Get This!

Ideal Holmes Exhibition

I found myself watching Out Of Sight a couple of weeks ago, the George Clooney/Jennifer Lopez bad guy/tough cop thriller. I hadn’t seen it in about 20 years since the time I rented the video from Azad at Irvine Cross and it was every bit as great as I remembered.

Clooney, playing a cultured career criminal (Jack Foley) intent on breaking out of jail, is in full-on classic Hollywood heartthrob role. When he’s not seen in prison uniform (and even then he wears his denim jacket with all the effortless cool of James Dean in a Harrington), he’s immaculately dressed up in sharp-fitting gabardine suits and impressively dressed down in knitted polos and panel shirts. His hair, superbly coiffed and conditioned – there’s nary a fleck of dandruff to be seen in its lasered parting – falls somewhere between Paul Newman and Paul Simonon. He’s suitably stubbly, deep of dimple and hairy of arm to weaken the knees of even the hardest of alpha males. Yeah, I can see why all the ladies love George.

His counterpart Lopez (Karen Sisco) looks every bit as sensational. Still a couple of hard-chiselled years and a 60-minute makeover away from Jenny From The Block and the diva-ish demands that would make her perhaps dislikeable, she’s heart-stoppingly perfect. Her hair falls just-so across her jawline as she pulls her gun, her tight-fitting knee-length skirt splits up the side showing more than enough caramel thigh than is strictly necessary, but entirely acceptable.

As she holds her gun stance, her lips – no filler, all killer – open and curl slightly, Elvis style, to snarl at her target. “Freeze!” she shouts in cliché, “FBI!“, her soft and smoky Latina vowels wrapping themselves around your ears, her dark eyes pulling you magnetically towards her face. Yeah. (Sigh). Sen-say-shu-nal!

David HolmesThe Trunk Scene

Naturally, Lopez and Clooney smoulder in their shared scenes. The scene at the start where they’re locked in the boot of a car, she determined to uphold the law, he determined to charm his way out, is a slow-burning, simmering pressure cooker of tension and release.

The scene where, hot on his tail with a condescending, mansplaining superior, Sisco spots Foley from the hotel lobby as his elevator door slides open and she raises her walkie-talkie then pauses, just long enough to lock eyes with Foley and warn him of what’s happening, is perfectly cut.

The bar-room scene, when the pair of them play out a first meeting, brush fingers against Cisco’s glass of bourbon and intently study one another is a whole Guy Fawkes’ Parliament of dynamite.

Foley: It’s something that just happens. It’s like seeing a person you never saw before – you could be passing on the street – you look at each other and for a few seconds, there’s a kind of recognition. Like you both know something. But then the next moment the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it, but you remember it because it was right there and you let it go, and you think, ‘What if I had stopped and said something?’ It might happen only a few times in your life.”

Sisco: “Or once.”

Foley: “Or once.” (long pause) “Why don’t we get out of here.”

The sexual tension remains long after they’ve got out of there, Elmore Leonard’s hard boiled words making the leap from pulp to celluloid and leaving you in no two minds about what’s going to happen next.

David HolmesNo More Time Outs

It’s all perfectly sound-tracked too. Director Stephen Soderbergh gave David Holmes the job of scoring his movie, and Holmes takes the brief and runs riot with it, drawing inspiration from the Tarantino soundtracks of the era by crate digging forgotten soul, jazz and bossanova beauties and sandwiching them between genre-perfect originals. The curling blue Gitanes-ed fingers of trip hop linger around the edges; pistol-cracking snare drums, Fender Rhodes playing off into the sunset, wah-wahs hinting at mischief to come, frantic bass runs and stabbing brass jarring the ears at unpredictable moments.

It’s all essential listening, with our without the beautiful visuals of Clooney and Lopez. If you have the CD, you’ll get all of this overlaid with spoken-word interludes from the movie. It’s a trip, as they used to say. If you watch one old movie this holiday period, make it Out Of Sight. If you can trap and bottle any of that sizzle coming from the screen, you’ll not need to use your boiler for the next fortnight. Try it.

 

Alternative Version, demo, Hard-to-find

Christmas Rapping

This was timed to go out a couple of days ago, then hastily postponed to make way for the Terry Hall stuff. By comparison it seems trivial now, but I can’t save it for the new year, so on with the show, as they say.

Yule dig this…

Remember Flexipop!? Back at the start of the ’80s, when the freshest of music was borne from a creative and punkish, DIY attitude, a couple of disillusioned Record Mirror writers started Flexipop! magazine. Adopting a maverick approach to publishing that was similar to the bands of the music it would feature, Flexipop! flouted the rules of their game and, in a blaze of cut ‘n paste ‘n Letraset ‘n day-glo fonts gave Smash Hits, Number 1 and even the hallowed trio of inkies a run for their money. Their star would burn briefly – 37 issues (one issue a month for three years) – but brightly.

