Every generation has their band. And every subsequent generation believes, or indeed knows that their band is the best of all. The unfortunate generation behind mine got Oasis and the good, the bad and the downright ugly of Britpop. The generation behind them, ’round these parts at any rate, were lucky enough to get Frightened Rabbit, a band who inspired an enthusiastically devoted and blindly loyal fanbase on a par with the previous generations who’d grown up with The Beatles or The Clash or The Smiths or the Stone Roses or any of the bands who ever truly mattered.
Originally from Selkirk, the ‘Frabbits made their name as a Glasgow band, packing out venues from the Captain’s Rest to King Tuts to T In The Park. I once met someone who’d been such a fervent follower of the band from their early days that he’d been saving money so that when they eventually made it to Tokyo, he’d be in the audience. I’m assuming he made it too. It’s that sort of devotion that sets bands apart and if I had been 10/15/20 years younger, I dare say I might’ve been just as devoted to Frightened Rabbit. As it was, I saw Frightened Rabbit live just the once. We shared mutual friends. And I met their vocalist and focal point Scott Hutchison briefly in hyperspace when I asked him a year or so ago if he fancied bringing his band down to Ayrshire for a gig. “Sure thing,” he said. “Here’s our agent’s number. Let’s sort something out.”
Today a whole generation of music fans are united in grief over the passing of Scott. His Tweets on Tuesday night hinted at the very worst and that was confirmed this afternoon. There continues to be a tremendous outpouring on social media and not one bad word has been said about him. He knew, it seems, how to help others suffering from mental illness, yet he couldn’t help himself. And there lies the terrible tragedy. From the outside looking in, here was a young man who not only was blessed with a fervent following who loved his songs, he also had immense respect from fellow musicians. Who knows what goes on inside the heads of those who need help the most?
Frightened Rabbit with Manchester Orchestra – Architect
With love and respect to Scott’s family, friends and fellow ‘Frabbits. x
There are a million bits in records – not necessarily the whole track – that stick in the brain and when re-heard trigger some sort of euphoric high in the brain. Off the top of my head, the galloping acoustic rush as Johnny Marr leads The Smiths into Bigmouth Strikes Again, The Clash going full pelt on White Riot, the popping bass intro to Sly & The Family Stone’s I Get High On You, the 14th fret D chord that fills every second line in Rip It Up, Liz Fraser’s voice on Song To The Siren, the gear-changing riff on The Breeder’s Cannonball, the stomping goosestep that opens Holidays In The Sun, the wild-eyed storm at the end of The Beatles’ Helter Skelter, the clattering industrial funk that holds Happy Mondays’ Mad Cyril loosely together, the bit in I Am The Resurrection when Mani’s riff kicks in and the whole band head off into an episode of Starsky & Hutch for 5 minutes, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Up early in the morning!’ when the Funk Brothers momentarily drop out on Can I Get A Witness.….That 10 Favourite Albums thing that’s doing the rounds just now on Facebook is good fun ‘n all, but if you were to ask me my 10 favourite bits in music, I reckon I’d be at it, one a day, for months on end. And I’m sure any of you reading this would be similarly challenged.
There’s no doubt though (this week at any rate) that the sound of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards playing together is just about my favourite sound in music. Nile, with his chattering funk guitar, all major 7ths with extra pinky action, found the perfect foil in Bernard (pronounced with the emphasis on the 2nd syllable – it rhymes with ‘hard’ (just like those bass lines he plays)), a seasoned jazz player who ran up, down and across the 4 strings under his fingers with an effortless glide. When the pair of them lock into a groove it’s like an old married couple nattering over the kitchen table, Nile leading the conversation with positive excitement, Bernard uhm-ing and ah-ing in contended agreement.
Listen to their playing on Sister Sledge‘s Thinking Of You.
Sister Sledge – Thinking Of You
Rodgers’ idea for Chic was always that they’d be a hit-making machine writing songs for others as well as themselves. They’d have their own act, Chic, who took their cue from Roxy Music by dressing to the nines and fronting the band with a couple of glamorous females who wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Roxy album sleeve. Chic ran up all manner of hit singles; Le Freak, Everybody Dance, I Want Your Love….. and when Nile and Bernard weren’t guiding them to chart success they were busy helping others fill the gaps in the charts they’d just vacated.
