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Affiliating yourself to tribal youth culture was once the be all and end all for musically-inclined teenagers, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Pre Stone Roses, the teenage Ian Brown was at various times a scooter boy, a northern soul disciple, a mod and a punk (a ‘monk’?!). When the future king of the swingers heard a local rumour that The Clash were in a Manchester recording studio he and his pal dropped any immediate plans they might’ve had and set about tracking down the only band that mattered to them. Unbelievably, they happened past a local music shop just as Topper Headon was trying out one of their kits. Even more unbelievably, after standing around watching The Clash’s heartbeat thrash seven shades from the kit, Brown and his pal were invited back to the studio by Headon to watch The Clash in action.
What unfolded was not any old recording session. The Clash were in the studio to record Bankrobber with reggae artist (and Clash support act) Mikey Dread in the producer’s chair. On the band’s timeline, the track would be released between the ubiquitous double London Calling and hotch-potch triple Sandanista! albums, a stand alone single that CBS originally refused to release. “It sounds like David Bowie playing backwards,” they argued stupidly. Only after import copies began selling in chart-bothering quantities did the label relent and release.
The Clash – Bankrobber/Robber Dub
It’s a terrific single, a million miles from the tinny, phlegm-spittled ramalama of their early stuff and a surprising left turn from some of London Calling‘s more arena-ready and FM-friendly tracks.
Bankrobber is epic, widescreen Clash; dub-inflected, full of twanging spaghetti western guitars and never-ending. Those doom-laden backing vocals went on for so long they ended up on The Specials’ Ghost Town the following year.
Bankrobber was the next logical step in dub for The Clash, coming a few months after their faithful attempt at Willie Williams’ Armagideon Time which appeared on the b-side of London Calling‘s lead single. In an unlikely instance of punk karaoke, the original plan for recording Armagideon Time involved the band visiting the famous Studio 1 in Kingston to record their vocals on top of William’s backing track. This was nixed straight away but as Mick Jones lamented, “they were happy enough to sell us the publishing for it though.”
Recorded (and renamed) with Kosmo Vinyl in London, The Clash’s version is free-form and ad-libbed after the 3 minute mark. Vinyl’s instruction for them to stop after ‘the perfect length for a pop single’ was roundly ignored, with Strummer shouting, “don’t push us when we’re hot!” Listen for Kosmo Vinyl’s voice and revel in The Clash’s musicianship and spontaneity from then on in.
The Clash – Justice Tonight/Kick It Over
Willie Williams‘ ‘original’ version was itself built around the backing track for Real Rock, an early Coxsone Dodd/Sound Dimension release (and a future posting for sure), drawing a direct line from the pioneers of roots reggae to the trailblazers of punk.
I wonder if Ian Brown and his pal were aware of that back then in that recording studion in Manchester.
As is the way at this time of year, lists, polls and Best Of countdowns prevail. Happily stuck in the past, the truth of it is I’m not a listener of much in the way of new music. Idles seem to dominate many of the lists I’ve seen, and I want to like them, but I can’t get past the singer’s ‘angry ranting man in a bus shelter’ voice. I’ve liked much of the new stuff I’ve heard via 6 Music and some of the more switched-on blogs I visit, but not so much that I’ve gone out to buy the album on the back of it.
If you held a knife to my throat though, I might admit to a liking for albums by Parquet Courts and Arctic Monkeys, both acts who are neither new nor up and coming. I listened a lot to the Gwenno album when it was released and I should’ve taken a chance on the Gulp album when I saw it at half price last week, but as far as new music goes, I think that’s about it. Under his Radiophonic Tuckshop moniker, Glasgow’s Joe Kane made a brilliant psyche-infused album from the spare room in his Dennistoun flat – released on the excellent Last Night From Glasgow label – so if I were to suggest anything you might like, it’d be Joe’s lo-fi McCartney by way of Asda-priced synth pop that I’d direct you to. Contentiously, it’s currently a tenner on Amazon which, should you buy it via them, is surely another nail in the HMV coffin.
2018 saw the readership of Plain Or Pan continue to grow slowly but steadily in a niche market kinda style, so if I may, I’d like to point you and any new readers to the most-read posts of the year. You may have read these at the time or you may have missed them. Either way, here they are again;
An article on the wonder of The Specials‘ b-sides.
Skinhead Moonstomp by Symarip is like a rocksteady Slade; a 14 hole high bovver-booted ‘n braces metaphorical boot to the haw maws, all squeaky organ and call and response football terracing vocals. If it fails in its mission to have you skanking awkwardly from the waist down you should take yourself immediately to your nearest A&E and ask for a shot of something even more uplifting, should such a thing exist. And if you do find anything more uplifting than this terrific record, say now.
