Get This!, Hard-to-find

Serious Drug Addict

Born out of the blues boom of the early ’60s, the Thames Estuary scene was a fertile breeding ground for the stars of the decade and beyond. Away from the distractions of London city centre, it proved the ideal training ground for the very musicians who’d help make the city swing in the coming months and years; Jagger and Richards were welded at the snake-hips as a result of a shared love of Chess Records. Alexis Korner’s blues nights in the Ealing Jazz Club brought together like-minded afficianados in the shape of Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, and both Clapton and Page would take stints as lead guitarist in The Yardbirds, a role also filled by Jeff Beck. Amongst it all was John Mayall, his Bluesbreakers band a constantly-revolving who’s who of the movers and shakers of ’60s guitar-based music; Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor… you name them, they likely appeared on stage or on record with John Mayall in one way or other. It was a small scene, they say, but a highly influential one which helped shape the popular music of the day. You knew all that already though.

Fast forward to Lanarkshire in the mid ’80s. A short train ride away from the attraction and distraction of Glasgow city centre, a scene – let’s call it the Bellshill Boom – developed around the singular vision and concept of Duglas Stewart. Born out of a love of post-punk, sunshine pop and anything with a decent haircut (although…check below for conflicting proof), this scene was, in its own way, just as influential as that satellite scene around London 20 or so years previously. Taking their cues and clothes from the Lovin’ Spoonful, Jonathan Richman and the melancholic ache of Burt Bacharach, Stewart’s band BMX Bandits led the way, the real sound of the suburbs, a Bluesbreakers for the Bellshill beat brigade.

Cor!

Like a foppish, pointy-fingered John Mayall, Duglas curated a group of musicians that created a new sound of young Scotland – twee, perhaps, arch, certainly, and totally at odds with the Caledonian bombast currently being force-fed via commercial radio, but with an element of fun running through it like the lettering on a stick of Blackpool rock.

That the individual Bandits were free to come and go, to form other bands, to play on other people’s records only added to the looseness of it all, but every one of those players has, at one point or other, said just how formative being in the BMX Bandits was.

Once a Bandit, always a Bandit, as Duglas has said. He’s watched on, headmaster-like, as his charges have gone on to form (deep breath) Teenage Fanclub, The Soup Dragons, The Pearlfishers, The Vaselines…and all of the side-projects there-of; Hi-Fi Sean, The Primary Five, Future Pilot AKA, Superstar, Green Peppers, Linden etc etc. If Pete Frame were to produce a Rock Family Tree for the Bellshill scene, it’d be longer and more detailed than the Bayeaux Tapestry.

BMX Bandits are the very epitome of cult. As a favour to Alan McGee they took a youthful Oasis on tour with them, a mismatched yin-yang of non-macho and monobrowed mayhem if there ever was one. Kurt Cobain sported their t-shirts and was quoted as saying that if he could be in any other band, it’d be BMX Bandits. Duglas may well be the Scottish equivalent of Daniel Johnston, another of Kurt’s favourites and, like Duglas, a writer of simple, tear-soaked heart-jerkers, unpretentious and innocent.

In some quarters BMX Bandits were considered a kind of joke band, but to those in the know, their songs, in equal parts life-affirming and heart-breaking, are perfect little vignettes of proper Scottish soul, a considered mix of the fragility of sandpit-era Brian Wilson with a wide-eyed wonder at the world around them. Their 1991 album Star Wars is set for reissue on May 4th (obviously) via Last Night From Glasgow. Having received an early copy last week, I’ve been on something of a Bandits binge for the past few days; Come Clean, The Sailor’s Song, later songs like That Summer Feeling and Little Hands. All essential listening. The track though that’s really stopped me in my, er, tracks is Serious Drugs.

BMX BanditsSerious Drugs

Serious Drugs was released as a single in 1993 and appeared on the Life Goes On album. Both single and album failed to bother the charts. Nothing unusual in the world of the BMX Bandits, but in the case of Serious Drugs, it’s Serious Shrugs – the great lost number 1 hit that never was.

Voiced not by Duglas but by Joe McAlinden, Serious Drugs is a fantastic record, the sound perhaps of Teenage Fanclub respectfully tackling My Sweet Lord.

