Sometimes x 2

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This week I’ve been pondering on some of the world’s greatest mysteries.

Could Stonehange have been built in Wales and somehow transported all the way to Wiltshire? Could Jack the Ripper actually have been a woman, thus throwing the police completely off the trail? And perhaps most puzzling of all, why when people like Ed Sheeran seem to manage the task effortlessly has someone with Davy Henderson’s talent never been propelled into stardom.

Just think, Sheeran could release a track of himself humming tunelessly in the shower and it would likely sell more in a couple of hours than Davy’s combined sales for Fire Engines, Win, The Nectarine No.9 and The Sexual Objects.

Yes, we all know the music business is unfair but that is just an outrageous fucking travesty, the kind of thing that would probably ensure that I would go through life bitter and twisted if I was in Davy’s position. Actually I maybe go through life like that anyway.

On the plus side, despite the lack of fame and fortune, Davy has obviously still made an impact over the years. The Fire Engines were namechecked on Losing My Edge; they shared a single with Franz Ferdinand in 2004 while Win supplied McEwan’s Lager with the music for the best advert ever produced in Scotland (shame the lager was honking, mind). Davy has also recently been named a cult hero by The Guardian and he featured prominently in Grant McPhee’s must-see documentary Big Gold Dream.

Fire Engines + collage

And that music! From the manic panic of Get Up and Use Me I was hooked. Sets only lasting fifteen minutes max? Who cares, they never felt that short. By the time of the pounding hyperpop of Win’s You’ve Got the Power I believed a breakthrough was inevitable. The song was released three times and each of those times I predicted a hit. In his 10/10 review of the album Freaky Trigger, NME‘s Stuart Macone proclaimed: ‘These are the ten best songs Salvador Dali never wrote.’ Henderson’s masterpiece, though, arguably came in 1995 with The Nectarine No. 9’s Saint Jack, which absolutely confirmed his status of pop alchemist.

Much of the best music in the world this year will come out on labels from major metropolises such as London and New York but only a tiny minority of that music where be anywhere near as good as the latest release from a wee label based in ‘the twin outposts of Crail and Achaphubuil’. Available now on Triassic Tusk, here are The Sexual Objects and Sometimes:

 
The SOBs will be sharing a bill with Vic Godard & Subway Sect and The Secret Goldfish in Edinburgh’s Wee Red Bar on October 20 and the following night the same acts will be stepping onto the stage of Glasgow’s Admiral Bar.

For more on The Sexual Objects, click here.

Here’s a remix of Sometimes from the finest Scottish act to have emerged so far in the 21st century. Compare and contrast if you like but, most importantly, enjoy. This is Boards of Canada’s superb, mesmerizing take on the song:

 
For more on Boards of Canada, click here.

And finally that TV advert I mentioned earlier. I think this is based on a Greek myth but I’m not sure which as my lack of knowledge in that area has always been my Achilles elbow. Boom boom.

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Big Gold Dream: Play To Win (The DVD)

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big-gold-dream-dvd

Just out in DVD this week is Big Gold Dream, the feature length documentary that I reviewed in roughcut form back in the autumn of 2015.

To the surprise of the team behind the film, the first batch of DVDs completely sold out in just over 30 minutes and when a second, larger batch was put together it sold out in under 24 hours. Deservedly so as this really is a must-see ninety minutes for anybody with an interest in the punk/post-punk/independent scene that developed in Scotland during the late 1970s and 1980s.

As Neil Cooper puts it in his blurb on the back cover of the DVD: ‘Everything you hear today, tomorrow and knocked into the middle of next week started here. Indie-Disco, Art-Rock and Difficult Fun are all in the mix.’

If you want to purchase a copy, here’s your link and if you want to hear about the sequel of sorts made by the same the team, click here for my interview with director Grant McPhee.


Here’s a re-post of my review:

Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream

I’ve rewound to the early days of 1979. By this point independent music labels have started springing up in Scotland; there’s Sensible and Zoom in Edinburgh for instance, Boring in Glasgow, NRG in Dundee and No Bad in Dunfermline but they’re still a real rarity.

I’ve rewound to the early days of 1979. By this point independent music labels have started springing up in Scotland; there’s Sensible and Zoom in Edinburgh for instance, Boring in Glasgow, NRG in Dundee and No Bad in Dunfermline but they’re still a real rarity.

