Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Peel Sessions

Turn The Heater On

You know that timeless footage of Joy Division in their rehearsal space, when they play Love Will Tear Us Apart; Ian Curtis with the Vox Phantom Teardrop worn almost at his Adam’s apple, Bernard channeling his inner Kraftwerk, Hooky, low-slung and serious and Stephen, tongue out in maximum concentration over his hi-hats? ‘Course you do.

It was filmed in TJ Davidson’s rehearsal rooms, a converted Victorian mill on Little Peter Street, the third point of a triangle that’s formed if you draw lines between the rehearsal space and Salford and Prestwich. Like the mystical, musical ley lines that so hypnotised Bill Drummond just over the Pennines in Liverpool, you might come to the conclusion that there’s something in that cosmic hippy shit after all.  Between them, Salford, Prestwich and those rehearsal rooms on Little Peter Street have been responsible for creating some of the best music we will ever hear. But you knew that already.

British singer Ian Curtis and guitarist Bernard Sumner of post punk band, Joy Division, at TJ Davidson’s rehearsal room, Little Peter Street, Manchester, August 19, 1979. photographer: Kevin Cummins

That room didn’t half look cold though. Long, bare floorboards, damp red brick walls and a worryingly bowed ceiling, it looks a less than inspiring place. It’s got a certain feel to it, of that there’s no doubt, but I’d imagine it might take many a band a good wee while to warm up to room temperature and start producing the goods in there. Maybe, now I think about it, that’s why Ian’s hand is permanently frozen in that G chord position while he wears the guitar.

The others gamely play on, heating the blood and warming the heart, despite the subject matter in the song. While a youthful Morris lays down his signature sound with all the mechanical precision of an industrial revolution stamping machine, Hooky’s bass reflects the damp sheen from the walls, a nice metaphor for the icy keyboard lines glistening over the top. Suffering for their art, Joy Division created a piece of music that will still resonate 100 years from now.

A couple of years later, when Joy Division had become New Order, the band found themselves recording a Peel Session. In tribute to their late vocalist, the band chose to play a cover of Keith Hudson‘s Turn The Heater On. While Ian Curtis was said to be a huge fan of the roots reggae track, I like to think that the others perhaps thought back to those freezing days at TJ Davidson’s and, with a nod and a wink, set about recording their own version.

New Order Turn The Heater On (Peel Session 1st June 1982)

I’d no idea until much later on that the track was a cover version.

It fits that early New Order aesthetic perfectly, coming as it does midway between the glacial thaw of Movement and the spring bloom of Power, Corruption and Lies. Sad, far-away vocals, sparse, polyrhythmic drums and a mesmeric chicka-chicka head-nodding dubby exterior, what’s, as they say, not to like? The icing on the cake is the addition of the mournful melodica, gasping and wheezing the long notes, the saddest traffic jam you’ve ever heard, burrowing its way into your brain before taking up camp long after the track has spun to its conclusion. Is that why they call it an earworm?

As it turns out, if you leave the melodica aside (something Bernard had difficulty doing in 1982), New Order’s version is fairly faithful to the original.

Keith HudsonTurn The Heater On

Recorded in 1975, Turn The Heater On is classic reggae; clipped guitars, thundering bass and squeaky organ vamps, topped of by a gently soulful vocal. I’ve a feeling too that while New Order might have been requesting that you do indeed turn the heater on, Keith Hudson may have been requesting a blast of heat from a different source. Perhaps not though.

It’s a great track, one I’m grateful to New Order for pointing me in the direction of. Played back to back with New Order’s reverential cover, they make for great late autumn/early winter listening. Turn the heater on, indeed.

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Rasta-Far-Out

The ghosting season is upon us, the one time of year I truly despise. I hated it as a child. I hated it as a parent when my kids were young enough to participate. I just hate it. The dressing up… the greediness… those creeping Americanisms of going trick or treating for candy around cobweb-frosted front doors and plastic gravestone-enhanced gardens can do one.

Amazingly, brilliantly – God bless ye, Covid – this year there’ll be no drip-nosed grubbers standing at my door in their various states of grotesqueness, reeling off the same combination of tired and/or risque jokes (Q. ‘What’s the difference between the tyres on my dad’s car and a blonde?‘ A. ‘A blonde will go down quicker than my dad’s tyres.’) in return for a handful of Haribo and a “have you told your mum that joke?” telling-off from me. The wee girl who first let slip that horrorshow of a party piece four or five years ago, and every year since, might finally stop telling it for good now.

Anyway.

Reggae.

Bob Marley‘s Mr Brown is one of his earliest recordings, dating back to 1970. It just so happens to be a ghost song, written in response to local legend that told of a duppy/ghost that could be seen hurtling across Jamaica late at night on a three-wheeled coffin. Perched atop the coffin alongside the ghost were three crows, one of which could talk. The talking crow would repeatedly ask for a Mr Brown. If you ever saw this hideous and creepy apparition, the story went, then RUN!, because you didn’t have long left on this earth. 

