Goodbye, Holger Czukay

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Can: Animal Waves (Virgin)

I can’t claim to planned this series of my favourite 49 tracks (plus 1 bonus) from 1977 too much in advance but have always known that something from Saw Delight by Can would be included somewhere along the line.

With the recent death of Holger Czukay, it seems appropriate to post this now rather than leaving it till later.

As I’ve written before on here, I pretty missed out on Krautrock during my youth, mistakenly believing that the music was some form of German prog. I did, though, love I Want More when the song entered the charts in the second half of 1976.

Then punk exploded and by the time Can arrived in Glasgow to play Strathclyde Uni in March 1977, they had been forgotten. Filed under irrelevant. Which in hindsight was a mistake. A pretty big fucking mistake when you listen to music like this. My favourite version of Animal Waves is the edited one on Anthology but here’s a much longer version of the song that has never been officially released:


‘I have just turned 46,’ Holger Czukay told the NME back in 1984, while discussing a bathchair in the corner of his kitchen. ‘Still too young to marry! Ha ha. When I’m 80 I will get married and this bathchair will be the present to my wife!’

Unfortunately, Holger never did reach the 80 mark, dying earlier this week aged 79. He did though marry although I’m not sure if his wife Ursula ever received the chair as a wedding gift.

Sadly she died just a few months ago and with Holger’s Can bandmate Jaki Liebezeit passing away too back in January this really has been a horrible year for Can and their fans.

Also from Saw Delight, here’s Don’t Say No which obviously shares a very big resemblance to Moonshake:


RIP Holger Czukay (24 March 1938 – 5 September 2017)

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Supernature & A Track from Seventh Tree

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Cerrone: Supernature (Atlantic)

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Musician, composer and producer, Jean-Marc Cerrone is the man behind Supernature. He recorded his first LP, Love In C Minor, in 1976, creating one of the most influential French disco albums in the process, Blues & Soul magazine describing it as ‘Euro-disco at its very best’. It might have been at the time but a year later he surpassed it with his Cerrone III: Supernature album, an edit of the title track going on to became a top ten hit in Britain in 1978.

Around this time some critics began referring to Jean-Marc as the ‘French Giorgio Moroder’ and while I wouldn’t say he was quite of that calibre I can see why the comparisons might be made – and while I’m at it I’ve always thought that Daft Punk’s Giorgio by Moroder sounded a lot like Supernature than any track that the Italian producer has ever been involved in.

Compare and contrast, folks:

 
 
The track was also apparently used as the theme tune on The Kenny Everett Video Show, something I have no recollection of ever watching having a deep dislike of the host.

The other main trivia point about the song is the fact that the lyrics were penned by a young Lene Lovich, who prior to being signed up by Stiff had been busking, providing screams to be dubbed onto horror movies, playing in a funk band and – well according to one site anyway – working as a go-go dancer on Radio One, although what the job description of a radio station go-go dancer might entail is frankly beyond me.

When the Supernature album came out in 1977 though she failed to receive a writing credit – her contribution only being finally recognised when a remix of the song was released in the mid ’80s.

Supernature_'86

Goldfrapp also recorded an album called Supernature and included a track titled Cologne Cerrone Houdini on Seventh Tree.

What yer man Cerrone has to do with this track is also beyond me but I would guess it was just the first word that Alison Goldfrapp thought of that rhymes with Cologne. Well, it certainly beats crone, groan or loan.

I do kinda like clone myself though albeit Cologne Clone Houdini would definitely be a bit of a tongue twister, especially live.

Anyway, here is Cologne Cerrone Houdini:


For more on Cerrone click here.

For more on Goldfrapp, here you go.

All Hopped Up and Ready to Go

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Ramones: Sheena is a Punk Rocker (1977) Sire Records.

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Sheena came out in Britain in the early summer of 1977 and as Charles Shaar Murray noted in his NME review: ‘Look, all The Ramones songs sound like hit singles and then don’t sell, but this is so flat-out delightful that not even the nasty boring dull-as-bleedin’ ditchwater Britpublic will be able to resist it.’

