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A Map Reference, Two Virginia Plains & A Tea Painting in an Illusionistic Style

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Last week, on his Monday night show on Radio Scotland, Vic Galloway interviewed Wire’s Colin Newman and Graham Lewis. They spoke about supporting Roxy Music in 1979 and how it would have been a far more exciting prospect had it been the Eno era band. ‘That would have been something worth seeing,’ Newman commented.

A wee bit of an understatement I think.

Wire and Roxy’s former electronics maestro had a number of connections, from the days when the student Colin Newman cadged lifts to Watford College of Art from Eno, who was employed as a part time lecturer there at the time, through to Eno expressing an interest in producing Wire. A fascinating what if?

Issued by EMI’s Harvest subsidiary in October 1979 and named NME Single of the Week, here is a live version on German TV’s Rockpalast of Map Ref 41°N 93°W, these co-ordinates referring to the location of the supposed geographic centre of the U.S.A, Centerville in Iowa.

1972 was a year that saw my interest in music move up a gear or two. It was a good time to be ten even if, sadly, my young tastes hadn’t yet stretched to albums like Ege Bamyasi, Superfly, Pink Moon, Neu! or #1 Record.

Believe me, though, I was more than happy with the conveyor belt of amazing singles being released by the likes of T.Rex, Bowie, Slade and Mott.

When Virginia Plain entered the British charts early that August, it joined Starman, All the Young Dudes and Hawkwind’s Silver Machine. Number 1 was Alice Cooper with School’s Out.

Many people have called Virginia Plain one of the best debut singles of all time but you can ditch the word ‘debut’ and the claim is still valid. Three minutes of thrillingly inventive experimental pop with surreal lyrics that still make little sense to me, although I know now that Robert E. Lee was Roxy’s lawyer and that Baby Jane Holzer was a Warhol superstar.

In other words they make more sense to me than those Wire lyrics on the subject of cartography.

I also learned somewhere along the line that the song’s title comes directly from a painting that Bryan Ferry produced while studying art in Newcastle – where his tutor was Richard Hamilton, a man who could lay claim to being the inventor of Pop Art.

Many critics have mentioned Andy Warhol as an influence on this particular Ferry painting but although around this time he was pally with guys like Mark Lancaster, who’d been introduced to Warhol by Hamilton and seen The Velvet Underground perform as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia happenings in New York, I reckon David Hockney’s work from the early 1960s such as his Tea paintings are more likely to have been on Ferry’s mind when he got busy with his paint brushes. Loosely sketched human figure (check), product packaging (check) and hand drawn lettering (check).

Here’s Virginia Plain and A Tea Painting in an Illusionistic Style:

Virginia_Plain_&_Tea_Painting_in_an_Illusionistic_Style

To hear the Wire interview if you live in Britain (you have 22 days left to listen): https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b582s3

Bryan Ferry plays the Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow on Tuesday 31 July. I think I’ll save myself the 77 quid price tag on the tickets though.

For more on Bryan Ferry: http://bryanferry.com/

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An English Post-Punk Top Ten

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Okay, inspired by the Post-Punk Top Ten recently selected by Jeremy Thoms of the Cathode Ray for Louder Than War, here’s my own list of favourites from England with a Scottish post-punk top ten to follow. Yes, this is a lazy post but with plenty of very fine music I’m sure you’ll agree.

Magazine: The Light Pours Out of Me (1978)

Greenock’s John McGeoch was very possibly the greatest guitarist of the post-punk era but – as you will see from this video – not much shakes at miming. This was the opening song played by the reformed Magazine when they played the O2 in Glasgow in 2009, a show where Noko substituted for McGeoch on guitar; the Magazine, Visage, Banshees, Armoury Show and PiL man having sadly died in 2004.

Pete Shelley: Homosapien (1981)

Produced by Pete along with Martin Rushent, who also produced the first three Buzzcocks albums, the first three Stranglers albums and Dare by The Human League. This single stands right up there with all those. Pete, incidentally, is photographed on the Homosapien album cover wearing some dapper threads and sitting in front of a Commodore PET computer, which makes me think how technology has accelerated wildly over the past three and a half decades, while this track still sounds relatively contemporary.

The Slits: Heard It Through the Grapevine (1979)

Do covers of classic Motown tracks count as post punk? Yes, because I say so.

