Alternative Version, Get This!

Runners And Ryders

Happy MondaysBummed was something of a slow burner. Released in November ’88, it was arguably a full 12 months before its clattering industrial funk had travelled its own lolloping path from the margins to the mainstream. I picked up on it in the great summer of 1989, my pal and I each buying it from the old Fopp at the top of Renfield Street. Keen to have a proper look at our new records on the train on the way home, we opened up our respective bags, slid the inner sleeve from the pink-faced portrait of Shaun Ryder and very, very quickly returned the pouting, pube-free porno nude back inside again. Who expected that?!? It made for a ton of pink-faced nervous laughing and some strange stares that didn’t stop until long after after Paisley. Even still, by Christmas ’89, with Manchester in the area and an epoch-defining Top of the Pops episode featuring both Stone Roses and Happy Mondays in the bag, it was the follow-up – The Madchester EP, with lead track Hallelujah – that finally elevated the Mondays from cult act to the band that your mum knew. Loads of folk worked backwards from there, Bummed was that Christmas’s most asked-for LP and suddenly, Happy Mondays were everywhere.

Slower coaches who were still to get in on the act did so a few months later when Step On was released, its rinky-dink Italo house intro a call to arms for the loose of limb and slack of jaw in every provincial indie disco in the land. An almost thrown-away track – it was originally recorded as part of a tribute album for Elektra, the band’s American label, and their version of an old, forgotten John Kongos’ track came to define everything about the Happy Mondays of the era. Suddenly, they were no longer the preserve of Factory Records disciples and switched-on fans of left of centre non-chart music. You were as likely to hear your postman whistling Step On‘s intro as you were to see your local fruit ‘n veg assistant hold up a honeydew or a galia and gurn the words that will surely one day appear on Shaun Ryder’s tombstone.

By this point, the band was already well into the recording of their next LP. With a third new producer in as many albums, Pills, Thrills & Bellyaches eschewed the shouty funk of John Cale and the dark embryonic haze of Martin Hannett and, using Step On‘s success as a jumping off point, was buffed to a glossy sheen by dance producers Steve Osborne and Paul Oakenfold. A true marker of where the band now was success-wise, the album was written and recorded at Capitol Studios in L.A. The daily mayhem and freakscene that followed and surrounded the band fed into the music and the lyrics; a lack of E meant the band switched their allegiances to opium; half a dozen or more dealers would be at the studio every day; the lead singer got so into it and so out of it that he took to wearing a ski mask – “it’s the only thing keeping my head together,”- his fried eyes and half-masked hooked nose freaking out the locals in the sizzling Californian heat.

To paraphrase a line in an interview Ryder gave in his Black Grape days, Happy Mondays didn’t get into the music business and discover drugs, they discovered drugs and got into the music business. Being big business in L.A. meant access to better pharmaceuticals and freakier people. The Mondays soaked it all up and spat it back out on a record where influences and subject matter as disparate as Donovan, Bruce Forsyth and intrusive airport searches co-existed within the grooves.

‘I’m here to harass you, I want your pills and your grass you,

You don’t look first class you

Let me look up your ass you

I smell dope, I smell dope, I smell dope, I’m smelling dope.’

(Happy Mondays Holiday)

Despite the distractions, Ryder remained totally focussed during the sessions. The band had rented an apartment in one of L.A.’s more notorious neighbourhoods, sharing ammenities with petty criminals, porn stars and, bizarrely, Mick Hucknall. Mondays’ drummer Gaz Whelan played tennis with his fellow corkscrew-haired Mancunian everyday while the others sat around the pool eyeing up their neighbours and feeding the experience back into song. Ryder kept a notebook close by, scribbling lyrics whenever they came to him, writing and re-writing with an unchracteristic determination and drive. He’d take rough cuts home from the studio and work the lyrics into finished songs while the others partied.

The end result was an album that, from the sleeve on in was day-glo and bright, a beacon of off-it’s-head light in a landscape of floppy fringes, Fenders and fuzzboxes. Scratch a little below the surface though and you’ll soon dig up the dark matter. It’s maybe not my favourite Happy Mondays record, but it’s one of the most interesting.

All compass points lead to the big tracks – Step On, the asthmatic wheeze of God’s Cop, Kinky Afro‘s Labelle-lifting confessional, but let’s shine a light on Loose Fit.

Happy MondaysLoose Fit

The runt of the litter, Loose Fit was the final single from the album, limping its way to number 17 almost a year after the album was released. By this point in time, Happy Mondays’ stock had fallen to an all-time low. They’d been quoted as saying some unforgiveable homophobic rubbish in the NME, they were happy to pose in a jacuzzi with Penthouse girls for The Sun and were in the middle of unleashing unhappy hell on an unsuspecting Jamaican island where they’d decamped to record what would be their final album. To all intents and purposes, their horse (and Ryder) had bolted.

Out of time and context though, Loose Fit has proven itself to be the ace up Shaun Ryder’s Gio-Goi sleeve. Wafting in on a riff that’s as airy and wide as the 25″ flares it celebrates, its mid-paced groove still delivers. Don’t need no skintights in my wardrobe today, fold them all up and put them all away. As far as songs about fashion go, only ‘she wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo‘ is better. You knew that already though.