It’s there in that E minor to A major chord change. It’s there in the “ooh-la, ooh-la-la-laCome Up And See Me backing vocals. And it’s definitely there in that super-charged slide guitar part after the first bridge when Joe and Norman come over, just for a moment, all John ‘n Paul. The melding together of McAlinden’s and Blake’s voices is sublime, Joe high and keening, Norman low and honeyed. Serious love, indeed. And that spangled, high in the mix Big Star acoustic guitar…the compressed drums…the frugging bassline… Serious Drugs wears its influences proudly but politely in a way that someone like Noel Gallagher could never grasp.

By the time the saxophone solo has oozed and eased its way to the forefront and is leading the band to their rasping fadeout, you’re already thinking about playing it all again. Serious Drugs is seriously great. I suspect you knew that already too.

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Someday We’ll Evaporate Together

One of the high points of lockdown (pts 1 and 2) has been the consumption of new music. I’m a particular fan of Bandcamp Friday, when on the first Friday of the month, Bandcamp waives their usual artist fee and, with no string-pulling middle man, the artists benefit by an extra 15%. If a record costs you twenty quid, the artist gets every penny of your twenty quid; good business for both sides in the transaction.

I took a bit of a punt on Hifi Sean‘s ‘Ft.‘ compilation – only half of those twenty notes, as it goes – and I’m glad I did. Hifi Sean is Sean Dickson, one-time vocalist with the Soup Dragons and Ft. is a double album of Sean-produced electronica where a whole gamut of disparate guest vocalists pop up to add their recognisable voices and/or playing to the music. With collaborations involving Crystal Waters, Norman Blake and David McAlmont, an elastic-band bass-popping Bootsy Collins, Alan Vega and Soft Cell’s Dave Ball amongst others, it’s quite the pick ‘n mix. But the standout in what is undoubtedly a bountiful bunch is the Yoko Ono-voiced In Love With Life.

It’s astonishing. Ambient, textured and glossy, it’s a beautiful mesh of Pet Shop Boys’ minor key minimalism and the sort of dragged-out dark beats that Underworld might choose to close an album with.

Yoko OnoIn Love With Life

A good marker for the sort of music Sean has been creating in recent years, it’s as far removed from both his old band and Yoko’s more artistic endeavours as you could possibly get. Synthetic and computerised, sterile yet soulful, it’s a juxtaposition of spoken word against synth washes and echoing snares that triggers some sort of deeply conscientious nostalgia for simpler times and clearer values. Seriously, it does.

Yoko’s vocals are lovely, taking centre stage when they need to before dropping out to let the music wring your heart dry. It’s like an audible yoga trip or something; cleansing and spiritual and, despite the subject matter, life-affirming in many ways.

I hate thinking that our civilisation and the culture that we’ve created in 5000…10,000 years, we’re trying to destroy it.

It saddens me because

I am in really in love with life

and with people

They’re beautiful.

 

That’s it. That’s the message. We’re destroying everything that’s sacred…and standing back watching as we do so.

Yoko’s words are almost haiku in economy. She writes simplistically yet she says it with a real, undeniable gentle love, an extension of the words she first wrote in Grapefruit in the mid ’60s when she said, ‘Listen to the sound of the earth turning.

I assumed the Yoko vocal to be a sample but part of me would love to believe that Sean and Yoko (Sean and Yoko!) sat down together in some small studio or other and recorded it together, he at the faders while she recited her simple poetry atop the glistening beats. It’s all rather cryptic, though, as Sean told me.

“Myself and Yoko decided we would not reveal how we made this track, as the mystery of it adds to the magic of it all.

All I can say is that it was based on a poem Yoko wrote and we both worked together to make it work with the music. I wrote the track around the concept of the poem, with Yoko deciding where she wanted to place the words.

She loved the finished track and in 2016 featured it as part of the Ono Lennon ‘Give Peace A Chance’ campaign.”

So there y’go.

There’s also a remix/revision (track 7, below) on Ft.’s sister album Excursions. It’s currently a tenner on Bandcamp too, and if you wait until Friday to order, Hifi Sean will receive all of what you pay. You really should buy it.

In Love With Life in both its forms is terrific. Hippy, peace-loving and pleasantly at odds with the mess of the world around us, it’s the Balearic end-of-set closer that never was. I reckon you’ll play it forever.

*You can buy Ft. at Hifi Sean’s Bandcamp page here.

Get This!

