Hard-to-find

Christmas Number 1

My team went to the top of the league last night. No mean feat in a league dominated by the two Glasgow giants and their financial clout, the Edinburgh clubs with their large swells of season ticket holders and Old Firm-splitters Aberdeen, for too many times the bridesmaids but never the bride.

The achievement is a culmination in consistency. The record shows that in the calendar year, from January until now, Kilmarnock, a team who plays in a less than half empty stadium every other week, a team with less season ticket holders than most other teams in the league, a team who pays less to their top earners than an average bench warmer at Tranmere Rovers might earn in a week, has somewhat incredulously gathered more points than their competitors and is now the best team in the country. Today we sit at the top of the pile, looking towards a genuine top of the table box office clash at Celtic Park on Saturday.

If you’d suggested this a year ago, you’d have been laughed out the room. By then, our previous manager, Lee McCulloch, had fallen on his wobbly sword with the team rooted to the bottom of the league we’re now winning. Relegation, even at that stage in the season, was looking very likely. The appointment of the ‘correct’ manager was absolutely key to our team’s survival, not only in the top flight but also to our very existence. Enter Steve Clarke.  A one season wonder at West Brom, he’d taken them to their highest-ever Premiership position before starting the following season poorly and paying the ultimate price. With family ties to the club (brother Paul was a stalwart in defence at Kilmarnock in the 80s), Clarke was enticed to take over the reins from McCulloch.

The difference between the two managers is there for all to see. The team is currently on a short but impressive run of 4 (or is it 5 now?) clean sheets in a row. Of the starting 11 in these games, 9 of the players played under our previous manager. Clearly, our success is down to Mr Clarke. At the club’s open day last season, I found myself face to face with his predecesor.

Hi Mr McCulloch. What d’you think – top 6 this year?

Whit?!? Hahahaha!” (nudges one of the other coaches standing next to him. “Peter! Get this guy!” (looking back to me) “Tell him what you just asked me…..top 6! TOP 6!!! Hahahahahaha. Aye, right!

Now. Even if you’re the manager and you think there’s zero chance of achieving the frankly average position of ‘Top 6’, you don’t go around laughing at the suggestion, let alone laughing your season ticket holders out of the room, especially with the season yet to kick off.  The opening to a season, when a ball has yet to be kicked in earnest and all possibilities are endless is the best of times for a fan, especially for a supporter of one of the wee clubs. “This might be our year,” and all that. Yet here was the team manager (the team manager!) pissing on those dreams before our first game. McCulloch should’ve been saying, “Top 6? Nah, mate, we’ll be top 3 this season. Just wait and see.” Instead, our season was over before it had begun.  Or, it was until the board saw sense, found some loose change down the back of the sofa and sent the diddy packing. I wonder what he’s thinking now.

Where’s Wally? (Firhill edition)

The last 14 months have been the best of times for Kilmarnock supporters. Even in defeat, we competed. There was a thrilling midweek game against Hibs where we applauded our team off the pitch, despite shipping three goals. This proved to be the turning point in our fortunes. There was an incredible run of games this time last year where we dispensed of The Rangers, Celtic and Dundee in three of the best matches I’ve ever seen. One nil down to Rangers, Boyd scored a quick one-two and turned the final score in our favour. Youssouf Mulumbu, a player who’d shone in Clarke’s West Brom side slotted the winner in the Celtic game and inevitably earned himself a move to the champions in the process. Best of all was the Dundee game, a match we were winning then losing and, thanks to an anti-footballing Dundee team and some shoddy refereeing, found ourselves a man down as well as a goal down. As the game wore on, the character of the ten-man team came to the fore and, backed by a noisy, partisan and aggrieved home support, an equaliser was dug out before a thrilling winner was scored at the death.  As the games, weeks and months rolled by, the team kept on winning from unwinnable positions, picked up points in the most difficult of away fixtures and gave us our best season in many a year. It was fantastic.

