Hard-to-find

Dubby Gillespie

It’s no surprise that Primal Scream made a dub album. Back in the day, the core of musicians that constituted the band genre-hopped happily from subculture to subculture as freely as Bobby’s bob grew from curtains to bowl to boho banker and back again.

From tambourine-bashing Velvet-apers (in style, sound and subject matter) to strung-out and wrung-out Stooges/MC5/Dolls copyists, they alighted at the kaleidoscopic, stadium indie of Screamadelica within 3 albums in just over as many years. It barely needs pointing out that Bobby Gillespie and co have always worn their influences proudly on their sleeves, but point out we must. Whether those sleeves are made of denim or leather or silk or rhinestone and patterned in polkas or paisley is neither here nor there.

Today on this program you will hear gospel and rhythm ‘n blues and jazz,’ goes the sampled-from-Wattstax Jesse Jackson on the album version of Come Together. ‘All those are just labels. We know that music is music.’ Primal Scream merrily adopted that motto more than most.

Betwixt the hiccup of the Stonesy-yet-flat Give Out But Don’t Give Up and the big beat boutique of XTRMNTR came Vanishing Point and its companion piece, Echo Dek.

 

Vanishing Point is where you’ll find the singles; Burning Wheel, Kowlaksi, If They Move Kill ‘Em and Star, all terrific artistic statements in their own right; other-worldly, socially-conscious, sample-happy and interesting from every angle, but Echo Dek is where you’ll hear the album tracks let off the lead, allowed to wander and take whichever turn they fancy.

Stoned immaculate, it’s an ear-opening collection of tracks, a filling-loosening window rattler put together via the combined sonic mastery of Brendan Lynch and Adrian Sherwood, who between them produce and remix 8 of Vanishing Point’s tracks to create 9 fresh cuts. VP track Stuka is on the receiving end of 2 remixes, each of which closes a side on the vinyl version.

Primal Scream Revolutionary

Taking their cue from the masters of the genre, cave-like bass guitars boom, snare drums crack away like pistol duels at dawn and modern whooshes and blips and bleeps assault the senses with refreshing regularity. Yer actual Augustus Pablo has his melodica mangled into oblivion on Revolutionary, the remix of Star, while Prince Far I’s vocals filter through the gaps in Wise Blood. Last Train, the band’s contribution to the Trainspotting soundtrack rides in on a bed of sweet Philly guitars and wacked-out dub – more melting melodicas, police sirens, a very Weatherall underbeat – and takes even longer to arrive at its tripped-out destination.

Primal ScreamLast Train

The whole album suggests long sessions at the mixing desk under the creative fug of some chemical or other. It’s long-form music, as expansive and wide as the average Primal Scream fan’s waistline 20 years down the line (sweeping generalisation notwithstanding) and simply epic to listen to. These days it may well be my favourite Scream LP.

It’s no wonder Echo Dek confused the majority of Primal Scream’s audience, waiting hopelessly in vain for Screamadelica part 2. The band would further wrong-foot their diminishing fan base by next releasing Evil Heat, an album that features guest vocals from Jim Reid and Kate Moss, deconstructs songs made famous by Lee Hazelwood and Felt and adopts another uber-cool genre to hang its hat on. “There’s always been a Krautrock influence to our music,” lied bare-faced Bobby at the time. Autobahn 66 (I mean, come on!) is a cracking track though, but one for another day.

Hard-to-find

Easter Everywhere

This is beautiful. Halfway between a Lynchian take on Disney melancholy and a string-soaked Salvation Army-sponsored wake, it’s the sound of hope over despair, of light at the end of a long, lonely tunnel, of redemption and resignation, reflection and retreat.

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me YetGavin Bryars featuring Tom Waits

It’s an extraordinary recording, originally put to tape in 1971, and although at that point Tom Waits wasn’t involved, serendipity certainly was. The track was created to soundtrack a documentary being made about the homeless people who lived around Waterloo Station and it’s built around the melody of a homeless man, captured Alan Lomax-style singing the titular line over and over again.

As fate would have it, when Bryars played it back in the studio he noticed that the unknown man’s voice was pitch perfect with his piano. Not only that, but his entire vocal lasted 13 bars, Bryar’s preferred length for his planned piece of music. 

