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 Thursday – David 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 You – The 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.
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 Order – Age 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 Order – Your 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.
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.
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.
Wings – Some 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.
It was supposed to be the ultimate in vanity projects, the 50th birthday present to top all others; our band’s demos cut onto vinyl and pressed in just 5 copies, the cost split between 4 of us for vocalist Grant’s birthday present. Sunday Drivers was our band. A 5-piece that sat somewhere between Buzzcocks’ arched-brow punkish charm and the arrogant self-belief of a still-to-hatch Oasis, we had two types of songs; fast ones and faster ones. Never quite skilled enough to match the heights of our heroes – Smiths, Clash, Beatles, Pixies, REM etc etc – we were best-experienced in the live setting where the ramalama of the backline was offset by Grant’s audience baiting and occasional forays into Duglas T Stewart twee territory. We coulda been, shoulda been contenders, but like all the great bands – and we were spectacularly great – tensions bubbled just under the surface.
“You’ve got the ending of that one all wrong, John!”
“Try coming in on 4, Derek!”
“That new tune of yours sounds exactly like The Cure!” (I’m still ticked off about that particular slight.)
“Grant wants to play the whit?!? The guitar?!?”
And so, after burning brightly but briefly, we fizzled out. Memories linger though, and, as it turns out, that’s really important.
Derek had a sore knee at the end of November. At Christmas he suffered a series of seizures. As 2018 rolled into 2019, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The outlook was not good.
Our vanity project suddenly, immediately, took on a whole new meaning. Until now, we’d been considering pressing the ultimate in pop-art statements, a 7” single, and the talk had been about which tracks would make the cut and which would be left off, which song would be the a-side and which would be the b-side…. the important stuff, y’know?
“Fuck the money,” instructed Derek. “Let’s dae it right.”
And so, our wee 7” single became a 6-track 33 rpm LP, with actual labels, a proper colour-printed outer sleeve and, the icing on the cake, a full-colour pull-out poster featuring a montage of the band in its prime at various gigs, rehearsals and the 1993 Shabby Road recording session from where the 6 tracks were taken. It was a real labour of love and it’s a beautiful work of art.
Sunday Drivers – Your Cosmonuat Friend
When it was completed, we had a night at Derek and Elaine’s to present the finished record in all its 180 grams glory to Grant ahead of his birthday party. He was overwhelmed by it, the effort and expense instantly justified, and I think – I know – that Derek was the proudest of all of us to see and hear the finished results.
Sunday Drivers – Staying Power
Sunday Drivers – My Bud’s None The Wiser
I also gave Derek a second record – this time a 4-track EP of the music we’d made as Fonda. After Sunday Drivers, Derek and myself kept playing and our regular sessions led to tunes which led to songs which led to a new band with Richeal Reader on vocals. The Sunday Drivers stuff was mainly all 100 mile an hour bluster, loud and fast and in your face. Fonda, by contrast, was more carefully considered, certainly more melodic and pretty good.
Quite quickly we played shows. One national tabloid ran a feature on us. “The most important band to come out of Scotland since Travis!” they trumpeted. It was on page 11, the main news feature after 10 pages on Bill Clinton’s dalliance with a dress in the White House. Yes, we were that important! That particular red top is not known for its subtlety nor accuracy though, and not for the first time, they were proved wrong. It wasn’t just them that had us ear-marked for the top – I’ve got a flyer somewhere from a show we played in Glasgow: ‘Live Thursdays headlined by tomorrow’s stars. Biffy Clyro. Muse. Fonda.’ I suppose two out three is fairly good speculation.
Fonda – I Forget Again
Since then, we’ve had other nights where the focus has been on Indian food and the talk has been of old music, new music and days gone by as Sunday Drivers. The past few months, Derek has become increasingly nostalgic. He’d found an old film of the band playing in The Attic, Irvine’s version of CBGBs or Eric’s or the Hacienda and watched it on repeat. He made us all DVDs of it and implored us to watch it. I told a wee white lie, that I’d watched a bit of it before turning it off. In truth, I hadn’t watched it at all. I didn’t fancy watching an old gig with wonky intros, shonky backing vocals and in-jokes shouted down the microphone. I could tell Derek was a bit put out by my vague dismissal though – he’d spent the time between chemo sessions transferring the VHS to DVD and made us each a copy – so, a couple of weeks ago I stuck it on while no-one else was around. It was a hoot.