And it continues to be so. We’re top of the league. The words ‘Leicester City’ have started popping up in relation to our achievements and the potential this brings, whispered at first but now just that wee bit louder. No team out-with the ugly sisters has won the top league in Scotland since Paul Hardcastle’s ni-ni-ni-19 was top of the charts when, in May 1985, Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen reigned supreme. Of course, at least one of the two slighted Glasgow giants went straight out the following season and spent far more than they could afford on players in a vulgar display of money over merit in a bid to wrestle the title back from the daring Dandy Dons, an arrogant and self-entitled manoeuvre which we in Scotland are sick of by now.

Much of Kilmarnock’s fate in the coming months depends on how they survive the January transfer window. A winning team features winning players and it wouldn’t be the first time one of the big boys from just up the M77 has chapped our door waving offensively woeful figures under the noses of impressionable young players and their agents. More worryingly, a winning manager such as Clarke will have made chairmen up and down the country sit up and take notice. Should any of their charges have a wobble and their coathook becomes a bit shooglier than normal, Steve Clarke must be one of the names in the frame. So we’re dreamers, yes, yet we’re also realists. It’s a nail-biting time and it can all change in an instant. The two teams immediately behind us have games in hand and it’s quite possible we’ll have slipped to ‘only 3rd’ by the close of the weekend, by which time, if you’re only just getting around to reading this article, this blog will read like virtual chip paper.

Here’s Dizzy Dizzy by Can, a track as thrilling, unpredictable and meandering as one of those Greg Stewart runs that leaves baffled defenders toe-tied in his wake.

CanDizzy Dizzy

Hard-to-find

Roamin’ Holiday

I’ve been in Italy this week. What’s struck me most is not the plethora of churches, bad driving and graffiti that are on every strada corner but the stylish way in which the Italians go about their daily business.

Whether it’s in Napoli and Sorrento in the south or roaming’ further north through Rome and Pisa, I’ve been goggle-eyed at the sheer amount of Vespas on the roads. They’re the great levellers, those wee scooters. Whether you’re a pizza delivery guy or a teenage girl with your boyfriend riding pillion or a businessman in a 3-button suit, open-necked shirt, scarf, loafers and no socks, the best way around town is on one of them.

You’ll hear them everywhere you go, zipping above the noise of impatient klaxons and whistle-happy Polizia, zig-zagging their way to the front of the traffic, edging forward before the lights have instructed them to go and weaving their way around goofy tourists who have one eye trained firmly on the tour guide way up ahead and the other on their bag over their shoulder. That’s been us the past few days.

The tour guides are great. For the most part funny, engaging and knowledgeable they’ll point out various buildings and suchlike in a version of English that far outweighs my knowledge of Italian. Until this week I knew just two Italian words; bella and bella. (That there is a reference to the greatest film ever made.) My vocabulary has now extended to include “Ciao!” which, much to my kids’ embarrassment I’ll say with great enthusiasm to any shop keeper, waiter and bus driver who’ll listen.

Yesterday in Rome our guide pointed out all the sights. “Behind the small cheeerch to the right is the larger Basilica. Right next to that is another cheeerch, famous for being one of the oldest cheeerches in this district of Rome.” To qualify – I love Roman history. And it’s a terrific city, where every corner turned gives you another breathtaking building to take in.

Built on the foundations of faith and fighting you have to expect what you’ll be shown as you march around the city’s high points. But as we followed our guide I couldn’t help noticing the side streets.

We might’ve been walking the tourist route but what was happening just behind the main event was where real Roman life was going on; ridiculously fashionable men; tanned, healthy, great hair and sock-less, always sock-less, smoking roll-ups while shaking on business deals. Beautiful women in beautiful heels walking beautiful dogs. Snooty teenagers, Armanie’d up like paninaro with significant disposable income hug and air kiss like the beautiful people they are.

The flower delivery van, burping black exhaust smoke in sharp contrast to the multicolours it was transporting stopped suddenly and the driver emerged to shout at 161km/h (that’s about 100mph) to the aproned shopkeeper who was standing nonplussed in the doorway of his store.

An old man, glimpsed through a door ajar onto an alleyway was dressed in a white coat, slowly and patiently sanding wood. Around him were stacked dozens of picture frames and mirrors, a master craftsman at work using the tools and skills of previous generations.

