The Stroppies – Melbourne and other groovy scenes to dig.

Scenes. I love ’em. From the moment the gloriously simple two note intro to Echo And The Bunnymen’s Rescue kicked in and I discovered that this, apparently, was the neo-psychedelic sound of the Liverpool scene, I was sold. Disregard, if you can, the fact that it has taken 38 years to learn how to spell psychedelic. What intrigued me was the suggestion that everybody, literally everybody in Liverpool knew each other and were forming bands like a post-punk version of musical chairs. Appropriately enough, as given the tender age at which I heard the record it’s entirely possible that hitherto, musical chairs had been my primary pursuit.

I’ve always been drawn to bands rather than solo artists. Something about the urgent crusading of a gang of mates struck a chord with my earliest literary experiences spent in the company of The Swallows & Amazons and The Secret Seven. Liverpool, for a couple of years either side of 1980 was chock full of crusading gangs from the mysterious Bunnymen to the technicolour Teardrop Explodes via the intense Pink Military and to the outer reaches of the known universe with the futuristic Dalek, I Love You.

And I just assumed they all went to the same youth club.

Mind you, there was some veracity to my assumption. Most of the band cross-pollination at this time in Liverpool centered on the punk nights at Eric’s night club, Matthew Street. Just a few doors down from the site of the Cavern. Pete Frame, the author of those entertainingly complex rock family trees, could (and I’m pretty sure, did) make a beautiful spreading chestnut tree of the relationship between the above mentioned as most of them kept bumping into each other at the bar every night.

The same could not be said of my next all consuming obsession, the Scottish scene. No sane person would believe that groups as geographically diverse as Dundee’s Associates, Edinburgh’s Josef K and East Kilbride’s Aztec Camera could somehow be meeting down the pub every night. Ladies and gentlemen, I was that insane person. But if my interest in Liverpool merely left me with a love of overcoats and a lifetimes unfulfilled ambition to grow a bowl cut like Will Sergeant, my flirtation with all points north of Hadrian’s Wall would change me both musically and personally.

First up, Orange Juice, premier league signings to the iconic Postcard label (“the sound of young Scotland!”). We’ve become so inured to twee indie pop since the explosion of independent record labels apres punk, that it’s easy to forget how revolutionary Orange Juice were. For all of punk’s supposed meritocracy it was still a very agressively male scene with the likes of Siouxsie Sioux, Pauline Murray and The Slits only gaining parity by spitting further. Orange Juice, co-fronted by singers Edwyn Collins (verbally brash and head turningly handsome ersatz-Elvis) and James Kirk (borderline autistic modeller of safari suits and sandals) were shockingly, shockingly unmacho. These boys clearly were no “lads”, but “gentlemen”. Indeed, their manifesto, if such it were, read “1880’s, not 1980’s”. If their achingly gorgeous melodies were not provocation enough they compounded the offence with boyish grins hidden beneath floppy fringes and the kind of sensible hard wearing checked shirts your Mum would buy.

However, fey and twee they most certainly were not. To perform in front of a lager-fuelled Glasgow audience demanded the ability to “look after” yourself and Orange Juice were not content to waft a bunch of gladioli in the air and feel sorry for themselves as one former fan was later to do to great effect. Edwyn’s quest was to marry the sophistication of Chic to the romance and confrontation of Buzzcocks and like the latter’s frontmen, Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley he was more than happy to turn the grin to a grimace whilst cutting the nasty bullies down to size with a Gillette-sharp tongue.

Much as I can admire the wit and irony in retrospect, at the time any sublety was lost on me. Smirking in what I assumed to be an irresistably adorable way, I challenged my inability to “look after” myself by wandering around town with a sunflower in my lapel and waiting for women to fall at my feet. No women, but plenty of teeth, fell at my feet as regular “slappings” reminded me that chivalrous romance died with Ivanhoe and that dressing like Oscar Wilde doesn’t get you very far in a hosiery manufacturing town where a high percentage of women basked in the evocative job title of “gusseter”.

The soaring twin guitar attack of Edwyn and James was as foreign to my primitive axe skills as King Crimson but after hearing Edinburgh quartet Fire Engines’ 1981 single Meat Whiplash, I finally understood the punk “anyone can do it” ethos. Actually, I never could and still can’t “do it” anything like Fire Engines but the message was clear – they’re not terribly good musicians but it still sounds great. Hey, (I thought) I’m not a terribly good musician (in every sense) but maybe I could still sound great. More evidence was needed, so on a smash and grab shopping visit to London I dug out their splendidly titled Aufgeladen Und Bereit För Aktion Und Spass album. And there on the back we find the following holy script.

