Friday, 11 December 2009

That First Collaboration

Back in July 1981, in the midst of their Situation Two series MacKenzie and Rankine dropped in on Richard Jobson and Russell Webb at Brittania Row Studios in London. Jobson and Webb were beginning work on "Joy" - the final Skids album. MacKenzie added multi-layered vocal effects and harmonies and Rankine contributed some very Sulky guitars to the song "Fields".
The track also featured the stick work of soon-to-be Simple Minds drummer, Kenny Hyslop and the flute of Virginia Astley. The single "Fields" was released a few weeks later in August 1981 in 7" and 12" mixes. When the "Joy" album finally emerged in November 1981 it featured yet another version of "Fields".
The "Joy" album was a huge departure from the traditional Skids sound and the album bombed as the 1981 Stuart Adamson-less train wreck Skids couldn't tour it and Virgin barely promoted it. Adamson did return for one last time to contribute to the beautiful "Iona" track on "Joy" which was recorded at Highland Studios in Inverness and released as a single in October 1981. "Joy" is probably one of the most unusual albums to have come out in 1981, possibly a very rich cake to swallow at one sitting for the first time... but the album settles down very nicely indeed given time. I recommend it highly and I have a cassette of it in my carcassette rack at all times. So seek out a copy today, dust down your turntables and prepare to be amazed. Twenty eight years after I first heard it "Joy" still cuts the mustard big style.
"Sow...carry on!"

All the best

Sid Law

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The End Of An Old Song

My other (and better) half comes from a wee village just outside Dundee. We first met and fell for each other in Edinburgh eighteen years ago. I was intrigued when she told me her parents (Jean and Jimmy) lived just down the hill from Billy MacKenzie. I met them and we got on great. Later on when we were out for walks up Craigowl past Scotston, we'd occasionally see Billy out with his dogs. I often thought of bringing up some of my record collection and asking him to sign them but I was too shy to say anything but an occasional "Hello" in the passing. A bit silly of me really.
Widowed in 1997, Jean's life was transformed by the (very) unexpected arrival of a grandson in 2001. Jean doted on my boy and got the chance to spend a lot of time with him as he grew.

Jean died peacefully at home on Tuesday morning after a year's struggle with oral cancer. 2009 has been a mountain for all of us. A mountain for a happy wee 8 year old boy who watched as his lovely granny became barely recogniseable. A mountain for my other half who had to watch on as her mum lost the ability to eat, speak or hear. A mountain for Jean whose strength of character, determination and iron will meant she was able to stay on in her own home till the end came. A mountain for myself to see three people I loved in such a terrible situation. There was only ever going to be one way that the suffering could possibly end, mercifully her daughter was present when it did. With Jean's death the last family ties with Dundee are severed. The council will get their house back and next week Jean will join her beloved Jimmy in the churchyard.

Not much more to add really. The end of an old song.

Billy's song "The Mountains That You Climb" seems an apt post at the end of a sad week. It never saw the light of day on any posthumous releases and although this version is a demo, it is a beautiful performance.
I also really like this Youtube Video filmed around Auchterhouse and Dronley. The music isn't actually by The Associates but it is a rather brilliant six minute extended twist on the atmospheric one minute long "Heaven's Blue" instrumental which lurks on the Temperament Mix Heart Of Glass 12".

All the best

Sid Law

Friday, 27 November 2009


In 1986 Billy popped along to R.E.L. Studios in Edinburgh to drop onto tape what is perhaps his most bizzarre vocal performance. A collaboration (albeit in seperate studios) with Palais Schaumburg founder member Holger Hiller. With the music in Billy's headphones already recorded in a Hamburg studio and working pretty much on his own, he tackled Hiller's lyrics (eg. "OH SOOO TOYO TO TO FEBAYQAYO OCH") with some gusto. Just what the track adds up to.... well I'm just pretty banjaxed really. Make your own mind up!
"Whippets" was released by Mute on a 12" single. It was backed by "Waltz" (no input from Billy on this track). I had long thought that the 12" would be prohibitively rare and expensive to track down but I picked up a VGC copy off the Outerweb for £2.50 last year. It is worth the purchase for the sleeve alone, where Hiller had thoughtfully printed the lyrics in case any of us wanted to sing along.

Both tracks were included on the album "Oben Im Eck" (1986) released by Mute. Billy contributed backing vocals to two more tracks on the album - "Oben Im Eck" and "We Dont Write Anything On Paper Or So". A slightly different version of the "Oben Im Eck" track was added as an extra to the CD re-issue. I particularly like Billy's contribution to the "We Don't Write Anything..." track- a precursor of the haunting, wordless soundscapes and vocal washes he created for Yello in the years following this strange collaboration.