In an NME article titled Product Packaging, and Rebel Music, I read about the most high profile addition to this trend, Edinburgh’s Fast Product, whose first releases, singles by The Mekons and 2.3, had came out around a year earlier.

Bob Last, a former architecture student and theatre set designer at the Traverse, is interviewed and writer Ian Cranna concludes that: ‘Last has the potential to be what Brecht was in theatre,’ a statement that sounds mightily impressive even though at this point in my life I know as much about concepts such as Bertolt Brecht’s alienation effect as I do about quantum mechanics.

Nowadays I’m reasonably up to speed with Brecht and, although I’m still pretty mystified by the science behind the big bang theory, I think I can at least say that according to the new feature length documentary Big Gold Dream, the nearest musical equivalent of any big bang exploding the whole punk and independent movement in Scotland into life would be The Slits and Subway Sect performing on the Edinburgh Playhouse date of The Clash’s White Riot Tour.

‘It was a real Year Zero moment,’ Davy Henderson explains in the film. ‘It was incredible.’

Many young fans were certainly galvanised that evening and a bunch of them would quickly gravitate to the artistic hub of the Keir Street tenement flat of Bob Last and Fast co-conspirator Hilary Morrison, where they would discuss music and literature, try out some William Burroughs style cut-ups and eat a lot of toasties.

Fireengines_KeirSt_sittingroom

Fire Engines, Keir St. Sitting Room: Photo by Hilary Morrison

‘Glam punk’ Morrison is an always particularly entertaining presence in the film, talking of her delight at Johnny Rotten telling her that he despised her when she asked him to sign a Sex Pistols single in Virgin Records in Edinburgh and recalling the tale of having to break into somebody’s uncle’s remote Borders cottage in order to record the first single by The Mekons. I won’t though spoil the ending of her very amusing story about a photoshoot that involves various Fire Engines, £15 worth of meat from Safeway, baby oil and a visit regarding a break-in unrelated to any recording session.

Alan Rankine also made me smile while relaying a meeting between American impresario Seymour Stein and The Associates, where the Sire head honcho offers them the moon unaware that Billy Mackenzie was far from the average rock star and more interested in whippets than whopping advances, especially if the money involved world tours.

Fast Product release a string of stunningly inventive tracks by The Mekons, Gang of Four, Human League, Scars, Dead Kennedys and even as part of their one-off Earcom series, Joy Division. They also turn down any chance of Joy Division signing to Fast due to their problematic name, turn down the chance to release Human Fly by The Cramps and somehow manage to sell rotting orange peel. The label mutates into Pop:Aural and brings out records by local acts including a Fire Engines single called Big Gold Dream.

A new kid on the block independent makes its presence felt very quickly in Glasgow and the inter label rivalry between Fast/Pop:Aural and Postcard Records is explored. Yes, both labels share the belief that Scottish acts shouldn’t have to up sticks and move to London in order to have a shot at success but they disagree about so much more with Alan Horne branding Fast ‘pathetic’ in one music press interview – although Bob Last denies the feud involved him sending any death threats to his west coast adversaries.

Glad to hear it.

Notably, Alan Horne, a kind of West End of Glasgow Warhol in the early ’80s, passed up on the chance to appear here and I’m sure that, if he is even anything like the spectacularly acerbic young man of the Postcard era, director Grant McPhee could have had great fun intercutting between the pair as they aimed a few digs at each other – like the footage of Alan McGee and Kevin Shields in the documentary Beautiful Music.

‘He was condescending and dismissive of musicians’, Campbell Owens of Aztec Camera complains although David McClymont from Orange Juice remembers him as being ‘a lovely guy’. But only very ironically.

A happier relationship existed between Bob Last and Tony Wilson with Last even offering Wilson advice when he was setting up Factory. It would have been interesting to learn Wilson’s thoughts on Fast but at least we get to hear what the ever reliable raconteur Peter Hook has to say about the two men.

Scars doing pix for single sleeve2

Scars doing pix for single sleeve: Photo by Hilary Morrison

Anyone who read my Scottish Post–Punk Top Ten a few weeks back won’t be too surprised to learn that I’m very happy that Scars are one of the most heavily featured acts here, with Douglas McIntyre of Creeping Bent Records going as far as to argue that Horrorshow and Adult/ery were Scotland’s Anarchy in the UK but if there is a heart of the documentary it’s probably Fire Engines singer Davy Henderson, later also of Win, Nectarine No. 9 and The Sexual Objects. Henderson is always fascinating, often funny and obviously still haunted by his decision (urged on by Bob Last) to break up Fire Engines. ‘One of the biggest regrets of my life,’ he admits.

