I’m a King Kong man, I’m a voodoo man, Oh I’m an apeman

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This week I got round to buying English Weather, the latest collection compiled by Bob Stanley (this time together with Saint Etienne mainstay Pete Wiggs). The album focuses on that post-Beatles, pre-glam early 1970s era of British music that is seldom remembered with any particular fondness.

Grabbing a copy of the album wasn’t one of my better ideas. There’s an awful – and awfully long – Daevid Allen track that begins: ‘I met a man, a wise old man’ and there’s also a band represented here called Aardvark.

Do I really need to say anything more about anybody that ever thought calling themselves Aardvark was a good idea?

Worse still is Til The Christ Come Back by Bill Fay, which has been described as ‘spiritual heavy rock’ and contains this couplet: ‘Alas, said the cloud, what have we here? I believe it’s the world and it’s covered in fear.’

Jesus wept.

Admittedly a couple of track are excellent: John Cale’s Big White Cloud and O Caroline by Matching Mole, and there are also a number of intriguing enough listens: Moon Bird by The Roger Webb Sound is nicely atmospheric and could have been lifted from a not very frightening English horror film where sexy lesbian vampires are never far away and there’s a pre-Pilot band called Scotch Mist with a song called Pamela, and oh, oh, oh it’s far from Magic. Or January.

But I much prefer this gloomy folk number to their lightweight pop though.

The dawning of the new decade might conjure up images of boys and girls in badly knitted tank tops; Please Sir!, Queenie’s Castle and Magpie and pints of mild served up in dimpled pint tumblers by an Alf Ramsey lookalike, probably known as something like Cyril or Selwyn. For me it’s when I began to develop an increasing interest in music, big chart singles like In The Summertime, My Sweet Lord and Spirit In The Sky.

Released towards the end of the year (and even better) was The Kinks’ Apeman with its catchy calypso tinged feel and amazing lyrics – ‘I’m a King Kong man, I’m a voodoo man, oh I’m an apeman’ and with one of them, John Gosling, dressed up as an ape while he pounded the piano on Top of the Pops.

This was as good as it got for an eight or nine year old.

From the snappily titled Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One here is Apeman:

 
Slightly before Apeman came out another single I loved was released: Ride a White Swan by T. Rex. This took it’s time to head up the hit parade, spending eleven whole weeks before peaking at its highest chart position, number two, by which time we were into 1971.

Ditching incense and Tolkien and embracing satin and tat (and electric guitars) proved a masterstroke for Marc Bolan and it wouldn’t be long before the term T. Rextasy was coined, reflecting the band’s phenomenal rise. Pop was becoming very important to me and my fellow children of the revolution, mainly thanks to Ride a White Swan, a ‘boogie mind poem’ that helped kick-start glam rock.

‘Over and done inside two minutes,’ Bob Stanley noted in his book Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, ‘it was simplicity itself and genuinely exciting.’

Something that you couldn’t say about a single track on English Weather.

With the kind of crazily catchy three note riff that even the giants of rock and roll would have envied, here is Ride a White Swan:

 
For more on the The Kinks click here, and for more on Marc Bolan/T.Rex, here you go.

On Impulse

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Many of the vinyl buying brigade and even some record sellers have now turned against Record Store Day.

“Clearly it would be unrealistic not to have expected things to have gradually changed over the last ten years,” Kevin Buckle of Avalanche wrote this week in the Edinburgh Evening News, “but truth is, what was a very well intentioned idea has become commercialised and distorted to a point where it is unrecognisable from those early years.”

As I’ve said before, there’s no way that I’m ever gonna queue all night for the chance to buy some horribly overpriced records that I probably already own whether on vinyl, CD or MP3 and even if I don’t already own the tracks I want then I can always (in all likelihood) download them somewhere online but if RSD still appeals to you, then good luck finding whatever you’re after. To quote again from the same article: “Support high street record shops, support new music and if possible support new music in high street record shops.”

And here I’ll add my own far from original advice: On any day of the year you fancy.

By coincidence, while cleaning out a cupboard this morning, I came across a bunch of old albums collected together in a record shop bag from Impulse Records & Tapes, which certainly brought back some memories and prompted this rather impulsive post.

