Hard-to-find

Somewhat Marrvellous, Somewhat Disappointing

My work today took me to Kilmarnock’s grand old Grand Hall, scene of the Ballroom Blitz and the venue in which during October 2015 Johnny Marr played a one-song soundcheck (The Headmaster Ritual) to an audience of one (me) before playing then signing my trusty old Telecaster and a couple of Smiths records before being joined by his band for the soundcheck proper. I was there today for a multi-agency course, part of which involved networking the room by finding the other lost souls who happened to have the missing parts of the same jigsaw that I’d found on my chair when I arrived. “Snowman?” some fellow room circulator would ask uncomfortably in your general direction. “Sorry, I’m an elf,” was my standard ridiculous reply. Once located, my fellow elves and I were allocated a table and a task, part of which involved telling a story to someone at your table. Given the venue and the fact that the chap next to me had already mentioned Gruff Rhys and Super Furry Animals, I fancied that he’d quite like my Johnny Marr story. As it turns out, he did, especially when I got to the punchline about how he played Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others on my guitar, his silver nail polish twinkling with each open-stringed twang.

There’s a version of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others that appears on the new-ish Queen Is Dead box set. It’s listed as a demo and has all the hallmarks of a band finding their uncertain way with a new tune, but it’s quite spectacular. Johnny’s riff hasn’t quite developed into the full-blown shimmer of the album version, but, much like a moonlit sea in your favourite Mediterranean bay, it sparkles with a lucid quicksilver glisten, 80s chorus pedal effects ‘n all . It’s worth stopping to consider that Johnny was only 22 years ‘old’ when he wrote and recorded it, which brings more than a tear of frustrated disbelief to my eyes every time I think about it. When I was 22 I was still trying to master the bastard F chord. Johnny, of course, would choose to play his F by sticking a capo on the 4th fret and playing the much easier C chord, but how was I to know that back then?

The SmithsSome Girls Are Bigger Than Others (demo)


There’s a general feeling amongst the Smiths community that there was a great opportunity lost with the box set. I have to admit to a creeping sense of disappointment with it. It looks great and it sounds great, which is surely all that really matters, but at the eyewatering retail price (that I happily paid) I can’t help feeling a wee bit let down. I’ve lived with it since October and rather than dive in feet first with a hamfisted and potentially regretable review, I’ve waited this long before making my mind up.

It does look great. Sturdy and big, with the black shadow of the famous album cover looking righteous and regal on the front. (It is The Queen Is Dead, after all). But what was wrong with the original’s iconic racing green colour? Or the inner sleeve artwork? Where’s the Salford Lads Club image? That’s as much a part of Smiths’ heritage as the music itself. The new image, the girl wearing the Hatful Of Hollow t-shirt at the Westminster riots is a cracker. It says more than 1000 words ever could, but it’s a modern image. I get it. I appreciate why it’s there. But to include it at the expense of the original is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Perhaps Stephen Wright, the photographer that day at Salford Lads Club wanted a hefty fee for including his picture. Who knows?

And what about sleevenotes? Most box sets of this gravitas carry an extended essay from one or more of the makers and shakers. The Queen Is Dead has nothing. Smiths geeks such as myself love eeking out new information. When Mike Joyce told me a few months ago about the colour of shirt Morrissey was wearing when he recorded I Know It’s Over, well, stone me! I had to lie down in a darkened room for over 4 minutes. It’s mindless minutae to some but total treasure to me. And I’m far from alone in Smithdom. Where were the pictures of the recording sessions? The Smiths larking about with half-filled tea cups? Andy Rourke making bunny ears behind Morrissey’s untoppable quiff? They just weren’t there. That’s what was disappointing.

And the music? Well, it sounds fantastic. Johnny has done a smashing job remastering it. It’s clean, vivid, shiny and new, which I can say no more about my well-thumbed original. From now on, the new version is my go-to copy. I still have the original, of course, beautifully autographed by the wunderkid guitarist, so it’s not as if it’s going anywhere anytime soon, but I doubt I’ll ever play that particular copy again.

