At the start of the ‘90s, Postcard Records put out The Heather’s On Fire, an essential collection of early Orange Juice material, much of which was presented in a form far more ragged than the better-known versions. Two words on the rear of the sleeve are key markers.
‘Buffalo Underground’ they say, stamped unobtrusively in the corner, but a pair of words, a phrase, which will have even the most amateur of sleuths making sense of the reference.
Those post-punk bands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s – the Postcard, Pop Aural and Fast Product groups particularly, hopped up on pure self belief following the barrier-breaking Clash shows at the Glasgow Apollo and Edinburgh Playhouse – looked far beyond the obvious draw of mop-topped Liverpool and drew their entire influence (style and song) from America. No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977, remember?
Buffalo Springfield encouraged, demanded even, ringing guitar lines played on fat, semi acoustic guitars, held chest high by musicians in checked shirts, fringed suede and worn-in denim, boot-lace ties ‘n all. The young Roddy Frame took keen notes.
The Velvet Underground offered up chic style, unrivalled attitude and an innocence masked as aloofness. Take three chords, fall in together and keep going without stopping until the song is over. Look like you mean it and folk’ll believe you. There’s the ethos of Postcard in a nutshell. No pun intended.
The entirety of the Scottish post-punk music scene was in thrall to the Velvet Underground especially, and most of the acts – Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, obviously (“it’s ob-vious”), but also Scars, The Fire Engines, Josef K, James King and The Lone Wolves, even Bourgie Bourgie and Jazzateers, achieved just about their 15 mins of fame. This became totally apparent at Saturday night’s Hungry Beat event at the CCA in Glasgow, a mammoth 5 hour-long music ‘n chat extravaganza, put together by the people responsible for the era-defining book of the same name.
The main driver is Douglas MacIntyre, guitar totin’ scenester, label boss (Creeping Bent) and owner of the hippest address book in the land. Draw one of those Pete Frame family trees with his name at the centre and you’ll finish with a messy and jigsawed who’s who of 20th Century Scot-pop.
James T Kirk. Malcom Ross. Davy Henderson. Campbell Owens. Bobby Bluebell. Mick Slaven. Ken McCluskey. Tam Dean Burn. James King. Monica Queen. Norman Blake. Grahame Skinner. Katy Lironi and others all branch out in interconnected ways. Some of the musicians shared groups or rehearsal rooms or labels or bills, and all of them did exactly this at the weekend when they joined forces for two 70+ minute sets that played out like one gigantic, rolling encore, The Last Waltz for the children of the Velvets, each section registering one notch higher on the thrill-o-meter than the previous. In the future, suggested Warhol, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. For the bands and songs who have stayed under the radar all these years, Saturday night was their night.
Douglas, playing mainly cool, clean 12 string jangle on a vintage Burns (of course) guitar led a band made up of Mick Slaven and/or Malcolm Ross on sparkling, searing lead, Campbell Owens on bass and Stuart Kerr on drums. With each guest vocalist or guitarist (or both), the big hitters and back catalogues of all those wonky, individual and inventive groups of yore were played out to a wholly appreciative (and minor celeb-studded) crowd.
Was that Eddi Reader pogoing down the front as the assembled group jerked their way through a rubberised take on Gang Of Four’s Damaged Goods? Yes. Yes, it was. As backing vocalist on Gang Of Four’s live shows, perhaps she should’ve been up there with them. Not that there was much space for pogoing on the CCA’s busy stage. “There wisane enough women up there,” she complained later.
Monica Queen is a highlight, stomping and prowling as she takes control of Altered Images’ Dead Popstars. A lilting, countryish run through of Strawberry Switchblade’s Trees And Flowers segues without ceremony into a rich ‘n twanging version of, yes!, the aforementioned Velvet Underground’s Sunday Morning. It’s a beauty.
Ken McCluskey and Bobby Bluebell play their own Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool, the song they created after Alan Horne at Postcard challenged them to write a song as good as The Monkees’ Last Train To Clarksville.
Fay Fife owns the stage for two sharp blasts of Rezillos, with the frantic, hundred mile an hour racket of Can’t Stand My Baby just pipping Top Of The Pops to the post.
James King pulls low a pair of VU Ray-Bans and delivers a marvellous, Byrdsy Fly Away. High on jangle, reverb and twang, it’s one of the era’s great forgotten singles. Sensational stuff.
Norman Blake joins on guitar as the forever hangdog Stephen Pastel turns back the years with a couple of Pastels songs, a chugging, disciplined, and Krauty Baby Honey raising an already high bar. “Alan Horne suggested we be a synth pop group,” says a smiling Pastel to a tickled crowd.
Norman will be back later, unusually guitarless, to take vocals on two deep and emotional Josef K tracks. Downbeat but intense, Norman provides a real show stealer.
But back to the big hitters. Roddy’s Oblivious flies past in a blur of Malcom Ross fretboard wizardry, the lightning quick runs of the original flying tightly from his frets. Orange Juice’s Felicity rattles past in a giddy rush of whoa-whoas and well-rehearsed endings. Rip It Up, played by both Malcolm Ross and James T Kirk is slinky and chrome, its Chic-isms causing heads to bob and hips to sway.
Fire Engines’ Candyskin produces more shambling Velvetisms before Davy Henderson himself joins proceedings for a giddy You’ve Got The Power and a superstar karaoke blast of Iggy/Bowie’s Success. “Here comes success!” the group shout/sing in unison, a marker for how the evening has gone.
The ‘encore’ – no one has left the stage but we’re well over time and many an anxious ticket holder has begun the quick march for the last train home – is, as Bobby Bluebell describes by way of introduction, ‘the best single ever written and recorded in Scotland.’
Orange Juice – Blue Boy
A rattling, galloping run through of Blue Boy follows. Orange Juice’s original perfectly straddles that sound of the ‘Buffalo Underground’- clean and jangling and melodic, with a needles-in-the-red, cheese-grater guitar solo to sharpen the senses. Yer actual James T Kirk is on hand to kick out the jams, coaxing the ear-piercing main offender from his fingers – the kind of solo that electrifies the fillings in your teeth and leaves you wanting more, more, more.
*My photos were rubbish, so most photos here are ‘borrowed’ from the social media feeds of Lauren Bacall, Iain Wilson, Andrew Thomas, Trevor Pake and Vivienne Wilson. I hope you don’t mind, and thanks in advance