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.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Thinking Of You...


Sister Sledge’s classic Thinking Of You brings to mind one word, joy. Simple, unadulterated joy. Originally released in The States as the b side to Lost In Music it finally became a hit in its own right in 1984 when it was released as a single right here in the UK. There is something wonderfully uplifting about the track that just exudes happiness. All the elements of the track come together to produce a song that it’s impossible not to love. Rodger’s rhythm guitar compliments the bass and drums perfectly and the gossamer melody and gorgeous vocals are heavenly. Not to mention the luscious strings which just raise the track to a different level. Hard to believe now that just prior to teaming up with Bernard Edwards and Niles Rodgers that the band were thinking of throwing in the towel as up to that point in their career they had not had the success they so richly deserved. It may not be the first track that people think of when you mention Sister Sledge but there is a very good reason why the band never tire of singing the song. A timeless classic that will never lose its ability to bring joy to all who hear it.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Barrowland

Last week's Teenage Fanclub gig at The Glasgow Barrowland brought to mind all the many great bands I have had the pleasure of seeing there over the years. The first band I saw live in concert were The Cramps at The Barrowland back in '86 and over the years I have seen most of my favourite bands play at the world famous venue. In quick succession after The Cramps I manged to see the likes of New Order, The Stranglers, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Julian Cope amongst many others. In the late 80's and early 90's there was barely a week that would go by without a pilgrimage to Glasgow's East End to see whoever was playing that night. Over the years The Barrowland has lost none of its magic and is still easily the best venue in Glasgow. In the last few years many bands that would have played there in the past have chosen to play the rather more salubrious surroundings of The Academy, a decent enough venue but not on a par with The Barrowland. The fact that it still looks exactly as it did 30 years ago just adds to its charm. Over the years there have been murmurings of property developers being interested in the site. Let's hope for the sake of Glasgow and live music that they never get their hands on it. The first view of that neon sign lit up as you walk up The Trongate is still something very special to this day. There's a love for the venue that is second to none and richly deserved. Nuala Naughton's book, Barrowland - A Glasgow Experience, lists all the gigs that have taken place at the venue up to about 2013 and is a wonderful nostalgia trip through some great nights. A couple of friends have recently taken their kids to the venue for the first time and they have had that same joy of seeing a gig there that I first experienced many years ago. Change is good, but sometimes there is no need for change and The Barrowland is living proof of that.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Gracious Losers...

I don't listen to as much new music as I should these days but one new release that I have had the pleasure of hearing recently is the much anticipated debut from Glasgow band The Gracious Losers. Released recently on the world's first crowdfunded, not for profit record label, Last Night From Glasgow, it is an album that will feature strongly on my annual end of year best album list. The album draws heavily from a love of gospel, country and soul and has an authenticity about it that shines through on every single track. The first time I listened to the band I heard echoes of Van Morrison, Dexys, Mike Scott, Exile On Main Street era Stones, Basement Tapes era Dylan and soul legends such as Wilson Picket and The Staple Singers. No mean feat for a nice piece collective from Glasgow. Led by Jonathan Lilley, the songs really come into their own however when heard live. I was fortunate to see them recently at Glasgow's newest venue, The Great Eastern and was literally blown away by them. As good as the album is the songs really come alive when they are performed on stage and to see them in such an intimate venue was quite something. If you get a chance to see them you will not be disappointed.

The band will be playing at Maryhill Community Hall on Saturday December 15th and if their gig at The Great Eastern is anything to go by this should be one of the must see gigs of 2018.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Glasvegas 10 Years On...

10 years ago saw the release of the debut album from Glasvegas. Released a few months after the BBC tipped them as one of the acts to watch out for in 2008 the album more than lived up to all the many superlatives thrown at it. The original four piece of James Allan, his cousin Rab, Paul Donoghue and Caroline McKay started knocking out some tunes in Dalmarnock a couple of years earlier and quickly piqued the interest of Alan McGee after he caught them playing at Glasgow's King Tuts. One of their early releases, Daddy's Gone, set the tone for what was to follow. Marrying a love of Doo Wop, 60's girl groups, Spector's Wall Of Sound and the melodic,gorgeous noise produced a few years earlier by The Jesus and Mary Chain, this was one of those singles that when you heard it you sat up and took notice. Hearing their debut single on a major label in early 2008 was the moment you knew that Daddy's Gone was not a one off and that you were listening to a band that were delivering on the early promise. With its unforgettable melody, glorious feedback drenched guitar sound and James Allan's rich, distinctive vocals, Geraldine became their first bona fide hit and introduced the band to a much deserved,wider audience. Not bad for a song seemingly about a social worker who gave up her job to sell Glasvegas merchandise at their gigs. What also set them apart from all the other bands at the time was Allan's unique,often tender lyrics, sometimes dealing in subject matters that were not likely to feature in your average Top 10 album. Absent fathers, self loathing resulting from infidelity and the tragic murder of a 15 year old Glasgow boy were unlikely to be found anywhere else in the charts of 2008. The album certainly wore its influences proudly on its sleeve but still manged to sound uniquely like no one else but Glasvegas. Like The Mary Chain before them they had managed to create a sound of their own that was instantly recognisable as Glasvegas.

I recently listened to the album for the first time in a while and it has stood the test of time really well, as all great albums do. I have been fortunate enough to have seen the band live numerous times, in some quite different venues such as Ayr Town Hall and a former brothel in Paris, and to this day those songs from their classic debut still sound as special as they did when they were first released. The band are currently touring the debut album, for its 10th anniversary, and the reactions of their still devoted following testify to the longevity of great songs and great songwriting. Music and lyrics delivered with such passion, meaning and honesty that you don't find on many records these days, with an authenticity that you simply cannot fake. Long may they continue to do what only they can. 

