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Elli et Jacno et Lio (et aussi un peu Nouvelle Vague avec un sosie Lionel Messi)

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The Eurovision final is almost upon us – and getting in a bit early, before I head off to the pub, well done to Ukraine on their win. Tonight, a couple of tracks from France and Belgium that both possess what I think of as a Eurovisiony feel. And I’ve also added a cover version of one of the songs sung by a Lionel Messi lookalike, in case you were struggling to translate this post’s title.

Elli et Jacno might look like they’ve stepped off the cover of some French fashion mag of the early 1980s but the pair didn’t meet via some modelling assignment, but rather on a protest march that turned violent in Paris. Or so they say, anyway.

In the summer of 1976, they formed what’s said to be the first French punk band: Stinky Toys, who went on to play at the famous 100 Club Punk Special along with The Sex Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks and others. The following summer Polydor issued their debut single Boozy Creed in Britain but the album it was taken from received some horrendous reviews and was never released here. Later, in Trouser Press, Ira Levin branded it ‘uninspired sub-Rolling Stones rock’n’boogie with terrible vocals by Elli Medeiros.’ Harsh but not entirely unfair.

By 1979, Stinky Toys were no more. Jacno recorded a self-titled solo album with a noticeable Kraftwerk influence. On one track, Anne Cherchait L’Amour, Elli sang.

The pair decided to join forces more permanently and moved even further away from their punkish roots with Jacno specialising in minimalist uber-catchy synthesiser hooks and Ellie providing lyrics and vocals (and a minimalist dance style). Briefly, the pair resembled the Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy of Parisian synthpop.

Here is maybe their finest moment, Main Dans La Main from 1980. Warning – this may trigger a relatively long-lasting earworm if listened to three times in a row. I speak from experience. First up, an introduction taken from a Stinky Toys TV appearance where Elli is asked if she is Uruguayan. She is.

I missed out on the track on its release and only came across Elli et Jacno via the soundtrack they supplied for Eric Rohmer’s Full Moon in Paris from 1984, which is one of those French films where everyone is very sophisticated and keen to discuss philosophy at parties. As opposed to the kind of parties you got in Glasgow roundabout the same time – where you were more likely to take the Buckfast Challenge than discuss de Beauvoir or Sartre. If you ever watch Full Moon in Paris, look out for the scene where Pascale Ogier’s Julie dances to the track Les Tarots – you’ll see Elli strutting her stuff to the left of her.

Now for a bit of Vanda Maria Ribeiro Furtado Tavares de Vasconcelos, or, as she’s better known as, Lio. The Belgian singer’s career got off to a flier. Her first single, a slice of bubblegum yé-yé called Banana Split, reached number one in France. For her follow-up, she turned to Elli and Jacno and a track from their Stinky Toys days, although it’s just about unrecognisable from its source material and no one would ever accuse Lio’s Amoureux Solitaires (Lonely Lovers) of being ‘uninspired sub-Rolling Stones rock’n’boogie.’

A jaunty little poptimistic gem, the single sold like hot croissants, replaced Il jouait du piano debout by former Eurovision winner France Gall at the top of the French charts and stayed there for six weeks. Here it is ‘live’ with some well deserved ‘spontaneous’ applause around the minute and a half mark.

There’s been many covers of the song over the years and fans of Lio include Marc Colin of Nouvelle Vague who bought her Lonely Lovers album on cassette as a youngster. Here’s his band’s laid back and jazzy take on the song with guest vocalist Lionel Messi lookalike Hugh Coltman.

Archangel Thunderbird & The Nearest Thing To Kate Bush Before Kate Bush

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Being only a young ‘un in the spring of 1970, the release of Amon Düül II’s second album Yeti was way off my radar. I was more Archies than Amon Düül II. They might have been pure bubblegum but were at least preferable to much of what was then on offer in the British charts: Lee Marvin croaking out Wand’rin’ Star? No thanks. Likewise the efforts of England’s World Cup Squad, Sacha Distel, Dana and Des O’Connor. Even worse, there was (spits) Rolf Harris’s Two Little Boys.

Let’s move on. Before Amon Düül II, there was not surprisingly, a plain old Amon Düül. They’d holed up together in a radical Munich commune and music began playing an important part of life there.

Just as German performance artist and sculptor Joseph Beuys liked to air his slogan ‘Everyone is an artist’, the commune believed that everyone is a musician. You wanted to join in, then you could join in. They even attempted to get audiences involved, handing out bongos and tambourines to them, so they could join in the fun and play along. As John Weinzierl told author David Stubbs in his book Future Days: ‘You didn’t go along to the concert and watch the band; you came to the event and were part of it.’

This was an idea later embraced by some British bands like The Mekons and in some ways it’s a commendable idea. But a flawed one. Have you ever attended a live show and thought: ‘This is pretty good but I bet it would be even better if some random punters were given the chance to tap away on a little drum or bash a tamby?’

