Get This!, Sampled

Music, Make The People, Come Together

There’s a constant digging around here, an archaeological scraping and raiding of tombs, done purely for the purpose of highlighting the marginalised and forgotten, the nearly weres and never would bes that the decades have been less than kind to. Not for nothing is the tagline above ‘Outdated Music For Outdated People‘. You’ll be well aware of that if you’re a regular.

Sometimes, an old track comes flying back into the conscience, usually, although, as in this case, not always, on the back of radio play or an old film and you think, why continue to unearth the underheard when bangers – yes, bangers! – such as this exist.

Such is the case with Yarbrough & Peoples’ Don’t Stop The Music.

Yarbrough & Peoples – Don’t Stop The Music (12″ mix)

My ex-hospital radio station copy

From straight outta nowhere this afternoon, the track’s programmed electro bassline body popped its way into my head, slinky and sinuous, the half cousin of – sorry for this – Level 42’s Lessons In Love, but ten times as funky and a hundred times more listenable, despite the lack of human touch. It’s 43 years old and lost none of its mid-paced, head-nodding grooveability. Keyboards sizzle and fizz, hi hats hiss and clavinets play a top line that Stevie Wonder himself might’ve considered being on the verge of dangerously funky. Has Fatboy Slim sampled it yet? I can only assume he has – those keyboards have a total S.O.S. Band feel to them, and he’s sampled them, as well you know, although a quick Google proves inconclusive.

I can sing the refrain if y’like; monotoned white man doo-wop, flat and out of tune but entirely soulful and heartfelt. Dawn’t yew stap it, dawn’t yew stap, stap tha moozic. Even to rhythmically-challenged Ayrshiremen of a certain age, the track has an unputdownable swagger.

Formed in Dallas from the same musical sphere that birthed the Gap Band – the Fatboy sampled them too, Calvin Yarbrough and Alisa Peoples found ubiquity with the track, its comically sped-up backing vocals and gospelish refrain sending it to number one on the Billboard R&B chart for over a month. Remember when there were multiple charts? Remember charts at all? The duo’s story is one of church choirs and pick-up bands until one night in 1977 when Peoples joined Yarbrough’s band on stage for a number and the stars aligned to cast their magic.

Yarbrough & Peoples would continue as a duo for far longer than they were welcome, with ever-decreasing returns and increasingly shallow chart positions, but that’s almost irrelevant considering how timeless, how great their big hit single was. If you’re not still playing the track a week after you’ve read this, questions will be asked.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find


It’s not the first time Chris Bell‘s I Am The Cosmos has been mentioned round here, but it’s the first time (surely not!) that I’ve shone the spotlight on the single’s flip side, You And Your Sister.

The only solo material released in his lifetime, the 7″ is the perfect distillation of Bell’s loose and melancholic approach to his music. On one side, the imperial I Am The Cosmos, a sky scraping anthem dressed to kill in revved up ringing guitars and double tracked harmonies. You don’t need me to point out that it would prove to be something of a lightning rod for many ambitious bands around the Glasgow area.

Chris BellI Am The Cosmos

On the other side, the naked and raw You And Your Sister, teenage angst set against highly strung and gently picked acoustics, sighing cellos and voice-cracked harmonies. Sadness in a bottle and sold back to the heartbroken with a keen ear to the musical underground.

Chris BellYou And Your Sister

If this is your kinda thing – hi, Norman! Hi Gerry! Hi Raymond! – you could do worse than track down I Am The Cosmos, the album that was pieced together posthumously from Bell’s scattered demos and rough recordings. Most of I Am The Cosmos is frazzled and low-slung, packed full of beaten riffs played on beaten guitars and very much in the acoustic/electric vein of the single…or indeed Bell’s previous band, Big Star, a teasing glimpse into what coulda/shoulda been had the artist not crashed his car and died.

I’ve been playing the record a lot recently, coming to it on the back of This Mortal Coil‘s contentiously superior version, a track that jumped back into my conscience after a misheard acoustic guitar strum on an advert had me convinced the advertisers had borrowed it. They hadn’t, thankfully.

This Mortal CoilYou And Your Sister

With knee-weakening vocals from Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly, This Mortal Coil’s take is something of a breathy cry from the heart and fairly leaps out against the arty, Euro-goth torch songs that make up much of Blood, the album from which it is taken.

