Gone but not forgotten

реальный хорошо

Viddy Well, Devotchkas And Malchicks, Viddy Well.

That Bowie fella was a clever droog. In death he created one of his greatest pieces of art. The songs that make up Blackstar contained an outpouring of coded references to the pancreatic cancer that he would succumb to two days after its release. The benefit of such short hindsight allowed even the blindest of Bowie lyric decoders to join the dots and see the bigger picture. Only a small handful of folk knew, but Dave was terminally ill when he wrote and recorded his 25th album and scattered across the tracks were the clues that became so obvious in the days that followed. You know that already though.

Look at me, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be healed.”

Something happened on the day he died.”

Why too dark to speak the words?

If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me.”

I’ve got nothing left to lose…I’m so high it makes my brain whirl.”

Hope I’ll be free.”

I know something is very wrong.”

I can’t give everything away.

He maybe didn’t give everything away, but he gave a huge part of himself. The font used to display the tracklisting on the back? A relatively obscure one called Terminal, funnily enough. Even the sleeve itself is a perfect artefact. Bereft of it’s contents and held to the light, it reveals a galaxy of stars that shines with all the wonder of the cosmos. A certain, intentional metaphor for Bowie’s omnipresence, it’s his final gift to us all.

Blackstar wasn’t the easiest of albums to digest at the first sitting. Much of it is skewed and, unsurprisingly, doom-laden, carried by skittering drums and the sort of skronking jazz that’s only recently found itself on the margins of the mainstream thanks to the occasional rotation of acts such as The Comet Is Coming and Polar Bear on BBC 6 Music. Be it glam or electronica or new romanticism or even speed garage, Bowie was forever at the front of the queue whenever a new musical direction was being charted, in both senses of the word.

There are stellar moments, of course, some of which take half a dozen or more plays before they’ve worked their way into your head, by which point you’re revelling in one of Bowie’s most complex, most complete albums. Blackstar may not’ve been for everyone – my local independent seller was scathing of it upon release, but for those that get it… wow! There are truly brilliant moments on Blackstar, as euphoric as Absolute Beginners, as arty as anything from Low and as essential as the rest of the high rollers that immediately spring to mind when you’re asked for your favourite Bowie albums.

This week’s highlights: the song-within-the-song moment midway through the title track…the crashing guitars that colour the none-more-Bowie vocal on Lazarus….the jerky paranoia of Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)…..the straightforward piano and electric guitar ballad of Dollar Days, an album highlight that sounds most like the Bowie of old, whatever that means. It features a great sax line too, played, I imagine (I hope) by Bowie himself. Meandering, mournful and slowly unfolding, it’s the stately sound of Bowie facing death with stiff upper-lipped dignity. In a back catalogue of fantastic highs, Dollar Days is right up there as one of his very best.

David BowieDollar Days

Best of all though, arguably, is Girl Loves Me, a song smartly written in a mish-mash of two made-up languages, Polari and Nadsat.

Polari was the coded language (more decoding!) used by gay men in the 50s and 60s as a way of finding like-minded companions. With conversation based around combinations of slang and interpolated foreign words, gay men had the perfect means to hide in plain sight. Polari even made it onto the BBC when, unknown to the bosses, it was used extensively on Round The Horne.

In more recent times, Morrissey went through a short phase of adopting Polari. Piccadilly Palare, for example;

The Piccadilly Palare
Was just silly slang
Between me and the boys in my gang
“So bona to vada, oh you
Your lovely eek and
Your lovely riah”

His Bona Drag compilation album too. Translated from Polari, it means ‘good clothes‘. Anyway, I digress.

Alongside his adoption of Polari, Bowie borrows heavily from Nadsat, the half-Russian, half-English language that Anthony Burgess used in A Clockwork Orange. The Russian word for ‘good‘, for example, is ‘khrosho‘, pronounced ko-ro-sho. In keeping with the book’s theme of wanton, casual violence, Burgess cleverly twisted this into ‘horrorshow‘, so whenever a character in the book refers to something as ‘real horrorshow‘, they’re expounding on how great it is. It took me a while to work this out when I first read it, as of course, four pilled-up and violent teenagers giving an old guy a kicking really is a proper horrorshow. I’d no idea for many pages that they considered a ‘horrorshow’ to be a good thing. Jeez.

As a result of it’s lyrical styling, Girl Loves Me sounds weird, wonky and other-worldly. It’s real horrorshow, in fact.

