The Last Big Weekend & Where You’re Meant To Be

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You may already know that The Last Big Weekend is a two day boutique festival organised by the East End Social that’s taking place in Richmond Park, close to Glasgow’s greyhound racing central, Shawfield Stadium. Saturday’s lineup is curated by Chemikal Underground while Numbers and Optimo have combined forces to curate the Sunday leg.

Mogwai, whose Rave Tapes is one of my very favourite albums released so far this year, are joined on Saturday by John Peel favourites The Wedding Present, former Creation signings Swervedriver and Edinburgh’s fast rising Young Fathers as well as Fuck Buttons, James Holden, The Twilight Sad, Holy Mountain and Honeyblood.

Last Big Weekend

I can’t be there that day as I’m going along to a wedding, although I’d have really liked to see Mogwai headline and just about all of the other bands on the bill. Day Two, which promises to feature some of the very best local and international DJs together with some of the finest electronic music acts out there, isn’t so much my thing apart from the multi-talented ex-LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, who one day I’d like to see produce a new David Bowie album.

Anyway, on Sunday night I’m off to the Where You’re Meant To Be event, which bills itself as ‘A Musical Road Trip and Film from Aidan Moffat and Paul Fegan’ with the Barrowlands, I’m told, being transformed for the occasion into ‘a cabaret-style cinema venue’ with clips of the forthcoming Where You’re Meant To Be road movie/documentary being screened and anecdotes from Moffat, a natural raconteur if ever there was one, about the stories behind each clip. Of course there will also be songs and Aidan will be backed by James Graham of The Twilight Sad), Jenny Reeve of Bdy_Prts and Stevie Jones (El Hombre Trajeado).

Also performing on the night will be double-act Joe Aitken & Geordie Murison and Glaswegian singer Danny Couper. Should be a very interesting and entertaining evening.

Getting back to The Last Big Weekend – and yes, I was tempted to post a link to Arab Strap’s The First Big Weekend – I’ve started this post with the headliners from day one and I’m going to end with the band who’ll be opening the proceedings on Saturday afternoon, Glasgow based duo Honeyblood, who consist of vocalist and guitarist Stina Tweeddale and drummer Shona McVicar.

Over the past few years they’ve signed to Brighton indie Fat Cat Records, released an album produced by Peter Katis, played T in the Park and toured the States. They’ve been compared to The Breeders, Best Coast and PJ Harvey but I’d say they’re more like Strawberry Switchblade with a snarl (and without the polka-dots) or, and I’m maybe thinking more of Stina’s voice here, The Sundays.

Here’s the alt-country flavoured Bud from their self titled debut album which is definitely worth seeking out:

 
For more on The Last Big Weekend click here.
For more on Where You’re Meant To Be click here.
For more on Aidan Moffat click here.
& for more on Honeyblood click here.

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An Interview With Manda Rin (Independent Scotland #5)

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Bis - The Secret Vampire Soundtrack

Bis: The Secret Vampire Soundtrack (1996) Chemikal Underground

It’s almost impossible to comment on the recent Glasgow Mix Tape concert without mentioning the weather. According to the forecast the whole day would vary, vary that is between heavy rain and torrential rain. This proved highly accurate.

Friends cancelled and by the time I caught my bus I was already soaked. The bus was then forced to take a lengthy Commonwealth Games related detour and wouldn’t let me off at the stops nearest Glasgow Green where the event was taking place, dropping me off instead at the back end of the Barras market.

Soggy and miserable, I couldn’t find an umbrella to buy anywhere although I was hustled a couple of times by some dodgy looking characters asking if I wanted any cigarettes, tobacco or… Viagra.

‘No thanks.’

Honestly.

Luckily the music throughout the day was every bit as good as the weather was rank rotten.

There were two places to see the live acts at the event, which was organised by The East End Social – a Chemikal Underground initiative to provide more music to this area of the city – the biggest being an outdoor stage called the Living Room where I watched a number of groups like The Bluebells and The Phantom Band mostly from under a nearby tree or the temporary Ford Mustang stand for shelter.

Even though The Phantom Band were in top form, I made the decision halfway through their performance to make my way across to the Playhouse tent, where I got to dry off, got to drink a couple of bottles of Bulmers cider and, best of all, got the chance see Bis play a energetic and very, very entertaining set which was one of my two highlights of the day along with Lloyd Cole and The Leopards’ finale at the Living Room.

Bis were the Sound of Very Young Scotland in the 1990s. They surfaced in the middle of that decade and although they were British and played what could easily be termed Pop, they had almost nothing in common with contemporaries like Oasis, Supergrass, Shed Seven and Sleeper who were riding the Britpop wave of the time and dominating the charts.