File Sharing

You know that scene in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta’s character Henry is out of his head on cocaine and convinced he’s being followed everywhere by police helicopters? Soundtracked by a fast-cut montage that jolts from Nilsson’s Jump Into The Fire to Mick Jagger’s Memo From Turner to The Who’s Magic Bus, it’s a great marriage of music and film, the trio of FM radio rockers the perfect foil for Henry’s descent into uncontrollable paranoia. As perfectly pitched as the movie’s soundtrack is, from streetcorner doo-wop standards and Italian crooners via Spector’s Wall of Sound to classic rock as the story moves through the decades, I think Martin Scorsese missed a trick. How he never thought to find a space for the Rolling StonesFingerprint File has always baffled me. For a director with such a handle on how to splice music and movies together, it would have been a perfect fit.

Rolling StonesFingerprint File

All open-tuned, phased and flanged riffing with the odd tickle of wah-wah, Fingerprint File is serpentine funk rock; Sly and the Family Rolling Stones, perhaps. It’s Mick and Keith on guitars, Mick holding down the choppy open-handed rhythm while Keith splashes multiple colours of blooze funk on top. Bill Wyman hands bass duties to Mick Taylor in what would be his last recorded input for the Stones – and, with a fluid and wandering freestyle, the boy Taylor bows out in exquisite fashion.

Wyman moves over to synth, his vamping chords ghosting in and out of the thick funk stew inbetween the ubiquitous Nicky Hopkins on piano and Billy Preston doing his best Stevie Wonder routine on the clavinet. At the back, the ever-reliable Charlie, the true boss of the Stones, is loose and louche, his brilliantly-recorded airy and alive drums a tiny half-beat behind the others – all the more important for adding that general air of flung-together grooviness that runs through the whole thing like everything else the Stones touched once their hair had grown in direct proportion to the length of their songs. What a sound!

Jagger’s vocal is pure creeping coke paranoia, confident and self-assured, but with one eye over his tiny-vested shoulder. In fact, given the stuffy nose he sings most of it with (there’s even the odd ssssniff-ff now and again), I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you told me he’d had half the GDP of Columbia stuffed up his nostrils prior to he or Keith pressing ‘record’ at the mixing desk. Over the course of the track he runs the whole range of his schtick; he sings, he drawls, he sleazeballs, he pronounces the end of every line with exaggerated comic effect (‘haaa-yee-aaa-igh‘, ‘daaa-yee-aaa-own‘, ‘ultra vaaa-hlet-laaa-eee-aa-ight‘), at one part he breaks into a wiseguy, street-smart proto-rap. It’s quite the performance.

The lyric, no doubt inspired by Watergate and Nixon and the political climate of the mid 70s is presciently on the mark for the 21st century; you know my moves…you’re listening to me…feelin’ followed…feelin’ tagged…some little jerk in the FBI keeping papers on me, six feet high….it gets me down…these days it’s all secrecy and noooo privacy… All perfect Goodfellas material too, as it goes.

Good night, sleep tight, whispers Jagger at the end, knowing full well that that’s the last thing you’ll be able to do. If you’re not wide eyed at the thought of being snooped on 24/7, that groove’ll make you want to return the needle to the start of the track and play it just one more time. As far as underplayed Stones’ classics go, Fingerprint File is one of their very best.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Chas Smash

They were a joke band perhaps. Or, to be kinder, a bit of a novelty. Up here, they definitely were. Well out of step with the musical times, you were never far away from a jauntily-angled pork pie hat framing a fuzzy face, and a piano tie worn with the cut of white jacket that Gregory might’ve worn to impress his Girl. On first-name terms with both the bubble perm and bubble and squeak, Chas ‘n Dave were purveyors of raucous Knees Up Muvver Braahn, pianer-driven barrelhouse rock ‘n roll, all walking basslines and rapid-fire, machine gunning Cockernee couplets that tripped over themselves in a race to outdo one another on the way to the finish line, Top of the Pops novelty fodder that provided the jokey sandwich filling between Dog Eat Dog and Girls On Film.

And yet, and yet…

They also produced There Ain’t No Pleasin’ You.

It’s a stone-cold classic of any era. But I suspect you knew that already.