Beat noise and pop songs. Just roll it around on your tongue. Beat noise and pop songs. THAT, I decided, is what I want to hear. Hey, Kid Slender. Want to form a band? Sure. Will we be playing beat noise and pop songs? Is there anything else worth playing? And the answer to this day has been no. Everything I hear has been filtered through Fire Engines’ sensibilities. The Walker Brothers? Beat noise and pop songs. Sonic Youth? Beat noise and pop songs. Thelonious Monk? Beat noise and pop songs. If it can’t, in any way, shape or form, be described as beat noise and pop songs then I’m not interested. Beat noise and pop songs hold no truck with lyrics such as Well I came home, like a stone and fell heavy into your arms. Yes Mr Mumford and your satanic progeny, I’m talking to you. Take a tip from Fire Engines’ Davy Henderson: I love the labels on food cartons; they’re so important to me.

That’s art. That’s beat noise and pop songs.

That, of course, was 37 years ago. Scenes came and went but always felt unfulfilling by comparison. The Norwich scene. The Portland scene. The Mali scene. And then salvation appeared

Elevator Operator. Courtney Barnett’s life affirming no.2 entry on the chart of all-time great album openers. A song which can have you (and in my case has had me) dancing in carparks. A band so moronically simple you wonder why no one else thought of it first. A litany of fantastic lyrics – she looks him up and down with a botox frown – I’m not suicidal just idling insignificantly – twenty years old, thick head of hair, worries he’s going bald – and in Melbourne, a hometown so far away as to preclude regular gigs in Karlstad, Sweden.


But wait. There’s more. Much more. Courtney is merely a single jewel in a much bigger crown. Join me now as we get down on our knees and pray to the Lord in His infinite mercy to hide all evidence of the Melbourne scene from Pete Frame, because at the ripe old age of 75 the sheer numbers and rate of change of same will give the poor sod a coronary. Try to keep up, this gets complicated.

The scene appears to revolve around Dick Diver who contain former members of Lower Plenty and UV Race whose drummer got together with the guitarist from Eddy Current Suppression Ring to form Total Control who shared their producer with The Stevens who suffered line-up problems when members defected to The Twerps whose celebrity fan Jessica Alba may or may not be aware of Blank Statements who along with all of the above mentioned supplied personnel that put together equal, laydeez’n’gennelmun your new favourite band and mine, The Stroppies!

Barrelling along somewhat in the style of The Modern Lovers, The Stroppies only album (you want more albums? Go and form your own band) races through its seven songs (you want more songs? Go write them yourself – we’re too busy) with the urgency of musicians itching to go and form other bands. Harmonies? Harmonies are for workshy slackers with too much time on their hands. The Stroppies just sing the same tune in unison and move on to the next song. Solos? Are you kidding? Who’s got time for solos? You’ll be expecting us to waste time mixing songs next.

In fact why are you idling insignificantly reading this nonsense when there’s plans to make and things to buy? C’mon, there’s a whole world of beat noise and pop songs out there. Get up and use them.







We’re all fans of The Fall so with the untimely passing of Mark E. Smith we’re all mourning buckets right now.

I long ago let go of my dream to play for Leicester City and with the passing of the years and the emergence of no obvious talent, the possibility of the Booker prize or an Oscar seem increasingly remote. Now I’m forced to lay to one side my ambition to play in The Fall. A daydream which, if a little far fetched, was at least always statistically possible given the baffling number of bandmates Smith went through during his career. A revolving door policy which made Art Blakey and Jerry Garcia appear to be positively dependable employers.

Truth be told I was never the obsessive fan that friends and, notably, former bandmates were, but like a long running soap opera (a similie which I don’t use carelessly) they were a band I checked up on periodically, always meaning to spend more time on but never quite getting around to it.

Shamefully I only ever saw them twice, but one of those gigs rates among my top 5 for the sheer joy of seeing Mark E smirking throughout due to the unabashed enthusiasm of support band Elastica, pogoing behind the drummer.

It’s both routine and polite to say of recently deceased artists that they were a one off and we’ll never see their like again. For once this is true. The Fall weren’t in any way the sum total of the band members influences. They were of course the warped nightmarish vision of one man and quite simply no one else on Earth could possibly have spent their youth listening to Link Wray and Can and then combined them to create records like Hex Enduction Hour and The Infotainment Scan.

The Fall, for my generation at least, were a part of the landscape and indeed life itself that you just didn’t question. Like Marmite and Terry Wogan, everyone had an opinion on them and even if that opinion wasn’t always complimentary, you couldn’t deny its cultural influence. Everywhere you looked, everywhere you listened,, The Fall would rear their snaggle toothed head.

