Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Studio master tapes

When Pop Stars Die

The unexpected news of the death of Andy Rourke from cancer flooded my social timelines this morning. From his old pal Johnny’s numb statement onwards, the outpouring was long and plenty. Lauren Laverne was playing William… as I pulled into the car park at work and despite having heard its 2 min 12 seconds of pathos and sparkle a million times, I stayed put until it had played out, paying particular attention to Andy’s trebly, melodic bass runs because, well, that’s what everyone tuned to 6 Music at that point was doing. After work, catching up with the minutiae of life on my phone, the roll call of people paying tribute – fellow musicians, pals, strangers – was never ending. No one had a bad word to say, not even Morrissey, whose well-worded tribute seemed genuine and sincere and a million miles from the sneering auld grump he’s become.

It’s quite amazing that someone who was only a quarter part of a group who burned brightly but briefly for roughly just 6 years should leave such an indelible mark, but that’s the power of the formative years for you.

The Smiths meant the world to many, me included, and were a lighthouse on the rocky shores of mid ‘80s music. I wasn’t disenfranchised or marginalised or trying to find myself or any of those clichés. I just needed a break from bad hair and bad productions and jaggy guitars and what was being sold to me and my peers as essential listening. The Smiths, with their pint-sized and elfin guitar wizard and singer with funny – that’s funny, not depressing – lyrics came along at the right time. They jangled, yeah, and they wailed, but there was far more to them than that, as you well know. There was a proper toughness to their sound, driving and thuggish and tough as nails – see Handsome Devil and Hand In Glove as evidence, but there was a proper tenderness too. A real musicality. Listen to This Night Has Opened My Eyes or later tracks such as I Won’t Share You for proof. Much of this is down to Johnny’s mercurial way with an augmented chord and a hellbent mission to overdub everything with tracks and tracks of smirry, smartarsed guitar, but the bedrock for Johnny’s free form colouring comes from Andy’s solid and steady playing, a duo playing in simpatico as only old pals can. A band ain’t nuthin’ without their rhythm section and The Smiths were blessed to have Andy pinning it all to the floor.

Many today have spotlit Andy’s magnificently trampolining workout on Barbarism Begins At Home, an early Smiths track so packed with Chicisms and the funk, so out of step with their material that it took until album two before they’d release a recording of it, as proof of Andy’s greatness. And they’d be correct. But look, there’s not a bassline on any Smiths track that isn’t considered, clever, unique and so obviously Andy. Whether he was dripping in elasticated funk or slapping out rockabilly or meandering like McCartney around the melody, he left a mark as distinguishable as the haircut he kept for all those years. Johnny today pointed to Andy’s contribution to The Queen Is Dead’s title track, saying that as Andy recorded it, he knew it was a moment he’d remember forever. Rock solid, reliable, dead centre, a bass player who could play in the background yet step out as lead instrument when required.

Check out the Motown-by-way-of-Moss Side twang of his isolated bass runs on This Charming Man. Rubber bandy Andy.

This Charming ManAndy’s Isolated Bass

When the news of any pop star’s passing is announced, it’s perfectly natural to feel something, especially if you’re a fan of their work. When Andy’s news gatecrashed my newsfeed this morning, a little bit of me, a little bit of every fan of The Smiths, died too. Memories of times soundtracked by The Smiths came blazing straight into sharp focus, along with the sudden realisation that while the memories remain, the principal player in creating those memories is gone. 59. No age at all, as they say.

God only knows what it’ll feel like when Johnny himself or, brace yourself, McCartney goes.


Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Beat Writer

Or, There’s Always Been A Jazz Influence To My Writing. Not in the true ‘Beat’ sense, you understand. Not like Kerouac or Ginsberg or Burroughs who lived in it, lived through it, wrote from the eye of the howling storm and emerged many hundreds of pages later, daddio, with hardened personality traits and track marks and publishable manuscripts to show for it. Nah, that’s not me. In the months and years since lockdown, I’ve taken to soundtracking any and all working from home sessions with jazz; piano-led and in the background or with ear-splitting horns in the foreground, vocal-free and meditative or with a heavy bossa nova boogaloo breakdown, it doesn’t matter. I’ll never know the thrill of being waited upon in the smoky and claustrophobic environs of a late ’50s/early ’60s Village Vanguard or Birdland but I just might get to imagine it through the music that sustains. I’ve plenty of jazz records and CDs to pick from, and pick from I do.

I’ve a soft spot for the accepted classics – A Love Supreme (uh-huh) and Getz/Gilberto (obvs) and Mingus Ah Um (of course) and Kind Of Blue (Come away in! – What took you so long?!) – but I’ve a growing appreciation of other artists and albums, many of which would very probably feature on a ‘Seriously?! 20 Obvious Jazz Albums‘ kinda list; Wayne Shorter’s meandering and highly sampleable Speak No Evil is a great ‘get your act’ together record. By the end of the first side, you should find yourself engrossed and focused on the task at hand. Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else is the ideal ‘take me to lunch’ but finish this bit off before we get there record. Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ works best as a post-lunch kick-starter, all high brass and big band grooves  – a proper afternoon slump destroyer. And if you find yourself against a tight deadline with tea time fast approaching and no-one to rustle it up but yourself, stick on Money Jungle, Duke Ellington’s bruising one take riffathon where tracks are played/improvised and recorded in the one go.

