Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

It’s A Topper

The whole of The Clash‘s Sandinista! might be almost too much to take for the first 40 years of listening, but one day you’ll wake up and it’ll all make perfect sense. It’s an exhaustive listen, a triple album that cliché would have you believe would be better off trimmed to a double, but it’s great precisely because it’s so sprawling and genre-hopping: dub reggae, punk rock, soul, rockabilly, whacked-out proto hip-hop, stadium-sized riffage, Clashified covers of Mose Allison, the Equals and The Clash themselves (how meta, the hipsters might say today)…. you name it, Sandinista! has it all.

Side 1 of 6 sets the entire stall out, spinning wildly through the perennially groovy Magnificent Seven and the take-it-to-church Supremes stomp of Hitsville U.K. via Junco Partner‘s head-nodding roots reggae before alighting on Ivan Meets G.I. Joe.

Ivan… comes at you like a rush of hot dusty, musty air from out of the westbound tunnel at Ladbroke Grove underground station, a clattering, echoing, rattling racket that arrives suddenly, hangs about for a prime-time 3 minutes then rushes off again, a blown-up trail of what the fuck was that? left in its wake. Four songs in and The Clash have merged more ideas and genres than most bands would dare to tackle in a lifetime.

The ClashIvan Meets G.I. Joe

A fantastically-arranged track and surely a blueprint for the future Rock The Casbah, Ivan Meets G.I. Joe is a Cold War dance-off that predates Frankie’s Two Tribes by a good three and a half years. Where Frankie revelled in the fight, The Clash suggest the two superpowers might be better off hitting the dancefloor than one another. The entire track is smothered in added bleeps and whooshes, Howitzer explosions and rapid-fire machine gun fire. It’s certainly dance music Jim, just not as we know it.

Joe Strummer may have written the vast majority of the words, but it’s the drummer that this track really belongs to. Arranged by Topper Headon, he incorporates pounding piano, a juddering brass section and a tight-but-loose disco drum beat that showcases his talents. In concert, the track afforded Topper his Ringo moment, the spotlight leaving the other three to jump about in the shadows for the duration. Y’can say what y’like about Topper, but you won’t hear many bad words about Ivan Meets G.I. Joe.

Forever principled, The Clash eschewed individual songwriting credits on Sandinista! Lower royalty payments would allow them to sell the album at a fan-friendly price and despite pressure from those at CBS, they were adamant that the entirety of the album they’d presented would be the album that was released. Turning money into rebellion (!) they gave up all royalties on the first 200,000 copies sold, enabling the six sided album to be sold for not much more than the price of a standard LP. Can you imagine any act suggesting this nowadays?! (Can you imagine (m)any acts selling 200,000 albums nowadays?)

My copy of Sandinista! came from a second-hand record shop in Liverpool. A victim of the punk wars, its sleeve had seen better days, but the three records (and the copy of the Armagideon Times inside) were in amazingly well-preserved condition. For the price of a medium Costa, it was rescued and rehoused and won’t be going anywhere other than my turntable ever again. Like all the best albums, every time it plays, it throws up something new. I’m sure you knew that already though.

 

Alternative Version, Get This!

Uneasy Listening

When Jerry Dammers slipped off his loafers and eased The Specials into the exotica-tinged territory that constituted the More Specials album, it may have smoothed the edges from their punkish, knock-kneed ska, but their socially-aware ethos and political stance was as razor sharp as ever. You might go as far as arguing that, essential as that first Specials album undeniably is, the second album More Specials is exactly that – more special.

It’s there in the arrangements and choice of instrumentation. The icerink ska of Do Nothing, the mariachi march and doom-laden backing vocals of Stereotype, the mile high fabulousness of International Jet Set; every track a jerky off-beat work of art, presented in 2 Tone monochrome but coming at you in full-on technicolour. While most bands of the era were reinventing guitar music or pioneering synth-based pop, The Specials now lifted their influences from the lounge music of the past and re-presented it as the in sound from way out. It’s no coincidence that not long after, The Beat raided their dads’ old Andy Williams records for inspiration before crashing the charts with their take on Can’t Get Used To Losing You.

The Bodysnatchers’ Roda Dakar was a guest vocalist on More Specials. Known for just the one hit – a 100mph take on Dandy Livingstone’s People Do Rocksteady – The Bodysnatchers were already splintering into the Belle Stars by the time Dakar had taken up Dammers’ offer of joining The Specials on stage for occasional backing vocals.

