Gone but not forgotten, Live!

Magnum Opus

The grand old Magnum Leisure Centre in Irvine is being pulled down as I type. Local politics and whatnot has seen the building fall gradually into disrepair, an eyesore too far gone for a quick cash injection and 60 minute makeover. They’ve opened a spanking new place in the town centre. It’s impressive ‘n all that, but like for like, it doesn’t come close to what the Magnum offered.

A fixture on Irvine beach since 1976, the Magnum played a formative part in most Irvinites’ growing up. Beyond Irvine, it was known as the place where you were bussed on a school trip; to swim, to skate, to watch the latest blockbuster in its plush 300-seater theatre. If you were that awkward age between being too old to stay in on a weekend night but too young for the pub, the Magnum was your saviour. There’s no-one I know who didn’t go there. Even oor ain Nicola Sturgeon mentioned it on her Desert Island Discs, recalling Frosty’s Ice Disco skating sessions with a misty-eyed fondness.

The Magnum had something for everyone. The Scottish Indoor Bowls championships were held there. Every pedigree dog in the country was shown there at some point. Girls and boys danced at regional shows. Gymnasts tumbled and twirled and twisted their way around the main hall. 80s fitness freaks squashed while the half-hearted badmintoned. All manner of variety shows were held there and crucially, all manner of big, proper, touring bands poured through the doors as quickly as they could be accomodated.

Irvine in the 1980s was a popular place for all your favourite bands to play; The Clash, The Jam, Big Country, Thin Lizzy, Chuck Berry, The Smiths, The Wonderstuff, Madness….. the list is endless, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Willie Freckleton, the local Entertainments Officer who offered up what was at the time the largest indoor concert hall in Europe to the promoters and band managers who deigned which towns were important enough to play. Willie offered the hall rent free, which proved to be the clinching factor most of the time. Amazingly, most of the bands would include Glasgow and Irvine as part of the same tour, something that, since the building of the Hydro on Glasgow’s Clydeside is now unthinkable.

The SmithsBigmouth Strikes Again (live at the Magnum, Sept 22nd 1985)

I believe this was the first time Bigmouth was played live.

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There are a multitude of stories connected to the Magnum, from local folk who were so familiar with the warren of corridors and passageways in the changing areas that they could sneak from the ice disco into the UB40 gig without paying, or the young fans who found themselves receiving mohawks from Clash roadie Kosmo Vinyl after they’d played a terrific London Calling-era ‘Greatest Hits’ gig, not that The Clash ‘did’ greatest hits, but you know what I mean.

I remember the day The Jam came to town. Too young for the show (I didn’t even know it was on) I happened to be at the front of my house as scooter after scooter after scooter buzzed past on their way from Glasgow to the Magnum. A multitude of mirrors, parkas and girls riding pillion, it was just about the most impressive thing I’d seen at that point in my life, something only equalled when I saw The Clash in Irvine Mall on the day of their Magnum show. Four alien-looking guys in denim and leather and black shades, surrounded by a scrum of older folk I recognised from the years above at school. “It’s The Fucking Clash!!!” is what I remember hearing, even if I was unaware exactly who The Fucking Clash were at that point in my life.

Spandau Ballet, photo by Ross Mackenzie

Thrillingly, Ross has snapped loads of bands at the Magnum.

Sadly, this is all he could find!

Willie Feckleton once told me a great story about booking Chuck Berry, his idol and the musician he was most thrilled at having landed to play in Irvine. Chuck, a musical giant who was right there alongside Ike Turner at the birth of rock ‘n roll, a man who is responsible for fashioning the DNA of the rock guitar riff was, by all accounts a thoroughly unpleasant human being. In Irvine he wouldn’t play until he’d first been handed his fee (paid in American dollars, of course) in a brown paper bag in the dressing room before going on stage.

The anonymous support band was also Chuck’s backing group and when Chuck eventually came on he played on about only six songs. He let the other guitarist take most of the solos, looked super-bored throughout and disappeared offstage fairly quickly.”

