The Age Of None
Shop Around part 22
I was reading a piece about Bobby Gillespie in one of the celebrity gossip columns yesterday. It made me wonder whether the people involved had ever even heard of Jim Beattie.

Do people think very much about Beattie now? I certainly do. He’s a fascinating pop figure, and probably the best tunesmith of his generation. But I’m not sure how widely that’s realised. I’ve never read the David Cavanagh history of Creation records, and probably never will, so I don’t know to what extent Beattie is canonised there. Certainly the Beattie-fied Primal Scream is very poorly served on CD, so it might be understandable if people do not realise how magical they could be.

There is, of course, Sonic Flower Groove, which is readily available. And it’s a fine record, but nowhere near to being the record it could have been. The idea of Mayo Thompson being at the controls was a great one. He was of course a link between late ‘60s psychedelic experimentation and the adventuresomeness beyond punk, which was all at the core of the Primals then, but that strangeness and madness doesn’t come through.

One day, hopefully, someone will be given permission to collate officially and diligently the radio sessions, demos, alternative takes, and live cuts that capture the true potential/achievements of Beattie’s time with Primal Scream.

Looking back if there was one word to describe Beattie’s approach it would have to be punctilious - the inordinate attention to small details. And it’s no coincidence what the first four letters sound like. So when Bobby Gillespie left his erstwhile comrades in his Wake, and threw his lot in with the already maverick teenager Beattie as Primal Scream, it was fascinating to watch how their obsession with the likes of PiL and Subway Sect evolved into one with Syd Barrett and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and then the Byrds and Love.

What’s hard to understand now is that, rather like the mods in the 1980s gradually tracing their roots back to the soul and jazz sounds, the salvage scene was a very different one. Now we are ridiculously spoilt for choice. Then you had to fight to get copies of Love’s first LP, and copies of old Brenda Holloway recordings. Ways of looking at the world were shaped by poorly photocopied versions of old Zigzag features on Love. Now I bet they’re all on the web.

So of course Beattie became obsessed with David Crosby and John Echolls, and that specific West Coast punk sound was the medium he chose to express himself in. The salient point is that he was also incredibly talented at putting a tune together, and I think his post-Primals excursions demonstrate this even better.

Some time after leaving Primal Scream he returned with Spirea X. I saw an early live performance, and they were fantastic. It seemed entirely natural that he was working with Judith, who sang on the earliest though abandoned Primals’ single 'The Orchard'. Interestingly the subsequent set for 4AD has worn remarkably well, and I would aver that Fireblade Skies is one of the great lost pop classics. Maybe more than with the Primals, briefly in Spirea X Beattie captured the art of transposing the magic of ‘60s folk rock into an ultra modern pop context. 'Confusion In My Soul' is really one of my favourite songs.

The Fireblade Skies set is co-produced by their manager Simon Dine, and it was with him that Beattie and Judith re-emerged as Adventures In Stereo. Dine produced a template of gorgeous sunshine pop collages to which Beattie added his magical melodies and Judith her lovely fragile folk inflexions. It ended in tears of course. Dine went off to work as Noonday Underground, producing a couple of sets so far of wonderful blue eyed soulful kaleidoscopes of sound, discovering along the way the great voice of the ‘90s in Daisy Martey ­ a Julie Driscoll for us lucky people. Beattie and Judith went back underground, in marked contrast to old colleagues in the Scream, and produced sets as Adventures In Stereo of the most exquisite sunshine pop ­ like Georges Simenon with his scores of Maigret books ­ always somehow managing a fresh twist in a very defined format. Indeed only the very great Slumber Party can compete with Beattie’s deceptively simple melodic West Coast artfulness.
The funny thing is that in my dotage I sort of understand the reservations the old heads may have had about Primal Scream revisiting territory covered by their beloved West Coast idols. Every time one turns on a radio nowadays there's a young group revisiting the angularity of the Gang of Four or the singularity of XTC, and it’s an odd feeling. It’s easy to be dismissive, but then you remember what people said about the Purple Hearts’ or Primal Scream’s debt to the Pretty Things or Buffalo Springfield. So, it’s a bit of a relief to fall so much in love with the Rogers Sisters’ Three Fingers set. Probably unconsciously these cutting kids owe more to the Bush Tetras and Au Pairs than the Monochrome Set ­ more clout than quirk ­ and have the guile to cover my favourite Beefheart song ('Zigzag Wanderer') and my fifth favourite Cure song ('Object'). It’s a great pop set. Not as great as Amerie’s '1 Thing', but few things are.

Oddly Three Fingers is one of three records I have bought on the Too Pure label recently ­ the others being Stereolab and Electrelane. Too Pure has never been a label to get too excited about, though it has been home to some other greats like Pram and Seefeel ­ though the latter’s Succour was for Warp and remains one of the greatest records ever. Too Pure’s favourite son though must be Dave Callahan, another of the heroes from the so-called age of none.

If Beattie was the great melodicist of his generation, then Callahan was the great lyricist. Like Beattie, his activities in the mid to late ‘80s are poorly represented on CD. There is as far as I know just the Lost But Happy compilation of the Wolfhounds available on Cherry Red. Someone surely should be able to carry out a more comprehensive salvage programme. It would then help to redress the balance, and demonstrate that the underground was alive with challenging sounds then. It’s worth noting that the Wolfhounds were comrades with McCarthy and the June Brides on the short lived Pink label ­ run by former Jasmine Minks manager Simon Downes ­ and maybe more credit should be given to that short-lived independent pop outlet.

After the Wolfhounds’ demise, Callahan put together Moonshake, maintaining the belligerent snarl but moving away from the guitar uproar towards a more dubby-Krautrock-PiL flecked style. Their recordings for Too Pure are still available if you shop around, and they’re wearing well (as long as you skip the songs by Margaret Fiedler ­ I am all for democracy but it was a happy day when she left for Laika). The best of the Moonshake recordings were indeed the post-Fiedler ones, The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow and Dirty and Divine, where Callahan is at his most belligerent and baleful, and the music has spread out to jazz and contemporaneous Mo’Wax abstract hip hop.

While Callahan’s wordplay and snarling might put him up with Lydon and Mark E Smith, or mark him down as a Tom Waits of the tower blocks, perhaps it should be better argued he has amassed a body of work that should be rated along side those of David Thomas and Mark Stewart. Indeed if suddenly Stewart’s back catalogue can be thrust at last into the spotlight by Soul Jazz then it’s time to acclaim the curmudgeonly Callahan and claim him as one of the true heroes in the age of none.

© 2005 John Carney