Bob Marley & The (Wailing) WailersMr Brown

The tune itself is a gently lilting three chord skank, played at relaxed pace and featuring some sweet falsetto backing vocals. Guitars and keys lock the rhythm and never deviate, allowing Marley to tell the story of the out of control ghost-driven coffin and the talking crow. Not yer average subject matter, and all the better for it.

Mr Brown was produced by the ubiquitous Lee Perry. Lee Perry is synonymous with reggae. The more dubified the music, the more prominent his involvement. His blunted, mercurial touch has been applied to literally thousands of records from Jamaica and beyond, fried at the edges and sprinkled with madness but beating with a heart of thunderclapping echoes and cavernous bass.

As I get older, I’ve begun to appreciate his more outré work in much the same way age has allowed me to appreciate a fine malt. Slightly unpalatable at first, you quickly develop a taste and ponder how you could go an evening without it.

Playing around with the Wailers’ track, Perry removed the vocals, credited the instrumental to The Upsetters and manouevered it onto the flip side of the Wailers’ single. In keeping with the original’s ghostly/horror theme, it was given the title of Dracula.

The UpsettersDracula

I don’t for a second think that Bob, Bunny and Peter sat around in rehearsal saying, y’know what….what this tune really needs is a funky, alien vibration every now and again. That ever-present deep electronic shimmer that sounds like the ancient central heating pipes in a school I used to teach in was clearly the madcap work of Lee Perry. Half a century later, it’s that sound that’s become the record’s signature.

Removing Marley’s vocals also allowed Perry the opportunity to incorporate the instrumental version into his soundsystem and toast across the top of it should he fancy doing so. Forever forward-thinking.

Eco-aware long before there was such a thing, Lee Perry not only grew his own herbs, he recycled tunes for his own benefit. In a burst of foresighted creativity, and long before many a future hip-hopper or soundscaper was out of short trousers, Perry actually sampled the vibe from another record entirely and enhanced the Wailers’ and, subsequently, his own tune.

Jackie MittooPeenie Wallie

He’s lowered the pitch, from toe-tapping shuffling ska to head-nodding deep-fried reggae, but you can hear exactly where Perry welded the backing track onto the Wailers’ own easy skanking shuffle, enhancing and filling out what is a fairly straightforward run through by a band still finding their musical feet.

The track’s title – Peenie Wallie – intrigues me. Here in Scotland, if someone is unwell, pale faced, or indeed ghost-faced, we refer to them as peelie wallie. Not a million miles away from the Jackie Mittoo title. I’ve often thought the owner of Studio One might’ve been referring to such a person, albeit in slightly interpolated form. Which of course, would bring us back onto the subject of pale-faced make-up and ghouls and ghosts.

*Bonus Track!

“And for our next track….!”

Bob Marley & The WailersDuppy Conqueror

Bob and the Wailers went on to record an ‘answer record’ to Mr Brown, the self-explanatory Duppy Conqueror. Proving that there’s great mileage in reggae, it too used a variation of the same backing track as Mr Brown.

Poke your nose in and you’ll discover that reggae is full of wonderful, recycled tunes. You knew that already though.

 

 

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, Peel Sessions, Sampled

Orderly Cue

New Order‘s Power Corruption & Lies has just had the luxuruious, deluxe treatment. Not for any anniversary reasons it seems, but it follows swiftly on the heels of the similar treatment afforded to its predecesor, Movement. Movement is a landmark album for New Order in some ways, not least the band’s decision to continue making music in the aftermath of Ian Curtis’s death, but Power, Corruption & Lies, as you know already, is the album where New Order is truly born.

Gone are the self-conscious carbon copy Curtis vocals and mannerisms. (Almost) nowhere to be heard are the rattling, richocheting Hannett-affected steam-powered drums. The high up the frets bass is, crucially, still there, more to the fore even; post-punk liquid mercury, fluid and meandering, creating that signature New Order sound without anyone being aware at the time.

Where the synth lines on Movement were occasional and minimal, on Power, Corruption & Lies they’re elegant and glacial, polishing New Order’s confident new sound with a reflective sheen. From the flowers on the cover – the juxtaposition of old and new worlds, explained sleeve designer Peter Saville – and its code-cracking tracklisting on the back, via the grapple and struggle with new technology to Bernard finding his own shaky voice, everything about Power, Corruption & Lies screams fresh new start.

The soul of the band’s adventurous new sound can be found at the end of the 1st side.

