Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Teenie Credit

Mabon Lewis “Teenie” Hodges is possibly not the first name you alight at when thinking about guitar heroes, yet he’s responsible for creating some of the most instantly recognisable riffs in soul music. In an era when all the focus, all the spotlight shone on the name; Isaac Hayes, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Al Green etc etc, Teenie Hodges played out the groove in the background with a fluid anonimity that should by rights have seen him carved up there on the Mount Rushmore of soul alongside the singers he helped elevate to greatness.

Teenie began playing at the age of 12, when he and his two brothers played in their father’s band. From there, he came to the attention of legendary producer/arranger Willie Mitchell and Teenie and his brothers left life on the road to form the famed Hi Rhythm house band at Hi Records. The band would play on all the label’s releases, creating a sound and an identity that was instantly recognisable. It’s mainly his work with Al Green that he’s known for. Amongst others, Teenie co-wrote Here I Am (Come And Take Me) and Take Me To The River with the Reverend, his soulful, steady rhythm guitar underpinning two head-nodding accepted classics.

Al GreenHere I Am (Come And Take Me)

It’s the subtle flourishes and signature riffs that differentiate Hodges from other players of the era. Perhaps it was Al Green’s lack of ego that allowed his guitarist to express himself, or perhaps Green knew raw talent when he heard it, but either way, Green left plenty of space in his music for Hodges to step to the fore. Listen to any number of Green classics  – Let’s Stay Together or I’m Hooked On You or How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? for example -and you’ll spot Hodges gently arpeggiating triplets cascading in the background. His playing on the Bee Ges’ cover is particularly lovely.

Al Green  – How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

Now and again, Hodges would write an all-out classic riff. Let’s Stay Together and L.O.V.E. (Love) benefit from intro riffs that define the very essence of soul music. What’s soul music? someone might ask. Point them in the direction of these tracks and it’ll all become clear.

Al GreenL.O.V.E. (Love)

Hodge was Green’s musical director by the time of the Al Green Is Love LP and his horn arrangements, understated keys and gentle riffs define the album. L.O.V.E. is a cracker. Green rightly takes centre stage, offset by a gently cooing trio of backing singers. The music allows the vocals to be the focal point but if you can look past Green’s heartfelt vocal delivery and focus your attention on the guitar playing you’ll be in awe of an incredible piece of music. I’ve tied many a finger in knots trying to get the notes and chords down pat. That’s the easy part. Hodges’ feel for the music is just terrific. I doubt it’s something I’ll ever quite get to.

One determined west of Scotland guitar player who had a good stab at it was Edwyn Collins. On Orange Juice’s You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever LP, the band close side 1 with a sincere though slightly ragged run through of it; Hi horn parts, falsetto vocals and a terrific facsimile of Hodge’s original riff. In a post-punk wasteland where angry young men shouted angry thoughts with angry guitars, it was a brave move by Orange Juice. Forever with one eyebrow arched and never far from taking the opportunity to poke fun at machismo, it’s just perfect, even if the record-buying public thought not. Orange Juice’s brave attempt at L.O.V.E. staggered to the giddy position of number 65. There’s no accounting for taste.

Orange Juice L.O.V.E. (Love)

Fact

Teenie Hodges made the lion’s share of his money throught his co-writing credit for Take Me To The River. It wasn’t the royalties that came via record sales of Green’s original, nor the countless covers (Talking Heads and Annie Lennox amongst them) that balooned his bank balance. That honour goes to Billy Big Bass, the singing fish that plays the track at the press of a button. The ubiquitous toy ornament that was all the rage 15 or so years ago made more money for Hodges than all his other writing credits added together and certainly helped his 3 wives and 8 children to enjoy the lifestyle they were accustomed to before Hodges death in 2014.

Another fact

Teenie’s nephew is hip hop star Drake.

Gone but not forgotten, Live!, Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Richard Jobson

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

Number 28 in a series:

Richard Jobson is best-known as the vocalist and focal point of Skids. Between 1977 and 1982, Skids’ flame burned briefly but brightly over 4 abums – including two in one year (beat that, young pretenders!) and a handful of well-loved singles that are as instantly recognisable as Jobson’s lantern jaw and idiosyncratic stage moves. Working For The Yankee Dollar, Masquerade and Into The Valley put the band firmly in the anthemic post-punk bracket, paving the way for yer U2s and Alarms and Manic Street Preachers and the likes.

We never really got the credit we fully deserved,” remarks Richard. “With each release we evolved, changed and stuck our heads above the parapet. We weren’t cartoonish like the Damned or overly political like The Clash. Our peers over in the west of Scotland were Velvet Underground copyists, art-school cool, but we did our own thing. We never thought of what it was we should be doing. We just did. Skids were never cool, really. I wrote abstract lyrics. Our records came in abstract sleeves. (Debut album) ‘Scared To Dance’ was considered subversive, which is nonsense. ‘Days In Europa’, released in the same year (1979) was actually remixed and reissued with a new sleeve a few months later – years before your Deluxe Versions and remastered reissues were even thought of. We were incredibly hard-working and incredibly self-assured.”

In 1982, founding member William Simpson left Skids, shortly followed by Stuart Adamson, who’d take Skids’ blueprint and use it to great success with Big Country. And that, by and large was seemingly the end of Skids.

Jobson then joined forces with guitar great John McGeoch in the short-lived super group of sorts Armoury Show (half Skids, half Magazine, one album then over and out) before leaving music behind to focus on, amongst other things, modelling, poetry, television presenting and film making. You might’ve seen his 16 Years Of Alcohol, a terrifically intense film with a killer soundtrack. You might even have seen the video for Arab Strap’s Speed-Date. Richard produced that too.