Their USP? Every issue of Flexipop had a free 7″ flexidisc stuck to the cover. Sometimes single-sided, sometimes double, and sometimes even a 4-track EP, each flexi contained a unique, can’t-be-found anywhere else recording of that issue’s cover star; The Jam‘s Pop Art Poem on see-through yellow plastic, for example, or a luminous, Fanta-orange pressing of The Pretenders Stop Your Sobbin‘ (demo, of course), even a 23 second recording of Altered Images wishing you a happy new year, and this… Blondie and Fab 5 Freddy riffing and rapping, some of it loosely Christmas-related, across the top of the demo to Rapture.

Blondie & Fab 5 FreddyYuletide Throwdown

Ice-cool Debbie: Hey – you don’ look like Santa t’me. I never saw a Santa  Claus wearin’ sunglasses!

Freddy: Cool out, without a doubt!

Ice-cool Debbie: Merry Christmas, ho ho ho!

And off they go, Freddy telling the listener where he grew up, Debbie pre-empting Run DMC and the Beastie Boys by double tracking him on the line ends, referencing guns, disco and ‘the nicest snow’ – which is possibly not a reference to the inclement weather. 

Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Tracy Wormworth (bass, The Waitresses), Chris Stein

Christmas duets come in all shapes and sizes; Bowie ‘n Bing, Shane ‘n Kirsty and now Debbie ‘n Freddy. Lost to the archives, Blondie re-discovered Yuletide Throwdown a year ago while pulling together the material that would make up their catch-all box set.

It’s an interesting peek into their creative process, the version here replete with those descending chimes and rinky-dink funk guitar, the horn motif and Debbie’s ‘Ra-ah-pt-yoor!‘ refrain, yet sluggish and sludgy…and pretty good as a result. I don’t know why they chose to speed it up before release.

“When we first recorded Rapture, it was slower. This was the first version,” Stein said. “We decided to make it faster. The slower tape was just bass, drums and guitar doubling the bass, I don’t think much else. I took the tape to my home studio and added stuff, then Debbie and Fred did their vocals.”

I’m a sucker for a demo or an alt. version, and this version of Rapture certainly falls into that category. Play once, and once only at this time of year, file it in the section of your brain that’ll serve you well come the toughest of music quizzes and then forget all about it until next December.

*Interestingly, the b-side of the Blondie/Fab 5 Freddy single sounds like it might be totally magic. Credited to mystery band The Brattles, it turns out they were a band of pre-pubescent punk rockers aged between 8 and 12: Werner, 12 (Guitar), Dagin, 8 (Drums), Jason, 9 (Vocals), Emerson, 9 (Bass) and Branch, 10 (keyboard). Makes Musical Youth look like the Grateful Dead.

The record shows that The Brattles opened for the Clash twice, shared a rehearsal room with the New York Dolls and we were produced by Chris Stein of Blondie. Ah, so there’s the connection. I suspect Bartholomew Carruthers, if he’s reading, will be able to give me the full rundown. Until then, must investigate…

 

 

Gone but not forgotten

Thinking Of You

The Specials were one of the very first groups I truly loved. Later life would open my eyes and ears to their stance, but as a 10 year old I had no idea they were in any way political, or that by even lining up in that defiantly multicultural manner they were flicking a two-fingered salute to the dangerous undercurrent of right-wing extremism that was simmering just below the surface of Thatcher’s Britain. Friendly antagonists, they fought back through well chosen words and haircuts and clothes. Me? I just liked jumping around Mark Richmond’s room to Do The Dog and Rat Race, Nite Klub and his single of Too Much Too Young. “Ain’t you heard of con-tra-cep-shun!” we’d shout, oblivious to what that actually was, our tasselled loafers ripping our heels to bits as we clacked the segs off his mum’s kitchen floor. Far too young for the 2 Tone tour of ’79 when it made its final stop in the rundown seaside town of Ayr, just down the coast from my house, it wouldn’t be until The Specials reformed in the early 2010s that I’d finally catch them in full flight. I’m glad I did. They were dynamite from start to finish.

Terry Hall, Barrowland Ballroom 2013

Terry Hall was the unlikeliest of frontmen. Despite being the King of the suedeheads, he never seemed like he was very much into it. He always looked fed up, disinterested at times, perhaps depressed at others. Hangdog and emotionless, he’d hang from his mic stand like Eeyore, down in the mouth, staring at the floor, as his bandmates whipped up a not-so-quiet riot around him. Of course he was into it though. The music would occasionally spark a jolt of electricity through him and he’d pull himself tight, knuckles whitened around the mic, shoulders up and into his ears and he’d fly off in a whirl of suit-jacketed skanking, turning to face Neville or Lynval to lose himself in the punkish ramalama before the brief musical interlude ended and he was pulled magnetically back to his real job as downbeat frontman in one of our greatest and most accurately-named groups.

