Saturday, 30 January 2010

Anacostia Bay

In 1996 I was walking down Cockburn Street in Edinburgh when I saw a 12" in the window of a record shop. It was a kind of specialist shop for DJs and techno freaks. I usually frequented Fopp!, Lizard or Avalanche, but the name slapped across the 12" meant I simply had to go in and buy it. The 12" was credited to "Loom featuring Billy MacKenzie" and a CDEP featuring four versions of the track was also on sale. I went back home clutching both items (I just saw a copy of the CDEP for sale at $120 today!). Loom's members Bent Recknagel and Ralph P. Ruppert (AKA Headman) were London based and ran the Millenium label. Billy MacKenzie heard their instrumental track on a cassette and sang "At The Edge Of The World" over it, his melody and lyrics locked in perfectly. MacKenzie contacted them, visited their studio on the Portobello Road in London and the track was finished in half an hour. The result was quickly released.

The song "At The Edge Of The World" had been recorded with Alan Rankine back in 1993 at the Auchterhouse reunion demo sessions. In 1996 the song was still unreleased in any official form. Over the years Billy had also worked on the song with Steve Aungle which later led to some confusion over authorship. The title of the song for the Loom release had become Anacostia Bay "At The Edge Of The World" or "Anacostia Bay" (At The Edge Of The World) probably to differentiate authorship from the Rankine/ Aungle versions of the song for publishing reasons. To add to the confusion "Steve Neugal" is credited with Additional Keyboards and Programming on the Berlioz Mix of the Loom track! The track also features a little snippet of a whispered (female?) vocal sample which I cannot discern (it glides in at 3.27, 3.33 and 3.37). Answers on a postcard please. The Anacostia River is in Washington DC (where it flows into Chesapeake Bay), the title might be a reference to Billy's visit to Washington during his 1990 Wild And Lonely promotional tour of the US.
An 8.32 edited version of the Loom track was released on the posthumous Auchtermatic CD in 2004. The original track is an exquisite 12.44 piece of electronica with Billy giving a performance which can stand next to any of his career highs. I was bowled over when I first heard this fourteen years ago. It still bowls me over!
All the best

Sid Law

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Steve Reid, guitarist on the Strange News tracks (see post "Some Early Associated Tracks") was a long time friend of Billy's. "Orbidoig" had been a name used by Mr Reid and Christine Beveridge for their musical project formed some time after Christine had taken on vocal duties with Strange News in 1980. Billy had managed to help get Orbidoig a deal with Situation Two back in 1981, which had resulted in a single "Nocturnal Operations"/ "Up Periscopes". Billy MacKenzie is credited with playing tubular bells on "Nocturnal Operations". It was recorded around the time Christine Beveridge briefly joined Billy and Alan to form 39 Lyon Street and record one track "Kites". The Orbidoig single sleeve photo is actually a publicity photo of 39 Lyon Street which has been severely cropped - leaving only Christine.
In the wake of the Rankine split, 1982 saw Billy team up with old pal and fellow Dundonian Mr Reid once more for a one-off single "Ice Cream Factory" released neither as a Billy MacKenzie solo single nor as an Orbidoig release... but as "MacKenzie Sings Orbidoig"! A rich musical creation spawned under the watchful eye of producer Mark Arthurworrey and written by Stevie Reid, the outcome made for a spot of uneasy, easy-listening. Released in 12" and 7" versions, the single received scant airplay and bombed. The B-sides were a dub version of the A side called "Cream Of Ice Cream Factory" and another track "Excursion Ecosse En Route Koblenz Via Hawkhill" a melodic but rather twisted, gnashing bit of guitar wrangling from Mr Reid. Hawkhill, for those who have no experience of Dundee is a pleasant cosmopolitan road which stretches from the big roundabout at The Marketgait, past the end of Blackness Road and down onto the Perth Road.

Of course Billy MacKenzie and Steve Reid continued to work together on Perhaps.

All the best

Sid Law

Monday, 18 January 2010

I've Just Got To Be Free

Earlier this week I posted a couple of tracks Billy MacKenzie recorded with Dundee band Strange News. I suppose those two tracks were the first of his many collaborations outwith his Associates. I mean The Affectionate Punch had only just been completed and there he was... looking for something different, seeing new horizons and running off with other musicians to record. It was a pattern which continued for the rest of his career and made for a fabulously varied musical legacy. We can hear Billy's voice working alongside a whole host of musicians, collaborators and influences far beyond his various Associates line ups. Billy just didn't seem to want to toe any record company's line or limit his vision of what he could achieve. He just had to be free...

