Yesterday, when I was mad

One of the reasons I’m not a famous pop star, my stunning looks aside, is that it takes me an eternity to finish things. And when I do finish things, I tend to be shy about promoting them. Or I don’t promote them at all.

For example, back in early 2016, I uploaded a bunch of songs by DMGM – the name my brother and I use for our music – to Bandcamp.

“I really must put these on YouTube,” I told myself. “It’s the most important music discovery service for The Kids nowadays, apparently.”

I forgot all about it.

Still, better late than never, eh?

So just as I’m almost definitely no I mean it they’re nearly done for sure I mean it this time finishing off about three albums of new DMGM material, I’m uploading the stuff we did two years ago to YouTube. And what an emotional rollercoaster that’s turned out to be.

I’ve always written about personal things – a song I wrote in my late teens, What Did I Do Wrong?, is about somebody disappointed when “she looks in the mirror but she just sees herself”; my folks used to despair when I recorded endless four-track takes of a song called I Hate This Town (whose chorus, rather brilliantly, went: “I hate this town / I hate this town” and followed that searing insight with “I hate this tow-ow-owwwwwn”) – but listening to some of these is rather like being peeled.

The songs were all written before the, ahem, minor changes that have happened in my life recently. With a few exceptions they’re songs by somebody who’s quite literally losing their mind, the words of somebody not waving but drowning. It’s a very strange thing to listen back to them.

I’ll share some of them here over the next wee while. It’ll be a laugh!

Love and you will be loved

A few years ago I wrote a lyric with my young daughter in mind. It’s from the perspective of a parent hoping their child won’t repeat their mistakes.

Over 4 years later, my daughter – now 10 – has left a comment on the song on YouTube.

I love all your songs, especially this one!

The song hasn’t been heard by many people, but it’s been heard and loved by the only listener that matters.

Sex is hard

Writing about it, I mean. As the annual Bad Sex literary awards and Justin Timberlake’s new album demonstrate, it’s very easy to write about sex very badly.

Here’s Pitchfork on Timberlake:

Sauce invites you to imagine a partner’s “pink” pressing up against Timberlake’s “purple.” The title track features this charming depiction of foreplay: “But then your hands talkin’, fingers walkin’/Down your legs, hey, there’s the faucet.”

Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that it’s very hard to write about sex without using clichés. But a bigger part is that artists tend to approach sex in a way that’s, well, a bit wanky.

The Bad Sex awards are always good for that: writers trying too hard, coming across as if they’re trying to pass some kind of Big Words exam. It’s not remotely sexy.

At the other end, as it were, you have the writers who come across like giggling schoolboys because they can’t be remotely serious about sex for one second (like me in this post and Viz’s Finbarr Saunders in the following strip. I said “strip!” Fnaar fnaar etc).

And in the middle you have the simply incompetent, such as Fifty Shades and its imitators.

I’m not slagging people off here, because I feel their pain: as a songwriter I’ve tried and failed to write sexy songs. It’s difficult enough when you’re only writing about a single aspect of it. Trying to encompass all of it, the seriousness and the silliness and the filth and the fun, is damn near impossible.

Making music sexy is easy. Making sexy music about sex, music that combines the sacred and profane and engages your head as well as your hips, is much harder.

Prince managed it, and so does St Vincent (pictured).

I’m a little obsessed with St Vincent’s Masseduction album at the moment: it’s a record of incredible highs and lows (not least the devastating vocal at the end of Slow Disco, “Don’t it beat a slow dance to death?”, which has me in floods of tears if I let it catch me unawares).

One of the highest highs is Savior, a song about sex and kink and role-playing that’s actually sexy.

Here’s the song. The lyrics may not be safe for work if you’re a vicar, or if the album cover pictured is enough to give you palpitations.

It’s an extraordinary song and performance, all wonky instruments, louche delivery, some properly funny bits – the “none of this shit fits” line cracks me up every time, it’s just so perfectly drawled – and then the most incredible, skyscraping chorus.

And then, just when you think the song’s climaxed, it gets even better.

Guitars that have been loved and lost

This is a blast: from the previously mentioned Professor Batty, a blog about guitars he’s owned over the years. Discover what happened when Gibson lost its collective mind, what a “demented” guitar that shouldn’t exist is actually like to play and why he’s still got bits of the worst guitar ever made.

