Big Gold Dream (The Sound of Young Scotland) DVD Review

I love Scottish Pop. If Spearmint hadn’t already written a song about it (it’s on their 2001 LP A Different Lifetime) I would have. But it’s fair to say that Scotland’s role in the development of punk and indie bands has been largely swept under the carpet over the years. Big Gold Dream goes a long way to rectifying this and sets out the vitally important part Scottish independent labels Fast Product and Postcard Records played between 1978-82. It takes mavericks to start bands and record labels alike. Throughout this film, Big Gold Dream shows us that Scotland had more than its fair share of both.

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Film maker and music lover Grant McPhee has assembled a stellar cast of talking heads to reflect on what exactly did go down during more chaotic and idealistic times. Davey Henderson (Fire Engines/Win) cuts a particularly enigmatic figure as he explains, with some regret, just how his music career never quite happened the way it should have. Fast Records supremo’s Bob Last and Hilary Morrison are (rightfully) cast as visionaries of the rapidly-evolving late 70’s Scottish music scene, although it’s fair to say that some of Bob’s more controversial ploys have caused divisive reactions over the years (his pivotal role in the breaking up of the original Human League is covered here with a great Martyn Ware interview). But Bob was onto something and the Edinburgh-based label gave the world The Gang of Four, Fire Engines, The Mekons and perhaps most importantly, Scars-one of the most influential Scottish bands of this period. I wasn’t particularly aware of them before watching the DVD, but their story is told via former band members detailed recollections. It’s heartbreakingly great.

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A short while later, and operating on the East coast of Scotland, Alan Horne launches Postcard Records from his Glasgow flat. As the story progresses, the two labels quickly become intense rivals. Alan Horne was famed for his dislike of the London music industry, but disdain for the bands on his own label is somewhat harder to fathom. Aztec Camera’s Campbell Owens observes this whilst casting a weary eye over goings-on at Postcard HQ in the early 80’s.

Big Gold Dream traces a line through to Factory and Creation Records, with Joy Division’s Peter Hook and Creation label boss Alan McGee giving their own thoughts on the influence of both Fast and Postcard. Built more for the short term than major chart success, the legacy of Scottish indie pop is proudly proclaimed over this wonderful ninety-minutes. An illuminating watch even if you don’t religiously know all the bands.

Grant McPhee treats his subject with warm-hearted respect and the story cracks along at a fair pace-never lingering too long over uncomfortable subject matter although grievances do get aired. In places the story is horribly poignant as some of the artists were woefully ill-served by their tenures on the indie scene. But, this being a documentary about Scottish bands, there’s also humour and pathos. Nobody seems to feel too sorry for themselves-even if careers were dashed horribly quickly. As a musician myself, I was left with a feeling of what could have been for a lot of the acts involved. Interestingly, the film’s stronger characters are revealed as both tyrants and saviours. Ego can carry you a long way in the business of music. But you’ll always need a good song. And the sound of young Scotland had these in spades.

As soon as the new Vinyl Revolution record shop opens its doors in 2017 you can bet we will be stocking this DVD. Long live the Big Gold Dream!

 

 

 

 

The Cure

Head On The Door

I’m pretty sure that The Cure Saved my life.  Not in a “jump in the river and pull me out” type of way but more because they offered me an alternative mind set to the crushingly conservative and predictable 1980’s teenage life I found myself living in West Sussex.

Courtesy of the local charity shops, The Cure changed my image but they also changed my outlook.  Suddenly it was more than OK to be slightly ridiculous and not in-step with other people.  Being yourself was the most important thing and if society didn’t like this then that was just fine with me.  I finally found a voice, and a wardrobe which included a pair of Converse sneakers and a second hand black suit that was at least three sizes too big for me, and don’t forget the fluorescent socks!

Very important were those garish socks because they were a feature of The Cure’s 1985 “Head On The Door” album.  A definitive Cure classic, and their first true “pop” album, although the band’s version of pop was devised of skewed and jumbled styles, no two songs sounded the same and yet it was all undeniably the work of one fiercely individual group who just happened to come from Crawley, not that far from my own home town of Chichester.

If it’s in print, Vinyl Revolution will always stock “The Head On The Door” because it meant (and still means) so much to me.  Without this LP (named after a recurring dream of singer Robert Smith) I would never have found the courage to set off on my own musical adventure.  And I guess that means there would be no Vinyl Revolution.

For those thinking of exploring The Cure’s extensive back catalogue (do it!), may I humbly recommend you begin with “Disintegration”, “Seventeen Seconds”, “Bloodflowers” and the “Standing On A Beach” singles compilation.

And of course “The Head On The Door”.  Who knows? Maybe it will save your life too.

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TRASHCAN SINATRAS-WILD PENDULUM

This isn’t really an album review. It’s a piece about records. And specifically it’s about vinyl records. Some of them made by Trashcan Sinatras.