Two factions emerged within the band. One specialised in sitting around playing extended and aimless improvisatory jams, which might have been just about tolerable to listen to after a few tokes of Red Leb or a handful of magic mushrooms but otherwise would be an headnipping bore. The others, who took on the name Amon Düül II, wanted to progress musically. Not that they were aspiring towards the virtuosity levels of an ELP or Yes.

Even big fan Julian Cope conceded in his Krautrocksampler that ‘they’ve certainly recorded their fair share of shit,’ but Amon Düül II went on to produce far better music than Amon Düül and enjoy a more interesting career.

For starters, they found fans from John Peel (who booked them for a session) to some leaders of the Baader-Meinhof Gang (who were sent packing from the commune by singer Renate Knaup while attempting to hide from the cops); they managed to fit in a date at the Cavern in Liverpool shortly before it was closed and appeared in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1970 film The Niklashausen Journey. Or to give it its German title Die Niklashauser Fart.

Archangel Thunderbird from Yeti might be their finest moment, a lysergic Louie Louie that sounds like a life or death struggle. It’s gloriously off-kilter, the result of a curious clash of time signatures and Renate Knaup’s soaring Yoko meets Nico vocals, which also look forward to Metal Box era John Lydon.

You could even argue this is where 1970s music truly kicked off.

‘Where,’ you might be asking after that sonic maelstrom, ‘does Kate Bush fit into all this?’

Okay, by the time of Amon Düül II’s seventh album, 1973’s Vive La Trance, precocious young Kate was already composing songs and had even penned an embryonic version of The Man With The Child In His Eyes. She was listening to Bowie and Roxy, American singer-songwriters like Laura Nyro and Judee Sill, as well as a range of folkies from Anne Briggs to The Incredible String Band but she’s such a unique artist that any concrete influences on her work are difficult to detect.

I’ve never read of Kate being a Kosmiche fan but if you listen now to Vive La Trance, you’ll almost inevitably wonder if the teenage singer had been aware of the track Jalousie. It’s certainly a whole lot closer to the kind of material on her early demos and albums than it is to Archangel Thunderbird and if there’s one song that sounds like Kate Bush before she’d ever made a record, this must surely be it.

For more on the band, click here.

So It Goes & So It Goes

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Presented by Tony Wilson, the first series of Granada TV’s So It Goes ran from early July to late August in 1976 and was only shown on three of Britain’s regional ITV networks, none of these being my local channel STV, although I suspect it might have inspired that station to launch Sneak Preview, a late Friday night mix of conversation, film clips and bands early in 1977.

According to Paul Morley’s From Manchester With Love, the title of So It Goes was supplied by Wilson’s then girlfriend, Jane Buchan, via Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel that includes the three words every time a death or deaths occurs. Given that it’s partly set during WWII’s Battle of the Bulge and Dresden bombings, this isn’t uncommon.

So far music-wise, the series has been a little bit pub rock, a little bit hippy and a little bit proggy. You know, Graham Parker and The Rumour, Stephan Micus performing music he’d composed on Afghan rubabs and first up on the final episode, some awful jazz tinged proggers Gentleman, whose bassist thought it was a good idea to take to the stage wearing red dungarees.

Something new and exciting was clearly required.

The pre-Factory Tony Wilson is a bit of a smoothie and looks rather self-satisfied too, but hey, he deserves to be self-satisfied by his coup here. Not only has the debut Ramones album just been recommended but now viewers are about to get their first ever glimpse on TV of an unsigned act who Wilson has already seen live twice in Manchester. Or at least claimed to have seen twice, some disputing his presence at the first Lesser Free Trade Hall show.

They’re led by a young man with severely chopped hair, a razorblade earring and writing scrawled on his torn jacket, which is also adorned with chains. He starts the song with an anti-hippy tirade and looks furious with the world. And then he begins singing about Anarchy in the UK.

Something new and exciting has clearly arrived.

Nick Lowe’s So It Goes also took its title from Slaughterhouse-Five and the single kicked off the Stiff label in the middle of August 1976, just two weeks before The Sex Pistols’ shock of the new television debut.

A press release explained of the song and B-side Heart of the City: ‘Both are under three minutes, use less than three musicians and less than three chords.’

This isn’t the version that appeared on the single but it does have a video shot by David Mallet, who went on to direct a bunch of promos for Bowie, including Boys Keep Swinging and Ashes To Ashes, so here you are:

If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck. So went the slogan.

The Members’ Solitary Confinement, therefore is very much worth a fuck. Released by Stiff in May 1978 as a one-off single, this is a little tribute to singer Nicky Tesco whose death was announced yesterday.

White Bird in A Blizzard (Soundtrack Sundays)

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Last week saw the release of the Mockingbird Love EP, four new tracks by former Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie. They’re all predictably good and conjure up many of those adjectives that critics love to use to describe his former band’s music. Celestial, spellbinding and ethereal for starters.

