Roxy Agogo, White & The BB Guns

2 Comments

Anybody who read my recent post Shopping in Space and The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins will know that posts on here might be shorter than normal for the next month or so but I didn’t foresee any of them being as short as this one albeit the main reason for this is that I know practically nothing about either of the first two acts I’m featuring. In fact, I’ve just come across the pair of them a matter of hours ago for the first time, one via a tweet from Love Music Glasgow, the other from a visit to the excellent Safe Kind of High blog.

First up is Roxy Agogo. He/she/they are from Glasgow and according to NME he/she/they:‘sound like a gothic experiment to fuse the sleaziness of fellow Glaswegians Baby Strange with the synth-glam of early Eno’.

Apart from a couple of seconds at the beginning and end of the track, not much happens in this promo, which appears to be a loop of a 60s actress who looks not unlike Helena Christensen posing in front of some mirrors. All rather mysterious.

This is When You Dress Up:

 
Next up is White, a name that Google offers over one billion suggestions for when you enter the word as a search query. This is another Glasgow based act and that’s about all I can tell you about them although I can again quote NME, who said of this track: ‘[It] bounds along with an irrepressible Talking Heads groove, sprinkled with crystalline ’80s synth lines, before eventually morphing into the kind of full-blown space wig-out that Bowie would be proud of.’ See what you think, this is Living Fiction:

 
And finally a wee mention for The BB Guns, a band from Toronto that I previously covered here.

They have a fantastic new six song EP just out, named after the lead track Bang and it’s available as either a download or cassette. Definitely worth hearing, folks. A new video shot by Cabot McNenly, will be out in the very near future and it will very likely end up on For Malcontents Only.

bb guns - cc1

For more on Roxy Agogo:
Facebook
Soundcloud

For more on White:
Facebook
Soundcloud

And for more on The BB Guns:
Official
Bandcamp

Advertisements

Independent Scotland #4

2 Comments

Human League Being Boiled

The Human League: Being Boiled (1978) Fast Product
 
In a Melody Maker interview back in February 1979, Martyn Ware of The Human League mentioned that the band were more influenced by films than by they were rock, claiming he’d rather see a good film than a good rock band. In the cinema, ‘You’re part of the experience. Whereas, watching a rock band, it’s just some guys up on a stage.’

When a tour (due to take in Edinburgh and Aberdeen) was later announced supporting Talking Heads, it became apparent that The Human League didn’t see themselves as your standard guys up on a stage kinda band.

Their idea for the show was a multimedia extravaganza, utilizing their new synchronization units that meant they could operate slides in sync with each song. The problem with the plan as far as Talking Heads (not exactly backwards looking dinosaurs themselves) were concerned was the fact that while each member of The Human League would be at the gig, rather than being the centre of attention, they would supposedly be in the audience, hopefully discussing the automated events on stage and signing autographs.

The idea got the band dropped from the tour although they wanted to press ahead with the concept and even expand it.

As their manager Bob Last explained to NME: ‘It’s cost us a lot of money to set up and now we have audio-visuals, tape memory banks – in fact, the whole gist of the show – just sitting in boxes and waiting to go.’

Last outlined the potential of the show and spoke of creating a version for discos rather than rock concerts. ‘There are various other avenues to be explored. For example, I think it would be the ideal support for Alien, or a film of that nature.’

After the comparative failure of second album Travelogue, tensions within the band increased; eventually singer Phil Oakey decided that he wanted to sack Ware, Ian Craig Marsh wasn’t keen on the idea and the pair quit and teamed up on a new project to be known as the British Electric Foundation (BEF).

Remaining members Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright retained The Human League name, although they had to be convinced by Bob Last to do so. The music press didn’t see much of a future for a band with only a singer and director of visuals (even if Wright had started playing incidental keyboards). And you could hardly blame them.

Oakey, though, came up with a possible solution to enable a forthcoming European tour to still go ahead. His plan to fill in the gap left by Marsh and Ware revolved largely around the recruitment of two schoolgirls, Suzanne Sulley (17) and Joanne Catherall (18), who he’d spotted on the dancefloor at the Crazy Daisy’s ‘Futurist’ night in Sheffield although he also additionally employed a professional keyboard player, Ian Burden.

