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Independent Scotland #10

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Bee Bee Cee - You Gotta Know Girl

Bee Bee Cee: You Gotta Know Girl (1977)
REL (Radio Edinburgh Ltd)

So far in this far from regular series I’ve spotlighted labels like Fast and Postcard, the kind of influential imprints still likely to get folk highly nostalgic. To give just two recent examples of the continued interest in Scottish based independent music of the late 1970s and early ’80s – Fast was the main subject of Grant McPhee’s Big Gold Dream documentary from 2016 while Simon Goddard told the preposterous story of Postcard Records in his 2014 book Simply Thrilled.

Don’t expect anything similar with REL though.

For every Fast there was a Klub, for every Postcard there was a Moonbeam and for every Zoom there was a REL. Completely independent from the majors, yes, but embracing the DIY ethic with a similar ideological zeal as the upstarts of the 1970s?

‘Fraid not.

Launched by Neil Ross in the early 1970s, Radio Edinburgh Limited began life by renting out musical equipment and making recording facilities available to local acts. As independent labels increasingly became big news in the music world the company branched out into the record business with REL Records in 1976.

A roster was quickly assembled and although the new initiative hoped to eventually feature some rock acts, the bulk of the early signings could be best categorised as traditional, hoochter teuchter acts like The Tartan Lads.

During 1977, the label’s releases included Christmas Dream by those Tartan Lads, an album Dean Park Sings and a track by Bob Heatlie titled Tell Me Where I Stand. None of which I have ever heard. At the tail end of the year they also put out You Gotta Know Girl / We Ain’t Listening by a young and punky Edinburgh five-piece outfit.

Cripes_Bee_Bee_Cee

You might well be asking where this lot fitted in with the label and I’m not entirely sure myself although I should say that the band were never contracted to REL and they self financed the record themselves so I’m guessing this was a marriage of convenience.

During an interview in The Student in 1985, Neil Ross told readers: ‘We get lots of cassettes handed in every week but in fact the majority of bands on the label have become involved with us by paying to come in for a day or two to make demos and we’ve noticed their potential.’

Was this the Bee Bee Cee route?

Consisting of the very first two tracks ever written by singer Dave Gilhooley, this proved to be the one and only single from the band. Recorded at REL Studios (as was The Skids’ Charles EP incidentally) the single sold well enough locally but failed to muster much interest beyond Scotland at the time despite the talk in Cripes of challenging for chart success.

The band supported many punk and new wave visitors to Edinburgh such as The Ramones and Ultravox and they found management with the same team who ran Clouds in Tollcross.

A piece in City Lynx around the time of the record’s release claimed that the band were going to pay another visit to the studio shortly to record another single but presumably this never happened. The same piece also mentioned that other labels had offered them contracts and that the band were heading to London in the near future to discuss business with WEA and MCA.

True? False? Again I don’t know but maybe someone could get in touch with more information.

With an R&B feel that isn’t a million miles away from The Jolt, here are Bee Bee Cee:


Bee Bee Cee failed to go on to bigger and better things – although Callum McNair did join The Bathers twenty years later – and the same could be said of the majority of the acts on REL.

In the early summer of 1978, they would bring out a highly optimistic single predicting success for Scotland in that year’s World Cup: Mona Stewart and We’ll Bring the Cup Home – and to digress, Argentina ’78 had a big effect on traditional Scottish independent labels. Bone Idol’s The Roar of the Lion (Olé Ally) was recorded at REL Studios and as the backsleeve stated it took its inspiration from Scotland ‘Who Will Win the World Cup’ while Klub struck cash-in gold with the cringeworthy dirge Ally’s Tartan Army, which probably sold more than the entire Postcard discography. Luckily Mr Abie’s contribution to national self-delusion Ay Ay Argentina, also on Klub, fell by the wayside.

The aforementioned Bobby Heatlie, later wrote a track for a traditional Scottish singer who had once won a gold medal at the Mod. Mary Sandeman became Aneka and Japanese Boy – which Ross produced, licensing the record to the German-based Hansa label – became a number one in Britain and sold around 5 million copies worldwide.

