Archive for the ‘Gone but not forgotten’ Category

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Big Brown Bag

October 4, 2016

The mid 60s was an extremely fertile period for James Brown. By then he’d moved away from the tear-soaked, down-on-his-knees gospel/soul that defined much of his early career. Relatively straightforward 12 bar song structures were replaced instead by jerky, jagged one-chord grooves. Brass stabs emphasised the first beat – “On the one!” as he’d instruct his musicians, and the tracks would tick along with well-timed metronomic precision. No-one knew it at the time, but the Godfather of Soul was inventing funk.


To be in James’ band then must’ve been terrifically exciting, yet extremely stressful. Here you were, creating this new form of dance music, all the while unable to enjoy playing for playing’s sake, lest you miss the beat and risk a fine from the boss. James Brown records are littered with phlegmily barked instructions; “Horns! (Bap! Bap!) Maceo! (Toot! Toot!) Pee-ann-er! (rinky dink dink dink) – every musician hitting his part with laser precision. Miss the beat and you’d find your pay packet a wee bit lighter come the end of the week.

When you strip the records down into their component parts, they’re extremely simple affairs. Take 1965’s Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. Individually, there’s fairly little going on; a rickety-tick drum beat played by Melvin (brother of Maceo) Parker, a repetitive, a see-sawing, octave-hopping bass line, a simple horn section, blasting ‘on the one’, a chicken scratching guitar, stuck forever on a Major 9th chord (I think it’s Db, though the released recording was sped up half a tone to make it faster and more energetic, so this, muso minds, would in effect make it an E major 9th) and James’ gravel-throated lyric about an old guy who’s discovered he likes the new dance all the kids are doing.

brown-gif

James Brown’s Star Time box set – one of THE essential additions to any serious music collection features the complete, unedited take of Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. When the track was originally released as a single, it was edited so that ‘Part 1’ became the a-side, and the extended funk workout that followed was renamed ‘Part 2’ and featured on the b-side.

James BrownPapa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Parts 1, 2 and 3)

The box set includes James Brown’s declaration that, “This is a hit!” before a note is even played, and for the next 7 or so minutes, the band follows their leader with an unnerving mechanical rhythm. The whole recording sounds tight and taut, lean and mean, stripped of unnecessary excess and flab. It fair packs a punch.

A favourite dancefloor filler in this part of the world, it can make my pal Greg move in ways a white man from the west of Scotland has no real right to. Soul of a black man, feet of a rhythmically-challenged Glaswegian. Right on.


You know this already, of course, but James Brown’s influence goes far and wide. Early 80s DIY punk/funk collective Pigbag named their signature instrumental Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag in clear homage. An instantly catchy 8 note riff, it failed to chart initially.

PigbagPapa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag

 

Nowadays, Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag is ubiquitous with over-zealous, celebratory football chants and montage soundtrackers who think they’re still making yoof programmes for the TV, thanks in no small part to Paul Oakenfold’s ‘monsta!’ souped-up makeover around 20 years ago, but Pigbag’s original version took 2 or 3 goes before it went chart-bound. The Jam, in particular their keen-eared, sticky-fingered bass player Bruce Foxton, must’ve been blushing slightly when it eventually started gaining airplay.

jam-selfie

By this time their own Precious, out as a double a-side with A Town Called Malice was starting to get played on the radio and you couldn’t help but notice the (cough) similarity between the two tunes.

The JamPrecious (12″ version)

The Jam even went as far as naming their posthumous live album Dig The New Breed, a line from the James Brown tune that kicks off this post. Which just goes to show, what goes around comes around.

 

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A Religious Experience

August 8, 2016

1985. 15 years old. Too young for pubs (I looked about 12) and too old for weans’ stuff like skating and swimming at the Magnum, it was the worst of times. My pals and I started going to a youth club every Sunday night at the church. There was table tennis and pool and a cheap tuck shop. Nice-looking girls went and everything. Now and again you’d have a hormone-filled and hormone-fueled shaky game of pool with a lassie you had absolutely no chance of getting anywhere with, but it certainly brightened the times.

