Archive for the ‘Live!’ Category

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Touched By The Hand Of Bob

January 10, 2017

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.

 

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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.

dylan-oscarBob 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.

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I’ll Take This Chance To Tell My Friends What Im Thinking Of

December 4, 2016

It’s Saturday night in the Barrowlands! Where else would you rather be!?!” asks Norman Blake to the partisan home crowd. He’s greeted with a huge cheer. Aye, this gig had all the makings of a classic; a much-loved band, a new album currently hovering around the higher echelons of many ‘Best Of The Year’ lists, a back catalogue of killer songs and social media ablaze in the days running up to the show with desperate pleas for any spare tickets for the home-town gig in The Best Venue In The World (us Barrowlands stalwarts are fiercly protective of our venue – on the right night, there’s nowhere else like it on the planet). With the exception of the Trashcan Sinatras, I’ve seen Teenage Fanclub more times than any other band. From King Tuts and the Grand Old Opry to the SECC and back again. In Motherwell. In Edinburgh (more than once, too). Supporting Neil Young and Pixies. I’ve been to numerous TFC shows in all manner of places. I think last night was my 43rd show, and as such, I’m fairly well qualified to judge a Teenage Fanclub show. So why did I leave the gig slightly (just slightly, mind) underwhelmed and a touch (just a touch, mind) disappointed?

It certainly wasn’t due to my brief conversation with minor pop celebrity Duglas T Stewart of the BMX Bandits. “Will you be doing a wee turn later, Duglas?” I ask, nodding in the direction of the stage. “I might be having a wee turn later, but I won’t be doing one, no…

img_8858Faceless Fanclub

Maybe it’s where we chose to stand. Years ago I’d have made my way to as close to the front as possible, fingers crossed that I would still have 2 shoes on by the end of the gig. More recently, at the back, on the wee lip that borders the sprung dancefloor has become a favourite spot for middle-aged short arses like myself, but when the only spot that remains happens to be slap bang in the middle of the main thoroughfare for the bar, by the 3rd song in I was wishing I was that gung-ho Barrowlander of old. I would’ve gone for it too, but I was wearing reasonably new desert boots and I didn’t want to risk it.

Nope, it wasn’t that. Despite the flow of people (who goes to a gig to spend their night walking parallel to the stage while staring at their phone for most of the night? A debate for another time…), I had a perfect view. Slightly stage right, facing Gerry and looking across the top of the audience’s heads.

Maybe it was the choice of songs. The setlist was strong – a decent mix of new material (5 songs from the new LP) and a choice selection from the Fanclub’s stellar back catalogue, including band perennials Star Sign, Ain’t That Enough, Sparky’s Dream, I Don’t Want Control Of You, and The Concept, songs that between them have a combined age of half that of the Rolling Stones, but still sound as fresh as they day they were first commited to vinyl.

img_8856‘Borrowed’ from the Teenage Fanclub Fanclub Facebook page. Credit where it’s due.

Nope. Nothing wrong with the songs they played and how they sounded. Is there any finer sight in music than when the three principal members of Teenage Fanclub step up to their mics and sing as one? No, there’s not. The vocals sounded really terrific. The Concept, with it’s big 70s soft rock outro sounded fantastic. Fanclub-tastic, even. And the opening one-two of Start Again followed by Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything was perfect, the latter’s Harper’s Ba-ba-ba-ba-zarres and woah-wo-ohs and sudden stop particularly thrilling to these ears. Elsewhere, Raymond’s rediscovery in the joys of the whammy bar were put to good use, with liberal sprinklings of divebombing twang on the newer material. At one point, he and 5th Fanny Dave indulged in a spot of beautiful twin axe attack harmonising guitar, which had me shouting “Thin Lizzy!” to no-one in particular. The reserved crowd even risked a spot of dad dancing during Don’t Look Back, at that moment the Barrowlands momentarily transformed into The Best Venue In The World.

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My complaint is two-fold. Firstly, much of the set was badly structured. Norman changed his guitar after every song which meant that while long-term guitar tech Guitar George wandered on and off with the Gibson or the Casino or the Mustang, the others shuffled around with silent tuners and little in the way of audience interaction. The Ramones could’ve played a whole set in the gaps between the songs.

