Guitars v. Conservatism – The Byrds

 

 

The Byrds were the perfect group for me – I loved all the voices in the group, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clarke, all had their amazing and individual sound. The songs were bright, short and had catchy guitar riffs, harmonies and a mix of original imagery and, often, philosophical lyrics, even anti-war lyrics later on when David Crosby could get away with it. The songs as a whole were the most complete of any of the 60’s guitar-pop groups. Nothing was lacking, from the swooping bass lines and shuffling beats to the excellent harmonies (for once NOT sounding like a run-of-the-mill folk group) to the most memorable parts, the 12-string electric guitar riffs, played with skill and originality – the guitar defines their sound as much as anything and has been the most copied style in guitar pop. Their singles were played regularly on the radio when I was growing up – Mr. Tambourine Man, All I Really Want To Do, Eight Miles High, Turn Turn Turn, Chestnut Mare, So You Want To Be A Rock n Roll Star.

In the early 1980’s, there was a budget LP out called Byrds Original Singles 1965-67. It was a life-changing record for me. I borrowed it from Beckenham Public Library and recorded it onto a C-90. It was played over and over and over on my portable cassette player in the kitchen in my flat in Penge. I fell in love with it. It had the first eight Byrds singles and the b-sides. The quality of the b-sides alone were phenomenal, Feel A Whole Lot Better, She Don’t Care About Time and Everybody’s Been Burned to name a few, all songs which any other band would give their eye teeth to have as their a-sides. By default Columbia Records had created one of the best albums ever put together. Many years before this compilation The Byrds, of course, produced some great original albums, The Notorious Byrds Brothers, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (with Gram Parsons) and Untitled are my favourites. It was a credit to McGuinn and bassist Chris Hillman that they managed to carry on making quality records even without the voices and high quality songwriting of Gene Clarke and David Crosby. The huge biography, Timeless Flight (which is comprehensive enough to have survived several popular revisions) is worth a read, both for The Byrds as a unit and for Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn, Gram Parsons and David Crosby in their post-Byrds releases.

Because of the wonderful sound McGuinn got, I saved up for a 12-string guitar. I bought an Ovation electro-acoustic from the famous Andy’s Guitar Workshop in Denmark St. just off The Charing Cross Road. I still have it today – one of the few posessions I’ve held onto after all these years. I started writing songs which utilised it – both songs on our second single, Where The Traffic Goes (written to Adam’s powerful lyrics) and Mr. Magic started with 12 string guitar riffs, not quite up to the McGuinn standard, but with distinctive intros nevertheless. When Wattie joined the Minks, he saved up for a Rickenbacker 12-string and that gave the group a sound which went even closer to The Byrds. His tone on Cut Me Deep is an 80’s update of that McGuinn sound and it defines The Jasmine Minks to many – our best-known song outside the Indie scene. I hired a black 12-string Rickenbacker to use on some of the songs on Another Age album, trying to keep that sound alive. Our current set of concerts where we play the Another Age album, uses Wattie’s 12-string Rickenbacker sound to the full…

IMG.jpg

 

Advertisements

Kinks in the Armour

Image result for muswell hillbillies

The Kinks were, and still are, one of my favourite groups. I listened to them a lot about the time of writing and recording our album Another Age. The story about how Dave Davies got his distorted sound on their first single You Really Got Me by sticking knitting needles through his guitar amplifier speakers is legendary and one that made an impression on hungry young guitar players the world over. Their 1960’s and early 1970’s singles have some of the most evocative music and stories (because that’s what Ray Davies songs often are – short stories built around real people) and make for repeated listening over the years, something most records just don’t have. Lola, Terry and Julie, the people on Dead End Street, but also the sneers of I’m Not Like Everybody Else (which I took the idea for the beginning of Veronica from) and the sarcasm of Mr. Pleasant and Dedicated Follower of Fashion.