The first version lasted 25 minutes, the entire side of an LP. With the popularity of cassette tape, later versions grew to 60 minutes. The granddaddy of them all though is the 74 minute version from 1993, the version that includes Tom Waits’ sympathetic and entirely perfect co-vocal, the go-to guy if you’re looking for a wine-soaked hobo to enhance your recording. The first version of the track I heard, the recording won Bryars a Mercury nomination and a new fan in me.

It’s astonishing. The sighing strings and elongated brass lines leave just enough space for the empty sadness to seep through, church organs weaving in and out of the wholly holy swill. Uplifting melancholy in excelsis, Jesus’ blood is of course both religious and metaphorical.

You wouldn’t need to travel far from wherever you’re sitting just now to find a homeless person, an embarrassing and shocking state of affairs in a world where multi millions have been pledged to save the roof of some old church or other in Paris. A quick drop of Jesus’ blood won’t fix things in this day and age, despite what the big man upstairs might have you believe.

Hard-to-find

Doin’ This, Doin’ That

Devo‘s version of Satisfaction, with its jerky, angular posturing and tight-trousered twitching is fantastic. The very antithesis of the Stones loose ‘n loud original, Devo play it like they’re trying to escape a claustrophobic padded cell, lower limbs a go-go whilst cling film-wrapped into straightjackets at least a size too small. Produced by Brian Eno, it manages to be both types of music – punky and funky.

DevoSatisfaction

Underpinned by the sort of awkward myopic groove that served Talking Heads so well, it’s kick-started by a wheezing, asthmatic guitar riff. Thankfully, gaps narrower than the hems of Franz Ferdinand’s trousers (pop group, not WW1 protagonist) allow for little in the way of any other showy-offy stuff. It’s disciplined, monotone and over in roughly the time it’ll take you to read this short piece, which, as you know is the ideal length for ideal pop music.

Otis Redding, on the other hand, turns white man blooze into a goose-stepping, knee-dropping, Southern soul belter. It’s a well-known fact that Keith Richards loved this version more than the Stones very own. Using his shitty prototype fuzz box, the Pavlov-inducing signature riff at the start is Keef setting out to emulate the sound of the Stax house band blasting seven shades of brass into the wind. Otis borrowed yer actual Stax house band and, well, blasted seven shades of brass into the wind.

Otis ReddingSatisfaction

His magnificent voice is gravel-rough, road-worn and richer than Jagger and Richards themselves. They might’ve had the fame and the money and the shared Swedish girlfriends, but Otis trumped them when it came to ground shakin, earth quakin’, heart breakin’ ess oh you ell soul music. A hey-hey-hey.

 

Hard-to-find

A Certain Grace-io

Early Talking Heads, with their tight, taut, highly strung guitars, meandering, fluid basslines and polyrhythmic percussion really takes some beating. I’ve written admiringly about their 4th album Remain In Light before, an album that continues to amaze and throw up new sounds even after all this time. With sonic architect Eno on ambient duties, the band are at the height of their creativity. An exercise in experimentation, the band cherry pick from the artiness of mid 70s Berlin Bowie and the disciplined grooviness of African music, Fela Kuti in particular, and weld them to the pop sensibilities of, aye, mid 70s Bowie and African music, Fela Kuti in particular. The big track from the album is undoubtedly Once In A Lifetime but dig deeper and you may find yourself with a brand new favourite album. There are many tracks that will grown on you just the same, believe me.

Like Houses In Motion, for example. The flop second and final single from the album, it’s the perfect juxtaposition of Sly Stone’s pitter pattering skeletal funk and the call and response paranoia of Talking Heads’ own Slippery People, still 3 years from release, but surely conceived in this very moment?

Talking HeadsHouses In Motion

It judders and jitters in all the right places, driven by scratchy funk guitar, an introspective vocal and honking keyboards. In Scotland, ‘honking‘ is often used in derogatory terms, especially at the football – see that big centre, he’s honkin’, so he is – but in this context I’m referring to the fact that the keyboards conjure up the sound akin to a midday traffic jam on 5th Avenue. A one chord groove that wouldn’t outstay its welcome were it twice as long, it’s the great lost Talking Heads track.

Grace Jones & ACR by Kevin Cummins. Of course.