There was one stipulation to attending Youth Fellowship: once a year you had to represent the church in the area Bible quiz. For 50 weeks of the year you got cheap Cola and stilted access to fanciable girls as long as you agreed to mug up on the finer points of the Good Book and answer questions in front of an audience. My one and only participation in this was a truly enlightening moment, though probably not for the reasons the church would have liked.

 

The Pogues with Shane MacGowan, Jem Finer, Darryl Hunt, Spider, James Fearnley, James McNally.

The quiz always took place in one of the ante-rooms or small halls upstairs above the Grand Hall in Kilmarnock. This particular year, the quiz took place the same night as The Pogues were playing downstairs. I had never heard of The Pogues, didn’t know they were playing until we arrived in the church mini bus, but when I saw the queue snaking round the corner, I knew where I’d rather be going. All manner of youth tribes were there; pasty-faced, back-combed goths (I recognised one girl from school who looked nothing like she did on an ordinary day. The guy she was with looked at least 17 years old and she pretended not to see me. Pfffft), old punks with daft-looking triple-pronged mohicans and bondage trousers, a couple of teddy boys and a whole army of Docs ‘n leather and denim jackets, interspersed with the odd Celtic top. I had no idea why folk would wear a football top to a gig, but it wouldn’t be long until I made the connection between the green and white hoops with MacGowan and co.

Anyway, we shambled upstairs into the stuffy confines of the small hall where we’d be quizzing that night. After a few formal introductions from a tweedy man who looked as old as the Bible itself, we got underway. It was all fairly straightforward to begin with; “Who cut Samson’s hair and deprived him of strength?“, “Which Sea did Moses part?“, “What occupation did St Andrew have?“, all that sort of stuff. Then, as the wheat began to separate from the chaff and the questions got tougher, The Pogues took the stage.

In which Book of the Bible….”

S’calledstreamsofwhiskeyanditgoeslikethis…

…did Daniel….

“Kscscscscshhh..thump thump thump….”

(Raising his voice a little) “…meet the Lion?

“stampstompstamp…YOU BASTARD!

(cue nervous giggling and shuffling of feet).

pogues bw

This Pogues lot sounded like just the thing I’d been looking for. The rest of the quiz was punctuated by a whole host of punky, rootsy, rebel shouting, banshee wailing and liberal swearing coming from the floor below, slightly dulled and muffled, but clear enough for all of an offended nature to hear. It was this event that led me to believe in the power of live music. So, thank you Youth Fellowship, for making sure I never missed out.

A year or so later I found myself browsing in Walker’s Record Shop at Irvine Cross. It was the best wee record shop bar none. The two elderly ladies who worked there had an extensive knowledge of music and knew exactly where to find what you were looking for. Years later, when I worked at Our Price and had a good understanding of the mechanics of ordering and returning stock, I realised that Walker’s was so good because they never returned any un-sold stock, so over time the shop had become an Aladdin’s Cave of waiting-to-be-discovered classics. Flicking through the racks one day I chanced upon The Pogues ‘Poguetry In Motion‘ EP. With memories of the previous year’s Bible quiz/Pogues swear fest still fresh in my mind I bought it. My first Pogues record, but certainly not my last.

pogues poguetry promo press

It’s a tremendous EP, a Pogues in miniature for the short-of-attention.

Side 1 kicks off with London Girl, the ‘poppy’ one, all skirling accordion and battered snare, a chicken dance for those folk in Docs ‘n denim I’d seen in the queue the year before, MacGowan growling his way through the London A-Z with youthful abandon.

The PoguesLondon Girl

This is swiftly followed by A Rainy Night In Soho, another London-referencing song, one I didn’t immediately take to (it was too slow for this hopped-up teenager) but in time I’ve come to accept it as the classic it now is.

