h1

Art Attack

January 30, 2017

Simon & Garfunkel were odd-looking; wee Paul with his monkish fringe and studied seriousness, tall Art with his receding white-fro, coming across like a beatnik boffin who’d be more at home in a Village coffee house than the science lab you could be forgiven for thinking he’d strayed from.

simon-garf

Don’t be fooled by the looks though, as Simon & Garfunkel were dynamite together, the masters of melody and close-knit harmonies. Their music seemed to arrive fully-formed; new yet familiar, with intricately picked ringing melodies cascading freely from Simon’s guitar while Garfunkel’s lead vocal floated on top. The first time I heard them (probably a warm and crackly Mrs Robinson on my dad’s record player), I knew the tune inside out before it had ended. By the second listen, it seemed as though their music had always been there.

As a duo, their music found fans in millions around the globe and for a wee while at least, they outsold all contemporaries. It seemed that every household in the country owned a Simon & Garfunkel album. Friends’ parents, neighbours, aunts and uncles all owned them. My dad’s pal who we called ‘Uncle’ even though he was no blood relation at all (we’ve all got an ‘uncle’ like that, haven’t we?) tucked away his Simon & Garfunkel records next to his Abba and Elton John albums. His collection, like many from that era, was hardly out there or edgy, but it wasn’t insipid easy listening either. As with the other artists named above, Simon & Garfunkel’s music is timeless. It’s both class and classic.

tom-jerry

Formed from a friendship that stretched back years to their Queens, New York childhood, by the time they’d hit their first real success with 1964’s Sound Of Silence single and its parent album, Wednesday Morning, 3. A.M., they’d perfected their act, from the folk-via-Everlys ‘Hey Schoolgirl’, recorded as Tom & Jerry – Art was Tom, Paul was Jerry – before going their separate ways to try their luck as solo artists, before once again hooking up as the more straight-forward Simon & Garfunkel.

Throughout the 60s, their records were on constant rotation, especially in the States where Americans finally had something of their own that could rival the imported popular acts of the day. Nothing like the beat groups from the UK, they steadfastly ploughed their own furrow, gathering popularity with each record they released. In an act that almost split the duo, at the record company’s insistence, the cream of session musicians – the Wrecking Crew – were brought in to embellish their music. Songs that had been recorded as a close-miked two piece now drowned under the weight of reverb and drums and strings and – no! – electric guitars. Despite this jiggery pokery, the records sounded terrific, and their ever-increasing sales and chart positions seemed to justify the enhanced approach.

sim-gar-70

By the end of the decade though, small Paul and tall Art hated one another. Years of being in the same room, sharing the same stage, management, record label, even apartment at one point all came to a head. Offered the chance of a part in the movie adaptation of Catch 22, Garfunkel grabbed it firmly with both hands and left on the next available plane for Mexico. Simon, with little to do but write alone, turned in one of the finest songs in his back catalogue.

The Only Living Boy In New York is a straightforward tale of the events.

Tom, it starts, get your plane right on time. I know your part’ll go fine. Fly down to Mexico. Da-n-da-da-n-da-n-da-da and here I am, The only living boy in New York.

I’ve got nothing to do today but smile…..I know you’ve been eager to fly now………let your honesty shine like it shines on me…

You don’t need to read too much between the lines to see the giant-sized cracks in their relationship.

Simon & GarfunkelThe Only Living Boy In New York

It’s a brilliant song, simply strummed and softly sung. Enhanced by overdubbed and underplayed keys, a Fender bass line that Brian Wilson would be proud of and a subtle cacophony of Hal Blaine tumbling toms, The Only Living Boy In New York is Simon & Garfunkel in miniature. By the time the aah-aah-aahing backing vocals come in, it’s almost all too much. Almost, but not quite. If you play it once, you’ll want to replay it 4 or 5 times before commencing the rest of your day. But you knew that already.

ebtg

Fast forward a couple of decades and another joined-at-the-hipper-than-hip couple released their own version. Everything But The Girl‘s Tracey and Ben turn in a performance that, while faithful to the original, sounds a bit flat and, for want of a better word, mumsy. It features enough of their own identity – her furrowed brow and downcast, melancholic vocals and his richly-produced guitar and naked-and-out-there singing voice – to make it a reasonable EBTH cut, but as you are no doubt aware, there are far better tracks in their back catalogue.