By a wee coincidence, I finally got round to watching Gregg Araki’s White Bird in A Blizzard from 2014 on the night before I became aware of the Guthrie release.

Sometimes the right piece of music can really set you up for a film. And Sea, Swallow Me by The Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd worked the trick for me here. A perfect mood setter, with Budd’s exquisite soft pedal piano complementing the band perfectly.

You can always rely on Araki for some solid soundtrack choices. He’s one of those American directors like Richard Kelly with a thing for what might loosely be described as British alternative music of the 1980s. It’s easy to imagine rows of shoegaze albums in his record collection, together with everything ever released by New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain and, of course, The Cocteau Twins. In White Bird in a Blizzard, those three acts are joined by The Psychedelic Furs, Talk Talk, Echo and The Bunnymen, Everything But The Girl and others, while Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd also provide some incidental music.

Unfortunately, after having my hopes built up, it turned out that the music is much better than the film as a whole.

Set in suburban America from 1988 to the early 1990s, White Bird in a Blizzard is the story of 17-year-old Kat, played by Shailene Woodley, who comes home from school one afternoon to be told by a pensive father (Christopher Meloni) that her mother Eve (Eva Green) has gone. She’s been threatening to leave him for years, and he doesn’t reckon she will be coming back any time soon.

This isn’t the devastating blow that you might assume for Kat. Through a series of voice-overs and flashbacks, we learn that Eve was never mother of the year material. Or wife of the year material either. Once, her parents had been ‘the quintessential American couple’ – although Eve’s accent is more Paris than Paris, Texas – but it didn’t take long for their marriage to turn sour, with Eve treating her husband like a doormat and Kat not much better. In one particularly disturbing episode a raging Eve wakes her in the middle of the night to grill her on her sex life.

Kat is said to physically resemble her mother, and Eve is becoming inordinately jealous of her daughter’s youthfulness and potential future. She also doesn’t make much of an effort to disguise her sexual interest in Kat’s boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and her behaviour becomes increasingly irrational and her skirts progressively shorter, the longer Kat dates him.

‘Not bad for 42,’ a boozed-up Eve boasts one night to the young couple as she stumbles down into the cellar wearing a skimpy outfit. And yep, she certainly hadn’t scrubbed up too badly.

Like Eve, the film gets a little irrational too. Looking like the sort of thing you might expect to see on some porno website where a young man is employed to deliver pizzas (not that I watch that type of thing, honestly!), the scene featuring a barechested Phil in shorts searching for his mother’s cat as Eve sunbathes in her swimsuit is unintentionally funny.

With Eve still untraceable and Phil showing more interest in gaming and ganja than in having sex with her, Kat’s suspicions about the two maybe having had a thing surface, though not to that great an extent, with Kat maintaining a kind of ‘whatever’ attitude to her mother’s disappearance for much of the movie. And if she doesn’t give a shit about the vanishing act, why should we?

Despite this, she agrees to her dad’s idea that she sees a therapist, played by Angela ‘right here, right now’ Bassett. Kat’s voice-over reveals that she feels ‘feels like an actress playing myself’, while Dr. Thaler reminds her ‘of an actress playing a therapist.’ Bassett reminded me of an actress that deserved a better role.

Lines of dialogue might be clunky and draw attention to themselves, but there are pluses. With some striking dream sequences, the film strays into David Lynch territory and Laura Palmer herself (Sheryl Lee) appears briefly as the new woman in Kat’s father’s life. Of course, Kat has no problems with this turn of events. Initially at least.

Shailene Woodley and Christopher Meloni both put in impressive enough performances and Eva Green does a great line in unhinged, although that accent of hers really should have been explained. Ultimately, the film is a disappointment but one that was still worth a watch.

One huge revelation late on, which is difficult to buy into, is delivered by a voice-over (Araki obviously isn’t a believer in the old screenwriting maxim ‘show don’t tell’) and this is immediately followed by a flashback, though not a flashback of Kat’s, which explains the disappearance with a twist ending that was even more difficult to buy into due to a lack of any real clues given. Not only that but the fact that it was never revealed whether Kat was aware of these events did niggle at me.

*

Here’s another of those inspired Araki soundtrack choices. Sung by Gordon (now Cindy) Sharp, formerly of The Freeze and an old pal of The Cocteaus, this is Fond Affections from This Mortal Coil’s 1984 collection It’ll End in Tears (the video is unofficial in case you’re wondering):

Finally, back to Robin Guthrie, whose new album Pearldiving should be out next month on Soleil Après Minuit. For the time being, here’s Copper, the opening track on the aforementioned Mockingbird Love EP:

For more on Robin Guthrie:

https://www.facebook.com/robinguthrieofficial/

https://robinguthrie.bandcamp.com/

This Is My Happening and It Freaks Me Out!

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Last time around some inventive dancing from La La La Human Steps and David Bowie. To start with this time, some not so inventive dancing from Mark E. Smith and a (presumably) random drunk guy that happened to pass by as the promo for L.A. was being shot and somehow found himself invited to join in the fun. I’m not sure Smith’s pal Michael Clark would have approved.

