Get This!, Live!

Sound Waves

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

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

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

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

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

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

FathersonMaking Waves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Bonus Track

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

FathersonMaking Waves (acoustic)

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

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

Get This!

Eye Tunes

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

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

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

PixiesPlanet Of Sound

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

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

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

Alternative Version

Spending Warm Summer Days Outdoors

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

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

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

Then we sat and looked at one another.

Passing golf fans eyed us suspiciously.

It was Grant who started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who wrote it?” she wondered.

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

It’s lovely. Will you play it again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aye!” I said.

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

The SmithsAsk (June ’86 run-through)

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

 

demo, Get This!, Live!, Sampled

Twin Reverb

Check…check…check!

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

(Pause)

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

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

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

dur der-der-duh-der

dur der-der-duh-der

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

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

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

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

The BreedersCannonball

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

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

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

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

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

*Bonus Tracks!

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

The Breeders  – Cannonball (demo)

Fantastically lo-fi live version here:

The Breeders  – Cannonball (Live in Stockholm, 1994)

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

Radio Soulwax part 0

 

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

 

 

 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Cramp Yr Style

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

The Cramps – What’s Inside A Girl?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Gill & Scott, not yesterday.

Get This!, New! Now!

Finn de siècle

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

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

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

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

Crowded HouseBad Times Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get This!, Live!

(Mc)Nabbed In The Act

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

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

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

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

Ian McNabb, soundcheck, Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine 18.6.22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gone but not forgotten

Rock Goes To Collage

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

BuzzcocksFiction Romance

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

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

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

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

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

Live!

Nothing Ever Happens…In Irvine

I’m involved in the organisation and what-not of a new music festival in my hometown of Irvine this summer. Irvine, a town so often a regular stop-off for the big touring acts of the day – The Jam, Madness, The Clash, The Smiths, Human League, Oasis, Bjork – has been long-starved of big events for the last quarter of a century and now the Making Waves Festival is the first step to reversing that trend.

Headlining the Saturday night is Del Amitri. I interviewed Justin Currie a couple of weeks ago and this week the Irvine Herald ran a version of the article in my semi-regular Off The Freckord column. A second, alternative article was syndicated to different newspaper groups, including one or two nationals, so there’s a chance you may have seen it pop up somewhere in the past few days. What follows here is a jigsawing of the two independent articles into the one bigger piece. Think of it as an exclusive for Plain Or Pan readers.

Headlining Making Waves Festival at the Beach Park on 23rd July is Del Amitri. The Glasgow band, formed, believe it or not, almost 40 years ago, have released seven studio albums to date and tasted chart success with 1992’s Nothing Ever Happens, the straight-in-at-number-13 smash Always The Last To Know and Don’t Come Home Too Soon, the official song that would go on to soundtrack the national football team’s ubiquitous early exit from the World Cup in France, 1998. Top of the Pops appearances, Glastonbury slots, prestigious support tours… Del Amitri has given singer and focal point Justin Currie a full and interesting life. Ahead of Making Waves, Justin took the time to chat to Off The Freckord about lockdowns, live shows and longevity.

“Lockdown was surreal, wasn’t it? There was this strange anxiety everywhere, especially during that first one. ‘Am I going to die of it? Will I kill my friends if we meet up?’ There was a collective nervous breakdown, I think. Amongst musicians there was a real worry that we’d never play again. I’m sure artists like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison had those conversations inside their heads. I really missed performing. It was the first time since I’d been 14 years old when I hadn’t played live music somewhere. My whole life until lockdown had been structured around live music – other bands as well as my own – but the need to rehearse, work up new songs, continue the process that encourages you as a musician to keep going was suddenly and cruelly taken away. Unlike many others, I chose to do nothing in lockdown. Nu-thing. I watched the telly. I read books. I would see people out running and think, ‘Nah. That’s not for me.’ I’m a musician, so I dabbled in live streams for a bit. I didn’t like doing them though. The disconnect made it feel sterile and a bit naff. I stopped doing them quite quickly. I’m a songwriter, so I then tried to write songs… about lockdown. It was all contrived rubbish. Songs should be personal, but appeal universally, not be universal in flimsy subject matter. They were all quickly binned.

