Today we continue our occasional series of guest posts by thi wurd team and beyond. Mark Jackson chooses ten songs from bands who said goodbye at just the right time.
Good Exits – Mark Jackson
My record box contains loads of bands who departed before their time, gracefully fading away, leaving behind only untainted, bombproof legacies. The Beatles broke millions of hearts when they called it a day, and in doing so secured their name from being besmirched. Stockholm Monsters did it too. Maybe not breaking as many hearts, but on listening to the end of the 12” of Partyline, it was clear they’d turned it into a celebration – dictating their own exit in style. It really felt like that anyway.
- THE PALE FOUNTAINS – Just A Girl
On seeing Shack support The Fall at the Ritz ballroom, flyers were passed round the audience printed with the words to their track ‘Emergency’, a song that mentioned Bill Cosby and Diverse Reports. “It’s him out of the Pale Fountains,” I was told abruptly.
I pretended to know exactly who they were, even though I knew nothing about them other than the name was familiar, and was always greeted by a second of silenced respect.
Like it was a secret club. They parted after two albums, through a mixture of tragedy and bad luck. Mick went his own glorious way. Forty years on, The Paleys are still talked about in reverential tones, parting from the stage, unblemished by stylists, tampering producers or interfering A&R men, leaving those perfectly pure tunes gloriously intact.
- LAUGH – Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney may have enough in the bank to get him out of most holes, but as my fifteen-year old head bobbed up over the surface of musical enlightenment in 1987, it felt like the best thing he could offer was 1982’s the ‘Doggone girl is mine’. Laugh’s single had a Walrus on the front cover, and an opening line of ‘I had a dream I thought I was Paul McCartney … by the end, I was glad that it was just a dream.’ These lot were piss-takers of the highest order, meaning I fell for them immediately. Vocals drenched in Wigan casino sweat, backed up by chugging guitars and deranged drums. Martin Wright could nail what many more successful vocalists fail to ever master – that art form of putting conversational lyrics to music, sounding instantly catchy and off the cuff, like a mate who’s having a rant after two pints, but still making perfect sense. Their destiny as heir to the Pale Fountains never came off and the rug was pulled after one album, Sensation Number One. That album still regularly gets deck time round at mine. The song ‘Paul McCartney’ – not on the album –now sounds merely like a playful prod at the man responsible for Give My Regards to Broad Street, but there’s something magical about a tune that gets better and better on each listen.
- THE BODINES – Heard It All
When things like that were important, I bought a music fanzine that had a top ten list, titled ‘Songs to give you butterflies in your stomach’ and ‘Heard It All’ was number two. I already owned it, and although I wouldn’t call them butterflies, it definitely did something, exactly the same as it does when I listen to it now. The Bodines always sounded more sophisticated than their contemporaries, creating a sound not easily associated with the standard indie line up of two guitars, bass and drums. Guitarist Paul Brotherton is now a research scientist, meaning they actually did just get better jobs.
- EASTERHOUSE – Coming Up For Air
The Perry brothers’ band are wrapped up in Smiths folklore, as Easterhouse supported them at their first ever London gig, but there was always something more menacing and alluring about Stretford’s other 80s guitar band. It wasn’t the blatant social protest in Andy’s lyrics but Ivor Perry’s guitar work, sounding like an orchestra of hard as fuck 12-strings at work.
By the time I’d seen the promotional poster for their EP ‘Whistling in The Dark’ on Record Pedlars’ wall, they’d already split up due to the brothers’ toxic chemistry making Liam and Noel seem like Burnage’s version of John and Edward. Andy Perry took the band name as a solo incarnation of Easterhouse, who I saw for the first time on MTV. On release their single ‘Come Out Fighting’ sounded like a Springsteen tribute act. It was time to drop them, but Ivor had another crack …
- THE CRADLE – It’s Too High
The audition spec for his new band’s singer must have asked for a clone of Ivor Perry’s brother, but one who did as he was told. They only released this one single, and if you had to picture the band based on the sound alone, they’d probably look a lot more like The Mission than a five-piece guitar band from Stretford. The opening riff to this track leaves a world of unanswered questions. The best opening 20 seconds to any song ever. Probably.
- THE LA’s – Way Out
The La’s wrote the book on how to bow out leaving them wanting more. That long forgotten source of great tunes, The Chart Show, turned me on to this one, that somehow sounded a bit like ‘Windmill in Old Amsterdam’. The La’s almost didn’t want you to like them, which of course meant I liked them even more. This could explain some of my relationship problems over the following years.
- THE BRIDEWELL TAXIS – Honesty
A trip to see our local band Northside’s second ever gig at The Warehouse in Leeds saw them supporting a local act with a trombone player – not a Pale Fountains trumpet, but a trom-fuckin-bone. Named after the local term for police vans from Bridewell nick, they had that genius trick of not sounding quite like anyone else. There’s a lost joy in The Bridewell’s tunes making you feel they were having a better time than the listener was. Legend has it their biggest release, ‘Spirit’, was recorded without a chorus because singer, Mick Roberts, couldn’t remember the words after going AWOL during the recording session. ‘Honesty looks good on you it’s not for fools like me’ is a stone cold terrace chant in the making.
- SIMPLE KID – Serotonin
A steward’s enquiry would find that Ciarán McFeely, aka Simple Kid, hasn’t technically left the stage, so shouldn’t be on this list. I’d appeal this one based on the fact that he intentionally went to ground for so long after his second album’s release. And if you can find some of his stuff after that, then you’re a better person than I. BBC Radio 6 Music’s Mark Riley once tried to contact Ciarán to get him to come out of retirement and perform live once again. As far as this writer knows – he didn’t manage it. Serotonin was made in Ciarán’s bedroom using an eight-track recorder, and somehow sprinkled with fairy dust in the process. It’s a tune that seems to lift you to higher places on each listen, almost similar to River Deep/Mountain High in its emotive journey, to the climactic outburst in the song’s finale. The song’s video is a single shot of him shaving his beard off in the bathroom mirror – making a strangely compelling watch.
- YARGO – Get There
Yargo’s place in history will forever be associated with the theme tune to ‘The Other side of Midnight’, the Granada TV show giving local bands TV exposure. There was a hard blues edge to them mixed with a futuristic sound, but the tune ‘Get There’ was as moving a piece of music as I’d heard – forcing a bus journey to town to buy their album. Basil Clarke’s stunning vocal performance drives a lone guitar through this Moss Side lullaby. A tune that feels like you’ve heard it before – like it’s always been in your head but just needed prising out.
- CATHAL SMITH – You’re Not Alone
Madness’s Chas Smash always looked like the one person in music I wouldn’t want to fight. As his ex-band members continued on the Butlins and UK racetrack circuit, Cathal went through his midlife crisis, leaving his career as member of the magnificent seven after thirty years and splitting from his life partner, dealing with all this by putting it all down as a collection of quite amazing tunes. There’s not many albums I can think of that offer as uncensored a peek into a man’s soul as this. After listening to the opening track on ‘A Comfortable Man’ – it feels like Cathal is forcibly pulling the listener back from the brink and refusing to let go. I really believe him when he tells me ‘I’m not alone’, even more so than when he tells me: ’you’d better start to move your feet’. An unashamedly emotional journey through Cathal’s demons. You feel privileged to have been asked along, as he channels his Celtic heart from the shell of a Camden skinhead.
Mark Jackson is a contributor to thi wurd Magazine, Issue 4 where he writes about the band Stockholm Monsters.