Hard-to-find

Christmas Number 1

My team went to the top of the league last night. No mean feat in a league dominated by the two Glasgow giants and their financial clout, the Edinburgh clubs with their large swells of season ticket holders and Old Firm-splitters Aberdeen, for too many times the bridesmaids but never the bride.

The achievement is a culmination in consistency. The record shows that in the calendar year, from January until now, Kilmarnock, a team who plays in a less than half empty stadium every other week, a team with less season ticket holders than most other teams in the league, a team who pays less to their top earners than an average bench warmer at Tranmere Rovers might earn in a week, has somewhat incredulously gathered more points than their competitors and is now the best team in the country. Today we sit at the top of the pile, looking towards a genuine top of the table box office clash at Celtic Park on Saturday.

If you’d suggested this a year ago, you’d have been laughed out the room. By then, our previous manager, Lee McCulloch, had fallen on his wobbly sword with the team rooted to the bottom of the league we’re now winning. Relegation, even at that stage in the season, was looking very likely. The appointment of the ‘correct’ manager was absolutely key to our team’s survival, not only in the top flight but also to our very existence. Enter Steve Clarke.  A one season wonder at West Brom, he’d taken them to their highest-ever Premiership position before starting the following season poorly and paying the ultimate price. With family ties to the club (brother Paul was a stalwart in defence at Kilmarnock in the 80s), Clarke was enticed to take over the reins from McCulloch.

The difference between the two managers is there for all to see. The team is currently on a short but impressive run of 4 (or is it 5 now?) clean sheets in a row. Of the starting 11 in these games, 9 of the players played under our previous manager. Clearly, our success is down to Mr Clarke. At the club’s open day last season, I found myself face to face with his predecesor.

Hi Mr McCulloch. What d’you think – top 6 this year?

Whit?!? Hahahaha!” (nudges one of the other coaches standing next to him. “Peter! Get this guy!” (looking back to me) “Tell him what you just asked me…..top 6! TOP 6!!! Hahahahahaha. Aye, right!

Now. Even if you’re the manager and you think there’s zero chance of achieving the frankly average position of ‘Top 6’, you don’t go around laughing at the suggestion, let alone laughing your season ticket holders out of the room, especially with the season yet to kick off.  The opening to a season, when a ball has yet to be kicked in earnest and all possibilities are endless is the best of times for a fan, especially for a supporter of one of the wee clubs. “This might be our year,” and all that. Yet here was the team manager (the team manager!) pissing on those dreams before our first game. McCulloch should’ve been saying, “Top 6? Nah, mate, we’ll be top 3 this season. Just wait and see.” Instead, our season was over before it had begun.  Or, it was until the board saw sense, found some loose change down the back of the sofa and sent the diddy packing. I wonder what he’s thinking now.

Where’s Wally? (Firhill edition)

The last 14 months have been the best of times for Kilmarnock supporters. Even in defeat, we competed. There was a thrilling midweek game against Hibs where we applauded our team off the pitch, despite shipping three goals. This proved to be the turning point in our fortunes. There was an incredible run of games this time last year where we dispensed of The Rangers, Celtic and Dundee in three of the best matches I’ve ever seen. One nil down to Rangers, Boyd scored a quick one-two and turned the final score in our favour. Youssouf Mulumbu, a player who’d shone in Clarke’s West Brom side slotted the winner in the Celtic game and inevitably earned himself a move to the champions in the process. Best of all was the Dundee game, a match we were winning then losing and, thanks to an anti-footballing Dundee team and some shoddy refereeing, found ourselves a man down as well as a goal down. As the game wore on, the character of the ten-man team came to the fore and, backed by a noisy, partisan and aggrieved home support, an equaliser was dug out before a thrilling winner was scored at the death.  As the games, weeks and months rolled by, the team kept on winning from unwinnable positions, picked up points in the most difficult of away fixtures and gave us our best season in many a year. It was fantastic.

