Billy MacKenzie’s “Satellite Life” Box With Steve Aungle, Stands As His Definitive Late Statement [part 4]

billy mackenzie satellite life pack shot
Cherry Red | UK | 3xCD | 2022 | CDTRED856

[…continued from last post]

Careful Curation

So we’re certain that the music on the triple-fold digipak is excellent, but the package as a whole also meets that standard. The edition comes with a 24 page booklet with careful liner notes indicating the provenance of each of the 39 tracks. Steve Aungle has written much on his blog about the experience of working with MacKenzie, and has managed to distill the sprawling story here to four, tight pages. The notion of how the 18 year old Aungle placed a “band wanted” ad in the local Dundee paper in 1979, and then got just two responses to it; one being Billy, and the other being an unnamed cabaret band [which he joined instead] staggers the mind.

After finding out that the newly formed Associates rehearsed in Edinburgh, 60 miles away, the young Aungle let the possibility of drumming in Associates slip by, only to find himself in Billy’s orbit again by 1986. Managing to work on “Set Me Up” which would be recorded for the unreleased [in its time] album “The Glamour Chase.” Aungle continued as a writer’s assistant to the singer, who needed someone to transcribe his vocalizing and whistling down to actual notes and chords. Finally crossing the line to co-writing by late 1992. Aungle was generous with the insights and anecdotes about what made Billy tick as could anyone who spent that much time working, and sometimes sharing a flat with him.

Elsewhere there were a few tracks here that were recorded with others like Dennis Wheatley and Laurence Cedar, and these collaborators also get their chance to recount their relationships with the singer. So it’s not entirely the Steve + Billy show as we’re keenly aware that Billy couldn’t just stick to a single thread. He liked many irons in the fire at once. But it did fall in Aungle’s hands to sequence this selection and the pacing of the songs was well nigh flawless. Three sets of thirteen songs where the ebb and flow of material propelled it all along like a rushing creek.

As much as I’ve listened to 2/3 of this material over the last quarter century, I’ve discovered deeper nuances in its presentation here. The song “14 Mirrors” has now been lodged in my skull for two days and shows no signs of letting up. It’s appearance now in the disc three sequence, particularly the alternate version, painted it in a stunning new light. And now we know that it was among the final group of sings that Billy recorded before his tragic death.

tomorrow people waveform
A “new” song, “Tomorrow People”

We’ll also happily mention that the mastering of this entire set by Oli Hemingway at The Wax Works is perfect. All of the tracks have sufficient headroom with occasional peaks to -1dB. Close, but not touching the dreaded clipping zone. And there’s nothing remotely like a brickwalled waveform. Headphone listening was a pleasure.

I would like to address another dubious canard that’s been hanging over MacKenzie’s career like a pall of smoke for 40 years. Namely, after splitting with Alan Rankine, that Billy never managed to scale the heights again with his subsequent work. Which I call “balderdash” on! How anyone cannot listen to most of Billy’s songs in the ’84-’96 period and not find gems like “Sour Jewel,” “3 Gypsies In A Restaurant,” or “14 Mirrors” on par with tracks like “Skipping,” “Party Fears Two” or “Logan Time” was inconceivable to me. Hopefully this new collection will change some thinking along those lines.

We’re fortunate that Aungle had never given up on the notion of properly sequencing and presenting this body of work even after all of this time. His tales of the difficulties in the early posthumous releases were legion, and I’m glad he finally was in charge of the process as he was here. Billy’s memory is best honored by the coherence and snap that “Satellite Life” brings to these incredible songs. Better late than never. You will need a copy of this. £18.99 for the UK and a svelte $22.79 for America!

UK | Cherry Red Store

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US | ImportCDs.com

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Billy MacKenzie’s “Satellite Life” Box With Steve Aungle, Stands As His Definitive Late Statement [part 4]

  1. alonewithstrangers says:

    I am listening to my copy now and absolutely agree with almost everything you’ve said. No one can touch the beauty and scale of that voice (although, weirdly, Nothing But Thieve’s Conor Mason can come close on their first album) and the mastering does sound good, close to my own approach to mastering.

    All that said, I guess that although this is a great collection and it will be remembered as such, it will still be defined by the relatively small number of tracks involving the twosome that aren’t in the mix. It’s a small grumble because there is only so much bandwidth out there.

    Because of this, I just decided to splash the cash on the deluxe ‘Sulk’ box a day before RSD…I must be mad.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      alonewithstrangers – You are eminently sensible to buy SDLX “Sulk,”by my reckoning [ but what does that say about me?]. So I should check out this Conor Mason then? Thanks for the tip!

      Like

      • alonewithstrangers says:

        I think you might hate the music that backs Conor though I love it (and they are from my hometown so that gets them an extra vote in my book). See if you can grab a stream of the the ‘Nothing But Thieves’ album and listen to the voice..or these clips and focus on his voice in the choruses:

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  2. Andy Hutchinson says:

    Fantastic review of a wonderful collection of Billy’s later works, beautifully presented. What a talent, hugely missed

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Andy Hutchinson – Welcome to the comments! As I only came to be a fan after “Popera,” I only got to encounter “Wild + Lonely” and “Outernational” as new albums. And then he was gone. All of this posthumous work that filtered out has felt like a real gift; never more than with “Satellite Life.”

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  3. Echorich says:

    Wonderful presentation of the immensity that was Billy MacKenzie, Monk! This is the release we have all been hoping for – for so very long. It does not disappoint. it doesn’t bring you down. It lifts you up as a fan/follower of Billy MacKenzie’s musical life journey.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – So I take it you pre-ordered then? Between this and the “Sulk” ultrabox we are spoiled for Billy MacKenzie in this period. Hard to believe that it’s been 25 years! The wound still hurts.

      Like

  4. For those readers and commenters who also partake of the streaming services, I should mention that the whole of this box set is available on at least Apple Music (in lossless, I hasten to add) and that likely means it is on Spotify as well.

    That said, and as convenient as streaming is for instant gratification, there are many projects discussed on a site like this that fairly demand owning a physical copy to listen to when the interwebz might be down, or your money is needed elsewhere. This is one of those occasions — once heard, you do not want to risk being separated from access to this glorious music!

    The only regret you will ever have here is that this is likely near the bottom of the barrel of any “new” BM music when placed alongside the SDLXs and bonus-track reissues we’ve already had. If you have any interest in Billy from wherever you first discovered him, Satellite Life is a set you should indulge yourself with.

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