The demo tracks sound fantastic. Compared to the slightly ropey mp3s that circulated a few years ago, these sound like freshly-minted masterpieces. My problem is the lack of demos. There are, if you know where to look, more versions of these tracks out there, the parping Penny Lane by way of Coronation Street take of Frankly, Mr Shankly for starters. It’s by no means an era-defining complete set.

The SmithsFrankly, Mr Shankly (demo)

 

Likewise with the live album. I like the sleeve image of a skewed and wonky Jack Kerouac which, if you squint a bit and use your imagination, looks a wee bit like a morning after the night before Johnny. It would’ve made for a decent budget-priced release in its own right. It’s taken from a late-era Smiths show, with an interesting career-spanning setlist played by a band at the top of their game. It’s good ‘n all, but it sounds kinda flat. It certainly doesn’t have the metallic feral velocity of the Rank album. If you want to hear late-era Smiths in all their volume, stomp and glory, that’s the one for you. And as with Rank, it’s an incomplete show. Maybe the box set includes all of the show that was recorded, but I doubt it. What a missed opportunity!

For the vinyl lover – and there are literally thousands of Smiths fans who bought this boxet – the non-inclusion of the Derek Jarman-filmed Queen Is Dead promo is a glaring miss. There were other opportunities. What about a download code? That’s standard with any vinyl release nowadays. They might even have considered a second live disc of QID-era tracks. There’s that terrific Thank Your Lucky Stars bootleg that does the rounds. It’s sensational. And what about a cleaned-up version of the only ever live take of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others? It’s worthy of inclusion for Morrissey’s extra Carry On Smiths verse alone.

The Smiths  – Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others (live, Brixton Academy, 12.12.86)

Maybe I’m expecting too much. Maybe not. But in an era when anyone from Bon Iver to Bon Jovi can get away with releasing a 10th Anniversary Edition album with all manner of bolted-on goodies, it does look like the people looking after The Smiths sold us short. The gullible fools that we are.

Peel Sessions, Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Mike Joyce

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 25 in a series:

mike-joyce

Mike Joyce is best-known for his time as the drummer in The Smiths. In six short years he provided the uncluttered back beat upon which Johnny Marr’s ringing melodies rang and Morrissey’s unique vocals hiccuped and hollered and swooped and swooned. Between 1982 and 1987 he was part of The Only Band That Mattered, helping to produce a perfect discography that, in this house at least, has been pored over, scrutinised and played back-to-front, upside down and inside-out. I know all The Smiths’ stuff to trainspotter levels of obsession. And I’m far from alone.

Mike’s old band are possibly even more revered nowadays than they were during that brief spell 30 or so years ago. They burned briefly but brightly, blazing a trail for ‘indie’ music and all that followed in its wake. Other bands may have had bigger chart success, or benefited from being on a major label, or had the suss and swagger to look to the future and plan a long-term career, but by the time The Smiths had bowed out with Strangeways, Here We Come, the musical world as I and many others knew it had changed for ever. That they’re still a ‘thing’, that people still walk around in Smiths t-shirts, that RIGHT NOW you could walk into a supermarket and pick up a copy of The Queen Is Dead is testament to their legacy. They’re still, for a growing gang of disciples, The Only Band That Mattered.

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Along with Andy Rourke, Mike created a rhythm section that gave Johnny and Morrissey the space to shine. There’s not one Smiths’ recording where Mike succumbs to any scattergun windmilling Moonisms. He has his moments – there’s the metallic clatter of ‘What She Said’, of course, and there’s a particularly frantic take of ‘London‘ from a Peel Session that can be found online fairly easily, and on the Rank live album, Mike’s drums add a mighty muscle to a band at their peak of live performance. On This Charming Man, Mike and Andy provided a four-to-the-floor Motown backbeat upon which Johnny’s sparkling guitars dazzle, and on some of the early Smiths recordings, Mike’s technical shortcomings are made up for in sheer punk-like enthusiastic energy. Mainly though, Mike’s playing was sympathetic, understated and the perfect framework for his twin foils out front. He was exactly the sort of drummer The Smiths needed. “If Elvis had had Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke in his band,”  Johnny Marr once claimed, “he would have been an even bigger name.”