In the fashion district – until we’d been told by our guide that we were now in the fashion district, I’d assumed that the whole of the city was one big fashion district, the side streets offered up furtive-looking Africans selling Michael Kors, Luis Vuitton and Armani bags, belts and bumf, laid out on pieces of rug, ready to be rolled up and ran-off with should any of Rome’s finest happen to wander by. Round the corner the shops were closed-door affairs, opened by appointment only by 7 foot-tall security guards. I’m not much of a fashionista but I did manage to get myself not one but two pairs of Ray-Bans. The second pair the seller did the haggling for me and he gave me them for €5 without me actually saying a word to him. My wife’s convinced they’re just those 3D ones you pick up at the Odeon, with a cheap Ray-Bans transfer on the leg. She may be right but when I’m wearing them, I am Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, so I’m not bothered.

Talking of which, our tour guide pointed out a poster for the film with Peck and Audrey Hepburn sitting on the Spanish Steps eating ice cream and looking every inch the consummate 50s mods they were aiming to portray. Only half an hour earlier we’d stopped for a gelato by those same Spanish Steps, where my ice cream ran the length of my arm and onto my trousers. Daughter moaned about her salted caramel being too salty. Wife complained about the macaroon they’d stuck in hers. And son had an over-priced can of Coke as he’s allergic to egg and can’t normally go near ice cream. That was our Roman Holiday for you.

Without a word of a lie, I’ve yet to find an ice cream that can stand toe to toe with the one you’ll get in Varani Brothers’ Forum Cafe in Kilmarnock. Maybe tomorrow will prove me wrong.

Ciao!

Hard-to-find

‘O Hare-Brained Schemes: Brendan 1

At the beginning of the week, just as I was going to my bed, a message popped up from Brendan O’Hare, one third of the trio of drummers who’ll be keeping Teenage Fanclub in time when they tour their back catalogue in select cities in a few weeks or so. With rehearsals starting imminently, he was hoping to write a diary, a daily update of all things Fanclub documenting what has now become a significant chapter in the band’s history.

Thrillingly, Brendan was keen to share his diary via Plain Or Pan.

O’Hare-brained schemes, themes and ideas were thrashed out. We’d post every day. We’d post at the same time each night and have folk tune in the way they would for a favourite TV show. There’d be film clips, pictures and all manner of Fanclub ephemera. I went to bed beyond excited, far later than expected and unable to sleep.

Radio silence duly followed, and just as I was thinking maybe Brendan’s idea wasn’t going to happen after all, he last night posted a picture on Facebook surmised with a single line. “Woohoo!

Ah! I had the impression from Brendan that rehearsals would be through the day. Night time sessions would mean we’d always run a day behind, but so what? A peek into the workings of TFC putting their thang together is worth waiting for, aye?

I awoke on Wednesday morning to the message below. So as to help convey the barely concealed excitement Brendan gets from playing with TFC, I’ve hardly edited it.

Holy shit!

Here’s how it went….

….I was 4 hours late, due to a cold and not a demonic fall into boozy business!

The chaps were really nice about it and it went henceley…….

Me: How about we try a song that you and the band I’m in in Essex do? By the Bevis Frond.

Them:

Me: OR we could just fire in from The Concept?

Them: Yes.

Kinda surreal from then on…..I fucking love Teenage Fanclub and it’s so long since I’ve been in them that I absolutely view them from a fan point, which is hilarious for us, the readers. I feel like I’ve won the lottery, getting to play drums on songs that I love.

When we started ‘The Concept’, I felt like, Yeah! I can do this…then about halfway through I was like, hahahaha I’M PLAYING ‘THE CONCEPT’!

Oh yeah… Gerry, Norman and Raymond have put massive baffle boards between each other and are only communicating through me.

It’s tough but I’m doing it for you.

YAS!

Bx

PS. I’m going to do a side angle, based around the lad’s bowel movements; timings, nothing creepy likes. That’s a misplaced apostrophe, by the way.

Stay tuned…..!