Everything But The GirlThe Only Living Boy In New York

Sadly, there’s no space here to include Carter USM‘s punningly-named Only Living Boy In New Cross. A terrible band with (admittedly) a great line in puntastic song titles. If two grown men wearing baggy shorts and backwards baseball caps while shouting over rudimentary drum machines in daan sarf accents is your cup of tea, head on over to YouTube. Or 1991.

h1

Iggy Stardust

January 19, 2017

It’s well-documented that David Bowie was something of a non-stop workaholic. That long golden run he went on, from Hunky Dory in 1971 to Lodger in ’79 – 10 amazing albums in 9 short years, all killer and no filler (’74’s Diamond Dogs might faintly be described as the runt of the litter, though it yielded Rebel Rebel as well as the album’s title track, so scratch that, naysayers) remains unparallelled, unlikely to ever be equalled, let alone beaten.

What’s all the more remarkable is that while he was on this winning streak, David was sustaining himself on little more than milk, red peppers and the finest Class As that came his way. Not only that, but when he wasn’t changing musical direction and band members and haircut and trousers every nine months, or sticking out the odd non-album track to keep the fans happy between releases (between releases! d’ye hear that, Radiohead?!?), he was still finding the time to help out other artists.

bowie-iggy-lou

An on-the-brink-of-break-up Mott The Hoople famously kickstarted their attack on the charts with their version of Bowie’s All the Young Dudes. Last time I checked, Mott were still playing the odd Hall Of Fame gig here and there, thanks in no small way to yer man Dave.

A not-quite-post-Velvet Underground but fed up Lou Reed went spinning into orbit on the back of Satellite Of Love and its parent album, Transformer. Satellite… had been written, much like Bowie’s Space Oddity, on the back of the public’s fascination with space. Reed had high hopes for the song, reckoning it was perfect hit single material. Satellite… was considered, then disregarded for inclusion on the Velvets’ Loaded album, so when Bowie entered his orbit showing an interest in his music, Lou was keen for his song to be taken seriously second time around. Both the single and album were produced and enhanced by Bowie, his uncredited vocals on Satellite… worth the price of admission alone.

Iggy Pop, careering out of control on a spiral of illicit substances and ever-decreasing sales (Stooges were hardly big-hitters to begin with) found himself on the receiving end of a post-Ziggy kiss of life when Bowie, fresh from minting his second stone-cold classic in as many years, helped produce, or rather re-produce, Raw Power, Stooges’ third album.

iggy-raw-power-3

Iggy himself had taken the producer’s chair, creating a chaotic mess of almost unsalvageable pre-punk rock. Of the 24 individual tracks available to him at the mixing desk, he chose to put the entire album onto just three  – the band on one, the vocals on another and James Williamson’s lead guitar on the third. When Columbia heard it, they refused to release it until it was cleaned up somewhat and made more presentable.

Cue Bowie. The man with the golden touch. Using all manner of up-to-the-minute recording technology, he twisted and turned Iggy’s 3 track raw Raw Power into something slightly more commercial and releasable. Perhaps not the radio-friendly unit-shifter that Columbia had in mind. Not that many folk bought it anyway, but those that did – cliche klaxon alert!!! – ended up forming bands of their own. But you knew that already. Listen to the album and you’ll hear the embryonic howls of The Jesus And Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and a million other six string stranglers. The teenage Johnny Marr was fixated by the feral guitar playing on it. His bequiffed foil was in love with Search & Destroy‘s glorious abandon and poetic lyrics; streetwalkin’ cheetahs, handfuls of napalm ‘n all.

I’m the world’s forgotten boy,” drawls the Ig at one point, poetry indeed to the ears of the bedroom bard of Salford’s Kings Road. No Stooges, no Smiths. No Iggy Pop, no indie pop. Imagine that.

Iggy & The StoogesSearch & Destroy

iggy-raw-power-1

In the mid-90s, ahead of a Stooges reissue campaign, Iggy himself was given the opportunity to remix Bowie’s remix – are you still following? – and used his time to unravel all of Bowie’s work, replacing every guttural grunt and primordial proclamation that had been wiped from the first release. He turned the faders up, up and away into the red until the guitars became ear-splitting, spitting shards of broken glass from both speakers.

Iggy & The StoogesShake Appeal

For much of the record, it’s a painful sonic assault on the ears, even during the two ‘ballads’, one on each side, where the guitars somehow still manage to creep into dog-bothering levels of pain.

Shake Appeal, above, surfs above the racket like the noisiest garage band in the world having their first go at a Motown track, all Jagger-pouting handclaps and barking yelps, Iggy’s skinny backside (what waist size was he? 24″? A chunky 26?)  bending and jerking like  a pipe cleaner in time to the fuzz bass, the Four Tops if they were fighters, not lovers. It’s a sloppy, angry, petulant, white riot of a record. Quite fantastic, of course. Beautiful music wrapped in a beautiful sleeve. What’s not to like?

iggy-raw-power-sleeve

*Bonus Track!