Amongst the sturm und drang of the on-stage goings on, there was film of us setting up for the gig; Derek lugging PA speakers from his old Ford Escort (EGB 666X) and up the back stairs, some of us larking around in the DJ box, assorted pals and hangers-on, keen for a hold of a guitar case and the right to free entry as an important part of our stage crew. As I watched, kicking myself for not having watched it before now, I texted Derek. He replied with a simple thumbs up, his more recent form of communication when he’d been too tired or unwell to muster anything wordier.
This time last week we were texting one another, making plans for Teenage Fanclub’s Kelvingrove show at the end of July. I thought this rather optimistic. By now, Derek was unable to walk and was extremely tired most of the time, but he was determined he’d be going. Courtesy of good friends in high places, disabled parking passes, a space for his wheelchair and some unofficial VIP treatment had also been arranged. It was shaping up to be a good night out.
The next day, Derek took a turn for the worse. He lost his speech. Despite his best protests, he ended up being ambulanced to hospital. He never returned home.
Derek Reid died on Sunday. Elaine and Harris, his family and wide circle of friends are shattered.
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…
Glenn Tilbrook is one half of the song-writing duo that’s provided Squeeze with the tuneage and melody required to bother both the charts and comfortably-sized theatres with pleasing regularity for the past 4 decades. Alongside Chris Difford, the Lennon to his McCartney, Glenn is responsible for writing some of the greatest literate, socially-aware, and slightly saucy kitchen sink dramas this side of Ray Davis. At their peak they were untouchable; Slap And Tickle, Annie Get Your Gun, Cool For Cats, Take Me, I’m Yours, Pulling Mussels From the Shell, Tempted….. Tilbrook is responsible for a back catalogue of songs that many of his peers would kill for.
Amongst those many masterpieces, Up The Junction must surely rank as the greatest of them all. Married to a melody that McCartney himself might be prepared to do serious time for, it outlines the ups and downs of a doomed relationship, handily drawing parallels with the late 60s film of the same name.
Up The Junction is carried by a signature riff that whenever heard nowadays, clatters me between the lugs with such Proustian force that I’m instantly transported back in time to a Thursday night in May, 1979, sat watching on the carpet with a bowl of Rice Krispies as the band play it on Top Of The Pops. What struck me most at the time was not the number of words in the song (unusual in an era of short, sharp new wave belters) nor the instantly hummable tune, but the fact that the drummer was out front and centre stage. Watching recently on one of those BBC4 repeats that brighten up Friday night telly, it was apparent that the band had swapped instruments for their big appearance. Jools Holland manhandles the bass while Difford does his best Gary Numan impression behind the keyboard. And out front is indeed our Glenn, pretending he’s the drummer. At 9 years old, I had no idea. Nor why should I?
Recently, Tillbrook has hooked up with the Trussell Trust, the organisation responsible for helping to stock food banks the length and breadth of the UK. On his current solo tour, Glenn is selling unique merchandise (an EP, t-shirt, mug) and donating all profits to the Trust. He also has food drop-off points at his shows where socially-conscious fans can leave a donation that’ll find its way back into the local community.
“It is shameful that in the 21st century there are people that can’t afford to put food on the table. Anyone, from any walk of life, can fall upon dire times, and I hope that by doing this tour it will remind people that there is a very real need. Most of us can do something to help – be it giving some food or a little money – and I hope people coming to the shows are inspired to donate.”
A few days ago, Glenn’s tour stopped off in my hometown of Irvine and I blagged myself a quick pre-show interview. In my head I’d an idea that I’d ask him some typical ‘Six of the Best‘ fayre – the first records that resonated with the young Glenn, the song he wishes he’d written, a track that everyone should have in their collection….(if you’re a regular reader you’ll know how these (very popular) articles pan out)… and I’d go home and whip up a pretty groovy article referencing the aforementioned Lennon & McCartney, Ray Davis and perhaps Django Reinhardt or other such left-field must-hears. In reality though, our conversation never quite made it that far.