It’s great to be back with the promise of playing live in front of people again. We’re gearing up for a small run of shows, most of which have been rescheduled three or four times in the past couple of years. It’s strange, rehearsing. It’s not hard to play all those big hits…but it’s difficult to play them well. We’re all rusty and out of the way of playing them, so we’ve been working hard, oiling the Del Amitri gears and making them slick and professional-sounding. By the time we’ve completed these shows, we’ll be hitting the summer festival trail and we’ll be sounding great, that I can promise. We’re not what you’d consider a festival band, but I enjoy playing those smaller ones with an eclectic line-up and an audience who are all there for the music rather than the lifestyle. Festivals where you can see a reggae band on a small stage, or a folk band in a tent, alongside the big names on the main stage are always good fun. Making Waves seems like the ideal boutique festival in which to see Del Amitri. It should be good fun.

I feel really lucky to still be doing this. When I formed Del Amitri I was incredibly fortunate. We were signed quite quickly. We were championed by people like John Peel – a hero to me – and we found ourselves in the charts on a few occasions. We’d ran out of steam a wee bit by the early 2000s, but a few years later we were offered good money to go back on the road and play the hits. Why deny yourself the opportunity of doing something that you’re good at?! Luckily – again – we had an audience who were keen to come out and see us. We appeal to people, I think, because we’re a melodic band with reasonably intelligent lyrics. Good songs are good songs, regardless of the musical fashions of the time. It’ll be good to dust them off and give them a right good airing at the Beach Park!”

Best Festival Experience?

“Del Amitri has been lucky to have been asked to play some of the biggest and best festivals out there. We’ve played Roskilde in Denmark, T in the Park, Woodstock ’94, Glastonbury… Sometimes, at the bigger festivals there can be a bit of a disconnect between band and audience. Everyone is so remote and far away. The gap between stage and audience is sometimes larger than the venues we’d ordinarily appear in! I always enjoy playing them though. There’s nothing better as a musician than hearing your own songs sung back at you from an audience full of people who know every word.

Whenever Del Amitri played at T in the Park, I made the conscious decision to drive so that I could run from stage to stage and see as many bands as possible without needing to rush away after our set. I’ve seen some great bands over the years this way. Pulp playing Common People to a field full of up-for-it punters at a mid ‘90s T in the Park will live long in the memory, the soundtrack of the era played out for all who were there.”

Worst Festival Experience?

“When I was 15, my pal and I went to Leeds for the Futurama 2 post-punk festival. There was a great line-up and, this being our first festival, we marked the occasion by downing his dad’s stolen whisky on the train on the way to Leeds. I lost my wallet, my train tickets and my ticket for the gig. The woman on the door felt sorry for me and let me in. Midway through a brilliant set by Soft Cell, my whisky hangover started to kick in. I actually fell asleep and missed the rest of that day’s music. The next day, the person on the door was not so forgiving. They wouldn’t let me in without a ticket, so I spent a day wandering Leeds until it was time to go home again. At the train station I had to beg them to let me travel back to Glasgow and they did so by forwarding a bill for my ticket to my mum and dad. Memories, yes, but not a great festival experience.

Del Amitri played Glastonbury in 1990 and we were billed to go on after James. James! One of the greatest singles bands – every track in their set at the time was a solid gold hit and every other person in the audience was wearing one of those baggy James t-shirts. No way were we going on after them! I suggested Del Amitri went on before James – that was the sensible thing to do – but our management at the time seemed keen to keep the billing as it was and, after numerous arguments, James did indeed play before us. Hit after hit after hit…they just kept coming. We then took to the stage and by the third or fourth song, the audience had deserted us. It was a long slog to the end of our set, I can tell you that. So, Twin Atlantic – I believe you’ll be on immediately before Del Amitri at Making Waves. I know you’ll be good…just don’t be that good, will you?!”

What Makes The Perfect Festival?

“Obviously in Scotland the weather is key. It poured it down at Wickerman one year. Two weeks of glorious sunshine and then, just as Del Amitri were about to go on, down it came. Anything other than rain is what you hope for, isn’t it?