An interesting band in the 2 Tone story, The Bodysnatchers had just one original track of their own, yet despite 2 Tone’s inclusive, anything goes stance, they were discouraged from releasing it. Putting her theatre background to good use, Rhoda had riffed a spontaneous freeform lyric – a true story – over the top of a Bodysnatchers groove during rehearsal and unwittingly gave birth to one of the most contentious records of the era.

Pulling no punches, The Boiler told the story of Dhakar’s friend who’d been raped. 2 Tone’s parent label Chrysalis took one look at the lyrics and baulked, leaving The Bodysnatchers’ version at the very back of the vault marked ‘unreleased‘.

Jerry Dammers though recognised the track’s importance and, during those More Specials sessions, set about recording the perfect backing track for Dakar’s story.

The SpecialsTheme From The Boiler

Continuing in the vein of More Specials, Theme From The Boiler is similarly tinged with exotic mystery. In a time signature that Dave Brubeck may have had trouble with, it grooves along on a bed of John Barry beat guitar, muted trumpets and a loudly-programmed Linn drum machine. As the track progresses, a hollow vibraphone weaves its way in and out of the murk, the muted trumpets giving way to skronking background free jazz as the guitar revs its way into full-on Duane Eddy. Not yer average backing track by any means.

When the vocal was added, the track took a terrifying, nightmarish turn into the depths of despair.

Rhoda with The Special AKA featuring Nicky SummersThe Boiler

Despite very limited airplay – it vanished from most playlists after the first week – The Boiler managed to chart, thanks to an ever-growing demographic of 2 Tone devotees who’d buy everything on the label as soon as it was released. It remains one of the strangest and most unsettling records you will ever hear.

I first heard The Boiler between Rat Race and Gangsters on an old 2 Tone compilation taped from my pal, and as a 12 year old with a healthy obsession for the fast dance-based excitement of Madness and The Specials and The Beat, it was the last thing I expected to hear.

It’s the most shocking record I own. When it boils down to it, most ‘shocking’ records are really just swear-filled schoolboy gigglers. That’s you, Bodies. And you too, Relax. The Boiler deals in actual human pain, as shocking as a sudden slap across the face but a thousand times worse.

The opening line  – I went out shopping last Saturday – is fairly disarming and you quickly settle in for the listen, unaware of where the record is going until it’s too late. Possibly the first record to address the subject of rape, it was raw and brutal and left this pre-teen listener feeling decidedly uneasy. Forty years later, it still does. Those screams as it ends….

It is the only record,” said Dammers solemnly, “that was ever made quite deliberately to be listened to once and once only.”

 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Lookin’ At You, Kid

There’s nary a wasted line on The PretendersKid. Lean and low-fat yet packed full of melody and mood, it still sounds out-of-the-box fresh 41 years later. Riding along on a breeze of glistening, chiming, ringing guitars, it’s a heady amalgam of countryish punky jangle and street-sussed Chrissie Hynde sass. Listen as you read, won’t you?

The PretendersKid

It’s the guitar riff that makes it, of course, James Honeyman-Scott taking his guitar for a twangin’ walk up and down the frets; bending, sliding, hammering on and pulling off one of new wave’s greatest guitar lines.

He takes a back seat during the singing, happy to answer Chrissie’s softly crooned, conversational vocals with lovely thick tremeloed chords between the gaps. First chance he gets though, and he’s back to a reprise of that riff. After the second verse there’s a crashing, tumbling middle eight before the whole band sets him up for the solo. And what a solo!

In just a dozen seconds, Honeyman-Scott fires off the perfect musical interlude. He’s further up the frets now, not too high – certainly not as high as those other uncultured guitar stranglers and string manglers who aim for the 15th fret and leap off from there – and his guitar rattles and rolls with a Mr Sheen-like Byrdsian jangle, all slurry pull-offs and bending 3rd strings, before finishing off on an audacious and perfectly executed pinging harmonic.

With little time to catch breath we’re back into the breakdown where the band drops out save for some thumping toms and accompanying bass. A high in the mix jud-jud-juddering Townshendesque acoustic chord signifies we’re on the run home. The jangle is free-form now, the band loosening their collective collar and undoing the top button of their super-tight jeans, relaxing into the multi-layered silvery mercurial brew they’ve created out of thin air as Chrissie reprises the chorus and Honeyman-Scott plays another sublime variation of the solo.

