50 Ways To Prove I’m Rubbish #21

Time for another band that I absolutely adore now, but back in 1985, when they were causing a proper stink by playing 15 minute long sets with their backs to the audience, around the time that their debut album came out, I absolutely hated them.

Often in this series, I struggle to pinpoint exactly what it was about a band or artist that I didn’t like then but do love now; often I can blame my blinkered “it’s got no guitars on it” viewpoint, but more often than not I have to shrug my shoulders and accept it was because…well…I’m a bit rubbish.

Today’s tune poses no such problems, however, as I can easily point to the exact reason I refused to like this band back in the mid-80s: sibling rivalry, which given that the band features two brothers is a tad on the ironic side.

My brother adored The Jesus & Mary Chain, but as far as I could see they were just two dour Scotsmen with a propensity for playing their guitars a bit too close to their amps and thereby generating a wall of unwelcome squealing feedback.

Talk about missing the point.

However, it was around this time that my brother and I, after years of fighting, and smashing anything we could get our hands on across each others’ back – snooker cues, violins (no one could accuse us of not being middle class) – started to decide we quite liked each other after all.

We went to the local pub one night, for his birthday – I think it was his 19th, which would make me 17 (shhh! don’t tell the landlord), and we came away at the end of the night, properly lubricated (ok, that sounds wrong…) and announcing that we had decided the other “was alright really.”

Shortly afterwards, I was commandeered by my brother and his mates Rob and Phil to join their pool team. I’m not sure how they had become the representatives of a pub in this respect, but somehow they had, and on the occasions when their normal fourth player wasn’t available, I was brought in.

In case you think I was a ringer, you’re sadly mistaken. I haven’t played in years, but back then I was pretty good. However, I don’t think I won a single game, and can recall with a shudder at least one game where I tried an outlandish shot only to accidentally pot the black and thus lose the game.

Anyway, roaring along the back roads around the villages we lived in (Rob and Phil lived in a different one to the two of us), heading to a nearby pub to shoot some pool, a compilation tape of all things goth would inevitably be played.

I should stress that none of us considered The Jesus & Mary Chain to be goths; however, their look – black drainpipe jeans, black winkle-picker shoes, black leather jackets, the occasional black and white spotted shirt, black shades – perfectly embodied the look my pool partners were rocking at the time. You can imagine the looks they all got when they turned up at a sleepy backwater pub, asked to be pointed in the direction of the pool table before announcing they were there to pot their balls, drink their beer and (totally fail) to seduce their women.

Those inter-pub crazy car journeys have stayed in my head ever since, partly because of the amount of times we nearly crashed, but mostly because it was then that I realised just how special The Jesus & Mary Chain were.

I didn’t buy myself a copy of Psychocandy until a few years later, but I did go out and buy the follow up album, Darklands, pretty much on the day of release.

For that reason, Darklands remains my J&MC album, but I have to admit that, great as it is, it’s nowhere near as magnificent as Psychocandy is.

So here’s one from that wonderful debut album; it’s one of my favourites but it’s a real short one that often gets overlooked in favour of the more famous tracks:

The Jesus & Mary Chain – Taste of Cindy

More soon.

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Sunday Morning Coming Down

A bit of a rehash this morning.

I first posted all of the songs in today’s post back in 2015. It attracted zero comments at the time so I think I can get away with it.

So, first up is this, the opening track from their gorgeous She Hangs Brightly album, the gorgeousness due in no small part to the smouldering vocal of Hope Sandoval:

Mazzy Star – Halah

Is there a voice more perfectly gorgeous in the whole wide world than Hope Sandoval’s? I think not. If only there was a way I could contrast it with, say, a grizzly Glaswegian.

Oh wait, there is…

The Jesus & Mary Chain – Sometimes Always

(Sort of original) content alert: here’s J&MC and Hope performing that song on the David Letterman show. The quality is shonky to say the least, but it’s worth a watch, if for no other reason than the tongue-in-cheek conversation between Letterman and musical director Paul Shaffer:

Now I’ve always loved that record – in fact, I think that the album it’s from, Stoned & Dethroned is one of the most under-rated albums I’ve ever heard, let alone owned – but I have always thought Sometimes Always was, lyrically, just a rehash of this:

The Beautiful South – A Little Time

I await the tide of outraged comments with interest.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

They’re not exactly known for their acoustic, sensitive side, are The Jesus & Mary Chain.

No, they’re more renowned for fuzzy guitars, Phil Spector Wall of Sound meets Brian Wilson-esque melodies, all drenched in swathes of glorious squealing feedback. Or growling glam rock-inspired stomps.

But they do have a quieter side – they released a whole album of acousticy songs, the much under-rated Stoned and Dethroned.