New Order586

Peter Saville’s original sketched idea for the back sleeve

586 is, to begin with, a bit of a strange track. Those rattling, richocheting drums make a brief appearance at the start before a squelchy, squiggly keyboard line assumes the role of lead. Freeforming for a good couple of minutes, and just as you think it might be running out of ideas, a familiar ghostly synth line introduces itself, curling in like a cold, grey fog off the Manchester Ship Canal. Back in 1983 (or ’93 or ’03 or even right now,) New Order obsessives listening for the first time would have pricked their ears in a Proustian rush of recognition.

Coupled with the clattering sequenced electro and rapid-fire snare that follows immediately afterwards, 586 reveals itself to be Baby Blue Monday. It’s got it all going on – the tempo, the four to the floor dancefloor beat, the breakdown in the middle…but mostly, it’s in the propulsive, forward-thinking rhythm and pulsing, sequenced synths. Blue Monday was the stand alone single, released before the album, but 586 was clearly conceived at the same knee-trembling session behind the mixing desk. 

Peter Saville’s guide to cracking the tracklisting code

It’s significantly different in other ways though. Bernard’s voice is in a higher register, falsetto occassionally, and nothing like the bottom of the boots Curtisish vocal on Blue Monday. There’s an energy of its own to it and a high synthy melody that repeats throughout, giving way to warm and fuzzy synths before the gears begin to grind to a halt and the whole track sloooooows doooown to a juddering stop, bringing both itself and side 1 of the album to a definite close.

586 began life in May 1982 when Tony Wilson asked New Order for “20 minutes of pap.” The original version was put onto video and played when the Haçienda opened its doors for the first time. A shorter version was redone for the band’s Peel Session a month later.

New Order586 (Peel Session)

With backwards sections and helicoptering synths, bendy bass and a rhythm track made up of heavily treated sleigh bells and jangling percussion, it isn’t the “20 minutes of pap” that their label boss asked for, but it’s very much a lyric in search of a better tune. That tune duly turned up a year later, half of it soundtracking the album version, the other half lending itself to the greatest 12″ single of all time.

New Order/Ennio Morricone bassline

Talking of which – where would Blue Monday be without that twanging, Spaghetti Western bassline? Stolen twang for twang from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for For A Few Dollars More, it became Peter Hook’s signature sound on New Order’s signature record, and a sound that’s still very much likely to prick the ears of people of a certain age forever.

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

I Want You To Want Me 2

Marvin Gaye‘s I Want You is a supreme slice of mid 70s soul. Taking its feel from one of its creator’s finest moments, you could be forgiven for assuming that What’s Going On‘s Mercy Mercy Me had slinked its way off the grooves of its parent album three years earlier, floated patiently in the ether while Marvin busied himself with rustling up another masterpiece, then alighted on the wax, a groove with no peaks or troughs and no real verses or choruses, but a slow and steady earworm of a track.

It’s heavy on Blaxploitation-era vibes – congas, elongated sweeping strings, tingaling percussion, parping brass, stinging guitar – and home to one of the singer’s greatest-ever vocal performances. What’s Going On (the album and its title track) – and to a lesser extent the follow-up Let’s Get It On – take some beating, and I Want You (the album and its title track) have been unfairly marginalised on the sidelines as a result. Indeed, you could make a decent claim for I Want You being the perfect third in a luscious, exquisite trilogy of soul. But that’s for some other writer who’s better qualified than I.

Marvin GayeI Want You

Marvin’s vocal on I Want You‘s title track is terrific. Double, triple, quadruple-tracked in places, he sings to himself, with himself and above and beyond himself. It’s there in the way he pre-empts the string motif at the start, it’s there in the high falsettoed call and response sections throughout and it’s most certainly there in the suggestive come hither moan that is emitted from somewhere below his belt line. Listen to the track 3/4/5/half a dozen times and I guarantee you’ll spot something you missed the last time around. It’s an astonishing performance.

Carried by a melody gifted from the Gods of Song, Marvin recasts himself as Nat King Cole for the right-on generation, a caramel-smooth crooner with perfect pitch and enunciation, the voice floating above and between his crack band of Motown sessioneers. When you want some of that badass, sidewalk struttin’ guitar on your record, who you gonna call? Ray Parker Jnr, of course.

You’d have to assume that Marvin had no bother when it came to the ladies. (Exhibit A, above, m’lud). Let’s Get It On was his previous call to arms, I Want You the next. I want you, he says, more a statement of fact than as a yearning for a partner that’s unattainable. No-one was ever out of Marvin Gaye’s league, right?, so when the Big M states that he wants you, he’s letting you know – out of gentlemanly manners – that tonight, you’re the chosen one.

Madonna though. You’d have to assume that she has no bother in this department either. If she wants you, she’ll most likely get you, yet she tackles I Want You with all the uncertainty of a lovestruck teenager at the back of chemistry who wastes her day away drawing hearts around the name of the school stud that common consensus makes clear she has no chance with.