The engineer or producer or whoever it was who thought it was a good idea to fade him/them out needs their stoopid head examined, they really do. Three minutes of post-punk new wave pop joy undoubtedly deserved to stretch its skinny legs for a good half minute more, even if that meant taking it, like Chrissie’s fringe, to just about beyond the considered optimum length. I doubt anyone would’ve complained.

Flashy without being arrogant, the guitar playing on Kid is something that, given equal measures of practice and patience, any dedicated guitar player could work their way up to replicating. Just ask that other king o’ the six string, Johnny Marr…

 

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Bric-a-Brac From The Knick-Knack Rack

I don’t know what was more surprising – the fact that a couple of nights ago I caught myself flat-footedly pounding the streets around my house in a close approximation of what the dog walkers who gave me a wide Covid-mindful berth might’ve called ‘jogging’, or the fact that, mid gasp, John Cooper Clarke‘s Post-War Glamour Girl popped up at random to help soundtrack my wheezy inward journey. Even though I was in sight of my house when the track started, I was sufficiently slow paced that I was able to play it two and a half times before I finally made it to the drive. I stood, catching my breath, sweat pooling out around my neck and upper chest, wondering just what good I’d done myself, as I let it finish for a third time.

Post-War Glamour Girl

Expresso bongo snaps of rome
In the latin quarter of the ideal home
Fucks all day and sleeps alone
Just a tiger rug and a telephone
Says a post war glamour girl’s never alone.

In the seventh heaven on the thirteenth floor
Sweethearts’ counterparts kiss
Limbo dancers under the door
Where human dynamos piss
Adults only over her pubes
Debutantes they give her dubes
Beatniks visit with saxophones
And the way she eats her Toblerone
Says a post war glamour girl is never alone.

Mau mau lovers come and go
Dreamboats leave her behind
A baby-doll to go man go
On the slopes of the adult mind
A murder mystery walk-on part
A dead body or a gangland tart
Near the knuckle close to home
Criminal connections you can’t condone
A non-doctor’s anonymous drone
Says a post war glamour girl’s never alone.

The section of the populace
They call the clientele
The moguls of metropolis
Defenestrate themselves
In the clothes of a rabbit
You develop a twitch
One of the little sisters of the rich
Amorous cameras clamour and click
Her rosary beads are really bones
Rebel rebel they bug your phone
The post war glamour girl’s never alone.

Yes there’s always a method actor hanging about
There goes Mr Tic-Tac out of the back
With some bric-a-brac from the knick-knack rack
The dumb waiter reminds you of home
(And the nice boy from Sierra Seone)
The action painter’s got up and gone
Nevertheless it’s never been known
For a post war glamour girl ever to be
What you would call
Irrevocably – alone.

 

It’s a terrific track, a dazzling poem full of measured metre and alliterative imagery, delivered in Clarke’s scattergun Salfordian drawl, shooting from the lip and painting an aural picture of a life less salubrious.

The words – perfect in their own right – are given the chance to shine thanks to the slinky funk bass that bubbles it along like a moonlighting Blockheads in a cocktail bar. The music, played by producer Martin Hannett and Be Bop Deluxe’s Bill Nelson, is great. There’s a keyboard line stolen from an old Studio One record (the title of which will escape me until 5 minutes after I press ‘publish’) and there’s a textured Talking Heads art-punk guitar line that surfs the wave then dives under the surface, driving the whole thing to its groovy conclusion. If you’re new to the track, prepare to be dazzled…

John Cooper ClarkePost-War Glamour Girl

JCC came to prominence via the same fertile Manchester punk scene that spewed forth following the Sex Pistols famous Lesser Free Trade Hall show. Instantly recognisable, his image was reflected in his poetry: sharp, cutting and stylish yet rough around the edges, scuffed with asphalt, powered by cheap speed and nicotine, Dylan ’66 drawn in blotchy ink by Ralph Steadman.

Believing – quite rightly, as it turned out – that he could make a living from poetry after seeing Pam Ayres perform on TV, he was the go-to guy for mould-breaking punk and post-punk acts who wanted a different sort of support act.

Fans of Joy Division, Buzzcocks, New Order, The Fall, even Duran Duran’s audience caught JCC in full flight; fag in hand, his battered notebook held out at squinting distance in front of him, all jutting elbows and chiselled chin, Beatle boots on legs rake-thin, a clad-in-black anglepoise lamp, scribbled words through writer’s cramp, with a bird’s nest hairdo, scruffy, entwined, keeping warm his fertile mind, the dark glasses allowing no-one in yet letting all the aura seep out. A true one-of-a-kind. For more on JCC, you could do worse than pay a visit to his Desert Island Discs.