David BowieGirl Loves Me

Cheena so sound, so titty up this Malchick, say
Party up moodge, ninety vellocet round on Tuesday
Real bad dizzy snatch making all the homies mad, Thursday
Popo blind to the polly in the hole by Friday

Where the fuck did Monday go?
I’m go to this Giggenbach show
I’m sailin’ in the chestnut tree
Who the fuck’s gonna mess with me?

Girl loves me

Despite the fantastic imagery that the lyrics throw up, the refrain of “Where the fuck did Monday go?” sticks out a mile for me. When I watched my dad pass away through cancer, he’d lie in a morphine-induced sleep for days at a time. When lucid, he had no idea what day of the week or time of year, or indeed, what year it was. For us carers, minutes turned to hours which turned to days which turned to weeks. Where the fuck did Monday go indeed. It’s the perfect line. Of all the death-related ones on Blackstar, it’s the one that resonates most with me.

Bowie has been gone four years now. He’ll live on forever though.

 

 

 

 

Cover Versions, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Live!

Bathed In Light Of Love

Dubiety surrounds the release of Big Star‘s third album, ‘Third’. Was it a true Big Star album in the way #1 Record and Radio City were? Given that the recordings were enhanced by an ever-revolving rotation of session musicians who’d play around the axis of Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens – Steve Cropper on the version of the VU’s Femme Fatale, for example, and given that Chilton wrote the lion’s share of the original music, it’s oft been considered the first real Chilton solo album. Studio tracking sheets from the time show references to Sister Lovers (Chilton and Stephens were in relationships with a pair of sisters at the time) which may or may not have been the intended name for the new record, or indeed, a new name for a band far-removed from its original identity. Despite the poor sales of the first two albums though, Ardent were dead keen to market it as a Big Star release and so, with little fuss or fanfare, Third was sent out into the world, Big Star’s ‘difficult’ third album with unfinished songs and little of the sparkling power-pop jangle that dusted the first two.

Big StarJesus Christ

Towards the end of side 2 you’ll find Jesus Christ, a mid-paced, straightforward celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. On top of the occasional Spectorish tumbling toms and a honeyed Stax sax break that gives birth to Clarence Clemons and the E Street Band, you’ll spot references to angels and stars and Royal David’s City. The song is carried by Chilton’s instantly recognisable guitar style and sound, a welcome relief following the bleak and self explanatory Holocaust that precedes it on the record.

It’s a properly great Christmas tune, uplifting and joyful, yet as far-removed from the normal records that get played ad infinitum in shops, cafes, taxis, bars, wherever at this time of year. Indeed, the only time you’re liable to hear Jesus Christ in the changing rooms at TK Maxx will be from my mouth as I recoil in horror at the ill-fitting shirt from last season’s Katharine Hamnett collection that I struggled to get on and struggled to get off again. Jesus Christ, it was tight. Forgive me father etc etc…

Big StarJesus Christ (demo)

Chilton’s demo of Jesus Christ is great. Just Alex and a finely strummed acoustic 12 string, it has all the hallmarks of high watermark Big Star; Chilton’s ad libbed ooh-oohs, cracked, at the end of his range vocals on the high notes and the requisite sparkling jangle. What a great canvas for the other musicians to paint on.

Teenage Fanclub (of course) do a terrific version of Jesus Christ. Released on one of the two CD singles to promote Ain’t That Enough, the lead single from the gold standard Songs From Northern Britain album, TFC were in a rich vein of writing form at the time, firing out guitar-fuelled and harmony-filled songs with ridiculous ease. That Ain’t That Enough was released in June with a cover of an obscure Christmas song as an extra track (the other was a nod and a wink cover of the VU’s Femme Fatale, funnily enough) mattered not a jot. Recorded at perfect head-nodding pace and employing the twin vocals of Norman and Gerry, it’s proper, vintage Fanclub. A heady sheen of fuzzed-at-the-edge electric guitar, a tastefully twangin’ Raymond solo and a heartfelt, sympathetic take on the original make this one of TFC’s best covers.

Teenage FanclubJesus Christ

My job in education has changed in recent years, meaning that nowadays I don’t get to drag my class up to sing a Christmas song in the church. I always liked the challenge of this. It was the one time of year I could put my guitar skills to proper use and I was always on the lookout for a left-of-centre song to tackle. Jesus Christ was one I often considered, but it was forever overlooked in favour of something else.