The news of Terry Hall’s sudden death has hit me far harder than I could have anticipated. I’m working from home just now, putting together stuff that should be turned in before Friday, but I can’t properly concentrate. I’m listening, not to The Specials – they’re night-time music – but to Virgins and Philistines, the album he made with/as The Colourfield in the mid ’80s. It’s rich and inventive and packed full of unravelling melodies, as well as bona fide classics; it opens with Thinking Of You, and its rich mix of Spanish guitars, plucked strings and groovy acoustic bass runs has almost set me off, its upbeat melancholy taking on a whole new meaning. Powerful thing, music. I’m not sure I can handle Forever J just now. I’ll save that particular beauty for tomorrow, maybe.

The ColourfieldThinking Of You

A funny thing happens when popstars die. You don’t know them…and yet, you do. They pop round far more often than yr old Auntie Margaret, for starters. You know them, and they know you far better than anyone else. They get you. They instantly uplift. Immediately heal and soothe. Always in tune with your feelings, they never disappoint (well…Morrissey, but…) Pull them out of that alphabetised collection of yours and they’re right with you in the room, familiar old friends reigniting old memories of the past, shooting to the surface like lava from a volcano and spilling out in unstoppable order.

As my own years roll on, and friends and heroes die, I find myself getting increasingly nostalgic for a past that surely couldn’t have been as idyllic as I remember. One whiff of Gangsters and I’m right back in Mark’s mum’s kitchen, an orange rolling from the top of the fruit bowl and onto the floor as our uncoordinated earth-quaking and enthusiastic skank tips first the fruit and then his mum over the edge. Mark is also no longer with us, so the music of Terry Hall, and especially The Specials, has all sort of meaning suddenly attached to it.

I’m back in the living room of our old house as my mum pulls out the catalogue and asks if I want peg legs or flares for school trousers. Thank you, whoever you might be up there, who prompted me to ask for peg legs just as 2 Tone was filtering its way to Bank Street Primary School. I’m back in the playground, half a dozen of us shooting bright yellow sparks from our segs.

And I’m in the wee shop in Irvine High Street agonising over which of the badges my 15p will go on this time. A Specials badge, the group scowling in miniature? A Madness logo? My original one was lost somewhere in or near the Magnum and I’m still annoyed about that. That spray-painted Jam logo, maybe? Nah. I’ll go for The Police this time. Just, as always, on the wrong side of cool. When you’re that age, music is just music. Leaving aside the Y cardigans and the burgundy Sta-Prest and those painfully cutting loafers, tribal identity wasn’t so important at primary school. So there the badges were; The Beat, The Selecter, Adam and the Ants, The Police. And Status Quo. Fight me.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Glory To The King

I read this thing about Elvis a few months ago – around the time of the Baz Luhrmann biopic coming out, as it happened – that suggested that the market for Elvis memorabilia had crashed to the point of irrelevence; the collectors, it pointed out, were all dying off and the younger generations just didn’t identify with Elvis in the same way.

The King of Rock ‘n Roll? From a Gen Zeder’s perspective, that’s a sad (as in embarrassing) label to tag anyone with. Get hip, daddy-o, Elvis is dead, in every sense of the word. He rocks in his box and in his box only. Unlike the timeless appeal of say, The Beatles or Queen – young kids love Queen – or AC/DC or Fleetwood Mac, artists whose music soundtracks films, appears on catch-all streaming playlists, is referenced by the pop stars of today and therefore is still culturally relevant, to young folk, Elvis is just a tragic fat guy in a white suit who died on the toilet. His records, antiquated artefacts of a sepia-tinted bygone world at best, middle of the road karaoke fodder at worst, will never be streamed, let alone spun, by anyone under 40. The King is dead, man. The King is dead…

But, but, but…let me tell you, you in the Balenciaga and you in the Yeezy Boost, Elvis could sing…he could swing…and for a while, he mattered.

The purists might point to the Vegas years; if you can, see past the bloated excess of an Elvis deep in all sorts of personal trouble, you’ll revel in his sensitive treatment of the standards. And there are definitely gems to be found amidst his army ‘n movie years of the ’60s. But to these ears, his ’50s output is easily his most exciting period. If you’re a doubter, a naysayer, a cloth-eared fool, then his version of Santa Claus Is Back In Town won’t go any way to swaying your opinion, but as far as rough ‘n ready Christmas rockers go, it’s right up at the top of the tree.

Elvis PresleySanta Claus Is Back In Town

Beginning with a mesh of close-harmonied vocals from The Jordanaires – “Christttmass, Christtmas!” – and some searching, tentative piano, the track kicks into gear immediately once Elvis takes an Olympic athlete’s run-up to that first, ‘Weeeeeell‘, his arm windmilling in time to his seesawing pelvis as he uncurls his bee-stung lips and finally lets his vocal go. “Well, it’s Christmas time pwitty bay-bee, and the snow is fallin’ h’on the ground...”

