Saturday, 6 February 2016

Dreamers: A Night with the BMX Bandits

Independent pop music in 1986 was genuinely that – it was independent – fierce in spirit and attitude – it was not part of the plan – it was immediate – simple and available from the right record shops or fanzine networks and tape exchanges.  I remember those times with both happiness and fondness. It was a time of awakening and feeling accepted – or not feeling accepted and knowing you weren’t the only outsider.

Not that I was an outsider – a loner – that was never my bag – give me a slightest hint of an audience and I’d be performing to it – liked the sound of myself see – clearly I still do – or I wouldn’t write this.  Yet 1986 was a formative time for many.  I was 14 – nearly 15 – growing up – the weight of the world sitting heavy on my shoulders and then along came all of these bands – shambling as John Peel said or jangly this and that – as various music journalists coined it. One newspaper  - the NME put some of this emerging independent experimentation together ‘on tape’ ( I’ve got it on tape – well a tape of the tape)  they called it C86. 

 As a rolling stone of  a tape it gathered momentum – it’s now viewed as a pivotal moment in defining an era – it didn’t feel like that at the time – it was just a tape with some songs on it that the NME gave away that week – some of them were shit songs ( you decide?)

However as the apocryphal story goes ‘this tape’ begat all other indie bands from that ground zero – thus we have that tape to thank for fucking Slowdive or The Chesterfields. (joke – natch)  However – it’s fair to say there was a lo-fi revolution taking place – The Smiths had opened our eyes  (another apocryphal story) and now out of that re-appreciation of rock n roll came these bands with 'soul' - not all about the hits but rather these bands were making something with integrity. It didn't matter that many of these fledging singles sounded cheap - under produced - it was all about existing - perhaps being on the outside of the mainstream - but here you could set the agenda.

The BMX Bandits have always been on my radar – not quite central – but there – pinging away – I know they are there - do you get what I mean? It turns out they’ve been there for thirty years.  I first met Duglas in South London – it was at a Teenage Fanclub gig at the Venue in New Cross (now home to three floors of independent sounds and lots of covers bands) but at that time they used to put on bands.  I was talking to Norman Blake or whoever and Duglas was there.  We struck up a short conversation about the magic of Brian Wilson.  

HE talked about SMiLE and promised to send me a copy.

He was true to his word. 

He sent me a tape. I don't know where he'd got it from - but it was such a lovely thing to do - he track listed it and put on a few other Beach Boys gems too.  It took another twenty-five years before I could thank him properly - via the wonders of the web (wonderweb?) and connections via cables.

There's something about that attention to detail and wonderfully openness that Duglas and his 'family' of Bandits have that can easily be mis-read - as twee and past it - or creepy and calculated - but if you look close into Duglas's eyes you can see he's been 'for real' since their formation. This is no novelty act. Tonight the 100 Club will be witness to another extension of PuNK (it's where it started maaaaaan) - that freedom to do just what you want to do.

Before the BMX Bandits - we have The School - a seven piece mish-mash of the Shangri-las, Motown, Spector, Beach Boys, The Pastels and dare it say it a C86 vibe - there's a craft in this Cardiff based troupe - horns and xylophones - pianos and guitars - layered vocals and sing along ding a lings - they are perfect in their own right. Reaching right back to the past to come up with something new. They are not twee - they will take you out in the underpass. You should all check them out - I will be doing so again.

And then this thronged crowd witness a beautiful pop performance - finely tuned and honest in its approach. Having read the piece in The Guardian previously – maybe it helped shift that perception of Duglas as eccentric rogue – and placed him in that rock n roll list of tortured artist – confronting his demons on stage through the simplicity of songs like ‘Your Class’. He's the Bellshill Brian Wilson - he even has the hand gestures to match.  

Love and mercy, indeed.

We are party to the wee talks from Duglas peppered with his observations and ultimate belief in love. His talks are funny - he is a funny man.  He eats an apple - he eats a boiled sweet. He plays the kazoo.  He gives us his best tunes.  It's a testament to this band that you can put a song as magical and wonderful as 'Serious Drugs' four songs in and know that you've got belter after belter left for the crowd. 

