Onder Invloed top 5
Hullo, I was recently asked to contribute a piece on my favourite songs for our friend in Utrecht Matthijs Van Der Ven’s Onder Invloed project. You can read it here
P.S The version of “Tender is the Night” listed here is the demo version. You can hear the original here
Top 5s (revisited)
Our friend Mr Iain White, honorary Starlet, and who has played strings on all the albums so far, makes his contribution to the Top 5 favourite songs below.
1) Huey Lewis & The News: The Power Of Love.
The theme tune to my favourite movie of all time (apart from Local Hero, Superman, The A Team, Miami Vice…), this slice of energised cheese always puts a giant smile on my face and gets me bouncing about the room. I like Huey’s manly growling in verse 2 too, he’s so darned versatile. Great synths and driving as hell, it sounds like a young Boris Becker having athletic sex in a broom cupboard. Wearing a headband.
2) It’s Immaterial: New Brighton
Some music makes me feel like time stops and I’m transported, weightless into the world of dreams (or the dreams of others). This is one such instance that hasn’t dulled over the (sometimes cruel) intervening years since I heard it in Tower Records and discovered the CD in Bellshill library. Glacially slow and understated and produced by the god hand of Calum Malcolm (with all those Blue Nile noises you’ve grown to know and love) it always knocks me sideways. Check it out. I dare you. There’s so much more to the two Johns than Driving Away From Home and Ed’s Funky Diner (both ace, still).
3) Dire Straits: Brothers In Arms
So what’s so bad about the mainstream? Like Richard Thompson, IMHO, something otherworldly happens when Knopfler’s voice and his guitar blend together. Forget the yuppie hallucination of the National Resonator Guitar in the sky and lie back and close your eyes. It might be a less-than-catchy tale about a terrorist feeling sorry for himself. It might not seem to have much of a melody. It may have a terrible title and start ordinarily enough, but it builds to be very, very pretty indeed – especially the little Hammond organ figure that I always wait for – as is much of the Brothers in Arms album. IMHO. It makes an unforgettable spine-tingling appearance in The West Wing too (the Two Cathedrals episode, early on before the talking took over) sharing top billing alongside an angry metaphorical thunderstorm and a vicious, fag-stubbing rant by Martin Sheen against God.
4) The Blue Nile: Easter Parade
Like a dream from another universe where Eric Satie was a pervert and had access to a drum machine, Easter Parade blew me away as a 12-year-old while on holiday in Girvan on a rainy afternoon in a guesthouse, alone in the dining room with only a crackly MW radio and broken red plastic glider for company. An imaginary city celebrates something and sad beauty prevails. ‘Confetti falls from every window’ has the emotional impact of a national hero’s obituary read by Robin Williams. I used to say up in the early hours at my parent’s house trying to perfect it on the piano with the soft pedal on. Like all the best things in the world: weird, beautiful, timeless and a little unsettling.
5) Iggy Pop: The Passenger. When living above the Arlington pub as a student in the worst flat ever, my flatmate (whose really gorgeous sister I totally failed to get off with) gave me this as a 7-inch for my 21st birthday and a black t shirt. I used to put both of them on at the same time and it always takes me back. Iggy’s tune embodied all my hopes for a fun, debauch-filled twenties (unfulfilled) and I made a point of letting rip on the dancefloor when it came on in the Student union before returning home, alone.
We moved flat recently and the cat has taken to disappearing for extended periods of time, only to nonchalantly reappear, invariably when hungry. I never asked for any details, judging it to be none of my business. Imagine my dismay, however, upon dragging my rucksack out from under the bed, only to find it had been used as a cat bed for the last three months. I didn’t know whether to clean the rucksack, or shave it. I confess I let slip some very choice and ungentlemanly language. I decided to hoover the rucksack. Then I thought about hoovering the cat. I can blame no one but myself; I should have had the cat put down years ago when it quickly became apparent I had given shelter to a sponging, lazy, liability of an animal but, soft touch that I am, I foolishly kept it and have now, I am ashamed to say, grown rather fond of it.
Anyway, I shall get to the point. The rucksack has been looked out for our latest European expedition- a tour of the Netherlands, or, as it is more familiarly known by the band, codename “Operation Clog”.
We had a brilliant time last year in the Netherlands and are all very much looking forward to this. Thanks again to our Dutch mentor Matthijs Van Der Ven. He’s a brave man.
I fly out tomorrow, woo hehehe, bring it on. Lovely part of the world.
Tot ziens, Biff Smith (Mr).
