gordon Strachan is still banging away on the tambourine, oblivious to it all. And I think to myself. as David Byrne might say, how did I get here?”
Joe Gallagher is one of our best-kept musical secrets, but chances are you’ve unwittingly seen or heard him at work. He’s worked with The Magic Numbers and Deacon Blue, been a guitar roadie for the Grim Northern Social and the Go! Team, supported The Proclaimers on an arena tour, supported and written with Turin Brakes and Martha Wainwright – “people like that” he says, inferring there are plenty others – and has been a reliable guitar slinger for hire in any number of ‘solo’ acts’ live shows (see above for proof). He’s played gigs and recorded music under a handful of names, notably Toy Tin Soldier, where his album ‘Yield‘ nestled inside the iTunes Top 10. Currently, in the post-lockdown musical sphere, he goes by the pseudonym of Concrete Kid, a project put together by Joe with help from Turn Brakes’ Olly Knights.
In Concrete Kid, Joe has created a one-man stage act that recalls Beck at his least hip hop and most melancholy. Think Sea Change for reference. His bassy and richly-ringing acoustic guitars interplay with processed beats and electronic flourishes. Joe’s voice is killer; whispered and close-miked, crystal-clear but with a wee bit of grit at the back, coming across like a cleaned-up Mark Lanegan or a Lanarkshire Lee Hazlewood. Not for nothing does he brand himself The Psychedelic Cowboy.
Concrete Kid – The Colour Green
Most importantly, he has the songs. Only a handful at present, but great tunes that can stand with the best of them. Whether in full-on studio production or played as stripped-back acoustic torch songs, they have the melodies, the craft and the strength to take Joe places in his own right.
Forthcoming single Summer Pearl should hopefully find its way onto the playlists of the more discerning radio shows – yr Gideon Coes and Billy Sloans and Jim Gellatlys and what have you.
Concrete Kid – Summer Pearl
I’ve seen Joe/Concrete Kid live a couple of times in the past year and already he has a handful of serious ear worms in his set. There’s a song called Sail Away, all strummed melancholy and skyscraping chorus, that would sound perfect wafting across the fields as the Glastonbury afternoon fizzles its way towards twilight.
I like the way Joe eases into his songs; there’s no knock-kneed rush to get through the chord changes or speed through the chorus. He relaxes both you and he into his world. His phrasing is cool and easy to the point of languid, curling its way around the chord changes like blue tendrils of Gitanes knitting their way through Simone Signoret’s fingers. Joe is in music for the long run, an ethos reflected in the time it takes for his songs to unravel before finally hitting you,
A portent of things to come, the so-far under wraps ColourGreen EP, with its dynamic mix of music and melody suggests that Concrete Kid is a name worth looking out for in the coming months. You can thank me come the end of the year when, by then, he may well be your new favourite artist.
You’ll find Concrete Kid on Soundcloud and Spotify and all the usual places that cloth-eared muppets like Chris Moyles never think to visit to go…
That’s the stall-setting opening gambit on Fallin’, the unlikely yet inspired collaboration between De La Soul and Teenage Fanclub, a marriage made in heaven that was strictly at odds with the hell of the rap/rock crossover that soundtracked 1993’s Judgement Night movie. Amidst a hotchpotch of hideousness – Helmet & House Of Pain, Biohazard & Onyx, Slayer & Ice T – and the odd briefly inspired moment – Dinosaur Jnr & Del The Funky Homosapien’s choppy and groovy Missing Link, Sonic Youth & Cypress Hill’s dark and, er, dope hymn to smoking (I Love You Mary Jane), De La Soul’s daisy age hip hop beats melded with TFC’s Bellshill beat and created the album’s best track that, 30 years later (!!!) sounds fresher than ever.
With De La Soul being in the news this week on the back of the death of Dave Jolicoeur (Trugoy the Dove), I’ve taken to playing many of the group’s early sample-savvy singles and debut album at a decent volume. The track I keep returning to though is Fallin’. It’s been played at every available opportunity; in the car, doing the dishes, sorting the washing, brushing my teeth, boiling the kettle, texting my pals… it’s a real beauty of a track. Stick a microphone in front of me and I reckon I could bust out a pretty faithful recreation of the opening verse’s rap. But don’t. I’m a white guy from the west of Scotland and we’re not known for our flowability skills on the mic.
Teenage Fanclub & De La Soul – Fallin’
Teenage Fanclub are, as you are well aware, four white guys from the west of Scotland too and, while they wisely left the rapping to the masters of the art, they do contribute some soulful ‘doo-doo-do-do‘ adlibs in the background – possibly aping, or just plain stolen from Biz Markie or the Steve Miller Band, as you might spot later.
