New Year, Old Me

Sometime around the beginning of January, Plain Or Pan celebrates its birthday. This year I celebrate completing 11 years of writing. No mean feat, as anyone who blogs will tell you. Were it not for this small corner of the internet I doubt I’d have been able to muster up the necessary clout to meet and interview some of my heroes and favourite artists.

A blog that began as an outlet for me to share all manner of what I thought was great music/alternate takes/demos and general trainspottery flim flam now has a powerful reach. On any given day there will be visitors from around the world; Buenos Airies, Brisbane, Bolton…. I used to be obsessed by stats and internet traffic figures. If I wrote a new article, how many people would read it? Would anybody read it? Nowadays it’s less of an issue. As I go boldly into year 12 I’ve realised that my best articles endure. There are things I wrote in 2007 that turn up via a Google search and still prove popular today. There are articles that I thought were fantastic when published that proved to be slow burners but have now been read, reTweeted and shared on social media thousands of times. It’s very humbling. And satisfying.

Up until a couple of years ago I always shared an annual compilation for download, a ragbag collection of the most popular tracks from the previous year. Problem was, Plain Or Pan started to become a bit too popular and the internet police metaphorically popped round a couple of times and asked me (politely at first) if I wouldn’t mind removing the download link. In order to keep the wolf from the door, I no longer do this. Instead, this year I’m going to share a few links. For anyone who’s a recent visitor to the blog you might find something of interest. To any long-time readers, there might be something here that you missed first-time round. As always, feel free to link/share anything that piques your interest. Thanks for popping round, leaving comments and generally giving me the green light to keep writing. And that thing I mentioned about stats and internet traffic? Bollocks! I want as many hits on here as possible.

  • Ian Rankin picks six of his favourite songs. From 4 and a half years ago, this is the most-read article ever on Plain Or Pan.
  • Here‘s an article on the enduring appeal of The Beatles It’s All Too Much. This article was Plain Or Pan’s biggest hitter in 2014.
  • It occured to me that I haven’t featured The Fall nearly as much as I should’ve. Here‘s one I wrote earlier. 2011, to be precise.
  • I once rather proudly wrote an entire piece on Kraftwerk in German. It never got the kudos it deserved, sadly. Either that or my pidgin German was really bad. There’s a similar one on Sly Stone that’s written in French. Et pourquois-pas?
  • The flawed genuius of Chuck Berry. This article appeared again, pratically word-for-word when Chuck passed away.
  • It’s not all music round here, y’know. Here‘s my piece on Alex Higgins, written in my head as I drove home from holiday.
  • Here‘s one of my Andy Murray articles. This fairly fired around Twitter, getting picked up by the sports networks and syndicates, garnering all manner of nice comments and dozens of new followers.
  • And here‘s one on the London Olympics. Remember them?
  • Mainly though, it’s about the music. Johnny Marr has long been my hero, so it was something of a thrill to secure a 20 minute phone interview with him (it ended up being almost an hour and a half) where, amongst other things, he chatted about the records he was most-proud of having played on.
  • Likewise, just short of a year ago Mike Joyce was good enough to play the same game. As someone who generally doesn’t get involved in Smiths articles, what followed was a brilliant interview and, dare I say it, article.
  • While we’re on The Smiths, the article I wrote about Morrissey nicking huge chunks of lyrics from Victoria Wood went yer actual viral on that there Twitter. I came home from work to find my phone lit up like a Christmas tree with social media notifications. More of that, please.

Lastly, unlike your favourite bands, much of my earlier work is far from my best, although this line from the end of an article on the imminent release of Radiohead’s game-changing name your price In Rainbows made me laugh…..


If you’re a guitar geek, here’s how Thom set up his gear in 1997…….


Of course, these days he plays a bit of piano, some Apple Mac and a smattering of Fair Trade wooden spoon.

(And I wouldn’t want it any different)

Cover Versions

Imperfect 10

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.


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.


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


*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?

Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Ian Rankin

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…

ian rankin

Number 15 in a series:

Ian Rankin barely needs any introduction at all. An East Coaster schooled in Cowdenbeath and at the University of Edinburgh, he’s most famously the internationally renowned creator of  the Inspector Rebus novels. Like the best literary heroes, Rebus is a bender of rules, a doer of wrong in the pursuit of right, and his malt whisky-soaked character flaws and imperfections have captured the imagination of many a reader. Translated into numerous languages, each Rebus novel will casually shift in excess of half a million copies in its first 3 or 4 months of publication. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know…) they account for 10% of all crime fiction sales in the UK. Many of the stories have successfully made the transition from printed word to celluloid. People, many thousands of people, have discovered the work of Ian Rankin not only from the library but also from the television. With an OBE for services to literature, countless honorary doctorates and more Crime Writers Association Daggers than an end of the pier act on Britain’s Got Talent, Ian Rankin is, in short, a dead famous author.

Ian is also a well-known music fan. Follow him on Twitter and you’ll discover just how regularly he visits his favourite record shops, goes to gigs and enthuses about new music. With a nod and a wink and an eyebrow permanently arched, his writing is liberally peppered with music references and trainspotters like myself enjoy looking for them all, silently hoping that it’s only us and the author who are in on the secret but knowing full well that half the population gets it too. Off the top of my head, his various novels have been titled Let It Bleed, Black And Blue, Beggars Banquet (all Rolling Stones LPs), The Hanging Garden (A Cure track, more of which later), Exit Music (A Radiohead track) and Dead Souls (Joy Division). There’s also the Heartache Cafe in The Black Book that sells Blue Suede Choux for dessert. Read the novels and you’ll find many more.

rankin books

I came late to Ian Rankin’s books. Fortunately as it turned out, you don’t need to have been with him from the start. Yes, Rebus novels have wee themes going through them and they regularly refer back to previous characters and cases that Rebus has worked on, but you don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning (1987’s Knots And Crosses) and work forwards from there. You can start anywhere. Just jump in and you’ll quickly get the measure of the man.

