Thursday, March 30, 2006

'A haven for happy music'

Next to the muddy waters of Glasgow's River Cart lies Castlemilk. There, back in the 1960s, the Glasgow Coporation created tower blocks to accommodate people from inner city slums such as the Gorbals, known for many years as "the most dangerous place in the U.K." The scheme failed, however, as over the decades Castlemilk became much like the area it was designed to replace: crime-ridden, destitute, ripe with everyday ennui; adults on the dole and gangs of teenaged "Cassies" brandishing knives.

From Castlemilk emerged Cosmic Rough Riders. Listen to a bit of their music, though, and you wouldn't know it. You'll wonder how a tiny patch of Glasgow brimming with despair and hopelessness can produce a group channeling the sun-dappled, California spirit of 60s artists like The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

According to band member Gary Cuthbert, Glaswegian acts with the same sunny disposition as the Cosmic Rough Riders are not uncommon. "Glasgow is a haven for happy 60s music," Cuthbert said in an interview. "It probably comes from country music. If you go to karaoke in Glasgow, you'll always see old women singing Patsy Cline songs."

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Glastonbury Revisited" by Cosmic Rough Riders. The song was originally featured on Cosmic Rough Riders' 1999 debut album, Deliverance, which was recorded at C-Sharp, the community recording studio in Castlemilk. Then song was later re-released on Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine after the band signed a license deal with Poptones Records, the newly-formed label of ex-Creation Records head Alan McGee.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Patriot games

Beatles-inspired Scots doing an Irish folk tune with republican overtones. Doesn't sound like a winning recipe, now does it?

Surprisingly, it was. In 1983, The Bluebells released the song "Sugar Bridge." The single's b-side was an Irish ballad penned by Dominic Behan (though his older, more famous brother is often erroneously named as the writer). The song's narrative is from the point of 17-year-old Fergal O'Hanlon, who -- along with Sean South -- was killed on an attempt to storm a police station in County Fermanagh during the IRA's ill-fated border campaign.

Behan was a family friend of Ken and David McCluskey, The Bluebells' singer and drummer, respectively. The track's inclusion in The Bluebells' catalog, which featured its share of power pop numbers, was no surprise to those who knew the McCluskeys well. The siblings harbored a deep love for folk music and after The Bluebells had called it quits, they dedicated themselves to this genre fulltime. (Growing up during the folk-rich late 50s and early 60s, the brothers also likely heard covers of this tune by The Kingston Trio and The Clancy Brothers, as well as Bob Dylan's reworked version.)

An interesting side note: Behan was quite displeased with The Clancy Brothers' version, which excluded a verse criticizing President Eamon de Valera. Leaving out the lines, according to Behan, took away some of the song's political punch. The Bluebells didn't sing the verse, as well.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "The Patriot Game" by The Bluebells.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A bit of fun with The Valves

Once asked what the name of The Valves' new album was, bassist Pada Scott quipped, "Can't Stand The Rezillos Either." Which is ironic, seeing how The Valves were often mining the same territory as their fellow Auld Reekie residents: setting clever, tongue-in-cheek lyrics against a hyper, infectious, guitar backdrop. (Interestingly enough, the riff from The Valves "For Adolf's Only" is quite similar to The Rezillos' "I Can't Stand My Baby." Anyway . . .)

Singer Dee Robot (nee Dave Roberston) was the man behind the group's witty turn of phrases. And what was his songwriting muse? Shitty lyrics, of course. "I was asked if I'd be interested in joining a band (Angel Easy) on vocals," Robot said in this interview, "as their rhythm guitarist/singer couldn't do two things at once. I agreed, but when I saw the texts that I had to sing, I threw-up and asked if I could maybe write my own lyrics. Basically, I'd never really written a song in my life, so when I got the chance, I just went crazy."

During their short career, Robot and The Valves churned out their share of smile-inducing couplets: "We could go drinking with all the stars/But there's no atmosphere in them out-of-space bars" from "Robot Love"; "Fighting alligators isn't half the fun it used to be/I was wish there was more to life than swinging through those stupid trees" from "Tarzan Of The King's Road.

The Valves ultimately signed with Bruce Findlay's Zoom Records. Their "Robot Love/For Adolf's Only" was the first-ever single released by the label and sold 15,000 copies. Marginal success then followed -- a second single, a mini-tour of Sweden, a move to Albion Records -- before Robot put down his pen and the band called it quits.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Don't Mean Nothin' At All" by The Valves.