His singing, almost a parody of an actual Elvis impersonator, is full-on fun. He sings from the creped soles of his shoes in the low parts, straight off the toppa the ducktail in the high sections, the voice lightly sandpapered and soulful enough to convince the uninitiated that it belongs to a black bluesman from the Mississippi delta. There are parts where the band drops out and it’s just Elvis and his air of dangerous mystery filling the spaces. He rhymes ‘sack on my back‘ with ‘big black Cadillac‘. He breaks into a guttural laugh in the instrumental breakdown. He sings the title as one word. ‘San’aclawzizbagintaah‘. Elvis’s whole vocal schtick, in fact, can be heard in just this one tune.

There are bits on the record where everyone and the kitchen sink is getting in on the hot seasonal action. The drums, swinging like ol’ Bing Crosby on the 14th tee at Palm Springs, bash and crash like Benny and Choo-Choo’s trash cans tumbling down Top Cat’s alley. The piano plays its own unique, slurred honky tonk, soaked in Christmas spirit and half an egg nog too many. Low rasping sax fleshes out the bottom end as a swing-time jazz double-bass walks its way carefully between the notes, a drunk man on an icy pavement trying to look sober on the return home. The whole thing is over and out in less than two and a half rockin’ (yes!) and rollin’ (yes!!) minutes. It’s a daft record, but totally essentially at this time of year.

Live!

Love In

You may or may not know that I am involved in promoting gigs. Some pals and I do a job of booking acts to play the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, a tiny 100-seater venue that is, humbly, the greatest wee venue in the country. We do this unpaid. We’re volunteers and do it all for the love of bringing music to our town. When we were younger we had the Magnum Leisure Centre. Any band you care to mention played there (Thin Lizzy, The Jam, Chuck Berry, The Smiths, The Clash, Madness….) and we grew up thinking that every teenager in every town had this sort of stuff on their doorstep. For the more clued-in Irvinite, it was quite normal to go to the skating or the swimming and then negotiate the labyrinth of tunnels and squeaky leisure centre corridors within the Magnum in order to sneak into that week’s gig; UB40, perhaps. Or The Human League. Maybe even Spandau Ballet. That smell of Charlie Classique and chlorine – a potent combination.

Magnum gigs eventually spilled outside onto the bit of ‘beach’ next to it. The Radio One Roadshow was a regular attraction. Oasis famously played two spectacular shows one summer weekend in 1995 just as they were about to go stratospheric. The following year saw Bjork, Supergrass, Julian Cope and a raft of others roll into our town and entertain the locals and out of towners who’d packed the trains from Glasgow for the half hour journey to the Ayrshrie coast. Big touring bands turning up in Irvine were as regular as Bruno Brookes’ weekly chart countdown…until Willie Freckleton, the fella who booked all the bands, retired and died and the council left his position unfilled. There’s just no place for culture if there’s a saving to be had.

So we volunteers put on a one-off show. Called Freckfest in Willie’s honour, held in that self-same Magnum and headlined by The Magic Numbers, it led to the council asking if we’d like to programme events once a month in the town’s tiny arts centre. Almost ten years later, here we are, bringing all manner of ‘names’ back to Irvine; Glasvegas… Glenn Tilbrook… Nik Kershaw… BMX Bandits… Alan McGee… all have performed on the wee area we quaintly refer to as ‘the stage’… and all have loved every minute of performing in such a unique space.

Saturday night was a particularly lofty peak in the proceedings. We’d booked Gerry Love, the mild mannered and unassuming ex-bass player with Teenage Fanclub, the best third of a prolific songwriting team, the curator of some of the finest songs written in the last 30 years. Since leaving TFC he’s played at most a handful of shows but, with recording sessions imminent, he was keen to grind the gears into action, and coming through on a promise made to us almost four years ago, he arrived ready for action, a hastily assembled four piece band by his side.

One of the absolute pleasures of putting on gigs is that I am afforded the chance to sit in at soundchecks. Ordinarily pretty dull affairs – ‘Can I have less vocal in my monitor? Can I hear more guitar in mine? A bit more reverb on the snare, thanks...’ – Gerry’s followed a similar pattern, until we got chatting about effects pedals (I know, I know) and he absent-mindedly played the twanging intro to Sparky’s Dream while we talked. As I tried not to make it obvious I was picking my giddy jaw back off the floor, he and his band then fell into a lopsided run through of Bandwagonesque‘s December, its two chord arpeggiated riff triggering 30-year-old Proustian rushes of joy. Slightly under-rehearsed, they debated the length of the ending, flute solos ‘n all, before turning and asking me what I thought. “Stretch it out all the way to January,” I suggested, much to the amusement of the band. My finest moment.

