Mondo ’77 & Let Love Come Back

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In-the-All-Night-Cafe

This week I reviewed Stuart David’s memoir In The All-Night Café for the site Louder Than War and this immediately put me in the mood to hear some Looper as well as what Stuart describes as the ‘slightly shambolic magic’ of the first Belle and Sebastian album Tigermilk, which as I mention in my piece was robbed from my old flat which was situated just off Byres Road in Glasgow. Hopefully the scumbag who stole it was completely unaware of the fact that by this point it was already worth around five hundred quid and received only pennies for it when they sold it on.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

In The All-Night Café brought back many memories of my time in the West End such as occasionally heading along to the Halt Bar for their open mic sessions, although I wasn’t there the time when a proto Belles line-up called Lisa Helps the Blind apparently once performed to a largely uninterested audience with Stuart Murdoch walking off the stage in the middle of Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie because it didn’t feel right – and speaking of that track I remember the graffiti spray painted on the side wall of Greggs which inspired the song’s title.

There’s plenty of entertaining anecdotes in this portrait of the bassist as a young man including a tense incident at an early gig when it was discovered that the foot of Richard Colburn’s drum stool had cut through Stevie Jackson’s guitar amp which meant the actual drum stool had become live and Stuart also teases readers with an ongoing mystery that oddly enough involves boyband 911.

If you’re a Belle and Sebastian fan I would definitely recommend In The All-Night Café but it would also likely appeal to anyone who has ever been part of an indie band or even wondered what it would be like to be part of an indie band.

What I found most fascinating was Stuart Murdoch’s unwavering vision for the Belles and his steely determination never to compromise it. Also admirable is the refreshing honesty that Stuart David writes with throughout, even admitting that although happy, he still felt conflicted – and maybe a little jealous of his bandmate – in the wake of his own group Raglan Street Rattle splitting up and Belle and Sebastian, which was very much Stuart Murdoch’s band, beginning to take off. As he writes: ‘Somehow I was no longer writing songs, no longer had a band, and was quite aware watching Stuart arranging and mixing his songs with conviction that I didn’t have the singularity of vision to pull that off for myself there and then. It was a long way from the future I’d dreamt for myself as a teenager… ’

Stuart David made another three albums with Belle and Sebastian as well as four EPs. In 1998 he started Looper as a side-project and went on to leave B&S in 2000 to concentrate on that project and writing novels. Hopefully this was nearer the future that he’d dreamt for himself as a teenager.

These Things, a new career spanning Looper 5 CD box set with a 20 page booklet with sleeves notes by Tim Burgess of The Charlatans is out now. From it this is Mondo ’77, a track that some will have become aware of through its use on the Vanilla Sky soundtrack:


There’s also a number of mentions in the book on Stevie Jackson’s former band The Moondials, whose two EPs were also stolen from my flat come to think of it, albeit luckily enough I managed to replace both, the first of which you can see below. I’m not exactly sure why but I love this highly idiosyncratic cover.

Mondials Never Knew Love

As Stuart puts it: ‘singer Warren sounded like Joe Cocker and looked like Johnny Depp. I sometimes thought that if I looked like Warren, I would feel more confident onstage. And that I would maybe have been a pop star already. I couldn’t work out why Warren wasn’t a pop star already.’

Me neither, Stuart and I intend featuring The Moondials in the very near future but for now, here’s a track from Warren McIntyre’s current band, The Starry Skies. This is a live version of Let Love Come Back:


The Starry Skies will be playing at the Kelvingrove Bowl on Sunday June 7 along with The Wellgreen, Monica Queen and a bunch of other talented local musicians.

For more on Looper, click here.

And for more on The Starry Skies and The Moondials, click here.

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The Shape Of Things That Win

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Before a coupla weeks ago I think the last time I had heard Gimme Your Heart by Glasgow band The Subs on the radio might have been back in the days when Radio Clyde ran a weekly punk show called Street Sounds hosted by Brian Ford in the late 1970s.

If I have given the matter any real consideration I would have doubted I would ever come across the song again on the airwaves but tuning into Billy Sloan sitting in for Brian Morton on BBC Radio Scotland’s Morton Through Midnight show* I was in for a pleasant surprise. And not only did Billy give The Subs a spin, he also followed it with a track called In The Lonely Place by House Of Plywood, an act that that includes former Subs vocalist Callum Cuthbertson. Very good it was too.

But getting back to The Subs… Originally known as The Subhumans, the band made rapid headway after forming in the white heat of the punk revolution. They recorded a demo which impressed London’s best independent label, Stiff, who invited the lads down south, where they took part in a Stiff audition night at the Royal College of Art.

Stiff must have liked what they saw as they quickly signed the Glaswegians for a one-off single (on their 1-Off imprint) which was recorded at Pathway Studios in the capital and produced by Larry Wallis, an early member of Motörhead and also a Stiff recording artist at the time.

