Archive for the ‘demo’ Category

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Just A Shooting Star

June 4, 2017

There’s a wee bit of a media-fixated Beatles renaissance going just now, what with Sgt Pepper turning 50 and fortnightly reissues of their back catalogue racked up in the Spar alongside Tank Commander Monthly and Build Your Own Millenium Falcon Weekly. It’s a great time to be discovering them for the first time. Who cares if someone’s first exposure to Hey Bulldog is via De Agostini publishing?

Fast track back to the mid 90s and arguably the first flourish of serious Beatles reappraisal since the demise of the band. With their self-proclaimed monobrowed monopoly on all things Fab you could be forgiven for thinking that Oasis had cornered the market in Beatles-influenced music. Just because they shouted louder and played louder and just were louder in every sense didn’t mean they were the only ones with a fevered fascination for the Fab Four. The louder the gob, the bigger the knob ‘n all that. If you listen closely to their music these days, is it even possible to spot The Beatles’ references? Is it? Well, aye, it is. A wee bit. Some of their less-ballsy records have the ‘feel’ of late-era Beatles – All Around The World‘s universal message sounds like the sort of song a lazy advertiser might come up with if tasked with creating a Beatley tune in an afternoon, and Liam is awfully fond of doing his best Lennon sneer atop a grandly played piano. Many of their harmonies are quite clearly direct second cousins of the real deal, but after that, I’m stumped. There are far better bands who’ve dipped deep into the best back catalogue in popular music and pulled out their own skewed version of Fabness. You’ll have your own favourites.

 

And so to Elliott Smith. If you’ve been visiting Plain Or Pan since the glory days of 2007, you’ll know he’s a big favourite round here. He still is. Indeed, his 4th album, 1998’s XO is currently spinning for ther umpteenth time this week. After years of being out of print on vinyl, it finally made it back onto wax a couple of weeks ago. My eye was off the ball when initial copies went on sale and I missed out on the very limited (500 copies, I think) marbled vinyl version, so I had to settle for the standard black 180 gram edition instead. No big deal really. Really. No, really! I’ve lived with the CD since the day of release, discovered when I was working on the counter of Our Price where it was a ‘Recommended Release‘ that week. I played it three times straight through that afternoon in a fairly empty shop, each subsequent play making my jaw drop a notch closer to the sticky carpet. His voice! Gossamer-light and as fragile as fuck. His playing! Beautifully picked arpeggios one moment, brightly ringing fancy chords the next, no solos but lead breaks that aped the vocal melody – just like Paul McCartney. His arrangements! Double-tracked and beautifully harmonised vocal effects, weird ‘n wonkily off-key pianos, little melodic runs up and down the fretboards and keys….. total Beatles! While the Mancunian magpies were belching loudly about their love for The Beatles, here was Elliott Smith very quietly and unassumingly wearing his obvious love for them, not only on his sleeve, but in the grooves inside the sleeve.

XO is a fantastic album. It was Elliott’s major label debut and followed hot on the heels of Either/Or, the undisputed ace in his back catalogue up until then. Either/Or is also packed full of introspective, whispered songs. Alameda. The Ballad Of Big Nothing. Say Yes. Between The Bars. Angeles. All are what you might loosely call ‘Greatest Hits’, had Elliott been fortunate enough to have had such things. All feature the signature double-tracked vocal (like Lennon), the melody-chasing guitar (like McCartney) and the unassuming resignation of George Harrison; always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Even at the Oscars, when a crumpled and bemused Elliott performed after the Good Will Hunting soundtrack received a nomination, he was the outsider. Celine Dion might’ve beat him to the gong, but who in their right mind would want to play that Titanic song 20 years later? Conversely, Elliott’s music endures.

What Either/Or lacks is clarity and sheen. It’s very lo-fi and indie. Coffee house music for misfits who’ve fallen on hard times and hard drugs. XO has a bright and shiny polish to it, reflected (gettit?) in the fact that much of it was recorded in California and LA.

