There’s a scene in Roddy Doyle’s Commitments when Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan is talking to band manager Jimmy Rabbitte’s dad about his time spent working with Elvis. A picture of Mr Rabbitte’s favourite singer hangs above the mantlepiece, noticeably just above a picture of the Pope.
“Tell me Joey,” Jimmy’s dad asks with pleading eyes. “Did ye ever see him take drugs?”
“No, Mr Rabbitte. Never.” As he fixes him in the eye, Joey replies with a genuine plausibility, but given that most of his stories are taller than the quiff atop The King’s head, even Mr Rabbitte must’ve taken it with more than a little pinch of salt.
Likewise The La’s. To clarify, Lee Mavers grinning, gurning, mop-topped Mersey head doesn’t take pride of place on my living room wall, nor do any leaders of world religion, but in this house he holds God-like status. A nutty, 60’s dust-covered, guitar-tuned-to-the-humming-of-the-fridge God-like status, up there with all the greats. One album in and then nothing. The odd low-key comeback where he was hellbent on sabotaging affairs should be quietly forgotten about. But not the tunes. They live on, immortal. The one bona fide rhyming, chiming hit on his hands allows him to live in relative luxury forever. If you want to hear Lee singing live, these days you’re more likely to do so on the terraces of Goodison Park.
“See that song There She Goes? It’s about mainlining heroin, so it is….”
That’s a common concensus and it fair pisses me off.
Now, I once spent a week on Minorca with Lee Mavers and AT NO TIME did I see him mainline heroin. No, Mr Rabbitte. Never. This is a true story – I was on holiday with my missus, so was he. We were holiday pals. One night in his company chatting about The Who and The Kinks and The Beatles – favourite Beatles song? “She Loves You, man!“, said as if it was the most obvious answer in the world, was good enough for me. ‘I’ll leave him in peace,’ I told the future Mrs Pan. ‘I can’t be pestering him for the next week.’ Unbelievably, thrillingly, it was he who pestered me for the next week. ‘Don’t look now,’ said the missus over a midday breakfast the following day, ‘but your pal’s coming over.’ With an ‘Alright kiddo?!?‘ and a punch on the arm, he sat down to join us and we were new best friends.
Over the next few nights he’d beat me at pool, introduce me to gin pommades and sing, SING! La’s songs across the table to me.
“I love ‘Man, I’m Only Human’ I told him one night. “D’you know all the words?” he asked, and before I could reply that I didn’t, he sang them to me, right there at the table, with the same high, floaty voice he’d used a few months before in the Mayfair in Glasgow. Putting extra emphasis on the ‘Man, I’m only wo-man‘ line, he sat back, arms folded as if to say, ‘What d’you make of that, then la?‘ The bar was full of folk oblivious to who was in their presence and it was magic.
He told me about the 2nd La’s album, due for release in “one nine nine four“. It’d be called Cocktail and would be the defining album of the era. It would knock ‘the Stoned Poses‘ off their perch and restore The La’s in their rightful position at the top of the musical tree. Lee envisaged a mountain with the sides littered with all the bands of the day climbing to the top (but not quite getting all the way there), drawn by a flashing blue light. “Callin’ All, la. Callin’ All. And who’s at the top, above them all?” he asked rhetorically.
Now, at no time did I see my new best pal mainline heroin. No, Mr Rabbitte. Never. But he did have a fondness for disappearing into the trees and returning a short while later with a certain sparkle. If Jimmy ‘The Lips’ Fagan told tall stories, Lee’s stories were perhaps taller. Higher, even.
A band with more line ups than Lulu roon’ the back o’ the Barras
Here’s The La’s when they were a skiffly, Beatlish, band from the Merseyssippi, full of promise, mysticism and tunes to die for. April 1987 – 3 whole decades ago! – found them working with Mick Moss on one (just one) of the sessions for their ill-fated, beatifully flawed one and only LP.
