Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Won’t You Tell It To Me Doctor?

I’m particularly fond of this wee Teenage Fanclub curio. One half of a 2004 split single with International Airport (the side project of long-time Pastel Tom Crossley), each act has their version of the ‘Airport’s Association! on either side of the 7″.

Teenage FanclubAssociation!

Teenage Fanclub’s version is a lovely mid-paced chugger that grooves along at exactly the same pace and rhythm as Gerry Love tapping a battered desert boot while snapping a gub full of Juicy Fruit in time to the beat. It’s head nodding sunshine pop, all fruggable bassline and lazy, hazy double harmonies where Norman’s voice and Gerard’s seemingly mesh and melt into one another. The guitars, scrapy and scratchy at the start but clean and chiming fromm thereon in, rise and fall and ring and sparkle behind the vocals, acceding on occasion to the faintest of tinkling pitched percussion and the same thrumming atmospheric organ that fades in at the beginning.

It’s just about missing a handful of swinging fringes and some John Sebastian-conducted Lovin’ Spoonful on-the-beat handclaps, but feel free to add your own where you know they should go. You’ll probably want to pick it up a bit after the band drops out before coming back in alongside those ghosting backing vocals – “Won’t you tell it to me doctor?” Lovely stuff, it must be said.

Association! wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on the following year’s Man Made album, but as you know, all the best bands  – The Beatles, XTC, New Order, The Smiths, (add your own selection  here: ________) – leave some of their greatest material off of the albums and keep them instead as stand alone tracks. Despite being a cover, Association! endures to this day as one of TFC’s best-kept secrets.

It’s somewhat difficult to make out lyrically, and not being well-known enough to appear on any of the internet’s lyric sites means much guesswork is required to work out what’s being sung. Repeated plays – and I’ve been playing it non-stop again for the past couple of days – throw up references to Castle Bay, boats, moving water, on the wreck of the Association – it’s about a boat! – and, I’ve got myself convinced, something about a Rubik’s Cube.

I mean, I dunno. The Fanclub could sing the obituaries page in last week’s Herald and make it sound like throw-away sun-kissed perfection, but on this track their melodic mumbling prevails. Phonetically though, it sounds wonderful.

I’m part of the association, the circle of the free….

stereo music…yeah it’s a part of me.”

Or something like that.

The original throws up no further clues…

International AirportAssociation! Channel Mash

Even tinklier than TFC’s version, and that’s a melodica in there too, isn’t it? – International Airport’s take has a home-made rough around the edges feel to it that I suspect most acts would have trouble capturing in their own way. There’s a lovely cyclical bassline to it, different to Gerry’s but no less wonderful, and some off-kilter harmonies that only add to the charm. Aggi Pastel wafts in and out at the tail end of some of the lines – “now you gotta wait and see” – and the drop-out on this version has some lovely rudimentary wheezy slide guitar accompanying the overlapping vocals.

What’s clear to hear is that International Airport had grand plans for their song – it’s lo-fi but with hi-fi ambitions – and that perhaps those plans could only be realised through Teenage Fanclub’s gift for a close-knit harmony and a closely-mic’d vintage guitar. Great songs are great songs are great songs though, no matter the bells and whistles you can hang on them. But I suspect you knew that already.

Now, does anybody have a full lyric for the song?

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Autumn Sunshine, Magnificent

In the olden days, when times were simpler and telly was defined by three channels, none of whom broadcast before the late afternoon, you could, for fun, retune your portable black and white TV and, through the white noise and static fuzz, pick up this alien-sounding entity called ‘Ulster TV’.

Transmitted faintly into Ayrshire from Northern Ireland, Ulster showed local news and endless, boring talking heads offering up political opinion and, instead of Scotsport with Arthur Montford, it showed highlights of this thing called shinty, a game played in damp, grey, muddy conditions in sometimes packed but usually half-empty rickety old stadiums. The black and white picture and hissy sibilance of the broadcast did nothing to enhance it. The commentators spoke with a jarring hardness that was at once at odds with the received pronunciation of their BBC counterparts over the Irish Sea. I’d never heard voices quite like these ones, and I wouldn’t again until I heard Van Morrison amble across the top of Coney Island. “I look at the side of yer fayce,” he says at the end, as hard as a bucket of bolts from Harland and Wolff, instantly endearing.

Van kicks out the jams

Luscious and languorous, Coney Island is one of Van’s greatest ‘songs’. I say ‘song’ with inverted commas because the whole thing is a string-swollen and gently rippling mini symphony, as uplifting as the Spring movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, as heart-stirring as the Blue Danube Waltz, but with a sentimentality that never slips into schmaltz as Van recounts a story from his early years over the top of it.

