Dr Bucks’ Letter is late-ish era Fall at their best. Taken from The Unutterable, it’s an incessant, kerb-crawling jackbooted stomp of a track; claustrophobic, indulgent and relentless, the sound of The Fall doing half-speed dub techno. The disciplined beat and fuzzed-up riff underpin a crackle of electro static and a cackle of spoken word, random keyboard outbursts that sound like guard dogs in heat and a clanging Holger Czukay bassline that fights for ear space in-between a returning signature riff. It’s not quite a kitchen sink production, but it’s getting there.
The Fall – Dr Bucks’ Letter
The cherry on the top is Mark E Smith’s spoken word vocal, the lyric referencing an unfortunate fall-out with a friend – ‘of my own making, I walk a dark corridor of my heart, hoping one day a door will be ajar at least so we can recompense our hard-won friendship.’
He may have been viewed as a grizzly, alcohol-soaked hard-heart, but Smith could write flowing sentimentality like no other, even if, perhaps to keep his image somewhat intact, he delivers it in a voice that borders on menacing. There’s the complexity of MES right there.
As the track reaches it’s conclusion, Smith bizarrely – yet thrillingly – reads aloud an abridged version of a magazine interview with superstar DJ Pete Tong, cackling to himself/at Tong’s superficial lifestyle and the vacuousness of it all.
There aren’t many folk who’d have the nerve to lift text from such disparate places – a Virgin Rail customer magazine, as it goes, but there y’go – proof, if any were needed, that Mark E Smith wasn’t yer average writer.
Dr Bucks’ Letter is a Fall track that works for all sorts of reasons. The references in the magazine article to Palm Pilots and CDs and cassettes (no vinyl, Pete?) has the track firmly dated as 2000, a portent of a new millennium with another new Fall line-up in the making and at least a further 83 albums before the fall of The Fall with MES’s untimely death in 2018.
It’s worn far better than some of its lyrical influences, has Dr Bucks’ Letter. Indeed, it never sounds anything other than ‘now’, a decent snapshot of a band who’d perhaps lost their way a wee bit at the time.
Dead Beat Descendant by The Fall was the first track of theirs that really piqued my interest. Until then, I’d pegged Mark E Smith’s rattling racket as irritating and annoying, the atonal sound of Regal-stained fingers slowly scraping their way down a blackboard. When it popped up in the middle of an episode of Snub TV, Dead Beat Descendant had me hooked.
It wasn’t just the stinging garage band guitar riff, played on a Rickenbacker by a sulky, peroxide shock-wigged Brix that pulled me in, or the gnarly, relentless and repetitive Stray Cats meets Stooges bass, or the occasional daft parp of a one-fingered keyboard, or the metronomic tribal tub thumping that held the whole thing in place that got me – it was the group’s leader that grabbed me by the short ‘n curlies and demanded my attention. That, and the ballet dancer. I’d heard The Fall, but I’d never seen The Fall. And that was apparently important.
Smith is hunched over his microphone and ready to spring, the German army-issued leather greatcoat he’s wearing letting all present know who’s in charge. “Come back here!” he demands with barely under the surface menace. The omnipresent smouldering fag, more ash than cigarette, is lodged at a downwards 30 degree angle between his fingers as he delivers the vocal, a lip-curled sneer the equal of a Mancunian Gene Vincent. Between lines he delivers terrific little off-beat Supreme handclaps and chews on an invisible glob of gum whilst staring his musicians down, lest they consider veering from his well-chosen path. Maybe that’s where the “Come back here!” line comes from. The band, as slick as the gears in a Victorian workhouse, are in tune with their leader and dutifully do what’s demanded of them.
Well, stone me! It turns out there was no German army greatcoat after all. Or a shock-wigged Brix. Or long-burning Regal King-Sized ‘tween the digits. It’s funny how your 30 year-old version of events turns fiction into reality. And it’s funny how, as it turns out, it’s the music that endures rather than the vision. Those hand claps, though… And the told-you-so smug grin on Mark’s face at the end. They were real.