Notice that slow exhale of breathe at the beginning as Ryder wakes up from his opiate slumber and stretches himself yawning into the verse; voice whispered, eyes hooded, goofy stoned immaculate. Backed by the ever-present Rowetta, they make for an unlikely double act, yet it works.

Happy MondaysLoose Fix

It turns out that exhale of breathe was something else entirely. The less than subtly-titled Loose Fix version tells you all you need to know. Light up, lean in, far out. There’s a guitar line that predates Flowered Up’s Weekender by a good year, some processed beats that Gillespie and co would cop for their own experiment in dance a few months later and a production that keeps the whole thing riding the zeitgeist of turn-of-the-decade indie dance.

Sounds good to me, as someone once sang.

Alternative Version, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

The Untied State Of America

The revolution will not be televised
solely on ABC and BBC and CBS and CNN 
via twenty-four hour news channels repeating graphic images 
Repeating graphic images
Repeating graphic images
The revolution will be reported by bloggers and vloggers and looters and muggers
Twitters, Tweeters, fast-food eaters
hashtaggers and carpetbaggers, 
The good, the bad and the ugly
all giving their own perspective on the state of America as, overseen by a bully, a rapist, a racist, a disgrace, 
it swallows itself whole, 
a blinkered and bloated, unantidoted nation, where institutionalised hatred of non-whites is at its scraggy, entitled core and the police are given free reign to murder whoever they choose, live on camera. 


The revolution will not be finger lickin’ good
The revolution will be the real thing
Relying on the appliance of science
To get you all the news that’s fit to print
Because you’re worth it.

Tony L. Clark holds a photo of George Floyd outside the Cup Food convenience store, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died Monday in police custody near the convenience story.(Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)

The roots of racism run deep and long, particularly in American history and while there’s a general pretence that we’ve all moved on somewhat, that we’re nowadays more progressive, more liberal and tolerant, it’s not hard to debunk that particular myth. They say you’re never more than 6 feet from a rat, and in the same way, you’re never more than 6 seconds away from finding a racist on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes it’s out and out Tommy Robinson-style hideousness, sometimes it comes wrapped in that old ‘don’t white lives matter too?’ blanket, but it’s all there. Racists walk among us; the man on the street. The cop in Minneapolis – the Minnea Polis, you might say. Even (especially) the inflammatory Twitterer hiding out in the White House. Society’s cancer that refuses to die.

The George Floyd story is, depressingly, nothing new. The reaction has been seen before too. But not like this. Perhaps it’s the pent up release of a country in lockdown, hiding from one epidemic while another rages at its own door, brought to a head by a President who’ll use the situation to rally around the WASPish right as he clings to a job he’s not fit for doing. I don’t know. I’ll never properly ‘know‘. That matters neither here nor there though – I do know right from wrong. We are not all equal, but we should be. That’s obvious, right?

Gil Scott-Heron’s most-famous track, from whence that attempt at politico-prose at the top was inspired was recorded in 1970, just Gil and his firm, quietly assured voice, accompanied by some groovy percussion. The very definition of beat poetry.

Gil Scott-HeronThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Small Talk At 125th & Lenox)

It’s an ‘answer track’ to The Last PoetsWhen The Revolution Comes, street-tough, proto-rap that leaves its cards face-up on the table – “When the revolution comes, guns and rifles will be taking the place of poems and essays.” It was written more than half a century ago, yet seems perfectly prescient for addressing America’s white elephant, so to speak, that refuses to leave the room.

The Last Poets‘ – When The Revolution Comes

A few years after recording his response, Scott-Heron re-recorded The Revolution Will Not Be Televised with added funk and jazz musicians. Its roll-call of cultural reference points and underlying message of activism over pacifism now a relaxed, meandering soundtrack, no less hard hitting but presented in soft-focus polaroid as opposed to stark monochrome. It’s a great soundtrack by which to get political. Agitate, educate, organise.

Gil Scott-HeronThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Alternative Version, Get This!, Live!

This Ain’t No Foolin’ Around

Notwithstanding a title that could easily apply to the mess the UK government is currently making of things, Life During Wartime is the greatest-ever Talking Heads track, and here’s why.

Their first two albums – ‘77‘ and ‘More Songs About Buildings And Food‘, good as they are, were mere amuse-bouches for what would follow. On those albums, Talking Heads developed an out of step sound far removed from the shouty three chord ramalama of the bands of the day. They flirted with wired, claustrophobic paranoia, the vocals delivered with one-eye-over-the-shoulder nervous energy, the music transmitted via guitar strings as tight and tense as a head-to-head on Hart To Hart. Hints of the funk bubbled underneath, suppressed perhaps, or maybe subdued due to a lack of confidence. By 1979’s Fear Of Music though – that’s three albums in three years, Radiohead! – they’d hit their stride.

Fear Of Music was a conscious decision by the band to make an album that ran deeper than the standard two or three singles plus filler model that was prevalent at the time. With an eye for Duchamp and an ear for disco, they set up in a New York loft, transmitted their sonic ideas via extra-long cables out of the windows and into a mobile studio parked outside, and went about creating a record that was equal parts cerebral and celebratory.

With Eno again at the controls and a supporting cast including The Slits’ Ari Up and some wild guitar Frippery from the former King Crimson soundscaper, the band stretched out to great effect. Polyrhythmic African beats and twin chattering desert guitars carry I Zimbra to the fringes marked ‘far out’. Police sirens, scratchy no-wave guitars and body-popping bass propel Cities to great, new uncharted territories. The breathy relief of ‘Air’, all bing-bonging keys and guitar riffs and tones that surely made the young Johnny Marr reach for his six string and crib some notes is as wired and weirdly funky as Funkadelic, and deliberately so, you’d have to think.