Van MorrisonConey Island

From his 1989 masterpiece Avalon Sunset, Coney Island is Van’s tale of travelling as a small boy with his mum to Coney Island, a small seaside village on the eastern coast of Northern Island. Not an actual island – Coney Island is itself a small peninsula served by a causeway that may at one point in history have been cut off from the land, hence the island part of the name (‘coney’ is an Irish word for ‘rabbit’ – they are everywhere around this part of Ireland) – it is less seaside resort and more a row of houses with a nice beach. In my own olden days, when times were simpler, I took to retuning the telly for a bit of home-made fun. In his time, young Ivan and his mum thought nothing of travelling for a whole day across Ulster to get to a beach with no amenities…and, as the song will leave you doubtless, it would be the highlight of Van’s formative years.

The picture that Van paints with his words is of a 1950s rural Ireland that wasn’t, I imagine, too dissimilar to life in the west of Scotland at the time, a life slow of pace and rich of culture; stopping off for Sunday papers. Jars of mussels and potted herring in case we get famished before dinner. Birdwatching. Jam jars. Taking pictures. Green fields. Rolling hills. Hedgerows and puddles and leaves blown up and along by the wind from the Irish Sea. It may be sepia-tinted but the Morrisons’ trip is crystal clear in the mind’s eye.

It’s the journey rather than the destination that has left its indelible mark on Van, as he and his mum zig-zag through towns and villages, past hills and hamlets as they make their way ever-closer to their wee seaside retreat. On and on, over the hill and the craic is good. The guitars ripple like water from a mountain stream. Wind-blown strings rise and swell to the ebb and flow of the elements. Cymbals splash, water on the rocks, harps gently descend as the journey reaches its conclusion…. and then, with a subtle, questioning inflection in his proud Ulsterian voice, the pay-off…

Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?

 

 

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Readers And Writers

I wrote a book. A proper, hefty music biography that won’t look out of place between Ziggyology and Head-On and Beastie Boys Book and Songs That Saved Your Life and Revolution In The Head and any of those other essential reads that make up your book shelf.

The Perfect Reminder tells the story behind the songs on the Trashcan Sinatras‘ second album I’ve Seen Everything – a quietly-confident-but-knows-its-place cult book about a quietly-confident-but-knows-its-place cult act. Thanks to a small team that includes a fantastic photographer (Stephanie Gibson) and a Brooklyn-based creative director with an analytical approach to typesetting and design (Chris Dooley), the finished article turned out waaaay better than expected. We got to hold it, feel it, sniff it, on Tuesday night and it was quite the thrill. The book, tactile and glossy and heavy, is also almost three times longer than my initial (now-laughable) estimate of 35,000 words, and far-better for it.

To paraphrase David Byrne, how the fuckdiddilyuck did I get here?

With the long out-of-print I’ve Seen Everything being reissued by Last Night From Glasgow, I chanced my arm and asked if I could write the sleevenotes. I had clout, I suggested. Back in 1992, I’d been around the studio during the making of the record. I was pals with the band. I’d written articles on them for local and national press; my sleevenotes would surely be wonderfully entertaining.

Clout I may have had, but that particular gig had already been promised to crack music critic and life-long Trashcans fan Pete Paphides. You can’t argue with that, I told myself, while Ian from LNFG let me down gently by asking me if I’d like to put together a “small book-type thing, a posh fanzine perhaps” that told the stories of the songs through the eyes of the Trashcans’ loyal and steadfast fan base.

There’s a better story than that, I suggested after a minute’s thought, and reeled off plans where the five Trashcans would tell their own stories of how the songs came to be; from the underwhelming initial writing sessions that filled the band with self-doubt, through to the sparkling finished product, expertly steered and produced by the affable and dude-like Ray Shulman. Despite the band separated by the small matter of the Atlantic Ocean, it would read as if the five of them were sat round a table in The Crown, telling tales of how the album came to be, each interjecting the others with contradictory tales that, when taken as a whole, would tell a version of the truth behind the making of an album that is now considered something of a lost classic, a great Scottish album by one of our greatest bands.

Trashcan SinatrasHayfever

“People want to know how these fabulous songs came to be,” I wagered. “The lyrics – who wrote them, what the songs were about, who the songs were about, and the music, dripping in melody and finesse – what makes it so unattainably magic, how did they come up with that wobbly sound on Send For Henny, why is there no guitar on Hayfever…the important stuff, y’know? They’re not that bothered that Marko fae Motherwell first locked eyes with the love of his life while the clanging thunderstorm of One At A Time played furiously in the background, although we’ll make space for that too. A proper music biography must be written.”

