Hard-to-find

No’ Equals

The new 6 Music schedule has taken a fair bit of bashing since the turn of the year. I used to enjoy my morning commute to the languid sighs of Shaun Keaveny and was mildly irked when he was shunted to an afternoon slot that I rarely have the chance to listen to, but I must admit to a growing fondness for Lauren Laverne’s replacement show. She has a great morning radio voice and while initially her playlist was a bit beige – a never-ending conveyor belt of close-miked singer-songwriters and glossy electro-infused indie from the moment I started the car until I pulled up at work, the past couple of weeks has seen some more interesting stuff creep in.

She played a track on Friday morning though that made my heart sink to depths last felt around the second week in January. The Specials’ new LP was the Album of the Day and Lauren played their version of The Equals’ Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys, a terrific early 70s stomper and lyrically, right up The Specials’ street.

By comparison, The Specials’ version was too polite, too lite and sounded like a graduate from the Glen Ponder school of insignificant incidental music. It’s always a nail-biting time when old bands fanfare a return with a slightly altered line-up and brand new album and most of the time you’re left feeling nothing other than disappointed (see also The Clash or REM) and on this evidence, I fear one of our most important bands has taken a bit of a tumble. A mere blip, I hope.

That Equals’ version though kicks like a mule, an aggressive and confrontational record that’s equal (arf) parts Slade and Led Zeppelin fed through a Brixton blender and left to run like a feral delinquent. The ‘solo’ alone is almost avant garde in execution. . Listen up now people….

The Equals Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys

Recorded in 1970, its fist-pumping socio-political message was at odds with the band’s previous hits – you’ll be familiar with Baby Come Back – and is miles away from guitarist Eddy Grant’s future hits – and is all the better for it.

Dressed like Sly & The Family Stone and employing a set of vintage guitars that would have Orange Juice frothing with jealousy, Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys sets the tone for the sound of the seventies; a toughed-up, roughed-up riffing groove, egged on by the hardest kicking of kick drums.

Those Specials really should have paid more attention.

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Milltown Brothers (And Sister)

Try googling Working Men’s Club. Go on. I’ll wait for you.

Chances are you didn’t land on the band of the same name, which is bad planning on their part because had you alighted on the northern English act you’d have been pleasantly surprised by what you’d hear. I imagine other acts will have equally Google-unfriendly names, but then I can’t name any as I haven’t found them yet(!) Thankfully, the good folk at Melodic Records in Manchester saw fit to point the band in my direction.

From the Calder Valley area, a belt of old industrial mill towns located somewhere between the white and red roses of Leeds and Manchester, Working Men’s Club are named after the clubs they once sneaked into as underage drinkers. Pleasingly, they’ve eschewed the normal Oasis-by-numbers rentarock that many young bands fall into.

Theirs is a twisted take on the angular scratches of post punk; a bit of Wire here, a stroppy Fall vocal there, a Gang Of Four thunk in the chorus…..bitter old cynics will easily trace the lineage from there to the Manics at their angriest or The Futureheads at their most obtuse, but taken at face value, Working Men’s Club are worth further investigation. My favourite album of last year came from Parquet Courts and a track like Bad Blood could sit happily in the grooves within that record.

 

Regular touring partners with the excellent Orielles, the next few months will see Working Men’s Club play a handful of shows across the Manchester area as guests of both Pip Blom and The Limananas, as well as striking out for headline shows of their own.

I’m keen to see if they make it further north and across the border into this fine and pleasant land. If and when they make it to Glasgow there’s a good chance I’ll be first in the queue for tickets and *down the front come showtime. I fully expect too that someone with a finger on the pulse of what’s a-happenin’ – a Marc Riley, perhaps – will afford them the opportunity of a session, so if they don’t fancy their chances of (cough) foreign travel in this era of pre-Brexit uncertainty, there’s a good chance I’ll get to hear them live, if not see them live.

*at the side, bobbing my head slightly whilst taking mental notes and hoping I don’t miss the last train home.

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The Temptations

Temptation by New Order is a steam-powered, clattering industrial racket, the result of maverick programming and experimentation from a band keen to break free from their previous sound and take on a brave new direction.

Coming a year after a debut album that the band struggled to like – Bernard Sumner in particular hated its unavoidable debt to Joy Division, Temptation plugged the gap between the propulsive Everything’s Gone Green and the ubiquitous Blue Monday. Like all the great bands, New Order were (are?) great at releasing stand-alone singles; bold statements of intent and hints to future direction, and made sure Temptation was seen as such. It’s the perfect marker, taking the cold, robotic greyisms of the Movement album and dressing them up in learn-as-you-go proto sequencers and asthmatic guitars that wheeze and rattle away like Nile Rodgers had he lived in a Whalley Range bedsit.