Carrier bags like this have over recent years – and for reasons that I can’t fully understand – started to become collector’s items and some apparently fetch reasonable sums of money when auctioned off on eBay although when I just looked none were going for anything above twenty quid. I seem to remember hearing that a book consisting of photos of old (and possibly some new) bags from British record shops had been published and a few articles have also appeared in the press about the phenomenon.

And so for anyone interested, here’s my old bag which is chanky to the extent that I really thought it best to set to a high contrast when assembling in Paint Shop Pro:

Impulse Records & Tapes bag

Impulse started out in Hamilton before adding a second branch in East Kilbride town centre in the summer of 1977, the grand gala opening involving a helicopter and several Radio Clyde DJs. I remember heading over in the early days during a school lunch hour and being given a Jam poster and badge – a very big badge from memory.

Before then in East Kilbride, records and cassettes were available in Rockabill (closed years ago) John Menzies (now WH Smith) and Boots, which is still Boots albeit there’s no racks of vinyl nowadays.

Saturday morning trips into Glasgow and shops like Listen, Bruce’s and Graffiti continued but it was good to have a record shop within walking distance and I did spend many hours flipping through the Punk and New Wave box on the counter, stacked with singles by the likes of The Adverts, The Damned and The Clash – and bands like Motorhead, The Count Bishops and even Loyd Grossman’s old band Jet Bronx And The Forbidden – in other words, records that didn’t really belong in a punk or new wave box.

Today, the unit – which I think is now a pet store that is actually set to move shortly – shares the same row as a carry-out shop, a chippy, a bookies and a boozer, so you never have to stray more than a few yards to keep the vice or carbohydrate levels up. Sadly though, if vinyl is your addiction you’re out of luck.

*

Okay, here’s a track from one of the albums I found in the bag. From the disappointing No More Heroes album, this is The Stranglers and the far from disappointing title track:


Record Store Day 2017 will take place on Saturday, April 22.

For more on Mono click here and for more on Love Music Glasgow, here you go, although as I write the site is still about to go live so here’s the shop’s Facebook page too.

Simple Minds & Secret Goldfish

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Pub rock in Glasgow in the late 1970s wasn’t any big deal. Due to restrictive licensing laws which the Church seemed to have a big say in, boozers didn’t have the option to charge admission for gigs and when acts were booked for places like the Dial Inn they were usually of the human jukebox variety.

Okay, the Burn’s Howff might be considered an exception but that was a rockers joint, full of hairy arsed hippies and bikers wanting to hear Lynyrd Skynyrd or Nazareth soundalikes – actually Nazareth themselves played there back in the day. Maggie Bell’s Stone the Crows also took to the Howff stage and Alex Harvey first met up with the future members of SAHB there. Later, the Mars Bar became another exception, famously boasting the early career of Simple Minds by giving them a Sunday night residency in 1978.

Simple Minds were neither a human jukebox nor longhaired rockers and in comparison to these types of acts they looked as if they came from another planet (Mars or otherwise). Pub bands just didn’t wear make-up or have a well thought out visual identity; they didn’t have any (albeit minimal) light show, introductory Eno-esque tape, dancers and they seldom took themselves so absolutely seriously or if they did they certainly wouldn’t show it.

NME’s Ian Cranna watched them that October and enthused about the ‘magic fusion’ of their arty old wave favourites with ‘the fertile firepower of the New Wave’, concluding, ‘they create not just startlingly good rock music but a whole show, an event.’ He couldn’t recall the last time he’d witnessed such an exciting yet thoughtful talent, likewise his NME colleague Glenn Gibson soon joined in the rush to heap praise on the hot new band, calling them astonishing after watching them support – and outshine – 999 at Glasgow Uni.

Before the year was out Simple Minds also filled in as support act for The Only Ones at the Astoria in Edinburgh, The Stranglers in Aberdeen, Ultravox and then Squeeze in Grangemouth and Siouxsie and The Banshees at Glasgow’s Apollo.

Not surprisingly, several major labels began sniffing around including Arista. Bruce Findlay, who’d only recently signed a licensing deal with that label, allowing them to distribute his Zoom releases, had an brainwave: Jim Kerr had told him that he wished they ‘could get the money and clout that a major label could give us but with the independence and kudos that being with a small independent label brings,’ so Findlay asked Arista if they would give him the money to fund Simple Minds. They agreed and so he lured them on to Zoom, then home to The Zones, Nightshift and The Questions.