And it was. A hundred thousand words and dozens of arty photographs and eye-catchingly beautiful font later, the book, The Book – definitely anything but small and most certainly booting into orbit the concept of ‘posh fanzine’ – whatever that is – rolled off a Polish printing press, negotiated Brexit-affected customs and landed, finally, in Glasgow. It is currently winging its way to the hundreds – that’s hundreds, Archie – of TCS fans around the globe who placed pre-orders.

It’ll eventually find its way to Waterstones, Mono and a handful of select retailers. The Perfect Reminder  – titled by John from the band before a word had been typed – is very much available for order right now via LNFG. I’d recommend you read it. But you knew that already.

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Tom Tom Club

I was teaching a class last year when the word ‘struttin’‘ came up. Not strutting with a ‘g‘ at the end, but the more street-smart struttin’. What did the word mean, someone asked. Their grandfather had had to put strutting on his shed to strengthen the roof, but given the context of the sentence, struttin’ made no sense. Immediately, instantly, at once, I thought of John Travolta in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever. “Let me show you,” I replied, and rather than replicate the Travolta strut in front of a group of 10 and 11 year-olds (that would’ve been all sorts of wrong) I rattled across the keyboard impatiently until I had the Saturday Night Fever opening scene cued up on YouTube. With a thumb hovering over the space bar should I need to pause proceedings – what swearies and/or nudity might be lurking around the next frame? – I turned up the volume, turned off the lights and by the metaphorical seat of my pants, pressed play.

As the Bee Gees’ slick guitar line and steady disco beat filled the classroom, 30 or so wee heads bobbed in unison – ah-ha-ha-ha – to Stayin’ Alive while it played behind Travolta’s character as he strutted – strutted! –  along the busy Brooklyn thoroughfare, (“Hey! To-neeey!”) all dimples and demi-quiff, the cock of the walk in his tight leather jerkin and Cuban heels. “Ah!” said the class in unison. So that was struttin’. The class understood. We moved on. “What did you do at school today?” would be asked later on at home. “We watched Saturday Night Fever,” would come the reply, to the bafflement and/or concern to some and/or all of the parents.

Over the years in the classroom I’ve managed to crowbar in such disparate references as the Stax Records snapping fingers logo, the choreography of The Ramones in concert, The Beatles’ ‘…Mr Kite‘ when doing a piece of writing on circuses and a gazillion records from the ’60s when we studied the decade.

This, boys and girls,” I said triumphantly as I placed my old Dansette Major Deluxe on a table at the front of the classroom one day, “is a 1960s mp3 player.”

This led to the formation of the Friday Afternoon Record Club, when pupils brought all manner of 7″ singles from home and we’d listen to and discuss them. The first rule of Friday Afternoon Record Club though, is to never mention it, so we’ll leave it at that. The head teacher would’ve had a fit if they’d known we’d been listening to David Essex and Status Quo and Kelly Marie (b-boo, b-boo!) instead of something less culturally-relevant instead.

Had the learners in front of me recently been that wee bit older when we’d been discussing the meaning of struttin’, I might’ve extended the concept of the word through Tom WaitsNighthawk Postcards.

‘Let me put the cut back in your strut,’ he says sings scats, sounding like Louis Armstrong chewing on sandpaper. ‘And the glide back in your stride.

Nighthawk Postcards is a sprawling, eleven-minute jazz-inflected monologue, Waits rasping and riffing and painting highly visual pictures with well-written words, the aural equivalent of the suggested stories in the paintings of Edward Hopper. Not for nothing does the song and its parent album take nomencular inspiration from one of Hopper’s most-celebrated works.

An inebriational travellogue as it’s introduced, the bass player wanders in straight off the grooves of a Charles Mingus 78 and continues to walk all over the yellow-lit, yellow-stained ambience with hep jazzcat grooviness. There’s a low-key, full-blown jazz drummer, a saxophone player who can’t wait to be let off the invisible leash that tends him to the background and a brilliantly loose-knuckled, laid-back piano player – on this recording not Waits, surely – there’s no way he can riff and scat and rap his way across those notes and spaces while playing at the same time, is there? Is there?

Tom WaitsNighthawk Postcards

The words leap off the record, instantly visual and scene-setting. Waits loves wordplay; busses that groan and wheeze, eyelids propped open at half-mast, a sucker born every minute and you just happened to be comin’ along at the right time. And he loves colours; neon swizzle sticks, a yellow biscuit of a buttery cueball moon, obsidian skies, harlequin sailors, piss yellow gypsy cabs… one line in and he’s got you hooked forever.