With intertwined voices and fingerpicked acoustics blending into one stop-for-a-moment recording, it’s plaintive and pastoral and pretty much the definitve version. Sung from the female perspective, the ‘your sister says that I’m no good‘ line takes on a whole new slightly sinsiter perspective when you hear it. I’m sure there are whole Guardian pieces on such things. For now though, enjoy a great version of a great song.

Football, Gone but not forgotten


In the build-up to Scotland’s historic win over Spain the other night, I caught myself watching old YouTube clips of the same fixture from 1984. Grainy but preserved digitally forever, they opened a portal to a phase when, as history has proven, the Scottish team was in the middle of a golden phase in football. Leighton, Miller, McLeish, Davie Cooper, Souness and, of course, Kenny Dalglish were all in that match’s starting line-up. As too was the contentious Maurice Johnston. Watching the first of his two mullet-powered headers cross the line, a full-length diving effort from around the six yard box, I was immediately back at the game.

Fourteen years old, my feet never once touched Hampden’s West Stand asphalt and my dad kept a tight grip of my elbow right from kick-off as the packed crowd swelled and swirled up and down and across the terracing. Thrilling and terrifying all at once, when that first goal went in at our end, right in front of us, I was lifted into orbit, metaphorically and literally. The only thing stopping me taking off properly was my dad pulling on my jacket, anchoring me to him and he to me.

Near half time, Jim Bett broke free of the Spanish defence down the right hand side, and even before he had crossed the ball I felt my dad’s arm grab me tightly around the waist. He had just about pulled me in to him when Maurice Johnston leapt high above the static defence and connected his golden mullet to the ball once again, aiming the ball past the goalie and into the corner of the net. Two-nil. Scenes. The crowd pulled us apart. I was five, six, maybe seven rows below where I had stood seconds before. In the split instant before the swell of the crowd once again changed direction, whisky-breathed men kissed me on the head and lifted me further up. “Yaaas, wee man!” I’ve no idea where my dad was, yet somehow as the Spanish spotted the ball and kicked off again, the settle of the crowd brought us back together. We were a good few yards to the right of where we’d been and a stanchion kindly appeared for us to lean on and catch our breath and one another.

“‘scuse me,” says my dad to a group of men. “You’re standing on my boy’s flag.” I hadn’t brought a flag, but by half time I was the owner of a dirty yellow Lion Rampant covered in bootprints and beer. Too big to hold and minus the pole to wave it with, I put it on like a wrap-around skirt for the remainder of the game. I had it for years after. Not sure where it ended up.

The best was yet to come though. Spain pulled a goal back in the second half but riotous and free-flowing Scotland simply moved up a gear. Spain might’ve been thrown a cheap lifeline, but there was no way this Scottish team would let them back in. In the 71st minute, Glasgow’s wintery night sky was again punctuated by the Hampden roar as Kenny Dalglish put the game to bed with what will always be my favourite Scotland goal.

A throw in near the corner flag on the right-hand side finds Davie Cooper deep inside the box and, tightly marked, he lays it off to Dalglish who twists and turns his way past one, two, three defenders and takes one, two, three steps before letting fly with his left foot. Even as I type, I don’t need YouTube to see the delicious arc of the ball as it bends outwards and upwards and downwards into the top corner and, through a tangled forest of West Stand bottles and beards and limbs and Glengarries, Kenny Dalglish, arms aloft and turning towards Jock Stein on the touchline to celebrate. I’ve seen plenty of great goals, many of them scored by a Scotland player, but no goal was ever sweeter than that.

A funny thing happened as I watched those highlights. Despite the Spanish commentary and the near-40 intervening years, I found myself crying. Big, proper, from out of nowhere tears. My dad is no longer with us and somehow, suddenly, the emotion of seeing that Kenny goal again was a trigger for all sorts of happy memories. I couldn’t stop, but I’m not sure I really wanted to. There’s something comforting about a good cry now and again. I had just about pulled myself together by the time my wife and daughter returned home.

What’s wrong with you?” asked my wife. “You look like you’re in a bad mood.

Not at all,” I said. And promptly burst into tears once more as I told her what had happened. Football, bloody hell, as the quote goes.

And then…

The next morning.

I was running myself and daughter to our respective places of work. Lauren Laverne’s BBC 6 music show, as always, was playing. Deee-Lite‘s Groove Is In The Heart comes on and immediately – immediately – my mind is flooded with a memory of dear Derek Reid, with his stupid grin and dimples and stubble, and he’s dancing his finger pointy dance to the song in the Attic. We’re on the cramped dancefloor and he’s in double denim, but that’s OK because we all were, and his hair, long by this point, is over the shoulder of his jacket, giving him the appearance of some hipster Francis Rossi and he’s doing the ‘ah-ah-ah-ah‘ bit – ‘Groove is in the hea-art, ah-ah-ah-ah!‘ and flicking his hair and we’re laughing and living and off our heads with the thrill of being carefree and young and alive. And once again it sets me off.