Heatlie also later composed Merry Christmas Everyone for Shakin’ Stevens, another British #1. I’d love to post the video for that but unfortunately, it would be four or so weeks too late to enjoy fully.

Aye, right.

REL is still on the go with an ever growing catalogue of Scottish/Celtic artists on their books although sadly no mention of Bee Bee Cee, although You Gotta Know Girl does feature on the recent various artists CD boxset release Gary Crowley’s Punk and New Wave.

For more on that release click here.

Independent Scotland #9

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The Skids: Charles (No Bad Records) 1976

skids-charles-front-and-back

I won’t need to remind anyone reading this blog that 2016 witnessed an unusually large number of deaths of musicians and music industry figures: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Brett Smiley, George Martin and Dale Griffin of Mott being just a handful of names of talents that spring to my mind. The high list of casualties has even led some music journalists to stupidly speak of the year having a hex on it as if strangers to the notion of coincidences.

Locally, one name whose death came back in April has remained largely under the radar. Sandy (Alexander) Muir might not be the most important figure in the history of Scottish music but the owner of Muir’s Record Shop in Dunfermline’s Queen Anne Street did play a vital role in the rise of Skids, managing the band for a spell as well as setting up a label to put out their first record.

No Bad Records, like two fellow Scottish based independents of the time, Sensible (The Rezillos) and Boring (The Exile) wasn’t a name to automatically excite, more a self-deprecating joke at the label’s expense – and I should point out here that the no here is short for not, as in when asked how you are doing, you might answer, ‘Aye. No’ bad.’

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The basis of The Skids’ line-up was supplied by two former members of a covers band called Tattoo, a key feature of whose sound belonged to self taught guitarist Stuart Adamson, who’d become almost effortlessly efficient on his instrument while still at Beath High School, where his pal, bassist Bill Simpson, also attended.

Next to join was a granite-jawed punk with raccoon striped hair who could sing (kind of), had charisma in bucket-loads and who even wrote lyrics. The son of a miner, Richard Jobson had been given little encouragement at school and could easily have embraced the punk cliché of ‘no future’ at a time when many of his contemporaries were leaving school and either signing on the dole, starting a life as factory wage slave, or else, often in order to acquire an apprenticeship, signing up for a spell in the army, usually in locally favoured regiment, the Black Watch.

To complete the band, one final part of the jigsaw was required and found via an ad in the Dunfermline Press: ‘DRUMMER wanted for new New Wave band young and energetic. no hairies please.’

Tom Kellichan evidently did not have hair down his back and was in.

A new band name was required and after a run of daft suggestions such as Dr. White & The Plastic Bags, they settled on The Skids and under that name played their debut show in the summer of 1977 at the weekly Friday rock night at the Belleville Hotel in Dunfermline, where they supported the memorably named Matt Vinyl & the Decorators, an Edinburgh outfit whose punky R&B riffs proved reasonably popular when I saw them later at Satellite City in Glasgow, albeit they never looked likely to make any kind of real breakthrough.

Playing with a mix of borrowed and hired instruments, Richard and the boys excelled, unleashing their energetic rough and ready, though already distinctly Scottish, punk/new wave sound.

One interested member of the crowd at the Belleville gig had been Sandy Muir, who the band had personally invited to come along.

Muir was no punk aficionado but was immediately struck by the band’s talent and potential, in fact, so impressed was he that – after discussions with Bruce Findlay, the man behind Zoom – he agreed to help out the band, speedily setting up AIM Enterprises Ltd to promote them and No Bad to release material by them.

Some punky pseudonyms were adopted and used in press releases – Alex Plode (Bill), Stevie Cologne (Stuart), Tom Bomb (Tom) and Joey Jolson (Richard) – and these names were how the band members were known for a time, such as when they were being lauded in early issues of Fife fanzine Kingdom Come, where the photo below is taken from incidentally, although by the time of the release of Charles they had reverted to more conventional handles.

skids-kingdom-come-2-back-cover

Three Stuart Adamson compositions were laid down at Edinburgh’s REL Studios (produced according to the record’s back sleeve by ‘Skids etc’). The Charles E.P (NB-1) was launched in March ’78 with Reasons and Test-Tube Babies making up the three track single.