Iggy Pop Wild America (Long Video Version)

Here‘s Iggy’s on take on it all.

Most likely to succeed. 9th Grade.

10th Grade, formed Iguanas! High school rawk bayund!

An audio autobiography, if y’like.

h1

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.

 

dylan-camden

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.

h1

Imperfect 10

January 6, 2017

Amazingly, thrillingly, unbelievably, Plain Or Pan is, just this week, 10 years old. Somehow, some way, that’s a decade of writing about music and featuring, on the whole, bands that lasted far less than that timescale. It was always in my mind that if I ever made it this far, I’d stop, but now that I’m here, I’m having second thoughts. I might not write with the same frequency I once did, but I like to think that whenever I put metaphorical pen to metaphorical paper, the words that tumble forth are meaningful to someone, somewhere. Judging by the stats on the sidebar there (don’t read too much into them though, I think Google screwed up that algorithm many moons ago) and judging by the continued popularity of some of the posts I’ve written (my Ian Rankin piece is by far the most popular thing I’ve ever published – every day, at least 20 people from some place on Earth click on it and read it – over 150 folk a week – amazing, eh?!) I have what’s called in the business staying power. I have followers (get me!) who read what I write as soon as it’s published, but I’m also high up the lists of many a Google search – the holy grail if you’re into stats, numbers and self-congratulatory schmaltz. So I think I’m gonnae keep going.

img_8934

You can draw parallels between the writing here and any number of the bands I feature; at first, I wrote short, sharp bulletins, a bit wobbbly in places, but they fizzed with youthful energy – they’re your first couple of singles. Next, I stumbled into longer-form writing, showing enough promise even if I could have done with a decent editor – that’ll be your debut album. Gradually, I’ve moved from my comfort zone (indie music, primarily that of a Scottish bent) to embrace other musical fashions – that’ll be your tricky second album – and I’ve sort of meandered along since. To date, I’ve been going as twice as long as The Smiths, and just about as long as The Beatles. To continue for as long as the Stones, or even Teenage Fanclub would take some doing, but you never know. Make of that what you will.

Writing here has afforded me the opportunity of being commissioned (!) to conduct an interview with Sandie Shaw (the only thing I’ve ever written that paid any money, not that I do it for that). It’s allowed me to ‘meet’ some of my musical heroes, albeit via the wonders of modern technology. It’s the reason I was trending on Twitter briefly after Victoria Wood passed away (I’d written a piece outing Morrissey, if you will, for his liberal borrowing of her lyrics). It’s the reason I was called a ‘middle class Pimms drinker‘ by an upset Stone Roses fan. It’s the reason Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo follows me on Twitter. It’s also the reason I have Johnny Marr‘s number on speed dial, even if I can’t bring myself to actually call him up the way old friends do. I’ll let him call me again instead…

In the 10 years since starting Plain Or Pan, it’s been disappointing that there’s not been a musical revolution of sorts. Sure, we’ve had Radiohead giving albums away for free and we’ve had the death of the CD and the rebirth of the record. Even that Supergrass carrier bag would now cost 5p, but the music!?! It’s bland. Soulless. Beige. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’ve turned into my dad. When I were a lad (and me dad were a lad), a musical revolution was just around the corner; the 50s had Jerry Lee and Buddy and Elvis, the 60s had The Beatles and the Stones, the 70s had disco and punk, the 80s had 2 Tone and new romanticism and indie music, the 90s had the good (Oasis, initially), the bad (Britpop, generally) and the downright ugly (the rise of laddism), and since then…. what? Not that I’d’ve been writing about it anyway. That strapline above doesn’t say ‘Outdated Music For Outdated People‘ for nothing, y’know. But we’re crying out for something new. And by new, I don’t mean beardy guys in jeans so unfeasibly skinny there’s no chance of their testicles working when the time arises. Here’s hoping the KLF shake things up a bit this year with a good slab of counter-culture stadium house. Its grim up North, indeed.

housemartins

I was going to finish this piece off by featuring 10 tracks, one per year, that defined Plain Or Pan, but given that the popularity of the blog has on occassion led to the unwelcome sight of the DMCA sniffing around like dogs on heat, I’m going to resist the urge. Instead, here’s The Housemartins and their faithful, garage-band gospel take on ‘I’ll Be Your Shelter‘. The 4th-best band in Hull featured on the 5th best blog in Scotland. Or something like that.

Let me hear the choir!

The HousemartinsI’ll Be Your Shelter

…and in true Plain Or Pan style, here’s Luther Ingram’s 1967 original.

