Get This!

Favourite Shirts

Many years ago (31, if y’re asking) I found myself invited to the old BBC Scotland headquarters at Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow’s leafy west end. I’d spotted an advert in the Herald seeking trainee producers for BBC Radio Scotland and my application, written more in hope than expectation, made its flimsy way through the vetting process and landed on the pile marked ‘interview’. It was quite the thrill to step inside an ancient and famous place of broadcasting history, the doors and signage pointing the way to ‘Arts‘ and ‘Sports‘ and wherever, with the promise and potential of an exciting career lying just beyond.

I was asked to wait in an area of the foyer until my allotted time and so I sunk back into a deep mustard-coloured couch, fidgeted with my tie and took in the surroundings. A TV – large and state of the art for its time, but a clunky box that most teenagers would turn their 4K and flat screened noses up at nowadays – flickered on the wall above a set of lift doors, its sound low, playing whatever was currently showing on BBC Scotland. As I was trying to tame the jumbled thoughts in my head of how I could answer the questions the interviewers might throw my way before they swept their paperwork aside, pumped my arm in warm congratulations and offered me the opportunity of a lifetime, the lift doors swished open.

Out stepped newsreader Jackie Bird, poured into an above the knee dress that was vivid Kilmarnock blue. With a sheaf of papers clutched tightly to her chest, she gave me a wee smile and clacked off down the corridor, her luxurious auburn hair following spellbindingly behind her, and vanished through a door that said ‘Current Affairs‘.

Dizzy with my brush with fame, I tried to grapple with what I’d just seen…and at that very moment, the very same Jackie suddenly appeared beaming radiantly from the telly above the lift doors she had just come from. I watched, hynpotised by the very newsreader I’d actually just seen a couple of minutes beforehand, dad!, suddenly aware that someone was calling my name.

A wee lady met me, tweed skirt and Margaret Thatcher lacquered hair and we went into the interview room. I was still buzzing about Bird. A younger guy was there, wearing one of those cowboy shirt ‘n bootlace tie get ups so beloved of many Glasgow trendies at the time. His collapsed Morrissey quiff and the way he lounged back into his interviewer’s chair gave him an intimidating air of indifference. I didn’t like him and thoughts of my new favourite newsreader immediately vaporised. The wee lady – her name is long-since forgotten – asked me a variety of getting-to-know-you questions, before launching into the Big One.

Given the chance, what sort of programmes would you make for radio?

I’d thought about this beforehand and so gave a good answer.

There’s so much great music that’s come from Scotland in recent years – Rattlesnakes, Psychocandy, the Hipsway album, A Walk Across The Rooftops, Raintown – that I’d make a short programme on each album; how it was made and so on, with interviews with the musicians and the people involved in it. I think the listeners would like them.”

She nodded encouragingly, wrote some notes and thanked me for my time.

I didn’t get the job, of course, so you can imagine my ire a year or so ago when BBC Radio Scotland produced a series of classic album shows featuring most of the titles I’d suggested all those years previously. I’d like to say that perhaps my ideas were just too close in time to the albums in question, that hindsight and misty-eyed reverence has proven these albums to be the rightful classics that my 19 year old self knew they were much futher back in history, but, hey ho, there you go.

Elvis Costello had a similar brush with fame.

Sitting with photographer Chalkie Davies, Costello and The Attractions had just played I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea on Top of the Pops and were in the foyer of Television Centre, waiting for a taxi.

Suddenly,’ said Davies, ‘Angela Rippon appeared wearing a green shirt and walked right past us, we sat there with our mouths open in lust and shock. The next thing I know he’s got his little notebook out and is scribbling down lyrics.’

There’s a smart young woman on a light blue screen
Who comes into my house every night
And she takes all the red, yellow, orange and green
And she turns them into black and white

But you tease and you flirt
And you shine all the buttons on your green shirt

Me? I flunked the interview. Costello? He got a song out of the occasion. His newsreader-inspired lyrics formed the opening verse on Green Shirt, a standout track on Armed Forces, his fourth album and one bulging with greatness.