Chas ‘n DaveAin’t No Pleasin’ You

Those strings! That melancholy! It wallows in pathos and regret until, by the final verse, the poor guy who’s the subject of the song has decided to leave his insufferable partner for good. Written solely by Chas Hodges (piano, aviator shades, hair and facial sculpting by Jeff Lynn), There Ain’t No Pleasin’ You came fully formed after a conversation with his brother about his wife giving him grief for hanging a pair of curtains the wrong way.

Hodges rewrote the story, added a Just Like Starting Over by way of Fats Domino groove and a drum intro that has at least one too many beats – count them – it’s just not quite right! – and quickly went about writing a song that, had it come from the pen of McCartney, or indeed Lennon – listen to the production on that bridge, it’s pure John – would be held in far higher regard than it presently is.

Well I built my life around you, did what I thought was right
But you never cared about me, now I’ve seen the light
Oh darlin’, there ain’t no pleasing you

You seem to think that everything I ever did was wrong
I should’ve known it all along
Oh darlin’, there ain’t no pleasing you

By the time you get to the first bridge you find yourself really rootin’ for the guy, a neat mirroring of subject matter where it’s usually the woman who’s had enough and is walking out on the man.
 

You only had to say the word, and you knew I’d do it
You had me where you wanted me, but you went and blew it

Now everything I ever done was only done for you
But now you can go and do just what you wanna do
I’m telling you

That double vocalled harmony on the ‘do it/blew it‘ ryhme and then the ‘but now you!‘ line – double tracked with his best pal for moral support – is stupendous! But it’s that ‘everything I’ve ever done‘ line that does it, isn’t it? Proper soul-baring stuff. It’s no coincidence that Bryan Adams would co-opt its sentiment for his monster smash hit a decade later, but whereas Adams was all kitchen sink bluster and bombast, Chas ‘n Dave were kitchen sink drama, angry and antagonistic. Melodrama in a minor key, they meant it, maaan.
By the time Chas has had the audacity to rhyme bluffin‘ with nuffin‘ it dawns on you just how great a song this really is. Chas ‘n Dave wrote dozens of cheerful pub song singalongs that I couldn’t care less about ever hearing again, but There Ain’t No Pleasin’ You is something of a beauty in amongst all the daft stuff they are usually associated with. Structurally, it plays out like a proper classic, with a repeating bridge, a signature string sweep and a great vocal. It can happily revolve on repeat for an entire evening and I’ll never tire.
There’s a really great session from Abbey Road, here…

 

Get This!, Live!

Bible Belter

There was a film shown on BBC4 recently, a restored print of Aretha Franklin‘s astonishing take-me-to-church Amazing Grace concert. Filmed over two nights at the start of 1972 in the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, it captures Aretha at the absolute peak of her spiritual powers.

The accompanying album would go on to be her best-selling album ever but on film it’s even better. Originally intended to be packaged as a double bill alongside Super Fly, new technology (and the death of Aretha – she was against its release) has enabled the film to be dusted down from the archives and completed in all its intended glory. I was lost, but now I’m found, as the song goes. A-men to that.

In this little church, Rev James Cleveland leads the worshippers through condemnation and contemplation, the good book instructing all in attendance with its life lessons masked in metaphor and moral. Dressed head to toe in their Sunday finery, the audience whoop it up, amen-ing and thank the Lord-ing with increasing fervour. By the time the Gospel according to St Aretha is in full swing, the tiny room is a hootin’ and a hollerin’ free-for-all.

The cameramen can be seen in nearly every shot. Respectful of both location and occasion, they squat in the aisles, hide behind the choir, hunker down in the front row. There are numerous unflattering shots of Aretha angled from below – you know those double-chin selfies you take because you can’t actually take a selfie? Those. Miles of electrical cable wind their way around the feet of everyone in attendance. It all adds to the sense of you, the audience, being in the eye of the holy storm.

At one point, one of the guerilla cameramen swings his handheld across the front row and picks out a giddy Mick Jagger, all tousled, shoulder length hair and pout, eyes closed and lost in the heavy holy vibes. You can almost reach into your TV screen and hold it, it’s that powerful.

Aretha FranklinHow I Got Over

Ghosting in on a rolling piano riff that over-keen Name That Tune contestants might name incorrectly in 5 as Otis Redding’s Hard To Handle, How I Got Over runs the whole gamut of ‘Retha’s religious celebration. Electric organ and finger poppin’ Fender bass bring the immediate groove, dragging an excitable drummer and a smokin’ hot gospel choir along for the ride.