Teenage FanclubDecember

Another beezer follows, with Gerry suggesting they try and sort out the arrangement that opens Don’t Look Back, the wistful mid-paced harmony-fest that helps elevate the Grand Prix LP from being merely great to undeniably outstanding. A couple of false starts led to Gerry – Teenage Fanclub’s bass player, lest we forget – playing the opening guitar riff for the others to fall in behind. Now, Don’t Look Back is a song I’ve heard hundreds of times, dozens of those in concert, but apparently nothing had prepared me for the possibility that it might ring out loud and true in the tiny environs of ‘our’ venue while the band soundchecked to an audience of just me. I won’t say I cried, but, damn! From straight out of nowhere I totally welled up. Don’t Look Back has a great melody welded to its fizzing guitars and as it clattered to a ragged end, I was a wee bit overcome.

Oh man,” I said to Gerry. “I was almost crying there.”

We weren’t that bad, were we?

Au contraire.

The actual gig saw more of the same, Gerry and his band alternating the set between one of Gerry’s stellar TFC songs; Star Sign, Ain’t That Enough, Speed Of Light, Thirteen‘s Hang On (replete with its note-perfect T Rex-inspired intro), bloody Going Places! and some of the tracks that made up his Lightships project from a few (make that ten) years ago; Sweetness In Her Spark, Silver And Gold, Girasol… pastoral and autumnal tracks one and all, the seeds of which were first sown through Gerry’s songs on those later TFC albums.

LightshipsGirasol

It was a wonderful show, Gerry’s band understated and nuanced, playing sympathetically and quietly. For all the impressive backline of Vox and Fender and what that suggested, the show was not at all sore on the ears.

We used to play these radio things in the states, acoustic things they’d be billed,” said Gerry earlier on. “Norman had the full-on beard at the time, so we’d get our mandolins and acoustic gear out and totally look the part, y’know…and all the other bands would turn up with their full electric set-up. No-one could ever hear us. This set-up is electric, but we’re gonna play subtly.” Which, in a ‘Teenage Fanclub Have Lost It‘ kinda way, they more than did.

D’you know those ’70s rock documentaries you see, where hairy guys in bell bottoms are standing behind Marshall stacks, or hanging around the fringes of the stage and you think, ‘Who are these people? Why are they allowed up there?‘ – well, that’s me at HAC gigs, ready to jump in and plug in a pedal or hand someone a misplaced capo, but mainly just standing there with the best view in a house where there isn’t a bad view at all.

I watched intently as Gerry and his band played their quiet storm of chiming electrics and butterflying flutes, Paul Quinn’s tasteful percussion ‘n all, shifting my gaze from band to audience and back again as the dust motes in the HAC air shifted slightly in time to the music. I may also have joined in to enhance proceedings with a Norman-aping vocal harmony or two of my own, much to the displeasure of the guy seated an arm’s length from where I was standing. Ain’t That Enough, he might’ve thought. Glock ‘n roll, I remarked, as the tinkling percussion was lost in the roar of 100 voices showing appreciation for the gig of the year.

Get This!

Free Speech

It begins churchlike, funereal almost, a lone organ blowing the dust off its keys as a skittering snare rattles the conscience awake and synthetic beats provide the heartbeat for what follows. It’s slow and stately, the ideal bed upon which Thom Yorke can waft his wonky-eyed falsetto. A guitar line snakes in, unusual of time signature, creatively arpeggiated and clean, an excellent woody tone, you think, and a glimmering shimmer of strings (possibly an arcane instrument I am ignorant of – Jonny likes an unusual instrument for creating his soundscapes, as you well know) – sees the melody take a gorgeous and unexpected turn.

Devastation has come, sings Thom. Left in a station with a note of poems. Now there’s never anywhere to put my feet back down.

I don’t pretend to know what particular heartbreaking ruin he’s singing about, but the whole melody that follows is amazing. In slo-mo, and right in front of your eyes, it untwines and unravels, unspools itself free and starts to wander. As your ears follow its sinuous path, you’re aware that the drums have picked up in emphasis, freeform and jazz-like, and they are also wandering independently, fluttering rapidly like Kingfishers’ feathers by the softly flowing Afton.

Then… the brass section! It gently blows its way in, stately and creeping, just like that advert for Castrol GTX that you’ll remember from the 1980s, the thick golden yellow substance easing and oozing its way into the head of the mechanic’s misplaced spanner. Speech Bubbles, for that is the name of the track, would make a great soundtrack were they ever to reboot the original and cast aside Mahler’s imperial Nachtmusic.