The La’s – Callin’ All
The La’s were seemingly never happy with any recordings of Callin All’, ever. It’s one of the few La’s tracks not to have seen an official studio release. La’s trainspotters have multiple versions, of course, from the rootsy, acoustic version above to full on sultry Stones We Love You-era inspired takes. Each one a classic, every one a lost gem in the small but perfect La’s back catalogue.
The La’s – Come In, Come Out
Come In, Come Out exists in better form, on the b-side of There She Goes and on ‘Lost Tapes‘, a long-forgotten download-only release from the embryonic days of the first legal downloads. The Mick Moss version is missing the percussive back beat on those two versions, but skips along with frantically scrubbed acoustics and a full-on ‘n funky bassline. Not for nothing did The La’s tag ‘Rattle ‘n Roll’ onto their record label. I know someone who knows someone who knows John Leckie quite well and he told me (so it must be true) that Mavers often strapped a box of Swan Vestas round his strumming hand for this one in order to achieve a more rhythmical effect. Can’t hear it on this version, but I believe it to be fact, Mr Rabbitte. Fact.
The La’s – Way Out
The debut single. A brilliant lilting, waltzing introduction to the band. Some weak vocals on this take, possibly as the band run through it for the first (or hundred and first) time. Who knows? Lee’s vocals provide the blueprint from which all future versions are hatched, John Power listening with a keen ear to appropriate the backing vocals.
The La’s – Doledrum
Unlike the previous track, here’s a fully-formed take; skiffly guitars, walking bass, harmonising backing vocals, the whole shebang. Really great rhythm playing. It swings with a certain confidence, knowing it’s a great song.
Mavers can fair pluck the melodies and the tunes out of the air with ease. If only he’d done so a bit more regularly.
*all pictures used are in black & white for authentic analogue retro appeal
‘Stand On The Word‘ by the Joubert Singers is a joyous, hands in the air, gospel/house hybrid that, 35 years later, has lost none of its holy religious power. It’s the sort of record Primal Scream might’ve had in mind when they created their blissed-out, preacher-heavy version of Come Together on Screamadelica. But, as good as the Scream’s foray into praise-the-Lord, house-heavy gospel soul was, it falls short when stood against the almighty Joubert Singers.
Joubert Singers – Stand On The Word (Larry Levan mix)
Put together in 1982 by the eponymously-named minister of a New York church, the Joubert Singers self-funded and independently released an album of deeply soulful and religious material. So far, so early 60s Aretha.
What happened next though is clouded in mystery, half-fact and taking credit where it might not be due.
The story – and never let the truth get in the way of a good story – goes that Larry Levan, the revered house DJ, pioneer of triple-track extended mixing and resident DJ at NYC’s Paradise Garage was a member of the church congregation on the day the Joubert Singers raised the roof while recording. His aunt was a singer in the choir and he had gone along to watch/listen as the recording took place.
Once the record was out, legend has it Levan twisted and turned the original into the fantastic rollin’ and tumblin’, happy clappin’, oohin’ and aahin’ descending minor key piano track that appears at the top of this post. It was the perfect record that would from then on and evermore be the final tune in his set, his signature tune even.
That’s the legend.
The truth, as far as internet digging and reading between the lines goes is that Levan had sweet nothing to do with the track. But somewhere along the way, a white label bootleg appeared, labelled with Levan’s name and, much like a Weatheral or whoever today, carried a lot of weight on the dance music circuit, which practically guaranteed a hit record.
So, the real remixer hid behind the more famous name while the more famous name took all the credit for creating a record he had very little, or nothing, to do with. If you look on the various volumes of Paradise Garage albums, all 9 of them, it’s very noticeable by its absence. As they say though, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Whatever that truth may be.
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…
“If I could be in any band,” enthused Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, “I’d be in BMX Bandits.” Not The Beatles. Not Black Sabbath. Not Led Zeppelin. But BMX Bandits, the cult band from Bellshill in Lanarkshire. This was no small claim. Back in 1992 when Nirvana was omnipresent, Kurt Cobain was in turmoil with himself. Months previously, his band had released Nevermind, the epoch-defining multi-million seller crammed full of Beatles-meets-Sabbath by way of Zeppelin radio-friendly slacker anthems, an album that would in time make Nirvana as definitive as some of those very acts.