It’s the penultimate track on side 1 that hits the sweet spot between art and dance. Just two chords from beginning to end (Am and E, should you fancy riffing along with it) Life During Wartime begins on a funky gutteral groove, a combination of on-the-one grinding guitar, bass, keys and drums. No countdown, just Bam! and we’re into it. It’s magic.

Talking HeadsLife During Wartime

There’s hardly time for the band to develop the theme before Byrne announces himself on vocals. His flaky, jittery performance is less singing, more acting, the way Christopher Walken, say, might deliver the plot-defining lines of a particularly tense thriller, Mad Max as scripted by Stephen King.

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go

Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town
This ain’t no party! This ain’t no disco!
This ain’t no fooling around!
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now!

Talking HeadsLife During Wartime (alternative version)

The alternate version that was considered then rejected for the album is worth hearing too. There’s more emphasis on the guitar, with little staccato morsecode signals that are quickly drowned out by a freeform, freeflowing freakout that may well be the work of Fripp himself. Whoever is playing it is certainly going hell for leather with a guitar line that wouldn’t be out of place on Bowie’s Lodger album or Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets, even if the player does run out of steam roughly three quarters of the way through the track. As interesting as it is, the released version remains definitive; urgent, insistent, incessant and never anything less than vital when it comes on.

While Byrne’s lyrics suggest an uneasy tension, part Baader-Meinhof reportage and part first-hand experience of NYC’s Alphabet City, the band compenasate with the groove. The subject matter might be uncomfortable, they say, but you’ll feel better after shuffling that skinny white boy ass of yours across whichever sticky dancefloor is nearest. It ain’t the Mudd Club or CBGB’s, it’s not even the Attic anymore, but as far as advice goes, it sure works.

Talking HeadsLife During Wartime (live Central Park, NYC 1980)

In the live setting, the track morphed even further into the funk. You’ll find it of course, in perhaps definitive form, on the ubiquitous and well-played Stop Making Sense, but it also appears (as above) on the second record of the double The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads, arguably a more accurate representation of the band at two points in time.

On the second record, the extended ten-piece version of Talking Heads, including soul singers and multiple multi-instrumentalists and living and breathing actual funk merchants in the shape of Bernie Worrell delivered a sped-up version of Life During Wartime that positively grooves with a cross-pollination of punk’s edge and funk’s sheen. No concept, no arty angle, just a band playing their stuff on stage. Close your eyes though and you can see those ten musicians moving as one to the infectious stew they themselves are cooking up. It is a party, and it is a disco. They’re definitely not fooling around though.

 

 

 

 

Alternative Version

Culture Club/Club Culture

He wasn’t all about the dressing up, y’know. Or the heroin habit. Or the kidnapping and chaining up and false imprisonment of the male escort. Boy George made some great records too. Not necessarily the Culture Club ones that he’s best known for, although anyone who tells you they don’t like Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? is lying – that great, dubby bass outro alone is totally ripe for sampling into a blissed-out, cosmic audio adventure by someone with talent. Weatherall could’ve done wonders with it. Maybe he did….I dunno. 

Post Culture Club*, George fully embraced the burgeoning club culture of the acid house scene. Stealing a nod on The Shamen by a good couple of years, he and long-time pal Jeremy Healy produced the nudge-nudge, wink-wink Everything Starts With An E, a four-to-the-floor, hands-in-the-air dancefloor banger that was enthusiastically put together following Healy’s first visit to Ibiza.

E-Zee PosseeEverything Starts With An E

Taking the island’s anything-goes manifesto, the track featured some (frankly hideous) rock guitar shredding, a Ronald McDonald sample and some box-fresh ragga toasting from reggae artist MC Kinky which was then welded to a steady 120 beats per minute groove. At times evocative of the slinky electro groove that powers Lil’ Louis’ French Kiss, Everything Starts With An E chugs along quite happily for seven and a half minutes.

Turn-of-the-decade epoch-defining, it conjures up images of liberated care-free, hedonistic young folk; bare-chested boggle-eyed boys, jaws going like the clappers, ogling the girls and the strobed-out, sillhouetted podium dancers in far-flung foreign nightclubs. By the time it builds to the end, the loved-up, laser-lit crowd is as one, raising their hands higher and higher and higher to the eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-Eh-Eh-EH-ECSTACY-EEEH! refrain, arms stretched straight up in praise-the-Lord euphoria as the chant and the dancers peak as one. I’d been on Ibiza at the time and yeah, that’s just how I remember it, daddy-o.

Produced while the dance music scene was still relatively underground, the duo created a label, More Protein, purely to enable the track’s release. Despite George’s obvious chart potential and Healy’s background in occasional chart grazers Haysi Fantayzee, no label it seems would touch the track, the lyric proving too hot for the more sussed executives who rejected it. In the event, the single peaked at number 15 with no airplay but also none of the tabloid furore that accompanied Ebeneezer Goode a couple of years later. A product very much of its time, it remains a slightly dated artefact from a dance scene that was heading pell mell overground from the underground.