Richard Jobson photographed by Ross Mackenzie, Night Moves, Glasgow, 1st March 1983

I see my art as everything I do. Whether it’s music or film or writing, it’s all me. I don’t like being pigeonholed.

A decade or so ago Skids reunited to play in tribute to Stuart Adamson. Sporadic shows followed; a T In The Park appearance here, a hometown gig there, before, “following a proper dust-down” at the tail end of last year, Skids returned with a brand new album. Burning Cities briefly outsold Noel Gallagher before settling comfortably inside the Top 30. On the back of the album, a rejuvenated Jobson and co hit the road and played dozens of shows the length and breadth of the UK. Reviews were generally ecstatic, focusing on the youthfulness of Jobson and his band’s ability to turn the clock back to those heady days when Skids first meant something to people. As the band found out, they clearly still hold a special place in the hearts of people for whom music is everything.

                      

Somewhere along the way, Jobson found the time to write. Echoing the productivity of those early Skids’ days, he’s recently published not one but two books; his autobiography Into The Valley and The Speed Of Life, a story told through the eyes of two aliens who travel to Earth and discover the songs of David Bowie.

I wanted to write a book about what it’s like to be a fan. What does fandom mean? Essentially, it’s a love affair with the music and the people who make it. You end up having this life-long, long-distance friendship with the person who inspires you. It’s a holistic thing being a fan. The fashion, the music, the lifestyle are all wrapped up in the one package. We all have our own heroes.

All the artists I admire, Lou and Iggy for example, were my poets. Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith! They wrote lyrics like mini movies. Their songs were metallic, urban, real. David Bowie inspired me to be better, more creative, to read literature, to watch particular movies. He told me not to be afraid of failure. Never be a coward! He taught me never to rest on my laurels, to keep trying to evolve. You’ll see that in my music, my films.

David Bowie instilled in me a work ethic that, sadly, is missing in most bands today. This instantaneous Instagram generation who seek fame over everything else, it’s idiotic. The real work gets in the way of becoming famous. We don’t have any more Bowies coming through. It’s all fake. All of it.”

Which seems as good a time as any to ask Richard to consider his 6 favourite Bowie tracks.

It’s better to be asked cold about these kinda things and not have the time to think about it. This way you’ll get the real answer and not the one I think people will want me to say. Although I dare say if you asked me tomorrow I might pick a totally different six. For now, straight off of my head I’ll say Sound & Vision.

 

David BowieSound & Vision

It reminds me of where I live. It’s the sound of Bowie reinventing himself, from near-suicidal drug addiction in L.A. to a man reborn in Berlin. It’s such an inspiring song. Who doesn’t love it?!?

David BowieWhere Are We Now

There’s some really great stuff in Bowie’s later New York period. The albums from this time really need to be given more attention. They’re almost lost in this vast back catalogue of greatness, but they’re all great in their own right. The Next Day might well be one of his very best. From it, Where Are We Now makes me cry every time I hear it. Until then I hadn’t cried that much since I first listened to Leonard Cohen. 

David BowieStation To Station

Station To Station was the first Bowie album that really made me sit up and listen. There’s a whole new depth of richness on this album that Bowie hadn’t gone for before. The songwriting is fantastic. The opening track, with its train noises and slow, steady, mechanical plod is a brilliant opener.

David BowieQuicksand

That run of albums, from Ziggy through Aladdin Sane to Diamond Dogs is brilliant. And growing up with each of them was a very fortuitous thing. How lucky I was to be of the age to appreciate Bowie first-hand! Hunky Dory though is a perfect album. And Quicksand is a perfect track.

David BowieThe Jean Genie

I like the pop Bowie. Let’s not forget that as well as being a ‘serious’ artist, he wrote these incredible pop songs. The Jean Genie just reminds me so much of having fun as a wee guy, dancing around the living room as it played.

David BowieSpeed Of Life

I love this track to bits. I enjoy listening to ambient music while I read. Brian Eno, of course, All the German bands. The whole of the second side of Low as you know is ambient, instrumental music. The opener is inspired. It’s the new sound of Bowie, a glimpse into what the other side of the record holds in store, yet it still captures the essence of pop. These cowards today, afraid of trying anything new really should take a leaf from Bowie’s book.

Richard Jobson will play a couple of special east coast/west coast shows in Edinburgh and Irvine to promote The Speed Of Life. He’ll be accompanied by former Goodbye Mr MacKenzie frontman Martin Metcalfe who’ll play “natural sounds and drones……cool, dramatic music” whilst Richard reads extracts from his book. Unbelievably, there are still a handful of tickets left for both shows. You should probably go to at least one of them.

Gone but not forgotten

Scott Free

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 OrchestraArchitect

With love and respect to Scott’s family, friends and fellow ‘Frabbits. x

Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Sound Affects

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 SledgeThinking 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.

Bonus Tracks

Paul WellerThinking 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 SledgeThinking 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.

Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Tension Is Rebuilding. Something’s Got To Give.

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 BoysSomething’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.

 

 

Alternative Version, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Factory Record

Walk On The Wild Side is perhaps Lou Reed‘s best-known song.

Lou ReedWalk 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.

Gone but not forgotten, Live!

Magnum Opus

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 SmithsBigmouth Strikes Again (live at the Magnum, Sept 22nd 1985)

I believe this was the first time Bigmouth was played live.

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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.

These bricks rang!