This isn’t on that particular album, rather it’s the closing track on 1989’s Automatic album, and it’s one of my favourites, short and sweet:

The_Jesus_And_Mary_Chain-Automatic-Frontal

The Jesus & Mary Chain – Drop

More soon.

 

The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of

You know the schtick round these parts by now: post a song within a series, or drop a vaguely amusing story (and link it to a song), or bang on about politics (and link it to a song) blah blah blah.

But the songs I post are generally older ones that you all know already, or maybe have forgotten about; as historically I have never been first to discover a band, I prefer to leave all that “breaking new acts” to those with a better ear for that kind of thing, and a better turn of phrase for describing it than I.

But this morning: something different. The story of a band who peaked in the mid-to-late 1980s then promptly vanished without a trace, amid animosity, violence and even rumours of death and murder.

And I know for a fact that you won’t have heard of them, or anything by them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the magnificent:

Third Light

I mention Third Light now because today the three founder members, Rob, Phil and “Swing” will be reconvening. It is the first time they have laid eyes on each other in over thirty years.

Let’s get the admin out of the way first: Third Light is one of the coolest band names ever. Fact. But what does it mean? Well, Wikipedia tells us that Third Light is supposedly  a superstition among soldiers during the Crimean War to World War II. Since then it has been considered bad luck for three people to share a light from the same match. The superstition goes that if three soldiers lit their cigarettes from the same match, the man who was third on the match would be shot. The enemy would be alerted to their presence by the first light, able to take aim by the second, and by the third…well, you get the idea.

It would turn out to be a most prophetic name.

The trio first met at school, but had little to do with each other until one Friday night in their final year when a “disco”, for want of a better word, was held in the school hall. But this was no ordinary school disco, it was open to locals too. And more importantly, it had a fully licensed bar. And even more importantly than that, one of the more senior teachers worked behind the bar and he was perfectly happy to serve alcohol to his pupils, even when he recognised them out of uniform, so to speak. (Indeed, it was this teacher and this act of generosity which inspired the first band name suggested: Cliff and the Babes, a name rejected for sounding too much like a novelty act. As if Cliff would have anything to do with children. Take heed, BBC!)

The three found themselves at the bar together, supping pints of snakebite and black, all suddenly aware that they were rocking a very similar look: dressed all in black, hair spiked-up, skinny tight jeans. It was to become a look adopted by their many fans over the next few years; indeed you sometimes spot them to this day. You might know them as goths, or Emo, but back in the day they were known as Lighters.

And it was in this crowded bar on that Friday night that the three of them looked each other up and down and all came to the same decision: it’s not my round. And then they came to another one: these two geeks are my ticket out of here.

They didn’t need a ticket out of there that night though; they were chased out by a group of local thugs who didn’t appreciate people turning up looking a bit different. That night they were forever united as the pitchfork brandishing and flaming torch waving lynch mob kicked seven bells of shit out of them on the village green. Apparently it’s quite hard running away from danger when you’re in skinny jeans, a flouncy blouse and winkle-pickers. If there was any justice in this world, which we know there isn’t, but if there was, then there would be a blue plaque to them there now.  But there isn’t.

The next day, the freshly bandaged three amigos met up again, and their master plan was hatched. They would buy guitars and maybe even learn to play them. The group was split on the need to actually learn how to play their instruments: Phil thought it was important, Rob said he wasn’t going to bother unless the other two definitely were going to, “Swing” pointed out that Sid Vicious couldn’t play his bass guitar and it never did him any harm, Rob and Phil agreed that was a fair point, but the heroin addiction and propensity to murder his own girlfriend didn’t exactly do him much good either.

They did agree that the first step in their march to world domination was to gain notoriety. And so it was that they went to the pub, played some pool and politely agreed with the regular customers that you don’t get two shots on the black, put loads of money in the juke box, programmed it to play Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Love Missile F1-11 on repeat until all of their money had run out, then left mid-way through the first rendition.

But the cracks were already appearing. Phil did buy a guitar and set about learning some basic chords. Rob told him to let him know once he could play A7, and he’d think about trying to. But several months later, when Phil had mastered that chord, Rob sent him away again, with the same instruction, but this time for F#, but as a bar chord, mind, not the easy way. The chain of command had been established.

“Swing” meanwhile got hold of an electric guitar which, rather than make any attempt at learning to play, he set about taking apart to see how it worked. And after he’d done that, he realised he didn’t know how to put it back together again, so that was the end of that. Back to being the Sid of the band it was, then.

And still the music, the sweet, sweet music kept not coming. The trio worked hard on their “difficult first album”; they designed a logo (as above) and came up with a title: “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing.”