Elvis Costello – Green Shirt

He packs so much into a track, does Elvis. The way he phrases his words is fantastic, spitting ten to the dozen when there’s really no space left for them to fit into, eee-long-gating the others when there’s less words than music but still the need for both.

Delivered in that distinctive throaty voice that hiccups and slides through the words like egg white running down sandpaper, he reels off a song that’s part Orwellian paranoia, part knock-kneed new wave gloss, filtered through milk bottle-thick Joe 90 Gregory Pecks and rat-a-tat percussion.

Armed Forces is set for one of those triple-figured deluxe box set reissues. Don’t let me stop you if you’re the sort of hardcore fan who needs it all, but if you’re somehow new to the album, get yourself the meat ‘n two veg version instead. From the descending, confessional Accidents Will Happen via Oliver’s Army‘s Dancing Queen piano trills (check them out side by side) to the blatant late era Beatleisms of side 1 closer Party Girl, it’s a magic album. I suspect you knew that already though.

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Rasta-Far-Out

The ghosting season is upon us, the one time of year I truly despise. I hated it as a child. I hated it as a parent when my kids were young enough to participate. I just hate it. The dressing up… the greediness… those creeping Americanisms of going trick or treating for candy around cobweb-frosted front doors and plastic gravestone-enhanced gardens can do one.

Amazingly, brilliantly – God bless ye, Covid – this year there’ll be no drip-nosed grubbers standing at my door in their various states of grotesqueness, reeling off the same combination of tired and/or risque jokes (Q. ‘What’s the difference between the tyres on my dad’s car and a blonde?‘ A. ‘A blonde will go down quicker than my dad’s tyres.’) in return for a handful of Haribo and a “have you told your mum that joke?” telling-off from me. The wee girl who first let slip that horrorshow of a party piece four or five years ago, and every year since, might finally stop telling it for good now.

Anyway.

Reggae.

Bob Marley‘s Mr Brown is one of his earliest recordings, dating back to 1970. It just so happens to be a ghost song, written in response to local legend that told of a duppy/ghost that could be seen hurtling across Jamaica late at night on a three-wheeled coffin. Perched atop the coffin alongside the ghost were three crows, one of which could talk. The talking crow would repeatedly ask for a Mr Brown. If you ever saw this hideous and creepy apparition, the story went, then RUN!, because you didn’t have long left on this earth. 

Bob Marley & The (Wailing) WailersMr Brown

The tune itself is a gently lilting three chord skank, played at relaxed pace and featuring some sweet falsetto backing vocals. Guitars and keys lock the rhythm and never deviate, allowing Marley to tell the story of the out of control ghost-driven coffin and the talking crow. Not yer average subject matter, and all the better for it.

Mr Brown was produced by the ubiquitous Lee Perry. Lee Perry is synonymous with reggae. The more dubified the music, the more prominent his involvement. His blunted, mercurial touch has been applied to literally thousands of records from Jamaica and beyond, fried at the edges and sprinkled with madness but beating with a heart of thunderclapping echoes and cavernous bass.

As I get older, I’ve begun to appreciate his more outré work in much the same way age has allowed me to appreciate a fine malt. Slightly unpalatable at first, you quickly develop a taste and ponder how you could go an evening without it.

Playing around with the Wailers’ track, Perry removed the vocals, credited the instrumental to The Upsetters and manouevered it onto the flip side of the Wailers’ single. In keeping with the original’s ghostly/horror theme, it was given the title of Dracula.

The UpsettersDracula

I don’t for a second think that Bob, Bunny and Peter sat around in rehearsal saying, y’know what….what this tune really needs is a funky, alien vibration every now and again. That ever-present deep electronic shimmer that sounds like the ancient central heating pipes in a school I used to teach in was clearly the madcap work of Lee Perry. Half a century later, it’s that sound that’s become the record’s signature.