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Rimbaud 2: It’s A Pay Check, Jack

A dozen or so years ago, a concert celebrating the life and work of Robert Burns took place at Culzean Castle on the South West coast of Scotland, not far from where I’m typing. I’m quite into Burns, in an enthusiastic amateur kinda way. I get involved when it’s that time of year in the schools and organise the school Burns Supper. I’ll put together wee groups of kids who’ll eagerly sing Green Grow The Rashes (the Michael Marra arrangement) while I get to rock out gently with some well-rehearsed finger picking on my guitar. At home, we’ve done Burns Suppers celebrating the bawdier side o’ Rabbie that they don’t teach at school, helped along by the sort of food and drink you’d be hard-pushed to find in a school dinner hall. There are tons of Burns scholars out there who take it far more seriously and who could bore the breeks off most of us with their ability to recite his most obscure work which is why, when the concert was announced at Culzean  – with headliners Lou Reed and Patti Smith – I thought I’d give it a miss. “I don’t really fancy hearing Lou ‘n Patti pretend they know the inner workings of Burns’ songbook when they could be doing their own stuff instead,” I reasoned. Big mistake as it turned out, as Lou and Patti by and large did their own stuff, regardless or not of what the promoters had signed them up for. Patti even made the Scottish news on TV the next night for gobbing on the side of the stage, offending those stuffy, ancient scholars I’ve just mentioned. Old punks, eh. What’re they like?

Oor ain Eddi Reader, herself a mad Burns fanatic, was on the bill and in the encore she sang the famous ‘doot-di-doo’ backing vocals for Walk On The Wild Side alongside Patti Smith. I know people who’ll be reading this that have wide-eyed stage-side footage of the moment. Why did I not go? Why?

I’ve grown into Patti Smith in a big way. She was always there, a trailblazer for the strong, bloody-minded women from Chrissie Hynde to PJ Harvey who have a place in my record collection, but in recent years I’ve really come to acknowledge her as one of the greats. Morrissey, Michael Stipe and any Maconie-voiced BBC4 documentary will all tell you this of course, but unless you were lucky enough to be there at the time, I’m not sure her importance shines through for generations of mine and since.

Horses is her biggie, of course. A raucous brew of poetry set to music, it’s the sound of flared nostrils and itchy, twitchy jangling nerves riffing on French existentialists, Jesus and the futility of existence – the big stuff, in other words. Wrapped in monochrome with bird’s nest hair, it’s a challenging listen, certainly more difficult to get into than, say, Patti’s contemporaries The Ramones and Blondie who were street suss enough to add some pop to their schlock. The centrepiece of the album is, wonkily, mid way through side 2.

Patti SmithLand

Land is a free-flowing example of all that Patti does best, over 9 carefully metered minutes of what musicologists might call a triptyche, with 3 parts of music played under the one theme. Every word is enunciated precisely and clearly, given equal gravitas. She howls, she whispers, she duets with herself. She’ll rap on something deeply esoteric one moment and then she’ll be singing about the watusi and Bonie Moronie the next. The words come in floods; pretentious, populist and pure. I can’t pretend to know exactly what she’s on about and I’m not certain that the young Patti in 1975 could’ve told you either. It sounds fantastic though.

Patti has a crack band behind her, rising and falling, ebbing and flowing in time to her carefully-written prose, yet for the entire track they keep it simple. At any moment, Richard Sohl on keys could break into the most heart-stopping piano run, but he doesn’t. Lenny Kaye could easily let fly with an electric burst of pop/punk bloooze, but he doesn’t. There’s ample opportunity over 9 minutes for an Animal-esque freak out on the drums, yet Jay Dee Doherty reigns himself in. With Patti Smith, it’s all about the vocal. The words are everything.

Here’s Piss Factory, her early b-side documenting her time working a crappy job for crappier money.

Patti SmithPiss Factory

Just Kids, Patti’s autobiography about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe continues this theme. It’s a literary ride on the A Train, taking the reader right into the centre of a mid 70s New York that most of us can only imagine. Their story is played out against a backdrop of the Chelsea Hotel, Max’s Kansas City and Coney Island and features walk-on parts from Andy Warhol, Alan Ginsberg and William Burroughs. Art, music and fashion explode and fuse together and everything and anything is possible, doable and done. Mapplethorpe struggles with a sexual identity that would eventually tear the couple apart but (or perhaps because of this) it’s a beautiful read;  a love letter to and for Mapplethorpe and the city that brought them together. There they are up there, an androgynous Keef ‘n Mick for the Blank Generation. Even without the music, Patti’s words are powerful. Read it.