Best-selling crime author and Fife boy Ian Rankin was an early fan, admiring the lyrics of Charles with that that twist at the end. ‘Charles’ was about a guy who worked in a factory like the one I worked in,’ he told Stuart Adamson biographer Allan Glen in the book In a Big Country. ‘It was about the kind of life waiting for most people in Fife back then, It was saying, ‘Don’t get stuck in a rut, don’t think that’s the only option – be bigger and braver’. Their songs were exciting and anthemic – and from very early on you knew they were destined for great things.’

According to Ripped and Torn fanzine Charles was ‘the best punk record to come out of Scotland yet’.


The song helped create a real buzz about the band with John Peel yet again becoming an early champion.

Within a year of their formation The Skids agreed to sign with Virgin. Sandy Muir telling the local press that the boys had been given, as big, if not a bigger break than Nazareth to prove themselves in the world of rock music, Nazareth just in case you don’t know being a successful band that had also been formed in Dunfermline but who would never have advertised for no hairies.

2017 will see The Skids back touring, dates including Edinburgh Liquid Room, Glasgow O2 ABC (where I’ll be going to see them), Montrose Town Hall and the Glen Pavilion in Dunfermline, Scotland.

skids-2017-tour

Burning Cities, their first album in thirty five years should also be out sometime next year. For more on that, click here.

For more on The Skids, here you go.

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No Bad continued after The Skids departure to Virgin, although with acts that would never enjoy the same level of media profile of The Skids, releasing a single from Biocar, a Dunfermline five-piece rock act whose other main claim to fame was supporting Girlschool at the Kinema in the summer of 1980, and a couple of albums by folk act Heritage, Some Rantin’ Rovin’ Fun (1980) and When the Dancin’ It’s A’ Done (1981) neither of which I have heard.

An episode of Andy Stewart’s STV early evening show Hear Here was devoted to Heritage in March of 1982, while When the Dancin’ it’s a’ Done made Scotsman critic Alistair Clark’s best folk albums of the year list. The band are still on the go.

 

Independent Scotland #8

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shop-assitants-safety-net

SHOP ASSISTANTS: SAFETY NET (53rd & 3rd) 1986

This week a group whose evolution began in 1981 in Newtonmore, a town in Inverness-shire better known for its shinty team than for its independent bands.

This was a relatively short-lived version of the band that later gained some success as Shop Assistants, but who, according to the fanzine Groovy Black Shades, played live for the first time under the name – wait for it – The Crispy Crunchies.

Now there’s a show I would likely have avoided like a Coldplay convention.

Mercifully, the music was far superior to the moniker.

Fast forward a few years and main songwriter and guitarist David Keegan sent a demo tape of the band (which again according to GBS was now known as Only the Worst) to Stephen Pastel in exchange for a Pastels tape. Stephen was mightily impressed by the songs on the tape and so started a long musical alliance between the two bands.

As Buba and The Shop Assistants, they recorded only one single, Something To Do, with David, Aggi (Annabel Wright from Juniper Beri Beri fanzine), Moray and John supplying the music together with a guest appearance from Stephen Pastel, who also produced the record and designed the sleeve.

The single may have been a pretty limited release but it displayed plenty of promise and was championed by Peter Easton on his Radio Scotland show Beat Patrol and also played by John Peel.

Buba and the Shop Assistants are an experience akin to, no I don’t know, being trussed up naked and thrashed with barbed wire by Clare Grogan. You want sex? Violence? This band have got it all. And beauty.  As well as chainsaw classics they have some really nice ballad type songs about things like people “Somewhere in China”.

The Buba and the Shop Assistants Story. The Underground #3 (A Subway Organisation fanzine)

Not long after the release of that debut single in the summer of 1984, Aggi left the now Edinburgh based band to join The Pastels – replaced on vocal duties by Alex Taylor, Alex and David forming a new nucleus of the band, ditching the Buba part of the name and losing their rhythm section.

That autumn Sarah Neale joined their ranks as bassist and the following spring a pair of drummers came onboard, Laura McPhail and Ann Donald.

