Saturday, November 22, 2008
CHAPTER 18 : FUN 'N' FRENZY: THE SOUND OF YOUNG SCOTLAND
Chapter 17 in the US edition)
>“None of us… rehearsals”
Collins. Record Collector 1995 feature at http://listen.to/orangejuice
Originally, it wasn’t grey and bleak and angsty postpunk they wanted to distance themselves with the healthful and cheery name Orange Juice, but punk--Scotland, lagging slightly behind the scene down south, was in 1979 jam packed with second-wave punk bands like The Exploited, groups with names like Screw, Semen, Vomit, according to Collins.
c.f. Edwyn Collins, (NME, September 1981): “I never really liked The Sex Pistols because they were a heavy metal band.”
>White Riot tour
Edwyn Collins: “The punk groups I’d seen before, like the Damned, were fairly competent. On the White Riot tour, The Slits came on first, and Palmolive’s drums were so out of time, I couldn’t help laughing. It just seemed so impertinent."
>“subverted people’s… very camp”
Collins. NME 4/23/83.
c.f. Collins: "We wanted a '30s and '40s feel. We had this conceited notion that we could write these great standards, like 'My Funny Valentine'…. 'Poor Old Soul' was directly inspired by… Noel Coward." (Record Collector, 1995)
Malcolm Ross, Josef K guitarist. “The mystique of Subway Sect comes from the way they kept self-destructing. They had that first really great single ‘Nobody’s Scared,’ and then nothing came out for ages. The Subway Sect that played on the White Riot tour, you never saw again--it was a completely different line-up supporting the Buzzcocks in 1979. You would hear a fantastic John Peel session by them and be waiting for the album, but it never came out. Subway Sect had an intellectual side to them. Godard had literary ideas. And I never liked the philistinism of most punk, especially bandwagon jumpers like The Exploited.”
>“Everyone used… little twits”
Collins. Record Collector 1995 feature at http://listen.to/orangejuice
"I'd moved on to Glasgow College of Building & Printing… which is where I met David [McClymont, Orange Juice bassist]. Big John from the Exploited used to chase after him shouting, 'Come here you wee hippie, you wee poof, I'm gunna do you!' Everyone used to think we were a bunch of androgynous little twits…."
>“I didn’t want… disorientating”
Collins. Sounds 10/24/81
More from that interview : “It was… just putting out the not-very-palatable opinion that sometimes girls can be highly sexist… I was simply thrilled ha ha ha!---thanks but no thanks… It’s my taboo in a way, sex…. I think sex is a very private thing…. I don’t believe in polygamy. Having lots of lovers is an expression of being really unhappy.”
> "A New York band"
“A New York band forming in the Bearsden area. Influences Television, Talking Heads and The Voidoids.”-- posted in Ripped and Torn fanzine.
>Live 1969… pottering around the flat
Collins: “When I used to wake up in the morning, in my flat in Glasgow, I had a tiny wee Dansette record player by my bed. And I put it on auto and it just used to repeat Live 1969… for three hours while I'd do my tidying and Hoovering… I can't help it if it shows”. (NME, 1984)
Collins: “Whenever a Postcard single came out Alan would play it back to back with [Velvet Underground’s] ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ and with tears in his eyes say: ‘We’ll never make a record as good as that’”. (Sounds, August 1984 )
>a record store called Listen
Steven Daley: “After I left school in 1977, I worked in a record shop called Listen ---downstairs in the part where they had badges. Badge culture was important then, one of the ways you showed your allegiances and recognised likeminds. Alan Horne was downstairs one day and we got talking."
Alan Horne, quoted in David Cavanagh’s My Magpie Eyes Have Seen the Prize: The Creation Records Story : “The reputation I had with certain people was based on the fact that I was a horrible, overcompensating, shy person who was speeding out of my head all the time. When we were doing the label, I was the head of a gang of people who were not the best-adjusted people. I really wanted to prove that I was the leader, so I pushed myself and pushed myself, and became a monster. And that’s what people met in those days.”
>“look at the fucking… Walton!”
Horne, quoted in David Cavanagh’s My Magpie Eyes Have Seen the Prize: The Creation Records Story P. 19.
>Brian Superstar… VCR
As well having footage of the Byrds, the History of Rock programme showed things like Lovin’ Spoonful doing ‘Do You Believe in Magic’ . Another favorite video was Bowie’s Cracked Actor tour documentary
Edwyn Collins: “I’m interested in all kinds of music, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, disco– I think the O’Jays ‘Love Train’ is great…. No one uses C&W at all. It’s ethnic, it’s good. It’s really accessible…. There are so many influences. How many years of popular music have there been… Fifty? You start listening to everything and that’s how you’re going to start new music coming through.” (NME, October 1980)
>"and this was all pre-sampling"
Paul Morley, Edwyn Collins profile, Uncut, 2002: “Orange Juice were a ‘juxta’ type of thing--they would juxtapose, say, some Tamla idea with some Television flicker, or a Velvets twist with an Archie Drell shuffle. Always just a couple of things juxta-clipped together. The musical equivalent of a fanzine--a fan’s response to musical precedents that in a way always left them a humble kneel short of real greatness. They knew what was great, and could incorporate it into their pop, but they never transcended those borrowings to be as great themselves.”
>gradually took on the role of manager and boss of the label… Mr Postcard
Edwyn Collins: “"Alan Horne wanted to be a cross between Berry Gordy and Andy Warhol" (Record Collector, 1995)
Steven Daly remembers it differently to Collins: “There was no sense of entrepreneurialism, more a sense of getting away with it. Seeing what kind of laughs you could have. Alan wasn’t abrasive in the way that rock people are usually abrasive--he wasn’t the bullying manager. He was just a genuine wind-up merchant. Making other people look bad and feel bad. I once said to Alan that he would feel like he’d lived a fulfilled life if he could look back on life and feel like he’d spoiled it for everyone else.“
>"Music should…. market,” “The charts…. to be.” “brown rice independents” “hippy attitude”
Horne. NME 10/4/80. Postcard feature.
Fuller quote: “The guy out of Dexy's called it 'brown rice independents', and that’s dead true, that whole hippy attitude".