Footnote

It was a conversation with Johnny Marr a few years ago that made me go home and re-evaluate Patti Smith until her genius really sank in. I was charged with taking photos of Johnny and his fans after a gig. The waiting line snaked around long enough that half the folk in it ended up missing their last connection home. At the front of the line was a girl who might’ve been 13 and might’ve been 33. Small, disheveled and unkempt, she’d been first to queue outside the venue at lunchtime on the day of the show and as soon as the doors had opened she’d ran for the front of the stage where she stood holding onto the barrier and never letting go until it was time to meet Johnny at the end. Johnny recognised her straight away. “Hello again darlin’!” he greeted with a hug. “How are we today? Listen – hey, listen! – make sure you get a bed tonight, eh? No more sleeping in doorways, eh?

Once, I bunked off the school,” he told me afterwards, “and skipped the train to Liverpool to catch Patti Smith. Sneaked in the stage door! That night I slept in Liverpool Bus Station and it was the most terrifying night of my life. That girl at the front comes to all the shows. She comes alone, leaves alone and always turns up the next day. I kinda worry for her, y’know?

If artists have such a hold on folk that they’re prepared to forfeit a roof over their head for the night so that they can see them in concert, they’re worth listening to.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled

MCR NYC

If it’s scratchy, scuffed at the knees post-punk with a groove yer after, all roads lead to the twin metropoli of Manchester and New York.

A Certain Ratio are something of an enigma. They’ve been around long enough to have witnessed every important youth movement since punk and have steadfastly ploughed their own furrow, grooving somewhere between the hands-in-pockets introspection of Joy Division and the hands-in-the air exhibitionism of the Hacienda and the rave culture it gave birth to, while sometimes dressed like wonky extras in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. They’ve seen off grunge, grime and good old Britpop as well as the entire careers of The Smiths, New Order (the real New Order that is) and just about every influential band these isles have produced.

Revered by all manner of bands whose funk DNA pops up in the least likely of places, from Talking Heads and Happy Mondays to Red Hot Chili Peppers, ACR have the dubious fortune of being incredibly influential yet incredibly unheard of. It’s just the way they like it. They have the freedom to bypass trends, to surf across the wave of whatever zeitgeist is hip that week and get on with the job of making records for themselves.

Du The Du from 1979’s The Graveyard And The Ballroom album is the perfect jumping off/jumping in point.

ACRDu The Du

 

 

It fairly rattles along on a barbed wire bed of steam-powered, clattering industrial funk, with powerhouse drummer Donald Johnson somehow making his kit the lead instrument. Lo-fi guitars that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Josef K record do their chicken-scratch thang, an Asda-priced Nile Rodgers played by cosmopolitan Mancunians. The vocals, all pent-up anxiety could be Ian Curtis on Lemsip. There’s even an elastic band bassline midway through which threatens, but never quite gets to Level 42 on the muso-meter. I defy you not to wiggle at least a finger to it.

Du The Du also happens to be the track by which LCD Soundsytem’s James Murphy measures (measured?) his own funkiness. If the New York band’s latest track seems weak by comparison, it’s binned forever until something more in keeping with ACR’s wonky, jerky funk turns up. Du the right thing indeed.

Talking of New York…

Such a melting pot of cultures and styles is always going to be responsible for inspiring exciting new trends and movements. ESG was formed by the three Scroggins sisters from the Bronx. Given a variety of instruments by a mum keen to keep them on the right side of wrong, the group took equal inspiration from their Motown favourites and the nascent New York hip hop scene. The result, in a way, was neither. As with ACR, much of their stuff is sparse, cold and music for the feet rather than the head.

A show in Manhattan’s Hurrah club brought ESG to the attention of Factory’s Tony Wilson, himself no stranger to an ACR record (he’d go on to release 5 of their albums on Factory). Wilson brought ESG to Manchester where they recorded with Martin Hannett, fresh, believe it or not, from manning the desk as ACR recorded Du The Du. There’s serendipity right there for you. Or plain old musical incest. 

