Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Boiling Point, Top League

I interviewed Martyn Ware once. It was 5 days after Paul McCartney’s show at Hampden Park, should you wish to date it, and I was still flying high, buzzing on seeing a two and a half hour benchmark set of hit after hit after hit, faithfully and loudly reproduced to within an inch of the songs’ original sound and feel.

Yeah, to us, The Beatles were shit,” he sniffed in his mellow Yorkshire accent. In the mouth open, dead air gasp of disbelieving shock that followed, he continued. “They meant nothing to my generation of musicians. Nu-thing. We looked to Germany, to Kraftwerk and beyond, for our inspirations. Guitars were dead to us, even with the influx of punk groups that were springing up everywhere. To us, the guitar stood for excess and Led Zeppelin and private jets and symbols of phallic insecurity. Not all of The Beatles music was rubbish, but I wasn’t a fan and they certainly weren’t year zero for any of the people I was making music with. Punk, and the possibilities it threw up, was our point of reference. In Sheffield especially, we chose keyboards over guitars…and I think we all made a pretty good go of it.”

Had this conversation been carried out on Zoom – still a twinkle in some Silicon Valley digital developer’s eye – I’d have seen the wry, upturned smile that followed. Ware and his pals certainly made more than a good go of it. His DIY, learn-as-you-go aesthetic, first with the Human League and then with Heaven 17 and later with BEF, saw him involved in the production of some of his generation’s most well-known yet decidedly idiosyncratic tunes.

The Human League’s first single, released way back in 1978, is a case in point.

The Human LeagueBeing Boiled

It’s futuristic sounding, even now. A hissing, spitting, fizzing, electronic groove, all metronomic synthesised hi-hat and piston-powered forward propulsion that’s as industrial-sounding as the city from whence it came. Its rubberised electro bassline, part Bootsy Collins, part Larry Graham, adds requisite pop charm, offset somewhat by Phil Oakey’s monotoned vocal.

Listen to the voice of Buddha‘ he deadpans, while the rest of the band make music from anything they can plug in. Morse code dots and dashes of synth ping pong and teleprompt their way across the electrified airspace. The clickety-click of computerised clockwork maintains the tempo – slow and steady, never speeding up, never slowing down – while gently popping bubbles of Prophet and Korg and Moog coalesce nicely in the ether, the ghosts of Kraftwerk and side 2 of Bowie’s Low hanging heavy in the analogue fug. It’s a brilliant debut single, some would say never bettered, by a band who, with a different approach and new line up, would go on to ubiquity and massive chart success.

Being Boiled has long-been a favourite of mine, right up there with the nothing-like-it-at-all Mirror Man and its Supremes-ish ‘Ooh-ooh – ee-oohs’ that take me right back to a time and place. If I was a betting man, I’d wager that Steve Strange was a big fan of Being Boiled too. There is, obviously, in Visage’s Fade To Grey, more than a whiff of similarity in those vibrating, humming chord changes.

*Bonus Track!

For maximum hard boiled analogue thump, you need the Peel Session version from August ’78. It’s, like, out there!

The Human LeagueBeing Boiled (Peel Session 8.8.78)

 

By the way, never trust anyone who says they don’t like The Beatles. It’s all for show. Whether it’s the throwaway Yellow Submarine or the avant gardisms of Revolution 9, The Beatles have a tune for everyone. You knew that already though.

Double Nugget, Gone but not forgotten, Peel Sessions

Super Bowl

There’s something about those early Inspiral Carpets records that’s really great. And by early I’m talking about the pre-Tom Hingley, pre-chart, pre-baggy (eugh) records; tunes formed and fermented in garages, coated in a dusty Nuggets-inspired layer of authenticity and woven together through sheer punkish energy over anything resembling finesse.

Well, yes, Clint Boon was undeniably a whizz on the Farfisa and, given that he was at least 42 years older than the other Inspirals, it’s perfectly logical reasoning that he should be skilled on his instrument of choice whilst the others faffed around with open chords and one-finger bass lines played through the same sort of Peavey amps that my very own garage band would use to blast our own hamfisted first attempts at songwriting out into the neighbourhood, but what those early Inspirals perhaps lacked in subtlety led them to create a sound that was unlike anything I’d heard. I know now about Nuggets and what have ye, but back in 1988, the Inspiral Carpets were something of a revelation. To these ears, they were dynamite.

Lazy naysayers would often point to The Doors as the obvious point of reference. For me, though, Inspiral Carpets had much more in common with Teardrop Explodes. It’s there in the second-hand ’60s references fed through an anything-goes indie attitude, the organs and rat-a-tat drumming…the over-arching sense of melancholy that’s created in their maelstrom of noise.