Deee-liteGroove Is In The Heart

I’m in the Attic and it’s 1990,” I say to my daughter as my voice cracks. I can’t look at her. “Derek Reid’s dancing. I can see him right now.” And then I can say no more. I drive through thickly glazed eyes. The chills that you spill up my back, keep me filled. Sad. Happy. Emotional. Pondering on what the future holds.

Bloody music and its bloody triggers. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. Thank God Lauren didn’t follow it up by playing True Faith. I’ve told that story before though.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Well Well Well

Just as there are two Pink Floyds – the Syd-era Pink Floyd and the Syd-less, stadium straddlin’ “Floyd, man”, there are two Fleetwood Macs.

Before their ‘70s metamorphosis into a coke-dusted, partner-swapping omnipresent global phenomenon with Rumours repeatedly rotating across much of the planet on an hourly basis, ‘The Mac’ was a blues-infused single-sex beat combo more used to the claustrophobic stage of the Marquee in London’s West End than the widescreen enormodomes of the American Midwest. Lead by the soulful playing of Peter Green, their inward-looking 12 bar jams are a gazillion miles and a gazillion sales away from what they would become…and in many ways, far more exciting for it.

I’ve always had a thing for the battered and feral Oh Well.

Fleetwood MacOh Well

I know it’s an almost hackneyed and cliched tune nowadays, all blazing Les Pauls and up the frets fireworks, but I love it. Low-slung and slinky, it’s a proper groove of a tune, helped in no small way by the loose and funky acoustic riff, the cowbell punctuation marks and the Bo Diddley-isms of the off-beat maracas. 

The electric guitar on top, playing the same riff as the acoustic, with occasional forays into harmonies – Thin Lizzy must’ve loved Oh Well – is, well, electrifying. With fingers as long as his corkscrew hair, Peter Green curls his digits into the six strings, teases lightning rods of hot-wired blooze from the fretboard and lets fly. He would later call the riff ‘throwaway‘. Pffft. Yeah. 

This version from 1969’s Monster Music Mash on the BBC is where it’s at.

There’s no hierarchical posing here, no shunting of the drummer to obscurity behind the lead singer. Just four guys, equal status, equally responsible for the sound to be made. The toms are a riot of pre-Pollocked home design and are justly tubthumped into the ground. There are three guitarists, none of whom is playing bass, one of whom ignores the gorgeous tobacco-coloured Strat around his neck in favour of being Brian Jones on the maracas for a couple of minutes, and another who is clearly so into the intricacies of playing The Riff, a blur of fringe and guitar face, he’s lost in the heady racket that his band mates are cooking up.

I bet Lee Mavers used this clip when planning out The La’s particular mode of sonic attack. I bet they’d have done justice to a version of Oh Well too. I doubt we’ll ever find out. Mavers, as Peter Green was, is, as you well-know, one of music’s enigmas. 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Poplar Music

I was delivering a series of lessons recently on Rosa Parks, the black American who in 1955 refused to give up her seat to a white woman on the bus; an action that began the stirrings of the black community to seek, demand and fight for equal rights. I say ‘community’ as if there were ‘only’ a few thousand affected people here. By the mid 1950s, America had a population of around 150 million people, 15 million of which was black. So, 10% of the population was denied the right to sit where they wanted on the bus, go to their preferred church, drink in a bar, use a public toilet, sit in the doctor’s waiting room and naturally go about their daily lives as they would have liked to.

The learners in my class were switched on and interested in this. Despite being typical west of Scotland young people living in an area with little diversity, they knew the rights and wrongs of it. Someone pointed out the parallels between Rosa’s story and that of the refugees coming into Britain by boat only to be deported to Rwanda, how they were denied their basic rights and were treated differently. This led to a conversation about Ukrainian and Syrian refugees, some of whom are in the local school community. Regardless of the complexities of these issues, the kids recognised one thing – no one should be treated differently because of where they’re from or due to they way they look, act or talk. In my experience, young folk are quick to speak up on unfairness. They’ll quickly recognise when something is unjust and often be very vocal about it. Their stance on racism and tolerance of others was a small beacon of light in a United Kingdom that is becoming hideously right wing and intolerant, (mis)lead and governed by a party that is verging on the fascistic. These young learners might just offer us a way out.