The track is built around a sample of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’, a widescreen open road of a record, as American as truckstops and Telecasters, with references to Elvis, Jesus, Ventura Boulevard, Mulholland Drive and endless freeways, sung in Fanclubesque multi-harmony atop a bed of rich acoustic and clean chimin’ electric guitars. There’s a rumour, unsubstantiated, that it plays at maximum volume whenever white American men of a certain age cash in their one-way ticket for that final trip along life’s highway and park the Cadillac outside the pearly gates. I guess I’ll never know.
It’s something of a surprise, then, to find out that the idea for building the track came, not from the four guitar-crazy Scottish musos who may well have played along to a Tom Petty record or two in their time, but from the magpie mind of De La Soul’s Posdnuos. More of that in a bit though. Firstly, how on earth did this heaven-sent collaboration come to be?
Gerry Love, bass player with Teenage Fanclub at the time, alongside Brendan O’Hare, former TFC drummer and inspired catchphrase merchant very kindly offered to cast their surprisingly clear minds back three decades and reminisce exclusively for Plain Or Pan.
Gerry: De La Soul came over to Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire – we were mixing Thirteen at Revolution Studios in the town. Originally we were approached via our American label DGC (Geffen) to ask if we fancied collaborating with PM Dawn. As we were weighing up the offer we were updated with the news than PM Dawn couldn’t make it after all and would we like to work with De La Soul? It took us less than a second to say yes. Like most people of our generation we were big fans of their work. Three Feet High and Rising was a massively important record.
Brendan: De La Soul (and their weed…and their preconceived ideas of us) came over to the studio. I think they thought we were Tom Petty, which we weren’t. They were hilarious once they realised we were equally hilarious.
Speaking to LA Weekly in 2009, De La Soul’s Posdnuos explained further.
Posdnuos: They (the Judgement Night people) started pairing up different artists. We could’ve been paired up with familiar names, but we didn’t know who Teenage Fanclub were at the time, so we picked them.
Brendan: The track sorta happened when they muscled a drumbeat out of our Alesis SR16.
Gerry: I remember the session started with a drum beat programmed by Maseo. I put down a bass line, Raymond put down a guitar line and then Posdnous and Trugoy started working on the lyric while at the same time going through a box of records they had brought looking for something to sample. It was really impressive to see how they worked. In a matter of hours they had recorded the vocal. We all put down some harmony vocals.
Posdnuos: We were taking a break from brainstorming ideas. We happened to be sitting in a little reception area outside the studio, and Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ video came on. I’ve always been the person in the group, who when he hears certain words, I take them and apply them to a certain thing. It started as a joke – ‘Hey, let’s make a song based off a Tom Petty video!’ Then Dave (Trugoy The Dove) said, ‘let’s spin it about us falling off as a rappers.’ So we went to the store, bought the Tom Petty CD, and based it around the song.
Then we got a bassline from (Biz Markie’s) Nobody Beats The Biz, the Steve Miller sample (listen carefully and you might spot a morsel of more ‘doo-doo-do-dos’ from Fly Like An Eagle), and a snippet of Petty’s voice and it came together pretty fast.”
Gerry: I saw that Posdnous say that they got the bass from a sample. That’s complete nonsense! For the record: it’s my part, I came up with it. The bass line doesn’t feature anywhere on that Biz Markie track.
They did add the Tom Petty sample at the end though, and then that was it – all done and dusted in a few days.
Spot the samples…
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Free Fallin’
Biz Markie – Nobody Beats The Biz
Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle
What began as something of a throwaway track to fill space on a compilation album ended up a fully fledged De La Soul track, so much so that Tommy Boy, De La Soul’s label, wanted to include it on Buhloone Mindstate. The band nixed that idea though, and so the group’s third album’s loss was most definitely Judgement Night‘s gain.
Gerry; A few months later we flew out to Chicago to make a promo video with them.
Brendan: The recording of the video is one of my favourite memories.
The video is great, both groups coming together to goof around in an American high school classroom. De La Soul are the academics, TFC the class goons. Gerry spends his time sleeping in the back row alongside a bored Brendan, with an equally bored-looking Norman in front of him. Swotty goody two shoes Raymond sits up straight at the front with Maseo and Posdnuos the ‘teacher’.
When the video cuts to a school drama production, we see the two acts sharing the stage, De La Soul rapping in triplicate as a clearly tickled Teenage Fanclub play out the tune, a collection of acting kids weaving in and out of the happy stew.
Gerry: De La Soul were just really friendly guys. The whole thing was one of the most unexpected things that ever happened in my time in Teenage Fanclub and one of the most rewarding. As a track, I think it still sounds pretty good.
Brendan: It was sad news about Trugoy. He was lovely and keen on yoghurt.