Never keen on talk about the ‘Brix era’ of The Fall, one of Smith’s resentments was the idea that during this time his then wife glammed the band up. ‘I’ve always tried to dress smart,’ he protested in his book Renegade, where he also pointed out that ‘nobody takes a scruff seriously’ and ‘you don’t want to be walking around like an urban scarecrow.’

The ‘Brix era’ produced some of my favourite Fall albums with This Nation’s Saving Grace maybe edging it as the finest of them with I Am Kurious Oranj not far behind. As for Brix glamming up the band, I’m not so sure Mark E. could ever be glammed up but she certainly injected a glamourous individual element into mix the day she joined. Up until then Fall members had all looked like they spent most nights supping pints of Boddingtons in some dour Prestwich boozer. This didn’t strike Fall fans as a likely habitat for a blonde Californian with a beaming smile but unlike most British independent outfits of the time, The Fall were always good for a surprise.

During 1985, Brix was going through something of an Edie Sedgwick phase and in her parallel career as leader of The Adult Net, she released her tribute to the Warhol superstar on 45 in the wake of This Nation’s Saving Grace hitting record shops. On L.A. Brix provides a mesmerizing Rickenbacker riff and the repeated line borrowed from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls heard in the final quarter of the track that gives this post its title.

Oh, how I missed regularly staging happenings during lockdown even though they have been known to freak me out too!

Equally madcap and melodramatic, if you haven’t seen it, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a trashy exploitation film that was frequently screened as a midnight movie in Britain in the mid-1980s, such as when it was paired with Valley of the Dolls at one of the weekend double bills shows at the Grosvenor in Glasgow. I’m guessing Brix saw it around this time, as in addition to that line, she launched her offshoot Adult Net career with a cover of The Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Incense and Peppermints, which was featured in the movie.

Here is L.A., which is said to have been John Peel’s least favourite Fall song. File under ‘Things Peelie got seriously wrong.’

In his foreword to the book Excavate!: The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall, Michael Clark recalls that the first time he saw The Fall live, a member of the Lyceum audience took to the stage and punched Smith. The singer carried on as if nothing had happened. Clark was intrigued by the singer’s response, and his interest in The Fall grew. Soon that interest was reciprocated, and the band would go to see Clark and his troupe dance, sometimes to Fall tracks. They began collaborating, and the highpoint of this would be I Am Curious, Orange.

This was a ballet based let’s say very loosely on the ascension to the British throne of William of Orange and how the consequences of this were still being felt three hundred years later. I wasn’t lying when I said The Fall were always good for a surprise, was I?

Flamboyant and frenetic, with The Fall playing live numbers from their I Am Kurious, Oranj album (not sure why the album and show were spelled differently), there were dancing fruits, a moving phone box and a game of football onstage which wouldn’t have had Alex Ferguson rushing to wave his cheque book at any of the players involved. Michael Clark was King Billy. Brix was wheeled out while sitting on a Claes Oldenburg style hamburger and a gigantic poke of McDonald’s fries was lowered from the ceiling and spilt onto the stage, killing the dancers. Swan Lake this was not.

I saw the show at the King’s Theatre, where it was part of the programme for the 1988 Edinburgh International Festival no less. None of yer Fringe Festival for The Fall. I didn’t remotely understand most of it – I doubt that was the point – but appreciated its anarchic exuberance and, of course, the music.

And I really don’t think King Billy would have approved.

Bernard Meets Dorothy, Waterloo Station, Every Friday Night

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‘For me the perfect pop song is Waterloo Sunset,’ Dave Gilmour has said on a number of occasions, while according critic Robert Christgau, it’s ‘the most beautiful song in the English language’.

‘Three minutes of sheer musical genius which is still regarded by many as the apogee of the swinging sixties single,’ Allan Laing gushed in the Glasgow Herald twenty years ago. ‘Quite simply, nothing better ever revolved around a Dansette turntable at 45rpm.’

So, if I told you I had seen the band take to the Glasgow Apollo stage early in 1979, you might ask how it felt to be singing along with thousands of others to one of the most achingly poignant and evocative songs written in the twentieth century?

Whether or not Waterloo Sunset was fine on that particular night, though, was not disclosed by Raymond Douglas Davies.

Okay, it was a long time ago and I would have been the worse for wear after far too many beers for somebody who was still underage and relatively new to the drinking game, but I am pretty certain they didn’t play it, which must be the equivalent of the Stones failing to trot out Satisfaction in whatever enormodome they next perform in, or Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey deciding to remove My Generation from their set-list.

Certainly, The Kinks did put on a fantastic show that night despite the absence of their most loved track.