Madonna/Massive Attack I Want You

Slow and steady, powered by signature dark beats and a static crackle of tension, Madonna’s six and a half minute take on I Want You is the best approximation of being painfully, agonisingly in love with someone you’ll never be with that you’re ever likely to hear. Its treacle-thick ambience – stop-the-world, wooly and insular – captures perfectly that feeling of being lost in a place that you and only you understands. It’s an engrossing listen, the vocal drawn-out almost to the point of desperation. Madonna. Desperate. Let that sink in. It might be a cover version, but as far as great Madonna tracks go, I Want You is fantastic.

Much of the reverence should be reserved for Massive Attack’s sophisto instrumentation and Nellee Hooper’s on-the-nose production. They get Madonna to do the Marvin thing of singing the string line before it comes in. They get her, like Marvin, to sing to herself, with herself and above and beyond herself; a whisper here, a straight ahead measured vocal there, an immersive performance throughout. They even go for the tingaling percussion, synthetic rather than pitched and last heard on their own Unfinished Sympathy, and the strings too have seemingly slid straight off of that particular cracker and kept up the good work on the Marvin cover.

Slo-mo and cinematic, the Madonna/Massive Attack take on I Want You is sublime.

Cover Versions, Get This!, New! Now!

Chant Number 1

I don’t need this pressure on indeed. Isolation remains very much a part of Scottish life. Johnson was wittering on at some point over the past week – I can’t remember exactly when as it’s been a wee while since anyone’s seen him, and when he is there, we tend to tune out until he veers sharply and unexpectedly from that rigid scrolling script to venture dangerously off-piste. Usually then he’s worth listening to, if only for the made up rubbish he upchucks then contradicts before anyone’s had a chance to tell him. Here he was, having a go at oor ain Nicola Sturgeon for daring to defy his relaxed approach to the Great British Lockdown, saying that Scotland was out of step with the rest of the UK. It was quickly pointed out that with Wales and Northern Ireland still to fully embrace this brave new world of the Prime Minister’s, it was in fact his own country that was out of step with everyone else. Telt, as they say.

Leaving political point scoring aside and eschewing BawJaw’s bumbling, stuttering, fuckwittery in continually putting profit over people, our own leader has made it clear; isolation continues for as long as it needs to be in place, and if that means another few weeks without an overpriced coffee or a long queue at the recycle centre, then so be it.

It’s good that we have the music. During these locked down and locked in, working from home times, I’ve been getting to grips with new albums I might never fully have invested the time in. Much of this new music has come courtesy of Last Night From Glasgow, the co-operative, not-for-profit label that aims to give the artists as great a share of the takings as possible whilst still investing in new bands and new projects. The music is a catch-all eclectica of scuffed at the knees indie, leftfield electronica, beat groups, studio projects and just about everything else you can think of. If you’re a member you’ll receive new releases well in advance of the launch date and in the years B.C. (before Corona) you’d get to attend the album launch party too.

Their forthcoming Isolation Sessions project may well go on to be the jewel in a particularly sparkling crown. Pre-sales have already led to thousands of pounds being pumped back into struggling local venues and it’s on course to be quite the release of 2020. Conceived, written and recorded between March and April, it sees all the acts on the label tackle a song by one of their labelmates. Recently, I raved about Close Lobsters’ fantastic version of Cloth’s Curiosity Door, fragile etherea reimagined as a propulsive head nodder straight outta 1970s West Germany. In the time since, more and more tracks have appeared; recorded, wrapped and ready for imminent release.

In conjunction with the record, esteemed photo journalist Friar Brian Sweeney, coincidentally the label’s creative director, has rather beautifully documented these strange times. Closely observing social distancing rules, the photographer has zig-zagged his way up and down the country to take candid shots of the movers and shakers and members that combine to make one of the very best record labels around. Reproduced in silvery black and white, the images perfectly capture the uncertainty and new-found relaxed approach to personal appearance that this period in time has allowed. Right down to the untied shoes (who cares?) and four days-old shorts (who cares?) and a hairdo that’s long overdue a visit from some scissors (I mean, who cares?), he’s bottled my three chins (compresion, I’m assured) and me, ladies, for eternity.

Jowly author/Plain Or Pan by Friar Brian Sweeney

The visuals are terrific, the perfect atmospheric accompaniment to what’ll be going on and in the grooves. Broken Chanter, the nom de plume of Kid Canaveral’s David MacGregor released his self-titled debut album via Olive Grove towards the end of last year. Melodic, ambitious, grand (in every sense of the adjective) and (in a very good way) weird enough to maintain interest to this very day, it includes Don’t Move To Denmark, a cry of loss and longing that implores a recent love to not move abroad but not to stick around on his behalf either.