PiL: Public Image (1978)

Based on a book written by Edinburgh author Muriel Spark which John Lydon described in his recent autobiography as: ‘A very small book, but it’s a great storyline, about how the publicity machine turns an average actress into a monstrous diva and she wrecks everyone around her. I didn’t want that happening with me or my imagery.’

The Passions: I’m in Love with a German Film Star (1981)

Written about former Sex Pistols and Clash roadie Steve Connolly aka Roadent, who moved to Germany where – you’ve guessed it – he acted in several films although I’m not sure if he could really be described as a ‘star’. The Passions are often categorised as one hit wonders but they deserve better than that.

Joy Division: Transmission (1979)

If anybody knows of a more intense performance caught on TV please get in touch and let me know about it.

Lori and The Chameleons: Touch (1979)

Bit of a curveball here. Released on the Zoo label as we were getting ready to wave goodbye to the seventies, these Chameleons were apparently Dave Balfe and Bill Drummond but as for Lori, I can’t tell you anything about her although I’m guessing she is still likely mystified why this single didn’t sell a whole lot more copies.

Wire: Map Ref 41°N 93°W (1979)

The best track on an LP (154) that Nick Kent in NME suggested was the album that Bowie and Eno set out to make when they worked on Lodger. Map Ref 41°N 93°W is also the best song ever about a cartographer.

Sad Lovers & Giants: Imagination (1981)

One of the rules of compiling a list like this seems to be that at least one obscurity must be chosen. Who are Sad Lovers & Giants? I hear some of you ask. The Cure influenced Sound of Young Watford, that’s who.

The Cure: All Cats Are Grey (1981)

And finally The Cure themselves, a band that I’ve not followed very closely for decades now but whose first three albums I will always love.

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On another day these might have been included: Colin Newman: I’ve Waited Ages / The Fall: Lie Dream of a Casino Soul / Mo–Dettes: White Mice / Gang of Four: To Hell With Poverty / Wild Swans: Revolutionary Spirit / Siouxsie and The Banshees: Spellbound.

The Ex-Lion Tamer, Ex-Lion Tamer & The Ex-Lion Tamers

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SAHB Boston Tea Party

Released at the end of May 1976 on Mountain Records, Boston Tea Party gave The Sensational Alex Harvey Band their first outright hit since their rambunctious cover of Delilah the previous summer. The single didn’t quite match Delilah’s top ten chart position – It peaked at #13 – but it did hang around longer in the singles charts and gave Harvey the chance to appear a couple of times on Top of the Pops. This being the first of those two appearances.


Harvey was, by this point, attracting fans across Britain, North America, Europe and Australia. Even Iggy Pop, a bravura live performer himself of course, was taken aback by Harvey’s often outlandish onstage antics as was the young Nick Cave who still customarily namechecks Harvey whenever he plays Glasgow, going as far I’m told, as to dedicate the entire Grinderman Barrowlands set in 2010 to the memory of Alex.

Maybe more surprisingly, the teenage Robert Smith was a fanatical follower of SAHB, and saw them on numerous occasions during the 1970s. In a feature in Rolling Stone (Australia) just over twenty years ago, he explained: ‘People talk about Iggy Pop as the original punk, but certainly in Britain the forerunner of the punk movement was Alex Harvey. His whole stage show with the graffiti-covered brick walls – it was like very aggressive Glaswegian street theatre.’

Whether any of the members of Wire were SAHB fans I have no idea. Colin Newman apparently wrote the original lyrics of the following track about a lion tamer – a profession Harvey famously liked to claim he’d once been himself – but Graham Lewis judged the lyrics to be substandard and replaced most of Newman’s words with his own. All references to any lion tamer were excised, hence the song’s new title, Ex-Lion Tamer.

Very Wire.


And finally, a quick mention may as well be made here of the band The Ex- Lion Tamers, formed by rock critic Jim DeRogatis specifically to cover Pink Flag in its entirety and in the exact order of the Wire LP.

Wire would later hire the band to act as their support on an American tour.

Again very Wire.

Wire & A Band Called Dot Dash (The Sequel)

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A few months ago while I was just about to start work on a post on Wire’s Three Girl Rhumba for my 7×7:77 series, I was contacted by a Washington DC band who’d taken their name from another Wire track, Dot Dash. Well, coincidences happen, don’t they?