The arrangement was going to be a full-on Phil Spector epic too; some tinkling pitched percussion at the start, eking out the melody against my plaintive strums, a single voice – probably the quietest girl in the class – singing the opening lines, the whole class coming in on the ‘Jesus Christ was born today! Jesus Christ was born!‘ Then there’s my bit – “MY BIT, BOYS ‘N GIRLS!” – where I do my Alex/Norman run up and down the frets before the second solo voice – this time a boy – “And o! They did rejoice!” brings us back to the whole point of the song.

By the second chorus, the entire group is swaying side to side in time to the guitar’s rhythm. By the third, they’ve added handclaps, like a peely wally west of Scotland gospel choir. They’ve lost most of their self-consciousness by this point too. Jack at the back is still fidgeting with the zip on his school trousers and Chloe, front row and centre, has still to lift her eyes from the rich red carpet in the vestry, but look! One or two of them are even smiling. And I’m in my element, pushing it towards the end.

The chorus is repeated a couple more times before we finish in a blaze of frantically scrubbed acoustics, clashing glockenspiel and rapturous applause from the assembled parents in the pews upstairs. The head teacher, as usual, fails to acknowledge both the effort and the spectacle and we move swiftly on to the next class who shamble their awkward way through Santa Baby to the embarrassment of all in attendance. I miss these times most of all.

*Christmas Bonus!

Here’s Alex Chilton’s fantastically louche take on TFC’s Alcoholiday. Teenage Fanclub have never hidden their love for all things Chilton-related, but on this tune the gamekeeper turns poacher. He just about steals the show too.

Alex ChiltonAlcoholiday

Master/Apprentices

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Sledgehammers

There are many great sounds in music; that jazz-inflected major 6th “Yeah!” at the tail end of The Beatles’ She Loves You for one. The vibrating air as Miles Davis leans into So What on Kind Of Blue. Johnny Greenwood’s stuttering pre-chorus crunch as he tries to mess with Creep. John Lydon’s phlegmy Fagin-by-way-of-Steptoe “‘Allo? ‘Allo! ‘Allo!! Heurgh-heurgh-heurgh!” announcement on PIL’s eponymous debut single. The eerie slide guitar that punctuates the juddering How Soon Is Now?…the Cuban-heeled stomp of London Calling… Adam & the Ants Burundi beat…Clarence’ Clemons’ honey-coated sax….. You’ll have your own no doubt, hearing them in your head right now as you read this. Those sounds are what separates you, me and the rest of us from other people who consider music no more than background colour, something that happens to be on as the dishes are washed or the ironing tackled. Obsessives like us listen to music and revel in the small stuff. The minutae. The little bits that you miss when the iron is hissing steam at you while you press next week’s workwear. The important stuff.

Just about my favourite sound in music is the sound of Nile Rodgers‘ guitar interlocking with Bernard Edwards‘ bass. When they hit their stride and find the groove, they’re unbeatable. Like a pair of old ladies clacking away at the bingo, the combined sound is instantly recognisable, totally danceable and, while often copied, it’s a sound that’s never been bettered. When Nile and Bernard formed Chic, the idea was to write songs for different groups. Chic themselves were modelled on Roxy Music’s basic vision of style; smart dress and street-smart females, elements that were to them as important as the songs they were selling.

Chic employed female vocalists and had success on their own terms – you know all the hits – but as the Chic Organization, Bernard and Nile penned hits for others. Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Carly Simon, Madonna, Bowie….all benefitted, and all came gift-wrapped in the same smoothly-clattering funk that coloured Chic’s biggest hits. Bowie’s Let’s Dance was a 12 string skifflish blues until Nile added those familiar massive rattling chords. Like A Virgin, with its keyboard and up the neck guitar stabs could’ve been a Chic hit rather than the smash that elevated Madonna into the conscience of half the world.

I’ve always had a thing for Carly Simon‘s Why. Hearing it out of context on Ibiza as an impressionable 18 year old perhaps helped. Here, it was no longer AOR radio fodder, it was late night/early morning comedown music, long, loping and lightly toasted reggae. In the right context, it made a whole lotta sense.

It’s what Nile and Bernard did for Sister Sledge on Thinking Of You that tops the lot. The chord progression is fantastic, an itchy and scratchy four chord progression from minor 7th to major 7th and back again, played between the 10th and 5th frets while the bassline bounces with fluid funk below. The staccato riffing as Kathy Sledge sings, “Everybody, let me tell you ’bout my love…” (the perfect opening line for the song, by the way – it really sets it up the anticipation for what’s to follow) “...brought to you by an angel from above,” is god-like. Nile takes the basic chords, ignores his bass strings then builds hook upon hook upon hook with just the top 3 strings. Your man-in-the-street’s idea of what might constitute a Guitar ‘Great’ could never comprehend why Nile is such a brilliant player. He’s the perfect example of less is more, a fat-free, lean and mustard-keen guitarist.

