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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.

Rendezvous on Champs Elysées/Leave Paris in the morning on T.E.E.

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Kraftwerk: Trans-Europe Express

In anticipation of tonight’s Kraftwerk documentary on BBC Four, I’ve been leafing through Tim Barr’s book Kraftwerk: From Dusseldorf to the Future With Love and very good it is too although I disagree with his claim that the band had more in common with Stockhausen and Russian Constructivism than Chuck Berry and Andy Warhol. Well the Warhol bit anyway as he famously declared: ‘I want to be a machine.’

A quote that could have come from Ralf Hütter at any point in just about the last forty years.

The single Trans-Europe Express came out in Britain in April 1977, just as a trickle of punk and new wave records was about to become a deluge and the record failed to take off.

Not that I’m suggesting that Kraftwerk were being seen in the same light as the self–indulgent dinosaurs of the mid–seventies.

Yes, they came from affluent backgrounds, key members Hütter and Schneider both trained at the Düsseldorf Conservatory and the track they were best known for at this time, Autobahn, lasted over twenty minutes in its album version but it would have been absurd to believe any of these facts meant they could easily be aligned with the so-called ‘progressive’ groups of the time.

Kraftwerk really were progressive.

Trans Europe Express Original ad

Nor did they possess much in common with Punk, although when questioned years later about any similarities between his music and punk, Ralf Hütter did note that both favoured simplicity and shared a minimalist attitude.

Kraftwerk stood apart from just about everyone back then, even their German contemporaries like Can and Cluster. In fact, in 1977, a highly successful ad used to promote Bowie’s album Heroes: ‘There’s Old Wave. There’s New Wave. And there’s David Bowie…’ would have been equally appropriate for the German act – and of course Bowie and Iggy get name-checked on Trans-Europe Express and Bowie talked up Kraftwerk at just about every opportunity around this time.

 
Before the seventies were out the influence of Kraftwerk could be seen and heard everywhere in British music, think The Human League, OMD, Gary Numan and Simple Minds for starters – and also from Glasgow, Berlin Blondes and Teutonic Veneer (anybody old enough and into the obscure enough to remember those guys?)

Released five years after TEE, the track Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force nicked its snake charmer melody from the Kraftwerk song and combined it with a TR-808 beat that is copied from Numbers, an under-rated track from 1981’s Computer World, although Bambaataa himself also likes to credit Yellow Magic Orchestra as a crucial influence on Planet Rock too.

Here it is:

 
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