Around this point it’s time for the infiltrating the mainstream part of Big Gold Dream, some of the film’s participants achieving this ambition more successfully than others.

Win seem to be on the verge of a real commercial breakthrough after their uber-pop single You’ve Got The Power is used in a very imaginative ad for a third-rate Scottish lager but they’re cruelly denied a place in the top 40 due to the track being chart weighted as such a high percentage of sales were concentrated in one part of Britain.

Aztec Camera, Strawberry Switchblade and The Bluebells fare better as do Orange Juice, who move from Postcard to Polydor, while Alan Horne is offered his own label by London Records which he names Swamplands – the cutesy pussycat Postcard logo replaced by a prowling panther (something I’d strangely never picked up on until Allan Campbell mentioned it here).

It’s Bob Last, however, in his role as manager (or Executive Manipulator) of The Human League and Heaven 17 who is involved in the most stratospheric success aided greatly by his decision to help split the original Human League line-up in two and bring former Rezillo Jo Callis into the shiny new version of the band and later insisting that the shiny new version of the band release Don’t You Want Me as a single despite pressure from Phil Oakey not to.

Despite the global success of Dare and the undoubted influence of Fast Product, Bob Last didn’t go on to equal in music or any other medium what Brecht did in theatre, which is hardly a disgrace. And he did also go on to co-produce one of the most magical animated movies that you could ever wish to see, The Illusionist, which also incidentally features music by Malcolm Ross and Ian Stoddart – who both appear in Big Gold Dream – and Leo Condie in the guise of beat combo, Billy Boy and the Britoons.

Big Gold Dream won the Audience Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and so far reviews have been highly favourable: my fellow blogger the Vinyl Villain, for instance, calling it ‘a joy to watch’.

Richard Jobson, though, isn’t much of a fan, tweeting: ‘Just watched Big Gold Dream rewrite history to fit a story and Bob Last’s ego – fuck off.’

I thought myself that at least some mention of The Skids could have been made – likewise Johnny and the Self Abusers/Simple Minds, but just don’t ask me what I would have cut to make room for these suggestions as there are so many great interviewees here such as Fay Fife, Billy Sloan, Jill Bryson, Vic Godard and Tam Dean Burn to name only a handful.

The film is a vast improvement on the fatally flawed BBC Scotland doc Caledonia Dreaming (no Hue and Cry and Wet Wet Wet for starters). In fact, it is easily the best documentary on Scottish music I can think of and one of the best music documentaries made in the last decade or so and the good news is that a sequel Teenage Superstars: The Fall of Postcard and the Rise of 53rd & 3rd Records will follow on, hopefully in the not too distant future.

Nobody’s Scared, An Ex-Scar & Saint Jack Live In South Lanarkshire

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Vic Godard Preston Poster 2014 Vic Godard June Brides Birmingham 2014

An early contender for my best of 2014 list is Vic Godard’s 30 Odd Years, a double CD that highlights some of the finest music from Vic’s long career but which includes some idiosyncratic tracklisting choices that make the compilation all the more intriguing for long term fans, for example, the late Paul Reekie, occasional Subway Sect heckler but colossal fan, provides an intro and outro, while Ambition is represented here by a live version of the song performed ten years ago in Brentford by Vic along with The Bitter Springs rather than by the 1978 Subway Sect single.

30 Odd Years has attracted some sky-high critical praise with Louder Than War rating it 10/10 and Neil Cooper in The List describing it as a ‘joyride through Godard’s back catalogue that reveals Godard as craftsman, explorer and multi-faceted pop songwriting genius’.

This Thursday night, Vic and the lads will be in the 6 Music studios to play a live session for Marc Riley’s show before embarking on some sporadic live dates around England where they’ll be showcasing much of the material from the new album.

Here’s the latest details of these forthcoming shows but check Vic’s site for updates:

March 28th: New Continental, Preston
29th March: The Cross, Birmingham
April 19th: The Thunderbolt Bristol

Vic Godard Blue Orchids Bristol 2014 Poster

April 20th: Light It Up Alldayer. The Star and Garter, Manchester
May 3rd: The Rigger, Newcastle-Under-Lyme
May 4th: The Leek Arts Festival. Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek
19th July: Latitude Festival. Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk
8th August: Rebellion Festival, Blackpool
TBC September: Trash Cannes Festival, Hastings
19th September: The Star & Shadow, Newcastle
20th September: Westgarth Social Club, Middlesbrough
9th October: John Peel Night. TBC, Brighton

Vic’s also been involved in some recording over the past few weeks and the latest news is that 1979 Now should be out on AED round about September. Before that, a DVD/CD of his London Town & Country Club show of 1992, where he was accompanied by Edwyn Collins, Segs, Martin Duffy and Paul Cook, is due out in August.