I saw them live a handful of times in those pre-Hingley days and they were always worth catching. And the early records always came with wee folded flyers -‘Moos-letters‘ they were eventually called, with a pudding-bowled nod of the head to the trippin’ cow that would become their logo and record label. You could send away for tapes and t-shirts, proper cottage industry stuff, a product of the fanzine scene of the mid ’80s and a precursor to today’s Bandcamp era. Handily, each Moos-letter charted the band’s rise to success, from Glasgow Tech to Strathclyde University to Barrowlands to the SECC, that Dung 4 cassette steadily rising in price to a giddy £4.49 before being finally unavailable by the time of Moos-letter 5.

Like many of you reading this, I sat with a tape permanently ready to record anything of interest on the John Peel show. Peel loved the Inspiral Carpets. Between 1988 and ’91, they recorded four sessions for his show – that’s the same number as The Smiths in about half the time, although only a mere 20 sessions short of the total set by his beloved Fall.

Not long after seeing Inspiral Carpets open for the Wedding Present, they did their first Peel Session (August ’88) and I sat itchy-fingered by the Grundig music centre, expertly de-pressing the pause button in the exact moment between each track fading and Peel’s warm voice of encouragement announcing the name of the track just played.

That’s Inspiral Carpets in session tonight with ‘So Far’. Mighty fine stuff indeed. And we’ll be hearing more from them later on. Which I’m rather looking forward to.” I wish, in hindsight, that I’d thought to leave the tape running and capture more of his iconic voice.

Inspiral CarpetsGreek Wedding Song (Trainsurfing EP version)

One particular track on that session stood out. With a title that screamed ‘working title’, Greek Wedding Song is the perfect microcosm of that early Inspirals’ sound; shouty vocals atop that urgent, Teardrop Explodes-ish bassline and fizzing guitars buried deep in a swirl of ’60s-inspired swelling keys that fall somewhere between wasp-in-a-jar stylophone and noodling Ray Manzarek classicism.

In just a minute and a half, the band lays out their punkishly amateur stall, only for the tune to come waltzing back in after the false ending on a ne-ver a – never a frown Golden Brown coda. ‘It’s a bit short for a Peel Session, lads‘, Clint Boon might’ve said beforehand. ‘Let’s stretch it out by going full-on Stranglers for another minute or so.’ Influences worn proudly on sleeve, it’s a cracker.

That full session from ’88 can be heard below…

Peel Session – first broadcast 1st August 1988

Clint and one of his roadies in 1989.

Football, Peel Sessions

The Twelfth Men

This great picture of young Celtic fans storming the Hampden Park barricades and getting themselves into the big match is a real look back in time, to an era when showpiece games at the national stadium weren’t always ticket-only, when brass neckery and opposable thumbs gave you and your pals just as much right to take your place on the ash and pish-coated terracing as anyone else.

This picture has everything; it’s in colour, so it’s not that old. It comes from an era in football somewhere beyond rollups and rattles and record attendances, from a generation deeply entrenched in brutal tribalism and Rangers Ends and Celtic Ends (check out the wee scribble of casual sectarianism graffiti in the picture), with the EBTs and biscuit tins and the Big Two’s unfounded entitlement that they win everything not yet quite in full view.

The clothes would suggest very late 70s or the early 80s. I vividly remember my mum asking me if I wanted ‘flares or drainpipes‘ when she was ordering my new school trousers from the catalogue. “What are flares?” I asked in all innocence, before, once she’d shown me the picture, I very quickly ensured she ordered drainpipes, and only drainpipes. In an era of 2 Tone and Madness and, yes, Baggy Trousers, if you wanted to avoid merciless slaggings and a lifetime of misery, drainpipes were the only obvious choice.

The wee guy side-on at the front, in his grey Harrington and grown-out suedehead is, I’d imagine, no stranger to the back catalogues of both the Nutty Boys and The Specials. His pal, a dead ringer for a young Roy Aitken as it happens, in the home-knitted Celtic jumper has pulled a proper ‘whityegauntaedaeabootit?‘ sneer on his face, purely for the benefit of the photographer, a gaffer ensuring every one of his troops makes it safely over to the other side. Wee bams, and brilliant with it.