I really wanted to point my learners towards Billie Holiday‘s Strange Fruit, but I had reservations about the song’s subject matter. Usually when your conscience speaks to you as a teacher, you listen to it. Experience has taught me that the last thing you want or need is an angry parent demanding to know why their 10 year old brought up the subject of mass race lynchings over the dinner table. So, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t.

Billie Holiday Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit is a powerful song, grotesque even once you know the subject matter. The lyrics, drawn from a 1937 poem (Bitter Fruit by Abel Meeropol), are a juxtaposition of the natural heaven and the human horrors of the Deep South; the pastoral scenes and bodies swinging in the breeze, the intoxicating smell of magnolia and the bulging eyes and twisted mouths of the lynching victims.

Can you imagine hearing it for the first time, those lines about the bulging eyes and burning flesh jumping out of the grooves and smacking you square on the cheek? Fruit for the crows to pluck? For the sun to rot? Oh! So she’s not singing about normal fruit? Jeez. There’s no way I could’ve played this to primary school children, no matter how mature and switched on they may have been.

Holiday’s eerie and otherworldly voice squeezes its way through the smoky ether of muted trumpet and vampish piano, a night club voice bereft of its usual sass or swing. Her delivery, unsurprisingly, is stately and precise yet understated and ghostly, full of restrained rage at the world in which she lives. Nowadays, it sounds like an ancient artefact beamed in from history, from the time of monochrome and gramophone, of prohibition and inhibition. That hollow-bodied jazz guitar that makes itself known right at the end adds perfect period definition to create a powerful piece of American art.

Holiday was scared to sing it initially. Afraid of what might happen when it was performed, she drew power from the death of her own father (he died of mustard gas poisoning at the end of the first World War, refused treatment due to being black). ‘I have to keep singing it,’ she wrote in her autobiography. ‘Not only because people ask for it, but because twenty years after Pop died the things that killed him are still happening in the South.’

The power of the song was such that during live performances, waiter service was halted at the tables and the room was set in darkness, save one solitary spotlight on Holiday as she sang. It was always her last song of the night. Sometimes the end of the song was met with rapturous applause. At other times, Holiday would be verbally abused for daring to sing it. Some audience members would walk out in protest mid song. What did they have to protest about? Holiday holding a mirror up to society? Promoters asked her not to sing it. Billie’s contract stated that she had the final say on that. Her label, Columbia, wouldn’t handle it. They deemed the song too controversial to release. Unperturbed, Holiday’s manager took it to a small independent label, Commodore, who pressed it and released the song. It garnered little to no airplay, ending up on the blacklist. Blacklisted. There’s some sort of irony there, yet here we are, 84 years later, still discussing its power.

Strange Fruit has lost none of its weight or ability to shock. It’s arguably the first in a rich lineage of protest songs that runs from the pre-rock ‘n roll jazz era to the dust bowl socialism of Woody Guthrie, past Bob Dylan in the ’60s and Stevie Wonder’s socio-political discourse of the ’70s and through Public Enemy to contemporary groups like Sault who are equally as angry about the world in which they live. Always vocal, never silent, calling out unfairness when it arises. Just like those young kids at school.


Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Cover Versions, Live!

Two Johns

It’s required listening, at least once a year, to submerge yourself in all things Nuggets. The Lenny Kaye-curated double album that became a box set and a franchise (and ended up an ever-decreasing dilution of the original) should be mandatory in every record collection. Kaye’s crate digging (to coin a now-cliched phrase) ensured the low hits and no hits of the day were immortalised alongside their rattlin’, rollin’, fuzz-friendly peers forever.

Without Nuggets, most of us would never have heard the giddy rush of The Knickerbockers‘ totally Beatles Lies or Mouse & The Traps thin wild Dylanisms, or fallen off their chairs at the sheer cheek of David Bowie nicking the Shadows Of Knight‘s Oh Yeah for the glam slam of ‘his own’ Jean Genie. Nuggets is jam packed full of, eh, nuggets; enough riffs and beats and organ motifs to keep most garage-influenced bands in material for the entirety of their career.

The PremiersFarmer John

Farmer John by The Premiers is classic Nuggets. It’s built around a simple lyric and three stomping chords that fall somewhere between Louie Louie and Wayne Fontana’s Game Of Love; a ramalama of clanging guitars, tub thumping drums and double-time handclaps. The live-in-the-studio feel, with its ad-libbed count-in and hoots ‘n hollers ‘n screams ‘n shouts between the lines has the whole thing sounding like some sorority house frat boy party.