The order of the songs was wrong too. A Norman song followed by a Gerry song followed by a Raymond song, and so on. Nowt wrong with that of course. With 3 top-class songwriters in the band, this is probably the most democratic way to do things. But it’s the Raymond songs I have a problem with. For me, always the weak point on the albums, they fail to cut it live too. They spoil the flow. Upbeat. Upbeat. Downbeat. Upbeat. Upbeat. Downbeat. Just as you’re getting into it, here comes another introspective Raymond jangler. Or a guitar change. Not even the honey-coated harmonies from Norman and Gerry could rescue things. It was great to hear the long-lost Verisimilitude again, with Norman’s guitar elevating it to greatness. It was even fine to stick My Uptight Life in the middle of the set, sandwiched between the chugging rush of It’s All In My Mind and The First Sight, one of the new album’s highlights. But these songs were played instead of others, not as well as.

Given this was the 2nd-last night of the tour…in the Barrowlands…in front of family, friends and the long-time faithful, I expected a Did I Say, or a Broken, or a Radio, or a God Knows It’s True with Brendan back on drums, or….. y’get the idea. So many great songs at their fingertips and the band chose to sludge the set up with a wee handful of mid-paced clunkers. And ditto for the encore. Here was the band’s chance to turn the years back and remind us why on their night they’re untouchable. Instead, the 4 song finale was like the rest of the set; two classics bookending a couple of set fillers. As great as the wee Grant McLennan cover is (it’s a cracker) and as soaring as the magnificent Everything Flows undeniably is, that’s why I’m feeling slightly let down this morning. Just slightly, mind. Maybe you’ll get a different set at the ABC tonight. Unusually for me, it’s a Fanclub show I can’t make. I hope it’s a cracker.

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Hart To Heart

November 14, 2016

It must be a generational thing, but I was surprised and just a touch disappointed at the young folk at the BBC on Wednesday night who upped and left as soon as the last languid notes of Frightened Rabbit‘s world-weary bedroom anthems had faded from the Roddy Hart-fronted Quay Sessions. Two bands with a devoted following and an impressive back catalogue, bundled together on the one radio/TV show was always going to be a good thing, and the scramble for tickets was always going to out-strip demand. I applied (“I applied!“) through the correct channels with no success, but having the right kind of friends helped me gain access to the show. The slut that I am.

They’re a good band, Frightened Rabbit, and in stripped back form – two guitar-playing pianists (or is that two piano-playing guitarists?) backed by a string quartet – they sound very good, on this occassion arguably better than the Trashcan Sinatras, the evening’s other band. A big glass room doesn’t really react well to a full band sonic assault, so sound-wise the Frabbits probably shaded things. But song-wise, there’s just no contest. It’s a shame more of the young folk in their skinny jeans and pointy boots and fuzzy faces didn’t hang about to find out.

Just like the titular Mrs H, the Trashcans make goy-jus music. Witty, literate, chiming pockets of gold wrapped in melancholy, resigned to runner-up status, forever out of step with musical fads and fashions, but stubbornly ploughing a path worth travelling. How did bands like Elbow achieve arena-type success while the Trashcans flapped and floundered around the grimier venues of the world? It’s jist no’ fair, as they say. To quote the esteemed Pete Paphides on Twitter this week – “It continues to mystify me that a band that’s made such magnificent music for so long has eluded any sort of national treasure status.” Wow. The folk that know know. I just wish more folk knew.

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At the Quay Sessions, BBC Scotland’s bite-sized take on Later…with Jools Holland, the bands play in the foyer of BBC Scotland’s Glasgow studios. The window behind features the very best of Glasgow’s skyline; the stick-thin University steeple peeking out from behind the old Clydeside cranes, the Hydro, lit up tonight in greens and purples, the blue-tinted squinty bridge. It’s fantastic, and makes for an impressive backdrop.

By the time we (we being Mrs POP and myself) have negotiated the queue, we’re offered restricted viewing seats or standing. We wisely choose standing, although I get my knickers in a twist when I realise there are two stages and we’re clearly being sheperded into the right-hand side one, far away from the other side. “I bet this is the Frightened Rabbit stage,” I say, until I scan the stage like some sort of indie Columbo for any clues as to the band who’ll appear there. I spot Paul’s trusty old Tokai Strat and I can relax.

