Sunday, September 27, 2020

In Praise Of The Style Council

There were undoubtedly quite a few tears shed when Paul Weller disbanded The Jam at the height of their success in '82, and a fair amount of antagonism towards The Style Council when they released their debut single, Speak Like A Child, the following year. Although I was only a young teenager when The Style Council released said debut I was hooked instantly. To do this day, Speak Like A Child is still one of my all time favourite debut singles. I loved The Jam, but was a tad too young when they started out. My introduction to them was round about the Eton Rifles/Going Underground stage of their career and then I worked my way backwards to In The City. When I started secondary school there was "The Mod Corner" where I longed to be, but don't think new starts at the school were given admission to this exclusive club.

Over a period of six years the band released five albums and a fair number of great singles, most notably You're The Best Thing, Walls Come Tumbling Down, Long Hot Summer and the aforementioned Speak Like A Child. Toward the end of The Jam it was obvious that Weller's ambitions were far beyond what he was releasing with The Jam and that he was already moving in a new direction. At the time most people could not understand why he walked away from Britain's most popular band at the time, but listening now to the back catalogue of The Style Council it was the right decision and makes perfect sense now. The Style Council also allowed him to let his hair down and have some fun. The video for Long Hot Summer being a perfect example of his new found freedom. 

And to think he was only around twenty-four or so at the time. Brave decision for a young guy, turns out he always had a wise head. Not sure that Bruce Foxton or Rick Buckler would agree, but those wonderful Style Council records would likely never have been made if he hadn't had the guts to walk away when he did. 



Sunday, September 20, 2020

Stop The Rain

I don't know too much about The Suede Crocodiles apart from that they featured a pre-solo Kevin McDermott and that in 1983 they released their one and only single, the insanely catchy Stop The Rain. With that track they caught the attention of Nick Heyward, who took them on his first solo tour as his support act. He was also touted to produce the follow up single, Paint Yourself A Rainbow, but that single never saw the light of day as Kevin opted for a solo career. Another of those Scottish bands from that era that were releasing awesome pop songs that were largely ignored south of the border. It was very much the kind of track you could imagine hearing on the likes of Kid Jensen or Janice Long's Radio 1 shows or Mark Goodear's show on Clyde. Quality pop that has aged surprisingly well.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Stir It Up

Following on from last week's Studio One post, today's post focusses on the premier UK reggae label, Trojan Records. The label was instrumental in introducing reggae to a global audience and by 1970 had secured a series of major UK chart hits from the likes of Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff and The Maytals. Pick up any reggae compilation album and you'll instantly see the influence of Trojan. Founded in 1968 when Lee Gopthal, who operated the Musicland record retail chain and owned Beat And Commercial Records. pooled his Jamaican music interests with those of Chris Blackwell's Island Records, the label was also a huge influence on the skinhead culture of the 60's and 70's. As with Studio One, the success of bands such as The Specials and Madness sparked a renewed interest in Trojan in the late 70's that brought many of their classic tunes to a new audience.

Reggae without Trojan would be likes soul without Stax, with a back catalogue to match any label. The cultural impact of Trojan has shaped the world we live in and thankfully most of the music released on the label over the years is still available thanks to those lovely people at Sanctuary Records. 

One of the earliest releases on Trojan was The Wailers, with the original version of the classic Stir It Up. Released in 1968, it was an early indicator of just how good The Wailers would become. Written for his wife Rita, after Bob's eight-month absence from Jamaica in 1966, staying with his mother in Delaware, it went on to become one of their most loved songs, in no small part due to their spellbinding appearance on The Whistle Test. 




Thursday, September 10, 2020

Studio One

Known to some as the Motown Of Jamaica, Studio One was was involved with most of the major music movements in Jamaica during the 1960s and 1970s, including ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub and dancehall. Studio One discovered many reggae artists that went onto to become legends throughout the world, most notably The Wailers whose early recordings were released on the label founded in the early 60's by the one and only Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd. 

Also on the label were The Skatelites of  Guns Of Navarone fame. They were also the house band, playing on releases by the likes of Prince Buster and on The Wailers debut single Simmer Down. Like many others of a certain age my introduction to The Skatelites was through The Specials, in particular the Too Much Too Young E.P. Fast forward a few years and I was discovering these wonderful old reggae and ska songs that had such an influence on the 2 Tone bands here in Britain. Through John Peel and Ital Riddims in Glasgow I was hearing, and starting to buy, these records that were made thousands of miles away in Jamaica but spoke to something in me. 