Malcolm Ross: “Horne was obsessed with having hit singles. Which was ahead of its time--in 1979-80, people were very anti-Top of the Pops. Alan was like, that’s just like just like the boring old progressive rock bands who didn’t put out singles, only albums. His attitude was: I want to be the independent label that gets bands in the charts… He was very up and down in mood, but when he was up he was full of self-confidence and could approach people Rough Trade and get a great distribution deal for the label. Get things happening.”
>“just a nice bore” “the future… stupid”
Horne, quoted by Collins. In David Cavanagh’s My Magpie Eyes Have Seen the Prize: The Creation Records Story P. 27
Alan Horne, speaking to John Peel, as reported by Edwyn Collins, from My Magpie Eyes: “Listen, all that Liverpool stuff you play--the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes--that’s all just a nice bore… You always catch on a year after every other cunt. I mean, really, we are the future.”
>“that night Peel… Glasgow!”
Edwyn Collins. Record Collector 1995 feature at http://listen.to/orangejuice
Steven Daly: “McCullough was a slightly excitable Irish chap, but definitely one of the people who was waiting for the next leap forward, and more than that, was trying to provoke the next leap forward”
>Sound of Young Scotland… tartan designs
As with this sleeve for Aztec Camera's "Just like Gold" single
>quite Orange Juice for a while… TV Art… Josef K
Daly: “There was a period when I quit the band, I was pissed off with the amateurism, and during that time I worked with this Glasglow punk band The Backstabbers. Extremely rough people with fantastic anthemic songs. Astonishing, and if they’d come from Manchester, or even Bristol, they’d have got a record deal, but no A&R man would come near Glasgow back then. Scotland was Third World to the record business. So I saved up my money from working at the DHSS and put out a single by The Backstabbers, and another one by TV Art, this band I’d met in Edinburgh”
Malcolm Ross: “I met Steven Daly outside a Banshees gig in Edinburgh-- I think at that point punk bands were banned in Glasgow.
c.f. Steven Daly: “Glasgow in those days was a self-deprecating, provincial hole. You couldn’t play in the city because pubs and bars weren’t allowed to put on bands and charge money for people to see them. So unless you were big enough to play in a large theatre of 3000 capacity, you had to go outside the city limits. If you were a young punk group you had to play somewhere like the Silver Thread, a hotel in Paisley, about 30 minutes on the train from Glasgow”.
>Josef K… Velvets… Lou Reed
Malcolm Ross: “I first met Paul at secondary school aged twelve. All four of us were at Fir Hill. But me and Paul only became friends when we were leaving school. It was punk that made us into a tight clique. We were aware of each other before because we were all Lou Reed fans.
Haig says his life was changed at age 12 by “Walk on the Wild Side.” "I sat next to my parent’s radiogram and I thought ‘this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard’. I went out and got the Velvets albums. I was also into Bowie very early on, from ‘Space Oddity’. There was one fantastic music press cover story, Melody Maker probably--‘Lou Bops Bowie Out’. They had a row in a restaurant and Reed punched Bowie. ”
>"It's Kinda Funny"… Ian Curtis's death
Haig also says that ‘‘Final Solution’ was "about Marilyn Monroe-- I got really fascinated by her life and how fragile and insecure she was.”
>Books shaped Josef K
Malcolm Ross: “We liked to read European literature and go to art exhibitions. Originally we were called TV Art, just ‘cos we wanted to get the word ‘Art’ in there, and TV for the modernity.”
>Ross Middleton from Positive Noise
Ross Middleton: “There is only one thing worse than being pretentious and that’s not being pretentious” (NME, August 1980)
>Josef K weren't much for drinking
Malcolm Ross: “If we had a rider when we played a gig, we’d leave it. Which seems strange now!”
>The mod thing of being in control and alert
Ross: "I was interested in the original mod movement--that was an influence on us wearing suits."
Roddy Frame, the 16 year old singer of Aztec Camera, interviewed Sounds, January 1981): "I was into this 'New Puritan' thing where you don't touch girls... I like those lyrics of Mark Smith's a lot. I used to be against drugs and drink, that sort of thing…. It's a running joke between me and my friends... all those beer swilling guys in East Kilbride! I hate sport! I hate football! And I'm not gay! I'm more romantic, I suppose.”
Young Roddy seems to have misunderstood the Fall though re. drink and drugs…
Roddy Frame: “We're not wimps though. Just romantics. There's a difference" (NME, September 1982)
Roddy Frame: "I like gentle music. And there's the fact that I do most of my writing at about four in the morning, so I can only use an acoustic guitar in case I annoy people." (Sounds, January 1981)
Roddy Frame: "After we'd been through the punk disillusionment thing, I think we were looking for an identity in those things we'd heard in the past. Like yer older brothers with their Bob Dylan and Simon And Garfunkel records." (NME, September 1982)
>Josef K’s antirockism
“Just a healthy reaction to the mouldy old shoe,” is how Haig describes it, with oblique vividness!
>“What’s the point… out of it?”
Henderson. NME 1/3/81.
More from the quote: "It’s like the fucking Clash crap, that triple album [Sandinista]. I’d rather pay seven quid for a great single record than 4.99 for three albums of fucking shite.”
In a famous confrontational interview of this era, Paul Morley told Jerry Garcia about the Fire Engines's fifteen minute sets, much to the Grateful Dead guitarist's flabbergastitude:
Garcia is talking about how the Dead aren't about albums because "time alone is a big enemy of ours… On an album a short Grateful Dead song is seven or eight minutes… at the beginning we were playing for a dance audience, not a listening audience, and when you play for a dancing audience you don't want them to stop, and they don't want to stop either…. three minutes of dancing is not enough. Fifteen minutes is really a bit more like it, for people to stretch out." Morley then asks;
Have you heard of The Fire Engines, I say, a little ambitiously. Well, they play 15-minute sets.
It's an injection of sheer tonic.
"Yup," grins Garcia, tight-lipped.
They're violent, tense, joyous, changeable, it's an uplifting celebration – all the things you're saying to me are there in your music and which I can't get out.
Garcia pours carefully articulated reason onto my glorious fury. "For me music is a full range of experience. In music there is room for space, there's room for quietness, for sorrow, violence."
I do agree. We still seem to be talking about different things though.
