Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

You Scratch My Back Catalogue, I’ll Scratch Yours

In the early 90s, there was no finer sight in music than when the three frontmen from Teenage Fanclub stepped up to the mic as one and filled the room with honey-coated harmonies that surfed across the top of their ramshackle fuzz. Lest we forget, in the year that saw both REM’s Out Of Time and Nirvana’s Nevermind released and racking up gazillions of sales, Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque sat proudly at the top of Spin Magazine’s ‘Albums Of The Year‘ list. And rightly so. Bandwagonesque is classic Fanclub; a welding together of God-sent melodies with a clanging calamity of sweet-sounding guitars. To achieve the overdriven sound that defines much of the album, the band had the amps turned up as loud as they would go, put behind a closed cupboard door and close mic’d up. The effect is a cobweb-dusting thing of beauty, but you knew that already.

tfc 90s

On account of their ability to conjure a slightly wobbly three-part harmony out of thin air, fans of the band renamed them The Bellshill Beach Boys. Lazy writers at the time were less generous, waxing lyrical about the band’s obvious debt to the three Bs – The Beatles, The Byrds and Big Star.

This was the first time I (and I suspect many others) had ever encountered the names ‘Big Star‘ or ‘Alex Chilton‘ and the hastily re-released #1 Record/Radio City twofer that followed on the heels of Bandwagonesque confirmed that Teenage Fanclub had indeed tipped their hat in the particular direction of their 70s idols. Other bands are guilty as charged when it comes to blatant sticky-fingered plagiarism, but Teenage Fanclub were clever enough not to steal whole songs, lock, stock and barrel from Big Star. The overall mood though of Bandwagonesque, from the mid-paced strumming and guitar sound to the uplifting melancholy that sticks itself to many of the tracks (The Concept is essentially a sad song, but it’s sky-scrapingly magnificent. Likewise, December and Guiding Star) is very Big Star. Nowt wrong with that of course.

bandwagonesque reviewPatronising idiot.

Bandwagonesque remains an early high point in a discography embarrassingly rich in high points. Will the new album ‘Here‘, released in just over a month, have the same impact? Going on the strength of the lead single I’m In Love, with its trademark harmonies, fancy chords and Thin Lizzy-ish guitar solo, the early indications are good, but let’s remember that Bandwagonesque was released a quarter of a century ago. That Teenage Fanclub are still releasing records to an always-appreciative audience is fine in its own right.

Alex Chilton and Teenage Fanclub would play a few shows together. They also released a limited single via the NME, where Alex was backed by TFC on one side, and TFC were backed by Alex (kinda) on the other. At some point or other, (I’d like to imagine it was during the sessions for the NME single, though we’ll maybe never really know), Alex and TFC ran through a gloriously ragged live take of Bandwagonesque‘s Alcoholiday.

alex chilton bwAlex ChiltonAlcoholiday

The track is credited purely to Chilton, but if you listen carefully between the clanging chords and underneath Alex’s world-weary, 30-a-day Marlboro-coated voice, you’ll be able to make out Norman Blake’s ooing and aahing backing vocals. It’s a beautiful thing. Perhaps even more beautiful than the original….

Teenage FanclubAlcoholiday

tfc and alex c

Teenage Fanclub have also dipped more than a toe into the extensive Chilton back catalogue. An early US-only single from around the time of Bandwagonesque saw them zip through a brilliant version of Free Again, replete with a kazoo solo, a key change and seemingly, the kitchen sink.

Teenage FanclubFree Again

Free Again is a post Box Tops Chilton three chord boogie that would first see the light of day on 1977’s The Singer Not The Song EP, from a period in time when no-one seemingly gave a damn about Alex. Given the shambolic mess that made up the EP, this was also a period in Chilton’s life when he seemingly didn’t give a damn about folk either, but that’s another article for another day.

Alex ChiltonFree Again

tfc  badges

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Hard-to-find

The Erratic Antics Of Brendan On Drums

There’s a tiny wee Teenage Fanclub renaissance taking place just now. Last week saw the 20th (the 20th!!!) anniversary of the release of their Grand Prix LP, the album many consider to be unmatched by anything else in the band’s brilliantly rich and epoch-defining (well, in my house at least) catalogue.

And also just last week, the band came together in Manchester to play a stadium show with Foo Fighters, warmed-up for with a 2 hour show the preceding evening in a small venue in Yorkshire. By all accounts the band were at their very best. Even Dave Grohl took time out from international rock star duties to sing their praises to Foo Fighters’ audience.

tfc live

Me and Teenage Fanclub go waaaaay back. To 1990 to be precise. That summer, I caught them supporting the Soup Dragons in Glasgow’s Garage, bought Everything Flows on 7″ a few days later and set off on a proud run of buying each record on release day and catching the band play live at least once a year every year until 2014, when they had the audacity to play a rare gig at the refurbished bandstand in Kelvingrove Park on the same night I had chosen to book Glenn Tilbrook to play a tiny venue in Irvine. Glenn was good…..but he wasn’t Teenage Fanclub. Not that you could tell, but I’m still irked somewhat that I missed the bandstand gig that night.