The Hampden terracing was quite the place. For someone small like me, it could be exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. Glimpses of the pitch, let alone the actual ball, could be few and far between, the abstract and abrupt swearing, the aw ayes and aw naws providing you with the necessary running commentary in lieu of the actual game. “Great ball Souness that’s shite!” is the one I remember the most, remonstrated from the North Stand during a Scotland V Wales qualifier sometime around 1985. The smell of cigarettes and alcohol and piss hung heavy in the nostrils while your feet hung hopelessly in the air. From first whistle to last, the Adidas Kicks would rarely touch the ash. If there was a goal – and in the 80s, when Scotland fielded teams of world beaters there were always goals – there’d be a massive surge; a tidal wave that started from front and back and all sides simultaneously, and you’d be swept along in its soup-stirring free-flow, down ten or more rows before being jarrred swiftly to the right or left or both then back again, like a giant man-made spin cycle that always, always, returned you to where you’d been standing (floating) before the goal had been scored. You might lose your pals temporarily, but everyone’s your pal when Kenny Dalglish has just swerved in Scotland’s third of the night v Spain.

By the mid 80s my pals and I were going to Hampden ourselves. I say ourselves, but the truth was, Irvine Rugby Club ran a minibus to Hampden and, organised by someone our dads knew, we’d get to go to the game on the bus with them. What our parents never knew was that the bus would park somewhere near the Church On The Hill pub, and while all the men nipped in for a quick pint before the game, we’d get all gallus and, visibly growing a couple of inches, swagger the mile or so to Hampden by ourselves, take in the game then swagger back along the shadowy streets of Glasgow’s southside to the bus again. Semi-free small-towners from the Ayrshire sticks, we’d never have had the nerve to loup the wall like those boys in the photo. Let’s not kid anyone on here.

One particular game (v Romania possibly) stood tip-toed on the North Stand is memorable not for the box-to-box penetration happening on the pitch in front of us but for the ball games happening behind. “Stephanie, Stephanie…c’moan, it’s ma turn!” said the guy in the tight Souness perm, moustache ‘n all, as he and his two pals took turns at disappearing down the ash path and behind the stand with a young woman wearing a tartan scarf and a Crombie and quite possibly nothing else.

He shouts, he scores, to paraphrase.

Like those wee boys in the photo at the top, or or those wee blue disabled cars behind the goals, not the sort of thing you’ll see at the football anymore.

Echo and the BunnymenOver The Wall (Peel Session 22.5.80)

From a similar time and place, here’s Echo and the Bunnymen‘s Peel Session version of Over The Wall. Del Shannon via The Doors, filtered through era-defining hair and total self-belief. A bit like that Scotland squad of the times…and the wee guys in the picture at the top.

Alternative Version, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Peel Sessions

Jukebox Dury

Released in 1977 at the height of Year Zero (or would this be Year1?), Ian Dury‘s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll was, suprisingly, not a hit. Given its familiarity, I’d always thought of it as something of a late 70s monster smash, but apparently not. Neither was it an Ian Dury & The Blockheads record. Despite both Chaz Jankel and Norman Watt-Roy playing on it, Dury’s first single was credited to him and him alone.

Ian DurySex & Drugs 7 Rock & Roll (7″ version)

The low sales can be attributed to a couple of factors: it was wrongly thought of as a celebration of everything that punk was set on destroying, as bloated and offensive perhaps as anything by The Eagles or Rod Stewart. It just wasn’t cool to be seen buying a copy. Due to its title, the record found itself on the BBC’s banned list too and, unlike the unintended consequence of appearing on such state-sponsored naughty lists (see Relax, Je t’aime et al), this time round, the banning actually worked, snuffing out any possibility of Dury having a hit single. With less than 20,000 sales and next to no airplay, it was swiftly deleted. 

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll opens up side two of my charity shop-rescued, ‘previously loved’ copy of New Boots And Panties. Not on the original version (Dury had a strict ‘no singles on the album’ policy), but all future pressings of the album contained the non-hit following the Bockhead’s chart success with What A Waste and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. And just as well.

It’s a great tune.

The Peel Session take from a couple of years later might be even better…

Ian Dury & The BlockheadsSex & Drugs 7 Rock & Roll (Peel Session, 12.12.79)

There’s a tin pot rattle of percussion and we’re off, all superfast snakehip slink guitar and a riff that’s slightly different, slightly further up the strings or frets or whatever than the single version you already know and love.

Coming a couple of years after its release, the Peel version finds the band dextrous to the point of muso, stretching out beyond the tight-trousered confines of their original take, because, well, just because they can.

Bopping along for a full minute longer than the original version, there are fruity keys on the offbeat, phased and flanged, thick and syrupy guitar in the bridge and a chittering, chattering guitar in the verse, clattering away like the false teeth on a couple of old chimney-smoking fishwives on the top deck of the number 37 up Kilburn High Road, surely an unintentional influence on those wee clang-a-langs that punctuate the singing in the verses of Orange Juice’s Rip It Up.