The story goes that the trio – Ellington, double bassist Charles Mingus and multi-limbed drummer Max Roach – were given freedom to play in whichever way they saw fit, so side one begins slowly as the trio eke out a style and pattern of play, then fall into a groove somewhere before the end of that side, continue in the same wildly original fashion on side two before eventually ending in an inevitable all out sonic assault – atonal notes, dissonant chords, drum fills that sound like the Eastenders’ theme being pushed off a cliff, basslines that sound like the annoying guy at the back of maths who’s twanging his ruler off the end of his desk while the teacher tries to explain a particularly challenging strain of calculus – because by this point in the session the three players had worked out that they didn’t particularly like one another and were communicating exactly that through their instruments. See yr Troggs tapes? Zilch in comparison.

If, like me you’re a sleevenotes ‘n credits reader, you’ll notice the same musicians cropping up on one another’s recordings all the time. John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley add their blues-flecked signatures to Miles’ Kind Of Blue. Across his ouvre, Miles himself gives piano roles to Wayne Shorter, Gil Evans and Herbie Hancock. Cannonball’s Somethin’ Else allows Miles and drummer Art Blakey to step out of the shadows and stamp their not insignificant presence across the grooves.

You play on my album and I’ll play on yours would appear to be the mandate of jazz. When it works, like on Kind Of Blue, great. When it don’t, (Money Jungle, maybe) eurgh. In rock music terms, it’s a bit like having Alex Turner guest on a Bobby Gillespie album where St Vincent and Johnny Marr swap guitar riffs while Zak Starkey and Viv Albertine pin down the groove, their respective management thrashing out the publishing rights with the various labels involved. Art v’s publishing? It’s exactly why, unless you’re the Style Council, this sort of stuff doesn’t really happen in ‘rock’ very often. Weller, man, he really was influenced by the jazzers in more ways than you realise.

Someone who wishes he was influenced in the same way is the aforementioned Bobby Gillespie. A walkin’, talkin’, stick-thin cliché, you’re never far away from an achingly hip point of reference when his mouth starts spouting the same StonesWhoPistolsClashDubFunkPunkSkunk jive that he’s whiffled on about since 1990. Just what is it that you want to do, Bob? Smash the system? Or sell-out to the M&S advert makers? It’s your call, clearly. The kids’ school fees must be due. Loaded, indeed.

At the Ayr Pavilion in 1994, Gillespie was mid duet with Denise (it may have been during Give Out But Don’t Give Up) and, as the band took it down – “Take it down, Throb, take it down!” – see?, the cliché kills – he starts to scat: ‘A love supreme, a love supreme, a love supreme…‘ over and over, leading the band higher and faster and louder to the song’s conclusion. The guy next to me turns to his pal and says earnestly,  “Davie! He’s daein a Will Dowling cover!” (Google it if you need to). Very funny. An appalled Bobby would’ve split his skanky leather breeks if he’d heard them.

John ColtraneA Love Supreme, Pt. 1 (Acknowledgment)

John Coltrane‘s A Love Supreme record is, cliché klaxon alert, meditative (honk!) and spiritual (Honk!) and contemplative (HONK!) and religious (HONKETY-HONK!), and it’s wonderful for it. Built around a core of four notes – dum, dum, dah-dum, and four syllables – A-Love-Su-Preme – Coltrane and the rest of his quartet fly far and wide, to Marrakesh, to Tangiers at times, Elvin Jones thrashing the hell out of his kit, McCoy Tyner hammering the ivories one moment, feather dusting them the next, Jimmy Garrison’s double bass walking the long road home at every opportunity. Coltrane and his tenor sax plays it all; hard boppin’, slow burnin’, furious riffin’, ee-long-gay-ted mood swings.

The quartet always comes back to the core though. Whether it’s Tyner on the keys or Garrison’s bass, or even Jones’ cymbal splashes, they always come back to the four note core.  It’s premier league jazz, A Love Supreme, Haaland and Rashford and Trent and Billy Gilmour in a special meeting of minds when their four distinct personalities create something even greater than the sum of their parts, a record as essential as any other record you might care to offer up.

Gone but not forgotten

Jingle Jangle Mourning

There’s a great writer you may already be aware of and read and enjoy. If not, you must remedy that forthwith. Adam Turner blogs regularly at Bagging Area, a blog that’s been an internet sensation almost as long as Plain Or Pan. While the world twitches impatiently and slowly loses the ability to focus on something for longer than 3 seconds at a time, us elder statesmen and women of blogging (and there are a few of us scattered out there) fly the flag for words and a more genteel pace of online engagement. Adam’s blog contains the odd bit of crossover with the music that features here, but mainly Bagging Area is steeped in electronic music, new releases and remixes and things that bang and beat. There’s rarely a week goes by when I don’t find myself investigating further an artist that I’d previously been unaware of. Pay his blog a visit. Even if the music is not for you, I think you’d like it.

