Live!

Love In

You may or may not know that I am involved in promoting gigs. Some pals and I do a job of booking acts to play the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, a tiny 100-seater venue that is, humbly, the greatest wee venue in the country. We do this unpaid. We’re volunteers and do it all for the love of bringing music to our town. When we were younger we had the Magnum Leisure Centre. Any band you care to mention played there (Thin Lizzy, The Jam, Chuck Berry, The Smiths, The Clash, Madness….) and we grew up thinking that every teenager in every town had this sort of stuff on their doorstep. For the more clued-in Irvinite, it was quite normal to go to the skating or the swimming and then negotiate the labyrinth of tunnels and squeaky leisure centre corridors within the Magnum in order to sneak into that week’s gig; UB40, perhaps. Or The Human League. Maybe even Spandau Ballet. That smell of Charlie Classique and chlorine – a potent combination.

Magnum gigs eventually spilled outside onto the bit of ‘beach’ next to it. The Radio One Roadshow was a regular attraction. Oasis famously played two spectacular shows one summer weekend in 1995 just as they were about to go stratospheric. The following year saw Bjork, Supergrass, Julian Cope and a raft of others roll into our town and entertain the locals and out of towners who’d packed the trains from Glasgow for the half hour journey to the Ayrshrie coast. Big touring bands turning up in Irvine were as regular as Bruno Brookes’ weekly chart countdown…until Willie Freckleton, the fella who booked all the bands, retired and died and the council left his position unfilled. There’s just no place for culture if there’s a saving to be had.

So we volunteers put on a one-off show. Called Freckfest in Willie’s honour, held in that self-same Magnum and headlined by The Magic Numbers, it led to the council asking if we’d like to programme events once a month in the town’s tiny arts centre. Almost ten years later, here we are, bringing all manner of ‘names’ back to Irvine; Glasvegas… Glenn Tilbrook… Nik Kershaw… BMX Bandits… Alan McGee… all have performed on the wee area we quaintly refer to as ‘the stage’… and all have loved every minute of performing in such a unique space.

Saturday night was a particularly lofty peak in the proceedings. We’d booked Gerry Love, the mild mannered and unassuming ex-bass player with Teenage Fanclub, the best third of a prolific songwriting team, the curator of some of the finest songs written in the last 30 years. Since leaving TFC he’s played at most a handful of shows but, with recording sessions imminent, he was keen to grind the gears into action, and coming through on a promise made to us almost four years ago, he arrived ready for action, a hastily assembled four piece band by his side.

One of the absolute pleasures of putting on gigs is that I am afforded the chance to sit in at soundchecks. Ordinarily pretty dull affairs – ‘Can I have less vocal in my monitor? Can I hear more guitar in mine? A bit more reverb on the snare, thanks...’ – Gerry’s followed a similar pattern, until we got chatting about effects pedals (I know, I know) and he absent-mindedly played the twanging intro to Sparky’s Dream while we talked. As I tried not to make it obvious I was picking my giddy jaw back off the floor, he and his band then fell into a lopsided run through of Bandwagonesque‘s December, its two chord arpeggiated riff triggering 30-year-old Proustian rushes of joy. Slightly under-rehearsed, they debated the length of the ending, flute solos ‘n all, before turning and asking me what I thought. “Stretch it out all the way to January,” I suggested, much to the amusement of the band. My finest moment.

Teenage FanclubDecember

Another beezer follows, with Gerry suggesting they try and sort out the arrangement that opens Don’t Look Back, the wistful mid-paced harmony-fest that helps elevate the Grand Prix LP from being merely great to undeniably outstanding. A couple of false starts led to Gerry – Teenage Fanclub’s bass player, lest we forget – playing the opening guitar riff for the others to fall in behind. Now, Don’t Look Back is a song I’ve heard hundreds of times, dozens of those in concert, but apparently nothing had prepared me for the possibility that it might ring out loud and true in the tiny environs of ‘our’ venue while the band soundchecked to an audience of just me. I won’t say I cried, but, damn! From straight out of nowhere I totally welled up. Don’t Look Back has a great melody welded to its fizzing guitars and as it clattered to a ragged end, I was a wee bit overcome.

Oh man,” I said to Gerry. “I was almost crying there.”

We weren’t that bad, were we?

Au contraire.

The actual gig saw more of the same, Gerry and his band alternating the set between one of Gerry’s stellar TFC songs; Star Sign, Ain’t That Enough, Speed Of Light, Thirteen‘s Hang On (replete with its note-perfect T Rex-inspired intro), bloody Going Places! and some of the tracks that made up his Lightships project from a few (make that ten) years ago; Sweetness In Her Spark, Silver And Gold, Girasol… pastoral and autumnal tracks one and all, the seeds of which were first sown through Gerry’s songs on those later TFC albums.

LightshipsGirasol

It was a wonderful show, Gerry’s band understated and nuanced, playing sympathetically and quietly. For all the impressive backline of Vox and Fender and what that suggested, the show was not at all sore on the ears.

