60. The Clientele – Devil got my woman

February 21, 2014

/ Since K got over me, Pointy, 2005

clientele_devil

It’s always irritated the OCD-part of me that Backed with fell silent on 59 entries rather than at a nice round number, so while I’m busy posting the A sides of 45s over at A jumped-up pantry boy, and in particular the Clientele’s ‘Lacewings’, it seemed like time to put that right here.  Prior to The violet hour, the Clientele’s format of choice was the seven inch; their B sides consistently matched the high, idiosyncratic standards of the A, though they were usually bathed in a more reflective glow.  So it is with the B side I’ve chosen – their cover of Skip James’ ‘Devil got my woman’.

Round these parts we know full-well that the Clientele fell tripping on acid through a wormhole connecting 1968 to 1997.  But you can make a case that the group are linked to other times than that of the Quicksilver Messenger Service.  Subsequently discovered wormholes have enabled them to time-travel back to 1979 to produce Ze-era NY disco (‘Bookshop Casanova’, ‘Share the night’, ‘I wonder who we are’) and to 1931, to channel the spirit of Skip James on this B side, recorded in 2004 as a demo for possible inclusion on Strange geometry.  (Though truth be told, it may have been the song’s appearance in the 2001 film Ghost world which first brought it to their attention.)

Alasdair MacLean is a great guitar player, and you have to wonder whether he like Robert Johnson went down to some out of the way Mississippi crossroads (actually, given where he spent his formative years, perhaps it was the underpass leading to the Shepherd & Flock roundabout in Farnham) and there sold his soul for such other-worldly talent.  Of course, it could just be long hours of practice and nothing much on British telly during the first half of the nineties.  Whether devil or dedication, there can be few out there in the international pop underground who could improvise on a Skip James number, let alone sing it with the same kind of brooding presence that the original possesses (or is possessed by).  And this despite the fact that as with many of the Clientele’s earlier recordings, it sounds like Alasdair’s vocal was phoned in transatlantically.  They put that right on an incomparable three-piece version of the song played live on the radio for KEXP Seattle in November 2005, and in my dreams, this is the version which appears on the B side of ‘Since K got over me.’


43. The Psychedelic Filberts – Rain

September 12, 2009

/ Temple of convenience by Yeah Yeah Noh, In Tape, 1985

I love the Beatles.  I can’t help myself.  I love their sound from the first raw notes of ‘Love me do’ to the last disaffected sigh of ‘I me mine’.  I love the journey they took.  I love the fable that surrounds the Fab Four.  I love the biopics about them.  I love the model they created.  I love the phrase ‘four lads who shook the world’, and I love Half Man Half Biscuit’s take on that phrase, substituting ‘the Wirral’ for ‘the world’.  I love the fact that Paul Morley writes articles speculating on what the world would be like if the Beatles had never existed.  I love the fact that John met Paul at a church fête.  I love JohnPaulGeorge&Ringo, all for one and one for all.  I love their cheeky played-up Scouse humour.  I love the Monkees, who came into being because of the Beatles.  I love the influence the Beatles have necessarily had on all subsequent Liverpudlian groups, not just Shack and the La’s.  I love the length of time (eighteen months) that it took for America to get the Beatles.  I love the way they then conquered America like no country has been conquered before or since.  I love the fact that their first American LP was called Introducing the Beatles, and I love the echo of closure in DJ Shadow calling his first album – constructed thirty-odd years later from the vinyl imprint of the music of others – Endtroducing…

beatles_twist

I love the songs of the Beatles that I don’t love.  I love the fact that certain friends of mine don’t love the Beatles at all.  I love the family copies of the early EPs that in some inexplicably circuitous manner have come to nestle in my singles collection.  I love my battered vinyl copy of Revolver, issued by EMI Greece.  I love the song-by-song dissection of the songs I love, and the songs I don’t, in Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the head.  I love to read that MacDonald does not love ‘Do you want to know a secret’, but that he does love ‘All my loving’.  I love George Martin, and the ‘gracious, open-minded adeptness’ with which he tended to the Beatles’ music.  Did I mention that I love the Beatles’ music?