JCC supported The Fall in Irvine in 2004. Did I go? ‘Course not. I have a terrible habit of missing all the interesting gigs in my home town. I did see The Bootleg Beatles though. Totally different songs, but if you’d been able to squint through a spare pair of Clarke’s dark Raybans, I’m sure they’d have looked quite similar.

Get This!, Live!

Tinnitus

The neighbours to my kitchen side have been slowly building an extension for the past couple of months. The battering and hammering and shouting and swearing usually begins at eight in the morning and lasts until mid afternoon, earlier if there’s rain or other such setbacks. “Did you just drill through that fuckin’ thing?!?” I heard accusingly one day as I hung the washing out. There was a muttered, muffled reply followed by a “You fuckin’ idiot!” and a good two or three days of silence and inactivity. I don’t know quite know where the drill was bound for, but it seems the boy did indeed drill through the fuckin’ thing.

Back on track, the racket continues. Amongst the blaring Commercial FM – adverts every five minutes punctuated by out of tune builders singing to Ed Sheeran – my garden has been filled with the sound of summer – brain crushing nail guns, all compressed air and heart-stopping rat-a-tats, bandsaws that grind their hellish grind right to the very back of your fillings, unidentifiable dull thuds – perhaps the boy receiving his punishment for the misplaced drilling, and an ever-permanent coating of red brick dust that blows only in our direction the minute a brick requires cutting. It’s quite the sound and sight.

A day or two ago it was building to a perfect, swirling crescendo, bandsaw and bawling builders and the bang bang bang of the nail gun all trying to outdo one another. A hellish cacophony of noise. And it hit me – I’ve heard this before. That jarring, pummelling racket, disconcerting and never-ending, uneasy listening that the ears have trouble adjusting to…..it’s My Bloody Valentine! Specifically You Made Me Realise. Ha! You made me realise indeed.

My Bloody Valentine – You Made Me Realise

Good luck recreating that unique MBV sound…

MBV’s gig in the Barrowlands (1992?) is the reason I suffer tinnitus. It’s whining away in the background right now, a permanent reminder of why you should consider ear defenders if you’re a regular gig goer. They’re just not very cool though, eh? Midway through You Made Me Realise, after the machine-gunning snares and off-kilter harmonies and the lurching open-tuned riff, right when the bass and guitars and drums lock into that chuga chuga swirling groove, Kevin Shields stomped on the pedal marked ‘Aural Sickness‘, hid himself behind his lank fringe and for a good while, maybe 6 or 7 full minutes, let rip an ear-splitting shriek of howling white noise, band and bass and drums and everything playing as one.

Like a Panzer attack, it reverberated from the front of the stage, crept over the tops of heads and into the lugs and set up camp, pulsing and refracting and phasing and flanging until the sub frequencies began playing tricks. My eyes hurt! People actually left and I was at most 15 seconds away from throwing up when Shields peeked out from behind the fringe and nodded the others back into more tuneful action. Close call. I know lots of folk love this sort of thing, but man! It was just too loud.

Kevin Shields, My Bloody Valentine.

There’s a good article currently doing the rounds where The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli talks about his favourite music. You can hear his Sopranos’ character voice – Chris-tuh-fuh – leaping off the page as you read about his love of Chuck Berry and the New York Dolls and doo-wop. A great article, he talks about other bands and artists that you might not expect him to like…including, quite unbelievably, My Bloody Valentine.

Imperioli mentions leaving a Dinosaur Jr gig early, the support act MBV having drained him of all emotion ahead of the headliners. Drained of emotion maybe, or just feeling plain sick. I wonder if he suffers from tinnitus too?

* for the record, I love My Bloody Valentine, especially You Made Me Realise.

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Addis ababa-ba-ba

That much maligned Stone Roses second album – the grandiosly titled and underrepresentative Second Coming – is a strange beast. Not nearly as terrible as many suggested at the time, it came as a crushing disappointment to those of us who’d been blown away and swept along by the dizzy 60s-inspired sunshine psychedelia of the debut. From it’s lead single in, it was very obvious that this was Stone Roses’ take on Led Zep II. Such was the bombast and bluster and wheezing asthmatic slide guitar pyrotechnics that leapt from the fretboards with Pageian dexterity, they might as well have called that first single Whole Lotta Love Spreads and be done with it. Great tune ‘n all, but we’ve heard it all before, Stone Roses. That was a claim you couldn’t ever throw at the sparkling debut, and that’s why so many of us felt let down. A five year wait for this? C’mon Stone Roses, you’re better than this.

