Music

Baxter Dury, Halo Maud – Stereo, Glasgow, 20 February 2018

In May this year, Baxter Dury will play at the Casino de Paris, an iconic venue with a capacity of 2000, and venue for an iconic live album by Serge Gainsbourg; Stereo in Glasgow is among the best venues in Scotland, but it’s just a smidge smaller (capacity: 300) - the audience tonight may not know, in a way, just how privileged it is.

Parisians Halo Maud open, perhaps a little bit bashful at first if très charmants, their sound is certainly aligned with what one tends to think of in terms of contemporary French pop music (or at least that which we are exposed to in the UK): somewhat ethereal vocals, minimalist guitar, slightly proggy keyboard washes, melodic and propulsive bass, driving (but never heavy) drums. There’s a lightly psychedelic touch to them, little hints of Broadcast, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Aquaserge – at one point, vocalist and guitarist Maud Nadal (also of Moodoïd) even sings a searching melody that brings Björk to mind. Rightly well-received, their set is dynamic and memorable.

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Baxter Dury’s onstage persona is certainly geezerish but with a knowing glint in the eye present at all times. It’s wholly appropriate for the music, especially numbers from his superlative 2017 album Prince of Tears, a catalogue of sad characters victimised by their own masculinity, too in love their own bravado and braggadocio to notice they’re pathetic, broken.

Across a set composed primarily (but not solely) of songs from his last three albums, Dury is a charismatic stage presence and the music shines. Played live, these songs take on an extra vivacity, muscularity – the band has a great time, and so do the audience. It’s pretty rare for a 16-song set (including encore) to be anything other than irritating/waring/boring by the time of its conclusion, but not tonight. It’s pretty much perfect - sometimes cheeky, sometimes downtrodden, always captivating. Dury should be a household name in the UK but as it stands he’s just another example in a long list of ways our Continental brethren can show us the way. Bof.

Photos: Erika Sella. Words: Andrew R. Hill

'Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records' - Simon Goddard

Simon Goddard’s whimsical account of Postcard is prefaced by Maxwell Scott’s oft paraphrased “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” It’s a quote that is key to understanding and enjoying the book. It does not ‘set the record straight’, it is not a reference manual of endless gigographies and timelines – if that’s what you’re after, that book is yet to be written. Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records is not a hagiography per se – the presence of myriad acts of self-defeat (and, every now and then, incompetence) and acid-tongued put-downs run rather contrary to most accounts of sainthood – but it does indulge the mythmaking, as well as further romanticising that which has already been significantly romanticised. It’s an engaging read, for all that the line between fact and fiction is often knowingly blurred (quite where is far from apparent much of the time, although Goddard does occasionally illuminate the reader with footnotes on particularly contentious matters).

Following a prologue explaining the life Victorian cat illustrator and inadvertent Postcard logo designer Louis Wain, Goddard introduces us to the Mitty-ish, Saltcoats-dwelling teenage Alan Horne, perennially setback by “fate’s cruel ministers” (a fate used recurrently to great comic effect); most readers will know how integral he is to the Postcard story – in some ways, Goddard renders it all the more incredible that he could be. From there, Goddard recounts his absurd tale of the (still) influential phenomenon that was Postcard Records (slogan ‘The Sound of Young Scotland’): short-lived, a haphazard lurch from genius to disaster and back again, full of youthful bravado and naivety, all the while producing some of the most jaw-droppingly vivacious music ever recorded (although none of it could ever measure up to Pale Blue Eyes for Horne, of course). Horne, Edwyn Collins and co. believed they could take the charts and were outward-looking, without ever losing their very Scottish sense of humour (and periodic self-destruction). Orange Juice were from Bearsden, Josef K Edinburgh, Aztec Camera East Kilbride – all pretty close to each other – but the Go-Betweens were from Brisbane; nonetheless, they weren’t afraid to play with a particular image of Scotland as well (see the label 7” sleeves from 1981).

' Funky Glasgow Then' map - a Record Store Day exclusive

'Funky Glasgow Then' map - a Record Store Day exclusive

The book presents the Postcard story as just that: a tale, a fable, a ripping yarn. Its is a compelling narrative and often laugh-out-loud funny; the overly florid language can be a tad overpowering, even a bit grating (particularly at first), but the eccentric subjects lend themselves to it (how many debut singles – how many songs, for that matter - have used the word ‘consequently’?). There is also the risk of the humour overwhelming an inspiring story and rendering its protagonists parochial bumpkins – it narrowly avoids doing so by the obvious affection Goddard has for his subjects (as well as the fact that these stories have come from the participants themselves). There is an obsessive fanboy in this writer that is perhaps a bit disappointed by a lack of endless hard facts and figures, trivial minutiae, but that same anorak-bearing, social incompetent was also enthralled to read the myth recorded in black-and-white. Finally. Postcard (the records, the idea of it) is held close to the hearts of many – Goddard’s book will certainly not detract from this, he may well serve to enhance it. There’s certainly a lot more to be said about the journeys that the talents of Postcard took, but this book gets things off to a flying start. Ye Gods.

 

 

Andrew R. Hill