I’m not sure about Waterloo Sunset being the most beautiful song in the English language myself. That’s a big claim. It’s definitely up there but if I’m being super pernickety, I’m not very keen on the double negative of ‘I don’t need no friends’ or the ‘chilly, chilly is the evening time’ line which sounds as if it comes from the England of Thomas Hardy rather than the London of Blowup, Oz and the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream. Not that the contrarian singer would be much enamoured with the summer of love, which when Waterloo Sunset was released that May 1967, was just beginning to get into gear.

Davies, incidentally, has claimed that before he settled on Terry and Julie for his lyrics, he considered George and Mabel and even Bernard and Dorothy instead. Just try singing ‘Bernard meets Dorothy, Waterloo Station / Every Friday night.’

Not quite the same ring to it, has it?

I reckon Ray was on the wind-up when he mentioned those names as they scan so badly. Not only does Terry and Julie have a better flow but I would guess by choosing them, Davies intended to inject a talking point into the song knowing the public would inevitably debate whether it was about Terence Stamp and Julie Christie, two of the stars of Far From The Madding Crowd, John Schlesinger’s high-profile adaptation of the Hardy novel that was being filmed as the record was being recorded.

Sadly no promo was shot to promote the single and there doesn’t seem to be any performances of the track from the 1960s available to watch online but here is Waterloo Sunset from The Kinks In Concert, a half hour live concert first shown on BBC 2 in March 1973:

For more on The Kinks: https://www.facebook.com/TheKinksOfficial

Cuban Heel: An Interview with Laurie Cuffe

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This week a conversation with Scottish singer and guitarist Laurie Cuffe, whose career started with The Cuban Heels.

There is a myth that when Johnny & the Self Abusers split, two bands were formed, one being The Cuban Heels, the other being Simple Minds. The Cuban Heels, though, had already been in existence for a year or so at this point, although John Milarky did join their ranks from J&TSA.

The band’s debut single was released on independent label Housewives Choice Records in Spring 1978, a double A-side consisting of a frenetic cover of Petula Clark’s international hit Downtown and a self-penned number Smok Walk.

A string of singles and an album followed in the early 1980s but the lifespan of the band was relatively short with Laurie going on to feature in the line-ups of a number of other bands, including The Saints, One O’Clock Gang and, in recent years, The Véloniños, along with Davie Duncan, Kenny McLellan and Shug Jamieson.

In 2019, The Cuban Heels were represented in the highly recommended Big Gold Dreams: A Story Of Scottish Independent Music boxset. That same year, The Cuban Heels were featured in the Spirit of Punk 2019 – RIG Arts exhibition held at Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre, while Laurie was interviewed for Punching Above Our Weight, a documentary that examined the 1970/80s music scene in the Inverclyde area.

After an absence of decades, the band took to the stage together again to perform two shows: the first at the Beacon Arts Centre to coincide with the exhibition, the second at Glasgow’s O2 Academy.

Can you remember when you first decided that you wanted to become involved in music?

My parents got me a guitar when I was around 12 and I got serious about playing around 14 or 15, listening to bands like Thin Lizzy and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. My older brothers were big music fans so there was quite a mix of records lying around. Lots of Beatles and Stones (mostly Stones) but also Bob Dylan, folky stuff like the Incredible String Band and Pentangle and I remember loads of Chess label singles including Chuck Berry and Howling Wolf.

Chuck Berry and The Incredible String Band! That really is quite a mix!

The first Dr Feelgood album ‘Down By The Jetty’ had a huge effect on me, especially Wilko Johnson’s guitar style. A real lightbulb moment was hearing the Damned’s ‘New Rose’ on the John Peel show. The first Ramones album and then the first Clash album made it seem like something you could attempt yourself.

So, when and where did the Cuban Heels start and what was your first live show?

We started off in Greenock around ’76 as a three piece. I think the first gig was playing at a mate’s birthday party. I remember doing a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Oh Carol’. Suits and skinny ties, trying to look like the Jam!

What was the music scene in the Greenock area like when you started out? Were you aware of Thomas Leer and Robert Rental over in neighbouring Port Glasgow?

We weren’t aware of them. The music scene at the time revolved around a gig called the Victorian Carriage. It seemed to be mostly bands doing Steely Dan covers. I recall a lot of versions of ‘Haitian Divorce’. We were more aware of what we didn’t want to be like. One great exception was Chou Pahrot, who were from Paisley. They were a kind of weird hippy/punk, instrumental, Captain Beefheart mash up. Ahead of their time, really good guys and very encouraging to us.

How true is the story of the guy behind the Housewives Choice label being a millionaire who worked part time in an Edinburgh music shop?

Well, he seemed like a millionaire to us as we had fuck-all! His name was Mel Benton. I think his wife came from the landed gentry. I seem to remember they had a big flat in Edinburgh’s New Town. There was a thriving punk scene in Edinburgh based in Cockburn Street. We used to play a pub there called The Wig and Pen.

The band made a cameo on BBC drama Just A Boy’s Game, how did that come about and what did you make of the play?