Stop whatever you’re doing and step into Tom’s low-rent, sawdust floored world. He’s funny, he’s soulful, he’s part bluesman, part jazzateer and part down-on-his-luck crooner – he breaks into Sinatra’s That’s Life at one point, making Frank’s version sound like the eternally happy collected works of PWL by comparison. The audience – they’re actually not at Raphael’s Silver Cloud Lounge as Waits might have you believe at the start, but live in the studio (L.A.’s Record Plant) – a bold move in 1975 – whoop and holler and guffaw and groan at all the right moments. The song… the whole Nighthawks album… is a masterclass in performance.

The band aren’t exempt from the odd show-offy moment either. When Waits sings of the L Train sounding like the ghost of Gene Krupa, the drummer clatters a perfectly brushed onomatopoeiac rail-rattlin’ Krupa beat in response. Rehearsed? You bet it is, but it’s a great moment. At the mention of P.T. Barnum, the sax player eases into a fluttering take on Julius Fucik’s ‘Entrance of the Gladiators‘ (you know it – look it up) before fading back into the shadows. It’s Waits though who’s the real star of the show. He’s one of the greats, and on this record his writing and delivery and all-round uniqueness is second to none. But I suspect you knew that already.

What’s the scoop, Betty Boop? Whadayamean you’ve never heard Nighthawks At The Diner?!? Do yourself a favour and add it to your collection. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back, as I’m sure Tom must have growled across a tune of his at some point or other.

 

 

 

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All God’s Children

It’s funny how Jon the Postman went in the blink of an eye from delivering letters to delivering spontaneous punk karaoke between support acts in the venues of mid ’70s Manchester while Subway Sect‘s Vic Godard, in roughly the same time-frame, went from dispatching soul-inflected sermons from the trenches of punk’s frontline – fourth on the bill on the White Riot tour – to become an actual card-carrying postman.

Subway Sect were something of an exception to the rules of punk. Punk’s ideal of ‘anything goes for anyone’ might’ve been the manifesto, heartily grabbed by any number of outsiders, insiders, movers and shakers who employed a rudimentary grasp of three chords and an enthusiastic approach to music making that far belied any noticeable ability, but by 1977, the scene had become cartoonish and bloated, lowest common denominator ‘punk’ by numbers that was anything but.

Not for nothing was one of Subway Sect’s few (read ‘two’) singles called Ambition. You might not know it, but you’ll know it. A clattering, Farfisa-led racket (together, though, in tune, and that’s vital), it introduced itself with a none-more-punk opening declaration; ‘You can take it or leave it as far as we’re concerned because we’re not concerned with you.’

Subway SectAmbition

Subway Sect had ambitions far beyond punk’s nihilistic stance…and were far more punk precisely because of it. They ploughed their own particularly rich furrow, with rattling guitars, shonky vocals and an unpretentious honesty that shone through in everything they did.

One quick glance at the band would tell you this. The hair is of the period; sticky-uppy, home-cut and suitably non-salon, but there’s not a well-placed rip on any item of clothing, let alone any phoney machismo or its accompanying element of threat. The one concession to ‘punk’ is Vic’s tiny, ironic snarl at the corner of his curled lip, possibly caused when his guitar strap broke just as the photographer clicked. They mean it, maaan, but not like everybody else.

Subway Sect photographed by Sheila Rock, December ’76. Paul Simonon painted the backdrop.

Subway Sect had far more in common with Buzzcocks; fey, feminine even, their declarations of love and regret wrapped in old school jumpers and older suit trousers with wonky zips, sung keenly with an off-key Edwyn-ish warble that rippled as far afield as Glasgow, where the antennae attached to young Alan Horne’s schemes and dreams twitched and twanged with mutual understanding. No Subway Sect, no Postcard Records might seem a bit far fetched, but I don’t think so.

Subway SectCommon Thief

Common Thief finds Subway Sect cast adrift on some rough and ready talc-dusted northern soul dancefloor. There are handclaps, call-and-response vocals and a plethora of requisite ‘hey-hey-heys’ that no doubt resonated on some level with Kevin Rowland. Or perhaps Common Thief was influenced by Dexys, rather than being an influence on Dexys. The internet is unusually bereft of anything beyond scant information regarding it, but not to worry. The guitars, alternating with a suitably fat piano line for the title of ‘lead instrument’ are midway between cheesegrater thin and Philly soul slick – not a zillion miles away from the afore-inferred Orange Juice at all.

