Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Well Well Well

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

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

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

Fleetwood MacOh Well

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

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

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

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

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

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Poplar Music

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

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

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

Billie Holiday Strange Fruit

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

LCD SoundsystemLosing My Edge

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

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

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

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

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

We all know I was there. 

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

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

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

I was there in Jamaica at the great sound clashes.

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

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

Every line a small story in its own right.

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

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

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

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

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

But I was there!

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I was there!

I was there!


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Light Entertainment

Aurora Borealis, the icy sky at night…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was not to be.

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

Super Furry AnimalsNorthern Lites

Northern Lights, Kilwinning, 27th February 2023

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

I think I’ll try that tonight. 


Get This!, Live!, New! Now!

CK Maxx

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

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

Concrete Kid, HAC Irvine

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

Concrete KidThe Colour Green

Concrete Kid, HAC Irvine by Kerrin Carr Photography

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

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

Concrete KidSummer Pearl

Concrete Kid, HAC Irvine by Kerrin Carr Photography

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

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

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

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


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

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Club Sandwich

We get fairly drawn into those BBC4 Top of the Pops repeats every Friday night. Proustian rushes flood back with every hammered hook-line and high falsetto harmony; a gym hall full of pre-teen boys, drainpipes and white socks, comparing tasseled loafers as The Beat’s Tears Of A Clown rattles its hundred mile an hour skank to its brassy end. Bananarama’s Cruel Summer reimagined by three breathy and off-key girls at the back of Geography, Impulse deodorant cans redeployed as skinny microphones. A trio of girls (again!) ‘woah-ah-woah-ing‘ their way through Baltimora’s Tarzan Boy as they cut across me, arms interlinked, side pony tails a-swishing, to get to Mr ‘Shaky’ Stevens’ second year chemistry class. A trio of Bs, coincidentally, that teleport straight back to a place and time. I’m sure you’ll have your own examples.

Baltimora, but. Neil Tennant enjoyed a good hook as much as the next pop scholar and saw the value in the one hit wonder’s ‘woah-ah-woah-ing‘ choral refrain. Not content with pilfering the Supremes-ish ‘ooh-ooh-ee-ooh‘ hook to the Human League’s Mirror Man for his own Love Comes Quickly, Tennant took inspiration from the singability of Tarzan Boy when writing Pet Shop BoysPaninaro.



Paninaro is prime Pet Shop Boys. Moody European orchestral synth dressed up as sophisto pop, cerebral, arch and knowing. Jammed full of era-defining Fairlight crashes and Juno modulations, its glacial synth lines glide through the verses as slowly as tectonic plates. the stately yin to the repetitive pulsing yang of its sequenced bassline.

Pet Shop BoysPaninaro

Its name has given rise to a small faction of my team’s supporters. This group of Killie fans, in their Stone Island and box-fresh trainers and labelled and logoed expenso-wear named themselves Paninaro as a tenuous way of aligning themselves to their ’80s Milanese counterparts’ high sense of style and fashion.

But whereas those Italians had the scooters and haircuts and effortless chic mod-ability, these Ayrshire equivalents don’t. The youth of Milan hung out in coffee bars and sandwich shops – Paninaro comes from the word panini, meaning sandwich – and the Killie lot hang around The Coffee Club and Greggs the bakers, a tribute act a best.

The song though. Pet Shop Boys have always had their finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist and Paninaro is a great example of marrying youth culture to dance music. PSB revelled in the notion that the Milanese youth lived for Wham and Spandau and the non-stop flood of music from the UK while their elders sniffed their noses at what they considered a movement as shallow, vacuous and as temporary as the fashionable clothes the teenagers coveted. Fast fashion and fast food – that’s basically the mission statement of the Paninaro.

Neil Tennant appears only on the titular refrain, the bulk of the vocals delivered deadpan by Chris Lowe who, for once, has stepped out of the shadows to take centre stage.


The words are thrown out, as soulless as Teletext vidiprinter text, as arty and sloganeering as a Bartle Bogle Hegarty advertising campaign from the same era.

The spoken-word section in the middle is taken from a recording of an interview of Lowe in a 1986 US TV interview, perfectly bleak and perfect for the Pet Shop Boys’ art and ethos.