Opener Sweet Adeline was the clincher for me. Just Elliott and his guitar, with descending riff and wonky chord included, the clouds part at the first chorus and sunlight bursts in in the form of glorious harmonies and barrelhouse piano, the drum sound not a million miles away from something Ringo might’ve strived for around 1967.

Elliott SmithSweet Adeline

I knew there and then that this was an album I was going to love. By the breakdown at the end, the whole thing sounds a wee bit like the breakdown from Sgt Pepper’s Lovely Rita. This is immediately followed by Tomorrow Tomorrow, Elliott singing counter melodies to himself while he plays the most amazing ringing guitar – a 12 string with 4 strings missing, closely miked and double-tracked (again) to sound like a whole orchestra of guitars. The songs that follow on are stellar. Waltz #2 was the album’s near hit; a piano and acoustic guitar fighting for top billing, lilting and waltzing (aye) to a cinematic end with sweeping, swooping strings. And did he really sing about ‘Cathy’s Clown‘ in the first verse? Yes! This was confirmed on the 2nd listen.

Elliott SmithWaltz #2

The only Everly’s reference I’d ever heard in song was McCartney’s ‘Let ‘Em In‘ and here was another. It was a sign. Three songs in and I had discovered an album that remains to this day an essential album, one of my very own Recommended Releases. To paraphrase Brian Clough, I wouldn’t say XO is the best album ever written, but it’s in the top one.

There’s plenty more Beatleisms throughout; Bottle Up And Explode has an ending that George Martin would’ve loved putting together, layer upon layer of vocals and guitars and strings and weird effects and kitchen sinks. It’s very Fab.

Elliott SmithBottle Up And Explode

As is Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands, a song that sounds as if it’s going nowhere until Elliott drops a clanger of a swear word and the whole thing ramps up a gear on the back of it. The ending has a great clash of sighing cellos, sighing backing vocals and a crescendo half-way between The Smiths’ Death Of  A Disco Dancer and a DIY Day In The Life.

Elliott SmithEverybody Cares, Everybody Understands

Bled White is another. Ringing guitars, electric organ and a fantastic (fabstastic?) call and response vocal. This is music made in the studio, deliberately written to sound as good as possible in recorded form.

Elliott SmithBled White

Many acts go for the feel of the music, the spontaneity that a live performance brings. Elliott live was by all accounts a very hit and miss live act, and going by the numerous bootlegs I’ve listened to over the years, this would seem true. No stranger to stopping songs midway through if he wasn’t feeling it, he’d half-heartedly and quite possibly deliberately lead his band through a lumpen car crash of a song one night then play a spellbinding acoustic version the next. Tracks like Bled White could never sound great live. But recorded for posterity on XO, they sparkle immortally.

 

Elsewhere, you’ll find the bedsit Beach Boys harmonies on Oh Well, Okay have the potential to induce real tears. The wee cello swell after a minute or so is your starter for ten.

Elliott SmithOh Well, Okay

Album closer I Didn’t Understand wafts in on a raft of a-cappella vocals, just like Because on Abbey Road – a track Elliott would go on to cover on the aforementioned Good Will Hunting soundtrack, funnily enough.  I could go on and on. Suffice to say, XO is well worth investing in if you’ve never had the pleasure.

To finish, here‘s Elliott doing The Beatles. Reverential and respectful.

Elliott SmithIf I Fell

 

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Sticky Fingers

May 16, 2017

DERRR DAAANG!!!

Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!

And off we go on the most thrilling song about shoplifting you’re ever going to hear. Stealing to live. Stealing to give. Stealing just because. “I enjoy stealing things, it’s a simple fact.” sings Perry Farrell in that helium nasal whine of his.

Janes AddictionBeen Caught Stealing

Janes Addiction rock. And not in a (gads) Red Hot Chili Peppers way. That word ‘rock’ brings to mind images of middle-aged men in designer ripped jeans. Accountants in band t-shirts and Rocha John Rocha leather jackets. The weekend bikers at Largs seafront. Those kinda guys. Livin’ the dream, safely, soundtracked by Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and all that rubbish.