Reflecting the balanced yin-yang of the More Protein logo, if Everything Starts With An E was a Saturday night record, George’s next venture was Sunday morning’s bleary-eyed groove.

Jesus Loves You Generations Of Love (full length mix)

Generations Of Love is the sound of the Mediterranean, of beach cafes and breaking waves, late sunsets and early sunrises.

It has all the hallmarks of Ibizan influence; the filtered windchimes (?) at the start, the break beat, the sparse Italo house piano line, the ricocheting whooshes and a soulful vocal bang in the centre of the mix. George’s voice is spectacular here, a silken husk that duets with itself throughout the record, until MC Kinky pops up like a hyperactive ne’erdowell gatecrashing a redemptive meditation session.

The lyric too is multi-faith, the message one of hope over hate.

No big AIDS sensation…No twenty-eighth clause…The end of apartheid…No message of war

Generations of love have done you wrong

The Jew and the Gentile…The black and the gay…The lost and the futile…They’ve all got something to say
The African nation…The sword of Islam…The rebels in China…The Sikhs and the Tams

And there’s much more we can say
And there’s much more we can do
And there’s much more we can learn

Jesus Loves You Generations Of Love

The 7″ version might be even better. It breezes along on the same shuffling beat, but includes essential frantically-scrubbed Spanish acoustics and some lilting Paris-in-the-Spring accordion. Not something I’d ordinarily miss, but perfect on this Balearic brain soother.

*Culture Club phase 1. There was a flat as a pancake attempt at a reunion a few years ago. Filmed for posterity by the BBC, I’m fairly certain none of the principal players would want to watch again.

Alternative Version, Cover Versions

Simply Dread

Fisherman by The Congos is a proper chunk of roots reggae; thudding staccato bass, lilting scratchy guitar, blunt-powered off-beat drumming and the sweetest falsetto this side of Frankie Valli’s The Night. The opening track on The Congos 1977 Heart Of The Congos album, it’s exactly the sort of track you’d introduce to any cloth-eared fool who tells you they don’t like reggae.

The CongosFisherman

 

Produced by Lee Perry, Fisherman is testament to his genius at the controls. He allows the band to play with a tight fluidity, adds the requisite sonic watery boinks and drowns the whole load in a bathtub full of reverb and delay. There’s a spaciousness to it all, the sound of a group of musicians and producer playing, at the very least, in their slippers with their feet up, but more likely horizontally and under the influence of old, home-rolled Jamaican finest. His dub version is fantastic…

Lee PerryFisherman dub

As crucial as Lee Perry is to the sound of the record, the musicians themselves can’t be overlooked. Save the booming, brooding opening track, drums on the album were provided by the ubiquitous Sly Dunbar. That stellar bass is played by Boris Gardiner, best known in the UK perhaps for his unlikely mid 80s number 1 hit, I Want To Wake Up With You, but famed in reggae circles for his stellar contribution to the development of the genre from knee-trembling ska to filling-loosening whacked-out dub. Check out his fantastic take on Booker T’s Melting Pot for proof, if any was required, that bass playing and arranging doesn’t come much groovier.

Boris GardinerMelting Pot

Likewise, that lightly toasted, occasionally lightly rocking wockawockawocka wah-wahd guitar comes courtesy of Ernest Ranglin, a true originator who played on oodles of original Jamaica ska and rocksteady records – umpteen Prince Buster singles, My Boy Lollipop, Rivers Of Babylon amongst others. By the time of The Congos album, he was a guitar-for-hire sessioneer, as likely to be playing bebop in Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club or on a James Bond soundtrack (Dr No) as he was to be found in Jimmy Cliff’s touring band or in Studio One and Black Ark. Add the floating falsetto of Cedric Myton and Ashanti Johnson’s baritone and you can appreciate the pedigree. The Congos wasn’t just a supergroup. It was a super group.

Record label politics being what they are, Chris Blackwell at Island Records balked when he heard Heart Of the Congos. He’d invested heavily in Bob Marley, smoothing out his thumping roots reggae to ensure radio play and appeal to fans of white rock music (because, y’know, whitey doesn’t dig the real roots reggae), and here was Heart Of The Congos; untampered, 100% proof roots reggae….a direct threat to Marley. Island ended up pressing just a few hundred copies of Heart Of The Congos, Marley went on to international success and The Congos disappeared into a footnote marked ‘cult groups with cult records’.

Here’s where it gets bizarre. In the mid 90s, none other than Mick Hucknall, the ruby-toothed, elfin-faced, ginger-corkscrewed perma shagger who keeps warm by tossing £50 notes onto an open fire every coupla minutes thanks to his omnipresent global smash hit Stars LP got hold of the original Black Ark tapes and arranged for Heart Of The Congos to be repressed. He did! See, Blackwell, whitey really does dig the real roots reggae! Nowadays, anyone buying a copy of the album, unless they’ve somehow managed to unearth one of those rare originals, owes a great deal of thanks to the focal point of Simply Red. What a brilliant and strange world we live in.

Now get yourself over to that there Amazon and relieve yourself of just twelve quid (as we go to press) for a copy of the record. I’m sure wee Mick is on Twitter or suchlike, should you fancy passing on your thanks.

 

Alternative Version, Get This!, Live!

