Back in the olden days, when I were a lad. Music was everything to me it was a natural progression of my inner Superhero and I held my first musical inspirations in the same light. It was the costume that I loved and Toyah matched that in real life. Bringing fantasy to life through theatre, Rock N Roll, make up and style. I loved Toyahs first three albums. Sheep Farming in Barnett, Anthem and The Changeling. The Changeling was my fave, a Pixie concept Album that brought Miss Wilcox’s magical creativity to life.
I was 14 at the time and best mates with Jengerisers, my partner in crime and musical sparing companion. At that point in my life “1982” I had only ever been to WMC Gigs. Toyah was coming to town, to Bradford St Georges Hall, I saved up my dinner money and bought a ticket. Jengerisers did the same. As you can guess I was very very excited as this was my first proper gig ever and I was about to see Toyah in real life. It was fantastic performance art that still resonates with me 38 years on. The Changeling brought to life while visiting all her earlier hits. I fell in love with the big gig experience that night. The morning after the gig, Me and Jengerisers bunked off school and headed down to the Norfolk Gardens Hotel to see if we could meet Toyah and her band. Our mission was successful Toyah was Lovely and we got autographs from all of the band, It was then that I became a fan for life.
This was when the evolution of Makeup began for me too Toyah set the benchmark for looking brilliant. I soon learned that looking that good took a lot of time and effort to achieve. It was The Its A Mystery EP and Toyahs makeup on the cover that was what I was aiming for. Both Toyah and Steve Strange enthralled me for the same reasons. Where faces became canvases for rich expression of Temporary Art. The style that easily transcended gender and looking as good as possible was an evolving process.
Bradford, back in the early 80’s was a pretty grim place, still held in the fear of The Yorkshire Ripper, 3 day weeks, unemployment and being in the hell hole of a school called Grange. Toyah, Gary Numan Bowie and Visage gave me the escape that I needed. I never adhered to be a rock star. But I did adhere to looking that good. That was the key inspiration. It didn’t come easy, the makeup I mean, it took many years and countless hours of practice, I even did a beauty therapy course to perfect the look. Dressing up became a full-time occupation. A big colourful fuck you to Thatchers Britain and an education system that failed me. , Dance, Style, Makeup, Music and making love, were my reasons for living and escaping in equal measure.
As I write this preview and look back at the photographs of Toyah that I fell in love with as a kid, I can still feel the inspiration to be creative that gripped me 38 years ago and completely understand why I was so excited and inspired. Its been a lifelong inspiration, even now at 52 years old I put just as much effort into doing my makeup as I did when pushing the boundaries of Northern Working Class Culture, Back in the early 80’s Homophobia was rife and this was one of the reasons that made my school life hell. This all started before I began wearing makeup, I never have been Gay, men and cock never has done it for me so I would have made a crap puff. However, I found the strength and courage to start a personal transformation that would indeed give people cause to think that I might have been Gay. The funny thing was that the more makeup I wore, the more girls wanted to get off with me. This turned my tormentors blue with fury. And the echos of “Calvert ya Queer” echoed around my consciousness for the best part of a decade. It certainly opened my eyes at a young age that being Gay was not a bad thing. I always felt safe in Gay Clubs and Bars. The torment and abuse did have an effect on me, I knew I might have looked femme but I knew I wasnae gay, so I set about proving that I wasn’t and that involved getting off with as many beautiful Ladies as I could, I guess to prove to the world that I wasnae gay. I loved sex and there was a lot of it. When one looks that fabulous it goes hand in hand with having a Good Time ❤ Toyah shaped my life. I love her. ❤
Investigating Toyah has been a rich experience in understanding what makes a person be themselves in the face of absurdity. Indeed looking amazing seems to go hand in hand with healing the inner child. Beginning her life with a physical disability and a lisp. Both of which Toyah overcame to become a fully formed successful artist and pioneer. How Toyah has the healing power of the Divine. and Spirituality came to her at the age of 4 with the realisation that we are all just a speck of dust in relation to the vast infinity of the Universe. What an inspiration she is. ❤ Make up, Divinity, Creativity and Performance Art. My first inspiration and the longest lasting. It is only just now that I realise why. Toyah had the answer. Toyah is a Spiritual Healer too. Make Up and fruity coloured hair has Powers. beyond being Punk As Fuck.