Scouts from the film company saw us playing at the aforementioned Victorian Carriage. It was shot in Greenock, and our bit was filmed in a bar called The Norseman which is still there. The play was very much ‘of its time’. Looking back it all seemed very bleak. Greenock looks like Gdansk.

After a gap of a few years, your second single Walk On Water appeared on Cuba Libre, which was your drummer Ali Mackenzie’s label, wasn’t it?

Yes. Ali liked the business side of things. He put out early Shakin’ Pyramids and James King & The Lone Wolves releases too.

The Cuban Heels’ sound had moved on significantly since the early days. Who would you say was influencing you at this point?

I remember listening to Talking Heads a lot. I was impressed by Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen. There was a lot of good stuff happening then.

By the time of the release of the Work Our Way to Heaven album, things must have been looking good for the band, Peel sessions, live concerts on Radio 1, working with in demand producers like John Leckie – what would be the highlights of your time as a Cuban Heel?

Working with John Leckie in the Manor Studio in Oxfordshire was amazing. Recording Peel sessions at the BBC was a great experience. We played great places in London like The Marquee, Hope & Anchor, Rock Garden, Dingwalls and The Vortex. I have equally fond memories of iconic Glasgow gigs like The Burns Howff, Amphora, Mars Bar, and the student union at Glasgow Tech was always a good gig for us.

Yeah, I think next to the Apollo that was the best venue in Glasgow in the late 1970s.

We did a support slot with the Stranglers at the Apollo too, and it’s nice to have played that stage.

Being a Nico fan, I’m curious about the time you acted as her backing band for some songs in Edinburgh in 1981.

I remember we did ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, ‘Waiting For The Man’, ‘Femme Fatale’ and a version of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. The gig was at the Nite Club in Edinburgh. We worked out the songs beforehand and had a rehearsal with her on the afternoon of the gig. I remember us going through ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ and she pointed and shouted ‘Play!’, when she wanted me to do a guitar break. I’m pretty sure she was in the midst of heroin addiction at the time, but she was still an imposing presence. Her voice was as great as ever.

Later you played with The Saints, how did you enjoy that experience?

Touring Australia was great fun. It was a carefree time – quite liberating to be just the hired guitar player.

And more recently you’ve played with and released music as part of The Véloniños, how would you describe this band’s music?

I suppose it’s kind of ‘modern/retro’. New songs but with a 50’s and 60’s instrumental feel.

Can we expect more Véloniños shows when things (hopefully) return to normal? Or maybe even a second album?

I really hope both of those things happen. I enjoy working on the guitar parts and recording the songs but playing live is my favourite thing!

2019 saw a brief live return for The Cuban Heels, any plans for more shows with them?

I’ve been writing songs with John Milarky, and we’d been talking about doing some small gigs before Covid hit the fan. Hopefully, that will happen before too long. Another Heels gig would be great.

Definitely. Thanks for talking, Laurie.

For more on The Véloniños click here.

A Beautiful Mutation Of A Future Generation & An Electronic Bilbo Bopparonie

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First up, The Regents’ 7 Teen, a slice of perfect post-punk pop (if that’s even a thing) released in November 1979 – by which time I was already 2 Months into being 8 Teen.

The song retains the rawness of 1977 but is even more stripped back than yer average punk offering from that year. It’s also somehow very accessible and danceable too, the sort of track you could have easily skanked along to at your local alternative disco in between The Specials and Leyton Buzzards. As for its DIY credentials – they’re impeccable. Released by British independent label Rialto, the tune was recorded on the band’s own 4 track and released in this form.

The lyrics are a grubby three and a half minute mini Play For Today about a girl who’s not yet a woman, a beautiful mutation of a future generation. There’s a great choppy guitar line, some chunky bass and the two girls la-la-la-laa-ing provide a fantastic counterpoint to Martin Scheller’s vocals. And his scream.

As for the cover, it looks like what graphic designers call a rough, a sketch produced quickly to give a client an indication of what the finished image might look like. Here, this is not necessarily a bad thing – its bold simplicity suits the lo-fi feel of the music.

Two versions of the single were issued. One was deemed TV and radio friendly, even though it manages to smuggle in the line ‘Thought that you were never coming’. The only difference is that it substitutes the ‘uncensored’ version’s ‘permanent erection’ with ‘permanent reaction’. You could never have one of the BBC’s top presenters such as Jimmy Savile having to introduce a hit with a clearly offensive word in its lyrics, could you?

And yes, 7 Teen began selling in sufficient quantities to make its way into the UK charts, joining the likes of The Clash, The Sugarhill Gang, Pink Floyd and Abba and soon The Regents were invited onto Britain’s favourite pop show on a number of times (and Savile did introduce them on one of these visits).

You couldn’t hold the band back. For another Top of the Pops appearance, Martin Sheller modelled a red outfit with two shoulder pads gaffa taped onto his top and despite the fashion faux pas, the record still kept on selling, eventually, peaking at #11. They’re certainly in a good mood here and look out for Sheller’s reaction when he realises he’s messed up his miming.

