Songs They Possibly Don't Play On The Radio
|The plot should be quite clear by now. After the dust of the punk explosion had settled there really was a flurry of artistic activity, which can be seen as direct action against the bludgeon of macho orthodox rock.
People really did aspire to having their songs played on Radio Two, alongside everything classical from Abba to the Zombies, via the Carpenters, old Tamla, Andy Williams, old Bowie, Glen Campbell, the Byrds and the sound of Philadelphia.
This was seen as a subversive stance. Vic Godard first adopted this defiant pose, and songs like 'Empty Shell' and 'Make Me Sad' set the tone. On the NME/Rough Trade C-81 cassette compilation, he dedicated the recording of 'Parallel Lines' to all who hated Radio One.
All of which may have been laughable were it not for the fact that some of the characters kicking up a fuss just happened to be gifted songwriters. They, however, spent the next twenty odd years trying to avoid proving this to the world. They did their best to make all the wrong moves, but some of them may now be in danger of making some very right ones.
Vic Godard's fiercest young disciples could be found at Postcard Records. In the early ï80s Postcard was the most argumentative and stylish of labels, and antagonistic patron Alan Horne put together a peerless roster of artists. The characters involved tore up the rock rulebook, and had a knack for memorable melodies, a winning way with words, and cheek and charm in abundance.
The leading light of Postcard's leading lights Orange Juice, the great Edwyn Collins, did eventually have a universal hit with 'A Girl Like You'. For many, however, it was his wayward cohort James Kirk that caught the imagination. As was the way, James disappeared from view just as Orange Juice were poised for success. All he had to show for his time in the OJs was a few classic songs like 'Wan Light', 'You Old Eccentric' and 'Felicity'. He still looks gorgeously enigmatic in the old photos, and we shouldn't forget he came up with the name Strawberry Switchblade.
At one point he looked set for stardom as Cormorant. The Face featured him frolicking on a deserted Scottish beach, and said the music would follow in the same vein. It didn't. One single as Memphis did follow, and then very little besides the collaboration with old Postcard comrade Paul Quinn and his Independent Group.
And now he has been recalled to life, and has produced his first solo set for Marina. It scared me for weeks. I was worried the whole magic and mystique could be unromantically blown away. Twenty odd years is a mighty long time after all. Thankfully there was no need to fret. Only Vic Godard and Sam Prekop have come anywhere near creating such lovely loose songs.
Anyway, back in the early ï80s there were very few other groups Postcard would have considered signing. One of the very few was the Pale Fountains from Liverpool. The Pale Fountains dressed up like Baden Powell recruits, and had exceptional haircuts. They came from an angle where Arthur Lee's Love met Burt Bacharach, or Art Garfunkel sang a bossa arrangement of 'Pale Blue Eyes'.
In Michael Head they had a remarkably gifted songwriter. Appropriately he meandered through the next twenty odd years, leaving behind him a trail of misfortune and bad timing that even Chet Baker might baulk at. I realise that I know too little about what James Kirk has been up to over the past twenty odd years. I sense that I know too much about what Michael Head has been doing at times. Coincidentally at one point it was Marina too that came to the rescue and salvaged Shack's great Waterpistol set.
Anyway, like James Kirk, as Shack Michael Head (and little brother John) have put together a great set of songs in ... here's tom with the weather. It does not set the imagination soaring like the skewed electronica of Colleen's Everyone Alive Wants Answers. The work of Colleen or Cecile Schott bristles with the mystery and magic of the most abstract of scratchy old film noir incidental soundtracks. It should be heard.
Shack simply toss us some lovely simple songs, with aching melodies and melancholy galore. It is folk music in a traditional pop sense. Perhaps it is only sentimentality that allows us to want so much from it, and find so much in it. Maybe we should hate Shack for being archly conservative. Maybe we should just shut up and acknowledge the Heads have a gift that occasionally allows them to create songs that do stand up alongside the old classics we grew up with on Radio Two. It would still be good to hear them on there.
The trouble is I bet Bob Harris or someone is playing their songs now, alongside a selection from the new Neil Young, Pernice Brothers and Starsailor records. Somehow that seems a lot less glamorous than being played alongside Bobbie Gentry, the Everley Brothers, and the Fifth Dimension. Not to mention the Swingle Singers ...
© 2003 John Carney