In the past 18 months, Adam has taken the brave – and clearly cathartic – decision to write about his son Isaac. In November 2021, Isaac lost his life due to complications brought on by Covid and Adam writes clearly and honestly about a life now steeped in grief; the anger, the rage, the black hole of helplessness, the sudden unexpected triggers of a Facebook memory or unanticipated postal delivery that brings it all to the fore again. Isaac’s death is an all-consuming thing, an ever-present in he and his family’s life – of course it is – and when Adam writes about his son, his words are nothing less than spectacular. Anyone who’s a parent will feel every nuance in the turns of phrase and dignity with which Adam writes, words that I’m not sure Adam would’ve thought himself capable of conjuring up a couple of years ago while writing enthusiastically about an Andrew Weatherall remix or another ACR Manchester show. I mean that as a compliment. Writing about frivolous stuff is one thing. Emoting plainly and matter-of-factly over the big stuff is quite another. Adam’s writing is unmissable.

I’ve written not long ago about musical triggers; songs or lyrics or riffs that set off immediate Proustian rushes and have me scampering back to a time, place and people that made me who I am today. True Faith and Mark, Baker Street and my dad, Age of Consent and Derek. Not long after I’d read Adam’s latest blog, I was foutering about the house, REM‘s Reckoning album playing just that bit too loudly as I busied myself with the bins and the washing and what have ye. Don’t Go Back To Rockville started playing and, man, stone me if another one of those memories didn’t gatecrash my evening. As Peter Buck leans into his Rickenbacker, it’s suddenly and quite unexpectedly 1991 and Derek Reid and myself are in Grant’s dad’s living room. We’re in the process of putting together what will be the definitive line-up of Sunday Drivers, the greatest band that never was, and Derek and myself are sussing one another out, aiming for common ground and a base upon which to build our (cough) twin axe attack. He’s showing me the chords to Rockville and as we fall into it together, Grant stands disgusted behind Derek’s Jazz Chorus amp and scowls at us. He says nothing though, not even when Derek pulls off the flashy riff after the chorus – and as it plays tonight, I’m seeing Derek – goofy grin, Marti Pellow hair, ‘what d’ye think a that?‘ look on his face as it flies from his lovely yellowing Telecaster. It’s one of the songs that was played as the room filled up for his funeral and I saw him then too.

REMDon’t Go Back to Rockville

Right,” says Grant as we run out of steam. “Jist tae be clear – ah’m no’ singin’ in a fuckin’ country-rockin’ jingly jangly band, right? Yous can stop that pish right noo.”

We stopped that pish right there and then, found our fuzz pedals and the rest was(n’t) history.

I don’t go looking for musical triggers, but when they creep up on you and slap you clean on the face, it’s strangely comforting and somewhat brilliant.

Now, go and visit Adam at Bagging Area.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find


It’s not the first time Chris Bell‘s I Am The Cosmos has been mentioned round here, but it’s the first time (surely not!) that I’ve shone the spotlight on the single’s flip side, You And Your Sister.

The only solo material released in his lifetime, the 7″ is the perfect distillation of Bell’s loose and melancholic approach to his music. On one side, the imperial I Am The Cosmos, a sky scraping anthem dressed to kill in revved up ringing guitars and double tracked harmonies. You don’t need me to point out that it would prove to be something of a lightning rod for many ambitious bands around the Glasgow area.

Chris BellI Am The Cosmos

On the other side, the naked and raw You And Your Sister, teenage angst set against highly strung and gently picked acoustics, sighing cellos and voice-cracked harmonies. Sadness in a bottle and sold back to the heartbroken with a keen ear to the musical underground.

Chris BellYou And Your Sister

If this is your kinda thing – hi, Norman! Hi Gerry! Hi Raymond! – you could do worse than track down I Am The Cosmos, the album that was pieced together posthumously from Bell’s scattered demos and rough recordings. Most of I Am The Cosmos is frazzled and low-slung, packed full of beaten riffs played on beaten guitars and very much in the acoustic/electric vein of the single…or indeed Bell’s previous band, Big Star, a teasing glimpse into what coulda/shoulda been had the artist not crashed his car and died.

I’ve been playing the record a lot recently, coming to it on the back of This Mortal Coil‘s contentiously superior version, a track that jumped back into my conscience after a misheard acoustic guitar strum on an advert had me convinced the advertisers had borrowed it. They hadn’t, thankfully.

This Mortal CoilYou And Your Sister

With knee-weakening vocals from Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly, This Mortal Coil’s take is something of a breathy cry from the heart and fairly leaps out against the arty, Euro-goth torch songs that make up much of Blood, the album from which it is taken.

