Friday, 28 June 2013

It’s what’s different that makes them strong

I’m going to write about The Pastels properly this time. There’s a post buried in here (the blog – not these words) about the honesty and integrity of a great Scottish band but I want to say more. I grew up in a steeltown. You should know that by now. Where we jostled for meaning in our lives as mighty furnaces blew smoke and sulphur into the air.

I was never going to be part of that shift scene (6 – 2 then 2 – 10 and 10 – 6 and back again) – believe me I wasn’t harking after a 9 to 5 slot either (I didn’t want to become one of those steps on the boss man’s ladder - You know I had dreams they could never take away.) I had music in this England’s dreaming - growing up was shaped by music – the difference and diffidence of youth movements. And you can only chose from what’s around – I wasn’t going to form a new sub cultural existence in Scunthorpe was I? I mean how could we? The Pistols hadn’t played here. You need that sort of shit to rebel and set up Factory records – oh and a job in television and that. That was the other side - the west – we were strictly East coast – Slaughter and the Dogs and Sham ’69.

So those early eighties were spent immersed in all sorts of cultures (clubs) – the bootlace tie blues with Elvis and Shakin’ Stevens, I was wearing grey pointed shoes, pleated trousers and new romantic ruffs whilst listening to OMD, Duran Duran and Kraftwerk. I was jitterbugging with Wham. I dabbled with a touch of Madness. I even bought two U2 long players. And Paul was digging the Velvets, the Bunnymen, The Cure, The Fall.

It was a trajectory that was always going to lead to The Pastels.

I cannot recall when I first heard The Pastels. It certainly would have been around 1986 – because they were so C86 maaaaaan. Of course they weren’t – they weren’t invented by the NME – they were invented by Rock ‘n’ Roll. I never quite get all that shambolic nonsense – I know the band I was in wanted to be able to play – we wanted our noise chaotic but controlled. The fact I couldn’t play didn’t help – but in my head I played the right notes. I always thought that The Pastels were pretty tight as a band – as a unit – as a community. It might not have been over produced – but it had a beat – you could bug out to it.

Anyway it might have been earlier – sort of Million Tears, Truck Train Tractor, Crawl Babies time – which I think spans a few years. There is nothing twee in their approach. It’s as barbed and controlled as The Velvet Underground. Just because Stephen never rolled on the floor – took his top off and told us he wanted to be our dog – didn’t mean there wasn’t/ isn’t that sense of urgency and confrontation in the music of the Pastels.

Listen to their cover of Pablo Picasso.

So during that time of finding friendships and all the fumbles and smiles and letters and mixtapes through the post and passed between lovers - The Pastels would invariably work their way into the fabric of my existence in that steeltown.

There was a time that making or receiving a tape cassette from someone was as complex a decoding mission as that of those at Bletchley Park. The cues - the codes – the inferences and comparisons – the melody and lyric – a message to you and you alone because you had the tape – it was given to you - made for you.

Constructed with you in mind.

Each song ringing with subtext because this was made for you by someone else. I still want to compile – to set one song against another – it’s list making for other people. It’s thinking about them. But do you remember that feeling when you placed a song next to another and another and another that inescapable feeling of falling in love? The need to be involved in the physical act of selecting, or rejecting a song. I have fallen in love many times to the 45 revolutions per minute of a 7 inch single, or the whirring of the tape spools as they passed through and over the heads of whatever tape player I could find that worked. Finding those hidden tunes on records as you flipped them over and released the b-side. I once had a friend – who never played b-sides – he couldn’t see the point. I expect his record collection consists of all the NOW albums – just the hits my friend- just the hits.

I’m not sure you get that on Spotify – it’s not a mixtape. Recommendations not real revelations.

Which brings me back to The Pastels – you were probably wondering where they had gone. A real revelation. That first listen to The Pastels was most likely on a tape cassette from some other lonely (planet) boy or girl who was stuck in Derby or Durham or Doncaster. A tape hissing and whirring with Baby Honey secreted on Side Two – it had to go there – it was quite long see – and you wouldn’t put that on side one would you?

And then a 7 inch brought home from Record Village – I remember Paul and I just looking at the postcard that came with Comin’ Through. The Pastels – apart from having one of the coolest names in pop looked super fucking cool too – a gang – a gang that embraced all. This was not macho – this was egalitarian rocking out (with rucksacks) and then a 12inch from Leeds or York – adding to our knowledge of superior pop. And that first wonderful long player ‘Up for a bit’ – and we where up for a bit – who wouldn’t be at that age? There was a playfulness in the title – with an air of menace. You don’t survive in Glasgow without it. You don’t survive any city that ain’t that pretty without a slice of the solid. You had to look after yourself in those days. You could get a pasting from the ‘bouncers’ on the Baths Hall doors for having a bowlhead – well maybe not the haircut. I think I got a pasting for calling them ‘cunts’ but that’s another story.