A year or so after The Regents’ five minutes of fame, Phil Oakey visited a nightspot in the centre of Sheffield called the Crazy Daisy where he chanced upon Susanne Sulley (only 7 Teen) and Joanne Catherall (only just turned 8 Teen) on the dancefloor. Famously, this led to him inviting them to sing and dance with The Human League, who had recently been depleted after an acrimonious split.

At the time it was suggested by some that Oakey’s decision might have been influenced by The Regents line-up including two young female backing singers in dresses who also danced – one blonde, one brunette.

Most likely a coincidence I reckon. The Regents, after all, had failed to repeat the chart success of 7 Teen and by this point must have already been worrying that they might be filed under ‘one hit wonders’ in years to come. As further evidence I’ll cite a comment made by a modest Susanne to NME in the autumn of 1981, when she explained Phil’s intentions for his new look band: ‘He wanted a tall black singer and he got two short white girls who couldn’t sing.’

The Sound of the Crowd was the girls’ first outing in the ranks of The Human League and the formula of a crunching synth riff; impossible to decipher the meaning of lyrics and two short white girls who couldn’t sing (and couldn’t dance either according to some) proved irresistible to the British record buying public. This would be The Human League’s first real hit, peaking at #12. With no need to stand proud, here they are from 1981.

Finally, in explanation, if you’ve been wondering about An Electronic Bilbo Bopparoonie. That’s the message etched into the runout groove of The Sound of the Crowd‘s vinyl.

The Other Sound of Young Scotland (Glasgow 1980 – Part One)

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Simple Minds & Berlin Blondes

Siren guitar. Absolutely granite bassline and phosphorescent synth. Bring on the drums. ‘Overground / Underground,’ a voice sings with a hint of the unhinged. ‘Pulsating through / Street Parade / Day arcade / No cloning you.’

I’m back in Scotland just in time for Hogmanay and New Year and it’s time for some fun. On my return, one song keeps getting played every time I go out dancing, whether I head up the hill on Scott Street to Maestro’s or end up in some dive selling watered down lager, where blootered neds love to get their fists flying over any flimsy excuse. ‘Are you lookin’ at ma burd?’*

Already available on their second album Reel To Reel Cacophony, Changeling comes out as a single in the early days of the new decade. Simple Minds have a wide range of supporters from John Peel and NME to Smash Hits, who even reviewed the album twice, firstly giving it 8/10 before awarding it 9 1/2. ‘Strong melodies, vivid imagination, intensive atmosphere and the unique stamp of Jim Kerr’s dark genius.’

That January, I see Peter Capaldi’s band The Dreamboys at the Third Eye Centre. According to a pal I see them again supporting Dexy’s at Glasgow Tech although I can’t remember much about that show, due to an excessive day on the booze. If only the last but one Doctor Who could transport me back in his Tardis to refresh my memory. I see a number of bands in the Countdown and, best of all, I see Simple Minds at Tiffany’s.

Changeling somehow fails to chart but anybody who sees them live that night at Tiffany’s knows it is only a matter of time before they will emerge as bona fide stars and chart regulars. Here they were a couple of months earlier at Hurrah (which I always thought was Hurrah’s) in New York:

Music is changing at an amazingly speedy rate as the 1970s moves into the 1980s. A punk-tinged version of ska has been pioneered by The Specials, and something called rap has just started appearing in the British singles chart with acts like The Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow although some speculate that that’s a novelty that will never last. Another big trend is the rise of the synthesizer.

Tubeway Army demonstrated six or so months earlier that electronic pop had the potential to provide huge hits but success like Numan’s is still a real rarity for the synth brigade at this point. The Human League have yet to commercially take off and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and John Foxx haven’t yet dented the charts. But again, it is only a matter of time before they will.

In Glasgow, it wasn’t only Simple Mind Mick MacNeil who embraced the synth. There was Modern Man, who released a couple of Midge Ure produced singles and an album later in 1980; there was Teutonic Veneer, who in between practising and playing likely listened to Trans-Europe Express on repeat and visited the Glasgow Film Theatre whenever a Fritz Lang movie appeared. Then there was The Berlin Blondes.

Berlin Blondes

Orange Juice’s anti-macho image might not have endeared them to Glasgow’s more traditional rockers but with their lacquered hair, lippy, eyeliner, and perfectly contoured cheekbones, The Berlin Blondes made the Postcard boys look like a bunch of Possilpark brickies. And on the singles front they got out the starting blocks a fraction quicker. Snapped up by Britain’s biggest record company EMI, in January The Berlin Blondes released their debut 45 Science, a month before Falling and Laughing officially kicked off ‘The Sound of Young Scotland.’ I bet Alan Horne despised them.

The band did divide opinions. Some viewed them as bright young things with the vision to embrace the brave new world of the synthesizer and electronic pop music. Others judged them narcissistic poseurs and believed that Steve Bonomi’s highly mannered vocals made Gary Numan sound positively soulful.

