15 May 2008

Roddy Frame & Edwyn Collins - Consolation Prize mp3


Aztec Camera - Good Morning Britain cover

Paul Weller said he split The Jam because they'd become too big to make a difference. It sounds a bit odd until you think it through. He'd hit a level where normal life was impossible, where there were a small army of people dependent on him for a job and, worst, where fans adored anything he did simply because it was him. If he'd released an album of him reading Benny Hill scripts it would've sold shitloads.

So I think good fortune comes not with being a megastar, but in having the space to really explore and express. That means a certain level of commercial success, but still an ability to walk down the street unnoticed so you're still in the real world, and nobody wanting you to do a record just like your last one.

However, being so unnoticed can mean you get one hit and for the rest of your life everyone wants you to sing that one song to them. Marc Almond's autobiography starts off with yet another cabbie calling his wife saying 'you'll never guess who I've got in the back' and making him sing Tainted Love.

How much worse it must be when the one everyone knows you for is, like Tainted Love, a cover, or some novelty nonsense. Consider Jeff Beck's prowess and then the fact that Hi Ho Silver Lining is his best selling record.

Occasionally, fate is fairer and the one hit is representative. The Church's Under The Milky Way is a case in point, and so was Aztec Camera's Oblivious. Sparkling, sensitive, a mysterious lyrical swirl curling round some soaring and unfeasibly complex jubilant intelligent acoustic guitar driven pop.

That sanity protection lower level of fame can perhaps be assisted a little by hiding behind a band name. Like Matt Johnson's The The, Aztec Camera is just Roddy Frame and whoever's with him, or like Mark E Smith put it, 'if it's me and your gran on bongos, it's The Fall'.

When he was 16, Roddy left school at Easter without taking exams because he already had a record deal lined up with legendary Glasgow indie label Postcard. Releasing beautiful songs with that trademark intricate guitar playing and a bracing freshness that he'd written himself. And he was dead good looking too.

There's just no justifying all that, is there? You can explain away something that comes to you from luck, or the fruits of hard work, but sheer talent has no excuse at all.

A jump to Rough Trade for an album, then a major label deal followed and a big world tour. And he was still only 19.

A couple of years later he was back with the Love album, a bit laden with late 80s polish, whose first two singles - including the wonderful How Men Are - slow burned into the lower end of the charts. Then came his second stab at being a one-hit wonder, the monster hit and soundtrack of summer 1988, Somewhere In My Heart.

So a lot was expected of the next album, Stray. Creatively it delivered, commercially it didn't.

Second single was Good Morning Britain. It gave a verse each to the four nations of the UK and their tribulations. Scotland and its suffering at the hands of Thatcher (they got the poll tax earlier than the rest of us) and new prisons (a fine use of money saved by cutting health and education spending), and getting the backhanded accolade of European Capital of Culture. Northern Ireland and the Troubles; Wales and the housing crisis caused by large numbers of English people buying second homes but the dream that then Labour leader Neil Kinnock would displace Thatcher (any port in a storm, I suppose). England and its institutionalised violent bigotry.

Yet the whole thing was interspersed with a chorus that said the shame of the past is easily discarded and held a bright hope for the future, culminating in a key change for the final verse that declared love is international and you've got to give what you can; you don't fight to win, you fight because there's things worth fighting for.

Frame said the song was written in honour of Mick Jones and the Clash, and indeed it sounds a lot like Big Audio Dynamite and features Mick himself. The last line is 'worry about it later', lifted from Complete Control (while I mention that, check out this hilarious mishearing).

Frame was clearly very proud to have worked with his hero, crediting the record to Aztec Camera and Mick Jones, and having a picture of the two of them on stage on the cover.

I saw three gigs on the tour. At Liverpool, Jones came on for the encore to do a couple of songs.

Aztec Camera - Liverpool 9 July 1990 ticket

A week later in London, he was on for a good half dozen.

Aztec Camera - London 17 July 1990 ticket

By the last night of the tour, a glorious hometown Saturday night in Glasgow, Jones came on for half the gig.

Aztec Camera - Glasgow 4 August 1990 ticket

It was the early 90s and a hideous hybrid was occurring in the music industry. It was still 80s enough that remixes were shitty, repetitive, clumsy affairs, but dance music culture had become widespread enough to make people do multiple remixes of the same track (anyone else get the Chilli Peppers' Give It Away? Sheesh).

The 12 inch of Good Morning Britain features three mixes. The CD has a further two but, mercifully, it also had two live tracks taken from that effervescent last night of the tour. One was, unsurprisingly, Good Morning Britain. The other was something really special.

In the encore Roddy had got his companero and old Postcard labelmate Edwyn Collins out. Edwyn inexplicably wore a big furry hat, and the euphoric night - end of the tour, home town, audience really vibing - combined with their clear affection for one another as they performed Consolation Prize, a song from Orange Juice's debut album.

