|Tracy Tracy/The Primitives|
Nick Kent could spend three sleepless nights out of his eyes in the company of Keith Richards or Iggy Pop and still remember every second and pull together an article and verbatim interview for the NME. I am not Nick Kent and neither is Long John yet we’re in the pub preparing to cover the launch party gig for Cherry Red’s new 5-CD box set Scared To Get Happy: A Story of Indie Pop 1980-1989. Long John is writing his first piece for a website and thanks to a space on the guest list freed by pop culture site Electric Roulette I’m doing it for here. John pulls out a brand new notebook which he has headed the first ten pages with the names of the bands on the bill on the assumption he’ll forget the whole night by the time he gets home; a scenario I know only too well. I suggest it’ll be easier writing notes on his phone.
The 229 Club is set out in two rooms: a large ballroom/hall and a more intimate back room. Most of the bands we’re interested in seeing are in the main room but we arrive too late for The Wolfhounds but in time for Mighty Mighty. I’ve only been aware of them since the recent Pop Can: The Definitive Collection 1986 to 1988 but am looking forward to seeing them. They appear on stage and having seen them I decide I’m looking forward to hearing them instead. Singer Hugh McGuinness was never many people’s idea of a heartthrob but I still want to see bands make some kind of effort, not look like they’re about to give you a quote for replacing a carburettor or give you good deal on a topside of beef.
As the 36 tracks on Pop Can show, Mighty Mighty almost have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to snappy pop tunes like “Throwaway” that sound 60s influenced without sounding like anything that actually came from that decade, a trick performed by many bands of the era. In the mid-90s my girlfriend at the time and I were both big 60s heads, I came from a Mod background and she an IndiePop one; she’d forever try to convince me how 60s that scene was. I didn’t take much notice but she’d say “The Sea Urchins – dead 60s; The Field Mice – dead 60s; Mighty Mighty – dead 60s; early Primal Scream – dead 60s” and if I heard the story about her picking up a wasted Bobby Gillespie from the side of the Leicestershire road and giving him a lift in her mini once, I heard it a million times. Not for the first or last time it has taken me a long time to cotton on and admit a girlfriend was correct all along.
McGuinness has trouble reaching some notes and some of the guitar tuning is out but Mighty Mighty have enough Brummie bonhomie for it not to matter. The rolling and tumbling “Little Wonder” is typical of their lyrical prowess which often comes with Morrisseyesque humour ,“What’s an inch between friends?” he sings. “Settle Down” and “Touch of the Sun” are more downbeat (the latter ends with “We’d like to claim the prize for the most MOR song of the evening”) but things pick up again with “Maisonette”; a swift shift up the gears to “Is There Anyone Out There?”; the scratchy funk of “Everybody Knows The Monkey” and “Law” (from the infamous C-86 cassette), and after regular requests from the crowd the suitably robust “Built Like A Car”.
When Mighty Mighty go back to work and tell their butcher, baker and candlestick maker colleagues they’ve played a gig to 1000 people they are unlikely to be believed. The same probably isn’t true of the Brilliant Corners as Davey Woodward as the look of someone who used to be in a band (albeit one who now runs a bar in Tenerife). Lean, tanned, good looking and strumming an acoustic guitar he leads his band through a 45 minute set of toe tapping pop nuggets for the first time in 20 years. Someone shouts out and asks “Where are your green flares?” I’ve no idea what this refers to but am impressed how Davey points out “They aren’t a normal shade of green, they are peppermint green, an important detail.” Very important. “Meet Me On Tuesdays” has a sharper bite than some of their others whilst “Growing Up Absurd” chugs along to a Velvet Underground rhythm and the use of a trumpet a number of songs adds something extra.
I watched the video to the insanely catchy “Why Do You Have To Go Out With Him, When You Could Go Out With Me?” this morning and wondered what Amelia Fletcher (ex-Talulah Gosh) who was on that record looked like now; she joins them on stage looking exactly the same. “Brian Rix” is their most famous song but a bit annoying and too student disco, not that it prevents a group of girls with bobs and flowerly dresses next to me from jumping around singing about pulling their trousers down. All rather strange and I’m still none the wiser as to who Brian Rix was or is.
|The Brilliant Corners|
We go into the small room to catch some of Blue Orchids. When I reviewed them previously one reader said it was the laziest review he’d ever seen. He might need to reconsider if he reads this one. We hear “Bad Education” and “Disney Boys” but they don’t seem as animated or as entertaining as before and our concentration wanders and argue over whose round it is. It’s mine. No, it’s mine, you bought the last one. John’s notes are getting harder to decipher and my texting looks like a code white-coated boffins at GCHQ would struggle to crack.