The world of music owes a huge debt to Clement Dodd, without whom much of this music may never have seen the light of day, and to the 2 Tone bands of the 80's who revitalised it for a younger generation.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Big Gold Dreams

Released in 2019, Big Gold Dreams documents the vibrant independent music scene that emerged in Scotland in the late 70's and 80's. Named after (The) Fire Engines single and Grant McPhee's fascinating documentary of the same name it includes many of the Scottish music scene's most important names as well as countless lesser known bands.

One of the many bands included are Article 58 with their fast and frantic debut single Event To Come. Echoes of fellow Scots Josef K are evident in their only single released in '81, which was co-produced by Josef K guitarist Malcolm Ross and Postcard boss Alan Horne. Cited by Davey Henderson as an influence on (The) Fire Engines, it's one of those tracks that has kinda got lost in the midst of time but thanks to Big Gold Dreams it can be heard once again in all its glory. Article 58 was the first band of Douglas MacIntyre who now runs the wonderful Creeping Bent label (think Nectarine No. 9, Secret Goldfish, Monica Queen) and has also played in countless Scottish bands including Love and Money, The Sexual Objects, The Jazzatears and his latest project Port Sulphur. 

Port Sulphur are a bit of a who's who of Scottish music, featuring members of The Bluebells, Aztec Camera and Orange Juice amongst many others. Recently released album, Compendium, runs the gamut from jangly pop rock through to synth driven tracks reminiscent of early Simple Minds and is one of the most varied albums you are likely to hear this year. What other album this year are you going to hear the likes of Alan Vega, Davey Henderson, Vic Godard and Ken McCuskey on. It is presented as a musical triptych - Biblioteca, Paranoic Critical and Companion Set - and is an album that you want to listen to from beginning to end. No pre-programming for this one, it is that rare beast that commands your attention from the moment you press play. 



Monday, September 7, 2020

Post Punk

I've often been asked in which era would I like to have been around in when I started going to gigs. Before I move onto that I was lucky that when I started going to gigs there were so many fantastic bands to see live. I started going to gigs when I was sixteen years old and within a few months of my first one I had seen the likes of The Ramones, New Order and The Stranglers at The Barrowland alongside bands like The Shop Assistants, The Wedding Present and The Pastels at smaller venues, usually one of the Glasgow Universities or Glasgow Tech. For the next few years barely a week or two went by without going to see someone perform live.

Much as I love that I saw many of these bands when they were just starting out, there is one period in particular for me that would have been the perfect one for me to have been about sixteen in and that is around 1978. Post Punk, New Wave, whatever you want to label it this is the period for me, followed by 2 Tone, The Mod Revival and early Orange Juice. The roll call includes the likes of Gang Of Four, Public Image, The Cure, The Bunnymen, Joy Division, The Fall and Magazine, The Specials, The Jam and Postcard Records.

For me, to have seen those bands in their early shows would have been something pretty special. That period from about '78 - '82 produced so mant great bands whose influence is still being felt today. Although short lived, here in Scotland we had two of the most influential independent labels of that time in Fast Product and Postcard. Without Fast would we have had Factory? Perhaps, but it was ceratainly an influence on Tony Wilson and Co. Fast boss Bob Last even jokingly said that Factory Records was Fast13.

Only twelve singles were released on Fast (including three samplers), but what a collection of singles. The Mekons, The Human League, Gang Of Four, Joy Division and The Dead Kennedys amongst them. Not too shabby for an independent label from Edinburgh. It may have only lasted a year or so but it set the template for others to follow. Just as Fast was winding down, over in Glasgow we had The Sound Of Young Scotland courtesy of the wonderful Postcard Records. Founded by the inimitable Alan Horne, initially as a vehicle for Orange Juice, it had a huge influence later on with the likes of the C86 bands. Like its East Coast predecessor, Postcard only released eleven singles from Orange Juice, Josef K, The Go Betweens and Aztec Camera before imploding.

One of the best descriptions I recall seeing to describe Post Punk was : "these were musicians interested in seeing where music could go". That seems a fairly decent description to me. Punk had limitations for most of the bands involved, whereas the bands that followed seemed to have no limitations, with much of the music still sounding like nothing before or since. 

It would have been great to have been sixteen at the start of R'n'R in the 50's, or the 60's when the world was introduced to the sounds of The Beatles, The Kinks and The Stones, or the early to mid 70's when Bowie was at his best, or '76/'77 when Punk was at its height, but '78 would have been the optimum year for me.

In saying all that I was incredibly lucky to have been sixteen when I was and to be in one of the best cities in the world for bands to play in. 