Not since John Peel died have I felt like a period of my youth has been lost and it seems unthinkable that there’ll be no more Fall albums.



Shake, rattle and rollcall

Maraccas. There, I’ve said it. To be frank I’m surprised I haven’t said it already.

Maraccas loom large over the Slender landscape, their exotic form lending an Andean robustness to the rolling foothills of my Cotswoldian love of guitars… What? I like maraccas. And here’s why. ACHTUNG:nostalgia. We’re about to go back in time again kiddies so tank up the shit eating DeLorean and set the controls for the heart of… ooooh 1983 should do it. I’m listening to John Peel hoping that he plays something by a group that no one has heard of which I can claim are my new favourite band. I’m probably hoping they’re alternative. I’m probably wishing I knew what alternative means. I’m certainly not expecting… Bo Diddley! I’m still recovering.

Listening to music gets to be a bit like joining the masons or developing gaydar. You begin by hoping you’ve guessed right without certainty. Sometimes you find diamonds right from the off and music you thought was great at the age of 16 lives with you for decades – Fire Engines, Talking Heads, Violent Femmes.

Other times you just come up with a bucketful of coal – The Vapors, The Photos, The Tourists. But after many years you no longer need the funny handshake or the rolled up trouser leg to identify the real thing. You just know. Even at such a tender age I recognised Bo Diddley as the Master of the Lodge. Metaphorically speaking of course. I suspect the majority of apprentices and journeymen view dudes in tartan suits weilding square guitars with more than a degree of suspicion. But of course to the rock’n’roll master mason a MacNab whistle is to be much praised…

some time after initially writing this it occured to me that since he was born (although this is by no means certain) Ellas MacDaniel, Bo may have had every right to be rocking the family tartan. Sadly, a brief bit of research revealed that there is no clan MacDaniel. Equally, the McHammer tartan also appears to be merely a figment of my fevered imagination, proving that not only can you not touch this, but you can’t wear it either. There are however enough MacDonald tartans to kit out a (very colourful) rugby team, leading me with crowbar-like subtlety to the time I came home from work to find former Bob Marley and Mystic Revelation of Rastafari drummer Larry MacDonald sitting (for reasons still shrouded in a fair degree of mystery) in my living room. Already well in his fifties by this point, Larry turned out to be a perfect, and cheap, houseguest, turning down my offer of beer (“I prefer the combustible to the potable”) and entertaining me for hours with rocksteady anecdotes. Foremost among these, for which I have long regretted an inabilty to do a Jamaican accent, was the time he found himself in Edinburgh whilst in the service of Gil Scott-Heron. Thinking it would be both appropriate and amusing to play the gig in full highland gear, he wafted into the nearest clan outfitters asking, as you would, “D’y’ave the MacDonald tartan sir?”. Drawing himself up to his full giraffe-like height, the proprietor peered down a not unimpreesive snozz and enquired, in what I assured Larry was a Morningside accent, “would that be clan MacDonald sir or MacDonald of the isles?”. Not one to tolerate fools or condescension lightly, Larry shot back “I don’t know. Which MacDonalds owned the banana plantations in Jamaica?”. As he admitted to me, “‘im not sell me the skirt”.

…Not in itself enough to guarantee entry to the Holy of Holies but chuck in lyrics like “I’ve got a brand new house by the roadside made from rattlesnake hide” and the great and the good will be welcoming you with open arms. Still need a referee to ensure no blackballing? Still require evidence of, not merely talent, but your complete disregard for the normal rules of popular music, your natural born shamanism and your tendency toward the psychotic? Layyyyydeeeeeezz and gennelmun… Mr Jerome Green. Now, I’m by no means bo-diddley-cgi0certain that the three or four of you that actually read this either realise that I attach links or bother to watch them if you do, but in the case of Jerome you really need to see this. I’m going to make it crystal clear – the words “Jerome Green” should be highlighted. You need to click on them. You need to do it now. What you are looking for is the menacing maracca weilding hombre in the background for it is he, Saint Jerome. In his excellent book “Head On” Julian Cope recalls discussing with Pete Wylie whether it is worth inviting future Dead Or Alive singer Pete Burns into their band. “Can he actually sing?” wonders Cope. “Course he can” bellows Wylie in return, “just look at him”. Here in a nutshell is the justification of both Messrs Diddley and Green. Does the author of “Mumblin’ Guitar” really need someone shaking maraccas? Really? Course he does, just look at him. LOOK AT HIM!!! Never has so much menace and resentment radiated from one man. He may look like he’s merely assisting the rhythm section but take a closer look at his expression and you can tell he’s thinking about slaughtering fluffy kittens. Menace and resentment would of course be simply so much posturing if Jerome didn’t… matter so much. On reflection, the sadly forgotten Blazing Squad easily matched him for resentment, performing as they did with all the good grace of 13 year olds who’d been ordered to tidy their room. But the writers of “here 4 one” and “flip reverse” weren’t playing maraccas. This is rather a shame for as Jerome proved, maraccas, far from being an exotic novelty, actually bought Bo Diddley’s guitar into sharp focus and lent an unexpected weight to the bass and drums. The maraccas added a pristine clarity that Dolby was to do 30 years later. The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that maraccas – for lack of a better word – are good. Maraccas are right. Maraccas work. Maraccas clarify, cut through and capture the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Maraccas in all their forms have marked the upward surge of mankind. And maraccas – you mark my words – saved not only Bo Diddley, but that other malfunctioning corporation called rock’n’roll.

