Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Thrill Is Gone

Back in the early 80's ("regular" readers will be getting used to me saying that) when my fanzine What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen was in it's first flush of youth, I met, for the first time, Mike Scott. The Waterboys were new, their first album just released, and his music fitted nicely into my world at the time. As an aside, and to his credit, it seems to have stood the test of time far better than that of others I was into at the time, in that it gets played still to this day while those other records and CDs stay in their racks.

I'd been aware of his first band, Another Pretty Face who'd released a couple of singles including "All The Boys Love Carrie",


and had recorded songs for a Virgin Records album that was never to see the light of day and I had featured Funhouse, his previous incarnation, in an earlier fanzine, on the release of their only single "Out Of Control"

but I was interested in meeting up and talking to him about the nascent Waterboys project. So I did, meeting him at his basement flat in Notting Hill - I remember the street, Aldridge Road Villas, though I forget the number.

I'll spare you the full interview (I remember it was a bugger to transcribe as it had only recorded (quietly) on one channel) but it took place on a morning where he was taking calls from a Musicians Wanted ad he'd placed in the NME "The Waterboys require lead/rhythm guitar player, 18-24. Ability, own style and appreciation of Patti Smith essential. No pop fans or Jacks of all Trades" the advert ran, and we were interrupted on a couple of occasions for Mike to listen to the case for the latest gunslinger**. The first guy who called knew the Patti Smith "Horses" LP


but Mike worried that the word "essential" wasn't strong enough as he was after someone who shared the values he held which discovery of Patti Smith had confirmed when he was younger (he was 24 at the time of our meeting) not just someone who liked her. This was the first time I'd spoken at length to someone with such an all encompassing connection with a single artist.

"I don't actually listen to Patti Smith all that much. I mean you must have records that hit you so much you don't listen to them very often? The most important ones? Like "Easter" by Patti Smith, which is just about my favourite record. I listen to that about once every two years when I really feel it's right to listen to it." To which I replied that I, of course, listened to my favourite records constantly - but I was a mere youth of 21 and it needed the wiser older head to advise me that by the time I hit the magical age of 24, I'd come to understand what he meant. Quite how old I actually was when it finally hit home I don't recall, but suffice to say that he did not lie.

Inevitably, through his association with Nikki Sudden whose first solo album "The Bible Belt" Mike played on and part co-produced (this was when he'd first come into contact with Anthony Thistlethwaite who played sax on Nikki's album, and with whom Mike formed the briefly surviving The Red And The Black before adding him to the Waterboys roster)

Anto and Mike (from http://www.mikescottwaterboys.com/)

I kept up a loose kind of contact with Mike that continues to this day. I reminded him a few months back that he'd played piano and produced a song called "Sparrows" by the Rag Dolls that appeared on the very first record I put out with the What A Nice Way.... fanzine. Understandably perhaps, he'd long since forgotten this.

He's pretty active on Twitter these days - @MickPuck - and next year sees the Waterboys bring their much lauded "An Appointment With Mr Yeats" show to the Glasgow, Liverpool, Coventry and London in January and February.

**From what I recall, I believe Mike eventually settled for taking on guitar duties single handedly (no other Patti Smth visionaries to be found?) and it was another NME advert that saw the arrival of keyboardist Karl Wallinger. That is another story entirely of course.

Here's a tale I've told a time or two of a profitable weekend back in more innocent times than these. I guess though that as it did involve a form of theft, reference to innocence seems less than valid.
Back in the mid 1980's - alas (minimal) research has not thrown up the actual year - I was down in the capital city, Hackney to be precise, visiting my friend Epic Soundtracks for the weekend. This fairly frequent if irregular two day stay would invariably revolve around the haunting of the many wonderful record stores then in existence - remembering of course that even Virgin was worth a visit in those days - so as usual, I'd spent a couple of months saving up for the traditional spending extravaganza. This particular weekend was to be a little different though.

On arrival, after ce again onmarvelling at the ever increasing and quite breathtaking record collection Epic was accruing (some years later after his sad and early demise, it was rumoured that Noel Gallagher had written out a cheque for £250,000 to buy the lot, only for Meg to put the kibosh on that - might explain their subsequent separation I guess) it was suggested we took the tube out to Kensington Park Road, and the original Rough Trade Record store, which was in the process of closing down as it relocated to the Portobello Road - rumour was there might be some bits and pieces going spare (ie free). Epic (as had his brother Nikki) had worked there of sorts in the past and had obviously (I say obviously but then I'm old and I'd know anyway) been in Swell Maps, one of the label's first acts. I knew the store from occasional visits down south to ask them to shift copies of several fanzines I'd produced over the years.

On arrival, the place had been pretty much stripped, but along with a few Metal Urbain singles and green vinyl Sire promotional LPs (with unreleased Ramones track, as I recall), we found a box, about to be chucked (honest guv), of used record tokens - staff had obviously exchanged these for vinyl and not known what to do with these odd bits of paper oftimes attached to greetings cards. Some were pristine, some a little bashed up, but none had been crossed out, so it occurred to us we might be able to re-use them....

We weren't sure mind you and bravely though hesitantly sallied forth to test things out. It fell on me as an unknown face to go first, and I remember to this day going into WH Smith on Notting Hill Gate, picking up a 12" single of Rod Stewart's "Baby Jane" - (1983?) - and nervously approaching the cashier with the least obviously used token, half expecting an alarm to go off and certain arrest to follow. Of course nothing of the sort happened, I was given a few pence in change, handed the bagged up record and hastily departed the premises. We spent the rest of the weekend blowing this treasure trove (see note) on all sorts of stuff in all manner of chain store record emporia (hello Virgin and HMV ).

(note - treasure trove may broadly be defined as an amount of gold, silver, gemstones, money, jewellery, or any valuable collection found hidden underground or in places such as cellars or attics, where the treasure seems old enough for it to be presumed that the true owner is dead and the heirs undiscoverable- well, close enough....)

Memory is that we split something like £550 worth of tokens between us which back in those pre-CD days bought a fair bit of vinyl. Engorged with spending power I inevitably went on to buy a whole load of stuff just for the sake of it, much of it since given away or sold on, but as a fond (well fond-ish) memento of my luckiest day, I've still got that Rod single.

Do not worry though record stores of London (especially Plastic Passion, Minus Zero and, yes, Rough Trade) you more than got your real money's worth out of me in the years that followed.
Okay then, and I may be slightly misquoting Zach Galifianakis, let's revive this here motherfucker!

I should first of all say I've spent most of the last two weeks listening to edgy American comedians, so please excuse the occasional obscenity. I am, after all, nothing if not a stylistic magpie. There is just a chance too that I may be funnier second time around. May be.