August 1985 saw the Shopping Parade EP featuring All Day Long released by the Subway Organisation. Neil Taylor, reviewing the single for NME, praised the band as ‘easily the most original post-Mary Chain pop group’ and the Shoppies’ profile was boosted greatly when indie king Morrissey named All Day Long as the best single of the year (again in NME).

‘Not only are they the best, most important, and loveable independent band in Britain today but they double up as the most likely lad and lasses too.’

Lawrence Watson. NME. March 1986

Significantly John Peel’s support for the band grew and grew – they were given two Peel sessions and featured four times in his Festive Fifty, Safety Net being voted #8 in 1986.

This was their sole release on 53rd & 3rd, a label set up early in 1986 by David and Stephen Pastel with help from Sandy McLean. Named after the Ramones classic, the imprint proved highly influential across the globe with releases including singles by BMX Bandits, The Vaselines and Beat Happening. This is Safety Net:

 
Shop Assistants quickly moved again, this time signing to Blue Guitar – a subsidiary of Chrysalis with an A&R input from Geoff Travis and Mayo Thompson of Texan cult band The Red Crayola – where they issued their sole album before falling apart, although, with a changed line-up they did re-emerge for a while, signing this time to another Scottish independent, Avalanche – with David Keegan afterwards going on to perform a stint with The Pastels.

shop-assistants-nme-splash-one

This is the frenetic version of All Day Long (although I prefer the slower version myself):

 
Nowadays, Shop Assistants usually get lumped under the C86 category, a (sub)genre description I’ve never been that comfortable with, albeit it beats terms like shambling, cutie or anorak.

And, no, I never scored very highly on any tweeometer, so no oversize cardies, anoraks or duffle coats for me let alone a bowl haircut – and no real nostalgia either for that innocence of childhood thing beloved by many of the independent acts of the time, although in the age of Thatcher, Reagan and AIDS, I suppose it’s easy to understand the impulse behind some musicians and fans wanting to retreat back into a more innocent world.

Neither was I ever someone guaranteed to get excited by that many so-called ‘C86’ acts.

A frenetic and fuzzboxy, Buzzcocks meets The Velvets rudimentary sound like Shop Assistants, then fuck yeah!

But a bunch of wilfully amateurish wimps with trebly guitars who saw it as an achievement to remain underachievers, nah, no thanks, although, saying that, nine times out of ten, I would still take that over the big and bombastic, super slick post-Live Aid commercialism of the era.

More Shop Assistants in 2017, folks.

Trivia: The catalogue numbering system employed by 53rd & 3rd, AGARR, was a nice touch in the 1980s independent world often accused of lacking any real ambition and where chutzpah from anybody outside Morrissey or the Mary Chain was often frowned upon, AGARR standing for ‘As Good As Ramones Records’.

Independent Scotland #7

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Mekons The First Year Plan 

THE MEKONS: NEVER BEEN IN A RIOT (FAST PRODUCT 1978)

 

I have still to see Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream, which premiered recently at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and which explores and celebrates what might be called the late ’70s / early ’80s independent Scottish music scene with an emphasis on Edinburgh label Fast Product set up by Bob Last and Hilary Morrison – who both appear in the film.

Surprised that Fast should play such a prominent part in a full length documentary?

Well, Bill Drummond (in his book 45) praised Last as the definer of Post Punk, while in Simon Reynold’s Rip It Up and Start Again, Factory’s Tony Wilson maintained that, ‘The first really arty, clever label was Fast Product. A damn sight artier than us.’

Still not convinced?

Okay. In The 500 Greatest Singles since ‘Anarchy in the UK’, published in 2003, Gary Mulholland judged that Fast Product was ‘as important an indie label as Rough Trade, Postcard or Creation’ and Jon Savage wrote in the sleevenotes of his history of punk, England’s Dreaming: ‘You could point to the label as containing all the cutting edge elements that would become mainstream styles: New Pop, synth pop, rock funk.’

And if you still aren’t convinced, listen carefully to the lyrics of Hitsville UK on side 1 of The Clash triple album Sandinista, where Joe Strummer namechecks the leading indie labels of the day with Fast in there along with Small Wonder, Factory and Rough Trade.