The PoguesA Rainy Night In Soho

A romantic, (aye, romantic! That drunk ‘singer’ could fair write a love song, eh?) lilting, waltzing gem of a song, it’s the equal of anything Tom Waits might have written had he been an Irish immigrant in London rather than a Californian who lived on the Mexican border. It always annoyed me how MacGowan sings the “now this song is nearly over” line twice, once mid-way and one when it is in fact nearly over, but I like to think his lyrics on the recorded version were a work in progress that he never quite got around to changing. We’ll maybe never know.

shane teeth

Flip the record over and it starts with a thrilling rush of double-speed playing, penny whistles competing with a snarl of shouting and swearing and a tumble of military drums. There’s a great story in the lyrics and the juvenile in me regresses to that night at the Bible quiz every time I hear it. Who knows if it was played that night in the Grand Hall, but I’d bet it was. For its sheer ramshackle stomp, The Body Of An American remains my favourite ever Pogues track.

The PoguesThe Body Of An American

The last track on it is an instrumental two-fingered salute to the Irish traditional musician Noel Hill. He famously called The Pogues music ‘a terrible abortion to Irish music’. ‘Planxty’ is an old Irish pub shout, said the way we say ‘Cheers!’ nowadays. So, the band were saying Cheers! Noel Hill, ironic, like, before launching into a breakneck instrumental with wheezing accordions and marching band drums punctuated by the occasional war cry. Wake up, garandad, they (literally) say. This is where Irish music is at nowadays!

The PoguesPlanxty Noel Hill

It might surprise you to know that the first version of Fairytale Of New York was recorded at these sessions. Producer Elvis Costello had clearly caught The Pogues in a rich vein of form. You may also be surprised to know that Costello and MacGowan had a long-running argument over the arrangement of A Rainy Night In Soho. Shane eventually won, with his choice of flugelhorn solo taking precedence over Costello’s favoured oboe solo. Spinal Tap, eh? Pogues completists amongst you will also be aware that the Costello mix of A Rainy Night In Soho went on the American version instead.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though in all of this is that, in a year where our greatest living musical heroes are no longer actually living, Shane still walks among us, an advert for a debauched way of life that even Keith Richards would balk at.

Pogues completists will also be aware of this….Shane MacGowan having his own religious experience, just in front of Mick Jones as The Clash rage on stage:

macgowan clash

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You Scratch My Back Catalogue, I’ll Scratch Yours

August 1, 2016

In the early 90s, there was no finer sight in music than when the three frontmen from Teenage Fanclub stepped up to the mic as one and filled the room with honey-coated harmonies that surfed across the top of their ramshackle fuzz. Lest we forget, in the year that saw both REM’s Out Of Time and Nirvana’s Nevermind released and racking up gazillions of sales, Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque sat proudly at the top of Spin Magazine’s ‘Albums Of The Year‘ list. And rightly so. Bandwagonesque is classic Fanclub; a welding together of God-sent melodies with a clanging calamity of sweet-sounding guitars. To achieve the overdriven sound that defines much of the album, the band had the amps turned up as loud as they would go, put behind a closed cupboard door and close mic’d up. The effect is a cobweb-dusting thing of beauty, but you knew that already.

tfc 90s

On account of their ability to conjure a slightly wobbly three-part harmony out of thin air, fans of the band renamed them The Bellshill Beach Boys. Lazy writers at the time were less generous, waxing lyrical about the band’s obvious debt to the three Bs – The Beatles, The Byrds and Big Star.

This was the first time I (and I suspect many others) had ever encountered the names ‘Big Star‘ or ‘Alex Chilton‘ and the hastily re-released #1 Record/Radio City twofer that followed on the heels of Bandwagonesque confirmed that Teenage Fanclub had indeed tipped their hat in the particular direction of their 70s idols. Other bands are guilty as charged when it comes to blatant sticky-fingered plagiarism, but Teenage Fanclub were clever enough not to steal whole songs, lock, stock and barrel from Big Star. The overall mood though of Bandwagonesque, from the mid-paced strumming and guitar sound to the uplifting melancholy that sticks itself to many of the tracks (The Concept is essentially a sad song, but it’s sky-scrapingly magnificent. Likewise, December and Guiding Star) is very Big Star. Nowt wrong with that of course.

bandwagonesque reviewPatronising idiot.

