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)