 
And now a quick introduction to the debut release from one of the acts that helped make Fast so influential.

The University of Leeds Art Department in 1977 was an absolute hotbed of talent, if not in visual art, then certainly musically. First to emerge in that field was The Gang of Four, named after the politicians who ran China after Chairman Mao’s death in ’76, then The Mekons, named after the villainous arch nemesis of Dan Dare in a comic strip in The Eagle. Another act closely linked to these two followed in their leftwing and confrontational footsteps – Delta 5.

Art students, including Kevin Lycett, Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford formed The Mekons, with an idea far from the norm even in 1977 – not only did they believe that anybody could do it and reject the idea of stardom but, more radically, there was to be no set line-up and anyone who wanted to could get up onstage with them and join in. Instruments were also to be swapped around and it’s maybe not too surprising that Lester Bangs later declared that: ‘The Mekons are the most revolutionary group in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.’

One small but significant connection existed between Leeds and Edinburgh – the Callis family. Jo Callis (Luke Warm) of The Rezillos would occasionally send down cassette tapes of some very basic versions of new songs he’d written to his sister Jacqui, then studying art in Leeds.

Jacqui played some of these to her pals, who just happened to include The Mekons and Gang of Four (Jacqui herself would later join Delta 5 at one point). One of her brother’s songs doing the rounds that had a particular impact was a rough as a bear’s arse version of I Can’t Stand My Baby.

Hardly into their (non) career, The Mekons were invited to support
The Rezillos at the F-Club in Leeds, where they struck Bob Last – then also working as the Edinburgh band’s road manager – as being exactly the sort of edgy talent that he’d set up Fast to work with.

So he signed them that night.

Which did create one problem.

Originally The Mekons had been more interested in politics than music and they adhered to a punkier than thou manifesto that would ensure they would never sell out; most thought seeming to go into what they wouldn’t do – it was envisaged that they wouldn’t make records, wouldn’t be photographed and wouldn’t headline gigs.

Their comrades Gang of Four and others disagreed with their ideas, eventually persuading them that there was nothing wrong with putting their songs out on an interesting, intelligent independent label, which Fast undoubtedly would soon prove itself to be.

FAST 1 was a critique by The Mekons of White Riot, the first single by The Clash, and many initially misunderstood the track (including myself) taking it to be an expression of regret that unlike, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon (who’d both taken part in a troubled Notting Hill Carnival in ’76), The Mekons had never had the chance to hurl bricks at cop cars or loot supermarkets.

No, no, no, no. The Mekons were acknowledging the vulnerability of being in that kind of situation and not being able to handle it, of being scared rather than performing macho heroics.

Rough Trade, by then vital to independent labels through their distribution network, declined to stock FAST 1, claiming it was just too incompetent, although they later had a change of heart. See what you think, released early in 1978, this is The Mekons with Never Been in a Riot:

 
Tony Parsons reviewed the single for NME along with the second Fast release, All Time Low by Sheffield’s 2.3. That week he nominated three 45s as Singles of the Week and remarkably two of the three were the Fast releases.

Of the Mekons’ Never Been in a Riot, he observed: ‘125 incisive seconds of cacophonic commitment from the pyrotechnical radicals who make the Sex Pistols sound like Black Lace.’

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And now for a Mekons single that I don’t think Tony Parsons or anyone else would ever describe as making the Sex Pistols sound like Black Lace.
Released in 1988 on the Sin Record Company this is the utterly superb Ghosts of American Astronauts:

 
The Mekons are on Facebook.

And finally a newish single from Port Sulphur on Creeping Bent, a band and a label that can both trace a number of connections to Fast Product and indeed to Big Gold Dream.

Had Neu! ever been commissioned by a particularly adventurous BBC producer to write a theme tune for a children’s TV show in 1974 it might just have sounded something like Fast Boys & Factory Girls:

 
Port Sulphur will be making their live performance radio debut on Thursday 20th August on Marc Riley’s excellent BBC 6Music show between 7-9 pm. For a measly pound you can buy Fast Boys & Factory Girls here.