This is one of the songs from 30 Odd Years, Nobody’s Scared, originally released in March 1978 although this is from a performance in March 2012 at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms:


As you can see from the posters displayed here, there’s usually an interesting support act or two when Mr. Godard rolls into town and at his gig in Newcastle last November, he was joined on the bill by a newish Edinburgh band formed by ex-Scars vocalist Robert King called Opium Kitchen, who also feature the talents of William Baird on guitar, Colin Whitson (Gin Goblins) on bass and drummer Russell Burn (Fire Engines and Win).

Their debut single, We Will Be, was released on iTunes last Monday on Eromeda Records and a CD and vinyl single should also become available in the very near future with an album in the pipeline too. I’m growing very fond of the song and here’s the promo video:

 
For more on Opium Kitchen click here.

Next up, some news on Vic Godard’s old pal and frequent collaborator, the Sexual Object that is Davy Henderson, who is reuniting one of his many stunningly good previous bands – Nectarine No.9 in this instance – to perform their 1995 Postcard album Saint Jack in its entirety live at Rutherglen Town Hall on the 7th of June. And not only that, the support on the night will be Casual Sex! And that sentence really does deserve an exclamation mark. This is NN9 with South Of An Imaginary Line:

 
And finally if you’d like to hear Vic’s special set in Edinburgh in tribute to Paul Reekie from 2011, where Davy Henderson helped out on guitar and Russell Burn guested on drums, here’s the link. And while I’m at it, I should also mention that one of the books in the pile at the end of the Opium Kitchen video is a 1997 collection of Scottish writing called Children of Albion Rovers, that included work by Paul Reekie, Irvine Welsh, Gordon Legge and others and which I would recommend.

Sauchiehall Street Nights

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Tonight Lloyd Cole and The Leopards are performing live at the O2 ABC, Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections 2014 and they’re being supported by Jazzateers, who should be hitting the stage at 7.30pm sharp so no trying to squeeze in a final pint in the likes of the Variety Bar at 7.25, folks – advice I wouldn’t necessarily have given ten years ago when James Blunt was given the support slot when Lloyd and The Commodores, sorry, The Commotions played one of their reunion shows at the Barrowlands.

Okay, I should really give you an explanation of that mention of The Commodores.

The December edition of Uncut included one of their monthly An Audience With… features where Lloyd Cole discussed his fondness for a round or two of golf while touring, haircuts, a recent encounter with Morrissey in Dublin and also the early days of The Commotions in Glasgow, which included playing a Tia Maria promotion night where the band was introduced by the MC of the event as Lloyd Cole and The Commodores.

Which made me laugh anyway.

Anyway, below is Bob Stanley’s review of Jennifer She Said for NME from January 1988.

NME 2.1.88

I’m currently reading Stanley’s Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, where he only gives Lloyd and The Commotions the merest of mentions – observing how, along with other British bands like The Smiths and The La’s, they fitted neatly into the template of America’s college-radio of the time.

His thoughts on The Commodores? Three Times a Lady is described as a ‘grandparent-friendly ballad’ which just about sums it up, although I might have substituted the word sickly for grandparent-friendly.

Getting back to the aforementioned Uncut piece, Lloyd also recalled loving early Orange Juice and going to see them as often as possible.

So it’s highly likely that he was at this very gig, one of my very favourites of the time: Orange Juice supported by Fire Engines at the old Roseland Ballroom on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street – not too far actually from the ABC (which back then was a cinema).

Here’s my rather crumpled and not terribly well scanned poster from the night:

Orange Juice & Fire Engines Glasgow April 1981

This is Period Piece from Lloyd’s best album in years, Standards, released last summer on Tapete Records. And if the boy in the promo reminds you of anyway, it might just be his father, the one and only Lloyd Cole.

 
And finally, I couldn’t resist ending with an entirely predictable choice, Camera Obscura’s Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken:

 
For more on the two acts playing tonight:

Lloyd Cole
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