Sid Law

Monday, 23 November 2009

The European Son Ventures Forth

Billy's first european collaboration was alongside Associates sidekick, exiled Canadian and the yummiest of Muffins, Martha Ladly on Stephen Emmer's Vogue Estate mini LP. Released on a WEA offshoot label IDIOT, the release was of mainly instrumental and cinematic themed music. Billy contributed lead vocals to one track "Wish On" while the delightful Martha tinkled some 1982-ish sounding keys. The "Wish On" track has a rather manic Orbidoig-ish frenzy to it, though there is no info on whether that is Stevie Reid prematurely gallavanting his guitar all over it, or the multi-talented Martha (whose first instrument was the guitar). It was produced by Flood who sat at the controls for "Tell Me Easter's On Friday" for The Associates back in early 1981. The track dates from late 82 and would appear to be post-Sulk and post-the Rankine/ MacKenzie Associates split. After the split Michael Dempsey went on to play with the Lotus Eaters and was joined there by Stephen Emmer in 1985. Much to recommend this "Wish On" track.

In 1987 Billy MacKenzie, Philip Erb and Blair Booth (amongst others) appeared on the "Cinemas Of The World" LP which was released under the name UNO. I'd always thought UNO might be some kind of pseudo-euro-moniker for some unknown french bloke. It was released in France on the french Barclay label (stable for for Jaques Brel and Maurice Chevalier's releases). I've never found any other UNO records and there aint much info out there. Anyhow... Billy sings lead vocals on the title track and it was released as a 7" and 12" single. I picked up my vinyl copies up at the long-gone wee 2nd hand record stall in the market off Argyll Street, Glasgow in the summer of 1990. I eventually snaffled a CD copy of the album for 50p at the New Street car boot in Edinburgh six years ago. Great to have and a reminder that while Billy couldn't get any Associates records released in 1987, he was still able to get his voice heard - whether that suited Warners or not.

Sid Law

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Sulk US Remixes

Back in August when I started this blog, I vented no little amount of spleen over the various attempts to issue "Sulk" in CD form. I add this little post to fill a horrid gaping void for any completeists out there. The 1988 US CD version of "Sulk" gave us, in a crisp digital format, the full horror of the US Sulk which, up until then, had only been available on vinyl and a cassette (the cassette had both the UK and US versions of "Sulk" on it).

The US Sulk CD version had removed Bapdelabap, Nude Spoons, the intro and outro instrumentals (Arrogance Gave Him Up & nothinginsomethingparticular), replaced the original 5.32 Club Country with a 4.02 edit, added the non-album single 18 Carat Love Affair/ Love Hangover, stuck on two tracks from the Fourth Drawer Down album and then completely changed the running order.

Bad enough we all say. But worse was yet to come... Warners had got Mark Arthurworrey to remix the first two tracks on the album!
It's Better This Way US remix kicks off with a really laboured attempt at funking up the catatonic rumble of the bassline which had propelled the original version. The choruses are particularly disturbing and upsetting for the listener with much exuberant popping, plucking, slapping and the kind of Level 42 Mark King bass guitar "enthusiasm" which we all know and rightly fear.
Party Fears Two US remix finds the original snappy drums relegated to the back and an irritating little snare/ high-hat taps weakly along instead. The jangle of the acoustic guitar is gone and the keyboard line is given an extra tinny setting, then pushed up to the front of the mix to ride over Billy's vocal at points. On top of this shabby watered-down pish we find that Mr Arthurworrey has taken it upon himself to sample a bit of Billy's vocal coda and drop it onto the instrumental hook from about 2.50 onwards. "Ho-ho, ho-ho, hey-ho" indeed! Let's be thankful he didn't stick a "hey nonny-nonny" on as well.

oh dear

Sid Law


It was 1996. I'd always prided myself on my extensive collection of Associates and Billy MacKenzie stuff. I'd bought everything as it came out, in all formats. I had live bootlegs, studio out-takes, all the collaborations from the earliest with the Skids "Fields" (3 versions 7", 12" and album) to the latest CDEPs and 12"ers with Loom and Barry Adamson. New stuff in the pipeline from Billy too.

Then there was a phone call from a pal one miserable night in January 1997 telling me the news.