 

Coming off after the set Willie approached Chuck enthusiastically. “That was great Chuck! They love you out there! How about an encore?

 

Sure,” drawled Chuck with his hands out. “Fo’ anutha’ five hun’red dollas…

 

There was no encore.

It’s stories like those above that live long after the artist has left town and the gig is nothing more than a pre-smartphone blur of exaggerations and half-truths. Did Morrissey really dance with Brian McCourt’s umbrella when The Smiths played? Did Phil Lynott really nip up to George the Barber at the Cross for a quick trim of the ‘fro, mid tour with Thin Lizzy? Who can be certain if they did or didn’t? For cultural and economical terms, it’s a real shame that Irvine no longer has a venue that can be used to entice the big acts of the day to come and play and create memories for our young (and not so young) folk.

These bricks rang!

Get This!, Hard-to-find

Giant Steps For Mankind

Riding a bike at top speed and slightly out of control was the greatest thrill as a youngster, the first truly independent feeling you could experience. In 1977, the Sillars Meadow speedway was where you’d mostly find me, gripping the handlebars of my Puch Mini Sprint with white knuckles, hayfevered eyes focused on the snaking path ahead, tearing into the blind corners with carefree abandon, hoping to avoid Mrs Robertson, her Thatcher do and her yappy dog on the tightest part where the path narrowed into one ‘lane’ –  a particularly tricky bit. There was always a bit of a competition to see who could get round the speedway the fastest. Three things helped; Mrs Robertson not being there, having absolutely no fear and sticking half a fag packet into the spokes. Ratta-ratta-ratta! it went, adding at least 0.5 mph to the top speed of your bike. That ratta-ratta-ratta sound was something that would make a continual, welcome and comforting appearance throughout my life.

boys-on-bikes-1970s

This June (16th, to be exact) sees the 30th (30th!!!) anniversary of The Queen Is Dead. There will no doubt be many reappraisals and celebrations for TQID nearer the time. I for one will no doubt change my Facebook profile pic to that of the LP cover signed by Johnny Marr. Did I ever tell you I met Johnny? I’m sure I mentioned it in passing somewhere. Hovering over the Salford Lads Club picture with my sharpie he tutted and said, “I never liked myself in that picture…I look better now than I did then…“, flipped the cover shut and signed across the iconic image of the horizontal Alain Delon. It looks as beautiful as the album sounds.

Anyway, on that very same day (16th June 1986) another landmark LP was released. It’s likely little fanfare will be blasted in its honour, but in my house at least, a wee portion of the day will be given over to it.

The_Woodentops_-_Giant

The WoodentopsGiant was, and still is, a terrific-sounding album. Played expertly with loose limbs and rubber wrists, it’s a giddy 100mph rush from start to finish, a downhill-without-the-brakes-on blur of ferociously-scrubbed acoustic guitars, proto dance rhythms and hypnotic, skittering drums. Ratta-ratta-ratta they go. Except for on the really fast ones, when  they sound like someone’s dropped a box of steel marbles across a kitchen floor. These days I cycle to the metronomic rhythms of Underworld and their ilk, soundtracking my journeys as I pedal along the highways and byways of the west of Scotland’s cycle paths, but had the technology been available in the 1970’s, I’d have been soundtracking and breaking world records on the Sillars Meadow speedway to the frantic clatter of The Woodentops.

The WoodentopsGet It On

The WoodentopsShout

The WoodentopsEverything Breaks

 

Loved by Morrissey, and ergo by the indie crowd, their tunes were later adopted by the Ibiza faithful, where DJs with eclectic taste would seamlessly mix them into their playlists with carefree abandon. A few short years later, every band within half a mile of a wah-wah pedal and a 2nd hand copy of James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer‘ were claiming they’d always had a dance element to their music, but for The pioneering Woodentops, there was no pretence.

woodentops

Their music is marvellous stuff and none of it has aged in the slightest. Giant is an album I always come back to. Maybe not that regularly any more, but at least once a year it’ll come out and get stuck on. And while it plays I do that rarest of things. I sit and listen. I don’t get the iron out or watch a soundless telly. I don’t flick through Mojo with half an ear on the music and half an eye on the crossword. I sit in the stripey chair and listen. It’s an extremely hard thing to do. Half All the tracks are super-percussive, highly danceable and totally singalongable. If you’ve never had the pleasure of the album, or any of the rest of the band’s stellar back catalogue, it’s never too late to get on board. You can find most of it in all the usual places, I’m sure.

