Pedestrian At Best? (Best of 2015, Part Two)

Leave a comment

According to NME this has been a bumper year for brilliant albums but if you believe that then you probably also think that it’s been a brilliant year for NME. Nope, 2015 has been a mediocre (or should I say pedestrian?) year at best and I doubt that in decades to come many will argue with this assessment.

Put it this way, The Rezillos released their first album in 1978, a year that also saw these albums come out (and this is virtually off the top of my head):

Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model
Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music For Airports
The Jam: All Mod Cons
Bob Marley: Kaya
The Clash: Give ’Em Enough Rope
Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings & Food
Kate Bush: The Kick Inside
Siouxsie and The Banshees: The Scream
Buzzcocks: Another Music In A Different Kitchen & Love Bites
Kraftwerk: Man Machine
Magazine: Real Life
The Stranglers: Black & White
Giorgio Moroder: Midnight Express OST
PiL: First Edition
The Rolling Stones: Some Girls
Wire:  Chairs Missing
Blondie: Parallel Lines

All these years later and The Rezillos finally put out their outrageously belated second studio album Zero which, to digress, I liked a lot even though I felt it was overproduced at times and preferred the session the band recorded for Billy Sloan, back when Billy worked at Radio Clyde. Anyway, how many folk would claim that as many albums of the standard of that 1978 list have appeared in 2015?

Still, much good stuff has been released from January onwards, when I came out with the music blogger cliché that a track heard when the average person is still recovering from some festive season overindulgence might still be my favourite at the year’s end but I still absolutely adore Brown Eyes by The New Southern Electrikk (who now seem to be The New Southern Electric), although If I had to name a favourite, Kathryn Joseph’s The Bird might just edge it out.

Here’s the second instalment of my favourites:

The Rezillos: Tiny Boy From Outer Space
Thee Oh Sees: Web
Port Sulphur: Fast Boys & Factory Girls
C Duncan: Here to There

The New Southern Electrikk: Brown Eyes
Kathryn Joseph: The Bird
Courtney Barnett: Pedestrian At Best

Blur: Go Out
Belle and Sebastian: Enter Sylvia Plath
The Moon Kids: Ice Cream

For more on C Duncan click here.

For more on Courtney Barnett click here.

The Moon Kids play King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow tonight. For more on the band click here.

Top of the Pops & Hanging Around

Leave a comment

Here are The Rezillos performing Top of the Pops, not on Top of the Pops but Revolver.

The first Rezillos album Can’t Stand the Rezillos was released in July 1978 and like the single Top of the Pops, the album speedily made its way into the UK top twenty.

Within four months, though, the band had imploded.

Extraordinarily enough the second Rezillos studio album, Zero, is finally set to be released and is due out on March 10 via Philadelphia based Metropolis Records.

Anybody who has seen the band live in recent years or heard the session they recorded last summer for Billy Sloan will know that they sound surprisingly fresh and irresistible as ever. This is a band that clearly never lost the ability to whip up taut, hook-heavy gems like Tiny Boy and Groovy Room, songs that possess the same kind of clamorous energy that helped earn them their reputation all those years ago.

Stranglers March On Tour

The band is touring with The Stranglers in the UK this month including dates in Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Glasgow.

I saw both bands together at the Apollo back in 1977 and that night, Tory councillor Bill Aitkin, chairman of Glasgow District Council’s licensing committee and a group of fifteen or so committee members attended the event to monitor the behaviour (or misbehaviour) of ‘punk’ fans and to find out if punk concerts were suitable for the young people of the city. This kind of thing actually used to be depressingly common back then.

Not long into into the headliner’s set, Hugh Cornwell instructed the lighting crew to shine a spotlight up onto the balcony where the councillors were seated and made some disparaging remarks about them. The audience promptly booed them and you had to suspect that this might further give them the hump and the city’s unofficial punk ban would continue.

The next day the politicians got their say in the local press.

Talking about the dress sense of the crowd, Aitkin noted that some punks had shocked a number of his colleagues and claimed they resembled walking ironmonger shops with their chains and razor blades – obviously he had no idea of the amount of gear that the bouncers confiscated from fans during searches as they waited to enter the concert hall.

Aitkin also commented that the event was noisy and exuberant but at all times the fans had remained good natured, cheerful and ‘a credit to the city’. Apparently the council group even joined The Stranglers afterwards in their dressing room and had an enlightening discussion.

It was decided to finally welcome punk bands to the city.