He was right. Helped by their British tour that summer which included a date in Glasgow, Sheena became the first Ramones single to make its way into the British top thirty, joining the likes of God Save The Queen, Peaches and, em, We Can Do It by the Liverpool FC football squad – which luckily I have absolutely no memory of.

Something I would like to be able to say about another hit of the time: The Eagles’ Hotel California.

Ramones - Sheena is a Punk Rocker sleeve & ad

The Bruddas might have sold enough records to make the charts with a song that surely couldn’t even offend someone desperate for offence but still the idea of the band playing a show in Glasgow was being resisted by the authorities in the city.

Local Lord Provost Peter McCann had went out on a high not long beforehand, hitting out at a version of Dracula at the highly respected Citizens Theatre that contained male and female nudity: ‘To put on a disgusting play like this where school children might go in is scandalous.’

Of course, he hadn’t seen it.

Some did entertain the idea that the anti-punk witch-hunt in Glasgow might end with his departure but this was soon proved to be wishful thinking. May ’77 saw the announcement of a new Lord Provost, a pensioner called David Hodge who immediately nailed his colours to the mast.

For the second time in a year The Ramones made front page news in the city’s Evening Times, this time with the headline: NEW PROVOST IN PUNK ROCK ROW; Hodge declaring he’d do everything in his power to stop the debut of the New Yorkers in Glasgow at Strathclyde Uni.

Up until the night of the students only (so no me) show on Saturday 22. May, many concert-goers suspected that they would be denied the chance to see The Ramones, fearing a last minute ban would be enforced but in the end, the nearest threat to a cancellation occurred when the PA blew out after support act Talking Heads’ afternoon soundcheck. Opening their set with Blitzkrieg Bop, the band even played Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, the song that had given them their first Evening Times front page.

Punk Rock 1 Glasgow City Council 0.

Here it is live, Sheena is a Punk Rocker:


Times change. Twenty one years later a punk comedy/musical called Sheena is a Punk Rocker was performed at the Glasgow’s bastion of populist entertainment, the Pavilion, Scotsman critic Mark Brown describing it as ‘more Val Doonican than Iggy Pop’. I didn’t bother paying good music to see it myself.

For more on The Ramones click here and for more on The Ramones and Glasgow related punk rock rows, here you go.

Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa, Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa

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Talking Heads: Psycho Killer (Sire)

“And you may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here’?”

Oops, wrong song and anybody that read my previous post will obviously know how I got here.

Talking Heads first came to some degree of prominence at CBGB where they began regularly supporting The Ramones. This would be an inspired though incongruous pairing: while The Ramones enjoyed portraying themselves as glue-sniffing dumbasses, Talking Heads gave off an intellectual air; while The Ramones always aimed for unflinching machine gun ferocity, Talking Heads employed a slower pace that could vary from song to song and whereas The Ramones wrapped themselves in black leather and ripped jeans in a bid to look like Bowery degenerates, Chris Frantz even once spoke of Talking Heads taking to the stage looking like ‘a bunch of Jesuits’.

Both bands, though, shared some kind of minimalist intent, paring down their sound to the point where absolutely nothing extraneous was left – sensing this producer Tony Bongiovi decided to bolster debut Heads’ single Love Goes to Building on Fire by adding horns and even some birds chirping. David Byrne did regret allowing this but I’ve always been rather fond of as it added a little touch of Stax and I’d guess the singer’s Fa fa fa fa fah-ing on Psycho Killer is also a reference to Otis Redding’s Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).

Again, unlike The Ramones, Talking Heads were soul fans – best demonstrated later with their inspired cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River.

Sometimes associated with the serial killer David Berkowitz, known as the ‘Son of Sam’, the song was actually written before Berkowitz had notched up his first kill. Byrne initially worked on the track while he, Tina Weymouth and Chric Frantz were all sharing a painting studio while students at the Rhode Island School of Design. He asked Weymouth for some assistance on the bridge as he wanted it written in French – which she was fluent in – and Frantz joined in the fun too with a couple of choruses. A classic was hatched.