Behind all of this the strings sweep and swell. Brass parps in all the right places. Unfussy drums maintain the beat. And that’s about it. You can identify every instrument on Thinking Of You. The perfect example, again, of less is more.

Sister SledgeThinking Of You (Dimitri From Paris mix)

Dimitri From Paris took the original and, unsurprisingly, saw the beauty in what was already there and stayed faithful to it. No need for this remixer to strip a good song of its basic components and twist it out of all recognition. Dimitri’s mix is twice as long, allowing space for the breathy vocals to take centre stage before giving way to Rodgers’ incessant Strat, until he drops out and Edwards’ bassline is allowed to buckle and bend in the middle of the track. It’s a showcase not for Dimitri but for Chic, six and a half minutes long and not a moment wasted.

In 2004 Paul Weller took his stripped back, tastefully scrubbed acoustic version of Thinking Of You into the charts, proof, if it were needed, that Rodgers and Edwards songs transfer to all styles. It’s not a patch on the original, but the newly in love Weller’s vocal is pretty soulful and genuine and, given he was spare of decent self-penned material at the time, it was the perfect song to tide him over until his next visit from the song gods.

Paul WellerThinking Of You

Gone but not forgotten

Words-Worth

I’ve been reacquainting myself with the excellent Beastie Boys Book. Published a year ago, I got stuck into it almost immediately and, despite its chunky, clunky, half-brick size, I had finished it well before Christmas. Set out chronologically, it tells the story of the band, from their thrash punk beginnings, to meeting Rick Rubin and their reinvention as a three piece white rap act and the brilliantly eclectic, electric albums that followed, to their sudden, unexpected end following Adam Yauch’s death from cancer.

Rather like their music, it’s all-encompassing, full of unexpected turns, warm, funny and brilliantly informative; alongside lengthy and very humorous sections where Ad Rock and Mike D discuss music (their own, but frequently others’ – there are mix tape suggestions – the ‘Toyota Corolla Mixtape’, for example, that’ll have you off down an internet wormhole for a whole night or more), you’ll find superbly written chapters on such diverse subjects as Manhattan’s clubscene in the early 80s, the merits of on-tour catering, brushes with London bobbies, Charlie Chaplin impersonators, a recipe section, 70s clothes, and amongst it all, a never-ending roll-call of the great and the good in music and popular culture who cross paths with the band over the years; Mick Jones, Madonna, Perry Farrell, Lee Perry, slam dunking with Billy Corgan….it’s all in there.

It’s music though that runs through the book as liberally and majestically as the Hudson River meanders through New York State – Beastie Boys are music obsessives and they’re liable to point you in the direction of some of the best tunes you’ve never heard on every other page. Whatever the genre, they’ll happily recommend a handful of records you simply need to hear. There’s no pigeonholing with the Beasties – a record’s either good or it isn’t. Check the list below and tell me there aren’t at least a dozen tracks you haven’t heard. And tell me again tomorrow if it hasn’t sent you off on an enlightening mission to wherever it is you find your music. And tell me the day after if you haven’t found your ‘new jam’, or whatever it is folk say nowadays.

I signed up for one of those free 3 months trials of Audible – which I’m now paying for a year down the line and haven’t quite got round to cancelling – purely to hear the book in all its Brooklyn’d drawl, but never actually got round to listening to it until recently.

The audio version is the book in 3D. It’s fantastic.

The words fly off the page, often delivered in the same gobby sneer as the guys who made the records but always delivered with honesty and candour. It pours a whole new light on what was already an impressive book and for the past few weeks, it’s been sound-tracking the commute from work at the end of the day, with each spoken chapter just about the perfect length for the drive home; 12 hours and 42 seconds of total listening time that knocks the Shaun Keaveney 6 Music Show for six.