It’s a great clip mind you. The ballet dancer (the awkward piece of the Mark/Brix split jigsaw, if you believe what you read online) pirouettes obliviously around the studio in the middle of the racket, in practise for her stint on stage with The Fall as they prepare to provide the musical backdrop to Michael Clark’s I Am Curious, Orange ballet at the Edinburgh Festival.
A weird pairing, it’s certainly something that’d have been worth seeing, with Brix sitting cross-legged atop a giant hamburger while Mark prowls betwixt and between the ballet dancers, spitting venom about King Billy and barking out Cab It Up and Wrong Place, Right Time amongst others. I Am Kurious Oranj isn’t the top of the list of critics’ favourite Fall albums, but it’s right up there alongside Extricate on mine.
Elastica tend not to appear on many of the lists that constitute the Best Christmas Songs In The World…Ever. Back in 1995, only a year or so since they’d been ever-regulars on the covers of the music press yet long enough to have found them residing in the same ‘remember them?‘ category previously kept warm for them betwixt debut and follow-up album by the Stone Roses, they recorded a BBC Session for Mark Radcliffe that included a loose cover of Ding Dong Merrily On High.
It’s loose in all manner of the word. A band plagued by serious, secretive drug addiction could hardly put their name to a song called Ding Dong Merrily On High. And rather than run through a facsimile of the winter favourite, they instead rewrote most of the words, played the recognisable Christmas carol melody on gnarly bass and, with a nod and a wink to Patti Smith, kept the Latin chorus intact and renamed their version Gloria.
Elastica – Gloria
It’s not bad in an arty, angular sort of way. Guitar strings scrape, the drummer keeps enthisiastic metronomic precision and Justine sulks her way through it doing her best Mark E Smith impression from behind her swinging, shining indie fringe. I wonder if they’d heard The Fall’s Christmas Peel Session by this point?
That’s a rhetorical question by the way. Of course they had.
Recorded around the same time as Elastica were the hot new thing, The Fall‘s Peel Session from December ’94 was notable for two things; One: The band did not one but two faithful, in a Fall kinda way, versions of Christmas standards. Two: The expanded line-up of The Fall at the time featured the glam-tastic sight and sound of two drummers, a shrivelled liver Glitter band for old post-punkers everywhere. Karl Burns was welcomed back into the fold and onto the drum stool after a 9 year absence alongside Brix, last seen on Fall duty 6 years previously.
Like malt whisky, that other great festive favourite, I find my appreciation for The Fall grows with each passing year. I discovered them around the time of Extricate and flirted with their back catalogue from thereon in, but it never really grabbed me in the way that I know it grabbed others. I admire them greatly though, whether they’re sawing their way through Eat Y’Self Fitter or going full-on garage band for their essential take on Mr Pharmacist or keeping it sparse and minimal on Hip Priest or spitting their way through Spoilt Victorian Child or….y’get the idea. There’s a Fall that’s suitable for everyone. It just takes some folk a while to find it.
The larger line-up in 1994 fairly suits the music. They bite and snarl their way through a daft version of Jingle Bell Rock, one-fingered keyboard parping the melody, lyrics changed to suit Captain Mark’s mood, the groop bottling the Christmas spirit in barely over a minute.
Hang on a minute! Christmas song done in band style? Rewritten lyrics?! BBC sesssion?!? I wonder where Elastica got that idea? They even nicked the snappy rattle of The Fall’s drum beat for their Christmas tune. They were never the most original of bands, Elastica, but then, you knew that already.
The Fall – Jingle Bell Rock
Post Office rot in hell, Friday night on Oxford Street,
All walking with green M&S bags, join them up with old beef and sprouts,
That’s the Jingle Bell Rock.
Not quite yer finger-poppin’, frost dusted holiday hit first crooned by bobby soxxer favourite Bobby Helms. That’s the Jingle Bell Rock indeed. And who’s complaining?
Did he really sack a sound engineer for ordering a salad? Did he really read out the football results live on the telly? Did he really leave a hapless member of the band in the middle of Sweden? Or, on the way to spending an unplanned night in the cells, have a full-on fisticuffs punch-up on stage in New York with one of his more loyal and long-standing Fall members?