Janes Addiction were (are?) skinny, itchy, disease-ridden junkies. Lowlife ne’er do wells. Manky jeans. Mankier hair. Battered, slept-in leather jackets. Damaged livers and syphilis givers. With a healthy Led Zep obsession, they re-booted riff rock for the pre-grunge generation. Been Caught Stealing is arguably their masterstroke. Certainly, it’s their best-known track. Anyone who tells you they don’t like Janes Addiction still likes Been Caught Stealing. It’s just a simple fact, to coin a phrase.

The bit in the middle is, crucially, when Janes not only rock, but roll. The drums, fantastic-sounding and grooving, the handclaps on the second beat, the rolling bassline, it’s a head-nodding breakdown that’ll never be bettered. Truly, it swings like Sinatra with a 7 iron.

Here they are on the Late Show, the precursor to the long-past-its-best Later….With Jools Holland.

Perfect! If The Muppet Show had been briefed with creating a gonzoid, disfunctional, rockin’ band with a penchant for PVC ‘n leopard print, they’d have created exactly this. The anti rock star at the front – check those less-than-perfect mercury-filled teeth during the close ups, his voice drenched in echoey delay for added whine….a bass player and guitarist, both lost in their own worlds, all hair ‘n sunglasses ‘n bangles ‘n beads ‘n casually fired-off lightning bolts of alt rock….a bare-chested drummer who out-Animals The Animal….Perfect!

Here’s a terrific studio outtake of the same track, acoustic-ish with added sc-sc-sc-sc-sc-scatting for free.

Janes AddictionBeen Caught Stealing (Studio Out-Take, 1989)

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EverLa’s-ing Love

April 26, 2017

There’s a scene in Roddy Doyle’s Commitments when Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan is talking to band manager Jimmy Rabbitte’s dad about his time spent working with Elvis. A picture of Mr Rabbitte’s favourite singer hangs above the mantlepiece, noticeably just above a picture of the Pope.

Tell me Joey,” Jimmy’s dad asks with pleading eyes. “Did ye ever see him take drugs?

No, Mr Rabbitte. Never.” As he fixes him in the eye, Joey replies with a genuine plausibility, but given that most of his stories are taller than the quiff atop The King’s head, even Mr Rabbitte must’ve taken it with more than a little pinch of salt.

Likewise The La’s. To clarify, Lee Mavers grinning, gurning, mop-topped Mersey head doesn’t take pride of place on my living room wall, nor do any leaders of world religion, but in this house he holds God-like status. A nutty, 60’s dust-covered, guitar-tuned-to-the-humming-of-the-fridge God-like status, up there with all the greats. One album in and then nothing. The odd low-key comeback where he was hellbent on sabotaging affairs should be quietly forgotten about. But not the tunes. They live on, immortal. The one bona fide rhyming, chiming hit on his hands allows him to live in relative luxury forever. If you want to hear Lee singing live, these days you’re more likely to do so on the terraces of Goodison Park.

  

See that song There She Goes? It’s about mainlining heroin, so it is….

That’s a common concensus and it fair pisses me off.

Now, I once spent a week on Minorca with Lee Mavers and AT NO TIME did I see him mainline heroin. No, Mr Rabbitte. Never. This is a true story – I was on holiday with my missus, so was he. We were holiday pals. One night in his company chatting about The Who and The Kinks and The Beatles – favourite Beatles song? “She Loves You, man!“, said as if it was the most obvious answer in the world, was good enough for me. ‘I’ll leave him in peace,’ I told the future Mrs Pan. ‘I can’t be pestering him for the next week.’ Unbelievably, thrillingly, it was he who pestered me for the next week. ‘Don’t look now,’ said the missus over a midday breakfast the following day, ‘but your pal’s coming over.’ With an ‘Alright kiddo?!?‘ and a punch on the arm, he sat down to join us and we were new best friends.