You know that way that the human voice, like a finely tuned racing car engine has to warm up a wee bit before it can go full pelt? Well, How I Got Over comes mid-set, so Aretha is well warmed up by this point. She starts up here…and ends waaaay up here. It’s an extraordinary vocal, sweat-soaked, calling and responding to the heavenly choir who sashay their way from start to finish in a riot of spontaneous handclaps and octave-climbing hysterics behind her.

Aretha goes all-out freeform, fucking with the unspoken rules of how secular songs should be sung. This isn’t the stuffy mid 70s Scottish church of my Boys’ Brigade past, with a meagre crowd of withering simperers mouthing the words over a creaky dust-blown and cobwebbed organ, this is mid 70s California; black, soulful and uproarious, all-out communion with a crack rhythm section flung in for good measure.

Aretha is on fire, ripping it up the way she’s done already on Rock Steady and Respect and all those Atlantic Soul benchmarks of perfection that have gone before. Live, in the house of God, she’s turned up another notch – from ten to eleven (to heaven?) – a full force gale, gritty and dirty one moment, feminine and sweet the next. Heck, if it wasn’t for the words she was belting out with wholy holy abandon, you might forget you’re actually listening to a gospel record at all.

Amazing Grace is more a truly great Aretha live album – songs of found love and acceptance rather than lost love and rejection – than the religious curio you might be forgiven for thinking it is.

It’s church music, Jim, but not as we know it. Seek it out.

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

New. Order.

In A Lonely Place first appeared on the b-side of New Order‘s debut release, Ceremony.

New Order In A Lonely Place

Unlike its flip side (a great introduction to a brand new band, but essentially (perhaps) Joy Divison’s Transmission given a fresh coat of paint), In A Lonely Place is a headswim of swirling, Hook-piloted bass and womb-like ambient atmospherics.

Continuing where he left off with Joy Division, Stephen Morris plays all manner of unexpected, inventive drum patterns; regimented and military-like in some places, free form and skittering in others, but always with a tectonic, glacial pace that might, when I stop to think about it, make him the lead instrument on the track.

Icy laters of synth coat the whole six and a half minutes in a sheen of glistening permafrost, with the warmth of a blown-in melodica and Morris’s cymbal splashes adding the requisite colour.

Turning the filters up from stark monochrome to an off-white sepia, a still-reluctant Sumner on vocals goes full-on Curtis, downbeat, downtrodden, down down down, grinding the gears of this New Order to a juddering, rumbling, fading halt. It’s bleak, it’s spacey, it’s elegant.

Caressing the marble and stone
Love that was special for one
The waste and the fever and hate
How I wish you were here with me now

Written by Ian Curtis and rehearsed by Joy Division, In A Lonely Place could well be Curtis’s eulogy to himself. In reality though, the song takes its title and subject matter from an old noirish Humphrey Bogart movie. The plot has all the ingredients of a classic pot-boiler; a down-on-his-luck writer, a murdered actress, a hard-boiled, finger-pointing cop, and presciently, as the movie poster says, a surprise finish.

It’s a year since the passing of Andrew Weatherall, and to mark the anniversary, his brother Ian has joined with Duncan Gray under the moniker IWDG to record an elegiac tribute to him. They’ve taken New Order’s In A Lonely Place and updated it for the clued-in and open-minded amongst us.

More uptempo and lighter on its feet that the original, it is nonetheless respectful of the source. The melodica is still there, dubby and ethereal. The vocal, when it chooses to appear, is synth-like and robotic, its ‘how I wish you were here with me now‘ refrain taking on new meaning. And New Order’s imperial engine room, the star of the show on the original version, has been shunted sidewards, replaced and replicated by a couple of anonymous chrome and silver machines. It’s a really great version…

(It’s four really great versions, in reality.) Spread across the other three tracks you’ll find mixes by Weatherall associates David Holmes, Keith Tenniswood and the Hardway Bros. From the brief snippet you’ll find online, that Tenniswood one, all 17 downtempo minutes of it, sounds incredible. The EP is both reverential yet forward-thinking. I think you’d like it.

If Weatherall is your kinda thang, you might want to head over to Bagging Area where you’ll find Adam and his always-authoritative take on all things Andrew.

