Gone but not forgotten, Live!, Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Richard Jobson

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

Number 28 in a series:

Richard Jobson is best-known as the vocalist and focal point of Skids. Between 1977 and 1982, Skids’ flame burned briefly but brightly over 4 abums – including two in one year (beat that, young pretenders!) and a handful of well-loved singles that are as instantly recognisable as Jobson’s lantern jaw and idiosyncratic stage moves. Working For The Yankee Dollar, Masquerade and Into The Valley put the band firmly in the anthemic post-punk bracket, paving the way for yer U2s and Alarms and Manic Street Preachers and the likes.

We never really got the credit we fully deserved,” remarks Richard. “With each release we evolved, changed and stuck our heads above the parapet. We weren’t cartoonish like the Damned or overly political like The Clash. Our peers over in the west of Scotland were Velvet Underground copyists, art-school cool, but we did our own thing. We never thought of what it was we should be doing. We just did. Skids were never cool, really. I wrote abstract lyrics. Our records came in abstract sleeves. (Debut album) ‘Scared To Dance’ was considered subversive, which is nonsense. ‘Days In Europa’, released in the same year (1979) was actually remixed and reissued with a new sleeve a few months later – years before your Deluxe Versions and remastered reissues were even thought of. We were incredibly hard-working and incredibly self-assured.”

In 1982, founding member William Simpson left Skids, shortly followed by Stuart Adamson, who’d take Skids’ blueprint and use it to great success with Big Country. And that, by and large was seemingly the end of Skids.

Jobson then joined forces with guitar great John McGeoch in the short-lived super group of sorts Armoury Show (half Skids, half Magazine, one album then over and out) before leaving music behind to focus on, amongst other things, modelling, poetry, television presenting and film making. You might’ve seen his 16 Years Of Alcohol, a terrifically intense film with a killer soundtrack. You might even have seen the video for Arab Strap’s Speed-Date. Richard produced that too.

Richard Jobson photographed by Ross Mackenzie, Night Moves, Glasgow, 1st March 1983

I see my art as everything I do. Whether it’s music or film or writing, it’s all me. I don’t like being pigeonholed.

A decade or so ago Skids reunited to play in tribute to Stuart Adamson. Sporadic shows followed; a T In The Park appearance here, a hometown gig there, before, “following a proper dust-down” at the tail end of last year, Skids returned with a brand new album. Burning Cities briefly outsold Noel Gallagher before settling comfortably inside the Top 30. On the back of the album, a rejuvenated Jobson and co hit the road and played dozens of shows the length and breadth of the UK. Reviews were generally ecstatic, focusing on the youthfulness of Jobson and his band’s ability to turn the clock back to those heady days when Skids first meant something to people. As the band found out, they clearly still hold a special place in the hearts of people for whom music is everything.

                      

Somewhere along the way, Jobson found the time to write. Echoing the productivity of those early Skids’ days, he’s recently published not one but two books; his autobiography Into The Valley and The Speed Of Life, a story told through the eyes of two aliens who travel to Earth and discover the songs of David Bowie.

I wanted to write a book about what it’s like to be a fan. What does fandom mean? Essentially, it’s a love affair with the music and the people who make it. You end up having this life-long, long-distance friendship with the person who inspires you. It’s a holistic thing being a fan. The fashion, the music, the lifestyle are all wrapped up in the one package. We all have our own heroes.

All the artists I admire, Lou and Iggy for example, were my poets. Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith! They wrote lyrics like mini movies. Their songs were metallic, urban, real. David Bowie inspired me to be better, more creative, to read literature, to watch particular movies. He told me not to be afraid of failure. Never be a coward! He taught me never to rest on my laurels, to keep trying to evolve. You’ll see that in my music, my films.

David Bowie instilled in me a work ethic that, sadly, is missing in most bands today. This instantaneous Instagram generation who seek fame over everything else, it’s idiotic. The real work gets in the way of becoming famous. We don’t have any more Bowies coming through. It’s all fake. All of it.”

Which seems as good a time as any to ask Richard to consider his 6 favourite Bowie tracks.

It’s better to be asked cold about these kinda things and not have the time to think about it. This way you’ll get the real answer and not the one I think people will want me to say. Although I dare say if you asked me tomorrow I might pick a totally different six. For now, straight off of my head I’ll say Sound & Vision.

 

David BowieSound & Vision

It reminds me of where I live. It’s the sound of Bowie reinventing himself, from near-suicidal drug addiction in L.A. to a man reborn in Berlin. It’s such an inspiring song. Who doesn’t love it?!?