Yes. Yes he did. He was Mark E Smith. One of our greatest cult figures. It was his business to be as caustic and obtuse as possible, the abrasive scraping fingers down the chalkboard of contemporary music. His was real working man music, approached in the same way you or I might approach our own 40 hours a week job. It wasn’t for everyone though. He couldn’t stand poseurs or pretence, cared not a jot about chart positions. He changed the players in his group as regularly as the England team manager freshening up his options in attack.
“There’s a two/three year cycle. Sooner or later you’re going to need a new centre forward.”
I never met Mark E Smith. I never even saw The Fall live. I know….I know…. Every time I’ve ever driven over the border from England back into Scotland, though, just as we’ve passed the blue ‘Welcome To Scotland’ sign, I’ve broken into a spontaneous 5 second burst of The Fall’s Hit The North. Der-Der-Der-Der-Der-Der-Duh-Der HIT THE NORTH!! No one else in the car has any idea of what’s happening, but it’s over as quickly as it started. In the words of the man himself, he is not appreciated, in my car at least.
The Fall played in my hometown a few years ago, supported by no less than John Cooper Clarke. Did I go? Did I heck. I think it was around the time our eldest was born, so I’ve a reasonable excuse, but it’s no excuse really. I’ve form for this sort of thing, as you might know if you’re a regular on here, but missing The Fall when they roll quite unexpectedly into your hometown, even with little in the way of fanfare or basic promotion? It’s just not the done thing to do. And I done went and did it.
Over the next few days, many better words by better and more qualified writers will be written about Mark E Smith and the uniqueness of The Fall. I’m not going to try. Here’s a true story instead.
No, I’ve never met him. No, I’ve never been in the same room as him. But I’ve spoken to him. Or, to be exact, he’s spoken to me. Around 1990 we had a rehearsal room in Kilmarnock’s Shabby Road, home to the Trashcan Sinatras – The Next Big Thing – and a ragbag collection of sundry acts who thought they were already the next big thing. I class my own band in this category, of course. The Trashcans were on Go! Discs, so all manner of folk would be around the place. Half Man Half Biscuit came and recorded some stuff and played football on the waste bit of ground/(cough) ‘garden’ at the side. The Stairs borrowed a guitar string from me. Chas Smash was ‘avin’ a fag and a cuppa tea in the kitchen one time. And John Leckie, fresh from sprinkling his magic atop the Stone Roses’ debut, was in for a few days to work on some songs with the Trashcans. They’d end up on their 3rd single, Circling The Circumference, which itself was enhanced by one of Leckie’s trademark Stone Roses’ whooshes midway through. You should seek it out if you’re unfamiliar with it.
At one point, Leckie left his notebook/Filofax unattended, and this is where the real fun began.
I took a Shabby Road business card from a table and quickly copied out some telephone numbers; Steve Mack (‘Petrols‘), Phil Saxe, Happy Mondays’ contact at the time, Steve Lillywhite, Lee Mavers and at the bottom, the Hip Priest himself, Mark Smith (‘Prestwich‘). It was funny, because we were sitting just up the road from Prestwick. We’d never heard of Prestwich until then. Anyway, fast forward a couple of hours….
….back in home territory, The Crown, and fuelled by Dutch courage, we fired a few pieces of loose change into the public phone at the end of the bar and picked a number. Lee Mavers was first. We dialled. It rang. “‘Allo?” a voice answered. Unmistakably Scouse. Shit! I passed the phone to Rab. Pause. Five of us stifling sniggers, daring not to breathe. There’s a muffled voice on the other side. “Aye,” says Rab. “Aye. Is Lee in?” Pause. Shit! Rab hangs up. Cue lots of nervous laughing and “I can’t believe we did that!” mutterings.