Lounging in his early 00s Airbus, parallel-parked at Irvine harbour with the windows trained on the Isle of Arran just across the water and with joss sticks gently smouldering in the corner, it certainly set a scene. A pile of charity shop vinyl lay propped against a wood panelled wall unit, on top of which sat a turntable, buried underneath LP sleeves and random tour ephemera. Greeting me with a hearty hello and a friendly handshake, I was initially disarmed by how much Glenn unfortunately looked and sounded a bit like Piers Morgan’s younger brother. We’d met 5 years ago, but the ubiquitous Morgan wasn’t quite as omnipresent back then. Not sure how you address that, Glenn, but surely that’s another reason for ridding the world of Morgan? There’s room for just the one matey bloke with short-cropped curls and a Thames Estuary accent, and Glenn’s politics are far more acceptable also.
“There was always music in our house,” begins Glenn. “My parents were jazz fans; Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra, Lena Horne. Their records sound-tracked my earliest memories. My brother was 7 years older than me and he introduced me to stuff like The Beatles, The Who and The Yardbirds, all the beat groups. I listened intently to the pirate radio stations, Radios Caroline and London, mainly. When I was 6 I learnt to play the piano and a year later I’d picked up the guitar. Most kids go through the tennis racquet stage but me, I went straight to the real thing. Music was my thing. I knew from a very early age that this was something I wanted to do all the time.
The first band I was obsessed with was The Monkees. Micky Dolenz has one of the great rock and roll voices, truly, but he never, ever got the recognition. My brother would say, “Oh, they’re just a made-up band, they’re not ‘real'” but to me, they were the most important band in my life. Listen to Last Train To Clarksville and tell me that’s not a brilliant pop record.
The Monkees – Last Train To Clarksville
“It’s interesting , y’know, how I discovered certain music through my brother and how, now, my own children are discovering that same music through me. Not only that, though, I’m discovering brilliant music through them. This generation of kids, with their access to streaming and downloading have the whole world at their fingertips. They aren’t bound by barrier or genre. A good tune’s a good tune, y’know?
Have you heard Question Time by Dave? It’s a beautifully judged, extremely well-written modern protest song. My son Leon turned me onto it.”
Unsurprisingly for a writer obsessed with wordplay and stories, Tillbrook is a big fan of Kate Tempest. “‘Everybody Down’, her debut album, floored me on first listen. Floored me! It’s terrific. She’s smart with words, the way she plays with poetry. She’s definitely a big influence on how I write my own songs.”
“I listen to a lot of Radio 3 when I’m traveling between shows. And Spotify playlists, although the analytics that put together the recommended tracks, they’re usually way off the mark. Let me see…. (grabs iPad, opens it up…)… yes, an eclectic bunch; I love Bjork. her debut album is still astonishing. Destiny’s Child. Villagers. The Emotions. Lots of soul, actually.” A sneak peak confirms Betty Wright, James Brown and Stevie Wonder.
Returning to my parents’ music, I still love jazz. Listen to this…”
“I saw Les Paul once. He played a residency in a little club in Greenwich Village. I was in New York that often that I got to know about it and one night, I made it down, and there he was.”
Glenn’s voice tails off with misty-eyed reflection as the skipping rhythm and scratchy twang fills the space. By now his tour manager has signalled that my time is up. I leave as the last, long and languid notes from Paul and Atkins fade away, not quite armed with the subject matter I’d come hoping for, but all the richer for it. Later, in the tiny but perfect 100-seater Harbour Arts Centre, Glenn runs through Squeeze’s greatest hits and more, sometimes on acoustic but always electric.
Glenn Tilbrook will tour as part of Squeeze in the Autumn. I dare say I’ll see you in Glasgow.
No-one other than the main protagonist himself will know exactly what sounds John Squire was listening to on the day the music for I Am The Resurrection tumbled forth from his fingertips, liquid mercury floating atop a bedrock carved from the groovier elements of prime-time Hendrix, but even the most lenient of high court judges would be hard-pushed not to blurt out “Take him down!” whilst pushing forward a battered copy of Tim Buckley‘s Happy Sad LP as Exhibit A in the case against the Stone Roses’ super-flash riff meister.