Broken ChanterDon’t Move To Denmark

David MacGregor/Broken Chanter by Friar Brian Sweeney

Autobiographical? Quite possibly. MacGregor certainly means every word he sings. Mixing trad with tech, scratchy acoustic guitars and plucked ‘n sawed strings are carried along by ricocheting percussion and a welcome hint of underlying laptop electronica. One of the album’s finest moments, it’s a good introduction to his rich musical world. If it’s piqued your interest you could do worse than get a hold of his album via the link in the third paragraph above.

Lesley McLaren/Lola In Slacks by Friar Brian Sweeney

On the Isolation Sessions, Glasgow’s Lola In Slacks, newcomers to the label but not to the local music scene, transform Broken Chanter’s already wonderful original into a shimmering cinematic beauty, a skyscraping track of restrained majesty that recalls the understated yet uplifting sound of Natalie Merchant and Stevie Nicks having a go at recreating the soundtrack to Twin Peaks at 45rpm. Somewhere in a parallel universe, this version spins eternally.

Lola In SlacksDon’t Move To Denmark

Brushed drums shuffle the groove, twanging and reverberating hollow-bodied electric guitars lift the whole thing up and out into the clouds where it floats forever… it’s casually fantastic and currently playing for the 95th time since the weekend, another triumph on an album that seems certain to be packed full of them .

Don’t move to Denmark or stay on my behalf, it goes. The brass on my neck made you laugh. Why, that’s almost Johnson-esque in its prescience. Given the Scandinavian country’s tight handle on Covid, and education, society, lifestyle and just about everything else, why wouldn’t you want to move there just now?

Isolation Sessions can be bought at the LNFG shop here. Get down on it.

Cover Versions, New! Now!

Cloth Lobsters

Lockdowns. Lock-ins. Low downs.

Strange times abound. You’ve probably been working from home the past week or so, perhaps sat at your makeshift workspace in a pair of two days-old underpants, your face and razor no longer on speaking terms. Yes, perhaps even you, ladies. Maybe too there’s a chalky white toothpaste trail down the front of your t-shirt, the one you also slept in last night as it happens (and what’s it to ya?), a stain that, you notice, looks like a grubby white silhouette of Africa when you look in the bathroom mirror. You’ve been checking and rechecking your phone to clarify if it’s a Tuesday afternoon or a Sunday morning or even a Thursday night, the same phone that loudly heralds your daily step count and quietly informs you of an increase in screen time…..for the third week running. The telly plays in the background, a never-ending loop of graphs in an upward trajectory, safely-distanced shots of hastily-built hospital wards and talking heads of serious scientists and gormless government officials. The Prime Minister has chucked it, isolated due to The Virus (he says), so no more babbling hyperbole of squashing sombreros, but really, we all know he’s keeping out of the road because he’s feart to answer questions he has no decent answer for.

In times like this, I, we, look to music. Recently, it’s been a mix of Buzzcockian post-punk and a reacquaintance with the Zim at the start of the day, dub reggae and a bit of ska for lunch and John Martyn until the second? third? glass is drained and bedtime has long-passed. Last night I lifted and redropped the needle on his Glistening Glyndebourne half a dozen woozy, boozy times. A future article for sure.

A recent article focused on Cloth and their label Last Night From Glasgow. As you read this, the label is in the midst of curating and compiling The Isolation Sessions, a timely, hastily hatched and socially-conscious album with a noble purpose: the small, independent venues that host weekly shows, many of them featuring LNFG artists, venues that struggle at the best of times, will share in all proceeds from its sales. Simple, yet (fingers crossed) effective. The hope is that this endeavour should help in some small way towards these venues staying alive until who knows when. By the end of April, The Isolation Sessions should be complete and ready for release. You can pre-order it here.

What sets the album apart from most other compilations is that this is an album where labelmates cover one another’s tracks. The aforementioned Cloth have a go at reworking acoustic neo-folkie Annie Booth, who returns the favour by turning in a gossamer-thin version of Sleep. The Gracious Losers, Glasgow’s sprawling, scabby-kneed take on an Arcade Fired-up E-Street Band will cover psychedelic shoegazers Domiciles. Sister John offer up a faithfully introspective recording of Stephen Solo‘s Secrets You Keep, enhanced by the combined female/male vocals. For reference, think of those fantastic Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan albums from a few years back. Yes, that great.

The best track so far – and so far is the caveat here, because only a third of the album has been made available to LNFG subscribers, is Close Lobsters‘ amazing version of Cloth’s Curiosity Door. To fully appreciate it, you must first be familiar with the original;

ClothCuriosity Door

Curiosity Door is fantastic; synthesised pealing church bells giving way to whispered vocals, sparse percussion and lean, fat-free pulsing guitar, the pinged harmonics ringing long into the empty spaces. Womblike, dreamy in a just-woken-up manner and pin drop-quiet, it’s the perfect sampler of what Cloth is about. Never heard them? Curiosity should get the better of you. Boom boom.