The Stranglers have been playing Glasgow on a fairly regular basis ever since. Last year they fitted in a date at the O2 Academy during a sold out tour that celebrated their 40th anniversary. This time round the band will be at the same venue where they intend to dip into some of the less obvious music from their seventeen albums worth of material. The show has already sold out.

This is the song that was pencilled in to become the third Stranglers single although Something Better Change was eventually chosen instead. This is Hanging Around:

Here’s the Facebook page of The Rezillos. For The Stranglers’ Facebook page, click here.

Independent Scotland #4


Human League Being Boiled

The Human League: Being Boiled (1978) Fast Product
In a Melody Maker interview back in February 1979, Martyn Ware of The Human League mentioned that the band were more influenced by films than by they were rock, claiming he’d rather see a good film than a good rock band. In the cinema, ‘You’re part of the experience. Whereas, watching a rock band, it’s just some guys up on a stage.’

When a tour (due to take in Edinburgh and Aberdeen) was later announced supporting Talking Heads, it became apparent that The Human League didn’t see themselves as your standard guys up on a stage kinda band.

Their idea for the show was a multimedia extravaganza, utilizing their new synchronization units that meant they could operate slides in sync with each song. The problem with the plan as far as Talking Heads (not exactly backwards looking dinosaurs themselves) were concerned was the fact that while each member of The Human League would be at the gig, rather than being the centre of attention, they would supposedly be in the audience, hopefully discussing the automated events on stage and signing autographs.

The idea got the band dropped from the tour although they wanted to press ahead with the concept and even expand it.

As their manager Bob Last explained to NME: ‘It’s cost us a lot of money to set up and now we have audio-visuals, tape memory banks – in fact, the whole gist of the show – just sitting in boxes and waiting to go.’

Last outlined the potential of the show and spoke of creating a version for discos rather than rock concerts. ‘There are various other avenues to be explored. For example, I think it would be the ideal support for Alien, or a film of that nature.’

After the comparative failure of second album Travelogue, tensions within the band increased; eventually singer Phil Oakey decided that he wanted to sack Ware, Ian Craig Marsh wasn’t keen on the idea and the pair quit and teamed up on a new project to be known as the British Electric Foundation (BEF).

Remaining members Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright retained The Human League name, although they had to be convinced by Bob Last to do so. The music press didn’t see much of a future for a band with only a singer and director of visuals (even if Wright had started playing incidental keyboards). And you could hardly blame them.

Oakey, though, came up with a possible solution to enable a forthcoming European tour to still go ahead. His plan to fill in the gap left by Marsh and Ware revolved largely around the recruitment of two schoolgirls, Suzanne Sulley (17) and Joanne Catherall (18), who he’d spotted on the dancefloor at the Crazy Daisy’s ‘Futurist’ night in Sheffield although he also additionally employed a professional keyboard player, Ian Burden.

Neither girl had any kind of remarkable singing voice and neither was that great at dancing either. If the pair had time-travelled thirty odd years forward and showed up at an X-Factor audition, they would likely be dismissed as no-hopers.

Luckily the pop buying masses of 1981 didn’t require performers with touching ‘backstories’ on Saturday night TV, neither did they require anyone to have been coached by professionals to perform pointless vocal gymnastics or to display a look that had been (supposedly) ‘styled’ to perfection by somebody with no sense of originality or indeed style.

Having seen the new look League on Top of the Pops miming to Sound of the Crowd, the pop buying masses decided they actually liked the caked-on mascara, beauty spots and lippy and the slightly awkward and un-coordinated dance routines. Generally, girls identified with them while boys fancied them.

The Face Sept 1981 Human League Smash Hits 1981

Joanne and Suzanne soon became the poster girls for synth-pop but Bob Last, in particular, judged the band could be improved further by the addition of one final and vital ingredient, another professional musician, after Ian Burden temporarily left post-tour.

It might have appeared that the ex-guitarist of the retro obsessed Rezillos and the futuristic Human League had little in common bar sharing the same manager but in April 1981, Jo Callis was invited to become a permanent member, the idea being even stranger if you bear in mind Callis’ confession that he had never been near a keyboard in his life.

The first Human League album with the new line-up, Dare was released in October, 1981 and quickly made its way to the top of the UK album charts. By Christmas it had gone platinum in Britain, its number one status equalled by a single that Phil Oakey hadn’t wanted released, Don’t You Want Me – he only agreed finally on the condition that a large colour poster accompanied the 45, otherwise, he felt, fans would feel ripped off by the ‘substandard’ single alone.