I got to The Liquid Rooms in time to see the support band Gothzilla. A local Edinburgh Goth Band that got me boogying straight away, Gothzilla are like a Veteran Sisters Of Mercy, Three guitars and a drum machine. Aye they really rocked tonight the perfect warm up for Toyah. I was having such a Good Time. Once the support band had finished, the place was rammed in anticipation of The High Priestess Of Punks return to Aulde Reekie. She looked marvellous and I was much closer to the front of the stage than I was at St Georges Hall, back in the olden days. Toyah looked Marvelous with a tight-fitting mirror ball dress, she looked strong and majestic. The penny really dropped tonight, Toyah set the benchmark for my ideal Woman back in 1982. and she still has it, fit as fuck, with Punk Rock attitude.
She performed a balanced set of classics and songs from her new Release. In The Court Of The Crimson Queen, perfect for live performance and taking its lead from classic Led Zepplin. There were a few first-night gremlins and on the whole I think the performance was too big for the club, The Sound even cut out completely on Good Morning Universe, apart from the vocals and only briefly, as you can guess Toyah was more than a little miffed.
She really wrestled with the sound all night. Not that it hampered our enjoyment the sound was perfect for the audience. My favourite moment was Brave New World. Indeed it was Brave New Worlds art that I fell in love with as a kid, as she sang I could see the picture disc that I had when I was 14. I think I lived that song more than any of the others. Aye Awesome Stuff.
Toyah still held the same beauty tonight as she did back then. She was just as sassy and sexy. Robert Fripp is one lucky man. Toyah eventually got over her sound issues and ripped into the classic singles. Ieya, Its A Mystery, I Want To Be Free, she did a marvellous rendition of Martha And Muffins Echo Beach and some really nice album tracks like Danced and Angel And Me from The Changeling. It was fantastic, Toyah had me completely, I couldn’t stop singing it was really really good fun.
Slipping in a new song called Come, Toyah got all sexy and I fell in love with her that little bit more. the last time I saw her live was 38 years ago and Toyah thrilled me tonight just as much as she did back in the olden days. My guess is that the sound glitches will have been worked out over the rest of The Thunder In The Highlands Tour. If you get the chance go and see Toyah. A True Divine Nemesis.
Edinburgh’s most majestic songwriter loves a bit of jazz. He also likes to write witty & exciting three-part travelogues in America
PART 1: HAPPY LANDINGS
I arrived in New Orleans to a stifling heat and no rain, despite what the forecast had predicted. Retiring to the smoking area for a wee snout I discovered a discarded packet of Marlboro Lights. Initial signs were good. After a long wait the bus came to pick us up. The sign telling us which stop we were at wasn’t working and the bus driver hadn’t heard of my destination, but with a little help from a friendly Cuban lady I managed to get to the apartment. The room was very clean and it was late by the time I arrived so I decided to get an early night and in so doing beat the Jet Lag.
I woke early on Saturday and headed straight into town. After a decidedly suspect breakfast of fried oysters and grits (a disgusting porridgy substance) I made a beeline to Bourban street. The parade was in full swing, the French facades and balconies teeming with revelers in bright clothes, and occasionally not so much clothes, flinging long strings of cheap plastic beads at each other, which seems to be the done thing. Music poured out of every doorway and it wasn’t long before I was chilling in a bar with a cold beer listening to some hard rocking blues played by a way wood looking rabble of rogues begging us for tips so they could keep their kids in beer and cigarettes. From there I made my way down to the Mississippi where a gigantic steamboat greeted me. They apparently did tours but I was more interested in the airboats. Yes – you can go down the Mississippi on an airboat after all. You shall go to the ball! Gentle Ben bitches!! I booked the trip for Thursday, by which time my Mardis Gras hangover should have mellowed.
