Part 5: Death As A Career Move…
The next seven or eight years following Billy’s death saw all manner of his recordings get a release from various labels and concerns. While MacKenzie was gone and would no longer create music after 1996, that which he had stockpiled and recorded with various friends and collaborators found its way to our eager ears. It was enough of a bounty to have shamed many of his still living peers. Billy went from having two album length CDs and a handful of CD singles available to an expansive laundry list of music that in some cases have been issued and re-issued in the ensuing years. To wit…
List of Posthumous Releases From Billy MacKenzie/Associates
[unreleased material in red italic]
- 1997: Billy MacKenzie – Beyond The Sun CD [Nude]
- 1997: Associates – The Affectionate Punch [remix] CD [Fiction]
- 1999: Haig/MacKenzie – Memory Palace CD [ROL]
- 2000: Associates – Sulk DLX RM CD [V2]
- 2000: Associates – 4th Drawer Down DLX RM CD [V2]
- 2000: Associates – Double Hipness 2xCD demos – inc. “Auchterhouse Sessions” [V2]
- 2001: Billy MacKenzie/Steve Aungle – Eurocentric CD [ROL]
- 2001: Billy MacKenzie/Steve Aungle – Wild Is the Wind CD EP [ltd. 500] [ROL]
- 2002: Associates – The Glamour Chase/Perhaps DLX RM 2xCD [WEA]
- 2003: Associates – The Radio 1 Sessions vol. 1 CD [Strange Fruit]
- 2003: Associates – The Radio 1 Sessions vol. 2 CD [Strange Fruit]
- 2004: Billy MacKenzie – Transmission Impossible compilation CD [One Little Indian]
- 2004: Billy MacKenzie – Auchtermatic compilation CD [One Little Indian]
- 2004: Haig/MacKenzie – Memory Palace DLX RM CD [One Little Indian]
- 2004: Associates – Singles 2xCD every single released in life [WEA]
- 2004: Associates – 4th Drawer Down/Sulk bundled 2xCD [V2]
- 2005: Associates – The Affectionate Punch DLX RM [Fiction]
- 2006: Billy MacKenzie – Outernational DLX RM CD [Virgin]
- 2006: Associates – Wild + Lonely DLX RM CD [Virgin]
- 2010: Return To Love 7“ [Destination Pop]
- 2013: Billy MacKenzie – Outernational DLX RM CD [Cherry Red]
- 2016: Associates – The Affectionate Punch DLX RM 2xCD [BMG]
- 2016: Associates – 4th Drawer Down DLX RM 2xCD [BMG]
- 2016: Associates – Sulk DLX RM 2xCD [BMG]
- 2016: Associates – The Very Best Of 2xCD [BMG]
- 2017: Billy MacKenzie – Beyond The Sun LP [One Little Indian]
- 2020: Associates – Perhaps DLX RM 2xCD [Cherry Red]
1999 brought another album of new material recorded with his friend Paul Haig as demos when the two were just having a lark. Of course, in the aftermath of his death, Billy’s sketches took on new weight, and here he was paired with a cohort who was no slouch in the post-Punk talent department either! The two of them played almost everything here but Steve Aungle was one of the few guests to play as well. More about him later. Haig released the CD through his Rhythm of Life label and I immediately ordered one. It was possibly the first time I bought a CD direct from an artist online.
The other and possibly bigger event of 1999 was the publication of Tom Doyle’s biography of Billy, “The Glamour Chase!” Never was I so impatient to read a musical biography, but the unfurling of MacKenzie’s life was as equally dramatic as the high-contrast Art Pop, and reading the story gave valuable insights as to the hows and whys of Billy’s quixotic path through the music industry. Reading it engendered heartbreak for the difficulties that Billy insisted on adding to his path. The thought was that it never could have been “easy” for this mercurial talent. He could be counted on to pick the most difficult path forward in most cases. Or to walk away from the assumption of success. This has been a book that I’ve returned to on more than one occasion, and I’ve just found out that Doyle issued a 2nd edition that I now need to try and buy. But that one is also in the netherzone between $50-$100 these days.
The big news of 2000 was that V2, the Richard Branson post-Virgin label after selling the mother label to EMI had signed up to reissue Associates material. And I was thrilled to get what were said to be an accurate representation of “Sulk” that no longer had the US Sire meddling to the track order and listing. Hearing “Ba De La Bap” for the first time was a mind-stunning experience. I found it hard to believe that I was listening to music from 1981-2 since the deconstructed beats were unlike anything like that back in the day! How they did that without computers or samplers was something I’d still like to read an interview with producer Mike Hedges on!
The shrill “Nude Spoons” was another revelation. Being far more extreme than the Peel Session version I’d previously had. I subsequently learned that the version of “Club Country” here differed from the 5:32 UK LP mix, so the tradition of not accurately compiling “Sulk” was upheld. Three B-sides were appended to the running order and four unreleased tracks were added as well. With their vaunted chemical intake [see “The Glamour Chase” – Tom Doyle], these guys were outrageously productive and even the lesser lights held a fascination for their sonic alchemy.
Even though I had five of the eight tracks from “Fourth Drawer Down” on “Popera,” this album was my personal favorite of the Associates oeuvre. It was the most extreme and uncompromising vision that the band had as they had recorded a series of singles for the Situation Two label in a deal that sat between the debut album on Fiction and “Sulk” on WEA. The singles were compiled into this album [for Beggar’s Banquet]. The cinematic cabaret of “The Affectionate Punch” was shot through with a deeper paranoia here [the drugs couldn’t have hurt there] to turn into something far more insular, yet dazzling. The magnetic lure of its deliberate strangeness would somehow be married with blissful pop on their subsequent album, but I prefer the more off-putting vibe that “Fourth Drawer Down” had in spades. “Sulk” may be a better album, but “Fourth Drawer Down” was my favorite Associates album.
The band’s V2 Y2K hat trick was completed with the “Double Hipness” compilation. Two CDs of demos recorded throughout the various period when Associates were Billy writing and singing with Alan Rankine. This also encompassed the 1993 Auchterhouse Demos where the duo tried to strike up their partnership again only to founder on Billy’s ambivalence towards the required touring as well as his peripatetic sessions with musicians other than Alan Rankine. In spite of knuckling down and writing and demoing a lot of material in a short period, the reunion ultimately foundered. leading Scot music maven Bruce Findlay, who was working with the two, to suspect an element of cash-in in the attempt.
At the end of the day the 1993 material was maybe a victim of bad timing. In an environment of Techno and Grunge, maybe a certain segment of the music buying populace were clamoring for the return of Associates [my hand was in the air], the bulk of listeners probably couldn’t have been bothered. And I suspect the A+R people they tried to sell the demos to felt likewise. But for all of the underachieved promise that their reunion ultimately delivered, the notion of a two CD set of MacKenzie’s and Rankine’s demo material was a solid notion. We’ve written about it here and the project still hold s together like a compelling collection of great B-sides where ideas came fast and furious to be worked out quickly.
With MacKenzie’s perfectionist nature and penchant for reworking and remixing material until it was £250,000 in the red, maybe the recording of demos was where MacKenzie should have been aiming for all along? I feel that many artists can benefit from things like collaboration and spontaneity as it helps artists from becoming too remote and insular. Fortunately, much of MacKenzie’s unreleased work yet yo come was recorded from this perspective.
Next: …Five Years