There was a brief period at the tail end of the ’80s when two music cultures collided to create an exciting new sub-genre. Partly brought on by Happy Mondays’ in-print enthusing of Detroit techno and partly by the Stone Roses’ approach of playing dance music before they took to the stage, a movement of youth who’d lapped up their own Stones and Beatles dared to cross the divide between guitars and grooves and, arms aloft and flying high, wholeheartedly embraced the best of both scenes. In Irvine’s Attic, you could dance yourself dizzy to Pacific State and State Of The Nation in the same thrilling ten minute sequenced spell, our own Saturday night fever soundtrack that was absolutely replicated in provincial towns up and down the country.
The bands that sprung up around this ideal took the cross-pollination of clashing cultures and ran with it, for as long as the record companies were happy to throw their money northwards in the vain hope they’d land themselves another Mondays or Roses. Some of the acts – The Charlatans, obviously, broke out in their own right. Some of the others had one or two good songs, one great song, even – The High’s Box Set Go, Mock Turtles’ Can You Dig It – and some of the acts might even have managed to squeeze out a decent album – World Of Twist’s kaleidoscopic and swirling Quality Street springs to mind, but many of them burned briefly then fizzled out, shrinking back to the suburbs as the dirty exhaust fumes of American grunge spewed forth in Nirvana’s Converse-trod trail. ‘Baggy’ or ‘Madchester’ (eugh) or ‘Indie Dance’ was, then, a placeholder in time…but those great songs live on.
The best of all is arguably Paris Angels‘ All On You (perfume). A track, I think, rather than a song, it magpies the best of everything into one era-defining single that still thrills over 30 years later. Take a monochromed Curtis-ish vocal and team it with the sort of girlish adlib that’s floated straight off an anonymous house stomper. Stick them atop some chiming, Marr-esque guitars. Throw some sequenced acidy squelches across it and then polish the whole thing to a see-your-face-in-it brilliance; All On You (perfume) is a proper rush.
Paris Angels – All On You (perfume) – with added John Peel at the end.
Quite how they managed to sow the shiny seeds of All On You from the unholy clatter that represented the band’s sound at the time must be down to the producer, so kudos to Michael Johnson (engineer on no less than Blue Monday) for coaxing such an airbrushed sound from the band’s grizzled indie.
The band’s roots are easy to identify from the swirling slab of industrial Mancunian twist and shout below. Very of its time, it rattles and ricochets like a stretching out ACR or Happy Mondays at their esoteric best. Dark, dense and serious, with the tentacles of the baggy beat and a wandering electric guitar – all bent 3rd strings and chorus pedal – creeping through its cracks, it’s a signpost of where they’d come from and where they’d briefly be going…
Paris Angels – Stay (Peel Session)
Should such things matter to you (and of course they do), it’ll have you double-checking the label on the record for a Factory logo or catalogue number that isn’t there. Yes, despite all necessary Factory ingredients being present; a clattering, enthusiastic rhythm, hot-wired chicken scratch guitar, a shouty Mancunian frontman oozing oodles of effort over ability – all housed in a subtle and arty sleeve, considered typeface ‘n all – Perfume was released on the perfectly-named Sheer Joy label. All bands have one great song to their name. Perfume (All On You) was Paris Angels’.
At the start of the ‘90s, Postcard Records put out The Heather’s On Fire, an essential collection of early Orange Juice material, much of which was presented in a form far more ragged than the better-known versions. Two words on the rear of the sleeve are key markers.
‘Buffalo Underground’ they say, stamped unobtrusively in the corner, but a pair of words, a phrase, which will have even the most amateur of sleuths making sense of the reference.
Those post-punk bands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s – the Postcard, Pop Aural and Fast Product groups particularly, hopped up on pure self belief following the barrier-breaking Clash shows at the Glasgow Apollo and Edinburgh Playhouse – looked far beyond the obvious draw of mop-topped Liverpool and drew their entire influence (style and song) from America. No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977, remember?
Buffalo Springfield encouraged, demanded even, ringing guitar lines played on fat, semi acoustic guitars, held chest high by musicians in checked shirts, fringed suede and worn-in denim, boot-lace ties ‘n all. The young Roddy Frame took keen notes.
The Velvet Underground offered up chic style, unrivalled attitude and an innocence masked as aloofness. Take three chords, fall in together and keep going without stopping until the song is over. Look like you mean it and folk’ll believe you. There’s the ethos of Postcard in a nutshell. No pun intended.
The entirety of the Scottish post-punk music scene was in thrall to the Velvet Underground especially, and most of the acts – Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, obviously (“it’s ob-vious”), but also Scars, The Fire Engines, Josef K, James King and The Lone Wolves, even Bourgie Bourgie and Jazzateers, achieved just about their 15 mins of fame. This became totally apparent at Saturday night’s Hungry Beat event at the CCA in Glasgow, a mammoth 5 hour-long music ‘n chat extravaganza, put together by the people responsible for the era-defining book of the same name.
The main driver is Douglas MacIntyre, guitar totin’ scenester, label boss (Creeping Bent) and owner of the hippest address book in the land. Draw one of those Pete Frame family trees with his name at the centre and you’ll finish with a messy and jigsawed who’s who of 20th Century Scot-pop.
James T Kirk. Malcom Ross. Davy Henderson. Campbell Owens. Bobby Bluebell. Mick Slaven. Ken McCluskey. Tam Dean Burn. James King. Monica Queen. Norman Blake. Grahame Skinner. Katy Lironi and others all branch out in interconnected ways. Some of the musicians shared groups or rehearsal rooms or labels or bills, and all of them did exactly this at the weekend when they joined forces for two 70+ minute sets that played out like one gigantic, rolling encore, The Last Waltz for the children of the Velvets, each section registering one notch higher on the thrill-o-meter than the previous. In the future, suggested Warhol, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. For the bands and songs who have stayed under the radar all these years, Saturday night was their night.
Douglas, playing mainly cool, clean 12 string jangle on a vintage Burns (of course) guitar led a band made up of Mick Slaven and/or Malcolm Ross on sparkling, searing lead, Campbell Owens on bass and Stuart Kerr on drums. With each guest vocalist or guitarist (or both), the big hitters and back catalogues of all those wonky, individual and inventive groups of yore were played out to a wholly appreciative (and minor celeb-studded) crowd.
Was that Eddi Reader pogoing down the front as the assembled group jerked their way through a rubberised take on Gang Of Four’s Damaged Goods? Yes. Yes, it was. As backing vocalist on Gang Of Four’s live shows, perhaps she should’ve been up there with them. Not that there was much space for pogoing on the CCA’s busy stage. “There wisane enough women up there,” she complained later.
Monica Queen is a highlight, stomping and prowling as she takes control of Altered Images’ Dead Popstars. A lilting, countryish run through of Strawberry Switchblade’s Trees And Flowers segues without ceremony into a rich ‘n twanging version of, yes!, the aforementioned Velvet Underground’s Sunday Morning. It’s a beauty.
Ken McCluskey and Bobby Bluebell play their own Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool, the song they created after Alan Horne at Postcard challenged them to write a song as good as The Monkees’ Last Train To Clarksville.
Fay Fife owns the stage for two sharp blasts of Rezillos, with the frantic, hundred mile an hour racket of Can’t Stand My Baby just pipping Top Of The Pops to the post.
James King pulls low a pair of VU Ray-Bans and delivers a marvellous, Byrdsy Fly Away. High on jangle, reverb and twang, it’s one of the era’s great forgotten singles. Sensational stuff.
Norman Blake joins on guitar as the forever hangdog Stephen Pastel turns back the years with a couple of Pastels songs, a chugging, disciplined, and Krauty Baby Honey raising an already high bar. “Alan Horne suggested we be a synth pop group,” says a smiling Pastel to a tickled crowd.
Norman will be back later, unusually guitarless, to take vocals on two deep and emotional Josef K tracks. Downbeat but intense, Norman provides a real show stealer.
But back to the big hitters. Roddy’s Oblivious flies past in a blur of Malcom Ross fretboard wizardry, the lightning quick runs of the original flying tightly from his frets. Orange Juice’s Felicity rattles past in a giddy rush of whoa-whoas and well-rehearsed endings. Rip It Up, played by both Malcolm Ross and James T Kirk is slinky and chrome, its Chic-isms causing heads to bob and hips to sway.
Fire Engines’ Candyskin produces more shambling Velvetisms before Davy Henderson himself joins proceedings for a giddy You’ve Got The Power and a superstar karaoke blast of Iggy/Bowie’s Success. “Here comes success!” the group shout/sing in unison, a marker for how the evening has gone.
The ‘encore’ – no one has left the stage but we’re well over time and many an anxious ticket holder has begun the quick march for the last train home – is, as Bobby Bluebell describes by way of introduction, ‘the best single ever written and recorded in Scotland.’
Orange Juice – Blue Boy
A rattling, galloping run through of Blue Boy follows. Orange Juice’s original perfectly straddles that sound of the ‘Buffalo Underground’- clean and jangling and melodic, with a needles-in-the-red, cheese-grater guitar solo to sharpen the senses. Yer actual James T Kirk is on hand to kick out the jams, coaxing the ear-piercing main offender from his fingers – the kind of solo that electrifies the fillings in your teeth and leaves you wanting more, more, more.
*My photos were rubbish, so most photos here are ‘borrowed’ from the social media feeds of Lauren Bacall, Iain Wilson, Andrew Thomas, Trevor Pake and Vivienne Wilson. I hope you don’t mind, and thanks in advance