Buoyed by youthful bravado, I gulped the dregs of my pint and dialled Mark Smith. Three rings at most and then it was answered. On the other end of the phone was the unmistakable voice of Mark E Smith. Not Mark Smith of Prestwich, contact in someone’s phone book, but Mark E Smith, the pop star who was soundtracking my life presently with the Extricate album and the Telephone Thing single. “Yeah?” he drawled, totally Mark. Pause. “Yeah?” Louder this time. “Who’s this?” I panicked. I hung up. Of course. I Iike to think he looked at the silent receiver, irritated, before dropping it into the cradle and muttering how dare you assume I want to parlez-vous with you. He definitely didn’t though.
In hindsight, I wish I’d told him how fantastic these two tracks are, but then, he knew that already.
The Fall – Spoilt Victorian Child
The Fall – US 80’s – 90’s
If you’ve yet to acquaint yourself with his work, it’s never too late. But much like the musicians on those Fall records, it’s not for everyone.
Sometime around the beginning of January, Plain Or Pan celebrates its birthday. This year I celebrate completing 11 years of writing. No mean feat, as anyone who blogs will tell you. Were it not for this small corner of the internet I doubt I’d have been able to muster up the necessary clout to meet and interview some of my heroes and favourite artists.
A blog that began as an outlet for me to share all manner of what I thought was great music/alternate takes/demos and general trainspottery flim flam now has a powerful reach. On any given day there will be visitors from around the world; Buenos Airies, Brisbane, Bolton…. I used to be obsessed by stats and internet traffic figures. If I wrote a new article, how many people would read it? Would anybody read it? Nowadays it’s less of an issue. As I go boldly into year 12 I’ve realised that my best articles endure. There are things I wrote in 2007 that turn up via a Google search and still prove popular today. There are articles that I thought were fantastic when published that proved to be slow burners but have now been read, reTweeted and shared on social media thousands of times. It’s very humbling. And satisfying.
Up until a couple of years ago I always shared an annual compilation for download, a ragbag collection of the most popular tracks from the previous year. Problem was, Plain Or Pan started to become a bit too popular and the internet police metaphorically popped round a couple of times and asked me (politely at first) if I wouldn’t mind removing the download link. In order to keep the wolf from the door, I no longer do this. Instead, this year I’m going to share a few links. For anyone who’s a recent visitor to the blog you might find something of interest. To any long-time readers, there might be something here that you missed first-time round. As always, feel free to link/share anything that piques your interest. Thanks for popping round, leaving comments and generally giving me the green light to keep writing. And that thing I mentioned about stats and internet traffic? Bollocks! I want as many hits on here as possible.
Ian Rankin picks six of his favourite songs. From 4 and a half years ago, this is the most-read article ever on Plain Or Pan.
Here‘s an article on the enduring appeal of The Beatles‘ It’s All Too Much. This article was Plain Or Pan’s biggest hitter in 2014.
It occured to me that I haven’t featured The Fall nearly as much as I should’ve. Here‘s one I wrote earlier. 2011, to be precise.
I once rather proudly wrote an entire piece on Kraftwerk in German. It never got the kudos it deserved, sadly. Either that or my pidgin German was really bad. There’s a similar one on Sly Stone that’s written in French. Et pourquois-pas?
The flawed genuius of Chuck Berry. This article appeared again, pratically word-for-word when Chuck passed away.
It’s not all music round here, y’know. Here‘s my piece on Alex Higgins, written in my head as I drove home from holiday.
Here‘s one of my Andy Murray articles. This fairly fired around Twitter, getting picked up by the sports networks and syndicates, garnering all manner of nice comments and dozens of new followers.
And here‘s one on the London Olympics. Remember them?
Mainly though, it’s about the music. Johnny Marr has long been my hero, so it was something of a thrill to secure a 20 minute phone interview with him (it ended up being almost an hour and a half) where, amongst other things, he chatted about the records he was most-proud of having played on.
Likewise, just short of a year ago Mike Joyce was good enough to play the same game. As someone who generally doesn’t get involved in Smiths articles, what followed was a brilliant interview and, dare I say it, article.
While we’re on The Smiths, the article I wrote about Morrissey nicking huge chunks of lyrics from Victoria Wood went yer actual viral on that there Twitter. I came home from work to find my phone lit up like a Christmas tree with social media notifications. More of that, please.