David BowieWhere Are We Now

There’s some really great stuff in Bowie’s later New York period. The albums from this time really need to be given more attention. They’re almost lost in this vast back catalogue of greatness, but they’re all great in their own right. The Next Day might well be one of his very best. From it, Where Are We Now makes me cry every time I hear it. Until then I hadn’t cried that much since I first listened to Leonard Cohen. 

David BowieStation To Station

Station To Station was the first Bowie album that really made me sit up and listen. There’s a whole new depth of richness on this album that Bowie hadn’t gone for before. The songwriting is fantastic. The opening track, with its train noises and slow, steady, mechanical plod is a brilliant opener.

David BowieQuicksand

That run of albums, from Ziggy through Aladdin Sane to Diamond Dogs is brilliant. And growing up with each of them was a very fortuitous thing. How lucky I was to be of the age to appreciate Bowie first-hand! Hunky Dory though is a perfect album. And Quicksand is a perfect track.

David BowieThe Jean Genie

I like the pop Bowie. Let’s not forget that as well as being a ‘serious’ artist, he wrote these incredible pop songs. The Jean Genie just reminds me so much of having fun as a wee guy, dancing around the living room as it played.

David BowieSpeed Of Life

I love this track to bits. I enjoy listening to ambient music while I read. Brian Eno, of course, All the German bands. The whole of the second side of Low as you know is ambient, instrumental music. The opener is inspired. It’s the new sound of Bowie, a glimpse into what the other side of the record holds in store, yet it still captures the essence of pop. These cowards today, afraid of trying anything new really should take a leaf from Bowie’s book.

Richard Jobson will play a couple of special east coast/west coast shows in Edinburgh and Irvine to promote The Speed Of Life. He’ll be accompanied by former Goodbye Mr MacKenzie frontman Martin Metcalfe who’ll play “natural sounds and drones……cool, dramatic music” whilst Richard reads extracts from his book. Unbelievably, there are still a handful of tickets left for both shows. You should probably go to at least one of them.

Live!, Six Of The Best

Ballroom Blitzed

Johnny Marr @ The Grand Hall Oct 2015 03(c) Stuart Westwood

There was a defining moment last Thursday night when Johnny Marr was up in space somewhere, out among the stars and playing his melodies gifted from the Gods, showering the faithful at his feet with little arpeggiated notes of joy. It all happened midway through his celebratory, revelatory gig in Kilmarnock’s Grand Hall, and midway through a pulsing take on Electronic‘s evergreen Getting Away With It. Recast as an electro throb (“This is a disco song from Manchester“) with jagged, edgy guitars, it was accompanied by a pair of stark blue flashing strobes, marching in time to the guttural punch of the bass. As the song reached its peak, somewhere a flick of the switch turned the venue from rave central into a spangled, sparkled music box. The light changed from stark blue to glitter ball white as the music shifted from electro pulse to pure Marr; the chiming, echoing notes cannoning off the turn of the century walls and out into the ether. Surrounded by a swirl of mirrored light careering from a pair of over-sized disco balls and out on the edge of the 6 ft high stage, lost in his own music, it did indeed look like Johnny Marr was on the edge of the universe.

IMG_6534(c) Stuart Westwood

My day with Johnny was a day like no other. I’d interviewed him 2 weeks previously, giving me something of an ‘in’ when it came the time to meet him. I should backtrack slightly here. I’m part of the team who promoted the gig, so I was involved in the set-up of it. This meant me and my giddy head would be around the venue for the day leading up to the show itself. At the end of our interview, Johnny had promised to sign my guitar, and I’d carefully left it by the mixing desk, within eyesight at all times.

He was due to soundcheck at 4pm, and by half 2 I was starving. He wasn’t in the venue as he’d gone off for a jog around the provincial town of Kilmarnock, but I didn’t want to chance nipping out to a shop for a quick sandwich in case my moment would arrive. After the show, I reasoned, it would be pandemonium with people clamouring for his attention – before the show was my best bet at face-to-face conversation. I was having a conversation with his tour manager (about aeroplanes, of all things), when I was first aware of his presence. Some folk will tell you that the room changes when a famous person enters. In typical Johnny fashion, he made his announcement via his guitar. With my back to the stage, a quick blast of distorted blues gave way to the recognisable riff of The Headmaster Ritual. I tried to act non-plussed in front of the tour manager, but my eyes gave it away. He stopped our conversation and wandered off, leaving Johnny playing to an empty Grand Hall, save myself and a disinterested sound engineer by the mixing desk.