Billy first recorded with British Electric Foundation on 1982's Music Of Quality And Distinction Volume One. It was released on cassette, lp and as a 5x7" single boxset (it crept out on CD in 1991). MacKenzie contributed lead vocals to two tracks (they appear together on one 7" in the boxset). The first is an aching version of Roy Orbison's "It's Over" featuring John Foxx on acoustic guitar.
The second is an 80's funky, Linndrummed-up version of Bowie's "The Secret Life Of Arabia". BEF's top Linndrum programmer, Martyn Ware then went on to produce some of Billy's shiniest moments on the Perhaps album (including the gorgeous 12" version of "Those First Impressions" which still remains criminally unavailable). In October 1991, ten years after Music Of Quality And Distinction Volume One, BEF slipped out Volume Two. Just one track from Billy this time... a stunning version of "Free". Billy had recorded the track in London in March of 1990 and it was to be released as a single in mid 1991, but was pulled at the last minute. I managed to grab one of the few copies that did slip out though!

Oh yeah and I almost forgot... In 1982 a Virgin compilation album of dance remixes plopped out called "Methods Of Dance Volume II". Unavailable anywhere else, then or since, and lurking at the end of side two, is a monumental 7.06 dubmix of The Secret Life Of Arabia with plenty of Billy all over it!

All the best

Sid Law

Sunday, 17 January 2010

"The Audience That Fell To Earth"

Tasty treat here. A wise cracking Billy singing at the top of his game with Paul Haig and a very tight band. Billy and Paul take lead vocal duties on alternate songs. This isn't an audience recording but is taken from the mixing desk. I picked up this wee bootleg at a record fair in the Station Hotel in Ayr a couple of weeks after attending the gig. Highlights for me were "Walking On Thin Ice", a cover of the Yoko Ono song where Billy really gives it laldy. He takes no prisoners on "Empires Of The Heart" either.

The gig had a great atmosphere. Billy and Paul were massively popular in Scotland at the time, despite the lull in Associates activity and Paul's post-Joseph K solo career kinda stalling on the brink of him getting really big. Billy looked around the hall at the crowd, smiled and uttered the immortal words "The audience that fell to Earth" before singing "It's Better This Way". A night of wonder.

All the best!

Sid Law

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Some Early Associated Tracks

Remember cassette fanzines, flexidiscs and NME send off in the post for 'em tapes? Those were the days eh? Well Associates did their share of contributing oddly unique tracks for them. Works in progress all of them. "Even Dogs In The Wild" popped out twice in two such unique versions. The first of these versions slipped out on the compilation cassette "Irrationale" which was released in 1979. I got my copy (£1.99) through the post from a list in the back of the NME in 1980. It is one of my favourite Associates tracks ever. Reverb dripping off the guitar, Billy intoning, phrasing and having a laugh. It fades out over the whistling solo and its 2 minutes 20 seconds are over just far too quickly. I'd really love to hear an unfaded out version of this performance/mix. Another version was supplied on a clear flexidisc with the Flexipop Magazine Issue 20 in 1982. Flexipop mis-spelled Alan Rankine's name, dropping the "e" in Rankine in the writing credit on the disc. Here the track is much more in line with The Affectionate Punch version, but with a grubbier mix, a slightly different vocal and backing vocals and a wild, distorted whistling solo from Billy. Great track.
"Aggressive And Ninety Pounds" appeared on the New Musical Express's "Mad Mix II" cassette (1984). It's an early version of "13 Feelings" with Billy "do-doo"-ing all the way through while Stevie Reid plays guitar over strings and a tinny beatbox. On the NME cassette insert playlist (click the photo below) the band name "Associates" had become "The Associates featuring Billy MacKenzie"! In 1988 I bought a cassette (for £3 inc P&P!) from a classified ad in the NME. It has a very similar sounding version of "13 Feelings" on it but with a slightly beefier drumsound. The cassette was of some of the original "Perhaps" Sessions - which is, of course, where the "Aggressive And Ninety Pounds" NME track originates.

I've also found another couple of tracks ("Sinking Deeper" and "Hungry Look") from a Dundee band called Strange News which featured Billy MacKenzie on vocals, Steve Reid on guitar, Andy on Bass and Gavin on Drums. Billy wrote the lyrics on both tracks [listen out for "Every breath you breathe belongs to someone there" on "Hungry Look"]. Recorded just after Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine's MkI Associates had recorded The Affectionate Punch, Stevie Reid took Andy round to visit Billy, they picked up their drummer, motored down to Edinburgh and recorded both tracks in an afternoon. Billy and Andy split the studio costs between them apparently. I was given the two tracks on a CDR in Dundee at a Billy MacKenzie tribute night in Fat Sam's a few years back.

All the best

Sid Law

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Wild and Lonely Outernational

I thought I'd post about a bundle of demos. A delightful bag of goodies! Four demos for "Wild and Lonely" (Fever, Fire To Ice, Where There's Love and The Glamour Chase) recorded at REL studios in 1989. The musicians are Blair Booth and Philip Erb who Billy had worked with before on Cinemas Of The World. I was listening to the whole "Wild and Lonely" CD again a few weeks back and I must confess to being rather disappointed in it. Some of it really claws at me. But the demos really sound fresh and immediate.
Some Outernational demos were recorded in London in 1991. Three demos from those sessions Outernational, Sacrifice And Be Sacrificed and Grooveature. Not sure who the musicians are on them.

Happy New Year!

Sid Law