Mixtape: Independence Day 0

“I’m Scottish. I can complain about things.” So said Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who on seeing the face and hearing the voice of his latest regeneration. For many centuries, my people, the Scots, have complained loudly and bitterly. Mostly about the English, about being stuck on top of a country that oppresses and ignores them. And after centuries of complaining, we finally get a chance to do something about it. The race is shockingly tight, so much so that my nation has been belatedly turned into the homely girl suddenly regarded as pretty, with the leaders of all three parties desperate for her attention and approval. Although I’m many thousands of miles away, my ill-educated and indefensible vote would be Yes. We wanted this for so long. Now let’s see what happens when we get it. The following songs aren’t particularly rousing, rebellious or patriotic. But if the vote is a yes, this is what Scottish radio eighties flashback shows will sound like.

“Celebrate,” Simple Minds

Before they were deliberately anthemic, before everything they did was tailored to fit the demands of a stadium audience, this was Simple Minds starting to find themselves.

“From Pillar To Post,” Aztec Camera

The great thing about Roddy Frame’s songwriting circa 1982: the more he tried to write an out-and-out commercial pop song, the more he imbued his lyrics and delivery with out-and-out contempt.

“Blue Boy,” Orange Juice

Simple Minds were a big deal even in their formative years but Orange Juice and Postcard Records put Glasgow on the map in terms of the musically-inclined-but-directionless suddenly finding steely resolve and starting their own jangly bands, in terms of the music press belatedly bestowing regional hotness on Glasgow and in terms of record companies indiscriminately signing up Scots of varying degrees of talent.

Tell Me Easter’s On Friday,” Associates

My co-author’s been on a well-received music-now-is-empty-and-crude rant. I semi-agree but my main complaint about contemporary pop is that the chances of us ever hearing another voice like Billy Mackenzie’s in a context where it’s on the radio and on TV and high on the charts is not even unlikely. It just couldn’t happen. People rapping about their butts doesn’t make me particularly annoyed; living in a talent vacuum does.

“Bring Me Closer,” Altered Images

Gary Kemp talks in Mad World: The Book about his courtly semi-romance with Clare Grogan. For a brief period, the entire country shared his infatuation. The double-whammy of her “Gregory’s Girl” role, coy pop star persona and tremulous vocals made crushing on Clare Grogan a national pastime. Journalists, producers and DJs old enough to know better, actors and fellow pop stars all made clowns of themselves over her. Ironically, the two men flanking her in this clip went on to greater post-Images success than she did, the guy on the left produced, among others, “Mmmmbop” for Hanson, the other guy founded Texas. The band, not the state.

“Candy Skin,” Fire Engines

LOVE this. Love it. Short, sneering Velvet Underground-adjacent single with sawing violin from the great short-lived Edinburgh band who shed their indie skin and remade themselves into a Heaven 17-style ironic corporation.

“You’ve Got The Power,” WIN

And that is that self-same ironic corporation. “You’ve Got The Power”, although never a huge hit, was inescapable due to it’s widespread use in a beer commercial.

“Never Understand,” Jesus & Mary Chain

They played fifteen-minute sets that climaxed in the band half-heartedly smashing up their equipment. Their songs were drenched in feedback to the extent that they sounded like a ride on an out-of-control ghost train. The sets got longer, they dropped the distortion and stopped destroying the equipment. They were still great.

“Touch,” Secession

Try not to think less of me as I admit I barely know this song. I was aware of Secession as a Scottish synthpop outfit of little import. Many years later, I came to understand that this particular song had way bigger impact in American cities with new wave stations and dance club than it ever did in it’s ungrateful homeland. On behalf of all the other Scots who gave you the cold shoulder back when it counted, I’m sorry, Secession.

“Waiting For Another Chance,” Endgames

No apologies here but Endgames were a band that received a fair amount of mockery on their home turf but were hailed as giants across Europe.

“Tell Me Why,” Bronski Beat

Glasgow was and is a notoriously tough town but Glasgow audiences also had a love of gay disco to the degree that when records like (“You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real”) by Sylvester and “Funky Town” by Lipps Inc became hits they were propelled into the charts by the huge sales emanating from Glasgow. Bronski Beat were the product of the citywide love of that sound but they were also the product of the city wide love of beating people up because they looked or acted different.

“Abandon Ship,” April Showers

Yeah, I know. Totally indulgent. Whatever. It’s my song. I’m Scottish. I wrote it in the eighties.

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Mad World Meets Midge Ure 0

Am I a hopeless romantic because I love new wave? Or do I love new wave because I’m a hopeless romantic?

I’d have to say the former. I was barely of menstruating age when I found myself being wooed by new wave’s poetic lyrics, melodramatic music, and beauteous boys in puffy shirts and eyeliner. After falling head over heels for the likes of Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, and Ultravox, how could the “regular” boys at school and their scruffy sneakers ever compete?

Midge Ure was a knight in new romantic armor. Cocking one eyebrow, sucking in his cheekbones, and sporting the most immaculate mustache, the swoonsome Scot owned me the second I heard him sing, “This means nothing to me — oh, Viennaaaaaaaaaaa!” It certainly didn’t hurt that the serenade took place in the fog of dry ice.

