Thursday, July 8, 2010

If Captain Beefheart Had Come From Glenrothes He Would Have Sounded Like Good And Gone (But I Like To Think He Wouldn't Have Tried To Drown Me In The Municipal Swimming Baths)

A CD by Good and Gone arrives in the mail, and with it comes a memory of my first encounter with this Glenrothes r’n’b group. (This is r’n’b in its old meaning: G&G were a fierce post-punk combo who sounded as if they had chewed up, and half-digested, the gnarly bits of Dr Feelgood and Captain Beefheart. ) It was 1987, though it might just as easily been 1897. I was a stringer for the NME, a glamorous job, the circumstances of which now seem amazing. There was no email then, and only one or two fax machines in BT shops. So an evening’s work would often involve watching a group till 1am, then typing up a review at home. The review was then sent to London, with the pictures, on the first train out of Waverley, at 6am. I would finish my shift with scrambled eggs and grilled tomato at the Carolina Café in Bread Street. Anyway, it was worth it. Not for the £25 I would earn for the review. For the experience. I learned how to write, by first learning how not to write. I also saw many bands who were learning how to play, and some who could have done unlearning their skills.
Anyway, on one of those nights, I must have seen Good And Gone, and I must have written about them in the NME. I have no memory of the concert. What I do remember is standing in Edinburgh’s famous Doric Tavern, and being surrounded by the group, who were urgently demanding an explanation.
Now it is possible that I have misremembered this. (I have a natural aversion to people from Glenrothes, due to a teenage incident in which some local boys attempted to drown me in the town’s swimming pool.) But what I remember is being surrounded by three angry men, whose names I was struggling to catch. The angriest, whose nickname I recall as “Psycho” – he was the drummer – made plain his disquiet. Let’s imagine that he said something like: “What the fuck was the review about?” Let’s imagine that he said with a degree of menace.
I replied confidently, in an almost inaudible mumble, that I believed I had been fair, and that on balance the review was positive. In my memory of the event, the man called Psycho brought the argument to a close by saying, “My fucking granny didnae think it was fair.”
It was a good point, well made. There were no further threats. Somehow, good will prevailed.
Did that really happen? I believe it did. A version of it occurs in the excellent essay, by Good And Gone’s singer (now a sculptor) Eddie Farrell. He also spells out the unglamorous reality of being in a band in Edinburgh during the 1980s – shit venues, dodgy agents, Hell’s Angels.
But, reading Eddie’s sleeve notes, and listening to Hollow Heads (which includes Good And Gone’s Methil Box EP, and a whole lot more), I feel an apology is in order. Because, while these two CDs capture a band who haven’t yet worked out how to transcend their influences (the Screaming Blue Messiahs can be added to the names above) there is a vitality to their playing which was scarce in 1987, and rarer now. And this isn’t pastiche. I remember the growling Woodchop Man, but what I didn’t appreciate – probably because I couldn’t hear it through bad PA systems in shitty venues – is that Good And Gone’s version of the blues had its own sense of geography. Signing Point 13 – a brisk song about signing on, which is what we all did – features perhaps the only recorded mention of Mr Boni’s ice cream parlour (and must thus be filed alongside the Hey Elastica! song about the Three Coins café on Home Street.)
So, treat yourself. Try to get hold of Hollow Heads. Play it loud while rubbing beer and spittle in your hair. Imagine the country is going to the dogs under a brutal Conservative administration. Go on, knock yourself out. Stir in a bit of punk bile and the unfocused anger of young men from a New Town. Do it for Psycho’s granny. She was right. Good And Gone were good, and they were gone before anyone noticed.