Like all great bands, in the intervening years there’s been a well-publicised and damaging court case, guest appearances on his former singer’s solo material and a smattering of live performance with his old sparring partner on the bass guitar. Since then, Mike’s played, recorded and toured with a fantastic selection of bands and artists; Sinead O’Connor, Buzzcocks, Julian Cope, Public Image Ltd, PP Arnold and Pete Wylie to name but a few. If I stuck my iPod on shuffle there’s a good chance it would throw up a Mike-related track.

Mike’s also carved out a career for himself as a DJ for hire, either as a stand-in on BBC 6 Music whenever a regular presenter goes on holiday, or on his East Village internet radio show, or in his monthly residency in The Drawing Room in the Didsbury area of Manchester. On March 4th, he’ll be spinning the wheels of steel at The Record Factory on Glasgow’s Byres Road as part of a night that features up-and-coming new bands. If you’re local you should probably go.

It is The Smiths though that everyone really wants to know about. Mike knows it too, and it’s clear after just 20 seconds of conversation with him that Mike is the biggest Smiths fan of all. You can see that in many of the promo shots taken at the time – Mike is rarely snapped without wearing some Smiths t-shirt or other. He talks passionately and fondly about the music, referring to everything the band did as ‘we‘ rather than ‘I‘ . He’s no different to any other Smiths obsessive the world over, except for the four words that appear on the back of every single Smiths record. Mike Joyce – The Drums. It’s undeniable. He was the drummer in The Smiths, The Only Band That Mattered.

I asked Mike about his time in The Smiths and we focused on the six tracks he’s most proud of having played on. Potentially, a Sophie’s Choice Six Of The Best, but here we are…

smiths-84

Right. I’ve given this serious thought and, y’know, it’s an absolutely ridiculous task. I have 3 kids….it’s like asking me to pick my favourite one. I just can’t narrow it down to six. Can I have seven instead?

I’m gonna do this in reverse order. Drum roll, please!

At 6, it’s I Don’t Owe You Anything. I remember playing this at one of our really early gigs, 1983 in Dingwalls. It was a sweltering hot summer’s night. As we played it I began to cry. This had never happened before, or since, but something in Johnny’s playing and Morrissey’s singing- it just sounded so beautiful. I remember thinking, ‘Everything’s coming together.’

The SmithsI Don’t Owe You Anything

Before The Smiths I’d been into punk; The Pistols, Angelic Upstarts, Generation X, early Adam & the Ants, Buzzcocks, of course, so to be playing a song like this or ‘Reel Around The Fountain’ took me right out of my comfort zone. Up until then I had three speeds I played at – fast, faster and fastest, so on this song I learned to really properly play. It was great watching people’s reactions to it. It wasn’t normal for a band like us to play music like this. At gigs, people would clap after songs, sometimes because they were obliged to, or just out of courtesy, but that night in Dingwalls, for the first time people were saying ‘What. The. Fuck. Is. This. ?’

smiths-87

At 5. Death Of A Disco Dancer. The ‘Strangeways’ album was our Sgt Pepper, written in the studio and jam-inspired. When we first played ‘…Disco Dancer’ as a group, it got heavier and heavier. (At this point, not for the last time during our conversation, Mike ‘sings’ the outro down the phone to me.) There was a great spontaneity and communication between us that only comes from playing together. It’s all on ‘Death Of A Disco Dancer’.

The SmithsDeath Of A Disco Dancer

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4. I Know It’s Over. It was unusual for Morrissey to show us any lyrics beforehand. When we heard Smiths’ tracks being played back in the studio, we usually heard them just as you would have heard them for the first time. Morrissey’s vocal performance on I Know It’s Over is perfect. An emotional delivery, he really bared his soul on it.

The SmithsI Know It’s Over

As a lot of singers prefer, the lights were turned off when it came time to record Morrissey’s vocals.  When he was finished, Morrissey came back into the control room. “Well, what do you think?” he asked. There were lots of tears, big swallows, “I’ll be alright in a minute!” kinda stuff. Then lots of hugging. We were our own biggest fans. To create a track like this out of thin air, there’s nothing better. Being in that control room when Morrissey laid down his vocal was like, I dunno, being in the control room when Elvis did his vocals. Seriously! It was that big!

meat-is-murder-lyrics

At 3, it has to be Meat Is Murder. As soon as we had recorded this song, I became a vegetarian. Morrissey’s argument was rock solid. I couldn’t even be that bullish to say, ‘…but I like meat.’ The cruelty involved is reason enough. You wouldn’t eat your cat or your dog, so why eat a sheep or a pig? Whatever Morrissey argued, you could only reply with, “You’re right, you’re right.” There was no counteract to it. It should be illegal, there’s just no argument for it.