With that great staccato guitar, urgent and sometimes unhinged vocal and, best of all, that pulsing, ominous bassline from Tina Weymouth, this is Psycho Killer performed live on The Old Grey Whistle Test:

 
Berkowitz’s final attack, incidentally, took place in Brooklyn on July 31st, 1977 and he was apprehended on August 10th and later sentenced to 365 years in prison, where he still resides.

Psycho Killer was first released as a track on the album Talking Heads:77 in September 1977. A few months later it came out as a single.

For more on Talking Heads, click here.

The Last Days of Earth?

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Rikki And The Last Days Of Earth: City Of The Damned (DJM)

Music critics enjoyed putting the boot into Rikki and the Last Days Of Earth, mainly due to the fact a number of them hailed from posho backgrounds, one journalist gleefully pointing out that the drummer was Eton educated and that, between them, the band had passed 32 ‘O’ Levels and 6 ‘A’ Levels.

Which, of course, automatically meant that they weren’t as good as a gang of guttersnipes who’d all lived in high-rises all their lives.

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Or so some would have had you believe back in ’77, the same kind of folk that have just stopped listening to Kate Bush because she praised Theresa May – nowadays I seem pretty unusual in not feeling the need for artists to agree with my worldview.

Okay, maybe some of the Sounds and NME staff just judged singer Rikki Sylvan to be a dreadful poser and his group to be bandwagon jumpers.

I would disagree at least to some extent with the latter accusation. Yeah, the hair was spiky and at times they employed the same sonic attack as acts judged more credible than themselves but they certainly didn’t lazily embrace any Pistols/Ramones/Clash clone sound and instead explored a similar musical vein to acts like the John Foxx version of Ultravox! and The Doctors of Madness, and which was as near to post-glam as punk rock.

Occasionally resembling that irritating Safety Dance song from the 1980s,
this is City of the Damned, a single that received a miserly 1 out of 5 in the first issue of punk mag Trick. Make up your own minds:


Although I’ve always obviously enjoyed City of the Damned, until a few days ago I had never heard their LP Four Minute Warning released by DJM in the summer of 1978.

This proved to be one of the most frustratingly inconsistent albums I’ve ever listened to, pinballing from the good to the bad to the downright laughable on a track by track basis.

This is a pity as the album starts off with a bang with For the Last Days…, a thrilling (near) instrumental with grandiose guitar lines and the guys sounding like Queen’s younger, punkier brothers, the track ending with the singer proclaiming: ‘I’m Rickki Sylvan, these are the last days of Earth.’

Yes, Sylvan was into apocalypse, decadence, dystopian nightmares (via William Burrough’s Wild Boys) and black magick but he wasn’t all laughs.

Boom boom.

Also on the plus side there’s No Wave (It’s So Simple) with its meaty bassline (listen to it and then listen to Dr Mabuse by Propaganda and you’ll hear the similarity). I’m very fond of the blissful washes of synthesizer that punctuate the song too.

Aleistair Crowley is obviously Sylvan’s tribute to man denounced by the British press as the ‘wickedest man in the world’. Sylvan was a fan of Crowley and the occult but I’m not sure that Crowley would have been a fan of the song. Here the band somehow decided to incorporate a cod reggae feel and the lyrics were delivered with a vocal so arch it borders on the ridiculous. As it does on several other tracks. A shocker.

Mick Farren dismissed the album in NME: ‘Sad to say, what we have as end product is overblown, confusing pomp rock that hasn’t worked out that melodrama isn’t the same thing as energy.’

Music writer Dave Thompson was a fan though. In his book London’s Burning, he painted one of the few favourable pictures I have yet read of the band: ‘They looked great, dripping leather from every limb and never pictured with anything less than their Sunday-best scowls in place, while their live show had to be heard to be believed – a seething, hissing, icy blast, a wall of synthesized menace that sounded like a million dollars and probably cost that much as well.’

I didn’t get to see them myself and I think their only ever Scottish dates were the ones listed in the ad below in Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh but maybe someone can tell me otherwise.

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Does the Rikki and the Last Days Of Earth revival start here?

Probably not I would have to admit.

It was Easy, it was Cheap, Go and Do It!

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Desperate Bicycles: Smokescreen (Refill Records)

And now for one of the most influential ever British independent singles.

What is independent or indie?