Bandwagonesque remains an early high point in a discography embarrassingly rich in high points. Will the new album ‘Here‘, released in just over a month, have the same impact? Going on the strength of the lead single I’m In Love, with its trademark harmonies, fancy chords and Thin Lizzy-ish guitar solo, the early indications are good, but let’s remember that Bandwagonesque was released a quarter of a century ago. That Teenage Fanclub are still releasing records to an always-appreciative audience is fine in its own right.

Alex Chilton and Teenage Fanclub would play a few shows together. They also released a limited single via the NME, where Alex was backed by TFC on one side, and TFC were backed by Alex (kinda) on the other. At some point or other, (I’d like to imagine it was during the sessions for the NME single, though we’ll maybe never really know), Alex and TFC ran through a gloriously ragged live take of Bandwagonesque‘s Alcoholiday.

alex chilton bwAlex ChiltonAlcoholiday

The track is credited purely to Chilton, but if you listen carefully between the clanging chords and underneath Alex’s world-weary, 30-a-day Marlboro-coated voice, you’ll be able to make out Norman Blake’s ooing and aahing backing vocals. It’s a beautiful thing. Perhaps even more beautiful than the original….

Teenage FanclubAlcoholiday

tfc and alex c

Teenage Fanclub have also dipped more than a toe into the extensive Chilton back catalogue. An early US-only single from around the time of Bandwagonesque saw them zip through a brilliant version of Free Again, replete with a kazoo solo, a key change and seemingly, the kitchen sink.

Teenage FanclubFree Again

Free Again is a post Box Tops Chilton three chord boogie that would first see the light of day on 1977’s The Singer Not The Song EP, from a period in time when no-one seemingly gave a damn about Alex. Given the shambolic mess that made up the EP, this was also a period in Chilton’s life when he seemingly didn’t give a damn about folk either, but that’s another article for another day.

Alex ChiltonFree Again

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Van Hailin’

July 25, 2016

Van Morrison‘s Astral Weeks is a critics’ wet dream of an album, consistently frothed over and placed at the upper reaches of ‘Best Albums Ever’ lists. It’s a particular kind of album; a heady mix of rock, folk, jazz, and soul which doesn’t always hit the mark for me, but, when it does, bullseye!


The critics considered The Way Young Lovers Do to be the stand-out track, but, they reasoned, for all the wrong reasons.

Reviewing Astral Weeks, self-styled barometer of hip opinion Clinton Heylin said it “sticks out like Spumante at a champagne buffet.

Pffffft! What does he know? Compared to the brevity and substance of the majority of the tracks, The Way Young Lovers Do is light and airy. It features a lyric that you don’t need a degree in English and/or codebreaking to decipher. It is, ‘serious’ music fans, a 3 minute pop song. For me, The Way Young Lovers Do is the stand-out track, but for all the right reasons.


It skitters along on a weird time signature of jazzy triplets played on a lightly brushed drum kit that’s doing it’s best to keep up with a frantically scrubbed acoustic guitar. The musicians on the track, all time-served jazzheads, were delighted to find they’d be given free reign to play as they fancied. The stand-up double bass player can’t quite believe his luck. He’s all over the track like a free-form be-bop rash.

Not one to labour over the small details in the studio, Van sketched out the track on his acoustic guitar and encouraged the others to fall in behind him. Going against the grain of late 60s studio work, Van didn’t prepare chord charts or musical scores. Instead, the whole thing was kept together with head nods, subtle glances and the unspoken telepathy that happens between seasoned pros. What was recorded for posterity is essentially the first run-through of the track.

Van MorrisonThe Way Young Lovers Do 

And what a track!

Van scats and scooby-dos like a hard-boppin’, finger-poppin’ Celtic Louis Armstrong, wailin’ those words with a phrasing and maturity that belies his 23 years. Stabs of brass more usually found on a primo slice of Stax soul puncture the ambience like an accusing finger in the face of a non-believer. “Whaddayamean you’ve never bin in love, ell, yoo, vee…..