The SmithsMeat Is Murder

I really appreciated his conviction with this song. Its emotive. Sincere. Incisive. There’s a moral responsibility for anyone in the public eye to stand up and say it like it is, but it doesn’t happen very often. Meat Is Murder is a sheer political statement. It shaped my life and my kids’ too, who’ve all been brought up vegetarian.

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Next up, How Soon Is Now?

(increduously) Because……….?!? Just fucking listen to it!!

The SmithsHow Soon Is Now?

It’s got such a distinct style. I mean, what style even is it? Listen to any band – UB40 or Jamiroquai or Spandau Ballet or Anti Nowhere League or The Exploited. They all have a sound. They rarely vary from it. They might stick a slow one on the album or whatever, but it’s still their sound that you’ll hear.

When we recorded ‘How Soon Is Now?’ we’d had a few spliffs. We took the bulbs out of the lights and replaced them with red ones. It felt like a darkroom. It felt trippy. It felt like it had never been done before. And the song, woah! We stuck it on the B-side. Geoff Travis said to Johnny, “Stop writing A-sides!”

Playing it live gave us such a buzz. It was a big, big track. I knew that nightly, the crowd were getting right off on it.

smiths-wool-hall

Right. I have one choice left but I have two tracks that must be included here. First equal is Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me. About 8 years ago, we had friends round, Tina and I. We’ve got a CD jukebox in the house and Tina convinced me to put Strangeways… on it. It’s not really the done thing, putting your own music in your jukebox, but anyway, there it was. During dinner the jukebox was playing on random and Last Night… came on. “Is this The Smiths?” asked my friend. We were all listening to it and the atmosphere changed. It was probably the first time I’d actually sat down and listened to it since we’d recorded it. “That’s pretty good!” seemed to be the general concensus.

The SmithsLast Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me

Johnny really was the Brian Jones of the band, not just because of the haircut, or the fact he had a teardrop guitar in the early days, but because he could pick up anything and get a tune out of it. There was a zither that sat on the windowsill of the studio during the Strangeways… sessions. He picked it up one time and played a tune on it, just like that. (That tune was I Won’t Share You, but you knew that already).

We couldn’t afford real strings on the recording so we used an emulator synth. Watching Johnny play the string parts on it was like watching a genius at work. He didn’t seem to learn it anywhere. The music just appeared. He heard things other people couldn’t hear and put it down. No trial and error. He always got it first time. The layering and production on Last Night… is fantastic. There’s some really odd, wonky piano. It’s all out of time. Johnny broke the rules and created a masterpiece.

smiths-hig-promo

And finally, back to the start. I couldn’t discuss my favourite Smiths tracks without mentioning Hand In Glove. This was where it all began. The life-changer. It’s my favourite Smiths track. Certainly the most powerful. Until we’d recorded we’d never properly heard ourselves. I’d only ever heard us from behind the kit in our rehearsal room; over the top of my drums I’d get a bit of Johnny’s guitar, some of Andy’s bass – I was always locked into Johnny ‘cos Andy played tunes within the tunes – and Morrissey’s vocals. I could hear him most of all, but I had no idea what we really sounded like.

The Smiths  – Hand In Glove

When I first heard this back, with the sound balance and the extra guitars, it was truly shocking. I really mean that. I knew we sounded good, but this record was absolutely massive! The importance of it, the effect it had, it was the beginning of everything…..

the-smiths

So there you have it. Mike Joyce’s Six Of The Best. Or should that be Mike’s Magnificent Seven? He’s an engaging chap, is Mike. For someone who rarely does interviews these days – “I’m always being asked to give a quote on the date of some Smiths’ anniversary or other, but really, it’s not me,” he’s full of chat about his time with the band. And for me, from one Smiths fan to another, I’m very grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

housemartins

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

luther-ingram

*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?