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The show is recorded ‘live’ for broadcast the next night, but it’s clear from the off that the slickest thing about it is Roddy Hart’s hair. He introduces and re-introduces both bands, we whoop, holler and cheer half a dozen times, he records then re-records the links to be filled between the bands, he stumbles and fluffs his own script….and it’s all done in front of an audience. He’s a good sport, is Roddy.

As for the Trashcans, they were terrific, of course. I had fully expected them to play 3 or 4 songs at most, and all from their latest Wild Pendulum LP, but no! We got a full 50 minute set made up of half a dozen new songs and a whole load of ‘greatest hits’. Beginning with a trio of crackers – Best Days On Earth, Ain’t That Something (lyrics smartly changed to ‘At the Ga-las-gow Theatre!‘) and All The Dark Horses, which as those who know know is just about the best song ever written, the band stopped for a wee chat with Roddy, filling us in on the benefits of crowd funding, writing and recording the new album and what they’ve been doing in the 7 years since they last graced these shores.

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Hayfever (watch it on the telly and you’ll see the missus and I gurning daftly at the camera after it clatters to a close) kicks off part 2 of the show in fine form. By now the band are in full flow and the hits and future hits keep a-comin’ – Got Carried Away, I’ve Seen Everything, All Night (with additional brass from the real frightened rabbits of the night – 2 self-consciously awkward trumpet players frozen at the sight of the TV cameras, poor lads) and a light and airy Weightlifting to finish.

Although we’re right at the front, we are often faced with the BBC camerman’s backside as he swoops up and down and zooms into the photogenic Franks (Reader and Keanu Reeves-lookalike bass player Divanna). We are encouraged by Roddy at the start to video, picture, Tweet and Facebook the show, so at times I find myself watching the gig not only through the screen on my phone but also through the screen on the camerman’s monitor. Watching a gig through a screen through a screen? How very post-modern!

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As is often the case when they’re in town, the Trashcans are joined by John’s wife, Frank’s sister Eddi. Usually they’d duet on the scrubbed acoustic fug of Send For Henny (from 1993’s I’ve Seen Everything album), but tonight she takes the female lead on What’s Inside The Box, one of Wild Pendulum’s stand-out tracks. It’s a taster for what’s to come at Oran Mor the next night, where they kick off their short 3 date tour.

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It was a privilege to be in the BBC audience. Despite the gaps in recording and touring, the Trashcans are by far the band I’ve seen more than any other and since the end of the 80s I’ve seen them in all manner of venues and situations but never in this kind of environment. The next night at Oran Mor was more straightforward, but no less thrilling.

A rammed venue and a crowd who knows every song and greets the oldies with Hampden-sized cheers makes for a good gig. The band didn’t disappoint, playing with a ferocity and passion not seen in years. Iffy sound problems marred the first couple of songs but once they sorted themselves out, the show really started to fly. Broadcaster and local Mr Music, Billy Sloan, a long-time champion of the band was ecstatic in his praise afterwards, saying it was the best he’d ever seen them, and while I suspect he probably says this after every time he’s seen them, he might’ve been right.

The setlist was perfect; the correct ratio of old:new and fast:slow. A quick chat with the band later on revealed the difficulties in producing such a setlist. I could write you a brilliant 20-song set lof material the Trashcans didn’t play, but there’s the rub. So many songs, so little time. If you’re off to Dublin today (12th) or London on Monday, you’re in for a great night out.

img_8726Big Iainy, TCS’ very own Kosmo Vinyl with Billy Sloan and some random photobomber

 

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A Religious Experience

August 8, 2016

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

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

 

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

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

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

In which Book of the Bible….”

S’calledstreamsofwhiskeyanditgoeslikethis…

…did Daniel….

“Kscscscscshhh..thump thump thump….”

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

“stampstompstamp…YOU BASTARD!

