Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pre Wee Cherubs

Before The Wee Cherubs’ now legendary single, Dreaming, was recorded in October 1983, there were pre-Wee Cherubs bands operating in Scotland. Rare recordings have been captured on Messthetics 105, due for release in January.

The liner notes of that CD tell us:
"Paul Quinn and Martin Cotter had played together since 1974 and in late 1978 they joined Glasgow University classmate Brian McNair in the International Spys."

"The Alleged were pals, and watching them made me want to join in. We called ourselves The International Spys [sic], after a line from an Anaïs Nin novel. That wasn't very punk, and neither were we, with our ripped T-shirts and tight jeans set off by dodgy moustaches and mascara. By then we were 'new wave', aspiring to the post-punk sounds of Joy Division and Wire more than the thrash of Sham 69. My personal favourite [song] was 'Things To Do Tonight', a tasteless tale of a teenage serial killer performed while wearing a white rubber suit of the type worn by Glasgow council sewage workers and a stocking over the head. Nice." They recorded a rough demo at Brian's house, including his 'Baby Don't Go'. "In the best tradition of rock'n'roll, The International Spys self-destructed at the Doune Castle one night, with an on-stage stramash involving the obligatory mad drummer, a moody lead guitarist and me as a slightly up-himself front man. Cymbals were tossed, noses split open, and Doc Marten-shod feet aimed wildly (and ineffectually) at heads. The audience clapped and cheered, assuming it was part of the act."

"Next band for Paul and Martin was the Radio Ghosts, with Iain Bain (they were already chums with Iain's brother Hector from the Alleged/Apes in Control). Martin's 'Falling Into Darkness' comes from a late '79 demo recorded in Iain's bedsit with a drum machine. 17-year-old Craig Leslie had been drumming with a youth jazz orchestra, and joined in time for their New Year's Eve '79 debut, which they followed shortly with their only 7" (with Paul's 'My Room'), on Positive Noise's Statik label. They recorded regularly through the next 2 1/2 years in an ever-widening (and more sophisticated) range of postpunk styles -as reflected, perhaps, in the title of their 1982 mini-LP, Handfuls of Everything.

"After the 12", Martin split to form Wee Cherubs with the drummer from the Insects and Christine Gibson ex-Rapid Dance. The Cherubs put out an extremely scarce indiepop 45 on the Bogaten label (run by Hector Bain and Ali McKenzie of the Alleged), recorded a half-dozen demos, and morphed (much more successfully) into Bachelor Pad, adding Willy Bain (also ex-Rapid Dance) and Tommy Cherry.

"The rest of the Radio Ghosts became the short-lived Sgt. Pluck with keyboardist Paul Piacentini. But Iain took a job as a book editor, and after Craig left, the two Pauls carried on as lush-pop shoulda-been-stars, The Bamboo Shoots (who released only a cassette EP). Quinn moved south in 1986 and reunited with Iain as A Tune A Day (who had a self-released 45 in 1987)...All three Bains later played in the Bain Brothers Band, till Hector quit and was replaced by... Martin Cotter!

"If that's not confusing and incestuous enough, there were three Paul Quinns on the scene: one briefly sang for the Jazzateers then led Bourgie Bourgie and collaborated with Edwyn Collins. Another Quinn spent the 1990s drumming for Soup Dragons and Teenage Fanclub, then met Ryan Currie through Ian Anderson of the Commercials(!) and formed the Primary Five (and Paul Quinn no. 4 was in Saxon)..."

Thanks to Chuck Warner at the hyped2death label for supplying his comprehensive liner notes, above, to this latest Messthetics release.

The CD includes The Radio Ghosts' lead track, My Room(written by Martin Cotter and Iain Bain) from their ep, and a demo, Falling Into Darkness, as well as Rapid Dance's b-side, Hidden So Well.

The Radio Ghosts’ one release, 1980's Say Hello To The World of Love ep!!, also features Author (“inspired by Breakfast of Champions”) and Actor, both written by Martin Cotter, which I’ve uploaded.

Rapid Dance’s 1982 single was headed by Fragments Of Youth, my pick of these related bands' releases, which I’ve also uploaded.