I inquired with a local busker if there were any open mic nights and he told me there was one at a bar called Check Point Charlies. He warned me it was rough but when I told him I was from Leith where trainspotting was based he said I’d be fine. After a little more music I headed west with the aid of a tourist map I’d picked up to hit Lafayette cemetery where easy Rider was partly filmed. It was a long walk through hoards of revelers, crossing the road practically impossible with all the garish floats laden with elaborately costumed dancers pumping out obnoxiously loud rhythms. But hell, this was what I’d signed up for.
By the time I got to the cemetery it was closed, so I’m going there today instead. The parade finally died down and I managed to cross the road and hit a live jazz bar where I enjoyed the greatest burger I’ve had in my entire life. Hickory sauce with crispy bacon and a melt in the mouth patty cooked to perfection. From there I headed back to the French Quarter only to be trapped once again by a second wave of floats. All I wanted to do was get the bus but this was impossible. No access due to party. And it never ended! I followed the whole procession all the way up the main drag – Canal street – until I was pretty much home by the time I could cross the road. Approximately 3 miles later! So I cut my losses and decided I might as well hit the hay.
Yesterday I headed straight for Check Point Charlie and the area where I’d been told the best music was to be heard. Sure enough it was hipster paradise with boutique coffee shops, gay and lesbian bookshops, real ale bars. But it had a good feel so I spent most of the day there going from bar to bar to keep out of the rain which had started in earnest. I was told that the sign in time for the open mic was seven o’clock. By which time I was told there was no open mics while Mardis gras was happening. So I guess I’d shot myself in the foot there. Oh well. The bar was cool at least. A regular Bukowski dive full of the shadiest dregs of society. A sign on the bar read “Danger – Men drinking”. I felt right at home and soon got chatting to a couple of the local ladies who kept me in drinks all night. They said they liked me but they didn’t trust me. I guess you’ve just got to take what you can get. The night dissolved into an alcoholic blur and I can’t remember much after the sambucas. Needless to say I’m not at my best this morning and so apologize if my writing is a bit sloppy. But I’m ready for another day. A nice breakfast and a walk to the Easy Rider cemetery should sort me out. As far as the food goes. Keeping it simple seems to be the way forward. Until next time – happy fuckin’ Mardis Gras bitches!
PART 2: MARDI GRAS
After finishing up in the library I headed back to the cemetery only to find it closed again. And apparently for the whole of Mardis Gras. So I guess I wouldn’t be spending it taking acid there like in easy rider. I was hungover and desperate for some scram so I got myself a tuna sandwich and a bucket of cola. Still didn’t feel right as I crawled my way back to the French quarter. Coffee didn’t work, hair of the dog didn’t work, and by this point I felt so full of liquid I would burst if I took another drop. So I opted for one of my own unique hangover cures – a nice feelgood film at the cinema. It was another long walk and the film wasn’t on for another hour but I could wait. The film I saw was Fighting with my Family – an unlikely collaboration between Stephen Merchant and Dwain “The Rock” Johnson about a female wrestler from Norwich who makes it big in WWE. A very inspiring, life affirming and funny true story. Just what I needed. I decided to get the taxi back into the city, I’d had enough of walking. Ann Macintosh had recommended a club back on Frenchmen that was apparently good. After some fish I went in and was greeted by the sounds of dixieland swing. Played more than competently by a mixed bag of lively musos of all ages. It was OK, but it still wasn’t the magic I was looking for and it wasn’t quite enough to lift me entirely out of my delicate state and start dancing. So I caught a bus home and decided to live to fight another day. And fight I would have to. It was Mardis Gras!