With intertwined voices and fingerpicked acoustics blending into one stop-for-a-moment recording, it’s plaintive and pastoral and pretty much the definitve version. Sung from the female perspective, the ‘your sister says that I’m no good‘ line takes on a whole new slightly sinsiter perspective when you hear it. I’m sure there are whole Guardian pieces on such things. For now though, enjoy a great version of a great song.

Football, Gone but not forgotten


In the build-up to Scotland’s historic win over Spain the other night, I caught myself watching old YouTube clips of the same fixture from 1984. Grainy but preserved digitally forever, they opened a portal to a phase when, as history has proven, the Scottish team was in the middle of a golden phase in football. Leighton, Miller, McLeish, Davie Cooper, Souness and, of course, Kenny Dalglish were all in that match’s starting line-up. As too was the contentious Maurice Johnston. Watching the first of his two mullet-powered headers cross the line, a full-length diving effort from around the six yard box, I was immediately back at the game.

Fourteen years old, my feet never once touched Hampden’s West Stand asphalt and my dad kept a tight grip of my elbow right from kick-off as the packed crowd swelled and swirled up and down and across the terracing. Thrilling and terrifying all at once, when that first goal went in at our end, right in front of us, I was lifted into orbit, metaphorically and literally. The only thing stopping me taking off properly was my dad pulling on my jacket, anchoring me to him and he to me.

Near half time, Jim Bett broke free of the Spanish defence down the right hand side, and even before he had crossed the ball I felt my dad’s arm grab me tightly around the waist. He had just about pulled me in to him when Maurice Johnston leapt high above the static defence and connected his golden mullet to the ball once again, aiming the ball past the goalie and into the corner of the net. Two-nil. Scenes. The crowd pulled us apart. I was five, six, maybe seven rows below where I had stood seconds before. In the split instant before the swell of the crowd once again changed direction, whisky-breathed men kissed me on the head and lifted me further up. “Yaaas, wee man!” I’ve no idea where my dad was, yet somehow as the Spanish spotted the ball and kicked off again, the settle of the crowd brought us back together. We were a good few yards to the right of where we’d been and a stanchion kindly appeared for us to lean on and catch our breath and one another.

“‘scuse me,” says my dad to a group of men. “You’re standing on my boy’s flag.” I hadn’t brought a flag, but by half time I was the owner of a dirty yellow Lion Rampant covered in bootprints and beer. Too big to hold and minus the pole to wave it with, I put it on like a wrap-around skirt for the remainder of the game. I had it for years after. Not sure where it ended up.

The best was yet to come though. Spain pulled a goal back in the second half but riotous and free-flowing Scotland simply moved up a gear. Spain might’ve been thrown a cheap lifeline, but there was no way this Scottish team would let them back in. In the 71st minute, Glasgow’s wintery night sky was again punctuated by the Hampden roar as Kenny Dalglish put the game to bed with what will always be my favourite Scotland goal.

A throw in near the corner flag on the right-hand side finds Davie Cooper deep inside the box and, tightly marked, he lays it off to Dalglish who twists and turns his way past one, two, three defenders and takes one, two, three steps before letting fly with his left foot. Even as I type, I don’t need YouTube to see the delicious arc of the ball as it bends outwards and upwards and downwards into the top corner and, through a tangled forest of West Stand bottles and beards and limbs and Glengarries, Kenny Dalglish, arms aloft and turning towards Jock Stein on the touchline to celebrate. I’ve seen plenty of great goals, many of them scored by a Scotland player, but no goal was ever sweeter than that.

A funny thing happened as I watched those highlights. Despite the Spanish commentary and the near-40 intervening years, I found myself crying. Big, proper, from out of nowhere tears. My dad is no longer with us and somehow, suddenly, the emotion of seeing that Kenny goal again was a trigger for all sorts of happy memories. I couldn’t stop, but I’m not sure I really wanted to. There’s something comforting about a good cry now and again. I had just about pulled myself together by the time my wife and daughter returned home.

What’s wrong with you?” asked my wife. “You look like you’re in a bad mood.

Not at all,” I said. And promptly burst into tears once more as I told her what had happened. Football, bloody hell, as the quote goes.

And then…

The next morning.

I was running myself and daughter to our respective places of work. Lauren Laverne’s BBC 6 music show, as always, was playing. Deee-Lite‘s Groove Is In The Heart comes on and immediately – immediately – my mind is flooded with a memory of dear Derek Reid, with his stupid grin and dimples and stubble, and he’s dancing his finger pointy dance to the song in the Attic. We’re on the cramped dancefloor and he’s in double denim, but that’s OK because we all were, and his hair, long by this point, is over the shoulder of his jacket, giving him the appearance of some hipster Francis Rossi and he’s doing the ‘ah-ah-ah-ah‘ bit – ‘Groove is in the hea-art, ah-ah-ah-ah!‘ and flicking his hair and we’re laughing and living and off our heads with the thrill of being carefree and young and alive. And once again it sets me off.