The question was asked in last year’s BBC4 documentary Music for Misfits. ‘Is it a genre of music, generally accepted to involve noisy guitars?’ presenter Mark Radcliffe suggested. ‘Is it a business model, small companies not beholden to major corporations? Is it a state of mind?’

My answers being ‘No. Not necessarily and not necessarily.’

Almost forty years after buying my first independent single I still can’t give you a definitive answer to the question but what I can say is the that some records described as indie or independent are more independent than others. Early on Stiff set up a distribution deal in Britain with EMI and one with Epic for their American releases, while Jerry Dammers arranged a deal with Chrysalis to fund 2 Tone. Independent?

When the Guardian addressed the question last year to coincide with the first showing of Music for Misfits, Jude Rogers stated: ‘Some facts remain unshakeable. At the beginning were Buzzcocks, with their made-for-£500 Spiral Scratch EP.’

Okay, to try and shake the unshakeable, I’ll mention just one of many examples that I could. During the long hot summer of 1976, just as Buzzcocks were setting up a show in Manchester for The Sex Pistols, Abercrombie Fraser – a pseudonym of Kevin Westlake, who’d played guitar in Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance – released a version of Marie’s Wedding on Pinnacle, a British independent label label – yes, they did already exist – and distribution company that had some success around this time with the highly irritating boyband Flintlock.

Some facts do though actually remain unshakeable, one of them being The Desperate Bicycles were pretty much as independent as it was possible to be in the late 1970s, no distribution deals with majors and certainly not a penny in funding from them either.

The Desperates were one of those bands like Wire and Subway Sect that made records in 1977 which now sound more post-punk than punk. They formed with the simple ambition to record a single, cheaply and without record label involvement and this before they had even rehearsed as a band, let alone played a live show.

When asked about this by fanzine New Wave, bassist Roger Stephens, explained: ‘I think the only way we could get five people to actually get interested in playing together was to say, well we’re going to cut a record straight away. The whole novelty of it was enough to make sure people turned up. It sounds crazy but that’s a part of it.’

On their own Refill label, this is that debut single, Smokecreen, yes, the very first independent single I ever bought:


Call me lazy but if you want to know about the band and the basic details of how they made their first two 45s, then here’s what they said themselves on the back cover of their second DIY release The Medium was Tedium:

‘The Desperate Bicycles were formed in March 1977 specifically for the purpose of recording and releasing a single on their own label. They booked a studio in Dalston for three hours and with a lot of courage and a little rehearsal they recorded ‘Smokescreen’ and ‘Handlebars’. It subsequently leapt at the throat. Three months later The Desperate Bicycles were back in the studio to record their second single and this is the result. “No more time for spectating” they sing and who knows? They may be right. They’d really like to know why you haven’t made your single yet. “It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it” (the complete cost of “Smokescreen” was 153 pounds). The medium may very well have been tedium but it’s changing fast. So if you can understand, go and join a band. Now it’s your turn…………….’

And if you’re wondering what 153 quid would be in today’s money, then adjusting for inflation that would be the inflation adjusted equivalent to is £664.63. According to Moneysorter.co.uk anyway.

splitting-the-atom-the-medium-is-tedium

Refusing to advertise, the band only played live sporadically. Word of mouth was their main means of spreading the word until John Peel began repeatedly playing Smokescreen, before inviting them in to record a session for his show in the summer of 1977, which kicked off with a version of Smokescreen that surpassed the single.

The Desperates punted their record to independent music shops like Small Wonder and Rough Trade. Happily the initial Smokescreen pressing of 500 sold out with the band putting the profits into a second pressing of 1000 which again sold out allowing them to put the further profits into a second single. That pressing soon also sold out and this time they used the profits to press up 2500 more copies of each of the two singles and to buy some new equipment.

In his book Rip It Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds described the Desperate Bicycles as ‘DIY’s most fervent evangelists’. Buzzcocks might have got in there before them and significantly the Manchester group used the back cover of their EP to help demystify the process of making a record by listing the number of takes and guitar overdubs on each track. This would be an obvious inspiration to the Desperates but as Buzzcocks were lured relatively quickly from New Hormones to United Artists you could easily argue that it was The Desperate Bicycles who were more influential to many new DIY bands emerging around this time.