In the months after Billy's death I sent a lot of CDs and tapes to people. I recieved quite a few too, some of which I have zipped up for today's second offering. These tracks never made it onto the One Little Indian, Nude or Rhythm Of Life posthumous albums.
Posted by request and ripped at 320kb.
Sid Law

Some Associated Perhaps Tracks

Perhaps was a bit of a long wait after Sulk. Rankine's departure, tales of MacKenzie's excesses and the paucity of any new material only seemed to suggest that it was all falling to bits. A few frantic Radio One sessions for Peel and Jensen only seemed to bear this out with fairly chaotic tracks like
"Helicopter Helicopter",
"Don't Give Me That I Told You So Look" and a twisted piece of proto-electro-disco called "Perhaps". One session was simply Billy and Howard Hughes doing "God Bless The Child" and "This Flame". I taped all those sessions and wondered what on earth was going to emerge as an album in the end. It was "Those First Impressions" first. A shimmering eight minute twelve-inch beauty which mysteriously did nothing chartwise. Then "Waiting For The Loveboat" a less commercial, twisted thing did even less chartwise.

Billy did some truly extraordinary publicity appearances to promote these singles. A "Number 73" kids TV appearance with Sandi Toksvig and Professor Stanley Unwin. Then a bewildering interview on The Tube with Lesley Ash on board the HMS Unicorn in a dry dock in Dundee only reinforced Billy's aloofness and cynicism. When the last Perhaps single "Breakfast" slid out in January 1985 it was heralded by a live performance on The Oxford Roadshow introduced by a possibly intoxicated Richard Jobson shouting "Awww fuck off" just before the string quartet started the song. In mitigation... it was Burns Night...
(A pal made a great tape from the headphone socket on his telly directly into the line-in on his cassette deck. I transferred this to CD years back. The travelogue is first, then there follows a simply stunning live version of Breakfast with the string quartet (plus Jobson's shout of encouragement). In my own ever so 'umble opinion, this version of Breakfast totally eclipses any other. Period.)
A rather good quality MP3 of the whole shebang is here.
In the wee travelogue about his hometown of Dundee, Billy laughingly describes his gaunt and anorexic bandmates being fattened up with deep fried oatmeal puddings from the chipshop. He speaks affectionately of his hometown and walking his dogs up in the Sidlaws. He makes a real defining statement about staying in Dundee (as opposed to London) "Home's home... and that's it." This performance and interview is about as far as you can get from the whole popstar/Spandau/Duran chart nonsense which prevailed at the time. It was no surprise that "Breakfast" stiffed badly. Aside from two more poorly recieved singles, one more in 85 (Take Me To The Girl) and one in 88 (Heart Of Glass), by January 1985 that was really it for the 1980's for The Associates...

When Perhaps finally saw a re-issue on CD in 2002 there were no extras from the 12" versions, b-sides or anything. Warners instead gave us Billy's career stalling, previously unreleased 1988 Glamour Chase album as part of a 2CD set with Perhaps. Maybe it was too much, too little, too late to have gone all out on a really cool package of goodies... but there was consolation in having "Empires Of The Heart" on CD at last. There was still plenty of space left on the Perhaps CD to have crammed on a shedload of extras but Warners chose not to.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The A Twelve Incher

Fiction never got round to popping the second single from The Affectionate Punch out until September 1981 ( more than a year after the first). The twelve inch version of A/ Would I Bounce Back is a wonderful step up in production values and leaves behind the sparseness of the original album tracks for a much fuller sound.

When The Affectionate Punch was remixed and re-released on the back of Sulk a couple of years later, for many including Billy and Alan it was a disappointment. Billy had given up on it, re-recording a couple of half hearted vocals and leaving Mr Rankine to complete the synthy overdubs and finish the thankless mess. What came out was certainly a new take on the original album but it was not what it could have been.

This twelve inch version of A/ Would I Bounce Back shows us what a re-recorded and remixed version of The Affectionate Punch might have sounded like. It is a pity they never mixed the entire Affectionate Punch in this mould. It's still as fresh as a daisy. Great.


Sid Law

Friday, 14 August 2009

Obsession Magnificent - Studio Version

Back in early September 1985 Billy's new Associates line up recorded a session for the Janice Long Show. We were treated to Heart of Glass, Take Me To The Girl and Obsession Magnificent.
Take Me To The Girl appeared as the next Associates single a few months later in 12", 10" and 7" formats.
Heart Of Glass appeared a few years later as a single (three 12" formats, a 7" and the first Associates CD single - a tiny wee 3" one).
Obsession Magnificent was for me the stand out track from that 1985 Janice Long Session. A full tilt drum driven, bass plucking, guitar furiously twangin', jittery sequencing synths filling in all the gaps... simply a blaster of a tune. Billy's vocals are really astonishing ... Billy lends his heart wrenching lyrics to some unheard-of melodies he plucked from out of the ether and weaves a course through the locked-on playing of his Associates. It is my favourite Associates song from the Perhaps era.
Sadly, Obsession Magnificent was never given a proper release. The Janice Long Session version remains the only officially released version which has ever been available. It appeared on Radio One Sessions CD (Nighttracks 1994) and turned up again on Volume 2 of the Radio One Sessions 2 CD set (BBC Music/ Strange Fruit 2003).
However... just because Warners or Billy never saw fit to release a studio version of Obsession Magnificent doesn't mean we cant jump back to an unknown studio session (probably Sept/ October 1985) and listen to Billy and Co deliver Obsession Magnificent in truly blistering form. This is the real McCoy - a great performance.