Lastly, unlike your favourite bands, much of my earlier work is far from my best, although this line from the end of an article on the imminent release of Radiohead’s game-changing name your price In Rainbows made me laugh…..
If you’re a guitar geek, here’s how Thom set up his gear in 1997…….
Of course, these days he plays a bit of piano, some Apple Mac and a smattering of Fair Trade wooden spoon.
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 Smiths – Bigmouth Strikes Again (live at the Magnum, Sept 22nd 1985)
I believe this was the first time Bigmouth was played live.
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.
The previous post (on Elliott Smith, below) was written on the back of the Sgt Pepper anniversary/reissue jamboree. By coincidence, so is this one.
Sgt Pepper turned the world on its axis. The day it was released, the 60s went from the monochromed mundanity of a smog-filled Britain with wee men in bowler hats running the country to a cosmic technicolour planet where anything was possible. And anything was possible. On the 4th June 1967, just two days after Pepper came out, Paul and George found themselves at The Saville Theatre for a Jimi Hendrix Experience show. Hendrix, perfectly aware that half of The Beatles were in attendance had the mother of all aces up his silken batwinged sleeve.
Hendrix had appeared from nowhere, brought to Britain by The Animals’ Chas Chandler, immediately establishing himself as a top fixture in all the right clubs in swinging London. He was a top-heavy hippy in military garb, supported by sparrow-narrow legs with hair as wild and electric as the upside-down Strat he toted. Jaw-dropping in both sound and ability, Jimi could play lead and rhythm concurrently, his big right thumb working the bass notes the way a conventional guitarist might use his first finger. With black-as-coal hamster eyes permanently sparkling he sent multicoloured notes of amplified electric greatness out into the ether. He was untouchable.
To open The Saville Theatre show, Jimi and his Experience worked up a version of Sgt Peppers‘ lead track, slow and sludgy, loose and on the edge of falling apart, unmistakeably Hendrix and super-thrilling. Jimi replicated the whole thing, even playing the brass section as guitar riffs. A guitar-heavy track to begin with, Hendrix made it his own. A thrilled Paul and George watched from the balcony as Jimi caught their eye and smiled his knowing, lopsided, stoned grin.
Jimi opened, the curtains flew back and he came walking forward, playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’, and it had only been released on the Thursday so that was like the ultimate compliment. It’s still obviously a shining memory for me, because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished. To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career. I mean, I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought of it as an honour, I’m sure he thought it was the other way round, but to me that was like a great boost. (Paul McCartney)
Jimi Hendrix Experience – Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (Saville Theatre, London, 4.6.67)
One of the best Beatles’ covers? Quite possibly. You’ll have your own ideas, no doubt. Beatles’ covers are ten-a-penny. We all know that. The Sgt Pepper album was treated to the full monty in 1987 when the NME, back in the days when it was still a barometer of hip opinion, released the whole album in cover form. It’s a fairly stinking album, all truth be told. It did raise money for charity, getting Wet Wet Wet’s version of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends‘ to number one in the process, and it did give Billy Bragg a back-door entry to the top of the charts (the barking bard from Barking’s version of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ was on the b-side) but, 30 years on, it’s best forgotten about.
In contrast to Jimi’s spectacular take on the title track, Three Wize Men (Google won’t help) bravely attempted a none-more-80s hip hop version of the same track. Perhaps at the time it was a radical thrill (I doubt it) but nowadays it sounds about as edgy as something Age Of Chance might’ve left lying unloved on the studio floor.
Three Wize Men – Sgt Pepper
The album closer, by that most NME of bands The Fall, is a bit better, this album’s saving grace, even, even if Mark E Smith sounds totally bored by the whole concept. He probably was.
It’s the mid 90s and Everything Must Go has just been released by the Manic Street Preachers. An album full of Spectorish bombast and tunes for van drivers to whistle, it’s light years away from their previous album, the Richey Edwards-enhanced The Holy Bible, an album so difficult to digest in one sitting that Everything Must Go sounded like S Club 7 in comparison. And whilst the hardcore MSP fans point to The Holy Bible as ‘the one’, the million+ sales and ubiquity of Everything Must Go (despite half the songs featuring Edwards’ oblique lyrics) made chart stars (and millionaires) out of the Manics.