If you want to visit the Creeping Bent site then here’s your link.

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.

Independent Scotland #4

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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

Independent Scotland #3

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PVC 2 - Put You in the Picture

P.V.C. 2: Put You In The Picture (1977) Zoom Records

Scottish pop band Slik moved rapidly from being the next big thing when, early in 1976, their song Forever And Ever topped the British singles charts to a point where, before the year was out, they’d practically dropped of the radars of all but their most loyal fans. In fact, when their single released that December, Don’t Take Your Love Away again failed to recapture the public’s imagination and enter the UK charts it wasn’t even much of a surprise.

March ’77 saw Jim McGinlay abandon Slik, replaced by Russell Webb. By this point Slik were without a record label and were often playing to paltry audiences. Appearances in teen-girls magazines began drying up and the next time they made any kind of real media splash was that summer when they announced they’d broken away from the reins of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter. Pictured in the Daily Record, there wasn’t a trademark retro baseball top or cap in sight; instead they were almost unrecognisable, wearing shades and dressed in zip T-shirts and straight legged trousers and, looking a damn sight punkier than many of the bands who were finding themselves being categorised punk.

Midge Ure spoke about regretting the fact that they’d let themselves be pushed in the wrong direction and reckoned that the band’s songs were now better than before. He was also convinced that without their teen heart-throb legacy, they would have been snapped up by a label thinking they had another Stranglers on their hands.

Well one label did want to get involved although with a little less clout than the likes of United Artists, then home to The Stranglers. Bruce Findlay’s Zoom Records, an ambitious Edinburgh independent largely inspired by Stiff and Chiswick, agreed to release what was described as a triple ‘A’ side, the three new songs, Put You in the Picture, Deranged, Demented and Free and Pain being recorded cheaply on a borrowed Revox in a pub out-with opening hours.

In his autobiography, If I Was. Midge Ure explained: ‘We called ourselves PVC2, because we knew if it was Slik nobody would buy it – though it became pretty clear when Slik played the songs live. We sold 18,000 copies – not bad at all and the biggest-selling record Zoom ever had.’*


NME’s Ian Cranna saw the band live at Edinburgh Odeon and poured superlatives on their performance, describing it as, ‘a magnificent display of blistering high energy rock’n’roll’, before going on to lavish praise on Put You in the Picture. Meanwhile Ian Birch in Melody Maker called the song a ‘diamond’ but like other journalists, when reviewing the record, he spent more time on discussing Slik, a fact that looked fated to never be forgotten.

Despite the creative success of the venture, Slik/PVC2 were still on their last legs but luckily for Midge, he had a very important punk admirer, a famous bass player who’d already tried to lure him to London to join what was guaranteed to become one of the most heavily hyped bands of the era. Since Glen Matlock had left the Pistols – and not been thrown out as Malcolm McLaren preferred to portray his departure – there had been much speculation about his next move. He’d always impressed by the Glaswegian singer and had immediately considered him as a potential front man and guitarist.

Midge Ure, though, wasn’t convinced but was persuaded to troop down to London and hook up and jam with existing members, Matlock, Steve New (who had briefly played in a pre-Rotten version of the Pistols**) and Rusty Egan.

He was adamant that Slik/PVC2 were superior musicians to Rich Kids and even let his potential new bandmates and the music press know it – I bet Glen loved him for that – and he declined the offer to join, meaning their search to find the elusive missing piece of the jigsaw continued.; in September, they played in London twice with Mick Jones of The Clash guesting on vocals and guitar and already obviously had the makings of a good set – that even included an airing of Pretty Vacant.

Midge though would eventually succumb and, early in October ‘77, the Evening Times led with the not entirely accurate headline SLIK STAR QUITS. MIDGE LEAVES TO JOIN PUNK BAND.

Slik played their final British gig at Satellite City in Glasgow and before the year was out Rich Kids were gigging across Europe, where ironically Slik had managed to retain their popularity levels and then fitted in a quickly organised short British tour. In fact, before long they played Satellite City too.