So there you have it. Jerome Green, God rest his funky soul, will be standing stage front during all future Slender endeavours. But now that we’ve reached the end of the first part of our journey, namely – who am I going to rip off – it’s time to play a bit of rock’roll fantasy football. Exactly who would find a place in the band. Who are the Kids Slender? Well, backing up the intimate vocal stylings of your author will be Poison Ivy Rorschach and Johnny Cash on guitar, Zia McCabe, Clem Burke, Rahsaan Roland Kirk (playing four recorders simultaneously) and Leon Theremin, with Giorgio Moroder behind the desk. That should do it. ONE TWO THREE FOUR…


Reg Presley has left the building

Having established the standard guitar, vocals, bass and drums format, we now come to the instruments which will be adding a little colour to what will doubtless become the distinctive Slender sound. The spices in the Slender stew. The cardamom in the Kid’s curry if you will. Or the embroidery on the threadbare metaphor.

I invite you now to come with me. Back. Back in time. How far back? Well, let’s just say a time long, long ago. And where are we going? Well, let’s just say a land far, far away. It is approximately 03:45 pm, I am 10 years old and am just about to arrive at one of the crossroads in my life.

In one hand I have a new packet of football cards to unwrap (Bobby Moncur, got. Paul Madeley, got. Terry Hennessey, got. Keith Weller, NOT got!) and in the other a letter from school offering music lessons. And not just any kind of lessons but a dazzling choice of instruments. Were every instrument to be employed, the Royal Albert Hall could not have contained us all. OK, stylophone and bagpipes were conspicuous by their absence but I’m pretty sure the rest of the orchestra was represented. I was briefly seduced by the flute, flirted, as we all do, with the saxophone and was on the verge of rubbing ankles with the cello before finally placing my X next to the clarinet. My mother signed the letter and I waited naiively for the call to come from the clarinet tutor.

A week later we were summoned to the school hall, the future marimba virtuosos of our generation, only to have our faith in humanity cruelly ripped from our collective pre-teen bosom with the immortal words “we’ll start you off on the recorder and see how it goes”. wm1_0x700__tg005700_cov_covWhat kind of abdication of trust was this? Did our Lord send his apostles into the world with the words “I’ll start you off flogging tupperware and we’ll see how it goes”? No, and likewise I was ready to start saving souls with my clarinet from day one, not spending an eternity in the purgatory of the recorder section.

Needless to say we never quite hit it off the descant recorder and I. Sure, we tried to make it work for a few months but I was finally forced to admit that (to paraphrase countless women of my future acquaintance) it wasn’t the recorder, it was me. I just didn’t want to be in a relationship with the woodwind section just then. In an act of frustration and pure willfulness I accepted a transfer to the Siberia of the xylophone section. Three of us sat out of sight behind the piano every week, banging out our versions of “claire de lune” and that tune that was used in the Hovis adverts – you know the one.

We then fast forward a number of years, maybe a decade. The legs of my trousers have narrowed, considerably. My haircut has expanded, vertically. The Leicester City defence has leaked goals, biblically. At some point I become aware of 60s garage classic “wild thing” by The Troggs and everything I thought I knew about the recorder is cast against the wall like the Newton noggin connecting with a Cox’s Pippin. Reg Presley has just entered my life.131211-reg-presley

Now, I assume in writing all this that you all have roughly the same rock’n’roll reference points as me. I have after all fairly conservative tastes in music. I assume equally that if you don’t recognize things I mention that you’re perfectly capable of looking them up. But when it comes to Reg Presley it’s important that you’re aware of the earth shattering majesty of the man.