Then there’s the Hammond solo, a wonderful warm and cosy sound that predates Mick Talbot’s role in the Style Council by a good 36 months. Lovely stuff, all in.

It’s also a clear influence on the Merseyside Magpie himself. Lee Mavers cocked one ear at that riff and that clanging percussion and thought, ‘I’m ‘avin’ that.’ So he did.

Tha La’sCome in Come Out

And talking of Liverpool…

The Blockheads were great, great players. When Trevor Horn was constructing Relax and becoming increasingly exasperated at the technical limitations of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, he roped in The Blockheads to fix Frankie’s botched job. Not for the first time in history did a band barely play on their big hit record. I’m fairly certain you knew that already though.

 

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Peel Sessions

Turn The Heater On

You know that timeless footage of Joy Division in their rehearsal space, when they play Love Will Tear Us Apart; Ian Curtis with the Vox Phantom Teardrop worn almost at his Adam’s apple, Bernard channeling his inner Kraftwerk, Hooky, low-slung and serious and Stephen, tongue out in maximum concentration over his hi-hats? ‘Course you do.

It was filmed in TJ Davidson’s rehearsal rooms, a converted Victorian mill on Little Peter Street, the third point of a triangle that’s formed if you draw lines between the rehearsal space and Salford and Prestwich. Like the mystical, musical ley lines that so hypnotised Bill Drummond just over the Pennines in Liverpool, you might come to the conclusion that there’s something in that cosmic hippy shit after all.  Between them, Salford, Prestwich and those rehearsal rooms on Little Peter Street have been responsible for creating some of the best music we will ever hear. But you knew that already.

British singer Ian Curtis and guitarist Bernard Sumner of post punk band, Joy Division, at TJ Davidson’s rehearsal room, Little Peter Street, Manchester, August 19, 1979. photographer: Kevin Cummins

That room didn’t half look cold though. Long, bare floorboards, damp red brick walls and a worryingly bowed ceiling, it looks a less than inspiring place. It’s got a certain feel to it, of that there’s no doubt, but I’d imagine it might take many a band a good wee while to warm up to room temperature and start producing the goods in there. Maybe, now I think about it, that’s why Ian’s hand is permanently frozen in that G chord position while he wears the guitar.

The others gamely play on, heating the blood and warming the heart, despite the subject matter in the song. While a youthful Morris lays down his signature sound with all the mechanical precision of an industrial revolution stamping machine, Hooky’s bass reflects the damp sheen from the walls, a nice metaphor for the icy keyboard lines glistening over the top. Suffering for their art, Joy Division created a piece of music that will still resonate 100 years from now.

A couple of years later, when Joy Division had become New Order, the band found themselves recording a Peel Session. In tribute to their late vocalist, the band chose to play a cover of Keith Hudson‘s Turn The Heater On. While Ian Curtis was said to be a huge fan of the roots reggae track, I like to think that the others perhaps thought back to those freezing days at TJ Davidson’s and, with a nod and a wink, set about recording their own version.

New Order Turn The Heater On (Peel Session 1st June 1982)

I’d no idea until much later on that the track was a cover version.

It fits that early New Order aesthetic perfectly, coming as it does midway between the glacial thaw of Movement and the spring bloom of Power, Corruption and Lies. Sad, far-away vocals, sparse, polyrhythmic drums and a mesmeric chicka-chicka head-nodding dubby exterior, what’s, as they say, not to like? The icing on the cake is the addition of the mournful melodica, gasping and wheezing the long notes, the saddest traffic jam you’ve ever heard, burrowing its way into your brain before taking up camp long after the track has spun to its conclusion. Is that why they call it an earworm?

As it turns out, if you leave the melodica aside (something Bernard had difficulty doing in 1982), New Order’s version is fairly faithful to the original.

Keith HudsonTurn The Heater On

Recorded in 1975, Turn The Heater On is classic reggae; clipped guitars, thundering bass and squeaky organ vamps, topped of by a gently soulful vocal. I’ve a feeling too that while New Order might have been requesting that you do indeed turn the heater on, Keith Hudson may have been requesting a blast of heat from a different source. Perhaps not though.

It’s a great track, one I’m grateful to New Order for pointing me in the direction of. Played back to back with New Order’s reverential cover, they make for great late autumn/early winter listening. Turn the heater on, indeed.

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, Peel Sessions, Sampled

Orderly Cue

New Order‘s Power Corruption & Lies has just had the luxuruious, deluxe treatment. Not for any anniversary reasons it seems, but it follows swiftly on the heels of the similar treatment afforded to its predecesor, Movement. Movement is a landmark album for New Order in some ways, not least the band’s decision to continue making music in the aftermath of Ian Curtis’s death, but Power, Corruption & Lies, as you know already, is the album where New Order is truly born.

