Swagger

The Blue Aeroplanes
(1990)

swagger1. Jacket Hangs

Pick a card. Any card.
Wrong.

If you could condense The Blue Aeroplanes’ sound, make a thumbnail of it, as it were, you could boil it all down to the opener of this album. It’s all there. Jangly guitars. Fab riff. Deadpan delivery of clever lyrics. No wonder they called the album Swagger. The whole thing just shimmers  and shivers with it, brazenly, brilliantly.

I’m listening to the deluxe CD version reissued in 2005 . . .

2. World View Blue

. . . my original cassette copy is kicking about somewhere. I picked it up on a whim, back when I had whims I could act on, from Our Price in East Kilbride soon after its release. I don’t think I’d heard of them, or had even heard a note of their music when I parted with the cash. Though they do say inspiration is just unconscious reminiscence, so maybe I’d read about them and forgotten. Maybe I just liked the cover.

But that line, that opening riff, had me hooked from the off; the rest of it, the more I listened, made me a life long fan.

There’s something about the way the vocalist/ lyricist Gerard Langley delivers his lines

I love the way you shake yourself to continent and time.
I love it all, I really do.

I love it more than you.

like an actor, more than a singer. You still believe in him, even though you have no idea what he’s on about. He’s got the emotional range, the intensity, all shot through with something I’m struggling to call anything other than cool. Beat cool.

3. Weightless

Many lines stick in the memory

Like diagrams with consequence.
How much falls to anyone else?

but evade precise understanding. Which I love. It’s an album I come back to occasionally, so listening back to it this time doesn’t bring back any great surprises.

4. …And Stones

I’m trying to document my thoughts, memories and associations in real time as I listen back right now.

This track I also have as a 12″ extended dancefloor remix.

Hey you in that dress.
Yeah, we’ve all been long-ex.

I went to a place that played dance music maybe three times through the whole of the 90s.Dance music, night clubs, those things were for other people. But I loved the idea of my beloved Aeroplanes having a remix. All those guitar lines looping around, Gerard’s crazy words. In my eyes, it made them very of the moment, made me feel cool too.

Smaller than thought, but wayward in intention.

These days – does it feel dated? The 12″ remix certainly only gets to about 3″ before I have to take it off. And jangly guitars were very 80s. The lead guitarist, Angelo Bruschini is clearly a superstar, but he owes a debt to Johnny Marr, the Edge. But honestly,

4. Love Come Round

you really wouldn’t bat an eardrum if you heard this as album of the day on Radio 6 Music tomorrow. It’s as fresh as the day it was minted.

They say you hurt the ones you love, but I don’t think it’s true.
The ones you love are just prepared to be hurt by the things you do.

There’s a very strong association I have for a girl I went out with during the height of my infatuation with this album. I was briefly infatuated with her too, but we were hopelessly mismatched – she, a computer science student who self-described as “ambitious to a fault”; me, not. I had just come back from my epic European rail adventure and had found a momentary peace with myself which gave me the confidence to ask her out.

Love come round and let me know
That a love unbound won’t let me go

But it was a confidence that was short-lived.

5. Your Ages

I was drifting, aimless. I had opinions about music, none about a career. (Still don’t). She was coming back from uni with stories about this wonderful new thing called “email” that was going to change the world, about how she was going to buy a big flat in Hyndland, set up her own company, make a fortune. I was dodging lectures to browse music shops.

Autumn into Christmas was lovely, all mix tapes and heavy petting, but by new year the shine was coming off. I was terribly rude to her at a party, got drunk, smoked a joint, whiteyed, called her boring. I had it coming to me, but even still, it didn’t stop the inevitable dumping from stinging deeply. It was years until I found another girlfriend.

6. The Applicant

First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear a brace or a hook?

I’ve buried a lot of memories from my first stint at university. Not a happy time. Not a great education, either, but you make your own education in these places I guess. Or you’re supposed to. I felt beyond naive. A mummy’s boy. A stay-at-home. I escaped into music and free association word nonsense. Beat lit. I liked stuff with a lack of narrative. No big picture, no story. The Blue Aeroplanes were the soundtrack to all that. Just the relation of line to following line, of word to beat, hooky riffs and attitude.

7. What it is

I bought two pairs of tickets for each of the two gigs that the Aeroplanes played at King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut in 1991. I dreamed of asking a girl I fancied from my high school Spanish class who I still saw working in a shop in East Kilbride town centre. I never found the courage, of course, so I asked my brother along.

Let you arms rotate like helicopter blades.

Not strictly a line from that song, but I picture him every time I hear it, whirring about eyes shut in that sweaty room.

Little jump, skip the rest.

He’s a few years younger than me and at the time he was still at school, so there was a risk we’d be knocked back from the the gig, refused entry into the licensed venue. But nobody cared about those things in those days. We got in fine and had a ball. The

The morning was evening,
the train was a bus
It was dull, dull, dull.

band were anything but dull. The tine venue was crammed. The even tinier stage seemed to have about fifteen guitarists on it. Gerard was wearing shades.

8. Anti-pretty

Wojtek their dancer was throwing mad shapes all over the place, helicoptering for all he was worth.

I loved going to gigs with my brother. We saw Gong (actually, Gong Maison) at The Garage. I was wearing my “trademark” (ahem) trenchcoat, prompting some “chilly for Julember” patter from the bouncers. We saw Hue and Cry. We saw U2. We saw The Pixies – well, all four songs that they played before the show was cancelled because the crowd was mental and people got hurt. Test Dept at the church in Hyndland that became Cottiers. Others possibly.