Guitars are odd things. I can’t claim to have played, let alone owned, the variety of guitars that the good Professor has, but over the years I’ve still loved and occasionally lost the following:

  • Fender Stratocaster (two: one cheapie as a teenager, one good one now)
  • Fender Stratocaster 12-string (heavier than a mountain)
  • Various Squier Telecasters (fun and painfully trebly sometimes)
  • Fender Telecaster (a proper one; my weapon of choice during my gigging days)
  • Epiphone Riviera (milestone birthday present: beautiful guitar)
  • Fender Jazz Bass (sold the real one years ago, have a Squier copy now)
  • Squier Precision Bass (genuinely one of the most fun things I’ve ever played, whether I’m playing bad punk or bad funk)
  • Aria Pro II Bass (a pointy purple one. It was a long time ago)
  • Enormous Epiphone Elvis acoustic (big one with what looks like a giant moustache)
  • Fender Marauder (a distinctly odd Modern Player cross between a Jaguar and a Strat. Sounds fantastic, plays great but feels like it’s made of balsa wood)
  • Yamaha Electro-Acoustic (another gigging guitar, now in the smaller hands of Girls Rock Glasgow).
  • Epiphone Les Paul Studio (currently covered in dragon stickers and played by my daughter)
  • One of those Ovation copies, a roundback acoustic made of fibreglass that sounds like you’re playing a wheelie bin

I’m sure I’ve missed a few too.

It all seems a bit wasteful when I’m a terrible guitar player, my lack of ability made considerably worse by RSI and subsequent carpal tunnel surgery. But musical instruments have a weird appeal whether you can play them or not, because many of them are just incredible objects. For example, here’s what my Epiphone Riviera looks like:

Isn’t beautiful? I look at it more than I actually play it.

Despite still owning more guitars than is necessary or sensible, I still find myself lusting after guitars in unrequited fashion. I particularly desire Gibson’s Explorer, a coffee table with strings often used by U2’s The Edge:

And I’m constantly arguing with myself about the equally mad but slightly rounder Thunderbird bass, on the grounds that I already have two perfectly good bass guitars already. But look at it! It’s a spaceship with strings!

I think it’s one of the most beautiful musical instruments ever made. It’s the work of a chap called Ray Dietrich, who designed car bodies for the likes of Lincoln, Ford and Duesenberg in the 1920s and Chrysler in the 30s, where his designs included the very pretty Airstream. As a huge fan of the subsequent craze for tailfinned cars, the Firebird guitar and Thunderbird bass really appeal to me: they were specifically designed to echo the tailfins of 50s cars.

But everybody has their favourite, and when it comes to guitars mine is the Fender Stratocaster. My one’s a Mexican reproduction of the 1960s original, but it’s a genuinely beautiful guitar to look at and to play.

And even in my raddled hands, the noise it makes is glorious.

Dad / daughter music maths

 

My musical career

Age: 45

Years playing gigs: 25

Gigs played: 100s

Disastrous gigs played: 100s

Gigs that ended in ignominy, in financial disaster, with chairs being thrown into ponds, with destruction or theft of equipment, with credible threats of physical violence or with severe chafing: too many to count

Most prestigious venues: Glasgow Barrowlands (opening for Mansun), T in the Park (unsigned stage)

Biggest crowd: Barrowlands, 1,000ish (probably a lot less)

My daughter’s musical career

Age: 10

Years playing gigs: <1

Gigs played: 2

Disastrous gigs played: 0

Gigs that ended in ignominy, in financial disaster, with chairs being thrown into ponds, with destruction or theft of equipment, with credible threats of physical violence or with severe chafing: 0

Most prestigious venues: Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow School of Art

Biggest crowd: Concert Hall, c. 2,475

I always knew she’d outshine me, but I didn’t think it’d happen quite so quickly.

Broadcast me a joyful noise

 

I was at the Royal Concert Hall tonight for my daughter’s latest on-stage adventure, this time being in the East Dunbartonshire Children’s Choir as part of the Glasgow schools’ Christmas concert.