With a record company keen to milk the band for all they were worth, Cobain withdrew. Commercialism wasn’t a game he was keen to play. His two fellow band mates, the drummer in particular, were much more comfortable with their sudden and quite unexpected lofty status, but not Kurt. He sought solace in the music he wished he was able to put out; lo-fi, fragile, arty, tinged with pathos and a punk sensibility, but most of all, played and recorded for fun. Fun, it seems, was in inverse proportion to Nirvana’s record sales. It’s not hard to see why the poster boy for 90’s disaffected youth held a flame for BMX Bandits. His favourite band, led by the enigmatic Duglas T Stewart has all those things in spades.
Kurt in his ‘Fat Elvis’ phase
“We’re just one of those bands,” summarises Duglas T Stewart, Bandit-in-chief for 30+ years and curator of one of our most-loved musical collectives, “that’s historically been lucky enough to have had, throughout all the line-up changes, great musicians. Norman Blake….Stu Kidd….Jim McCulloch….Francis MacDonald….Eugene Kelly…. Regardless of who they go off and play with, they’ll always remain a part of this band. Being in BMX Bandits is a bit like a stay at the Hotel California. You can check out, but you can never leave!
Norman ‘left’in 1992, but has contributed to every album since, up until the new one (‘BMX Bandits Forever’, released May 26th). Both he and Eugene have said that the happiest times they’ve had making music was when they were in BMX Bandits. It’s a chance to step out of the limelight for a wee while, take side stage rather than centrestage. I think that’s what maybe appealed to Kurt when he said what he said.”
To celebrate the release of BMX Bandits Forever, Duglas and co-vocalist Chloe Philip will lead their renegade 7-piece band in a couple of rare live outings. They’ll play the small-but-perfect Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine on the 18th March and following the album’s release, they’ll celebrate with a launch gig on May 27th at St Luke’s in Glasgow.
The Irvine date is particularly appealing, given that it’s 25 years since BMX Bandits last played the town. On that occassion, they played atop a flat-bed truck stage outside the famous Ship Inn, coincidentally next door to the HAC.
Back then, Duglas and co. were just one of the many bands who found time to veer left at Glasgow and fit in a date on the Ayrshire coast. In recent years, it’s sadly, frustratingly, been less of a thing.
“I’ve really vivid memories of that Irvine show,” recalls Duglas. “You tend to remember the more unusual shows. Eugenius were on the same bill. Gordon and Eugene were both ex-Bandits, so lots of our pals were there. There was no holding back with the audience. Sometimes at a Glasgow or Edinburgh show, the crowd can be a wee bit too cool for school. But the Irvine audience just went for it.
It was a great time to be BMX Bandits. We’d just released ‘Life Goes On’, our first album for Creation and our stock was high. Alan McGee kept saying, ‘You’re gonnae be a hit! You’ll be in the charts!’ I’ve friends who’ve been lucky enough to have had singles, or in the case of Eugene who had Nirvana covering his songs and Joe (McAlinden) who did very nicely on the back of Rod Stewart recording one of his, friends who’ve made a lot of money from songwriting. I’m genuinely happy for them – we’ve all come from the same musical background, so in a funny way, their success is also my success.
‘Serious Drugs’ was the big BMX Bandits hit that never was. It was melodic, but it was still noisy, with loud guitars to the fore, yet totally non-macho. It flew in the face of what was hip at the time. Paul Weller has said since it’s the best single ever released on Creation and Radio 1 went so far as to A-List it, guaranteeing it so many plays a day. Unfortunately for us, its release coincided with Radio 1’s Anti-Drugs Week. A song called Serious Drugs, even if its message is very anti-drugs, could never be played over the week, so it had kinda flopped before it even had the chance to be a massive hit. Ironically, The Shamen chose to release ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ the very same week, a song that very clearly promotes drug use…..and Radio 1 found nothing wrong with it.