I made a t-shirt – because you couldn’t buy one – you couldn’t just look it up on Amazon. I had to make a stencil and spray paint it. Paul stole it though. He was slimmer than me then. And then a journey to Leeds – The Duchess of York. With Stephen all crepe soled shoes and dazzling shirts – there simple was nothing that couldn’t be done. They were all conquering – as I’ve said before I thought selling out the Duchess pretty much meant the road to superstardom. And then with them at the ULU – early days into my university existence – all friends down to the smoke and drinking Thunderbird wine and rolling around on floors and other people’s beds. The Pastels providing the soundtrack. Ride may have made their debut at that gig - but it was The Pastels who triumphed. They had moved it on a notch. They weren’t looking back – they never had. They’d been (sittin’) pretty forging out a new sound - great songwriting, showmanship and shoes – see when that comes together how can it fail? The Pastels live was and is exciting. A cacophonous sound and a band with women in – no patriarchal rock monsterism on show here. Equality in feeling and expression.

He sings – she sings – they sing. This is a band who take risks – they still do.

I’ve been listening to Slow Summits recently – a record from outsiders – risk takers – not chancers. There's a big difference. It’s got this backwash of sound and structure that is both exploratory and familiar. It’s pastoral and filmic, melodic Morricone meets Russell soundscapes for the masses. Uplifting music for people – all the people – all the time – you can hear it coursing through Slowly Taking Place. All six minutes thirty three seconds – with those simple harmonies breaking through at the bitter end making you want it to carry on for another six minutes.

And then take a song Night Time Made Us – it brings you to your knees. This is not an example of a throwaway pop mentality - as always with The Pastels they didn’t make tunes to be forgotten. You know you don’t hang around for thirty years without a great deal of understanding. Night Time Made Us is so warm – so supportive a tune – father and son – mother and daughter – being born and growing older. I simply love it.

Summer Rain’s outro has a kind of Kes meets Intastella vibe – all weaving flutes and drones. You see it’s what is different that makes them strong. Stephen said that – I can’t claim to have written that – but he’s right. Honesty and truthfulness – this band has never set out to deceive –its eyes were always on what might come along up ahead. Not how to play the corporate game. As I said early – they are outsiders making music to warm your inside. This is not twee, nor calculated marketing. Just because you want a change of ideology you don’t have to cover it in symbolism and anger. You just make things that have a beauty for everyone – you bring about change collectively.

And it seems that The Pastels are being discovered again. A shift in the collective consciousness. Long live the internet and the chance to pass things on. We may not shout about it in fanzines anymore – but you can get a piece of this and that – right here on the screen. Slow Summits is hopeful – it’s got humanity at its heart.

So here’s ‘Check your heart’ the first glorious single from Slow Summits – it resonates in so many ways – you know I’m getting older – I should have my heart checked.

A song in love with the pop moment. A record to dance to. Dance to with the kids. Because I do a lot of that these days. And I want to play ‘pure popcorn’ moments with them because that’s the dad I am. We dance – we sing – we laugh together.

I like taking risks when The Pastels are in involved.

You can read a wonderful interview with Stephen here by Jenn Pelly for Pitchfork  

You can find out all about his 'baker's dozen' here - it's a great trawl through thirteen of Stephen's favourite albums. 

Here's the great video for Check Your Heart. Check out Duglas dancing near the end (alongside others) 


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

I like the television.

They’re making a film about Spike Island. They’ve made a documentary about the Stone Roses – they’re selling our youth back in celluloid, as there isn’t any new music to push.  We’ve got 250 hours of Glastonbury coming our way – you can watch the Stones and all those other hit making machines. You can sit and chose. 

That’s the way it is (something’s will never change – that’s just the way it is)

I’m forty two this month – looking backwards as ever to those halcyon pop moments and heady days of bedrooms and revolving records. But do I want it on film, on my television and not on the radio nor in the flesh? I only listen to the 3 and 4 you know – and catch that pirate house station when the kids are taking a bath – it’s a random dial thaaaanng.

But invariably I’ve ended my weeks with documentaries about this style and that genre – this singer and that roller.

They showed a series on BBC4 about punk rock.