Gone are the self-conscious carbon copy Curtis vocals and mannerisms. (Almost) nowhere to be heard are the rattling, richocheting Hannett-affected steam-powered drums. The high up the frets bass is, crucially, still there, more to the fore even; post-punk liquid mercury, fluid and meandering, creating that signature New Order sound without anyone being aware at the time.

Where the synth lines on Movement were occasional and minimal, on Power, Corruption & Lies they’re elegant and glacial, polishing New Order’s confident new sound with a reflective sheen. From the flowers on the cover – the juxtaposition of old and new worlds, explained sleeve designer Peter Saville – and its code-cracking tracklisting on the back, via the grapple and struggle with new technology to Bernard finding his own shaky voice, everything about Power, Corruption & Lies screams fresh new start.

The soul of the band’s adventurous new sound can be found at the end of the 1st side.

New Order586

Peter Saville’s original sketched idea for the back sleeve

586 is, to begin with, a bit of a strange track. Those rattling, richocheting drums make a brief appearance at the start before a squelchy, squiggly keyboard line assumes the role of lead. Freeforming for a good couple of minutes, and just as you think it might be running out of ideas, a familiar ghostly synth line introduces itself, curling in like a cold, grey fog off the Manchester Ship Canal. Back in 1983 (or ’93 or ’03 or even right now,) New Order obsessives listening for the first time would have pricked their ears in a Proustian rush of recognition.

Coupled with the clattering sequenced electro and rapid-fire snare that follows immediately afterwards, 586 reveals itself to be Baby Blue Monday. It’s got it all going on – the tempo, the four to the floor dancefloor beat, the breakdown in the middle…but mostly, it’s in the propulsive, forward-thinking rhythm and pulsing, sequenced synths. Blue Monday was the stand alone single, released before the album, but 586 was clearly conceived at the same knee-trembling session behind the mixing desk. 

Peter Saville’s guide to cracking the tracklisting code

It’s significantly different in other ways though. Bernard’s voice is in a higher register, falsetto occassionally, and nothing like the bottom of the boots Curtisish vocal on Blue Monday. There’s an energy of its own to it and a high synthy melody that repeats throughout, giving way to warm and fuzzy synths before the gears begin to grind to a halt and the whole track sloooooows doooown to a juddering stop, bringing both itself and side 1 of the album to a definite close.

586 began life in May 1982 when Tony Wilson asked New Order for “20 minutes of pap.” The original version was put onto video and played when the Haçienda opened its doors for the first time. A shorter version was redone for the band’s Peel Session a month later.

New Order586 (Peel Session)

With backwards sections and helicoptering synths, bendy bass and a rhythm track made up of heavily treated sleigh bells and jangling percussion, it isn’t the “20 minutes of pap” that their label boss asked for, but it’s very much a lyric in search of a better tune. That tune duly turned up a year later, half of it soundtracking the album version, the other half lending itself to the greatest 12″ single of all time.

New Order/Ennio Morricone bassline

Talking of which – where would Blue Monday be without that twanging, Spaghetti Western bassline? Stolen twang for twang from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for For A Few Dollars More, it became Peter Hook’s signature sound on New Order’s signature record, and a sound that’s still very much likely to prick the ears of people of a certain age forever.

Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten, Live!, Peel Sessions

Eye Opening

A Taste Of Honey was written by playwright Shelagh Delaney when she was just 19. Set in Salford in the mid 50s, it tells the story of a 17 year-old girl, Jo, and her mum, Helen – ‘a semi-whore‘ – who leaves her daughter to go and live with a younger, richer man. Jo begins a short-lived relationship with a black sailor. She gets pregnant but he is sent to sea, oblivious to the situation he has created. The girl takes in a lodger to help pay the way. The lodger, a gay man, cares for her and looks after her – “you’re just like a big sister to me!”  – and promises to be there for her at the birth of the child, until Helen storms back into Jo’s life and he is forced to take a step back.

As openers go, it doesn’t get much more scene-setting than that. The whole play is a brilliantly-written kitchen sink drama that zings along with unpretentious Northern honesty and questions class, single-parenthood, ethnicity, misogyny and sexuality. Choosing not to sweep the irregularities and complexities of life under the carpet, but to highlight that such things are in fact normal, I can only imagine that for the times it was fairly groundbreaking.

Born in Salford in the 50s, Morrissey was naturally drawn to the writings of Shelagh Delaney.

You told me not to trust men calling themselves Smith,’ says Jo to Helen at one point in A Taste Of Honey, and, like a flying bullet, the words leap of the page.