(cue nervous giggling and shuffling of feet).

pogues bw

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

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

pogues poguetry promo press

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

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

The PoguesLondon Girl

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

The PoguesA Rainy Night In Soho

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

shane teeth

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

The PoguesThe Body Of An American

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

The PoguesPlanxty Noel Hill

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

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

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

macgowan clash

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Alf Ramsey’s Revenge

June 28, 2016

‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’ is the sound of The Smiths at their chiming, ha-ha-ho-ho-hollering, twin guitar attack peak. Written, as the band usually did, quickly and as part of a triptych that also included ‘London’ and ‘Half A Person’, it was considered as the follow-up single to ‘Ask’ before being passed over at the last minute in favour of ‘Shoplifters Of the World Unite’, a move regarded as travesty by many Smiths devotees at the time.

The ‘Shoplifters…’ single included both ‘London’ and ‘Half A Person’, the tracks on the b-side connected through the subject matter of moving to London, with the former a noisy glam racket that sticks two fingers up to those who are too spineless to leave and make something of themselves, and the latter a brilliantly put-together melancholic rumination of how just a move can go so wrong – “I went to London and I booked myself in at the YWCA…” The noisy and the melodic, the tragi-comedy of The Smiths on the same record.

  smiths morrissey marr rough trade store room Marr & Morrissey, Rough Trade stockroom, 1983

But the best of the three tracks written in that early October session, ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’ was left alone on the shelf marked ‘Great Smiths Tracks That Would’ve Made Great Smiths Singles’. The band had high quality control values – theirs is a perfectly-formed 4 studio album and 17 single discography, untarnished by stop-gap filler material or substandard releases; the perfect group. Not that there’s anything wrong with ‘Shoplifters…’ – I’m particularly partial to Johnny’s open-wah rockist guitar solo – but better single material than ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’? Nah. They got that one wrong, I think. Even if, as it turns out, Johnny thinks ‘Shoplifters…’ is the better song.

The SmithsYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (The World Won’t Listen mix)

Keen eagle-eared Smiths enthusiasts at sadly-departed Smiths treasure trove Smiths Recycled spotted that the mix on The World Won’t Listen ran a touch too fast, so with the aid of modern technology and whatnot re-pitched the track at the speed it would’ve been playing at when The Smiths recorded it. clever fellas, those guys. Spot the difference…

The SmithsYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (The World Won’t Listen mix – Repitched Version)

The track eventually saw the light of day on ‘The World Won’t Listen’ compilation, the catch-all, semi follow-up to ‘Hatful Of Hollow’ that gathered together all the odds ‘n sods ‘n ‘As ‘n Bs from the 2nd half of The Smiths career. It also appeared in slightly different form (if you turn up the EQ on your Morrissey-endorsed NHS hearing aid, subtle nuances in the mixing can be heard, if you’re that way inclined) on the American compilation ‘Louder Than Bombs’.

The SmithsYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (Louder Than Bombs mix)

Those same Smiths enthusiasts at Smiths Recycled also corrected the pitch on this too…

The SmithsYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (Louder Than Bombs mix – Repitched Version)

smiths gannon 86

The song itself was borne out of in-band fighting and the politics that would eventually lead to Johnny leaving the band. Booked for 5 days in London’s Mayfair Studios, Morrissey was keen for the band to work with upcoming wunderkid producer Stephen Street. Johnny preferred the tried and tested John Porter and in the end a compromise of sorts was agreed – Street would work the first day and Porter would do the other four. To add complication to the mix, 5th Smith Craig Gannon, who’d accompanied the band on their recent US tour but had never really been fully accepted into the group , was only just hanging on to his status in The Smiths by the finest hair on his bequiffed head. History shows that the Porter sessions would be the last time Gannon would work with the band.

Johnny’s tune is a classic Marr composition, tumbling in on a breath of fresh air, packed full of double and triple-tracked guitars as clear and ringing as Edinburgh Crystal, chiming, capo’d and open-stringed arpeggios and stinging counter-melodies, wrapped up and driven by a trampolining bass line and a stomping, Glitter band thud of drums in the chorus. That Johnny still plays it live in concert to this day, something The Smiths themselves never did, is testament to the longevity and beauty of the song.