Somehow, for reasons I don’t really know, I’d missed out on all of Rankin’s books until my father-in-law handed me a couple, telling me to read them because I’d like them. He was right. And so, during the summer holidays a couple of years ago I found myself in the midst of a Rebus marathon. The first one I read was Mortal Causes, about the tattooed body of a gangster being discovered, and where I met Big Ger Cafferty for the first time.

You probably know already, but it’s dead easy to get hooked on a Rebus investigation. I was going through a Rebus novel every couple of days and found myself totally immersed in his tangled life of complicated relationships and petty workplace politics. Although an Ayrshireman, I could still pick out recognisable Edinburgh landmarks and streets (Mary King’s Close, Fleshmarket Close, The Oxford Bar) that helped place the stories in the real world, in the here and now, as opposed to some made-up fantasy land a million miles from reality. I’d find myself desperate to revisit Edinburgh and perhaps stumble upon the corners and closes where many of the crimes Rebus was investigating had taken place.

ian rankin oxford bar

During this self-induced Rebusathon I happened to be channel-hopping late one night, past BBCs 3 and 4 where nothing of interest was on, past Sky Arts where a repeat of a Smiths concert was on (Rockpalast – it’s very good, but I’d seen it half a dozen times already), past Channel 4 movies, past the shopping channels, past Al Jazeera TV until I rested on some short-lived channel that may or may not have been called Sleuth TV. I’m not making this up. On Sleuth TV was an adaptation, I quickly realised, of Strip Jack, the Rebus story I was currently half-way through. I started watching but immediately, just as I was thinking, “Turn over! You don’t want to know how the story ends!” the killer was very clearly being unmasked, and the scene played out loudly and unavoidably on the telly in front of me. Unfortunate timing. To this day, Strip Jack remains the only one of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels I have never finished.

Anyway.  Enough flim-flam from me. Ian’s ‘Six of the Best‘ is right up Plain Or Pan’s street. Over to the man himself…

cover art

When Desert Island Discs asked me several years back for my top 8 songs, I started with a Shortlist of 40. So I’ve decided here to go with six tracks that may not be all-time favourites but mean something to me and should be listened to more often.

‘Silver Machine’ by Hawkwind.

I probably want this played at my funeral. It was one of the first records I bought, and I still own and play that original 45. To me it means rock, and sci-fi, danger and otherworldliness. Smashing.

‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ by the Rolling Stones.


I remember hearing this when I was 10 or 11 and not being impressed. By the age of 30 Let It Bleed was my favourite album and it’s still up there. A beautiful piece of music with a lyric that captures a moment in social history. A really hopeful song to round off a great album. Mourners may leave my funeral service with Hawkwind ringing in their ears, but as they walk into the chapel this is what they might hear.

‘Theme from Shaft’ by Isaac Hayes.

When I was a kid I loved this tune, especially the wah-wah guitar. I was too young to see the film, so I bought the book. I was amazed that a kid was allowed to read anything and everything. Books became exciting to me. And I got a taste for crime fiction. My whole career starts with John Shaft.

‘The Hanging Garden’ by The Cure.

So good I named one of my novels after it. Then used quotes from Cure songs throughout the text. Robert Smith was gracious enough to grant permission. The fee? A signed book. Always loved The Cure, and Joy Division, and Bauhaus, and… All those dark, atmospheric post-punk pre-Goth groups. I sang in one myself. They were called the Dancing Pigs and weren’t good enough. So I put them in one of my novels, too.

‘Exit Wound’ by Jackie Leven.

Jackie was a fan of my books. I didn’t know that. But I was a fan of his music and so was Inspector Rebus. Eventually we became friends, made an album, toured together. And then Jackie was gone, dead too soon. I saw him do this song many times. It’s moving, powerful, classic Jackie.

‘Ankle Shackles’ by King Creosote.

There wasn’t much of a music scene in Fife when I was growing up. Nazareth in the early 70s, The Skids a bit later. But then came KC and his Fence Collective colleagues. Love his stuff. Wrote the sleeve notes for one album. This track is quite new, and only appeared on CD this year. I saw him do it live in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall last year. It is a pulsing, driving, bitter tale, enlivened by cello and a terrific vocal. Dude’s a dude, bless him.

ian rankin record shop

Bonus Track!
As mentioned earlier, Ian toured with Jackie Leven in 2005. Here’s a live version of the pair of them doing Exit Wound.

In 2006, Ian was the featured castaway on Desert Island Discs. There are a couple of crossover artists/records from his Six of the Best list above. You can read more about it here. Or give yourself 45 minutes and listen to an edited version of the broadcast below;

Also worth a listen is this wee curio – Tim Burgess of Charlatans fame asked Ian to write him a  short story that could be set to music. The resultant record, A Little Bit Of Powder, was read in spoken word form by actor Craig Parkinson (he plays Tony Wilson in Ian Curtis biopic Control) and given away by Tim to his fans as a Christmas present. Rather frustratingly, the Soundcloud track fades out before the story has finished. Like all good Ian Rankin stories, you’ll need to track down your own copy to find out how it ends. After all, A Little Bit Of Powder is unlikely to be shown on Sleuth TV anytime soon.

Ian Rankin‘s next Rebus novel (the 20th) Saints Of the Shadow Bible is published in November 2013.

You can find out more about Ian Rankin at his official website here.
And you can follow him on Twitter here.
ian rankin bw

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