Friday, June 30, 2006

Looking ever inward

Shy yet frequently engaging, ingenious, unassuming, melancholic and melodic, staunch believer in this mantra: a good idea badly expressed is better than a bad idea well expressed -- Stephen Pastel (nee McRobbie) reigns as Scotland's most influential indie artist. Even though he does carry a particular distaste for such a label. "Please don't think of us as an 'indie band,'" he once remarked, "as it was never meant to be a genre. And anyway, we are far too outward looking for that sad tag."

In order to get a more lucid picture of Pastel's personality, one must take a look at his Glasgow-area contemporaries. Folks like the the Reid brothers, Bobby Gillespie. They were products of their rough-around-the-edges environment, lads shaped by a sprawling, oftentimes violent burg -- a place where a "Glasgow smile" is not a warm form of greeting between acquaintances, but a stabbing trick typically practiced by gang members.

For The Jesus And Mary Chain, the viciousness manifested itself during gigs (we won't recant the stories; been there, done that) and on vinyl (the full-scale noise assault of Psychocandy). For Primal Scream, it was a smidge more subtle, as the band was all about, as one scribe succinctly put it, "sweet melodies and switchblades."

Pastel, meanwhile, walked a different path, as his genial manner steered him towards an uncontrived approach to music-making. The Pastels led a simple, laidback existence those first few years: singles were rarely recorded, gigs barely booked. Their frontman's decision to help found the seminal 53rd & 3rd is another example of how inconspicuous he could be when it came to his craft. Star as the lone striker in a 4-5-1? How about playing a more understated role and lending support from the sidelines. "I don't think groups should over-estimate their importance," he's gone on record as saying.

Then there's the musical output, which has touched everyone from Talulah Gosh and The Vaselines to Belle And Sebastian and Camera Obscura. While JAMC's early sound was equated to a bomb going off and Primal Scream's later work, pure bombast, Pastel looked ever inward. His songs were an example of how, when it comes to an artist conveying what's percolating inside, heart-felt emotions are often more important than sheer musical ability.

There exists a very human quality to the bulk of Pastel's work, thanks largely to his keep-the-mistakes ethic when it came to recording and his pure amateurishness when he first began playing. Okay, so the lad's gifted and worshipped . . . but he has fucks-ups just like the rest of us. And really, when you get right down to it, isn't that what comforts us common folk?

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Something's Going On" by The Pastels.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The story of Creation (part 7)

Time to dip into the Creation Records vault once again . . . .

In 1983, Alan McGee and Dick Green founded The Living Room, a club located in a cozy room (once used for hosting folk acts) above London's Adams Arms pub. There, in the tiny section of Fitzrovia and in the shadow of the Post Office Tower, McGee and Green showcased a number of then unknown guitar bands: The Jasmine Minks, June Brides, The Pastels, The Loft.

These acts –- along with luminaries such as Television Personalities -- were later featured on the now extremely hard-to-find Alive In The Living Room, which was Creation's first-ever album (it was also initially on cassette only). The LP's sound was primitive at best, having been culled from several live performances at the club, and was widely panned by critics. (Quick bit of trivia: London police raided The Living Room in February of 1984 on account of it being overcrowded; the raid can allegedly be heard during one of the songs on the album's second side.)

Alive In The Living Room remains the only Creation release featuring June Brides (strangely, McGee passed on them). However, after the band split in 1986, McGee did ink singer/songwriter Phil Wilson to a record deal. Wilson went on to release a pair of singles for the label: "Waiting For Change" and "10 Miles."

Hear them for yourself. Download:

CRE 036: Phil Wilson - "Waiting For A Change," (7"+D7"+12"), March, 1987

CRE 046: Phil Wilson - "Ten Miles," (7"+12"), June, 1987

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Vaselines reunion

It was emphatically stressed in the weeks prior that it was not a reunion gig. No one bought it, of course. Not for a second.