Close Lobsters have only gone and – wow! –  totally reinterpreted Curiosity Door as a motoric, propulsive mid 70s kosmische groover, all compasses going wild for map reference 51°14′N 6°47′E and Düsseldorf, West Germany. Listen to this!

Close LobstersCuriosity Door

Close Lobsters’ version is washed in Suicide keyboards, Michael Rother guitars and slow-burning, fractal, vapour trails that Sonic Boom would give his 1962 Vox Phantom for. The first thing you notice though is Andrew Burnett’s close-miked Scottish burr. Slightly menacing, slightly sinister, it brings to mind some of those great Pulp records where Jarvis whispers only for you, right down and deep into your ear. All summer, you’d shave your head, he goes. Given the current trend for DIY stay-at-home buzzcuts, well, how prescient!

I’ve had this on non-stop repeat for the past 24 hours and I can say with absolute confidence that it’s the best thing I’ve heard this year. When all of this is over and we get back to live music again and Last Night From Glasgow give the compilation the proper launch it deserves, I hope very much that, as great as Close Lobsters’ new album is in its own right, they’ll coax the band into playing their version of Curiosity Door very loudly indeed.

Now, have you ordered The Isolation Sessions yet?

 

 

 

Cover Versions, Peel Sessions

This Is A William Shatner Number

David Gedge introduced The Wedding Present’s breakneck run-through of Orange Juice‘s Felicity with those words, delivered in a perfectly-sighing, world-weary Yorkshire brogue. I first heard TWP version on Tommy, the album released in the wake of George Best‘s success, a stop-gap of odds and sods and radio sessions – Felicity came from a Peel Show – that would keep the growing fanbase happy and dipping into their pockets until the second album proper was ready. For reference, think Hatful Of Hollow at a hundred miles an hour. “William Shatner?” I pondered. “What on earth does Star Trek have to do with The Wedding Present?

Well, nothing, as was plainly obvious to everyone but me. Shatner’s Captain James T Kirk was the lead character in Star Trek. James Kirk also happened to be the name of the lead guitar player in the definitive line-up of Orange Juice. It was quite the epiphany when I joined the dots on that one. “Aaah,” I mused, safe in the glow of triangulation. It’s the simple things that matter.

It must’ve been great to have been in Orange Juice in 1981 and 1982. Just a hop and a step on from punk, these leaders of a brave new open-minded world channelled the sublime- Velvets/Buzzcocks/Chic with the ridiculous – Davy Crockett hats/Boy Scout shorts/open-toed sandals and white socks with no fear of ridicule. Bands these days, with their marketing strategies and social media channels and Spotify demographics might take all of this for granted, but believe me, Lewis Capaldi and Foals and Blossoms, it wasn’t always thus. Orange Juice had the reference points and the in-jokes and the fantastic haircuts. The world was theirs for the taking. By the time of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, they’d outgrown Postcard Records but hadn’t yet fiddled around with the magic ingredients in their sound, so that first album rattled and rolled majestically. The cover of Al Greeen’s L.O.V.E.…Edwyn’s incredibly tender In A Nutshell…the Motown by way of Mount Florida Falling & Laughing…. it really was the sound of young Scotland.

Orange JuiceFelicity

Felicity made itself known towards the end of side 2. The key word for it is collapse. From the wobbly woah-woahs onwards, it’s never more than a beat away from potential disaster. The guitars, brilliantly-shimmering and sparkling are forever a half-trip and stumble from being an unlistenable out of tune mess. The timing is slightly off, the game backing vocals admirable, the frothy enthusiasm of the four players clear for all to see, but when they clatter their way into the galloping key change near the end, it’s the four to the floor disco beat that keeps it all together, striving to maintain the semblance of musicality that helps Felicity come to a still-standing stop.

Look closely and you’ll see Edwyn’s magnificent, blow-dried quiff teeter on the verge of limp collapse, wrung out and hung out to dry. Look closer still (around the 2:15) mark) and you might even spot David Gedge forming yer actual Wedding Present. And who could blame him?

And then listen again. Really listen! Listen to the slo-mo piano line at the start. Zoom in on that bouncing bass line. Pay attention to those well thought-out guitar lines. The tremelo! The triple-string riffing! The referee’s whistle that was so de-rigeur in early 80s New York dance records! Even in a light years-away Glasgow tenement, Orange Juice clearly had a collective finger on the pulse. Then there’s Edwyn’s joyous James Brown cop near the end. “Take me to the bridge now!” he shouts with dizzy abandon. It’s a proper jangling racket, Felicity. The sound of happiness, as Collins sings, but also the sound of fishermen’s stripy t-shirts and pleated waists and eyebrows forever-arched; feisty and fey, young punkish enthuisasm bottled forever. Sexy, as Gedge remarks at the end of his band’s version. Sexy.

