Friday, July 14, 2006

Mr. Busy Body

William Hazlitt once said, "The more we do, the more we can do; the more busy we are the more leisure we have." Smart man, that Hazlitt.

Lenny Helsing would likely agree. The industrious Edinburgh man always has something on his plate. He's been prominently involved with three noteworthy indie bands: The Green Telescope, The Thanes, and The Wildebeests. He also played drums for Television Personalities during their 1993 tour of the US and their 1994 tour of Japan.

One of Helsing's more interesting projects involved Glasgow's The Beatstalkers, a pop/psychedelic outfit from the 1960s. Helsing befriended Beatstalkers bassist Alan Mair and thanks to some constant urging, as well as a trip to Mair's mum's attic (she still possessed copies of all the group's 45s; all were in mint condition), a compilation entitled Scotland's No. 1 Beat Group was born. Helsing handled the liner notes, amassing copies of vintage newspaper articles and photographs to be included in the CD's booklet.

This entry won't deal with The Beatstalkers, however, but The Green Telescope. The common sentiment when discussing Helsing is that he was born too late, and that's clearly evident with The Green Telescope, a band that wears its '60s garage rock influences on its sleeve. There's flecks of psychedelic and folk, too, but it's far from being revivalist claptrap, as Helsing and crew know how to keep things sounding fresh.

Also, here's a bit of additional information, now pertinent since The Madcap passed away: The Green Telescope were featured on this 1987 tribute album, contributing the song "Scream Thy Last Scream."

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Make Me Stay" by The Green Telescope.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Anyone know these lads?

Awhile back, in my trawling for obscure Scottish acts, I stumbled upon The Wishing Stones, a band featured on The Sound Of Leamington Spa, Volume 1. lists the group as being from Glasgow, however, following numerous forays on the ole search engines, I've discovered The Wishing Stones may not be as tartan as I originally thought.

As far as I can tell, the lone member with any sort of connection to Glasgow is John F. Niven, The Wishing Stones' guitarist. He graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1991 with a degree in English literature. Following his work with The Wishing Stones, Niven did A&R work with Scottish bands like Travis and Mogwai. He's made a career in writing, too, authoring a book for the highly recommended 33 1/3 series, as well as directing a short film named Tethered.

As for the rest of The Wishing Stones . . .

Information on drummer Andy Kerr is sparse. Those with a passing interest in popular music have likely heard the name Andrew Kerr, who helped found the Glastonbury Festival, but I'm highly doubtful this is the same individual, as the dates don't necessarily jive (the festival was founded in 1971; The Wishing Stones were recording and touring in the late 1980s).

The frontman, bassist Bill Prince, was once part of The Loft, the early Creation act that famously broke up during a gig at the Hammersmith Palais in London.

And then there's Stuart "The Bull" Garden . . . Nothing could be unearthed regarding this chap.

So there you have it: A blog entry that tells you next to nothing. Not my finest moment, I know. At any rate, here's The Wishing Stones' "Beat Girl," which was released on Head Records in September of 1986. Three more singles followed that release before The Wishing Stones recorded their lone album, Wildwood.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Beat Girl" by The Wishing Stones.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The story of Creation (part 8)

Tell us, what's more tragic?

A nuclear power plant disaster rendering an entire region uninhabitable for the next 300 years and leading to countless human casualties, or a one-off, manufactured, schlocky hip-hop group consisting of female ex-Virgin Megastore employees actually scoring a hit on the indie charts and landing a spot on the cover of the NME?

Wait . . . . Don't answer that.

Hear it for yourself.
Download: CRE 041: Baby Amphetamine - "Chernobyl Baby," (7"+12"), 1987

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Before he was known as Momus . . .

The Happy Family is just a tiny blip on Nick Currie's impressive CV –- overshadowed by achievements such as the inventive (yet cash-inspired) Stars Forever, participation in a weekly webcast cabaret spectacle, and "Fakeways: Manhattan Folk," a documentary about the NYC art and music scene. Founded in 1981 after Currie took a sabbatical of sorts from the University of Aberdeen, where he was studying literature, The Happy Family recorded just one album, 1982's The Man On Your Street, before the group disbanded and Currie returned to his schooling.

The Happy Family garnered a fair amount of press during its short existence, mainly on account of the lineup consisting of three ex-Josef K members: guitarist and pianist Malcolm Ross (who was also a member of Orange Juice at the time), bassist David Wendell, and later, drummer Ronnie Torrance. (One of Josef K's roadies, Paul Mason, was The Happy Family's fifth member.) However, this helped contribute to the band's undoing, as comparisons to Josef K were both inevitable and frequent.

Unfair, too, as The Happy Family's The Man On Your Street bore little resemblance to anything produced by the aforementioned Sound Of Young Scotland act. The LP is billed as a "Brechtian concept album about a fascist dictator and the Red Brigades," and features sometimes bouncy, sometimes moody indie pop laced with Currie's typically wry lyrics. (Trivia which may only interest me: According to 4AD, which released the record, The Happy Family had some rather ambitious orchestrations planned for the LP, but the label lacked the funds to pay for it.)

Hear it for yourself. Download: “Revenge!” by The Happy Family.

Monday, July 10, 2006

'Edinburgh, thanks for absolutely nothing!'

The following interview was featured in the House Of Dolls fanzine, Issue 21, January of 1989. Intrepid scribe Steev C sat down for a nice chat with AVO-8, an Edinburgh new wave act oft described as having an R&B meets dance vibe.

AVO-8 formed in 1979, released a single on Stroppo Records ("Gone Wrong"), and then called it a day. The band reformed with a different lineup in 1985 and subsequently released three more singles: one on their own AVO Records and two others on Cherry Red.

Here, members of the group offer up some particularly scathing, humorous, and oftentimes true comments about the Edinburgh music scene.

George Glen, bass: "Edinburgh's not the greatest scene in the world. We had to get out to make something."

Jan Hastie, vocals: "It's never done us any favours at all. Quite honestly, Edinburgh, thanks for absolutely nothing!"

Stephen Hastie, guitar: "It's amazing when you play a gig and think, 'What a great gig that was, everyone was jumping about at the front and cheering and thing.' And you read a review in the local Edinburgh newspaper thing and its like, 'AVO-8 had a couple of fans at the front and they were absolute shite,' and things like that."

Jan: "In Edinburgh, there's this big group of funk bands and this big group of soul bands and this big group of sort of funk/soul bands and there's only, like, two venues you can play."

Claire Gourlay, vocals: "No one goes out to see a band -- they go out for a drink and if there's a band on you don't get the comeback. They're not there to see you."

Glen: "Edinburgh's a city that's got a festival and a very arty reputation. People get entertainment through the festival and they get passive. They're very picky, very choosy, very stand-offish."

Jan: "So we're not that enamoured of Edinburgh music-wise at all."

Hear it for yourself. "When You're Gone" by AVO-8. The band also has a number of other tracks available for download here.