The Woodentops are playing a few celebratory gigs around the date to mark the occasion. Having never seen the band perform, I’m keen to get to one. If they’re near you, I urge you to go too. You can check here.

Hard-to-find, Live!

Cook Bernard Matthews

My daughter hates Meat Is Murder, the final track on The Smiths‘ LP of the same name. The grinding slaughterhouse machines battling for ear space with distressed cows has her shouting, “TURN IT OFF!!” every time it comes on. As all good dads should do, I sometimes turn it up twice as loud and make her listen all the way to the end, which she perhaps understandably hates me for.

smiths ors

The SmithsMeat is Murder

It’s the statement that Morrissey is perhaps most well-known for, and such was his influence at the time, Meat Is Murder turned many teenagers vegetarian. It’s a brilliant track, based around Johnny Marr’s cycling Wythenshawe waltz-time riff and fleshed out (pardon the pun) on record by some understated sparkling piano work from The Smiths’ musical alchemist.

That was a riff I’d been playing around with for a few days before,” recalls Marr. “Really nasty, in open D. I didn’t know the lyrics but I knew the song was gonna be called ‘Meat Is Murder’ so it just all came together in the take.

It certainly came together. Meat Is Murder favours mood over melody, and Morrissey’s lines, rhythmic, rhyming and alliterative  – ‘The meat in your mouth as you savour the flavour of murder‘ pull no punches.

meat is murder lyricsThe song was a staple of The Smiths’ live set for the next year or so, usually performed atop a tape of the abbatoir noises that so horrify my daughter. You’ll find a good version of it, recorded live by the BBC in Oxford on the b-side of the That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore 12″.

When the band played Irvine on their September ’85 tour of Scottish backwaters, Morrissey introduced it thus;

Just remember one thing, dear friends. Next time you bite into that big, fat sausage…..YOU’RE EATING SOMEBODY’S MOTHER!!

The SmithsMeat Is Murder (Irvine, 22.9.85)

I never went to this show, a fact that will haunt me until the day I die. Idiot that I was.

smiths irvine review

Playing it at the Victoria Hall in Hanley a few months earlier in March, a fan threw a string of sausages onto the stage just as the song began, smacking Morrissey on the mouth.

They hurled it so accurately that I actually bit into it in the action of singing the word ‘murder'”

Known for walking off stage at the slightest thing these days, I’m not so sure the old grump would be quite as frivolous about such an act nowadays:

no meat*Cook Bernard Matthews

This was inscribed on the run-out groove of The Smiths’ Sheila Take A Bow single. But you knew that already.

Alternative Version, Peel Sessions

Romantic And Square Is Hip And Aware

William It Was Really Nothing is the sound of The Smiths in miniature. A breathless rush of brilliantly ringing descending arpeggios, bright as brass buttons, topped off with a vocal that distills everything about Morrissey’s much-loved kitchen sink dramas into a handful of lines worthy of Alan Bennett;

The rain falls hard on a humdrum town, this town has dragged you down……Everybody’s got to live their life, and God knows I’ve got to live mine……….How can you stay with a fat girl who says, “Would you like to marry me? And if you like, you can buy the ring”……

williamitwasreallynothing

Johnny’s playing is at its most stellar, riff upon riff upon riff of layered guitars nattering and chattering away like Elsie Tanner spreading ghastly gossip about goodness-knows-who over the garden gate. He was in a rich vein of form when he wrote this, was Johnny. He worked the chords out in the back of The Smiths’ van on the M1 somewhere between Manchester and London. Arriving at his flat in Earls Court, he committed his frantically scrubbed faux flamenco  pièce de résistance to tape, where it would sit alongside his other new compositions for that weekend, vying for the attention of producer John Porter come Monday morning. That the other 2 new tracks he’d recorded were How Soon Is Now? and Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want (the tracks that would turn up on the b-side of the single itself) just goes to show how prolific a tunesmith (tune-smith! See what I did there?) the barely 21 year-old Johnny was. Frightening, if you stop to think about it.