And it continues to be so. We’re top of the league. The words ‘Leicester City’ have started popping up in relation to our achievements and the potential this brings, whispered at first but now just that wee bit louder. No team out-with the ugly sisters has won the top league in Scotland since Paul Hardcastle’s ni-ni-ni-19 was top of the charts when, in May 1985, Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen reigned supreme. Of course, at least one of the two slighted Glasgow giants went straight out the following season and spent far more than they could afford on players in a vulgar display of money over merit in a bid to wrestle the title back from the daring Dandy Dons, an arrogant and self-entitled manoeuvre which we in Scotland are sick of by now.

Much of Kilmarnock’s fate in the coming months depends on how they survive the January transfer window. A winning team features winning players and it wouldn’t be the first time one of the big boys from just up the M77 has chapped our door waving offensively woeful figures under the noses of impressionable young players and their agents. More worryingly, a winning manager such as Clarke will have made chairmen up and down the country sit up and take notice. Should any of their charges have a wobble and their coathook becomes a bit shooglier than normal, Steve Clarke must be one of the names in the frame. So we’re dreamers, yes, yet we’re also realists. It’s a nail-biting time and it can all change in an instant. The two teams immediately behind us have games in hand and it’s quite possible we’ll have slipped to ‘only 3rd’ by the close of the weekend, by which time, if you’re only just getting around to reading this article, this blog will read like virtual chip paper.

Here’s Dizzy Dizzy by Can, a track as thrilling, unpredictable and meandering as one of those Greg Stewart runs that leaves baffled defenders toe-tied in his wake.

CanDizzy Dizzy

Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

Can Can

If anyone can do long, meandering self-indulgence, Can can. For a while there it was almost de rigeur for bands to name drop them ahead of a new release. The very mention of the Germans being an influence would appear to somehow validate that band’s own music, which is nonsense, of course. For what it’s worth, I can take them more than I can leave them. When they’re good, they’re great. They soar with a fluidity and ease that’s quite extraordinary; Mother Sky, Halleluhwah, Vitamin C, Dizzy Dizzy, Soup….all feature the classic Can trademarks of skittering drums, repetitiveness, whispered chanting and weird background effects.  

The problem for me starts when those background effects creep ever further forward into the foreground of the mix. Sometimes, they can be just a wee bit too out there, just a tad too hippy, just a bass solo short of full-on prog for my delicate palate. I like Can best when they’re fluid and groovy and forever on the verge of danceability…..

….Flow Motion for example.

CanFlow Motion

It’s classic, groovy, mid 70s Can. Beyond 10 minutes long, the groove slinks slower than a tranquilised slug traversing a large leaf. Indeed, tectonic plates have more go about them than the track. Yet somehow, somewhere around the 4 minute mark it starts to take effect.

Sneaking in on a cod reggae rhythm, Flow Motion is slow motion. It doesn’t really go anywhere, but when it’s finished you’ll realise that’s the whole point. Other bands might’ve used the same aimless wandering as incidental music, the perfect between-track filler on a concept album maybe, or the ideal opener before the wham of the real opening number. Can stick to the tune and streeeeeetch it out.

The whole thing is held together brilliantly by the rhythm section. Holger Czukay’s repetitive bassline is sparse, yet non-stop. Jaki Liebezeit’s propulsive drums skitter underneath, somewhere between a Studio 1 sessioneer and a jazz club veteran. Irmin Schmidt’s keyboards weave in and out, coming in waves before disappearing and reappearing at key points. Michael Karoli has free reign on his heavily wah-wah’d electric guitar, adding texture rather than tune, feedback instead of fretplay. He’s all over it, snaking between his bandmates like an avante garde Hendrix. Even a blind man could join the dots between this and Captain Beefheart’s Clear Spot album before arriving at PiL’s Albatross.