9. Careful Boy

At King Tuts we swayed and swaggered and let our arms rotate. Or G did, at least. I was, and remain, way too inhibited & awkwardly self-aware to let myself go like that. We cheered when it was Rodney’s turn – a young Aeroplane, not much older than us, who was small with a big 90s fringe who played a Gibson semi-acoustic that looked massive on him. He had a gentle, folky voice. We liked him a lot.

You and I just sat down there
All we did was sit down there.

And writing now, I’m struck by just how folk-flavoured this album is. There are mandolins, 12-strings, rhythms and melodies that seem to borrow from an English pastoral tradition. It could easily sit alongside Fairground Attraction/ Fairport Convention.

10. Picture Framed

imageAfter I got the bug with Swagger, I acquired other Aeroplanes releases. The Loved EP, obviously, a transition to their follow up Beatsongs. That 12″ I mentioned. Bits and pieces of back catalogue & re-releases that I “sourced” from various rummages in Tower and Fopp’s vinyl bins. One of the LP covers inspired a recent gift to a pal and his new wife on the occasion of their (surprise) wedding. There’s a blue aeroplane-shaped cookie cutter cutting about my kitchen somewhere.

11. Cat-scan Hist’ry

After Beatsongs I lost interest. Perhaps they too lost their way. They never seemed like a major label act, though they carried the fame they earned from supporting REM’s Green world tour with grace and, well, swagger.

Since I decided I was going to do this, I’ve been listening back to their old vinyl. I enjoy their B-sides, their sketchy early work. I love Loved. I love their multitudinousness, their jangling, razorwalking, swaggering legions of guitarists. They are undoubtedly a force for good.

And rather perfectly, they are still going strong and coming to Glasgow in the new year, January 2017. Not to King Tut’s this time, but to Stereo. I’ve already bought two tickets but, as yet, have no-one to go with. Although, there’s a girl I know who keeps catching my eye. Maybe I’ll work up the courage to ask her out…

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The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time

Radiohead (2004)

RadioheadI’ve always felt middle aged. When I was in second year at school, aged 14, I felt old and past it. As a 24 year old, teaching English to European teenagers, I felt impossibly grown up. At 34, teetering on the edge of a career/ relationship meltdown, I was in full-blown crisis mode. Now, aged 44, decades of disappointment behind me, I feel like a fucking veteran of career insecurity, emotional instability and dwindling prospects. If the future’s never looked bleaker, it’s because it’s always been like that.

And the perfect perpetual middle-aged, mid-life mid-crisis band for my generation?

I shunned them for years. I thought Radiohead were just a jazzed-up U2 who had nicked a few moves out of the Talk Talk playbook. Perhaps I was waiting for the right crisis for me to find them meaningful.

My brother had tried to get me into them around Kid A/ Amnesiac, amazed and annoyed I wasn’t interested. He knew they fit my profile perfectly. I just heard them as a bunch of festival-pleasers playing muso and having their Spirit of Eden moment.

“Fond but not in love”, you could say.

That line from Fitter Happier, off of OK Computer, was my way in. And from that line, the whole track. And from that track, the whole album. From that album, all albums. It’s how it goes.

“Fond but not in love”, and pretty much every other line in that song-that-isn’t-a-song spoke to me at a very direct level about the life I was living. (For fun, read the lyrics and try to identify which ones really hit home.) The slumber I’d been in since the death of my mother – the somnambulistic shuffle of my relationship, my zombie career – was disturbed.

Something below was pounding like fuck on the hatches and wanted out. An alarm was going off, defences scrambled, full denial. Do anything. Go running. Go for a drink. Go for another drink. Go on holiday. Propose (ok, not that). Buy a new kitchen. Anything, anything. And like the dawn with a hangover, the light inevitably comes up on every terrible decision, every concealment, every lie, every time you stood holding hands in silent hating. And nothing can prevent the realisation that you’re fucked, that your life is in the shit.

And Radiohead’s music puts its arm around you, grips you tight and tells you it’s going to be OK. They’ve been there, mapped it, put a flag in it and brought back field recordings. No Surprises was the next track that gripped me, furiously jabbing at the repeat button on my portable CD player, demanding to be soothed and pacified. It begins with a child’s toy of an alarm bell. It lullabies your trauma into submission as you rock back and forth, thumb in mouth, nursing your bruises that won’t heal, weeping your landfill heart out for the travesty your life has become.

But. Better it happens sooner rather than later. And who better than Radiohead to be there to squeeze your knee and put you in a chummy headlock.

My recollections of the demise of that relationship play out with a filter of warm tones and bright colours, soft at the edges, mostly thanks to Radiohead, who accompanied me everywhere I went that summer. I stayed out long into the evening, photographing alphabets, drinking with friends, drowning sorrows, sleep-walking/ drunk-walking towards my crisis-in-waiting.

In the middle of it all, I received an invitation from a blogpal to come to Vancouver to hang out, make art. Which, marvellous as the whole experience was, just ended up stretching the rebound elastic almost to breaking point.

Almost. Because as long as I had Radiohead, everything was going to be OK…

I have no idea what draws me to The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time tonight. I’d forgotten I used to love Radiohead. My pristine copy sits at the end of everything. Right at the bottom, right at the end. Hidden behind a speaker. Barely there. A present from my brother – Christmas, birthday, not sure. Makes me wonder what brothers who still exchange presents buy for each other now that no-one uses solid state media.

Watching it – barely even that – for the first time, it reminds me of the Zoo TV stuff I was excited about in 1992. Manhattan Cable. Mrs Mouth. Wayne’s World. The cover blurb reveals that it was a marketing stunt: they were to have their own TV channel that proved too expensive and ended up being a bunch of stuff on the internet.

Plus ça fucking change.