I don’t like country and western
I don’t like rock music
I don’t like rockabilly or rock ‘n’ roll particularly
Don’t like much really, do I?
But what I do like I love passionately…

It’s a great tune, one that is nearly always overlooked in favour of all those other great Pet Shop Boys tracks. Like all the best bands, Paninaro first appeared as a b-side (to Suburbia) but has since become a track the equal of any of their a-sides. I suspect you know-oh-oh that already.

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Meet The Beetles

As far as new(ish) guitar bands with hot potential go, you could do worse than look towards The Bug Club as saviours of all things rough, ready and rabble-ish. With songs – short, in length, deep in content – pouring effortlessly from the trio as freely as the spring water in the Monmouthshire valleys from whence they come, and further vindication, should it be required, from the hip oracle of foresight that is Marc Riley, their time really is NOW!

Those constant rotations on Marc Riley’s nighttime show on BBC 6 Music became daytime earworms throughout last year and were eventually the catalyst for Freckfest, the wee music promotions team I’m involved with, to book them to play the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine. Last night, then, was The Bug Club’s opening night of a short tour of Scotland and the south, a tour they started in Irvine…and started in style.

Having more songs than they know what to do with, the band hit upon the idea of supporting themselves as an outlet for airing a whole set of new material that’ll form the basis of their next album. Much like The Wedding Present, who did a similar thing at the tail end of the ’80s when they’d turn up unnanounced and run-through their not-yet-released Bizarro album (watching as the pre-social media audience grew to capacity after half a dozen or so songs), The Bug Club absolutely wanted to keep it low-key and under wraps. Their soundman pressed play on a pre-recorded intro message on one of those old, flat tape recorders and, to a room of no more than 20 people, Mr Anyway’s Holey Spirits sauntered onto the ‘stage’, ‘disguised’ in masks, plastic crowns and cheap silky capes and proceeded to blow the walls in.

Man! What a sound! They’ve two styles of songs, The Bug Club. One is Modern Lovers/Velvet Underground-rich; repetitive, clean and scraping guitars, the occasional Jonathan sunshine melody or Lou mumble on vocals, a slinky bassline, steady Tucker-ish drumming…you know how it goes. Being Welsh, they’ve even nailed the John Cale spoken-word sections with nary an effort. I’m jumping the gun here, but the last song they played in this set was a 10 minute headspin of male/female spoken word vocals and pulsing Velvets groove that possibly won’t be bettered in the whole of 2023. Totally great.

Their other style is tight ‘n raucous Nuggets-y garage punk, whippet thin blasts of hairdryer blooze with short, sharp interjections of Yardbirds-rich guitar licks, the spectral fingers of Page ‘n Beck slippin’ and slidin’ up the frets and back again, a lightning fast blur of high frettery that leads to a bottom end sludge fest.

The Bug ClubCheckmate

It never quite gets full on Zep, mind you. And just as well. The Bug Club know exactly when to pull back and fall back into that Velvety grind. And talking of Jeff Beck, Sam Willmett, The Bug Club’s guitar-playing singer also eschews all form of effect pedal. He’s old school, and in a world populated by musicians who mask and disguise their limited playing with spaceship-sized chrome and steel stomp boxes, it’s totally refreshing. If I was a guitar player, I’d have thrown away all of that excess flab this morning and rethought the entire process. Or perhaps given up. With just an old Telecaster and a curly lead – there’s yr secret weapon right there – Sam coaxes all manner of tone and control from his six strings with nothing more than a snappily toggled pick-up switch or a pinky-flicked volume knob on his vintage amp for colour. I watched closely, less than two metres away from him at the side of the stage and I’m not quite sure what form of wizardry I paid witness to.

Of course, with the walls vibrating to the thrilling noise of just three people, ticket holders still in the bar begin picking up on the muffled thunk permeating their chat – “I think that’s them on!” – and gradually the room fills. By the time they’ve ended their near-hour warm-up set with that aforementioned 10 minute epic by unplugging, wandering off and singing the vocal refrain in the dressing room behind the stage, they’ve an entire audience on their feet in giddy appreciation. Not bad for a ‘support act’.