Over the next few nights he’d beat me at pool, introduce me to gin pommades and sing, SING! La’s songs across the table to me.

I love ‘Man, I’m Only Human’ I told him one night. “D’you know all the words?” he asked, and before I could reply that I didn’t, he sang them to me, right there at the table, with the same high, floaty voice he’d used a few months before in the Mayfair in Glasgow. Putting extra emphasis on the ‘Man, I’m only wo-man‘ line, he sat back, arms folded as if to say, ‘What d’you make of that, then la?‘ The bar was full of folk oblivious to who was in their presence and it was magic.

He told me about the 2nd La’s album, due for release in “one nine nine four“. It’d be called Cocktail and would be the defining album of the era. It would knock ‘the Stoned Poses‘ off their perch and restore The La’s in their rightful position at the top of the musical tree. Lee envisaged a mountain with the sides littered with all the bands of the day climbing to the top (but not quite getting all the way there), drawn by a flashing blue light. “Callin’ All, la. Callin’ All. And who’s at the top, above them all?” he asked rhetorically.

Now, at no time did I see my new best pal mainline heroin. No, Mr Rabbitte. Never. But he did have a fondness for disappearing into the trees and returning a short while later with a certain sparkle. If Jimmy ‘The Lips’ Fagan told tall stories, Lee’s stories were perhaps taller. Higher, even.

The La’s.

A band with more line ups than Lulu roon’ the back o’ the Barras

Here’s The La’s when they were a skiffly, Beatlish, band from the Merseyssippi, full of promise, mysticism and tunes to die for. April 1987 – 3 whole decades ago! – found them working with Mick Moss on one (just one) of the sessions for their ill-fated, beatifully flawed one and only LP.

The La’sCallin’ All

The La’s were seemingly never happy with any recordings of Callin All’, ever. It’s one of the few La’s tracks not to have seen an official studio release. La’s trainspotters have multiple versions, of course, from the rootsy, acoustic version above to full on sultry Stones We Love You-era inspired takes. Each one a classic, every one a lost gem in the small but perfect La’s back catalogue.

The La’sCome In, Come Out

Come In, Come Out exists in better form, on the b-side of There She Goes and on ‘Lost Tapes‘, a long-forgotten download-only release from the embryonic days of the first legal downloads. The Mick Moss version is missing the percussive back beat on those two versions, but skips along with frantically scrubbed acoustics and a full-on ‘n funky bassline. Not for nothing did The La’s tag ‘Rattle ‘n Roll’ onto their record label. I know someone who knows someone who knows John Leckie quite well and he told me (so it must be true) that Mavers often strapped a box of Swan Vestas round his strumming hand for this one in order to achieve a more rhythmical effect. Can’t hear it on this version, but I believe it to be fact, Mr Rabbitte. Fact.

The La’sWay Out

The debut single. A brilliant lilting, waltzing introduction to the band. Some weak vocals on this take, possibly as the band run through it for the first (or hundred and first) time. Who knows? Lee’s vocals provide the blueprint from which all future versions are hatched, John Power listening with a keen ear to appropriate the backing vocals.

The La’sDoledrum

Unlike the previous track, here’s a fully-formed take; skiffly guitars, walking bass, harmonising backing vocals, the whole shebang. Really great rhythm playing. It swings with a certain confidence, knowing it’s a great song.

Mavers can fair pluck the melodies and the tunes out of the air with ease. If only he’d done so a bit more regularly.

 

*all pictures used are in black & white for authentic analogue retro appeal

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I’m Backin’ The Kane Gang

April 18, 2017

A few weeks ago I was involved in putting on a fantastic gig in the tiny but perfect Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, half an hour from Glasgow on the west coast of Scotland. The main act for the night was BMX Bandits, an act who last graced my hometown a mere quarter of a century ago at one of our Tennent’s Live-sponsored ‘Rock On The Watter’ events. The beginning of the 90s saw Tennent’s dip a corporate toe into the world of live music and Rock On The Watter, which ran annually from 1990-1994 was, in a way, the precursor to T In The Park. Indeed, if our town fathers had had any ounce of rock and roll in their brittle, backwards-thinking bones, TITP might’ve been staged at Irvine’s Beach Park rather than Strathclyde Park in Hamilton. But that’s another story for another day.