Instead they appeared to inhabit their own idiosyncratic Bis universe of secret vampires and the teen-c revolution. They made a much hyped appearance on Top of the Pops, made the front cover of NME, signed at one point to The Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label, played at the inaugural Coachella festival, penned the end theme to Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon show The Powerpuff Girls and almost inevitably became big in Japan. Genuinely big in Japan.

Here’s the song that they opened their Playhouse set with, one of the earliest releases on the consistently excellent Glasgow label Chemikal Underground.* Best to turn up the volume, folks:

 
Did Bis really form 20 years ago?!

We formed in 1994 pretty much. First gig was 1995. It’s pretty scary huh?

You seemed to emerge from nowhere but had you been together long by the time you came to the attention of the public with Kandy Pop?

We certainly didn’t emerge from nowhere and had actually released a few singles before Kandy Pop. But, I suppose to many it must’ve seemed like that as the first singles were very low key. Kandy Pop was our 2nd release on Chemikal Underground, and our first EP was on a Spanish Record label called Acuarela.

Did you see yourselves as part of any indie scene in Glasgow back in the early days? You were very involved in fanzines, weren’t you?

If it wasn’t for fanzines our first single wouldn’t have happened (the label boss on Acuarela bought Steven’s zine and liked the sound of us then asked for a demo). I did a zine too. It was a fantastic way of hearing about tiny underground bands that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Amazing days.

What’s the true story of Bis appearing on Top of the Pops while unsigned?

We did TOTP after releasing the 2nd single on Chemikal Underground. We weren’t “signed” as such as there was no contract and no deal to do an album. So in essence we were. Makes good press articles for folk so I’m not arguing with ‘em.

How did you hook up with Chemikal Underground? I’d assume there must have been a lot of interest elsewhere.

Lots of small labels popped up being interested in the early days. Chemikal Underground were local and operated out of their flat near where we lived so it seemed to make sense, especially as we got on so well. It was good for them as a label too, and they happily acknowledge the part Bis played in their success which is nice.

Was the very early success actually good for the band in the long run?

It’s hard to judge what was best for us. I suppose it paced the success around the world and gave us time to concentrate on USA and Japan once the UK started to knock us down. I can’t complain about how lucky we were with our success. Okay we made bugger all money, but we got to do it for a living (just) and experience stuff that others would kill to do. I just wish I appreciated it more at the time but it was so fast and we were all very young.

I’m guessing the band have kept in touch with the Chemikal Underground guys, hence the appearance at the Glasgow Mix Tape?

We don’t stay in touch with CU too often, but I think Steven still plays 5-aside football with Alun (Woodward) which is where he asked about Mixtape. They were so nice about our gig and said it was a pleasure to have us there as we made their label what it is.

What’s up next for Bis?

There’s a few nice releases on the way over the next 6 months. I can’t say anything just yet, but they should excite a lot of people I hope. I very much enjoy exciting the ‘kids’ with our news.

Thanks for taking the time to talk Manda and good luck with the new releases.

From 1998 and released by Wiiija, this is Eurodisco, the song that Bis ended their Playhouse set with:

 
For more on Chemikal Underground click here.

For more on Bis:
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* I’ll be featuring more acts from this label like Arab Strap, Mogwai and, of course, The Delgados in the future, as well as previewing the East End Social’s Last Big Weekend event which takes place in Glasgow at the end of August.

One

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Wow, I’ve just realised that this blog is one year old today.

In that time I’ve uploaded 70 posts that often have long and sometimes unwieldy titles like A Former Dreamboy & A Former Dancing Pig Discuss Punk, Doctor Who & Independence or The Ex-Lion Tamer, Ex-Lion Tamer & The Ex-Lion Tamers – which someone emailed me to complain about. More annoyingly, on more than one occasion my blogroll has randomly went AWOL – and I must look into why some time soon.

I’ve also featured interviews from Vic Godard, DJ Billy Sloan, author Martin Kielty, Viv Albertine, Gordon Nicol from Iron Virgin, Gordon ‘Pada’ Scott from The Valves, Tess Parks (and my hits really did go a little crazy when Tess and Alan McGee tweeted the details of that one), Nina Antonia (who has just edited Pete Doherty’s journals From Albion to Shangri-La), Martin Gordon of The Radio Stars, journalist and former fanzine editor Alastair McKay and Martin Newell (thanks Nigey).

Thanks too to everyone who agreed to be interviewed; everyone who has commented on the site and the select few who follow me on Twitter, a social media site that I’m still not entirely convinced by but where just occasionally I’m worth reading.*

Young Fathers tweet

Here are ‘psychedelic hip hop boy band’ Young Fathers with Get Up from the SAY award winning album Dead:

 
* Okay maybe only once but I do retweet some good stuff.

Viva Viv Albertine (An Interview with Viv Albertine)

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VA

I’ve just started reading Viv Albertines’s autobiography Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys and it’s already proving highly addictive. Well, any book that starts off by declaring: ‘Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke. I’m a bit of both’ can’t be bad, can it?