smiths autographs

William It Was Really Nothing – Peel Session (August 1984)

The Smiths clearly loved William It Was Really Nothing – they played it in concert before recording it (first for Peel, above) and continued to play it throughout the tours of 1984 and 1985. It still had its place in the ’86 setlists when the briefly 5-piece band were at their most rockist and was the second-last song The Smiths ever played live.

When John Porter got ’round to working on it from Johnny’s demo (and who knows how he chose what track to tackle first) he sprinkled a magical dusting of fade-ins and fade-outs, backwards bits and bursts of guitar that are the aural equivalent of one of those time-lapse videos of a flower blooming you see on nature documentaries. It’s just perfect, and even after 30 (gulp!) years, every listen reveals new things.

William It Was Really Nothing – Single Version

William It Was Really Nothing is over and out in little over 2 lean, mean and meat-free minutes, which, if I’ve timed it right, is just about as long as you needed to read this piece. Beat that!tumblr_mqyut7hT4l1sdytq1o1_500

demo, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, studio outtakes

When I Say I’m In Love, You Best Believe I’m In Love Ell Yoo Vee

new york dolls

The New York Dolls landed on British telly in November 1973; a sloppy, slutty, Stones-in-slap-‘n-stack heels assortment of misfits and ne’erdowells. Their sound was a thrillingly simple souped-up charge of re-hashed Chuck Berry licks and Noo York street-smart shouted vocals, and in this era of prog rock and ‘serious’ music, immediately divided opinions.

Mock rock!” dismissed presenter ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris as he waited patiently for his next fix of good ol’ country rock.

The Dolls gave me a sense of uniqueness, as if they were my own personal discovery,” blurted a foaming at the mouth Morrissey.

Famously, along with being President of the Dolls’ Fan Club, Morrissey had a New York Dolls biography published, which sold steadily in its one and only print. You could argue that The New York Dolls was the catalyst in getting the teenage Morrissey out of his bedroom and into society where he’d meet like-minded Mancunians and ultimately form The Smiths. Now, that may be a bit of a simplified version, but essentially that’s what happened.

On the Doll’s debut album there’s a track called Lonely Planet Boy.

The band’s one attempt (on this LP at least) at acoustic balladry, it teeters metaphorically atop one of Johnny Thunder’s gigantic silver stacked heels, forever on the verge of collapse and falling apart. Coaxed along by a rasping 50s-inspired sax, it was a particular favourite of the young Morrissey. Indeed, a decade or so later when stuck for lyrical inspiration, Morrissey went back to Lonely Planet Boy and appropriated some of the lyrics for the song that would, for some come to define The Smiths.

Oh, you pick me up
You’re outta drivin’ in your car
When I tell you where I’m goin’
Always tellin’ me it’s to far

But how could you be drivin’
Down by my home
When ya know, I ain’t got one
And I’m, I’m so all alone

 morrissey nydolls

And with that steal, Morrissey had galvanised himself into writing the lyrics to There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

A great song needs more than great lyrics, of course. I’ve written about the Johnny’s contribution to it before. Below is the shortened version.

“If we needed some songs fast, then Morrissey would come round to my place and I’d sit there with an acoustic guitar and a cassette recorder. ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ was done that way.”

Morrissey was sat on a coffee table, perched on the edge. I was sat with my guitar on a chair directly in front of him. He had A Sony Walkman recording, waiting to hear what I was gonna pull out. So I said, ‘Well, I’ve got this one’ and I started playing these chords. He just looked at me as I was playing. It was as if he daren’t speak, in case the spell was broke.”