Symarip – Skinhead Moonstomp
Released on Trojan in 1970, Skinhead Moonstomp was nothing more than a cult classic, a grinding, two chord call to arms to take to the dancefloor with all like-minded brethren of the subculture. It would be the 2 Tone craze at the end of the decade that brought the record to wider attention when on its re-release the record crept inside the Top 60. It was even packaged in a suedehead-friendly picture sleeve.
Skinhead Moonstomp‘s popularity continues to this day, belying the lowly chart position and being ever-present on ska and reggae playlists. If you ever find yourself at a ska night, you can be certain you’ll hear it before the night is out. You might also hear Derrick Morgan‘s Moon Hop played immediately before it.
Derrick Morgan – Moon Hop
As is the way with many reggae hits, Skinhead Moonstomp is based around an older record. If you were being kind you might suggest Symarip recorded their version in strict homage to the original. If you were being cynical you might suggest they unearthed a hidden gem of the genre and released ‘their’ record to an uneducated public. The Specials Too Much Too Young is simply a sped-up take on Lloyd Terrell’s Birth Control, after all. You knew that already though.
The Specials – Skinhead Moonstomp
As is also the way with great reggae records, Symarip’s version provided the gateway for the next generation. Those self-same Specials on that self-same Too Much Too Young EP stuck a live medley on the b-side that was based around their take on Skinhead Moonstomp. I’d wager the more sussed and streetsmart Specials’ fans quickly tracked down those two tracks that The Specials had been listening to. Me? I was too busy getting my burgundy Sta-Prest and Y cardigan from Irvine market to consider anyone but The Specials had written such a stomping, marginally violent track. Imagine the baffled confusion of discovering many years later that Madness didn’t in fact write One Step Beyond and then the thrill of discovering Prince Buster on the back of it.
Elastica tend not to appear on many of the lists that constitute the Best Christmas Songs In The World…Ever. Back in 1995, only a year or so since they’d been ever-regulars on the covers of the music press yet long enough to have found them residing in the same ‘remember them?‘ category previously kept warm for them betwixt debut and follow-up album by the Stone Roses, they recorded a BBC Session for Mark Radcliffe that included a loose cover of Ding Dong Merrily On High.
It’s loose in all manner of the word. A band plagued by serious, secretive drug addiction could hardly put their name to a song called Ding Dong Merrily On High. And rather than run through a facsimile of the winter favourite, they instead rewrote most of the words, played the recognisable Christmas carol melody on gnarly bass and, with a nod and a wink to Patti Smith, kept the Latin chorus intact and renamed their version Gloria.
Elastica – Gloria
It’s not bad in an arty, angular sort of way. Guitar strings scrape, the drummer keeps enthisiastic metronomic precision and Justine sulks her way through it doing her best Mark E Smith impression from behind her swinging, shining indie fringe. I wonder if they’d heard The Fall’s Christmas Peel Session by this point?
That’s a rhetorical question by the way. Of course they had.
Recorded around the same time as Elastica were the hot new thing, The Fall‘s Peel Session from December ’94 was notable for two things; One: The band did not one but two faithful, in a Fall kinda way, versions of Christmas standards. Two: The expanded line-up of The Fall at the time featured the glam-tastic sight and sound of two drummers, a shrivelled liver Glitter band for old post-punkers everywhere. Karl Burns was welcomed back into the fold and onto the drum stool after a 9 year absence alongside Brix, last seen on Fall duty 6 years previously.
Like malt whisky, that other great festive favourite, I find my appreciation for The Fall grows with each passing year. I discovered them around the time of Extricate and flirted with their back catalogue from thereon in, but it never really grabbed me in the way that I know it grabbed others. I admire them greatly though, whether they’re sawing their way through Eat Y’Self Fitter or going full-on garage band for their essential take on Mr Pharmacist or keeping it sparse and minimal on Hip Priest or spitting their way through Spoilt Victorian Child or….y’get the idea. There’s a Fall that’s suitable for everyone. It just takes some folk a while to find it.
The larger line-up in 1994 fairly suits the music. They bite and snarl their way through a daft version of Jingle Bell Rock, one-fingered keyboard parping the melody, lyrics changed to suit Captain Mark’s mood, the groop bottling the Christmas spirit in barely over a minute.
Hang on a minute! Christmas song done in band style? Rewritten lyrics?! BBC sesssion?!? I wonder where Elastica got that idea? They even nicked the snappy rattle of The Fall’s drum beat for their Christmas tune. They were never the most original of bands, Elastica, but then, you knew that already.