Vic’s vocal – falsetto in the verses and bridges, unpretentious and crooning in the chorus – enfolds itself around the words like the curling smoke from a torch singer’s Gitanes as they climb inside and occupy the melody, an approach that’s clearly as far removed from the phlegm-coated primitive howl of punk as possible. Ambition indeed. Get down on it.

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Reunion City Blues

I blame Daft Punk. They self-delete and before the dust has properly settled, ABBA are busy raking Thomas and Guy-Manuel’s desktop dustbins for a hip new techy idea to steal and a weird costume to squeeze self-consciously into. The news that ABBA have reformed (of sorts – they haven’t really, have they? Have they?) fills me with the fear. They’re just about the last of those big heritage acts with all original members still alive and if they had any semblance of dignity remaining, they wouldn’t do it. Judging by the press photo though, it may already be too late. Bjorn again? Even poor Benny knows it.

In this house, ABBA was synonymous with growing up in the ’70s. At family get-togethers and especially at New Year, they were inescapable. ABBA is the sound of droopy moustaches, of child-friendly glasses of wine diluted with water, of asthma brought on by feather pillows and playing with dogs (and child-friendly glasses of wine diluted with water), of folk song singalongs, of Hammer House of Horror on the wrong side of midnight, of itchy jumpers, too-wide trousers and no telly in the daytime. The music of ABBA is as much a part of my DNA as my inherited grey hair and family jowls.

I first became aware of them as they played on my uncle’s proper old stereo equipment, a turntable that nowadays would likely cost you a good few months’ salary and quite possibly your marriage.

Turned up so loud that the rush of audiophile air from the floor-standing speakers rippled the skin on the back of my hand, the music of ABBA was at once foreign and icy strange yet flawless and instantly familiar. The Arrival album rinsed the room with thumping string-swept disco and ringing twelve string guitars. There were sections where the music dropped out, giving space for the girls’ locked-in harmonies to hang suspended in time before being swallowed up by the masterful ’70s production, singable instrumental hooklines at every turn and melodies on top of melodies on top of even more tumbling melodies; songs so adult in performance and presentation it would take me years to fully comprehend their depth and ambition.

There was undeniable European glamour in ABBA, and this was before I’d even clapped eyes on the visionary Agnetha, airbrushed into a shapely jumpsuit or other, her gap-toothed, soft-focused faraway half-smile and blow-dried Charlie’s Angels hair awakening something in me and zapping electrically-charged hormones around my insides like the dodgems at the moor on Marymass Saturday.

You don’t need a copy of ABBA Gold to know that every ABBA track stands up for two reasons; the timeless production and the hook-laden arrangements. They always got a great natural drum sound, did ABBA. It’s the sound of expensive, pine-clad Scandinavian studios and the best sessioneer (Ola Brunkert) that ABBA’s considerable fortunes could buy. If I was making music today, I’d be looking to ape the sound and feel of ABBA’s drums on every track I recorded.

Those detached, ice-dusted vocals and the endless earworms they continue to create will always be centre-stage, but the supporting instrumentation is never anything less than inspired. The bass line and electric guitar pay-off on The Name Of The Game…the studied, sparse monotony of The Day Before You Game…that piano trill and bass pulse that sets Money Money Money on edge (and not to mention Anni-Frid’s guttural ‘I bet he wouldn’t fancy me‘ line)… Knowing Me, Knowing You, a-haaa. Even TV comedy can’t ruin that one, not when the track has a brilliantly placed guitar and drum colouring the sound, tension and release, just below the titular hook. Listen out for it. Once heard, never forgotten. Every ABBA track, every single one of them, is memorable in one way or another.

They have better songs than Eagle, perhaps, but released on 1977’s ABBA: The Album, it’s the band’s sound in miniature.

ABBAEagle

First off, it’s stately and steady, far slower than it has any right to be. In most hands, the restrained pace of Eagle would be a problem and would have turned to curdled milk long before the end. This was 1977 remember – most bands would’ve been tempted even subconsciously to crank up the speed a little, get it moving to the finish line. Not ABBA. In their hands, it’s a glacial paced and elegant minor key masterpiece, quietly gliding, windswept and widescreen, as self-assured and soaring as its subject matter. The way the vocal ends on a new chord leaves it hanging, the aural equivalent of the eagle itself banking off into the distance.

The girls sing in unison. They sound sad, somehow. They always do. ABBA do melancholy like no other. Low in the verses, high in the choruses, backed by a symphony of synths and multi-tracked counter-vocals that provide the catchy parts, Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s voices melt into one. They sing the fuck out of Eagle. As I listen now, I can see Agnetha’s lined forehead, her crescent-mooned eyebrows and faraway eyes lost in song, her lipgloss catching some TV studio light or other as the camera pans across and around her.

