Horrorshow – The Scars

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For a few years (like Simple Minds and Altered Images), The Scars were a regular support band around Scotland. They played on their own too a few times in Aberdeen, most memorably at a pub in Aberdeen called The Copper Beech. I reckon I saw them a dozen times. Their scratchy, funky, dark pop was what we wanted to be like when we first wrote and recorded. You can hear it in our early demos. Part glam, part punk, they were absolutely riveting live. Their drummer and bass player were locked into this ripping, tribal pop-funk, their guitarist made the tinniest, brightest noise this side of a screechy fire alarm. For a while my guitar sound was based on his. The singer was a beautiful punk-glam boy with curly hair and make-up. The Scars were my dream group. Their live sets were full of poetic, apocalyptic pop. They had one song which used the solo from Del Shannon’s Runaway in the middle of it – played note perfect. They usually ended their set with a musical adaptation of Peter Porter’s poem Your Attention Please. I remember studying the poem at school and I loved it then, so it was a moving experience for me to hear it performed to song as I knew the words so well. They ended the set with the guitarist sitting his guitar on top of his amp, creating a huge amount of feedback, mixed with a metallic flanger sound. They had all walked off stage by this time. An amazing exit.
Horrorshow/Adultery is one of my favourite singles of all time, tuneful in places, but, mostly, just grooving along with shrieks including cool Clockwork Orange language (The Jasmine Minks covered both songs live). They never matched up to the onslaught of that first single on future recordings (I really liked the b-side of a single, a cover of Cockney Rebel’s The Psychomodo).
Our roadie, Mark, had a jacket with The Scars logo on the back in stark white paint. Anyone who knew him from that time referred to him as ‘Scars’ and the nickname lasted all his life.
The last time I saw The Scars, they were playing at Rock Garden in London to promote their album (which I never liked at the time – or the elf-ish outfits they wore on the back cover photo come to think of it). Right behind me was Julian Cope, looking cool in his trademark leather Airforce jacket with fleece lapels and jodpurs and jackboots. The Scars were excellent as usual. The sound was softer and their new sound had some phaser guitar sounds (the scourge of 80’s studio recordings). I don’t know what happened to them after that. But for a few years, they were one of the best live bands on the scene…

Old World – Jonathan Richman

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Stripey t-shirts, back to basic rock n roll (even doo-wop at times) – lyrics about airplanes, visiting the hospital, dancing in a lesbian bar, the ice cream man and cars (lots about cars). It can only be Jonathan Richman, the consummate entertainer and one of the best rhymers in pop music. I first heard him with the Modern Lovers when he had hits with Roadrunner and Egyptian Reggae. He sounded great on the radio. At heart he is an old-fashioned Medium Wave radio artist – his songs don’t need such extravagances as FM or Hi-Fi. I see him as a transistor radio pop artist. Jonathan is a dab hand at writing and performing tunes and words. In the early 80’s he was the perfect foil to the macho rock scene, the perfect antidote to gothic pretentions, the perfect boy next door who could make you laugh and dance. When he played Dingwalls, the queue went right around the building towards Camden High Street. He could reminisce about school trips, about love affairs and make you feel that you were part of his story. He was a big influence in taking the pomposity out of music. In Alan McGee’s Living Room there were a lot of stripey t-shirts, a lot of lightly strummed guitars, and our fair share of whimsy. It was a reaction to the years of post-punk, dark clothes and the refusal to actually sing about something heart-warming – to show a wider range of feelings than just anger and cynicism.

His songs can be subtle and beautiful too – ‘Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild’ and ‘The Morning of Our Lives’ are great examples. He is a perfectionist and demands to be heard (he insists that people shut up and listen at live concerts) and wears his emotions on his sleeve. He’s like a Shakespearean balladeer giving us his all in the name of “song” (the art or act of singing, vocal music.)

Live, Jonathan is a force of nature. One of the best entertainers I’ve ever seen. I remember seeing him in Glasgow. Glaswegians audiences are great, but if you’re bad they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms. Even there he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. In the 90’s when music became a bit macho again, Jonathan was still around with some great shows (admittedly I probably went to see more comedians than musicians then.) And he cries tears at the end of the show if it’s gone well. Whether they are showmanship or real I don’t know? But it makes for great entertainment.

My good friend (and Creation Records “French ambassador”), JC Brochard, still sends me songs of Richman’s (and has sent me many great playlists over the decades). Some I’ve never heard before, some are amazing live versions, some recent, some not so recent – studio recordings and live ones too. I’ve been amazed to hear Jonathan singing in French and Spanish, and I’m sure he can sing in other languages too.

