Flat Tops and Chinese Slippers
Shop Around Ö pt 32
I have to admit that all week Iíve been waiting for the Orange Juice compilation of the complete Postcard recordings to drop through my door. In the true tradition of a watched kettle, it didnít. Iíve been waiting months. So I guess a few more days here and there wonít matter.

Itís odd that I am so keen to get this compilation. I have all the recordings in various forms. I know the songs better than most people on the planet, but I want them all over again. Even more than that, I want everybody to get hold of these recordings.

Itís partly because these recordings are part of one of the greatest stories in pop. Someone should write a book about Postcard Records of Scotland. Information-wise, thereís really only drips and drops, dribs and drabs out there, even on the web.

The challenge for anyone writing the story will be to convey how all the elements that shaped the Sound of Young Scotland, and Orange Juice in particular, were very much against the grain then when now they are almost the norm. I say almost because it oft gets overlooked how influenced the Postcard groups were by the almost contemporaneous Devoto-era Buzzcocks and Vic Godard and different incarnations of Subway Sect.

Anyway, even those overarching influences, like the Velvets, Kinks, the West Coast sound, the old soul, the New York New Wave/No Wave, European cool (an unpublished part of Simon Reynoldís Rip It Up allegedly has OJís drummer Stephen Daly explaining they based their image on that of Zeís Marie et les Garcons), were not everyday currency. At the end of the Ď70s you were not spoiled for choice when it came to record racks filled with rare old Love and Maxine Brown records.

Now itís a different story. We are absolutely spoiled for choice. In one way thatís a wonderful thing for us as consumers. Even if itís not good news for my bank balance. But I do worry sometimes that it makes life too easy for us. It takes something of the struggle out of self-education.

So, what did drop through my door this week was a double DVD of Serge Gainsbourg. Itís almost too good to be true. Over four-and-a-half hours of French flair, debauchery, and daring. The best of Gainsbourg, in all his guises, from louche lounge lizard through to seedy hipster. If you love Serge, youíll need this. The salvaged shoot of the complete Histoire de Melody Nelson will particularly appeal, though the performance of Requiem pour un con wins out for me.
Itís odd how still people look down on the French contribution to the pop music side of popular culture. But you would struggle to find an equivalent of Serge anywhere else. In many ways the best or closest we have is Mark E Smith. Again, in terms of being spoiled, I have been sitting several evenings mesmerised in front of the (admittedly tackily-packaged) Cherry Red DVD of MES and The Fall, Perveted By Language/Bis, and in particular the Live At Leeds set from 1981. Itís grainy footage, but itís like it is being beamed in from outer space. Pretty much all the early Fall favourites are ripped through, and the classic line-up is there with Riley and Scanlon scratching away on guitars, and Smith spitting out his bile and invectives in his twisted English and unique vernacular. ďWhen the going gets weird, the weird go proĒ he sings on 'Totally Wired'.

It always seemed the worldís most natural thing how The Fall went rockabilly on Grotesque, revivifying a music of 25 years before. Quarter of a century on Iím not sure of rockabillyís place in the scheme of things, but it sure as hell is getting my dancing shoes tapping these days. This is mainly because the Ace family has put out lovely reissue of the Rockabilly Kings set. This is an expanded version of a legendary compilation of the King recordings of rockabilly legends Charlie Feathers and Mac Curtis, and itís absolutely essential. Around the time Orange Juice were starting out, the Mac Curtis flat top was the de rigeur haircut of choice for any rockabilly cub around town. Indeed when Edwyn Collins left behind his fringe he adopted a variation of the Mac Curtis, and looked absolutely adorable. The incidental primitivism of rockabilly certainly was another of the sounds to shape Postcard. Hank Mizellís 'Jungle Rock' hitting the charts so hard had a lot to answer for.

I seem to recall that around the time of 'I Canít Help Myself' Edwyn appeared on the cover of Smash Hits, and the same issue may have featured The Fall who had just released Slates. And that summer I was looking utterly gorgeous in a State Arts Scars ski t-shirt, chinese slippers bought for next to nothing in Kensington Market, and jeans from Flip in Covent Garden I got on the day someone asked me if I would be an extra in a film they were making down the road where all I would need to do was sit at a bar and wear a trilby. Typically I said no thanks, and went off down to the Virgin shop at Marble Arch to look for the latest release from Ze.

© 2005 John Carney

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