It would be many years before I realized those lyrics literally meant nothing to him. As he recounts in Mad World: The Book — and he did again on Sunday, for all of the good people gathered at Rough Trade in Brooklyn for my Mad World Conversation With Midge Ure — at the time of this classic song’s writing, Midge had never even been to Vienna.

“I was out to dinner with my old Rich Kids manager and his wife, who was a bit pissed [inebriated],” he recalled. “She said, ‘You need to write a song like that “Vienna”.’ And I was like like, ‘What song “Vienna”?’ She said, ‘You know that Fleetwood Mac song: Vieennnnnnnaaaaa: She was singing ‘Rhiannon.’”

That was just one of the tales spun by the Midgester at our Mad World tribute to the OBE (that’s right: he’s an officer of the Order of the British Empire, as proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth). During the 90-minute Q&A, he also reminisced about his new romantic anthem “Fade to Grey,” resurrecting Ultravox after John Foxx’s and Robin Simon’s sudden departures left it with barely a pulse, and co-organizing Band Aid and Live Aid, as well as his excellent new album, Fragile.

In this video clip, Midge talks about his participation in the recently wrapped Retro Futura Tour, which also included Thompson Twin Tom Bailey’s triumphant return to the stage following a 27-year absence, along with sets by Howard Jones, China Crisis, and Katrina and the Waves singer Katrina Leskenich:

Thanks to Midge for all the beautiful and hopeful music he’s contributed to the soundtrack of our lives — and for our favorite DJ, The Big PA, for spinning an excellent set of it (see below, or follow the Spotify playlist here). Thanks also to Rough Trade for their continued support of Mad World, and to everyone who came out!


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Sizing Up Fashion Rocks’ Booty Call 3

While doing interviews for Mad World, I’m often asked about the current state of music, and how it’s changed since the early 80s. The first thing that comes to mind: The music charts are no longer about music.

I know, I know. That’s some statement from an author whose book highlights the artists from the dawn of MTV — the music video era! But while the bands in Mad World were certainly concerned with how they looked — after all, almost all of them were formed from the rib of Bowie — first and foremost, they wanted to make music.  ”Our managers drove the video agenda; we were like, ‘Oh man, a video‘,” John Taylor says in the book, recalling how Duran Duran’s reps pushed them to make James Bond-ian mini movies.

While watching Fashion Rocks at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn the other night, I couldn’t help thinking that, for many of today’s biggest stars, it’s the other way around — the music hardly matters. The reps for Jennifer Lopez and Nicki Minaj should remind them their charges that they’re singers, not strippers giving lap dances (although, to be fair, the managers and labels are a big part of the problem).Three Lions Entertainment Presents Fashion Rocks 2014 - Show nicki-anaconda-fr

“She got a big booty that’ll swallow a thong,” sang (lip-synched?) J.Lo as she shoved her infamous, barely-covered bottom in our faces. (Yes, her mid-forties ass looks mighty fine, but that’s besides the point.) A few numbers later, Minaj came out flaunting so much tush it would’ve made Daisy Duke blush. Among her poetic lyrics: “Say he don’t like ‘em boney, he want something he can grab.”

The morning after, my Mad World co-author asked how it all went. I told him how thrilled I was with Duran Duran’s performance — though, to be honest, they barely had any competition, with J.Lo and Minaj’s lame twerk-off coming more than a year after Miley’s bouncing butt hijacked/headlined the MTV Video Music Awards.

“I like Nicki,” JB said in her defense, explaining that she’s a really talented rapper. Rapping — oh, is that what she was doing on stage? I failed to notice.

Look, I’m not a prude, and I did notice that Minaj was flanked by a bunch of shirtless male dancers — perhaps an attempt at equal-opportunity eye candy? But is she really lighting the way forward for women? Is showing everything you’ve got onstage really how you show you’re a feminist, a word Beyoncé flashed at her recent VMAs performance.

JB argued that Nicki needs the butt antics to keep everyone’s attention. Hold on — I thought you said she was talented.

In Alison Moyet’s day, talent was what counted. ”Once upon a time, our attractive girl pop stars were Bananarama, who presented themselves with light independent spirits, but you never felt they were whoring themselves,” she told JB during their Mad World interview. By contrast, ”young women seem to have given up” and are “giving it all away” these days. In the early eighties, “there was less sexism, bizarrely, in the creative arena”; today “all [the female singers are] doing is playing to a sexual fantasy, and they are no more esteemed and stronger — they’re just being sex toys.”

Ironically, it was an 80s artist who drew up the blueprint. But while J.Lo, Minaj, et. al. latched on to Madonna’s shock-and-awe way to the top, they didn’t bother to learn her main lesson: Fantastic, unforgettable songs is the route to longevity. They’re cribbing from her Sex book, her “Justify My Love” video, when they should be paying attention to “Like A Prayer,” “Express Yourself,” “Papa Don’t Preach.”

And Madonna was always changing it up, trying to do something different. J.Lo and Minaj’s booty battle wasn’t nearly as shocking as it was been there-done that. “There are times now when I feel like it’s shocking when you see someone with their clothes on,” Moyet said. ”It’s shocking when someone’s not offering their arse to imagine yourself penetrating when they sing.”



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