Slik Satellite City 1977 Rich Kids Tour December 1977

As 1978 dawned, Midge would again be touted as being the next big thing as his new band’s debut release came out in a blaze of publicity on the label that had first signed The Sex Pistols, EMI.


* I think Midge is forgetting The Simple Minds originally being on Zoom here.

**As for the tale of Midge being asked to front The Sex Pistols in 1975, some other time maybe.

Independent Scotland #2

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Rezillos - I Can't Stand My Baby Cover

The Rezillos: I Can’t Stand My Baby/I Wanna Be Your Man (1977) Sensible Records
 
Back in the mid 1970s, Scottish record labels were few and far between and those in existence tended to cater for was often derided as the haggis and heather market, think bearded men in Aran knits singing folk songs from a bygone age and men in kilts blasting away on bagpipes.

This all changed when punk came along and a new breed of independents like Zoom, Fast, Boring, No Bad and Sensible emerged. According to Lenny Love, the man behind Sensible, his new venture was ‘the first Scottish label that has anything to do with rock at all’.

Love, who was Island Record’s Scottish rep, had been searching for an act to launch his label for some time and, with The Rezillos, he found the most exciting new group in the country and the ideal vehicle to get his idea off and running.

Inspired after he’d met up with Captain Sensible of The Damned, Love registered the name Sensible Records in March 1977. ‘Because we are new, I suppose we are new wave but that doesn’t make us punk,’ he explained to the Glasgow Herald that summer. ‘Sensible is prepared to record anything – folk, country, rock – anything, providing it is good enough of its kind.’

The label’s first release was recorded in Edinburgh’s Barclay Towers studio. One side was a composition by guitarist Luke Warm, which he suspected might almost be a joke when he first wrote it. Luckily his fellow Rezillos managed to persuade him to the contrary and the anti-love song I Can’t Stand My Baby immediately became the highlight of many a Rezillos concert.

For the 45, it was accompanied by Lennon and McCartney’s far less interesting I Wanna Be Your Man and advertised as a ‘double B side’ although Sensible had been trumped on that particular marketing gimmick by Stiff, who’d recently issued the Tyla Gangs’ Styrofoam and Texas Chain Saw Massacre Boogie in a plain white sleeve stamped: ‘Artistic breakthrough! Double B-side’.

Propelled by a relentless and incredibly nimble bass-line from Dr. D.K. Smythe, I Can’t Stand My Baby (Fab1) was one of the finest high-octane singles to ever to make its way out of Scotland and it was reviewed very favourably across the board in the music press. Ian Birch in Melody Maker even referred to it later as a ‘masterpiece’.

 
As I Can’t Stand My Baby hit record shop shelves in August of 1977, the band gigged relentlessly across Scotland, including a date in Paisley’s Silver Thread, where the Glasgow Punk scene had been exiled to due to a clampdown from the council on punk gigs taking place within that city’s boundaries – but that’s another story.

Rezillos Silver Thread 17 8 77

The band were also confirmed to be taking part in the forthcoming Edinburgh Rock Festival, which would also include other new wave acts including Chelsea, The Cortinas and fellow Scots The Jolt and, early in August, they were featured in Melody Maker’s On the Crest of a Wave series on up-and-coming bands, such as X-Ray Spex, the Adverts and Generation X.

The future looked bright for The Rezillos. And Sensible.

Within a month of the single’s release, Seymour Stein, the head honcho of Sire Records sent Sensible a telegram (remember them?) requesting more information on the band and they weren’t the only label expressing an interest but plans began anyway for what was intended to be FAB 2: (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures coupled with Flying Saucer Attack.

That was never to be though. Stein was interested enough to travel across the Atlantic to see The Rezillos live – and he was (along with me) part of a 3,000 plus crowd at the Glasgow Apollo that gave The Rezillos a wild and wonderful reception during their support slot for The Stranglers that October. It was a performance that finally convinced him to make the band an offer and The Rezillos notched up a first; no other British punk or new wave act at that point had yet signed directly to an American label.

Many have assumed over the years that that the Edinburgh label died with their defection to Sire but Sensible continued briefly, releasing one final 45 by a band, Neon, who’d shared a stage many times with The Rezillos.