The band got in touch again last week, asking me if I would like to share a track from their Half Remembered Dream album on the blog.

The email arrived just as I was thinking of a new post that would include a couple of tracks that hadn’t made my 30 Favourite Tracks of the Year list but which maybe should have.

And the tracks that I’d been thinking of posting?

One I’ll feature in my next post after this; the other, again by coincidence, was Wire’s very fine Re-Invent Your Second Wheel from their tenth album Change Becomes Us.

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With a sonic palette that straddles power-pop, post-punk and indie rock, Half Remembered Dream was one of my favourite albums of 2013, an impressively lean collection of ten immaculately crafted nuggets that seldom nudge past the three minute mark. The album is rich with hooks, punchy riffs, bristling basslines and plaintive melodies and it’s a mystery to me why it didn’t make far more Best of the Year lists.

Here’s Shopworn Excuse available as a free download from Bandcamp.

And this is The Past Is Another Country from their second album, Winter Garden Light, released in 2012 by The Beautiful Music:

 
And finally, some more live Wire from thirty five years ago when they appeared on the long running German TV music show Rockpalast. No, not the track Dot Dash but instead the hypnotic French Film Blurred from 1978’s Chairs Missing:


 

Three Girl Rhumba & A Band Called Dot Dash

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7x7 1977

Wire: Three Girl Rhumba (Pink Flag)

Think of a number, divide it by two / something is nothing, nothing is nothing.

OK, another new series – and, yeah, the blog has went a little series crazy in the past week or so, hasn’t it?

7×7:1977, you won’t be surprised to discover, will consist of 49 tracks from 1977 and with Wire about to start a tour in less than a week’s time that will take in Turkey, Israel, Finland, Poland and America, I thought I’d kick things off with the third track on their debut album.

‘Pink Flag is very much about the climate of the time: about 1977, about punk rock’, Wire’s singer/guitarist Colin Newman reflected in Wilson Neate’s book Pink Flag (33 1/3). ‘But it’s not a punk record. It’s about giving punk a good kicking using the tools of punk. It was very much about not being like the Sex Pistols or the Clash – or another rock band.’

Three Girl Rhumba is my favourite track on Pink Flag and contains the one Wire guitar riff that everyone knows – even though they might well know it from Elastica’s Connection.

For over three decades I had no idea what had inspired Three Girl Rhumba: like many other Wire compositions the title sounded like an impenetrable crossword clue and the lyrics made little sense to me but then, again through Neate’s book on the album (which I’d definitely recommend), I finally discovered it was apparently a love song.

As Newman explained: ‘There were three girls and there really was a choice and I ended up with the one who was ‘the impossible’: there was one I kind of wanted to be with, but it wasn’t going to happen; there was another who wanted to be with me, and I didn’t want to be with her and then suddenly Annette entered the picture. She was so impressive and amazing and I succeeded. It was like pulling off the impossible.’

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Over the years the influence of Wire has continued to manifest itself, from the aforementioned Elastica, Blur and Menswe@r – who Allmusic claimed sounded ‘more like Wire than Elastica, only funnier, even if it may be unintentional’ – through Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads and across the Atlantic to LCD Soundsystem and Liars.

Dot Dash, a Washington D.C.quartet, borrowed their name from Wire’s third single but few Wireisms were discernable on their first two albums, spark>flame>ember>ash (2011) and Winter Garden Light (2012).

The band got in touch with the blog to send me their new video for A Light in The Distance, a song from their recently released (third) album Half-Remembered Dream and I’m very glad they did.

Available now on Canadian indie label, The Beautiful Music, the album is crammed full of melodic but dynamic gems and could feature in a number of end of year best-of lists, including my own. I’ve only had the chance to listen to Half-Remembered Dream a couple of times so far but I’m already convinced it’s one of the finest American albums of 2013.

Louder Than War agree and have just declared them ‘your next favourite riff sodden but also tune filled band’ and here is that video of the guys performing a short sharp slice of Buzzcocks meet Hüsker Dü noisy pop:

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And here’s a free download for A Light in The Distance (via Bandcamp).

Dot Dash Half-Remembered Dream

Half-Remembered Dream is available to buy as a download via Bandcamp, iTunes, eMusic, Amazon and from The Beautiful Music.

For more on Dot Dash: Facebook