Seed planted firmly under the quiff, when the time came to name their band, the singer presented the group with the perfect, Delaney-influenced moniker. In an era of forward-thinking acts with multisyllabic names and the latest in musical equipment, The Smiths had defiantly set out their stall.

Morrissey would use Delaney’s image on a couple of Smiths sleeves – that’s her on the Louder Than Bombs compilation and the cover of the Girlfriend In A Coma single – and in reshaped form in the title of Sheila Take A Bow – and in the early days, the moping magpie wasn’t shy of stealing a line or two (or more) to help flesh out the narrative in his songs.

Reel Around The Fountain‘s “I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice,” for example is taken straight from A Taste Of Honey. And the phrase ‘Marry Me!‘ – scrawled on Morrissey’s skinny torso and revealed in heart crushing fashion midway through a Top Of The Pops performance for William It Was Really Nothing is a recurring phrase in the play.

Then there are key lines such as ‘six months is a long time,’ ‘I’ll probably never see you again,’ ‘I’m not happy and I’m not sad‘ and ‘the dream has gone but the baby’s real‘ – the line around which he based the entire plot for The Smiths’ This Night Has Opened My Eyes.

A Taste Of Honey, it’s fair to say, provided a rich seam of lyrical plunder for Steven Patrick.

The SmithsThis Night Has Opened My Eyes (Peel Session, Sept 83)

In a river the colour of lead‘, it goes, again a straight steal from A Taste Of Honey, ‘immerse the baby’s head.’ (also a reference to a line near the end of the play.) Hot on the heels of the Suffer Little Children/Moors Murderers scandal, this line caused many a management bristle when it was first heard. ‘Wrap her up in a News of The World, dump her on a doorstep, girl.’

The song is basically A Taste of Honey set to the perfect musical acccompaniment; downbeat, introspective, black and white in epoch yet technicolour in ambition. It features a prime slice of brooding, counter-melody Andy Rourke bass. Johnny’s dual lead and rhythm guitar playing is soulful and considered, mercurial and slinky yet choppy and jazzy, a zillion miles away from what most other 20-year old guitar players with a Stooges fascination might conjure up. It’s a great example of the early Smiths in action.

The SmithsThis Night Has Opened My Eyes (Hacienda, 24.11.83)

This Night Has Opened My Eyes is a bit of a mongrel within The Smiths small but perfect, imperial catalogue. An early staple of live shows, its melancholic and delicate undertones were considered a bit too fragile for the debut album. It was first magnetised to tape at the band’s second Peel Session in September 1983, just a month or two after the aborted Troy Tate sessions that largely failed in capturing The Smiths electrifying live sound.

A year later, just as the group was recording another version with John Porter, the Peel Session version appeared on Hatful Of Hollow. It remains the only recorded version of the track to be officially released.

Quickly dropped from live shows as setlists changed to keep up with the rapid, prodigious writing talents of the prinicpal Smiths, This Night Has Opened My Eyes wasn’t played live again until, serendipitously, at The Smiths final show in 1986 – “There was a sense of resolve and closure,” relates Johnny Marr, “which is why we played that song that night. I remember when we made the decision to do ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ feeling a strong sense of awareness of our own history.

The SmithsThis Night Has Opened My Eyes (Brixton, 12.12.86)

Had they been happy with the John Porter-produced version – faster, sparkling with effervescence and slighty jauntier than the Peel Session take from the year previously (although that may just be pitch issues with the bootleg tape from whence this version was borne), it remains to be seen where This Night Has Opened My Eyes would’ve fitted into The Smiths discography.

The SmithsThis Night Has Opened My Eyes (John Porter, June 1984)

Certainly, it wouldn’t have been out of place on the debut album at all, but the next 12 months were ridiculously productive. With classic singles being frisbeed out on an almost bi-monthly basis, by the time of Meat Is Murder, Morrissey and Marr had proven themselves to be in a unique world of their own.

Perhaps, like so many of the best Smiths tracks, it would’ve been the ideal stand alone single. Maybe released between the feral and stinging What Difference Does It Make and the stellar Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, a soulful interlude amongst a peerless run of releases.

It remains though a curio that has aged well through lack of over-familiarity. Whatever, I wonder, became of the young, handsome, literate, funny, unique, quirky, lovable and worshipped Morrissey? The dream has gone but the baby’s real, you might say.