The Wedding Present Felicity

 

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.

 

Cover Versions, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Live!

Bathed In Light Of Love

Dubiety surrounds the release of Big Star‘s third album, ‘Third’. Was it a true Big Star album in the way #1 Record and Radio City were? Given that the recordings were enhanced by an ever-revolving rotation of session musicians who’d play around the axis of Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens – Steve Cropper on the version of the VU’s Femme Fatale, for example, and given that Chilton wrote the lion’s share of the original music, it’s oft been considered the first real Chilton solo album. Studio tracking sheets from the time show references to Sister Lovers (Chilton and Stephens were in relationships with a pair of sisters at the time) which may or may not have been the intended name for the new record, or indeed, a new name for a band far-removed from its original identity. Despite the poor sales of the first two albums though, Ardent were dead keen to market it as a Big Star release and so, with little fuss or fanfare, Third was sent out into the world, Big Star’s ‘difficult’ third album with unfinished songs and little of the sparkling power-pop jangle that dusted the first two.

Big StarJesus Christ

Towards the end of side 2 you’ll find Jesus Christ, a mid-paced, straightforward celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. On top of the occasional Spectorish tumbling toms and a honeyed Stax sax break that gives birth to Clarence Clemons and the E Street Band, you’ll spot references to angels and stars and Royal David’s City. The song is carried by Chilton’s instantly recognisable guitar style and sound, a welcome relief following the bleak and self explanatory Holocaust that precedes it on the record.

It’s a properly great Christmas tune, uplifting and joyful, yet as far-removed from the normal records that get played ad infinitum in shops, cafes, taxis, bars, wherever at this time of year. Indeed, the only time you’re liable to hear Jesus Christ in the changing rooms at TK Maxx will be from my mouth as I recoil in horror at the ill-fitting shirt from last season’s Katharine Hamnett collection that I struggled to get on and struggled to get off again. Jesus Christ, it was tight. Forgive me father etc etc…

Big StarJesus Christ (demo)

Chilton’s demo of Jesus Christ is great. Just Alex and a finely strummed acoustic 12 string, it has all the hallmarks of high watermark Big Star; Chilton’s ad libbed ooh-oohs, cracked, at the end of his range vocals on the high notes and the requisite sparkling jangle. What a great canvas for the other musicians to paint on.

Teenage Fanclub (of course) do a terrific version of Jesus Christ. Released on one of the two CD singles to promote Ain’t That Enough, the lead single from the gold standard Songs From Northern Britain album, TFC were in a rich vein of writing form at the time, firing out guitar-fuelled and harmony-filled songs with ridiculous ease. That Ain’t That Enough was released in June with a cover of an obscure Christmas song as an extra track (the other was a nod and a wink cover of the VU’s Femme Fatale, funnily enough) mattered not a jot. Recorded at perfect head-nodding pace and employing the twin vocals of Norman and Gerry, it’s proper, vintage Fanclub. A heady sheen of fuzzed-at-the-edge electric guitar, a tastefully twangin’ Raymond solo and a heartfelt, sympathetic take on the original make this one of TFC’s best covers.

Teenage FanclubJesus Christ

My job in education has changed in recent years, meaning that nowadays I don’t get to drag my class up to sing a Christmas song in the church. I always liked the challenge of this. It was the one time of year I could put my guitar skills to proper use and I was always on the lookout for a left-of-centre song to tackle. Jesus Christ was one I often considered, but it was forever overlooked in favour of something else.

The arrangement was going to be a full-on Phil Spector epic too; some tinkling pitched percussion at the start, eking out the melody against my plaintive strums, a single voice – probably the quietest girl in the class – singing the opening lines, the whole class coming in on the ‘Jesus Christ was born today! Jesus Christ was born!‘ Then there’s my bit – “MY BIT, BOYS ‘N GIRLS!” – where I do my Alex/Norman run up and down the frets before the second solo voice – this time a boy – “And o! They did rejoice!” brings us back to the whole point of the song.

By the second chorus, the entire group is swaying side to side in time to the guitar’s rhythm. By the third, they’ve added handclaps, like a peely wally west of Scotland gospel choir. They’ve lost most of their self-consciousness by this point too. Jack at the back is still fidgeting with the zip on his school trousers and Chloe, front row and centre, has still to lift her eyes from the rich red carpet in the vestry, but look! One or two of them are even smiling. And I’m in my element, pushing it towards the end.

The chorus is repeated a couple more times before we finish in a blaze of frantically scrubbed acoustics, clashing glockenspiel and rapturous applause from the assembled parents in the pews upstairs. The head teacher, as usual, fails to acknowledge both the effort and the spectacle and we move swiftly on to the next class who shamble their awkward way through Santa Baby to the embarrassment of all in attendance. I miss these times most of all.