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, Live!

Alf Ramsey’s Revenge

‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’ is the sound of The Smiths at their chiming, ha-ha-ho-ho-hollering, twin guitar attack peak. Written, as the band usually did, quickly and as part of a triptych that also included ‘London’ and ‘Half A Person’, it was considered as the follow-up single to ‘Ask’ before being passed over at the last minute in favour of ‘Shoplifters Of the World Unite’, a move regarded as travesty by many Smiths devotees at the time.

The ‘Shoplifters…’ single included both ‘London’ and ‘Half A Person’, the tracks on the b-side connected through the subject matter of moving to London, with the former a noisy glam racket that sticks two fingers up to those who are too spineless to leave and make something of themselves, and the latter a brilliantly put-together melancholic rumination of how just a move can go so wrong – “I went to London and I booked myself in at the YWCA…” The noisy and the melodic, the tragi-comedy of The Smiths on the same record.

  smiths morrissey marr rough trade store room Marr & Morrissey, Rough Trade stockroom, 1983

But the best of the three tracks written in that early October session, ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’ was left alone on the shelf marked ‘Great Smiths Tracks That Would’ve Made Great Smiths Singles’. The band had high quality control values – theirs is a perfectly-formed 4 studio album and 17 single discography, untarnished by stop-gap filler material or substandard releases; the perfect group. Not that there’s anything wrong with ‘Shoplifters…’ – I’m particularly partial to Johnny’s open-wah rockist guitar solo – but better single material than ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’? Nah. They got that one wrong, I think. Even if, as it turns out, Johnny thinks ‘Shoplifters…’ is the better song.

The SmithsYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (The World Won’t Listen mix)

Keen eagle-eared Smiths enthusiasts at sadly-departed Smiths treasure trove Smiths Recycled spotted that the mix on The World Won’t Listen ran a touch too fast, so with the aid of modern technology and whatnot re-pitched the track at the speed it would’ve been playing at when The Smiths recorded it. clever fellas, those guys. Spot the difference…

The SmithsYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (The World Won’t Listen mix – Repitched Version)

The track eventually saw the light of day on ‘The World Won’t Listen’ compilation, the catch-all, semi follow-up to ‘Hatful Of Hollow’ that gathered together all the odds ‘n sods ‘n ‘As ‘n Bs from the 2nd half of The Smiths career. It also appeared in slightly different form (if you turn up the EQ on your Morrissey-endorsed NHS hearing aid, subtle nuances in the mixing can be heard, if you’re that way inclined) on the American compilation ‘Louder Than Bombs’.

The SmithsYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (Louder Than Bombs mix)

Those same Smiths enthusiasts at Smiths Recycled also corrected the pitch on this too…

The SmithsYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (Louder Than Bombs mix – Repitched Version)

smiths gannon 86

The song itself was borne out of in-band fighting and the politics that would eventually lead to Johnny leaving the band. Booked for 5 days in London’s Mayfair Studios, Morrissey was keen for the band to work with upcoming wunderkid producer Stephen Street. Johnny preferred the tried and tested John Porter and in the end a compromise of sorts was agreed – Street would work the first day and Porter would do the other four. To add complication to the mix, 5th Smith Craig Gannon, who’d accompanied the band on their recent US tour but had never really been fully accepted into the group , was only just hanging on to his status in The Smiths by the finest hair on his bequiffed head. History shows that the Porter sessions would be the last time Gannon would work with the band.

Johnny’s tune is a classic Marr composition, tumbling in on a breath of fresh air, packed full of double and triple-tracked guitars as clear and ringing as Edinburgh Crystal, chiming, capo’d and open-stringed arpeggios and stinging counter-melodies, wrapped up and driven by a trampolining bass line and a stomping, Glitter band thud of drums in the chorus. That Johnny still plays it live in concert to this day, something The Smiths themselves never did, is testament to the longevity and beauty of the song.