The Chic Organisation played on all manner of records, a disco-era house band akin to the Funk Brothers at Motown or the Wrecking Crew in LA. And the best thing about those Chic Organisation records is that every one of them sounded exactly like Chic themselves.
Take the Sister Sledge record above. It opens with that none-more-recognisable Rodgers’ guitar sound, played high up the frets on the first 3 or 4 strings, simple enough to listen to but devilishly difficult to play with the same bounce as its writer. When Edwards’ bass comes in along with the vocals, the whole thing takes off in airy abandon.
“Everybody, let me tell you ’bout my love,
Brought to you, by an angel up above….”
And away we go. Strings sweep up and down, the bass drops in and out, congas and pitched percussion keep the whole thing groovy and the sisters Sledge sashay on the spot, ice-cool four-part harmonies and backing vocals from beginning to end. The Chic Organisation thought the finished track was just OK and stuck it on a b-side. A b-side! The a-side? That would be Lost In Music.
Thinking Of You finally gained chart success in 1984 when a down on their luck Sister Sledge were releasing records to ever-diminishing returns and some clever soul at the record company pointed out that that old b-side from 5 years ago hadn’t been too bad after all. By this point, Rodgers was working with Bowie and Madonna, his sound forever in demand. Listen to Let’s Dance or Like A Virgin and you’ll hear his clipped guitar all over the records like a happy rash. Not for nothing has he nicknamed his white Strat ‘The Hitmaker’.
Nile of course is everywhere nowadays, front and centre stage, in a forever-touring version of Chic. “No, it’s not the same musicians,” he’ll happily tell you, “but no-one complains when they go to hear a Mozart piano concerto and ol’ Wolfgang fails to turn up.”
A few years ago we (I say ‘we‘ – I’m part of a group who put on local gigs) were looking for a headline act. We had enough money for either Nile Rodgers or The Magic Numbers, but not both. Nile lost out on the vote, which greatly upset me…..and the others when he popped up a few months later owning the stage at Glastonbury, at that very moment reborn. Our Magic Numbers gig a few short weeks later was great, but, y’know, not Nile Rodgers great. Nowadays, believe me, you could probably fund a Magic Numbers World tour for less than the cost of putting on Nile for one night. On stage, Nile plays with a smile as wide and long as the zeros on his royalty cheques. And who can grudge the man! He’s survived a very disfunctional childhood. He’s beaten cancer. And he seems like an all-round decent man. If you haven’t already, you really should read his book.
Paul Weller – Thinking Of You
Taken from his Studio 150 album, clearly a contract-filling album if there ever was one, Weller treats the original with politely-scrubbed acoustic respect but not the required funk.
Sister Sledge – Thinking Of You (Dmitri From Paris remix)
Dmitri From Paris takes Sister Sledge’s original and turns it into a rolling, soulful house cut. Sensibly, he keeps all of Edwards’ and Rodgers’ parts. There is, after all, some music DNA that you just don’t mess with.
When the Beastie Boys first appeared, a burping and belching frat boy’s idea of fun (and, KIIIICCCKKK IT!, it was fun when you were 15, let’s not kid ourselves), all backwards baseball caps and crotch grabs and stuck-on sneers, you could’ve been forgiven for presuming they’d have 3, 4 hits at most on the back of one album before disappearing with diminishing returns down the very Noo Yoik sewer from whence they’d crawled. But something happened.
MCA, the gravel-throated tall one, better known to his ma an’ pa as Adam Yauch, found inner peace. Through Buddhism he left behind the rapper’s trappings of guns, girls and glorified violence and guided his fellow band mates onto the path of righteous being. The Beastie Boys were always a cartoon version of the staple diet of rap to begin with. They had far more wit and wisdom than your average angry boy from the ‘hood to ever truly mean it. To coin a well-worn cliche, he, MCA became a lover, not a fighter and the band gradually dropped the more base stuff in favour of a sophisticated worldly approach.
The signs were there on Paul’s Boutique, the cut ‘n paste meisterwork that is considered by many to be the Beasties’ greatest moment. On the album’s Year And A Day, MCA reports that, “my body and soul and mind are pure.” By the time of 1992’s Check Your Head (the Beasties’ true greatest moment) MCA had written Something’s Got To Give, a call to unite the world as one.