We used to play these radio things in the states, acoustic things they’d be billed,” said Gerry earlier on. “Norman had the full-on beard at the time, so we’d get our mandolins and acoustic gear out and totally look the part, y’know…and all the other bands would turn up with their full electric set-up. No-one could ever hear us. This set-up is electric, but we’re gonna play subtly.” Which, in a ‘Teenage Fanclub Have Lost It‘ kinda way, they more than did.

D’you know those ’70s rock documentaries you see, where hairy guys in bell bottoms are standing behind Marshall stacks, or hanging around the fringes of the stage and you think, ‘Who are these people? Why are they allowed up there?‘ – well, that’s me at HAC gigs, ready to jump in and plug in a pedal or hand someone a misplaced capo, but mainly just standing there with the best view in a house where there isn’t a bad view at all.

I watched intently as Gerry and his band played their quiet storm of chiming electrics and butterflying flutes, Paul Quinn’s tasteful percussion ‘n all, shifting my gaze from band to audience and back again as the dust motes in the HAC air shifted slightly in time to the music. I may also have joined in to enhance proceedings with a Norman-aping vocal harmony or two of my own, much to the displeasure of the guy seated an arm’s length from where I was standing. Ain’t That Enough, he might’ve thought. Glock ‘n roll, I remarked, as the tinkling percussion was lost in the roar of 100 voices showing appreciation for the gig of the year.

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Be Fancy Free To Call The Tune You Sing

moondog

That’s Moondog, the blind composer, poet and inventor of all sorts of weird ‘n wacky instruments. For twenty or so years he lived on the streets of New York, sometimes dressed head to toe in full-on Viking garb, earning himself the title ‘The Viking of 6th Avenue‘. Moondog always composed his musique concrète from the street sounds of daily Big Apple life, turning honking traffic horns and street corner spats into snaking, rhythmic pieces of music. The most cult of cult figures, he makes Yoko Ono come across like Will.I.Am by comparison.

Moondog Do Your Thing:

1978’s H’art Songs featured Do Your Thing, a childish, reedy-vocalled, piano-led baroquish, sunshine piece of pop that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Kinks’ We Are The Village Green Preservation Society LP.

As a one-off curio, it’s a nice wee song. And while I can’t vouch for the rest of Moondog’s output, I suspect it’s perhaps not as accessible as Do Your Thing. One person who might know is Gerry Love, who’s Lightships project first brought Do Your Thing to my attention.

lightships blurred

Lightships Do Your Thing:

Lightships‘ version comes vibrating out of the haze towards you, shimmering softly in the July heat like a frisbee forever floating, edges morphing out of shape under the glare of the midday sun with three chords, double-tracked whispered vocals and a tinkling glockenspiel with its arm wrapped around a twanging guitar for comfort. It calls to mind the hissing of summer lawns, the far-off laughs of children and melted tarmac on the pavement. Your hayfevered eyes and nose might be flowing uncontrollably like a mountain stream but this record will surely cure you. I could listen to it forever.

One of the high points of a ridiculously brilliant project, Gerry Love’s transcendent cover of Do Your Thing first appeared a couple of years ago on the b-side (the b-side!!) of the Sweetness In Her Spark single, tucked away for the ears of only trainspotters and completists. The true sound of summer, now is the time to liberate it.

 

demo, Get This!

Love Songs

It starts slow and understated, and remains so for 15 spine-tingling minutes. Vintage synths hold down eee-long-gated chords as a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar picks out little arpeggios underneath. A wee chiming bit of pitched percussion tinkles away in the foreground, announcing itself like a far-off ice cream van shimmering in the haze. There’s a faint whiff of 1970s BBC library music, of the sort you might hear while the girl played noughts and crosses with the clown as you waited impatiently for something to happen through the arched window. A beautiful wee melodica pops up now and again, backed by the same guitar arpeggios, this time chiming away on a clean electric guitar. Then a polite banjo, picking out that same melody. By the time the flutes flutter in, your world has turned beige and tan and orange, you’ve styled yourself a side parting and the beginnings of a moustache have appeared on your top lip. An Open University degree beckons…

gerard love lightships Gerard Love. Happy to take a back seat when there’s a clarinet around.

Motorhead it ain’t. It’s called All I Have To Do Is Sit And Wait and it’s from a five year old, buried-in-time and long-since forgotten about project of Teenage Fanclub’s Gerard Love. Made to accompany a film about a place called Abbey View, it’s designed to be listened to on the bus from Dunfermline to Abbey View, a journey that takes 18 minutes and 43 seconds, the exact length of the original pice of music. You can find out more about it here. Somehow, I only have it in a slightly edited form, but I’m sure you get the idea. Music for a long summers day, or a short bus journey, if the driver put his foot down a wee bit, or skipped a stop or two, he’d have you in Abbey View before the edited version has faded away.

gerardlove

Of course, this was all a precursor to Love’s excellent Lightships album from last year. It’s just that no-one had really heard it until it sneaked out online for 5 minutes then sneaked itself back in again. Grab it quick.

Above is the aforementioned Lightships doing University Avenue from their Fear And Doubt EP.  Sprung from the same DNA as the above track, with added singing, it‘s a beauty. Stop The Clocks, sings Gerry. Aye, stop the clocks indeed. Sit down, relax, play on repeat. And if you haven’t heard Lightships……………….

lighships fear and doubt ep