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

 

Hard-to-find

All The Way Fey Bearsden

fey

Pronunciation: /feɪ/

adjective (feyer, feyest)

  • 3 archaic, chiefly Scottish fated to die or at the point of death.

Orange Juice were the feyest of the fey. Their Velvets-by-Chic approach to music was terrifically exciting; a ramshackle beauty forever teetering on the fringes of falling apart. They remind me of teaching my kids how to ride their bikes. One minute you’re bent double and holding on to a wobbly stabiliser-free frame to stop them bothering the tarmac, the next you’re running behind them silently willing them to not turn round in amazement at what they’ve already managed, but to focus on the road ahead and zig-zag safely to a stop.

orange juice bw

Pick any song at random from the early Orange Juice catalogue and you’ll find the sonic equivalent. At any given moment, things might unravel and the whole thing could come stuttering to an ungracious ending. On some of those records, you can practically see the 4 band members give one another excited nods of encouragement as they play their way out of the first chorus and back to the verse. (If you’ve ever had the good fortune to play in a ‘promising local band‘ (copyright Irvine Times, July 1989), you’ll know exactly what I mean). Not for OJ the mask of distortion that many a youthful band will use to cover up all manner of mistakes. Their almost-to-the-point-of-being-in-tune cheesewire-thin guitars rattling off fancy-pants major 7ths and suspended 4ths were played to sound just as Leo Fender and Friedrich Gretsch intended – clean and ringing and with a nice touch of reverb. For Orange Juice, it was always about the angle of the jangle. But you knew that already.

One of the very finest in a fine, fine back catalogue is (To Put It) In A Nutshell. You’ll find it closing out the end of their debut LP, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. A perfect set-closer from an imperfect album, In A Nutshell was Edwyn Collins’ first (first!) attempt at a ballad. Another that sounds like it’s about to come undone at the seams, it was originally conceived as a duet with Nico. Shame it never quite came to fruition. Her rounded, one dimensional Germanic  chamber folk vocals would’ve sounded terrific. “I looked deep within my pockets“, “You’re a heartless mercenary“, “Can I pay you in kind?” etc etc. I bet you’re singing them in faux German right now. Even the sh-sh-sh-shoo-doo bits.

orange juice

I empathise with Edwyn – that ‘promising local band‘ once wrote a letter to Michael Stipe asking if he’d like to contribute backing vocals to one of our non-smash non-singles. What the fuck were we thinking? You won’t be surprised to learn he never wrote back, but ever since the demise of REM, I’ve often wondered if he’d still be up for it, 24 years later.

Anyway, back to Orange Juice.

Here’s the earlier Postcard Records version of In A Nutshell:

And here’s a rare instrumental version. Put on a German accent and go all Nico for a few minutes. So audacious, jah?:

orange juice badge

Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled

It’s Chic Co. Time

Jeez! Plain Or Pan used to be all about Beta Band outtakes and multiple versions of La’s demos, the odd foosty soul survivor and long-forgotten obscurios by long-forgotten oddballs. It still is, of course, but just not today.

I have a long-time love of disco. To these ears, it doesn’t matter that it’s considered kinda naff and uncool, which, when placed next to any amount of other musical bits n’ pieces, it may well be. In the mid-late 70s, when straddled by the ugly, oiky twin-headed monster of glam and punk, it was certainly the musical choice for the straight-laced amongst society. Folk who bought one single a year bought Saturday Night Fever. Folk who bought one single a week owned the entire back catalogues of The Sweet and Sham 69. What I like about disco is the musicality of it all. If the Floyd (man) and Can (man) are head music, disco is most definitely music designed for below the waist. Rock music is, they say, ‘proper’ music. But so is disco! Made on proper instruments and played as well as or even better than the patchouli-smelling long hairs in afghan coats from bygone eras, disco is all about a slick riff, a fluid bassline and a four-to-the-floor, hi-hat enhanced beat that never lets the lyrics get in the way of a good groove.

The difference between rock and disco is that rock music has the virtuosos, the soloists and the guitar heroes. Who’s Pink Floyd’s guitarist? Easy, eh? But if I asked you to tell me who played the slick riffs on Night Fever or Rock Your Baby, chances are you’d be struggling. You could probably have a good stab at naming half the members of Can. But asked to tell me who played the fluid basslines on Car Wash or Young Hearts Run Free and chances are you’d be asking the audience or phoning a friend who answers to the name of Mr Google. Disco, for one reason or other has been ridiculed and put in its place as someway unimportant. Of course there are exceptions to the rule.

Nile Rodgers was developing serious Class A substance abuse at the age most of us are just getting to grips with the technicalities of Eagle-Eyed Action Man. Passed back and forth at a young age from East Coast to West Coast on a succession of Greyhound buses between his drug-addicted prostitute mother and far-off, far-out aunts and uncles on the other side of America, it’s a wonder he thrived at all. But thrive he did. Playing in a variety of  covers acts, reputation enhanced by his ability to read music, fate lead him to Bernard Edwards and eventually Chic were born. It was watching an early Roxy Music show that gave Nile his band’s manifesto: The clothes were as important as the music. The women on the record sleeves would give the band glamourous identity. Chic would be a company. An organization. Singers would come and go, but the core of Rodgers and Edwards would remain the constant. They’d write songs for other artists. They’d discover knew ones. Like an East Coast Family Stone, in sharp suits rather than hippy garb, but fuelled by the same high grade white powders, Chic and their music would rule the world. You know the songs. You know the stories. You can read all about it in Nile’s excellent ‘Le Freak‘ autobiography.