When I first moved down to London at the tender age of 18, I worked on the building sites. I made many friends, some I’m still in touch with to this day. I was a bit naive and never got on very well with the gaffers on the sites at first, seeing them as uptight. The first guy who treated me well was a lovely man called Alex from Epsom in Surrey. We got on great and he put up with my lateness and my bad attitude to work because we got on so well. He told me about following The Kinks around in the 60’s and how he loved their songs and their look – he thought the red hunting jackets were very smart. He was into the new music of the time, Beatles, Dylan etc. and he said it was hard going because his family, including his brother, thought this new music was rubbish compared to Frank Sinatra and the other crooners and that it wouldn’t last! He told me that by the 80’s his brother was a collector of all things Beatles – people come around eventually eh! I was very impressed and started to look deeper into The Kinks. Their raunchier, early singles were excellent of course, but I began to realise that there were great albums by them too. You couldn’t split a hair between such greats as: Something Else, The Village Green Preservation Society (probably my favourite), Powerman and The Moneygoround, Muswell Hillbillies (which I’m listening to as I write this) to name a few!

When Wattie joined the Jasmine Minks, we were doing extended versions of Where The Traffic Goes and I’d sing Tired Of Waiting in the quiet bits, emulating that bobbing rhythm. In fact, I’m sure I sung it on the live ep Pure Jasmine Minks which Kevin Pearce put out on his Esurient label around that time. When Dave Arnold played guitar for us, we’d muck around in rehearsals with Sittin’ On My Sofa. I really want to cover You Really Got Me with The Jasmine Minks – I think it would be perfect for us.

Quite often in bands there has been a songwriter who doesn’t get the credit as much – George Harrison, Colin Moulding. Dave Davies is one of those. So in support of all the un-heralded songwriters out there, I’m gonna choose a song by the fantastic brother of Ray, Dave – his beautiful call to spirituality – Strangers…
“Strangers on this road we are on
We are not two we are one ”

Three Before Eight – Northern Soul

Image result for northern soul patches
Northern Soul was a strange scene – peculiar to the UK. I first came across it when I was about 14 or 15 years-old, in my last year at school. Some of the kids who hung about in my street would be telling everyone about these coach trips they were taking to the north of England, to the Wigan Casino and other venues to hear DJs playing classic and rare soul singles from the 1960s. They would get the coach back right after that and sleep for the 8 hour journey home. The kids I knew started bringing boxes of 7″ vinyl singles out to the street and showing off their rare finds – a big part of the scene was buying and swapping singles. A change was happening to the kids outside as they became entranced by the clothes and I saw more and more wide flared trousers with pleats at the top and flat-soled brogues shined to maximum luminosity (the flat soles were easier to dance with and a sharp contrast to the platform-soled shoes still in fashion). The night bags with the sew-on patches of the various Northern Soul venues and mementos of particular nights where there were Golden Oldies nights playing songs from record labels like Tamla-Motown and Okeh.
I was getting into punk at the time, so I didn’t quite get this desire to hark back to the past for music when there was fresh music all around the country, also cultish, but with some similarities – both strongly working class, both off the radar of daytime radio. But the similarities meant that in local youth clubs there would be kids who would bring along records to play that were difficult to hear elsewhere. In Aberdeen, in the city centre, the 62 club was such a place. We’d have nights where we had to share the dance floor with the Northern Soul kids. You’d hear a song like Landslide by Tony Clark or Breakout by Mitch Ryder and Detroit Wheels with all these kids doing twists and turns, always clapping to the correct parts in unison (they knew the songs inside out), then the next song there’d be bunch of punks scrambling randomly about around the dance floor to The Damned’s New Rose.
I left school at 15 and got an apprenticeship Electrician job, which meant going to Technical College for 6 week blocks. It was here that I befriended a guy who was a mad Northern Soul fan. He started making me compilation cassettes, mixing up classic Tamla-Motown and rare soul singles, some of which he’d paid a lot of money for at the All-nighters. I loved those tapes and quickly became a fan. This was my introduction to Black music – although there was a Funk music fan at work who would let me hear loads of the American cuts from the 70’s – ironically, the Funk-Soul fans were into newer grooves and went to All-dayers, almost the opposite to the Northern Soul scene!
Northern Soul melodies and grooves found their way into Jasmine Minks songs early on with the Soul-stomp of Where The Traffic Goes right through to the songs on our electronic-pop album Popartglory – where I sampled Northern Soul songs and played over them, singing new melodies. Recording our first full album in Ellon, Aberdeenshire, we had a trumpet player, Derek Christie – he was playing on loads of our new songs. Me and Iain Slater (who recorded the album for us) would hum trumpet parts for Derek to play, while he was in the next room, headphones on. When the tape was running he’d replicate those melodies, adding his own amazing ones too. Painting/Arguing in particular owes a lot to Northern Soul – the coda in that song with the trumpet fading out in a pure-rare-soul groove.
Too much to choose from for a song to accompany this blog, but I’ve gone for a personal favourite and one that brings back strong memories – Open The Door To Your Heart.
Feel free to post your own favourites…