"It's not my desire to say there is only this or that. For me it's a full range of experiences, and within that it includes things like boredom. Sometimes boredom is what is happening in life, that's what it's about sometimes. Sometimes the tension between boredom and discovery is like an interesting thing. The idea of noodling around aimlessly for 15 minutes, and we are notorious for that, but then hitting on some rich vein of something that we may never have got to any other way, and that's the reward. I want there to be a complete vertical experience. I want it to be the full range."
Towards the interview's end, Garcia returns to the Fire Engines…
The musician shakes his head as he recalls bits of the interview. "Fifteen-minute sets!" he marvels. "If I had to pay £8 for a 15-minutes set I'd trip out...The economics of it I would feel so guilty. Even if I did a 45-minute show so packed with emotion and intensity and everything it needed to have I would still feel like, God it ain't fucking worth it. I don't want to burn anybody. People have to work to get their little money...The best experiences I've had as a audience member is when I've seen a performer get excited and inspired and go over their time. Forget about time...forget about time and then you can think hey! An hour and a half has gone by and it seems like ten minutes! That's the stuff!"
The photographer scans the room looking for likely places the musicians can pose. The musician stand looking a little lost near the window. The writer say to him that 45 minutes of his music seems to go on for two years.
[From NME, 28 March 1981]
This interview with Garcia is supposed to have lost the NME something like 50 thousand readers! Hard to believe there were that many ferociously defensive and touchy Dead fans in the UK at that time though.
>Pop:Aural versus Postcard
Malcolm Ross: “Fast Product was the opposition, really. And Bob Last’s quite an abrasive character. He came to some little Postcard night in Edinburgh and sent notes into the dressing room slagging off the bands, calling Josef K ‘bad heavy metal. Bob and Edwyn had a big set-to. It all seemed very urgent at the time--if somebody slated your band, you’d feel like giving them a bop on the nose! Bob wasn’t the type to hold back. In fact he felt that if he didn’t think a band was good he ought to go up and tell them, and tell them why. But Fast Product, I always liked their records.“
Malcolm Ross: “The Scars were a bit ahead of us, really--early on they were really great, and quite arty. That single they did for Fast Product, “Adultery” b/w/ “Horrorshow” was a lot more angular and weird than the pop stuff they did later after they signed to the major label. The singer Rab wrote songs in Nadsat, that language from A Clockwork Orange. If The Scars had stuck to their extreme arty side they could have ended up being as big as Simple Minds.
>I Wish I Was A Postcard
This sub-label was intended to a flexi label
>experiment with being more commercial
Bob Last: “Obviously all these groups are doing something unusual and innovative--the one thing in common with all these groups that I put out is that they're positive, in the same way that Fast Product is positive." (NME, January 1979)
Paul Morley: “Setting up an alternative is not enough…. Pop:Aural acknowledges the different climate: the poorness and restriction of the charts, the complete smugness of the alternative champions…. The pop charts have been smoothed down, and have become harder to penetrate, at the other extreme the new underground has settled in place. A stern circuit of protest and featureless tenacity. The establishment of the alternative charts is important – it reveals there is a demand for musics that are not pitilessly churned out by the record industry… but it has given groups a false sense of security, a low sight to aim for. Alternative charts have helped the new underground cement. They have become an end, not a beginning…. The mood is there… Towards an overground brightness, fighting for the right to bring life back to the radio, to make the single count, to be let through to their natural audience… Smash the Radio One dictatorship”
(piece on the New Pop spirit of ABC, Essential Bop, and Restricted Code, NME, Christmas 1980)
Restricted Code, Pop: Aural act: “A year ago we would have loved to be in the underground charts, but now it doesn’t mean as much.” (NME, Xmas 1980)
>“[It’s] like our songs… way”
Henderson. NME 1/3/81.
>Lubricate Your Living Room… Critical smash
The following is actually about an earlier single by Fire Engines but it captures the tone of the praise as the great Scotland hype gets going:
Paul Morley: “David Henderson and Murray Slade’s guitar conflict--heroically racy--is the most indignant and electric I’ve heard since The Au Pairs… By the finish I’m all wound up. I’m losing sleep. My body won’t stay still. No one’ll steal this lot’s soul. They’ll catch on like a disease. We’ll all be twitching.” (NME, October 1980)
Billy MacKenzie: “I was always called Billy Whizz. It’s hard coping with all the energy that charges around inside your whole being.” (from Uncut, late Nineties I think)
>art of classic songcraft had died… 1968-75
Rankine: “From 1969 to 1975 pop was a load of shit really. Then, a rock band would sustain the riff and they must have known that the song didn’t really have much feeling.” (NME, September 1980)
Billy MacKenzie: “Rock music didn’t turn us on at all… I always hated the rock thing.” (NME, September 1980)
Billy MacKenzie: “We used to rub Burt Bacharach albums on our crotches” (Uncut, 1998?)
>one of postpunk's greatest guitarists
Billy MacKenzie: ‘I was listening to the combination between my voice and Rankine’s guitar and I had an orgasm… it just shows how much music can get me in a froth.” (Melody Maker, 1980)
“I’m the type… best of them”
MacKenzie. Uncut June 1997.
>music, bodily movement and physical fitness
Billy MacKenzie: “I relate music and emotion to athleticism. .. The cover of The Affectionate Punch was a way of saying that.” (NME, April 1982)
Billy MacKenzie: “[Music and fitness] run together because music and body movement are so closely related. Athletes have to keep themselves really well. They get mortal drunk but they stay straight for another month before they do it again… The thing I like most in the world, other than sex, is dancing. And because I can respond physically to music, I’m naturally athletic as well.” (NME, November 1981)
>six singles… Situation 2
"Tell Me Easter’s On Friday’, “Q Quarters”, “Kitchen Person”, “Message Oblique Speech”, “White Car In Germany”, and “A Girl Named Property” (actually the B-side to a cover of Simon Dupree’s “Kites”).
>“1981 is… excitement about them”
MacKenzie. MM 1/24/81
More from the quote: “…and we want to make people dance with an unusual dance record, except with a pop sensibility”
> “the element of chaos” “were full-on… went on”
lood, quoted in Tom Doyle’s The Glamour Chase (billy mackenzie biography P. 72-73
>“We were just… Freakin’ out, man!”