After a long wait on the bus mixing with a little of the local color I arrived back on Canal Street – New Orlean’s main drag. And the carnival was in full swing. Garish floats crowded with the kind of black and white make up that made Robinson’s jam so controversial and tossing out endless plastic beads, plastic cups and occasionally foam footballs to the greedy, eager hands of the punters below. As it was Mardis Gras I felt I had no choice but to instantly start work on my next hangover. My first beer came at 11am with a delicious roast beef po-boy and from there I had no choice but to follow the parade wherever it took me. Crossing the road was out of the question. Imagine a kind of massive game of snake only more colorful and a bit more drunk. So I snaked my way from bar to bar realizing it was impossible to get back to the French Quarter. I was almost back at the cemetery when the crowd finally relented and I was able to cross the street. Now, more than a little buzzed off the beer and jack Daniels and coke slushy. About half an hour later I was back in the French Quarter where I found a smoking bar. No beer. Just smoking. And the infamous Coyote Ugly bar from off of that film. Complete with slender, scantily clad glitter bunnies bopping on the bar. Like the port of Leith on steroids. I chose not to enter. It scared me a little. Instead I opted for another bar back on Frenchmen where there was some decidedly mediocre blues playing. I was starting to get a little disillusioned with this town. So I took my slightly drunk self up a few buildings and wham! Dixie land in overdrive. Smells like Teen spirit was being blasted out on horns by an all dancing, all rapping gang of eager young ne’er do wells. Energy and vibrancy buzzed off the stage and put all the other acts I’d seen up to that point to shame. And yes I felt my foot tapping, my hips swaying, my arms flailing and before I knew where I was I was dancing. Music this good is so infectious you have no choice. And it just got better! The next band mixed up popular melodies with wild improvisations that always landed perfectly on harmonies so tight there was barely air between them. All delivered with such effortless joy and what can only be described as psychic communication it kind of made me just want to smash up my guitar and give up the whole sorry show. But instead I decided to dance. The saxophonist particularly impressed me. Not that he was the best player. That was definitely the man mountain of the bastard bellows trumpet player. But the saxophonist just looked so crazy.
He was on the stage before anyone else bouncing about like a kid on too much orange juice and candy. A tiny guy but with muscles so well defined he’d put Bruce Lee to shame. In his little white wife beater. He spent the first few minutes of the gig staring angrily at the crowd while periodically glaring at his phone. But pretty soon he was bouncing and glowing like the rest of his merry gang of renegades. A star in the making mark my words. The music kept going but I couldn’t. Drinking since 11 had took it’s tole and 12 hours later I was ready for my taxi home. But New Orleans had finally delivered – and it was contemporary – who’d have thunk it?
Today it’s ash Wednesday and things apparently get a bit religious. Holy water for beer then I guess…?
PART 3: ALIGATORS
Ash Wednesday turned out to be a bit of a non event and besides a few church goers with a dirty cross daubed on there foreheads there was nothing much to report. I spent much of the day just eating and drinking and wondering around the city. Only this time I had my bearings a little better and wasn’t spending quite as much time asking people for directions. I wound up back on Frenchmen eating a burger, enjoying a couple of beverages and listening to some sweet gypsy jazz. All very pleasant. The only thing that tarnished the experience was the constant tipping that is required of you. It seems the whole country is built on tips. I haven’t checked my bank account since I got here but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be pretty. I decided to turn in early as I had a big day planned for Thursday and wanted to be at full power. Riding the bus home I noticed that not many white folks take the bus outside of Mardis Gras. And there you go Mira – that’s my comment on race!