Has anybody seen Kosher Pickle Harry?” asks the host. “Tell him that Herbert is looking for him.” And the band fall in and hit their stride. You can imagine them in matching cardigans and side sheds, Mighty White mile-wide smiles, instruments all held up at the same 30 degree angle, a crowd of bobbysoxers in front of them jerking and jiving to the head-bobbing teenbeat being played out.

Farmer John,’ they sing. ‘I’m in love with your daughter.’

Woah-woh,’ goes the backing, as innocent and wholesome and American as apple pie.

When Neil Young got a hold of the song, he ground its gears until it was slow and slothlike, a sludgefest played by old men with heavy guitars and heavier worldly problems. The antithesis of The Premiers’ version, Neil Young’s plays up somewhat to his alliteratively descriptive Godfather Of Grunge moniker and sucks all the joy from it in the process. In fact, Neil’s version is mildly threatening.

Neil Young & Crazy HorseFarmer John

Chug-thump-chang-clump, wham-djam-flam-flump, jack-hammer-smack-bammer, thwack-crack-flack-nyack, whine-grind-whine-grind, woah-woh.

I love the way she wiggles when she walks,” smirks old Shakey, done up in his best clean dungarees, his crosseyed gang of knuckle-trailing village idiots lurking goofily behind him. Uh-hur-hur-hur.

If I was Farmer John and Neil and his plaid-bedecked backing band showed up telling me that they were in love with my daughter, I’d be reaching for the ol’ double barrel and my best ‘You best git goin’ mister, we don’t want no trouble ’round here‘ line. At least The Premiers, for all their inferred frat boy up-to-no-goodness had the good grace to look Mr Farmer in the eye and give him the impression that she’d be in safe hands.

It’s no concidence that you could chop an axe in time to that slow ‘n steady Crazy Horse rhythm. You might be chopping logs. Or firewood. Or Farmer John’s daughter’s head, her champagne eyes finally giving up their sparkle just as the turned up to ten Les Pauls give up their howling feedback to the night.


Get This!

I used to work in a record store. I got everything before anyone.

If there was an exclusive school for the kids who were too cool for school, James Murphy would be too cool for even that. A drop-out and waster then doer and wooer on Brooklyn’s creative early 00s scene, he was a label boss, punk guitarist, engineer to David Holmes and DJ before striking gold with LCD Soundsystem. With his radar firmly fixed on the esoteric, Murphy’s band employed an amalgam of the scratchy funk of Talking Heads and the burnished chrome of New Order, close-up yet widescreen, with just enough cavity in the cadence to let his Mark E Smith-ish vocals through-uh.

LCD SoundsystemLosing My Edge

Their first single, 2002’s Losing My Edge, is a magically arch and knowing nodding wink to an underground DIY scene that Murphy himself helped create. The music is great; a huge, jolting, on-the-one bassline and twitchy rhythm that sounds simultaneously Casiotone retro and man-machine futuristic, a No Wave elbow jerker from 1981 perhaps, (or a facsimile of Killing Joke’s Changecheck it out), or the latest drop by the hottest new group this side of the L Train platform in Williamsburg.

I was there in 1968, I was there at the first Can show in Cologne.

I was there in 1974, at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City. I was working on the organ sounds.

I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band. I told him, ‘Don’t do it that way, you’ll never make a dime.’

I was the first guy to play Daft Punk to the rock kidzzz. I played it at CBGBs. Everybody thought I was crazy.

We all know I was there. 

Murphy’s attention-grabbing half-spoken vocal is both rapt and rapped, reeling off a list of achingly hip groups and musical reference points, an exhausting display of one-upmanship, delivered deadpan and with at least half a tongue in cheek, a ‘completed it, mate!’ brag for men of a certain age.

I’ve never been wrong. I used to work in a record store. I got everything before anyone.

I was there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan.

I was there in Jamaica at the great sound clashes.

I woke up naked on the beach in Ibiza in 1988.

(Didn’t we all, James. Didn’t we all?)

Every line a small story in its own right.

Losing My Edge was written during a spell of unshakeable paranoia, when Murphy lived in constant fear of being ousted from his position as DJ and taste maker numero uno in New York’s most fashionable underground spots. He’d be playing Can and ESG and the B-52s and watch on as other DJs, seeing people’s reactions to these hot ‘new’ sounds began playing the same records in their own pop-up clubs. ‘His’ records were now ‘their’ records and Murphy was no longer the cool, edgy guy on the scene. At least, that’s what his paranoia told him.