As you’d expect, it was too long. There were too many people being thanked. The supposed finale was — surprise! — false hope, the calm before a medley that was longer than many wars. By the end many of the parents had gone feral, avoiding dehydration by making the smaller children cry and harvesting their tears.

And yet.

My daughter grinning when her choir’s first song ended in loud applause;

The extraordinary sound of human voices in harmony, of an orchestra ebbing and flowing, of many pipers piping;

Tearing up at tiny kids in kilts doing a very beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a beautiful song made even more so by being sung in Gaelic, a very beautiful and musical language;

The joy of special needs kids doing a gloriously ramshackle version of I’m A Believer, every single cantankerous old bastard in the place (hello!) forgetting their cynicism and basking in the sheer happiness of those beaming faces as they lost themselves in the music, in the moment.

We forget sometimes, I think. We live in a world of “fake news” and vicious social media trolling and people trying to divide us, to isolate us from others, to amplify the tiny differences between us and to minimise the many things that we all share. And that sometimes makes us forget that we’re all people who are capable of songs and symphonies and anthems and laments, people who can be thousands of perfect strangers but be made fast friends through the power of violins and voices and woodwinds and whispers and pianos and pipes.

“I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that you’ll never understand”

Dig, if you will, the picture. It’s 1987. You’re fifteen, trans — although you don’t know that’s what it’s called yet — and you live in Scotland, home of anodyne pop singers such as Sheena Easton.

You turn on the TV, and there’s bona fide musical genius Prince. And there’s… Sheena Easton?

But it’s Sheena Easton as you’ve never seen her before. Her face was, as Prince put it, jammin’. Her body was, as he also put it, heck a-slammin’. Ever coy, Prince suggested they should get together for some, ahem, rammin’.

 

I’m scared to rewatch it in case time hasn’t been kind, but I remember it as one of the most astonishingly sexual pop videos to make it onto prime time TV. It sounded astonishingly sexual too, the grinding, stabbing synths and distorted guitar blending in a way I can’t describe without sounding like a pretentious arse.

Not only that, but there was role reversal too. Prince was going through his androgynous Camille phase, and in U Got The Look it was clear that he was (at least role-playing as) submissive with Easton very much in charge. And when Easton hit the ecstatic high note of “bay-behhhhhhhh!”…

Oh. My. God.

Feminine man with gorgeous woman? The bit of my brain responsible for identity and sexuality must have looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise when under alien attack.

I don’t know if Prince was trans, although he famously sang “I’m not a woman / I’m not a man / I am something that you’ll never understand” and wrote the astonishingly beautiful “If I was your girlfriend” — a song where he fantasises not about getting close to her for some “rammin’”,  but washing her hair and just hanging out. Obviously it’s Prince so he does end up naked by the end, but it doesn’t come across as predatory or macho. It’s sexy as hell.

Trans or not, Prince was an extraordinarily feminine man. As his own song put it, he was a sexy MF — and he was a sexy MF in a period where that was very weird indeed.

Writing in Fusion magazine, director Dodai Stewart writes⁠1:

The year is 1980. Many states still have sodomy laws. The radio is playing feel-good ear candy like Captain and Tennille and KC and the Sunshine Band. TV hits include the sunny, toothy blond shows Three’s Company and Happy Days. There’s no real word for “gender non-conforming.” But here’s what you see: A man. Clearly a man. Hairy, mostly naked body, cock bulging beneath a satiny bikini bottom. But those eyes. Rimmed in black, like a fantasy belly dancer. The full, pouty lips of a pin-up girl. Long hair. A tiny, svelte thing. Ethnically ambiguous, radiating lust. What is this? A man. Clearly a man. No. Not just a man. A Prince.

[On MTV] A man. Clearly a man. A black man. Slight of stature, narrow of hip. Rising to global popularity in the 1980s, at the same time as another major American export: Hip-hop. A genre in which many black male artists releasing music on shelves alongside Prince’s albums—Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Ice Cube—projected an urban toughness. Leather jackets thick as armor, heavy gold chains, bold aggression. But Prince was a flirtatious, peacock pastiche made of diamonds and pearls, a dandy in paisley and lace. Some rappers’ personas aligned with the age-old oversexed, “primitive,” mandingo stereotype invented by white slaveowners. Prince defied stereotypes, period.