We Are Stoned Immaculate

Much as my alternate weekends are never far from Rugby Park, so too at Plain Or Pan are you never far from a few words on the Trashcan Sinatras. Their rusty yet trusty engine cranked back to life at the end of last week, not only in preparation for a 30 date acoustic tour of the States that, as you read, is a couple of shows to the good, but also with the welcome announcement that a mere 16 years after first releasing it, they’d finally be releasing Weightlifting on vinyl.

Oft-considered the jewel in a particularly sparkly crown, the news of the band’s 4th album’s arrival on the format it truly deserves has Trashcans fans all in a lather. In typically awkward Trashcans’ style, it’s only available at the US gigs or via the band themselves, where postage from America to Scotland will cost almost as much as the record itself and might take as long as November until it lands at your door. Quite which November it can be expected wasn’t specified by the band, but, y’know, very good things come to those who wait. It’s been ordered, of course…

 

Another surprising announcement was the news that a new rarities and outtakes compilation was available. A companion to the long-released (2003) and out of print Zebra Of the Family collection, this new 2nd volume gathers demos and sketches from the Weightlifting and In The Music eras. Generally, a time of chaos and uncertainty in the band’s history, the demos nonetheless reveal the Trashcans’ ability to write majestically in the face of disaster.

The Weightlifting material in particular reveals a band demoing songs that are fully formed and requiring little in the way of tinkering and tweaking come the time to record them properly. Are they superior to the released Weightlifting versions? Of course not, but there’s a raggedy-arsed beauty to tracks viewed in the half light of completeness.

There are a couple of goes at Leave Me Alone, the first featuring slightly altered lyrics and titled, tellingly, Leave Us Alone. Recorded in the middle of bankruptcy claims and enforced studio sales, it’s a well-named, world-weary tune that sighs the collective sighs of a band on the very edge of disintegration.

Yet, somehow, as they always do, the Trashcans pulled through. Finding themselves in Hartford, Massachusetts, they set about writing the bulk of the Weightlifting material. There’s a terrific version of What Women Do To Men, all delicate keyboard stabs and atmospheric up-the-frets bass, where the released version’s slide-into-the-stratosphere six-string trickery is replaced by feral distorted guitar and a bucketful of reverb, the pathos of the lyrics matched by the howling intensity of the band cutting loose behind. God knows exactly what those women did to these men, but it’s a cracker. Magic, even.

Trashcan SinatrasWhat Women Do To Men (Hartford sessions)

Elsewhere, there are spy through the keyhole takes on the wonderfully lush Usually, a track that’ll forever be in most Trashcans fans’ top 5, the plaintive and perfect Country Air and Astronomy, a rarity previously available only as an extra track on the Japanese release of In The Music. A welcome addition, it may well be the first time some long-time fans have heard a studio version of a track that was something of a live favourite back in the day. Sadly, frustratingly, the band has missed a trick here. I’m sure I have on tape a version of the track from many moons ago that featured Frank and not John on vocals. Maybe I’m wrong though. Or, maybe, in typical Trashcans’ fashion, it’s just lost to the ether. A minor quibble, and one that’s instantly forgiven when you hear what’s just around the corner…

Best of all is new track The Dirge.

Normally, you might approach a song with such a title with mild trepidation, expecting funereal, mournful music, a wade through sonic treacle wearing iron boots. This Dirge is anything but.

Trashcan SinatrasThe Dirge (Hartford sessions)

It’s beautiful.

Long, slow and elegant, it creeps up on you with guitarist Paul Livingston’s low key, low register vocals before unravelling into the kind of track you’ve come to expect of Super Furry Animals at their most melodious and Wilson-worshipping best.

There’s chiming electric guitars, tinkling percussion, unexpected chord changes and textures. Wah wahs waft around the chorus while melodies and counter melodies weave their magic. It lifts, it drops, it soars. Is that a brass part playing low in the mix midway through? And a female vocal? It might be. It should be. Normally when bands throw the kitchen sink at songs, the results are a cluttered and unpalatable dog’s dinner. But this? This is stoned immaculate.

From first listen to current, I’ve heard it in my head sung only by Gruff Rhys. Nowt wrong with that of course. If you’re going to write slow burning songs of beauty, who better to channel whilst in the middle of the creative process? Quite how The Dirge never made it out of the studio is beyond me. Weightlifting is a perfect album, but it wouldn’t have been out of place on it in the slightest. It pays to stick with the Trashcans if they’re going to throw out wee gems like this once in a while.

Catch the Trashcans on tour right now. And head over to the shop at trashcansinatras.com to order your copies of Weightlifting and Zebra Of The Family 2.

 

Alternative Version, Get This!, Live!, New! Now!

Sunshine From Leith

Ross Wilson has had a colourful life, growing up in difficult surroundings on a Leith housing estate, opting out of school from a very early age – “abandoning my education, I’m embarrassed to say,” – and finding himself in situations that none of us would wish to be in. Despite (or because of) this, he’s quiet, unassuming and completely humble.

His song ‘Grateful’ that opens Blue Rose Code’s 2016 album ‘And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing’ distils perfectly his life so far.

When I wake in the morning now, I try to be thankful,” he sings, in an effortless East Coast croon. “Did you know that I almost died? I’ll never be cool….I’ll never be good looking….I’ll never be rich, but Lord I am grateful.” It’s a simple song; short, direct and enhanced at the very end by a terrific gospel-tinged choir that competes with the Staple Singers for uplifting joyfulness.

