Last night after school I tripped through town and spent too much money on a variety of CDs. Call it hard times at the work face and shopping therapy if you want, but it certainly helped.
The first thing I picked up was a Colourbox compilation. I have several Colourbox stories to tell, most revolving around the fact that they made some of the very finest techno Pop masterpieces ever in the 1980s. Like how about 'The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme' as contender for being, quite simply, one of THE most uplifting and dumbly glorious Pop masterpieces ever committed to tape, vinyl, disk, whatever the hell... One of those tunes made for CD or 7" single, in that you want to hit 'repeat' or lift that needle back to the start as soon as it's finished, and blast it all over again, and again and again... for a lifetime. Or at least all night long. It just makes me want to move, and that's probably because I'm a white indie boy whose guilty feet ain't got no rhythm, but that's just fine. No excuses from me, no apologies and no more reasons forthcoming. Except... except... remembering all of a sudden being for some reason in the Strathclyde University dance hall back in the mists of time, with my friend and saviour Andrew McGrath, having drifted there I think because the Stars of Heaven show we wanted to see had been cancelled, and they had cheap beer and ... you get the picture. And on came this tune, and it was like the whole world exploded in a million bright fragments and held there, suspended for a flash in time, like Cornelia Parker's 'Exploding Shed'. It sounded so right, so loud, and fireworks exploded on my spine, I swear to god, and there we were dancing our hearts out, oblivious to the crowds. Except suddenly there was a white dressed vision beside me, swooping and whirling like a dervish, as intensely entrapped by the music as me. Her name was Clare and when the song ended she left me with a phone number scribbled on the back of a pack of Benson and Hedges and a kiss on the cheek. I swear to god. It sounds so tacky and ... yeah, right... but I swear to god it's true. This never happened to me before, and it never happened again. But to Colourbox, to THAT tune, it somehow did.
Although of course I might be making it all up.
And I never did phone that number, never did see her again, except in daydreams like now. Listening to Colourbox. Dancing in an attic away from the world.
But whatever... another disco story... being in dump shit hole sticks town discotheque up on hill near harbour, peopled by casual slasher deadheads, for what reason I don't recall, and being stuck in corner drinking rum and cokes, and brimful of hating, hating, hating it all and wondering what... the usual what's and where is's? and gut wrenching paranoia, self-loathing, YOU know the scene, when over the speakers comes Colourbox. It was surreal. It should not have been happening. But it was happening. They were playing the Colourbox version of 'You Keep Me Hanging On', which was maybe the token Colourbox assault on the mainstream, and what the hell, it may be impossible to do that song and it not sound like a great record, but Colourbox for sure made a damn great record, and there, then, at that moment it was heaven sent and saved me from eternal damnation. THAT was why I was there. For those few minutes of Pop perfection. Fuck the rest.
Or... how about... going to Edinburgh for day to see painting show by old family friend of parents, and seeing delicious painting of standing in rain with bluebell field of purple all around, recalling own bluebell festooned woods of previous year, all breaking out in post-teenage broken hearted LOSS, and... stopping off on way home in record store and passing over Stephen Duffy 'Dr Calculus' for the Colourbox album on tape for walkman journey home, and just letting it play over and over on that train journey, and then later, as leapt into car at Troon station, friends car, was that your dad's Jaguar, Jon? Was it a dream? Sticking Colourbox right in the car stereo and falling in love every last one of the four of us as we drove through the early evening to campsite perched a hundred feet above Mauchlin gorge in godforsaken Ayrshire wilds of nowhere. The viaduct over there, just out of view. Words written in aborted novels of cracked ribs and faded summer skies about all of this, but hardly mentioning Colourbox which found its way then to stereo and played all night as six kids losing their childhood and finding fuck knows WHAT to replace it drank beer and watched the flames from campfire reach upwards to leaves of canopy that kept the Scottish summer rain from their bleached faces and adventurous eyes.
The dub-techno bliss of 'Baby I Love You So' and 'Looks Like We're Shy One Horse - Shoot Out', the siren songs of 'Arena 2' and 'The Moon Is Blue', the magnificent sample loaded syncopated cacophony of 'Just Give 'Em Whisky' (oh they DID, believe me they did...), the suitably minimalist bleep-sketch of 'Phillip Glass', the rough and ready sellotaped funk electro of 'Breakdown'. All magnificent fragments of moments in time when music went lurching forwards into the future, emerging of course into the heady light of the Acid Revolution, and naturally Colourbox were there at the core, collaborating with A R Kane to produce THE pivotal record of that beginning of the 21st Century, 'Pump Up The Volume', which was as punk rock a moment as you could wish for and which still sounds today like a blueprint for techno hip hop tomfoolery of the highest order.
So Colourbox... C, C, C, Colourbox.
