It was sometime around the mid eighties, that I began to notice how many of my favorite groups were Scottish in nature. Considering that the nation has a population of just a few million, the number of Scot acts I cherish is somewhat disproportional to their size as a nation. Let’s take a look at the first salvo of Scot acts I collect.
I first heard Altered Images when I bought an issue of Flexipop [issue 14] with some Altered Images rarities; demo versions of “Real Toys” and “Leave Me Alone” from their debut album “Happy Birthday.” I later got the first Altered Images album, which was mostly produced by Steve Severin of Siouxsie & The Banshees, and not surprisingly, most of the album ended up sounding like that band. I liked the juxtaposition of vocalist Clare Grogan, who was still a teenager, with the rather dark music. The last single from the album was produced by Martin Rushent, fresh from his Human League triumph and it was more of the Roland Microcomposer/Linn drum sound that he gave the League, abetted with guitars. Their 12″ singles were not terribly far from the sound of the singles from “Dare.” He produced their sophomore album, “Pinky Blue” and it was full of dark sentiments butting against implausibly cheerful “ginch pop” as we called it back in the day. The contrast was the sound of the band hitting their stride.
This Post-Punk supergroup were 75% Scottish. Russell Webb and Richard Jobson were from The Skids and John McGeoch and John Doyle hailed from Magazine. All but Doyle were Scottish. It seems like it was an attempt by Jobson to mine the sort of blustery rock sound popularized by his former bandmate Stuart Adamson in Big Country, or perhaps U2. By 1985 other Scots like Simple Minds were falling over themselves to do the same, to much wailing and gnashing of teeth on my part. Well, I don’t like U2 or Big Country, and I really got depressed when Simple Minds went down this well-trod road. Against all odds, this similar attempt manages to catch my ears and give me something back that I can wrap my head around. There were probably two reasons for this. One, Richard Jobson is much smarter than Jim Kerr or Bono. The second and most likely reason, is that John McGeoch is a world class guitarist who never made a bad move in his entire career, as I see it. His talent is rock-solid and it’s gratifying to see that he’s getting a posthumous reputation that feel more in line to how I considered him over the last 30 years.
This Scot duo managed to make some of the most adventurous and exciting music in their heyday. Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine achieved so much on their first three albums that some bands built whole careers out of various aspects they explored and moved on from. Singer MacKenzie had an operatic range and absolutely no shame in using it. Instrumentalist Rankine was the most textural of guitarists who, along with Robin Simon, laid the groundwork for lesser lights to pick up and run with in the decade that followed. I’m ashamed that I never heard this band in their heyday – I only heard of them. Their records were scarce where I was living. Only a compilation issued in 1990 finally made its way to my curious hands and I was blown away with what it delivered to me. I have to admit; the revelation of what I’d missed a decade earlier had a profound effect on me in that it [along with the reduced caliber of contemporary music by 1990] alerted me to the fact that there were bands from the past that I hadn’t explored at the time that were potentially colossal to me and that I should begin to expend the energy to find them.
To be continued…
Loving the opening salvo in this series!
I have to admit it took me many years and repeated listening to “get” The Armoury Show. I’m not a big fan of Jobson’s delivery, sure he has a unique voice, but it grates on me when he attempts bombast in a way that say Midge Ure’s or Jim Kerr’s does not. I agree, McGeoch had nothing to look back on with regret when it came to his Rock and Roll CV. He even saved John Lydon from being uninteresting during his stint in PiL.
As has been said here many times and will be many more, I’m sure, the genius that was Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine has been matched by very few since. Almost 15 years after his passing and 30 since discovering Billy MacKenzie, I still introduce his work to friends and it doesn’t amaze me in the least how well it’s received.
Echorich – I had no resistance to Jobson’s bombast. Midge can get away with it, though I don’t like it. But Kerr will always be an introverted artiste to me. He was just one element of many in Simple Minds. In fact, the least important one, if you ask me. So his crossing the line into bombast really, really hurt. Oh how I prefer his abstract lyrical style!!! As much as he’s cleaned his act up in the last 15 years, what would make me go “off the scale” would be a return to those abstract, intellectual lyrics that are more suggestive than immediately graspable.
I saw the video for “Castles In Spain” and McGeoch’s riffs hooked me right then and there. I quickly bought the album, but traded it off in expectation for the eventual CD… which finally came on Track Records [!] in 2002. By which time I had re-purchased the LP. But in 2002, I was unemployed for an extended period. No buying import CDs by mail order. When the finances finally stabilized a few years later, the !@#$% CD was OOP and in the stratosphere! If you could find the occasional copy for sale.
I agree that SM is a sum of many important parts, but even in the early years, there was a charismatic way about Kerr that drew me in. This is probably why I went along for the ride into BIG that he took after New Gold Dream. Sparkle In The Rain is certainly a different animal to what came before it, but SM went for big with finesse that escaped a lot of bands at the time. Sure it all goes sideways with Once Upon A Time and what followed, but Sparkle is very special for me and contains one of my favorite tracks of the 80’s in Up On The Catwalk.
Echorich – At the time, I felt “Sparkle In The Rain” was even better than “New Gold Dream.” While I hardly feel it has ebbed, it’s true my appreciation for “New Gold Dream” has grown in stature. Particularly after diving deep into Simple Minds in 2002 for the making of my ridiculous 2 volume BSOG® [8xCD + CD-ROM]. “Sparkle In The Rain” still dominated my listening for ’83-’84 like no other album, and every track on it eventually became my favorite; the final being the incredible “The Kick Inside Of Me.” It rankles me now to hear people sniping at “Sparkle” as “where it all went wrong.” If that’s wrong, please give me more! It’s kind of sad, now that I think about it, that when many of my favorite bands began issuing their albums on CD for the first time, they all sucked. See: Ultravox, OMD, Simple Minds. I can’t say that about Duran Duran since “Notorious” is a favorite album of theirs.