As it transpired, Duglas T Stewart had fond memories of playing in Irvine and took great pleasure in eating a banana during the opening song Cast A Shadow – just as they’d done 25 years previously. The gig would unravel to be something of a classic, with a heady mix of Bandits’ greatest ‘hits’ getting a good airing alongside debut live performances from their very imminent BMX Bandits Forever LP. I’ve since heard a couple of these same tracks played on Marc Riley’s 6 Music show, which I suppose gives the whole gig some extra gravitas. The last band to debut new material in Irvine was young upstarts Oasis, who chose the Beach Park in 1995 as the venue in which to float Don’t Look Back In Anger out into the ether, Noel playing his barely-disguised, ham-fisted version of All The Young Dudes with yer actual George Harrison’s actual plectrum. Again, another story for another day.

The whole point of this post though was to highlight the undeniable talents of Joe Kane, the artist who provided support to BMX Bandits in the HAC.

Joe is one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets. He spends most of the year being Paul McCartney in Them Beatles, regarded as one of the most authentic Beatles tributes around. Squint hard enough and he has an undeniable, two thumbs aloft, McCartney look about him. Add a pair of pointy boots, a perma-surprised mouth agape and crucially, a Beatles’ wig, and the look is complete.

For months on end he can be found playing Beatles conventions all over the world. Them Beatles have a trainspotterish approach to authenticity, so going to a show is quite possibly as close as you might get to the real thing. A fantastic array of period guitars – the Hofner bass, George’s Rickenbacker, John’s Let It Be-era Gibson – played through a backline of vintage Vox valve amps, coupled with the studied mannerisms and learned lines of each Beatle – “Rattle yer jewellery,” “Opportunity knocks,” etc etc, all add up to the real deal. Fab, even.

Joe’s ‘hobby job’, if you like, is playing his own music; wonky pop, looney tunes and merry melodies, all swimming in nutty effects with a rich Beatleish undercurrent. It’s a job that’s found him playing sessions on BBC 6 Music, performing alongside the cream of Scotland’s indie elite and co-writing with big hitters (in a parallel universe) such as Norman Blake and the aforementioned Duglas. You may be aware of some of his nom de plumes; The Owsley Sunshine, Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab, as part of Ette…..

Here’s Joe in his Owsley Sunshine incarnation, clattering along like Supergrass doing Badfinger by way of an XTC Bond theme, all compressed vocals, ringing and lightly toasted guitars, stop/start riffs and a brilliant rhythm section – which may be all his own work. (*Update – it’s not, but Joe is happy for you to think that – not for nothing does he have a track called Don’t Pump My Ego, Baby!

The Owsley SunshinePowered By An Electric Shepherd

For the Irvine show, his 4-piece Radiophonic Tuck Shop sounded extraordinary; slightly psychedelic and Super Furry super-tuneful. Amazingly, this was their first ever gig. Not for them though the usual sweat of jittering first-night nerves; Joe surrounds himself with tip-top, top-chops musicians, and the Radiophonic Tuck Shop comprised of seasoned pros (I’m sure that was ‘George Harrison’ stage left) that brought out the best in his songs.

Their set of skewed power-pop went down extremely well, the short, sharp blasts of Nuggety pop from Joe’s back catalogue given an urgent, insistent makeover in the live setting. Intentional or not, each song was counted in with a none-more-Macca “1234!” to great applause, which you could be forgiven for thinking was a smart sample from any one of those early 60’s Beatles’ BBC sessions. As first gigs go, it was a brilliantly explosive cherry-popping and an exciting portent of things to come.