Deee-liteGroove Is In The Heart

I’m in the Attic and it’s 1990,” I say to my daughter as my voice cracks. I can’t look at her. “Derek Reid’s dancing. I can see him right now.” And then I can say no more. I drive through thickly glazed eyes. The chills that you spill up my back, keep me filled. Sad. Happy. Emotional. Pondering on what the future holds.

Bloody music and its bloody triggers. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. Thank God Lauren didn’t follow it up by playing True Faith. I’ve told that story before though.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Well Well Well

Just as there are two Pink Floyds – the Syd-era Pink Floyd and the Syd-less, stadium straddlin’ “Floyd, man”, there are two Fleetwood Macs.

Before their ‘70s metamorphosis into a coke-dusted, partner-swapping omnipresent global phenomenon with Rumours repeatedly rotating across much of the planet on an hourly basis, ‘The Mac’ was a blues-infused single-sex beat combo more used to the claustrophobic stage of the Marquee in London’s West End than the widescreen enormodomes of the American Midwest. Lead by the soulful playing of Peter Green, their inward-looking 12 bar jams are a gazillion miles and a gazillion sales away from what they would become…and in many ways, far more exciting for it.

I’ve always had a thing for the battered and feral Oh Well.

Fleetwood MacOh Well

I know it’s an almost hackneyed and cliched tune nowadays, all blazing Les Pauls and up the frets fireworks, but I love it. Low-slung and slinky, it’s a proper groove of a tune, helped in no small way by the loose and funky acoustic riff, the cowbell punctuation marks and the Bo Diddley-isms of the off-beat maracas. 

The electric guitar on top, playing the same riff as the acoustic, with occasional forays into harmonies – Thin Lizzy must’ve loved Oh Well – is, well, electrifying. With fingers as long as his corkscrew hair, Peter Green curls his digits into the six strings, teases lightning rods of hot-wired blooze from the fretboard and lets fly. He would later call the riff ‘throwaway‘. Pffft. Yeah. 

This version from 1969’s Monster Music Mash on the BBC is where it’s at.

There’s no hierarchical posing here, no shunting of the drummer to obscurity behind the lead singer. Just four guys, equal status, equally responsible for the sound to be made. The toms are a riot of pre-Pollocked home design and are justly tubthumped into the ground. There are three guitarists, none of whom is playing bass, one of whom ignores the gorgeous tobacco-coloured Strat around his neck in favour of being Brian Jones on the maracas for a couple of minutes, and another who is clearly so into the intricacies of playing The Riff, a blur of fringe and guitar face, he’s lost in the heady racket that his band mates are cooking up.

I bet Lee Mavers used this clip when planning out The La’s particular mode of sonic attack. I bet they’d have done justice to a version of Oh Well too. I doubt we’ll ever find out. Mavers, as Peter Green was, is, as you well-know, one of music’s enigmas. 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Poplar Music

I was delivering a series of lessons recently on Rosa Parks, the black American who in 1955 refused to give up her seat to a white woman on the bus; an action that began the stirrings of the black community to seek, demand and fight for equal rights. I say ‘community’ as if there were ‘only’ a few thousand affected people here. By the mid 1950s, America had a population of around 150 million people, 15 million of which was black. So, 10% of the population was denied the right to sit where they wanted on the bus, go to their preferred church, drink in a bar, use a public toilet, sit in the doctor’s waiting room and naturally go about their daily lives as they would have liked to.

The learners in my class were switched on and interested in this. Despite being typical west of Scotland young people living in an area with little diversity, they knew the rights and wrongs of it. Someone pointed out the parallels between Rosa’s story and that of the refugees coming into Britain by boat only to be deported to Rwanda, how they were denied their basic rights and were treated differently. This led to a conversation about Ukrainian and Syrian refugees, some of whom are in the local school community. Regardless of the complexities of these issues, the kids recognised one thing – no one should be treated differently because of where they’re from or due to they way they look, act or talk. In my experience, young folk are quick to speak up on unfairness. They’ll quickly recognise when something is unjust and often be very vocal about it. Their stance on racism and tolerance of others was a small beacon of light in a United Kingdom that is becoming hideously right wing and intolerant, (mis)lead and governed by a party that is verging on the fascistic. These young learners might just offer us a way out.

I really wanted to point my learners towards Billie Holiday‘s Strange Fruit, but I had reservations about the song’s subject matter. Usually when your conscience speaks to you as a teacher, you listen to it. Experience has taught me that the last thing you want or need is an angry parent demanding to know why their 10 year old brought up the subject of mass race lynchings over the dinner table. So, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t.

Billie Holiday Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit is a powerful song, grotesque even once you know the subject matter. The lyrics, drawn from a 1937 poem (Bitter Fruit by Abel Meeropol), are a juxtaposition of the natural heaven and the human horrors of the Deep South; the pastoral scenes and bodies swinging in the breeze, the intoxicating smell of magnolia and the bulging eyes and twisted mouths of the lynching victims.