Monday, February 5, 2018


Us is the result of a collaboration between Andrew Montgomery, whose distinctive voice fronted the much missed Geneva, and Leo Josefsson of Swedish band Lowe. The first time I heard their dark, haunting elecronic synth based sound two words popped into my head, film soundtrack. And that is meant in the most complimentary way, with thoughts turning instantly to the likes of Blade Runner. Based in Stockholm, Us create a sound that is shaped by their influences but also manages to sound uniquely like Us. The partnership between Andrew and Leo works so well because they compliment each other, Leo's epic synth sounds feel like they have been waiting all this time for Andrew's heavenly vocals to accompany them. Good to have Andrew back recording again and, with plans to release their debut album this year, hopefully a live date in Glasgow may be on the cards in 2018.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Just Like Pagliacci Did...

Arguably one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, Smokey Robinson also has a voice that sounds like no other vocalist, with perfect timing and phrasing. Whereas other Motown voices were very gospel influenced, Smokey has an intimate vulnerability to his voice that makes every word he sings feel honest and heartfelt. As as lyricist he was second to none, with even Bob Dylan apparently at one time calling him the greatest living American poet. There are many songs throughout Smokey's extensive career that showcase what a gifted songwriter he is and none more so than The Tears Of A Clown. Based on the Italian opera, Pagliacci about a clown who must make the audience laugh while he weeps behind his makeup because his wife has betrayed him it was initially released on his 1967 album Make It Happen but didn't see the light of day as a single until 1970, after the head of a Motown fan club chose it to be released in the UK. Turned out to be a very inspired choice as the single went on to be Smokey's first chart topper, firstly in the UK and then in the USA. Not bad for a song that co writers Smokey Robinson and a teenage Stevie Wonder didn't think had much potential when it appeared as the last track in '67 on Make It Happen.

When Stevie Wonder wrote the music, Smokey thought it sounded like a circus and, as he had been intrigued since childhood by the Pagliacci story, came up with the lyrics based on the clown.The Tears Of A Clown is a once heard, never forgotten tune and remains to this day one of my favourite songs of all time. One of pop music's most unique properties is its ability to wrap the most heartbreaking lyrics in a bubbly, effervescent melody and few songs mange this better than The Tears Of A Clown. Dealing with a heartbroken lover masking their pain in public, the upbeat melody is a perfect counter to Robinson's poignant lyrics.

Now there's some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than
The tears of a clown

Sunday, January 21, 2018

In A Crossfire Hurricane

Martin Scorsese has not just made some of the best movies ever, he has also integrated music into these movies as an inseperable part of the process. It isn't an afterthought, it's an essential element of his all his movies, with some scenes designed around the music itself. Music soundtracked Scorsese's early life, so in many ways it was inevitable that it would play a large part in his movies as he started directing. Growing up in the Lower East side of New York in the 50's, there would have been music playing all around him. He listens to music while writing his screenplays, coming up with ideas based upon what he is listening to at that time. His love of 60's girl groups is evident at the beginning of Mean Streets when you hear those distinctive drum pounds of Be My Baby as Harvey Keitel wakes from a nightmare. It's impossible to imagine Scorses's movies without the music that accompanies them. Think Johnny Boy's swaggering entrance into the basement dive bar in Mean Steets as Jumpin' Jack Flash blasts out the screen. It almost feels as if The Stones track was written specifically for that scene, so well do they complement each other. That 60 second scene not only introduces the world to the acting talents of Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, it also introduces us to the perfect marriage of song and film that Scorsese does better than any other director. There are so many examples of Scorsese's deft use of music in his movies, and how he creates a mood with specific music, and his work over the years wouldn't be the same without it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Lost In Music

For most folk that knew me throughout my formative years it was no great surprise when I started working in a record store. Little did I know when I walked into Our Price in the Sauchiehall Street Centre for my first day, in November 1988, that I would still be working for them almost 14 years later. Going to record stores had always been a big part of my life since I started buying records in the early 80s, but to work in one was something else. By the mid-80s all my spare money was being spent on music. I did a paper round in my early teens to finance my burgeoning vinyl habit, before moving onto a part-time job in a well known EK chip shop in order to buy what I was hearing on Kid Jensen and John Peel's radio shows. No Saturday was complete without a trip into Glasgow to visit the many record stores the city had to offer at that time. First stop was the Virgin Megastore on Union Street, followed by Lewis's, Listen, A1 Sounds (in the Savoy Centre) and my trips to listen to the latest reggae releases in Ital Riddims on the corner of Buchanan and Sauchiehall streets. For anyone not aware of Lewis's, it was a department store on Argyle Street with a lavish food hall and a great selection of vinyl. The Virgin store was a great place to hang out and people watch as it was where all the punks would gather on a Saturday afternoon. In my hometown of East Kilbride we were very lucky to have the wonderful Impulse records, where along with all the latest records, you could also buy t-shirts, badges, patches and posters. By the mid 80's I had almost moved in due to being there so often.

As the 80s progressed I tended to shop more up The West End in the likes of Echo and John Smiths on Byres Road, as well as Rat Records and Fopp in the city centre. Today Glasgow is home to the likes of Love Music, Mixed Up, Missing, LP Records, Oxfam Music on Byres Road and the ever-excellent Monorail alongside HMV and Fopp and continues to live up to its reputation as a city steeped in music. Gone are the days of queuing outside Impulse for the new Smiths album but the memories of spending my teenage Saturday afternoons in record stores is something I will never forget.