Soundcheck shot

A quick interlude – Ivor Cutler, Gorky’s, Them – again, the best points of reference – and The Bug Club proper are back. The capes, masks and crowns may be gone but the relentless tuneage continues. Did they just play three songs in a row there without breaking for breath? I dunno, but it’s a thrill. Tilly on bass, nice, mild-mannered Tilly, is transformed into Suzi Quatro doing Angus Young at Hallowe’en. She struts, she stomps, she pulls excellent bass face. She is a total thrill to watch. Sam, meek and humble, squeezes out an apologietic thanks with a nod of the head before letting loose welders’ sparks of metallic chaos from the Telecaster. At the back, tubthumping Dan keeps it all together, fringe whipping his face as he sings along, mic’less but still there, the third spoke in an almighty wheel.

The Bug Club It’s Art

Never anything less than can’t-take-your-eyes-off-them exhilarating, they must’ve played 40 songs over two one hour sets. Fast songs. Faster songs. Rockin’. Rowdy’. Quirky. Quaint. You can find them all at the band’s Bandcamp page. If you can, you should make a point of going to see them if they’re anywhere near you, anytime soon.

Yard Act and Wet Leg were the breakthrough bands of last year. This year belongs to The Bug Club. Hopefully we’ll get them back to Irvine before the rest of the world catches on. You, though. You should catch up. And catch up fast.



Get This!, New! Now!

Read Wedge

The teetering pile of books on the bedside table has been slowly reducing since it first took on Jenga-like proportions around my birthday in the middle of November before growing a couple more spines in height at Christmas. Amongst others, the much-maligned Philosophy of Modern Song, Bob Dylan‘s multi-genre critique of music through the ages has been dipped in and out of and, despite the rising consensus that it’s misogynistic, plagiarised and not worth the lovely, thick recycled paper (mmm, the smell of it!) that it’s printed on, I really like it, even if I can’t be certain I’m reading Bob’s own words or not. It does read like a printed version of his scripted Theme Time Radio Hour shows, and perhaps the credited thanks to ‘fishing buddy’ Eddie Gorodetsky – coincidentally the producer of those radio shows – tells you all you need to know with regards to just how much input Bob may or may not have had. The scamp. Thankfully, no one shelled out on a ‘signed’ copy for me. That’s a whole other can o’ worms. But you knew that already.

Nige Tassell‘s Whatever Happened To The C86 Kids? will have to wait a wee bit longer, as I’m about to dive deep into Douglas MacIntyre‘s Hungry Beat, a tome that celebrates an era – The Scottish Independent Pop Underground Movement (1977 – 1984) – that I was born just too late to appreciate first time around, but a book that will no doubt have me scrambling and scratching around for the appropriate soundtrack as I read. So, expect a raft of niche Scots’ post-punk to start drip-feeding on these pages once I’ve properly digested Douglas’s book, probably sometime around the start of March.

I’ve a whole stash of Stephen King on my Kindle, and I periodically select one I haven’t read. I ploughed my way through 11/22/63, wanting to give up at times but making myself finish it. It wasn’t a bad story – the concept is great; man discovers portal, goes back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald killing JFK and suffers the consequences of changing history, but man, it was just so damn long. The love scenes (of which there were more than enough) were toe-curlingly excrutiating too.

The other book I’ve recently read where history is intertwined with fiction was so much better…

I’ve just finished David Ross‘s multi-faceted Dashboard Elvis Is Dead, a proper page turner that I read over four nights last week. A quick disclaimer: David is a friend and very kindly gave me a copy in return for a review, so it was a relief to reach the final line, brain a-whirring, and not feel worried about having to contrive a few paragraphs of praise.

Dashboard Elvis Is Dead is a right good read, a Forrest Gumpish run through the people and events of the ’80s to the 2000s – the Scottish Independence referendum, 9/11, high school shootings – intertwined with fictional characters including a mixed-race American photojournalist eager to find comfort in her murky roots and a Scots indie band (The Hyptones) who self-implode almost as soon as their one great song starts making ripples on the music scene. The song, or rather, its origins, are the cause of much soul-seeking and anguish to the band’s guitar player, as you discover as the story unravels. And what a story it is.