Neither girl had any kind of remarkable singing voice and neither was that great at dancing either. If the pair had time-travelled thirty odd years forward and showed up at an X-Factor audition, they would likely be dismissed as no-hopers.

Luckily the pop buying masses of 1981 didn’t require performers with touching ‘backstories’ on Saturday night TV, neither did they require anyone to have been coached by professionals to perform pointless vocal gymnastics or to display a look that had been (supposedly) ‘styled’ to perfection by somebody with no sense of originality or indeed style.

Having seen the new look League on Top of the Pops miming to Sound of the Crowd, the pop buying masses decided they actually liked the caked-on mascara, beauty spots and lippy and the slightly awkward and un-coordinated dance routines. Generally, girls identified with them while boys fancied them.

The Face Sept 1981 Human League Smash Hits 1981

Joanne and Suzanne soon became the poster girls for synth-pop but Bob Last, in particular, judged the band could be improved further by the addition of one final and vital ingredient, another professional musician, after Ian Burden temporarily left post-tour.

It might have appeared that the ex-guitarist of the retro obsessed Rezillos and the futuristic Human League had little in common bar sharing the same manager but in April 1981, Jo Callis was invited to become a permanent member, the idea being even stranger if you bear in mind Callis’ confession that he had never been near a keyboard in his life.

The first Human League album with the new line-up, Dare was released in October, 1981 and quickly made its way to the top of the UK album charts. By Christmas it had gone platinum in Britain, its number one status equalled by a single that Phil Oakey hadn’t wanted released, Don’t You Want Me – he only agreed finally on the condition that a large colour poster accompanied the 45, otherwise, he felt, fans would feel ripped off by the ‘substandard’ single alone.

Co-written by Callis, Oakey and Wright, the ‘substandard’ single went on to become one of the UK’s biggest ever selling songs*, the British Christmas number one of 1981 and also later an American #1 too and a worldwide smash.

And here I finally get round to the Scottish independent labels part of the post. Due to the success of Don’t You Want Me, the first ever Human League single, Being Boiled, which had been originally released during the summer of 1978 on Bob Last’s Edinburgh based Fast Product label, was made available again and this time entered the top ten of the singles charts, where it should have been first time around. For me it’s a much better record than Don’t You Want Me. See what you think:

 
And if anybody is wondering, this is only the first of a number of entries in this series looking at Fast Product, so I will get round to writing more on the actual label in the future. Honestly.

* It even re-entered the charts here a couple of months ago after being taken up by Aberdeen fans in the run up to their team winning the Scottish League Cup.

For more on The Human League: Official Site

Track One on Damned, Damned, Damned by The Damned

1 Comment

7x7-1977

THE DAMNED: NEAT, NEAT, NEAT

So far, in no particular, order, we’ve had Ignore Them by Eddie and The Hotrods, Ain’t No Surf in Portobello by The Valves, No Russians in Russia by The Radio Stars, XTC’s Radios In Motion, Space’s Magic Fly, Pirate Love by The Heartbreakers and Wire’s Three Girl Rhumba.

And now for the eighth in the series, the second single by The Damned, Neat, Neat, Neat which was also the lead off track on their debut album, 1977’s Damned, Damned, Damned.

The Damned - Neat, Neat, Neat Cover

A few weeks ago Captain Sensible turned 60 and celebrated by throwing a party at the Forum in London, where he performed with his band and support acts, The Ruts, T.V Smith, Johnny Moped and Eddie Tenpole Tudor.

Cost to punters?

£1.70 as the he wanted the ticket price to reflect what might have been charged in 1977 although when The Damned headlined the Glasgow Apollo that year, the concert ended up being free but that’s another story for another time.

Anyway, I ask you: ‘What’s not to like?’

Well one Guardian reader still felt that a moan was in order and this is what she had to say:

Yet another band that have become exactly what they set out to destroy.