We are party to a pop band with tunes that should have been high in the hit parade.  I'm not going to try and describe the sound - but this is pure pop craft - there's a nod to the past  - you can't write songs like this without referencing Spector and Wilson - but there's so much more hidden inside Duglas and his Bandits heads - listen to the howling guitars of 'Kylie's got a crush on us' or the Ramones meets The Shirelles stomp of my favourite song of the night 'I wanna fall in love'.  Duglas and CHloe are in fine voice - they swap and harmonise all night - all sixties glamour and well tailored suits. Then there's the beauty of 'The Day before Tomorrow' were Duglas is joined by Sean Dickson (previously of The Soup Dragons) on omnichord. It's quite poignant really - Duglas tells us the tale of choosing their name and how him, Sean, Jim and Norman phoned up Eugene (from The Vaselines) to tell him their choices - how he hated the name the BMX Bandits - so they stuck with it. - and now here is Sean on stage once more with his boyhood pal - they hug after a riotous E102.

Pure class.

And then they are back to tell us of the injunction they have had to get to stop Kylie following them - cue Kylie's got a crush on us and then a blissed out Witchi Tai To to round it all off.

Glasgow in the early eighties must have been an exciting time - oh to be at Splash One. But you know I didn't need to be there - because of it - I've had a chance to hear those beautiful dreaming minds - Duglas, Norman, Sean, Bobby, Stephen, Rose,  - what a gang - what a set of groups.

What a bunch of beautiful dreamers.

It was a pleasure to be with Duglas and his Bandits in The 100 Club.  It's important to be reminded of the power of love. Duglas sings from his heart to yours and makes it seem that everything will work out right in the end. 

Anything is possible in Duglas's impossible dream.

BMX Bandits are thirty years old.  Here's to another 30 years.

Here is a wonderful song from the night - thanks as always to Ruth for capturing it

And here's one from The School 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

I wrote for luck - they sent me you

All documentary programmes about Manchester will discuss the pivotal moment The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses played Top of the Pops. They will argue how it redefined the centre of pop – how it re-presented the working class as saviours of music – how it broke boundaries and fuelled dreams.

In Scunthorpe on that Thursday 23rd November, 1989 we had a power cut.

The North East were not witness to this seismic shift.

We did not yet have that Madchester feeling

There was a time when the Happy Mondays were seen as the bottom of the heap, the underbelly of the working class – drug dealing rough youth with fried eyes and crazy dancing.  Compare that to the real misspent working class of today  – the uneducated and illiterate- this cultureless mob that is shat on a daily basis.

The Mondays look like fucking professors – do you get me?

It’s been a week or so since I saw them – the show – at Brixton Academy a revisit of Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches – plus a couple of other classics thrown in. It was excellent. Just so you know – if you weren’t there. I’ve written about Ryder somewhere back in the past – all explaining his impact on pop culture and how his lyric flair and rhythm are worthy of study and this and that. I mean it maaaaan.  Sometimes pop transcends its boundaries – sometimes we can transcend our boundaries.

I’m writing this in south London – after an hour of idiocy and inarticulate mutterings. I worry about the working class – perhaps it’s because they don’t have Top of the Pops anymore – we are fractured and disparate – no commonality or shared experience.

Back then – when the spirit of 86 had manifested into 89 and beyond  - all tribes and outlooks had come together – learnt from one another – listened and lifted the spirits – community and action were up for grabs – discussion alongside hedonism and dirty mags. The Happy Mondays emerged with a rawness and authenticity - so sadly lacking in the independent scene of today - that took the breath away. This was not a typical NME band - but they had to cover them - they had to write about their fried funk - Parliament meets the Velvets by a route taking in John Denver - TB303s - disco and freaky dancin'.

It’s an odd venue the Academy – considering what’s its seen in rock n roll excess it feels a little faded these days.  It looked like it could do with a lick of paint and some 'shake n vac' on the carpet.  It looked like it could do with a new lease of life.

And here were the Mondays – looking like they'd had a new lease of life – alive and with it – on it and surviving.  Clean living in dirty times. This was no haggard run through of past glories – it was putting it right back out there and making people remember why Ryder and Bez are actually celebrities. This wasn’t about ‘effs and jeffs’ on TV shows or political musings in Manchester. It was the music that made the paaarrrttty – and these are no jesters – working class freak shows – they are the talent – the raw fucking ingredients of a funked up childhood and living life excessively and expressively.

It’s straight into the Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches anthems – beginning with Kinky Afro - Rowetta literally whipping up the crowd and Bez commanding the mad proceedings - so pivotal to all that is the Mondays. Without him they'd still be a wonderful band of brothers - with him they are future funk muthas - a juggernaut of pop party arriving in your town.