Here’s Simon Reynolds again in the same book quoting Nikki Sudden of Swell Maps: ‘It wasn’t until Desperate Bicycles did their first single that we realised you could actually book a studio and make a record. We thought only major labels could hire them. Which seems ridiculous now!’

Scritti Politti, a bunch of puritanical Camden squat dwellers who spent their days scrutinizing far-left samizdats and post-structuralist theory while plotting the best way how to bring about the immediate downfall of capitalism – and likely existing on a diet on brown rice as they did so – also undoubtedly took encouragement from the example of the Buzzcocks and Desperates, listing not only the cost of making their debut single on the sleeve but also breaking down precisely each of the costs they’d incurred as well as giving out contact details for each of the companies they had used.

The Television Personalties are another band that found inspiration in records like Smokescreen and, in turn, they influenced the next generation like Alan McGee, who had by the mid-80s (when this type of music would be regularly termed ‘alternative’ rather than ‘indie’) established a reputation for signing some of the most exciting independent acts in the country like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream to his label Creation – and, of course, later McGee went on to sell around half of Creation to Sony Music in the early 1990s.

Here’s a question, a hypothetical one.

Would The Desperates have been tempted if – unlikely I know – a major had taken a serious interest in tempting them to sign on the dotted line with a hefty advance?

As far as I can tell, they seem to have refused the opportunity to ever license any of their material for a re-release on CD or as a download, although they have spoken of doing this themselves.

So, the band do still strike me as genuine outsiders.

But hey, you never know.

By the time The Desperates had petered out in the early 1980s, Scritti were becoming frustrated by the limitations of being on an independent (in their case Rough Trade). As the decade progressed, singer Green Gartside took the not very democratic decision to elect himself leader of Scritti, eventually using the band to all extents and purposes as a solo vehicle.

Bob Last was appointed manager. I’m guessing because Green approved of how he’d handled the mega-success of The Human League. When offered the chance Scritti moved from egalitarian Rough Trade to hippy capitalist Richard Branson’s Virgin, something that Green would surely have laughed at back in the days when he would rail against everything from the usual capitalist suspects through to the experimental London Musicians’ Collective (castigated as ‘bourgeois imperialist improvisers’) and fellow leftist acts such as The Pop Group.

Duran Duran became fans and Green found himself in the pages of Smash Hits as regularly as NME, where he would be as likely to praise Tiffany as Marcel Duchamp. In all probability far more yuppies bought his records than squatters.

He took to wearing glossy lipstick and employed Arif Mardin to make his sound even glossier.

Worst of all, though, he somehow started to believe that it was a good idea to wear a shellsuit. Made by Nike.

Uploaded by Hell From The Eighties, sorry, Hello From The Eighties, this is Absolute:


More Scritti to come shortly as, believe it or not, I am actually a fan and should maybe say before I finish that Green/Scritti signed again to the reactivated Rough Trade imprint around a decade ago.

The Independent Group & The Independent Group

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Bryan Ferry: This is Tomorrow (Polydor)

This week I’ve been reading Alastair Sooke’s Pop Art: A Colourful History which includes a long chapter on the rise of British Pop Art.

Sooke is a critic who has been known to take a slagging but I’m especially enjoying reading about Peter Blake, who will always be best remembered as the co-creator of the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but who has also designed album sleeves for Paul Weller, Pentangle, The Who and the John Peel tribute album Right Time, Wrong Speed, as well as producing paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures that have found their way into the collections of many of the world’s finest galleries.

It’s fascinating to read about the young artist who in the post-war years looked across the Atlantic with envy. Britain was drab and dreary in comparison, a nation of rationing, a single TV channel and beige wallpaper while for many young people America represented glamour – a world of colour, Coca Cola, fast food and Hollywood.

Even in London it proved impossible for him to find a pair of jeans. He bought some work overalls made with a material that resembled denim, cut off the top off and created his own makeshift version.