Co-written by Callis, Oakey and Wright, the ‘substandard’ single went on to become one of the UK’s biggest ever selling songs*, the British Christmas number one of 1981 and also later an American #1 too and a worldwide smash.

And here I finally get round to the Scottish independent labels part of the post. Due to the success of Don’t You Want Me, the first ever Human League single, Being Boiled, which had been originally released during the summer of 1978 on Bob Last’s Edinburgh based Fast Product label, was made available again and this time entered the top ten of the singles charts, where it should have been first time around. For me it’s a much better record than Don’t You Want Me. See what you think:

And if anybody is wondering, this is only the first of a number of entries in this series looking at Fast Product, so I will get round to writing more on the actual label in the future. Honestly.

* It even re-entered the charts here a couple of months ago after being taken up by Aberdeen fans in the run up to their team winning the Scottish League Cup.

For more on The Human League: Official Site

Independent Scotland #2

1 Comment

Rezillos - I Can't Stand My Baby Cover

The Rezillos: I Can’t Stand My Baby/I Wanna Be Your Man (1977) Sensible Records
Back in the mid 1970s, Scottish record labels were few and far between and those in existence tended to cater for was often derided as the haggis and heather market, think bearded men in Aran knits singing folk songs from a bygone age and men in kilts blasting away on bagpipes.

This all changed when punk came along and a new breed of independents like Zoom, Fast, Boring, No Bad and Sensible emerged. According to Lenny Love, the man behind Sensible, his new venture was ‘the first Scottish label that has anything to do with rock at all’.

Love, who was Island Record’s Scottish rep, had been searching for an act to launch his label for some time and, with The Rezillos, he found the most exciting new group in the country and the ideal vehicle to get his idea off and running.

Inspired after he’d met up with Captain Sensible of The Damned, Love registered the name Sensible Records in March 1977. ‘Because we are new, I suppose we are new wave but that doesn’t make us punk,’ he explained to the Glasgow Herald that summer. ‘Sensible is prepared to record anything – folk, country, rock – anything, providing it is good enough of its kind.’

The label’s first release was recorded in Edinburgh’s Barclay Towers studio. One side was a composition by guitarist Luke Warm, which he suspected might almost be a joke when he first wrote it. Luckily his fellow Rezillos managed to persuade him to the contrary and the anti-love song I Can’t Stand My Baby immediately became the highlight of many a Rezillos concert.

For the 45, it was accompanied by Lennon and McCartney’s far less interesting I Wanna Be Your Man and advertised as a ‘double B side’ although Sensible had been trumped on that particular marketing gimmick by Stiff, who’d recently issued the Tyla Gangs’ Styrofoam and Texas Chain Saw Massacre Boogie in a plain white sleeve stamped: ‘Artistic breakthrough! Double B-side’.

Propelled by a relentless and incredibly nimble bass-line from Dr. D.K. Smythe, I Can’t Stand My Baby (Fab1) was one of the finest high-octane singles to ever to make its way out of Scotland and it was reviewed very favourably across the board in the music press. Ian Birch in Melody Maker even referred to it later as a ‘masterpiece’.

As I Can’t Stand My Baby hit record shop shelves in August of 1977, the band gigged relentlessly across Scotland, including a date in Paisley’s Silver Thread, where the Glasgow Punk scene had been exiled to due to a clampdown from the council on punk gigs taking place within that city’s boundaries – but that’s another story.

Rezillos Silver Thread 17 8 77

The band were also confirmed to be taking part in the forthcoming Edinburgh Rock Festival, which would also include other new wave acts including Chelsea, The Cortinas and fellow Scots The Jolt and, early in August, they were featured in Melody Maker’s On the Crest of a Wave series on up-and-coming bands, such as X-Ray Spex, the Adverts and Generation X.

The future looked bright for The Rezillos. And Sensible.

Within a month of the single’s release, Seymour Stein, the head honcho of Sire Records sent Sensible a telegram (remember them?) requesting more information on the band and they weren’t the only label expressing an interest but plans began anyway for what was intended to be FAB 2: (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures coupled with Flying Saucer Attack.

That was never to be though. Stein was interested enough to travel across the Atlantic to see The Rezillos live – and he was (along with me) part of a 3,000 plus crowd at the Glasgow Apollo that gave The Rezillos a wild and wonderful reception during their support slot for The Stranglers that October. It was a performance that finally convinced him to make the band an offer and The Rezillos notched up a first; no other British punk or new wave act at that point had yet signed directly to an American label.