Sid Law

Ripped at 320 kbp/s to retain the very reasonable quality of the track.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Associated Sulk Tracks

There were a number of single releases from Sulk which featured non LP (or V2 reissue) tracks. On the flipside of the Party Fears Two single lurked an awesome version of It's Better This Way. I'm going to make no attempt to describe it other than to say that when Billy announces "That was a groovy, groovy speed" as the run out groove approaches, you realise just how on top of their game Rankine and MacKenzie were at this point. Likewise the Club Country B-side instrumental AG It's You Again (a proto version of Arrogance Gave Him Up) is a busy little piece worthy of inclusion as an extra in anybody's book. The Party Fears Two 12" remains uncollected as does the Love Hangover 12" extra track Voluntary Wishes/ Swapit Productions.

Here they are

All the best

Sid Law

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Sulk - The V2 reissue mess up

When Sulk first slipped onto my Marantz turntable some 27 years ago it flowed through my Realistic amp and out of my Wharfdale speakers in an unholy torrent like the bastard offspring of Abba, John Barry, Motown and David Bowie. Plus there was other stuff in there. Hard to hear, see or put your finger on. It didn't matter whether you were listening to the "green" side or the "blue" side, you were taken somewhere else. The sleeve showed draped park benches (one lit green, one lit blue) beneath tropical plants. Two guys looked up as if you were imposing, interrupting their conversation and kinda challenging you to pull up a park bench and shoot the breeze.
And the music? Well to me it was one of those records you just dont interrupt. You had to hear the complete side, the whole lot before you could possibly lift the needle and take it back to hear something again or turn it over. The tunes, the arrangements, the lyrics, the vocals were simply gobsmacking. Plus with all the weird noises, swooshes, murmurs and end-of-track echoey, gushing weirdness... you simply didn't want to miss anything. The whole thing had a feel. One song flowed into the next. A masterpiece.

In 1988 a really shabby CD version of Sulk slipped down onto the Armitage Shanks. It was the US version with tracks missing, awful remixes, machete-cut edited versions, everything in the wrong order and some songs dragged in from the Fourth Drawer Down album. The whole thing was a bit of a huff... but a proper Sulk it was not. Though it did mean you could have a CD version of "Skipping"...

When Sulk was finally given a UK CD release in the V2 re-issue schedule back in 2001 I rushed out and snapped it up. Of course the CD didn't have a green side or a blue side anymore but you didn't have to get out of your chair and turn a slab of vinyl over either. Plus it did have lots of extra tracks. Seven to be exact (including the non album single "Love Hangover/ 18 Carat Love Affair" and the previously unreleased songs "Australia" and "Grecian 2000"). Billy MacKenzie's biographer Tom Doyle wrote the liner notes and confidently informed us "the original ten tracks are presented in their UK released form, with none of the lumpen overdubs, tracklist shuffles or remixes that marred the US version".

This was, of course, utter pish. Tom either didn't listen to the V2 re-issue or wasn't acquainted with the original to which he was referring. Because on the 2001 reissue V2 had dumped us with a crapola 4.50 edit of "Club Country" in place of the original 1982 5.32 UK-released version. On the original UK Sulk, the 5.32 "Club Country" snaked the listener between the hysterical paranoid drive of "Party Fears Two" and the euphoric coda that was "nothinginsomethingparticular". The very idea that Michael Dempsey (Associates bassist who supervised the V2 reissue programme) would have dumped the original UK 5.32 version (with its whole minute long wriggly, sliding bass groove and teasing synthy breakdown/ buildup mid-section) and substituted a shabby, inferior edit seems bizarre. His work ("compiling, co-ordinating and digitally remastering") on the Associates reissues has been exhaustive and he has given us some scintillating extras. I mean you would think of all the albums he would have got Sulk right... yeah?

Well he didn't. So we never got the original UK Sulk on the otherwise jam-packed-with-extras V2 reissue. We got an edited version of Sulk. I recieved no response to any of my communications with V2. So if they wont put things right I will. This version has never appeared on anything but the original UK vinyl and cassette versions of Sulk back in 1982. Here is the original "Club Country" from the original UK version of "Sulk" in its original 5.32 state. I've tossed in the 6.59 otherwise unavailable, fully weirded-out, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink 12" mix too. Enjoy!

Cheers for now

Sid Law