MacKenzie. Ibid. P. 75.
>“At the beginning… this year”--MacKenzie.
Ibid. P. 100
>the unthinkable: hooking up Orange Juice with a London-based major label
Geoff Travis: “Rough Trade paid for the recording of the first Orange Juice album, our in-house producer Adam Kidron did the record. And then Alan went and sold the album to Polydor. We got the recording costs paid back but it had been done on the understanding that it would be a Rough Trade album.”
Edwyn Collins: “We were forever saying how corrupt the majors were and how Orange Juice and Postcard were ethically sound, we were going to records in the chart without exploiting and manipulating people…. But if we want chart singles we have to use hyping and we have to use a plugger to compete, and that’s what we’re considering doing for the next Orange Juice releases…” Interview source and date unknown, most likely this September 1981 interview for NME, in which he also says: “I don’t want knock Rough Trade [distribution], what they do is very laudable for groups at a certain level. But it can be hard to escape the independent ghetto.”
>Postcard has also reached an impasse
Postcard’s peak came in April 1981, when Orange Juice’s fourth single “Poor Old Soul” was at #1 in the independent charts, Josef K’s “Sorry For Laughing” at #2, and Aztec Camera’s debut “Just Like Gold” at #7. (Reviewing the latter Paul Morley hailed 16 year old Roddy Frame as a songwriting-and-singing prodigy midway “between Vic Godard and Cliff Richard”!)
>Sorry For Laughing/The only fun in town
Paul Haig: “The first album Sorry For Laughing was recorded at Castle Sound Studios in Pencaitland, near Edinburgh. When we listened to the finished masters weeks later it was really disappointing--So we went over to Belgium and re-recorded the whole thing as The Only Fun In Town. For some reason I was saying all the time let’s mix the voice down.
>Josef K's critical champions… were horrified
Paul Haig: “Morley even hated the sleeve ‘cos it wasn’t too shiny”
Malcolm Ross: “When Morley and McCullough gave The Only Fun bad reviews, Alan horne was devastated…. Alan had got in with the journalists, he would phone Dave McCullough and have huge conversations. And then he’d relay McCullough’s ideas back to us, and we were like, ‘we can’t be letting ourselves be influenced by what McCullough said to you on the phone.” And Alan was like, ‘you should, you need him to be writing good things about the band.’”
>by the autumn the group had split
Paul Haig: “There was this misconception, spread by Alan Horne through the press, that ‘“Josef K split because of bad reviews’. That was bullshit: I just decided I wanted to leave the band. It just wasn’t fun anymore.”
>pursue an electronic direction
Malcolm Ross: “Maybe Paul felt he was being restricted by the band or something. Paul wanted to do more electronic stuff.”
Paul Haig, NME, July 1982, about his Rhythm of Life 'production company': “I don’t need to play live anymore, I don’t want to play live anymore, and it’s really fulfilling to go into a disco and see someone dance to a record that I’ve been involved in… I change all the time and the framework of Rhythm of Life can accommodate these changes… I want to become involved in art and prints and video, just different things… have RoL canned peaches… Who knows?”
Postcard fan blog The Sound of Young Scotland
Me on Domino's Orange Juice anthology The Glasgow School
The Glasgow School
By Simon Reynolds
Summer 1980: the sombre pall of postpunk hangs over the nation. Overpowered by the dark visions of Metal Box and Unknown Pleasures, the new bands coming through all devoutly follow the Gospel According to John or the Gospel According to Ian (preached, on Closer, from beyond the grave). But, wait, heresy’s brewing north of Hadrian’s Wall. A bunch of Scottish bands, foremost among them Orange Juice, are bringing the sunshine. Affiliated to Alan Horne’s ludicrously ambitious Postcard label, the Glasgow group herald the demise of postpunk, proposing a new life-affirming mindset in which “pop” isn’t a dirty word and it’s cool to sing love songs.
The closest Joy Division ever got to the latter was the harrowing “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” while Lydon was still sneering “this is not a love song” as late as 1983 (despite being a happily married man!). Orange Juice’s debut single “Falling and Laughing” was both a love song and a meta-pop manifesto in defence of romance. Crushed by his latest crush, the humiliated and heartbroken Edwyn Collins concludes “what can I do but learn to laugh at myself?” “Love Sick,” the B-side of OJ’s second single “Blue Boy,” could almost be a riposte to Gang of Four’s “Love Like Anthrax”. It describes the same symptoms (“my head is pounding/my mind is confused”) as Go4 (“feel like a beetle on its back… thoughts like piss down the drain”). But unlike the agonized Jon King, Collins’ lump-in-throat croon and his band’s spangled jangle make maladie d’amour seem like a delicious delirium.
Just about the only thing Orange Juice shared with PiL and Go4 was a passion for the dance music of their day. “Falling” is an endearingly shaky take on disco. Drummer Steven Daly does his level best to execute the requisite bustling hi-hat and cymbal patterns, David McClymont makes a fair stab at a funk bassline, and Collins and James Kirk supply Nile Rodgers-style double-time rhythm guitar. But the end result is closer to Swell Maps sloppy than Chic superslick, while Collins doesn’t sound so much like he’s singing in the bath as singing through a mouthful of bathwater.
Disco flirtations aside, OJ’s sound mostly came direct from The Velvet Underground, especially the warm, golden guitars of Loaded songs like “Rock’n’Roll”. But in a manoevure that pretty much invented “indie,” OJ took that sound and divorced it from New York cool. They replaced the VU’s bohemian worldliness with an early-Byrds-like innocence. “You must think me very naïve” goes the first line of “Falling and Laughing”, while “Simply Thrilled Honey” vows “worldiness must keep apart from me”.
As much as they worshipped Lou Reed and his Gretsch guitar, there was no room for heroin or methedrine in OJ’s world; they barely even touched alcohol. Sounds’ resident Postcard champion Dave McCullough dubbed OJ, Josef K, and Aztec Camera “New Puritans”. When OJ gleefully chanted “no more rock’n’roll for you” on “Poor Old Soul (Part Two)”, they meant it: it was high time to jettison all that decadent sex ‘n’ drugs ’n’ r & r nonsense. In this respect, Orange Juice were heirs to the cleancut straightness of Jonathan Richman and Talking Heads.