A vibraphone shimmers like one of those self-same young lover’s hearts, while the strings (overdubbed later) swoon and sweep as the melody rises. This is pure joy abandon, as good as it gets, really.

On this track alone, Van really is The Man.

jeff buckley tele

Contrast Van’s original with Jeff Buckley‘s extended, improvised take. Borne out of the cafe culture that fashioned his sound, Jeff’s version is just him with his beautifully-toned Telecaster playing through a Fender Twin Reverb amp, a combination of delicate, ringing picking, muted riffing and high intensity. A staple of his live shows, he never seemed to play it or sing it quite the same way twice. Jeff’s version often exceeded the 10 minute mark, with some versions approaching Zeppelin-esque proportions. Here’s an incredible version from the Bataclan in Paris taken from the European release of the same name. Intense, moody, stratospheric. You might even say it’s funky.

Jeff BuckleyThe Way Young Lovers Do (Live from the Bataclan)

starsailor

And then we have Starsailor. Currently residing alongside Toploader and Embrace in the Rewind section of Poundland, here was a band that pinned their flimsy influences to their poorly-tailored sleeves. Naming the band after an obscure Tim Buckley album, they took his vocal leaps and phrasings, welded them to the guitar stylings of the boy Jeff and had the sheer cheek to do their own version of The Way Young Lovers Do with all the grace (no pun intended), all the soul, all the nuance and style stripped from it. It’s a well-produced version, just not very good.

StarsailorThe Way Young Lovers Do

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Goode and Bad

July 4, 2016

The blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n roll. Standing expectantly with the forceps may have been Ike Turner, and on hand with the hot water and towels was Little Richard, but there, straight outta the womb came a duck walkin’, smart talkin’ Chuck Berry, sly grin on the side of his mouth and holding a cherry red Gibson with a hand span as wide as the Mississippi.

chuckwalk

He sang of motorvatin’ in shark-finned Cadillacs, of Coolerators and TV dinners, of a life so technicolour and otherworldly and sci-fi that he couldn’t fail to capture the imagination of anyone with half a feel for the beat. It’s no wonder that future legends like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton embraced him so keenly. Young Keith was still playing with rats on Blitzed-out bomb sites in a post-War Britain living in severely austere times, and here was Chuck, singing quite literally about the promised land.

chuck berry gogo

Chuck BerryBye Bye Johnny

I’ve always loved Chuck’s Bye Bye Johnny, a follow-up in sorts to Johnny B. Goode, a story song where the protagonist leaves home in search of fame and fortune. First time I heard it though was on Status Quo’s epic triple box set ‘From the Makers Of‘. For years I assumed it was a denim-clad Quo original. With it’s 3 chord chugga-chugga boogie and heads down, no-nonsense approach it could well have been a mid 70’s Quo classic.

Status QuoBye Bye Johnny

Back in the early 80s, (September ’83), around the time I’d have been headbanging myself into stupidity with a tennis racquet and Status Quo blaring in the background,  Chuck and a pick-up band played my hometown of Irvine. I never went. Why? Because I was a daft wee boy who was in denial about music from the past. If my parents liked it, I didn’t. It was as simple as that.

chuck irvineFound on t’internet

The promoter of the concert, Willie Freckleton, booked all the bands that came through the town, from Chuck and The Clash to Oasis and Bjork. In later years he told me the story of how Chuck wouldn’t play until he’d been given his fee in a brown paper bag stuffed with good ol’ fashioned American dollars. For a man who’d been ripped off from the moment he’d picked up a guitar, this was probably a smart move, albeit a little cold. After the main set, where Chuck had of course wowed the audience with his 3 minute symphonies and wide-legged stage antics, he left to frenzied applause.

That was great, Chuck!” cheered Willie to his idol from the side of the stage. “Are you going back on? Give the audience a wee bit more, eh?