“Hiiiyee-uh high! What a feeling to fly…” That wee vocal half-pause they fling in around three minutes and then again near the end is the particular masterstroke on Eagle. Every part of it has been painstakingly mapped out beforehand. Nothing is left to chance on an ABBA record. And not just the chorus and key lines, but the preludes, the bridges, the ‘ad-libs’ in the outro… and the guitar parts, the keyboard motifs, the bass lines. Perfect. Even their logo, with its mirrored backwards ‘B’ has been subject to committee and discussion. And it’s all there on Eagle. I’m sure Phil Oakey had that hook playing on a loop somewhere underneath that lopsided fringe of his when the Human League were writing Don’t You Want Me.

In more recent years, ABBA has become the soundtrack to hen parties and Christmas nights out and drunken office shenanigans, their music reduced to karaoke and tribute acts and pop party music. Then there was the awful musical, a vehicle that dared to knit together bad cover versions with a flimsy storyline. Rotten stuff.

And now this. Whatever this is. A holographic, pseudo-live performance that will undoubtedly leave you little change from a few hundred quid and will sell out before tickets are properly on sale? I mean. come on! Stop! And new songs? Two of them. I had no intention of listening to them until YouTube spat one out at me…

…and it was all there; the understated, piano-led start, the ‘Do I have it in me?‘ hookline, the strings providing the counter-melody, a skyscraping chorus (I’m not sold on the drum sound though) and a none-more mid ’70s soft rock guitar, the sound of The Carpenters produced by Barry Gibb, all gift-wrapped for authenticity in that overpowering feeling of melancholy that they can seemingly do in their sleep. Damn you, ABBA. Why did you go and do this?

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Homespun

Last year’s lockdown may have meant a temporary end to live music, but it enabled Trashcan Sinatras‘ songwriting bass player Davy Hughes to team up with his artist wife Maree to create a four track audio-visual EP, as pleasing on the ears as it is to the eyes. Part crowd-sourced and part-funded by Creative Scotland, the Homespun EP has just been released. It’s quirky, atmospheric and filmic, with multi-layered stop-frame animation videos featuring butterflies and birds, dragonflies and all of nature’s delights providing the visual wallpaper for the glossy sheen of music that plays in the background, or foreground (depending on where you sit on the audio or visual learner see-saw).

Part ambient filmscore for some imagined film and part pulsing melodic electro, at least two of the four tracks feature moonlighting Trashcans as well as Eddi Reader, her voice instantly recognisable despite the musical accompaniment sounding quite unlike the instrumentation that normally plays behind her.

Opener I Don’t Know What’s Going On (I Only Know It’s All Gone Wrong Again) is the greatest track Public Service Broadcasting hasn’t yet recorded. Carried by a plummy-voiced sample that repeats the title throughout, it glides on linear synth pulses and post-punk guitars, keyboard swells and tingaling percussion. The accompanying video features much of Maree’s signature art; felt people, leaves and flowers, fluttering creatures in flight… an audible and auditory trip.

It’s the middle two tracks that I reckon will appeal most to fans of the Trashcan Sinatras.

Sea Made is the missing link between Talk Talk and the Blue Nile that you never knew you were looking for. Ambient and gyroscopic, it eases itself in gently, wafted along by tinkling keys and the sampled autumnal breeze from Irvine harbour. Frank’s voice is sleepy and mellow, the perfect foil to Eddi’s octave-surfing harmonies. With a multi-coloured video featuring sea creatures, scooners and some backwards spelling, it’s quite the package.

Can You Hear Me? is all understated minimal techno; vibrating electro bass, sparse percussion, programmed and processed beats, on top of which the Trashcans’ Frank sleepwalks his way through a beauty of a duet with his ghostly-voiced sister, half hidden in the shadowy background.

Do.

You.

See Me?

Can.

You.

Hear Me?

Huge, wobbly, tremeloed guitars add dollops of colour to the proceedings, little arpeggios and long notes that burn off out into the ether bringing to mind the more ethereal moments in the Trashcans’ forever-underrated back catalogue. It’s a quiet, slow-building beauty that, after half a dozen plays, unravels and reveals itself to be a work of melodic, atmospheric genius. It’s music for space travel, Jim, but not as we know it.