It has its moments. Both Driving South and Begging You are Hendrix filtered through a clattering dance groove, strangulated guitars at the big beat boutique, going nowhere, but thrillingly so for five minutes. Those liquid mercury guitar fills and coke-sprinkled riffs are relentless and tiresome on most of the other tracks though – the kinda stuff you hear played by showy assistants in guitar shops up and down the country. C’mon Stone Roses, you’re better than this.

And they were. Ten Story Love Song is a cracker, Sugar Spun Sister on steroids for those of us seeking a glimpse back to the heady summer of 1989. And the way it segues on the record into Daybreak is the greatest moment on the album.

Daybreak gives you a glimpse into the real Stone Roses, shackled of expectation and pressure, just the four of them grooving along to a fantastically loose-limbed jam. It’s so out of place with the rest of the album that I’m of the impression it was never really intended to be on it at all. A warm-up session perhaps for the ‘proper’ recording to follow, fortuitously captured by a quick-thinking tape op, magnetised forever and slotted early into the album sequence.

Stone RosesDaybreak

What’s great about it is that there’s little in the way of overdub or studio trickery. The four constituent parts are right there in the mix, easily identifiable, each doing their own thing, creating something far greater than the sum of their parts. It’s the rhythm, section that hits you first, isn’t it? It’s the way Reni and Mani drive the track with rat-a-tatting drums and rumbling jungle bass, eyes locked on one another, not even aware of what the other two are up to, working intuitively and cooking up a proper simmering stew that keeps the whole thing moving ever-forwards, speeding up, locking in, driving us to the logical conclusion.

The solid rhythm allows John Squire to throw psychedelic shapes across the top, little splashes of colour as random and just-so as the paint spatters on those Pollock-inspired record covers. His right hand scratches the groove, his left fingers bend the notes, his momentus fringe keeping the whole thing swingin’ majestically. By the time Ian Brown comes up with the lyrics – a plea for peace and equality that’s part random geography lesson, part Rosa Parks infomercial (and a ‘love is the law here‘ line that Squire would nick post-Roses), Daybreak, for better or worse, is as loose and airy, yet tight and locked as anything off of Led Zep II.

Dylanish, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

With(out) The Beatles

There’s a good argument for suggesting George Harrison‘s All Things Must Pass album is the pick of the solo Beatles’ output. In 1968, post White Album, George spent some time in Woodstock with Bob Dylan. Hearing the Zim’s stories of how The Band wrote; with equity, without hierarchy, everything considered on merit, he realised he was getting short thrift in The Beatles. Both John and Paul failed to give George’s songs the attention they deserved, instead throwing him the odd patronising scrap of encouragement when a space or two needed filled on an album. Discourteous and dismissive, Lennon & McCartney didn’t take George’s stuff nearly seriously enough and the youngest Fab, lacking clout and perhaps confidence, left many great songs in the archives.

In 1970, the floodgates opened. Spread over 6 sides of vinyl, the songs that made up All Things Must Pass showed the world – and his former bandmates – what they’d been missing.

From the title in – The Beatles are finished, get over it, to the cover – a serious George, sitting in the middle of four metaphorically upturned garden gnomes (as similar to one another as The Beatles were at the height of Beatlemania), George throws open the doors to his vaults, brings in some high profile friends and adds life to songs that would’ve graced any late-era Beatles release.

You can practically see the double denim and scratchy beards as the whole things oozes past in a haze of hash and henna. George’s trademark slide guitar is all over it, gently weeping and effortlessly gliding off of the grooves and into that corner of the world that would be known from then on as soft rock.

It’s the opener, I’d Have You Anytime that sets the tone. Co-written with Dylan at that ’68 session, it’s produced by Phil Spector and features Beatles’ friend Klaus Voorman on bass. Guitar and drums are provided by the musicians who would soon become (Derek &) The Dominoes. Ol’ Slow Hand himself plays a tasetful slo-mo guitar part which would be more than a little bit recognisable to Beatles fans. Not content with stealing his pal’s wife, in order to keep I’d Have You Anytime softly rockin’ through the ether, Eric Clapton steals most of George’s solo from Something as well.