At this time, I was fighting in the trenches of the Britpop wars, working in music retail. Now, speak to anyone in retail and they’ll tell you unbelievable-but-true stories about the regulars who frequent their shops. Our shop was no different. We had a regular customer, an older guy with a cracking quiff, complete with an electric blue streak up the front, who wore the Elvis aviator shades in November and the ’68 Comeback leather jacket in July. He spoke in a hokey hillbilly American accent and gave his address as Dundonald whenever he ordered something. Dundonald, in case you need to ask, is about as near to America as Mars. People in Dundonald tend to speak in broad Ayrshire, though with a slightly posher accent, given that the village (?)/town (?) is located just inside the environs of the beautiful South of Ayrshire, and a couple of generous Colin Montgomerie drives from the fourth tee at Royal Troon. He always gave his name as Jesse Garon, which just so happens to be the name of Elvis’ twin brother who died at birth. “Je-huss-ay Gar’n, suh,” he’d drawl, without the slightest hint of irony. Local lunatic, eccentric and Elvis freak, I thought he was great. Jesse, it turned out, was highly thought of and sought-after in the world of tribute acts, and had a regular gig in Blackpool, doing a kinda Scottish McElvis tribute. Which is ironic really, given that off-stage he spoke cod-Elvis, yet on-stage he celebrated his Scottishness, wearing a white cape with a saltire emblazonned across the back and whatever else have you. Every Summer he’d head off for the season and do his well-polished Elvis act for the stags ‘n hens’ n’ steamers ‘n stoaters who stumbled into the music hall at the end of the pier. (If you’re an MSP fan, by now you may have worked out where this is going).
One day, Jesse popped in to order something. “Ahm lookin’ fur sumthin’ swampee. S’gotta be swampee. Y’know like when thu Deep South mists roll across them swamps? Ah need music ta soun’track that. S’for ma show, y’see. Intra music ta make tha folks sit up an notice that ol’ Elvis here is ’bout ta enter tha building.” A long while later, after having exhausted my general knowledge of all things swampy, he settled on a since-forgotten bit of Ry Cooder slide blues. This, he assured me, was just what he was after. And, with a wee Elvisy point of his index finger in my direction, and a tip of the gold-framed aviators, off he went.
I’ve hunted high and low and googled near and far for a qualifying quote to back me up here, but to no avail. So you’ll just have to believe the next bit. James Dean Bradfield, talking about the Everything Must Go album mentioned that opening track Elvis Impersonator, Blackpool Pier was written after him and Richey Edwards had watched an Elvis impersonator do his act at the end of Blackpool Pier. Bradfield mentioned that the impersonator was (and I’m paraphrasing here) “crap and Scottish” – two things yer actual Elvis wasn’t. Now, I know there are approximately more Elvis impersonators than there are people in China, but when you add ‘crap’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Blackpool’ into the mix, well, all the signs pointed to the one Elvis impersonator I knew. The next time Jesse was in the shop, probably about a year later, when preparing ‘intra music‘ for his next set of shows, I told him about the Manic Street Preachers and their massive-selling album and about the first track on it and how the band had written it after seeing a Scottish Elvis impersonator in Blackpool (though missed out the part about him being crap) and let him hear the song. You could tell he was quietly pleased at the thought of someone writing a song about him, especially as it was the opening track on such a successful LP, even if he did think the song itself was “a crocka sheeeit, sonny! Crocka sheeeit!”, a phrase everyone and their mother heard as he bawled it across the counter whilst wearing the big headphones perched on top of his blue-streaked quiff.
During his fat Vegas years, ol’ Elvis Himselvis used to come on stage to this, Richard Strauss‘s Also Sprach Zarathustra. You might know it better as the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey. My favourite version is Deodato‘s outrageously eeeeelongated funkified version, Fender Rhodes, clipped guitar ‘n all. Jazz funk? Funk jazz? Prog soul? Who knows, who cares? This is the sound of afros jammin’. Extraordinary!