Closer Made Up Story features a slightly sinister video, with reflected impish creatures giving the effect of multiple Rorschach inkblots that give way to a cut-out girl who seems to fall forever until the track’s end. Vocal-less, Made Up Story features a repeating bass riff and an airy high-up-the-keys hook that bring to mind any number of those old early ’90s electronic records. Papua New Guinea, Yeke Yeke, Chime… you get the idea, but unwinding, slowed down to flotation tank levels of urgency. 

As an EP and as a visual medium, Homespun urges you to slow down, take a breath, reset. It’s pretty great.

You can support the arts and buy the EP at the Homespun Bandcamp page here. All profits will go to Irvine-based music charity Freckfest.

 

 

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Brains and LeBron

I know zilch about basketball. I know the players are eighteen feet tall in their bare feet. I know they can shoot hoops cleanly from half a mile away without either the use of the backboard or the ball ruffling the interior sides of the net as it registers three points to the shooter. I know Michael Jordan – number 23, I believe – got very rich off of a particular brand of Nike sneaker training shoe and that, aside from watching the Beastie Boys play two-on-one, the Harlem Globetrotters are by far the most dazzling team to watch. I also know that when they list the scores – eg Lakers 124 v 118 Celtics, the match in question was played at the home of the team listed second, which is just daft. So yes, I know zilch about basketball. I’m much more of a football guy. And that’s Scottish football, not yer American variation. Ask me anything about a provincial team’s perennial benchwarmers or just how shoogly the manager’s jacket is at any of the lower league teams come Easter time, and I’m yer man. But basketball, or to be exact, the regular actions of one of its more prominent players, was the stimulus for one of the modern era’s greatest tracks.

Anderson .PaakKing James

For a short second, those of us in the west of Scotland and select other provinces could be forgiven for doing a double take at the title of the track in the spotlight. Here and elsewhere, King James has very different historical connotations, all of them involving battles on white horses and all of them bigoted, religion-fuelled and best-kept in the knuckle-dragging past.

The King James in .Paak’s track (and while we’re on the subject of daftness, what’s that rogue dot all about?) refers to LA Lakers’ LeBron James – also, coincidentally, number 23 – and his ceaseless championing of America’s black community, his outspoken anger at trigger-happy policing and the tireless charity work he carries out to help the oppressed, the marginalised and the disenfranchised.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

James follows in the footsteps of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A football player (US variety) with the San Francisco 49ers, he began in 2016 to kneel during the national anthem – a protest – what’s so great about America, eh? – at the regular and ongoing social injustice and police brutality of African-Americans. Kaepernick wouldn’t play in the game for much longer. His actions polarised America. Donald Trump battered in as only thick bigots can by declaring that NFL owners should fire any player who refuses to stand for the national anthem. At the end of that season, Kapernick was released, free to join any club who wanted his services. He has never played again.

In solidarity, and to highlight Kaepernick’s unjust treatement from his sport’s paymasters, LeBron James began taking the knee before Lakers’ games, a powerful action that, on the back of the George Floyd killing last year, eventually led to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Released in 2019, Anderson .Paak’s track perfectly foreshadows the BLM movement. It refers to both Kaepernick and James throughout. Its subject matter is the sort of contemporary politics that Marvin Gaye might’ve gone for had he recorded What’s Going On half a century later.

Anderson .Paak keeps the wooly bunnet and bearded handsomness but updates and reboots the Gaye protest, going less for smooth, airy soul and more for a glitchy, jerky, bump ‘n grind modern variation.

Bubbling on-the-one bass and a repeating sax motif that calls to mind the sort of breathy, freeflowing jazz that Maceo Parker was adding to Prince records when he was last untouchable carry the track, as skittering, breakbeating drums rattle the rhythm to its conclusion. Surfing somewhere inbetween is a subtle electro tick tock and a harmonising female backing vocal that adds sass and gloss, but never gets in the way of .Paak’s incredible lead vocal, part gravel, part grease, but always great. His phrasing…his control…his delivery… it’s fantastic.

A lot of the other material on the track’s parent album (Ventura) has, so far, left me kinda cold, but King James is a play-once and repeat-often modern-day stone cold classic. Worth investigating, I’d say.

Get This!

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I confess to knowing not much about Broken Social Scene. A living, breathing, fluid line-up that can be anything from a 6 to a 19-piece would suggest that they’re more of a collective than a band, with members coming and going, dropping in/dropping out, releasing and touring their own solo material then rejoining again. You might know the quirky, always excellent Feist. Or Canadian crooners Stars and their brand of melodic crooning. Both acts have found themselves part of the ‘Scene at some point or other.