What else did I buy? I bought a Terry Hall compilation for a fiver. I always loved Terry Hall, except for his hair, which like Mac's was always something I could never hope to approach and so hated. I kind of liked the Specials of course because they were the Two-Tone purveyors of sharp tooled sounds (some used to call it Ska, but I didn't, and don't know about that) in the face of greaser rock'n'roll retro throwbacks or metaller idiots in my school, and when you're thirteen and you know fuck all (well I didn't... still don't, so what) you act with your instinct and mine told me the Specials and the sharpness were the way to go, and so it was. So this Terry Hall compilation has some Specials tracks, notably the drop-dead mythically perfect 'Ghost Town' which still sounds oddly haunting and mesmerisingly chilling. What I really bought the CD for though were those Colourfield songs. I used to have the first Colourfield album, but on vile pre-recorded tape (never was there such an evil medium), and I have to admit there are times I miss it terribly. So I'm simply delighted to be able to listen once more to the fleet of foot charm that skips lightly over the oh-so-kissable pouting lips of songs like 'Thinking Of You', 'Castles In The Air' and 'Yours Sincerely', although it really only pushes me into more twilight memories and a longing for seeing red slingbacks skiing down the road at midnight. Which I really ought not to be admitting to.
Then there was the Teardrop Explodes' The Greatest Hit. I've written before about the Teardrop Explodes, but let me tell you, when I stuck this CD on the little round blue stereo that sits by the toaster last night as I cooked dinner, man, the Teardrop Explodes sounded, once more, like the greatest Pop Band ever invented. No kidding. And when I made a tape for HM later in the evening I stuck 'Reward' on right after 'The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme', and it was some holy sounding double act, let me tell you. HM, when you get that tape, play it LOUD and open the windows... Got to get it into the world, let the vibes cure the ills that ail us.
I mean, isn't music magnificent? When it hits just so, when it connects.... Like what Damien Hirst was saying about his Pharmacy installation, how he thought you could put faith in Art to change your life just as much as medicine, and that sounded like such magnificent folly, but so honest and spiritual too, and that's how I feel when I hear the Teardrop Explodes, and of course a host of other things. It's just that untold Faith in... a something that eats you up inside, that Pop virus that Bill Drummond talked about. A faith in, maybe, simply, the hope that all of this existence isn't futile and that our lives aren't ultimately empty as all hell, even though most days it feels they probably are.
Whatever. What about NEW records? The sounds of Now.
Well what about Clinic? I bought the new Clinic record, and guess what? Kevin would have been dead right in saying the new Clinic record is great because it's another great Clinic record, and I still file them next to the Teardrop Explodes because for me they make the same kind of natural Pop gems that Cope and Co. once made, full of the same kinds of roped in psychedelic hints. This from before Cope went overboard on pharmaceuticals and, on the whole, Blew It music wise. Of course. So yeah, Clinic's Walking With Thee is another great Clinic record, already working its way into my psyche and planting time bombs that will no doubt explode with welcome, luxuriously prickling delight, over the following weeks, months, goddamn it, years. AND it's a short album. All hail the artists who are able to ignore the fact that just because you CAN fit 80 minutes of sound onto a CD these days, it doesn't mean you HAVE to. So that the whole album clocks in at a fraction over thirty eight minutes, which means that once it's played through you just want to hit 'repeat' and go through the pleasure all over again. And of course, repetition is key to Pop, as Warhol and Mark E both knew. Clinic know it too. And 'For The Wars' is their new 'Kimberley', their new 'Distortions' and is even finer than those if such a thing were possible, and makes me think that really Clinic are the perfect downbeat chilling psychbeat band of now and of ever. Kiss me inside my eyelids.
And Slumber Party. Are they a new sound? Are they happening right now? It's so hard to tell with some of these Poptones releases, the more so when Slumber Party sound like they could have happened at any point in the past thirty five years of Pop history. So as I've also been digging madly all the Millennium related albums that Poptones has been slipping out in the past year or so, here are Slumber Party, and my mind starts slipping and think that Slumber Party were some astonishing Detroit girl group from the late '60s, wildly ahead of their time, laying down the blueprints for the Shop Assistants some fifteen or twenty years later. Whereas, if Slumber Party really are the sounds of Now, they are the sounds of Shop Assistants fifteen years AFTER the fact. Which just shows you what an irrelevatn joke linear time in Pop really is. So... where the Shop Assistants might have been my generations' Shangri-Las and the Velvets wrapped up warm in a sleeping blanket with a collection of Ramones singles and a bottle of Jack Daniels, Slumber Party are someone else's generation, um, looking at the Shop Assistants plus all aforementioned except maybe scratch the Ramones and substitute, ah, a female Left Banke, in one of those weird mirror setups that squares the image into infinity and beyond. They do sound that lovely.
And speaking of Detroit, I would have bought the White Stripes 'Fell In Love With A Girl', if it had been out yet, which it probably will be by the time you read this, and if I didn't have both the CD singles already in my greasy palm, me being slimy journalist type pretender snagging free copies of records wherever I can, of course. But stood at the counter of the Virgin megastore, paying for my purchases, there it was on the in-store radio, and fuck me if it wasn't like a religious experience, and even more so as I walked down the stairs and out the door, me stood there a moment with the faces waltzing past, and there I was caught on a threshold between god knows where I'd been or where else I was going, but in it anyway was the sound of the White Stripes escaping, like a leaked emission from another universe. Like I said, it sounded holy, and you know, if you don't 'get' White Stripes you don't 'get' life. Full stop.
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© Alistair Fitchett 2002