In the 70s bands like the Slits, Gang of 4, the Raincoats, the Au Pairs and others focused on the burning issues of the day and helped out organisations like Rock Against Sexism and Rock Against Racism. The Damned on the other hand behaved like little brats playing practical jokes on each other and in the case of Captain Sensible dressing in a nurse’s uniform.

Sad to think that legions of fans (mainly middle aged men) still believe they are in any way, shape or form relevant.

They never were.

Okay firstly, this particular supposedly sad middle aged man has watched a lot of documentaries on punk over the years and knows there’s usually a point early on in most of them when archive footage of mountains of black plastic bagged debris strewn across London’s Leicester Square is shown to illustrate the unhealthy state of the pre-punk nation – although these images are actually from the so-called Winter of Discontent of 1978-79.

This is when the Captain tends to get wheeled out, wearing his trademark red beret, to berate the typical supercilious prog rock musos of the mid ’70s, intent as they were on fitting their latest ludicrous concept onto four sides of vinyl to be wrapped in some airbrushed fantasy landscape fold-out sleeve preferably designed by Roger Dean.

CUT TO:

INT. EMPIRE POOL, WEMBLEY

A ridiculously caped Rick Wakeman mauls his keyboard as part of his performance of The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table live on ice with accompanying ‘balletic’ skaters.

This was the kind of the thing The Damned set out to destroy.

As for politics, at the time, yeah, The Damned were more interested in snorting honkfuls of speed than reading up on Situationism and probably more likely to start a food fight with each other than fight any fascists but Sensible has claimed to have always been a socialist and, over the years, he’s become even more politically inclined.

His debut solo record was released on Crass Records in 1981, he’s been a member of the Green Party, a campaigning vegetarian, oh, and in 2006 he even founded his own political party, the Blah! Party, aimed at attracting protest votes.

Relevant? Well The Damned were at the forefront of the early London punk scene, playing the kind of fast and furious music that has influenced hundreds of bands ever since. They were also famously the first British punk band to be signed by a record label, the first British punk band to release single and the first British punk band to release an album. At least back then I think you’d have to say that, musically, they were undoubtedly relevant.

They were fantastic fun too, fun being something I suspect the person I quoted might have only a very passing acquaintance with. See what you think, here they are performing Neat, Neat, Neat on ITV’s Supersonic in the spring of 1977:

Shopping in Space & The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins

Leave a comment

This week I started re-reading Shopping in Space, a book written jointly by Elizabeth Young and Graham Caveney, that takes a look at a number of writers who found themselves being lumped together during the 1980s and early 90s and tentatively categorised as ‘Downtown’, ‘New Narrative’ or ‘Post-Punk’ but whose writing Young and Caveney opted to term ‘Blank Generation’ fiction, after Richard Hell’s most famous song, to give them ‘the necessary link with punk’ and to convey ‘something of the flat, stunned quality of much of the writing’.

At the point when I first read Shopping In Space shortly after its publication in 1992, I was spending more time reading than I was listening to music. Certainly there was still plenty of great new singles and albums coming out by acts like – off the top of my head – My Bloody Valentine, The Breeders, Slowdive and Teenage Fanclub but new literature struck me as much more dynamic at this time when grunge largely ruled the planet. Admittedly when Nirvana were at the top of their game with tracks like Smells Like Teen Spirit and Heart Shaped Box, grunge might have seemed like a truly great idea but Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and co? No thanks.

The writing discussed in the Shopping in Space was typical of the kind of thing I was reading back then: Bret Easton Ellis, Mary Gaitskill, Joel Rose and Jay McInerney, whose Story Of My Life was a particular favourite. Additionally, I was also very keen on Raymond Carver and the so-called ‘dirty realists’ along with the curiously named Breece D’J Pancake, who like Kurt Cobain died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the three Glaswegian authors, whose work had been collected together in the 1985 anthology of short stories, Lean Tales: James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Agnes Owens.