Live favourite Gimme Your Heart was selected as the A side and the single’s centre came adorned with a typical Stiff slogan ‘The shape of things that win’.

Reviews were generally good with fanzine Next Big Thing, calling the 45 the ‘best Scots vinyl offering since Good Sculptures’, while NME picked up on the ‘Neanderthal Man drumming from Ali Mackenzie’ and Cuthbertson’s ‘suitably disgruntled’ vocals, which I think were both meant as compliments.

‘The Subs created quite a ripple at the Rochester Castle in what was one of the group’s first London gigs,’ Nick Tester wrote in April ’78 in Sounds, a magazine that was obviously rooting for the band: ‘The Subs are in fact like a stainless steel carving knife, rawness combined with a clean edged melody which utterly carves up any opposition in these supposed Power Pop times. Enough hooks to hang your C&A bondage pants out to dry.’

Released in March 1978, this is Gimme Your Heart:

 
Despite recording one of the finest Scottish singles of the era, even by the blink and they’ll be gone standards of the day, The Subs were destined to enjoy only a very brief shelf life and sadly Gimme Your Heart would be their one and only release.

Drummer Ali Mackenzie left the band and they roped in Brian McGee of Simple Minds to replace him for a support slot they’d nabbed for a Graham Parker and The Rumour gig at Strathclyde Uni. The show was deemed a success but before long bassist Derek Forbes decided to join McGee in Simple Minds and guitarist Kevin Key took up the invitation to expand the ranks of The Jolt into a four piece.

Ali Mackenzie notably set up independent label Cuba Libre, which released records by James King and The Lonewolves, The Cuban Heels (who he later joined) and occasional Barras Market buskers The Shakin’ Pyramids, whose 1981 album Skin’ Em Up he also produced. From it and with a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on, this is opening track Take a Trip:

 
As for Cuthbertson, well, he later carved out a career as an actor with a string of appearances in theatre, TV and film, appearing most recently in BBC Scotland sitcom Gary Tank Commander and the 2013 romcom Not Another Happy Ending, where he played the pub quiz fanatic father of Jane Lockhart (Karen Gillan).

* Available to hear for a week or so here if you live in Britain or know how to use proxy servers: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05s4p99

Find Yourself and First Light

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Two for Tuesday logo version

A quick post with a couple of singles from two albums out this week and it will have to be quick as over the past few days I’ve been suffering from a series of migraines which I doubt are helped by sitting in front of a netbook typing.

A hippyish neighbour has suggested some herbal remedies including peppermint tea and something called feverfrew which sounds like a track from a Cocteau Twins album and which I’m a little sceptical about. Nothing to do with the old ‘never trust a hippy’ slogan but rather the fact that if I’m ever rushed to hospital with some dreadful injury, I do hope the doctor doesn’t try reassuring me by telling me that a nurse is on her way with a cup of peppermint tea and some feverfrew to help relieve my excruciating pain.

I’ll have some industrial strength morphine, thank you very much.

Anyway, first up today is Jacco Gardner, who I know little about. According to Wikipedia though, Jacco is ‘een Nederlandse multi-instrumentalist. Hij maakt muziek met psychedelische jaren 60-invloeden’ which translates very loosely as Jacco is a Dutch multi-instrumentalist whose new album, Hynophobia came out yesterday. It’s crammed full of dreamy psych tinged baroque pop that will sound even better when summer eventually decides to arrive, which in Scotland should be sometime in July where it will last for a couple of days.

As I say that’s a very loose translation.

Jacco Gardner Hynophobia

Each of the tracks are wonderful in a number of ways but best of the bunch is recent single Find Yourself which comes across like Air and Klaatu collaborating on a John Barry song (that Klaatu reference again, worth seeking out if you’ve never heard them and still best known because some eejits briefly convinced themselves they were secretly The Beatles in the mid-1970s).

Here is Find Yourself:


For more on Jacco Gardner, here’s his official site.

Django Django

I know a lot more about Django Django and you probably do too as they made a real splash with their self-titled debut album in 2012 which found its way onto the albums of the year lists of both The Guardian and Rolling Stone and earned a Mercury Music award nomination.

I’ve yet to hear their latest effort Born Under Saturn, although last night I was impressed by the three session tracks they recorded for Vic Galloway’s BBC Radio Scotland show and also rather enjoyed their unexpected choice of Pass It On track which was Collage by The Three Degrees.

Yes, The Three Degrees, the favourite act of Prince Charles.

Honestly, it’s nothing like their sickly series of hits from the mid-70s.

Here, though, instead of the act I imagine being introduced back in the day on prime time telly by some bloke in a bowtie like Bruce Forsyth as the ‘fillies from Philly’, this is the first single from Born Under Saturn, First Light:


For more on Django Django, click here for their Facebook page and here for their official site.