For reasons I have never quite fathomed, Also Sprach Zarathustra also makes an appearance several times in the lyrics of The Fall‘s Free Range, where Mark E Smith battles over synthesized beats and too-low-in-the-mix guitars to sound like a demented steamer arguing with himself at a bus stop. I’ve got this on one of those supposedly limited 7″s, where the sleeve was spray painted by yer actual band. You probably have it too.
I don’t quit. I merely quote you the lyrics of Sister Sledge. Bob Dylan holds them in such high regard he plays this track immediately before taking the stage each night on his never-ending tour. (ahem….cough….etc). Aye right.
There’s a fine line between madness and genius and brilliance and shite, and I think I may have just (very belatedly) discovered the musical threshold by which an artist can cross over from one side to the other. I say ‘belatedly‘ because the following tracks have mostly been floating about the ether for a year or so and had I not been listening to Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone on BBC 6 Music on Sunday night, they’d still be happily floating about the world wide web and I’d be none the wiser.
The tracks in question have been recorded by Previously On Lost. As the advert says, it does just what it says on the tin. From Season 3 of ‘Lost‘ onwards, these 2 guys have written, recorded and released via their MySpace site a song a week, based on that week’s episode of Lost. Genius? Aye. The songs? Er….aye. It’s a bit Flight Of The Conchords, which is clearly no bad thing. In fact, that’s a very good thing, but I get the feeling these guys take themselves a wee bit too seriously. Anyway, their tracks vary in quality, length and genre on any given week. They pastiche doo-wop, Prince-style funk and any other genre you care to suggest. All played on the cheapest of Casio keyboards and plastic-sounding guitars and sung in the highest falsetto you could possibly achieve wearing skinny-fit cheapo Top Man jeans. If you’re a fan of Daniel Johnson or Ween they might be right up your street. Me? I love Flight Of The Conchords, but I think I prefer the real thing.
Genius at work (?)
Let me know what you think. If you dig, feel free to go to the band’s website and buy Previously On Lost‘s new elpee, “The Tale of Season 4 and the Oceanic Six“. In the meantime, here‘s The Fall‘s version of Sister Sledge’s ‘Lost In Music’.
Le money il sur la table
Il money est sur la table
The palace of excess-uh leads to the palace of access-uh!
What the fuck does that all mean? I mean, I can speak French and that, but what’s he on about? Make no mistake, Mark E Smith is a true madness/genius threshold straddler.
Or the Fall-y and the Ivy. Or Mark The Herald Angels Sing. Or…you get the picture. Many bands have bent, buckled and bastardised yer favourite Christmas singalongs into their own unique shape, but none more so than The Fall. Unlike wet farts like Belle and Sebastian who go for that twee primary school choir effect (with bells on) (pass the sick bucket), The Fall know how to do it properly.
Peel Session #18 (broadcast 17 December 1994) saw Mark E Smith and co. tackle 2 festive favourites. Jingle Bell Rockis a cracker (pardon the pun). A clattering, twang-filled garage band run-through that clocks in at a breakneck 1 minute and 10 seconds long, it is especially joyful and triumphant as the lyrics have been changed to reflect the true Christmas spirit -“Post office hell….Friday night on Oxford Street…walking with green M&S bags…(and something incoherent about) sprouts“. Oh yes!
The Fall. Smokin’!
Hark The Herald Angels Singsounds nothing like the version you sang at school. Complete with a jangling Brix Smith Rickenbacker riff and a skewiff choirboy vocal on the chorus, it sounds, well, like The Fall. It actually sounds like it could be something Mark E Smith wrote last week. “Christ, the everlasting Lord” he drawls, sounding like Jim Royle swearing at the X Factor on the telly. And if you pardon the pun again, it’s a cracker too.
Just a note to explain the lack of activity over the past week or so – a combination of work/home/Christmas stuff combined with the paranoia of being regularly watched over by the internet police has somewhat slowed me down. Hopefully, everything will be back in full working order in the new year. I certainly intend it to be. Keep visiting!