Thursday I started out early with a shower then headed to Canal for an Ihop breakfast of bacon omelette. Not bad. They really do like cream and cheese here though. I had a couple of hours to kill before my air-boat tour so I went for dessert at Pinkberry. I heartily recommend their cookie cream ice-cream. Perfect comfort food. A little wonder down the river front later it was time to catch my bus out to the swamp. It was a little late in coming but we got there. The buildings thinning out as we crossed the river, a couple of the dilapidated houses looking like they came straight out of a horror film or maybe To Kill a Mocking Bird. Coupled with the anonymous stores and retail complexes ubiquitous to the American landscape. When we got the docks I was in hog heaven. Gentle Ben in full effect! Air-boats everywhere. I was on 15 so I made my way and boarded. A seat right at the front. The guide was an incredibly lively fellow, dancing on the spot as he rapped out the names of fishes and plants and Louisiana delicacies. There was no room for shyness apparently so I tried to chip my awe in. Although my comment on the cemetery being closed ‘cus people were pissing on the graves didn’t go down as well as I’d hoped. As we hit the open water he opened up the engine and pretty soon we were flying along just like in that beloved 80s children show, barely skimming the shore. We slowed down as we entered the narrow bayous. Trees I can’t remember the name of looking like they were dripping furn from their branches. You know the ones. You see them on TV all the time.
Then we slowed and right in front of us 2 alligators. A big one lazing on the shore and a smaller one in the water. Why was the smaller one in the water? Because he was stupid according to our all knowing guide who was merrily screaming at him and chucking marshmallows for him to eat. It seems most marshland beasts are fond of marshmallows. This being the preferred bait for every creature we came across. A thoroughly delightful couple of hours marred only by the fact that my face was now burning due to the deceptively strong sun. Our tour guide seemed to enjoy himself the most though. His enthusiasm was infectious. I would say he was only doing it for the tips but he never even asked for any. I gave him one anyway.
Back in the city I decided to celebrate my new found knowledge of Gators by eating some. Gator poppers. Deep fried balls of alligator very popular with the locals apparently. Tasted like chicken. I also tried another local delicacy – red beans and rice. Not bad at all if a little filling. Then I was off to the cinema to see Captain Marvel. The latest in the Marvel film franchise. Purely for the sake of me being able to say I’d seen it first. I won’t say too much about in case there are any Marvel fans in the audience. Suffice to say it does most of the things expected of a Marvel film.
This morning I got the laundry done and my delightful host gave me a lift to the shop for some well needed travel equipment and to a well known seafood restaurant for the still elusive boiled craw-fish. They were no longer elusive and quite delicious. All I had left on my food checklist now was the famous fried shrimp po-boy. Which I think I’ll have tonight. I’m afraid this will be the last entry as tomorrow I’m on a steamboat and Sunday I head home. So, for those of you who have bothered to read them, I hope you have enjoyed my little adventures and see you back in blighty!
The shuffle culture adopted by much of the music-buying public has become so entrenched that the barriers between music genres have dissipated, leaving a polyhydric hotchpotch where anything goes but nothing remains. If the erosion of genre boundaries is so coveted by mainstream record companies, then what does this mean for the future of UK pop music – and what hazards does it present? Poet Stephen Watt investigates.
Shuffle – Personal Quest
I was born a Disco Baby in the final few days of the 1970s when Earth, Wind & Fire, Chic, Donna Summer, and Sister Sledge were among the biggest selling artists ruling the radio airwaves. It is not a genre I have ever identified with although, like any true music lover, I have my favourites from that era. Since then, post-punk, indie, baggy, Britpop, trip-hop, hip-hop, jungle, trance, garage rock and grime have all been prevalent in the mainstream charts, each owning a corner of the market for anything between twelve months and three years. By the time I reached my late-twenties, the music was no longer reverberating the way that it once had. I was attending gigs where there was no great movement evident, delving into a partiality for underground electronic acts playing to semi-empty venues – Delphic, Union of Knives, Telepathe, IAMX, and RBRBR spring to mind – whilst more established acts such as Mylo and Hot Chip were successful to a degree, enjoying daytime radio coverage and occasional performances inside some of Scotland’s grander venues. However, electronica was not the dominant niche market – even when Lady Gaga was crowned Queen of Electro Pop in 2008 – with a far more generic demographic present at mainstream pop shows across the country.
