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…

Dusty Music Vaults…are go!

So, I have been collecting records since I was about twelve years old. OK, so I also bought a few records in the mid 1970’s but 1979 was my real awakening to singles and albums. The hallowed 7″  was my favourite format as I couldn’t afford albums at the time. Anyone with a good memory will recall that 1979 was an exceptionally good time to start collecting singles as new wave and pop reigned supreme. And this meant lots of coloured vinyl to seek out.

‘Dusty Music Vaults’ hopes to introduce you to songs you may have long since forgotten or never heard of. Whether its on vinyl or CD (a tune is a tune in any language, right?) I aim to include tracks from all walks of pop culture, but most likely the 80’s and 90’s will be the best represented as these were my former musical stomping grounds.

Ready for the off? Let’s begin with three stonewall classics…

SQUEEZE – PULLING MUSSELS (FROM A SHELL) (1980).

Unbelievably this breezy little tune stalled at number 44 on the UK singles chart back in 1980. High on melodic charm and welded to a soaring Difford and Tilbrook chorus, ‘Mussels’ should have been a huge hit but somehow ended up getting a bit lost. I suspect this might have had something to do with the fact that the title came complete with it’s own set of (song title in brackets). Generally, brackets are too confusing in pop. It’s much better to have a snappy one word tagline for DJ’s to get their vocal chords around, isn’t it?

But I was always good with brackets and very happy to procure a limited edition red vinyl 7″. Heaven.

*Fast forward to about 1:05mins for the bands performance on the TOTP clip below. Unfortunately the video begins with Radio One’s Dave Lee Travis in a pair of shorts. Sorry about that.

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CLOSE LOBSTERS – LET’S MAKE SOME PLANS (1987)

Along with the following years’ ‘What Is There To Smile About’ this was the classic Lobster’s single. Yes, I know it was technically only a 12″ release, but so what? ‘Plans’ is perfectly formed indie pop-and about as radio friendly as the band were ever going to get. I was just starting to learn bass guitar and took copious ideas from this tune-come to think of it, I’m probably still stealing them today. The mid-late eighties was indie pop’s real heyday, and the Lobsters made some of the sharpest tunes around.

Sounding as vital as ever, check out this majestic vinyl enterprise with a rare promo clip to boot.

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DARREN HANLON – ALL THESE THINGS (2010)

Recently, Courtney Barnett has been citing Darren as a formative influence. This is a very good thing because the guy is a hugely talented Australian singer songwriter who deserves every success. Think Go-Betweens and Morrissey sharing a hot tub and you’re not even halfway close. This track is one of many boasting Darren’s knack for perfect pop and decent rhyming couplets.

What more could you want?

Well, how about some rarely seen Darren Hanlon ‘dad-dancing’ courtesy of Natalie van den Dungen’s classy video.

Still touring, still recording-check our Mr Hanlon, pronto…

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I hope you enjoyed this blog-if you fancy staying in touch drop me a line, subscribe, follow or send wine etc etc.

Until next time…

 

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Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band

Friday 4th March, 2016. Michael Head, once front man of Pale Fountains and Shack returned for a rare live appearance in the capital. Co-incidentally, I moved to London earlier the same day, bringing with me little but records and a Titanic hangover from the previous evenings celebrations…

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Trailing a nasty cold but looking and sounding reassuringly good, Mick and his (Red Elastic) band took little time in reminding us just how great Michael Head songs really are. It’s incredible to think he’s been writing in the same tradition since 1982, back when the Pale Fountains celebratory ‘ Thank You‘ (very nearly) set light to the world.

Since then Michael Head has composed a steady stream of great lost albums and tonight the band delivered mementos from many. Over the course of seventy-five spell binding minutes classics such as ‘Comedy’, ‘As Long As I’ve Got You’ and ‘Undecided’ are emphatically dispatched and lovingly hollered back at the stage, whilst ‘Meant To Be’, complete with its Mariachi horn break, steals the show and sees grown men hugging each other in misty eyed reverie. This highlights the unifying feeling which is instilled in those who fall for Mick’s music-don’t forget Noel Gallagher once set up a record company around this man.  Other highlights included The Strands’ ‘Something Like You’ and Shack’s ‘Streets Of Kenny’ which took me back to the late 1990’s when my own band Fruit Machine were fortunate enough to have supported Mick on the Brighton date of the  ‘HMS Fable’ tour. Nostalgia indeed.

The evenings newer Red Elastic Band material blended subtle jazz with baroque pop-Miles David by way of Love’s Arthur Lee. ‘Artorius Revisited’ and new crowd fave  ‘Velvets In The Dark‘ illustrated this perfectly. Glorious!

At the end of the show I made my way back to the tube station and suddenly realized I was completely devoid of that pesky hangover. Now isn’t that something…?!

 

 

Johnny Moped, Basically

Sunday 21st February 2016 my first visit to Regent St Cinema, London to watch a documentary called ‘ Basically, Johnny Moped’.

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Back in mid-seventies Croydon there lurked a DIY band who, depending on how you look at it, were either well ahead of the next musical movement OR just blissfully unaware of how to function as a normal group. First time director Fred Burns’ heartfelt documentary is funny, poignant, captivating and sad-often all at the same time. And the fact that lead singer Johnny Moped was sitting just a few rows back (in the picture house where London’s first ever ‘X’ rated movie was shown) added another strange dimension to a memorable afternoon. Johnny’s Q&A after the screening was quietly moving as he tried to explain his rather wayward behaviour and how he struggles to deal with the passing of his beloved wife, Brenda.

Ill-advised tattoo’s, kidnapping, alcoholism and trouble with the mother in law are all important parts of the Johnny Moped story. Star turns from a beaming Cpt. Sensible and humbled Chrissie Hynde (fired not once but twice from the band!) add credence and pathos to an already colourful story, as the band lurch from one fully formed disaster to the next. If early punk ever stood for anything it was that people should dare to be original-and Johnny Moped (the singer and the band) achieved this in spades.

So when your local art house cinema screens this movie-go see it! Best music documentary I have seen all year. Can’t wait to see what the talented director Fred Burns does next. And go see Johnny Moped live as they sporadically promote a new album with gigs up and down the country.