Variety at a festival is important. A varied and interesting line-up with an act or two that I’ve heard of but haven’t yet heard is always good. I’m a music fan as much as everyone else. I get just as much a buzz from seeing a great new band as you do.

A nice pint is always welcome too. Watching a great band with a beer is one of life’s pleasures, isn’t it!”

Justin Currie’s Ideal Festival Line-Up

“Let’s see. Making Waves has seven bands playing, so let’s go for a magnificent seven. Obviously, you need the funk, the soul, the ingredients that’ll get you moving, so without hesitation I’d need Sly & The Family Stone, Prince and James Brown as triple-headliners. The Beatles, obviously, another band with an amazing bass-playing singer (!) and, for the filth and the fury, the Sex Pistols too. On the smaller stages I’d have Culture in the reggae tent and I’d definitely need to find a space for Pharoah Sanders in the jazz/chillout/comedown area. Oh, and Cat Power too. She’s a great vocalist. She should play at every festival there is. That’s eight? I’m sure we can squeeze them all in!

Del Amitri headline Making Waves on Saturday 23rd July alongside Twin Atlantic, Fatherson, JJ Gilmour, Blue Rose Code, Nerina Pallot and Anna Sweeney. Tickets can be bought here. It’d be great to see you there.

*Oh! The Music!

Del AmitriNot Where It’s At

I once read a savage line about Teenage Fanclub being the Del Amitri it was OK to like, the inference being that Del Amitri and TFC aren’t miles apart in sound yet light years away from one another in terms of credibility. Who was it that said the music business was a cruel and shallow place?

Not Where It’s At is prime-time Dels; chiming, 12 string Tom Petty-ish guitar lines, crashing chords, honeyed harmonies, minor chord middle eights and enough melody packed into its three and a half minutes to keep you whistling until the cows come home. The Teenage Fanclub fan in your life would very much appreciate it, I think.

Get This!, New! Now!

Ceci n’est pas un article de blog

Betwixt and between the hotchpotch of raggedy-arsed guitar stranglers and expensively-suited slick blues musos, world music groovers and torch song balladeers, you might have spotted Belgian funk/pop act Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul on Later the other week there. They wouldn’t have been too difficult to spot, dressed as they were from expertly coiffed head to carefully-considered toe in banana yellow and, as Jools Holland swept his arm by way of nasal introduction, began playing the sort of effervescent funk that makes rhythmically-challenged non-dancers the world over twitch a toe in admiration.

 

A Soulwax production, Ceci n’est pas un cliché is propelled by the sort of tight snapping bass line that any self-respecting breakdance crew could make excellent use of. Snap-snap-slide…snap-snap-grrrrowl. Great stuff. Retro ’80s pitter pattering rhythms keep the flow in motion, shocking pink-varnished fingersnaps, electro bloops and off-beat splashing hi-hats add the colour. On the Later appearance, there’s a great airy whoosh near the end – that same production technique employed by John Leckie in the middle of Made Of Stone – and, after the duo countdown from 7 to zero, it drop outs completely before recommencing the funk exactly and precisely on the one.

You’re a cold as icccce, goes Charlotte. I wanna make you feel real nice. It’s daft and it’ll possibly prove to be as irritating as that Wet Leg single, but for now it’s the sound of my early summer.

Ceci n’est pas un cliché takes its title from fellow Belgian René Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe, a perfect example of his surrealist humour-inflected art. This is not a pipe, he says, eyebrow arched and metaphorical question mark floating above his head. …or is it?

Charlotte and Bolis fill the lyric of their track entirely with cliched lines borrowed from songs that have gone before. I woke up this morning, I throw my hands up in the air, wave ’em like I just don’t care, my heart is beating like a drum, down on my knees, begging please…etc etc. Either it’s a lazy, quick-fire way to add a lyric to a track already completed or it’s a genius commentary on the banality of pop music. Like all art, the answer to that lies in the beholder. Me, I’m erring towards the latter.

I think the album – there’s a great earwormy track called, knowingly, Making Sense Stop – will be worth investigating too.