Buzzin’ Fly, the second song on side 1 tumbles in on a riff that ‘Roses fans should recognise instantly. Indeed, if, by the 3rd second in, flares don’t start flappin’ in time to lolloping limbs, I’ll eat my well-worn Pollocked bucket hat and give up this blogging lark forever.
Tim Buckley – Buzzin’ Fly
It’s the 18 carat gold signature riff to I Am the Resurrection, innit?! The missing link between Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Tim Buckley’s ethereal 12 string carries the tune whilst Lee Underwood’s mercurial, fluid electric lead meanders happily hither and thither, yet it’s undeniably the riff wot elevated Stone Roses from mere 60s-influenced day trippers to full-on, arrogant true believers (with messiah desires thrown in for good measure).
If you were being particularly scrutinous, you might also point out the similarities between its laid-back, free-spirited guitar interplay and the shuffling backing on Stone Roses’ Bye Bye Badman and Shoot you Down. Indeed, there’s maybe even a case for considering the guitar playing on Buzzin’ Fly to be the very genesis of that entire Stone Roses album. It’s clearly an influence, any cloth-eared fool can hear that.
Back in 1989, I had no idea at all that such a tune could tumble from the fingers of anyone but the expertly-coiffed Squire. Many an hour was spent mangling my fingers into shapes previously uncharted in the forlorn hope that I might replicate even 10 seconds of the heaven-sent instrumental passage that closed Stone Roses’ debut album. From street-suss rock riffing to full-on Starsky & Hutch funk, this was a new kinda guitar hero, from roughly the same area as Johnny Marr too, but a million miles way from his crystalline jangle. Nowadays, muscle memory has enabled me to jam along faithfully to I Am The Resurrection and my ham-fisted attempts might even border on being nearly right, but back then, continual stomping on my cheap fuzz box was the only answer I had when fingers were suddenly required to travel further up the fretboard than ever before.
(Dennis Morris, Glasgow Green)
No such worries for the guitarist in the spotlight, though. Here he is carrying the tune for upwards of 10 groovetastic minutes at the original Glasgow Green show in June 1990, 29 years ago yesterday, as coincidence would have it. With the sweat dripping from the ceiling of the massive circus tent and the anonymous rave music blaring like a beacon to the demented before the band appeared and then the punch full in the face from the wee random ned as I Wanna Be Adored rumbled through its opening gears, I remember it as if it were yesterday.
Stone Roses – Elizabeth My Dear/I Am The Resurrection (live, Glasgow Green, 9th June 1990, bootleg)
Lee Underwood – remember him?! – it would appear, went no further than the 9 albums he recorded as Tim Buckley’s right hand man, but what an important element to Buckley’s sound he turned out to be. Worth investigating, is Buckley Snr.
(Photo by Kevin Cummins/Getty Images)
Worth reinvestigating also is that Stone Roses album.
I remember reading a Gruff Rhys interview where he said that he’d played the works of The Velvet Underground so much in his youth that the music was now embedded in the virtual mp3 player in his brain, just waiting to be called down wherever and whenever it took his fancy.
I daresay the Stone Roses debut is similarly lodged in my cerebellum, but nothing beats getting out the real thing once or twice a year, placing it on the turntable and waiting (im)patiently for the low creeping bass that introduces the band one by one; bass then drums then guitar then vocals – the perfect intro. By the end of side 2, I’ve usually picked up the ol’ Fender and, capo on the 2nd fret (important that – those whippersnapper YouTubers seem to dispose of such essentials) teleported myself back to May ’89 when anything beyond the 5th fret was like a foreign language. It still is, I suppose, but I can speak a wee bit of it nowadays.
Dead Beat Descendant by The Fall was the first track of theirs that really piqued my interest. Until then, I’d pegged Mark E Smith’s rattling racket as irritating and annoying, the atonal sound of Regal-stained fingers slowly scraping their way down a blackboard. When it popped up in the middle of an episode of Snub TV, Dead Beat Descendant had me hooked.