The obvious song to post would be Roadrunner – the early version of that song is an absolute rock n roll classic. But I’ve gone for a lovely version of That Summer Feeling. I’ll also try and post The Jasmine Minks live version of a classic Richman song…

A Trip To Marineville – Swell Maps

Was there ever a more shambling, joyful racket than Swell Maps? Who could resist a band with members names like Epic Soundtracks and Biggles Books? The punk simplicity of the tunes with unexpected bits of piano or ‘found’ sounds of whatever seemed to be lying around the room and boy-ish lyrics which brought us instantly back to that innocent time when we didn’t worry and we only wanted to play. Minks’ drummer, Tom, always used to be singing ‘I Got A Full Moon in my tail-light’. Beneath the silliness and interesting noises Swell Maps had that rhythm which put them above the ordinary punk rock group. It was a loose rhythm but it rocked no less than a Stooges groove did. And listening now, I know that Swell Maps tunes like Robot Factory would have fitted right into the drum n bass grooves heard 15 to 20 years later!

But no sooner were they here than they were gone. Epic Soundtracks released a beautiful single with Robert Wyatt and then went on to play for Crime and the City Solution (whose bass player, Harry Howard, auditioned for The Jasmine Minks) and make some sublime recordings as a solo artist. Nikki Sudden had a long and fruitful career. We supported him at Alan McGee’s Living Room. I thought Johnny Thunders was on stage when I saw him but the voice was pure Nikki Sudden. He seemed like an old-fashioned troubadour, you’d hear about him in Berlin or New York. Jowe Head played a lot with us, either with the TVPs or with his own band, The Palookas. Jowe was a lovely person and his enthusiasm for playing and promoting music never ceased to amaze me. One time he came to see us at The Ambulance Station in The Old Kent Road. He told me after the gig that he was tripping on LSD. All was going well with our set until I pressed my fuzz pedal and he said he could hear it and see it!

It’s impossible to represent all these amazingly talented people with one tune. I’d should really choose an early tune like Real Shocks which has that abrasive Nikki Sudden voice with Epic’s frantic drumming and piano break which seem to send the song into another realm altogether. But the solo Swell Maps choices are too good to ignore. Jowe Head’s ‘Cake Shop Girl’ is brilliant and Nikki Sudden’s ‘Great Pharaoh’ with that great line, ‘You’re just the boy from nowhere who fell out of the sky’ is a rocker. But Epic Soundtrack’s Jelly Babies sounds amazing hearing it again…

Before Hollywood – The Go-Betweens

The Go-Betweens were just beginning their big stay in London when I started going to see them. I remember first seeing them in 1983 at the Students Union in Kingston, lost upstairs somewhere in a small room. I had the first album, ‘Send Me A Lullaby’ and loved it. They played with no stage, so you had to move around the room to see them properly. That was the first of many times seeing them throughout the 80’s (and also as solo artists in the 90’s). My favourites were when they played a farewell gig at Adam’s club, Merlin’s Cave in King’s Cross. They were, reluctantly, going back to Australia and the mood that night was nostalgic, noone sure whether they’d ever be back. They did come back of course. The best they ever sounded was when they played a fairly big venue, The Clarendon Hotel, in Hammersmith. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard a gig so sublime in my life. They were masters at subtlety and their use of guitars and vocals were matched by no-one at that time.

Their songs were amazing, immaculately planned works of art (Cattle and Cane has 11/10 time signature!) and beautifully put together. They had pop songs which spoke in a deeper way than almost any I have ever known. Their second album, Before Hollywood, is a masterpiece. But you could listen to any of the albums and find amazing gems of lyrics and tunes. Why they weren’t massive is a mystery to me. Their song titles alone were wonderful: Man O’ Sand to Girl O’ Sea, Dive For Your Memory, Bachelor Kisses.
The Go-Betweens actually came to a number of Jasmine Minks gigs in various combinations, I remember seeing just Robert, and one time Lindy Morrison. The first time they came to see us we were playing a pub called The Roebuck on Tottenham Court Road. We had just finished our soundcheck and came downstairs to the bar and Robert Forster and Grant McLennan were sitting there with my mate Big Mick, who had introduced himself to them and bought them beers. We joined them and spoked for ages, trading favourite groups. Great times. (Big Mick still has to pinch himself that that actually happened). Another time me and Tom got drunk while Lindy thrashed us at pool after a gig at Riverside Studios with Hurrah!
It’s difficult to pick a tune to represent The Go-Betweens. I could go for something off the wall like Karen, “she works in a library, she helps me find Joyce, she always makes the right choice” or literate, like Spring Rain, “I want surprises, just like spring rain”. But I’ll go for the absolute classic that is Cattle and Cane, “memory wastes”.

The Sun It Shines Here – Hurrah!

Hurrah! were one of the first groups I saw in the 80’s who had great pop songs and ‘in your face’ flyers. A call to get up off your arse and make music, to SAY SOMETHING. Their single “I’ll Be Your Surprise” was so fast and exciting I almost couldn’t bear it. The first of many times I saw them was in London at King’s College Students’ Union. I was blown away. They had everything: twin chiming guitars (including an amazing Burns 12-string), an amazingly cool, jazzy drummer (with shades of course), solid bass and the BEST tunes in the country. After they played I went up and introduced myself to one of the guitarist/singers, Paul, who was very shy and passed me onto Taffy. I said they should come and play our regular place, The Living Room. It never happened unfortunately. They already had proper management and a good label backing them, so a small indie club above a pub would have seemed like a downwards step to them. Funnily enough, a couple of years later, they were down playing London and, the night after, they came to see us play at a room above a pub (The Enterprise in Camden). We played a punky set and, afterwards, Paul and Taffy both came storming up to me praising me for my guitar playing, (a compliment that has stayed with me all my life). They had their gear outside and we asked if they’d play a set, so they did and it was an amazing set: no soundcheck, no big PA, just Hurrah! at their very best but in an intimate setting. I’m honoured to have been there. They went on to make some more cracking singles, but never got the success they richly deserved. Some of the best songs of the 80’s were theirs. They were the British Go-Betweens, songs just as good. Taffy is still making music as The Girl With The Replaceable Head and Paul as Bronze. My heart is still with them.

Hand In Glove – The Smiths

Morrissey with his distinctive, folky singing and Johnny Marr with his amazing guitar riffs has had a huge effect on music in general since they first played a wonderful set for John Peel back in ’83. Morrissey spoke for the dispossessed and, had I been younger than the 21 year-old ‘mature’ man that I was, I’d have fallen hook, line and sinker for his world. Even at that age I could see the genius behind Morrissey – his words, his demeanour, his laissez-faire. Who could fail to like someone who was given a top ten of reasons to hate Morrissey in The Sun newspaper?

Without even knowing it our songs took on an edge of Smith-ness, from my whining on Mr. Magic (b-side to Where The Traffic Goes) to Adam’s guitar riff on What’s Gone Wrong (originally written in triplets and sounding pretty much like What Difference Does It Make). Soul Station is the bastard son of Reel Around The Fountain. Seeing them live in London, it was pretty obvious that they had a cult audience of Morrissey clones from the beginning. I kinda liked that, weird though it was.

And yes, it’s true, Morrissey did see us play at The Living Room. I remember him sitting on his own at a small round table nursing a beer. I wish I had the courage to go up and speak to him. He looked so lonely. Alan McGee did speak to him and wasted no time in trying to link us with them, inviting them to do a joint single. We offered Ghost of a Young Man. After lots of murmurings, it didn’t happen. But the thought was there.

But Morrissey didn’t forget the Minks completely. A few years back while being interviewed by Paul Morley, he mentioned us and in Q magazine and again with June Brides in Uncut. It’s nice to be remembered…

Venus In Furs – Andy Warhol

The Factory looked amazing with all the hangers-on. The films that showed hours of banality, toilet flushing, Empire State Building at night, tinfoil wallpaper. DIY art.

It did kinda feel that Creation Records had something of that feel with McGee being the Warhol figure and loads of us around the periphery. Of course, The Velvet Underground came out of the Factory too, produced by Warhol – light shows and rock n roll, an amazing combination. Is there a better album of melody, aggression and variety in rock music than VU’s first! The first few Creation Records’ Christmas parties ended with as many people as possible on stage performing Sister Ray (from VU’s second album). Look at the single covers from early Creation, pure Warhol, simple prints, folded and put into flimsy plastic bags. What’s Happening is one of the best Creation Records artwork, a big hand playing a barre chord on an electric guitar. Fantastic!

God Only Knows – The Beach Boys

Maybe a surprising choice, us growing up in the punk scene and all. But as I said previously, the punk back-to-year-zero ethic had gone, thankfully, and I, for one, was having a ball discovering all these old bands. Around the mid-80’s there were re-runs of Ready Steady Go, the 60’s pop music show. Rolling Stones live doing Under My Thumb and Satisfaction were favourites of mine I would play over and over (I taped the shows on my video recorder). When the Beach Boys played live on the show I loved the understated music and attitude (not the shirts, which were loud even on a black and white TV) and the harmonies were wonderful. They had some great rhythms too. And that backwards drumming style by Dennis Wilson was primal. I started reading up about Brian Wilson and got to know a bit about the early Beach Boys and the move from the band singing Brian’s songs to the likes of Pet Sounds, a masterpiece of a 60’s studio recording. I loved the quietness of Brian and the genius that eventually broke him. A Beach Boys documentary I hired from a video shop (remember them?) around that time had John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd from Saturday Night Live TV show in the US dragging Brian Wilson from his bed and forcing him to surf, something he’d never done. I thought that was a perfect prank which showed that Brian had a sense of humour about his own problems (he allegedly took to bed for a long, long time after Smile album was ditched).

At that time I was working hard on my songs trying to get melodies, trying to write half-decent pop songs. A song a hundredth of the impact of one of Brian Wilson’s would have sent me to my grave happy. On Another Age album, Brian Wilson is everywhere: I stole the intro to I Can Hear Music and used it as the building block for Nothing Can Stop Me (play them both together and see for yourself), Brian is one of the characters in my story that is Living Out Your Dreams and the singing is always understated, never preachy, a big break from the way I’d sung some songs in the past. I finally got to see Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds in full in Glasgow in the early 2000’s. Thank you Brian – Surf’s Up…

Radio City – Big Star

I was struggling a bit after Adam left The Jasmine Minks. He was the focal point live and a great songwriter. We were a good team when we wrote together. Adam wrote the words for some of our best songs: Cold Heart, Ghost of a Young Man and Where The Traffic Goes and all these were easy for me to put to music. The sum of our writing produced something very special. So without him, I was going to have to put more time into writing if we were to carry on. Wattie had come along to play guitar and give us a kick up the arse instead of the other option – calling it a day with music altogether. So I had encouragement from Wattie to get us back on the map. Wattie got us a Radio 1 Janice Long session and he got us gigs around the country and in France. He spurred me on, but, paradoxically, instead of trying to bounce back by expanding my writing, I simplified my writing even further, using simple chord structures – and nearly all the songs had verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle 8, verse, chorus. Simple, guitar pop.

Around then Alan McGee gave me a C60 cassette with “Alex Chilton” written on it and told me I HAD to listen to it. I knew the name linked to The Cramps but didn’t know much else about him. The songs on the cassette formed an album of great guitar pop with some slower Velvet Underground influenced tunes and even a cover of Femme Fatale. I now know that it was Big Star’s, initially ditched, third album. And what a fucking album! I remember waking up one morning after Tom and Martin had been staying over (we often rehearsed then went for a few beers then listened to music at my house into the early hours.) Anyway, this particular morning we were all just waking up and talking about how our new songs were coming along. I had been listening to this cassette for a few weeks and played it to Tom and Martin then. Martin, in particular was keen. He thought it seemed a bit like what were trying to do. The album became a constant in my life and was always on around the time I was writing the songs for Another Age, our third album. I have chosen Blue Moon to accompany this testimonial but I could just as easily have chosen Holocaust, Thank You Friends, Jesus Christ, Stroke It Noel, Kizza Me. Aw shit, anything from that amazing album would have been fine by me…

Poor Old Soul – Postcard Records

I was a massive Postcard Records fan but of Orange Juice and Aztec Camera in particular. I had the singles with the free postcards and I loved the twee brown images. It was all such a breath of fresh air after dismal, long raincoat music and bands who didn’t ever smile. The music was melodic and rhythmic and had a light touch, mostly. Aztec Camera had one of Scotland’s best ever songwriters, Roddy Frame, and he was great even at such a young age. Mattress of Wire and Just Like Gold were wonderful singles. Orange Juice were a bit more hip, ditching the back-to-year-zero of punk, which was well overdue! It was nice to hear songs with titles like Falling and Laughing and Simply Thrilled Honey. The guitars were jangly and exciting to me. They were played with physical energy and emotion rather than with rock sustain which was becoming a bore – still electric though, still pop.
We started writing songs with melodies and didn’t need rock histrionics. This definitely came from Postcard. Our first single, Think, was produced by Television Personalities’ Joe Foster and Alan McGee turned up with a plastic red keyboard and another TVP, Dave Musker. Dave had never played with us before and he fitted in instantly. It turned out the same keyboard was used in the recording of Orange Juice’s single Blue Boy. You couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if you tried…