Many have assumed over the years that that the Edinburgh label died with their defection to Sire but Sensible continued briefly, releasing one final 45 by a band, Neon, who’d shared a stage many times with The Rezillos.

Neon were from the North East of England, contemporaries of Penetration and Punishment of Luxury, and in the early spring of 1978, they entered Durham’s Guardian Studios where, co-produced by Terry Gavaghan and someone known as ‘the Lovely Lenny’, they recorded Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere and two other tracks that would became FAB 3.

They found a fan in Tony Visconti, producer of Bowie, Bolan and later Morrissey; guesting as Singles Reviewer in Melody Maker, he described Neon as: ‘thinking people’s rock. A very solid group who delight in fidgeting with the fabric of time.’

The record did reasonably well, persuading John Peel to give the band a session on his radio show and helping them find a deal with Radar but that was the end of Sensible – unless you count the re-release of I Can’t Stand My Baby in 1979 under the moniker of Sensible Mk 2, which, to put it rather mildly, The Rezillos weren’t entirely happy about.

For more on The Rezillos:
& on Neon:

Once Upon a Time in Satellite City

1 Comment

The First Half: Once Upon a Time in Satellite City

Tonight Scotland play Belgium in a World Cup qualifier and, no matter the result, they won’t be at next summer’s finals in Brazil, in fact, out of the 53 teams taking part in the various European qualifying sections, Scotland were the first country to be mathematically ruled out of that particular, always rather remote possibility, ahead even of San Marino and the Faroe Islands.

If you want to back Scotland to beat the Belgians at Hampden, my local bookmaker is offering odds of 4/1 but even though the recently appointed manager Gordon Strachan has implemented some immediate and obvious improvements, I really wouldn’t advise you to lump your life savings on that one. Or any money at all for that matter.

Rewind to 1977 though and things were very, very different for Scotland as far as football was concerned. The team then consisted of big name footballers from the top English clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Leeds, along with the elite of Scotland’s old First Division. Aston Villa’s Andy Gray, who in 1976–77 became the first footballer ever to be voted PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year in the same season, struggled to make squads, let alone secure a place in the starting eleven.

Kenny Dalglish and Joe Jordan were banging in the goals and finishing top of their qualifying group for the 1978 World Cup ahead of reigning European champions Czechoslovakia and a very strong Wales side was even expected rather than just hoped for.

The day immediately after they sealed their place in Argentina by beating Wales 2-0, this advert, for an event that had obviously been planned some time before the previous night’s tricky away game, appeared in the Evening Times:

Satellite City Victory Dance

Satellite City was the venue above the Glasgow Apollo previously known as Clouds, which had been seen as an ideal gig for up and coming pop, soul and disco acts who would maybe struggle to attract a big enough crowd to make a sizeable dent in the 3000+ capacity Apollo downstairs. Salvation (later to become Slik) were regulars and others who played there included Edinburgh glam rockers Iron Virgin and, before they had become chart toppers, The Bay City Rollers.

In 1977 though, Clouds moved with the times, rebranding itself late that summer as Satellite City. Suddenly a new breed of band like The Rezillos and The Zones began appearing and gradually more and more bands that could be described as punk or new wave such as Magazine, Wayne County and The Electric Chairs and Elvis Costello were booked to perform and Satellite City quickly established itself as the nearest thing the city was ever to have to a Liverpool Eric’s or the Electric Circus in Manchester.

Many new young local outfits were offered support slots for these acts; the very under-rated The Exile and Matt Vinyl and the Decorators both supported Sham 69 at different shows, some believed The Skids actually upstaged headliners Magazine and The Valves certainly gave The Pirates a run for their money. The singer of Bearsden’s Nu-Sonics, Edwyn Collins later penned a track called Satellite City that partly recalled the time early in 1978 when they played on the same bill as The Backstabbers, Simple Minds and reggae act Black Slate.

Satellite City was also later one of two Scottish venues chosen to host the Farewell to the Roxy tour but by this point the news had been announced that, like the London club, it would be closing down itself – along with the Apollo, which was to be converted into a bingo hall (something I’ll maybe cover in a later post).

The second of these Roxy tour dates actually took place on the day that the Scottish squad touched down in Gatwick on their way home from Argentina.