“We recorded ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ in 10 minutes. I went on to add some flute overdub and strings and a couple of extra guitars, but really, the essence and the spirit of it was captured straight away, and that normally means that something’s gone really, really right.

(Flute/strings overdubs demo below);

I have a version of that take with just the three instruments and the voice on it – it absolutely holds up as a beautiful moment in time. The Smiths were all in love with the sound that we were making. We loved it as much as everyone else, but we were lucky enough to be the ones playing it.”

I didn’t realise that ‘There Is A Light’ was going to be an anthem but when we first played it I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard.”

For some of us, it is too.

 

Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions, Studio master tapes

Punctured Bicycles, Desolate Hillsides And All That Jazz

Recorded between London and Manchester almost 30 years ago (September/October 1983), This Charming Man was the record that transported The Smiths up and out of the late-night, Peel-championed margins and into the mainstream, Top Of The Pops and all.

smiths this charming man

A giddy rush of walkin’ talkin’ Motown basslines and chiming staccato guitar riffs, topped off with Morrissey’s yelping yodel, it still sounds exhilarating to these ears as I type right now. Even the much-maligned New York Mix, with its none-more-80s ricocheting rim shots and ghostly guitar fade-ins still does it.

The Top Of The Pops appearance (the band’s first of 11) a few months later in November was superb, with Morrissey battering about his oversized bunch of gladioli in a show of high camp, while the other 3 played like seasoned telly regulars in matching M&S polo necks. Save a select, hip few, this was the first time many folk had actually seen The Smiths and the effect was seismic. It’s no surprise that by that weekend, sales of Brylcreem had risen 110%, old men’s barbers up and down the country were queued out with boys wanting flat tops, “but just leave the front bit, thanks” and any number of grannies were wondering what had happened to that nice chiffon blouse they’d been keeping in their wardrobe for that special occasion. Your David’s wearing it, gran. Teamed up with that cheap glass-beaded necklace our Doreen gave you when she was eight. And he’s off to the Red Lion where there’s every chance he’ll get himself half a light ale and a right good kicking. Me? I was still in my bedroom, listening to Frankie’s Relax until the wee small hours.

Much has been made of the speed at which Morrissey and Marr wrote in the early days. This Charming Man was one such song. Johnny had heard Aztec Camera’s Walk Out To Winter on regular radio rotation and felt his band should be getting the same attention. With a John Peel session coming up (14th September, to be aired one week later), Marr pulled out all the stops to write a catchy, radio-friendly tune in a major key (G, if you’re asking, though really A, as he tuned his guitar up one whole step). According to Johnny, the tune took him all of 20 minutes to write, although he would spend far longer with producer John Porter to perfect the sonics in the studio.

“There are about 15 tracks of guitar. People thought the main guitar part was a Rickenbacker, but it’s really a ’54 Tele. There are three tracks of acoustic, a backwards guitar with a really long reverb, and the effect of dropping knives on the guitar — that comes in at the end of the chorus.”

Listen for that wobbly doiiiinnnngg every now and again – that’s the two Johns (Porter and Marr) dropping kitchen knives on an open-tuned guitar. You can’t do that with GarageBand, kids.

smiths 83

Morrissey, on the other hand, was studio shy. He often had to be coaxed into doing more than one or two vocal takes. His lyrics for This Charming Man were impossibly impenetrable to this 13 year old, and to be honest, not much has really changed over the past 30 years. Singing about some sort of clandestine sexual initiation or other, Morrissey’s words were “just a collection of lines that were very important. They seemed to stitch themselves perfectly under the umbrella of This Charming Man.” The lyrics were almost certainly taken from Morrissey’s faithful notebook, his collection of words in search of a tune, but they weren’t entirely Morrissey’s own.

The 1972 film Sleuth, starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier features a scene where Olivier points a gun at Caine calling him ‘a jumped up pantry boy who doesn’t know his place‘.

The 1961 movie adaption of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste Of Honey features two characters discussing their evening. ‘Are you going dancing tonight?’ ‘I can’t, I haven’t got any clothes to wear.’ Delaney would prove to be a rich source of material for Morrissey’s lyrics. But more of that another time.