The SmileSpeech Bubbles

 

I am in no way a tastemaker or some barometer of hip opinion – the tagline at the top of the blog there would suggest that – but for what it’s worth, The Smile‘s A Light For Attracting Attention is, by some way, my album of the year. Speech Bubbles may not even be the best track on it, but it most definitely is this week.

Whereas Jonny and Thom’s day job takes months, years, to evolve to the point a record is made, The Smile seems spontaneous, almost guerilla-like by comparison. Constant touring for the past few months has seen them regularly drop brand new songs into their set, much to the frenzy of the fan community for whom even a Thom Yorke recorded sneeze might find itself overanalysed and quite possibly remixed before he’s made it back to the hotel from the show.

Radiohead may be on permanent sabbatical, they may even have already dissolved, but The Smile more than makes up for their absence. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Cavernous

Housed in a sleeve that suggests free movement, fluidity and motion; the gentle, undulating swirls, the band name written on two contrasting axes, Liquid Liquid‘s Optimo EP is a product of New York’s imperial post-punk phase, a fertile, ‘anything goes’ period that encouraged – demanded, even – individualism and originality. For extra homework, you might want to check out ESG, The Contortions or Bush Tetras. For now though, find your feet with Liquid Liquid.

With its pots ‘n pans poly tempo, the lead track Optimo borrows the feel of its window-rattling rhythm from Booker T’s Soul Limbo, before firing off in brave new directions; jittery, staccato lead vocals, bass-as-lead-instument, the piston pattern of steaming hi-hats, the sum of its mish-mash of musical styles old and yet to come making something that’s altogether inherently brand new. It’s no coincidence that the multi-genre embracing ’90s club night at Glasgow’s Sub Club was named after the track.

Liquid LiquidOptimo

The EP is most interesting and celebrated, perhaps, for the track Cavern. It’s the bass line, obviously, that pricks the ears. It leaps, flying off the record to skelp you round the chops with a ‘wherehaveyouheardmebefore,eh?‘ smack of familiarity. A chrome-covered aerodynamic pulse, its cave-like sound, moving-ever forward and flowing was, for all I know, an influence on both the band’s name and their best-known track. It was certainly an influence on hip-hop, that bassline, although more of that later.

Liquid LiquidCavern *

The drums, shuffling, sparse and fat-free, showed that the most powerful music doesn’t always need an earthquake of percussion to propel it forwards. There’s some lovely shaker action all the way through, keeping it less rock and just on the right side of funky. I’d imagine Reni of the Stone Roses would enjoy playing along to this. The vocals, sparse and infrequent, almost an afterthought to the groove, throw up little melodic phrases and half-lines that, funny this!, were also an influence on the hip-hop community. Indeed, if you can’t hear the recognisable melodies and key words (and musical interludes and tempo and general vibe) that form the vocal for Grandmaster Flash‘s White Lines, where have you been all this time?

Yes, not content with copying – not sampling – the bassline, Flash took a liberal dose of the vocal’s style and phrasing and – ooh-whu-ite – created a version of Crystal that was far more reaching than anyone could ever have anticipated.

Initially, Liquid Liquid were flattered. Hearing White Lines adopt their bassline (and vocal inflections…and melodic interludes…) and have it boom from the subway-shocking soundsytems in Manhattan’s clubs – higher baby! – hearing their vocals aped and added to – higher baby!! – hearing their track get an epoch-defining makeover, replete with a boxfresh rap and more hooks than an Ali 15-rounder – higher baby!!! – was quite the thrill, until – don’t ever come down! – the thorny issue of copyright and plagiarism reared its dollar-happy head. Slip in and out of phenomena, indeed.

Grandmaster FlashWhite Lines

There’s only ever one winner in this type of fight, and it tends not to be the creators who benefit, Both Liquid Liquid and Sugarhill Records, the label who’d issued White Lines, were ordered to pay legal costs that ultimately led to both parties winding down, citing lack of funds as the reason.

Full Time from the City of New York:

Finance 2 – 0 Culture

 

* there are two versions of Cavern on this one sound file. I’ve no idea how I did this or how to fix it. So enjoy Cavern Cavern by Liquid Liquid Liquid Liquid.

Football

Outside Looking In

North of Hadrian’s Wall we’re looking on enviously as another World Cup without Scotland gets underway. It’s a common occurrence these days to find the Scots tiptoed on wooden crates, peering over metaphorical stadium walls and into the machinations of a glamourous tournament that we find ourselves excluded from. Not even the sainted Steve Clarke couldn’t get us there, his team choking in the Hampden sunshine against a Ukrainian team that the rest of the world was delighted to see win. Even the Welsh are there this time around, and they never make the World Cup finals. Panto villains they may be, for daring to beat Ukraine in the final qualifying match, but it’s a slanderous title that anyone in a Jimmy hat and the ability to boogie would happily take. Or maybe not.