After the jejuene shambles of “Falling”, OJ’s second single “Blue Boy” was disconcertingly robust-sounding: a boisterous gallop that adds a touch of Dylan and Neil Young to the Live 1969 Velvets, with discreet swells of keyboard and a verging-on-psychedelic guitar solo. The American sound of “Blue Boy” inaugurated a whole tradition of Scottish outfits, from Lloyd Cole & The Commotions to Teenage Fanclub, who looked admiringly across the Atlantic (their gaze, ironically, often falling on Anglophiles like Big Star). After this almost manly rocker, “Simply Thrilled Honey” is gorgeously fey. Which suits the lyric’s scenario: Collins as frail waif fending off unwanted advances from a female predator. (Four years later Morrissey would replicate the scenario--“she’s too rough and I’m too delicate”--in “Pretty Girls Make Graves”). Wondrously eccentric-in-structure, “Simply Thrilled” climbs a hill at the end just to rush down it in a breathless tumble. “Poor Old Soul,” the fourth single, reverts to the discopunk of “Falling and Laughing,” all flustered rhythm guitar and a walking bassline, but it’s far better produced. This was Orange Juice’s most concerted lunge for a mainstream hit, but while it topped the independent chart effortlessly, “Poor” stopped short at #80 in the real chart.
The group’s sound was still too ramshackle for daytime radio, while Postcard lacked the muscle to get the hits Horne craved. So OJ signed to Polydor. The rest of The Glasgow School consists of all 12 tracks from Ostrich Churchyard, their first attempt at recording an album, plus a few bonus obscurities. Ostrich bears the same relation to You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever (the debut LP Polydor actually released) that Hatful Of Hollow has to The Smiths, i.e. these are the underproduced but zestier prototypes of the songs in question. There’s a scintillating freshness to the versions of “In A Nutshell” and “Dying Day.” But I prefer the You Can’t Hide take of “Consolation Prize,” the most poignant tune in OJ’s entire songbook. The Ostrich version features an incongruous Glitterband-like “HEY!” chant from the group during the first chorus, while the song’s home stretch of soaring glory doesn’t achieve quite the same giddy angle of ascent as it does on You Can’t Hide.
In the song, Collins croons to yet another object of unrequited adoration: “I wore my fringe like Roger McGuinn’s/I wore it hoping to impress/So frightfully camp, it made you laugh/Tomorrow I’ll buy myself a dress”. Probably more than anything else by Orange Juice, “Consolation Prize” is the blueprint for the C86 shambling band movement. “I’ll never be man enough for you,” sings Collins at the end, but the tone is triumphant not lamenting. Minor cutie-pop band One Thousand Violins took their name from the song’s first line, and a thousand more mid-Eighties indie groups modeled themselves on Collins & Co’s androgyny.
Perhaps, on reflection, that’s not much of a legacy. But this music is its own testament. I honestly don’t understand why Alan Horne would weep after playing each hot-from-the-pressing-plant OJ single back to back with “Pale Blue Eyes” and finding it lacking. OJ might actually be that almost-unknown thing: the derivative band who are better than the thing they’re indebted to. They’re certainly more loveable than the Velvets.
Get well soon Edwyn.
Me On Josef K first time on CD reissues in 1990
The Only Fun in Town/Sorry For Laughing
Young and Stupid
(Les Tempes Modernes)
Melody Maker, October 20th 1990
By Simon Reynolds
A decade on, it's hard to think yourself back within the Zeitgeist, the aesthetic worldview, that once enshrined Josef K on the cutting edge. If Josef K were poised on that edge, it was because (like so many of their turn-of-decade contemporaries) they were high on anxiety. Existensial doubt was taken as the exhilarating price of existensial freedom. Songs like 'Crazy To Exist' and 'Sorry for Laughing' ("there's too much happening) strove to strike the correct, flattering posture in the face of absurdity. Where the bewilderment rock of today is about surrendering to the chaos within you or the sensory overload without, Josef K was about the heroic Outsider (Paul Haig) suavely surfing across the fraught surface of their albino funk fracas.
When the Young and Stupid material was first exhumed a few years ago, Steve Sutherland pegged Josef K as prime participants in an age where groups were "instruments of discourse" rather than purely musical initiatives. It's true: Josef K was music to talk about, music engendered by talk, music as talk (a meta-music commentary on the role and reason of pop). Postcard labelmates [error! didn't have Wikipedia in them days!] The Fire Engines performed 15 minute sets as a gesture against hippy indulgence, and released Lubricate Your Living Room as "background music for active people". Animation and speculation were the only artificial stimulants on the agenda.
So it might be difficult for all you whippersnappers who weren't around at the time to take this cerebral, palsied sound as "pleasure" or even music. Josef K's relationship with funk, for instance, was purely notional. But their monochrome austerity/asperity, their uptight, un-baggy grooviness, and even Haig's existentialist croon, sound surprisingly good in 1990. In retrospect, their early aborted attempt at a debut album (Sorry For Laughing) feels much superior to what was finally released in July 1981 (The Only Fun in Town). What Josef K saw then as a fault (Sorry was "too clinical and well-produced") now seems preferable to the trebly, tinned sound of The Only Fun (which was intended as a "punk" record). The earlier versions of the songs sound superbly coiled and keen, whereas some of that barbed and wired edginess is lost in the lo-fi murk of the official debut album. Stand-outs include the hair-trigger panic of "Sense of Guilt", "Art of Things" with Malcolm Ross's sunzoom-spark guitar (Chic meets Captain Beefheart), and the sublime poise of "Endless Soul", Josef K's truly timeless blaze of glory.
The Young and Stupid package is strictly for anal retentive completists, consisting as it does of early singles, B-sides, demo versions, Peel session tracks and sundry bits and bobs. There's two version of the brilliant "Radio Drill Time", two of their first single "Chance Meeting", and two of "The Angle" (already featured on The Only Fun). There's the oddity of an Alice Cooper cover ("Applebush"). The closing "Torn Mentor" and "Night Ritual" see Josef K opening up some awry space in their agit-funk (that's "agitation" as in having a restless soul, rather than the stern placards and stern tracts of Gang of Four et al).
