Radio Stars Think Inside the Box

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Coinciding with their fortieth anniversary, Friday saw the release of the entire collected works of Radio Stars in the form of their first ever box-set, Thinking Inside the Box.

Out on the Cherry Red imprint, the package comes in the shape of 4 CDs together with a twenty four page booklet fully illustrated with cartoons by Phil Smee, photos, contemporaneous ads, clippings and extensive notes penned by Dave Thompson.

Thinking Inside the Box includes the two officially released Radio Stars albums Songs For Swinging Lovers and The Holiday Album along with a shedload of singles, rarities, previously unissued John Peel sessions and some live recordings and, to celebrate its release, I invited bassist Martin Gordon (formerly also of Sparks and Jet) to select some favourite songs featured in the collection and give his thoughts on them.

Big thanks to Martin for agreeing to the idea.

If you want to hear any of the tracks chosen – and you really should – click any underlined song title for a link to Spotify.

RADIO-STARS boxset

Make Your Mind Up

What a naughty boy! Various forms of Beastliness


The Beast of Barnsley (CD1 Songs For Swinging Lovers track 3)

The Beast of Ankara (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 22)

• The Beast #2 (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 10)

The Beast of Barnsley dealt (directly) with one Reg Chapman, mass rapist of that ilk, and indirectly with the gutter press who lasciviously documented his exploits. We recorded and mixed the tune, and prepared it for release on Songs For Swinging Lovers. Then the Beast’s solicitors got wind of the fact that Reg was to be immortalised in song.

They scrutinised the lyrics and found that, in the song, his mother had apparently been accused of trying to chop her son’s head off with a meat cleaver. ‘His mum tried to chop Beasty’s head off with a cleaver….” went the lyric. There was no denying it, that’s what it said. This, m’learned friends pointed out, was incorrect, inasmuch as she had indeed considered chopping his head off with a meat cleaver but hadn’t actually done it.

Her omission was beneficial to Radio Stars, of course, otherwise I would have had to write a song about something else, but still. Taking the legal point, I changed the line to ‘Mum considered chopping…” as instructed, and honour was satisfied. Andy Ellison sang a replacement and we had to remix the thing all over again.

Various elements of the media picked up on this development, with the Daily Telegraph running it as a front page item. Some months later, a person claiming to be the Beast’s cousin came up at a gig and proudly declared his family connection. He was rather hurt at the band’s response, or lack of it.

Just for fun, we ran off an alternative version, which would in later years have been considered unplugged given that it featured an acoustic guitar, albeit flanged. This was used as a B-side and termed Beast No.2.

In more recent times, various other Beasts have emerged, and a Turkish Beast in particular. In 2016, the song was revisited in order to document The Beast of Ankara. It leads off with some tasty baglama saz, just to get you in the right oriental, but beastly, mood.

Old Grey Whistle Beast Test:


More about the Beast: http://martingordon.de/radio-stars/the-beast-of-barnsley/

Unaccountably Blue


Accountancy Blues then (CD2 Holiday Album track 7)

Accountancy Blues somewhat later (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 13)

The Holiday Album included the words to Accountancy Blues but unaccountably not the music. This came as rather a surprise to me, discovering it as I did only when examining the rear sleeve of the finished product. It turned out that certain parties were not convinced of the song’s integrity and rather effectively just removed it. No further discussion was necessary.

Some years later, I discovered an edited version, wherein some of the introductory silliness had been removed; obviously some effort had been made to make the tune more sensible, but without success. The truncated slightly-silly version is now restored to its original place on the Holiday Album, with the full-length extremely-silly version appearing in CD3.

You Think It’s All Over? It is Now


 It’s All Over album version (CD2 Holiday Album track 13)

It’s All Over truncated radio edit (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 15)

The full-length motor-biking drama of It’s All Over required some 5 minutes to tell the full story. Management thought that the tear-jerking tale might make a single, so some exploratory edits were conducted to make it radio-friendly. Whether they did or not was never actually put to the test, but both versions are included here. The user can decide. Please do not run into a wall in ecstasy as the tragic tale unfolds.

Radio Stars Extrapolated – Can’t You Just Make It Longer?


Radio Stars original version (CD2 Holiday Album track 1)

Radio Stars single (CD3 track 11)

I was by now accustomed to being asked to make songs longer. It had happened in Jet (Song for Hymn was under one minute), and I had refused. This time, I was a sadder but wiser beaver. The original Radio Stars was also about a minute long, serving as an introductory piece on stage. The record company liked it and wanted to release it as a single, but complained that it was too short. Possibly uniquely, we had to edit in more material to make the tune more radio-friendly.