Shopping in Spce (1992)  Rebel Inc. Issue 1

What excited me even more though was my discovery of a whole new wave of younger Scottish writers that included Gordon Legge, Duncan McLean and Irvine Welsh. Finding an extract of what later would become the second chapter of Trainspotting in a yearly anthology called New Writing Scotland was almost like discovering The Damned or The Sex Pistols on John Peel.*

Or maybe I should say that reading the Edinburgh based litzine Rebel Inc. was like listening to the Peel show and its pages would introduce me to Laura Hird, Alan Warner, Sandie Craigie, Paul Reekie and many other new voices ‘from Embra and other bits of Scotland like Falkirk’.

Before long I was dabbling myself, trying my hand at writing very short stories that were sometimes only about a page long. Soon I began sending these off to small press publication; some were accepted though mostly I would receive a bog standard rejection letter.

One time, when I was trying to enter a story for some competition organised by Glasgow Uni, my typewriter ribbon – remember this is 1992ish – began growing ever more faded to the point of illegibility and with a deadline looming and zero money to buy a new ribbon I hit on the only solution I could think of that would make my submission even reasonably presentable: I used Letraset for the last couple of paragraphs before rushing out and delivering the final piece by hand.

It didn’t win the competition but did make the shortlist which was selected by Janice Galloway (I was a big admirer of her debut novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing) and I was invited along to read my piece at an event in a hall somewhere deep in the bowels of the uni.

It was the first time I’d ever set foot inside a university. Well, barring when I got signed in for concerts.

All these years later, I’ve started writing some fiction again after enrolling for a part time course at a local university that isn’t Glasgow and this is taking up more time than I’d imagined. Therefore, for the next six or seven weeks, posts on here might be a wee bit shorter than usual and possibly a bit more spread out too.

Next up on the reading list is Joel Rose’s Kill Kill Faster Faster (my copy is on Canongate’s old Rebel Inc. imprint), a novel that’s discussed in Shopping in Space and which Irvine Welsh proclaimed ‘A Modern Urban Masterpiece’ and ‘The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins’, which Irvine Welsh actually wrote and which the Independent has called ‘a return to top form for the Trainspotting author’.

Joel Rose Kill Kill Faster Faster  Sex Lives of Siamese Twins (Irvine Welsh)

*If Irvine Welsh was The Damned or The Sex Pistols then, applying the punk analogy to myself, I was probably in a band that once supported Eater.

The Ex-Lion Tamer, Ex-Lion Tamer & The Ex-Lion Tamers

2 Comments

SAHB Boston Tea Party

Released at the end of May 1976 on Mountain Records, Boston Tea Party gave The Sensational Alex Harvey Band their first outright hit since their rambunctious cover of Delilah the previous summer. The single didn’t quite match Delilah’s top ten chart position – It peaked at #13 – but it did hang around longer in the singles charts and gave Harvey the chance to appear a couple of times on Top of the Pops. This being the first of those two appearances.


Harvey was, by this point, attracting fans across Britain, North America, Europe and Australia. Even Iggy Pop, a bravura live performer himself of course, was taken aback by Harvey’s often outlandish onstage antics as was the young Nick Cave who still customarily namechecks Harvey whenever he plays Glasgow, going as far I’m told, as to dedicate the entire Grinderman Barrowlands set in 2010 to the memory of Alex.

Maybe more surprisingly, the teenage Robert Smith was a fanatical follower of SAHB, and saw them on numerous occasions during the 1970s. In a feature in Rolling Stone (Australia) just over twenty years ago, he explained: ‘People talk about Iggy Pop as the original punk, but certainly in Britain the forerunner of the punk movement was Alex Harvey. His whole stage show with the graffiti-covered brick walls – it was like very aggressive Glaswegian street theatre.’

Whether any of the members of Wire were SAHB fans I have no idea. Colin Newman apparently wrote the original lyrics of the following track about a lion tamer – a profession Harvey famously liked to claim he’d once been himself – but Graham Lewis judged the lyrics to be substandard and replaced most of Newman’s words with his own. All references to any lion tamer were excised, hence the song’s new title, Ex-Lion Tamer.

Very Wire.


And finally, a quick mention may as well be made here of the band The Ex- Lion Tamers, formed by rock critic Jim DeRogatis specifically to cover Pink Flag in its entirety and in the exact order of the Wire LP.

Wire would later hire the band to act as their support on an American tour.

Again very Wire.