Once signed, the boys wasted little time beginning work on what would become their debut L.P, originally intended to be called Children of the Game, before being re-titled Life in a Day.

Here is the title track:


And just in case you were wondering who else was featured on the Old Grey Whistle Test that night then here’s your answer and I’m guessing a few Springsteen fans might have been slightly pissed off by whoever compiled that day’s Evening Times TV listings:

Simple_Minds_OGWT_1979

Simple Minds also played the Third Eye Centre back in 1978, a venue that after much renovation evolved into the CCA, which still hosts live music including last summer an evening featuring The Secret Goldfish, whose new album, Petal Split, is just out on Creeping Bent.

Secret_Goldfish_CCA.png

The Secret Goldfish arrived like a breath of fresh air during the peak of Britpop with a breezy indie pop sound that brought them quickly to the attention of John Peel, who invited them to record a couple of sessions for his show and perform at the Meltdown Festival he curated in 1998.

Before the end of the 1990s they’d released a number of singles, split singles, EPs and a couple of albums.

Then they went all J.D. Salinger.

So, it’s been eighteen years since their last album but within moments of opener O. Pioneers kicking off Petal Split, listeners will be reassured that the band haven’t misplaced their knack of making great music.

That bright pop pulse rarely gives way all the way through to the closer, their version of the Edwyn Collins penned Ain’t That Always The Way which recalls Nouvelle Vague fronted by a Scottish Sarah Cracknell – some bloggers out there will likely disagree with this opinion but I do prefer Katy McCullar’s cute coo here to Paul Quinn’s cowboy croon on the 1985 original.

In between these tracks there’s plenty of zippy guitars, flouncy melodies and uplifting choruses that display the band’s love of everything from 60’s girl groups to C86 – oh and their version of Vic Godard’s Outrageous Things is pretty much irresistible and a real highlight although my favourite track (at least at the moment) might just be Winter Tears #2, a melancholy nugget that ends before even reaching the two minute mark.

This is the lead single from the album, Amelia Star, a track I liked on first hearing and which I’ve liked even more on each subsequent hearing:


For more on Simple Minds click here and for more on The Secret Goldfish, here you go.

Radio Stars Think Inside the Box

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Coinciding with their fortieth anniversary, Friday saw the release of the entire collected works of Radio Stars in the form of their first ever box-set, Thinking Inside the Box.

Out on the Cherry Red imprint, the package comes in the shape of 4 CDs together with a twenty four page booklet fully illustrated with cartoons by Phil Smee, photos, contemporaneous ads, clippings and extensive notes penned by Dave Thompson.

Thinking Inside the Box includes the two officially released Radio Stars albums Songs For Swinging Lovers and The Holiday Album along with a shedload of singles, rarities, previously unissued John Peel sessions and some live recordings and, to celebrate its release, I invited bassist Martin Gordon (formerly also of Sparks and Jet) to select some favourite songs featured in the collection and give his thoughts on them.

Big thanks to Martin for agreeing to the idea.

If you want to hear any of the tracks chosen – and you really should – click any underlined song title for a link to Spotify.

RADIO-STARS boxset

Make Your Mind Up

What a naughty boy! Various forms of Beastliness


The Beast of Barnsley (CD1 Songs For Swinging Lovers track 3)

The Beast of Ankara (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 22)

• The Beast #2 (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 10)

The Beast of Barnsley dealt (directly) with one Reg Chapman, mass rapist of that ilk, and indirectly with the gutter press who lasciviously documented his exploits. We recorded and mixed the tune, and prepared it for release on Songs For Swinging Lovers. Then the Beast’s solicitors got wind of the fact that Reg was to be immortalised in song.

They scrutinised the lyrics and found that, in the song, his mother had apparently been accused of trying to chop her son’s head off with a meat cleaver. ‘His mum tried to chop Beasty’s head off with a cleaver….” went the lyric. There was no denying it, that’s what it said. This, m’learned friends pointed out, was incorrect, inasmuch as she had indeed considered chopping his head off with a meat cleaver but hadn’t actually done it.

Her omission was beneficial to Radio Stars, of course, otherwise I would have had to write a song about something else, but still. Taking the legal point, I changed the line to ‘Mum considered chopping…” as instructed, and honour was satisfied. Andy Ellison sang a replacement and we had to remix the thing all over again.