Shuffle – Identity
Identity was paramount to Teddys, Hippies, Mods and Punk Rockers during the preceding decades but now a hybrid zeitgeist consisting of rap, rock, soul, pop, hip-hop, and dance threatened to orphan the listener from belonging to any one philosophy, culture, or movement. Fashion once spewed out masses of gig-goers adorning safety pins, flares, neon cosmetics (on men), corded trousers, parka jackets, etc. Look at a queue outside any gig across the UK and you will likely be faced with a conga-line leading from the closest Primark store to the front door of the venue, devoid of any self-expression or radical individuality. So, has the popcorn turned stale and the movie just one more remake off a worn-out conveyor belt? This may have been how it looked to the survivors of the Madchester era when Britpop arrived wherein feather-cut fans of The Seahorses and The Bluetones were the younger siblings of the bowl-cut followers of Mock Turtles and Inspiral Carpets six years previously. The haircuts were similar, the attitude was on a par, the drugs were harsher but quintessentially, hadn’t this movement already been done before?
Shuffle – Melting Pot
According to record label ‘Last Night from Glasgow’ co-founder Murray Easton, the current melting pot of styles in the contemporary music scene is considered a positive step in the right direction: “Merging pop with electro and hip-hop probably makes sense to a lot of kids, with technology allowing that to happen easily. So long as it’s done correctly and doesn’t sound rubbish”. This positive outlook is reinforced by heralded Glaswegian “Djancer” David Blair of cult pop band Colonel Mustard and the Dijon-5: “There’s a cultural revolution going on at the moment. It’s tangible, palpable and exciting being in amongst it. It’s bringing people together to share musical experiences, form community, make new friends and embrace diversity in the understanding that other music styles can be cool as well. Diversity creates acceptance and exposes division and separation for the illusion they are. The world needs more unity”.
Shuffle – Yellow Movement
It is through Blair’s band and the creation of the ‘Yellow Movement’ across Scotland that one of the most interesting coalitions of music fans have appeared over a number of years. The YM manifesto begs its supporters to “Laugh until you no longer know what it is to hate, release your soul, determine your own fate, lose your self-consciousness, find anonymous awesomeness……” and many more messages of positive, poetic reinforcement. Encouraging followers to embrace yellow garb at their gigs, Colonel Mustard, along with friends in a number of other talented Glasgow bands (The Twistettes, Girobabies, Jamie & Shoony, and Have Mercy Las Vegas) have recaptured a glimmer of what it meant to belong to one sect, albeit distancing themselves from the fanaticism attached by ardent, diehard supporters of the scenes which went before them. “The Yellow Movement transcends any specific music genre”, Blair provides – “(It is) an attempt in many ways to adopt the festival vibe of peace, love and music out of our green and pleasant land and tap into the Jungian collective unconscious in society as a whole. It is simply an idea whose time has come.
Where the seed finds fertile ground and takes root is not up to us. We are very much in the Dr Timothy Leary camp where people are asked to “think for yourselves and question authority”. It’s evident that those who it resonates with are, to go all Scottish here, sound cunts. The world needs more sound cunts. We’re talking about bringing out The Cunt EP someday. Expect the unexpected in the Dijonverse”. Blair’s testimony about the Yellow Movement takes a leaf out of Splash One’s book. In the mid-1980s, Splash happenings introduced itself in Glasgow to a number of like-minded musicians including BMX Bandits, The Pastels, Strawberry Switchblade and Orange Juice, using the aesthetics of the punk movement and giving it a highly Scottish slant. It was an affection towards discovering new sounds, styles, opinions, and sharing these visions with other bands, friends, and strangers. It was a characteristic which would last little over a year, but ultimately stamp its theory into the attitudes of Glaswegian bands for decades to come.
Enter poet and rising star Declan Welsh, a gifted young musician from East Kilbride whose recent support slots for Glasvegas and Ocean Colour Scene have rocketed the worth of his own stock. “I think that our commonality, what unites us, isn’t discussed enough. Most protest music is exactly that – it’s anti something. But the real aim, surely, is to build a world where we understand one another’s differences and come together on the basic premise that, as human beings, we need each other. That is very difficult to communicate in song without being overly sentimental, and it isn’t as cool as saying “Fuck the Tories”. Absolutely fuck the Tories, but I’m trying very hard to move into saying something on top of that. Something more constructive”.