After the K split, Paul Haig went off to make debonair disco records (his work this year with the likes of Lil Louis and Mantronix is his most convincing yet), Ross plied his wares with Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, and the other ones dedicated themselves to even more inconspicuous activities. Having virtually no ancestors (bar a trace of Television and the VU), Josef K fittingly left no progeny (unless you count the June Brides). But these reissues will ensure that JK will "forever drone".
Me on The Fire Engines reissue of live and demo versions plus micro-interview with Davy Henderson
Codex Teenage Premonition (Domino)
By Simon Reynolds
The obvious template for the jags and splinters of the Fire Engines sound is Captain Beefheart. But their most thrilling songs remind me even more of James Brown. Perhaps they never listened to him, but I’ll bet they were inspired by an idea of Brown’s music, as mediated by James Chance: funk as frenzy and possession. Just listen to “Get Up & Use Me” (either of the two versions on this compilation of unreleased material will do). From the subfunk bassline through the two guitars’ frictional mesh of screeching slide and itchy rhythm, to Davy Henderson’s parched yelp, it’s obvious that Fire Engines listened closely to No New York and Buy The Contortions. Even the title constitutes homage in two parts, the first half echoing the pride and dignity of JB’s “Get Up, Get Into It and Get Involved,” the second nodding to JC’s masochistic self-abasement.
Fire Engines had a terrific way with song titles: “Hungry Beat”, “Meat Whiplash,” “New Things In Cartons.” But they weren’t exactly songsmiths. So Bob Last, founder of Edinburgh’s Pop:Aural label, cleverly reframed the group by persuading them to record Lubricate Your Living Room, an instrumental mini-LP of “background beat for action people”. Livewire Your Nervous System, more like: far from Eno’s aural tranquilizers, this was ambient as buzz music, a spiky cloud of sonic amphetamine designed to get you in the right mood--keen of nerve, ebullient, restless--before going out on the town.
Along with a pre-Pop: Aural session produced by the wonderfully named Wilf Smarties, Codex captures Fire Engines lubricating some big rooms in Edinburgh, with four songs from the group’s debut gig and six from another performance closer to the end of their brief lifespan. Both concerts feature their #1 tune, “Discord,” a shard-scattering groove that’s like The Fall’s “Fiery Jack” rooted in funk rather than rockabilly. The later show is prefaced by a snippet of Henderson vowing to do “two 15 minute sets” with a half-hour gap between. Playing fifteen minute gigs wasn’t a gimmick but the logical structural extension of the group’s commitment to compression: twice the energy into half the time. Like James Brown, Fire Engines had ants in their pants, but zero angst. Codex preserves their euphoria and NRG like a case of vintage Red Bull.
INTERVIEW WITH DAVY HENDERSON
It’s pretty amazing that Fire Engines’ very first performance was documented.
Our bassist Graham [Main] had been keeping the tape under his bed for 25 years! That debut gig was the best thing we ever did. We should have split up afterwards, ‘cos we didn’t get any better, and I mean that! It sounds like an emergence, like something coming from a swamp. Most people know our Pop: Aural stuff, but this compilation is all about the whole year we existed before hooking up with Bob Last. We had a single on Codex, this label started by Angus Groovy. Another reason to release the session and the live stuff is that the songs were never recorded as they were written and performed, 2 ½ minute songs. Lubricate was like a remix project, except played live--the songs were extended, the vocals were left off.
Fire Engines influenced a bunch of scritchy-scratchy Eighties bands like June Brides and Membranes, then dipped off the radar a bit. It must be sweet getting all this love from such as Franz Ferdinand, covering “Get Up and Use Me.”
It all really started when we got asked to reform to play with the Magic Band. We wouldn’t have done it for anybody else. But if Don Van Vliet himself had been involved, we would have been too scared! Not long after, Franz invited us to play at a surprise gig for their fans. They gave away a free single to the audience, all 5000 of them, with their cover of “Get Up” on one side and us covering their “Jacqueline” on the other. But we’re not coming out of retirement--just a couple more gigs and that’s it!
Me on Fire Engines compilation Hungry Beat for Blender
The Fire Engines
Hungry Beat (Acute)
By Simon Reynolds
Franz Ferdinand revere The Fire Engines so highly they persuaded the Scottish postpunk phantoms out of retirement in 2004 to play a surprise gig for 5000 Franz fans. Formed in 1980, the Engines blurred the line between disco and discord, coming over like a scrawny Scots version of James Brown (mal)nourished on potato chip sandwiches, deep-fried Mars Bars and other local delicacies. Frontman Davy Henderson didn't have much of a voice but gets by on exuberance. His rhythm guitar jostles with Murray Slade's even-more-rhythm guitar, sending sparks flying like the clash of light sabers. The odd charming ditty like "Candyskin" aside, songcraft wasn't this group's forte. So the best tracks on this compilation (the first time their work's been available on CD in America) are the near-instrumentals from Lubricate Your Living Room, their 1981 mini-album of ambient music for hyperactive people. 26 years later, the friction funk of "Get Up and Use Me" and “Sympathetic Anaesthetic” still provides a thrilling live-wire jolt to the nervous system.
Me on the Associates best of Popera for Melody Maker in 1989 or 1990
Popera (east west)
Melody Maker, ?
By Simon Reynolds
Once upon a time (the early Eighties), there was something called "new pop". For about a year Morley's pipedream of a chart-busting music that combined pop's flash and dazzle with post-punk's perplexity and unease, came true. Glamour, danceability, luxury, the lore of romance, were revelled in and unravelled, simultaneously, thanks to a creed of 'passionate irony'.
In retrospect, not a lot of the music of that dizzy era got beyond being meta-pop, ie. rock criticism in pop flesh. The Associates did. Billy McKenzie had the bodymoves, the shimmying, supernatural panache, above all The Voice, whereas Martin Fry was always a dead-below-the-waist dork in a low-rent lame suit. Perhaps the crucial factor was that McKenzie had never been into rock'n'roll. His love
for Diana Ross, disco, Sparks, wasn't gestural, a reaction against punk (reinventing it as "suave punk"), but seethed in his blood. And in Alan Rankine, he had his own Eno to peculiarise The Associates' resurrection of Roxy/Bowie glam-odramatics.