8 Oct 2010
As once sang the great Jarvis Cocker. I promise however that we have not been completely idle. Not all the time. Not every day. We are very proud to announce the release of our first collaboration with genius/bampot (delete as applicable) producer Jari Haapalainen, new single “I’m your kinda guy”. There’s a video for the single directed by Martin Gray which depicts the band on a typical night out in Glasgow, with all the glamour you would expect from such a scenario. You can see the video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AYeQPjFFgc
More details at
Incidentally, here’s Pulp playing “I Spy” -
The line about “take your “Year in Provence” and stick it up your arse” still makes me want to stand up and applaud. I remember seeing it at the time and shouting with joy.
I couldn’t believe that anything so funny, yet so deadly serious, so menacing, yet faintly ridiculous, anything so brilliant and so cruel, could ever be permitted on mainstream television. Anger as inspiration; inspiration as anger.
25 May 2010
I didn’t start drinking early enough tonight. Schoolboy error. Sweaty, twitchy fingers, cracked voice, mind racing, I’m trying to hold the show together here but I’m unravelling, unravelling, all over the place. A solo show, and that spotlight is like an interrogation, in a tiny club, nowhere to hide, fluffed chords, bum notes, disappointed faces more hurt than angry. Certain things transcend cultural and linguistic differences. Playing a stinker, for example. I must do the honourable thing and try to drink my way into a run of form. Thankfully the barman takes pity on me and starts sending up whisky. I seek inspiration in thoughts of ex-snooker player Bill Werbenuik who needed seven pints of lager just to steady his hand. I once saw him up at the Red Triangle in Cumbernauld with my Gran. We were sat in the front row and big Bill sank jar after jar on his way into the zone, the point of purest clarity. As he sauntered brilliantly, but erratically, around the table, I remember being slightly concerned that if he fell on top of me, I may never be seen again. But Bill isn’t here tonight. I must do this alone. Many a game has been won in the last ten minutes. The whisky is working it’s magic and I’m remembering why I’m here. This isn’t a holiday, or a party. This is the best thing in the world. And it’s free. The songs, the songs are coming back to me. Where have you been all night? I’ve been dying up here. Yes, yes, of course, I know darling, all my fault. These past few nights, well, I’ve just been drinking like an amateur. I promise I’ll try harder.
Show over, and I may have scraped a flukey score draw. This guy comes up to me and says-
“Ha ha, where you get the mad hair?”
“It comes out of ma mad head”
“You mad man”
“You’re probably right pal. Biff desu, genki desu ka?”
“Kenji. Howsit goin?”
“You speak Scottish Kenji?”
“Aye, wee bit”
“Better than my Japanese anyway”
“You were wee bit shite tonight Biff”
“I know, I’m sorry, I wasn’t drinking enough”
“You like Japan?”
“Probably too much”
“What you like?”
“Em… the politeness, ramen, Ozu, those wee hot cans a coffee you can buy at the vending machines..”
“..ya anata tachi no onna no hito, suki desu ka?”
“Hai, dai suki desu”
“I like your red haired Scottish women.”
“I saw a girl with pink hair today ”
“I also like your red haired Scottish men”
“You’re a very modern guy Kenji”
“Are you modern guy?”
“Oh..” I survey the extensive selection of Japanese whisky. There’s one called Black Knickers. I’ll have to try that. “People are so modern nowadays”
“Yes,” Kenji nods, “ they are”
This appears with thanks to Naoki and Miharu Morikawa, Boat Beam, Shelling, Civic and Predawn. My apologies to the people of Kobe, I owe you half a gig. I’ll pay you back as soon as I can. BS
12 May 2010
Let’s Emigrate (post-election fear and loathing)
So sang the Blow Monkey’s Dr Robert, semi-ironically. But where would we go? It’s the same sky, wherever you go.
Two shiny faced, well-fed ex-public schoolboys for the price of one.
Well, there is a recession on after all.
Dark days beckon.
20 Apr 2010
Never leave a cat alone in a room with an unsupervised fish supper.
15 Mar 2010
Dear Mr McAloon,
I am writing to let you know that you turned up, uninvited, but not unwelcome, in my dream last night. I was on a bus and you got on and sat next to me. I shan’t bore you with the details. Anyway, I told you about our band and how we had a show coming up and would you like to come and see us, etc, etc, while you looked at me with that expression one reserves for those rather-too-cheerful charity sales reps in the high street. I can’t say I blame you really. Anyway, I would like to extend the invitation from the dreamworld to what passes for the real world. Should you find yourself in Glasgow this Thursday night at a loose end, our band the Starlets would be honoured to have you as a guest at our show. We’ll give you a plus one on the guest list too. There you are.