The reason I’m turning the spotlight on it is because just last week I received an email from A Certain Ratio‘s people, letting me know about the band’s own version of the track. Dug out of the archives for a warts ‘n all box set celebrating an outstanding 40 years of ahead of the curve yet under the radar music, ACR’s version sounds terrific; timeless, relevant and, like the original, far better than much of the new music that the taste makers and shapers on 6 Music etc would have you believe is worth parting with your hard-earned disposable income for.

Recorded in 1980 with Marin Hannett, the track was intended as a collaboration with Grace Jones. Retaining the edgy, claustrophobic, insular mood and cat-scratching guitar, ACR still contrive to make Houses In Motion their own, slapping a fantastic O’ Jays For The Love Of Money rubber band bassline on it and adding a muscle that was absent from the original. If it popped up right now on 6 Music and you knew no better, you’d be gushing over a fresh, new track that’s older than Jordan Rakei or Loyle Carner or Chali 2na or any of those hip young gunslingers that pop up with dreary regularity.

Amazingly, the version that appears on the box set and the brand new video above features ‘just’ a guide vocal from ACR’s Jez Kerr, intended to give Grace an idea of how the finished track might sound. Although Jones made it to Strawberry Studios and took part in the session, her vocals were never completed and remain frustratingly undiscovered. You can only imagine how the intended version might have sounded.

You can buy that ACR Box Set direct from here.

 

Funnily enough, I suggested in that article linked at the top that Grace could take Talking Heads’ Seen And Unseen and make it her own, so, y’know, great minds think alike ‘n all that. Another great mind who’s also ahead of the curve is Adam over at Bagging Area. He was first out of the traps to shine the spotlight on the ACR track. It goes without saying, but Bagging Area is a blog definitely worth adding to your bookmarks and favourites and what have ye for up to the minute, finger on the pulse observations.

Hard-to-find

Super Fly

Years ago, our old Ford Fiesta swallowed an ancient Billy Connolly tape; a mixture of his greatest stand-up ‘hits’ (The Crucifixion, The Jobby Wheecher, When The Circus Came To Glasgow….. all the really brilliant stuff) and a handful of songs, one or two serious, the others daft and sweary. It was a great tape and from the day it became jammed in the car, it became jammed in our heads. On any journey, we could recite the entire compilation, over and over and over again, word by word, welly by welly and willie by fucking willie.

It soundtracked many a memorable trip to Ikea  – unbelievably, perhaps, the one near Newcastle as there wasn’t one in Scotland at that time. All that way and back again for a pine coffee table and a hi-fi unit, soundtracked by Billy Connolly and our increasingly adept impressions of him. The coffee table didn’t survive the big flit a dozen or so years ago, but the hi-fi unit has been, to use the parlance of the day, upcycled with a coat of hip to drip Annie Sloan chalk paint and still does the job to this day. I’m looking at it right now as the unit inside it plays Weatherall’s incendiary mix of My Bloody Valentine’s Soon at a volume too loud for this time of night. It’s part of a Creation playlist I’m putting together for the weekend, but more of that perhaps next week.

 

One of the dafter tracks on the Connolly compilation was entitled ‘Bastard Fly’. It consisted of Billy plucking his banjo on a creaky porch in some imagined mid-west state or other while an annoying fly buzzed around him. There was no visual to go along with it, but that was the premise. It went something like this;

plinky-plinky-plinky-plonk

(creak)

bzzz

plinky-plonk

(creak)

bzzz

plinky

bzzzzzzzzzzz

Gnnnshhhffff….”

(creak)

plinky-plonky-plonky-plink

bzzzz

Fknshhhh….”

(creak)

bzzzzzzzzzz

plinky-plonk-plinky-plonk-pli-twaaaannnnngggg!!!

At this point a string breaks on the banjo. There’s a slap. Brief silence. Another creak. Then Connolly’s voice, relaxed yet full of whispered menace.

Bastard fly!”

plinky-plonky-plinky-plonk

(fade to end.)

And that was it. Not one of his better-known moments. Almost surrealism, in fact. But it made me laugh every time. I’m not so sure my co-pilot felt the same way, but she laughed at me laughing in the way you do when you’re young and carefree and the owners of a honkin’ coffee table. It’s a shame that tape left us when the car did. I can’t find an mp3 of it anywhere.

Another ‘Bastard Fly’ track is surely Hot Chip‘s Over And Over.

It’s a fantastic track, nervy and twitchy and running on paranoid rhythms, goosestepping techno off-set by fuzz guitar and fuzzier analogue synths. The vocals are disciplined and repetitive – “over and over and over and over“, even offering a clipped, robotic spelling lesson in the refrain.