Reg was still working as a brickie in Andover when The Troggs released their version of Chip Taylor’s “wild thing” in 1966. When the work radio assured Reg that it was a hit he then, and only then, resigned for a lifetime of rock madness. the_troggs-surprise_surprise_sA few years passed as did a few more hits, Reg proving himself to be an adept songwriter and the band equally adept at capitalizing on their blokey image to make the whiff of floweriness surrounding songs like “when will the rain come” and “love is all around” extra queezy. However, come the 70s the hits had dried up and not even a reggae version of “wild thing” (!) could stop the rot. Was Reg downcast? Hardly. The former Reginald Ball merely redirected his not inconsiderable talents elsewhere. Specifically in copywrighting a device to disperse fog from airport runways. Heathrow were interested. Reg sat back and waited for the money to roll in. Unfortunately he proved to be one of a long line of geniuses who got shafted by the Man, as the British Airport Authority merely waited for the copywright to run out before reccomending the invention for all airports. The Ministry of Transport later twisted the knife in further by later making it compulsory on all stretches of the M25. Was Reg downcast? Seething I should imagine. He did, in any case, decide to then withhold his plans to irrigate the world’s deserts (still not making this up) and retire to the relative comfort of the nostalgia circuit.

Fast forward some more years, possibly decades and fortune suddenly shines on Reg (but sadly not on the rest of us) when Wet Wet Wet, fronted by the rictus gurning Marti Pellow, unleash their version of “love is all around”. Reg has now gone global. Literally – No.1 in 10 countries world wide, the song is everywhere – all around you might say. So much so that eventually even Wet Wet Wet themselves get sick of it and have the record deleted, but not before Reg has amassed a Croesus like pot of gold. Does he do the decent thing and buy a tacky mansion dating back to the Mock Tudor era? Of course he doesn’t, he’s Reg Presley. No, having conquered the world Reg sets his sights on galaxies far, far away and spends the rest of his life trying to contact alien lifeforms. Just in case the money starts to run out before the Presley Death Star is completed, writer and director Richard Curtis uses it a second time in the film “Love, Actually”, albeit to marginally less teeth grinding effect (Incidently, in my previous bookselling incarnation I once served Richard Curtis and have often solipsistically (woahh!) wondered if I wasn’t the inspiration for Hugh Grant’s character in “Notting Hill”, what with me and Hugh being separated at birth, and that). Reg’s findings can be found in his book “Wild Things They Don’t Tell Us”, available at what I believe are known as all good esoteric bookshops. I don’t doubt for a moment that it’s a rattling good read, unputdownable and quite possibly heaped with creative laurels but I also feel certain that descant recorders were denied their own chapter.

We need to get to the point and go back to 1966. There, at precisely 1 minute and 10 seconds into “wild thing” is one of the seminal moments of rock’n’roll history as an instrument from the school orchestra wreaks techtonic havoc with the only three chords you’ll ever need. Why this never caught on is a mystery I aim to explore (hey, I’ve just realised this is probably a Presley sized conspiracy involving the CIA, J. Edgar Hoover and Elvis (you don’t believe Elvis is dead do you? Foolish children – he was never alive in the first place HA!)) and an oversight I intend to correct. After “you really got me” we all punched holes in our amplifiers to sound like Dave Davies. After “96 tears” we all bought Farfisa organs and I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who regretted not keeping up with the xylophone after hearing “gone daddy, gone”. Yet no one ever thought to replicate the searing recorder mash up from “wild thing”, despite the almost Pellow-esque omnipresence of the instrument and it’s apparent suitability for expanding the human conciousness… oh yes! So come with me, hipsters flipsters and finger popping daddies, as we journey together through the cosmos of Reg in search of saxophone free life and recorder based civilizations, onwards, ever onwards towards a bright golden dawn.

Mind you, I’ve got shocking hearing so it could quite easily be a flute.




Get rhythm

In 1991 I began working with the man I came to know and love as Welsh Jim. This for the twin and very obvious reasons that A) his name was Jim and B) he had a Cambrian brogue that rendered pronunciation of the words “Mötley Crüe”, frequently and hilariously as “Mutley Crow”. Jim’s ambition it was to appear on Countdown and repeatedly ask for consonants in the hope of eventually getting the word “rhythm”. It is with this lofty aim in mind that I now present to you the nature and influences of the Slender rhythm section. Jim, wherever you are, we salute you.