Only Joe KaneAs Hard As I Feel

Only Joe KaneDisnae Time


This coming Saturday (22nd April) will see Joe and his Radiophonic Tuck Shop support Teen Canteen at the launch of their also-endorsed-by-Riley ‘Sirens‘ EP, which is pretty much the perfect double bill if y’ask me. It may well be sold out by now, so if you can’t get to it, keep an eye on the gig listings pages. Joe’s out and about regularly and definitely worth catching. Indeed, the following weekend will see Joe wig out in his Beatles guise, for two shows at Oran Mor, on the 28th and 29th April on Glasgow’s Byres Road. Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Tickets can be bought here.

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By George!

October 13, 2016

George Harrison, the youngest Beatle, bullied by John and Paul into 2nd tier status in the band, was essentially the runt of the litter yet wrote some of their most enduring songs. When writing sessions were underway ahead of a new Beatles’ recording, poor George had to bide his time while the other two writers hogged the limelight with their latest offerings. Only after they had been given careful consideration would George be allowed to show off what he’d been working on. In any other band, he’d have been the principal writer and held in higher esteem, but in The Beatles he was lucky to get more than one of his tracks onto each album.

 george_harrison_1968

By 1968’s ‘White Album’, George had a handful of future classics under his belt. Writing sessions in Rishikesh in northern India proved particularly fruitful. The Beatles plus associated wives/girlfriends along with a raggle-taggle mismatch of musicians and actors (Donovan, Mike Love, Mia Farrow and her sister ‘Dear’ Prudence) gathered at the feet of the Maharishi to find out the ways of tanscendental mediatation.

1968

The trip was not without incident;  Ringo visited a doctor due to a reaction to the inoculation he’d taken before going, John complained that the food was lousy (Paul and Jane Asher loved it) and the Maharishi, as peace-loving and spiritual as he may have been, turned out to be a randy old man, intent on bedding as many of the female guests as he could.

George was particularly taken with meditation, leading John to quip, “The way George is going, he’ll be flying a magic carpet by the time he’s forty!

Against this backdrop, John, Paul and George wrote many songs that would appear on the new Beatles’ album at the end of the year. Donovan turned John onto a new style of fingerpicking that he’d picked up from the folk clubs and Lennon put it to good use on Dear Prudence. George might’ve been equally inspired, as the descending bass run that characterises Dear Prudence makes it into a couple of his own songs on the White Album.

beatles-india-68

While My Guitar Gently Weeps began life as a downbeat campfire singalong; folk in a minor key, with the ubiquitous descending bass line offest by an uplifting bridge. It’s understated and simple, nothing like the album version.

George HarrisonWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps (demo)

George had to wait an agonising 8 weeks from the start of the album sessions before being given the chance to showcase it. Quite how he kept his mouth shut as John ran through days and days of tape loops creating the arty (but tuneless, let’s be clear) Revolution 9 while Paul completed dozens of takes of the reggae-lite Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and even Ringo had his moment in the spotlight with his honky tonkin’ Don’t Pass Me By is very impressive, but when given his moment (“I always had to do about ten of Paul and John’s before they’d give me the break,”) he rose to the occassion.

george-h-abbey-road-68

The demo of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was used as the blueprint and added to with layer upon layer of guitar and vocals through the use of an 8-track recording machine (the first Beatles’ track to do so) until it was the super-heavy version that appears on the album. An uncredited Eric Clapton was asked by George to play guitar on it. George had been bemoaning the fact that he’d spent hours aimlessly trying to recreate a weeping sound for the track and asked his pal instead to play the solo, which he did with majestic, understated aplomb.

The BeatlesWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps

It’s a perenial favourite, never bettered than when Prince put the other ‘stars’  – heavyweights Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood – firmly in their place with his outrageously brilliant cameo at the 2004 Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame. Two questions, the first rhetorical. How overjoyed does Dhani Harrison look when the wee man steps up and takes the song to a whole new level?

