Saint Jack & A Musselburgh Superstar

Leave a comment

Jock Scot Albums

During the week I watched Saint Jack, an under-rated Peter Bogdanovich movie from 1979 that starred Ben Gazzara as Jack Flowers, a fatalistic Italian-American washed up in Singapore. Here he makes a living taking care of the needs of English-speaking expats and visitors, mainly American GIs, touring and whoring while on leave from Vietnam.

Filmed on location, Saint Jack was produced by Roger Corman, who’d given Bogdanovich his first directorial break on the 1968 movie Targets.

Gazzara, Bogdanovich and Corman, that’s a combination of talents you’ve got to like the sound of.

The movie doesn’t offer that much in the way of a plot and it could be accused of lacking real tension until its final act when Jack’s offered a wad of money to take uncompromising photos of an anti-war American Senator. But I do like Saint Jack a lot, mainly due to Gazzara’s performance.

A Korean vet who’s handy with a quip, generous with a tip and fond of a Scotch, Gazzara’s role as Flowers shares many similarities with his turn as Cosmo Vittelli in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and in a fairer world, he might have found himself with a Best Actor Oscar nomination for at least one of these parts.

Saint Jack, incidentally, was banned in Singapore, due to the seedy portrayal of the country although this ridiculous piece of censorship was rescinded in 2006. Here’s the trailer:


Watching Saint Jack inevitably got me musing on the 1995 album of the same name by The Nectarine N°9. Released on the reactivated Postcard label, this was one of the best Scottish albums of the ’90s despite being routinely ignored by many on its release.

It could easily be argued that Postcard Mark II, like Gazzara, was underestimated. Back then Alan Horne was still at his irascible best, fuming about local bores like Deacon Blue; the media (which was the ‘most evil thing in the world) and indie groups – telling Tom Lappin in The List: ‘They all tend to come across as public schoolboys who want to be in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.’

Whether you agreed with him or not, it was a pity that albums like Saint Jack and Vic Godard’s The End of the Surrey People failed to garner the critical kudos experienced by Postcard in the early ’80s especially when you think of all those journeymen Britpoppers like Gene and Shed Seven who, as Saint Jack hit record stores, were being feted with two page spreads in the music press and singles and albums in the charts.

On Saint Jack, NN9 were joined in the studio by Jock Scot, who memorably contributed Just Another Fucked-Up Little Druggy On The Scene.

Jock’s poetry might have struck some as simplistic but therein lies a big daud of his talent, making the difficult look simple. Autobiographical, unflinching and literally laugh out loud funny (LLOL?), he only ever published a single poetry collection, 1993’s Where Is My Heroine? Jock, though, was always more of a performance poet and took as much inspiration from the everyday world as from traditional poets. Think a madcap mix of Chuck Bukowski and Matt McGinn.

I remember seeing him live at the Gilded Balloon during the Edinburgh Festival in the second half of the 1990s, a raucous night where most of the audience was every bit as drunk as Jock, myself included. A fun-filled evening as enjoyable as any standard concert I attended around this time.

A patter merchant par excellence, Jock immediately struck me as the sorta guy that you would have loved to spend a night in the pub with (or maybe an afternoon and night with). A close pal of The Clash, Libertines and Ian Dury, I bet he would have supplied many reasons to be cheerful.

My Personal Culloden from 1997 was the final album released by Postcard and like those two albums mentioned earlier, it failed to generate the interest it clearly deserved. Heavenly Recordings reissued it in 2015 with an option of vinyl for the first time and a recommendation from Irvine Welsh: ‘Jock Scot is, along with Iggy Pop and Paddy Stanton, one of my all-time heroes. A Musselburgh superstar.’

This time round the reaction was more favourable with Uncut praising it as ‘a minor masterpiece of Scottish independent rock’ and Mojo magazine declaring him ‘Alba’s Greatest Poet’.

Sadly Jock died from cancer last year. His funeral in April 2016 was attended by a large and varied cast of mourners including senior Pop artist Peter Blake, drinking buddy Shane MacGowan, author Will Self and designer Pam Hogg.

Jock’s Mod Poem is one of only two poems I could recite, the other being Burns’s My Heart’s in the Highlands, drummed into me as a child in the early seventies – one every twenty odd years, maybe it’s time to add a third to the memory banks. Maybe it’ll be another one of Jock’s.

Apparently written in less than 6 minutes while waiting on the Underground, here is Mod Poem from The Caledonian Blues, the album he collaborated on with Gareth Sager:

Advertisements

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

4 Comments

Big Gold Dream

.

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 Lasts 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.


Big Gold Dream will screen this Friday (2. Oct) at the Doc ‘n Roll Film Festival in London followed by a live Q&A with Bob Last. The film’s Facebook page can be found here while if you prefer Twitter, this is your link.

The Possibilities Are Endless

2 Comments


Last night I was lucky enough to be part of a sold out audience at the Glasgow Film Theatre for a preview screening of The Possibilities Are Endless, a documentary that tells the remarkable story of how Edwyn Collins survived two brain haemorrhages, a coma and MRSA and went on, against the odds, to re-establish his reputation as one of the country’s finest songwriters, releasing acclaimed new albums and touring extensively in Britain and abroad.

Opening with a clip of Collins performing on American chat show staple Late Night With Conan O’Brien, at a point when his biggest solo hit, A Girl Like You was climbing pop charts around the planet, the documentary quickly swerves off in a more experimental direction using fragmented voice-overs from both Edwyn and his wife, Grace, who explain the circumstances of his devastating health problems.

It’s a technique that cleverly mirrors the jumbled mind of Edwyn at the time – his memory had been just about erased in the wake of the strokes and he could only utter a couple of words, yes and no; a name, Grace Maxwell; and one phrase: ‘the possibilities are endless’, a line from the Velvet Underground song Some Kinda Love, that somehow lodged in the singer’s brain (without him recognising the source) and which he kept repeating while hospitalised.

There’s some stunning, sometimes almost abstract cinematography in this section of the documentary, much of it shot in and around the small coastal village of Helmsdale in the far north of Scotland, where Collins’ family have owned a home for generations and where Edwyn and Grace are now living.

Here the skies are often grey and the winds harsh but the landscape always remains beautiful. At one point a tree falls in the middle of a small forest for little discernable reason, a direct reference perhaps to the apparent randomness of what happened to Edwyn.

The Possibilities Poster

Encouraged every step of the way by Grace, Edwyn slowly – sometimes agonizingly slowly – relearns how to walk and to draw, how to read and write, how to sing again and even how to compose new songs – and it truly is amazing that he’s not only remastered the art of writing pop tunes like Down the Line from last year’s album Understated (which also crops up in the soundtrack here) but that he’s also composed much of the wonderfully atmospheric score of The Possibilities Are Endless.

Images of present day Edwyn and Grace are accompanied by sequences of a young couple played by Edwyn’s son Will – a dead ringer at times for Edwyn in his early Orange Juice days – and Yasmin Paige, the star of Richard Ayoade’s 2010 film, Submarine and, as Edwyn pieces together more and more of his past, we increasingly see more and more archive footage of an impressively quiffed ‘Pop Star’ Edwyn.

Interestingly, the documentary eschews the talking heads approach but is content to proceed at a relatively slow pace throughout to better reflect the very gradual improvements in Edwyn’s health. It also seldom strays anywhere near sentimentality, Grace, for instance, admitting that sometimes she misses the old Edwyn, explaining there’s no point denying the fact, and here I should say that Grace is an absolutely integral part of the film.

Inevitably, you’ll find yourself wondering how you would cope in a similar situation to Collins. Hopefully if you ever do have to deal with relearning walking, talking, reading and the rest, then you’ll have a Grace too.

A Q&A followed the screening, with playwright David Grieg also interviewing Edwyn and Grace (a fantastic double act) and one of the directors, Edward Lovelace. My favourite question being from a guy who asked Edwyn how sore was it when Grace cut his nails. The answer being: ‘Very sore.’

You have to have seen the film. Honestly.

Edwyn then performed a short set of four songs which included Home Again and Don’t Shilly Shally, ending the evening on a perfect note.

The singer obviously has close links with Glasgow – the Art School, where Orange Juice played their first ever gig is only a minute’s walk from the GFT and the old home of Postcard Records in West Princes Street is just a relatively short walk away too and yes, there’s busloads of goodwill towards Edwyn just now and a lot of old pals had trooped along to see the film; everybody desperately wanted to enjoy it, in fact, it received two rounds of applause before it even started, one just prior to when some assumed it was about to begin and then one for Stephen Pastel’s introduction. Almost inevitably, it received another during its end credits too but it did definitely deserve it.

More than a few tears were shed by some across its eighty two mesmerizing and moving minutes, believe me, but afterwards I’m sure that the abiding feeling for a big majority of the cinema-goers as they stepped out the foyer into a damp Glasgow night was one of optimism and amazement at the resilience of the human spirit.

It’s obviously a must-see for Edwyn and Orange Juice fans and indie fans generally but should surely also speak to a much wider audience. Along with All This Mayhem, it’s a contender for my favourite documentary of the year.

Here’s Edwyn, with an ex-Pistol on drums, performing A Girl Like You on the Conan show mentioned earlier:

 
The Possibilities Are Endless is due for release by Pulse Films in UK cinemas on 7th November 2014, although it can be viewed before there on iTunes.

For more on the film click here.
And for more on the film and Edwyn generally, visit his AED label here.
For his Facebook page click here.

Simply Thrilled, Barbed Wire Kisses & Mutant Moments & Memorabilia

2 Comments

This upcoming Saturday is Record Store Day, when I like to set my alarm for an almost unfeasibly early, pre-dawn rise that guarantees me first dibs or almost first dibs on whatever one-off limited edition vinyl rarities are on offer. Last year saw me at least treble my money on the bulk of my purchases when I put everything I’d bought up for auction immediately on eBay and if you’re looking to make a fast buck yourself, I’d recommend you do the same this time round.

Only joking.

I just doubled my money on the most of the records.

No seriously, up till now I haven’t as yet visited what I tend to call a record shop specifically on this particular designated date. Cliché though it may be, every day should be record store day, although if an official RSD does help get punters to pack into independent record shops to buy vinyl rather than giving their moolah to the likes of Amazon, then it gets the thumbs up from me.

This year, though, there is something up for grabs that I really do fancy snapping up ASAP, not a record but Simon Goddard’s latest book Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story Of Postcard Records, which will be available exclusively in Scotland a week earlier than anywhere else. Not only that, but if you’re one of the first 500 to buy a copy over the counter on Saturday, you’ll receive a free A3-sized ‘Funky Glasgow Then’ print which is an illustrated map of the city during the Postcard-era.

According to Simon Goddard: ‘The print is suitable for flattening and framing… or equally suitable for wandering around Glasgow’s West End getting lost looking for what was once The Spaghetti Factory’.

That’ll be a Scottish restaurant called Stravaigin folks, if you’re not one of the lucky 500.

Simply Thrilled JAMC Barbed Wire Kisses

Also out on Saturday is Zoë Howe’s Barbed Wire Kisses – The Jesus And Mary Chain Story, which I’m also rather keen to get my mitts on, although sadly no ‘Not Entirely Funky East Kilbride Then’ map is available with information on that town’s musical landmarks such as The Olympia (which resembled a Neds’ convention at weekends but where Orange Juice once played a show and is now a Sainsbury’s), Rockabill Records and Impulse*, where the young Aztec Camera were regular customers (both of those shops have long since bitten the dust too) and the Bonnie Prince Charlie (which once hosted a weekly reggae night in the function room upstairs).

The Jesus and Mary Chain have by coincidence just reformed and announced some live dates. Sometimes they love Rock’n’Roll, on this occasion, though, they hate it:

 
And finally, a mention for an exhibition at Glasgow’s Voidoid Archive that I’m hoping to get along to later this week. Mutant Moments and Memorabilia includes work by former Jesus and Mary Chain bassist Douglas Hart, photographer Ryan S. McGill and Gerard Malanga.

Malanga is famous for many things but I’ll always associate him primarily as the guy who danced with Edie Sedgwick while brandishing a whip as part of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable show that featured The Velvet Underground, a band who were, of course, a mammoth influence and inspiration for The Jesus and Mary Chain and, for that matter, Alan Horne and Postcard Records.

For more information:

Simon Goddard
Postcard (on this here blog)
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Zoë Howe
Zoë Howe: Interview with Douglas Hart
Mutant Moments and Memorabilia

* I still have very fond memories of the ‘Punk & New Wave’ box on the counter of Impulse as well as their ‘lucky bags’ of singles which were usually dominated by some godawful disco dross, unlistenable AOR and unspeakably bland MOR but which also always seemed to include at least one Spizzenergi or Swell Maps type punky gem too. Or maybe I was actually just lucky.

Independent Scotland #1

2 Comments

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)

.

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