The view from the stage, BMX Bandits live in Irvine, July 1992
That Irvine gig 25 years ago was, if memory serves me correctly, a really great gig. On a patch of land overlooking the harbour, 1000+ folk (the picture above doesn’t do it justice, believe me!) momentarily turned our wee part of the world into the best place on the planet. The Harbour Arts Centre holds just a fraction of that audience, and amazingly, there are still a handful of tickets left for their upcoming show. Will BMX Bandits once again turn our wee part of the world into the best place on the planet? You better believe it!
Ahead of the upcoming shows and album release, Duglas took time out from rehearsing – “We don’t rehearse too much, actually. I tend to find you can over-rehearse and by the day of the show, you’ve lost something. You don’t want it too smooth. It’s better being a wee bit rough around the edges” – to talk about his favourite tracks. When he sent these through to me, they came with the caveat that he’d likely pick a different set of songs next week. “Had you asked me last week, Jonathan Richman would definitely have been in there, but these tracks are the ones that’ve stuck with me for years.”
Paul Williams – Someday Man
Paul Williams is incredibly well-known in the States, but in the UK, there’s next to zero knowledge of him. His songs have been a big, big part of my life. He wrote the songs for The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, an album that’s had as much influence on me as any rock album. He wrote ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ and ‘Rainy Days And Mondays’ for The Carpenters….The Rainbow Connection….the soundtrack to Bugsy Malone. I’ve only ever watched that film I think twice, but I know all the songs. He won an Oscar for ‘Evergreen’, the theme song for ‘A Star Is Born’, sung by Barbra Streisand. He even collaborated on the last Daft Punk album. Everything he’s been involved in has real heart.
Paul Williams – Someday Man
Someday Man is mind-blowing. You might know it from The Monkees’ version, but the original has a real gravitas and depth. It’s got that Wrecking Crew kinda feel. The changes of tempo! The not knowing where it’ll go next! The overall feeling you get when you listen to it is one of poignancy and hope.
Beach Boys – The Night Was So Young
This is my favourite track from my favourite Beach Boys’ album (1977’s Beach Boys Love You). It’s an album held in high esteem. Alex Chilton said it was his favourite Beach Boys’ album too. And Brian Wilson told me it was his!
Beach Boys – The Night Was So Young
Brian wanted people to feel loved when listening to his music. Music was everything – it was sanctuary. As someone who was incredibly messed up, in the early years by his father, in the later years by bad management, Brian wrote this for himself. It’s a beautiful track. It embraces you. You can sit late at night listening to it, alone, but you’re not totally alone. ‘The Night Was So Young’ comforts you. It’s an aural cuddle.
The Shangri-Las – Give Him A Great Big Kiss
The Shangri Las are my favourite-ever girl group. There’s two distinct sides to them; the celebration songs and the melodramatic heartbreakers. They said more in their songs than film makers with a big budget can do in 2 hours. These songs are movies without pictures, over and done with in 2 and a half minutes.
The Shangri-Las – Give Him A Great Big Kiss
The use of reverb and sound effects, the spoken-word sections, the delivery… it could fall into pastiche, but Mary Weiss makes it real. I love the call-and-response vocals. ‘What colour are his eyes? I dunno – he’s always wearin’ shades.’ The best bit though? ‘Dirty fingernails – Oh what a prize!’ Hahaha! How dreamy! Shangri Las’ records are full of excitement, joy, humour and musical twists. There’s been no-one ever quite like them since.
Robert Mellin & Gian-Piero Reverberi – The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe
This piece of music is responsible for some of my earliest musical memories, of music affecting me deeply. How could sad, beautiful music make me feel good? I’ve spoken to Jarvis Cocker and he’s told me he feels the same way whenever he hears it.
In the early days of primary school, they’d show The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe during the school holidays. As it was a French-language programme, the BBC re-dubbed it and decided to replace the original score/theme tune with Robert Mellin and Gian-Piero Reverberi’s piece – a vast improvement on the original. I can’t remember much of the actual show, but the music, and the emotions it created, has stayed with me. It’s sad and sentimental. It’s uncontrollable. It’s the key to what I’ve always tried to do with my own music.