Shuffle – Attitudes
With groupings and divisions now defunct, then where do music fans attach themselves and by what means? Frontman and songwriter of Dumbarton rock band The Foz Mark Joyce ripostes that “No genre exists anymore – it should be a positive trend, but sadly interesting new music makes no ripples in the mainstream now”. It’s a point – it’s a perspective. Attitudes modify in each generation. Consider the evolution of the peace-loving hippies content with love and anti-war demonstrations in comparison to the hard-edged insurrection of the punks, refusing to bow down to its overlords without at least once using their arms as a sling-shot towards oncoming riot shields and batons. The part which lyrics had to play in this transfiguration was frequently accountable for the ideologies and practises which youth culture adopted to make their point. Joyce continues “Punk is the most relevant genre with the same problems which existed in the 1970s still prevalent in this futuristic, digital age. That said, kids don’t seem to be angry anymore. Songs with a message can add so much to a composition but the current pop music market is only interested in making a quick buck”.
Or as Blair reminds us, “MC Dave ‘Solareye’ Hook (from Glasgow hip-hop outfit Stanley Odd) raps “Where’s the agitators?”. The KLF wrote the manual on anarchic mischief and agitation. If ‘real life’ wants to continue on its race to the bottom and turn up the absurdity, then we can shine a mirror right back on it”. Welsh advocates this opinion, renowned for his own ranting and raving which lends itself towards stalking political prey rather than a wayward, scattergun effect. “As someone who loves the specific, almost mundane detail in lyrics, I realise I’m in the minority. Most people aren’t obsessive about music so a simple, broad message gets stuck in your head. Not ambiguous like Radiohead, but just very general”. It’s a smart observation, if not a little troubling for the future of rock n’roll; revolution. Welsh continues, “There is always a place for social and political commentary. Even huge stars like Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar have elements of that to varying degrees. As always, black music leads the way in this. Especially in the current climate, people need to speak up. Art plays a huge role in winning hearts and minds and I feel we have a responsibility to say something”.
Shuffle – Contemporary Pop Music
Easton is also on board with this sentiment, somewhat perturbed by the direction that music classifications currently lean towards. “No genre is standing out more than any other. Music falls into two camps – good and bad”. I love a good pop tune, whether that’s Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift or my own era, Kylie Minogue – but some bands think sticking a synth on a tune means it’s pop, forgetting they need a melody and a hook (and ideally a chorus you can sing on first listen). Good pop always stands out; whether it is mainstream or alternative. However, there’s less pop to be enjoyed now – consider how few truly brilliant pop songs there were in 2016. The genre that probably stands out most is disposable music made by disposable bands/artists – the X Factor style acts” (At point of writing this, Honey G’s debut single is number 149 in the charts) As one of the exciting acts emerging from Glasgow, Welsh stands with one foot in both the pop and rock camps – blending the boundaries: “Some of our stuff is pure pop. We have a tune “Things You Do” that’s hugely inspired by Motown – the greatest pop music of all time. I think because this generation doesn’t have a movement, it means that we can understand the worth of all the different kinds of music. As much as I love punk, disco music is fucking brilliant so I think that if you care about your art, you need to be willing to take it into different directions. That entails the merging of styles”.
Shuffle – Record Labels, Media and Outlets
With extensive reporting that labels and employed teams of specialists seek out the appeal of intended audiences more frequently, it begs the question whether record companies guide the styles and sounds of new acts or if the artists are the ones in control these days. Easton suggests a bit of both guide the direction of the music: “Labels with their ear to the ground pick up on something unique then push it out to the wider world. Consider how the Beatles ushered in the beat explosion. Others imitate the style and sound, guiding it only so far as they can, before the labels help stretch that exposure across the world”.