Secondly, what happens to Prince’s guitar at the end? Watch….

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We Are 9

December 30, 2015

Somehow, some way, Plain Or Pan has turned 9. Or, to be more accurate, is just about to turn 9. But at this time of year, when you can never be entirely sure if it’s Sunday morning or Thursday night and inspiration goes out the window along with routine and work ethic, it’s tradition that I fill the gap between Christmas and Hogmany with a potted ‘Best Of‘ the year compilation, so I’ve always made this period in time the unofficial birthday for the blog.

i am nine

Not that anyone but myself should care really; blogs come and go with alarming regularity and I’ve steadfastly refused to move with the times (no new acts here, no cutting edge hep cats who’ll be tomorrow’s chip paper, just tried ‘n tested old stuff that you may or may not have heard before – Outdated Music For Outdated People, as the tagline goes.) But it’s something of a personal achievement that I continue to fire my wee articles of trivia and metaphorical mirth out into the ether, and even more remarkable that people from all corners of the globe take the time out to visit the blog and read them. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, one and all.

Since starting Plain Or Pan in January 2007, the articles have become less frequent but more wordy – I may have fired out a million alliterative paragraphs in the first year, whereas nowadays I have less time to write stuff and when I do, it takes me three times as long to write it. To use an analogy, I used to be The Ramones, (1! 2! 3! 4! Go!) but I’ve gradually turned into Radiohead; (Hmmm, ehmm, scratch my arse…) Without intending it, there are longer gaps between ‘albums’ and I’ve become more serious about my ‘art’. Maybe it’s time to get back to writing the short, sharp stuff again. Maybe I’ll find the time. Probably I won’t.

The past 9 years have allowed me the chance to interview people who I never would’ve got close to without the flimsy excuse that I was writing a blog that attracted in excess of 1000 visitors a day (at one time it was, but I suspect Google’s analytics may well have been a bit iffy.) Nowadays, it’s nowhere near that, but I still enthusiastically trot out the same old line when trying to land a big name to feature. Through Plain Or Pan I’ve met (physically, electronically or both) all manner of interesting musical and literary favourites; Sandie Shaw, Johnny Marr, Ian Rankin, Gerry Love, the odd Super Furry Animal. Quite amazing when I stop to think about it. You should see the list of those who’ve said they’ll contribute then haven’t. I won’t name them, but there are one or two who would’ve made great Six Of the Best articles. I’m not Mojo, though, so what can I expect?

pop9

A quick trawl through my own analytics spat out the Top 24 downloaded/played tracks on the blog this year, two for each month:

  1. Michael MarraGreen Grow the Rashes
  2. Wallace CollectionDaydream
  3. Jacqueline TaiebSept Heures du Matin
  4. The TemptationsMessage From A Black Man
  5. New OrderTrue Faith
  6. Bobby ParkerWatch Your Step
  7. Jim FordI’m Gonna Make Her Love Me
  8. DorisYou Never Come Closer
  9. Ela OrleansDead Floor
  10. Mac De MarcoOde To Viceroy
  11. Teenage FanclubGod Knows It’s True
  12. Iggy PopNightclubbing
  13. George HarrisonWah Wah
  14. MagazineThank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again
  15. Future Sound Of LondonPapua New Guinea
  16. Bob DylanSad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands (mono version)
  17. Richard BerryLouie Louie
  18. REMRadio Free Europe (HibTone version)
  19. The CribsWe Share The Same Skies
  20. Johnny MarrThe Messenger
  21. McAlmont & ButlerSpeed
  22. Talking HeadsI Zimbra (12″ version)
  23. Style CouncilSpeak Like A Child
  24. Darlene LoveJohnny (Please Come Home)

And there you have it – the regular mix of covers, curios and forgotten influential classics, the perfect potted version of what Plain Or Pan is all about. A good producer would’ve made the tracklist flow a bit better. I just took it as I came to them; two from January followed by two from February followed by two from etc etc blah blah blah. You can download it from here.