Cover Versions, Peel Sessions

This Is A William Shatner Number

David Gedge introduced The Wedding Present’s breakneck run-through of Orange Juice‘s Felicity with those words, delivered in a perfectly-sighing, world-weary Yorkshire brogue. I first heard TWP version on Tommy, the album released in the wake of George Best‘s success, a stop-gap of odds and sods and radio sessions – Felicity came from a Peel Show – that would keep the growing fanbase happy and dipping into their pockets until the second album proper was ready. For reference, think Hatful Of Hollow at a hundred miles an hour. “William Shatner?” I pondered. “What on earth does Star Trek have to do with The Wedding Present?

Well, nothing, as was plainly obvious to everyone but me. Shatner’s Captain James T Kirk was the lead character in Star Trek. James Kirk also happened to be the name of the lead guitar player in the definitive line-up of Orange Juice. It was quite the epiphany when I joined the dots on that one. “Aaah,” I mused, safe in the glow of triangulation. It’s the simple things that matter.

It must’ve been great to have been in Orange Juice in 1981 and 1982. Just a hop and a step on from punk, these leaders of a brave new open-minded world channelled the sublime- Velvets/Buzzcocks/Chic with the ridiculous – Davy Crockett hats/Boy Scout shorts/open-toed sandals and white socks with no fear of ridicule. Bands these days, with their marketing strategies and social media channels and Spotify demographics might take all of this for granted, but believe me, Lewis Capaldi and Foals and Blossoms, it wasn’t always thus. Orange Juice had the reference points and the in-jokes and the fantastic haircuts. The world was theirs for the taking. By the time of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, they’d outgrown Postcard Records but hadn’t yet fiddled around with the magic ingredients in their sound, so that first album rattled and rolled majestically. The cover of Al Greeen’s L.O.V.E.…Edwyn’s incredibly tender In A Nutshell…the Motown by way of Mount Florida Falling & Laughing…. it really was the sound of young Scotland.

Orange JuiceFelicity

Felicity made itself known towards the end of side 2. The key word for it is collapse. From the wobbly woah-woahs onwards, it’s never more than a beat away from potential disaster. The guitars, brilliantly-shimmering and sparkling are forever a half-trip and stumble from being an unlistenable out of tune mess. The timing is slightly off, the game backing vocals admirable, the frothy enthusiasm of the four players clear for all to see, but when they clatter their way into the galloping key change near the end, it’s the four to the floor disco beat that keeps it all together, striving to maintain the semblance of musicality that helps Felicity come to a still-standing stop.

Look closely and you’ll see Edwyn’s magnificent, blow-dried quiff teeter on the verge of limp collapse, wrung out and hung out to dry. Look closer still (around the 2:15) mark) and you might even spot David Gedge forming yer actual Wedding Present. And who could blame him?

And then listen again. Really listen! Listen to the slo-mo piano line at the start. Zoom in on that bouncing bass line. Pay attention to those well thought-out guitar lines. The tremelo! The triple-string riffing! The referee’s whistle that was so de-rigeur in early 80s New York dance records! Even in a light years-away Glasgow tenement, Orange Juice clearly had a collective finger on the pulse. Then there’s Edwyn’s joyous James Brown cop near the end. “Take me to the bridge now!” he shouts with dizzy abandon. It’s a proper jangling racket, Felicity. The sound of happiness, as Collins sings, but also the sound of fishermen’s stripy t-shirts and pleated waists and eyebrows forever-arched; feisty and fey, young punkish enthuisasm bottled forever. Sexy, as Gedge remarks at the end of his band’s version. Sexy.

The Wedding Present Felicity

 

Double Nugget, Peel Sessions, Six Of The Best

Read It In Books

So the big milestone birthday came and went in a week of extended celebrations, Indian food, mislabelled birthday cupcakes and enforced fun with the family who found themselves gathered in the living room last Saturday night with no chance of escape until they’d participated in argumentative games of Family Fortunes and something called ‘Shout Out’, a rapid-fire general knowledge game that, we all agreed, had all the makings of a prime time Danny Dyer-fronted quiz show. “Shaaaaat Aaaaaht!

My sister Shona and her husband Terry pulled out all the stops on the presents front. The week previously, Shona had been at the run of 3 Billy Bragg shows in Glasgow and hung around afterwards to grab a photo opportunity and a quick chat with old Bill. In one photo he was wearing a customised Smiths t-shirt, replete with the logo ‘Morrissey Sucks‘. It’s a cracker of course, reflecting the fact that these days Steven Patrick very much does indeed suck, not only for his increasingly watered-down records and hideous parallel jeans, but mainly for his questionable and indefensible political views.

After a bit of persuading, yer actual Billy Bragg offered to email Shona the digital artwork for what was a one-off t-shirt and so it came to be that I now have my own Billy-fashioned Morrissey Sucks t-shirt, only the second of its kind in the world. I’m very much looking forward to sporting it wherever it might get under the skin of the most vocal of Morrissey apologists.