George HarrisonI’d Have You Anytime

A decade or so ago I’d Have You Anytime was a feature on one of my in-car CDs. Segued between World Party’s All I Gave and Elliott Smith’s Bottle Up And Explode!, the three tracks, all double tracked harmonies and wistful regret, regularly re-played (again! again!) to the point where I was sick of all of them.

George’s song happened to be playing one time as I was making my way through Crosshouse and past the hospital, back to the Kilmarnock bypass that would take me home. As the road opened up ahead, from one lane to three in preparation for the big roundabout at the Brewer’s Fayre pub, I happened to glance left to the car I was overtaking.

The woman driving it  – she was about ages with me, but that’s got nothing to do with the story – was bawling her eyes out. Proper uncontrollable tears, mouth twisted and agape, lips joined by a few lines of stretchy saliva, face red and swollen. It was fairly distresssing.

I wanted to get her attention, ask if she was OK, but her eyes remained crying, her gaze on the car in front and the impending rush hour roundabout. I too had to focus on the traffic around me. Easing forward in first gear, I had a car in front of me, another behind. I was two, maybe three cars from the front of the queue, anticipating where I might be able to join the roundabout. The car on my left nudged forward simultaneously but the driver wouldn’t shift her gaze.

Ping-ponging my attention from right (is that a gap?) to left (is she OK?) I eventually zoomed onto the roundabout. The car to my left stayed. As I made my way round the roundabout, I lost her in my rear view mirror. I’ll never know if she was OK.

Had she been at the hospital and received bad news? Had she been visiting someone who’d died? Had she been dumped? Or sacked from work? I don’t know. I’ll never know. But everytime I’d Have You Anytime comes on, I’m back at the roundabout, watching a woman break down in the car next to me. Funny how music works, isn’t it?

 

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FAC 11

X-O-Dus was a political roots reggae act from Moss Side in Manchester. Formed in the mid 70s they honed their sound, grew in stature and became regulars on the Manchester scene. They shared many stages with the punk acts of the day and by the end of the decade they were playing in the Russell Club in the city’s Hulme area. The Russell Club is significant in British music history as the place where Peter Saville, Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus ran the first Factory nights. The Factory Club begat Factory Records which begat Joy Division/New Order, ACR, Happy Mondays and a whole host of essential bands and records. But you knew that already.

Tony Wilson was so taken by seeing X-O-Dus and their self-billed ‘rainy city reggae‘ one night at the Russell Club that he offered them a record deal. The record they put out – just the one 12″ single – remained the only reggae release in Factory’s catalogue, but a mighty fine record it is.

X-O-DusEnglish Black Boys

It proved to be a frustrating release for the band. Recorded one June day in 1979, Factory, keen to acknowledge the significance of having a UK reggae act, reached out to hot-shot reggae producer Dennis Bovell, stock high from working on The Slits’ debut and Janet Kay’s Silly Games, to oversee the mixing of the record. Happy to get involved, he was less thrilled at the prospect of travelling to Rochdale to work on it and stalled, doing so for the remainder of the year.

In the meantime, Factory launched Electricity, the debut release by Orchestral Manouevres In the Dark and Joy Division’s epochal Unknown Pleasures. The X-O-Dus record became almost forgotten in the process.

Ten months down the line, Bovell eventually got to work, producing the window-rattlling, stop/start roots masterpiece that came to define the band. X-O-Dus though was less than happy with the outcome. Known for their unique sound at live shows – they were as much jazz and avant-garde noise as they were reggae, they didn’t like the pigeonholing, long and winding, dubby coda-oda-oda that came to define the record. I don’t know why – listening 40 years down the line you’d have to say it sounds fantastic!

Further delays occured. As was often the Factory way, designer Peter Saville took four months to produce the sleeve and then, just as they were about to release the record, a London based band with the same Marley-derived name forced the Manchester variant to rethink their moniker. Almost a year after being recorded, English Black Boys was finally given the catalogue number FAC 11 and released on Factory Records. Peel championed it, the music press loved it and the band set out on a tour to capitalise.

The Scottish leg was cringingly billed Reggae For The Jocks, where, mid tour they supported Gary Glitter at Strathclyde University’s Students’ Union. Not the ethos representative of a Factory act, the label chose to leave the tapes for an intended X-O-Dus album on the shelves, busying themselves instead with Joy Divison morphing into New Order. X-O-Dus, as so many of those little-known bands did, would eventually fizzle out.