Removing Marley’s vocals also allowed Perry the opportunity to incorporate the instrumental version into his soundsystem and toast across the top of it should he fancy doing so. Forever forward-thinking.

Eco-aware long before there was such a thing, Lee Perry not only grew his own herbs, he recycled tunes for his own benefit. In a burst of foresighted creativity, and long before many a future hip-hopper or soundscaper was out of short trousers, Perry actually sampled the vibe from another record entirely and enhanced the Wailers’ and, subsequently, his own tune.

Jackie MittooPeenie Wallie

He’s lowered the pitch, from toe-tapping shuffling ska to head-nodding deep-fried reggae, but you can hear exactly where Perry welded the backing track onto the Wailers’ own easy skanking shuffle, enhancing and filling out what is a fairly straightforward run through by a band still finding their musical feet.

The track’s title – Peenie Wallie – intrigues me. Here in Scotland, if someone is unwell, pale faced, or indeed ghost-faced, we refer to them as peelie wallie. Not a million miles away from the Jackie Mittoo title. I’ve often thought the owner of Studio One might’ve been referring to such a person, albeit in slightly interpolated form. Which of course, would bring us back onto the subject of pale-faced make-up and ghouls and ghosts.

*Bonus Track!

“And for our next track….!”

Bob Marley & The WailersDuppy Conqueror

Bob and the Wailers went on to record an ‘answer record’ to Mr Brown, the self-explanatory Duppy Conqueror. Proving that there’s great mileage in reggae, it too used a variation of the same backing track as Mr Brown.

Poke your nose in and you’ll discover that reggae is full of wonderful, recycled tunes. You knew that already though.

 

 

Get This!

‘Day Release

Even in those tight leather trousers, he’d been up and down a gazillion stage lighting rigs, flying flags for Irish peace to mid-western Americans who couldn’t care less. He’d pulled embarrassed girls from the front rows of tiered arenas from Tampa to Tokyo for a less-than spontaneous cringing waltz while the rest of the band cut loose around him. He’d grown his hair, pulled the mullet into a pony tail and plonked a ten gallon Diddy hat on top of it, just because he could. In photos, on stage and seemingly everywhere else, he’d started wearing loosely buttoned waistcoats while forgetting to stick a shirt on underneath. Bare-chested and barefaced, he was Bono and he could do whatever the heck he liked.

In the period after the globe-straddling Joshua Tree tour, U2 could have rested a few months…a year…a couple perhaps…retired, even, and no-one would’ve complained. They were omnipresent, their serious, monochromed faces peeking out from below their wide-brimmed thinning-hair hiders with knowing looks that said, “We are Kings and don’t we know it!

The Joshua Tree was, to date, their peak, at least commercially if not critically. Material from those early chest-beaters Boy and War still featured strongly in their live set. The pinging ambience of the Eno-produced Unforgettable Fire was a chin-strokers’ favourite. But The Joshua Tree and its widescreen grandeur found favour with half the actual planet.

What came next was not a rest or a reboot (that came a year or two later) but Rattle And Hum, a self-indulgent movie ‘n album spectacular that jigsawed together the vibe of the Joshua Tree tour with material written in hotel rooms, soundchecks and studios in the cities where U2 happened to be playing. Although it has less of a stinky whiff about it nowadays, at the time of release Rattle & Hum was given a critical kicking.

By almost any rock & roll fan’s standards, U2’s Rattle and Hum is an awful record,” wrote Tom Carson in The Village Voice.

This is a mess with a mission,” wrote David Fricke in Rolling Stone. “But a mess nevertheless.”

It wasn’t so much the songs – Desire‘s tubthumping three chords and the truth swirl became the band’s first UK number 1. Album closer All I Want Is You is a classic, whichever way you choose to look at it – yer actual Van Dyke Parks did that beautifully weird and slow-burning string arrangement ferchristsake! And any album that includes Angel Of Harlem (more of which later) can never be considered awful.