The title and lyrical refrain is attributed to Rough Trade supremo Geoff Travis who uttered the words at Morrissey after the singer asked him why he wouldn’t treat The Smiths with the importance that their status deserved.  Morrissey had a point – The Smiths almost single-handedly allowed Rough Trade to flourish as a label. All money made from the band went back into other artists, many of whom would never have had a record deal and subsequent success without Rough Trade’s money – the money that came directly from the healthy sales of Smiths’ product. Morrissey was clearly still feeling aggrieved a few months later when he recycled the title as a lyric in ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’, The Smiths’ scathing deconstruction of the music business. It’s possible that, after hearing ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’, and stung by its lyrical content, Travis overruled the band’s decision to release it as a single.

Obviously Geoff was staunchly against it,” said Morrissey, in highly dramatic fashion when quoted in Simon Goddard’s essential ‘Songs That Saved Your Life’. “Because he thought it was a personal letter addressed to him.

A couple of years later, Marr would play on Kirtsy MacColl’s faithful remake of ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’, the original’s multi-tracked guitars replaced by a choir of Kirsties; airy, whispering, cooing and making it something of her own.

Kirsty MacCollYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby

It’s all slightly plodding, truth be told, a stodgy, sticky pudding compared to the floating on air joie de vivre that carries the original. That’s by far the best version, of course.

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McCrosby, Thrills ‘n Snash

February 1, 2016

One of the many things I do outwith the blogosphere is that I’m involved in putting on gigs in my wee corner of the world. It’s not something I mention much on here, partly because much of the music, while really great, doesn’t really fit in with the ethos of what Plain Or Pan is about (ie, old stuff by old bands.) I became involved when a small group of us got talking about all the big acts who’d come to Irvine as part of their UK tours. Irvine, believe it or not, was quite the hotbed at one time; The Clash, The Jam, The Smiths, Madness, Chuck Berry, Big Country, Bjork, Oasis, Supergrass, Thin Lizzy, The Wonderstuff….. all graced our wee town with their presence. They were brought here by one man, the great Willie Freckleton, and when he died a few years ago, the council failed to fill his position and the acts dried up. Irvine is a deprived town, and starved of popular culture, it can feel even more depressing than it should. So, along with my like-minded pals, we decided to act.

We organised a festival, Freckfest, named in Willie’s honour, and put on The Magic Numbers at the top of a bill including local acts. It was always Willie’s thing that he’d have a local act supporting the big visiting star. It might’ve been the local band’s big break, but more often than not it was their brief spotlight into the glitzy world of rock ‘n roll before imploding in a storm of musical differences and stolen drummers. All of us in the past benefited from Willie’s ideal and in the distant past you’d have caught us gleefully thrashing away in our own no-hope bands as we warmed the audience up for BMX Bandits or John Martyn or whoever else was in town. Great times!

Now that none of us are in ‘promising local bands’ any more, we felt it was time to take the baton left behind by Willie and pick up where he left off. The Magic Numbers show was not as well attended as we’d have liked, but it was a brilliant event and everyone who came to it asked if we’d be doing more things like it. Fast forward 2 and a bit years and we’ve now been given a monthly slot to fill in the local arts centre. We’ve had all manner of acts in there; Nik Kershaw for 2 sold out nights, solo Glenn Tilbrook Squeezed in-between concerts he was playing with his day-job band, up-and-comers like Neon Waltz, broadcaster Andy Kershaw who told us tales of a life less ordinary. Wherever possible, we’ve had local acts playing support. Last year we landed Johnny Marr, and without a suitable venue in Irvine, we put him on in Kilmarnock. Suddenly, it’s getting quite serious, and we could be doing gigs twice a week if we had the time and resources. Not bad going for a bunch of enthusiastic unpaid volunteers.

pictish yorkston withered iphone

On Friday night we kicked off our 2016 calendar with a full house (and a waiting list of gig goers desperate for any spare tickets), guaranteeing that tickets for a Songwriters’ Circle featuring James Yorkston, Withered Hand and The Pictish Trail were the hottest in the country.

We headlined Celtic Connections last night,” intoned the quietly-spoken Yorkston during the second half. “…as the warm-up for Irvine.” Cue massive cheers and applause. By all accounts the previous night’s show had been a cracker, and judging by the weary-looking faces on the three performer’s faces, they’d made the most of the offer to indulge in the Festival’s legendary after-show hospitality.