Last year I interviewed Viv for the second issue of an e-Fanzine called Total Blam Blam and with the success of her book (which reached #1 in UK Best Seller lists for Non Fiction titles) and her upcoming appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival, where she’ll be talking to Vic Galloway, I reckoned now would be a good time (with Viv’s permission) to include the interview here on this site.

*

One of the most pleasing returns to music in recent years has been that of former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine, who, after more than twenty five years away from music, re-emerged in 2010 with an EP called Flesh, released on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label and then, in November 2012, followed up that fine set of four songs with her first ever solo album, The Vermilion Border, which was by turns, spiky, subversive, funny, dreamy, delicate and always intriguing.

And, as you can see from this photo, she also disproves the theory that you can keep the face or keep the body but you can never keep the two.

Viv Albertine

Viv, if you didn’t know, was part of the embryonic punk scene in the London of the mid 70s, her pal Keith Levene helped teach her the guitar – or as he put it in Zöe Street Howe’s Typical Girls?: The Story of the Slits: ‘If anything, I taught Viv what not to play like.’ She went out with Mick Jones in the early days of The Clash (he later wrote Train in Vain about her, she wrote Ping Pong Affair about him). She shopped at SEX and also squatted in a flat with Sid Vicious, the pair forming a band together that was named by Johnny Rotten as The Flowers of Romance. Here’s a photo from Skum fanzine #1, 1977:

Viv_(Skum_Fanzine_1977)

That outfit didn’t survive a series of sackings, including Viv herself, and then Sid leaving to become a Sex Pistol in February ’77; not long after their demise, Viv headed to a show at the Coliseum Cinema in Harlesden, where a new band of four females called The Slits were making their debut supporting The Clash; despite sound problems she definitely liked what she saw and wished she could be in the band. And, as luck would have it, she was soon asked to replace original guitarist Kate Korus just weeks before the band were due to tour the country from Plymouth to Aberdeen as part of the White Riot tour – for a snapshot of the band in this period try to see Don Letts’ Super 8 footage of them in The Punk Rock Movie (Letts briefly managed them at the time).

Revolutionary, raucous and remarkably influential, The Slits only ever released two studio albums in their lifetime but their combination of a visceral sound and irreverent attitude installed them as an absolutely vital part of punk, the first and best female band of that movement in Britain – not that they were ever happy with the punk label.

They played their last show in December 1981 at the Hammersmith Palais and fell apart the following year. Viv found the break-up traumatic and has admitted she was musically in denial for some time afterwards. Feeling the music business in the Thatcher era was becoming increasingly careerist, she packed away her guitar and chose to study film-making at Goldsmiths College in London, which led to her to spending many years working in film & TV, directing a range of dramas including five episodes of ITV’s revival of The Tomorrow People in 1992 and her own short film, Coping with Cupid, which she wrote as well as directed.

Paul Morley interviewed her for Uncut in 2001 and asked if The Slits would ever reform. ‘Perhaps when we’re 60,’ Viv replied. ‘That would be the Slits thing to do. Because even though we were girls and we dressed up, it was never about looks and bodies and sex. It was about what we thought and what we felt and what we cared about… inside.’

Four years later The Slits began planning their reformation and when Tessa Pollitt, their bassist, asked Viv if she would like to give it another go, Viv still had never resumed her guitar playing and was concentrating on being a full time mother. Tessa informed her that she had four months to relearn The Slits’ repertoire before their tour dates kicked off.

A new guitar was acquired and, whenever she had the time, Viv enthusiastically set about teaching herself the instrument in her own very idiosyncratic style. Not only that, she also began writing songs again, an avalanche of searingly honest, raw and confessional new material.

Viv felt more affinity with these songs and although she did make a couple of guest appearances with her former band, she decided that she didn’t want to go back once more and become a Slit as that wouldn’t be true to the way the band were back then. Instead, she made a remarkable decision – to forge a solo career.

The new Slits continued without her but, sadly, Ari died from cancer in October 2010, aged only 48, a huge blow to Albertine and obviously the end of that band.


Every now and again an artist remerges after decades out of the music business and brings out an album that ranks up there with their earlier work, the latest example obviously being yourself. Do you regret not making more music in between or do you think that if you had been making music for the last 25 years that you would just, inevitably, be repeating yourself by now?

I do not regret not making music for 25 years as I just couldn’t do it. Too fucked up. Too busy doing other things. Other work. Other creations (my daughter). Too ill. I know people who kept making music in that time and a lot of them are jaded now. Not enthusiastic. It’s a terribly hard area to be working in. I feel fresh and excited.

Collaborators on The Vermilion Border include Jack Bruce, Glen Matlock, Tina Weymouth and Mick Jones. An impressive bunch by any standards.