Neon were from the North East of England, contemporaries of Penetration and Punishment of Luxury, and in the early spring of 1978, they entered Durham’s Guardian Studios where, co-produced by Terry Gavaghan and someone known as ‘the Lovely Lenny’, they recorded Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere and two other tracks that would became FAB 3.

They found a fan in Tony Visconti, producer of Bowie, Bolan and later Morrissey; guesting as Singles Reviewer in Melody Maker, he described Neon as: ‘thinking people’s rock. A very solid group who delight in fidgeting with the fabric of time.’

The record did reasonably well, persuading John Peel to give the band a session on his radio show and helping them find a deal with Radar but that was the end of Sensible – unless you count the re-release of I Can’t Stand My Baby in 1979 under the moniker of Sensible Mk 2, which, to put it rather mildly, The Rezillos weren’t entirely happy about.

For more on The Rezillos:
& on Neon:

Independent Scotland #1

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Nothing to do with next year’s referendum but instead an occasional series that will take a look at some of the finest records released on Scottish independent labels from the 1970s to the present day. And to kick things off:

ORANGE JUICE – BLUE BOY/LOVESICK (POSTCARD, 1980)

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West Princes Street is situated in what is considered by many to be Glasgow’s bohemian quarter, the West End, a part of the city that almost inevitably finds the adjective trendy affixed to it. Running parallel to a section of Great Western Road dotted with pubs and only a shortish walk away from both Glasgow Uni and Charing Cross, no. 185, West Princes Street, a tenement flat rented by Alan Horne was, at the dawn of the 1980s, about to become the focal point of the independent music movement north of the border.

The first Orange Juice single Falling and Laughing had seen the band and label immediately feted by local fans and the London-based music press, well, apart from Danny Baker in NME, who accidentally reviewed the B-side, the instrumental, Moscow, calling the band ‘a lightweight brother of The Durutti Column’.

He also reviewed the debut single of another young Scottish band on the same page, deeming Chance Meeting by Edinburgh’s Josef K ‘a passable Lou Reed’. They were promptly signed by Postcard and Horne booked time at Castle Sound Studios in Pencaitland near Edinburgh, where in the space of a day both Postcard acts recorded their second singles, Orange Juice laying down Lovesick and Blue Boy in the morning with Josef K using the time remaining to record Radio Drill Time and Crazy to Exist.

2,000 copies of each 45 was pressed and to save on printing costs 4000 shared sleeves were printed up and folded over in half, one way for Orange Juice, the other way for Josef K. Horne and the Orange Juice lads then must have sent long hours personalising their batch of the Sharon Acker designed black and white sleeves.

Orange Juice Blue Boy front & back

I’ve seen a number of these with quite colourful and eye-catching artwork but my own current copy, as you can see, has only some fairly minimal interventions, some straight and some squiggly lines drawn in blue, yellow and green felt pen.

As for my first copy of the record, that went missing in action, when and where I have no idea. That cover featured a ginger cat and multi-coloured hatched lines which I decided one night to ‘improve’ on by felt penning both faces pink and adding hundreds of dots in a variety of colours all over the outside of the tilted square that contains the main illustration, so it ended up looking kind of Roy Lichtenstein meets aboriginal art. This probably wasn’t one of my more inspired ideas although at the time I thought it looked fabby.

Released in August 1980, Blue Boy and Lovesick helped send the buzz emerging around Postcard into overdrive, and two of the most influential critics of the time, NME’s Paul Morley and Dave McCullough of Sounds began an Orange Juice praisefest within the pages of their respective inkies, McCullough headed north to investigate the ‘The Sound of Young Scotland’ and returned to London proclaiming Postcard as ‘the brightest hope I have seen for a very long time’ in a two page article Postcard From Paradise, while Paul Morley met up with Alan Horne and Edwyn Collins and wrote: ‘Orange Juice compose breath-taking pop that extends the art form still further, and have the look and humour, as well as the songs, to be enormously successful.’

Needless to say, additional copies were soon having to be pressed to keep up with demand, though this time they came in a plain ‘cowboy’ style sleeve that came without the added artwork.

Orange Juice Blue Boy Version 2