There are two seemingly separate threads running through the book – one featuring Jude the photographer, the other following Jamie, The Hyptones’ hot-shot guitarist, but of course, they are interlinked. For a while, the novel’s early themes (love and belonging, travel, violence) run in parallel; at one point Jude finds herself embroiled in a ripe-for-Tarantino road trip and the star-crossed lovers she falls in with drag her life in a new direction while, travelling the same roads, The Hyptones zig-zag across the States in a converted van, the drummer lamping the singer who thumps the guitar player while the bass player sleeps through it all, before the crowd of rednecks and punks who mix like oil and water at the band’s showcase gig cause it to end in predictably time-honoured Longhorn Ballroom fashion…

Dashboard Elvis Is Dead reads like the wordy equivalent of a well-considered album; fast paced and attention-grabbing at the start, the serious stuff in the middle, the reflective and philosophical stuff towards the end before the big closer at the finish. A four-parter that can, and should, be read in four sittings.

Indeed, if this was a record, the pages where the two characters come face to face would be the big, noisy, side-closer; London’s Burning, perhaps, or Problems, more likely… something to draw a line under what you’ve just listened to (read) before you flip over and dive back in again.

The nightspots of New York City give way to Glasgow’s Red Row flats. Arty advertising agencies are succeeded by Glasgow School of Art. The movers and shakers of NYC’s cultural scene – Seymour Stein, Madonna – are replaced by the movers and shakers of Scottish politics and the Glasgow underworld. Characters that you meet in one section invariably pop up in key roles in another. The trick, which Ross does well, is in getting from one to the other without contrivance or over-reaching.

Bonus points too, Mr Ross, for naming the bass player ‘McAllister’. I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental, but that earns you a Plain Or Pan rating of nine and a half out of ten. (A half point off for not calling her ‘Craig’).

You can get Dashboard Elvis Is Dead in all good book retailers, digital as well as print. You should seek it out. I think you’d like it.

Alternative Version, Get This!, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Murderous Thoughts

Let’s call it here and now: Meat Is Murder is The Smiths best album.

It’s certainly not the debut, the band’s unsatisfactory attempt to chase a sound worthy of the songs. Compared to the Brasso-bright, spit ‘n polish, ring-a-ding-ding of those early Peel versions, the debut album weighs heavy; lumpen, and one-dimensional. The drums sound leaden and lifeless. The guitars – it’s always about the guitars with The Smiths – sound as if someone has taken a fat thumb to their edges and rubbed the sparkle clean off. Flat and uninspiring, the production doesn’t do those fabulous riffs any justice at all. Unique, extraordinary songs, but assembled badly.

Don’t even consider The Queen Is Dead. Those songs…man, great, great songs…but whoever signed off the running order needs their head examined. The title track aside, every other song is misplaced. Side one collapses from the music hall titter of Frankly, Mr Shankly into the death doublet of I Know It’s Over/Never Had No One Ever – undeniably serious mood music pieces, yes, but totally misplaced. Stick I Know It’s Over at the end of side 1 instead and you’ve got a great closing track. Never Had No One Ever? That’s totally ripe for the graveyard slot of second last track on side 2. Pick any ten records from your collection and look at the running order and then tell me that the second-to-last track isn’t the weakest on the album. It’s certainly not where There Is A Light That Never Goes Out should be hiding. That should be sitting up front with Bigmouth… and the big boys, or maybe even afforded the honour of being the big statement closing track. Good as Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is – and it’s one of their very best – go out on a romantic, swaying high, Smiths. Don’t relegate your best songs to the twilight zone.

Yeah, and the smart money (even Johnny’s, they say) might be on Strangeways Here We Come, but for every crashing gothic masterpiece (Last Night I Dreamt...) there’s The Smiths-by-numbers (Stop Me If You Think…), for every barely-disguised love letter from singer to guitarist (I Won’t Share You) there’s the instantly skippable Death At One’s Elbow. It’s a good album, Strangeways, probably even great, but it isn’t their greatest. That honour goes to Meat Is Murder. Here are half a dozen reasons why.