…Black men don’t wear makeup. Straight black men don’t wear makeup. And women aren’t attracted to a straight black man in makeup. But he did. They were.

Oh, Prince. You sexy motherfucker.

 

Some of Prince’s femininity was for shock value — the trenchcoat, stockings and heels of his early career were primarily about pissing off the prudes, something Prince took great delight in doing: his “Darling Nikki”, in which he described the eponymous Nikki as a “sex fiend… in a hotel lobby, masturbating with a magazine”, prompted the wife of a US Senator to create the Parents Music Resource Center, whose “Parental Advisory” stickers would appear on records until people no longer made records; more importantly, it’s a hilarious, cheeky, sexy and wonderful piece of perfect pop music — and his heels were handy for a man who was famously petite.

 

Nevertheless, Prince blurred gender roles, preached sexual freedom (let’s skip over the opposition to gay marriage after he became a Jehovah’s Witness) and nurtured the careers of many extraordinarily talented women. All that and writing Nothing Compares 2 U for Sinead O’Connor.

I never saw him live — bastard touts robbed me of that opportunity when he played Glasgow in 2014 — and regret that deeply.

When he died aged just 57, it felt like the universe had lost a colour.

Guys? Be more like Prince.

1 https://splinternews.com/on-prince-blackness-and-sexuality-1793856349

New free music from DMGM

It’s taken ages, I know, but David and I have finished some more songs:  they’re tracks 7, 8 and 9 on our ever-expanding second album, Battle Bruised and Broken Hearted. They are:

One Brick

Musically this one’s where my love of REM shows through – I wanted a World Leader Pretend kind of vibe, but we don’t know anyone with a pedal steel so we used synths to get the slide guitar effect.

Lyrically it comes from an article about the building of The Shard, a skyscraper in London; someone who lived nearby was interviewed and described how the building had taken away his view of the moon. With so much expensive property owned by outright villains, the idea that someone with stolen money would go on to steal the sky was too good not to use. The “sheets of glass” is from news reports of another London skyscraper whose glass frontage reflected sunlight onto the street and melted cars. It’s a little revenge fantasy, one of the darkest lyrics I’ve written, I think.

Magic Pill

This is our Everybody Hurts, a song about keeping on when you feel that everything’s falling apart around you. The song basically appeared fully formed in David’s head, but it took forever to get the vocal right. The one here is actually a guide vocal, because while I could probably sing it technically better I haven’t been able to recapture the feel of the vocal we’ve used here. That sounds wanky, I know.

Battle Bruised and Broken Hearted

We tend to pinball between guitar rock and electronic pop in DMGM, and this is one of the former: there’s a bit of Faith No More in there and a lot of ridiculously loud guitars. We don’t own any leather trousers, but if we did we’d be wearing them for this song.

As ever, the songs are free to stream and free to download. If you like them, we’d really appreciate it if you could tell somebody else about them. Thanks.

#leaveoutthetout

Fascinating and appalling statistic in this article about Adele’s anti-tout plans:

approximately 1.9% of the ‘first wave’ of Adele tickets ended up on secondary ticketing sites – with some today being sold for prices in excess of £1,000.

1.9%. It’s a percentage that’s much lower than the touts would have liked to have achieved, with experts telling us the average arena gig sees closer to 20%.

I knew it was a lot, but nearly 20%? That’s an astonishing amount of tickets, a huge pile of money and a bloody scandal.

In the absence of any legislation, the only way to stop this is to #leaveoutthetout (hashtag courtesy of Chvrches, who retweet fans’ last-minute ticket availability): if you’ve got spares or need them, there are ethical ticket exchanges such as Scarlet Mist and Twickets. The big-name resale sites are despicable, as are the people that sell on them.

Prince is right about ticket touts

Tickets for Prince’s UK shows were supposed to go on sale today, but he pulled the sales before they started. The reason? Listings were already appearing on secondary ticketing sites such as GetMeIn.

There’s something seriously wrong with the way UK ticket sites and touts operate: tickets for Jeff Lynne’s ELO went on sale at 9am this morning, and by 9.20am there were 4,264 tickets listed for resale on GetMeIn alone.

The government is currently consulting on the ticket resale market in the UK. If you think it needs reform or regulation, you’ve got until next Friday to make a submission.