That lovelorn literate wit that we too often think of as being a Morrissey invention is already there, in 1982, coming out of Collins' pen.

A thousand violins will play for you
While you sit and roll your deep blue eyes
A thousand to win, a thousand you lose
But I'll be your consolation prize
All you do is sigh

I wore my fringe like Roger McGuinn's
I wore it hoping to impress
So frightfully camp, it made you laugh
Tomorrow I'll buy myself a dress
So ludicrous

I don't mean to pry, but didn't that guy
Crumple up your face a thousand times?
He made you cry

I'll be your consolation prize
Although I know
I'll never be man enough for you

The two men alternating verses, doing call and response and both enjoying the strum and roll of the guitars, it's warm, funny, and touching.

Even then, Collins felt like an elder statesman, early 80s indie so far back in time, yet he can only have been about 30. And Jones must've only been about 35, now I think about it, and he seemed like he was from properly far back in music history like Charlie Parker or Gustav Mahler or someone.

Three years ago Edwyn had a double stroke that left him unable to speak, read, write, walk or sit up. He has determinedly regained much of what he lost, and continues to improve. His memory has been severely impaired, as he explains

After my stroke I'd lost all the songs I ever wrote. I could recognise them as mine when I heard them on a stereo but I couldn't remember any lyrics. That took ages, writing them out and relearning all the phrasing.

Yet he did it. Far from being beaten or maudlin, in interviews he seems genuinely happy and keen to keep writing, with songs already written since the release of his new album. Furthermore, he's just finished a tour. Taking over on guitar was none other than Roddy Frame.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones, sorry!. See 'Deleted Tracks' in the sidebar if you want this MP3 emailed to you]

Oh, while we're here, check out this fabulous picture from my Strawberry Switchblade site of Edwyn with Postcard founder Alan Horne and future Strawberry Switchblade guitarist Jill Bryson. It's 1981 and they're outside Postcard HQ in Glasgow.
[pic:Peter Mcarthur]

Edwyn Collins, Jill Bryson and Alan Horne, 1981. Pic:Peter McArthur

03 May 2008

David Bellamy - Brontosaurus, Will You Wait For Me mp3


David Bellamy - Brontosaurus, Will You Wait For Me?

Ye gods! It turns out that The Dinosaur Record isn't the only time those songs got an outing.

There's this single from everyone's favourite climate change denier, hirsute TV naturalist (but not, as far as I know, a TV naturist), David Bellamy.

Led by squidgy 70s synths, Brontosaurus, Will You Wait For Me gives us Bellamy all over-excited and a tad forced-wacky, sort of like an adult trying to hide how much MDMA is still in their system as they have to amuse a toddler.

Flip the disc and we get O Stegosaurus. Eschewing the tender verse vocals of the Dinosaur Record's version, the bits between choruses feature Bellamy telling us some fun facts about Stegosaurii. Where they lived, when, how big they were (demolishing that 'half a mile long and ten feet tall' claim once and for all).

But, it's a Mike Croft composition. If we're not going to have a factual error about a triceratops inventing rock n roll or an 800 metre stegosaurus, what can we have instead?

Bellamy doesn't let us down. He tells us that stegosaurii were 'gentle monsters who always ate up their vegetables as they went about their everyday business in their own prehistoric world'.

The single is dated 1980, the same year as the album, so I don't know which came first. Did the single come first and then Mike Croft's own versions come later, much like Carole King kept us waiting for Tapestry before we got her own renditions of Natural Woman and Will You Love Me Tomorrow?

Or is it that the album came first and then Bellamy picked up on it, much like Aretha Franklin brought Otis Redding's Respect to greater prominence?

The cover (upon both sides of which original owner Susan Wooller has written her name - did she think people mightn't notice the first one, or was she expecting the cover to be torn asunder by a frenzied audience thus requiring her name on both halves?) says 'Dinosaur characters (Bron and Delilah) copyright of Dusty and The Dinosaurs'.

It turns out there's a 1982 book, Dusty and The Dinosaurs - Primeval Pop, by that same Mike Croft.

A book, an album, getting established stars to do the vocals? It's all gone a bit Jeff Wayne.

Then, like Thomas Pynchon, Croft kept us waiting. It was ten years before we saw the two sequels.

It was a heady time for Moses style two-tablet deliveries from major artists; almost as if it were planned, three of them were equally spaced over a year.

In September 1991 Guns n Roses simultaneously released Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.

March 1992 saw Bruce Springsteen simultaneously release Lucky Town and Human Touch.

Then in September 1992 Mike Croft simultaneously published Dusty and the Dinosaurs - Drakula Island and Dusty and the Dinosaurs - Delilah's Rescue.

Proper music will return next post, promise.

[MP3s deleted to make way for new ones, sorry! If you want them emailed to you, leave your address in the Comments]