Beastie Boys – Something’s Got To Give
It’s a real turn-up for anyone who thinks of the Beasties as ‘just’ three white boy rappers. Returning to their hardcore punk roots, to a time when the band played as a band, drums, bass, guitars ‘n all, the trio wanted to show the world there was more to them than sexist raps and songs jigsawed from the best bits of other people’s records. The cover of Something’s Got To Give‘s parent album Check Your Head featured the band sitting at a roadside carefully guarding their instrument cases and band ephemera. “We’re a real band,” they’re saying. “We can play our instruments.” And boy, can they!
Something’s Got To Give is a terrific slab of slow-burning rock/rap. And if that has you breaking out in a Chili Pepper-sized rash of disgust, listen to the playing. It’s echoey, live and loose. Built from a tape of the band jamming live in the studio, there’s so much depth and space and separation between the instruments it could almost be a Lee Perry production. There’s great hi-hat action. There’s some spot-on clavinova from 4th Beastie Money Mark who seems to be living out his mid 70s Stevie Wonder fantasies. And there’s that constantly na-na-na-nagging refrain that runs through it like the Lincoln Tunnel under the Hudson, taking you from beginning to middle to end. Every time I hear it, I hear a subtle new thing; maybe a stray piece of percussion or an Ad Rock adlib, that surely marks Something’s Got To Give down as a great track.
With trigger finger-happy Presidents here and itchy warhead owners there and a growing sense of right wing bully boy tactics over the UK’s stubborn and stupid stance on Europe, we could all do worse than listen to its message. And then jump over a ghetto blaster with giddy abandon, y’all.
Walk On The Wild Side is perhaps Lou Reed‘s best-known song.
Lou Reed – Walk On The Wild Side
Its languid vocal and lazy shuffle conjurs up images of stifling summer New York heat; sticky tarmac on pavements (or should that be sidewalks?), teenage girls singing with carefree abandon on street corners, a loose-limbed groove that never outstays its welcome. Listen closely though and you’ll hear a tale of the New York underbelly, the New York that was off the beaten track yet a daily experience if you were part of the Warhol ‘Factory’ set; Hustlers hustling. Drugs and dealers. Pimps and prostitutes. Females who were shemales. This is girls who are boys who like boys to be girls long before it was a Britpop soundbite. Not for nothing was its parent album called ‘Transformer‘.
Here’s an early version, with very different lyrics and Lou pointing out the girls’ parts….
The released version is a radically re-written homage to the Factory set; the scenesters and teensters who orbited around Andy Warhol’s Manhattan Studio. There were actually 3 Factories, but that’s another story for another day.
Holly who shaved her legs was Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who ran away from home in Florida at the age of 15 and by the act of shaving her legs on the way literally changed from man to woman.
Candy was Candy Darling, also a transgender actress. The subject of the Velvets’ Candy Says, she grew up in Long Island – the island – and was known to perform favours in the back room of Max’s Kansas City, the hipper than hip venue/hangout that was central to the scene. That’s Candy (above) with Andy. It’s her face who’s on the cover of Sheila Take A Bow, The Smiths’ 14th single. But you knew that already.
Little Joe was Joe Dallesandro, Warhol actor best known for his role in Flesh, where he played a teenage hustler. Coincidentally, that’s Joe on the cover of The Smiths’ debut album. But you knew that already too.
The Sugar Plum Fairy was another Flesh reference, this time to the name of a drug-dealing character in the film.
Jackie was Jackie Curtis. To say the least, an interesting person, she performed bizarre cabaret dressed sometimes as a woman and sometimes in drag. With overdone glitter, big lipstick, heavily kholed eyes, brightly dyed hair and ripped stockings, Jackie’s combination of trash and glamour was considered the catalyst for the glam rock movement. Certainly, she wouldn’t have looked out of place in the New York Dolls. At one time, Curtis was mooted to play James Dean in a biopic of Dean’s life. This never came to fruition, hence the thought she was James Dean for a day line. So now you know.