Can you imagine hearing it for the first time, those lines about the bulging eyes and burning flesh jumping out of the grooves and smacking you square on the cheek? Fruit for the crows to pluck? For the sun to rot? Oh! So she’s not singing about normal fruit? Jeez. There’s no way I could’ve played this to primary school children, no matter how mature and switched on they may have been.

Holiday’s eerie and otherworldly voice squeezes its way through the smoky ether of muted trumpet and vampish piano, a night club voice bereft of its usual sass or swing. Her delivery, unsurprisingly, is stately and precise yet understated and ghostly, full of restrained rage at the world in which she lives. Nowadays, it sounds like an ancient artefact beamed in from history, from the time of monochrome and gramophone, of prohibition and inhibition. That hollow-bodied jazz guitar that makes itself known right at the end adds perfect period definition to create a powerful piece of American art.

Holiday was scared to sing it initially. Afraid of what might happen when it was performed, she drew power from the death of her own father (he died of mustard gas poisoning at the end of the first World War, refused treatment due to being black). ‘I have to keep singing it,’ she wrote in her autobiography. ‘Not only because people ask for it, but because twenty years after Pop died the things that killed him are still happening in the South.’

The power of the song was such that during live performances, waiter service was halted at the tables and the room was set in darkness, save one solitary spotlight on Holiday as she sang. It was always her last song of the night. Sometimes the end of the song was met with rapturous applause. At other times, Holiday would be verbally abused for daring to sing it. Some audience members would walk out in protest mid song. What did they have to protest about? Holiday holding a mirror up to society? Promoters asked her not to sing it. Billie’s contract stated that she had the final say on that. Her label, Columbia, wouldn’t handle it. They deemed the song too controversial to release. Unperturbed, Holiday’s manager took it to a small independent label, Commodore, who pressed it and released the song. It garnered little to no airplay, ending up on the blacklist. Blacklisted. There’s some sort of irony there, yet here we are, 84 years later, still discussing its power.

Strange Fruit has lost none of its weight or ability to shock. It’s arguably the first in a rich lineage of protest songs that runs from the pre-rock ‘n roll jazz era to the dust bowl socialism of Woody Guthrie, past Bob Dylan in the ’60s and Stevie Wonder’s socio-political discourse of the ’70s and through Public Enemy to contemporary groups like Sault who are equally as angry about the world in which they live. Always vocal, never silent, calling out unfairness when it arises. Just like those young kids at school.


Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, New! Now!

Reel Around The Fontaines

New! Now! is Fontaines DC‘s fantastically idiosyncratic take on Nick Drake’s wispy and ethereal ‘Cello Song. The Dubliners (DC = Dublin City, see?) grab Nick Drake’s original by its sullen, woollen coattails and pour a bucketful of distortion over a pounding, punishing backbeat and reimagine the song as a shit-kicking gutterpunk bruiser of a tune. It’s quite fantastic; unique, original and exactly how every band should approach attempting to cover the uncoverable.

Fontaines DC – ‘Cello Song

A lone cello creeps in, sounding like a ghost ship’s foghorn out in some woebegone ocean or other, clattering percussion rustles and rattles its way into an unforgiving hucklebuck beat, a caterwauling string section drags its heels across the soundscape and haunting/haunted aah-ah-ah vocals entwine themselves around the call and response guitar riffs to magic up an unholy and thrilling racket. Nick Drake does this bit too, but whereas his is otherworldly and mysterious, Fontaines DC give off seriously heavy don’t-look-’em-in-the-eyes vibes. Truly terrifying.

The vocals proper arrive, Grian’s Irish brogue undiluted and unforgiving and all the more powerful for it. The guitars, sounding like up-the-dial radio static turned up to 10, whip up a frenzy of controlled feedback and electric twang, menacing and panther-like, somewhere between the electrified slink of Hendrix’s Third Stone From The Sun and gentle sleep of Kevin Shields at his woozy, somnambulistic best; head music and just as effective as a mood-altering stimulant. Throughout it all, the titular cello. Those jarring, jagged strings scratch and scrape at scabrous skin, John Cale in the Velvets, if the Velvets had been born in Dublin 30 years later to Nick Drake-loving parents.

Taken from The Endless Coloured Ways, a forthcoming reimagining of Nick Drake’s back catalogue by all manner of contemporary artists (Philip Selway, Craig Armstrong & Self Esteem, Karine Polwart & Kris Drever) Fontaines DC’s thrilling cover has set the mark by which all other cover versions – Drake’s or otherwise – will now be measured.

Ignore the original recording of Nick’s, and reinvent the song in your own unique style,’ the bands were briefed. Fontaines DC have passed the test with flying colours. Turn the volume up and stick it on repeat.

Here’s Nick Drake’s original. Kinda meh now, isn’t it?!