Perhaps even better than this – actually, definitely better than this – was the book Shona had published. Going back to the beginning of Plain Or Pan, she very methodically picked out the highlights from almost 13 years of writing and had them complied into a coffee table-sized hardback book – definitely the only one of its kind in the world; coloured pages, the odd collage of pictures, but mainly the best of the writing about outdated music for outdated people, ordered non-chronologically, with sections on some of the more-regularly featured bands – there’s plenty on Teenage Fanclub, The Smiths, The Trashcan Sinatras, a decent selection of Six Of The Bests (an almost extinct feature these days, given how difficult it now appears to be to hook in a second division pop star and have them yap away about their favourite records) and more than a few forgotten-about articles that have aged pretty well.

Of course, there are a handful pieces that cause me to wince slightly when I re-read them a decade on from when they were first fired off and out into the ether, and there are maybe 2? 3 at most articles (OK, there are another 16 articles!) that I’d have looked to include had I done this myself, but over all its an absolutely fantastic thing – a really brilliant present – and it’s extremely impressive to see your own work in such tangible form as this.

Best present ever? Aye, it’s certainly right up there.

Echo & The BunnymenRead It In Books (Peel Session, 22.8.79)

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Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y, Peel Sessions

Kurious-ah and Kurious-ah

Dead Beat Descendant by The Fall was the first track of theirs that really piqued my interest. Until then, I’d pegged Mark E Smith’s rattling racket as irritating and annoying, the atonal sound of Regal-stained fingers slowly scraping their way down a blackboard. When it popped up in the middle of an episode of Snub TV, Dead Beat Descendant had me hooked.

It wasn’t just the stinging garage band guitar riff, played on a Rickenbacker by a sulky, peroxide shock-wigged Brix that pulled me in, or the gnarly, relentless and repetitive Stray Cats meets Stooges bass, or the occasional daft parp of a one-fingered keyboard, or the metronomic tribal tub thumping that held the whole thing in place that got me – it was the group’s leader that grabbed me by the short ‘n curlies and demanded my attention. That, and the ballet dancer. I’d heard The Fall, but I’d never seen The Fall. And that was apparently important.

Lead singer Mark E Smith of English post-punk band The Fall photographed with Scottish dancer and choreographer Michael Clark during their “I Am Curious, Orange” collaboration, 1988.

Smith is hunched over his microphone and ready to spring, the German army-issued leather greatcoat he’s wearing letting all present know who’s in charge. “Come back here!” he demands with barely under the surface menace. The omnipresent smouldering fag, more ash than cigarette, is lodged at a downwards 30 degree angle between his fingers as he delivers the vocal, a lip-curled sneer the equal of a Mancunian Gene Vincent. Between lines he delivers terrific little off-beat Supreme handclaps and chews on an invisible glob of gum whilst staring his musicians down, lest they consider veering from his well-chosen path. Maybe that’s where the “Come back here!” line comes from. The band, as slick as the gears in a Victorian workhouse, are in tune with their leader and dutifully do what’s demanded of them.

Well, stone me! It turns out there was no German army greatcoat after all. Or a shock-wigged Brix. Or long-burning Regal King-Sized ‘tween the digits. It’s funny how your 30 year-old version of events turns fiction into reality. And it’s funny how, as it turns out, it’s the music that endures rather than the vision. Those hand claps, though… And the told-you-so smug grin on Mark’s face at the end. They were real.

It’s a great clip mind you. The ballet dancer (the awkward piece of the Mark/Brix split jigsaw, if you believe what you read online) pirouettes obliviously around the studio in the middle of the racket, in practise for her stint on stage with The Fall as they prepare to provide the musical backdrop to Michael Clark’s I Am Curious, Orange ballet at the Edinburgh Festival.

American guitarist Brix Smith, of rock group The Fall, poses on a giant hamburger from the set of the ballet ‘I Am Kurious Oranj’, performed by Michael Clark and Company, with music by The Fall at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 20th August 1988. (Photo by Kevin Cummins/Getty Images)

A weird pairing, it’s certainly something that’d have been worth seeing, with Brix sitting cross-legged atop a giant hamburger while Mark prowls betwixt and between the ballet dancers, spitting venom about King Billy and barking out Cab It Up and Wrong Place, Right Time amongst others. I Am Kurious Oranj isn’t the top of the list of critics’ favourite Fall albums, but it’s right up there alongside Extricate on mine.

Here’s 2 contemporary Peel Sessions versions of future Kurious Oranj tracks.

The FallDead Beat Descendant (Peel Session, 31.10.88)

The FallKurious Oranj (Peel Session 31.10.88)