The two remaining Beasties read their own chapters just as if they were setting the record straight whilst sitting with you in the car. Occasionally, just as would happen in real life, the other will interject from the back seat to counter a ‘fact’ or set the record straight. It makes for a highly entertaining and very funny journey. There’s a clear warmth and love for one another. Adam Yauch is held in very high esteem as ‘Chief Beastie’, the one the others looked to for guidance and advice, the multi-talented quiet guy who could turn his hand to anything; creating tape loops in a pre-digital age, being the factor in his apartment block, booking Tibetan monks to open Lollapalooza, jumping out of planes to snowboard down mountainsides, and so on. The odd guest reader takes over duties now and again. I don’t have a good enough frame of American culture reference to appreciate some of the orators, but amongst the basketball players (?) actors (?) film makers (?) the occasional A-Lister appears behind the mic; Snoop Dogg. Chuck D, Kim Gordon. Spike Jonze. It makes for a varied and interesting listen.

None other than Elvis Costello reads a few chapters towards the end. It’s funny to hear him say very Beasties phrases such as, “they were so pissed at us,” and, “I mean, fuuu-uuck!” in his languid, natural voice, with none of the pent-up energy that you know so well from his records. Thrillingly, Jarvis Cocker pops up quite unexpectedly to read the chapter on the Beasties’ visit to London, when they visited Mick Jones and John “It’s Johnny fucking Rotten!” Lydon happened to pop round for a visit in the middle of it all.

Naturally, both versions of the book have led me back to the Beastie Boys’ own music and I’ve discovered a proper love for Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (there’s no Part 1, as you’ll discover if you read/hear the book), the group’s last album and one which, unlike the holy trinity of Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head and Ill Communication, I rarely played until the book nudged me towards a gentle reappraisal. As it turns out, it has all the essential Beastie hallmarks on it; phat beats and phatter bass, clever wordplay, fantastic playing and obscure samples. Or so you’d think.

Recording the album, Beastie Boys set out to play the greatest in-joke they possibly could. They deliberately set out to create an album that was full of fake samples, a record collector’s unattainable nightmare designed to mess with the minds of every crate digger who ever sought out an obscure break. They wanted you to think it was built around samples, but rather than the band lift a break from an obscure 70s record, they themselves went to incredible lengths by writing and playing the break then filtering it through studio trickery before building whole tracks around what appeared to be a sample. They went so far as to create fake writing and publishing credits in the sleevenotes. They even wrote a whole song – Long Burn The Fire – based around their own fake sample and included it in the middle of the record, “a totally backward way of sampling, an experiment in experimenting.”

Beastie BoysMake Some Noise

The big tracks on it stand with the very best of the Beasties; coming across like the long-lost half-cousin of Hello Nasty‘s Intergalactic, Make Some Noise, with its vocodered vocals and wasp-in-a-jar synth line is the brilliant show closer that the band never got to do in concert.

Beastie BoysToo Many Rappers (ft. Nas)

Too Many Rappers was built around one of Yauch’s drum loops. A terrible, sloppy drummer by all accounts, Yauch persevered until he had nailed the perfect section that could be chopped, looped and turned into a Zeppelinesque backbeat upon which the trio plus guest vocalist Nas could wind and weave their vocals.

Best of all is Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win, a fantastically dubby reggae track that introduces itself like The Orb’s Perpetual Dawn before taking a turn uptown with a guest vocal from Santigold.

Beastie Boys – Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win (ft. Santigold)

Coasting along on a fluid groove of kangarooing up-the-frets bass married to pistol crack snares, room-rattling rim shots and hissing hi hats, it spotlights just how great the Beastie Boys were as musicians. Santigold floats across the top while the three Beasties jump in and out in the way they do, every last word in each line emphasised for effect by having the trio shout it OUT!, a technique stolen from Run DMC and still being employed to great effect on their final album.

20 bonus points are on their way to the first person to spot the Dylan lyric appropriation, one of at least two on the album.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Twin Axel Attack

Holy Thursday by David Axelrod is an astonishing piece of music. An amalgamation of hep cat west coast jazz, stinging guitar and the abrupt, angular, cinematic stylings of Lalo Schifrin, it’s a pigeonholer’s nightmare; hard to categorise but impossible not to love.

Holy ThursdayDavid Axelrod

This is proper music, written on charts to be played by proper musicians. There’s not one iota of jamming to be had here. From the piano and bass call-and-response intro, via the vibraphone and the pistol crack of the snare, every note, every bend, every brass stab and string sweep has been agonised over and carefully considered before becoming a constituent part in a finished piece that’s even greater than the sum of its groovy, swinging parts. By the time the freak-out electric guitar announces itself around the 4 minute mark, you’ll already be making plans to play it again and again. 