Bridget Duffy of the Sea Urchins (their “Solace” is on the Scared To Get Happy boxset) is there, although to me she is Bridget Duffy from vintage clothes shop What The Butler Wore, and I ask how come Mighty Mighty mentioned her earlier. She was on the cover of their first single and they wanted her to join them on stage to play tambourine but was too sober at the time and now would jump at the chance. Confirming what my ex said, Bridget reckons the Sea Urchins wanted to be Buffalo Springfield and when she moved to London was shocked how divided the Indie-Pop and mod/60s scenes were.
Back in the main room and the BMX Bandits have already started. Duglas T. Stewart lives in a gingerbread house, with a dozen cats, a Mr Man teapot sat on an embroidered tablecloth, and tells and acts out amazing stories with hand puppets to incredulous children as fluffy bunnies run around his garden. He wears a purple suit, red braces, and has a purse with the head of fox around his neck. A plastic purse, not a real fox. His songs like “So Many Colours” and "Disco Girl" have an effortless, graceful, romantic beauty to them. He tells about young Gareth on keyboards and how when Gareth’s parents met “The Day Before Tomorrow” was playing, making him partially responsible for Gareth. Gareth nods to confirm this. I guess Stewart is responsible for many children.
Duglas reveals how Dan Treacy of the Television Personalities sent him “Girl At The Bus Stop” telling him to destroy the tape and say it is a BMX Bandits song. And it is. Again, sweeter than Winnie The Pooh’s honey. They don’t do “Serious Drugs” (or I miss it) but I can’t feel bad about it. How could anyone feel bad about the BMX Bandits?
At the bar a drunk bloke, even drunker than us, grabs Long John and sings along to Billy Bragg. “I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for a New England, I just looking for another guuuurrl”. The only girl John is interested in looking for is Tracy Tracy. He rubs his hands together excitedly as he says her name. Dirty boy.
The other three in The Primitives kick off the rockabilly fuzz of “Buzz Buzz Buzz” and Tracy joins them. They are the only band tonight who look the way a band should. They understand pop music is about more than music but they also have substance to go with style. It’s a winning formula. There is no messing about. This is fun yet serious. Quite simply, they are brilliant.
Old favourites “Spacehead”, “Thru The Flowers”, “Way Behind Me”, "Sick of It" and “Nothing Else” sit next to recent singles “Turn Off The Moon” and “Lose The Reason” without so much as a noticeable join. Tracy Tracy oozes confidence, as well she should. Still beautiful yet still completely out of reach she dangles the crowd on a string as they follow her every move. “Stop Killing Me” and “Really Stupid” are as urgent and vibrant as they were when recorded in the mid-80s, not dating a jot. John’s abandoned any note taking and is pogoing as if we were in the Town and Country Club, 1988.
Naturally “Crash” gets a big reception but the band is far too cool to mention Lovely gets released in deluxe format this week and such is The Primitives’ nerve they don’t end the set with it but with the far less familiar early B-side “We Found A Way To The Sun”. It gently broods, then builds, then builds further, then almost runs out of steam before coming back stronger, faster, harder and explodes in a climax of white noise. Tracy collects a bunch of red roses from a man whose been waiting patiently at the front of the stage for four hours and then they’re gone. Incredible.
Outside we join a debate about the best band of the night. We only saw a bit of Blue Orchids but they are mentioned by some, as are The Wolfhounds who we missed, same for The Pop Guns, The June Brides, 14 Iced Bears and Yeah Yeah Noh. John has made some notes on his phone and as he checks it, he deletes them. So much for technology, so much for my advice.
I’ve been reappraising the 1980s recently and am gradually coming around to thinking it wasn’t anywhere near as dreadful musically as I’d always thought, I just need to dig deeper and Scared To Get Happy is the next spade I’m going to use.
Scared To Get Happy is released by Cherry Red Records. Available here.