And then, the irony-o-meter went off the scale as suddenly the band no longer had Swing. He disappeared without a trace. Many said that he was dead, some said he was murdered. Then came the usual Lord Lucan-esque rumours that he had been spotted. In much the same way as conspiracy theorists said that Paul McCartney was dead because he appeared on the cover of Abbey Road with no shoes on, so the whispers grew that Swing had been spotted on a zebra crossing wearing nothing but his shoes.

Rob and Phil soldiered on, arranging publicity shots to send out as missives to the likes of the NME. Only one photo survives from that shoot:

Third Light promo

In a rare interview in 2015, Phil added a further layer to the mystery, when he was quoted as saying: “It’s an interesting story. Being only weeks after Swing died, Rob and I decided to push on with the new single release. This publicity shot was the first one since his death. Imagine our surprise when the picture was developed with Swing’s face in between us.”

But the band could not recover from the loss of their most enigmatic, if musically ungifted member, and they disbanded just as the major labels were forming orderly queues to sign them up (it says here).

But now they’re back, Back, BACK! And who knows, maybe this time around they may get around to actually recording something. If they do (they won’t) I suspect it will sound like a hybrid of these five bands, all of whom were cited as influences in early interviews:

the-sisters-of-mercy-alice-merciful-release

The Sisters of Mercy – Alice

R-369883-1357583169-5111_jpeg

The Jesus & Mary Chain – Taste of Cindy

R-392372-1363810588-4419_jpeg

Pop Will Eat Itself – Oh Grebo I Think I Love You

the-pleasure-heads-dont-fake-it-molesworth-records

The Pleasureheads – Falling Man

Front Cover

The Alarm – Third Light

Ah. Maybe that’s where they got their name from, then…

Anyway, truth be told, they’re more likely to go find a local pub which has a pool table and this on the juke box:

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Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Love Missile F1-11

More soon.

PS: have a splendid weekend (this weekend) catching up, chaps.

And have a great birthday (next weekend), Bruv. Please can you put my guitar back together again sometime soon?

Dear Points of View

Dear Barry Took (or whoever hosts Points of View these days. Is it even on anymore…?)

I’ve been greatly enjoying Smashing Hits! The 80s Pop Map of Britain & Ireland, the music documentary series currently showing on BBC4 where 80s pop icons Midge Ure of Ultravox and … erm … *checks notes* … Kim Appleby of Mel and Kim drive around the countries, interviewing leading lights from the 80s pop scene in various towns and attempting to demonstrate that the records they made could only have been conceived in the artists’ home towns at that specific time.

It’s an interesting way of reframing a potted history of the various musical scenes which popped up throughout the 80s, but of course I have a couple of gripes.

Firstly, that bloody awful title, with its superfluous exclamation at the start.

Secondly, it’s a bit too whirlwind. Episode One focused on London, Sheffield and Coventry, and featured interviews with Gary Kemp from Spandau Ballet, Marco Pirroni from Adam and the Ants, Pauline Black from The Selecter, and Martin Ware and Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17, whilst featuring clips of tracks by all of the above and more. The time given to each city seemed about right, but Episode Two tried to cram in too much in too little a time when it attempted to cover all of the music from Scotland, Ireland and Wales in one show.

The Scottish segment was particularly frustrating, as they crammed interviews with lovely Clare Grogan from Altered Images and Pat Kane from Hue and Cry in between a whistle-stop summary of  Postcard Records, Aztec Camera, The Bluebells, The Proclaimers, Deacon Blue. The city in question was, of course, Glasgow, and much was made of the fact that as it’s a port, here was the source of much hard-to-come-by music being imported. Hence, the documentary reveals, many songs were written by working class people about working class issues, having absorbed mostly American musical influences.

I’m not saying that any of this is inaccurate, it was just that the segment of the show dedicated to Scotland/Glasgow was over far too quickly, and for my money overlooked one particular band who wore their influences on their leather sleeves.

Having gone to the effort of noting The Byrds’ jangly guitars lineage to Orange Juice, and the connection between US country and folk music on the likes of The Bluebells, Texas and The Proclaimers, or the significance of soul on Wet Wet Wet and Hue and Cry, then where the heck were The Jesus and Mary Chain?

William and Jim Reid snaffled a look which was a hybrid of Velvet Underground cool and 60s garage rock grubbiness, then pinched a load of  Brian Wilson-esque melodies and set them against a backdrop of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound – two of the biggest American music icons ever, one of whom went mad, the other committed murder – and drenched them in squealing feedback to create a noise which was their calling card on one of the greatest debut albums not just of the 80s, but ever: Psychocandy.

Like this:

the-jesus-and-mary-chain-never-understand-blanco-y-negro

The Jesus & Mary Chain – Never Understand

Exquisite.

To have talked about 80s music in Glasgow, and not even mention JAMC was a criminal oversight, and frankly it’s not what I pay my TV licence fee for.

Yours Truly, Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

(More soon.)