Bill Wells featuring Lorna Gilfedder – My Family
At less than a year old, this is my most contemporary choice. Bill lives, eats, drinks, breathes and, yes, dreams music. He’s an extraordinary talent. He’s collaborated with a whole host of interesting artists; Yo La Tengo, Future Pilot AKA, Norman Blake…. a whole bunch of people. His Aidan Moffat collaboration was on a completely different level of brilliance. Really terrific.
Bill’s a jazz guy, and not conservative by any means. Despite its appearance as wild and free, jazz is actually quite conservative and lead by certain rules. Bill’s an outsider who went against the grain of jazz. He finds sad beauty in music. He has the saddest chords. Unusual rhythmic ideas. He has a knack of spotting the right people to work with.
If arranged differently, this track could be a massive hit for a contemporary soul diva. As it is, it’s a very understated piece, with the least earnest, not over-emoted in the slightest vocal you’ll hear on a contemporary piece of music. The singing is understated in a Peggy Lee/Frank Sinatra kinda way, and the track is all the better for it. Bill is easily one of the giants in music today.
Jigsaw – Who Do You Think You Are
This has been done a couple of times, of course, by Candlewick Green and Saint Etienne, but the original is the best. It’s the kinda song I want to write! It’s like an actual jigsaw puzzle, where all the individual parts come together into one great picture of sound.
When you first hear it, you’re thinking, ‘That’s a great verse!’, ‘That’s a great chorus!’, ‘Woah! That’s NOT the chorus – it’s only the pre-chorus! HERE’S the chorus! Wow! This is terrific!’
It all comes together in a fantastic rush of melodies and counter melodies, call and response vocals, keyboards replicating backing vocals, melody versus melody. Everything fits together beautifully. And look at them! They didn’t want to look like the cool guys, they just wanted to have great music. Not fashionable, but always great. Just like the BMX Bandits.
Great choices, eh? Very Duglas, but perhaps pleasantly surprising at the same time. As I said to Duglas during our conversation, hunting down some of these records is going to cost me a fortune. I’ll be keeping a spare tenner though, for the upcoming show in Irvine. Maybe I’ll see you down the front.
It’s well-documented that David Bowie was something of a non-stop workaholic. That long golden run he went on, from Hunky Dory in 1971 to Lodger in ’79 – 10 amazing albums in 9 short years, all killer and no filler (’74’s Diamond Dogs might faintly be described as the runt of the litter, though it yielded Rebel Rebel as well as the album’s title track, so scratch that, naysayers) remains unparallelled, unlikely to ever be equalled, let alone beaten.
What’s all the more remarkable is that while he was on this winning streak, David was sustaining himself on little more than milk, red peppers and the finest Class As that came his way. Not only that, but when he wasn’t changing musical direction and band members and haircut and trousers every nine months, or sticking out the odd non-album track to keep the fans happy between releases (betweenreleases! d’ye hear that, Radiohead?!?), he was still finding the time to help out other artists.
An on-the-brink-of-break-up Mott The Hoople famously kickstarted their attack on the charts with their version of Bowie’s All the Young Dudes. Last time I checked, Mott were still playing the odd Hall Of Fame gig here and there, thanks in no small way to yer man Dave.
A not-quite-post-Velvet Underground but fed up Lou Reed went spinning into orbit on the back of Satellite Of Love and its parent album, Transformer. Satellite… had been written, much like Bowie’s Space Oddity, on the back of the public’s fascination with space. Reed had high hopes for the song, reckoning it was perfect hit single material. Satellite… was considered, then disregarded for inclusion on the Velvets’ Loaded album, so when Bowie entered his orbit showing an interest in his music, Lou was keen for his song to be taken seriously second time around. Both the single and album were produced and enhanced by Bowie, his uncredited vocals on Satellite… worth the price of admission alone.
Iggy Pop, careering out of control on a spiral of illicit substances and ever-decreasing sales (Stooges were hardly big-hitters to begin with) found himself on the receiving end of a post-Ziggy kiss of life when Bowie, fresh from minting his second stone-cold classic in as many years, helped produce, or rather re-produce, Raw Power, Stooges’ third album.