Perhaps not surprisingly, such a parade of characters and subject matter fell foul of the US censors. On the released single, they removed the references to the colored girls and giving head and the record peaked inside the Top 20. In the UK, the lyrics remained as Lou had intended and Walk On The Wild Side peaked at number 10. Make of that what you will.
Walk On The Wild Side was put together by Lou alongside co-producers David Bowie and Mick Ronson.
Walk On The Wild Side – hissy outtake with David Bowie on backing vocals
It’s said that Bowie plays guitar on WOTWS, although no credits exist to back this up. Considering at this point in time (August ’72) Bowie was spreading himself between Ziggy tours, Mott The Hoople handouts and Lou Reed production duties, given his propensity to eschew all form of food for music-related activity, it’s not unlikely to suggest he did play on it. It was quite an era for Bowie when you stop to think about it.
One person who definitely did play on WOTWS was seasoned sessioneer Herbie Flowers. Later to find fame in 70s instrumental prog/jazz group Sky, the fly Flowers played two bass lines on the song, thus ensuring himself twice the fee. He played that great defining slinky rubber band bassline and double tracked it with a more traditional Fender bass part, doubling his fee from the industry standard $17 to a more eye-watering $34. Quite how he must feel these days, now that the record is a radio standard and that his part is instantly recognisable, not to mention that the bassline was liberally sampled to form the hook on A Tribe Called Quest’s Can I Kick It? is anyone’s guess, but I bet he wishes he’d gambled on taking the royalties instead of the session fee.
The grand old Magnum Leisure Centre in Irvine is being pulled down as I type. Local politics and whatnot has seen the building fall gradually into disrepair, an eyesore too far gone for a quick cash injection and 60 minute makeover. They’ve opened a spanking new place in the town centre. It’s impressive ‘n all that, but like for like, it doesn’t come close to what the Magnum offered.
A fixture on Irvine beach since 1976, the Magnum played a formative part in most Irvinites’ growing up. Beyond Irvine, it was known as the place where you were bussed on a school trip; to swim, to skate, to watch the latest blockbuster in its plush 300-seater theatre. If you were that awkward age between being too old to stay in on a weekend night but too young for the pub, the Magnum was your saviour. There’s no-one I know who didn’t go there. Even oor ain Nicola Sturgeon mentioned it on her Desert Island Discs, recalling Frosty’s Ice Disco skating sessions with a misty-eyed fondness.
The Magnum had something for everyone. The Scottish Indoor Bowls championships were held there. Every pedigree dog in the country was shown there at some point. Girls and boys danced at regional shows. Gymnasts tumbled and twirled and twisted their way around the main hall. 80s fitness freaks squashed while the half-hearted badmintoned. All manner of variety shows were held there and crucially, all manner of big, proper, touring bands poured through the doors as quickly as they could be accomodated.
Irvine in the 1980s was a popular place for all your favourite bands to play; The Clash, The Jam, Big Country, Thin Lizzy, Chuck Berry, The Smiths, The Wonderstuff, Madness….. the list is endless, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Willie Freckleton, the local Entertainments Officer who offered up what was at the time the largest indoor concert hall in Europe to the promoters and band managers who deigned which towns were important enough to play. Willie offered the hall rent free, which proved to be the clinching factor most of the time. Amazingly, most of the bands would include Glasgow and Irvine as part of the same tour, something that, since the building of the Hydro on Glasgow’s Clydeside is now unthinkable.
The Smiths – Bigmouth Strikes Again (live at the Magnum, Sept 22nd 1985)
I believe this was the first time Bigmouth was played live.
There are a multitude of stories connected to the Magnum, from local folk who were so familiar with the warren of corridors and passageways in the changing areas that they could sneak from the ice disco into the UB40 gig without paying, or the young fans who found themselves receiving mohawks from Clash roadie Kosmo Vinyl after they’d played a terrific London Calling-era ‘Greatest Hits’ gig, not that The Clash ‘did’ greatest hits, but you know what I mean.
I remember the day The Jam came to town. Too young for the show (I didn’t even know it was on) I happened to be at the front of my house as scooter after scooter after scooter buzzed past on their way from Glasgow to the Magnum. A multitude of mirrors, parkas and girls riding pillion, it was just about the most impressive thing I’d seen at that point in my life, something only equalled when I saw The Clash in Irvine Mall on the day of their Magnum show. Four alien-looking guys in denim and leather and black shades, surrounded by a scrum of older folk I recognised from the years above at school. “It’s The Fucking Clash!!!” is what I remember hearing, even if I was unaware exactly who The Fucking Clash were at that point in my life.