Once signed, they decamped to London, where they recorded an album with Mike Thorne, a producer best known for his work on the first three long players by Wire.

By the time the album hit record shops, David Rudden had said ‘auf wiedersehen’, going off to help set up Endgames, while Jim Spender decided to try his luck elsewhere too, opting to join Altered Images and become Jim McKinven.

The album failed to sell in the quantities envisaged by EMI, who quickly dropped the Blondes. The band did recruit some new members and continued on but released only one more single, Marseille, on the Scratch label in the summer of 1981.

A crunching slice of futurism, in the early days of the 1980s, this was zeitgeisty as hell, with that glinting synth intro and those galloping basslines. Here is the track that kicks off the band’s self-titled album, their second single Framework:

*Glasgow, incidentally, has sometimes been compared to San Francisco. Obviously not for a famous flower power/peace ‘n’ love vibe but for the hilly terrain of both city centres. Glasgow even stood in briefly for the Californian city in Hollywood movie Cloud Atlas.

Donald Is Possessed By The Devil (& Papa Gets a Brand New Pigbag, Whatever That Is): A Y Records Two For Tuesday

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Anybody remember Pulsallama?

The band were apparently synonymous with Club 57 on St Marks Place in the East Village in the early 1980s, when singer Ann Magnuson was a manager there.

Club 57 sounds a lot more exciting than my local arts centre. It played host to avant-garde plays, performance art events and readings by writers like Kathy Acker. Regulars Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf staged exhibitions. Movies were screened: grindhouse favourites like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Satan’s Cheerleaders. Horror fanzine Gore Gazette took over the venue for their first anniversary – Herschell Gordon Lewis was special guest and Sleazoid Express held several events there too. Many, many fantastic bands also took to the stage, from The Cramps to Ultravox, The Slits to Suicide.

For their first shows at 57, Pulsallama advertised themselves as a ‘Thirteen piece all girl percussive orchestra’, while Glenn O’Brien in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine described them as: ‘a rhythmic band consisting of a dozen or so women who whomp and whoop up a storm of frolic on a wide range of percussive devices and some bass guitars.’

I’d guess if The Waitresses, ESG and a Caribbean steel band all entered a studio together, they might have ended up sounding not unlike Pulsallama.

The band had great names like Jean Caffeine and Wendy Wild and dressed theatrically in cocktail dresses. This was one act that refused to take themselves too seriously.

Pulsallama - The Devil Lives In My Husband's Body

I had almost forgotten about them since the days when John Peel would give them the odd spin on his radio show almost forty years ago, although Simon Reynolds had quoted an old East Village Eye review in the Mutant Disco and Punk-Funk chapter of Rip It Up and Start Again back in 2005. They got more of a mention in Stanley Strychacki’s Life As Art: The Club 57 Story, where Cynthia Sley of The Bush Tetras enthused about a typical Pulsallama live excursion, where they would bang on all kinds of percussion and yell. ‘A tremendous cacophony. Something like, Listen to us or die. But funny’.

NME gave them a one page spread. They shared a bill with a very young Madonna and supported The Clash in Asbury Park and Cape Cod.

By the time of their 1982 single The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body, they had slimmed down to a seven piece. The song tells the tale of Donald, a suburban husband, who begins suddenly each evening after work to head down to the basement of his home, where he yelps, barks and growls like a dog.

Not the last barking mad Donald you may be thinking.

As daft as it is infectious, here it is:

The Pulsallama EP, a live set of seven tracks including The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body, recorded in a New York studio for French radio, is just out, available here on pink or splatter coloured vinyl, CD or download.

Pulsallama signed to Y Records, named after the debut studio album of noisy English post-punks The Pop Group. Bristol based, the label was set up by Dick (Disc) O’Dell, who once upon a time had worked as a lights/sound operator for Pink Floyd and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and at this point was The Pop Group’s manager.

When the girls put pen to paper, the label was likely best known for being the home of Pigbag of Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag fame and an element of crossover existed between both acts, such as playing a show together at New York’s famous Peppermint Lounge and sharing a producer in O’Dell. Peter Shapiro even suggested in Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco that Pulsallama ‘sounded like Pigbag combined with Julie Brown’.

That Pigbag single was one of the most insanely danceable records of the era, a guaranteed instant floor-filler in Maestros in Glasgow and likely every other club across the country. Even the really crap ones.

In 1981, it created a stir in the indie charts, albeit it would be best described as an underground hit. On its re-release a year later, as the band toured Britain to promote their Dr Heckle And Mr Jive album, it really took off. It entered the British charts at #50. A month later it had climbed to #3, where it peaked, unable to go the whole hog and dislodge Bucks Fucking Fizz’s The Camera Never Lies and Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s turgid Ebony and Ivory. Perfect harmony, my arse.

Here is Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag on Top of the Pops:

For more on Pigbag: http://www.pigbag.co.uk/

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