Monday, February 18, 2008

Scottish Pop

Isobel Campbell’s reflections on Scottish indie in last Friday’s Guardian were enjoyable but flawed. I appreciate that her ruminations were a personal perspective rather than a sociological consideration of Scotland’s indie traditions, but her perspective lacked a little focus.

Discussing the article with a mate at The Wraiths gig last night, some very interesting points – more due to him than me, I’m sure he’d be quick to point out – were made. Campbell repeated the myth that the west of Scotland owes an enormous musical debt to the west coast of America. That debt, however, is largely owed to Memphis.

Orange Juice, the forefathers of both Scottish indie and indiepop itself, were far more influenced by the sound of Memphis than the sound of, for example, California’s Love or The Byrds; their soul-influence comes as much from Memphis’s Al Green as it does anyone else.

Yes, Edwyn Collins might once have worn his fringe like Roger McGuinn on Consolation Prize, but what was the song Orange Juice covered on that same album? That’s right, L.O.V.E. Love by Al Green.

And yes, what was the name of the band James Kirk formed after leaving Orange Juice? Memphis, of course.

When Campbell writes that, “Teenage Fanclub, too, have a huge affinity with the music of the west coast - just listen to their harmonies,” she’s obviously unaware that all of TFC’s songwriters have made numerous references in interviews to the influence of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, from Memphis’s Big Star, on their work, that Bandwagonesque was as much a wry comment on their jumping on the Big Star bandwagon as it was about the contemporary grunge bandwagon-jumping, and the follow-up, 13, was named after a Big Star song.

Secondly, Campbell ignores Orange Juice’s reconfiguration of rock’s traditional machismo which is the very essence of indiepop’s attitude. While Collins’s stance nods in the direction of Jonathan Richman (from America’s east coast), his primary influences in being “so frightfully camp” are London’s Vic Godard (“for a male group like Subway Sect the idea was to work not with power, but with weakness and introversion” – Alan Horne) and Manchester’s Buzzcocks.

In one of Collins’s greatest lyrics, his whip-smart wit sets out the case for indiepop’s deliberate reversion to childlike innocence, the ‘boredom’ of cock-rock posturing and the rallying cry to rip it up:
You know me I'm acting dumb-dumb
You know this scene is very humdrum
And my favourite song's entitled 'boredom'

Rip it up and start again

Listen to Rip It Up and you’ll hear the solo to Buzzcocks’ Boredom in the background playing during the lines quoted above. Incidentally, a friend’s colleague went on a date with Pete Shelley once. It didn’t go very well. “He just didn’t seem that interested,” she complained, clearly confused.

Thirdly, when Campbell states
Up until this point I had mainly championed the indie-schmindie bands of boyfriends and, as the girlfriend, had taken a back seat. I had always wanted to be in a pop group; I just didn't know that I was allowed to be.

you have to wonder just what sort of record collections the blokes she went out with before 1996 had. Ones with no Girls At Our Best or Dolly Mixture or Raincoats or Shop Assistants or Heavenly or Go-Betweens or Velvet Underground or Beat Happening or Vaselines get the idea...

Cruller people than me would suggest that there was an entirely different reason why Campbell wasn't allowed in a band, but we’ll let that one pass.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be right to let the comment that “Primal Scream...they also had good haircuts” pass without a derisory snigger.


CarsmileSteve said...

i was, i must say, rather put off by Ms Campbell's cleavage in the picture that accompanied said piece, where did that come from?

also interesting that she got to write her own bit, whereas N Wire and T Wheeler both had to be interviewed...

harveyw said...

She also uses the word "sophomore" to describe her new LP with Mark Lanegan, therefore she is not to be trusted.
Why can't people just use the word "second"?
I'm intrigued by steve's talk of a cleavage shot though. Does anyone have a link?

FireEscape said...

Thanks for getting to the nub of the matter there, Steve. I suspect that the cleavage is part of the natural transformation from mithering, mimsy, indie milksop to hard-livin' US rock chick.

To test this theory properly, we must wait for the Amelia Fletcher death metal album and monitor any physical manifestations on the old chest puppies.

Harv, I can go through my recyle bin if you're that desperate...

cristal palace songs said...

it's interesting that all of the comments about this post so far focus on isobel campbell's chesticles - perhaps this is because they are a slightly more interesting subject than her millimetres-deep insights about pop music.