It’s a point only too prevalent between the pages of music magazines who cotton on to their newest indie darlings (see The Libertines, The Arctic Monkeys, and Franz Ferdinand as cases in example over the previous decade) and then seek out a hundred further watered-down copycat acts (see Towers of London, The Kooks, and The 1990s) before ripping each of these bands from limb to limb three weeks later. Can any band survive such ruthless behaviour and retain a faithful following? “Bands/artists should never sell themselves short”, Easton asserts, “Labels will ask them to do things in terms of 360 deals seeking a cut of everything. By funding releases through shows or crowdfunding platforms like Pledge Music, artists are increasingly needed to work at their own marketing and promotion, not just focus on the song-writing aspect”. With countrywide publicity dwindling in the form of NME now effectively a free paper, does it leave the music fan unshackled to explore new inventive ways of celebrating bands and ideologies or is it having a detrimental effect on young persons, severed from the guiding hand of the music press which had led their elder siblings and parents through their formative years? Welsh is still optimistic about what music is available. “This generation belongs to hip hop, and there’s a stupid amount of amazing, weird, creative artists in that genre. I think in terms of guitar music, there’s a lot of anarchic, dark, exciting bands kicking about. Stuff like Fat White Family, And Yet It Moves, Cabbage, that kinda thing. And there is a strong social conscience behind the nihilistic front, which I really like”.
Having something tangible was key to any movement. Record stores were once considered gang huts for music lovers, but the permanent closure of stores such as Avalanche in Edinburgh or Fopp in Glasgow left many a reveller homeless, clawing online in a netherworld for new sounds and bands. Even Scotland’s biggest music festival T in the Park has succumbed to a number of issues plaguing music lovers’ need to explore and discover; potentially to the benefit of smaller bands playing at more intimate festivals across the country. Time will be the judge of whether or not this is a positive trend. To re-quote Joyce, “in this futuristic, digital age”, the advent of social media sites such as Myspace opened doors to a number of rising bands eager to share their music with the world, triggering a bedroom sanctuary which had once been hailed for its private studios of creativity but were now applied as advertising sanctums where anyone could plug their most inner thoughts and sounds. It would be unreasonable to brand this phenomenon as a damaging upshot in the story of music, but this did subsequently lead to a detached approach which continues to haunt the contemporary indie music scene. Instead of finger-walking through spines of CD cases or vinyl in stores filled with likeminded fans, there was no longer a need – the hunt was over and the choice was colossal.
Shuffle – The Future
So where, in essence, does that leave movements and sub-cultures? Is it wholly a generic music market where music exists only in laptops or headphones? Easton rejects this notion. “They still exist. The likes of Nightschool Records (Glasgow) are focused on discovering and releasing fantastic alternative pop music. They couldn’t care less about the charts, X Factor, and all that stuff. By releasing the likes of Happy Meals and Molly Nilsson, they have created a little movement. Clubs and certain pubs will always have a movement or sub-culture around them; DJ’s, bands, writers/bloggers, music and art fans hanging out together will always create something special. It might be a dozen people, it might be for a month, it might be for a year. But there will always be something, somewhere. You just need to look below the surface”.
That is an astute point to finish on; below the surface. Look towards Sauchiehall Street’s basement bars, Kelvingrove’s underground raves, and the Glasgow Subway transport system couriering its faithful followers to and from their homes. Music is a chameleon in a permanent form of transmutation. Its colours may not be quite as bright as they had been once before but when least expected, it will attach itself to the unlikeliest crowd of shoe-gazers or Pokemon-chasers and reveal itself.
Rich thanks to David Blair (Colonel Mustard & The Dijon-5), Mark Joyce (The Foz), Declan Welsh, and Murray Easton (Last Night from Glasgow) for their input during this piece.
Stephen Watt is the Dumbarton FC Poet-in-Residence, a crime poet, one half of gothic spoken word experimental act Neon Poltergeist, and author of the poetry collections “Spit” and “Optograms”. You can follow more of his writing on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/StephenWattSpit/ or his Twitter handle @StephenWattSpit.