The title and lyrical refrain is attributed to Rough Trade supremo Geoff Travis who uttered the words at Morrissey after the singer asked him why he wouldn’t treat The Smiths with the importance that their status deserved.  Morrissey had a point – The Smiths almost single-handedly allowed Rough Trade to flourish as a label. All money made from the band went back into other artists, many of whom would never have had a record deal and subsequent success without Rough Trade’s money – the money that came directly from the healthy sales of Smiths’ product. Morrissey was clearly still feeling aggrieved a few months later when he recycled the title as a lyric in ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’, The Smiths’ scathing deconstruction of the music business. It’s possible that, after hearing ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’, and stung by its lyrical content, Travis overruled the band’s decision to release it as a single.

Obviously Geoff was staunchly against it,” said Morrissey, in highly dramatic fashion when quoted in Simon Goddard’s essential ‘Songs That Saved Your Life’. “Because he thought it was a personal letter addressed to him.

A couple of years later, Marr would play on Kirtsy MacColl’s faithful remake of ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’, the original’s multi-tracked guitars replaced by a choir of Kirsties; airy, whispering, cooing and making it something of her own.

Kirsty MacCollYou Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby

It’s all slightly plodding, truth be told, a stodgy, sticky pudding compared to the floating on air joie de vivre that carries the original. That’s by far the best version, of course.

Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Nile Marr

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 24 in a series:

Man Made2

Nile Marr is the guitar player and vocalist in Man Made, one of the UK’s more interesting and most-likely to up-and-coming guitar bands. Arty, skewed and wonky riffs drive insistent, nagging songs about life and living in 2016. Theirs is a considered noise, with a real sense that although the guitars might occasionally veer left of centre, the melody is king. You’re never too far from a ‘woo-oooh‘ or a hookline or a repeating chorus. I think you’d like them.

Man MadeCarsick Cars

Man Made are currently on tour, promoting the imminent release of ‘TV Broke My Brain‘, their eagerly anticipated debut LP.

The record is like the menu….here’s what we do. But live, that’s where the connection is. These songs have been recorded and re-recorded so many times. Every time we play live, the songs take new twists and turns so we book a studio and go back to re-do them. The album is absolutely us at our best….but come and see us live and you’ll get the real thing.

The tour takes in many of the unfashionable corners of the UK (folk with a decent knowledge of lower league football will recognise most of the destinations) before it winds up in Irvine’s tiny but perfect Harbour Arts Centre on the last Tuesday of April. The HAC is a terrific place to catch a band. It’s whites-of-the-eyes small, the ‘stage’ is a space on the floor where local am-dram groups usually do their thang and, despite this, has hosted some of the best-known acts in the country. You should probably go…

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*A wee aside. When I was younger, I remember my dad getting a pair of Adidas Kick and being really annoyed about it as he made mine instantly unwearable, even though I had to wear them as I had no other option. I spent my teens denying my parents’ record collection and being constantly red faced by the fact they’d been a working, gigging folk duo who had somehow famously shared the stage with Billy Connolly. In later years their Bob Dylan LPs would find their way into my record collection (they found them and took them back), and nowadays I’m quite proud of the Billy Connolly connection, but everybody needs to go through the ’embarrassing parents’ stage first, do they not?

Not Nile though. Nile, as you are no doubt aware, has supreme indie rock genes. He learned to play guitar with the help of his dad Johnny, was constantly exposed to decent music as a child, was encouraged to discuss what was being played and grew up with the total support of his cooler-than-cool parents. He lived first in Manchester then moved to Portland when his dad got the call asking him to work with Modest Mouse.

Well, I still see him doing uncool stuff now and again, but can you imagine your dad joining your favourite band?!? I loved Modest Mouse. My dad said that he’d been asked to join them but wasn’t too aware of them. I was like, ‘Are you serious? You’ve gotta go!’. Growing up in the Pacific North West, in Portland, was fantastic. I was transplanted to a whole different music scene populated by musical heavyweights.

I call my time in Portland my ‘Sponge Years’ – y’know that stage in your life when you’re trying to work out your identity and who you are, soaking up all those influences and deciding which ones fit you the best? Portland and its music scene really made me who I am today. 

I developed my work ethic from bands like Fugazi and Modest Mouse. They were based an entire continent away from the music capitals and spent their whole existence booking their own shows, getting in their van and driving thousands of miles, sleeping on floors, taking things into their own hands. Keeping it D.I.Y. and lo-fi is what Man Made is all about.”