*Christmas Bonus!

Here’s Alex Chilton’s fantastically louche take on TFC’s Alcoholiday. Teenage Fanclub have never hidden their love for all things Chilton-related, but on this tune the gamekeeper turns poacher. He just about steals the show too.

Alex ChiltonAlcoholiday

Master/Apprentices

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Sledgehammers

There are many great sounds in music; that jazz-inflected major 6th “Yeah!” at the tail end of The Beatles’ She Loves You for one. The vibrating air as Miles Davis leans into So What on Kind Of Blue. Johnny Greenwood’s stuttering pre-chorus crunch as he tries to mess with Creep. John Lydon’s phlegmy Fagin-by-way-of-Steptoe “‘Allo? ‘Allo! ‘Allo!! Heurgh-heurgh-heurgh!” announcement on PIL’s eponymous debut single. The eerie slide guitar that punctuates the juddering How Soon Is Now?…the Cuban-heeled stomp of London Calling… Adam & the Ants Burundi beat…Clarence’ Clemons’ honey-coated sax….. You’ll have your own no doubt, hearing them in your head right now as you read this. Those sounds are what separates you, me and the rest of us from other people who consider music no more than background colour, something that happens to be on as the dishes are washed or the ironing tackled. Obsessives like us listen to music and revel in the small stuff. The minutae. The little bits that you miss when the iron is hissing steam at you while you press next week’s workwear. The important stuff.

Just about my favourite sound in music is the sound of Nile Rodgers‘ guitar interlocking with Bernard Edwards‘ bass. When they hit their stride and find the groove, they’re unbeatable. Like a pair of old ladies clacking away at the bingo, the combined sound is instantly recognisable, totally danceable and, while often copied, it’s a sound that’s never been bettered. When Nile and Bernard formed Chic, the idea was to write songs for different groups. Chic themselves were modelled on Roxy Music’s basic vision of style; smart dress and street-smart females, elements that were to them as important as the songs they were selling.

Chic employed female vocalists and had success on their own terms – you know all the hits – but as the Chic Organization, Bernard and Nile penned hits for others. Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Carly Simon, Madonna, Bowie….all benefitted, and all came gift-wrapped in the same smoothly-clattering funk that coloured Chic’s biggest hits. Bowie’s Let’s Dance was a 12 string skifflish blues until Nile added those familiar massive rattling chords. Like A Virgin, with its keyboard and up the neck guitar stabs could’ve been a Chic hit rather than the smash that elevated Madonna into the conscience of half the world.

I’ve always had a thing for Carly Simon‘s Why. Hearing it out of context on Ibiza as an impressionable 18 year old perhaps helped. Here, it was no longer AOR radio fodder, it was late night/early morning comedown music, long, loping and lightly toasted reggae. In the right context, it made a whole lotta sense.

It’s what Nile and Bernard did for Sister Sledge on Thinking Of You that tops the lot. The chord progression is fantastic, an itchy and scratchy four chord progression from minor 7th to major 7th and back again, played between the 10th and 5th frets while the bassline bounces with fluid funk below. The staccato riffing as Kathy Sledge sings, “Everybody, let me tell you ’bout my love…” (the perfect opening line for the song, by the way – it really sets it up the anticipation for what’s to follow) “...brought to you by an angel from above,” is god-like. Nile takes the basic chords, ignores his bass strings then builds hook upon hook upon hook with just the top 3 strings. Your man-in-the-street’s idea of what might constitute a Guitar ‘Great’ could never comprehend why Nile is such a brilliant player. He’s the perfect example of less is more, a fat-free, lean and mustard-keen guitarist.

Behind all of this the strings sweep and swell. Brass parps in all the right places. Unfussy drums maintain the beat. And that’s about it. You can identify every instrument on Thinking Of You. The perfect example, again, of less is more.

Sister SledgeThinking Of You (Dimitri From Paris mix)

Dimitri From Paris took the original and, unsurprisingly, saw the beauty in what was already there and stayed faithful to it. No need for this remixer to strip a good song of its basic components and twist it out of all recognition. Dimitri’s mix is twice as long, allowing space for the breathy vocals to take centre stage before giving way to Rodgers’ incessant Strat, until he drops out and Edwards’ bassline is allowed to buckle and bend in the middle of the track. It’s a showcase not for Dimitri but for Chic, six and a half minutes long and not a moment wasted.

In 2004 Paul Weller took his stripped back, tastefully scrubbed acoustic version of Thinking Of You into the charts, proof, if it were needed, that Rodgers and Edwards songs transfer to all styles. It’s not a patch on the original, but the newly in love Weller’s vocal is pretty soulful and genuine and, given he was spare of decent self-penned material at the time, it was the perfect song to tide him over until his next visit from the song gods.

Paul WellerThinking Of You