When the TFC started out, they were ramshackle to the point of comedy. Their gigs, a right ramalama of long hair and Marshall-stacked riffs, were punctuated by false starts, broken strings and the erratic antics of Brendan on drums. Lurking underneath the friendly shambles though was a set of melody-rich songs doing their best to burst out of the confines of the plaid shirts and band in-jokes.

TeenageFanclub1990

Teenage FanclubGod Knows It’s True (single version)

Second single God Knows It’s True is a little lost jewel in an embarrassment of riches. The bridge between the gaffa taped DIY of A Catholic Education and the power pop sheen of Bandwagonesque, God Knows It’s True is rough-’round-the-edges indie rock; guitars-turned-up-to-10 and howling like Neil Young in the eye of a hurricane, with a saccharine-sweet minor key chorus that repeats ad-infinitum to the end. As it’s playing just now I can picture the band on stage in King Tuts, guitars slung low and heads bowed lest the 3 frontmen clatter their heads off of Tuts’ roof.

God knows it’s true, but I think that the devil knows it too.” CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Der-Der-De-Der De Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh!

Teenage FanclubGod Knows It’s True (Peel Session, August 1990)

tfc god knows

By the time Bandwagonesque came to be committed to tape, the band were in a rich vein of songwriting form and had taken to recording their valve-driven amps at full volume, mic’d up inside cupboards so as not to blast out any windows within a 20-mile vicinity. But you knew that already.

An interesting metamorphosis has taken place over the course of the band’s career. The hair, once “down my back” has crept slowly upwards. Add an extra member who can enhance the live sound with subtle keys and all manner of instrumentation and stick some necessary yet tasteful spectacles on the faces of half the band and Teenage Fanclub now resemble a quintet of slightly trendy science teachers, the kind of teacher who’d be equally at ease telling you the properties of the most obscure chemical elements in the Breaking Bad titles and be able to point out a major 7th chord on Love’s Forever Changes LP. Then shuffle on and rock out at the end of year school prom.

TFC_BBC

And as the hair has shortened, so too have the guitar solos. They’re still there, but they’re not at the forefront of everything anymore. The focus these days seems to be on the melody and the power of the backing vocal, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. There’s no finer sight in live music than when the 3 frontmen step forward as one to harmonise the opening lines of About You. None.

Teenage FanclubSometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything

Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything from the aptly-named Shadows LP (where the band have been in the intervening 5 years since its release) sums this up brilliantly. A softly sung vocal from Gerry builds into a brilliantly-layered harmonising ba-ba-ba outro, creating a super soaraway sunshine pop song. Beach Boys by way of Bellshill, if you will.

The next TFC LP is due at some point this year. Whether the guitars have regained their room-filling volume, or whether the vocals are now competing for ear space with flutes and strings, I don’t mind. Nor, I suspect, do the legions of getting-on-a-bit-now men (and women…women like TFC too, y’know) eager for a new slice of Fanclub action. I cannae wait.

tfc blurDave knows the score

Useless TFC facts with tenuous links to this writer:

1. Both Gerry and myself are West of Scotland Our Price alumni. Despite numerous training days and the parochial nature of the job, we never knowingly met at the time.

2. Gerry contributed to this rather fine 6 Of the Best many moons ago. I met him quite by chance afterwards when he was DJing in a pub and I thanked him heartily for participating. My Fanclub fanboy conversation was such that he missed the start of the 7″ he’d queued up to play next on the turntable. Jam Master Jay he is not.

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

Stax O’ Soul

Eddie Floyd was the big haired, big voiced vocalist of such soul nuggets as Knock On Wood, I’ve Got To Have Your Love and Big Bird. An ode to flight, Big Bird was reputedly written by Floyd in Heathrow Airport as he waited to board a plane to Memphis for Otis Redding’s funeral. That’s how the legend goes at any rate.

 eddie floyd

Floyd was also a staff writer at Stax, and co-penned all manner of lesser known gems recorded by the likes of William Bell, the Staples Singers and Carla Thomas. You could do worse than spend an evening digging deep to uncover his work. It’s all terrific stuff, but one Eddie Floyd song stands afro’d head and shoulders above all others.

Eddie’s masterpiece is 1968’s I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do).

eddie floyd stax 7

A great little slice of call and response Southern soul, it see-saws between major and minor chords, swept along by brass and strings and carried from middle to end by the stolen melody of Percy Faith‘s Theme From A Summer Place;

Played by Floyd with the help of in-house Stax guns for hire Booker T. Jones (who played bass, guitar and keys (!)) and Al Bell, and produced by the MGs Steve Cropper, the song would eventually peak at #2 on the US R&B charts.