And after that moving introduction I have to admit to neither the motivation to relearn the bass (former members of the inadvisably named “Absolutely Harpsichord” take note) nor the room to set up a drum kit. Always assuming I could be arsed to learn how to play it even if I had. No, I plan to press whatever buttons are available to me on whatever home studio software I happen to get. A phrase which tells you succinctly that my supergroup is still at the planning stage. Fortunately this reliance on electronica neatly coincides with a reappraisal of disco which I have been surprised to find overcoming me in recent years. With the advent of punk, disco began to acquire a status similar to that enjoyed by Jimmy Saville today. Punk’s anger clashed with disco’s blinkered hedonism. Disco’s lush production was anathema to punk’s garage ethic and the adrenelin 1-2-3-4 rush of punk’s DIY manifesto was never going to accomodate disco’s traditional songwriting values. “Disco sucks” read the badges. Disco just wasn’t wearing the right trousers. Not metaphorically and certainly not literally. Whilst doing a bit of youtube related reasearch for this, I found a majority of disco classics under the heading “100 greatest office party floor fillers” as if even today disco is still regarded as the preserve of the drunk and the ironic. But scratch beneath the highly orchestrated surface and you’ll find, like all the best music, a simplicity entirely in keeping with Sniffin’ Glue fanzine’s helpful instruction “here’s three chords. Now form a band”. Take, for example, a particular favourite of mine, “can you feel it” by the Jacksons. Listen carefully (or even carelessly, as you can hardly miss it) and you’ll hear a bassline so moronic that Dee-Dee Ramone would have dismissed it as too simple. For the bass players among you who wish to attempt it, here is the score… Dunk. Dunk. Duh dunk. Duh-dunk. Dunk. Duh dunk… (repeat to end). The drummer similarly declines to pull his finger out and seems to have later found employment on the Human League’s “don’t you want me”. Neverless the two combine to rock, as I believe the kids say, a big fat one and one is left wondering why, as Michael Jackson himself may have said, I just can’t, I just can’t, I just can’t control my feet. I’ll tell you why Mickey, yer dead weirdo you. It’s because disco moves you sonically and not just rhythmically Or put another way, disco harnesses the power of a well placed chord change to go straight to your hips. Take the chorus of the above mentioned, climbing as it does to an ecstatic Mount Everest of passion (ooohh, I’m on a roll tonight). Or when Gloria Gaynor tells of “every time I think I’ve had enough and start heading for the door…” proving Cole Porter’s dictum of the strange change from major to minor. No matter how familiar these songs are you still get the butterfly chills up your spine telling you to turn around (you fool), put your bacardi and coke on the table and get down tonight. This is music for a totally punked up generation of glitterball shamen who might well be aware that love, love will tear us apart, but have realised that you don’t get over it by wearing a raincoat and contemplating a pan-european subculture.

Mind you, there’s a lot to be said for wearing a raincoat and contemplating a pan-european subculture. Indeed, for my generation it was a neccessary rite of passage akin to the national service of our parents. Bill Bailey writes fondly and accurately about this, remembering his own teens spent wandering around listening to “heroes” by David Bowie on his walkman. Those of you raised in more cosmopolitan surroundings than me and Bill may not understand the huge comfort to be had in imagining a world populated by fascinating people with marvellous cheekbones all reading much more interesting books than you. Or maybe the same books… but understanding them! A world where wandering around at two in the morning in a raincoat and walkman doesn’t arouse the suspicions of the local constabulary. “What’s going on ‘ere then? Contemplating a pan-european subculture are we? You’re up to no good sonny”. An early and equally grandiose soundtrack to my own raincoat wearing years was Simple Minds’ “empires and dance”. Released before they started rolling up the sleeves of their Armani jackets and filling football stadia it was, I recall, described at the time as a nightmarish version of Donna Summer (as if Donna herself wasn’t disconcerting enough. I mean, have you listened to “I feel love”? Off its head. If you need reminding, youtube offers the chance to listen to a “time stretched” version. Although at nearly 45 minutes this is probably only for the very dedicated and/or chemically enhanced. I managed about about two minutes before reaching for the cream crackers and a stout cheese selection to bring me back to earth) and indeed you can imagine (if you’re wandering around at two in the morning contemplating a pan-european subculture) Giorgio Moroder joining hands with George Orwell to dance over fallen statues of eastern bloc dictators. Jim Kerr was apparently ripped to the tits on amphetamines during the recording and clearly no amount of brie was going to sort him out. “Europe has a language problem” he bellows importantly on opening track “I travel”, before proceeding to bark unintelligably in a style predating Vic Reeves’ club singer by a good 15 years. Meanwhile the bass player is nailing one of the greatest bouncing-a-ruler-on-the-edge-of-a-desk basslines in rock’n’roll history. Ready bass players? Here it is… dunkdunkdunkdunkdunkdunkdunkdunk (repeat to end). Eventually it all became a bit too much for me and I think I gave the album away to someone at school. Gave it away mark you. This at a time when paper rounds didn’t leave room for poor judgement in record purchasing. With the passing of 35 years and the diminishing possibility of supporting a synthpop haircut I’ve come to love it all over again. I now feel that any musical project, real, imaginary or the simply wildly optimistic, would be enhanced by the ‘Minds repetoire of synthetic burps, squelches and doom laden farty noises. And I feel confident that Welsh Jim would wholly agree with me.