Iggy himself had taken the producer’s chair, creating a chaotic mess of almost unsalvageable pre-punk rock. Of the 24 individual tracks available to him at the mixing desk, he chose to put the entire album onto just three – the band on one, the vocals on another and James Williamson’s lead guitar on the third. When Columbia heard it, they refused to release it until it was cleaned up somewhat and made more presentable.
Cue Bowie. The man with the golden touch. Using all manner of up-to-the-minute recording technology, he twisted and turned Iggy’s 3 track raw Raw Power into something slightly more commercial and releasable. Perhaps not the radio-friendly unit-shifter that Columbia had in mind. Not that many folk bought it anyway, but those that did – cliche klaxon alert!!! – ended up forming bands of their own. But you knew that already. Listen to the album and you’ll hear the embryonic howls of The Jesus And Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and a million other six string stranglers. The teenage Johnny Marr was fixated by the feral guitar playing on it. His bequiffed foil was in love with Search & Destroy‘s glorious abandon and poetic lyrics; streetwalkin’ cheetahs, handfuls of napalm ‘n all.
“I’m the world’s forgotten boy,” drawls the Ig at one point, poetry indeed to the ears of the bedroom bard of Salford’s Kings Road. No Stooges, no Smiths. No Iggy Pop, no indie pop. Imagine that.
Iggy & The Stooges – Search & Destroy
In the mid-90s, ahead of a Stooges reissue campaign, Iggy himself was given the opportunity to remix Bowie’s remix – are you still following? – and used his time to unravel all of Bowie’s work, replacing every guttural grunt and primordial proclamation that had been wiped from the first release. He turned the faders up, up and away into the red until the guitars became ear-splitting, spitting shards of broken glass from both speakers.
Iggy & The Stooges – Shake Appeal
For much of the record, it’s a painful sonic assault on the ears, even during the two ‘ballads’, one on each side, where the guitars somehow still manage to creep into dog-bothering levels of pain.
Shake Appeal, above, surfs above the racket like the noisiest garage band in the world having their first go at a Motown track, all Jagger-pouting handclaps and barking yelps, Iggy’s skinny backside (what waist size was he? 24″? A chunky 26?) bending and jerking like a pipe cleaner in time to the fuzz bass, the Four Tops if they were fighters, not lovers. It’s a sloppy, angry, petulant, white riot of a record. Quite fantastic, of course. Beautiful music wrapped in a beautiful sleeve. What’s not to like?
For a while at the tail end of the 90s/beginning of the 00s, Bob Dylan went through a wee phase of revisiting his religious period. Not in the full-on way he had done with the ‘Christian Trilogy’ of Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot Of Love 20 years previously, a trio of albums packed full of religious imagery, the odd gospel arrangement and a complete and utter declaration of faith. Bob likes to wrongfoot his audience, so in a career that had thus far packed in blues and folk, electric guitars and drugs, motorcycle crashes and stream-of-conscience novels, Mick Ronson and panstick make-up, turning to the power of the Lord was as good a move as any.
After several years in the wilderness (the leather gloves and top hat combo while wandering around Camden like some sort of Dickensian pied piper for all and sundry being the zenith of that particular phase), he kick-started his return to relevance with his Never-Ending Tour, a tour that still zig-zags across the planet to this very day. As a way of hitting the ground running, he’d often start these shows with a giddy run-through of an old Christian foot stomper. Short and sharp, they often wrong-footed the audience (again) who maybe expected a Maggie’s Farm or Dignity as the opener. They also served as a sort of second sound-check; as any sound engineer will tell you, the sound in a room changes dramatically once the audience are in. That wee two minute skip through at the start provided the engineer one last chance, as Depeche Mode might say, to get the balance right.
