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.