It’s the drums that do it most for me. Skittering, creative and always unpredictable, they’re a sticky-fingered producer’s delight. Various snippets of second-long breaks and beats have been sampled and looped and twisted and turned before being recreated as something new by dozens of hip-hop acts through the years. Stand up, Lil’ Wayne and UNKLE, I’m looking at you.

Holy Thursday would make ideal walk-on music, blaring loudly for a band to take the stage in front of an expectant audience. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if you told me that twonks like Richard Ashcroft (he was quick to make himself known as an Axelrod fan when the world began to catch up with the American’s living legend status in the mid 90s) or Kasabian had used it already. Aligning their own music to something truly grandiose and epic rather than the Asda-priced version that they peddle would certainly be the sort of thing those two acts might consider.  

Axelrod first found work in the 60s as a jazz arranger and producer, helping Lou Rawls to find his feet and sound in music. A heroin-addicted speed-freak, his production work on Cannonball Adderley’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy album took him into both the US charts and the same studios as famed sessioneers The Wrecking Crew. Employing the Crew’s core rhythm section of Carole Kaye on bass and Earl Palmer on drums, Axelrod wrote the musically complex Mass In F Minor for The Electric Prunes. The ‘Prunes were unable to play much of Axelrod’s challenging music and by the end of the initial sessions, in-fighting and finger pointing led to the group disbanding. Unperturbed, Axelrod and his assembled Crew simply completed the album on their own.

Released in 1968, the finished record bore no resemblance at all to the previous two Electric Prunes albums. Classically-tinged Gregorian chanting psychedelia was waaay out there, even for 1968. Richly soulful, redemptive and meditative, album track Holy Are You is the one to go for. It might well be spiritual, the lost cousin of Marvin’s Wholly Holy, but listen closely and you’ll hear the first strains of prog crawling from the dank depths of Middle Earth, a cloak short of a hobbit, a keyboard solo away from full-on mystical wizardry. Unlike yer actual prog, though, it’s fantastic.

Holy Are YouThe Electric Prunes

By the 1970s Axelrod was adventuring increasingly further ‘out there’ until he found the sound he was searching for. Welding the avant garde with wacked-out recording techniques to a traditional band set-up, he produced some startling results, most of which are only now being afforded their rightful time in the spotlight, in this house at least, two years after his death.

Those two tracks above should give you an idea of what he was about; inventive, innovative and invaluable to groovy crate diggers the world over. Check his rich and varied back catalogue on that there streaming service of your choice.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Music, eh? Bloody Hell.

There you are on the commute home, not really aware that you’ve somehow arrived at Kilwinning town centre…..red light, clutch in, brake, drop the gears, stop….when True Faith pops up on the radio and you find yourself in tears, a trickle at first then quickly a torrent, willing the pedestrians to not look in your direction as they busy themselves across the zebra crossing. It’s the bang and crash of the intro, where the mind’s eye replays those two clowns who slap one another silly in the video that triggers it. I feel so extraordinary, sings Barney. I feel overwhelmed. I drive home in a daze. Music is a powerful thing.

I had Power, Corruption and Lies playing earlier, New Order‘s essential second album, and such is the way it’s wrapped up in epoch and emotion, I listened to the entirety of it whilst thinking about two pals who are no longer here. From different social circles, Mark and Derek‘s paths crossed on the odd occasion, and while they’d have a pint and a catch up if we somehow found ourselves part of the same group in the pub, they weren’t friends in the real sense of the word. I’d grown up with Mark from the age of 3 or 4 and in later years we’d sit together watching the football at Kilmarnock. He moved with his work to London around the time I started mastering the plank of wood I had the cheek to call an electric guitar, and by the time I’d started playing in bands, I’d met Derek. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, my football world has never really collided with my music world.

New OrderAge Of Consent

I remember Mark buying the album on cassette from John Menzies on the strength of the fact it was the parent album to Blue Monday, a record that was on perma-spin on every record player in our world. He was a bit put out because the band, not for the last time, had left the big hit off of the album.

As it played for the first time, the two of us listened and reacted with differing views. Despite the opening rush of Age Of Consent, all signature Hook bassline, keyboard swells and asthmatic lead guitar, Mark found it an underwhelming listen.

Listening earlier on today I was thinking about this, remembering him perched on the edge of his bed, his autograph of Killie’s John Bourke stuck to the headboard but curled at the corners where the Sellotape had stopped, me on an ancient Star Wars bean bag, both of us with eyes to the floor in studied concentration as Age Of Consent rattled out of the speakers that were attached to his midi hi-fi. By the second verse I was converted. Mark less so.