I got to bed around 4am,” sighed James. “I left Johnny (Pictish Trail) and Dan (Withered Hand) to it.” With three under-par performers, fresh from the glory of a massive Celtic Connections show and squeezed onto the HAC’s ‘stage’ (it’s actually just a space on the floor where a local am-dram group might perform, surrounded on 3 sides by banks of seating – a brilliant, intimate, whites-of-the-eyes venue), this didn’t bode well for the night ahead. The artists even admitted as much afterwards. We shouldn’t have worried.

pictish withered audience(C) Paul Camlin

Beginning with Withered Hand’s ‘Life Of Doubt’, replete with a wheezing Neil Young-ish harmonica and some excellent finger-picking, the trio rolled out two terrific sets of well-paced originals. The plan was that each artist would deliver 10 of their own songs, accompanied by the other two on occasional instrumentation and backing vocals. Given that they had been playing as a group for the previous two weeks on tour, by the time they arrived in Irvine they were extremely comfortable in one another’s company and were well-versed in one another’s material.

IMG_1163(C) Paul Camlin

Withered Hand gave way to James Yorkston, airing the best bits of an embarrassingly-rich back catalogue in-between some highly entertaining stories and light-hearted put-downs of his band mates. A highlight of the first half was the version of Withered Hand’s ‘California’, all triple-part, slightly-skew-whiff harmonies, delicately plucked 6 strings and moody atmospherics. I tend not to write notes during a gig, but during this one I wrote ‘McCrosby, Stills and Nash’, which will make perfect sense to anyone there.

Withered HandCalifornia

If James was the dry-witted, droll one with the introverted tunes, and Dan the slightly foul-mouthed one with a keen ear for the closest thing to a pop song you’d hear all night, Johnny Pictish Trail was the extroverted, out-going leader of the pack.

His tunes veered from folkish, socially-conscious beauties to (bizarrely for half the unsuspecting audience) lo-fi, electro-enhanced 30-second wonders with subject matter ranging from getting your foot stuck in concrete to sweating battery acid. “Is it my turn now? Ok! Would you like a disco song or a depressing song? Tell you what, here’s a depressing disco song…” And just as your ears were recovering from the aural assault, it’d be back to James who’d tell a brilliant monologue about last night’s hotel, before working the band into an intricately-woven arrangement of one the choicest cuts from his dozen or so long players.

pictish withered chinese dragons(C) Paul Camlin

The audience sat in reverential silence, laughed at the easy-going on-stage patter shared between the three artists and lapped up what is already a contender for Gig Of The Year. As the artists signed merchandise and chatted to fans at the end, they too agreed this had been the best night of the tour, and not just because they’d raided the HAC’s wardrobe department and appeared for the 2nd half wearing three Chinese dragon heads. Honestly, you really had to be there…

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Paul Right Now, Baby It’s-a Paul Right Now

November 25, 2015

I can vividly remember sitting in a physics class in 2nd year of school. Mr Hill was explaining how it was possible for a radio audience listening in Paris to hear the first notes of a song in the Albert Hall, London, marginally before the audience in the back row of the venue. Something to do with sound waves and frequencies and the speed of sound in a vacuum, he explained. Actually, I’m just making this part up. I have no idea how it works, which maybe explains why I never elected to take physics beyond the basic foundation level. It’s mind-blowing and all that, but really, who gives a shit?

Well, maybe some of last night’s audience in Glasgow’s Hydro. Officially the 3rd busiest venue in the world (behind London’s O2 and New York’s Madison Square Garden) it’s a beast of a venue. Filled to capacity most nights of the week, it’s hosted all the big acts since opening a couple of years ago; Prince, U2, Taylor Swift, all the hot tickets come to Glasgow’s Hydro where, for the majority of the audience they appear like Lego versions of the real thing, far off in the distance, or, plooks ‘n all, on two massive video screens suspended either side of the stage.