Highly politicised, English Black Boys is as relevant today as it was when it was written at the height of the National Front. Play it loud until the windows ratlle and your bigoted neighbours tut in disapproval. Then play it again, twice as loud and for thrice as long. It’s a great record.

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Don’t Matter What I Do

There’s a new Paul Weller album out today. He’s clearly a prolific, unflinching, bloody-minded writer, an English version of someone like Neil Young. You can certainly draw parallels between the length of their hair these days, let alone the length of their careers. Both started out in successful bands, both went solo, both still steadfastly plough their own furrow, their generally considered ‘greatest albums’ far behind them.

It wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that Weller’s output can be grouped into four distinct categories: 1) The Jam, 2) The Style Council, 3) The solo years up until Stanley Road and 4) everything else since. This isn’t intended to be disingenuous. There are plenty of PW fans who will point to The Jam’s progression from angry, besuited punks to the soul-obsessed Beat Surrender that hinted at Weller’s next move, and from that soulful start to their misunderstood house-obsessed finish, The Style Council certainly rode the zeitgeist of musical movements. Plenty too will cite Wake Up The Nation as just as relevant an album as Wild Wood. I’d even agree – and Sonik Kicks too for that matter. But I have to admit to a slackening off in my engagement over the past couple of albums. Partly, that’s been down to the crazy prices he can charge for a deluxe version of the latest album and partly because the lead tracks from those albums kinda passed me by. If I had the money and time to invest in them, I daresay I’d have a different opinion. Maybe I should just steal them online like everybody else and form a considered opinion. The new album – On Sunset– has been trailed with an interesting set of 70s-inspired fonts against bleached-out orange, pink and yellow graphics. It looks like the sort of thing I should investigate, even if his hair these days is part Agnetha from Abba and Brian Connolly from The Sweet.

Weller has always been about moving forward – Start, Dig The New Breed, My Ever Changing Moods, Push It Along – but haud the bus, Paul. Rewind, look over your shoulder, listen again to some of your finest moments. The best bits easily still stand up today. Like Long Hot Summer

The Style CouncilLong Hot Summer

Long Hot Summer has it all. In a lineage that begins with The Young Rascals’ Groovin’ and continues through to Jazzy Jeff’s Summertime, it’s one of the truly great mid-tempo summer tracks. Its awkward shoe-shuffling electronic beat might be difficult to dance to but it’s essential for conjuring up the feel of, well, a long hot summer. It’s the bass synth that carries it. Instantly recognisable – I’ll name that tune in one, Paul! – when he played it quite unexpectedly mid-set at the Hydro a couple of years ago, I was beyond myself with excitement. Fuckin’ Long Hot Summer! I shouted to Fraz. Long Hot Fuckin’ Summer moaned the old punk to his pal on my left at the same time. The placement of the sweary word is important here. Said at the start, it’s generally a positive thing. Placed midway through the sentence, it makes for quite the opposite. So there y’go. Paul Weller, still polarising his audience all these years later.

It’s a great production, Long Hot Summer. Along with that bass line, Weller’s vocal comes across as something that might’ve flown straight off the grooves of What’s Going On. Low and spoken in places, floaty and falsetto in others, it runs the range of what makes soul music soul music. When used to transport the lyrics of loss and longing, well, it makes for quite the thing. There’s a chord structure to match too, right up to the major 7ths in the bridge. Then there are the handclaps, the shiddy-biddy-do-wap-waps and the bubbbling analogue synths. If the Isley Brothers or Chi-Lites made a better record, I’ve yet to hear it. Weller, amazingly, was barely into his 20s when he wrote it.

I’ve been playing The Style Council Á Paris EP a lot this week. Long Hot Summer is the lead track and the needle has gone back and forth across the A-Side a zillion times since I first rediscovered it on Monday. That line – the long hot summer just passed me by – is bothering me though. It’s a sign, a clue, a plea from the writer himself that I really should get to his more recent albums. A visit is in order.

demo, Get This!, Hard-to-find

More Paul

The schools break up today, bereft, perhaps, of much of the frantic downhill-without-the-breaks-on rush to cross the ts and dot the is on the paperwork, but also lacking in the uncontained excitement of hundreds of young minds who’ve already switched off and are planning great adventures in the great beyond for the next few weeks. The sound of excitable kids in a playground on the last day of term is one of life’s greatest sounds – up there with John Lydon’s plegmy rrrrrrightttt now, hurrgh hurgh hurgh! snarl at the start of Anarchy In The UK and those honeyed Beatles Yeeeaaaah! harmonies right at the end of She Loves You.