Sho thing, man,” drawled Chuck, hand out-stretched. “Fo’ anotha’ thousan’ dolla’s…

The Irvine audience never got an encore.

chuck berry

Chuck BerrySweet Little Rock ‘n Roller

You can’t write a piece about him without pointing out the fact that Chuck Berry is, by all accounts, an appalling human being.

Not just for the money-in-the-bag story (that’s so routine in Chuck’s world now, it’s almost as much a signature move as the Johnny B. Goode riff) or the dubious lyrics that reference young girls and carnal acts dressed up in all manner of metaphors.

There is the 3 year jail sentence for transporting a 14 year-old across State lines for ‘prostitution’ and immoral purposes’. You can’t dress that up in metaphor, Chuck. Or maybe you did?

More recently, there is the story of him having a hidden camera in the female toilets in his restaurant. Charges were only dropped after he agreed to pay financial compensation to the 200+ victims who came forward.

Flawed genius? Perhaps. Or just not a nice man.

chuck mug

Broadcaster Andy Kershaw does a really terrific stand-up routine, based around his autobiography ‘No Off Switch‘ – it’s a brilliant read, and part of his show is based around his distaste for Berry as a person alongside the unbridled joy of listening to Promised Land.

If you want to travel across America, don’t do Route 66. That’s the accepted route, but believe me, unless you’re into farming and grain containment, you won’t find a more boring road in the whole of America. If you want to find out about the real America; the grit, the dirt, the soul of the country, take Uncle Chuck’s advice and follow the lyrics of Promised Land.”

Kershaw then impressively reels off the lyrics. Breathless poetry about a land that captured the imaginations of all those post-War wannabe guitar players. It’s a beautiful thing….

Chuck BerryPromised Land

I’ve always had a soft spot for the late 70’s Elvis version.

Listen closely and you can hear his lard ass a-wobblin’ out the seams of that ridiculous white jump suit as he breathlessly tries to keep up with the rest of the band. Heck, you can practically see the sweat flying over the top of the gold aviators as The King staves off the heart attack for a few more weeks. Essential listening, of course.

Elvis PresleyPromised Land

 

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Hook Lines

June 7, 2016

Majestic, magnificent, mid-80’s New Order. Is there anything better?

new order kev c13 ½ of New Order by Kevin Cummins 

Long before the running of the Hacienda that seemed to take priority over the music and the inter-band fights that ultimately led to their sorry downfall, the band were imperial. Their 3rd album, 1985’s ‘Low-Life‘, tracing paper sleeve ‘n all, is a high point in a full-fat discography choc-full of high points. It’s the album where post-punk morphed into dance rock – stadium house for floppy fringes and German Army surplus, if you like.

Side 1 closer ‘Sunrise‘ is New Order’s collected output in miniature; the elegant minor key keyboard swells in the intro giving way to one of those Peter Hook basslines that you kinda just always took for granted – fluid and high up the frets, and dripping with liquid quicksilver from the fingers of the Viking alchemist. It’s window cleaner-whistleable and never lets up the entirety of the song.

hooky kev cHooky by Kevin Cummins. Of course.

New OrderSunrise

Barney’s guitar is forever on the verge of being out of tune, playing a demented take on a Spaghetti Western twang, fizzing and wheezing its way through the song between vocal lines, crashing to a frantically-strummed crescendo somewhere around the 6 minute mark when the ‘F’-shaped chords rattle out like Nile Rodgers fronting the Buzzcocks. Even his vocals, never his strong point, let’s be honest, hang on in there, straining at the high notes before being drowned out by his furious strumming.

It’s a beauty.

Peter HookHeads down, no nonsense.

Even more of a beauty is last year’s homage to Anthony Wilson, St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson. The brainchild of Manchester poet Mike Garry who’d performed the poem, beat poet-style in Manchester’s hipper venues, it was offered to a local composer who added large elements of New Order’s ‘Your Silent Face‘ to the spoken-word track, creating a gorgeous, lush, string-laden track that runs an alliterative A-Z of all that makes Manchester great.