One such nugget he often kicked off with was his frantically scrubbed take on the Stanley Brothers ‘Somebody Touched Me‘. Bob Dylan – Somebody Touched Me (live, Portsmouth, England, Sept. 24th 2000)
Tight and taut, the song gives Bob maximum mic time. His band stretch their backing vocals for all they’re worth with ragged yet righteous harmonies. There’s a couple of wee breaks in between the verses for the band to break loose like Led Zeppelin III gone country, while the engineer, fingers hovering over faders and switches, fine-tuned the mix. By the time of the second last verse in the version above, Bob is audibly breathless, high on the music and running at full pelt just to keep up with the backing band.
Having witnessed Bob in concert around this time, I can practically see his wee tip of the hat to the audience and the twinkle in his eye as he shouts ‘Thangyew!’ at the end, with an audible smile in his voice, ready to lead his band into the heavyweight double whammy of To Ramona and Visions Of Johanna, two guaranteed crowd pleasers.
Bob in 2001, his Oscar perched atop the amp on the right.
That wee Oscar went everywhere with him for a while.
Lazy writers will often go on about Bob’s songs being indecipherable until, like, the last verse, or they’ll snort that they didn’t even know he’d played Mr Tambourine Man until they got talking to a knowledgeable Bobcat on the train home afterwards. Rubbish!
He may play games with the arrangements and phrasing, but his voice is as clear as it ever was. He e-nun-ci-ates perfectly. Anyone who tells you his songs are unrecognisable in concert is a moron, plain and simple.
He’s due back on these shores in a few months time. Whether I go or not remains to be seen; the last couple of times I’ve been to see him I felt he was a wee bit mechanical in places and going through the motions. Much of the night, it could’ve been any pick-up barroom band that was being let loose on one of the greatest canons in popular music, Bob stuck stage left and standing behind his keyboard like a Thunderbirds puppet hanging from invisible strings, but there were still flashes of undeniable brilliance to suggest he still has it. It’s those wee flashes that keep us hoping he’ll pull another cracker out the bag, as he did at the Barrowlands in 2004, my favourite Bob show of all.
There’s also, morbidly, a faint chance that the next time may be the last time he plays. And you wouldn’t want to miss that. Just like the tour though, I hope ol’ Bob is never-ending.
One of the benefits of being told to “take it easy, relax, do the things you like to do” is that I can find the time to plough through the plethora of music I’m sent on an almost daily basis. A lot of bloggers get real, actual things sent to them in the hope they’ll review them positively and give the company concerned a wee bit of cheap advertising. I wish! I never get anything physical sent my way, but I do get tons of links to Soundcloud, offers of free album downloads, Facebook friend requests and all manner of nice things written in the hope I’ll feature this band or that band on Plain Or Pan.
Just so you know, I listen to all my music on a 20 year-old Denon CD player, a near 30 year-old Dual CS 503-1 turntable, an iPod classic through a Bose SoundDock Series II (that won’t charge anymore) and via iTunes on my old steam-powered PC that’s on its very last legs. If anyone out there would like to send me some updated audio equipment, I’d be more than happy to upgrade my listening experience and pass on my positive thoughts to the tens of thousands who drop by here every week. You don’t ask, you don’t get, ‘n all that…
There’s a clue in the strapline up there – Outdated Music For Outdated People – that suggests I may tend to favour old(ish) music on here, and for a particular demographic (marketeers note – I speaka de lingo). Also, as anyone who’s a regular reader here will tell you, not only is the music of the more vintage bent, it’s also fairly easy to pigeonhole; some soul stuff, a whole load of what you’d call ‘indie’, and the occasional post featuring a classic artist, posted with fingers crossed that the DMCA don’t take offence to the embedded (not shared, note!) music file and send me one of their wee ‘take down’ requests. The curse of the music blogger, I get sent lots of them as well.
Despite the strapline and regular subject matter, I get all manner of rubbish sent my way. I’d like to think the folk sending me the links have read the blog, but clearly, these links have been whizzed my way by some misguided robot, lost in space and looking for any port in a storm. Belgian industrial techno. Wimpy, bed-wetting acoustic troubadours. The most derivative, Oasis-inspired tuneless rubbish. They all end up in Plain Or Pan’s inbox, looking for some love and attention.
“Hello! I would love for you to listen to my clients latest album!”
Client? Really?! And no apostrophe! Straight into the virtual bin.