See you in the new year. First up, Rufus Wainwright. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

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Callin’ All, Radio Transmit!

September 8, 2015

REM‘s output falls into two camps – the hard jangling college rock of the IRS years and the radio-friendly unit shifting Warners years. Fans are often divided over which era constitutes the band’s ‘best era’, which is a bit like arguing over whether tomato soup or tangerines are better. Both are magic, both are different. Me? Despite the dramatic tail-off in quality towards the end of the Warners era, I like ’em both equally.

rem 81

REM were born into the world on the back of Radio Free Europe,  first released on their own promotional ‘Cassette Set’, of which only 400 were made. The track was pretty much fully formed from the word go. Counted in on a pistol crack snare and carried in the verses by a tightly coiled spring of a guitar riff, it explodes in a colourful burst of glassy 12 strings and up-the-frets bass.

REMRadio Free Europe (Cassette Set version)

There’s also an extremely rare ‘Radio Dub’ version which has novelty appeal, interesting for the treated vocals and rudimentary special effects.

REMRadio Free Europe (Cassette Set ‘Radio Dub’)

*credit where it’s due – these tracks came a few years ago via The Power Of Independent Trucking blog. I think at the time they were almost shut down over the inclusion of them, so shhh!

Local label Hib-Tone were suitably impressed by the demo cassette to offer the band a one single deal, and Radio Free Europe was committed to 7″.

 rem hibtone

REMRadio Free Europe (Hib-Tone Single)

The band themselves weren’t overly impressed by the finished results, but Radio Free Europe is the perfect defining introduction to the band – great musicianship fighting for earspace with the sandpaper vocals of Michael Stipe. Stipe is clearly a passionate vocalist, but you’d need a degree in WWII code cracking to work out what he’s on about here. Even when you can make out the words and phrases, many of them make little sense.

The silent silver radio’s gonna stay,

Reason it could polish up the grey

Put that! Put that! Put that! In you wha

Badness isn’t country at all

Ray-dee-stay-shu…….

That’s not right, of course (Taking my cue from the chorus, I don’t even think I’ve got the right title for this piece), but that’s what I’m hearing. The first time I heard it, I actually stopped the record after a minute to check I hadn’t a build-up of fluff on my Grundig ‘music centre’ stylus.  A quick Google of the lyrics just now (there was none of that in 1989) doesn’t help either. There are many websites offering you their definitive take on the lyrics and, like much of the internet, the information is only as good as the person who put it there. I’m not convinced any of the lyric sites have the words 100%. Just as you most certainly shouldn’t be convinced by my ham fisted attempt above. Not for nothing was REM’s first LP called ‘Murmur‘.

rem 83

Radio Free Europe and the band was picked up by IRS. Re-recorded and re-released, the track also kicked off side 1 on Murmur. 

REMRadio Free Europe (Murmur version)

rem irs

It was slower and less murky, perhaps on the instructions of producer Mitch Easter, but Michael’s mumblings were all over the record like the fuzz on a Georgia peach. There’s also an annoying hi-hat ‘tick tick tick’ all the way through the verses that, once heard, can never be dislodged.  The best bit is still towards the end when, on one of the final choruses, all instruments bar the beat-keeping drum drop out before returning a second later.

rem stipe

The band played it live less and less as the years grew. In fact, you can probably chart it’s appearance in set lists in direct proportion to the introduction of the mandolin in their sound. It was something of a surprise to this audience (venue unknown) in 1992 when REM played a rare version. No doubt inspired by Nirvana and their ilk who were all the rage at the time, this version is a somewhat muscled up, balls-dropped shitkicker when compared to its original form. It brings to mind the harder sound of future LP Monster. Mike Mills plays like a demon possessed on this. Thankfully Peter Buck hadn’t yet discovered the tremelo pedal that would spoil much of the upcoming LP.

REMRadio Free Europe (Live 1992)

 

 

 

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