Reason 1. Little elfin Johnny, in his blown-up Keith Richards hair-do and diamante clutter, is on fire across every bit of Meat Is Murder. He runs the whole gamut of his nimble-fingered arsenal; alternative tuning on the title track…alternative tuning and Nashville tuning on the cosmic and zinging Headmaster Ritual…that fine, layered coating of acoustic liquid mercury across Well I Wonder…the Stooges Metallic KO of What She Said, the rockabilly knee-tremble of Rusholme Ruffians…the proud Chic-isms that give way to those great, ringing discordant jazz chords near the end of Barbarism Begins At Home…the clattering chatter he conjures up across Nowhere Fast‘s multiple overlapping tracks and kaleidoscope of chords…

Johnny came up with them all. On Meat Is Murder he is barely 22 and he’s not yet reached a peak that his peers, never mind his guitar-strangling lessers in bedrooms up and down the country, can only dream of.

Reason 2. Morrissey. Separating the art of the 26 year-old singer from the 63 year-old artist is necessary here. Look, not at what he’s become, but at what he was once capable of. With every lyric on the album, he’s extremely funny and articulate and political and opinionated and principled and, above all else, loveable. ‘I’d like to drop my trousers to the Queen,’ ‘heifer whines could be human cries,’ ‘belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools, spineless bastards all,’ ‘What she read, all heady books, she’d sit and prophesise, it took a tattooed boy from Birkenhead to really, really open her eyes.’

Even if he pinched large chunks of Rusholme Ruffians from Victoria Wood, no one was crowbarring lyrics like this into pop songs in 1985. Arguably, no one has crowbarred stuff as unique and searing and insightful and right-on since.

Reason 3. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is one of The Smiths’ finest torch songs. From its bright-as-brass-buttons opening to its layered and textured false ending, it’s a beauty. It’s the perfect marriage of Morrissey’s moping introspection and Marr’s guitarchestra, the singer identifying with those who are kicked when they are down, the guitarist going to town with studio effects and multi-layered riffs.

The SmithsThat Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

Those little echoing triplets that fall from his fingers to create rippling pools on still pond water still tingle the back of my neck when they come in (around the minute mark at first, then forever after) – an ear-opening epiphany in 1985 when I realised that guitar players enhanced their electric sound with gizmos and wizardry to create the sounds they imagined in their heads. The haunting (and haunted) backwards effects he weaves through the ‘happening in mine‘ section before the fade out are ace.

Johnny has since said (OK, he told me, right?) that The Smiths never quite managed to do it justice live, but with the technology available today, That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore would have undoubtedly been the centrepeice of The Smiths live experience. We’ll never know.

Reason 4. The Smiths changed lives. Saved lives, even. Like, literally. The title track is responsible for a whole swathe of impressionable teenagers – and at least two Smiths besides Morrissey – to forego eating meat and adopt vegatariansim as a way of life.

“As soon as we had recorded this song, I became a vegetarian,” Mike Joyce told me in 2017. “Morrissey’s argument was rock solid. I couldn’t even be that bullish to say, ‘…but I like meat.’ The cruelty involved is reason enough. You wouldn’t eat your cat or your dog, so why eat a sheep or a pig? Whatever Morrissey argued, you could only reply with, “You’re right, you’re right.” There was no counteract to it. It should be illegal, there’s just no argument for it. ‘Meat Is Murder’ is a sheer political statement. It shaped my life and my kids’ too, who’ve all been brought up vegetarian.

Accompanying the lyric, all sorts of magic is going on. Suitably doomy and disconcerting for the words being sung, Johnny plays around on an open D riff, cyclical and repetitive, hynpotic and ethereal.

The Smiths Meat Is Murder

It’s matched by a jangling piano – not noticeable on first listen, buried as it is underneath the abattoir grinding and cattle cries, but it’s there, tinkling along like springtime Manchester rain while studio-treated guitars echo and scrape and scratch their way through the murk, Andy’s bass as elastic and stretchy as tendons.

Reason 5. Ah. Andy’s bass. The unsung hero of the band, the thinking man’s favourite Smith, Andy Rourke can play the fuck out of that thing. While Johnny gets all the spotlight, Andy quietly goes about creating tunes within tunes, fret-surfing melodic runs that could easily stand on their own two feet (or four strings).