Guitar, man

The Kid Slender ensemble will boast two guitars. Or guitarists. Two Kid Slenders if you will. Or should that be Kids Slender? The author is as big a fan of compound plurals as he is nouns of assemblage – The Dandy Warhols scored high Slender points for the introduction to their debut album’s side 1 track 1. “Get ready for a massive concussion of rock’n’roll…” which begs the question; (actually I don’t know if that’s the correct use of a semi-colon but while we’re discussing grammar, y’know…) what do you call an assembly of Kids Slender? I’m wagering an apology, or maybe a diet. Possibly an incompetence. Back to the real world. As is or will become apparent I came of rock’n’roll age in the period immediately after punk and so have a tendency to gravitate towards music with a little dirt under the fingernails. What I believe is often called the back-line will be supported by a no-nonsense acoustic guitar in the style of Johnny Cash or the Everley Brothers. theeverlybrotherstheJohn Peel often argued Lonnie Donegan’s place as the unsung pioneer of British rock’n’roll and while I still remain unmoved by much of his gear, his “Cumberland Gap” comes pretty close to the sound I’m after – a kind of beligerent folk music as practiced by people who have been unable to afford new guitar strings for some time.

On to the lead guitar (and I use the adjective cautiously. My talent for shredding is only marginally sharper than my ear for singing). Here too will I be seeking inspiration from music’s Mesozoic era with a rockabilly twang filtered through a surfing sensibility and refined by post punk rambunctiousness. As a steppin’ out teenager in the late 70s, the Old Grey Whistle Test provided the only non-chart TV coverage and, for those of us with paper rounds to deliver, a marginally earlier evening alternative to John Peel. It was, however, the fact that the programme was at this time followed by late night repeats of the Twilight Zone (sod it. The residents of Hollycroft will just have to wait for their copies of Peoples Friend and Dalton’s Weekly) that to this day colours my tastes a light shade of cosmic. It was an era not without a fair degree of sci-fi spaceyness from the technologically friendly Kraftwerk to the dayglo humour of X-Ray Spex but it was (to return once again to Athens, Georgia) the B-52s who caught my ears, stole my heart, electrified my hips and sent a Van Der Graaf shock through my quasi Don King hairdo.Guitar, man They may even have made my backbone slip, I forget. Even now they are the only band from my musical infancy that I can listen to, not with nostalgia but with a fresh sense of awe and not a little terror and are still the perfect bridge between Bob Harris and Rod Serling.

Rod Serling was already an experienced radio and TV screenwriter before embarking on the Twilight Zone as a means to write about the subjects he wanted without falling foul of censorship demands from corporate sponsors. In 1959 B-movie sci-fi was the genre that sold and this then became the backdrop for his ruminations on racism, inequality and gender norms. At risk of sounding grand (or as we east-midlanders say, “up me own arse”), this is the combination of high ideals in a popular format that I aspire to. It’s certainly what I believe the B-52’s b52s-306-1372266010achieved and I find myself getting resentful on their behalf when they’re dismissed as a frivolous party band. Kid Slender will not be resorting to frivolity but will I hope retain a sense of humour. Indeed, if what I’m planning sees the light of day, a sense of humour may be essential.

On vocals…

Let’s not beat about the bush, the biggest stumbling block to realizing my supergroup is the fact that I cannot sing. No false modesty here. There is, as I believe someone once said of Ian Brown, a greater chance of holding custard in an onion bag than there is of me holding a tune. But I am relying on a combination of technological tweaking and good old fashioned mumbling to get me through this. I feel no responsibility to ensure that my listening public understands the lyrics and in view of the fact that I’m not only tone deaf but also literally deaf deaf  I rarely understand them myself. I intend to rewrite, re-imagine and just plain make up anything I can’t hear but feel there is a precedent for this. REM were something of a revelation when I first heard Murmur.  Actually this is not technically true. When I first heard them I gave it 5 minutes and then cast the record across the room bellowing “bloody ‘ell it’s the Eagles”. To this day I fail to understand what it is I heard that made me think of Henley, Frey et al but the second time I listened was definitely a revelation. At last here was a band that levelled the playing field – it wasn’t just me that couldn’t understand, nobody could hear what he was singing. Perversely despite most rock’n’roll poetry being beyond me I suffer incandescent rage when it comes to bad lyrics…