You’re hard to please,” I told him. “This is magic!” I distinctly remember the screwed-up ‘but it’s not Blue Monday‘ face he offered by way of reply. He liked second track We All Stand even less. “Barney can’t sing,” he pointed out, stating the obvious. “If this was a record I’d have lifted the needle by now.”

As the tape made its way to the end of the first side, Mark began flicking through his records with a face only someone who thinks they’ve wasted their last £3.99 can make. Alighting on his chosen mood lightener, You’ve Got The Power by Win signalled the end of our New Order listening session. Had he flipped the tape over there and then I like to think he’d have been stopped in his tracks by the beauty of Your Silent Face but it wasn’t to be.

New OrderYour Silent Face

 

I’m not sure he ever got to the second side, to be honest. He loved New Order though, did Mark, but he was always more of a True Faith kinda guy.

Derek, on the other hand, loved Age Of Consent. It was, as he was quick to offer, should you bring it up, the first track from the first New Order album where they broke free of the straightjacket they’d cul-de-sac’d themselves into for Movement, the first truly great New Order record, the album where New Order discovered who they really were and unwittingly invented what would come to be termed (ugh) indie dance.

When Age Of Consent was playing earlier, my first thought wasn’t of Mark’s bedroom in 1986 but of Kilmarnock’s Shabby Road rehearsal rooms in 1991. Our band rehearsed there and on the odd occasion when we were waiting for everyone to arrive, Derek would jump on the drums and offer up the only thing he could just about play, a stiff-limbed and stilted grinned thrashing beat, coloured by 100 mile an hour hi-hat action, denim jackets and wild, untamed shoulder-length hair.

As it dawned quite spectacularly on me for the first time today, he was (almost) playing the frantic hi-hat ‘n snare combination from Age Of Consent. He’d get 25 seconds or so in before he’d start losing time or drop a stick (or both), but how I’ve never noticed it until now, I’ll never know. It’s playing as I write, and I’m suddenly right back there in that room, peeking out from under my collapsed quiff/beginnings of a bowl cut (this was, after all, post-Smiths and peak-Roses) grappling with my shitty guitar tuner, getting ready for the only night of the week that truly mattered. Honestly, Del, we might’ve taken the piss, but you weren’t that bad at it after all.

As for Your Silent Face, that was played recently at Derek’s funeral. Melancholic, uplifting, stately and imperial, it’ll never be bettered. It’s such a powerful record and I’m not ashamed to say my chest caves in and I collapse a little whenever I hear it. I love that music as powerful and meaningful as this can catch you unexpectedly as you shift through the gears on the bike or wrestle with a burst bin bag or search in vain for Lazy Garlic in Morrison’s, but when it gets you, it’s got you. To paraphrase Alex Ferguson, music, eh? Bloody hell.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Winging It

Like many folk in this part of the world, I made it along to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum to see the Linda McCartney photography exhibition.

It’s an interesting curation loosely split into three sections; family, music and nature. It’s the music related shots that brought me there and they did not disappoint. Alongside the numerous Beatles and McCartney images – there’s enough previously unseen stuff to sate the mind of the most anal of Beatles bores – there are fantastic portraits of Hendrix, Jim Morrison, The Yardbirds, the Stones…. all the main players of the era.

A strict ‘No Photography’ notice meant that my own shots were taken on the hoof, with one eye over my shoulder, sweaty fingers trying to shoot silently and swiftly. Like a real action snapper, I suppose.

A combination of being well-connected and being in the right place at the right time, Linda shot much of the counterculture in the States, landing the role of in-house photographer at the Fillmore East in New York before blagging a job in London to photograph the Sgt Pepper’s press launch. Famously self-taught, she aligned herself to the greats of 60s music – Lennon, McCartney and Dylan, “none of whom could read music….it’s the innocence that’s important to them,” by saying that her lack of training, her lack of knowledge on what was ‘right’, helped her capture the perfect shot.

Her photographs are generally fantastic. One such shot was of Beatles fans taken from the passenger side of the car as it sped out of Abbey Road. There’s another, possibly from the same day, of Paul reflected in the rear view mirror, a London bus coming in the opposite direction. Much of it is rapid fire, in the moment stuff and as a result, far more interesting than a carefully-planned photo session.