At one point Ryder reminds us that this would be point when you turned the record over. That slight pause - getting your breath back and then on with the party. They really are tight - no updates of the tunes- played as there were written - tight and discordant house funk freak sounds - wonderful. Inevitably the place errupts when the band launch into Step On - all fake maraca shakes and moves as Bez conducts up front. He looks great - it's great when you're straight - oh yeah. We are twisting our melons - we are talking so hip - we are with the Mondays - on their ship and they are guiding us ever higher and to happy climes.We are existing in Harmony - right here in the confines of a faded concert venue - but this is no faded band.

And then they are gone. But not for long. Emerging to the shouted Higher - Hallujah chants - we are happy for Shaun William Ryder to lie down beside us and fill us full of junk. He may not have been sent to save us - but itsurely feels like it. The Mondays articulate the possibilities that were there for the taking back then - combining fun with fulfilment. They were never really gone work for the man - but the sure helped those stuck in factories escape from him.  Finally - they end with Wrote for Luck - I can't describe how much that tune was a revelation then and still stands strong now - like this band - still standing strong.

A long may that continue.

What with The Mondays, Black Grape and a Shaun William Ryder album on the horizon it seems that all that premature talk of rocks and lost form was merely that - all talk - SWR and Bez and band are made of much sterner stuff. He breezed through the jungle and Bez made that stint in the house look like a stay at a holiday camp. These men were built to last and deserve the recognition and appreciation that some of the other 'baggy' groups still get.

I wrote for luck and they sent me you.

Here are the Mondays doing what they do best - enjoy 

Friday, 30 October 2015

Do you remember when Gedge was cutting edge?

Do you remember when David Gedge was well known? The pinnacle of independent hipness in your home town? He was all front cover this and all of that - guesting here and there - I got the NME today - it was from a guy in  a hi-vis jacket outside Covent Garden station - it's still in Emma's bag -I haven't even read it.

My band were once reviewed in a Scunthorpe rag - compared us to the Weddoes and we were incensed - too easy - too appealing - to downright chug a lug a lug.  We were only young - we weren't having that - we we're going to be bigger, better, harder, stronger. We weren't.

I've recently revisited the Festive Fifty - the Wedding Present appear in it - frequently - to be honest - it was downloaded by my brother - he sent it my way - I mean there's too much to play these days - I looked at the listing - it went on and on - you know fifty tracks- like a Now that's what I call an INDIE compilation - I'm not quite certain how I fitted it all in back then - listening to it all - what with television, film, girls and late night walks and talks and possibly a kiss and all of the other - but there was a world filled with music - with sounds from the underground. It hadn't crossed over - you had to find it - on cheap cassettes from names on letters who lived in Leeds or Middlesboro' - talk over weeks not instant blips and bleeps and youtube finds - on the radio late at night - - do you remember when Gedge was cutting edge?

I saw The Wedding Present possibly twice - I can't quite remember all the details - Once was definitely in Kilburn - the national - around Bizzaro time - i think -  all hands held with new loves and smiles and anticipation - pale saints supported - blew them away to be honest - but I will write a pale saints post - sometime. They deserve it. Not that The Wedding Present don't - I just need to properly revisit it all and digest what it was that made me both revile and kind of like them somewhere down the line.

So the festive fifty (which is where I started - but didn't discuss)  - is now getting cut up and placed randomly on CDs - for car journeys and moments of nostalgia ( Freak Scene - No.5/ Shame on You . No33 or something ) I said I wouldn't do that here - talk of nostalgia - but here I am - guitar in hand - milking moments from lost times.

The dream is over.

So to let you know -

I don't believe in Elvis

I don't believe in Jesus

I don't believe in Blast First

I don't believe in Kanye

I don't believe in Cameron

I don't believe in Zimmerman

I don't believe in Wilson

I don't believe in Spector

I don't believe in Smith (M.E)

I don't believe in Sarah

I don't believe in 4AD

I don't believe in Heavenly

I don't believe in Gillespie

I don't believe in Creation

I don't believe in Morrissey

I don't believe in sub-culture

I don't believe in Sub pop

I don't believe in Annakin

I don't believe in capitalism

I don't believe in rock 'n' roll

I don't believe in Peel

I just believe in me

Emma and me. 

And the other three.

The dream is over.

Not as passionate - but still listening - still trying to write.