The Arndale…Acid House…Bez, The Buzzcocks, The Bouncing Bomb, The beautiful Busby Babes…. Curtis, Cancer, Crack…. Dance, Design, Durutti, Devoto… I could list it all, but it’s better to just listen to it and soak it all up for yourself.

St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson (Andrew Weatherall mix)

anthony h wilsonSaint Anthony himself

When it came out last August I was totally obsessed by it. Although the original version is the one I heard first, the Weatherall remix is a 9 minute monster. Motorik, relentless and repetitive, it’s the one you want to hear first.

Treat yourself to the vinyl or CD here. Go on!

New OrderYour Silent Face

*Footnote!

I’m no audiophile, but when the New Order back catalogue was re-released by Warners a few years ago, there was a huge outcry over the shoddy mastering of the music. For a band steeped in technology and futuresound, the music on the discs was tinny, weak and flimsy when compared to the original vinyl. My LP is currently spinning as I type and I can attest to this. Don’t let that put you off though – if you like the 2 New Order tracks featured here and are hearing them for the first time, just imagine how terrific they sound when played on the right format. In fact, you should probably pop down to your local record shop (every town has one nowadays) and buy them.

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Too Much, Too Young

May 25, 2016

2 Tone Records was the brainchild of Jerry Dammers, a reggae and ska fan from Coventry. More a culture mash than a culture clash, the label took the ideology and DIY aesthetics of punk, welded it to the Jamaican dance music that was prevalent in the multi-cultural Midlands and created the most exciting musical sound this writer had ever heard in his 10 short years on the planet.

It was almost too much for someone so young. That it happened to be the edgiest, most fashionable music of the era, with the razor-sharp creases on their Sta-Prest as razor-sharp as the attitudes of the folk wearing them, was neither here nor there. For me, 2 Tone was plain and simply exciting pop music, no different to Dog Eat Dog or Kids In America or Status Quo’s ‘Down Down‘.


2 Tone was initially conceived as a vehicle for Dammers to release his own Special AKA singles, but quickly became a collective that put out some of the most vital, insistent and exciting records of the era.


To keep the costs down, 2 Tone’s first release was a split release – ‘Gangsters‘ by The Special AKA on the one side (catalogue number TT1), with The Selecter’s eponymously-titled instrumental (catalogue number TT2) on the other.

The Special AKA. – Gangsters

The SelecterThe Selecter


The Special AKA’s track was the one favoured by DJs and went Top 10. The ‘flip’, not many realised, was actually a track without a band. John Bradbury, The Specials’ drummer played backing to a couple of local musicians who’d written the lilting instrumental based on the original ska records they heard around the city. When ‘Gangsters‘ became a hit, Dammers realised the need for an actual Selecter and, just as the pop impresarios of the previous decade had done, a Selecter was quickly formed.


With a strong emphasis on black and white, both in clothing and personnel, the bands on 2 Tone were coiled springs of energy, bobbing left, right and centre on their numerous Top of their Pops appearances. Suedeheads, pork pie hats and loafers became desirable items of want.

The suedehead was easy enough (though too severe for my mum’s liking (and mine, if truth be told) – I had a pre-Stone Roses bowl cut instead), Burtons sold tassled loafers and skinny black ties – next to the white shirts and sober suits in the ‘funeral’ section, believe it or not, but where in Irvine could you buy a pork pie hat?

Easier to get a hold of were the most important things – the records. Every Sauturday I’d run down to Walker’s at the Cross with my £1 pocket money and part with 99p of it in exchange for the latest 2 Tone 7″.

The Prince. Tears Of A Clown. Do Nothing. Stereotype. On My Radio. I had them all.

Then I gave them all away to a jumble sale that was raising money for Band Aid.

Regretted it ever since. I spent the early 90s sifting through boxes of singles at record fairs (remember them?) in the hope I’d turn up an old friend. Some I now own once again, but many still elude me, going for daft prices online. You live and learn, eh?

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