It wasn’t just the stinging garage band guitar riff, played on a Rickenbacker by a sulky, peroxide shock-wigged Brix that pulled me in, or the gnarly, relentless and repetitive Stray Cats meets Stooges bass, or the occasional daft parp of a one-fingered keyboard, or the metronomic tribal tub thumping that held the whole thing in place that got me – it was the group’s leader that grabbed me by the short ‘n curlies and demanded my attention. That, and the ballet dancer. I’d heard The Fall, but I’d never seen The Fall. And that was apparently important.
Smith is hunched over his microphone and ready to spring, the German army-issued leather greatcoat he’s wearing letting all present know who’s in charge. “Come back here!” he demands with barely under the surface menace. The omnipresent smouldering fag, more ash than cigarette, is lodged at a downwards 30 degree angle between his fingers as he delivers the vocal, a lip-curled sneer the equal of a Mancunian Gene Vincent. Between lines he delivers terrific little off-beat Supreme handclaps and chews on an invisible glob of gum whilst staring his musicians down, lest they consider veering from his well-chosen path. Maybe that’s where the “Come back here!” line comes from. The band, as slick as the gears in a Victorian workhouse, are in tune with their leader and dutifully do what’s demanded of them.
Well, stone me! It turns out there was no German army greatcoat after all. Or a shock-wigged Brix. Or long-burning Regal King-Sized ‘tween the digits. It’s funny how your 30 year-old version of events turns fiction into reality. And it’s funny how, as it turns out, it’s the music that endures rather than the vision. Those hand claps, though… And the told-you-so smug grin on Mark’s face at the end. They were real.
It’s a great clip mind you. The ballet dancer (the awkward piece of the Mark/Brix split jigsaw, if you believe what you read online) pirouettes obliviously around the studio in the middle of the racket, in practise for her stint on stage with The Fall as they prepare to provide the musical backdrop to Michael Clark’s I Am Curious, Orange ballet at the Edinburgh Festival.
A weird pairing, it’s certainly something that’d have been worth seeing, with Brix sitting cross-legged atop a giant hamburger while Mark prowls betwixt and between the ballet dancers, spitting venom about King Billy and barking out Cab It Up and Wrong Place, Right Time amongst others. I Am Kurious Oranj isn’t the top of the list of critics’ favourite Fall albums, but it’s right up there alongside Extricate on mine.
Crowded House‘s Into Temptation is a slow shuffling, McCartney-esque cheatin’ song, all minor chords and lilting vocals that carry the heavy weight of a clandestine world.
Crowded House – Into Temptation
It’s a terrific wee song, played, like its subject matter, with a hesitant and delicate touch, necessary for allowing the melody to tip-toe in the gaps in between.
“The guilty get no sleep in the last slow hours of morning,” offers Neil Finn, as the creeping chord progression ascends in the way a guilty party might sneak back up the stairs in the wee hours.
“As I turn to go, you looked at me for half a second
With an open invitation for me to go into temptation.”
Wow. There’s no denying what the song’s about, a 4 minute wonder that was inspired after a knock on Finn’s hotel room door one night. Staying there in the middle of a Crowded House tour, Finn had noticed a men’s rugby team and a women’s volleyball team were also residents. On opening, he realised the knock had been on the door of the room next to his and he caught a quick glimpse of a female volleyball player going (into temptation) into the room of the rugby player who was staying there. What goes on on tour stays on tour ‘n all that….
A fairly insignificant track from the band’s second album, Into Temptation benefits from being on Crowded House’s Best Of compilation, Recurring Dream where it remains as a slow-burning standout on an album packed full of great songs. Anyone with a liking for guitar based melodic pop should look no further. Never particularly hip or happening (never mind the AOR leanings of the music, they could’ve done with a decent barber and tailor), Crowded House nonetheless endure, a more straight-laced Go Betweens for folk who’ve never heard the Go Betweens, a safer bet than the edgier Del Amitri. It’s hip to be square, as someone once sang.
Like all the best Neil Finn compositions, Into Temptation features a brilliantly technicoloured chiming bridge where ringing arpeggiated guitars sparkle and the melody soars before returning once again to the unmentionable matter in hand. As far as songs of unfaithfulness go, it’s second only to James Carr’s Dark End Of The Street, another post for another day, for sure.