Accommodatingly I wrote a new middle section. The original recording sounded great, especially Ian Macleod’s guitar, so I proposed to just record the new section and stick it in the appropriate place. This is exactly what we did. The eagle-eared, and indeed the cloth-eared, will no doubt notice the join, as the drums and guitar sound completely different in the middle section, but no matter. We performed the elongated version at Reading Festival in 1978; it seemed to go on for ever but some people like that kind of thing.

Where Have All the Russians Gone?


No Russians in Russia from Stop It (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 3)

No Russians in Russia revisited on the Holiday Album (CD2 track 12)

We recorded No Russians at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, with the marvellous Neil Richmond engineering. The sound could have been better however, and indeed it was better by the time we later recorded Songs for Swinging Lovers in the same studio. For the Stop It EP, we achieved what we could, even I thought it sounded a bit on the tinny side. For the Holiday Album, recorded in the more lavish Kinks-owned Konk Studio in Hornsey, we had another go at the tune and beefed it up with brass and additional Cyrillic vocals. There is also a third version extant, rendered as reggae, but perhaps the less said about this the better.

Why There Are No Russians in Russia: https://formalcontentsonly.wordpress.com/tag/no-russians-in-russia/

Buzz Off


• I Got the Buzz (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 18)

• I Got the Buzz (John’s Children/Black and White)

I Got the Buzz (Blue Meanies/Pop Sensibility)

A plethora of versions. The original was recorded by the Blue Meanies and sung by occasional Radio Stars sax player Chris Gent, the second by a reformed Radio Stars in their cello-and-keyboards-to-go phase, and the third by John’s Children long after some event or other. The only thing they have in common is the bass – neither the chords of the structures are consistent across all of them, although not for want of trying.

RADIO-STARS-box-front-cover-500x500

For more on Thinking Inside the Box, click here and for more on Martin Gordon, here you go.

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Stop It! An Interview with Martin Gordon

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7x7-1977

Radio Stars: No Russians In Russia

(Stop It EP, Chiswick)

Firstly, just a little politics. The 1976 American Presidential race featured the first televised debates since JFK had gone head to head with Richard ‘I’m not a Crook’ Nixon in 1960. Nixon’s successor after impeachment was Gerald Ford and during the second of his three clashes with Jimmy Carter, the incumbent President made the bizarre and blatantly untrue claim: ‘There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.’ He then refused to retract the statement.

Satirical mag Private Eye immediately pounced on the gaffe and lampooned Ford on its front cover. Martin Gordon was an avid Private Eye reader and a song was born.

Private Eye

Eventually released in August, 1977 (by which point Senator Jimmy Carter had been inaugurated as President), No Russians in Russia from the Stop It E.P. was the second 45 by Radio Stars.

Radio Stars - No Russians In Russia

Martin Gordon wrote and produced the song and also supplied bass, keyboards and backing vocals and he has agreed to answer some questions on the song, his time as a Radio Star, and his career generally.

*

You were in Sparks during the Kimono My House era but that ended acrimoniously. I’m guessing you haven’t been to see them on their current tour?

You guess correctly. In fact I’ve been subject, once again, to the whims of my hairdresser, and I couldn’t let him down by just trolling off to see Sparks at a moment’s notice. The last time I met up with Reginald and Roginald it all ended in tears anyway – here’s my account of what they were up to on that occasion, as published by Mojo mag. But I wish them luck and feel most proud to be co-financing their ongoing activities, albeit inadvertently. Here’s an overview of that long-lost era, from a recent Spanish article.

After Sparks you joined Jet, who were called the first ‘glam rock supergroup’. I’d have put money on you making it big but somehow that didn’t happen. Any ideas why?

Well, I had only just started writing, so some of the tunes could probably have been improved. And the rather unpredictable nature of some of the musicians involved did not make a solid foundation for even a successful rehearsal, let alone a meteoric rise to stardom. We were actually just beginning to make some headway when we were dropped by the label for refusing to play waltzes. We performed all our new material for a party of CBS bigwigs; we’d strung all the tunes together as one continuous piece of music, as a lighthearted jest. Well, they didn’t find it at all amusing and gave us our cards. ‘Dirty Pictures’, later to be the first Radio Stars single, came out of that collection of material, so what did CBS know about anything?

Did you see Jet as Glam Rock or do you not bother with categories?

Categories are forced upon us, unfortunately. Pre-digested bite-sized chunks of information relieve the average punter of the onerous task of having to work it out for him- or herself. If I had to do just that, I would classify Jet as Music-Hall Rock, if anything. ‘Our Boys’, for example, certainly fits into this category.

Yeah, there definitely is that element in Our Boys, and songs like Fax ’n’ Info and Tax Loss too. I would see it more as Post-Glam if anything myself.