Some of it was pretty grim, all the same.

The band appropriated The Beatles’ Helter Skelter, “stealing it back from Charles Manson” as the frontman boldly claims, right before the band limp their way through the blandest of cover versions. If The Beatles’ original was Jaws, all sinister menace and bite, U2’s version is the totally pointless and flacid Jaws 4.

It wasn’t just the songs though, but the way the band presented themselves. With the benefit of hindsight, should you not have noticed at the time, it’s actually hilarious.

Silver and Gold,” blabbed Bono, “came about after I’d spent an evening singing old blues songs around the piano with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger…  I was completely uneducated and I decided after spending a night singing these old timeless delta blues songs, that as I couldn’t contribute one, I’d write one. I went away and wrote it, very quickly.

Did ye, aye?” as they might say round here.

They say in the eighties that rock & roll is dead,” said the singer, before enlisting the help of BB King and his band for the sterile blues-by-numbers run-through of Love Comes To Town. “I don’t think it’s dead, but if it’s dying, it’s because groups like us aren’t taking enough risks.”

Risky, is it?” as they might say round here.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” spouted a portentious Edge, “is actually a gospel song.”

Is it, aye?” as they might say round here.

To prove the point, U2 rocked up in Harlem, soaked up the vibes in a dusty old church and, to the exquisite sounds of the Edge playing his Strat through his AC30, brought out a gospel choir who proceeded to blow a straining Bono right out of the holy water. Actually, Edge, you might’ve been right about that. 

The band, well, mainly Bono  – there’s a pattern emerging, eh? – quickly aligned themselves to the totem pole of music; The Beatles and Stones, blues and gospel, and by their very association attempted to weld themselves to the holy lineage. It’s that that got up folks’ noses. 

At one point the Memphis-bound band found themselves in Sun Studios with an hour to kill and a killer song to cut. Recording live to tape they aimed to magnetise the magic of the ghosts of Sun Studios past – Elvis ‘n Carl ‘n Jerry Lee and what have ye – and ended up with a rattling, rolling upbeat classic.

U2Angel Of Harlem

Angel Of Harlem starts on a couple of big, syrupy-thick beginners’ guitar chords, with none of the ricocheting ech-ech-echo that defines most of the Edge’s sound, then hits a groove and runs with it.

It was a cold and wet December day, when we touched the ground at JFK,” tells Bono, welcoming you, the listener, into his world.

Snow was melting on the ground, on BLS I heard the sound of an angel.” He’s in the taxi – limo, probably – making his way into Manhattan, radio tuned to NYC’s WBLS station. Billie Holiday is singing. It’s a scene setter, that’s for sure

New York like a Christmas tree, tonight this city belongs to me.” Slightly arrogant, aye, but then, it’s 1988. He’s everywhere, is Bono. The city and all its riches likely does belong to him. We can only imagine.

Birdland on 53…John Coltrane, Love Supreme…Miles.” Jeez. Not content with The Beatles and the Stones and the blues and gospel conections, he’s now aligning himself with jazz. Here comes Billie Holiday too.

Lady Day got diamond eyes, she sees the truth behind the lies. Angel.”

Forget the singer, man, the tune’s a cracker. The pistol crack punch of the snare drives it forward, Adam’s bass loose and funky. The Edge takes a back seat for once, allowing the Memphis Horns to shine gloriously in the gaps between the singing. The brass stabs and slurred trombone slides fill it all with a full-fat bluesy funk and when it slips into that stellar descending middle eight, you could be forgiven for thinking the whole thing has just eased itself off the grooves of an old Otis Redding session. It’s perfect.

It’s hard sometimes to see past the singer, I get that, but if you can make it that far, you’re rewarded with occasional bouts of greatness. Angel Of Harlem is one.

 

 

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…

 

Get This!

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.

Get This!

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?