“Hey! I work with (band name held to protect the innocent) who I think would be perfect for your rad blog. They do old school glam rock and the lead singer is a daughter of GNR guitarist Gilby Clarke.”
“Hi! Since I like what you do, I figured you might want to know what I do. I’m a DJ and I’m releasing a house EP…”
“Hi Plain Or Pan! As a lover of classic rock, I thought you might enjoy the new single by (band name held to protect the innocent). With influences ranging from Whitesnake to Foreigner, they’d be a perfect feature on your cool blog.”
“Hey! I just put out my new song (title held to protect the innocent) yesterday and would luuuuuve to know what you think of it. This song is really important to me because of the message behind it…the best world is the one that you create for yourself.”
“Hey Pain Or Pan! I can’t help but saying I’m a big fan of your blog….loving the features you’ve done. I’ve just put out my projects first single and waffle waffle waffle blah blah blah….”
Big fan. Pain Or Pan. Hee-hee. Projects? Really?! No apostrophe. Bin.
There’s millions more. Gazillions. It’s depressing. John Peel famously listened to everything sent his way, scared that he’d miss the next Velvet Underground or Bowie or Smiths or Half Man Half Biscuit if he ignored them. Not me. I’m happy still discovering the Velvet Underground and Bowie and Smiths and Half Man Half Biscuit. There’s no time for new stuff when there’s so much old stuff out there, waiting for reappraisal and higher status.
…..the odd nugget does come my way.
“Hi man – appreciate you usually work with tracks from ‘the golden age’ but came across your piece on TVAM. I saw him supporting Fews in London a little while back and was blown away, one of the most exciting live acts I’d seen in ages…
Anyway, as you were into him I thought you’d appreciate hearing W.H. Lung, a brand new band straight outta Manchester too with their debut single ‘Inspiration!‘, also taking influence from just the right side of East Germany.”
Great, innit? Takes all the right influences and makes it into a new thing. The singer reminds me of the guy from Flowered Up. They only have this one track online for now, but I’m keeping an eye out for anything else.
“Keith Canisius lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. He blends shoegaze, dream pop, ambient and lo-fi using alternative production techniques. His new album is called ‘We Are The Dreamers‘. The first track is ‘Milky Way‘.”
Great, innit? Weird, wonky, other-worldly, it sounds exactly as you’d expect.
“Max Nortonis the drummer for Benjamin Booker. He is also a songwriter in his own right and observes stories through photographs and travelling the world. The sun, desert and 1960s inspire him. He is releasing his solo record, ‘Blood Moon‘ this year.”
Great, innit? Rootsy, tuneful, Fleet Foxes by way of Ryan Adams.
From the tons of emails, there’s three acts featured. I could probably feature another couple, but that’s for another time. There are plenty of great new bands out there. So, if you’re in one of them and you understand what Plain Or Pan is about, send some stuff to this here cool, rad blog. If it’s good it’ll feature here at some point. Until then, where did I put that Stax box set?
I’ve had the past week to recuperate, re-evaluate and reflect on life. Not in a morose way, but as us folk in the West of Scotland like to understate, “I had a wee fright there.” It does make you stop and think. The doctors have ruled out any heart problems, which I suppose is the main thing, but despite being wired-up, jagged, jabbed and juked about for the past 6 days, no-one’s any the wiser as to what actually happened to me. It might’ve been an underlying chest infection, long undetected and eager to show its horns. It might’ve been that most 21st century of ailments, stress. More tests were done yesterday and maybe the results will tell us something new, though I suspect they won’t. Either way, I’ve been told to rest, take it easy and do the things that make me happy. No work for another few days. I’d like to be there, all truth be told, but here I am. A headful of writing ideas and all the time in the world in which to execute them.
It was really touching to see all your wee messages pop up unannounced but very welcome on last week’s post. It’s great to have pals who are concerned enought to leave positive thoughts and comments, even the pals I’ve yet to meet in the actual non-virtual world. “Who ARE these people?” my wife asked, not unreasonably. “The best kind of people,” I told her.