Spandau Ballet, photo by Ross Mackenzie
Thrillingly, Ross has snapped loads of bands at the Magnum.
Sadly, this is all he could find!
Willie Feckleton once told me a great story about booking Chuck Berry, his idol and the musician he was most thrilled at having landed to play in Irvine. Chuck, a musical giant who was right there alongside Ike Turner at the birth of rock ‘n roll, a man who is responsible for fashioning the DNA of the rock guitar riff was, by all accounts a thoroughly unpleasant human being. In Irvine he wouldn’t play until he’d first been handed his fee (paid in American dollars, of course) in a brown paper bag in the dressing room before going on stage.
“The anonymous support band was also Chuck’s backing group and when Chuck eventually came on he played on about only six songs. He let the other guitarist take most of the solos, looked super-bored throughout and disappeared offstage fairly quickly.”
Coming off after the set Willie approached Chuck enthusiastically. “That was great Chuck! They love you out there! How about an encore?“
“Sure,” drawled Chuck with his hands out. “Fo’ anutha’ five hun’red dollas…“
There was no encore.
It’s stories like those above that live long after the artist has left town and the gig is nothing more than a pre-smartphone blur of exaggerations and half-truths. Did Morrissey really dance with Brian McCourt’s umbrella when The Smiths played? Did Phil Lynott really nip up to George the Barber at the Cross for a quick trim of the ‘fro, mid tour with Thin Lizzy? Who can be certain if they did or didn’t? For cultural and economical terms, it’s a real shame that Irvine no longer has a venue that can be used to entice the big acts of the day to come and play and create memories for our young (and not so young) folk.
One Artist stands head and shoulders above all others when it comes to internet presence…or lack of. Ironic really, considering he wasn’t much taller then the height of nonsense. Yet He Who Cannot Be Named held such sway over his music appearing online that websites could (and did) disappear overnight at the mere mention of his name therein. Heaven help you if you dared feature any actual music. His army of internet police swiftly and efficiently erased all trace of free music relating to their master even quicker and slicker than their boss was able to rattle off one of his insanely flash guitar riffs. Even the use of purple font, they say, was considered a risky business.
I write all this in the past tense as since the artists’s death, the ‘net has seen a subtle relaxation and/or bending of the rules when it comes to him. You’d still be a fool to put any old mp3 up for grabs, and wobetide you if you’ve considered YouTubing shaky mobile footage of the maestro at work on a stage gone by. As the ancient proverb goes, never, ever try to steal from a man who dances in kitten heels. There seems to be an unspoken agreement though that we writers can now write about him without fear of reprisal. So here goes.
If I Was Your Girlfriend is the artist in question in microcosm. Produced, Composed, Arranged and Performed by it says on the sleeve notes of Sign O’ The Times, the single’s parent album. It’s a monumental album in every way; a double, for starters, it takes in funk, soul, rock, rap, jazz, blues and gospel, genre hopping with effervescent fizz like a hyperactive child who’s overdosed on sugar. It also sounds as fresh today as the day in 1987 when it was born.
Almost everything is played by just the one musician. The skeletal shards of white-hot house on Housequake are played and sung only by him. The pseudo-psychedelia of Starfish & Coffee is created only by him. If I Was Your Girlfriend, with its metronomic yet strange rhythmic beat and on-the-four computerised thunderclap was built up from scratch by one person. Add a sparse keyboard signature riff, a gloop of slap bass and a collage of backing vocals featuring multilayers of the one voice sped up and slowed down and you’re in the presence of greatness. Stick a risque and pervy lyric on top, of the sort that no-one else would get away with, and you have yourself a weird ‘n wonky pop classic. The way the vocals weave in and out is magic. He harmonises with himself, deep and gritty one moment, falsetto flash the next. Just as you’ve pegged him for a god-fearin’, tear-soaked and on his knees James Brown, he goes all spoken word, like a pervier and more grooved-up Gainsbourg, if that is at all possible.