Daydream Believer – The Monkees

The Monkees were, at once, funny and cool, unpretentious – yet had the catchiest pop songs. The TV programme that they were formed to act in was a bit naff, with wackiness abound but with great pop songs, especially the theme tune and introductory credits with the members of the band larking about on the beach. After the two year run of the series, they made a psychedelic movie (produced by Jack Nicholson) with cool songs and LSD-trip effects. It was a hard thing for kids to get into but the soundtrack is well worth a listen.
Listening back to The Monkees now I don’t hear the over-the-top zany antics, I hear really good pop songs with interesting studio productions. After the split of The Monkees, Michael Nesmith made some great solo albums (Nevada Fighter and Tantamount To Reason to name just two) – Grand Ennui is a classic, country-pop song too.
The Monkees guitar music with a mix of pop, country and showmanship was perfect for the picking of 1980’s groups. I would go as far as saying that they had a big hand in the sound of early 80’s Indie music. We were fed up of artists with too much seriousness, too much virtuosity – too many people proselytising and loving the sound of their own voices. The Monkees’ mix of singers, the mix of fun and unbridled energy and that desire to have your own voice on your records (not buried by the ubiquitous 60’s backing singers) had an effect on The Jasmine Minks for sure – three of us sang, often with a call-and-response style, and we sounded fragile and lightweight at times – but it was us and we stand by that!
For the song to listen to with this blog, I could have gone for Last Train To Clarksville, I’m A Believer or Pleasant Valley Sunday but my favourite track was a flop here in the UK – a single I used to play over and over as a young kid, Alternate Title (Randy Scouse Git) – enjoy…

Jumpin’ In The Night – Flamin’ Groovies

Flamin’ Groovies records had the best of 60’s guitar pop and rock n roll music distilled into one. What I really liked about them was their stubbornness in keeping to that sound and honing it until it became second nature in their songwriting. They did many cover versions too, songs from The Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Byrds to name a few. Their three guitar line-up was a revelation and their obsession with guitars and harmonies meant a huge amount to me coming out of the punk and post-punk scene, where that was anathema. It was almost like they were fighting back for music, saying that songs mattered and that our musical history mattered. It was okay to strum a guitar melodically and singing in harmony was a beautiful action to do.
I first heard them when they had a minor new wave hit, Shake Some Action – Minks drummer, Tom, had a 12″ single version of it and he played it loads. I would rate it as one of the best singles of all time. We have covered it ourselves a few times in rehearsals – it’s such a great song to play, wonderful melodies and harmonies and a really positive call to arms in the chorus. I had quite a few Flamin’ Groovies records, starting with the Shake Some Action LP with that amazing Dave Edmunds’ Spector-like production and cool images of the band in black leaning menacingly on a Rolls Royce (it looked liked they nicked it for the photo shoot). I also bought the other albums they released around that time – Now and Jumpin’ In The Night, all of which have some cracking songs on them. I went back and discovered their previous recordings, not realising that they had been around for years before that. Slow Death is an absolute classic song from the early 70’s and the album Teenage Head from 1971 has some of the hallmarks of their later songs – close harmonies and cool Americana and rock n roll all in the mix too. I did love that album in lots of ways, not least for the main inspiration to buy a plexi-glass guitar like Cyril Jordan had on the back cover (and, yes, Tom Verlaine had one like it too). One song on the Teenage Head album, City Lights, was the inspiration for my song, Soul Station, similar in melody and pace – eventually at live Minks’ gigs I would replace the third verse with the Groovies’ own words,
“If I go down to the city
Where the neon lights all shine so bright and pretty
Where the night-time girls are always laughing
The movie stars are autographing”
When we came to record Another Age album at Alaska Studios, Waterloo, I had the Shake Some Action album production values in my head – lots of guitars (acoustic, electric, 12-string) overdubbed in different textures, strong melodies and copious amounts of reverb! Thank you, Flamin’ Groovies…

Love Bites – The Buzzcocks

 

The Buzzcocks were one of the first punk bands, famously supporting The Sex Pistols in Manchester. I first heard them at a youth club I went to a lot in 1977-78. The 62 Club was just off the main street in Aberdeen, Union Street. I met a lot of people there who I still count as friends to this day. At the first disco I went to there in late 1977 I can remember meeting Les. He had an amazing painting on the back of his jean jacket of Jesus hanging upside down on the cross. We quickly became friends (Les ended up doing artwork for us for Creation Records and, lately, for my own Oatcake Records. He does loads of artwork for East Action Records and has a style and quality to his work that is still in demand.) Les had a box of records with him and I suspect that a lot of the records played were his.

The 62 youth club had a great, wee dance floor and a tiny DJ booth. Some great gigs were held there too, including UK Subs and Patrik Fitzgerald. I saw the film, The Harder They Come in the upstairs room there – shown on one of those big box projectors spinning the huge reels round at a terrifying speed, the noise competing with the sound of the movie. At the 62 club you could dance to punk rock records (our school disco rarely played any)or drink coffee upstairs . There were lots of Northern Soul records played too and I remember sharing nights with the Soul boys and girls, where we’d hear a punk record and a soul record alternated throughout the night.

Over the next few months, I would hear lots of great records there and buy some of them too. But one of them seemed impossible to buy. It had a cool bass intro followed by a single string guitar riff, a swinging verse but the chorus was the bees-knees “Boredom, Boredom, b-dum, b-dum”. I loved it and hunted for it in all the record shops from Aberdeen to Dundee to Glasgow not realising that it had long gone out of print. It was a long time before it was reissued and I managed to get a copy. There was a bootleg album going round of their early recordings but there was no way I could afford that.

Their following singles were all classics, What Do I Get/Oh Shit, Orgasm Addict, I Don’t Mind/Autonomy, Love You More/Noise Annoys and so on for a good two or three years. The artwork on singles and albums was first class – modernist and eye-catching. Their sound moved from that early rumbling fast train to a slick in-your-face guitar onslaught and big production values by Martin Rushent but always with that plaintive voice which destroyed the rock sound of it and made it more accessible to punks and pop buyers alike. They had many hits of course and are still playing today. I’ve seen them a few times and the gig at Aberdeen’s Capitol Theatre on the Love Bites tour was one of the best gigs I have ever been to – Joy Division supported and were excellent and I wondered if The Buzzcocks could follow that. But it was no problem for them as they were at the top of their game.

1985 – The Jasmine Minks were trying to come up with a new set after the release of our first two singles, Think (where Adam played the Boredom two-note solo near the end of the record), Where The Traffic Goes and mini-album, 1234567 All Good Preachers Go To Heaven. Adam had that bootleg album Buzzcocks record which I had taped onto cassette. I was playing it non-stop and loved the way The Buzzcocks held onto one chord for longer than you would normally expect giving a sense of anticipation about when (or if) it would change – Breakdown, Friends of Mine, A Drop in The Ocean, Love Battery. There was something magic about that and it seemed like enough years had gone that we could use the same trick. So we did. We wrote a brand new set with songs called – Black and Blue, Forces Network, What’s Happening, All Fall Down, You Got Me Wrong, The World’s No Place For A Romantic Today. We would play our new set and we were so happy with the songs that we hardly visited our old songs. It was very liberating for us but, looking back, probably quite frustrating for our fans and I remember people shouting for songs which we refused to play (at Primal Scream’s club in Glasgow there was a woman shouting all night for us to play an older song, Work For Nothing, but to no avail).

We recorded 4 songs, over a weekend at Alaska Studios, near Waterloo Bridge, for what we thought was the perfect ep. It didn’t come out as we’d hoped. But, eventually, two of the songs came out as a single – What’s Happening/ Black and Blue (where Martin did bass overdubs) and the others came out at various times as tracks on albums. What’s Happening has a great cover (a hand playing on an electric guitar, printed in simple colours – it has been even included in a book showing the history of 7″ single cover artwork). I remember hearing the DJ Peter Powell playing What’s Happening on his Radio 1 show – he compared it to a jingle (at 1 min. 54 secs it must have been a very short record for those times?) A brief moment in time when The Buzzcocks moved us to be creative and incisive…

The Dream’s Dream – Television

 

Television were among the many cool sounds coming from New York, heard via the John Peel radio show, that inspired the punk scene along with Blondie’s glossy pop, Richard Hell’s bluntness, Talking Heads’ amazing discourses over deep, deep bass, The Ramones’ Spector-guitar-pop and Patti Smith’s visionary poetry.