On June 19, Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee -- the pair behind the seminal group The Vaselines -- performed at the ABC2 in Glasgow. At the beginning of the performance, McKee remarked that everyone in attendance had been lured to the venue under false pretenses. The show was billed as a pair of solo sets and would not deviate from such: McKee would play tunes from her new album, Sunny Moon; Kelly would do songs from his, Man Alive.

But then came the surprise encore (okay, not really a surprise to anyone), and the moment all in the crowd -- including folks like Stephen Pastel, Stuart Murdoch, and Isobel Campbell -- had been eagerly awaiting. For 20 minutes, the pair belted out a slew of Vaseline treasures, everything from "Molly's Lips" to "Monsterpussy." Hearing the elegant chirp of McKee once again blend so seamlessly with Kelly’s more coarse pipes . . . one had to wonder why they hadn't staged such a reunion years ago.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Rory Rides Me Raw" by The Vaselines. Not certain if this tune was played at the ABC2 (tracking down a set list has been difficult); I'm offering it up for the simple reason that it's one of my faves. It was the B-side to the group's first single, "Son Of A Gun," which was released on Pastel's 53rd & 3rd label. And before you ask, Rory was the name of McKee's bicycle.

(The above photo was snapped by the user Cadd and uploaded on Flickr.)

Note: One of our loyal readers checked in with a list of the Vaseline songs played at the June 19 show: "Molly's Lips," "Monsterpussy," "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam," and "Son Of A Gun." Thanks, Peter!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

From the catacombs of Glasgow: Melody Dog

In 1987, K Records expanded its passionate revolt against the corporate ogre by spreading outside Olympia, Washington's thriving music scene. The label -- which had been launched by Calvin Johnson as a cassette-only venture back in '82 -– kicked off a seven-inch single series entitled the International Pop Underground. The series goal was, "To feature artists emanating from pop rockin' catacombs around the globe."

One of those artists was Melody Dog and the catacomb they crawled out of? Glasgow. In 1992, Melody Dog joined countrymen Teenage Fanclub and The Pastels as part of K's ever-growing cadre of international acts when the Olympia-based label released the group's "Futuristic Lover" -- a track produced by Stephen Pastel.

An EP, "Cassie," was cut later that year on a label a tad closer to home: Seminal Twang Records. That release featured a cover of Primal Scream's "Movin' On Up" played entirely with toy instruments. (Playing instruments such as the five tone twirling pipes was a staple at their gigs.)

According to information gleaned from, the band consisted of Katrina Mitchell and Pat Laureate. There were plans to record an LP for Ice Rink, but then that label went belly up. The group went their separate ways soon after and Mitchell joined The Pastels.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Futuristic Lover" by Melody Dog.

Monday, June 26, 2006

More from The Scrotum Poles

A day or so after making this post on Dundee's The Scrotum Poles, I received a missive from band member Craig Methven, happy to report that a compilation covering the D.I.Y. group's short career is in the works. "Am presently trawling through three CDs worth of material from 26 years ago," Craig told me. "Some not bad, some downright bloody awful."

In the meantime, to tide over us ardent SP fans, Craig emailed an mp3 of a song entitled "It Just Ain't Fucking Funny." Some background on the track courtesy of Craig:

It's from the much sought-after, "Auchmithie Calling" (cassette release 1979 - only a hundred made). Its very rough, came from the first incarnation of the band - lets be honest its all over the place. We got rid of the drummer after the tape finished. You'll hear why. Will be re-releasing the scratchy old warhorse soon on CD for the demented, the obsessed and those who couldn't get the tape.

Some further information regarding the extremely rare Auchmithie Calling: It was the first of just two releases from The Scrotum Poles (on their One Tone Records), preceding 1980's five-song Revelation EP. According to Methven, the individual who handled the copying duties for Auchmithie Calling was likely paid for his services with a pint down at the local.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "It Just Ain't Fucking Funny" by The Scrotum Poles.