That annoying wee electro wobble that comes in on the back of the tinkling music box percussion and clip clopping Talking Heads polyrhythms that introduces the song and flits between the notes like a hopped-up dragonfly in mid summer though – it’s the return of Billy Connolly’s Bastard Fly, remodelled for modern times. Listen up!

Hot ChipOver And Over

It’s the kinda track that New Order should’ve been making in the mid 00s instead of falling out and in and releasing substandard fare that does nothing but dilute an imperial back catalogue. It’s the equal of the best parts of LCD Soundsystem and Underworld, techno for folk who don’t realise they’d like techno. For me, it’s Hot Chip’s defining moment. Watch this video clip over and over and over and over…

Hard-to-find

….And Then He’ll Settle Down In Some Quiet Little Town And Forget About Everything

Last summer, just as the schools broke up and we were baking in weather the envy of southern Europe, I mentioned to a colleague that it’d be brilliant to be a wide-eyed P1 pupil again, stopping for the first summer holiday of many where the gap between the end of June and middle of August was a whole lifetime, where the sun was constantly out and where each new day was filled with the promise of do-what-you-like adventure.

Nostalgia’s a funny thing. The summer of 1976 is forever-burned on my memory for two reasons:

I’d just finished primary 2 (thinking about it, it might actually have been primary 1 – It was a long time ago…) and I was beginning to make sense of my position in time and space. Young Sandy Davidson, a 3 year-old from the being-built Bourtreehill area of Irvine had disappeared around Easter time, never ever to be found. Whispers of bad men and concrete burials in house foundations could be heard between the gaps in the Action Man battles we waged in Chrissy Longmuir’s back garden; sombre, understated and in the background but there nonetheless.

Plenty of theories abounded, but to this day, no-one knows for certain what happened to him. Tensions were understandably high amongst our parents, but for the most part my pals and I were oblivious to it, even after witnessing a helicopter land on the field next to our houses and seeing half a dozen frogmen go in and under the River Annick in their fruitless search for Sandy. For many years this remained the most exciting thing I’d ever seen.

Days later, when, walking home from school, my two pals and I continued past our road end and onwards to collect frogs from the big concrete pipes that would service the next phase of the estate where Sandy had vanished from. We were met on our eventual return by 3 distraught, frantic mothers, given far more than a quick skelp (out of relief and love, y’understand) and kept inside for the rest of the day.

So, ye can keep yer Pistols and yer punk and yer political unrest – it’s these Sandy-related incidents that are the events that burn brightest on my mind whenever I see or hear any mention of the year 1976.

When the school stopped, that summer really did seem to last forever. It was, to borrow a tired old cliché, the warmest since records began. A slint of sunlight creeping between the gap in my curtains and onto my face on the top bunk was my daily alarm clock and I was up and at ’em from its first warm rays until I’d been dragged in, scrubbed clean in the kitchen sink and put to bed with the sky not yet quite dark enough for my liking.

I also have a distinct memory of cycling my bike in nonstop circles on the back grass, the piece of cardboard from my mum’s old Silk Cut box clack-clack-clacking away happily on the back spokes, while my dad made French toast in the kitchen. It must’ve been a Sunday, for I can remember the signature sax of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street playing loudly as Radio 1’s Hit Parade counted down on the wee radio on the windowsill, wafting from the kitchen and out the open back door into the sweltering early evening sky, carried by plumes of unwanted smoke from the French Toast my dad was crucifying at the time.

Another year and then you’d be ha-ppy

Just one more year and then you’d be ha-ppy

I remember my dad scrape-scrape-scraping the worst of the toast over the sink and telling me it was fine before I ate it.

But you’re cryin’, you’re crying now.

It really was the best of times.

Nostalgia’s a funny thing right enough….

A quick check reveals that Baker Street wasn’t released until the 3rd of February 1978!

So not only am I two years early, the chances of being out the back door in the baking early evening February heat while my Dad merrily burnt French toast in the kitchen are non-existent. Man! I’ve lived with this notion for 43 years and it’s been wrong all that time. This is seismic, believe me. Jeez.