Qatar mate? No thanks. It’s a World Cup tainted with bribery and scandal, terrible abuses of human rights… and no beer in stadiums. For many (most?) fans, football and beer go hand in hand. You can look on rightly aghast at the Qataris’ appalling crimes against their fellow men and women, but no beer at the game? Forget that! A dry Tartan Army is nothing short of an oxymoron. It’s just as well we didnae qualify.

I was talking to my son about the World Cup, about how Scotland was always there when I was his age, how it was a given that we’d turn up every time and crash out on goal difference. Indeed, it wasn’t uncommon to find Scotland the only home nation side at the finals, something that millennials might find hard to believe.

Me and my pals, hopped up on Top Deck and Wotsits and laterally real beer and whatnots cheered the highs; the Narey toe poke against Brazil, Strachan’s opener v Germany, Mo Johnston’s winner from the penalty spot against the Swedes, John Collin’s opener v Brazil of course, and bemoaned the lows; the own goal in the same game, the Nicol miss v Uruguay, Costa Rica, the calamity of Miller and Hansen as they contrived to let the Russians in and send us out.

There’s been plenty of disappointment when you consider the phrase ‘Scotland at the World Cup’ but none more so than Argentina ’78. In a tournament featuring just 16 countries – stick that in yer smug pipes, England and Cymru – Ally McLeod had us believe we’d come back as champions, music to this football daft 8-year old’s ears.

A thumping to Peru and their beautifully expressive banana-bent free kicks saw the nails being lined up against the coffin. A draw against lowly Iran brought the first hammer down. Archie Gemmill might’ve scored one of the greatest ever World Cup goals against the swaggering Dutch and momentarily halted the flow of the hammer, but Johnny Rep’s long-distance goal – reducing the deficit in the match to just one goal in Scotland’s favour – would ultimately see to it that we’d be back at Prestwick Airport after just three matches.

Fun fact: ‘Out on goal difference’ is written in Latin on Scottish £5 notes.

1978 was my favourite World Cup. The final was late on the Sunday night, but even with school in the morning, I was allowed to stay up and watch it. I can see it all now as I type. It was the snow of tickertape that turned the pitch a litter of green and white. It was the crowd, free-standing and ever-morphing, a shape-shifting human organism rather than the regimented rows of hand clappers and horn blowers we’ll see on our TVs over this month. It was the way the nets hung loosely from the goals, the way the photographers sat untidily behind the goals, almost on the field of play. It was all about Kempes and Passarella and that iconic Argentinian strip; silky, stripy and with a badge as big as a baby’s head sewn on. An awakening to the greatest show on earth, not the money-obsessed horrorshow it’s become today.

The players looked different then too, even the Scottish ones in their identikit bubble perms and impressive moustaches. These days, all the players look the same; ripped, buff, toned ‘n tanned. Back then, they were individuals with swagger and character, socks at ankle length, shirts outside the shorts and with a maverick approach to dribbling.

Plus, they were as hard as nails. Tackles were as brutal as their haircuts and never shirked. No quarter was given. They got, as you’ll hear them shout from the sidelines at boys’ football on any given Sunday, stuck in. Souness. Wark. Kenny Burns. Hard men with hard stares who played for the shirt – a trio familiar with the sculpted art of the bandito moustache, as it goes.There was none of that rolling around you’ll see at any match you might choose to watch in the next month. With VAR but a twinkle in some mischievous fun prevention officer’s eye, a lot of the dirty stuff was got away with, and all in exactly 90 minutes too, not the 100 or so that’ll routinely see this World Cup stretch to.

Back in ’78, ‘sports’ and ‘science’ were two words that never sat together in the same sentence, let alone the one phrase. Half the players smoked – John Robertson on the wing for Scotland was powered by 20 Benson & Hedges a day, the Brazilian Socrates similarly so. The Scottish ethos of work hard and play harder was forged as much through Tennent’s as training. Once we’re back to that, maybe then we’ll be on the inside again, at the greatest football tournament of them all, counting down the matches until goal difference sends us homewards tae think again. I watch on enviously.

MachineThere But For The Grace Of God Go I

Anthemic, socially inclusive disco. Are you listening, Qatar?

 

Cover Versions, demo

Flow Motion

What’s not to like about this! It’s A Certain Ratio, covering Talking Heads, on a track intended for Grace Jones, that features a guide vocal from the band’s Jez Kerr that ended up being on the released version. Mined from the band’s archives a couple of years ago and represented in new light on their all-encompassing 40-year anniversary box set, Houses In Motion bears all the hallmarks of classic ACR.

A Certain RatioHouses In Motion

(Mute Records/Kevin Cummins)

It’s the bassline that hits you first. A fluid and chrome monster, it falls halfway between the mercurial slink of the O’Jays’ For The Love Of Money and an on-the-one makeover of the theme to Cheggers Plays Pop. The vocal, deadpan and spoken, apes David Byrne’s original, a hollowed-out shell of existential pondering and angst. Caught in the eye of his own storm, Kerr seems nonplussed as his band knock several shades of post-punk funk from the track.