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Stone me! It’s Johnny Marr! With cool hair. In a none-more-punk mohair sweater and a pair of jeans my 14 year old daughter might struggle to get into. He’s tiny! Put-him-in-your-pocket tiny! Like a little Lego version of the real thing, he bent down by his pedal board and made a few adjustments, now and again clanging a chord for good measure. Calling his technical team over he explained what he wanted. “When I play with this pedal (Clang! Tchk Tchk Tchk Tchk Tchk… ) I want those little blue lasers. When I use the reverb (Clang! Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun…) I want the subtle wash.” The whole show, it struck me there and then, is as choreographed as a Legs ‘n Co dance routine. Albeit a post-punk riot of Marr originals and Smiths’ classics, but a scripted, well-rehearsed version of spontaneity nonetheless.

Once happy with the instructions given to his lighting guys he bounces off the stage, keenly aware of my presence. “Johnny!” I call out, and he comes over. “We spoke on the phone a couple of weeks ago.

Craig?!? Great article, brother! How’s your little lad? Still playing his guitar? Did you bring yours then?” and before I’m fully aware of the situation I’m actually in, he’s leading me across to the mixing desk where he’s spied my guitar case. “Go on then! Let’s see it!” and he takes it out of the case, ignoring the Smiths vinyl I’ve stashed there for signing. “I like it….a ’78 you said? Californian? Great – a proper punk guitar!” He turns it over in his hands, casting his eye over the details. “No binding on the neck. I like that. See that knot in the wood there? Love it. Not too heavy….d’you know the green one I played on the Meat Is Murder LP? (of course I know it!) It weighed a ton. This is a nice guitar. You’ve got a good one there.” And then he puts it on. I’m about to pee my pants in excitement.

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What’s your favourite Smiths tracks?” He plays a few Marr-esque open chord runs up and down the neck. This! Can’t! Be! Happening! Then he notices my Queen Is Dead LP, lying expectantly for the caress of a Sharpie. “Have you worked out Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others yet?” And he plays it. Effortlessly and perfectly. He lets me video him playing it too. This is all too much. Of course, I only go and spoil it.

So,” I say confidently. “Do you use your 3rd finger or your pinky for this part…” and, as he hands me my own guitar, the one I’ve played constantly for 25 or so years, I proceed to tie my fat fingers in knots whilst playing not only the wrong notes but the wrong fucking strings. Some Girls.. is a tune I play regularly, and while I’m not super fluid with it, I’ve never once played it as badly as I do at this very moment. Put it down to big match nerves, but I’ve really let myself down here.

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Anyway, our conversation continues for a while. We get pictures, he signs my guitar, he signs my Smiths vinyl, we hug, he says thanks again for writing a great article, (brother) and then he’s off to join his band for the soundcheck proper, where I watch from the balcony as they play their version of Depeche Mode’s I Feel You a couple of times and run through a ramshackle version of The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz.

Ever since we announced the Kilmarnock gig, people keep telling me it’s the place where the Ballroom Blitz happened.” (The man at the back said ‘everyone attack‘ was apparently shouted as a fight broke out during a Sweet gig in the Grand Hall in the early 70’s, something that has now passed into local legend.) “It’s not on the set-list, but if it turns out OK in the soundcheck, we might do it in the encore.” As it turns out, they don’t, though Johnny does ad-lib a few lines towards the end of Boys Get Straight.

The gig itself? It’s super great, of course. A heady mixture of Messenger and Playland tracks, interspersed with choice selections from The Smiths’ superlative back catalogue. Second song in is is Panic and the room goes berserk. Johnny is a whippet thin rod of electricity, darting from one side of the stage to the other. Pogoing here. Windmilling there. In profile. In sillhouette. In denim jacket. In spotty shirt. Take your eyes off him at your peril. The Headmaster Ritual gets another outing. There’s a fantastic breakneck galloping Bigmouth Strikes Again. There Is A Light is mass communion. You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby, surely the best Smiths track to never be a single, kicks off the encore, where he’s joined by his son Nile (from support band Man Made – they’re worth a-watchin’) on a surprisingly good take on The Primitives’ Crash.