Needs must. I didn’t know anyone any more. Not even Mick. I stumbled across people as I went along. Music is a small world. I just asked people, or asked people who knew people. What amazed me is when someone said yes. Whether it was Jack Bruce or Jenny Lee Lindberg (of Warpaint).

You’ve just about completely moved away from the Slits sound, I suppose after a gap of around thirty years this shouldn’t be surprising. What has survived is the emotional honesty of the lyrics. In fact, while listening to Confessions of a Milf, I was even reminded of some of Tracey Emin’s work.

I met Sarah Lucas the other day and I whispered to her ‘if I were a girl now, I would be you’. Although I do think there are bits of the Slits sound on my new record, some of my guitar playing on the top 2 strings and the chanty, playground backing vocals.

You’ve joked recently (I think) about your voice, calling it a out of tune and rubbish warbling but it fits the music and because it can be fragile on some of your most personal tracks, it seems to have the effect of making the listener focus more intently on the words. (Wouldn’t fancy your chances of lasting long on X-Factor though).

Like David Byrne said, ‘the more in tune a person sings, the less you believe them’. I feel like I am talking rather than singing and no one would ever say to someone, ‘you are talking out of tune’. This is my voice, it is authentically my voice. It can’t be wrong. It is what it is.


The Slits seem to have become like a female version of The Velvet Underground – forgetting that they had a female drummer and a few guys drummed with you – in that they were so musically innovative and hugely influential but didn’t sell all that many records when they were together.

Yes. I hold on to that second time around. I think any artist in any field who is very successful has failed. It’s not the point to reach the mainstream. Or to be feted and well-paid by institutions. The point is to push boundaries, confuse, challenge, unsettle, be misunderstood.

Back in the mid ’70s, role models in the shape of all female bands – as opposed to girl groups – were amazingly rare, in fact, before punk, off the top of my head, I can only remember hearing Fanny and The Runaways, who were both very different from The Slits. Were there any female bands that inspired you?

I had no role models, I would look at Marianne Faithful and Anita Pallenberg, untouchable beauties, girlfriends, drug takers, they were other worldly. Yoko Ono made a huge impression but I couldn’t see how I could be her. I couldn’t make that mental leap. With a role model, you have to be able to see yourself in their place. That’s what spurs you on.

So no, there was no one in the music world I could imagine being, I was too young to make the leap on my own and imagine myself there in a band. On top of that I did not play an instrument or think I could sing. I may as well have imagined being an astronaut.

The Runaways got their own biopic in 2010, would a film on The Slits be a good idea. And if so, who would you like to play the young Viv Albertine?

A film of the Slits would be great. Maybe Carey Mulligan?

Good choice… 

You saw one of the very earliest shows by The Sex Pistols at the Chelsea Art School and the performance made you believe that you could be in a band yourself. Do you think eventually that you would have come to this conclusion even if Punk hadn’t have happened?

No I definitely wouldn’t have had the thought without Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood and seeing John Rotten on stage. The boys, like the Clash and the Pistols and even Sid and the Buzzcocks, all secretly harboured thoughts about being in a band and being famous. No matter how impossible those thoughts seemed to achieve. That’s the big difference with the Slits. Not one of us ever thought the thought. Ever imagined, posed, dreamt of such a thing. We were complete enfants sauvages.

You were crucial in creating the visual image of The Slits, wearing, say a very ‘girly’ dress along with a biker’s jacket and DMs which likely influenced Madonna and others. The punk and post-punk era gave us some great female looks, in addition to The Slits there was Jordan, Gaye Advert, Siouxsie, Fay Fife and even, slightly later, though decades before Lady Gaga, Linder Sterling with her ‘meat dress’. And not a professional stylist in sight I bet.

Jordan was unbelievable. You cannot imagine how radical what she was doing by dressing the way she did travelling up to London on the train every day, the makeup. She looked amazing and was so radical and brave.

You always speak very affectionately when you’re asked to reminisce about your old flatmate Sid Vicious. But I’m guessing not putting down the toilet seat would have been the least of your worries with him even back then before he’d fully embarked on his path of self destruction?

He didn’t use the bog. He pissed in the bed. So no problem with the seat.

The pair of you formed The Flowers of Romance. Were you any good? If you’d stuck together would you have been punk contenders?

Nope. Nope.

Your future plans include making your debut as a film actor (well not including Jubilee) and publishing your autobiography, which sounds pretty damned exciting. What about musically?

Will just do what I feel like when I feel like it.

Good luck with everything.

*

Viv will be appearing at the Scottish Power Foundation Studio on Sun 10 August, between 8:30pm – 9:30pm as part of the Edinburgh Book Festival as well as taking part, two days later, in the Book Slam event advertised below:

Viv Albertine Book Slam 2014

For more on Viv Albertine:

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