The Fall – Jingle Bell Rock
Post Office rot in hell, Friday night on Oxford Street,
All walking with green M&S bags, join them up with old beef and sprouts,
That’s the Jingle Bell Rock.
Not quite yer finger-poppin’, frost dusted holiday hit first crooned by bobby soxxer favourite Bobby Helms. That’s the Jingle Bell Rock indeed. And who’s complaining?
There’s a dilemma whenever a superstar rolls into town. Do you suck up the high ticket price in order to be in the same room as one of the greats or do you steadfastly refuse to pay over the odds to be sat in a seat so far from the stage that they share different post codes? Let’s face it. Paul McCartney is never going to play King Tuts. And bar the highly unlikely event of there being a BBC-endorsed ticket-ballot for a gig at the Barrowlands, the only way you’ll get (cough) up close and personal with McCartney is at a venue like the vast Hydro, the 3rd busiest concert venue on the planet. So, earlier in the year when the McCartney show was announced, I grouched and grumbled about the venue and the ticket prices…..then grouched and grumbled when I was placed on a waiting list to get on the pre-sale list and grouched and grumbled some more when I received an email to tell me due to ‘unexpected demand’ I’d been unlucky in securing tickets. In other words, it was sold out and I wasn’t going.
Thanks then to the unexpected bonus of a pal being invited to a family wedding the same night. His tickets were snapped up quicker than you can say “Fab!“, even if his seats were in the actual back row of the highest tier in the largest indoor venue in the land. The High-dro, as I nicknamed it for the night. We were so high up, the fake snow that fell on the audience during the seasonal Wonderful Christmastime fell from below us. Really! I’m sure I caught site of McCartney’s private helicopter at one point, hovering underneath us as the last loving notes of The End faded off and out into the ether.
Had it been an all-standing affair on the ground floor, it might’ve been very different. I’d hatched a plan to blag my way into the standing area by fair means or foul, a ‘plan’ that involved waiting until the ticket checker(s) on the door of the ground floor were distracted before dashing in and vanishing amongst the crowd. In the event, we were able to saunter through to the ground floor area unhindered (and man, once clear inside did we swagger with gallus abandon), only to be met with the surprising site of the whole area covered in seats. There was no standing area at all, not even a golden circle-type affair at the very front. A hike to the third floor it was.
Photo copyright of Stuart Westwood*, used by permission.
Not to matter. As Beatle Paul in his Beatle boots stomps his way through a rattlin’ and rollin’ A Hard Day’s Night, he doesn’t seem that far away. With his ‘tween song patter; all Beatles memories and moist-eyed tributes to his former bandmates, and video projections; a mix of goofy Beatles moments, swirling psychedelics and the occasional Rock Band graphic, he has the uncanny knack of making you feel he’s right there in front of you. Well, he is, but not actually right there. He’s down there. Waaaaay down there. We’re in the Cavern(ous) Club and he’s more Small McCartney than Paul McCartney, but man!, he’s on such great form that it hardly matters.
“I know you’re here for the Beatles’ numbers,” he says mid set. “…as the venue goes all twinkly with yer mobile phones. When we play our new stuff…..” he pauses for comic effect, “Black hole!”
McCartney indeed knows exactly what his audience is here for and for 3 hours, he unwraps a 39-song set that’s heavy on the hits from all eras of his career. His band is basically a beat band; two guitars, keys and drums, with occassional augmentation from a brass section, and they’ve got those Beatles harmonies and Beatles riffs down to a tee. They share mics, Beatles-fashion on Can’t Buy Me Love. They trade bluesy licks and John and Paul call-and-response vocals on a fantastic I’ve Got A Feeling. They huddle around a small drum kit for a mid-set run through of Love Me Do, sounding as fresh as the besuited moptops did on the day they recorded it. There’s a surprising, excellent In Spite Of All The Danger, the track demoed by The Quarrymen that ignited the Lennon/McCartney partnership. And there’s tons more; mid-period Beatles is represented by a sprightly Got To Get You Into My Life and a faithful Eleanor Rigby. Then there’s Blackbird…..We Can Work It Out….Lady Madonna…..Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite…..Back In The USSR…..Birthday……a majestic Something, started on one of George’s old ukeleles and finished in arena-friendly soft rock fashion…….an incredible selection of songs, all played exactly as you’d expect them to sound. McCartney’s voice may be a little shot here and there (and gone completely on the odd high note) but his band (and audience) more than cover with warm harmonies and killer musicianship.