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The context in which you first hear a record plays a huge part in what will eventually become one of those collections of songs you just keep returning to. For me, the Trashcan Sinatra’s are a marker in my life. From exploring strange intoxicating streets of Paris during their debut album ‘Cake’ (1990) to a new start in a big new town ‘I’ve Seen Everything’ (1993), through getting signed to a small record label ‘A Happy Pocket’ (1996), the Trashies seem to have had an uncanny knack of releasing a new album just when I needed it. Indeed, around the time of ‘Weightlifting’ (2005), I even got to help bring them to Brighton for a show with American Music Club. Suddenly, two of my favourite bands were colliding in front of my eyes. Sometimes it’s a wonderful life.

A few weeks ago the band released ‘Wild Pendulum‘. It was only their third record this century and funded by a successful Pledge campaign. It goes without saying that I chose the vinyl album option. This ended up taking a little longer to arrive than expected. No worry, as the band had already furnished us faithful Pledgers with a download code. But somehow I just couldn’t introduce myself to ‘Wild Pendulum’ in this manner. Vinyl has a magic all of its own, invisibly transferred from the grooves to our souls as we take the record from the sleeve for the very first time. So I waited. And other people got to hear and write about the record before I did. No matter. It was worth the wait. The magic came. Vinyl won.

‘Wild Pendulum’ is a romantic triumph, shot through with samples of long-forgotten fairy tales and dusty opera. Back in the nineties, the Trashies used this trick of magpie melody to enhance their cover version of The Smiths ‘I Know It’s Over’, and in the process, somehow managed to improve upon the original. No mean feat, but then some of us had always suspected TCS were the Scottish Smiths. In 2016, ‘Wild Pendulum’ picks up from where ‘I Know It’s Over’ left off and enhances the bands’ yearning, melancholy beauty. Pressed on silver vinyl for private moments in monochrome, there’s a song called ‘Autumn’ on side one. It’s the most perfect soundtrack to this perfect season. Everything on ‘Wild Pendulum’ floats by on a cloud of languid guitars augmented by flourishes of Mariachi brass and Nathaniel Walcott’s exquisite string arrangements. Not forgetting those samples…so bask in ‘I Want To Capture Your Heart’ and ‘Waves’. Moods will be brightened and loads slightly lightened. ‘Wild Pendulum’ unfurls a little more with every listen.

And what seismic event in my own life does ‘Wild Pendulum’ usher in? Well, I may be too old to trouble the charts but music is still the guiding light so I’ve decided to start a vinyl business, bringing my own version of iconic rock and roll moments to those discerning enough to want to explore fifty years of pop counter culture through T-shirts, posters, pictures and records. For those on their own journeys to hear knows where.

A vinyl revolution™. Coming soon.

Arthur-THE Great Lost Kinks Album?

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Since it was first released in 1969, ‘Arthur or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire’ has inexplicably fallen off of the critical map. Just as the bands 1968 album ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ disappeared quickly but blossomed as the years rolled by, so ‘Arthur’ has only shriveled and died on the vine. This is both peculiar and unjust…

Originally conceived in early 1969 as a Granada TV play about a family relation of the Davies brothers, the initial idea may have been unceremoniously kicked into touch but what has remained is a very British album packed full of classy Kinks material. In parts scathing and angry (and threaded together by Ray Davies railing against antiquated Victorian values), ‘Some Mothers Son’ preempts Roger Waters’ anger at the old boys establishment blindly sending men to their death in the name of patriotism. ‘Australia’ details the UK’s late sixties exodus in search of new beginnings in sunnier climes whilst ‘Young and Innocent Days’ looks back sadly at a rapidly changing world-a theme Ray Davies has returned to on many occasions in his esteemed career.

Some weighty issues are tackled on ‘Arthur’, but delivered with a refreshing lack of pop star preaching from his country idyll. Each song is equally flecked with Ray Davies barbed wit delivering angst and trademark dreamy summer pop (see ‘Drivin’ and the epic ‘Shangri La’) in equal measures. A younger Damon Albarn must have been listening very closely to ‘Brainwashed’, for Blur’s ‘Pop Scene’ would surely never have been born without it.

Some of the themes from the previous years ‘Village Green’ are revisited on ‘Arthur’, but this time round they feel world-weary and battered. The jaunty ‘Victoria’ (later covered by The Fall-always the sign of a good song!) is probably the best known track on ‘Arthur’ and a decent calling card for what is the most underrated album in the bands extensive catalogue. Make no mistake, this is the sound of a group operating at the peak of their powers even if the world had chosen to stop listening.

But now it’s time for all that to change, right? Go on, give it a spin! You won’t be disappointed.

5/5 in anyone pop aficionados book…