Luther IngramI’ll Be Your Shelter

luther-ingram

*You wouldn’t believe the amount of time I spent trying to source a picture of The Housemartins wearing braces, just so I could use the tagline ‘Marx & Suspenders‘. When I’d exhausted that particular avenue, my next port of call was for a picture of Paul Heaton eating his Christmas dessert, just so I could use the tagline ‘Heaton Trifles‘. Again, no luck. Why don’t these photos exist?

h1

Unknown Treasures

December 12, 2016

One of the good things about being off work is that while you do things around the house at a Doctor’s orders sloth-like pace – cooking inventive new meals, the occasional trip to the cupboard under the stairs to retrieve the hoover every couple of days, a bit of ironing maybe, emptying the dishwasher, rearranging the record collection – you can listen to what you fancy at neighbour-bothering volume knowing that 1) the neighbours are at work so won’t be bothered and 2) the house is empty, save yourself.

The past week or so I’ve massively rediscovered Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. It was played that often in my late teens it became embedded in the music section of my brain, hard-wired to be heard without the necessity of having to actually play it again. Long before Steve Jobs had thought of the iPod, I had my own non-tangible music file that could be recalled at will and played wherever I happened to want to hear it. Sandwiched between the back catalogues of The Beatles and The Smiths and an occassional Dylan and Bowie, it keeps esteemed company. Super Furry Gruff Rhys has said similar things about The Velvet Underground And Nico, so I know I’m not alone. It’s been a while since Unknown Pleasures was actually played though, and played at volume at that, so the past few days have been soundtracked once again by its cold, uninviting touch.

joy-division-cummins-1

I came to the album in a very round about way. Like many, I’d wager, I discovered New Order before I’d even heard of Joy Division. It’s an age thing – while Joy Division were initially thrilling those teenagers who were outside looking inside (that’s a wee label reference for any geeks out there) with their other-worldly post-punk, I was doing the Nutty Dance and ah-ha-eh-ha-ing my best Adam Ant impressions, but once I started reading about New Order and discovered they’d been a different band in a previous life, I was curious enough to look for a Joy Division record in Irvine Library.

Simultaneously, just as I was having my moment of enlightenment, Paul Young’s No Parlez album happened to be something of a popular record in my peer group at the time. Go on! Judge us all you want…

On Paul Young’s album he did a version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, all rubberband fretless bass and other such 80s wankery. Being a trainspotter-in-training,  I noticed the writing credits on the label and put two and two together. So, if it hadn’t been for the unlikely bedfellows of New Order and Paul Young, I may never have got to Joy Division until much later in life.

joy-division-live

When I first heard Unknown Pleasures, it sounded other-worldly, claustrophobic and not entirely pleasant. But I stuck with it. Nowadays it’s synonymous with the record sleeve imagery and Kevin Cummins’ iconic, epoch-defining monochrome shots in the snow, graphics that mirror the cold intensity of the music created and played by these serious young men. It’s the drums that get me. While the guitar, a howl of electrified cheesewire, bites in all the right places and Hooky’s trademark bass meanders up and down the frets with determined focus, the drums sound both futuristic and olde worlde.

joy-division-steve

The rudimentary synth pads hiss like a steam-powered Victorian workhouse, military in precision, rhythmic, never losing the pace. It wouldn’t be long until Depeche Mode and Yazoo took the blueprint and ran with it in their own chart-chasing directions, but Joy Division were the originators. Or maybe that was Kraftwerk…

Eerie whirring sounds (on Insight) were the sounds of the actual lift inside Strawberry Studios, where the album was created. At one point, the density of I Remember Nothing is punctuated by a shattering glass. That used to make me jump, even after I’d heard it 10 or 15 times. The album still sounds quite like nothing else. Imitators have managed to spit out Tesco Value versions of the real thing ever since, but Unknown Pleasures is peerless.

joy-division-curtis

Every listen transports you back to the dark days of the end of the 70s. Now, to be clear, my end of the 70s was a brilliant time; Scotland had a decent football team, I was discovering pop music, I lived near a big field where we could play in safety, I was never off my bike, all my pals lived in the same street as me….being young at the time was magic. But Joy Division, a decade or so older than me captured the bleakness of their times perfectly. Set against a backdrop of social division, mass unemployment, strikes, Thatcher, the music becomes the only possible soundtrack. It’s much more sophisticated than Lydon’s “nO fUTuRe!” gobby snarl. Nothing wrong with Johnny’s war cry, but Joy Division did it far more artily. And I like my music on occasion to be arty and self-indulgent. Stick with it and it offers up greater rewards. A BBC4 documentary last year on the band had fast-cut, black and white film footage of inner city Manchester soundtracked by Shadowplay. And it was perfect.