The SmithsNowhere Fast (Peel Session, 1984)

The trampolining rubber bandisms that carry the aforementioned Rusholme Ruffians…the counterparts he plays to Johnny’s guitar in The Headmaster Ritual…the driving force in Nowhere Fast that allows Johnny to fly off-piste and back again…Andy is a key ingredient here.

The rather-too obvious track to highlight is the extreme funkability of Barbarism Begins At Home, all slap ‘n thunk, an old tune of his and Johnny’s from pre-Smiths days that wouldn’t have worked on that debut album, but here, on Meat Is Murder‘s inclusive, catholic patina, it shines brightly.

Reason 6. The Headmaster Ritual. Rusholme Ruffians. I Want The One I Can’t Have. What She Said. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore. Nowhere Fast. Well I Wonder. Barbarism Begins At Home. Meat Is Murder.

Perfectly sequenced, perfectly pitched, it is, rare for the era, an album of few single releases; Headmaster and Barbarism in foreign countries only, That Joke in the UK (a chart-busting number 49 with a bullet). The Americans couldn’t handle an album with no hit singles though, so they crassly wedged How Soon Is Now? right before Nowhere Fast at the start of side 2. They have form for spoiling perfectly perfect albums, the Americans – look at what they did to some of The Beatles’ catalogue for proof – and while How Soon Is Now? is an undoubted Smiths classic, it should remain standing alone as the greatest 3-track Smiths single ever. But that’s an argument for another time.

I welcome your misguided outrage in the comments…


Get This!


Old enough to get married, but not of the age to celebrate with a swift half down The Crown, Plain Or Pan turns 16 today.

I wouldn’t have believed you this day back in 2007 if you’d told me these pages would lead to me getting to interview Sandie Shaw, half The Smiths and a smattering of my favourite musicians, but that’s the truth. I peaked during lockdown when I was tasked with writing a biography – The Perfect Reminder – about the Trashcan Sinatras‘ second album I’ve Seen Everything. The book subsequently found its way to all corners of the UK, the USA, Europe and Japan and eventually peaked at the respected Aye Write book festival in Glasgow, where myself and photographer Stephanie Gibson, alongside John from the TCS, were interviewed on stage by BBC 6 Music’s Gideon Coe. To top off what was Aye Write’s headlining slot (and perhaps the reason why a feart and running Bobby Gillespie postponed his appearance), John, Davy and a visiting Frank Reader appeared as the ThreeCS and played a half hour set of acoustic Trashcans’ numbers. But you knew all that already.

With the Trashcans’ third album – A Happy Pocket – being reissued by Last Night From Glasgow, I was once again called to action. This time round, things have been scaled back a bit. There’s no hard back book, there’s no bespoke photographs and I doubt there’ll be an Aye Write appearace, though you never know. What we do have is something – The Full Pocket – that’s akin to more than a fanzine but not quite a book. It’s A4. It’s set in the same font as the tracklisting on the album. It’s packed full of archival photographs and artefacts. And it features all 5 band members and the occasional outside influence talking about the album and its associated b-sides track by track, story by story. I might compare it to one of those Mojo or Uncut special editions – y’know, those ‘Complete Guide to Bob Dylan’ publications that they occasionally produce?

The Full Pocket is a goldmine of TCS factoids. Funny, informative and, may I say, indisepnsable if you’ve even half a passing interest in one of our greatest under-the-radar bands. Pre-orders went online last night and it was thrilling to see the response. If you’re a fence-sitter, or perhaps an eager pre-orderer and want a sneak peek, I’ve included a short extract below. I’ve intentionally kept it shorter than the same bit in the bookzine – the band quotes are longer and more detailed in there, and I’ve not included any of the photos that will appear either. Some things are worth waiting for.