I’m losing my edge to the kids from France and from London.

I’m losing my edge to the kids whose footsteps I hear when they get on the decks.

I’m losing my edge to the to the internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978.

I’m losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.

But I was there!

Perhaps you – yeah, even you! – record collectors, musical kleptomaniacs, scene hoppers, vinyl fetishists and snobs, are the butt of a twenty year old in-joke. Perhaps not. But, perhaps yes.

I heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody.

I heard you have a vinyl of every Niagara record on German import.

I heard that you have a white label of every seminal Detroit techno hit – 1985, ’86, ’87. 

I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.
I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars.

I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know.

But I was there!

I was there!


Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, New! Now!

Reel Around The Fontaines

New! Now! is Fontaines DC‘s fantastically idiosyncratic take on Nick Drake’s wispy and ethereal ‘Cello Song. The Dubliners (DC = Dublin City, see?) grab Nick Drake’s original by its sullen, woollen coattails and pour a bucketful of distortion over a pounding, punishing backbeat and reimagine the song as a shit-kicking gutterpunk bruiser of a tune. It’s quite fantastic; unique, original and exactly how every band should approach attempting to cover the uncoverable.

Fontaines DC – ‘Cello Song

A lone cello creeps in, sounding like a ghost ship’s foghorn out in some woebegone ocean or other, clattering percussion rustles and rattles its way into an unforgiving hucklebuck beat, a caterwauling string section drags its heels across the soundscape and haunting/haunted aah-ah-ah vocals entwine themselves around the call and response guitar riffs to magic up an unholy and thrilling racket. Nick Drake does this bit too, but whereas his is otherworldly and mysterious, Fontaines DC give off seriously heavy don’t-look-’em-in-the-eyes vibes. Truly terrifying.

The vocals proper arrive, Grian’s Irish brogue undiluted and unforgiving and all the more powerful for it. The guitars, sounding like up-the-dial radio static turned up to 10, whip up a frenzy of controlled feedback and electric twang, menacing and panther-like, somewhere between the electrified slink of Hendrix’s Third Stone From The Sun and gentle sleep of Kevin Shields at his woozy, somnambulistic best; head music and just as effective as a mood-altering stimulant. Throughout it all, the titular cello. Those jarring, jagged strings scratch and scrape at scabrous skin, John Cale in the Velvets, if the Velvets had been born in Dublin 30 years later to Nick Drake-loving parents.

Taken from The Endless Coloured Ways, a forthcoming reimagining of Nick Drake’s back catalogue by all manner of contemporary artists (Philip Selway, Craig Armstrong & Self Esteem, Karine Polwart & Kris Drever) Fontaines DC’s thrilling cover has set the mark by which all other cover versions – Drake’s or otherwise – will now be measured.

Ignore the original recording of Nick’s, and reinvent the song in your own unique style,’ the bands were briefed. Fontaines DC have passed the test with flying colours. Turn the volume up and stick it on repeat.

Here’s Nick Drake’s original. Kinda meh now, isn’t it?!

Nick Drake ‘Cello Song

Get This!

Light Entertainment

Aurora Borealis, the icy sky at night…

Aw man. Neil Young sang that. It’s the sighing opening line to Pocahontas, one of his best, yet perhaps little-known songs. You though. You knew that already.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to see the Aurora Borealis. You hear of folk booking Scandinavian get-aways at eye-watering prices, with the promise of seeing the Northern Lights up close and personal, only to return home with empty camera rolls and emptier wallets. There’s half a chance you’ll see them in Scotland, they say, especially the further north you go. It’s not unheard of though to see them on a clear late winter’s night as far south as Dumfries and Galloway.

Being on Ayrshire’s west coast, I’ve always lived in the faint hope that one night I’ll twitch the curtains and see the sky dancing above the neighbour’s house in a multicoloured hue of natural wonder. It’s a far-flung hope that, in the absence of Scandinavian Aurora Tours suddenly reducing their prices to recession-friendly 2023 numbers, I keenly hold onto. You can, then, imagine my flabbergasted seething jealousy and uncontrollable pissed-offness on waking yesterday morning to see my timeline flooded with wobbly amateur shots of yer actual Northern Lights dancing merrily in the skies above Irvine and Saltcoats and Millport and Arran and, y’know, half a dozen other places that are at most a ten minute drive from the room where I am writing this. No. Way. No fucking way. How did I miss it?!