Joy DivisionShadowplay

joy-division-bernard

The first copy I had of Unknown Pleasures was on a hissy C90 version I’d taped from that LP I borrowed from Irvine Library. For all its scrapes and scratches (every time I hear Day Of The Lords, I expect my CD or needle to skip half-way through, and it always throws me when it doesn’t), that record had real life in it. If you held it up to the light, it changed colour from black to a deep maroon. I borrowed it more than once, to play loudly – it sounded far better than the tape I’d recorded – but sometimes just to look at and impress any pals who may have shown half an interest. It never occurred to me that I could buy my own, pristine copy. It was enough for me to have a badly recorded version on tape. Certainly an original Factory release, Irvine Library’s copy would command a high fee well into triple figures if it was still around and up for sale. Makes you (or me, at any rate) wonder what other treasure – unknown treasures? – loitered unassumingly in their racks.

joy-division-hooky

h1

Plane Or Pan

December 7, 2016

I have a distinct memory from the mid 70s of being plonked in front of the telly to watch what must’ve been a repeat of Concorde’s maiden flight, all far-off (and far-out) shimmer and vapour trails and soundtracked by Fleetwood Mac‘s Albatross. It would be years later before I knew what the music was, but it fitted the imagery perfectly. The one note pulse of the bass and drum beat like the wings of some giant bird (an albatross, I suppose, now that I think about it) while the atmospheric cymbal splashes and swoops and sweeps of the slide guitar mirrored the way Concorde banked up and away to the right after take-off. The main riff is , I think, the reason I’m a total sucker for a harmonising guitar. On Albatross, the twin guitars harmonise practically throughout; tasteful and understated and nothing like the peacocking poodle rockers who appropriated it as their own in the coming years.

concorde

Living closed to Prestwick Airport, our skies were regularly ripped apart by Concorde’s impressive thunder. No matter how many times we’d seen it before, the school playground would be full of parka’d kids pointing at the sky. If the nose was up, the plane had just taken off. If the nose was down, it was coming in to land. That was playground fact. No matter how many times I’d seen it before, the same thing always happened. The world around me would fade away. The focus of everyone’s attention would magically drop into slow motion and Albatross would start playing in my head.

Fleetwood MacAlbatross

One time (1984 perhaps) the actual Space Shuttle re-fuelled at Prestwick, piggybacking atop a jumbo jet. Even then, as we stood, mouths agape and pointing towards the most exciting thing in the world, the slow motion blues of Albatross played in my head. I still didn’t know it was called Albatross at the time, or who it was by, or anything about it, but it was inextricably linked with man-made flight and Concorde. It still is.

For such an iconic tune, it’s surprising to find Albatross hasn’t been covered more than it has. Perhaps it’s the reverence in which it’s held that excludes respectful musicians from butchering it. Hank Marvin could never resist the lure of that twang though, so it’s not surprising to find The Shadows have their own sterile, Asda priced version kicking around like Val Doonican in the 100 Club. It’s not hard to find, but you won’t find it here.

lee-ranaldo

More interesting is the version by Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, accompanied by fellow noisy Fender bender J. Masics. It’s soulful, respectful and sounds exactly as you might expect…

Lee Ranaldo Band feat. J. MascisAlbatross

Maybe it’s the textured layers of feedback, or the liberal dosing of effect pedal chaos, but it’s amazing version. I like to think that if (as rumoured) Concorde takes to the skies again, it’ll be this version that plays in my head if I ever catch it in the skies above Ayrshire.

Perhaps even more interesting than the version above is the remix/reinterpretation/call it what you will by ambient producer Chris Coco. A self-titled tastemaker, DJ, broadcaster, producer, music curator, musician and journalist, (phew!) Chris has been at the forefront of dance music since the acid house days in the 80s. At the start of the new millenium he co-presented Blue Room on Radio 1, a show that gave a platform to left-of-centre and new, emerging dance acts. I’m not the most qualified of people to write about such a show, but if you’ve ever been into warped-out, dubby, spacey, downtempo dance music, chances are it first appeared here. That Chris would then go on to become Robbie William’s Tour DJ of choice should not be held against him.

Chris CocoAlbatross

This 11+ minute version of Albatross is magic. Beatless and atmospheric, it takes the original, coats it in a sheen of tinkling electronica and processed trickery and stretches it for maximum blissed out effect. I doubt Peter Green ever had any idea his original would end up in such an altered state, but if it had been him and not Dave Gilmour who’d ended up playing with The Orb a few years back, we may well have had a whole album like this. Imagine that!

h1

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.

img_8859

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.

%d bloggers like this: