Gone but not forgotten

Music, eh? Bloody Hell.

There you are on the commute home, not really aware that you’ve somehow arrived at Kilwinning town centre…..red light, clutch in, brake, drop the gears, stop….when True Faith pops up on the radio and you find yourself in tears, a trickle at first then quickly a torrent, willing the pedestrians to not look in your direction as they busy themselves across the zebra crossing. It’s the bang and crash of the intro, where the mind’s eye replays those two clowns who slap one another silly in the video that triggers it. I feel so extraordinary, sings Barney. I feel overwhelmed. I drive home in a daze. Music is a powerful thing.

I had Power, Corruption and Lies playing earlier, New Order‘s essential second album, and such is the way it’s wrapped up in epoch and emotion, I listened to the entirety of it whilst thinking about two pals who are no longer here. From different social circles, Mark and Derek‘s paths crossed on the odd occasion, and while they’d have a pint and a catch up if we somehow found ourselves part of the same group in the pub, they weren’t friends in the real sense of the word. I’d grown up with Mark from the age of 3 or 4 and in later years we’d sit together watching the football at Kilmarnock. He moved with his work to London around the time I started mastering the plank of wood I had the cheek to call an electric guitar, and by the time I’d started playing in bands, I’d met Derek. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, my football world has never really collided with my music world.

New OrderAge Of Consent

I remember Mark buying the album on cassette from John Menzies on the strength of the fact it was the parent album to Blue Monday, a record that was on perma-spin on every record player in our world. He was a bit put out because the band, not for the last time, had left the big hit off of the album.

As it played for the first time, the two of us listened and reacted with differing views. Despite the opening rush of Age Of Consent, all signature Hook bassline, keyboard swells and asthmatic lead guitar, Mark found it an underwhelming listen.

Listening earlier on today I was thinking about this, remembering him perched on the edge of his bed, his autograph of Killie’s John Bourke stuck to the headboard but curled at the corners where the Sellotape had stopped, me on an ancient Star Wars bean bag, both of us with eyes to the floor in studied concentration as Age Of Consent rattled out of the speakers that were attached to his midi hi-fi. By the second verse I was converted. Mark less so.

You’re hard to please,” I told him. “This is magic!” I distinctly remember the screwed-up ‘but it’s not Blue Monday‘ face he offered by way of reply. He liked second track We All Stand even less. “Barney can’t sing,” he pointed out, stating the obvious. “If this was a record I’d have lifted the needle by now.”

As the tape made its way to the end of the first side, Mark began flicking through his records with a face only someone who thinks they’ve wasted their last £3.99 can make. Alighting on his chosen mood lightener, You’ve Got The Power by Win signalled the end of our New Order listening session. Had he flipped the tape over there and then I like to think he’d have been stopped in his tracks by the beauty of Your Silent Face but it wasn’t to be.

New OrderYour Silent Face

 

I’m not sure he ever got to the second side, to be honest. He loved New Order though, did Mark, but he was always more of a True Faith kinda guy.

Derek, on the other hand, loved Age Of Consent. It was, as he was quick to offer, should you bring it up, the first track from the first New Order album where they broke free of the straightjacket they’d cul-de-sac’d themselves into for Movement, the first truly great New Order record, the album where New Order discovered who they really were and unwittingly invented what would come to be termed (ugh) indie dance.

When Age Of Consent was playing earlier, my first thought wasn’t of Mark’s bedroom in 1986 but of Kilmarnock’s Shabby Road rehearsal rooms in 1991. Our band rehearsed there and on the odd occasion when we were waiting for everyone to arrive, Derek would jump on the drums and offer up the only thing he could just about play, a stiff-limbed and stilted grinned thrashing beat, coloured by 100 mile an hour hi-hat action, denim jackets and wild, untamed shoulder-length hair.

As it dawned quite spectacularly on me for the first time today, he was (almost) playing the frantic hi-hat ‘n snare combination from Age Of Consent. He’d get 25 seconds or so in before he’d start losing time or drop a stick (or both), but how I’ve never noticed it until now, I’ll never know. It’s playing as I write, and I’m suddenly right back there in that room, peeking out from under my collapsed quiff/beginnings of a bowl cut (this was, after all, post-Smiths and peak-Roses) grappling with my shitty guitar tuner, getting ready for the only night of the week that truly mattered. Honestly, Del, we might’ve taken the piss, but you weren’t that bad at it after all.

As for Your Silent Face, that was played recently at Derek’s funeral. Melancholic, uplifting, stately and imperial, it’ll never be bettered. It’s such a powerful record and I’m not ashamed to say my chest caves in and I collapse a little whenever I hear it. I love that music as powerful and meaningful as this can catch you unexpectedly as you shift through the gears on the bike or wrestle with a burst bin bag or search in vain for Lazy Garlic in Morrison’s, but when it gets you, it’s got you. To paraphrase Alex Ferguson, music, eh? Bloody hell.

Hard-to-find

The Temptations

Temptation by New Order is a steam-powered, clattering industrial racket, the result of maverick programming and experimentation from a band keen to break free from their previous sound and take on a brave new direction.

Coming a year after a debut album that the band struggled to like – Bernard Sumner in particular hated its unavoidable debt to Joy Division, Temptation plugged the gap between the propulsive Everything’s Gone Green and the ubiquitous Blue Monday. Like all the great bands, New Order were (are?) great at releasing stand-alone singles; bold statements of intent and hints to future direction, and made sure Temptation was seen as such. It’s the perfect marker, taking the cold, robotic greyisms of the Movement album and dressing them up in learn-as-you-go proto sequencers and asthmatic guitars that wheeze and rattle away like Nile Rodgers had he lived in a Whalley Range bedsit.

Incredibly, the two versions that make up the 7″ and 12″ releases were recorded in one 15 minute take. On the longer version, the band crash in as if they’ve really hit the ground running, a multi-layered palette of pulsing sequencers, Peter Hook’s signature bass-as-lead and those ‘woo-oo-oo-ah-oo‘ vocals, a notion which only makes sense once you know that the 7″ edit fades at the same point the 12″ begins. Of the session, the first 5 or so minutes were given over to the 7″ version, the track that would secure enough radio play to get New Order inside the top 30, and the rest (just shy of 9 minutes) was where the band allowed themselves to fly. Cue both tracks up and see for yourself;

New OrderTemptation (7″ version)

New OrderTemptation (12″ version)

See?!?

The 12″ version is notable for the wee yelp that Barney lets out just off-mike as the track limbers its way into its free-form groove, the result of a snowball being shoved down the back of his shirt by an errant band mate as he prepares to sing and drive his band forward from the constraints of the past into a technology-inspired future. As the snowball works its way down Barney’s back he mixes up a few of those ‘green eyes, blue eyes, grey eyes‘ lines but recovers in time before anyone save the most trainspottery of listeners has noticed. I first picked up on that wee slip way back when while trying to unbend the corner of the beautiful Peter Saville-designed sleeve, bashed and bent from being hidden in my school bag to avoid the disapproving eyes of my mum who lectured me regularly on the evils of spending all my paper round money on records.

Temptation is a track New Order hold dear. Not only does it have the honour of being their most-played live track, the band would go on to re-record it on at least two further occassions. The most popular version of Temptation is arguably the one that graces Substance, the collection famously commisioned by Tony Wilson as he wanted all the New Order singles in the one place for listening to in his car.

New OrderTemptation (’87 version)

Blue eyes, green eyes, grey eyes. Photo by Kevin Cummins

 

Not remixed from the original, but recorded as a brand new track 5 years after the original, it’s a big, bold, pop record, sunshine-bright with a spring in its step and as far removed from the original as Salford is from the Seychelles. Does it lack something because of this? Soul, perhaps? Or the mis-placed wonky, seat of the pants programmed percussion? Maybe, but the Substance version of Temptation is the glossy sound of a band finally free from its monochrome past and confident in its own skin. They’d record the evergreen True Faith around this time, the melancholy-drenched beauty that went a long way to cementing New Order’s status as one of our greatest bands. Temptation though….give in to it. It’s a cracker.

 

 

Hard-to-find

Random Order

New Order. One of the truly great bands of the last 35 (!) years. That’s undisputed fact, but you know that already. Theirs is a history you’ll be well familiar with; the untimely death of a key member forcing their metamorphosis from the finest industrial grey post-punk act to a technicolour pop explosion, albeit with a heavy hint of the shading of yore.

new-order

If you can ignore the sad pantomime of claims and accusations that’s become synonymous with their brand over the past few years, and put up with some of the sub-par material they’ve put their name to in that time – due to the availability of illegal downloads, Waiting For The Siren’s Call was the first New Order album I didn’t buy on the day of release. It was a right clunker before it was even in the shops to buy and it’s still a right clunker now. Their most recent, last year’s Music Complete was a fine return to the heady rush of Technique and a sun-kissed late 80s Ibiza, so, y’know, you take the good with the not so good. Every band who’s been at it for this long are allowed the odd dip in form, are they not? Despite this, I’d wager that New Order are probably one of your favourite bands.

New Order, NYC 1981

Hidden at the back of their sparkling discography is 1981’s second single Procession. It popped up via the lottery of the iPod shuffle on the commute to work the other day, and it’s subsequently become my latest musical obsession. My play counts (I know, I know) currently show I’ve listened to it 14 times since Tuesday. It’s playing as I type and it’s likely to cross the 20 plays threshold before this piece is published. I’m still not fed up of it.

Ask a casual New Order fan to list their favourite tracks and it’s unlikely Procession would be one that makes the list, yet it’s beautiful and otherworldly, strange and obscure, soulful and hypnotic, arty, pretentious and in short, everything that makes New Order so unique.

New OrderProcession

new-order-bernard-81

It‘s the record that sees the band peek through the outer shell of the Joy Divsion cocoon, almost but not quite ready to fly as New Order. Bernard still has the Curtis-apeing vocals (and image – see above), all character-free one liners (in itself character) which he tries his best to sing from somewhere below his knees, but the band soars. Driven by Hook’s instantly-recognisable trademark bassline, it’s awash with synths, electronically-enhanced drums and a wheezing, clattering guitar that verges on the point of being in tune. The magic touch though is Gillian Gilbert’s call-and-response vocals in the ‘chorus’, the sweet yin to Bernard’s morose yang. It works a treat – one of New Order’s finest compositions.

Taken from the excellent Factory Records – Complete Graphic Album

In true band style, Procession never made it onto any New Order album at the time, such was the high standard bands like this set for themselves in those days. Procession was released in a multitude of sleeves (9 differently-coloured ones – collect ’em all, Factory fetishists) featuring some beautiful Italian Futurist artwork on the cover. New Order and Futurism, the perfect partners.

 

 

 

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, Get This!, Hard-to-find

The Great British Take-Off

Augustus Pablo is perhaps to the melodica what Les Paul was to the electric guitar. Until Augustus, reggae was all about the boom of the bass and the pistol crack of the snare. Pablo took his melodica and made it central to the dub reggae records he played on, fighting for ear space amongst the booms and the pistol cracks, the bringer of other-worldly melody in an already expansive soundscape. Dub reggae is proper long-form music. It’s widescreen, epic and simply massive to listen to. But you knew that already.


When Augustus Pablo teamed up with dub pioneer King Tubby, the results were dynamite. Their ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’ takes the easy flowing lovers’ rock of Jacob Miller‘s ‘Baby I Love You So‘…..

Jacob MillerBaby I Love You So

…..and sends it into outer space with a heady treatment of clatters, bangs, melodi-ka-ka-ka-echos and all manner of sonic enhancements…..

Augustus Pablo/King TubbyKing Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown

It‘s a very influential record. If you know your musical onions, you’ll spot traces of the production in all manner of records, from Massive Attack and St Etienne to New Order and Primal Scream. Would New Order’s ‘In A Lonely Place’ be the record it was if Martin Hannett hadn’t turned to his inner King Tubby for inspiration; Other-worldly? Yep. Claustrophobic and menacing? Yep. Liberal sprinklings of melodica? Yep, yep and yep. It’s dub, man! A rainy, grey, 80s Mancunian, British take on dub, but dub nonetheless.

New Order In A Lonely Place


Primal Scream currently have a very good (and very limited) 12″ on release featuring a dark ‘n dubby remixed take on their own 100% Or Nothing which stretches towards the 10 minute mark, cramming in as many booms, bleeps, skank-filled echoing guitars and, yes, melodica as possible. Somewhere between New Order’s In A Lonely Place and King Tubby’s dub-in-a-cave production, with half-inched vocal refrains from Funkadelic’s One Nation Under A Groove, it’s very good. Echo Dek part II, even. Forever with his finger on the pulse of what’s hot and what’s not, Adam over at the ever-wonderful Bagging Area featured it last week.

In the early-mid 90s, Paul Weller was fond of adding tripped-out, elongated versions of the a-side or even his lesser-known album tracks to his singles. Remixed and re-tweaked almost exclusively by Brendan Lynch, they could usually be relied upon to be the best thing on the single. The Lynch Mob version of debut album track Kosmos is fantastic. Clearly influenced by King Tubby, Lee Perry and all those other progressive-thinking sonic architects, it’s waaaay out there. We have lift off!, to borrow the sample at the start.

Paul WellerKosmos (Lynch Mob Bonus Beats version)

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but it’s best listened to whilst you drive on the M8 on a hazy summer’s evening, just as the sun is setting and an aeroplane is taking off from Glasgow Airport, vapour trails shimmering in the mid-July heat, a stroke of luck that befell me once after dropping folk off at the airport.

le-mod-ica

Anyway, back to Baby I Love You So. Back in 1986, when alternative acts were trying to keep up with the rockist jangle of The Smiths or creating their own heavy, heavy monster sound of goth, 4AD act Colourbox released a very good version.

ColourboxBaby I Love You So

Replacing the melodica with electric guitars may have ‘indied’ it up a bit, but it loses none of its heavy dub or pulsing groove as a result. It’s a genuinely faithful version, replete with sonic wizardry and skanking galore. It’s also a tricky one to track down online, but here‘s the 7″ version, above, and the extended 12″ version below.

ColourboxBaby I Love You So (12″ version)


Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Hook Lines

Majestic, magnificent, mid-80’s New Order. Is there anything better?

new order kev c13 ½ of New Order by Kevin Cummins 

Long before the running of the Hacienda that seemed to take priority over the music and the inter-band fights that ultimately led to their sorry downfall, the band were imperial. Their 3rd album, 1985’s ‘Low-Life‘, tracing paper sleeve ‘n all, is a high point in a full-fat discography choc-full of high points. It’s the album where post-punk morphed into dance rock – stadium house for floppy fringes and German Army surplus, if you like.

Side 1 closer ‘Sunrise‘ is New Order’s collected output in miniature; the elegant minor key keyboard swells in the intro giving way to one of those Peter Hook basslines that you kinda just always took for granted – fluid and high up the frets, and dripping with liquid quicksilver from the fingers of the Viking alchemist. It’s window cleaner-whistleable and never lets up the entirety of the song.

hooky kev cHooky by Kevin Cummins. Of course.

New OrderSunrise

Barney’s guitar is forever on the verge of being out of tune, playing a demented take on a Spaghetti Western twang, fizzing and wheezing its way through the song between vocal lines, crashing to a frantically-strummed crescendo somewhere around the 6 minute mark when the ‘F’-shaped chords rattle out like Nile Rodgers fronting the Buzzcocks. Even his vocals, never his strong point, let’s be honest, hang on in there, straining at the high notes before being drowned out by his furious strumming.

It’s a beauty.

Peter HookHeads down, no nonsense.

Even more of a beauty is last year’s homage to Anthony Wilson, St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson. The brainchild of Manchester poet Mike Garry who’d performed the poem, beat poet-style in Manchester’s hipper venues, it was offered to a local composer who added large elements of New Order’s ‘Your Silent Face‘ to the spoken-word track, creating a gorgeous, lush, string-laden track that runs an alliterative A-Z of all that makes Manchester great.

The Arndale…Acid House…Bez, The Buzzcocks, The Bouncing Bomb, The beautiful Busby Babes…. Curtis, Cancer, Crack…. Dance, Design, Durutti, Devoto… I could list it all, but it’s better to just listen to it and soak it all up for yourself.

St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson (Andrew Weatherall mix)

anthony h wilsonSaint Anthony himself

When it came out last August I was totally obsessed by it. Although the original version is the one I heard first, the Weatherall remix is a 9 minute monster. Motorik, relentless and repetitive, it’s the one you want to hear first.

Treat yourself to the vinyl or CD here. Go on!

New OrderYour Silent Face

*Footnote!

I’m no audiophile, but when the New Order back catalogue was re-released by Warners a few years ago, there was a huge outcry over the shoddy mastering of the music. For a band steeped in technology and futuresound, the music on the discs was tinny, weak and flimsy when compared to the original vinyl. My LP is currently spinning as I type and I can attest to this. Don’t let that put you off though – if you like the 2 New Order tracks featured here and are hearing them for the first time, just imagine how terrific they sound when played on the right format. In fact, you should probably pop down to your local record shop (every town has one nowadays) and buy them.

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!