Ross’s audience is grateful too. I watched him perform live over two extraordinary evenings in Irvine’s Harbour Arts Centre last weekend. A super-intimate venue that holds just 100 folk, the HAC is possibly our country’s greatest hidden secret. Audiences and performers alike have really taken to its ‘gig-in-your-living-room’ feel. The front row is a decent arm’s stretch from the headliners’ fretboards, the back row closer to the action than the front of all other ‘intimate’ venues and the performers there really respond to the cosiness of it all.

Blue Rose Code is Ross Wilson. Depending on the gig, he can have 3, 4, 5 or indeed, as when he’s fronting his amazing Caledonian Soul project, dozens of musicians on stage with him. He’s been in the HAC before as a 3 piece. On Friday and Saturday his band appeared as a duo, the sum of the parts a fraction of the greatness on display. Playing two different sets, Ross took us by the collective hand and led us through the whole gamut of human emotions. Accompanied by the fabulous Andy Lucas on keys, the duo whipped up a quiet storm of intensity.

Wilson doesn’t so much play his guitar as attack it; pinged harmonics zing across the room while back of the hand percussive beats provide rudimentary four to the floor rhythm. Listening to him play, it’s as if a tap has been turned on, a slow drip at first before gushing and overflowing, unable to be held back. Melodies cascade and tumble from his fingers, complicated arpeggios formed from open-tuned guitars and a handspan as wide as the Clyde. Jazz chords give way to ancient folk melodies that in turn part their way for minor key melancholy. It’s rhythmic, tuneful and breathtaking.

When he sings, it goes up a whole other level. Anyone can sing, but no-one can sing like Ross Wilson. It’s all in the phrasing, y’see. He stretches words beyond all recognition, he st-st-st-stops suddenly, breaking into spontaneous scatting, he barks, yelps and laughs off-mike and he takes these brilliant long run ups from the back stage to the microphone, using the dynamics of an amped-up voice like no-one I’ve ever seen. Any singers in the room over the weekend must’ve gone home with a few pointers on how to get the best from their voice in the live setting.

Behind him, strapped in for the ride of his life, Andy Lucas riffs behind the guitar on his keys; piano one minute, Fender Rhodes the next, forever on a mission to incorporate a lost blue note or a major 7th flourish. It’s a beautiful sound, incredibly nuanced yet totally spontaneous. On Friday the duo sound-checked with recent new track Red Kites. By the time it appeared in the show, it was twice as long, Andy had added a second vocal and Ross was off on some freeform guitar odyssey. For the entire weekend, Lucas never takes his eyes from Wilson’s fretboard. He knows when to cut in, when to take over and when to play softer, allowing the spotlight to shine on Wilson’s unique talent. It’s incredible stuff.

Blue Rose CodeBluebell

The music on offer is superb. Recorded, it’s quite the thing, the perfect soundtrack for a Saturday night in or a Sunday morning sudoku. In the live setting though, the songs soar, a scorching cross-pollination of Chet Baker’s stoned jazz, the voodoo folk-blues of John Martyn and the meandering twilight ambience of the Blue Nile. You really should investigate if these reference points are your kinda thing. It’s led to Ross being offered tours of Canada, the west coast of America and Australia. With 4 studio albums to his name alongside a handful of live albums and non-album EP releases, Ross Wilson has quietly built a mightily impressive back catalogue. A cottage industry with no financial help from anyone other than his supporters, it deserves a wider audience and greater recognition. He’s easily one of Scotland’s greatest talents, a real hidden gem of a songwriter and a peerless performer.

All photographs courtesy of Chris Colvin

Alternative Version, demo, Hard-to-find

In Search Of The La’s

In 2003, MW Macefield wrote a book called ‘In Search Of The La’s‘. Subtitled A Secret Liverpool, the author donned his best Inspector Clouseau raincoat, popped an oversized magnifying glass into the top pocket and hopped on the train to Lime Street in the hope of tracking down Lee Mavers, the wayward genius responsible for steering the good ship La’s aground. Despite reforming for a short, badly-received tour a couple of years after the book hit the shelves, and an even less successful venture a few years after that, I’ve now come to accept that The La’s are back residing in the ‘where are they now?’ category.

A good La’s detective will tell you that this promo pic of the band does not relate to the line-up that played on the tunes below.

Mavers’ legend continues to grow by the day and in the smallest corners of the internet he’s regarded as our generation’s version of Syd Barrett or Peter Green; the band leader with (way) out there ideas that were too far gone for even the most open and creative of minds in his band.

Lee tuned his guitars to the hum of his fridge.

In order to baptise his recordings with the relevant credentials, he demanded the Abbey Road desks he’d procured remain covered in their original 60s dust.

Despite at least a dozen goes of recording an album, he said nothing came close to the demo they’d recorded themselves of non-album b-side Over. Over, as you may well know, was recorded live. To 4 track. In a stable. There’s a Jesus pun to be had here, but Mavers is not the messiah, he’s just a very haughty boy.

The small but (im)perfect body of work he’s given us rattles and rolls and chimes and chirps with effervescent Scouse enthusiasm and a scrubbed, scuffed, skirl. Alongside the actual album, you’ll find all manner of demos and outtakes if you look hard enough. The La’s album was given the Deluxe treatment about a decade ago and the inclusion of the extra tracks shone a light on just how many producers they worked with in their vain search to nail the perfect version. The 4 CD box set that appeared afterwards only goes to confirm this. Dig deep and you’ll uncover new things in old tracks. My sister a few weeks ago gave me a copy of the BBC Sessions album. Playing the record is much more La’s than sticking on a CD as you go about your business, and I’ve been re-listening with open ears and open mouth. Some of these session tracks knock the released album versions for six.