Flow Motion is the last track on the album of the same name. The album opener I Want More was an actual, bona fide chart hit for the band, Top Of The Pops appearance ‘n all.

CanI Want More

The young Johnny Marr recalls a time being in the back of the family car, driving to Wales for a holiday, listening to I Want More on the radio. When he was writing How Soon Is Now, the sticky fingered Johnny channelled the rhythm and feel of Can’s hit for his own means. I’m sure you knew that already though.

It’s a strange album, is Flow Motion. On release, fans hated the numerous nods to disco and reggae, lamenting the loss of the ambience that made albums such as Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days so special. Listening to it as I type, I’d suggest it’s better than it may have been given credit for. Of course, I was only 6 when it was released, so I come to the album from a different time and place. That last track though……s’a cracker. Everyone agrees on that.

Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Stinky

J-J-J-Jack (and Jill) Yr Body

Loose Booty is perhaps the standout track on America Eats Its Young, the 4th album by Funkadelic. A leftover from George Clinton’s Parliament days, it’s a one-chord groove, packed full of dental-bothering basslines and duh-duh-duh doowop counter vocals fighting for your attention with an out of control clavinet. Imagine a drunk 70s Stevie Wonder, or an excitable class of Primary 5s being let loose on the keys for a few minutes and you’re some way there. Despite the irritating keyboard line, fonky honkys might be inclined to call the track ‘phat’. Certainly, it grooves in all the right places.

FunkadelicLoose Booty

The lyrics, bizarre as they are, are meandering and drug-addled, mixing nursery rhymes with a self-aware social conscience. Imagine a Bummed-era Shaun Ryder (“Chicken Lickin’, Turkey Lurkey“) in one of his less lucid moments. Desperately trying to get out from between the grooves is an anti-drugs message – “Eeny Meeny Miney Mo, catch a junkie by the toe...”, which, given that half the band were on another planet altogether at the time is a bit rich.

You might think Funkadelic called the track Loose Booty on account of some hot woman or other, or because the funkiness of it all causes your own booty to shake uncontrollably, but in fact it’s so-called because of the effects of heroin withdrawal. Gads. Jack your body indeed.

My kids like it because they can sing half the words. I mean, how many times have you heard the Jack & Jil l Went Up The Hill nursery rhyme in a song?

Well….

can-78

Funnily enough, those forward-thinking Germans Can utilised that self same rhyme in one of their groovier moments. I like Can. Not always an easy listen, but I’m ok with that. I prefer them at their wild and funkiest though, when they riff on a chord or a groove for 16 hours or whatever it may be.

Pauper‘s Daughter And I from 78’s ‘Out Of Reach‘ LP does just that.

CanPauper’s Daughter And I

Despite being the only Can album not to feature Holger Czukay (causing it to be subsequently disowned by the group), it’s still got the Can sound; a non-stop beat (in this case a four-to-the-floor ‘n hi-hat disco shuffle) expertly played instruments and a babble of pidgin English floating on top.

It might even pass for early Talking Heads if you didn’t know. The first Michael Karoli guitar riff that comes chiming in is all clean-picked, high up the frets riffing of the sort Johnny Marr might’ve made more of had he spent his formative years in Mozambique rather than Manchester.

It quickly seesaws from the sublime to the ridiculous though, so just as you’re getting into the swing of it, Karoli turns on the flash and an incessant, seemingly never-ending noodling guitar appears. It’s like Guitar Guitar on a Saturday afternoon, only worse. The temporary vocalist, feeling like he needs to do something, jumps in with a straight-faced run through of Jack & Jill Went Up The Hill while the rest play on regardless. It’s quite bonkers. Or shite (depends on what you’re smoking) and the whole thing continues until Michael Karoli has disappeared up his own jacksie and noodled on down to sell his soul at the prog crossroads.

karoli-can

Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Live!, New! Now!

