Thursday, 30 August 2012

This Scarlet Train (reprise)

Recently Roque who runs Cloudberry Records wrote a blog posting about the mysterious This Scarlet Train so now seems a good time to post the article I wrote in late 2011 on that group's "Fimbria" for Great Shakes fanzine.  There's a second Not Unloved mention in 2 days for The Field Mice and Ken Sweeney aka Brian not to mention Cloudberry. Exciting.

Have you noticed how certain incredible records from the past seem to just disappear? How they are so seldom discussed and come up so infrequently for sale that they seem almost mythical. Their existence only acknowledged by the odd sparsely furnished webpage (including the obligatory dormant myspace page!) and appearances on collectors’ wants lists. Unfortunately, “Fimbria” by mid-‘80s Falkirk group This Scarlet Train (on Nightshift Records) would appear to be one of them. I stumbled across “Picture Frame” from it on YouTube a couple months ago whilst trying on crack Australian power-pop troupe The Someloves for size. I only clicked on the link because the sleeve image looked a bit mysterious like one of those early Slowdive e.p.s . Then I saw that the word ‘Falkirk’ and my interest was well and truly piqued. I was instantly smitten by its soft, sombre male vocals and the high definition jangling of its guitars. Being 2011, I hurried to each of my trusty online haunts fully expecting to land a copy: ebay, discogs, gemm, musicstack, etc.. Of these, only discogs had a page for the release but there were no copies for sale. Since then, slightly obsessively, I’ve checked each of these sites in turn at least once a day and…well, nothing. Not even a single absurdly exorbitant ebay listing. In 2011, this is decidedly unusual! For example, in the same period such elusive titles as The Sea Urchins’ “Pristine Christine” (Sarah 1!) and The Wee Cherubs’ “Dreaming” (The Holy Grail of Scottish Jangly Pop ©) have appeared for sale and have found new homes for the kind of sums that make you splutter out your coffee in shock - both in the region of £300.

The non-appearance of even a single battered copy for sale has prompted a bit of Miss Marple-ing on my part. I’ve quizzed a bunch of people who regularly played at and attended small gigs around the Central Belt of Scotland and even more who bought records by small Scottish independent groups in ‘86/’87 but nary a soul remembers them. Nightshift Records, who released “Fimbria” and who are best remembered for a bunch of Lowlife records, was presided over by Brian Guthrie, the brother of Cocteau Twins’ Robin so I asked a friend of Brian’s if he remembered the record but even he couldn’t recall it or them. All of which is a bit sad and undeserved as, from the YouTube clips, “Fimbria” is without doubt a classic record of its type. One that should have been treasured at the time by those who could see the beauty in the moodiness of The Wake when they were still a Factory Records group or those who found solace in the sensitive lyrics and cut crystal guitars of The Field Mice’s “Emma House”. Come to think of it, had “Picture Frame” or “Lilyhaze” seen a release on Sarah Records, I suspect that the story would have been very different. I’m sure they would have been viewed as among the strongest releases of a near flawless catalogue. I wonder if Matt Haynes or Clare Wadd ever heard "Fimbria"? It’s entirely possible that they did and that, as with Brian’s sublime “You Don’t Want A Boyfriend”, they’re kicking themselves to this day that they didn’t get to release it. Right now “Fimbria” is the record I want more than anything. It’s the one record that, should I find a copy in the right condition, could tempt me into financial recklessness (though definitely not of the £300 sort!). Since the internet hasn’t come up trumps, a tour round the charity shops of Falkirk and Stirling is in order. If that, too, draws a blank maybe I’ll pluck up the courage to sidle up to Brian Guthrie and ask him if he has any spares when he takes part in a panel at a Glasgow gallery in January 2012*. We’ll see. Hopefully one day “Fimbria” will get the same deluxe LTM Records re-master/reissue cd treatment as the albums of Lowlife, The Wake and The Field Mice. Mind you, at this point I’d settle for Cloudberry or Vollwert popping its 6 songs onto a stack of those dinky little 3.5” cd-rs as part of one of their respective archive series. Come on, make it happen!

*- Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I didn't make it to the panel discussion so didn't get to speak with Brian Guthrie.  If anyone has a contact email address please contact me on: lebrogues (at)

Earth First

Call the cops...Bobby Wratten's been robbed!  Actually, call the Garda, too - Ken Sweeney's been burgled an' all!  Of course, I'm only joking but just one listen to Earth First's "To The Night" (Cloudberry) and you could be forgiven for thinking that Bobby's or Ken's songbook had been pinched and that Ian Catt had been held hostage and made to lend his lightness of sonic touch to recording its contents*.  Still, that doesn't stop me from loving it.  I know it probably should,  that I should be demanding more innovation from my music but it's such a beautfiul, welcome sound that its lack of newness isn't an issue.  Also, it's not as if Earth First try to conceal their admiration for the aforementioned Wratten and Sweeney; they even declare:

Earth First is a bedroom pop project of Brian Castriota, inspired by the music of Keris Howard, Bobby Wratten, Ken Sweeney and other classic indie pop acts of the late 80s and early 90s.

Evidence of good taste and to be encouraged, I'd say!  "To The Night" may be an almost exact synthesis of Castriota's heroes' work but it's done with love and definitely not for financial gain as nobody every got rich copying The Field Mice did they?  I may not still be the soft-centred soul who fell in love with The Field Mice 20 odd years ago but I'll never not love that sound so I'll definitely buy a copy when it reaches the UK mail-order companies.

* - It was, in fact, Drew Driver of fellow Sarah Records enthusiasts Horse Shoes (and fellow Shelflife act Soda Shop) who fulfilled the Ian Catt role on "To The Night".

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Sacred Paws

There's an art to tagging songs on bandcamp.  You don't want to make them too dull/literal but you certainly don't want to make them too wacky.  You don't want them to pigeonhole your group nor do you want them to sound like a needy attempt to win cool points by associating your group with a bunch of hip genres.  It's a conundrum, for sure.  Sacred Paws sidestep these traps by tagging their brilliant "i n s t r u m e n t a l ((DEMO))" as "devotional freak out Glasgow".  Having seen them twice in the last week "devotional" is apt as their insistent, highlife resonant guitar shapes and punk rhythms induce a kind of shamanistic dance trance as your brain empties of all its workaday nonsense and focuses on just moving in time.  Sacred Paws is two thirds of Golden Grrrls - Eilidh Rodgers and Rachel Aggs (also of the wonderful Trash Kit) - and despite being only a year into their existence they already have enough memorable songs to send most of their more established peers back to the drawing board.  Their first release is a split tape/download (Comfort On A Tightrope) with Hannah Lew of Grass Widow.  Sacred Paws' songs are roughly recorded but diamonds all the same.  Hannah Lew covers The Mantles' much revered "Don't Lie".  Get on it!  Oh, and should they come anywhere near your house, you must make the effort to see them live.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Chickfactor 2012: For the love of pop! London

With Indietracks and the London Olympics both now (warming, nourishing) memories, Not Unloved was in dire need of something to look forward to.  Chickfactor's recently announced November weekend of pure pop joy. therefore, couldn't be more welcome.  Saturday, 17th November is shaping up to be a day to remember: The Pastels are my favourite group ever, Amor de Dias made my favourite lp of 2012 and Bush Hall looks like a smashing venue. Phew!  The Sunday line-up, too, is a studded with diamonds:  Tender Trap's new lp has been receiving great notices, Would-be-goods were classy and lovely at the Hangover Lounge weekender earlier this year and there's a rare chance to catch Pipas live.  Tickets are sure to shift quickly so best head here and here before too long for tickets!