Sunday, 17 November 2013

That's love. Heaven's Above. Here come The Pastels again.


It’s taken far too long to write this….but the euphoria hasn’t diminished. I was in the company of The Pastels last week. And I missed The Fall this weekend but you can’t have all your heroes in one week – you know things could just implode with that kind of excitement. So here I am tonight – at home – with the incessant drone of charity ringing in my ears – you know the only time I wear my pyjamas is in my bed maaaaan. I’m old like that. You don’t want give anyone a shock. McCartney’s on in the background all wrong sounding strings, and Yesterday played in glittering jackets – like rock and roll has been wrung out of it all.

But rock n roll was alive last week in the Scala. I’ve told this tale many times before – but The Pastels are my Velvets. Art for the outsider. Now you know I’m part of the (main) stream –but I like to think that no one really listens to Sister Ray like I do. Well The Pastels – do that for me – that difference – but sincerity and fragility and noise and melody- just like Lou did – a band to fall into when the going gets tough and you just need a friend. We’re not freaks – we speak the same language – it’s just you lot out there that hate. Here - we're up for mutual respect and laughs and jokes – smiles and glances and late night chances.

It was good to have The Pastels back in London (although who was minding monorail was anyone’s guess) It was good to go to a Pastels show. It was an early start this one – doors were opened at 6.30 – and closed by 10.30. It was my kind of  night.  So I arrived with the strains of Bill Ryder Jones echoing through the labyrinth that is the Scala. You seem to be endlessly ascending stairs and opening doors in the hope of finding the band – kind of a Yellow Submarine scene without the psychedelic sights. Bill’s from Liverpool see –used to be The Coral and had the room hushed in wonder at his paeans to love lost and found. There's a deep rooted melancholy to his songs. You can tell he's lived it. A much more superior Jake Bugg - if you know what I'm getting at.

And the room was filling up. A friendly crowd. Waves and glances and nods and hellos – we’ve stood together in rooms across this city before. We like the same things. We all like The Pastels. It’s been 24 years since I last saw the Pastels – that was way back at the ULU. A four band bill – finishing with the kings of independent pop, before we them we had pale saints, Teenage Fanclub and the first London gig by Ride. I still have the poster. I didn’t get one from this gig. There was a part of me that wished I had. Funnily enough that ULU show had been populated by a mighty presence of Showsec security guards – this had that feel to - as my bag was searched and pockets were patted down. We’re a rowdy bunch us Pastel fans – I keep my blade tucked deep inside my anorak.

And on the bill this evening was another reference to the past – Lightships are Gerry Love’s extra curricular outfit – a Fannies for the future shall we say. I didn’t know that at the time – so it was a pleasure to suddenly see Love stepping out of the shadows to play a set of acid folk rock explosions (I’m trademarking that by the way) with a band that looked both glam rock and tinged with a Danish detective sartorial style. Gerry’s voice was in fine form – as harmonies and merged with delayed guitars and suddenly we had lift off (do you see what I did there?) I mean it when I say it had a folk attitude – authenticity again – I couldn’t quite make out the words but I got sense of it being about home. There was that familiar Fanclub feel to it but the sonics where doing something else. There was a guy making lovely squelches and producing shards of sound that took it away from what I was expecting and made it all the better for it. I really should look up his name – he’s in the Pastels aswell (so’s Gerry). There was a time – I’d know all the names – but when you get to my age it’s hard just remembering the names of your neighbours – let alone line-ups.  I need to go and listen a little more to Lightships – I like Lightships – I like their style.

And from one style to another – super style icon Stephen Pastel (as seen in A Scene in Between) and his band – except as I said before – this isn’t about leaders – this is a collective – a gang.  Always understated – but never overrated – The Pastels emerge to warm cheers and claps and whoops – and that was just me. Once again finding myself positioned at the front - this wasn’t intentional – I wasn’t jostling for position I just happened to be standing stage left –  where Stephen was singing. There’s no front with this group. As I said they were/ are my Velvets from the 1980s. A super Scottish crew – making tunes for the few – that’s what it felt like back then. A few pictures - got to base your look on something – like those few photos we had of The Byrds and The Velvets – MC5 and The Small Faces – The Pastels were in there too – we were carving style out of sound. And the Songs for Children EP on a bootleg blue vinyl and random purchases from record shops dotted across the North. Each and every one of their songs holding something special for me. I was rocking a quiff at the gig – but inwardly I was shaking my bowlhead all night. I’m done with the anoraks. But without The Pastels in my teenage years – I might not have made it.

It doesn’t seem like twenty four years have passed – Stephen and Katrina still feel the same – this duo manning the helm of the good ship Pastel. From the opening mariachi melodies of Slow Summits we were ready for our adventure to higher plains. Moving from new to old – this all too short set encapsulated all that’s often missed about the Pastels – this is a band with a whole heap of perfect pop (corn) tunes – and references that take in far more styles than the ‘shambling and twee’ bands they supposedly inspired. This is Miles Davies meets Lou Reed downtown with a twist of the Shrangi La’s and Can. It’s experimental and sentimental – which is good thing in my eye and sounds even better in my head. So we were tripping through the old and the new and everything sounded divine. If you haven’t got the latest Pastels tunes – and come on – this is their first ‘proper’ long player in 16 years – then buy it.  And in the flesh this beautiful album came alive – with a band of players augmenting those well-crafted words of Katrina and Stephen. From Wrong Light to Check your Heart (surely the BHF’s next song of choice for any health campaign) with Nothing to be Done , Different Drum and Summer Rain in the mix -  the interplay of the two singers was perfect in every sense. I guess when you’ve known each other that long things are going to kind of click. It doesn’t just click with the group though – as I’ve said before there’s no front with Stephen – the conversation is flowing back and forth with an awestruck audience but Stephen never plays the star. He’s humble and appreciative that we’ve even bothered to come to.

We wouldn’t have missed it though. Even though I had to go home to fetch my ticket at the start of the evening when I realised I’d left it at home.

All of this was leading to a final blistering onslaught of one-chord feedback drones in the shape of Baby Honey. With a temperamental pedal and six members locking down into a six minute odyssey to love. You couldn’t ask for anything else. But understandably we wanted more. So we were treated to even more wonders from this brilliant bunch of outsiders – who it seems have been spending their time becoming the wedding band to book if you’re getting married in the West of Scotland. Well not really but Katrina treated us to a rendition of an old soul tune (someone please tell me it’s title – my mind is not what it was) given the Pastels treatment and recently aired at a friend’s wedding (Pastels tune update - Stephen tweeted to tell me it was Love (It's getting better) and was actually released on the Worlds of Possibility EP - so thanks for that) and Daniel Johnson’s Speeding Motorcycle was revved up and run out.

And then after a lovely gentle downbeat ending (And once again I can’t name that tune – I thought I could but it seems to escape me now) – The Pastels were gone. It was 10pm and I was going to  be back home by 11pm with the biggest smile across my face since the last time I saw them.

It won’t be another 24 years. I’ll be seeing you soon. 

Here's Baby Honey from Glasgow a few years back - I'm hoping that a video will surface from The Scala gig but it's not there yet.Although I am reliably informed that there's footage out there - and i'll update this page as soon as it's available.  So thanks to mudonthedoor for posting this. 

Oh and it's Tom Crossley - the wonderful noise wizard in Lightships and The Pastels.