Nile goes about his business in Man Made with admirable stubbornness. They follow the Fugazi touring model. They’re vegan. They don’t drink. Theirs is a totally immersed-in-the-band way of life. “It would be nice now and again to maybe spend a night in a Travelodge or wherever, but doing that probably takes us away from places we’d otherwise play. It’s pretty great being on tour.

His one concession to glitz is his famous gold jacket. “It belonged to a fashion student friend of mine, and she was going to cut it up. I wore it to the support show I was playing that night, just myself and my acoustic guitar, and every single person that came into the venue noticed me before anything else. People now identify with it. I played a show recently in my ‘civilian clothes’ but it didn’t feel right. I need to dress up for the stage. I always said I’d wear the gold jacket until I’d made my point. I’ve retired it now. I have something else…

 

Growing up in such interesting circumstances has certainly helped shape Nile’s musical influences. “I’ve seen photos of myself when I was very young, interacting with vinyl, holding it, looking at the sleeve or whatever, but the 1st record I truly owned was Bob Dylan’s ‘Desire’. I played it constantly. There’s such a richness of story telling there. My dad’s music and the records he played certainly gave me a framework of musical references. But I also like the fact I turn my Dad on to certain things – Modest Mouse, for example – and he’d never played a Fender Mustang guitar until he’d seen mine…. (Johnny playing Nile’s Mustangs led him on to the Jaguar, now of course his guitar of choice.)

Most of my favourite bands are from the USA. It’s a really difficult choice to pick just 6 records, but if forced to, these are the six that I identify with the most…

As Nile runs through a very considered list, it strikes me that while I’m familiar with all the bands on here, there are only 2 tracks I’ve actually heard. “Well, you’re in for a right treat this afternoon,” he replies. And so are you…

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Modest MouseDramamine

For the first song on your first album, you’re putting yourself out there with a real statement of intent – “This is us and this is where we come from.” I miss being in America; the culture, the people, the scenery when you’re on those long drives. Hearing someone sing about that part of the world makes me feel like I’m there.

Interestingly, the album in question is called ‘This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About‘. But you probably knew that already.

Broken Social SceneAnthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl

Broken Social Scene mean so much to me. Talk about records that change your life?!? Wow! I’d never heard anything like Broken Social Scene. Musically and melodically I’m just trying my best to do what they do. Making art in your head and have it come out the way you intended it to – everything I ever wanted to do melodically is in this song. One day…one day, I’ll write a song as good as this.

Bikini KillIn Accordance To Natural Law

This song is 30 seconds long but it’s one of the best songs ever. You can say everything you need to say, do everything you need to do in 30 seconds. Anything shorter is just silly. What’s amazing is that this is a fully-formed song. It’s so bad badass – girls are way harder than the boys. They do this stuff waaaaaay better than boys ever could. The first time I heard this song, it made me cry. I just couldn’t believe what I’d heard.

B52s52 Girls

This is on their first album, the one with the yellow cover. ’52 Girls’ is punk rock, but weird punk rock. Art rock. That’s what I want to do. I’m not an angry punk. I like weird. As a guitar record, this is fantastic.

FugaziSlo Crostic

This is an instrumental. It’s all about the guitars. It came out of a live jam. It says so much musically about where I want to go; the weaving guitars, politically how they conduct themselves, no alcohol. There can be a real pressure to conform to that lad-sh, drinking culture. The band who don’t drink but are better than anyone else who does. Fugazi are the kings!

Yeah Yeah Yeahs10 x 10

Nick Zinner is the best example of a modern guitar player. There’s no flash.There are no cliches. No rock poses. He’s the most unrockist guitar player around, yet Yeah Yeah Yeahs totally rock. The whole EP this track is from (Is Is) is so guitar heavy. They’re a real important band.

So there you have it – 6 tracks of modern American punk that shaped Nile Marr into the musician he is today. Listen to Man Made’s album (out at the end of April to avoid the Record Store Day “consumer-fest“around its originally-planned release), and you’ll spot all these references plus, with the occasional chiming guitar and lightly fuzzed two string riff, the odd tip of the hat to the old man.

man made tour poster

You can catch Man Made (and check out Nile’s new stage wear) on April 26th when they wind up their tour with the only west of Scotland date at the excellent Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine. Tickets can be purchased here. I’ll see you down the front.