Nick Drake ‘Cello Song

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled


at the speed of love.

That’s the stall-setting opening gambit on Fallin’, the unlikely yet inspired collaboration between De La Soul and Teenage Fanclub, a marriage made in heaven that was strictly at odds with the hell of the rap/rock crossover that soundtracked 1993’s Judgement Night movie. Amidst a hotchpotch of hideousness – Helmet & House Of Pain, Biohazard & Onyx, Slayer & Ice T – and the odd briefly inspired moment – Dinosaur Jnr & Del The Funky Homosapien’s choppy and groovy Missing Link, Sonic Youth & Cypress Hill’s dark and, er, dope hymn to smoking (I Love You Mary Jane), De La Soul’s daisy age hip hop beats melded with TFC’s Bellshill beat and created the album’s best track that, 30 years later (!!!) sounds fresher than ever.

With De La Soul being in the news this week on the back of the death of Dave Jolicoeur (Trugoy the Dove), I’ve taken to playing many of the group’s early sample-savvy singles and debut album at a decent volume. The track I keep returning to though is Fallin’. It’s been played at every available opportunity; in the car, doing the dishes, sorting the washing, brushing my teeth, boiling the kettle, texting my pals… it’s a real beauty of a track. Stick a microphone in front of me and I reckon I could bust out a pretty faithful recreation of the opening verse’s rap. But don’t. I’m a white guy from the west of Scotland and we’re not known for our flowability skills on the mic.

Teenage Fanclub & De La SoulFallin’

Teenage Fanclub are, as you are well aware, four white guys from the west of Scotland too and, while they wisely left the rapping to the masters of the art, they do contribute some soulful ‘doo-doo-do-do‘ adlibs in the background – possibly aping, or just plain stolen from Biz Markie or the Steve Miller Band, as you might spot later.

The track is built around a sample of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’, a widescreen open road of a record, as American as truckstops and Telecasters, with references to Elvis, Jesus, Ventura Boulevard, Mulholland Drive and endless freeways, sung in Fanclubesque multi-harmony atop a bed of rich acoustic and clean chimin’ electric guitars. There’s a rumour, unsubstantiated, that it plays at maximum volume whenever white American men of a certain age cash in their one-way ticket for that final trip along life’s highway and park the Cadillac outside the pearly gates. I guess I’ll never know.

It’s something of a surprise, then, to find out that the idea for building the track came, not from the four guitar-crazy Scottish musos who may well have played along to a Tom Petty record or two in their time, but from the magpie mind of De La Soul’s Posdnuos. More of that in a bit though. Firstly, how on earth did this heaven-sent collaboration come to be?

Gerry Love, bass player with Teenage Fanclub at the time, alongside Brendan O’Hare, former TFC drummer and inspired catchphrase merchant very kindly offered to cast their surprisingly clear minds back three decades and reminisce exclusively for Plain Or Pan.

Gerry: De La Soul came over to Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire – we were mixing Thirteen at Revolution Studios in the town. Originally we were approached via our American label DGC (Geffen) to ask if we fancied collaborating with PM Dawn. As we were weighing up the offer we were updated with the news than PM Dawn couldn’t make it after all and would we like to work with De La Soul? It took us less than a second to say yes. Like most people of our generation we were big fans of their work. Three Feet High and Rising was a massively important record.

Brendan: De La Soul (and their weed…and their preconceived ideas of us) came over to the studio. I think they thought we were Tom Petty, which we weren’t. They were hilarious once they realised we were equally hilarious.

Speaking to LA Weekly in 2009, De La Soul’s Posdnuos explained further.

Posdnuos: They (the Judgement Night people) started pairing up different artists. We could’ve been paired up with familiar names, but we didn’t know who Teenage Fanclub were at the time, so we picked them.

Brendan: The track sorta happened when they muscled a drumbeat out of our Alesis SR16.

Gerry: I remember the session started with a drum beat programmed by Maseo. I put down a bass line, Raymond put down a guitar line and then Posdnous and Trugoy started working on the lyric while at the same time going through a box of records they had brought looking for something to sample. It was really impressive to see how they worked. In a matter of hours they had recorded the vocal. We all put down some harmony vocals.

Posdnuos: We were taking a break from brainstorming ideas. We happened to be sitting in a little reception area outside the studio, and Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ video came on. I’ve always been the person in the group, who when he hears certain words, I take them and apply them to a certain thing. It started as a joke – ‘Hey, let’s make a song based off a Tom Petty video!’ Then Dave (Trugoy The Dove) said, ‘let’s spin it about us falling off as a rappers.’ So we went to the store, bought the Tom Petty CD, and based it around the song.

Then we got a bassline from (Biz Markie’s) Nobody Beats The Biz, the Steve Miller sample (listen carefully and you might spot a morsel of more ‘doo-doo-do-dos’ from Fly Like An Eagle), and a snippet of Petty’s voice and it came together pretty fast.”