ESG wouldn’t go on to sell all that many records, but in the intervening years they’ve been a clear influence on bands such as Luscious Jackson and Warpaint. They’ve also found themselves heavily sampled by acts looking for something beyond the usual James Brown riff; Beastie Boys, Tricky, even TLC have found gold within their basslines and rippling drums, leading to a late-era ESG releasing the telling Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills EP.

1982’s Dance To The Beat Of Moody from their EP of the same name is where you should start though:

ESGDance To The Beat Of Moody

 

 

As fresh as a hot pretzel on Avenue Of The Americas, it’s great, innit? You wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it were to pop up on BBC 6 Music next week, rotated heavily on the a-list as the hottest new thing. It’s only 36 years young. Original vinyl is almost impossible to track down though and, even of you’re lucky enough to uncover a 1983 press of Come Away With ESG, you’ll need a small bank loan to pay for it. Thankfully, the wonderful Soul Jazz do a good run in re-presses.

Hard-to-find

Don’t Back Date It

Q. Which defining track began life as a sawn-off take on Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill as played by Booker T and the MGs, its lyrics a distillation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire?

A. You might be surprised to find out that Life’s What You Make It by Talk Talk started out as this very thing.

Talk Talk was the name taken by singer Mark Hollis. Eventually a studio project, over nine years the band would go on to produce five masterful albums, promoted by a handful of richly-produced singles; Talk Talk, It’s My Life, Today, Dum Dum Girl, Living In Another World and the synonymous Life’s What You Make It amongst them. If some of those titles seem unfamiliar to you, I guarantee you’d recognise each and every track from 2 seconds in. So entwined with the era that they come from, they’re like audio time machines, capable of whizzing you back to a decade that seems far better musically from 30-odd years in the future than it did back in the day.

Talk Talk have a sound. It’s the sound of the times cleverly sculpted to appear timeless. The chart-bothering pop acts of the day were day-glo and cartoonish, with a shelf life shorter than yesterday’s milk. By comparison, Talk Talk were monochrome, insular and forever ploughing their own furrow, defying time and space. Howard Jones and the likes were using the same sort of studio equipment, but while their records nowadays sound almost quaint by comparison, Talk Talk records still sound box-fresh. Someone hearing Today for the first time could be forgiven for assuming it was recorded actually today and not in fact 36 years ago.

It’s the enduring appeal of Life’s What You Make It that’s kept Talk Talk’s name alongside the likes of the Blue Nile at the forefront of lushly-produced 80s sophisto-pop.

Much of the credit for this goes to Tim Friese-Greene. Friese-Greene joined Mark Hollis for Talk Talk’s second album It’s My Life and by the time of their 3rd, The Colour Of Spring, was an integral part of the band who had by now basically eschewed the life of a touring band for that of studio hermits. Friese-Greene learned his trade by spending time at the desk creating the likes of the forward-looking She Blinded Me With Science for Thomas Dolby. By the time he joined Talk Talk, he was an accomplished producer.

Written at the record company’s behest to ‘make a single’, a slightly irked Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene picked up the gauntlet and set about making a timeless classic.

I had a drum pattern loosely inspired by Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’,” explains Friese-Greene. “And Mark was playing Green Onions over the top of it.

An inspired jam gave birth to a commercial career high, rolling thunder bass piano wrestling with the slow burning vapour trails of David Rhodes’ guitar riff. Moonlighting from Peter Gabriel’s band, Rhodes turned in a brilliantly-executed riff, trimmed of all excess fat and wrapped in stinging chorus and analogue delay. It’s the hook upon which Hollis hung his entire track, reedy, languid vocal, Erik Satie-inflected jazz piano breakdowns ‘n all, and it’s never been bettered.

Talk Talk Life’s What You Make It

Bonus Fact!

As unlikely as it seems, Tim Friese-Greene was responsible for the success of Tight Fit’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight. You can snigger, but I bet it helped pay for a state of the art studio and a second home in the Cotswolds.