I love the fact that the Beatles played shows in places like Aldershot.  I love the mass hysteria that greeted their live performances (‘a ceaseless avian shrilling’, MacDonald calls it) and I love to recall my mother – no great fan of any music – recalling that she saw the Beatles, so becoming a part of that mass hysteria.  I love knowing exactly where I was when I heard that John Lennon had been shot dead.  I love to picture John and Paul head to head – eyeball to eyeball – with a guitar each, conjuring a song out of nothing.  I love the songwriting partnerships since made in their image – Forster and McLennan, Handyside and Hughes.  I love being reminded that a group called Episode 4 (later to become East Village and influenced by the Beatles more through the kaleidoscope of Hurrah! than directly) released a single on Lenin and McCarthy Records.  I love the title of a chapter in a book called ‘Every sound there is’ – ‘The Beatle who became a man: Revolver and George Harrison’s metamorphosis – and that it happens to be by Matthew Bannister, once of the Sneaky Feelings.  I love the near-perfect recreation of ‘Strawberry fields forever’ made by XTC’s Dave Gregory purely for his own amusement; surprised in the act of recreation by Andy Partridge, Dave had him complete the fake by impersonating John’s vocal.

I love the parts Stu Sutcliffe, Astrid Kirchherr, Pete Best, Brian Epstein and Yoko Ono played in the story.  I love the Quarry Men and the Silver Beatles.  I love the footage of the final performance on top of Apple’s Savile Row building.  I love the pedestrian crossing in St. John’s Wood.  I love Abbey Road studios.  I even love the arguments about whether the mono or stereo versions of the LPs are truest to the Beatles’ vision and sound.  And – no surprise this – I love the Beatles’ B sides.

There are plenty of candidates for the best Fabs B side.  In The heart of rock and soul, Dave Marsh expresses affection for ‘I’m down’.  Ian MacDonald rates ‘I’ll get you’.  But he also recognises the primacy of ‘Rain’, and without much thought it’s the one I have to pick.  If I could travel without limitation in time and space, I would reserve one stop-off for June 1966 to observe the faces (and minds, if I’m as omnipotent as time travel suggests) of fans when they flipped over ‘Paperback writer’ and played ‘Rain’ for the first time.  Because, released before Revolver and ‘Tomorrow never knows’, and with due deference to the Byrds, who had by this time superseded the Beach Boys as the one group encouraging the Beatles to greater heights, there had been nothing like it.  ‘Rain’ suggested new possibilities, possibilities which for better or worse are even today being explored by groups of psychedelic leaning.

I hear its echoes in the music of two of the groups I love most, Shack and the Clientele.  The former leant heavily on ‘Rain’ for ‘I know you well’ but still managed to do something novel in blending Scouse psychedelia and the loose-limbed Manc dance rhythms of the late eighties.  The Clientele, meanwhile, have explored the metaphysical possibilities suggested by Lennon’s vocal and captured in the sonic weight of ‘Rain’ more than any other group – crucially without becoming trapped in psychedelic cliché.

As was always the case when the best were at their best, the writer could not have done it alone.  ‘Rain’ is propelled forwards and held in check by the interplay between Ringo’s complex, just-so drum patterns, the spiralling wiriness of George’s lead guitar, and the bob and weave of that wonderful McCartney bass line.  All of which – slowed down by Martin –  allows the varispeeded John to float free and, as befits an early example of the successful conversion of drug experience into transcendental pop, his singing is perfectly pitched between carefree and couldn’t-care-less.  In a mere three minutes the song establishes that drone and harmony can co-exist within the same space, that with rain in the air and sun in the sky, you can see a rainbow.  There’s so much going on – without there being too much going on – and so many points which touch and set in motion not only future Beatle songs but future strains of pop music.

Echoing, distorted, chaotic and exuberant, the apparently live version of ‘Rain’ by the Psychedelic Filberts contains within it the echo of all the ingredients so carefully assembled by George Martin and JohnPaulGeorge&Ringo in the Abbey Road studio.  The Filberts version mysteriously appeared as a B side on the 12 inch of ‘Temple of convenience’ by Peel favourites Yeah Yeah Noh.  Here’s what the sleeve note says about it:

The tape of Rain was discovered in the cellars of Barkby Road studios.  It was marked simply ‘Live in Hamburg’!!  If anyone has any information concerning ‘the Psychedelic Filbert’ or this recording please contact us at 9 Leire Street, Leicester LE4 6NU United Kingdom.

I very much doubt that Yeah Yeah Noh still live at this address – but if you have any information concerning the Psychedelic Filbert(s), you could always leave a comment here.