and of course having introduced the notion I do have to define what I mean by bad lyrics. Nonsense and gibberish are fine. Rock’n’roll is often and in my opinion should be limited to 3, 4 minutes tops and in that brief  time you can’t fanny about with daffodils and wandering clouds or you’ve lost the audience. In this spirit I hold with the opinion  that it’s hard to improve on  Bo Diddley’s horny teen anthem My Babe, who, we are assured, “loves a lotta lovin’” because “when she gets hot she gets hot like an… ovin”. Genius. What upsets me is nonsense and gibberish masquerading as higher art. Step forward  Robert Nesta Marley. Whilst I appreciate and admire his achievements in popularizing reggae and in doing so allowing such artists as Toots Hibbert, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Peter Tosh to reach a wider audience, I do, however, continue to struggle with the messianic claims made on his behalf. Especially when considering his assertion that “I’m going to be iron, like a lion, in Zion”. I’ll just leave you to ponder that one for a moment… How exactly can one “be” iron? In what respect do lions embody this quality? How does their relocation to Zion assist in the transformation? Or was it simply the case (and I recognize the heresy in suggesting this) that he was off his tits one night and mistook the rhyming dictionary for conscious inspiration?  I mean, c’mon. Iron? Lion? Zion? Would Shakespeare have had Romeo driving a Mondeo at the rodeo? I and I thinks not Mind you it has to be said that Bohemian Rhapsody still overshadows all bad lyrics like a poodle rockin’ collosus. Bismillah? NO!

…Michael Stipe however was clearly wrestling with and articulating demons the rest of us could barely imagine and it is the glimpses of lyrics that you can hear through aural gaps in the curtain that make them so fascinating.  In much the same way that the Fast Show’s Rowley Birkin QC would mumble incoherently for a minute before grunting the word “snake!” we were left wondering what on earth could be bothering Stipe that suddenly left him bemoaning “conversation fears”. What are conversation fears anyway? Ain’t got the foggiest but you can bet your little sillouetto of a man that it’s something you and I would never think of. But this of course is the whole point. Why would we want to know? I prefer to remain in the dark about songs such as “Radio Free Europe” leaving me free to believe that he really is singing “crawling out of red trousers” and in the unlikely event that he’s not, keep it to yourselves. I was reminded off this recently whilst watching  the very lovely film “Lost in Translation”. Search the web for this film and you will be directed to a list of web sites promising to reveal exactly what Bill Murray whispers to Scarlett Johansson in the final scene. Why would anyone want to know this? It’s such a perfect scene precisely because we don’t know what’s being said and can only imagine and as I’m sure you’ll agree imagination is always better than reality. It’s also a perfect scene due to the use of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “just like honey” which brings me neatly on to my other vocal inspiration, the pale and slightly terrifying Jim Reid. tumblr_mtwtf7ydob1sjma8mo1_500Jim and big bruv William were also clearly of the mind that imagination is preferable to reality. The reality, in their case, of living in new town East Kilbride yet with an imagination that had them witness to the recording of Phil Spector’s “little symphonies for the kids”. Just like REM it took me a while to get the JAMC. My first exposure to debut single Upside Down left me with impression, lasting to this day, that they had simply welded the Scooby Doo theme tune on to Del Shannon’s Runaway. What I shamefully missed was the hubris of four skeletal sun-dodgers with amplifiers which produced not the apocalyptic wail of the MC5 or Velvet Underground, but the suburban hum of someone turning on a Dyson. But who through sheer force of imagination transported themselves to Shea Stadium with an audience of thousands. This would naturally be laughable were they not so deadly earnest about it. Indeed they were earnest to a degree which would be laughable were it not so sincere. How can I tell? Their early releases coincided with my moving to London and for several months I suspected they were stalking me. Hours I spent trudging bedrizzled Thatcherite streets in search  of a flat. At least once a week I would see Jim and William shuffling funereally towards me, Ray-Bans in place and saying not a word. Just staring towards an imaginary rock’n’roll horizon where Brian Wilson was shaking hands with Alex Chilton.

So what have we learnt? In order to overcome my shortcomings I shall be mumbling incomprehensibly into a microphone treated with industrial strength reverb (and not a little echo) with a perfectly straight face. Think “Wandering Star” by Lee Marvin produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry and you’re getting there.