Okay, where’s that feverfrew?

Has to be worth a try at least.

The Magic Whip & The Mayor Of Simpleton

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Don’t ever believe an artist when they rule out the idea of their defunct band ever getting back together.

I’ll qualify that. Don’t ever believe an artist when they rule out the idea of their defunct band ever getting back together unless their surname happens to be either Morrissey or Weller. Reunion tours can be a lucrative business these days and as pension plans go they must be among the best.

After ruling it out, Blur have been on the occasional reunion tour bandwagon for around six years now but many critics still expressed surprise at the idea of them recording another album. As you must surely already know though, they’ve just released The Magic Whip, their first in a dozen years.

Blur The Magic Whip

The band laid down some new tracks in Hong Kong in 2013 with no firm idea whether they would ever see the light of day and these were mothballed until last September when Graham Coxon volunteered to attempt to ‘whip’ the demos into the kind of shape that might just become the basis for a new album, aided and abetted in this task by longtime Blur producer Stephen Street.

Alex James and Dave Rowntree dropped by to redo some of their Hong Kong efforts and once Coxon and Street were satisfied, the results were presented to Albarn, who was impressed enough to return to Hong Kong to soak up some some lyrical inspiration for the tracks, which he would write in Iceland and record back in London.

You’ve probably also already heard the single Go Out and perhaps seen the Britpop meets MasterChef video. The first taster of The Magic Whip possessed an infectious groove with Graham Coxon performing ever more weird and wonderful things with his guitar as the song progressed, eventually coming over as the Carlos Alomar of Colchester.

Comeback albums are seldom true successes but hopes began growing that The Magic Whip might be more of an Aerial or The Next Day than an Endless Wire or The Weirdness.

These hopes were well founded. Albarn is in good voice, Coxon is inventive as ever, proving that Blur without him was a bit like The Clash without Mick Jones (and I wonder if Damon made this analogy himself when he worked alongside Jones in his The Good, the Bad & the Queen project). The rhythm section is in great form too. No matter what you think of irritating fop cheese maker Alex James, he does provide great loping basslines at the drop of a hat and Dave Rowntree, as usual, never goes for the spectacular but always stays one hundred percent solid.

There’s nothing here as exhilarating as Song 2, nothing as insanely catchy as Girls and Boys or Parklife (not even Ong Ong), or as beautifully melancholic as This is a Low or For Tomorrow (although I Thought I was a Spaceman and Pyongyang come close) but The Magic Whip is one of their most consistent collections of songs and a very worthwhile addition to the Blur discography.

The next time that a Best of Blur compilation comes out, at least three of the tracks would be able to easily justify a place on it.

Another guess: you’ve also very likely seen the promo for one of those three, the album opener Lonesome Street – although then again, you maybe don’t give a fuck about Blur and are happily ignoring the current music world furore, which is pretty much how I’ll feel when their old rivals Oasis inevitably announce they’re back.

With a typically choppy Graham Coxon signature riff, Damon doing his introspective chorus thing, some squelchy sounding synths, woo-ooh-oohs and even some whistling, Lonesome Street is alternately melancholic and jaunty and it keeps sounding better and better every time I hear it.


The song also demonstrates once again the influence on Blur of classic English songwriters like Ray Davies, Syd Barrett and Andy Partridge and though I wouldn’t like to give the impression that this is an act trying to recreate past glories, it wouldn’t sound out of place on my own favourite Blur album, Modern Life is Rubbish.

And speaking of that album, is it just me that looks back on life in 1993 and thinks that on the whole modern life felt a lot less rubbish than it does today?

Okay, the charts were clogged up with garbage like Sonia and Pat and Mick but on the plus side the public had never heard of Simon Cowell, Katy Hopkins, Jeremy Kyle or UKIP and would have had to ask what a zero hours contract or food bank was.

Strangely enough, I’ve only just heard the three demos that were Blurs’ first shot at recording Modern Life. Andy Partridge, who was in charge of the sessions, has just revealed in the May issue of Mojo that he preferred these to the album versions later produced by Stephen Street but I’m not so sure, albeit I am very fond of his take on Coping which certainly gives Street’s take on the track a run for its money and I’m gonna take this as a good excuse to include some XTC although frankly no excuse should ever be needed to include Swindon’s finest.

From the album styled as Nonsvch, this is The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead, which was released as a single in May 1992, a matter of months before the Partridge/Blur sessions.


And now I come to think of it, there’s another act that will never perform live again, so add Andy Partridge and XTC to my list, although maybe they will at some point in the future bring out some new material.

I hope so anyway.

For more on Blur here’s the link for their official site and click here for their Facebook page.

For more on XTC, this is where you’ll find a link for their resource page.