The Associates stint as a pop phenomenon was tragically brief. Their only Top Ten Hit, "Party Fears Two" was a fractured vignette of the agonised tentativeness of EITHER a faltering courtship OR aslow break-up (I've never been able to work it out). With its oblique lyrics ("even a slight remark/makes no sense and turns to
shark") and highly-strung falsetto harmonies (rumour had it that McKenzie used helium), "Party Fears" fused the grandeur of cabaret with the schizoid delirium of psychedelia. "Club Country" was nerve-edged aristo-funk, whose lyrics saw right through to the emptiness at the heart of the New Romantic/cocktail culture of the time. "The fault is/I can find no fault in you/If we stick around/We're sure to
be looked down upon". Like the rest of the Sulk album (highpoints "It's Better This Way", "Skipping", "No", are all ignored by this comp), "Club Country" is at once torrid and glacial, fusing European hauteur with American disco feverishness.
"18 Carat Love Affair", the last Associates hit, was a vehicle for some of McKenzie's swooniest singing: falsetto to get drunk on, sorrow to drown in. Its flipside was a hyperventilated version of Diana Ross' "Love Hangover". The title neatly pinpointed The Associates' aesthetic: love as inTOXICant, malady, madness; pop
as hysteria ("morbid excitement, fits or convulsions, a dishevelment of moral and intellectual faculties"). But after this delirious zenith, and the departure of Alan Rankine, The Associates returned with the relative composure and controlled classicism of 1984's Perhaps LP. "Those First Impressions" had beatiful bass
palpitations, a fine vocal performance, but something was missing. The twee scenario of "Waiting For The Loveboat" and the gloopily lugubrious "Breakfast" were small-scale, merely tasteful. Then there was a long silence until 1988's "Heart Of Glass". But even at the nadir of his career, McKenzie was too smouldering a singer for Blondie's glassy-eyed disco-muzak anthem. Read Lester Bangs on Blondie as ultimate Blank Generation meets Pop Art void-oids, and you'll realise that even on autopilot McKenzie injects too much lipquavering 'emotional truth' into Harry's ciphered lyrics.
Since then Billy has recovered his dignity, if not his madness, with last year's Wild And Lonely. But to be honest his latest material sounds chastened and cowed compared to the extra tracks of the CD. On Yello's "The Rhythm Divine", McKenzie finds in Boris Blank a new Alan Rankine, and in Dieter Meir a kindred spirit in nostalgia for a bygone, pre-War European "ancien regime". And the five tracks from Fourth Drawer Down (pre-chartpop Associates)still sound like nothing on earth. With "Q-Quarters", "Kitchen Person", "Message Oblique Speech", "White Car In Germany", it's like Scott Walker had never retired, but got turned onto Can, Kraftwerk, Cabaret Voltaire, and returned with an even more baroque, festering, visionary paranoia than before.
We cry wolf too often with the old mystic effusions, but you simply have to hear this stuff, it'll make your insides spin.
Me on The Associates double-CD reissues
Fourth Drawer Down
By Simon Reynolds
The first time I heard Associates was the first time I saw Associates was one of the four or five true pop epiphanies of my life: Top of the Pops, February 1982, "Party Fears Two". That blithe bittersweet piano refrain, the cold smolder of Billy MacKenzie's voice, the still-never-totally-fathomed-to-this-day song-scenario (oblique snapshots of a breakup in progress?).... But what really brought me to the brink of a swoon was the way MacKenzie moved (at one point, he sashayed backwards), the impossible panache of the man. Even if he'd never emitted breath into a microphone and engraved it in wax, if you just saw him strolling down the street on the way back from Sainsburys, you'd still have recognised a star from the supernatural glow.
That TOTP appearance pierced and transfixed lots of other people: "Party Fears" shot straight to Number 9 the following week, launching Associates's brief (just eight months!) reign as a pop sensation. The career/careen of Billy MacKenzie invites all kinds of questions about why born stars can't maintain, the reason they mutilate their own genius and fail their own gift. I won't get into the biographical speculations about MacKenzie's apparent self-destructive streak, but there's another related mystery worth addressing: how does "chemistry" happen in pop music, why is it so hard to sustain or recreate? The fact is that without his other half, Alan Rankine, MacKenzie produced fine but ultimately modest and minor work that we (meaning critics) bigged up extravagantly only 'cos we loved the guy so much; harsher still is the truth that Rankine has done nothing of real consequence sans Billy. Even when they briefly reunited in 1993, the duo couldn't re-ignite the spark--judging by the scrappy, incandescence-free Autchterhouse Sessions, now available on Double Hipness, a double CD of demos, out-takes, alternate versions, and other undercooked material that mostly serves to tarnish the myth.
To the ears and eyes of the fan, it's the precedent-free singularity of the love object, its un-likeness to anything past or present, that is dazzling in its obviousness. The task of the critic, though, is (supposedly) to bypass the present-tense, ahistorical FAB WOW! and get into analysis--breaking something down into its constituents, showing where it came from. At the time it never even remotely occurred to me, but now (cursed with knowledge) I can hear the substantial debt to Bowie in MacKenzie's voice and in elements of the Associates sound. Billy might actually be the sole example of a positive Bowie influence in the annals of UK pop. Indeed, the first Associates single was a cover of "Boys Keep Swinging" (included on Double Hipness, it's oddly restrained, un-camp, almost U2-like in its earnestness), and Billy later sang a highly-strung version of "Secret Life of Arabia" (from Heroes) for BEF's Songs of Quality and Distinction.
The spate of astonishing EPs subsequently compiled as Fourth Drawer Down (now reissued with several extra tracks) are steeped in the un-American Europe Endless-ness of Bowie's Berlin trilogy Low/Heroes/Lodger --especially "White Car In Germany", with its metronomic march rhythm and "Dusseldorf's a cold place/Walk on eggs in Munich" lyric. With its furtive rhythm, broken balalaika riff, echoing footsteps, and clammy electronics, "Q Quarters" is Hapsburg dub, Cabaret Voltaire remaking The Third Man soundtrack. Lyric shards about "concrete civilians" and the black-humorous punch line "'washing down bodies/seems to me a dead end job" conjure a Cold War ambience-- partitioned cities, deportations, informers, double agents. Think The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, the Ipcress File (Rankine and MacKenzie had bonded through their love of soundtracks, plus Kraftwerk and disco). Other Fourth Drawer gems include "A Girl Named Property" (Scott Walker, from the title downwards), the torrid xylophone-scampering romp of "Kitchen Person", the sculpted histrionics of "Tell Me Easter's On Friday," and the "I Am The Walrus"-like Dada-dementia of "Message Oblique Speech" ("he drinks double hernias/spits out wooden spoons').