Television had it all. Ice cold singing, every word carefully enunciated, guitars slipping in and out of the drums and bass, sometimes fluid, sometimes jagged. Television had a sound which took rock back to basics, yet carefully orchestrated within those basics. Guitars often panned, not many overdubs, relying on great guitar riffs and tunes and amazing lyrics. Quite a contrast to the huge productions more common then from US guitar pop bands – the massive Beatles-ish harmonies plugged into stadium rock guitars heard on FM radio.

Their first album, Marquee Moon had a dark image of the band on the cover, almost Rembrandt-like. But the music was years ahead. It took the rock and pop of the NY scene and made it timeless, literate, yet somehow, dancy and groovy. As a guitarist, I homed in on Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s playing. I’d record the songs onto my cassette player from John Peel radio show and play them over and over, working out each note. Lloyd was the fancy guitarist who could play the rock riffs and fluid solos. Verlaine’s style was unique – he was the one playing each note as if his life depended on it. You could hear it, the way he bent a string to get some vibrato or controlled the volume gently to get a warmer attack.

I had a 12″ copy of their greatest work, Little Johnny Jewel, which was originally released on that strangest of concepts, the 7″ single with half of the record on one side and the rest on the other (I had Marquee Moon split over both sides of a single too). The simplest bass riff ever, just running down the open strings, the drums skitting between syncopated rhythms and four-to-the-floor rock. The guitar is amazing, it doesn’t sound amplified at all, as if it is just plugged straight into the 4-track Teac they recorded it on. Verlaine at his best, picking out rhythms not far removed from a Scottish reel in the most familiar section. And some of my favourite lyrics:

And he’d wake up dreaming,
He’d run down to the airport
The rush, the roar
And he’d crouch down behind a fence
With a chest full of lights
And then he’d lose his senses

When The Jasmine Minks started playing Alan McGee’s Living Room, I was trying to play like Verlaine, picking out little guitar runs, going away from the key for a while hanging on to notes, letting the others carry the tune. Alan thought I should do some solo guitar stuff, he even took me to Cherry Red Records offices with the idea of seeing if they’d do an album with me. But I began to spend more time writing songs and the guitar playing became second to that. I was looking more widely around me and trying to become a more all-round musician.

I did see Television, finally, a couple of years ago in Glasgow, performing their amazing first album, Marquee Moon. I loved it. They seemed like a jazz band in a strange way, totally boring to watch but the tunes and rhythms spellbinding with their crescendos and understated vocals. I could choose anything from their first album as each song is excellent. I have a few favourites from the second album too, including a soft spot for The Dream’s Dream (another song I learned note for note, an amazing rapidly key-changing tune). But I go back to that first single for my song choice…