As a wee aside, you could do worse than spend another evening comparing Booker T’s guitar solo on this track with much of Edwyn Collin’s Memphis chording on some of those mid period Orange Juice records – the intro to I Can’t Help Myself for example.

alex chilton live

Cult hero to the stars Alex Chilton has recorded a couple of versions of I’ve Never Found A Girl, most thrillingly in Glasgow backed by a Teenage Fanclub who gamely hold steady the backbeat and offer enthusiastic backing vocals whilst he chops out gritty little riffs of electrified southern soul atop it.

Recorded at the 13th Note in 1996, in this pre (for me) internet era, I walked into work the morning after the show to hear all about it for the first time. Nowadays of course, you’d never get a ticket for this kind of thing for sticky fingered touts. But back in the day it was good old fashioned lack of information that meant only the hippest of the hip, with a finger to the pulse and an ear to the ground, got to such events. The bastards.

Alex Chilton & Teenage FanclubI’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do);

*Bonus Track!

Here’s Al Green‘s version, rather tame by comparison, but nonetheless a worthy inclusion to this post.

 

 

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

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Under The Covers With Sarah Cracknell

Cor! Eh? You beauty! (Nudge, Nudge). Knowotoimean? (Adopts Sid James cackly wheeze). I mean, ‘oo wouldn’t? Eh? Eh! Ow’s yer father? Eh? Eh? She’d get it! And no mistake! Let’s slip into sumfink more comfortable, shall we?

Yeah, let’s slip into something more comfortable. Like the honeyed tones of La Cracknell and her backing band of boffins and beard strokers tackling some of the finest moments in thinking man’s pop. With mixed results. Saint Etienne annoy me. Not in the way that wasps annoy me. Or paper rustlers in the cinema. Or blue-blooded ‘n bigoted Rangers fans. Or those paranoid green-tinted Cel’ic supporters and their uncouth manager after a decision goes against them. But Saint Etienne get my goat. I can’t put my finger on it or tell you exactly why. There’s no one reason. I’ve got tons of their stuff, vinyl and CD, bought in faithful chronological order as and when released, up to a point around How We Used To Live. I’ve always liked their way with a sixties-inspired piece of London pop and the sly wink of an eye towards the reference points therein. They’re a true ‘record collection’ band, that’s for sure, but with that comes a feeling that they’re just a wee bit too hip for their own good, just a shade too arch for those in the know and slightly smug in the knowledge that no-one is quite like them. Suffering from something of an identity crisis, they’re too ‘indie’ for pop when they themselves’d probably consider themselves too pop even for pop.

That said, they probably wet their collective knickers when asked to produce a version of Kylie covered Nothing Can Stop Us with a coolness that even Sarah would find difficult to cultivate. This was Kylie BH (Before Hot Pants), the Kylie of mid 90s hell, when only Nicky Wire and ironic students paid her any attention. And here she was, covering obscure, non-charting singles built around old Dusty Springfield samples. Of course. Great version, Kylie! Really!

Saint Etienne’s best known cover is surely Only Love Can Break Your Heart, a pre-Cracknell track where they dismantled whiny old Neil Young’s campfire strumalong of angst and re-tooled it as a Soul II Soul-styled shuffler for the dancefloor. But you knew that already. Dig deeper into the Saint Etienne ouvre and you’ll find all manner of cover versions. Available on the rare-as-can-be fanclub-only Boxette, you’ll find their version of David Bowie‘s Absolute Beginners. I saw them do this live, at the Mayfair in Glasgow, with a pre-fame Pulp supporting. I’ll need to dig out the ticket some time, as the band’s name is written as St Etiene, with one ‘n’. Anyway, their version was rubbish that night (no Bowie aping bap-bap-ba-ooos, surely the best bit?) and the studio version, despite the inclusion of the aforementioned bap-bap-ba-ooos, remains kinda rubbish to this day. Some shouty sampled bit or other by the boys whilst Sarah sounds like a Dalek on downers. Not their finest moment. Maybe they should’ve tackled The Jam track of the same name instead.

On the Deluxe Edition of So Tough, you’ll find them having a go at Teenage Fanclub‘s Everything Flows. A staple of TFC’s live set since their first gig, Fannies fans froth at the mouth for its meandering Neil Youngesque solos and melancholic ruminations on life. Saint Etienne, surely having a laugh at our expense, render it practically unlistenable. Now, some folks say that the best cover versions are when the band takes the song and makes it their own (see, for example, Only Love Can Break Your Heart), but when the heart and soul of the track (in this case the insistent, wailing guitars) are replaced by synth washes and a politely skittering drum machine so bland a yoga teacher would have trouble chilling out to them, well, you can imagine….

Going some way to redeem themselves, this year found Saint Etienne taking a shot at the holiest of holies, The Beach BoysWouldn’t It Be Nice. It‘s not bad – starting acapella before morphing into a soft focus mush of warm harmonies, ticking clocks and half-speed backing tapes, keen scholars of Wilson pop will easily spot the odd nod to the Smile-ear Barnyard amongst the mix. See – they’re too fucking smart for their own good, that Saint Etienne.

I love ’em really. Wrinkles ‘n all…