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, demo, Double Nugget, Dylanish, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Most downloaded tracks, Sampled, Six Of The Best

We Are 9

Somehow, some way, Plain Or Pan has turned 9. Or, to be more accurate, is just about to turn 9. But at this time of year, when you can never be entirely sure if it’s Sunday morning or Thursday night and inspiration goes out the window along with routine and work ethic, it’s tradition that I fill the gap between Christmas and Hogmany with a potted ‘Best Of‘ the year compilation, so I’ve always made this period in time the unofficial birthday for the blog.

i am nine

Not that anyone but myself should care really; blogs come and go with alarming regularity and I’ve steadfastly refused to move with the times (no new acts here, no cutting edge hep cats who’ll be tomorrow’s chip paper, just tried ‘n tested old stuff that you may or may not have heard before – Outdated Music For Outdated People, as the tagline goes.) But it’s something of a personal achievement that I continue to fire my wee articles of trivia and metaphorical mirth out into the ether, and even more remarkable that people from all corners of the globe take the time out to visit the blog and read them. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, one and all.

Since starting Plain Or Pan in January 2007, the articles have become less frequent but more wordy – I may have fired out a million alliterative paragraphs in the first year, whereas nowadays I have less time to write stuff and when I do, it takes me three times as long to write it. To use an analogy, I used to be The Ramones, (1! 2! 3! 4! Go!) but I’ve gradually turned into Radiohead; (Hmmm, ehmm, scratch my arse…) Without intending it, there are longer gaps between ‘albums’ and I’ve become more serious about my ‘art’. Maybe it’s time to get back to writing the short, sharp stuff again. Maybe I’ll find the time. Probably I won’t.

The past 9 years have allowed me the chance to interview people who I never would’ve got close to without the flimsy excuse that I was writing a blog that attracted in excess of 1000 visitors a day (at one time it was, but I suspect Google’s analytics may well have been a bit iffy.) Nowadays, it’s nowhere near that, but I still enthusiastically trot out the same old line when trying to land a big name to feature. Through Plain Or Pan I’ve met (physically, electronically or both) all manner of interesting musical and literary favourites; Sandie Shaw, Johnny Marr, Ian Rankin, Gerry Love, the odd Super Furry Animal. Quite amazing when I stop to think about it. You should see the list of those who’ve said they’ll contribute then haven’t. I won’t name them, but there are one or two who would’ve made great Six Of the Best articles. I’m not Mojo, though, so what can I expect?

pop9

A quick trawl through my own analytics spat out the Top 24 downloaded/played tracks on the blog this year, two for each month:

  1. Michael MarraGreen Grow the Rashes
  2. Wallace CollectionDaydream
  3. Jacqueline TaiebSept Heures du Matin
  4. The TemptationsMessage From A Black Man
  5. New OrderTrue Faith
  6. Bobby ParkerWatch Your Step
  7. Jim FordI’m Gonna Make Her Love Me
  8. DorisYou Never Come Closer
  9. Ela OrleansDead Floor
  10. Mac De MarcoOde To Viceroy
  11. Teenage FanclubGod Knows It’s True
  12. Iggy PopNightclubbing
  13. George HarrisonWah Wah
  14. MagazineThank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again
  15. Future Sound Of LondonPapua New Guinea
  16. Bob DylanSad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands (mono version)
  17. Richard BerryLouie Louie
  18. REMRadio Free Europe (HibTone version)
  19. The CribsWe Share The Same Skies
  20. Johnny MarrThe Messenger
  21. McAlmont & ButlerSpeed
  22. Talking HeadsI Zimbra (12″ version)
  23. Style CouncilSpeak Like A Child
  24. Darlene LoveJohnny (Please Come Home)

And there you have it – the regular mix of covers, curios and forgotten influential classics, the perfect potted version of what Plain Or Pan is all about. A good producer would’ve made the tracklist flow a bit better. I just took it as I came to them; two from January followed by two from February followed by two from etc etc blah blah blah. You can download it from here.

See you in the new year. First up, Rufus Wainwright. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

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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