A digital release is out now, with a vinyl release to follow in June. You’ll find more details at Rotters Golf Club.

 

 

Double Nugget, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Electric Soup

1966. The decade was in full swing. Skirts grew shorter as hair grew longer. Some team or other won the World Cup. Bands were beginning to realise that there might be a bit of longevity in this fleeting thing called the music business after all. The album was at the point of becoming more important than the single. At the end of the summer The Beatles put out Revolver and played their last live show in front of a paying audience, turning their attentions instead to using studio technology to realise their artistic vision.

The Stones were just warming up though. Barely four years old, they were on a phenomenal run of records. In 1966 alone, they released their fourth album Aftermath and a run of half a dozen singles/EPs, all unique, all still instantly singable 55 years on; As Tears Go By, 19th Nervous Breakdown, Paint It, Black, Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane and, the cream of them all, September’s Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?

The Rolling StonesHave You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?

Riding in on a snarling lip curl of droning, wah-wahd Brian guitar, Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow? rattles along for two and a half frantic minutes, a downhill-without-the-brakes-on clash of badly recorded trumpets, thumping, divebombing bass and hard-to-hear percussion, welded for posterity to a rhythmic piano riff, all left hand and boogie woogie blues, and topped-off by one of Jagger’s more throat-ripping vocals, slightly too high a key perhaps, but one that all adds to the urgency.

Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow? was indeed an urgent record. Needing a new tune to premier on the Ed Sullivan Show, the track was commited to tape almost as soon as Jagger had jabbed the last full stop on his lyric sheet. If you could pick apart its constituent pieces you might be able to spot Bo Diddley maracas and handclaps, Keith’s clipped, staccato guitars fighting for earspace with Brian’s fuzzed-out proto-punk riffage, some rattling, brain-jangling electrics in the breakdown and a brass section that pre-dates the loose ‘n louche Exile On Main Street by a good few years.

There’s an awful lot going on in its electric soup, not least a nod and a wink to the American underground, a Nuggets for the mainstream if you may. Keith Richards hated the final mix. It was muddy, he said. The trumpets sounded raspy and far-off. The track’s original groovy rhythm was buried underneath a blanket of white noise and peripheral faff and yet…and yet…Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow? may well be the best Stones’ track of ’em all, Keith.

Take note of those Mick ‘n Keith call ‘n response vocals. Richards especially is having a ball. “I’m glad I opened your eye-eye-eye-eyes!” he goes, rhyming eyes with ice and time and fine on every other line, filling the spaces where the band pause for the briefest of respi-ay-ay-ites.

Charlie, always the backbone of the Stones, almost always a half beat behind the others but not on this record, makes the most of these mini-breaks, pausing for a nanosecond before driving the band home to its wonderful, widescreen, barre chorded end. You can practically see the impish Jones smirking from underneath that beautiful outgrown bowl cut, the devil making work for his less-than-idle hands as it plays out in reverbed slo-mo.

The next year would bring Let’s Spend The Night Together, Between The Buttons, drug busts, Ruby Tuesday, court cases, We Love You, Who Breaks A Butterfly On A Wheel?, Their Satanic Majesties Request…. It was quite the time to be a Rolling Stone.

It’s worth highlighting too the record’s b-side, a psychedelic barrelhouse blues number titled Who’s Driving Your Plane?

The Rolling StonesWho’s Driving Your Plane?

In it’s sloppy, midpaced booming fug, all emphasised vocals and eee-long-gated vowels, I can never hear this without imagining a hunched-up Shaun Ryder singing it. It’s all rather great, an underplayed hidden gem(Stone).

Get This!, Hard-to-find, New! Now!

Non-Rock, Non-Roll

One-man/one-woman bands tend to be easy to pigeonhole; talented multi-instrumentalist + laptop x headful of ideas = nattily-produced, hastily-manufactured, self-financed album, a bit scuffed at the knees, perhaps, a bit frayed at the elbows maybe, the rough charm grudgingly accepted as part of the deal. ‘Hey! I’m on my own here! I don’t have a record company behind me, I can’t make money from gigging and I just want to get my songs out there.’ We’ve all heard these musicians, more than ever in the current climate, earnestly bashing out their cottage industry wares into an overcrowded ocean of flotsam and jetsam for whoever happens to pass along at the right time. It’s admirable to the point of lunacy.