Thankfully David F. Ross has a better grasp of the times. The Ayrshireman has form when it comes to entertaining crime noir that comes gift-wrapped in cultural reference points from the past. You might be familiar already with his Last Days Of Disco trilogy. If not, you might want to get acquainted with it. For his latest offering, David has once again looked to the past for inspiration.

Set in the summer of ’76, Welcome To The Heady Heights features a rum cast of dodgy TV personalities, iffy politicians, misogynistic polis and shonky boy bands. It’s a great read; equal parts hilarious and hideous, devious and disturbing. Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, the story revolves around Glaswegian bus driver Archie Blunt. Recently unemployed, Archie falls in with some of the city’s criminal fraternity and ends up embroiled in all sorts of goings-on. When he unwittingly saves the life of Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks, a prime time TV personality (a thinly-disguised amalgamation of career makers/breakers Hughie Green and Simon Cowell), his life takes a turn for the better. Seizing his chance, he forms a boy band, gets them on the telly and, to twist a phrase, obscurity (rather than opportunity) knocks. Keen observers will spot a friendly nod to fellow Ayrshiremen the Trashcan Sinatras here.

Being set a decade or so away from Glasgow’s reinvention as a City Of Culture, the grime and soot of a buckled and bent city stick to the pages, unwelcome reminders of Glasgow’s recent past as anything but cultured. References are made to the Great Eastern, the hostel a mile or so from Glasgow Cross in the city’s East End that provides accommodation for homeless men. In the story, a highly influential group of movers and shakers exploit the situation to their own ends. Recent scandalous cases involving Jimmy Saville, Max Clifford and the topical-once-more Michael Jackson should give you some idea of what goes on.

Blunt finds himself in the position of being able to blackmail the group but his amateur status in a world of hardened criminals and ne’er-do-wells means that oor Airchie is always going to be up against it. The band he puts together – a living room-pleasing take on the Bay City Rollers – receives the highest score on the epoch-defining on-stage clap-o-meter and are destined for great things – the Heady Heights, indeed, but, just as things are looking up, the Sex Pistols appear on Bill Grundy’s show, Archie’s band decide on a drastic new direction and predictable chaos ensues.

Grab a hold of the book from here or here or maybe an actual bricks ‘n mortar book shop and read the whole story for yourself. I think you’d like it.

 

Many thanks to David (above) and Anne Cater at Orenda Books for asking Plain Or Pan to be a stop-off on the book’s world tour that’s been zig-zagging its way across all manner of blogs for the month of March. Being one of the last is tricky as by now, I’d imagine, most reviewers will have said everything that needs to be said. For this reason, I’ve intentionally not read the other reviews to date (although I’ll be going back later on to compare what I’ve written with all of the others). Apologies then (and damn you!) if this review has appeared in similar form elsewhere, French toast and wonky Baker Street references notwithstanding.

Hard-to-find

Prince Among Thieves

It’s fairly easy to join the dots from Prince‘s records to their source; a Sly-inflected baritone vocal here, a sky-scraping, lightnin’ fast Hendrix solo there, a band whipped into shape with an iron rod-discipline that James Brown might’ve considered ‘a bit much’… Since his passing, there has been a dribbling of Prince-inflected records making their way into public conscience – records that continue where Prince’s incredible run abruptly ran out. Certainly, there won’t ever be another Prince but that leaves the door wide open for any artists brave enough to attempt to fill the void.

Superbowl

Like Harriet Brown. His track Paper is currently finding its way onto the lower reaches of the 6 Music playlists and it’s all but Prince in name; skeletal electro funk, multi-tracked, self-duetting vocals, a Wendy and Lisa-style female backing that might actually be Brown himself, everything, in fact, save the processed, squealing Hendrix-aping solo.

 I really love this track. Its itchy, claustrophobic, paranoid funk manages to be both west coast LA cool yet sounds like something a musically-gifted bedroom boffin cooked up on his laptop. Having had a quick run through his Bandcamp page, I don’t imagine the rest of his album will be my kinda thing, but Paper most definitely is. I think I wanna dance now…

Those looking for more Prince-indebted music could do worse than seek out Janelle Monae‘s Dirty Computer album. Released almost a year ago, it’s covered in dollops of Prince-infused funk. Lead single Make Me Feel was essentially Kiss updated for the Spotify generation (and there’s nowt wrong with that of course) but dig deeper and you’ll find all sorts of pervy, sweary stuff, filthy funk that manages to mess with the mind while moving the feet.