Farewell to the Roxy

The Second Half: Once Upon a Time in Argentina

After that Victory Dance at Satellite City, expectations that Scotland would go far at the World Cup had grown dramatically in a blaze of hype.

Largely the mood of optimism was down to team boss Ally MacLeod. Ally, a man who thought wearing a safari suit was a good idea, was as far from the stereotype of the dour Scottish manager as it was possible to get and he was never going to be accused of downplaying the chances of any team he took charge off.

Asked what he planned to do after he had won the World Cup, MacLeod gave a chutzpah overloaded two word reply that I doubt even Brian Clough or Bill Shankly ever matched. ‘Retain it’.

Very strange things began happening in Scotland during the run up to Argentina: many grown men decided to have their hair permed in emulation of stars like Alan Rough, Graeme Souness and Derek Johnstone. Over 25,000 punters paid money to give the squad a Gala Send–Off at Hampden Park before they flew off to Cordoba – this consisted of the inevitable pipe band and the squad waving to fans from an open-top bus which trundled round the edges of the pitch and then the squad waving to fans again from the bus as it repeated  its journey. Bizarrely this was televised live on STV as Argentina Here We Come!

Maybe strangest of all, enough folk also bought copies of Andy Cameron’s boak inducing dirge Ally’s Tartan Army, backed by the equally awful I Want To Be A Punk Rocker, to put the record in the UK Top Ten.

Some people really did get it into their heads that the team might just bring the biggest trophy in world football back to Scotland. You don’t believe me? Here. Have a look at this (and, no, I didn’t Photoshop in ‘World Cup Winners’):

World Cup Winners

There was even a T-shirt advertised in NME and elsewhere, based on the Lipsmackin’ Pepsi TV ads of the time:

Argentina T-shirt

To be fair, it wasn’t just Ally that was bumming up his side, there was no shortage of well respected football men willing to say nice things about us. Helmut Schön, for instance, the manager of defending champions West Germany, had been mightily impressed after watching the Scots, predicting that if they emerged out of their group: ‘There’s no telling how far they might go’.  

Of course, Scotland arrived home at the first opportunity having failed to pulp Peru or really irritate Iran let alone slaughter Spain or annihilate Argentina. The games against Peru and Iran were both dismal affairs and were accompanied by a drugs scandal, high profile fallouts with the media, a trio of players being banned from ever representing their country again but also a famous, breathtaking victory over one of the tournament favourites Holland that included one of the greatest goals ever scored. Thank you, Archie.

Ally’s side narrowly failed to qualify from their group on goal difference and before he made it back to Glasgow, there were already rumours he’d resigned (false) and that the SFA wanted Jock Stein to replace him (true).

He would only ever manage Scotland for one more match. In his 1979 autobiography, The Ally MacLeod Story, he reflected: ‘I am a very good manager who just happened to have a few disastrous days, once upon a time, in Argentina.’

‘50,000 bands. One disgusting bathroom.’

Leave a comment

Coming soon to a cinema near you, CBGB the Movie:


Filmed in New York, CBGB is directed by Randal Miller, who also co-wrote the script along with Jody Savin. The movie will debut on September 5 on America’s DirecTV and will air there for a month before starting its theatrical release in America on the 11th of October. The British release will hopefully follow on soon afterwards.

Alan Rickman plays venue owner Hilly Kristal and CBGB regular and founding editor of Punk magazine John Holmstrom believes the role might just bring an award or two for him. Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins plays Iggy Pop, Rupert Grint plays Cheetah Chrome of The Dead Boys and Patti Smith is portrayed by Mickey Sumner, whose dad Gordon’s band will be featured in the film too, along with a whole bunch of acts who are undoubtedly much more usually associated with the iconic Bowery club like The Ramones, Television and Talking Heads.

CBGB Poster

A number of Scottish bands were among those supposed 50,000 bands who played sets there over the years from The Rezillos, who fitted in a gig while recording Can’t Stand The Rezillos at the Power Station Studios, through to Teenage Fanclub and The Fuse as well as – and I’m not kidding here – The Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, who played a rock and roll inspired set back in 2005 in the same week they performed at the Tartan Week Parade in New York.

CBGB, the venue, opened in late 1973 and was forced to close in October 2006 although the club the venue did unofficially transplant itself to Glasgow in May of 1977 when Talking Heads and The Ramones played at Strathclyde Uni while Blondie and Television played the Apollo the following evening. I’ll post a piece later on ‘The Weekend CBGB came to Glasgow’ to coincide with the film’s British release.