Arguably, the Wings material is even stronger. The band The Beatles coulda been indeed. Longer, drawn out and more suited to arena rock than those early days Beatles’ numbers, they sizzle. Literally in the case of Live And Let Die whose indoor fireworks caused great excitement. The slow-creeping firework smoke finally found us midway through Hey Jude‘s na-na-na-nana-na-nas, a welcome smokescreen for the sudden tears that had caught me off-guard midway through a rollicking Band On The Run and hadn’t quite abated. Who knew ol’ 76 year old Paul, the groovy grandad in tight-fitting bespoke denim jacket with double thumbs aloft after every song could have such an effect?!? The effect continues through the spectacular ending. Following a rockin’ Sgt Pepper’s Reprise and a rollin’ Helter Skelter, McCartney returns to the piano for a heartstring-pulling Golden Slumbers. The Abbey Road medley follows, McCartney pulling on his Les Paul for a rocktastic triple guitar salvo in The End. It’s the perfect finish to a perfect show.
Given his age and given the fact that entire bands’ careers have come and gone since the last time he played Glasgow, it’d be a brave person who’d suggest they’ll see another Paul McCartney show in Scotland any time soon. It was a thrill to be present last night. Haste ye back, Paul.
* Unlike me, Stuart Westwood takes some of the best gig photos you’ll ever see. He was permitted to snap during just the first two songs last night then had to leave to get his shots to the agency who syndicates them around the world. That’s dedication for ye. He has been nominated for a Gold Award by the Society of Photographers in their Photos of the Year category. Look out for his name in the credits whenever a great gig shot grabs your attention.
In their early days, Low were known to obtusely turn the volume down at gigs rather than up, so that their audience was forced to listen to them. Perhaps that’s why they’re so called, named in a defiant, low-volumed protest to the ramshackle, turned-up-to-11 grunge bands of the day. Or perhaps it’s because the audience would often sit on the floor at their shows, again in defiance of the crowd surfing and body slamming that was commonplace on their circuit. I imagine though that they’re called Low simply because they have the knack of mentally bringing you down.
Low inhabit an arcane, sepia-tinged world where time slooooooows down, crawls to an eventual halt and, with a lethargic burst of lung-bursting effort, rolls into creaky reverse. Not for them the modern day currency of of a sampler or sequencer or ProTools production. Heck, they’ve only just discovered electricity. Low’s is a world where Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris are king and queen, where major chords segue into minor chords over the course of marathon-lengthed songs that belie their actual three and a half minutes and where an Everly Brothers harmony aces all. Listen carefully and you might hear the faint whirr of an old tyme 78 cranking up ethereally in the background.
They’re hard work, are Low. Their current album Double Negative has wormed its way quietly into the critics’ ‘Best Of 2018′ lists but I found it a bit slow, a bit samey and as tortuous as a month of Sundays. Perhaps I need a second listen. Perhaps I need to listen to it once, in all honesty, all the way through without feeling the need to tap my watch face and check that time was indeed moving forwards before giving up at track 3? 4? 9? I dunno. Perhaps I’ll do so after removing this pencil from my eye. Their Christmas album is a bit cheerier, the go-to hipster choice for those seeking a Mariah and Slade-free festive period, but it still has its treacly moments.
If you want to indulge in a little Low, may I point you in the direction of their slo-mo, downbeat shuffling take on The Smiths’ Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me. Soaked in reverb, bathed in pathos and moving majestically between Johnny Marr’s majors and minors, it’s fantastic. Gothic cowboy music at its very best.
Low – Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
Or you might want to try their achingly hearfelt take on George Harrison’s Long Long Long. The quiet Beatle’s original was never the most upbeat of tracks to start with but Low take it somewhere new. It sneaks under the radar and ebbs and flows, falls and rises and falls again with double vocal dynamics, scrubbed acoustic guitar and a droning keyboard that gently noodles it off and out into the ether.
My team went to the top of the league last night. No mean feat in a league dominated by the two Glasgow giants and their financial clout, the Edinburgh clubs with their large swells of season ticket holders and Old Firm-splitters Aberdeen, for too many times the bridesmaids but never the bride.
The achievement is a culmination in consistency. The record shows that in the calendar year, from January until now, Kilmarnock, a team who plays in a less than half empty stadium every other week, a team with less season ticket holders than most other teams in the league, a team who pays less to their top earners than an average bench warmer at Tranmere Rovers might earn in a week, has somewhat incredulously gathered more points than their competitors and is now the best team in the country. Today we sit at the top of the pile, looking towards a genuine top of the table box office clash at Celtic Park on Saturday.