I’m not alone in this. Every second post on here since the turn of the year is another chapter in my own ‘book seeks publisher‘ serialisation of an admittedly flawed young adult novel. The irony of my opening statement is not lost on me. Fail we may, sail we must, as a great philosopher once said.

Blowing the preconception of the one man band clean out of the overcrowded water is Andrew Wasylyk. The nom de plume of Andrew Mitchell, sometime Idlewild bass player and guitarist/vocalist in Dundonian four piece The Hazey Janes, Wasylyk is a supremely talented individual. The Hazey Janes’ neat way with a twisted melody and an Americana-tinged acoustic arrangement has found favour in all the right places, yet despite tours with artists as disparate and massive as Wilco and Deacon Blue, the group never quite made the leap to the next level that might have been expected of them, and by them. Not that Andrew seems to mind.

For the past few years, Wasylyk has quietly gone about working on a loose triptych of gorgeous, free-flowing instrumental albums that study the themes of architecture, the Scottish coastline and the light on the land. Unlike anything remotely connected to his two bands above, these albums meander between neo-classicism, library music, sophisto-jazz and the off-kilter filmic soundscapes of David Axelrod. The most recent release, 2020’s Fugitive Light and Themes of Consolation was 6 Music’s Gideon Coe’s album of the year and, had I discovered it at the time of release, would very likely have been one of mine too.

The album was promoted through the second track, Last Sunbeams Of Childhood, an evocative title that is reflected in the pastoral groove within.

Wobbly Fender Rhodes, staccato bass and rippling jazz guitar ease you in on top of a soundbed of far-off playground shouts. Wandering saxophone and honeyed, textured brass add the requiste colour before the breakdown and the low-in-the-mix, wordless, chanting female backing vocals that elevate from somewhere below the surface. Layer upon layer of non-rock upon non-roll, it’s lovely, somewhere between Colin Tully’s Gregory’s Girl soundtrack and the orchestral sections in Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly score.

Save string arrangements from long-term collaborator Pete Harvey, it appears that Andrew Wasylyk has performed everything on the album himself. I mean, wow! Surely not?! This would elevate him immediately to Stevie Wonder levels of prodigiousness. Oboe, harp, flugelhorn (?), drums and percussion swirl around his cascading guitar and multi-layered pianos, adding light and shade, melody and counter-melody to what is a modern day, stone cold classic in its field, with nary a scuffed knee nor frayed elbow in sight.

Really, it’s great. Such was Wasylyk’s and his label’s (Athens of the North) limited expectations, both vinyl and CD are currently out of print, but I’d imagine a repress is very much in the works. Keep your eyes and ears peeled. I know mine are.

Support Andrew Wasylyk via Bandcamp

Get This!, New! Now!

Double Thumbs Up

Where are we going, fellas?

To the top, Johnny!

And where’s that, fellas?

To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!”

That tag at the top of this page – ‘Outdated Music for Outdated People‘ isn’t there for nuthin’ y’know. Joe Kane‘s latest project The Poppermost is exactly the sort of forward-thinking, retro-tastic music that floats this particular lockdown boat.

Released worldwide today, The A Piece Of The Poppermost EP is Beatles For Sale-era Fabs, all monochrome graphics and monophonic thunk. The attention to detail is obsessive; the structure and arrangements, the playing, the sentimentality… it’s all there alongside the in-jokes (Parlophoney – yes!!) and super-obscure references that even the most Beatle-obsessed Beatlehead might not spot first time around.

Borne out of a one man mission with his roots firmly planted in all things Fab – Joe has Rutled with Neil Innes, switched from right hand to left (such is his dedication and obsession with the minutiae) to play McCartney in all manner of Fabs ‘n Macca theatre acts – and he’s only gone the whole hog by recording his own music so in thrall to his idols as to be genuine rather than pastiche.

Not bound by such hinderances as, y’know, actual bandmates, The Poppermost finds Joe in his garage studio playing everything himself. Utilising an array of instruments, microphones and recording techniques, all glued together by bargain basement analogue junk – ‘shitty is pretty‘, says Joe, your innermost Fab Four desires will be sated by an affected Lennon-like ‘you wanted the werld and I gave you the werld‘ here, a woody McCartney bassline there, a multitude of 12 string chiming George middle eights, with everything held in place by multi-tracked handclaps and a Ringo-perfect compressed backbeat.