They’ve showed a whole heap of programmes on this style and that. It had talking heads and clips and stuff in it - tidying up the punk movement in sixty minutes tops and following it with more footage of [raw] power guitar chords and discordant screams from the great and the dead. It’s what it would have wanted – the punk movement – its own documentary strand on digital television. I guess I’m being ironic [moronic] here – but whenever I’m watching – note watching – not listening to programmes on music I get slightly touchy about it all. Drop into anecdote mode and say that I never really liked The Clash. Which is true – I could never warm to them. Don’t get me wrong I like the dub roots, the bass and guitar scowls and howls – but I never thought they had any grace.

I didn’t want to be in them.

You see when the Pistols arrived all full of froth and posture – it was a two fingered salute – a start – that quickly went nowhere – bound to really – it’s far too easy to claim you're bored when you doing nothing to stop the rot[ten] but at least it was a start. It was clouded in this and that – it didn’t care. But clearly it resonated – clearly it was a (rolling) stone dropped in the pond. Vacancy was predicated on alienation – on reaction to the grind.

And that’s why The Fall are the most vital of all those late 70s bands. In every record by The Fall is a reaction – a working ethic that had no time for boredom – it didn’t want to speak for the youth – it had more to say- ah. (I’ll return to this – later on – down the page – because today I’m rambling – I’m the half ten rambler – I can’t stay up that late anymore)

Anyway when I was younger – which was an age ago – it was always about taking sides (I’ve said this before – but you should know that this  repetition repetition repetition’s in the writing and I’m never gonna lose it)  – wearing your heart on your sleeve and telling anyone who would listen that your favourite band was the one that mattered the most. I tended to choose the obscure – the shambling cacophony of a new band I had on tape that had just emerged from Lanarkshire – bands that would sink without a trace. I’ll write a post about The Bachelor Pad at some point (they didn’t sink without a trace – they never really made a trace did they?)

So now you’re dipping in and out of genres and styles, geography and fashion –walking that New Yawk walk and talkin’ in a manc accent depending which strand of documentary programming you’ve been exposed to that evening. I ended up watching music inspired by The Eagles the other night – all California hair and  strumming as footage from 1974 poured through my television’s speakers and moved me to inertia – to bed.

But hey ho – let’s go  - I was talking about sounds on the screen – sold back to us – to send us to itunes and download that nugget of nostalgia. I was talkin’ ‘bout PuNk on the TV.

I’ve said it before but I first became aware of the dark side of pop – the chaotic and the immediate when Paul – my brother - introduced me to The Pistols, The Exploited [I know it’s not first wave punk – but they seemed exciting and dangerous at the time], The Velvets and of course The Fall. I’d only heard them – on the radio – in a disco – on a tape from a friend. I hadn’t seen them. I hadn’t seen The Fall move – not at that point.

Now there’s a band I would want to be in – to be honest there’s a high percentage that I could have been  - I think Mark E Smith I has got through something like a 100 members. I could imagine finding myself playing out of time as Mark turned down my amp and told me to stop showing off. There’s a left field – outsider art that courses through the veins of The Fall and whenever I’m in need of blast of diffidence and difference Mark has the sounds to represent it. 

I have yet to see The (mighty) Fall.

And another opportunity has passed me by. December - full of cold and coughs and pills and powders I couldn’t muster the energy to haul myself to Islington and get a piece of the MES. It just wasn’t going to happen.  I think in ‘indie’ circles seeing the Fall must be akin to seeing The Beatles. They sit outside the whole thing yet bring everything to the ‘scene’ – heavy on the music scene. And there was John Peel championing them every night – well every other night. It feels weird writing about Peel at the moment – as sagas rage and roll about who did what – with whom – in which studio or ‘green’ room. But for now I’m just going to go with flow and acknowledge that if there was ever a champion for a band then Peel was one for The ‘mighty’ Fall. Countless sessions from garage band veterans. Multiple hits in festive charts. Tape em. Tape them.

And I missed The Fall again. This time it was the throes of Spring. I read a wonderful review over at louder than war (the best place for up to date information – not like this ole place) – but I missed them. Again. That MES scowl – that ambivalence to the modern but thoroughly up to date (mate).

So where do I get my fix of the Smith ways of the world?

I find it on clips and bits in programmes about the Manchester scene – or documentaries with the good man himself. (Well he’s not really a good man – he’s a cantankerous fucker with wit that sits to the right – but you know he never played by the rules  - why should he? We don’t want that cloth cap clutching WMC attitude of deference round here)

So perhaps they’ll make a film about The Fall playing Doncaster. 

A film of Totale’s Turn. It isn’t Spike Island. It isn’t new music. 

But as this month has my birthday in it – I can be forgiven for looking back – not listening – looking.  

So here's the first piece of film I saw of The Fall - late night on a So it goes Special. Most likely BBC2 - it's on a video tape somewhere. 

And i've put in a performance of Blindness from Later - because it's brilliant. Because it's The Fall and that's what they do