When they started, Broken Social Scene strived to make swirling, ambient, mainly instrumental indie rock; experimental, peerless and lo-fi in execution but high-fi in ambition. For reference, think of a slightly turned-down, slightly more polite Yo La Tengo. By their second album, You Forgot It In People, they’d started to employ vocals and a more straightforward approach to song-writing. The fuzzed-up ethereal electric guitars and close-mic’d acoustics are still there, but so too are brass sections, keys, banjos even, along with grand ambitions on a widescreen scale. A chance conversation with Nile Marr turned me on to the album  – “I think you’d really like it,” he said presciently – and, in something of a recurring theme, I fell for a ‘new’ album that was a couple of months shy of turning twenty years old.

Like all the best albums, it’s an album that takes a handful of plays before it fully reveals itself. You’re never far from a slowly unravelling melody or a wonky Beatlish backwards bit or the sort of slow-burning, vapour-trailed outro that fellow Canadian Neil Young might accede to should he be forced to consider his other 15 band members. “You gotta turn the Les Paul down a notch, Neil. And make way for the strings ‘n trumpets now and again!” Slow burning, yes, but soft rocking too. Broken Social Scene don’t blow the doors in, they politely chap until they’re living in your head.

There are a few standouts, not least the hynotic, repetitive, melting earworm that is Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl

Broken Social SceneAnthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl

Atop a slowly building backing of back porch banjo, random thumps and long-bowed violin, singer Emily Haines has been pitch-shifted up a notch, giving her vocal the effect of a sing-songy young girl, perfect for the song’s subject matter.

Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that…

Now you’re all gone, got your make up on and you’re not comin’ back.

Bleaching your teeth, smiling flash, talking trash, under your breath, under my window

It’s a scene that’s easy to picture. It’s teen angst and country girl heartbreak set to music. It would make for the perfect soundtrack to a suitable scene in a low-budget indie film, Scarlett Johansson or Charlize Theron or whoever the teenage equivalent is these days swinging on the porch, faded jeans and checked shirt covered in oil from helping her single father fix the pick-up truck, staring into a middle distance of dancing, swaying cornfields and puffy white clouded blue skies.

The contstant, never-ending repetition of the last line – Park that car, drop that phone, sleep on the floor, dream about me – combined with the swirling, sawing almost Venus In Furs drone and the steady plonkety-plonk of the banjo is, by the end of the track, totally headswimmingly hypnotic. Circular and head-spinning, you don’t want it to end, but when it does, on a dizzy refrain of the first line and an incredibly eked out violin note, you stop. Take a breath. And play it again. It’s a great wee song from a great wee album. I think you’d like it…

 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

S’all Gone A Bit Pete Tong

Dr Bucks’ Letter is late-ish era Fall at their best. Taken from The Unutterable, it’s an incessant, kerb-crawling jackbooted stomp of a track; claustrophobic, indulgent and relentless, the sound of The Fall doing half-speed dub techno. The disciplined beat and fuzzed-up riff underpin a crackle of electro static and a cackle of spoken word, random keyboard outbursts that sound like guard dogs in heat and a clanging Holger Czukay bassline that fights for ear space in-between a returning signature riff. It’s not quite a kitchen sink production, but it’s getting there.

The FallDr Bucks’ Letter

The cherry on the top is Mark E Smith’s spoken word vocal, the lyric referencing an unfortunate fall-out with a friend – ‘of my own making, I walk a dark corridor of my heart, hoping one day a door will be ajar at least so we can recompense our hard-won friendship.’

He may have been viewed as a grizzly, alcohol-soaked hard-heart, but Smith could write flowing sentimentality like no other, even if, perhaps to keep his image somewhat intact, he delivers it in a voice that borders on menacing. There’s the complexity of MES right there.

As the track reaches it’s conclusion, Smith bizarrely – yet thrillingly – reads aloud an abridged version of a magazine interview with superstar DJ Pete Tong, cackling to himself/at Tong’s superficial lifestyle and the vacuousness of it all.

There aren’t many folk who’d have the nerve to lift text from such disparate places – a Virgin Rail customer magazine, as it goes, but there y’go – proof, if any were needed, that Mark E Smith wasn’t yer average writer.

Dr Bucks’ Letter is a Fall track that works for all sorts of reasons. The references in the magazine article to Palm Pilots and CDs and cassettes (no vinyl, Pete?) has the track firmly dated as 2000, a portent of a new millennium with another new Fall line-up in the making and at least a further 83 albums before the fall of The Fall with MES’s untimely death in 2018.

It’s worn far better than some of its lyrical influences, has Dr Bucks’ Letter. Indeed, it never sounds anything other than ‘now’, a decent snapshot of a band who’d perhaps lost their way a wee bit at the time.