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By the last song of the night, Johnny has us in the palms of his teeny tiny talented hands. How Soon Is Now? is a wobbling, juddering juggernaut, Marr wringing sustained notes of feedback from his famous green Jag. I decide to throw caution to the wind and, relying solely on the AAA pass I’m proudly wearing (remember Wayne’s World?) I’m off into the photographers’ pit, empty by law of the management since the 4th song and hoping for a decent snap of the occasion. As Johnny starts his de-tuning freak-out, I rush in. “Johnneeeey!” I scream, and he looks my way – purely coincidental, but still – and stands right above me, posing for me, as my phone fires as many photos as it can handle. He looks down from the top of the mountain at one point and gives me a wink (!) and then he’s off back to the mike, my photos in the bag. It’s all quite thrilling.

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There’s more conversation (“neat capo trick, by the way, I tried it out. I’m gonna use that on something!“) and pictures after the show, a show he genuinely loved doing. It’s after midnight by the time we pack up and I head home carrying a signed guitar, a couple of signed Smiths records, Johnny’s set list, his road tested and slightly chipped signature-bearing plectrum….and the red and white roses that dangled from his belt loop for the entirety of the gig. Quite what I’ll do with them, I don’t know. They’re sitting in front of me as I type, a faded and falling apart memento of a day that will never fade from my memory. It’ll be quite a while before they’ve scraped me down from the ceiling, believe me.

 

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Gone but not forgotten, Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – JJ Gimour

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

jj gilmour

Number 17 in a series:

JJ Gilmour is the silver haired, silver tongued ex-Silencer from Lanarkshire*.

In a career that spans 25+ years in the business of music, he’s had his fair share of highs and lows.

But mainly highs.

With The Silencers, he was a regular concert attraction all over Europe. He’s topped the bill at some of the best-known music festivals. He’s worked with some of the top producers of the time (yer actual John Leckies and Michael Brauers for starters). He’s been managed by Miles Copeland. He’s written songs for Kenny Rogers;

I was challenged by my manager to write a song about a cowboy who fell in love with a belly dancer. So I did it! It’s called The Cowboy’s Lament and it’s the happiest I’ve ever felt after finishing a song. Kenny’s sat on it for two years. I don’t know if he’ll ever release it.

He’s sold half a million albums in numerous ‘territories’ (record company speak for ‘absolutely everywhere’). In fact, if he cared to do so, JJ would be able to fashion the walls of his house with gold discs the way a teenager might be inclined to paper their bedroom with popstar posters.

Being part of a successful band, JJ found it difficult trying to get all his ideas across. So in the 90s he took the brave step of going solo. Since then, fads and fashions have come and gone. Today’s bright young things have become tomorrow’s laughed-at losers. Entire ‘careers’ have burned briefly before being consigned to the dustbins of pop. And JJ continually ploughs his own furrow.

Five albums later and Jinky’s never sounded better. He’s a terrific live act – equal parts raconteur and wreck on tour, his milk bottle-thick glasses belying his talent. Less Buddy Holly and more bloody helly, the gaps between his songs are filled with the sort of occasionally sweary banter that wouldn’t sound out of place at the Stand Comedy Club. He’s a very funny man, but more importantly, JJ can sing like the best of them. His songs are stories and beg to be heard in the confines of a small environment. He’s all about intimate gigs and plays live regularly. If you ever get the chance, you should go and see him.

jj gilmour

And guess what…

If you’re in Ayrshire, you should get yourself down to the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, as JJ Gilmour will play the HAC this Friday (7th March). There’s nothing more intimate than a gig at the HAC, and this has all the makings of an absolute cracker.

Like a tip-top athlete who’s fitness has peaked at the right time, JJ’s coming to Irvine in the best possible form. Just a week after his annual Portpatrick show(s) – acoustic one night, plugged in the next, electric both nights, he’s guaranteed to be at his very best.

JJ took time out from rehearsals at his home in Belfast to give Plain Or Pan the low-down on what records inspire him.

jj 6otb

Take it away Jinky…..

I suppose we should start at the beginning. The first record I ever heard that made me want to spend my own money on music was Ian Dury and The Blockheads‘ ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick‘.

It was full of funny words and references to strange, far-off places. The deserts of Sudan. Japan. Milan. Yucatan. What did it all mean? It took you on a geographical journey. Eskimo. Arapaho. Two fat persons click, click, click. Fan-tastic words! Then of course you got the bonus of There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards on the b-side. The Blockheads were a terrific band. Great, great players. They could play anything. I was fortunate enough to meet them a couple of times.

Ian Dury was a true original. That whole punk scene, when Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood were forming the whole image, they took it from seeing Ian around town, his ears full of safety pins. No-one else was doing it at the time. What a leg end. (JJ pronounces this as two words).