I think there are two glam-categories – builder-glam and art-glam. The Sweet, Mott the Hoople, the Glitter Band would all fit into the first, Roxy Music, Bowie and their ilk into the second. I leave it to those who are more removed from the issue to decide which category has a Jet-shaped hole.

Radio Stars  Stop It Ad

No Russians in Russia was originally demoed in 1976 in between Jet and Radio Stars. Were you aware of punk at this point? Quite a few bands independently of punk were moving in the direction of shorter and sharper songs around this time.

You are right, this tune was recorded initially before the explosion of punk. And as you note, things were becoming more focussed and to the point, at least in my neck of the woods. I was always a big fan of economy, musically speaking if not fiscally. We were aware of the emerging punk thing, but didn’t consider that we would be seen as part of it. Our association with punk was really as a result of being on an independent label, Chiswick Records, but of course it was hard not to wear a leather jacket and have short hair in London, at that point. However, one band member grimly held out, at least hair-wise.

Did you come up with the music or lyrics of No Russians In Russia first?

The words came first inspired by the Private Eye cover, and the tune wrote itself once the lyrics were in place. I recorded it once as a demo, then again for the Stop It E.P. and then a third time for the Holiday Album, as I thought it sounded a bit tinny on the E.P. There’s a nice live version on Hello Boston, which was my solo debut in that city in 2007.

You performed the song on Marc Bolan’s late afternoon TV pop show Marc. How did that go?

It was very cool, and very nice to finally meet the bleating kobold in the flesh. Once we had finished ‘No Russians’, we had some photos taken. Marc tragically crashed into that tree about two weeks later.

Radio Stars Glasgow Apollo 1977

Any memories of playing the Glasgow Apollo with Eddie and The Hot Rods and Squeeze in 1978? 

The Apollo was always a great gig for us as the audience, if they liked you, made it known. They also made it known if they didn’t like you, as we found out earlier in Jet when we played there with Hunter-Ronson. I recall that when we did the Hot Rods soundcheck, the stage was quite close to the floor, but it was raised by the time the gig came about. This we didn’t know. So when Andy leapt of the front of the stage, he expected to hit solid ground within a couple of seconds, but he was now about three metres in the air. Plus, to make things even more secure for the sensitive artistes, the stairs at each side of the stage had been covered over with sheets of polished metal, making it impossible for him to climb back up. I think we used to just keep going until we saw him again, and then we’d end whichever tune we were hammering into the ground.

Andy Ellison apparently suffered an amazing amount of injuries on that tour. He stepped over my shoulder in the Apollo stalls when he decided that some crowd interaction would be a good idea. Did you ever worry when he got up to some of his daredevil antics?

Well, we always figured he would show up again at some point. At the Colston Hall in Bristol, he jumped on the back of one of the security guards, who took off round the hall in an effort to get him off his back, and once I remember that somehow he once got locked out of a venue and couldn’t get back in. He could hear us from the street, he said, while he was pondering his options. As you know, it was sometimes the punters who came off worst – one poor bloke got smashed across the face with Andy’s light sword, when he was going through his Darth Vader phase. The very next day, we took out insurance.

Over the years Radio Stars have got back together on occasion. Do you envisage this happening again any time soon?

Yes, we did it in 2008 and again in 2010. I’m thinking about having some kind of musical birthday celebration next May. If the stars are in alignment with Uranus, it might turn out to be a Radio Stars gig…

And how’s the solo career going?

I’ve just completed the sixth part of the Mammal Trilogy and am having a bit of a lie-down. There are a few projects on the back-burner, but probably nothing will be released for at least another year. I did recently collect all my words in a book, along with stories about each of the tunes, and I was quite pleased with how it came out. It’s called ‘Words in Your Shell-Like’, and it wraps up the whole event quite nicely. ‘No Russians’ is included in the 150-odd tunes, of course.

And finally, you’ve worked as a session musician and played live with everyone from The Rolling Stones to Kylie Minogue, wrote for S’Express and helped remix Primal Scream. To pick just one more highlight from your CV how was playing live with Blur?

The Blur episode came about when I was going through my all-things-to-all-men period. I played keyboards with them at the Kentish Town Forum. There were a few tunes in the set on which I didn’t play, so I wandered into the pub next door and monitored the band’s progress through the adjoining wall, and reappeared at a suitable moment. It turned out that Alex the bass player was a ‘Kimono My House’ fan, and was rather put out that I hadn’t told him that I was actually a moonlighting bassist.

For more on Martin and Radio Stars:

Martin Gordon
Radio Stars
Radiant Future Records
Martin’s Myspace Page
Martin’s Facebook Page