One of the oldest La’s songs, the version of Doledrum from the band’s 1987 Janice Long session is the perfect example;

The La’sDoledrum (Janice Long session, 2.9.87)

Those percussive Magic Bus off-beats are magic! Maver’s vocal is strong, his rhythm playing an excellent counterpoint to the skifflish back-beat. Paul Hemmings sprightly solo in the middle is mightily whistleable. but it’s John Power’s high falsetto backing vocal that’s the song’s secret weapon, carrying the whole thing to the perfect multi-vocalled end. Like so much of The La’s material, there’s so much going on in such a simple song. Listen to it. Listen again. And again. I guarantee you’ll spot something new each time.

Possibly even more upbeat is the long-shelved version recorded with John Leckie;

The La’sDoledrum (John Leckie version)

Faster and with less emphasis on the percussive off-beats, the Leckie version features elongated Mavers’ harmonies and a lovely, subtle Power aah-aah-aah sigh where the solo should be. Mavers would probably tell you that this version is unfinished, or is lacking the requisite magic or doesn’t have enough 60s dust sprinkled atop. For what it’s worth, it would have been a worthy addition to that one and only album. The version that made the final cut is positively lethargic by comparison. Indeed, visit the forum on thelas.org and you’ll find plenty of discussion around the tracklist of the perfect La’s album; the Leckie mix here, the Bob Harris mix there, the Mike Hedges mix for this, the John Porter take for that. It’s a happy minefield when you get going.

I’m off to Liverpool this coming week with an itinerary packed full of Beatle-ish activities, Tate visits and a trip to Anfield. While I’ll forever be in search of The La’s, or at least Mavers, I’ll most definitely not find the proud Evertonian anywhere near the home of Liverpool FC, and I can’t imagine he’ll be propping up the bar in the darkest corner of The Cavern Club, but, y’know, y’never know. I like to think that I’ll pass him on Matthew Street, that he’ll recognise me (we were holiday pals for a week in 1993) and he’ll punch me playfully on the arm before we step into the nearest pub for a chinwag and a gin pomade, “kiddo.”

 

Alternative Version

Top Of The Swaps

It’s May 1989 in the Barrowland Ballroom and REM are winding up a marathon Green World Tour show with the second of three encores and an inspired version of a song that reminds me greatly of Jonathan Richman’s Roadrunner. It circles around a repetitive 2 chord riff and as it builds to a groove, drummer Bill Berry gets out the drum stool and without missing a beat takes the guitar offered to him by Peter Buck and takes over guitar duties as Buck gamely assumes the sticks and continues the backbeat to the song’s conclusion with an almost, but not quite, metronomic precision. Only later, after finding a bootleg tape at the Barras market did I learn that the song was Ghost Rider, by a band (Suicide) I’d yet to hear of.

The Buck/Berry swap over was a carefully timed bit of fun, two musicians afforded the time to do their party piece by the other half of the band as the end of a fantastic, career-encompassing show drew to a close. For all I knew, REM did the same schtick every night, but that encore in Glasgow seemed spontaneous and instant and as in the moment as live shows get. I can still see the two musicians now, Buck stage left, arms outstretched offering the sacrificial axe, Berry banging away at the bass pedal as he straps on the Les Paul (or maybe it was a Rickenbacker…it was 30 years ago, after all) while Mike Mills gamely keeps the whole thing together.

Bands swapping instruments on stage is nothing new. Adam and Edge used to swap bass and guitar whenever U2 played ’40’ and The Band would routinely do likewise mid set, mid song, whenever. Fleetwood Mac used to do similar at their height in the mid 70s. Of course, they went the whole hog and swapped wives, girlfriends and partners too, but it’s when the band takes it into the recording studio that the fun really begins.

When it was time for Bob Dylan to record Rainy Day Women #12 &35, he wanted to capture the sound of controlled chaos, a wonky ‘n warped Salvation Army band under the influence of, good god!, whatever. Copious amounts of alcohol and marijuana were taken, the mood was lightened and, the piece de resistance, the musicians were ordered to swap instruments.

Bob DylanRainy Day Women #12 &35 (Take 1)

Bass player Charlie McCoy was given the forlorn task of finding a horn section in the middle of the night – “Go an’ git me a Salvation Army band!” – before too being given a trumpet as the tapes started rolling. Guitarist Wayne Moss switched to bass and Henry Strzelecki jumped from guitar to Al Kooper’s organ. Kooper plays the tambourine that rattles enthusiastically from start to finish, counting every beat, the glue that barely keeps it all together. Only Kenny Buttrey on drums maintained his usual instrument, but even then he dismantled his kit and played just the snare and the bass drum.

The recording captures the daftness of the occasion. Hoops and hollers and yee-haws and yeahs fill the gaps between the sloppily-played 12 bar blues. Dylan is on fine form. In the middle of an imperious stretch of writing and recording – the same session would yield accepted stone-cold Dylan classic I Want You – he lets his guard down, giggling and cackling his way through the numerous verses. Listening to it, you can practically see the ear-to-ear grin he sports. The whole thing is dangerously close to falling apart, which is of course Dylan’s modus operandi and the intended appeal of the finished version. A daft song with a daft refrain – ‘Everybody must git stoned!‘ – it’s the perfect product of its environment.