After punk, I began listening to what you could call ‘intelligent musicians’, classically-trained folk who weren’t afraid of showing off their talents in the face of 3 chords. I loved the huge sound that ELO made.

‘Wild West Hero’ epitomises that for me. The strings. The story. It‘s a terrific sound. Jeff Lynne is someone I want to work with at some point.

My next choice is by someone who, personally takes himself far too seriously….but what a songwriter! Sting has the knack of writing really clever pop songs. The Police‘s ‘Message In A Bottle’ has it all – great rhythm, a brilliant guitar riff from Andy….

When I first heard it I thought, ‘This guy’s some writer!‘ Of course, later on he’d totally rip off Stand By Me for Every Breath You Take, but Message In A Bottle is a classic.

It has never been more finely used than when it soundtracked Jim Royle pissing into a bottle in an episode of the Royle Family;

Around this time I discovered The Beatles. Everyone goes through a Beatles phase and I’m no different. I came to them when I realised where everyone else was stealing their ideas from.

I’m more of a Lennon man than a McCartney man but I could pick any Beatles tune really, even the George Harrison ones that the other two tried to suppress. I huvnae much time for Ringo, but y’know, without him they weren’t truly The Beatles. If I had to choose just one Beatles track, it would have to be A Day In The Life. It’s big. It’s huge, actually. We used to use it as intro music at gigs. It built the audience up before we came on.

JJ’s last 2 choices are personal favourites of mine. I was delighted that he chose them…

I feel I must tip my hat to Scotland’s finest song writer, lyricist and poet – Michael Marra. Michael wrote brilliant songs, but my favourite of his is ‘Hamish‘, written about the Dundee United goalie Hamish McAlpine and the time when Grace Kelly came to watch Monaco take on Dundee United at a European game at Tannadice.

(Now, I could wax lyrical about Michael Marra, someone who in another time and place might’ve been considered a Scottish Tom Waits. He once turned up at Irvine Folk Club with a battered old ironing board under his arm, the sort of ironing board you might find at Irvine dump if the owner had the gall to be seen throwing such a battered old relic out in public. Michael casually set up the ironing board and used it as his keyboard stand. He’s dead now, and sometimes we don’t appreciate our best writers until they’re not there to be told. Michael was one of the very best. His song Hamish ebbs and flows in melancholy fashion, and the string swell at the end is pure Hollywood. Anyway, that’s this writer’s tuppence-worth).

Have a read at the lyrics:

Up at Tannadice,

Framed in woodwork, cool as ice,

Keeping out the wolves in his particular way,

With a smile and a wave, A miraculous save, they say,

Out runs Hamish and the ball’s in Invergowrie Bay.

 

Up at Tannadice,

As they gently terrorise,

Called the sentry “Oh Hamish, give us a song”,

Raising the voices as high as the bridge is long,

Nasser said ‘hello’ and did you miss him when his voice was gone?

 

I remember that time it was an evening game,

A European tie in the howling rain,

Gus Foy pointed at the side of the goal,

And said, there’s Grace Kelly by Taylor Brothers Coal, …at Tannadice.

 

Up at Tannadice,

Watching as the fortunes rise,

Smiling when he hears, ‘ah it’s only a game’, Win, lose or draw you’ll get home to your bed just the same,

But Hamish stokes young mens’ dreams into a burning flame,

Hamish stokes young mens’ dreams into a burning flame.

 

I’ll leave the final word on Hamish to JJ

You should check out the Leo Sayer version on You Tube. He’s not kidding.

My final choice is absolutely The Best Pop Song Ever Written Since The Beatles. Has there ever been a song about mainlining heroin quite so beautiful as The La’sThere She Goes’? No, there’s not!

We’ve heard it so many times. It never sounds tired or jaded. It always sounds fresh. There’s not a chorus in sight, just spot-on verses and a perfect guitar riff with a wee breath-catching breakdown in the middle. Absolutely perfect.

I love what wee John (Power) is doing with Cast – Walkaway and all that, but nothing he does is as close to perfection as There She Goes. Lee really should try and get himself back together again.

(I’ll not bore you with my La’s stories. You can ask me the next time you see me.)

JJ Gilmour plays the HAC this Friday, 7th March. At Jinky’s request, support comes from terrific up-and-comers The Sean Kennedy Band.  You can buy tickets here. A limited number will be available on the door, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Don’t you dare miss him now!

* And don’t ask Chris Eubank to say that.