Part 4: The Aftermath…
Billy’s mother Lily had died the previous summer and the already mercurial singer was capable of wild mood swings as his attitude to his singing career had already showed. On January 22nd, 1997, he went into his father’s garden shed and took a fatal overdose of acetaminophen and prescription medication. I was stunned upon finding out about his suicide. I felt like I had in 1990 discovered a new titan who I could ride with musically as with greats like Bowie and Ferry. It was doubly sad because there was a flurry of recorded activity by MacKenzie with other acts in the period immediately before his suicide: Apollo 440, Barry Adamson, and Loom. My first act was to buy those CDs.
I cannot remember exactly when I joined the Associates mailing list, The Affectionate Bunch. I was only a member of two musical mailing lists: The Roxy Music one, and the Associates list. I may have found out about the Associates list from chatter in the Roxy Music list and joined prior to his death, but I may also have joined in the immediate aftermath of his death. I can’t recall exactly. But I was a member until I left my job at Gartner in 2001 [I only had email at work] and I never re-joined after moving to another state that year.
But The Affectionate Bunch was a great resource for grief-stricken Billy MacKenzie fans. There was obviously a lot of people his talent had touched and like many mailing lists of the late 90s, there were collections of hard to get tracks burned to CD-R. There were a series of discs with albums that had not yet made it to CD, like “The Affectionate Punch ” and loose tracks from NME tapes, and B-sides. But there were also other goodies that came courtesy of his good friend and fellow whippet breeder Linda Wren.
Billy had gifted Ms. Wren with tapes of things that had not made it out on disc. Things like the unreleased versions of songs recorded [and re-recorded] for the fractious “Perhaps” sessions where the album was recorded twice. And of primary interest, one of the rare promo cassettes of the unreleased 1988 album, “The Glamour Chase.” Copies of these circulated through the mailing list as these things often do. I saw that the widescreen ballad “In Windows All” had been also pegged to climax “The Glamour Chase” before getting conscripted to do the same on “Outernational.” He wisely withheld it from “Wild + Lonely.” But the actual marketplace wasn’t lax in responding to Billy’s demise.
The first CD to manifest was as early as October of 1997 when Fiction Records reissued the 1982 remix of “The Affectionate Punch” on the silver disc. It had to have been a response to his sudden death, since the Billy Sloan liner notes were very up to date; discussing the Auchterhouse demos when Billy reunited to write some new material with Alan Rankine in 1993 as well as his unexpected death.
As unlikely at it seems looking back, there was another Billy MacKenzie album out in October of 1997. I must have been a member of The Affectionate Bunch before his death since I recall hearing the news that Billy had signed to Suede’s label, Nude Records, in 1996, and the decision had been made to finish the record posthumously, with the bulk of it being produced and recorded by Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins. Most of the album was intimate piano ballads with the material co-written with Steve Aungle. But three songs were stylistically different. “Give Me Time” was the product of sessions with his friend the wonderful Paul Haig of Josef K. The ebullient “Sour Jewel” was vivacious, glammy Pop in a very upbeat Sparks vein. Pascal Gabriel produced those two. And “Three Gypsies In A Restaurant” was produced by John Vick of Scotland’s Fini Tribe in a whirlwind of storming Electronica thousands of miles away from the dominant vibe of the album.
It felt miraculous that enough of MacKenzie’s performance had been captured to tape so that an album could be wrought from it. Billy at the time had been writing material that had slotted into various stylistic genres: ballads, Electronica, Art Rock, but Nude had signed Billy on the strength of the Walker-esque designer ballads. In retrospect, I suspect that the more diverse tracks were there simply because Nude didn’t have more ballads on hand.
Around this time I had begun exploring the early eBay and this was my salvation as it was the most effective way yet to buy records that were not for sale locally, apart from a surprising amount of releases from the “Wild + Lonely” campaign. I bought a lot of records to fill out my collection. But there were even more CDs yet to come.
Next: …The Deluxe Remasters And More Posthumous Albums