Gerry: I saw that Posdnous say that they got the bass from a sample. That’s complete nonsense! For the record: it’s my part, I came up with it. The bass line doesn’t feature anywhere on that Biz Markie track.

They did add the Tom Petty sample at the end though, and then that was it – all done and dusted in a few days.

Spot the samples…

Tom Petty & The HeartbreakersFree Fallin’

Biz Markie Nobody Beats The Biz

Steve Miller BandFly Like An Eagle

What began as something of a throwaway track to fill space on a compilation album ended up a fully fledged De La Soul track, so much so that Tommy Boy, De La Soul’s label, wanted to include it on Buhloone Mindstate. The band nixed that idea though, and so the group’s third album’s loss was most definitely Judgement Night‘s gain.

Gerry; A few months later we flew out to Chicago to make a promo video with them.

Brendan: The recording of the video is one of my favourite memories.

The video is great, both groups coming together to goof around in an American high school classroom. De La Soul are the academics, TFC the class goons. Gerry spends his time sleeping in the back row alongside a bored Brendan, with an equally bored-looking Norman in front of him. Swotty goody two shoes Raymond sits up straight at the front with Maseo and Posdnuos the ‘teacher’.

When the video cuts to a school drama production, we see the two acts sharing the stage, De La Soul rapping in triplicate as a clearly tickled Teenage Fanclub play out the tune, a collection of acting kids weaving in and out of the happy stew.

Gerry: De La Soul were just really friendly guys. The whole thing was one of the most unexpected things that ever happened in my time in Teenage Fanclub and one of the most rewarding. As a track, I think it still sounds pretty good.

Brendan: It was sad news about Trugoy. He was lovely and keen on yoghurt.




Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Angel Delight

There was a brief period at the tail end of the ’80s when two music cultures collided to create an exciting new sub-genre. Partly brought on by Happy Mondays’ in-print enthusing of Detroit techno and partly by the Stone Roses’ approach of playing dance music before they took to the stage, a movement of youth who’d lapped up their own Stones and Beatles dared to cross the divide between guitars and grooves and, arms aloft and flying high, wholeheartedly embraced the best of both scenes. In Irvine’s Attic, you could dance yourself dizzy to Pacific State and State Of The Nation in the same thrilling ten minute sequenced spell, our own Saturday night fever soundtrack that was absolutely replicated in provincial towns up and down the country.

The bands that sprung up around this ideal took the cross-pollination of clashing cultures and ran with it, for as long as the record companies were happy to throw their money northwards in the vain hope they’d land themselves another Mondays or Roses. Some of the acts – The Charlatans, obviously, broke out in their own right. Some of the others had one or two good songs, one great song, even – The High’s Box Set Go, Mock Turtles’ Can You Dig It – and some of the acts might even have managed to squeeze out a decent album – World Of Twist’s kaleidoscopic and swirling Quality Street springs to mind, but many of them burned briefly then fizzled out, shrinking back to the suburbs as the dirty exhaust fumes of American grunge spewed forth in Nirvana’s Converse-trod trail. ‘Baggy’ or ‘Madchester’ (eugh) or ‘Indie Dance’ was, then, a placeholder in time…but those great songs live on.

The best of all is arguably Paris AngelsAll On You (perfume). A track, I think, rather than a song, it magpies the best of everything into one era-defining single that still thrills over 30 years later. Take a monochromed Curtis-ish vocal and team it with the sort of girlish adlib that’s floated straight off an anonymous house stomper. Stick them atop some chiming, Marr-esque guitars. Throw some sequenced acidy squelches across it and then polish the whole thing to a see-your-face-in-it brilliance; All On You (perfume) is a proper rush.

Paris AngelsAll On You (perfume) – with added John Peel at the end.

Quite how they managed to sow the shiny seeds of All On You from the unholy clatter that represented the band’s sound at the time must be down to the producer, so kudos to Michael Johnson (engineer on no less than Blue Monday) for coaxing such an airbrushed sound from the band’s grizzled indie.

The band’s roots are easy to identify from the swirling slab of industrial Mancunian twist and shout below. Very of its time, it rattles and ricochets like a stretching out ACR or Happy Mondays at their esoteric best. Dark, dense and serious, with the tentacles of the baggy beat and a wandering electric guitar – all bent 3rd strings and chorus pedal – creeping through its cracks, it’s a signpost of where they’d come from and where they’d briefly be going…

Paris AngelsStay (Peel Session)

Should such things matter to you (and of course they do), it’ll have you double-checking the label on the record for a Factory logo or catalogue number that isn’t there. Yes, despite all necessary Factory ingredients being present; a clattering, enthusiastic rhythm, hot-wired chicken scratch guitar, a shouty Mancunian frontman oozing oodles of effort over ability – all housed in a subtle and arty sleeve, considered typeface ‘n all – Perfume was released on the perfectly-named Sheer Joy label. All bands have one great song to their name.  Perfume (All On You) was Paris Angels’.