There was Arran, silhouetted in black, the skies above ablaze in Coca-Cola reds and iridescent yellows and neon greens. Irvine Beach lit from above with raspberries and oranges and dancing limes. Ardrossan! Bloody Ardrossan, its skies painted in coppery crimsons and burnt umbers and glowing sage green, like a Farrow & Ball colour chart on heavy psychedelics, the colours of my dreams, red, gold and green, red, gold and green, to quote an old pal of this very blog. Every other photo on my timeline yesterday morning, from the expertly crafted time-lapsed professional shot to the shonkiest but smuggest of one-handed efforts showed a brilliant display of multicoloured, swirling, swaying dancing Aurora-lit Ayrshire skies. And I had slept through it all. 

By the time I’d eaten my Cornflakes I’d downloaded an Aurora Watch app. There was a chance they’d return that evening, it said…a slim chance based on cloud cover, or the lack of, but a chance that had to be grasped. 

We set out last night around 8 o’clock and headed for Ardrossan’s North Beach. It’s outside the town on the way to Seamill and West Kilbirde, and, now a sudden expert in light pollution, I was sure it would give us the best local chance of seeing them. As an added bonus, the Isle of Arran is just across the water. My mind was already replaying the sort of photos that this shonky amateur photographer would be smuggly sharing come the morning. Yes, the dark silhouette of Arran would provide the ideal contrast to the Holy light show that would part the clouds and have us all gasping, and I would have brilliant pictures to prove it.

Ardrossan North Beach was packed. Like, summer’s day back. Cars were parked randomly and, in the dark, dangerously on grass verges, left abandoned as their occupants scrambled onto the beach for the best possible vantage point. Truth is, anywhere in this part of the world is the ideal vantage point, but it didn’t stop this army of suddenly-expert skygazers to pitch up and stake their spot. There were campfires on the beach, a couple of tents, people out on the rocks, aiming for both solitude and spirituality, to be at one with God whenever he chose to start the show.

Nothing happened. The sky was thick with white cloud. The wind would occasionally blow the Cumulonimbus and Altostratus apart slightly and the crescent moon would poke its way through, teasing us with the promise of a none-more-black sky behind the cloud. No clear sky, no Aurora, they say. And we had no clear sky and definitely no Aurora. It didn’t stop some of our more challenged fellow watchers turning south to take pictures of the glowing sky above Saltcoats, the town’s light pollution (see, expert!) reflecting on the white cloud base to create a glow that, I’m certain, folk will be passing off as yer actual Aurora across social media today.

It’s the fear of being there and yet missing it, isn’t it? Have you ever seen that footage from one of those video bloopers shows, where the camera is trained on the space shuttle and, as the countdown gets to “lift off!” the camera operator swears loudly and quickly turns to their left, only to see a cloud of smoke and fire where the now-launched actual shuttle sat only seconds before? I was convinced that’d be us, looking where we thought was north, oblivious to the sky erupting behind us. 

A quick scroll though Twitter confirmed that the light show had started its merry dance in other parts of the world. Gourock, 20 miles up the road had it good. Oban. Arisaig. Ullapool. The Hebrides. The more rural and further north, the better. But still the clouds above us kept their firmly knitted pattern tightly shut. My Aurora app fluctuated between a 6% and 7% chance of seeing any action, but still we, and about a hundred other hopefuls around us, persevered.

It was not to be.

We left around half past ten. Two and a half hours of willing clouds to part and laughing at strangers taking pictures of what was definitely not the Northern Lights and scrolling enviously through Twitter drew to a conclusion and we admitted defeat. We weren’t the first to leave, but we were definitely not the last. I drove home, one eye on the road, the other in my rear view mirror, lest the Lights sneaked out at our expense. I don’t think they ever did.

Super Furry AnimalsNorthern Lites

Northern Lights, Kilwinning, 27th February 2023

Super Furry Animals wrote Northern Lites after being convinced they’d witnessed the phenomena of the Aurora Borealis. One of our best-ever bands, the group’s eclectic, catch-all ethos is put to good use on a track that bursts with steel drums, frothy mariachi trumpet blasts and overlapping Beach Boys harmonies. A scraping guiro provides its Beck-like percussive rhythm, its fuzz guitar and Caribbean rhythmic groove swaying hips to the very end. If only I’d thought to play this last night in Ardrossan, it might’ve summoned up the Aurora to make a fleeting appearance.

I think I’ll try that tonight. 


Get This!, Live!, New! Now!