If you’d suggested this a year ago, you’d have been laughed out the room. By then, our previous manager, Lee McCulloch, had fallen on his wobbly sword with the team rooted to the bottom of the league we’re now winning. Relegation, even at that stage in the season, was looking very likely. The appointment of the ‘correct’ manager was absolutely key to our team’s survival, not only in the top flight but also to our very existence. Enter Steve Clarke. A one season wonder at West Brom, he’d taken them to their highest-ever Premiership position before starting the following season poorly and paying the ultimate price. With family ties to the club (brother Paul was a stalwart in defence at Kilmarnock in the 80s), Clarke was enticed to take over the reins from McCulloch.
The difference between the two managers is there for all to see. The team is currently on a short but impressive run of 4 (or is it 5 now?) clean sheets in a row. Of the starting 11 in these games, 9 of the players played under our previous manager. Clearly, our success is down to Mr Clarke. At the club’s open day last season, I found myself face to face with his predecesor.
“Hi Mr McCulloch. What d’you think – top 6 this year?”
“Whit?!? Hahahaha!” (nudges one of the other coaches standing next to him. “Peter! Get this guy!” (looking back to me) “Tell him what you just asked me…..top 6! TOP 6!!! Hahahahahaha. Aye, right!”
Now. Even if you’re the manager and you think there’s zero chance of achieving the frankly average position of ‘Top 6’, you don’t go around laughing at the suggestion, let alone laughing your season ticket holders out of the room, especially with the season yet to kick off. The opening to a season, when a ball has yet to be kicked in earnest and all possibilities are endless is the best of times for a fan, especially for a supporter of one of the wee clubs. “This might be our year,” and all that. Yet here was the team manager (the team manager!) pissing on those dreams before our first game. McCulloch should’ve been saying, “Top 6? Nah, mate, we’ll be top 3 this season. Just wait and see.” Instead, our season was over before it had begun. Or, it was until the board saw sense, found some loose change down the back of the sofa and sent the diddy packing. I wonder what he’s thinking now.
The last 14 months have been the best of times for Kilmarnock supporters. Even in defeat, we competed. There was a thrilling midweek game against Hibs where we applauded our team off the pitch, despite shipping three goals. This proved to be the turning point in our fortunes. There was an incredible run of games this time last year where we dispensed of The Rangers, Celtic and Dundee in three of the best matches I’ve ever seen. One nil down to Rangers, Boyd scored a quick one-two and turned the final score in our favour. Youssouf Mulumbu, a player who’d shone in Clarke’s West Brom side slotted the winner in the Celtic game and inevitably earned himself a move to the champions in the process. Best of all was the Dundee game, a match we were winning then losing and, thanks to an anti-footballing Dundee team and some shoddy refereeing, found ourselves a man down as well as a goal down. As the game wore on, the character of the ten-man team came to the fore and, backed by a noisy, partisan and aggrieved home support, an equaliser was dug out before a thrilling winner was scored at the death. As the games, weeks and months rolled by, the team kept on winning from unwinnable positions, picked up points in the most difficult of away fixtures and gave us our best season in many a year. It was fantastic.
And it continues to be so. We’re top of the league. The words ‘Leicester City’ have started popping up in relation to our achievements and the potential this brings, whispered at first but now just that wee bit louder. No team out-with the ugly sisters has won the top league in Scotland since Paul Hardcastle’s ni-ni-ni-19 was top of the charts when, in May 1985, Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen reigned supreme. Of course, at least one of the two slighted Glasgow giants went straight out the following season and spent far more than they could afford on players in a vulgar display of money over merit in a bid to wrestle the title back from the daring Dandy Dons, an arrogant and self-entitled manoeuvre which we in Scotland are sick of by now.
Much of Kilmarnock’s fate in the coming months depends on how they survive the January transfer window. A winning team features winning players and it wouldn’t be the first time one of the big boys from just up the M77 has chapped our door waving offensively woeful figures under the noses of impressionable young players and their agents. More worryingly, a winning manager such as Clarke will have made chairmen up and down the country sit up and take notice. Should any of their charges have a wobble and their coathook becomes a bit shooglier than normal, Steve Clarke must be one of the names in the frame. So we’re dreamers, yes, yet we’re also realists. It’s a nail-biting time and it can all change in an instant. The two teams immediately behind us have games in hand and it’s quite possible we’ll have slipped to ‘only 3rd’ by the close of the weekend, by which time, if you’re only just getting around to reading this article, this blog will read like virtual chip paper.
Here’s Dizzy Dizzy by Can, a track as thrilling, unpredictable and meandering as one of those Greg Stewart runs that leaves baffled defenders toe-tied in his wake.