(Mute Records/Kevin Cummins)

Rattling, metronomic, beatbox percussion keeps the beat slow and steady before the guitars, scratchy and metallic, creep their way into the mix, dropping out and in again at the end of the lines, filling in the vocal-free sections. Echoing trumpets, heavily filtered through the mixing desk help to date the track – think Pigbag and Teardrop Explodes, even the Jam… any band from the era that saw out the ’70s and saw in the ’80s with an ‘anything goes’ approach to instrumentation. Off it flies, the brass section heralding the intent to take the track upwards and skywards. I’m glad ACR discovered they had it during that archival archaeological dig of theirs.

Talking Heads‘ original is, of course, also a beauty.

Talking HeadsHouses In Motion

It’s total claustrophobic funk that, with its bubbling bass and car horn keyboards, brings to mind Prince’s ridiculously pervy Lady Cab Driver. It’s more out there in places than ACR’s cover – those scatter-gunning, free-flowing trumpets, for example – and Byrne’s call-and-response vocals that almost fall into Slippery People‘s ‘Whats a-matter witchu?‘ hook; no bad thing, clearly…like the rest of Remain In Light, the track’s parent album. But you knew that already.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Knuckles Rapped

There was a terrible version of You’ve Got The Love a few years ago, a windswept and earnest cover that was drama school in delivery and hive-inducing in reception. Florence & The Machine had chosen to close their festival slots with it and there were enough enthralled and taste-free people giving thumbs up around the band that their record company rush-released a version. It was all over the radio like a rash in need of antihistamine, its Asda-priced Kate Bushisms making me almost crash the car more than once. Sting. King.

The source (aye!) of Florence’s version was the deep throb of The Source‘s track, recorded with finger clickin’ soul survivor Candi Staton on vocals.

The Source feat. Candi StatonYou’ve Got The Love

Taking her vocal line from the motivating commentary on a keep fit video – ‘sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air…sometimes it feels the going is just too rough…I know I can count on you‘ – Staton’s delivery ensured something of classic cut status for the track.

Many people wouldn’t have realised the record was essentially a cover. Indeed, for most chart music-buying folks, the record’s 5-note bassline and viralish, ear-worming keyboard motif would be their first unknown introduction to Frankie Knuckles.

Waaaay back in the years when house music was first thumping and throbbing its way from the sweaty basements of Chicago to the switched-on fringes of the mainstream, New Yorker Knuckles teamed up with Chicago soul singer Jamie Principle and hotwired his original soulful vocal to a tune that was at once progressive, deep, emotional and zeitgeist-riding.

In an era when (Stateside especially) hair metal was the mainstream’s thing, when The Smiths were putting out The Queen Is Dead and every other guitar band in the country was hanging on to their jangling coat tails, Knuckles was busy programming sequencers and drum machines – MC80s, 303s, 707s and 808s – to create a record that still resonates today. If How Soon Is Now is, as was said, the indie Stairway To Heaven, Frankie Knuckles’ Your Love is dance music’s She Loves You.

Frankie KnucklesYour Love

The record kicked doors down. It gatecrashed the notion of what ‘dance music’ was, and what it was not. It wasn’t a hundred mile an hour electro pogo. It wasn’t base and derivative. It wasn’t (always) an anonymous guy hiding behind a rack of technology while a lip-synching beauty mimed her way atop the caterwaulings of a session singer. This particular brand of dance music was forward-thinking, cerebral and deeply soulful. As it turned out, it was pretty much timeless too.

Your Love‘s rattling, reverberating snare must’ve sounded wonderful clattering off the walls of the Hacienda, even on a half-empty Wednesday night in February. Me? I wouldn’t know. I was too busy twisting my fingers into Smiths riffs and worrying about the length of the sleeves on my cardigan. I caught up in time though.

The sequenced keyboard line that formed the melodic hook of The Source’s cover is, at source (ha, again) hypnotising and trance-inducing, the Jungle Book’s Kaa and his spiralling snake eyes set to music. Its bassline is massive; instantly recognisable and capable of inducing Proustian rushes in even the most pasty-faced of guitar band-lovers when heard unexpectedly. It builds beautifully, from sparse electro through keyboard swells and man/woman gospelish harmonising to deep-breathing backing vocals, tasteful foreplay to the wham-bam of Lil’ Louis’ French Kiss, if you will.

I can’t let go’, sings Principle, as the song builds to its steamy-windowed climax, a notion that I wholeheartedly subscribe to. Your Love is a great record, propulsive and soulful house in the vein of Promised Land, both Joe Smooth’s original and the Style Council’s faithful reworking. I can’t let go indeed.