Incredibly, the two versions that make up the 7″ and 12″ releases were recorded in one 15 minute take. On the longer version, the band crash in as if they’ve really hit the ground running, a multi-layered palette of pulsing sequencers, Peter Hook’s signature bass-as-lead and those ‘woo-oo-oo-ah-oo‘ vocals, a notion which only makes sense once you know that the 7″ edit fades at the same point the 12″ begins. Of the session, the first 5 or so minutes were given over to the 7″ version, the track that would secure enough radio play to get New Order inside the top 30, and the rest (just shy of 9 minutes) was where the band allowed themselves to fly. Cue both tracks up and see for yourself;

New OrderTemptation (7″ version)

New OrderTemptation (12″ version)

See?!?

The 12″ version is notable for the wee yelp that Barney lets out just off-mike as the track limbers its way into its free-form groove, the result of a snowball being shoved down the back of his shirt by an errant band mate as he prepares to sing and drive his band forward from the constraints of the past into a technology-inspired future. As the snowball works its way down Barney’s back he mixes up a few of those ‘green eyes, blue eyes, grey eyes‘ lines but recovers in time before anyone save the most trainspottery of listeners has noticed. I first picked up on that wee slip way back when while trying to unbend the corner of the beautiful Peter Saville-designed sleeve, bashed and bent from being hidden in my school bag to avoid the disapproving eyes of my mum who lectured me regularly on the evils of spending all my paper round money on records.

Temptation is a track New Order hold dear. Not only does it have the honour of being their most-played live track, the band would go on to re-record it on at least two further occassions. The most popular version of Temptation is arguably the one that graces Substance, the collection famously commisioned by Tony Wilson as he wanted all the New Order singles in the one place for listening to in his car.

New OrderTemptation (’87 version)

Blue eyes, green eyes, grey eyes. Photo by Kevin Cummins

 

Not remixed from the original, but recorded as a brand new track 5 years after the original, it’s a big, bold, pop record, sunshine-bright with a spring in its step and as far removed from the original as Salford is from the Seychelles. Does it lack something because of this? Soul, perhaps? Or the mis-placed wonky, seat of the pants programmed percussion? Maybe, but the Substance version of Temptation is the glossy sound of a band finally free from its monochrome past and confident in its own skin. They’d record the evergreen True Faith around this time, the melancholy-drenched beauty that went a long way to cementing New Order’s status as one of our greatest bands. Temptation though….give in to it. It’s a cracker.

 

 

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Feeling Low

In their early days, Low were known to obtusely turn the volume down at gigs rather than up, so that their audience was forced to listen to them. Perhaps that’s why they’re so called, named in a defiant, low-volumed protest to the ramshackle, turned-up-to-11 grunge bands of the day. Or perhaps it’s because the audience would often sit on the floor at their shows, again in defiance of the crowd surfing and body slamming that was commonplace on their circuit. I imagine though that they’re called Low simply because they have the knack of mentally bringing you down.

Low inhabit an arcane, sepia-tinged world where time slooooooows down, crawls to an eventual halt and, with a lethargic burst of lung-bursting effort, rolls into creaky reverse. Not for them the modern day currency of of a sampler or sequencer or ProTools production. Heck, they’ve only just discovered electricity. Low’s is a world where Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris are king and queen, where major chords segue into minor chords over the course of marathon-lengthed songs that belie their actual three and a half minutes and where an Everly Brothers harmony aces all. Listen carefully and you might hear the faint whirr of an old tyme 78 cranking up ethereally in the background.

They’re hard work, are Low. Their current album Double Negative has wormed its way quietly into the critics’ ‘Best Of 2018′ lists but I found it a bit slow, a bit samey and as tortuous as a month of Sundays. Perhaps I need a second listen. Perhaps I need to listen to it once, in all honesty, all the way through without feeling the need to tap my watch face and check that time was indeed moving forwards before giving up at track 3? 4? 9? I dunno. Perhaps I’ll do so after removing this pencil from my eye. Their Christmas album is a bit cheerier, the go-to hipster choice for those seeking a Mariah and Slade-free festive period, but it still has its treacly moments.

If you want to indulge in a little Low, may I point you in the direction of their slo-mo, downbeat shuffling take on The Smiths’ Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me. Soaked in reverb, bathed in pathos and moving majestically between Johnny Marr’s majors and minors, it’s fantastic. Gothic cowboy music at its very best.

LowLast Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me

Or you might want to try their achingly hearfelt take on George Harrison’s Long Long Long. The quiet Beatle’s original was never the most upbeat of tracks to start with but Low take it somewhere new. It sneaks under the radar and ebbs and flows, falls and rises and falls again with double vocal dynamics, scrubbed acoustic guitar and a droning keyboard that gently noodles it off and out into the ether.

LowLong, Long, Long

Great, innit?

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

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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…..!