Some of the seats in the Hydro are in a different postcode to the stage. Others may well be in a different time zone, such is their distance from the action. Any old mod tuning in from Paris last night may well have heard the first bars of Long Hot Summer (yes!) before those poor folk head to toe in Pretty Green way up there at the back. Which means those Parisians would’ve had the first inkling that Paul Weller last night was on fire, raging with emotion, attacking his guitar like the angry young man he once was and still defiantly kicking against the pricks.

CLANG! (That’s the sound of a name about to be dropped….)

Johnny Marr told me recently that he’d never deny his audience the chance to hear the choicest of cuts from his stellar Smiths’ catalogue. Why would you, he said, when he enjoyed playing them and the audience wanted to hear them. Yes, he’s proud of his most recent work, but he’s equally proud of the songs that got him to where he is today. Weller, it’s pleasing to note, has done likewise.


A lengthy and epic career-spanning 28 song set-list was played out to his usual audience; aulder and balder with a touch more spread around their middle-aged waists but still bellowing and punching the air in celebration like it was ’78 or ’82. Or even ’95. Jam songs (for such a long time the missing link in his set) followed Style Council songs (for such a long time the missing link etc etc) which followed early solo classics which were followed by tracks from his current patchy but it-makes-sense-in-the-live-arena Saturn’s Pattern LP. In fact, almost every facet of Weller’s career was represented tonight. I think the only phase not acknowledged was his Wild Wood LP, which is really saying something, bop-bop-shoobeedoo-wop. You could sit right now and write a brilliant 28 song set of the tracks he didn’t play, but that would be churlish. Weller’s set tonight was carefully thought-out and paced. I’d even go as far as saying that this was the best I’d ever seen him.


Kicking things off in an understated fashion with the snappy one-two of I’m Where I Should Be and Long Time from the latest album, he was quick to dip into the depths of his stupendous back catalogue. The Jam’s Man In The Corner Shop was followed by Ghosts from the same era. The wham-bam bossanova of The Style Council’s Have You Ever Had It Blue came immediately after My Ever Changing Moods, Weller’s foil Steve Cradock doing his best Curtis Mayfield impression on the wah-wah.

The sideman was on fine form tonight, let loose on expanded versions of Up In Suze’s Room and Porcelain Gods. Into Tomorrow was recast as a dubby, spacey sprawling epic, as expansive as the waistline on some of those old mods’ sharply-creased trousers. Elsewhere, we had a slightly-too-slow take on Start!, a sublime Above The Clouds which sounded like a long-lost cut from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On LP, a spiky ‘n snarling Peacock Suit, a rare outing for lost single Starlite, a fantastic wigged-out version of The Jam’s In The Crowd and ooh, more than a handful of other crackers. It all finished off in the 2nd encore with a celebratory run through of Town Called Malice, Weller breaking into a smile as he bashed his tambourine into the microphone. He’s fast-becoming the English Neil Young; both have 3 distinct phases of their career, both can by awkward and bloody-minded, both are happy to give you epic sets filled with jam-heavy breaks (no pun intended) and they can both effortlessly switch from rocker to ballad to piano to electric guitar and back again. He’s alright, is our Paul.

via @BazzaMills on Twitter

The hardest-working man in the Hydro was undoubtedly Weller’s sound man. Those recent albums have been dipped in atmospherics and electro whooshes and the soundman sprinkled his magic dust over every track tonight, Weller’s voice echoing off and out into the ether, drums ricocheting around the room. This wasn’t just a bog-standard plug in and play gig, it was an all-encompassing, multi-sensory event. Sound and vision, to steal a phrase.

When Weller next returns to Glasgow, I’ll be surprised if it’s to the Hydro. He enjoys Glasgow, it’s always a fixture on his tour, but his gigs here have followed a pattern over the past decade or so. A gig at the Barrowlands was followed by an up-scaling to the Armadillo. He returned afterwards to the scuzzy setting of the Barrowlands. Next time round, he popped up in the rarely used for gigs Braehead Arena, before coming back once again to the Barrowlands and its familiar sprung dancefloor. He’s at his best in the smaller venue, where he can make real contact with the audience and create a true communion. I doubt if many artists can honestly say that about the Hydro, regardless of how popular a venue it has quietly become. “Nice gaff!” remarked Steve Cradock at one point. Yes, but it’s just that wee bit big, isn’t it?

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