He Who Cannot Be Named – If I Was Your Girlfriend
Like all great artists, his best work could often be found tucked away on the b-sides. He may have been considered an ‘album artist’, easy to see why with a golden run stretching from 82’s ‘1999‘ to 87’s ‘Sign O’ The Times‘ and many of his other 39 (39!!!) studio albums unarguably solid gold, stone cold classics, but the multitude of singles and remixes that spat forth with every release contained their fair share of underheard greatness. Shockadelica was a left-over from the Camille phase, an alter-ego project that never really got going. The music was too good to waste though, and much of it ended up on other releases, such as the b-side of If I Was Your Girlfriend. This is classic He Who Cannot Be Named Music – call-and-response vocals, computerised on-the-one rhythms, casually tossed-off squealy guitar solos, underpinned by a 7th add 9 chord, the chord that colours any music the colour of funk.
He Who Cannot Be Named – Shockadelica
Early 90s girl group TLC made a decent stab at covering If I Was Your Girlfriend, the original providing the blueprint for the trio’s sassy but rough round the edges r’n’b. They even have a go at some of the spoken word section, although no doubt in order to appeal to their legions of teenage fans, they’ve left out some of the saucier words.
TLC – If I Was Your Girlfriend
And here’s Creep, one of their biggest hits. This actually sounds like a track that He Who Cannot Be Named might’ve been inclined to record himself; horn samples, synthetic rhythms, multilayered vocals with falsettos aplenty, hooks galore….s’a cracker!
Back in 1990, when I provided shaky lead guitar and wobbly vocals in a promising local band that would soon cease to be, myself and two of my bandmates, deep in the midst of a songwriters’ block, visited the local market where an old guy sold older records at knock-down prices. We went specifically to look for records no-one had ever heard of in order to rip off a chord change here or a melody there. It would be the nail in the coffin of our creative process and we limped into insignificance shortly after.
Last week I was flicking through my records, looking for something different to play, when I chanced upon one of the albums we’d bought. Quite what ‘Try To Be Mensch‘ by Element Of Crime brought to the world of guitar-based music is anyone’s guess. I’d picked it up after spotting John Cale credited with keyboard duties. Whether or not it’s THE John Cale is open for debate. A quick Google has proven fruitless and the record, if my 27 year-old memory serves me well bore little resemblance to anything like the Velvet Underground. At 99p it proved to be a waste of money. However….
…when I pulled it out to look at it the other day, wedged inside was my copy of Black Market Clash, an album I’d long-since assumed to be lost forever. How The Clash album had managed to find its way inside the sleeve of a record I’ve never ever played all the way through is a mystery, but when it fell out, it was greeted like a long lost pal. And ever since, it’s been spinning on heavy rotation.
I love Black Market Clash. It’s a pot pourri of everything The Clash were; rare mixes, re-recordings and interesting cover versions, all helped along by a generous sprinkling of filling-loosening reggae basslines. It’s as far-removed from the spitting, snarling, rabid dog of punk as is possible. You might go so far as to say that with all their eclecticism, yer Clash were rock’s answer to Brian Wilson; ideas fully realised, gung ho experimentation, risk-taking, rule-breaking, chart-making hits. The full version of Bankrobber/Robber Dub is nothing short of sensational. Crucially, the version on vinyl is a full minute and a half longer than the slightly edited but still superb CD edit. Technology being what it is in my house, you’ll need to make do with the shorter take though…
The Clash – Bankrobber/Robber Dub (CD edit)
Elsewhere, there’s a version of Booker T‘s Time Is Tight that somehow failed to make the cut on Sandinista! and a faithful reworking of Willi William‘s Armagideon Time that first saw the light of day on the b-side of the London Calling single.
The Clash – Time Is Tight
Booker T and the MGs – Time Is Tight
The Clash – Armagideon Time
Willie Williams – Armagideon Time
These days you can buy Super Black Market Clash on CD (although it’ll be missing (Armagideon Time as well as the extra 90 or so seconds from Bankrobber) a turbo-charged version of the original 10″ EP/LP, but if it’s a quick fix of eclectic Clash you’re after, that midi-sized slab of vinyl with a police-defying Don Letts on the cover is all you’ll need.