A demo by The International Spys, Film Of Your Death, is included as a bonus mp3 on Messthetics 105.

Be sure to visit hyped2death and pick up some releases.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Bridge Gang

I loved The Bridge Gang's manifesto:
We were NOT influenced by Orange Juice, XTC or Wire. Morrissey did NOT change our lives. We did NOT form at artschool. We are BORED of indie disco. We LOVE making POP NOISE.

I loved their second single, Blue Sky Grey, a battery of brutal guitars and smart pop tunes, short and sweet, like a collision of Buzzcocks-style punk immediacy, The Undertones' youthful joie de vivre and Dinosaur Jr's late 80s raw chaos.

I love their current single, London Sky Tonight, which is more of the above and that, let there be no mistake, is a very good thing.

I love the way they split up after three singles. There are so many great bands who should've done that before they pissed their talent up the wall and marred their original spirit. Three singles, thrown out with no fanfare but much glorious POP NOISE (oh yes) and that's that.

I hate the fact that I never got off my arse to see them live when I had plenty of chances to do so. I don't like the debut single, Pangs of Guilt, so much as it comes too close to their wishes to be a grunge band, when what they were best at was buzzsaw pop punk.

But one great single (London Sky Tonight) is far more than most bands ever achieve. Add to that one classic single (Blue Sky Grey) and The Bridge Gang's legacy is greater than most other bands', whatever those bands might think. And you've got to love them for that.

One third of The Bridge Gang now leads The Olympians. I saw them the other week at RoTa, but it's too soon (and their myspace has no songs) to tell how good they'll be. Still, if they're half as good as The Bridge Gang and make just the one great single, it'll be enough.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pete Astor's Loft

The time has come to pick the best singles of the year. In the richest, most exciting harvest for years, two singles stand out (although, to be fair to the dozens of stone-cold classics issued this year, these are quite simply the two I played more than the others). I Want To Be In Husker Du by Let’s Wrestle is one of them.

If your stepdad was Pete Astor and Lawrence lived in your loft, you’d be introduced to some pretty good records when you were growing up.
So it was with WPG (Wesley Patrick Gonzalez) of Let’s Wrestle, whose stepdad is Pete Astor and Lawrence lived in his loft (the joke at the time was that Lawrence was in Pete Astor’s Loft – do you see?) for four years.

Starting out on the antifolk scene as a solo performer when he was 13, WPG, now a ripe 20, has since absorbed post-punk’s scruffiness, Vic Godard’s passion, the TVPs’ simply charming take on classic pop, Daniel Johnston’s offbeat vision, Beat Happening’s ramshackle thrum, Go-Kart Mozart’s wit and zest, and (of course) Husker Du’s melodic riotousness. Predictably, the result is inspired, urgent, beguiling and utterly essential.

A second single (download only, so it’s not really a single, I know) was released last month and saw Let’s Wrestle starting to get the praise and attention they so obviously deserve. The acoustic version of I Won’t Lie To You, on youtube, is well worth your attention.

Maia Hirasawa made this year’s other greatest single. If And I Found This Boy had been on the soundtrack to Pretty In Pink that film would still be playing to packed theatres across the world twenty-one years on. Brimful of tune, this rollicking romp through the pleasures and pains of casual sex captures pop music’s uproarious effervescence at its very best.

This unruly treasure teeming with an abundance of adventure, enriched with horns, a saloon-bar piano and a stop/start signature – you’re probably ahead of me here – features handclaps.

Given the flood of fantastic releases this year, these two gems might yet be upstaged. If 2008 is half as good as this year’s been, we’re in for a treat. Bring it on!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Power Pop: Walking Out On Love

Had Paul Collins’ sole contribution to music been writing Working Too Hard and playing drums for The Nerves' eponymous ep in 1976, his place in rock history would be assured. That Collins then formed The Beat – aka Paul Collins’ Beat – and made one of the strongest albums of the power pop genre in their 1979 self-titled debut, should have made him a household name.