Talking Heads‘ 5th album Speaking In Tongues closes with the fantastic This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody). The bracketed part of the song title comes from the fact that the guitar and bass play exactly the same 3 chord melody throughout. Real musicians, ratlionalised David Byrne, would never opt to play the same thing.

Talking HeadsThis Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)

That naïve melody is a product of Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison moving from their comfort zones. Weymouth relinquishes bass duties on the track and swaps 4 strings for 6. Harrison, relieved of his guitar plays the bassline on a Prophet synthesiser.

Accomplished as they are, the two musicians lend the track a slight edgy don’t look down! feel, and the track precariously wobbles on a tightrope of new wave funk. On their previous couple of albums, Talking Heads had flirted with the polyrhythms of Fela Kuti-infused Afrobeat. That This Must Be The Place never wanders makes it all the better. As Mark E Smith was wont to quote, repetition is discipline.

If you want even more repetition, look no further than the extended version…

Talking HeadsThis Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody) 12″ version

 

Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Live!

Fly Moves And Resurrected Grooves

No-one other than the main protagonist himself will know exactly what sounds John Squire was listening to on the day the music for I Am The Resurrection tumbled forth from his fingertips, liquid mercury floating atop a bedrock carved from the groovier elements of prime-time Hendrix, but even the most lenient of high court judges would be hard-pushed not to blurt out “Take him down!” whilst pushing forward a battered copy of Tim Buckley‘s Happy Sad LP as Exhibit A in the case against the Stone Roses’ super-flash riff meister.

Buzzin’ Fly, the second song on side 1 tumbles in on a riff that ‘Roses fans should recognise instantly. Indeed, if, by the 3rd second in, flares don’t start flappin’ in time to lolloping limbs, I’ll eat my well-worn Pollocked bucket hat and give up this blogging lark forever.

Tim Buckley Buzzin’ Fly

It’s the 18 carat gold signature riff to I Am the Resurrection, innit?! The missing link between Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Tim Buckley’s ethereal 12 string carries the tune whilst Lee Underwood’s mercurial, fluid electric lead meanders happily hither and thither, yet it’s undeniably the riff wot elevated Stone Roses from mere 60s-influenced day trippers to full-on, arrogant true believers (with messiah desires thrown in for good measure).

If you were being particularly scrutinous, you might also point out the similarities between its laid-back, free-spirited guitar interplay and the shuffling backing on Stone Roses’ Bye Bye Badman and Shoot you Down. Indeed, there’s maybe even a case for considering the guitar playing on Buzzin’ Fly to be the very genesis of that entire Stone Roses album. It’s clearly an influence, any cloth-eared fool can hear that.

Back in 1989, I had no idea at all that such a tune could tumble from the fingers of anyone but the expertly-coiffed Squire. Many an hour was spent mangling my fingers into shapes previously uncharted in the forlorn hope that I might replicate even 10 seconds of the heaven-sent instrumental passage that closed Stone Roses’ debut album. From street-suss rock riffing to full-on Starsky & Hutch funk, this was a new kinda guitar hero, from roughly the same area as Johnny Marr too, but a million miles way from his crystalline jangle. Nowadays, muscle memory has enabled me to jam along faithfully to I Am The Resurrection and my ham-fisted attempts might even border on being nearly right, but back then, continual stomping on my cheap fuzz box was the only answer I had when fingers were suddenly required to travel further up the fretboard than ever before.

(Dennis Morris, Glasgow Green)

No such worries for the guitarist in the spotlight, though. Here he is carrying the tune for upwards of 10 groovetastic minutes at the original Glasgow Green show in June 1990, 29 years ago yesterday, as coincidence would have it. With the sweat dripping from the ceiling of the massive circus tent and the anonymous rave music blaring like a beacon to the demented before the band appeared and then the punch full in the face from the wee random ned as I Wanna Be Adored rumbled through its opening gears, I remember it as if it were yesterday.

Stone Roses – Elizabeth My Dear/I Am The Resurrection (live, Glasgow Green, 9th June 1990, bootleg)

Lee Underwood – remember him?! – it would appear, went no further than the 9 albums he recorded as Tim Buckley’s right hand man, but what an important element to Buckley’s sound he turned out to be. Worth investigating, is Buckley Snr.

(Photo by Kevin Cummins/Getty Images)

Worth reinvestigating also is that Stone Roses album.

I remember reading a Gruff Rhys interview where he said that he’d played the works of The Velvet Underground so much in his youth that the music was now embedded in the virtual mp3 player in his brain, just waiting to be called down wherever and whenever it took his fancy.

I daresay the Stone Roses debut is similarly lodged in my cerebellum, but nothing beats getting out the real thing once or twice a year, placing it on the turntable and waiting (im)patiently for the low creeping bass that introduces the band one by one; bass then drums then guitar then vocals – the perfect intro. By the end of side 2, I’ve usually picked up the ol’ Fender and, capo on the 2nd fret (important that – those whippersnapper YouTubers seem to dispose of such essentials) teleported myself back to May ’89 when anything beyond the 5th fret was like a foreign language. It still is, I suppose, but I can speak a wee bit of it nowadays.

Stone RosesI Am The Resurrection