Teachers in Scotland will return a week earlier than normal this year, and (to our dismay and disappointment) to full classes – our government’s way of bowing to public pressure and addressing the lack of traditional schooling in the previous few months. As a working parent I totally get the need for schools to be back operating as ‘normal’ – children getting only two days a week of teaching in an actual school isn’t nearly enough – and we need to allow the country to get back to work, but it all seems more than a bit rushed. For what it’s worth, I reckon schools – the grubbiest Petri dishes of all – are being squashed back way too early and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if by perhaps October, a second wave of Covid has struck, forcing some (all?) schools to adopt the blended learning model that our profession has worked so hard to put in place. Who knows.

But back to the music. Sometimes you’ll hear a tune or even just part of a song that fits the current state of mind. Y’know, you’ll be driving home from work on an early summer’s evening, happy to be finished for the day, visor down and fake Ray-Bans shielding you from the rare Scottish sun, and Brass In Pocket comes on. As your left hand reaches out to turn up the volume, your right elbow automatically places itself on the window sill (Detroit leaning, dontcha know), just about one hand on the wheel, and you lean back and down into your seat just a touch more than you had been, your head bobbing in time to James Honeyman-Scott’s spacious, chiming riff. Serendipitous moments like this are few and far between, so when they occur you tend to remember them.

The better weather brings the cycling – lockdown’s greatest hit – and cycling up and down the west coast always sounds better when soundtracked by Underworld. The multi-layered rhythms encourage that extra 10% of effort that you never knew you had, the band’s propulsive thunk pushing you outwards and back in again. Occassionally in a quiter moment, the sound of a newly-oiled chain whirring through the sprockets will creep in to enhance the mix and again you think, this is alright!

It’s happening right now, as I type. I’m listening to Secretly, a softly looping instrumental by The Elevated Presence.

SecretlyThe Elevated Presence

Part Albatross – listen for the whoosh of the gong and the gently thrumming bassline – and part Johnny Marrchestra guitar heaven, Secretly is a lovely textured wash of acoustic and electric guitars, ambient ephemera and pinging, unravelling melodies overlapping and looping into 4 minutes of music that could sit happily between your Durutti Column records and Mogwai’s less-heavier moments.

What you won’t hear as you listen though are the birds outside my window, high in the trees next to the Ayr-Glasgow railway line, warbling and twittering and chattering and whistling as the near-empty 11.05 to Largs rattles past. They say that mankind’s loss with Covid is very much nature’s gain, and with this much going on around me, it’s hard to disagree. All music sounds better with the added ambience of bled-in bird noise. Today it’s The Elevated Presence that’s benefitting.

The Elevated Presence is an on-going side project of sorts from Trashcan Sinatras’ guitarist Paul Livingston. The Trashcans are kinda mainstays around here, their world-weary uplifting melancholia and sparkling tunes never far away, so it’s always great to hear anything from the TCS camp, in any form that may take. The tunes that constitute the catalogue of The Elevated Presence are, I imagine, the ones that don’t quite fit with the Trashcans’ ethos. They’re interesting, introspective, self-indulgent in places….and certainly worth investigating as a result. Listen closely and you’ll hear chord structures, guitar tones and counter melodies that would colour and enhance any Trashcans’ record.

SunchordsThe Elevated Presence

The hazy Sunchords is the perfect example. All ringing arpeggios, slowly spiralling riffs and woozy, wonky whitewashed tremelo, it’s crying out for a heartstring-tugging vocal and tear-soaked crescendo. In its instrumental form it’s filmic, Lynchian even in its quiet assurance, and the most perfect sunbleached music for the songbirds outside my window to harmonise to.

If this is your kinda thing, you could do worse than nip over to The Elevated Presence page on Bandcamp and check out the 5 other tracks that are currently available for next to nothing. Flying Bike‘s Elliott Smith-ish picking that gives way to a frantic Flamenco breakdown, Toska‘s steadily unravelling melody, the atmospheric crackle of The Grasshopper Mouse Howls At The Moon…all contain the DNA that makes Trashcan Sinatras so essential. In their own way, these Elevated Presence tracks are just as required listening.