CK Maxx

“So I was playing at a party in Rod Stewart’s house and Rod is up singing with us. The band is doing a rockin’ version of Ooh La La...Kenney Jones on drums…the whole shebang…the place is going crazy. We’re in this massive living area…it’s more like a ballroom, really…all these folk are there…Gordon Strachan is playing tambourine…and suddenly these doors at the back of the room burst open and this mass of crow-black hair runs the length of the room, leaps onto stage, jumps on Rod’s back…and it’s Ronnie Wood! Fashionably late as ever. He starts to join in, so pecking order dictates I hand him my white Telecaster and he begins to play along. Problem is, Rod sings Ooh La La in the key of B, but Ronnie assumes it’s being played in the usual key of D…and my guitar is blaring, right…and Ronnie is shouting above the din, “Wot fackin’ key is this in?!?” He keeps playing…and because my Tele is the lead instrument, it’s full on red hot, right, so no-one can hear Ronnie, but he keeps on shouting, “The key! Wot fackin’ key are we playing in?!?” What a mess! I’ve got a video of it and it’s very funny. Eventually, I step back onto the stage and casually press my tuner pedal while Ronnie is distracted, and I mute my – his – guitar – and Ronnie. He doesn’t seem to notice though, he’s pulling shapes and jumping around and having the time of his life playing this song silently in the wrong key. Wee Gordon Strachan is still banging away on the tambourine, oblivious to it all. And I think to myself. as David Byrne might say, how did I get here?”

Joe Gallagher is one of our best-kept musical secrets, but chances are you’ve unwittingly seen or heard him at work. He’s worked with The Magic Numbers and Deacon Blue, been a guitar roadie for the Grim Northern Social and the Go! Team, supported The Proclaimers on an arena tour, supported and written with Turin Brakes and Martha Wainwright – “people like that” he says, inferring there are plenty others – and has been a reliable guitar slinger for hire in any number of ‘solo’ acts’ live shows (see above for proof). He’s played gigs and recorded music under a handful of names, notably Toy Tin Soldier, where his album ‘Yield‘ nestled inside the iTunes Top 10. Currently, in the post-lockdown musical sphere, he goes by the pseudonym of Concrete Kid, a project put together by Joe with help from Turn Brakes’ Olly Knights.

Concrete Kid, HAC Irvine

In Concrete Kid, Joe has created a one-man stage act that recalls Beck at his least hip hop and most melancholy. Think Sea Change for reference. His bassy and richly-ringing acoustic guitars interplay with processed beats and electronic flourishes. Joe’s voice is killer; whispered and close-miked, crystal-clear but with a wee bit of grit at the back, coming across like a cleaned-up Mark Lanegan or a Lanarkshire Lee Hazlewood. Not for nothing does he brand himself The Psychedelic Cowboy.

Concrete KidThe Colour Green

Concrete Kid, HAC Irvine by Kerrin Carr Photography

Most importantly, he has the songs. Only a handful at present, but great tunes that can stand with the best of them. Whether in full-on studio production or played as stripped-back acoustic torch songs, they have the melodies, the craft and the strength to take Joe places in his own right.

Forthcoming single Summer Pearl should hopefully find its way onto the playlists of the more discerning radio shows – yr Gideon Coes and Billy Sloans and Jim Gellatlys and what have you.

Concrete KidSummer Pearl

Concrete Kid, HAC Irvine by Kerrin Carr Photography

I’ve seen Joe/Concrete Kid live a couple of times in the past year and already he has a handful of serious ear worms in his set. There’s a song called Sail Away, all strummed melancholy and skyscraping chorus, that would sound perfect wafting across the fields as the Glastonbury afternoon fizzles its way towards twilight.

I like the way Joe eases into his songs; there’s no knock-kneed rush to get through the chord changes or speed through the chorus. He relaxes both you and he into his world. His phrasing is cool and easy to the point of languid, curling its way around the chord changes like blue tendrils of Gitanes knitting their way through Simone Signoret’s fingers. Joe is in music for the long run, an ethos reflected in the time it takes for his songs to unravel before finally hitting you,

A portent of things to come, the so-far under wraps Colour Green EP, with its dynamic mix of music and melody suggests that Concrete Kid is a name worth looking out for in the coming months. You can thank me come the end of the year when, by then, he may well be your new favourite artist.

You’ll find Concrete Kid on Soundcloud and Spotify and all the usual places that cloth-eared muppets like Chris Moyles never think to visit to go…


Keep an eye out on who the support act is at the next gig you go to. If it’s Concrete Kid, get there in time to catch him.