Various elements of the media picked up on this development, with the Daily Telegraph running it as a front page item. Some months later, a person claiming to be the Beast’s cousin came up at a gig and proudly declared his family connection. He was rather hurt at the band’s response, or lack of it.

Just for fun, we ran off an alternative version, which would in later years have been considered unplugged given that it featured an acoustic guitar, albeit flanged. This was used as a B-side and termed Beast No.2.

In more recent times, various other Beasts have emerged, and a Turkish Beast in particular. In 2016, the song was revisited in order to document The Beast of Ankara. It leads off with some tasty baglama saz, just to get you in the right oriental, but beastly, mood.

Old Grey Whistle Beast Test:


More about the Beast: http://martingordon.de/radio-stars/the-beast-of-barnsley/

Unaccountably Blue


Accountancy Blues then (CD2 Holiday Album track 7)

Accountancy Blues somewhat later (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 13)

The Holiday Album included the words to Accountancy Blues but unaccountably not the music. This came as rather a surprise to me, discovering it as I did only when examining the rear sleeve of the finished product. It turned out that certain parties were not convinced of the song’s integrity and rather effectively just removed it. No further discussion was necessary.

Some years later, I discovered an edited version, wherein some of the introductory silliness had been removed; obviously some effort had been made to make the tune more sensible, but without success. The truncated slightly-silly version is now restored to its original place on the Holiday Album, with the full-length extremely-silly version appearing in CD3.

You Think It’s All Over? It is Now


 It’s All Over album version (CD2 Holiday Album track 13)

It’s All Over truncated radio edit (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 15)

The full-length motor-biking drama of It’s All Over required some 5 minutes to tell the full story. Management thought that the tear-jerking tale might make a single, so some exploratory edits were conducted to make it radio-friendly. Whether they did or not was never actually put to the test, but both versions are included here. The user can decide. Please do not run into a wall in ecstasy as the tragic tale unfolds.

Radio Stars Extrapolated – Can’t You Just Make It Longer?


Radio Stars original version (CD2 Holiday Album track 1)

Radio Stars single (CD3 track 11)

I was by now accustomed to being asked to make songs longer. It had happened in Jet (Song for Hymn was under one minute), and I had refused. This time, I was a sadder but wiser beaver. The original Radio Stars was also about a minute long, serving as an introductory piece on stage. The record company liked it and wanted to release it as a single, but complained that it was too short. Possibly uniquely, we had to edit in more material to make the tune more radio-friendly.

Accommodatingly I wrote a new middle section. The original recording sounded great, especially Ian Macleod’s guitar, so I proposed to just record the new section and stick it in the appropriate place. This is exactly what we did. The eagle-eared, and indeed the cloth-eared, will no doubt notice the join, as the drums and guitar sound completely different in the middle section, but no matter. We performed the elongated version at Reading Festival in 1978; it seemed to go on for ever but some people like that kind of thing.

Where Have All the Russians Gone?


No Russians in Russia from Stop It (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 3)

No Russians in Russia revisited on the Holiday Album (CD2 track 12)

We recorded No Russians at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, with the marvellous Neil Richmond engineering. The sound could have been better however, and indeed it was better by the time we later recorded Songs for Swinging Lovers in the same studio. For the Stop It EP, we achieved what we could, even I thought it sounded a bit on the tinny side. For the Holiday Album, recorded in the more lavish Kinks-owned Konk Studio in Hornsey, we had another go at the tune and beefed it up with brass and additional Cyrillic vocals. There is also a third version extant, rendered as reggae, but perhaps the less said about this the better.

Why There Are No Russians in Russia: https://formalcontentsonly.wordpress.com/tag/no-russians-in-russia/

Buzz Off


• I Got the Buzz (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 18)

• I Got the Buzz (John’s Children/Black and White)

I Got the Buzz (Blue Meanies/Pop Sensibility)

A plethora of versions. The original was recorded by the Blue Meanies and sung by occasional Radio Stars sax player Chris Gent, the second by a reformed Radio Stars in their cello-and-keyboards-to-go phase, and the third by John’s Children long after some event or other. The only thing they have in common is the bass – neither the chords of the structures are consistent across all of them, although not for want of trying.

RADIO-STARS-box-front-cover-500x500

For more on Thinking Inside the Box, click here and for more on Martin Gordon, here you go.