It’s worth noting that the Nile Rodgers’ guitar sound has been appropriated by the musos that form white rock’s guitar untouchables. Edwyn Collins’ blatant homage to the sound can be heard all the way from the opening bars to the fade out of Orange Juice’s Rip It Up (perhaps even more so on the strangulated none-more-80s 12″ mix). Johnny Marr was so enraptured by Nile that he based his guitar line on the second verse of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side on those wee choppy rinky-dink Chicisms. Johnny turned up earlier on in the year playing Le Freak on stage with Nile. And just in case you missed the point, he even named his son Nile. Dance records over the past decade or so, proper dance records, made by machines and everything, often stray close to the Chic sound. Modjo’s Lady for one. Spiller’s Groovejet another. And Stardust’s The Music Sounds Better With You. Chicesque, the three of ’em. Even Da Funk by Daft Punk is built around that clipped guitar sound. Ubiquitous. Is that not what they say?

Here are some of the Chic Organization’s wonderful world-ruling results. Every one features Bernard’s ripe-for-sampling, slap-happy, fluid-as-mercury bassline and Nile’s trademark 3 string rinky-dink guitar, chattering away incessantly in the background like a couple of old ladies clacking their false teeth at one another down the Mecca on a Saturday night. It might just be my favourite sound in music.

ChicGood Times

Norma JeanSorcerer (12″ mix)

Diana RossUpside Down (original Chic mix)

Sister SledgeThinking Of You (Dimitri From Paris mix – officially sanctioned by Chic, it’s a cracker)

Carly SimonWhy (12″ mix)

And the influence of Good Times et al lives on, seemingly forever…

Hard-to-find

Play That Funky Music White Boy

We’ll get the confessions, the truth and the cold hard facts out of the way first. I’m too young to appreciate the beauty that was Postcard Records. Way too young. I’m not exactly sure when I first chanced upon the label, but it was certainly long after the last of those few, fey and feisty 7″s had made their way out of Alan Horne’s bedroom and into the world. While it was all going on I was too caught up in the chart music du jour – Madness, Adam & the Ants, Swords Of A Thousand MenSpurs Are On Their Way To Wembley. Proper stuff like that. Had I actually heard Blue Boy or Just Like Gold I doubt I’d have liked them. And if you’re being honest with yourself as you read this, when you were 11 you wouldnae have liked them either.

Meet The Beatles? Velvet Underground? Byrds?

It was probably an article in the short lived Scottish music publication CUT that first brought Postcard Records to my attention. Being a heady 13 years old, by now I knew my Robert Lloyds from my Lloyd Coles and had an appetite for discovering new things. I knew of Orange Juice of course. Rip It Up had been all over the airwaves, the words ‘One Hit Wonder’ running through it’s jangly core like a stick of sugary sweet confectionary. And I must’ve been aware of Aztec Camera by this point too. Over the years I’ve come to realise that year zero for many of these bands I grew to love began at Postcard. Edwyn and Orange Juice. Roddy and Aztec Camera. The Go Betweens. All began their shiny black plastic lives on the Postcard label. Josef K too, but, eh, we’ll scratch that last lot out. I never gave them a chance/listen until Franz Ferdinand waxed lyrical about them a few years ago. Like I said earlier, we’ll get the confessions, the truth and the cold hard facts outta the way first. I like them now though.

Anyway. The reason for this article is three-fold.

  1. I’ve been meaning to do a bit about Postcard for a while now.
  2. It’s just over 30 years since the first Postcard 7″,  Orange Juice’s Falling And Laughing, was released – there’s a good wee write up about Orange Juice and the pre-OJ Nu-Sonics here.
  3. Over at the Vinyl Villain, on 6th April they’re celebrating Paul Haig day. Paul Haig was lead singer with Josef K (below). But you knew that already.

So with regards to the above, I’ve compiled The Best Postcard Records Album In The World…Ever. Every a-side and b-side ever released on the label, from Orange Juice’s rare as funk debut (even Edwyn Collins doesn’t have a copy) to Aztec Camera’s non-album Mattress Of Wire. And everything in between, from Antipodean brothers in arms the Go Betweens to Edinburgh’s answer to the Glasgow Glamsters, Josef K.  Every track wrapped in eczema-like scratchy guitars, elastic band basslines and vocals just on the wrong side of tuneful. Well. Almost every track. Roddy Frame uses, gasp! – acoustic guitars! He sings in tune! He’s a precocious 16 year old genius. The fucker! It’s the Sound Of Young Scotland y’know!

  

Here’s what you get:

 Orange Juice
Falling And Laughing / Moscow / Moscow Olympics 
 Orange Juice
 Blue Boy / Love Sick 
 Josef K
 Radio Drill Time / Crazy To Exist 
 Go Betweens
 I Need Two Heads / Stop Before You Say It 
 Josef K
 It’s Kinda Funny / Final Request 
 Orange Juice
 Simply Thrilled Honey / Breakfast Time 
 Orange Juice
 Poor Old Soul / Poor Old Soul (pt2) 
 Aztec Camera
 Just Like Gold / We Could Send Letters 
 Josef K
 Sorry For Laughing / Revelation 
 Josef K
 Chance Meeting / Pictures 
 Orange Juice
 Wan Light (unreleased)/ You Old Eccentric (not on compilation)
Aztec Camera
Mattress Of Wire / Lost Outside The Tunnel

 Why the small writing? Pain in the arse, man.

Download includes exclusive Plain Or Pan artwork.