For proof, listen to Walking Out On Love, one of the many classics – all about gurls, lust and cars (that's what it feels like, anyway) – on The Beat. It was later covered by the Velvet Crush on a 1990 flexidisc and Chris was very keen to hear it. So I said I’d upload it. And I did.

Paul Collins is still writing and recording. You can find out more about his current work here. If you do ever see The Nerves’ ep (and have a lot of spare cash) – also featuring the original (and best) version of Hanging On The Telephone, and Give Me Some Time (both written by guitarist Jack Lee) and When You Find Out (written by bassist Peter Case, later of The Plimsouls) – grab it because it really is something quite special. Or just badger me until I upload it.

Robert Forster on Rough Trade shopping

“Rough Trade is one of those shops that, just by being in it, tells you what a city is like.”

In the current issue of The Monthly, Robert Forster eulogises about Rough Trade. And rightly so. That all bases of the underground are covered, that all of the nooks and crannies of the counter-culture’s cottage industries are explored to provide a shop bursting with the best (and, obviously, the unlistenable: surely no one could enjoy all of the moveable feast that is Rough Trade’s stock) new releases is something to be cherished.

And cherish it Forster does:

“No visit to a record store these days is complete without a worrying thought about its survival as you leave. One large chain in the UK announced recently that the record store has to be reinvented, and as part of the shake-up they will be selling smoothies. You can’t imagine smoothies in Rough Trade. The shop’s too small, for a start, and the German and Spanish customers you hear amid the racks haven’t travelled this far for that. So what do they want? And what is the modern record store? I don’t know. But at the door I pick up a copy of the Stool Pigeon, an excellent new free weekly; I check the best-of list for 2006 on the wall. I’ve touched the rock books on the counter and seen what’s on the listening posts, and overheard some hipsters talking to the staff at the counter. I step out of the shop. London sorted.”

You’ve seen the flaw here, though, haven’t you? Yes, it’s the Talbot Road store Forster’s talking about, not the new Brick Lane one (“Rough Trade East”) which does sell smoothies, which has something called a “snug” and which has far too much space and far too few records. While I’d agree that RTE has improved since it opened four months ago, the shelves are still padded out by multiple copies of releases rather than by a broad selection of discrete releases. It feels far too much like an Indie Megastore and lacks the romance, the buzz and the ability to automatically quicken the pulse of the record buyer that the Talbot Road branch has.

A problem common to both Rough Trade shops, however, is that they’re too expensive. The mark-up on their stock is higher than other indie stores. Even more bizarrely, their mail order service is yet more expensive than their shops’ stock. The second and last time I used that service, I sent the records back because they’d taken far too long to arrive (“in stock” my arse) and I’d bought them elsewhere (some at the Rough Trade shop, funnily enough) as I’d wanted them before I saw gigs by those bands whose records I’d ordered. Fair enough, they took the records back, but they didn’t respond to any of my queries about why their mail order stock is more expensive than their already overpriced shop stock.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a leisurely couple of hours going through the 7” singles at RTE and came away with some cracking releases (I also played some absolute howlers, but, you know, one man’s shit is another man’s gold). The most encouraging aspect of that particular enterprise was that one of them, despite being released 6 months ago, was entirely new to me. Whirring by Arms is a dirty NYC guitar groove, like when The Strokes had a fighting chance of being rock’n’roll’s saviours. Only better. And played by Elvis Costello. I know! It’s for such eye-opening wonders that people return faithfully to Rough Trade.

Forster’s reminiscence that he:
“…first went to the shop in 1979. It was a pilgrimage. A trip to London was not complete without at least one visit, and more were needed, as this was a time when stunning releases were coming out of independent labels every week.”

would not be an inappropriate comment about the music scene in 2007. There has been at least one new record to get excited about every week this year. That for Londoners these new records are not all bought at Rough Trade – and I’m certain they all could have been – probably says as much about the convenience of, say, norman records and listening before you buy on, say, myspace rather than the in-store turntable, as it does about Rough Trade’s overpricing. I hope Rough Trade East survives, but it must improve if it is to stick around. Rough Trade in Talbot Road is a national institution and I would, like many, be distraught if that ever shut.