Thursday, September 3, 2020

Revolutionary Spirit

I've never really known where my love of music came from. Neither my mum, dad or older brother were that into music when I was growing up. It was unusual to hear much music in the house, apart from the occasional Crystal Gayle or Johnny Cash album that my parents would put on. I do recall at Christmas I would get the latest Jam or Blondie albums (usually from my grandparents) and my brother would get the latest Police album. So my brother did listen to music, but didn't really pursue that into adulthood. Whereas I couldn't get enough of it, and haven't stopped buying/listening to it since. Any pocket money I got went straight into the coffers of Impulse in East Kibride and as soon as I was able to I started a paper round with the primary aim of being able to buy music. As the 80's progressed most of the music I was hearing was via Peel and Kid Jensen. I pretty much organised my life round the radio and couldn't wait to get under the covers at 10pm and get my headphones in to hear what new delights Peel had in store for us. At my side was a reading light and pad and pen so I could write down the songs I would be asking for at Impulse at the weekend. As with most music obsessives I can pinpoint most times in my life to certain songs, but there will always be something special about these early tunes I heard/bought that started that lifelong love of music.

One of the earliest records I remember hearing on Peel was a one that has remained an all time favourite, the mighty Revolutionary Spirit. Still a cult favourite that many thought at the time would elevate The Wild Swans alongside their contemporaries Echo And The Bunnymen, it is also a track that reminds me each time I listen to it why I fell in love with music in the first place. 

Just  noticed that this is my 499th post on the blog, will have to think of something special for the next one...

Wednesday, September 2, 2020


Kitchenware Records was an independent record label based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, founded in '82 by Keith Armstrong, Paul Ludford and Phil Mitchell (not that Phil Mitchell, now that would have made for an interesting label). Home over the years to the likes of Editors, Prefab Sprout, Hurrah!, The Kane Gang and Martin Stephenson and The Daintees it was one of those rare labels that released quality material virtually at will. Much as I love all those above I have always had a soft spot for Hurrah! after seeing them on The Tube. They released 4 early singles on Kitchenware, including the mighty Gloria, before making that inevitable move to a major. Their major label debut album release failed to set the charts on fire, reaching a paltry number 71, but did include one of the best tracks of the 80's in Sweet Sanity. At the time I genuinely thought this track was going to a numero uno hit but yet again it was not to be. It did manage to get its video banned in parts of The States as it featured a couple of women holding hands which was apparently a tad too much for some parts of America in 1986. They also supported both U2 and Bowie in 1987, before going their seperate ways in 1991.

Well worth checking out for fans of 80's indie guitar bands, another of those many bands that should have been on TOTP every week but never quite achieved the success they should have.




Friday, July 24, 2020

Up For A Bit With The Pastels

Few bands are as integral to the Glasgow independent music scene as The Pastels. Formed in the early 80's they have steadfastly refused to conform to whatever the latest trends are and have always followed their own path. After a few singles throughout the 80's, including a single on Rough Trade, their timeless debut hit the shelves in 1987. Up For A Bit With The Pastels may not have set the charts alight but its enduring influence is still being felt today. Like The Velvet Underground's debut, Up For A Bit influenced pretty much everyone who bought it to form a band or get involved in some way with music. Cited as one of the must have albums by the likes of Sonic Youth, The Mary Chain and Yo La Tengo there is a certain naive quality to Up For A Bit that I have always found extremely endearing. Combining 60's classic pop with a DIY punk ethos it is an album that, for me, is one of the essential Scottish albums of the last 35 years. Many bands may be better known but nowhere near as influential as The Pastels.

I have had the pleasure of seeing the band live a few times, but the one that will always stand out for me was at Fury Murrys in '87 supported by the ever wonderful Vaselines, in what must have been one of their earliest gigs. I'm not sure if Stephen McRobbie himself had any idea at the time that they would still be releasing music almost 35 years later. Thank goodness they are as each new release just reaffirms how vital they are and continue to be. Long live The Pastels.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Spyres

Last night saw the first gig as a four piece for East Kilbride/Glasgow combo The Spyres and what a triumph it was. Initial nerves soon disappeared and were replaced by a quiet confidence in the music they were sharing with us in a packed Audio. This is a band mature beyond their years and a band who certainly know how to write a tune. Distilling the influences of the likes of Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, The Mary Chain and The Van T's, among many others, into something that sounds uniquely like The Spyres is no mean feat but Emily, Keira, Jude and Alex pulled it off in style last night. Having only recently expanded into a four piece, with the addition of Jude on bass and Alex on drums, last night showed how quickly they are developing as a band and are definitely a name to watch out for in the months ahead. The voices of both singers perfectly complement each other and the new rhythm section has undoubtedly added an extra element to their sound. Having recently watched Rip It Up on The Beeb and agreeing with Vic Galloway about how vibrant and exciting the music scene is at the moment in Scotland was only further added to after seeing The Spyres in a great venue in the heart of Glasgow. I sense exciting times ahead for this young band and look forward to hearing what comes next.