Can o’ Worms

This Record Store Day thing really grates eh? Who’s at fault? The record companies, who see the event as a way to fleece the record buyers out of every last penny they have and set sky-high dealer prices, thus forcing retailers to charge daft prices for (mainly) old records? Or the record buyers themselves, who see the event as a way to fleece less-fortunate record buyers who have neither the means required nor the availability of a local record shop to go to in order to buy what they want and are forced to take to the internet in a desperate attempt to secure the objects of their desire from people who neither know about or care about the records they are punting?

rsd13

Five minutes after the shops opened and eBay’s suddenly full of the things everyone wants, available from twenty five different private sellers at twenty five times the original prices, and the internet is bulging at the virtual seams with sob stories from seething, seasoned record buyers unable to get their sticky fingers on the records they so desired.  They’ve scanned the lists in March and written and re-written their wishlist into 3 columns; ‘Ideally…’, ‘Hopefully…’ and ‘I cannot leave without this…’ but still ended up only with the last sticker from the acoustic act playing in the corner and a crumbly cup cake from the beardy guy behind the counter who’s job it is to say, “Sorry mate, that’s sold out too,” over and over and over and over until the end of the day. They’ve even emptied the kids’ piggy banks and forced them to eat beans on toast for a month, but that counts for nothing. Come April and the Day itself, they got up half an hour after going to bed in an effort to get as close to the front of the snaking line outside Shady Dave’s Second-Hand Sounds as they possibly could, to no avail. It’s a long line, but the ‘good-time vibe’ in the queue (“Aye, I’m after the Elliott Smith 7″ and the Pulp 12″ and the Big Star outtakes LP too, pal…”) is such that standing hunched up in the rain and the cold with Angry Birds and a quickly-decreasing battery charge on the phone for company are just about tolerable, as hopeful prayers of over-priced, limited edition bits of plastic are messaged to the great vinyl god above.

By the time the doors are unlocked by Shady Dave himself (who knows that only today, this one day of the year, is the make-or-break that might allow him to trade until next year’s big day), wads of money are jumping out the pockets of middle aged men and being flung towards the counter in exchange for a one-off Flaming Lips LP or a White Stripes coloured vinyl or an old Paul McCartney track re-pressed in glorious retro fashion. It’s ridiculous. Especially as that guy in the expensive puffa jacket and beige chinos (not yer average Wedding Present fan, you muse), who happened to be at the front of the queue was royally loaded and bought every copy of the German language 10″ And whatever else he thought he could off-load for a profit. “How many Bowie did you get? I’ll take them all.” It’s the new model for the spineless, the shallow and the touts who already rake it in from selling high-demand concert tickets. Have you checked those eBay sellers addresses? Sorry for the sweeping generalisation, but are they all in Merseyside? Call the cops…

can malkmus

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’d have quite liked the live Stephen Malkmus does Can thingy. And the Elliott Smith 7″ and the Pulp 12″ and the Big Star outtakes LP too, pal, but I was nowhere near a decent record shop and was being Dad for the day while the missus went off for a belated birthday afternoon with her pal. Plus I don’t have the spare £40 or so that would’ve been necessary to procure them, had I been game enough to try and buy them. A quick scroll through eBay tonight and the Elliott Smith 7″ is selling for £15, as is the Pulp 12″ . The Big Star LP? That’s currently around the  £40 mark, but given that almost 20 folk are after it, it’ll probably take a bid of around £100 to secure the bloody thing. That Malkmus/Can album has attracted a dozen or so bids and is already pushing £40 itself. The vinyl would be nice, but I’m just as happy for the moment with the illicit mp3s I found whilst poking around the darker corners of the internet. It’s not ‘real’. It’s not holdable. It’s not warm and friendly analogue. But it was cheaper than cheap. I’ve always preferred Can at their grooviest and Malkmus does a good job. Contrast and compare…

Can  – I’m So Green

Stephen MalkmusI’m So Green

CanVitamin C

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Stephen MalkmusVitamin C

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