Of one of his paintings of the time, he says: ‘Self-Portrait with Badges was about the unusualness of wearing jeans and trainers – people only wore trainers then for sport. And the idea of an adult with a lot of badges didn’t exist. People would have thought I was mad.’

People only wearing trainers for sport? Changed days, eh?

Some see Blake as the Godfather of Pop Art with his paintings of film stars, pin-ups, wrestlers, tattooed women – a far from common sight at the time – and, of course, pop artists of another kind like Elvis and Bo Diddley.

peter-blake-splhcb-album-cover peter-blake-got-a-girl

Sooke contrasts Blake’s work with that of the informal artistic gathering of artists, architects and theorists that became known as the Independent Group. They can also be seen as forerunners of Pop. Formed at the ICA in London, like Blake, the IG were also mesmerized by the shiny new world represented by the USA, especially in their case automobiles, movies, comics and science fiction magazines.

Unlike Blake though, the IG took a stringent, intellectual view of these phenomena, they wanted to analyse the relationship between so-called ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, while Blake simply wanted to enjoy.

‘When are you getting to Bryan Ferry?’ I hear some of you asking.

Soon. Honestly.

just-what-is-it-that-makes-todays-homes-so-different-so-appealing this-is-tomorrow-installation-shot

Just as Blake will be remembered for an iconic album cover, the Independent Group will likely remain collectively best known for a seminal 1956 exhibition that they staged at London’s Whitechapel Gallery.

The theme of the collaborative show was the ‘modern’ way of living and the most imaginative representation of this was a collage by prominent member Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? featured in the catalogue and some promotional posters (that’s it above left, next to a photo of an installation Hamilton helped create for the exhibition). The name of the show was This Is Tomorrow – yes, the inspiration for the first single from Bryan Ferry’s fourth solo album, In Your Mind.

Many decades before he got into the whole hobnobbing with toffs scene and raising his son to be immensely proud of killing foxes, Ferry had been a promising art student and was taught at Newcastle Uni’s art department by Hamilton, who like Blake went on to design an album cover for The Beatles, in his case, The White Album.

Actually Ferry had taken the name of the debut Roxy Music single, Virginia Plain, from one of his own Pop Art influenced watercolours of his student days under Hamilton and the older artist went on to influence Ferry in his music career, which Ferry has been happy to acknowledge: ‘Certainly some of the early songs were very collage like – where I’d actually throw different styles of music into the same song,’ he told Michael Bracewell in the book Re-Make/Re-Model. The title of his next album, 1978’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, was borrowed from a conceptual artwork by Marcel Duchamp, a piece Hamilton recreated for a Duchamp retrospective during the 1960s at the Tate.

Hamilton, incidentally, didn’t like being labelled as a Pop Artist and he didn’t approve of the This is Tomorrow title for the exhibition either, telling Bracewell: ‘Nobody can say what tomorrow’s going to be like – let’s concentrate on today.’

A good point maybe but let’s actually concentrate instead for a few minutes at least on a track from January 1977. With Chris ‘Motorbikin’ Spedding on guitar and Roxy’s Paul Thompson on drums, this is Bryan Ferry with This is Tomorrow:


For more on Bryan Ferry, click here. For more on Richard Hamilton, here’s a segment from a Channel 4 documentary that also features Ferry.

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In Glasgow, The Independent Group was the name given to the collection of musicians that worked with Paul Quinn on his work for the reactivated Postcard label.

Was Quinn, or label boss Alan Horne, inspired by the name of the London based art grouping?

I suspect so but I’m guessing.

Sacrilege I know but I’ve never been that keen on Quinn’s voice, although I did absolutely adore Will I Ever Be Inside of You? where he was aided and abetted by the exquisite, celestial vocals of Jane Marie O’Brien.

From 1994, this is Paul Quinn and the Independent Group with Will I Ever Be Inside of You?:

 
Footnote:

Some years ago I went along to see Hamilton’s show, Protest Pictures, at Inverleith House in Edinburgh, a space where I’ve also seen work by artists of the calibre of Douglas Gordon, Lucy McKenzie, Cy Twombly and Jim Lambie. Inverleith House is a fantastic place to see contemporary art but one which, sadly, will no longer do so after tomorrow. Which is a shame.

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