As a callow, wide eyed teenager, I bought the cassette of “Protest Songs” at the Our Price in Cumbernauld Town Centre. It cost me half my wages as a Saturday Trolley Boy at Wm Low’s Supermarket but I have no regrets. It was one of the albums which inspired me to make music, so you’re partly to blame really for how I’ve turned out.
I understand that you may not be passing through Glasgow on Thursday and so may have to politely decline our generous offer. However, please feel free to turn up in my dreams in the future whenever it is convenient for you, although, I should warn you, they can get pretty mental sometimes.
All the best,
Biff Smith (Mr)
9 Mar 2010
The drummer and trumpeter have the day off and decide to go “sightseeing”. We do not hear from them for many hours. Finally, at midnight, I receive a text -
“IN KELLY’S BAR. FANNY CENTRAL. COME MEET US. YA WEE DICK.”
We find them outside the bar, smoking roll-ups, laughing at their shoes. They’re both wearing furry hats with ear flaps and look like Cocker Spaniels. Drunk Cocker Spaniels.
“How’d the sight seeing go?”
“Come on in here, fuckin brilliant”
We make to go in the bar but a bouncer blocks the way.
“You’re not coming in here again”
The drummer looks stunned,
“You have had far too much to drink”
“We only want one mair”
“You are already very drunk, why do you want one more?”
The drummer considers this for a moment, then replies-
“‘Mon tae fuck mate”
“No more tonight my friend, go home”
We go outside to see the rest of the band. The drummer has the expression of a Union Shop Steward about to break unfortunate news to the workers. He surveys the faces turned expectantly towards him before choosing his words with care-
“The cunts urny lettin us in.”
“Fuck knows, bang ootay order”
Muttering and grumbling, we beat a sheepish retreat until rumours of late night chips begin to revive band morale. Meanwhile, the drummer conducts an extensive search of his many pockets, increasingly agitated,
“Some cunt’s dipped me”
“Whit ye talking aboot?”
“Ahm potless, not a coin”
He holds in one hand a collection of bar receipts which I read at the next streetlight. There are 23 of them. There are frequent listings of a drink called “House Special” at 150SEK a go.
“Naebody’s dipped ye”
“Some cunt’s dipped me”
“Ye’ve dipped yersel. Whit’s the House Special?”
The drummer and the trumpeter laugh conspiratorially at this, arms around shoulders. When you’re sober and thirsty, drunk is a joke you don’t find very funny. We walk ahead, increasing our pace. Somewhere behind us, I can hear them eulogising about a barmaid called Big Helga.
25 Feb 2010
In the Viking Bar.
Big Sven comes up and grabs me in a headlock. He’s shouting in my ear,
“So, Scottish man, are you a (makes bizarre elbow-smashing gesture) hard cunt?”
“All you Scottish men are (makes bizarre elbow-smashing gesture again) hard cunts, are you not?”
“Eh naw, no really”
“Then what are you Scottish man?”
“Probably more of a thirsty cunt”
“HA HA HA! (Big Sven tightens the headlock affectionately). That is correct. And what about the drummer over there? He looks like a thirsty cunt also”
“Ho, ho, ho, yer no fuckin kiddin”
“He is not a hard cunt then?”
“He’s more of a lazy cunt”
“All you Scottish men then, are some kind of cunt, yes?”
“That’s probably fair”
“And what about our Swedish women, you like them?”
“They’re very nice”
“You are here to marry them, yes?”
“Eh, dunno aboot that”
“I hear you say on stage “Hallo Stockholm, we are Scottish men from Glasgow, we have come here for your Swedish women!”. What about that then, thirsty cunt?”
“Ah, heh, heh. That wis jist ma wee joke”
“I have a Swedish woman at home. You can have her.”
“That’s very kind of ye Sven but..”
“No buts, Scottish man. This is my present to you. And she has a sister for your lazy cunt of a drummer.”
“That’s very kind of ye Sven”
“Do not mention it”
10 Feb 2010
The telephone goes, just as my scrambled eggs were beginning to come together nicely.
“Can I ask for a minute of your time to answer a short survey?”
“As long as yer quick mate, I’ve got some scrambled eggs on the cooker here”
“Of course, sir. It’s concerning public opinion in the run up to the General Election. In response to the three main candidates could you please select one of the following choices: Very Favourable, Fairly Favourable, No strong opinion, Fairly Unfavourable or Very Unfavourable-”
“He’s a snivelling little bastard”
“Shall I mark that as Very Unfavourable?”
“I suppose that’ll have to do”
“The leader of the Liberal Democrats”
“No strong opinion”
Thank you Mr Smith. One last question- can I ask how you intend to vote at the forthcoming election?”
“Thank you for your time, Mr Smith”