The EP is trailed by a terrific promo clip for the upbeat, clipped guitarisms of The Laziest Fella In The Realm. It’s quite spectacular.

See what I mean?

Elsewhere on the EP you’ll find Well I Will, a chugging, Beatle-wig flipping I Saw Her Standing There for the 21st century, replete with on-the-money Fab Four backing vocals, an era-defining guitar break and enough spontaneous yelps, woos and general Maccary to warm the heart of even the fiercest of Beatles naysayers. Great cowbell too.

The PoppermostWell I Will

The EP takes a minute to gather its breath with the downbeat and ballady Get It Down, all sharply ringing acoustics and pitter-pattering I’ll Follow The Sun rhythms before rounding off in ballsy rocking manner with In & Out, a mid-temp head nodding Cavern Club stomper, all descending guitar runs and tumbling vocals throughout. Joe’s claim to be the self-styled King of the cunning coda would appear to be spot-on, given the overlapping, overloaded Fabisms in the final half a minute.

If you like your Fabness pitched somewhere between the lo-fi authenticity of The Stairs and the technicolour dreams of Jellyfish, you could do worse than head straight over to The Poppermost’s Bandcamp page to pick up your copy of ‘A Piece Of The Poppermost‘. An album will follow in June.

 

Alternative Version, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Peel Sessions

Jukebox Dury

Released in 1977 at the height of Year Zero (or would this be Year1?), Ian Dury‘s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll was, suprisingly, not a hit. Given its familiarity, I’d always thought of it as something of a late 70s monster smash, but apparently not. Neither was it an Ian Dury & The Blockheads record. Despite both Chaz Jankel and Norman Watt-Roy playing on it, Dury’s first single was credited to him and him alone.

Ian DurySex & Drugs 7 Rock & Roll (7″ version)

The low sales can be attributed to a couple of factors: it was wrongly thought of as a celebration of everything that punk was set on destroying, as bloated and offensive perhaps as anything by The Eagles or Rod Stewart. It just wasn’t cool to be seen buying a copy. Due to its title, the record found itself on the BBC’s banned list too and, unlike the unintended consequence of appearing on such state-sponsored naughty lists (see Relax, Je t’aime et al), this time round, the banning actually worked, snuffing out any possibility of Dury having a hit single. With less than 20,000 sales and next to no airplay, it was swiftly deleted. 

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll opens up side two of my charity shop-rescued, ‘previously loved’ copy of New Boots And Panties. Not on the original version (Dury had a strict ‘no singles on the album’ policy), but all future pressings of the album contained the non-hit following the Bockhead’s chart success with What A Waste and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. And just as well.

It’s a great tune.

The Peel Session take from a couple of years later might be even better…

Ian Dury & The BlockheadsSex & Drugs 7 Rock & Roll (Peel Session, 12.12.79)

There’s a tin pot rattle of percussion and we’re off, all superfast snakehip slink guitar and a riff that’s slightly different, slightly further up the strings or frets or whatever than the single version you already know and love.

Coming a couple of years after its release, the Peel version finds the band dextrous to the point of muso, stretching out beyond the tight-trousered confines of their original take, because, well, just because they can.

Bopping along for a full minute longer than the original version, there are fruity keys on the offbeat, phased and flanged, thick and syrupy guitar in the bridge and a chittering, chattering guitar in the verse, clattering away like the false teeth on a couple of old chimney-smoking fishwives on the top deck of the number 37 up Kilburn High Road, surely an unintentional influence on those wee clang-a-langs that punctuate the singing in the verses of Orange Juice’s Rip It Up.

Then there’s the Hammond solo, a wonderful warm and cosy sound that predates Mick Talbot’s role in the Style Council by a good 36 months. Lovely stuff, all in.

It’s also a clear influence on the Merseyside Magpie himself. Lee Mavers cocked one ear at that riff and that clanging percussion and thought, ‘I’m ‘avin’ that.’ So he did.

Tha La’sCome in Come Out

And talking of Liverpool…

The Blockheads were great, great players. When Trevor Horn was constructing Relax and becoming increasingly exasperated at the technical limitations of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, he roped in The Blockheads to fix Frankie’s botched job. Not for the first time in history did a band barely play on their big hit record. I’m fairly certain you knew that already though.