Hard-to-find, Sampled

Shake Your Money Maker

The Beastie Boys might have portrayed themselves as three street-smart, sharp-witted goofballs with expensive tastes in trainers and sports-casual wear, but anyone with half an inkling knows they were much more than that. Behind the facade was a ruthless business empire including a record label, a magazine and their own clothing line, all of which were as undeniably hip as their Brooklyn-based beats. Working alongside the trio (but forever just out of shot) was a handful of trusted associates, pulling the strings, wheeling and dealing, making sure the well-oiled Beastie machine crept forever forwards. Alongside the film makers who captured their good sides on celluloid and the payrolled sneaker pimps who forever kept them in box-fresh trainers were a core of musicians and producers who could be relied upon to enhance the Beastie’s sound in the studio and on the stage. One such entrusted friend was Money Mark.

Money Mark was born Mark Ramos Nishita in Detroit to a Japanese-Hawaiian father and Chicano mother. The sounds he continues to coax from his assorted vintage keyboards are as exotic and interesting as his background suggests. He came to the Beastie Boys via producer Mario Caldato Jnr. when the producer asked him if he was able to fix the fence at the studio where the Beastie Boys were recording Paul’s Boutique. Mark was quick to point out that not only could he build fences, he could build recording studios too and, after duly building the Beastie Boys their dream studio, he began helping out with the recordings that followed.

Between 1992 and 2011, Money Mark collaborated on every Beasties’ release. Considered wisdom suggests that Paul’s Boutique is the highest of high points in a flawless discography, but when pushed, I’ll always choose Check Your Head. In no small way that’s due to Money Mark’s Fender Rhodes being allowed to roam all over its 20 tracks without a leash. It’s Mark that drives Sure Shot on Ill Communication, his rudimentary beat box vying for space with the understated keys, trying to reign it all in while the Beasties’ signature Panzer attack vocals spit and snarl from start to finish. It’s Mark who triggers the siren assault on mega-hit Intergalactic, and that’s him again, holding the groove behind the multitude of samples on Triple Trouble from the post 9/11 To The 5 Boroughs. You might not realise it, but Money Mark probably plays on at least 4 out of your top 5 Beastie Boys tracks.

f=”https://philspector.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/money-mark-by-stephane-kardos.jpg”> Money Mark by Stéphane Kardos[/capt
As well as being the Ian Stewart of the Beastie Boys, responsible for much of the general funkiness but stuck stage right, half-hidden behind a bank of speakers, Money Mark makes music in his own name. Push The Button, his second album is a melting pot of stoner grooves, clattering hip hop and gorgeous Fender Rhodes piano. Released in 1998 (shit – that’s 20 years ago!) it’s worth discovering if you’ve never heard it. And if you have, it’s worth a revisit. I bet it’s been a while.

The lead single Hand In Your Head is a mid-paced shuffler that takes its lead from Sly Stone circa There’s A Riot Goin’ On.

Money MarkHand In Your Head

Bass on this track is played by Sean Lennon, himself signed to Grand Royal, the Beasties’ label and drums are provide by Russell Simins, another who’s no stranger to a Beastie Boys record. In short, this has all the ingredients of a prime-era Beasties’ track without the gobby, snotty icing on the cake. And while you might enjoy that gobby, snotty icing, you can’t deny the simple mellowness of it all.

The b-side, if CD singles have b-sides, is just as good. Old track Cry is given a Dust Brothers remake, keeping the original’s downbeat groove and descending bassline – sampled from Quincy Jones’ version of Summer In The City, I think.

Money MarkCry (Dust Brothers remix)

The scratching and stu-stu-stuttering horn samples are very of their time, but the vocals! Man, it’s Sly all over again. Actually, it’s probably more Shuggie Otis. By the time the keyboard solo meanders in, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d regressed to some Hispanic neighborhood in uptown New York in the summer of 1973, fire hydrants gushing their escaping load out and across the stoops of the brownstones as kids play in slo-mo inside it.

Mark wasn’t always kept in the Beastie Boys’ shadows. At a memorable Barrowlands show during the Ill Communication tour, he waited until the encore – So Whatcha Want if I remember correctly, before launching himself over his bank of keyboards and out into the first couple of rows. He reapeared a minute or so later, trainerless but smiling, helped back onto the stage by MCA and a wee baldy G4 security guy who never even noticed him flying over his head in the first place.