The Genius I Was (Excerpt from The Full Pocket)

Trippy, fuggy, druggy, whacked out…The Genius I Was pummels along on a tidal wave of overlapping guitars and a sneaked-in metronomic Run To You riff, coloured by needles-in-the-red zinging interludes and Frank’s buzzing fly-in-a-jar line enderzzz. Davy’s bass, solid, melodic and thumping drives the whole stramash forwards. The guitars – about 8 tracks of them, I’d guess – are phased, flanged, panned left to right and back again. A six string acoustic scrubs out the choppy rhythm as an electric zaps out the hippy, spacey stuff. There’s a lot going on here, and repeated listens reward the keenest of ears.

I must’ve played The Genius I Was about a thousand times since first hearing it and I could happily play it over and over for the next hour and never tire of its proggy, sonic resonance. Until now, have you even noticed John coming in midway through the first verse to duet with Frank from thereon in? And have you ever noticed the heavenly choir near the end as the melodies tumble and the chorus unravels? I’m sure Stephen’s voice is somewhere high within the mix. There’s a lot to unpack in what is a well-constructed track. It may be buried deep within the album, but make no mistake, The Genius I Was is one of the Trashcans’ very best.

Trashcan SinatrasThe Genius I Was

Paul: This was one of Frank’s. We worked for a while on it. For a long time, it was faster and louder and a bit queasy with those chords. It happens a lot with Frank’s songs where you’re learning it but you’re thinking, ‘What is this?’ “It’s this chord…and then you go to this chord…and then you go to that chord…”, and you’re like, ‘what the fuck?!’…

Stephen: The verse chords for The Genius I Was were there long before the rest of the song and when rehearsing we used to play them continuously, really loud. I remember the song being a two chord instrumental for some time before this.

Frank: I was sitting around on my guitar, trying to learn something when I stumbled on this nice, slideable chord. I could move it up two frets and back again, which I did for a bit, and then I went to the fourth fret and back down again. Suddenly I had a riff and it sounded weird, kinda backwards, but interesting. I played it over and over, getting into it, dang-dang der-dang-dang, it was fast and driving. And then my hands got stuck in those fret positions. I’m not a good guitar player, and I’m thinking, what can I play to get out of this?

Davy: Frank had a set of weird chords and we could never get them into shape – augmented chords, maybe diminished, I dunno, but it had a good vibe to it and was worth working on. It was very post-punky, ‘Edinburgh’, as Frank would say. The east coast bands were almost always a bit more angular and jagged than their west coast compatriots.

John: This is one that’s made by the playing on it. Davy’s bass playing on it especially is spectacular. The way he plays steady while we’re all changing and he’s just ploughing through, it’s phenomenal. He creates a really good driving sound. It’s a hard one to play live, but it’s a total belter.

Frank: I did a demo of it in the middle of the night at Shabby Road with a really simple bassline, but enough to get it started. I had the melody and everything and when Paul came in from the Hunting Lodge and heard what I’d done, he loved it and really took it on.

Hugh Jones worked on it and helped take the recording up yet another notch in the mix. Dulcimer, again, was added and everything went stratospheric, Stephen and Davy kept a driving rhythm at the core of it, Davy sliding up and down the frets with ease. It sounded fast and zingy, spooky, a bit swingy even.

Stephen: This was a real ‘studio’ production as we pretty much arranged the song as we recorded it. What linked it all together was Davy’s inspired bass playing; it’s almost a lead bass part he’s playing. There’s also some fantastic playing from Paul, especially in the choruses.

Davy: We had the tune complete before we had the title, I think. ‘The Genius I Was’ was the title of a song without a tune that I’d started years before. Frank liked it and used it here.

Frank: Davy had a sheet of words. The title at the top said ‘THE GENIUS I WAS’, all in capital letters, double underlined. The only line I took from Davy’s lyrics was the title line.

John: We should’ve done two or three mixes of it. There’s some intricate acoustic picking which you can barely hear on the finished version.

Davy: Simon Dine (Go! Discs) really liked the finished song and thought it had hit potential.

Frank: We went as far as making a video for it, sent out promos too, but The Genius I Was never got the full single release treatment.



The full version of this article can be found in A Full Pocket – The Definitive Story of Trashcan Sinatras’ A Happy Pocket.

Pre-orders are available now via Last Night From Glasgow. Click the link and you’ll have the option to buy The Full Pocket (£8) and also a multibuy deal for The Full Pocket and The Perfect Reminder (£20).