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If ever the phrase ‘winging it’ applied to anyone, it was to Linda McCartney. And once ensconced in Paul’s band, she took it to a whole new level. Paul wasn’t about to take heed of what anyone thought though. He trusted Linda with keyboard duties and occasional vocals and she gamely met the challenge. After heavy criticism of his first two albums, Paul assembled a band that he could write with and take on the road – get back to where he once belonged, ‘n all that. The result was Wings and Wild Life, an odd album in many ways, but one which has enough McCartney magic that it deserves reappraisal.

You’ll need to wait until side 2 before hitting the good stuff, mind you. There’s a theory that the running order for Wild Life album is quite deliberate, that it reflects the ebbing and flowing of a just put-together band getting to grips with one another’s quirks and foibles, seeing what one another is capable of before knuckling down to the serious stuff on the second side.

Side 1 kicks off with a throwaway one-two, a leather lunged McCartney shouting “Take it Tony!” before leading his new bandmates through Mumbo (as in mumbo jumbo no doubt, on account of the nonsense words and sounds McCartney screams with feeling throughout); four minutes of bad boy boogie; groovy rockin’ guitar, occasional “oooh!” backing vocals and Hammond interludes, all underpinned by pounding piano and McCartney’s driving bass. It’s immediately followed by the shuffling Bip Bop, another mainly instrumental track where the band lay down a groove and take it as far is can go. Which isn’t all that far at all. McCartney was embarrassed by the finished results, claiming it to be the worst song he’d ever written. The groove continues though with a quirky cover of Mickey & Sylvia’s Love Is Strange. Reimagined as skifflish tropical lite-reggae, Paul duets with Linda, mirroring the Everly Brothers’ version that he would have been familiar with.

Warm-up out the way, the band begin to knuckle down to the good stuff. The title track closes side 1, a lilting, waltzing, slow-burner of a song, all descending chords and ahead of their time eco-friendly lyrics. McCartney slides effortlessly into that Little Richard impression he’d worked on on all those early Beatles records as Linda and Denny Laine provide the harmonies in the chorus. Signs of promise then for the rest of the album.

Side 2 opener Some People Never Know may well be my favourite solo McCartney track.

WingsSome People Never Know

It’s got all the essential McCartney ingredients; great chord progression, compressed drums, loose and funky acoustic guitar playing – those subtle string bends are what sets him apart – and a melody that apparently tumbled from the gods. A love song to Linda, it’s a critic-bashing fuck you to the haters who still can’t get over the fact Paul split The Beatles and chose instead to make records with his wife.

No one else will ever see 

How much faith you have in me

Only fools would disagree that it’s so

Some people never know

It’s simple stuff. Enhanced by piano, occasional sleigh-bell and percussive handclaps it’s the sort of track that would’ve slotted effortlessly onto one of those late era Beatles albums. There’s even a weeping slide guitar part that George could’ve played beautifully straight off of the fretboard and out into the ether. Those handclaps and sleigh-bells towards the end bring to mind a busker’s version of Hello Goodbye‘s “He-llo, hey hello-ah!” outro. McCartney’s current touring band could do a really great version of it, although I’m not sure if Paul’s voice could handle the highs and lows of the scales he goes through. If you discover one McCartney back catalogue gem this week, make it Some People Never Know. I guarantee you’ll play it to death.

If Paul McCartney had a signature move during those solo years it was that he’d revisit a track towards the end of the album (Ram/Ram On etc) and on Wild Life, a short mid side reprise of Bip Bop, this time played as a downhome White Album 12 string acoustic instrumental gives way to Tomorrow, another cracker packed full of Beatlish harmonies, unexpected chord changes and the sort of sparkling guitar that last turned up on Abbey Road. Indeed, it wouldn’t sound out of place on that album at all.

The side concludes with the downbeat but beautiful Dear Friend, a piano ballad that addresses his relationship with John Lennon. On Ram, Too Many People hinted at Yoko’s unwanted involvement in all things Beatles. Lennon replied with the biting How Do You Sleep (‘the only thing you done was yesterday, and since you’re gone you’re just another day‘) and the pair tittle-tattled back and forth. Dear Friend was written during the Ram sessions and had he chose to include it on that album, it may have had a different effect on the acerbic Lennon. As it was, by the time of Wild Life, enough public sparring had gone on for McCartney to release the heartfelt tribute to his old pal and former band mate. It’s stark, skeletal and carried by a sympathetic string section as far removed from Spector’s disastrous Long And Winding Road score as possible. A fine closer to a fine album. Get on that there Spotify or whatever and pleasantly surprise yourself. And then get yourself along to Kelvingrove at some point if you can. The exhibition runs until the middle of January next year. No excuses, really.