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It’s Not Unusual

When Tom Jones brought It’s Not Unusual parping and swinging into the 60s, all bold as brass confidence and knicker-dodging hip-shakes, little did anyone know that the record that introduced the lothario from the Valleys to the world was in fact a demo recording. Yes. A demo. Jones was just another struggling singer, one flop single to the good and looking for a break, when he was asked to contribute a guide vocal for what was to be the next Sandie Shaw single. When Shaw heard the demo she immediately passed, claiming that she couldn’t better the vocal on the demo and suggested Jones’ version was released instead. It was, and from it, Jones went on to meet Elvis, catch more knickers than he could dodge and turn a suspicious shade of orange with each passing year. A good career move, you’d have to agree.

Established artists being offered and turning down songs is, if you pardon the pun, not unusual. The opportunity for the songwriter is clear; big artists have big hits and generate big money. Who wouldn’t want a slice of that? The Sheerans and Swifts of this world must be batting them off on an hourly basis. They’ll have layers of management filtering out only the very best of them of course, and if a writer is lucky, maybe their chosen artist will even listen to what they have to offer. Maybe.

Occasionally though, art is more important than commerce. The tectonically-paced Blue Nile have never been motivated by anything as crass as chart position or commercial success. Sure, they’ve had a (brief-ish) taste of both but for the Blue Nile, it’s music as art that’s the important thing. Their four albums stand as perfectly-considered collections in their own right, to be played as a whole from ebbing start to flowing finish, each Linn drum and symphonic sweep, every harmonising horn line and tight ‘n taut Strat part agonised over through hours – years, even – of studio sessions. The lyrics on top are just as precious, delivered as they are by Paul Buchanan’s iconic, laconic yawning drawl, a voice as idiosyncratic and essential as Bowie’s and that’s no lie.

They’re an enigma, the Blue Nile, as insular and secretive as they come, emerging only as and when they have something worth sharing. You might be walking up the Byres Road in Glasgow’s West End and imagine you’ve just passed Paul Buchanan coming out of Fopp or, later on, do a double take at the guy in the QM who looks really like PJ Moore, more grey than you imagined, more facial hair, perhaps….and then realise that it really was two thirds of the Blue Nile that you encountered in the one day. Hidden in plain sight, the Blue Nile have managed to attain the enviable position of maintaining both healthy record sales and anonymity on their hometown streets. What your Sheerans and Swifts wouldn’t give for that…

JJ Gilmour is a great songwriter (and singer, but we’ll come to that shortly.) He shot to prominence as a member of The Silencers, played massive shows in France and Germany where the band were, perhaps unbelievably but no less true, as popular as U2 and Simple Minds, before the downward slide of sales and the inevitable end. Since then, Jinky’s carved out a niche career penning the most beautiful and perfect songs, as melodic and melancholic as McCartney at his peak (and again, that’s no lie) and regularly plays shows that are heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. A career in stand up awaits Jinky should he choose to hang up his guitar, but comedy’s gain would be very much music’s loss.

Jinky’s songs are terrific, equally at home as stripped-back acoustic ballads or full-band blow outs. Melody is the key and Jinky’s songs have it in spades. On his last album, 2017’s Dix, JJ took the decision to record an acoustic album, augmented by occasional strings and complementary piano. Soul baring, naked and raw, it’s an album that would spin nicely at 2am after you’ve gone through the aforementioned Blue Nile’s back catalogue, with the lights low and a glass half empty.

Midway through you’ll find the incredible Glasgow Town.

JJ GilmourGlasgow Town

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Jinky wrote Glasgow Town with Paul Buchanan in mind. You can hear it in the airy space between the notes, the arrangement stripped of superfluousness, the spotlight trained on the voice hanging in the vacuum. It would’ve made a great opener on either of the first two Blue Nile albums, records that are ingrained with the grit of Glasgow’s soul, albums that shimmer within and radiate majestically at the edges.

Jinky’s Glasgow Town does likewise. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to hear him perform it live, you’ll know. Time stops, the air is sucked out of the room and all the focus is on the wee guy stage centre, baring his soul in that wonderfully expressive voice. He’s loved, is Jinky, perhaps even more than that Buchanan fella, although I’m not so sure that he’s fully aware of that.

Through a network of connected friends, Glasgow Town eventually did make it to Paul Buchanan. The story goes, as Jinky heard from one of those mutual friends, that the Blue Nile vocalist, the guy with the voice as idiosyncratic and essential as Bowie’s and that’s no lie, liked it. “That’s perfect as it is,” he was heard to say. “I couldn’t do it any better.” He was right too. If you want to own a version of Glasgow Town, go for the original.

Unlike Tom Jones, Jinky hasn’t gone on to Vegas residencies and knicker-dodging global success, but then, Tom Jones will never write a song as wonderful as Glasgow Town. Who’s the real winner?

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.