Stolen words or otherwise, what’s undeniable is that This Charming Man ramped The Smiths up a notch or two and set them off on their all-too brief trail-blazing journey through the mid 80s.

Here’s the music:

This Charming Man (London mix)

This Charming Man (Manchester Mix)

This Charming Man (New York Vocal Mix)

*Bonus Tracks!

Howsabout some more of those studio master tape tracks? Below you’ll find the bass, the guitar, the vocal and a guitar/percussion track. Isolated parts, perfect for your inner George Martin. Or indeed, inner John Porter.

Andy’s bass track:

Johnny’s lead guitar part:

Morrissey’s vocals:

Guitars/percussion track:

charming charlie

Cover Versions

Kiss My Shades* (slight return)

Two people have been in touch over the past week or so and asked if I’d re-post some mp3’s. I don’t usually respond to requests like this because a) I cannae usually find the mp3s in question and b) if I can find them, I usually cannae be arsed with all the bother of uploading them again. Often the reason mp3s disappear suddenly from Plain Or Pan (or indeed any blog you visit)  is because a particular record company has spotted something they own and believe that the blogger making it available for free will stop you from buying it. I tend to post only hard to find/out of print stuff, but this argument doesn’t win with the powers that be and I’ve often received the internet equivalent of a record company knee capping by daring to post some dusty old forgotten slab of vinyl. Anyway Stephen Q and Quiff#1 (really!) this re-post (from November 07) is for you…..

Released in April 1984, this version of ‘Hand In Glove’ was promoted as a Sandie Shaw solo release, although it is essentially The Smiths with Sandie Shaw coming straight off the bench as some kind of super-sub. All those Smiths fans helped the single reach the dizzy heights of number 27. Even the cover art of the single is Smithsy in appearance. I’d imagine all Smiths aficionados would have the 3 Smiths tracks Sandie covered by now, but if not, here you go… 

sandie-sleeve.gif

The 7” featured 2 tracks – the lead track and her version of ‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’. ‘Hand In Glove’ is a reverb-drenched bash-along that Siouxsie Sioux would be proud of. The lead guitar riff sounds like a glockenspiel, and I mean that in a good way. The outro is terrific too. Different to the original. Not better. Not worse. Just different.  

sandie-smiths.jpg

Apart from the unusual introduction, Sandie’s version of ‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’ sounds an awful lot like the Troy Tate produced version that was intended for their first album before The Smiths binned it at the last minute. Maybe, way back in ’84 before Bongo, Sting and all those other worthless eco-warriers, The Smiths were into recycling their old junk, giving it to someone more deserving. It’s got a creepy, churchy-sounding keyboard part playing through the background and tons of jangling, clipped 12 string Rickenbacker. And the final chord is niiiiiiiiice. Sandie’s got a nice warble to her voice too. I like this version a lot. 

 sandie-johnny.jpg

The 12” featured ‘Jeane’ as an extra track. More acoustic than The Smiths, it’s just Johnny n’ Sandie, until some crooner in a big quiff and national health specs starts yodeling towards the end. No heavenly choirs, not for me and not for you, they sing. But I’m not so sure. Sandie Shaw’s 3 Smiths covers are amongst some of my favourite records.    

 sandie-moz-rosary.jpg

Forgive me father, for I have sing-ed

Around the time of the record’s release, Morrissey said, “I met her a few months ago and it seemed perfectly natural for me to seize the opportunity and ask her to work with us and she was incredibly eager and incredibly enthusiastic. She really liked the songs and she was very eager to do it. So, it’s happened and I’m very pleased.“ Four years later, post-Smiths and bored of Smiths-obsessed journalists, he cut short one inquisitive interviewer with, “It was so great for me personally that I don’t actually remember it happening“. 

sandie-leather-jacket.jpg

Is that real leather she’s wearing?

*   ’Kiss My Shades’ was the wee message scratched into the run-off groove of the 7”, trainspotters.