The non-American aspect was crucial: the Associates aesthetic revolved around Anglo art-rock's artifice/androgyny/aristocracy (apologies for alliteration overload), around disco diva operatics and fabulousity, i.e. things considered treasonably unmanly and effete by American heartland rock'n'rollers. Many of their favorite bands also passed through the glam/disco interzone: Sparks shifted from guitar swashbuckling hysteria into Moroderized electro-throb, Roxy streamlined their angular art-rock into sleek jet-set disco. And there was that man Bowie again--the plastic funk of "Golden Years," the Neu Romanticism of "Ashes To Ashes". "Funk art, let's dance" anti-rockism was par for the course, of course, for UK bands poised on the cusp between post-punk and New Pop, angst and irony. But unlike most of the music of that 1980-82 era, which now sounds dated, flimsy, and "funky" only in the most notional sense (e.g. Lexicon of Love--then hailed as possibly the best pop album of ALL TIME, but unlikely to make any mag's Top 200 today), Associates records still tantalise like an unrequited future: the direction pop should have gone.
Sulk is so lovely it's harrowing. Overdubbed to the hilt, obsessively mixed, addled with bizarre found-sounds, it's bruised, over-ripe, fruity as fuck--headspinning and delirious, all the sugar fermented to alcohol. Like the Banshees (whom Billy admired) and later Prince, Associates crammed all the derangement and texture-saturated voluptuousness of psychedelia into pop, nearly bursting it at its seams. (MacKenzie actually described the Sulk sound as "Abba on acid", Rankine called it "thick... dripping"). After the perverse opener of instrumental "Arrogance Gave Him Up," Sulk really starts with the impossibly towering grandeur of "No"--a tormented ballad with helium-high backing vocals that ooze around the song's crenellations like ghostly mist. "Bap De La Bap" is overwrought in both the emotional and baroque metalwork senses, flailed along by the snap crackle pop of John Murphy's fireworks drums and Rankine's iceburn spires of glassy guitar. One of the forgotten things about Associates music, given New Pop's anti-rockist tenor, is how fabulously inventive it was as electric guitar music. Working from the post-blues, un-American sounds of Neu!'s Michael Rother and the blazing celestial pageantry of Fripp on "Heroes," Rankine was part of a postpunk moment in which guitarists (Wire, Johns McKay/McGeoch of the Banshees, Joy Div, the Edge) operated with absolute confidence that the instrument could probe new horizons. Nobody would have dreamed of stooping to a refried Stones lick.
Sulk has too much preciousness to inventory; the frisk and stealth and anxious exhilaration of "Skipping," the fraught bombast of "It's Better This Way, " the sunshafts-peeking-through-clouds intro of "Party Fears Two" and its celestial cloisters of double-tracked MacKenzie harmonies; the Nordic Chic of "Club Country," all zinging rhythm guitar and beetling slap-bass; Billy's words throughout, absurd and portentous yet utterly right, from "tear a strip from your dress/wrap my arms in it" ("No") to "it lies there canistered for future reference" ("Nude Spoons") and "even a slight remark makes no sense and turns to shark" ("Party Fears Two"). It's staggering to think that this record--the best of its era--sold a quarter million copies. The re-ish adds fine B-sides of the time like "Ulcragceptimol" and the gloriously over-the-top cover of Diana Ross's "Love Hangover", double-A side of their last proper hit "18 Carat Love Affair."
You've heard the best, what about the rest? The first CD of Double Hipness pulls together demos from MacKenzie/Rankine's early phase as punk-cabaret troupe Mental Torture and sundry Associates out-takes. The early stuff, done with a pick-up band, is motley at best, ranging from the one-line gag of "The Shadow of My Lung" (a Lurkers-meets-Bacharach spoof-cover of "Shadow of Your Smile"), through the almost Rocky Horror Show-like "Not Tonight Josephine," to a smarmy-vocaled and saxophone-wheezed prototype for "18 Carat Love Affair" that's horrifically redolent of Darts (the intended reference was probably the rockabilly version of "John, I'm Only Dancing"). The early Associates demos are better: "Janice (AKA Deeply Concerned)" is a beautiful sketch of a song, "Saline Drips" shows Rankine emerging as an interesting guitarist, "Galaxy of Memories" has the spindly spidery quality of Young Marble Giants, "Mortice Lock" hints at flushed fevers to come, and the silverpoint stitchwork on "Big Waltz (AKA Paper House)" has a crisp Celtic frost that is pure Edge. Disc Two is much more ropey, with cute, utterly unnecessary early versions of Sulk and Perhaps tunes, and the lacklustre secretions of the aforementioned Rankine/MacKenzie reunion tryst of '93. Most of this stuff sounds like deathbed Roxy or Eighties/Nineties solo Ferry, with Rankine impersonating an expensive session guitarist and MacKenzie succumbing to cliche-encrusted melodrama. Still the mysterious "Edge of the World" is a sketch for a twilight-gem a la "Slave To Love". And the muddy glam rock pummel of "Stephen, You're Really Something"--Billy's belated riposte to Morrissey's kiss-off "William, It Was Really Nothing"--at least inspires an alternative-history fantasy: the parallel universe where the twosome stayed "close" long enough to record a duet single. The fey flamboyance of the resulting Top of the Pops appearance would probably have put me in a coma.
But being (still) a star-struck fan in relation to all things Associates, I don't really want to hear the stumbling baby-steps towards the Divine Pinnacles ("of historical interest" is by definition anti-pop), let alone the dwindling diminuendos of a tragically spent force. Having never bought a bootleg in my life, I can't understand the mindset of those who savor such droppings. Fourth Drawer Down and Sulk are all you need.
All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated