Independent Scotland #8

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This week a group whose evolution began in 1981 in Newtonmore, a town in Inverness-shire better known for its shinty team than for its independent bands.

This was a relatively short-lived version of the band that later gained some success as Shop Assistants, but who, according to the fanzine Groovy Black Shades, played live for the first time under the name – wait for it – The Crispy Crunchies.

Now there’s a show I would likely have avoided like a Coldplay convention.

Mercifully, the music was far superior to the moniker.

Fast forward a few years and main songwriter and guitarist David Keegan sent a demo tape of the band (which again according to GBS was now known as Only the Worst) to Stephen Pastel in exchange for a Pastels tape. Stephen was mightily impressed by the songs on the tape and so started a long musical alliance between the two bands.

As Buba and The Shop Assistants, they recorded only one single, Something To Do, with David, Aggi (Annabel Wright from Juniper Beri Beri fanzine), Moray and John supplying the music together with a guest appearance from Stephen Pastel, who also produced the record and designed the sleeve.

The single may have been a pretty limited release but it displayed plenty of promise and was championed by Peter Easton on his Radio Scotland show Beat Patrol and also played by John Peel.

Buba and the Shop Assistants are an experience akin to, no I don’t know, being trussed up naked and thrashed with barbed wire by Clare Grogan. You want sex? Violence? This band have got it all. And beauty.  As well as chainsaw classics they have some really nice ballad type songs about things like people “Somewhere in China”.

The Buba and the Shop Assistants Story. The Underground #3 (A Subway Organisation fanzine)

Not long after the release of that debut single in the summer of 1984, Aggi left the now Edinburgh based band to join The Pastels – replaced on vocal duties by Alex Taylor, Alex and David forming a new nucleus of the band, ditching the Buba part of the name and losing their rhythm section.

That autumn Sarah Neale joined their ranks as bassist and the following spring a pair of drummers came onboard, Laura McPhail and Ann Donald.

August 1985 saw the Shopping Parade EP featuring All Day Long released by the Subway Organisation. Neil Taylor, reviewing the single for NME, praised the band as ‘easily the most original post-Mary Chain pop group’ and the Shoppies’ profile was boosted greatly when indie king Morrissey named All Day Long as the best single of the year (again in NME).

‘Not only are they the best, most important, and loveable independent band in Britain today but they double up as the most likely lad and lasses too.’

Lawrence Watson. NME. March 1986

Significantly John Peel’s support for the band grew and grew – they were given two Peel sessions and featured four times in his Festive Fifty, Safety Net being voted #8 in 1986.

This was their sole release on 53rd & 3rd, a label set up early in 1986 by David and Stephen Pastel with help from Sandy McLean. Named after the Ramones classic, the imprint proved highly influential across the globe with releases including singles by BMX Bandits, The Vaselines and Beat Happening. This is Safety Net:

Shop Assistants quickly moved again, this time signing to Blue Guitar – a subsidiary of Chrysalis with an A&R input from Geoff Travis and Mayo Thompson of Texan cult band The Red Crayola – where they issued their sole album before falling apart, although, with a changed line-up they did re-emerge for a while, signing this time to another Scottish independent, Avalanche – with David Keegan afterwards going on to perform a stint with The Pastels.


This is the frenetic version of All Day Long (although I prefer the slower version myself):

Nowadays, Shop Assistants usually get lumped under the C86 category, a (sub)genre description I’ve never been that comfortable with, albeit it beats terms like shambling, cutie or anorak.

And, no, I never scored very highly on any tweeometer, so no oversize cardies, anoraks or duffle coats for me let alone a bowl haircut – and no real nostalgia either for that innocence of childhood thing beloved by many of the independent acts of the time, although in the age of Thatcher, Reagan and AIDS, I suppose it’s easy to understand the impulse behind some musicians and fans wanting to retreat back into a more innocent world.

Neither was I ever someone guaranteed to get excited by that many so-called ‘C86’ acts.

A frenetic and fuzzboxy, Buzzcocks meets The Velvets rudimentary sound like Shop Assistants, then fuck yeah!

But a bunch of wilfully amateurish wimps with trebly guitars who saw it as an achievement to remain underachievers, nah, no thanks, although, saying that, nine times out of ten, I would still take that over the big and bombastic, super slick post-Live Aid commercialism of the era.

More Shop Assistants in 2017, folks.

Trivia: The catalogue numbering system employed by 53rd & 3rd, AGARR, was a nice touch in the 1980s independent world often accused of lacking any real ambition and where chutzpah from anybody outside Morrissey or the Mary Chain was often frowned upon, AGARR standing for ‘As Good As Ramones Records’.

New York, London, Paris, Wishaw

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Over the past week or so I’ve been to see The Jesus and Mary Chain performing Psychocandy in its entirety at the Barrowlands and watched Channel 4’s What We Wore: 80s Glasgow – The Outsiders.

Just like thirty years ago when I first saw the Mary Chain in their early days, their sound was often atrocious; unlike back then, though, they showed up bang on time and played a fairly lengthy set, launching immediately into an ‘encore’ before getting down to tackling their debut album in its original running order.

At least that’s the way I remember things as, just like 1985, I have to confess to overdoing the booze beforehand, although probably not to the extent that I would have when I once saw them play in Glasgow club, Daddy Warbucks, which also used to host the Splash One nights, the main subject of the Channel 4 doc.

Although I generally avoid Channel 4 nowadays due to some of the contemptible crap like Benefits Street they insist on cluttering up their schedules with, this was definitely worth a watch and is still available as I type on 4oD.

The interviewees were well chosen: no Reid brothers admittedly but their Barrowlands support act Rose McDowall appeared, as did Stephen Pastel, Thurston Moore and others, including the always entertaining Mr. Duglas T. Stewart, who should really have his own show. Preferably replacing Benefits Street.

Oh and the Griffin Bar on Bath Street got a couple of mentions, something I hadn’t envisaged ever happening in the course of any documentary. Was there a few weeks back but rather than any indie kid hang-out, the joint was rammed with middle aged women having a few G&Ts before heading over the road to the King’s Theatre to see the stage version of The Full Monty.

I could have did with another half an hour of The Outsiders although, on the minus side, one or two of folk did occasionally come close to the old cliché that punk didn’t arrive in Glasgow until years afterwards.

No punk scene in Glasgow in 1977?

Dear reader, there was even a punk scene in Wishaw.

And just like New York had CBCGs, London had The Roxy and Paris had Le Gibus, Wishaw had their own venue for punk music in the heady days of ’77, the Crown Hotel.

Okay, that last sentence could be described as a little jokey but it is undeniably true.

The moderately sized town of Wishaw in what is now known as North Lanarkshire lies around 15 miles to the south-east of Glasgow and it would have to be said it’s a fairly unremarkable place. When I interviewed Ming City R*ckers a few months ago, they took great pleasure in portraying their home town of Immingham as a hell-hole. One anonymous reader posted the following comment: ‘They’ve obviously never been tae Wishaw if they think their town is crap’.

The Jolt consisted of singer and guitarist Robbie Collins, Jim Doak on bass and Ian Sheddon on drums. Robbie and Ian were from Wishaw, Jim from neighbouring Shotts.

Fanzine Ripped and Torn showcased the band early in their career, Collins revealing that he’d jacked in Uni after a miserable couple of years there, while Doak had been kicked off his course at Glasgow Uni after failing everything two years running. Tut. Tut. Ian Sheddon meanwhile was writing the pop page for his local paper, the Wishaw Press, whose offices were handy for the Crown.

The three had known each other since their schooldays and began thinking of getting something together musically in the first half of 1975, a time by which Collins was already fed up with the direction that most music was taking.

Increasingly he found himself attracted to 60s R&B with Dr Feelgood’s Malpractice being one of the few contemporary records he loved.

As Collins told Ripped and Torn: ‘We played our first gig (as a trio) with more of a punk repertoire on Dec 2 [1976]. The punters were more interested in knocking hell out of each other & the cops arrived. We climaxed our set with a thundering “New Rose”’. He then explained: ‘The ‘new wave’ arrived at the best time coz it made us feel that we weren’t alone in what we were trying to do and it helped us to move our ideas into the seventies.’

Their second gig was played in front of only half a dozen punters in the Crown although they demonstrated enough potential to secure themselves a Saturday afternoon residency, where their set would showcase a mixture of their own tunes like Show Stoppers, Dire Straights and Decoyed along with some punk covers and some more punter friendly covers of songs by the likes of The Small Faces. They went on to play twenty straight gigs at the Crown, all the while building an audience.

The venue also witnessed the first appearance of The Skids outside Dunfermline; Johnny and The Self Abusers and Rev Volting and The Backstabbers made the short journey from Glasgow to play there too and another punky Wishaw outfit The Pests were regulars. The Glasgow Herald paid a visit to the hotel with a photographer in tow to take some snaps for their The Punk World feature (part of which is reproduced here, sorry for the state of the scan):

Glasgow Herald.The Punk Worldj

In another article in the summer of ’77, this time one from the Wishaw Press, titled It’s Punk – and we love it!, Jack Kerr, the hotel’s owner, spoke of the perceived gamble in allowing punk. ‘At first there were many small incidents, mainly the customary spitting among the audience, but I have this controlled and have no regrets that I gave the group a chance.’

By this point, dozens were being turned away due to the limited capacity of the Crown and The Jolt began to attract the attentions of some London record labels, quickly becoming the first Scottish punk or new wave act to sign with a major, Polydor, reportedly on a four year deal worth £90,000.

Polydor was already the home of another three-piece with passion for punk flavoured 60s R&B inspired songs, The Jam, and Paul Weller became a big fan of the Lanarkshire band, roping them in for support slots whenever possible and (later) even giving them a song of his called See Saw.

The Jam & The Jolt - Glasgow Apollo November 1977

Inevitably, The Jolt made the move south and while in London, were one of the acts filmed by Wolfgang Büld, a young German director who had just moved from Munich to Britain to make documentaries. Punk in London (which would surface in 1978) showcased the band with a short interview together with footage of them performing at the Red Cow on Hammersmith Road, where they belted out the song that would become their first vinyl offering: You’re Cold.

With the imminent release of the single, The Jolt embarked on some promotional gigs in London before returning again to Scotland where they fitted in a homecoming show at the Crown – this, though, didn’t go quite as planned and apparently near the end of their performance, the band walked off the stage and refused to play on after the Crown’s owner insisted that the audience stop dancing.

Jack Kerr suggested the band’s success might have gone to their heads and there was talk of a ban although the band could have easily claimed they’d outgrown the Crown anyway.

The Jolt faced more criticism after a proposed date at the Silver Thread in Paisley supposedly had to be cancelled following a sound check where it was declared they were too noisy although they did go on to play dates in Edinburgh at Clouds, followed by, on the same day, a lunchtime gig at the Isle of Skye Hotel in Perth then one at the Maryat in Dundee that evening.

A week after the Crown walk-off, You’re Cold was met with some less than sparking reviews. NME’s Steve Clarke summed up the track in fourteen scathing words: ‘Strictly third division punk from this Scots combo. Untidy and lacklustre playing. Flat production’, while Ian Birch in Melody Maker denounced the record as: ‘Two rapid songs full of identikit sentiment. Chris Parry’s production makes the experience even more drowsy.’

To be fair, the band themselves weren’t hugely impressed by Parry and Robbie would later accuse the producer of thinking it was still ’76; claiming the single sounded like a demo.

I reckon the critics were being very harsh though. See what you think, this is You’re Cold:

More on The Jolt in 2015.