Affiliating yourself to tribal youth culture was once the be all and end all for musically-inclined teenagers, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Pre Stone Roses, the teenage Ian Brown was at various times a scooter boy, a northern soul disciple, a mod and a punk (a ‘monk’?!). When the future king of the swingers heard a local rumour that The Clash were in a Manchester recording studio he and his pal dropped any immediate plans they might’ve had and set about tracking down the only band that mattered to them. Unbelievably, they happened past a local music shop just as Topper Headon was trying out one of their kits. Even more unbelievably, after standing around watching The Clash’s heartbeat thrash seven shades from the kit, Brown and his pal were invited back to the studio by Headon to watch The Clash in action.
What unfolded was not any old recording session. The Clash were in the studio to record Bankrobber with reggae artist (and Clash support act) Mikey Dread in the producer’s chair. On the band’s timeline, the track would be released between the ubiquitous double London Calling and hotch-potch triple Sandanista! albums, a stand alone single that CBS originally refused to release. “It sounds like David Bowie playing backwards,” they argued stupidly. Only after import copies began selling in chart-bothering quantities did the label relent and release.
The Clash – Bankrobber/Robber Dub
It’s a terrific single, a million miles from the tinny, phlegm-spittled ramalama of their early stuff and a surprising left turn from some of London Calling‘s more arena-ready and FM-friendly tracks.
Bankrobber is epic, widescreen Clash; dub-inflected, full of twanging spaghetti western guitars and never-ending. Those doom-laden backing vocals went on for so long they ended up on The Specials’ Ghost Town the following year.
Bankrobber was the next logical step in dub for The Clash, coming a few months after their faithful attempt at Willie Williams’ Armagideon Time which appeared on the b-side of London Calling‘s lead single. In an unlikely instance of punk karaoke, the original plan for recording Armagideon Time involved the band visiting the famous Studio 1 in Kingston to record their vocals on top of William’s backing track. This was nixed straight away but as Mick Jones lamented, “they were happy enough to sell us the publishing for it though.”
Recorded (and renamed) with Kosmo Vinyl in London, The Clash’s version is free-form and ad-libbed after the 3 minute mark. Vinyl’s instruction for them to stop after ‘the perfect length for a pop single’ was roundly ignored, with Strummer shouting, “don’t push us when we’re hot!” Listen for Kosmo Vinyl’s voice and revel in The Clash’s musicianship and spontaneity from then on in.
The Clash – Justice Tonight/Kick It Over
Willie Williams‘ ‘original’ version was itself built around the backing track for Real Rock, an early Coxsone Dodd/Sound Dimension release (and a future posting for sure), drawing a direct line from the pioneers of roots reggae to the trailblazers of punk.
I wonder if Ian Brown and his pal were aware of that back then in that recording studion in Manchester.
As is the way at this time of year, lists, polls and Best Of countdowns prevail. Happily stuck in the past, the truth of it is I’m not a listener of much in the way of new music. Idles seem to dominate many of the lists I’ve seen, and I want to like them, but I can’t get past the singer’s ‘angry ranting man in a bus shelter’ voice. I’ve liked much of the new stuff I’ve heard via 6 Music and some of the more switched-on blogs I visit, but not so much that I’ve gone out to buy the album on the back of it.
If you held a knife to my throat though, I might admit to a liking for albums by Parquet Courts and Arctic Monkeys, both acts who are neither new nor up and coming. I listened a lot to the Gwenno album when it was released and I should’ve taken a chance on the Gulp album when I saw it at half price last week, but as far as new music goes, I think that’s about it. Under his Radiophonic Tuckshop moniker, Glasgow’s Joe Kane made a brilliant psyche-infused album from the spare room in his Dennistoun flat – released on the excellent Last Night From Glasgow label – so if I were to suggest anything you might like, it’d be Joe’s lo-fi McCartney by way of Asda-priced synth pop that I’d direct you to. Contentiously, it’s currently a tenner on Amazon which, should you buy it via them, is surely another nail in the HMV coffin.
2018 saw the readership of Plain Or Pan continue to grow slowly but steadily in a niche market kinda style, so if I may, I’d like to point you and any new readers to the most-read posts of the year. You may have read these at the time or you may have missed them. Either way, here they are again;
An article on the wonder of The Specials‘ b-sides.