Burn It Down – Dexys Midnight Runners

Image result for kevin rowland
This man was my father, my dexy’s, my high…
Dexy’s Midnight Runners appeared on the scene as punk rock was declining. They took the energy and emotion of punk and used it in their own brand of rock-soul. Self-righteous anger, yet reverence for great rock-soul-pop traditions, a sense of musical history that was discarded when we became punks. I had the first single, Dance Stance, on The Clash manager Bernie Rhodes’s label Oddball Records. I first heard it at a pal’s house party in Aberdeen, loads of people dancing to it. I was a bit dumbstruck, seeing loads of ‘ordinary’ dressed young men and women dancing to such a frenetic, angry song with loads of literary references – strange lyrics for a pop song indeed. (I’d never heard of most of them so I went to the library and read Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde and all these authors in the next few years.)
The first album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels is an absolute cracker of an album. Dance Stance had changed to Burn It Down and the opening montage of radio fuzz includes The Sex Pistols and The Specials, showing it wasn’t just influences from 60’s soul that were in Dexy’s arsenal. I remember playing it to a punk pal and he was surprised how angry and full of energy it was. The brass section on the album was the biggest sound I’d ever heard outside of punk rock guitars. They were perfectly played and they had a swagger too.
4 or 5 years later I was living in South London and very busy with writing, recording and playing live with The Jasmine Minks. We had already released a few singles and a mini-album. One Saturday morning an old pal knocked on my door unannounced. He had hitched from Aberdeen with a bag of clothes and a trumpet (I remember him carrying around a cornet at school and going to music lessons). By afternoon, we were working out trumpet parts for new songs, I think the first one was a new song I’d written for Adam’s lyrics called Choice, but he played on many more. Derek moved in for a while and we worked on loads of songs. He became an important part of our live and recorded sound. We went up to APB’s Iain Slater’s house in Ellon, near Aberdeen, to record an album. Iain had an 8-track recorder in his bedroom. We recorded a dozen songs or so, mostly with trumpets on them, sometimes doubled up for harmonies. We borrowed fellow Aberdonian’s The Shaman’s digital recorder to mix all the songs onto (we were the first Creation band to use digital technology). One of the stronger songs we recorded was Everybody Has Got To Grow Up Sometime, a 6/4 time signature song we played live a lot, closer in sound to deep soul than post-punk. Alan McGee loved the song and suggested it as the album title, even getting as far as putting the name on a promo poster which had upcoming releases. But he eventually pulled it from the the album altogether, saying it was too soulful for us. Lots of the songs were used but the album which eventually came out was a hotch-potch of songs from that session and those recorded in other sessions, giving the album a dis-jointed feel.
A year or two later (Derek had moved on) I was strolling down Waterloo Road when this chap walked straight up to me and said I was in The Jasmine Minks wasn’t I? I nodded. He said ‘You guys should use Dexy’s original brass section.’ (They had famously been sacked by Kevin Rowland and been doing various bits and pieces since, including working with Elvis Costello on the brilliant Punch The Clock LP.) ‘They’re not working right now’ and ‘Here’s (leader and arranger) Jeff Blythe’s phone number.’ He wrote it on a piece of paper and carried on walking on towards Elephant and Castle – a strange but true encounter. I got home later that evening and phoned Jeff. He was really friendly and invited me over to his place in Clapham the next evening. Me and Tom (Minks’ drummer went over to meet him and played him our LP. He lived in a squat, round the back of some shops in Clapham High Street with one main room which had a ceiling so high he had fixed an open silk parachute to the ceiling to lower it considerably and give it a cozy feel. He really liked it and said our sound was perfect for us at it was. He was happy to work out arrangements for new songs on his upright piano which he had in the room. We talked a lot about the third Dexy’s LP. We retired to the pub and had a few pints and said our farewells. Me and Tom were chuffed to bits, having spent the evening in the presence of a legend.
Fast forward to the Creation Records Doing It For The Kids all-day concert at the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town (only last week a great reminder was posted showing all the bands playing). This was a legendary day for us and a lot of Creation Records fans. One of the great things for us was meeting up again with some of the people who had put us on in their indie clubs around the UK. Lots had travelled a long way, some without tickets. The concert was sold out many days before. But we managed to get people in, somehow creating a system of passing them our backstage passes through our roadie, Chris, who would sneak out in the blistering heat that day and bring people in, like refugees, to the relative coolness of the venue (the biggest concert of our lives with 2 thousand people crammed in.) It was great for us to pay back all the hard work these guys who had tirelessly promoted and put on gigs above pubs and in various small venues around the country for no financial gain, mainly because noone else would put on the bands they loved. Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian was there that day (I only found out years later – he actually came up to me and introduced himself and told me he that he was working at a record shop in Glasgow and sold a load of records to come down to the gig). But the most surprising one we got in that day was Kevin Rowland. Chris told me he was waiting outside and had no ticket. I gave Chris my backstage pass and he got it to Rowland. Kevin Rowland asked to meet the guy who’s ticket got him in, so I went down to talk to him, not saying much as I was very shy. After the show I bumped into him again and he said he had really enjoyed our set. I couldn’t tell him how amazing that made me feel. I just shook his hand. It was a strange feeling though, taking me back to being a 16 year-old hearing his music on the radio and on Top of the Pops. Things had come full circle as they say…

 

 

Horrorshow – The Scars

Image result for the scars author author

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

Image result for jonathan richman glasgow

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…